California Attorney General Xavier Becerra drops in on OLLI Course

Attorney General Xavier Becerra with Instructor Bob Stern

Students of the OLLI course, The Trump Presidency: the Good, the Bad and the Unknown, were treated to an unexpected guest speaker on October 10: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The attorney general talked on the state of California’s response to the Trump Presidency — which has included filing suit against the federal government. Several notable cases have targeted the adminstration’s actions on immigration policy, including a suit against the proposed border wall; one challenging the rescinding of the DACA program for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors; and another seeking to block Trump’s policy of withholding federal funds from “sanctuary cities.”

“Along the way, if someone wants to get in our way,” Becerra said, “I’m not going to pick a fight, but if someone wants to fight, like Donald Trump, we’ll be ready.”

Attorney General Xavier Becerra taking questions

The 6-week course is taught by Bob Stern, who has been an observer and participant in elections for the past 40 years and has worked for Congressional campaigns and public officials, including Henry Waxman and Jerry Brown. He is frequently interviewed by news outlets, including MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, the Los Angeles Times and other papers throughout the country on election and campaign reform subjects.

At the Luskin Center on UCLA Campus

The class was also given a location upgrade to the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center, along with free parking and refreshments.

The Los Angeles Daily News covered the event, which you can read about here.

You can also hear it on our podcast, which you can find here.

The course runs from  September 28 – November 2. Other guest speakers include:

  • Chris Carson, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States
  • Bill Boyarsky, former Los Angeles Times editor and columnist
  • Jim Brulte, Chairman of the California Republican Party and former State Senator
  • Derek Shearer, former US Ambassador to Finland and Occidental College professor

 

 

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The 2017 Osher Institutes National Conference

Stacey Hart, Mary Ann Wilson, Marlene Zweig

I attended the Osher Institutes National Conference in Irving, TX on April 3-5, 2017 at the luxurious Omni Mandalay Hotel. Accompanying me was OLLI’s  volunteer, Marlene Zweig, who joined OLLI at UCLA at its inception in 1995, serving as a member of the original OLLI Advisory Council when fewer than 400 persons participated in the program. She continues to serve as a member of the OLLI Advisory Board and Chair of the OLLI Curriculum Committee. It was our first time to attend.

We marveled at how well organized the conference was — every meeting was well-run, informative, and stayed on schedule; and the attention to detail was apparent down to the color-coded name cards at the final dinner. All the participants were given flash drives that included the slides and handouts of each session. But most importantly, the food was plentiful and delicious. All this thanks to Stacey Hart, Manager of Operations, National Resource Center for OLLI.

We learned that of the 120 lifelong learning programs in the country, no program is like another, nor should be. OLLI isn’t a franchise, they said, but more like a network of bakeries, each one featuring home-baked, delicious cookies.

We were impressed by many of these home-baked surprises: a dance program that included not just ballroom and line dancing but a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; an acting course on the history of old-time radio that became an active theater performance of a Jack Benny radio show. Which then evolved into productions requiring auditions for actors over 50, featuring such Broadway musicals as Fiddler on the Roof and Grease. Then there were the OLLI members, who with the help of a master gardener, took over a brownfield remediation site and produced 3,000 pounds of fresh produce in its first year and 17,000+ pounds of fresh produce by its fourth year, all of which were donated to food pantries and soup kitchens.

We heard from Executive Director of the Osher National Resource Center (NRC), Steve Thaxton; President of the Bernard Osher Foundation, Mary Bitterman; Senior Program Director of the Bernard Osher Foundation, David Blazevich; and Founder and Treasurer of the Bernard Osher Foundation: the one and only Bernard Osher, who is one cool dude. We were inspired by notable speakers, we networked with colleagues near and far, and we returned with a greater appreciation for UCLA Extension, which provides an infrastructure of support we had always taken for granted.

At a plenary session on fundraising, one panelist got a round of applause when she said she finally got a development officer. The idea of not having one stunned me.

At a new directors’ workshop, we discussed how and if the following offices assisted our work: parking, development, dining services, facilities, mail services, and marketing. One new director said she had none of these services and asked others to tell her how to get them. OLLI at UCLA has all these.

Another director told me he was only allowed to use a classroom on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have our own space in the new Gayley Center with first dibs on two classrooms, a lounge with three personal computers, a TV, refrigerator, microwave, and free coffee.

So, thank you UCLA Extension, for making us feel at home.

And thank you, Mr. Bernard Osher, for bringing happiness into the lives of 160,125 Osher members in 377 towns and cities across the country.

 

Mary Ann Wilson Program Coordinator

How Volunteering with the American Language Center Led to This

Leonard Blum Russia 1

Leonard and Bonnie Blum with ALC student Lena in front of an entrance to the Kremlin and Red Square.

My name is Leonard Blum and I am an Osher member. Lena, a student from Moscow, who was enrolled in a class of the American Language Center, asked our Osher class for volunteers to aid their students in learning and practicing English. Coincidentally, my wife, Bonnie, and I were planning a trip to Russia. I asked Dylan if he could please ask Lena to contact me to discuss Moscow. She did. Lena came to our home; we had a delightful meeting with her and she gave us valuable information about her city. Lena then tutored my wife in the Russian language. Our time in Moscow coincided with Lena being at home and we were fortunate to have her as not only our guide, but our dinner companion for three out of four nights we were in Moscow. I thank the Osher Institute for facilitating our introduction to Lena, which worked out for our mutual benefit.

Teaching Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism

By Don Parris

Don Parris

Don Parris

I have been teaching Buddhism over the past thirty plus years, and the most frequently asked question of me is how I got into Buddhism and particularly Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism, a discipline that requires intensive study of Theravāda (classical/individual vehicle) Buddhism for seven years, Mahāyāna (universal vehicle) Buddhism for seven years, and Vajrayāna (Tibetan/Tantric diamond vehicle) Buddhism for seven years. It all began with a telephone call.

The call came as my wife and I were chillaxing on the pristine crescent bay sands of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, sipping mai tais complete with little pink parasols spiked in pineapple wedges. A “Grand Budapest Hotel” Zero Moustafa type lobby boy paraded by, in red pillbox hat, searchingly pinging his xylophone, “Call for Mr. Parris. Call for Mr. Parris.” I took it on the house phone in the Mauna Kea’s stunning blue tiled entryway.

“Don! This will change your life!” Frank, my mentor in the global Big-Law firm at which I was a young associate grunt, always spoke emphatically and was not one for such niceties as “hello” or identifying himself. Straight to the chase; and, as always, he was right—emphatically so.

6With that salutation, the force-of-nature that was the Senior Partner Chair of our firm conscripted me and my ever-valiant wife into a trek to the base camp of Mount Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world—“The Five Treasures of the High Snow”—toward the eastern end of the Himalayas. I had never even heard of the mountain’s home, the Kingdom of Sikkim. However, our alpine guide, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, regaled us for weeks with stories not only of Sikkim, but also of the Himalayas, Tibetan Buddhism, Sherpas, bodhisattvas, tantra, yetis, and his and Sir Edmund Hillary’s 1953 first summit of Mount Everest. After his ascent, Nepal, India and Sikkim fought over Tenzing’s provenance; but first, foremost and forever, he was a Sherpa. Throughout that first trek, the love, care and selflessness the Sherpas and Sherpanis extended to my sometimes struggling wife opened my eyes, mind and heart to a far more evolved life form than the one prowling the hallways of Century City high rises.

4As Frank had prophesized, the Buddhist cultural Himalayas became my life-changing path, journey and sanctuary. I began “taking refuge” not in the Three Jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha (teacher), the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (community)— but, in the more western sense of the phrase. I took refuge in the Himalayas where my clients and office couldn’t reach me; and, if I be completely honest, visa versa. However, for me, it soon became less about escape, and more about quest and inner exploration. I eventually took refuge formally in the Three Jewels and became what Buddhism calls a “stream entrant:” one who enters onto the Path seeking a different perspective and way of engaging life. Decades of learning, scholarship, teaching, guiding and practicing later, I’m still swinging through the branches on that evolutionary continuum; but hopefully soon will be able to walk upright.

Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism is an orally transmitted and visually encoded tradition. The Buddha cautioned that its accelerated path to enlightenment—nirvāṇa—was as dangerous as it was expeditious; and, accordingly, had to be undertaken only with the guidance of an appropriate teacher or guru. So, eventually, when fully prepared—or so I thought—I introduced myself to my proposed first teacher, the venerable Geshe Phurba in the alter room of his Himalayan monastery. It was not an audition to be proud of. I bowed, I namasted, I invoked an air of solemnity, and ventured, “I wish to become a Buddhist; I wish to become enlightened; I wish to practice anuttarayogatantra,” showing off a bit with the last to convince him I was learned in his ways, familiar with the highest tantric practices, and serious disciple material.

7His response: “Later.”

Me: “No.” I actually said “no”—to Yoda. By that time I was a partner in the global Big-Law firm; so it was knee-jerk, maybe even genetic. Recovering quickly, I dialed it way back and asked, “Why? It’s already late for me master; I need to start now.”

Geshe Phurba: “You can not. You have no mind.”

Oh, I thought, just a simple misunderstanding. After all, it’s not like I had filled out a formal application for the position. “I have a mind,” I informed him, and promptly proved the opposite by listing everything under my professional CV caption “Awards and Honors:” PBK, Coif, Law Review Editor, JD, Supreme Court clerkship, Big-Law partner . . . .

“Stop!,” Geshe interrupted. “There, you have no mind!” He looked pained, as though it gave him a headache just trying to think down to my level.

Finally, losing all conceit and using his honorific title, I simply asked, “What do I do, Rinpoche?”

“First,” he said, “get a mind. Observe, study, learn, critique, focus, meditate, understand, and practice. Then, teach.”5

“But what about enlightenment?” I blurted out.

Response: “Later.” I had the uneasy feeling we were right back where we started, only much further behind. “Please, Rinpoche, will you help me?”

And he promptly got up and walked out.

Since I was still in the alter room, I did not actually swear; but I channeled it through every fiber of my body.

Eventually Geshe Phurba returned. He unrolled a grimy scrolled painting—a thangka—and hung it on the wall by a small window. He then laid an old frayed rug down before it, motioned me to sit there, and directed me, “Observe, study, learn.”

Don Parris's classroom

Don Parris’s classroom

I had no idea—none—at all. But it felt like a test, so I began studying the image. An hour and a half later, he brought me a cup of foul-smelling and fouler-tasting yak butter tea. It’s an odd and challenging concoction of black brick Chinese tea, yak milk churned to butter, and a generous scoop of salt; all of which is whipped into something of thick soup texture. The resultant taste bears little resemblance to tea, but it is chain-chugged throughout the Himalayas.

An hour after the proffered tea, Geshe Phurba returned, motioned me to sit next to him, and asked what I had observed, studied and learned. “Thank you, Jesus” I mumbled silently. I recited my near-photographic-memory description of the eidetic thangka image: details of the creature holding in his fangs and claws a disc of pictographic concentric circles, of the twelve outer ring images, of the six inner panels including one man chopping down another’s tree, the people with bloated stomachs breathing fire, the wretched souls being boiled, sawed, flayed and dismembered, and of the pig, snake and rooster chasing each other in the central hub. Nailed it!

2My master shook his head with what I chose not to recognize as profound disappointment, and asked me again what I had learned. I asked what he meant. He asked me to leave.

And that was the end of my first teaching with my master.

I had been egocentric, not properly intentioned, and not ready to begin. He, however, was infinitely patient, and had actually accepted me as his student. Decades later, I am still studying that image of the Bhavachakra—The Wheel of Life—and I am still learning its teachings. And I have, for decades, as my teacher wished, been teaching Buddhism.

The second most frequently asked question of me is what my classes are like, such as my Summer Quarter 2016 course on Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism. I should note my conviction that you cannot simply intellectualize your way along the 1Vajrayāna/Tantrayāna Path. It is a bit like learning a foreign language; it ultimately requires some period of full immersion in situ. Living in the Himalayas and particularly in a monastery or gompa, being a part of the Buddhist culture and environment, and joining its rhythm and flow, is integral to understanding the Vajrayāna and particularly its Tantric technology. Otherwise, it’s like reading the operator’s manual without ever actually seeing or using a computer.

So, in our course, I’ll complement lectures and textual scholarship with (literally) hands-on, decoded visual components including statues, iconography, artworks, thangkas, ritual objects and artifacts. From our classroom chairs, we’ll (virtually) go on a pilgrimage, explore monasteries, enjoy a festival/teschu, travel throughout the Buddhist Himalayas, and live among the people of the snows as they go about their daily spiritual lives.

On the experiential side, since this is a contemplative tradition, I’ll try to devote (time permitting) the last five to ten minutes of a few classes to sample abbreviated guided meditations, appropriate for beginners or practitioners, of various types and levels of practice from calm abiding mindfulness, to insight-based investigation, wisdom awareness transformation, and finally just a taste of the anuttarayogatantra or unexcelled yoga meditation. For those who wish to participate, the meditations can be done either in classroom chairs or on the floor (bring your own cushion).

Don Parris's classroom

Don Parris’s classroom

The course will analyze the paradigms of classical Buddhism (Middle Way, Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and so forth) without which we cannot understand the more esoteric teachings of the tantra. We’ll explore what is—and, equally important, is not—the Buddhist meaning of suffering/dukkha, no-self or non-self/anātman, impermanence and emptiness/shūnyatā, rebirth and the Bardo Thödol/The Tibetan Book of the Dead, nature of reality, and nirvāṇa. The “great schism” of Mahāyāna Buddhism introduced transformative changes in classical Buddhism based upon penetrating philosophical, scientific and psychological investigations and analyses, which we’ll consider in overview. The propagation of Buddhism into the Himalayas encountered and assimilated the indigenous animistic/shamanic Bön religion. The result of these influences was the “Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma”—Vajrayāna Buddhism—with its paradigm shifts, and singular teachings and practices rooted in the tantra. Throughout, we’ll take a look at the architecture, dance, music and fine arts, and the role they play in Buddhism in the Land of Eternal Snows.

3Most importantly, I want to encourage free, open and intelligent class discussion and participation on the topics addressed in each session of the course.

Don Parris will teach Tibetan Tantric Buddhism this summer on 8 Tuesdays, 1-3pm, Jun 21-Aug 9, in the Gayley Center.

Come Meet Our International Students!

OLLI 3

Our American Language Center seeks volunteers to help international students practice English in their advanced speaking class. These students are ESL learners who want to improve their writing skills for personal, professional, or academic reasons. Our OLLI members will be interviewed by the students so that the students can practice speaking English in a live setting.  The previous sessions were great successes enjoyed by all and we hope to repeat the experience. Volunteers are needed for the following Tuesdays:

  • April 7, 1:15p-3p, 1145 Gayley Center, 114, Reg #257-680. The theme is family!
  • May 5, 1:15p-3p, 1145 Gayley Center, 114, Reg #257-681. The theme is travel!
  • June 4, 1:15p-3p, 1145 Gayley Center, 114, Reg #257-682. The theme is hobbies!

Intercultural Mixers

April 28, 2015 and May 28, 2015
1:15p – 2:30p, 1145 Gayley Center

OLLI members interested in meeting international students for intercultural discussion can arrange group exchanges through Bob Baldwin, Academic Advisor at the American Language Center (ALC), UCLA Extension. Mixers consist of 10 – 15 international students who meet with an equal number of OLLI members. Mixers are conducted like a “speed-dating” session, with pairs (consisting of one OLLI member and one ALC student) meeting for 10 minutes per pairing. Questions are provided, but participants are free to talk about anything they like. Mixers can be English-only or bilingual (subject to there being sufficient numbers of ALC students who speak a language which OLLI members wish to practice). For further information, contact Bob at rbaldwin@unex.ucla.edu  or (310) 794-2714.

Language Partners Program (LPP):

The LPP, which has been in operation for over 25 years, provides the opportunity for members of the UCLA and local community to meet international students enrolled at the American Language Center (ALC), UCLA Extension, to improve participants’ language skills and intercultural awareness. The LPP is a completely voluntary program, with participants meeting at times and in public locations based on mutual convenience. Exchanges can be bilingual (if OLLI participants want to practice a foreign language in exchange for an equal amount of English) or English only (for intercultural exchanges). Most participants meet in pairs or small groups and engage in free conversation. Interested parties can contact Bob Baldwin, the ALC Academic Advisor, for an LPP application; once the application is submitted, he will then make the necessary match-ups and introductions. For further information, contact Bob at rbaldwin@unex.ucla.edu or (310) 794-2714.

OLLI 1 OLLI 2  OLLI 4 OLLI 5 OLLI 6

Seeing Is Believing: Mars, the Moon, and Stars

Photo of the Moon taken on a camera and placed on the eyepiece of the 60" telescope. Photo by Janet Greene.

Photo of the Moon taken on a camera and placed on the eyepiece of the 60″ telescope. Photo by Janet Greene.

OLLI members enrolled in Seeing Is Believing: Mars, the Moon, and Stars enjoyed a special treat on Saturday, January 7. They were taken by chartered bus to the top of the Angeles Crest Forest to look through the 60-inch telescope at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, considered the birthplace of modern astronomy. Highlights included  craters on the Moon, globular clusters, planetary nebulae, and stars and the grand finale — Saturn and its rings. Luckily for us, the Session Director of the Mt. Wilson Observatory 60-inch telescope happens to also be the instructor of this annual OLLI course.

Some comments from students:

It was low risk to take a class in astronomy for the first time.  Am I delighted that I did!  I had no idea how meaningful it would be and expand my own limited universe. Mt. Wilson made me feel so much more intimate with the skies.  It was a connection that gave me a whole new appreciation and curiosity for something that I never had expected to encounter in my life.  Shelley Bonus’s teaching style is inclusive, entertaining and rich with opportunities to ask questions, no matter how elementary.  She makes learning FUN!

The trip to Mt. Wilson gave new meaning to “special”! Now I know what an “out of this world” experience is. It raised so many philosophical issues for me that will give me lots to think about in the coming years.

The class was followed by an incredible field trip to the Mount Wilson Observatory for a night of star and moon gazing. It was an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Going to the Mt. Wilson Observatory and viewing the Moon, Saturn, Mars, globular clusters, planetary nebulae were the highlights of the class and “out of this world.”

If all instructors had the dynamic presentation and informed and informative content as was delivered by Shelley Bonus, there would be no drop out rate and all places of learning would be overflowing. There is room for discussion; all questions are considered. Exemplary!

 

Saturn through the 60" telescope. Photo by Janet Greene.

Saturn through the 60-inch telescope. Photo by Janet Greene.

The 60" telescope inside the dome. Photo by Janet Greene.

The 60-inch telescope inside the dome. Photo by Janet Greene.

Session Director and Instructor, Shelley Bonus. Photo by Mary Ann Wilson

Session Director and Instructor, Shelley Bonus. Photo by Mary Ann Wilson

The moon through the 60" telescope. Photo by Janet Greene

The moon through the 60-inch telescope. Photo by Janet Greene

More Perry Wolff Screenings

In case you missed them, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ UCLA will show the three documentaries on the works of Michelangelo, Picasso and van Gogh again this March. The speaker, Perry Wolff, is the producer, writer and narrator of each documentary to be presented to OLLI members this December.  Mr. Wolff has won 15 Emmy awards, 14 Peabody Awards, numerous Writers Guild, Du Pont and Polk awards and a Motion Picture Academy nomination.

March 6: Michelangelo Restored 1:30-3pm, Reg# 246296: For 13 years, camera crews followed the painstaking restoration of the Sistine Chapel and the cleaning of Michelangelo’s frescoes. Michelangelo, Restored documents this amazing rebirth, as well as the complexity of the great master’s extraordinary accomplishment. This one-hour award-winning documentary will be followed by Q &A. Suggested book: Michelangelo and the Ceiling, Ross King.

March 13: Picasso Paints Picasso 1:30-3pm, Reg# 246297: Pablo Picasso is the most famous painter of the 20th Century.  In his lifetime he created twenty thousand works of art. His favorite subject was himself, often disguised, and almost everything he painted was a clue to his life.  The puzzle of Picasso is that he drew a diary of his emotions every day.  Every canvas was an entry into his personal Spanish journal. This one hour documentary, which won Mr. Wolff a third Writer’s Guild award, will be followed by Q &A. Suggested book: A Life of Picasso, John Richardson.

March 20: Becoming Van Gogh 1:30-3pm, Reg# 246298: Vincent van Gogh started as a poverty stricken impressionist, but his paintings became the most valuable canvases in the history of art. The artist may have suffered from mental illness but he never lost touch with reality, which is manifested in his letters and art. He said,  “I am not strictly speaking mad, for my mind is absolutely normal in the intervals, and even more so than before. But during the attacks it is terrible – and then I lose consciousness of everything. But that spurs me on to work and to seriousness, as a miner who is always in danger makes haste in what he does.” This one hour documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar, will be followed by Q &A. Suggested book:  Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh, Irving Stone & Jean Stone.

To reserve a spot, please call Registration at 310.825.9971 with the appropriate registration number, click on the course link, or visit www.uclaextension.edu and use the Quick Enroll tab as pictured below.

Quick Enroll

Free Event: Poetry Reading and Discussion with Rober Krut

ThisistheOcean_Robert KrutIn this free two-hour event, returning Osher instructor Robert Krut reads from his award-winning new collection, This is the Ocean, as well as guides students through a writing experience of their own.  In the first hour, Krut will share poems from his book, share stories about their creation, and answer questions about the writing process.  This is the Ocean is the recipient of the 2012 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Award from Bona Fide Books, and will be of particular interest to UCLA OLLI students with its numerous Los Angeles area settings and references.   As The Los Angeles Review says: “This is the Ocean’s philosophical musings and tight formalism echo [Wallace] Stevens, but Krut takes the blue guitar and plays it electric.” In the second hour, Krut will lead a discussion about poetry on a larger scale, including an in-class writing activity for students.  This conversation and exercise will take place in a positive, enthusiastic atmosphere, aiming to share a love of poetry.

*Books will be available for purchase (cash and check) at the event.

Robert Krut is the author of This is the Ocean (Bona Fide Books, Winner of the 2012 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize), as well as The Spider Sermons (BlazeVox, 2009).  His poems have appeared in numerous journals, both in print and online. He teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Writing Program and College of Creative Studies, where he has been nominated three times for the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award. He was an UCLA Osher instructor from 2010-2011.

Reg# 246436
Fee: $0 for Osher members and their guests
Westwood:  Belmont Village, 10475 Wilshire Blvd.
¤Sat 10am-12pm, Jan 18, 1 mtg

To reserve a spot on the tour please call Registration at 310.825.9971 with Registration# 246436 or visit http://www.uclaextension.edu and use the Quick Enroll tab.

Meet OLLI member: John Harris

harris2John D. Harris is a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge, and a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

John originally wanted to be a sports writer, and at Los Angeles High School he became a high school sports reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner and worked as a copy boy for the L.A. Daily News – two newspapers which no longer exist. At the Daily News, he earned $25 a week. But when he found out the city editor, a Stanford graduate and a 20-year veteran, only made $100 a week, he thought seriously about pursuing a career in journalism.

As a college freshman at UCLA, he took a political science class with a professor who encouraged him to change his goals from journalism to political science. But because he was living at home, he didn’t really feel part of the college environment, and he transferred to Berkeley where he moved into a student co-op with 300 students from around the world. One of his political science professors gave his students a choice to either write a term paper or do precinct work, and John enthusiastically chose to work for the local Democratic Party. Because his precinct had a 97.5% election turn-out rate, the highest turn-out in Alameda County in 1954, he was invited to attend the next state-wide Democratic Party convention. Not only did he attend, but he also formed the Young Democratic Club at Berkeley.

At that time, the University of California had a rule which prohibited political speakers on campus. This was during the era when academic freedom was under attack. In 1956 Adlai Stevenson was again running for president against President Eisenhower. The University Young Democrats, and the regular Democratic Club in Berkeley rented a sound truck with a microphone on it, pulled the flatbed truck up to the edge of campus and 10,000 students spread out on the grass were able to listen to Stevenson speak.

After graduating with Phi Beta Kappa Honors, John went to Boalt Law School at UC Berkeley.

“Although I was a good undergraduate student, in law school I was just average,” he said. “Everybody was so smart. On the first day of law school, the dean said: ‘Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t be here next year. Law school made it so unpleasant and frightening, many students would say, ‘I hate this. I’m not going to stick it out. I don’t need this aggravation. I quit.’ We’d have a class that started with 185 students and wound up with only about 100. During the first year, you’d come back from Thanksgiving vacation and ten or fifteen seats were empty. People just never came back. It was the same thing after Christmas vacation and the same thing after the semesters. You weren’t merely competing to learn the law; you were competing against your fellow classmates. Most of us, if we were honest about it, hated law school, but we stuck it out. We found later that the practice of law was so much more rewarding and gratifying than the study of law.”

After law school, he went to work for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office as a criminal prosecutor. He also was appointed as the first special prosecutor for consumer fraud cases. Ten years later, he became a civil defense lawyer, defending the city in auto liability cases, slip and fall cases on public sidewalks, dangerous conditions, and police cases involving excessive force and wrongful death.

After 13 years of trial experience and handling over 500 jury trials, he applied and was elected as a Municipal Court Commissioner in 1973. Commissioners are subordinate judicial officers who have all of the power of a judge, provided that the parties stipulate to their hearing the case. After 11 years as a Municipal Court Commissioner, he decided to “take destiny into his own hands” and run for judicial office. He was elected twice, first to the Municipal Court in 1984, then to the Superior Court in 1998. Many of the friends he had made through years in college, law school, and working in local politics supported him in his judicial campaigns. As a Superior Court Judge from 1998 to 2004, he handled both civil and felony criminal cases (murder, robbery, rape, burglary, gang violence, carjacking, arsons, and kidnapping).

“The lawyers were much better in civil cases,” he said. “There were more interesting legal issues. There was more legal research to be done. In criminal cases, the defenses were usually not that the guy didn’t do it (because there were witnesses who saw them do it, as well as the results of chemical tests, fingerprints, and scientific evidence). There were usually procedural defenses in criminal cases, such as: was his confession coerced? Did the police have probable cause to detain him? Was there an illegal search and seizure which resulted in finding the drugs?

He tried medical malpractice cases, in which he thought a doctor was negligent in treating the injured plaintiff, and he would’ve awarded damages to the injured plaintiff, but when the jury decided in favor of the doctor, the plaintiff got nothing, and was stuck with the court costs.

“But in the vast majority of cases, the jury does get it right,” he said. “Being a judge is a great job, I loved it, and I looked forward going to work. The longer you do it, the easier it is to make decisions. When I first started out, another judge told me my job was not to be right. ‘Nobody’s right all the time. You’re going to be right most of the time. Your job is to make decisions. That’s what the appellate court is for. If you made a serious mistake, they will review it.’ Somebody once said, ‘An appellate judge sits on top of the mountain. A trial judge is down in the trenches fighting in hand-to-hand combat, in the middle of the dirt, blood, sweat and tears. Then after the battle is over, the appellate judge comes down in to the valley and shoots the wounded.’”

His wife was and still is an OLLI member and introduced him to classes. When John perused the OLLI brochure, he said he just had to take the course, Baseball: The All American Sport in Our Culture.

“The teacher was a nice guy,” he said, “and I told him I still play softball every Saturday, and I invited him to come and play softball with us, and he did for a while until he had to have hip surgery and he dropped out. I’ve also taken International Cinema Series: Italy 1940-2000; New American Cinema: 1960s to Present; and Nazis, Propaganda, and the Jews with Steve Sohmer. Currently I’m taking The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I enjoy instructor-led, because it’s nice to not have to do any preparation for class. You can relax and great lecturers are laying it out for you, and they’re fun.