A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Passing The Buck

(Above: Officer Garrett Swasey, one of the murder victims at last Friday's Planned Parenthood shooting.)
Every time a Muslim extremist kills someone, moderate Muslim leaders are hauled in front of the TV cameras, and a reporter indignantly demands why they aren't speaking out more forcefully against Islamic terrorism.
But what happened last Friday when a right-winger killed three people, including a policeman, and wounded three others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last Friday? Not a single priest or minister was asked for a similar denunciation.
I did see one pro-lifer being interviewed on CNN: a congressman from Illinois named Adam Kinzinger. He uttered not a peep of regret, much less condemnation, and nobody at CNN asked him why not. Instead, he said Planned Parenthood is the one that should apologize.
It's the same pattern everywhere you look, no matter what the issue. Nobody asked a minister to denounce Randolph Linn when he tried to burn down an Islamic Center in Toledo last September. Or Frazier Glenn Miller when he murdered three people at a Jewish community center in Kansas in 2014. For that matter, no rabbis were called on to denounce the right-wing Jewish settlers who kidnapped a 16-year-old Palestinian boy last year and burned him to death.
When a police officer is murdered, the brass and police unions inevitably blame the Black Lives Matter movement, as if all blacks everywhere are responsible for the misdeeds of one. But if a white person murders blacks, as Dylan Roof did in Charleston, South Carolina, he's labeled just a troubled loner.
Notice a double standard here? The rhetorical deck is stacked against the underdog, and the media are complicit in this up to their ears.
And the politicians are even worse: They completely duck the issue. After news of the killings in Colorado Springs broke last Friday, here's what the Republican presidential candidates had to say on Twitter:
Marco Rubio: "Stay warm this winter with our new cold-weather bundle. Shop now and save!"
Rand Paul: "Visit the Rand Paul Store for the best Black Friday deals! Shop now and support the campaign!"
Jeb Bush: "I’ll reverse the failed Obama/Clinton foreign policy. Read my new op-ed in New Hampshire’s ConMonitorNews."
Carly Fiorina: Linking anti-abortion rhetoric from Republicans to the attack on the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs is just “typical left-wing tactics.”
Donald Trump: "The reporter who pulled-back from his 14 year old never retracted story is having fun. I don't know what he looks like and don't know him!"
Ted Cruz: The shooter was a "transgendered leftist activist."
Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie and George Pataki and didn't say anything.
But maybe I shouldn't be too critical. After all, they have to worry about their base, and that base is in full-tilt gloat mode, as evidenced by this tweet: "No sympathy for any pregnant female who was injured in the Planned Parenthood shooting that was there to get an abortion. She deserved it."
 Excuse me, but aren't these the same people who keep saying "All lives matter?"
 To his credit, John Kasich said he was praying for the victims, as did Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley. And Mike Huckabee said, "What (the shooter) did is domestic terrorism."
But no one except President Obama addressed the real issue: What concrete steps are we prepared to take to make sure this doesn't become the new normal?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weather Report

Remember Stormy, the kitten who was rescued last summer after being trapped in a storm drain in Oakland for four days, and his best friend Cloudy, another kitten who was rescued off the streets in Hayward? A lot of readers have asked whatever happened to them.
Answer: After a few weeks of socializing in the home of their foster mom Gail Churchill, a volunteer with Island Cat Resources and Adoption in Alameda (ICRA, for short), the two of them were adopted by Sharon and Marvin Green of Sacramento. Last week I called Marvin to find out how the kittens are doing.
"Unbelievably great!" he replied. "Stormy hid under the bed for the first two weeks, which isn't surprising considering the trauma he suffered in that storm drain. But he came out of his shell when he fell in love with our grandson, who lives with us, and now he's as happy a cat as you could ever wish for."
And Cloudy?
"She never had an adjustment problem, not even for a second. Her favorite thing is annoying my wife when she's trying to do something, like sitting in the recliner reading a book or doing needlepoint. She pokes her little head under the book and gets right in the way. It's like a game with her. It's hilarious."
And are they still inseparable?
"That's an understatement! They are so much in tune with each other. They sleep together, they play together, they eat together, they care for each other - it's just amazing! I can't imagine them not being adopted as a pair."
One of their favorite games is tag. "Cloudy, who is one-third Stormy's size, will wait in hiding and then pounce on him, and then the race is on! It's so much fun to watch. We're really having a ball. They've given us so much joy."
Stormy and Cloudy are just two of the more than 6,000 homeless cats and kittens who have been rescued by ICRA over the last 20 years and given a second chance at life. In addition, ICRA has had 17,000 cats spayed or neutered, preventing hundreds of thousands of unwanted kittens from ever being born.
The cats are trapped in humane traps, then whisked to the vet for checkups, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery.
If they're young enough to be socialized, they get smothered with TLC and placed in loving new homes like the Greens'. If not, they're returned to their feral colonies, where ICRA volunteers will watch over and care for them for the rest of their lives. But they won't be turning out any more kittens.
If you'd like to help, visit ICRA's website, icraeastbay.org, or send a check to ICRA, P.O. Box 1093, Alameda CA 94501.
Better yet, you can go to ICRA's annual Holiday Boutique on Dec. 4 from Noon to 6 p.m. or on Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Alameda Elks Lodge, 2255 Santa Clara Avenue, featuring thousands of Holiday-related items – gifts, decorations, baked goods, cat-themed jewelry, gift wrap, Christmas cards, centerpieces, hostess gifts, etc. – all at prices well below retail. Every single penny will go to the kitties.
And if you're feeding any backyard cats, God bless you, but that's only half the battle. Get those kitties fixed right away!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Last Time I Saw Paris

The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay.
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.
The last time I saw Paris, her trees were dressed for spring.
And lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.
I dodged the same old taxicabs that I had dodged for years.
The chorus of their squeaky horns was music to my ears.
The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay.
No matter how they change her, I'll remember her that way.
      - Oscar Hammerstein II, written a few days after the fall of France in 1940

My heart is breaking. Paris – the cultural capital of Europe, the city of lights, where every building is an exquisite piece of baroque sculpture – violated by cruel, naïve, and unfathomably dangerous true believers. Children slaughtered while attending a rock concert. People gunned down while eating their dinners. It's almost too much to bear.
If you've never been to Paris, do yourself a favor and put it on your bucket list. With all respect to New York, London and Rome, it's the greatest city in the world. And it has captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans ever since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson served as our country's first two ambassadors there.
"If you are ever lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man," Hemingway wrote, "then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
Predictably, American politicians are falling over themselves to exploit this tragedy. And just as predictably, they're coming up with all the wrong answers and pointing their fingers at all the wrong people.
A lot of them are blaming the Syrian refugees, ignoring the fact that these refugees are fleeing from ISIS, the very same people who committed the Paris attacks. Ted Cruz says we should only admit refugees who are Christians. Mike Huckabee wants to use this as an excuse to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran, ignoring the fact that the only boots on the ground who are having any success against ISIS – apart from the Kurds - are the Iranians.
And Donald Trump took a break from his war on Mexicans – who, as far as I can recall, haven't bombed anybody – to train his fire on the Syrian refugees, saying, "If I win, they're going back."
It reminds me of what Great Britain did during World War II: It imprisoned Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany on the grounds that they might be German spies. None of them were, of course, any more than the 120,000 Japanese American citizens we imprisoned after Pearl Harbor.
It's only human to lash out at the nearest target when something like this happens, but is it wise? When Bin Laden ordered the 9/11 attacks, his goal was to trigger World War III between Islam and the West. It's a war that no one can win but everyone can lose.
Let's step back, take time to mourn the desecration of this beautiful city, and then fight. But this time, let's use our heads for strategy and our hearts for compassion, instead of being suckered into fear-based, impulsive action. The latter is what he would have wanted.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Walking Through History

Want a great stocking stuffer to give your Berkeley friends this holiday season? Have I got a book for you! It's "Berkeley Walks: Revealing Rambles Through America's Most Intriguing City," by Bob Johnson, a longtime member of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Janet Byron, my former colleague at the Oakland Tribune
 It features do-it-yourself walking tours of 18 different areas in the city, including 1444 Addison Street, where Mario Savio lived during the Free Speech movement in 1964, around the corner from 2315 Spaulding, where fitness guru Jack LaLanne lived when he was a student at Berkeley High (Class of 1934).
Then there's the love nest at 2267 Derby, where Bill Clinton lived with his girlfriend, Hillary Rodham, during the summer of 1971, which is just a stone's throw from 2603 Benvenue, where Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army three years later.
Not far away is a converted garage at 2628-A Regent, where Ted Kaczynski, the notorious Unabomber, lived while he was teaching at Cal. (The authors note that despite the fact he was the youngest teacher on the faculty, his students heartily disliked him.)
One block over is 2419 Oregon, where the future New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael lived from 1955 to 1964 while she was managing the Cinema Guild Theater at Haste and Telegraph.
2925 Russell Street is the former home of Jay Ward, the man who gave us not one but two cultural icons: Crusader Rabbit and "The Rocky & Bullwinkel Show." Around the corner is 2598 College, where Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder lived from 1906 to 1910 when he was in middle school. (It's now the Sigma Epsilon Omega fraternity house.)
Beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote his masterpiece, "Howl," in 1955 while he was living in a cottage behind 1624 Milvia Street. (The cottage is gone, but his poem "A Strange New Cottage In Berkeley," which he also wrote while living there, remains.) At 1301 Henry is the commune of Woodstock emcee/Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor Wavy Gravy.
The book also highlights memorable structures by Julia Morgan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Ratcliff and Bernard Maybeck, including Maybeck's masterpiece, First Church of Christ, Scientist, at the corner of Dwight and Bowditch, one of only two designated National Landmarks in the city.
The authors aren't shy about making aesthetic judgments, such as the wonderfully quirky Normandy Village on Spruce Street, which they accurately label "a whimsical collection of apartment houses in the Hansel and Gretel style," or the house at 2325 Piedmont, which they call "another example of a Julia Morgan house destroyed by an insensitive 'modernization.'"
The book, an outgrowth of the walking tours Johnson and Byron have been conducting for years for Greenbelt Alliance, has been three long years in the making.
"We had no idea what we were getting into," says Johnson. "Five rounds of editing – two on the text, three on the galley proofs. I thought it would never end."
So what's next? A sequel.
"We have so many other areas to cover," Byron explains, "including the area between Grizzly Peak and Shasta, the wineries in West Berkeley, and the galleries near Fourth Street."
Meanwhile, they're still conducting their walking tours. To find out what's coming up and reserve your space, visit www.berkeleywalks.com.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Where Are The Campaign Slogans Of Yesteryear?

        (Above: My hero, the crook)

The presidential election is one year away, and many Americans are already complaining about the candidates.
My complaint is a little different: I find their campaign slogans uninspiring, whether it's "Hillary For America" (Clinton), "Heal, Inspire, Revive" (Carson), "Reigniting The Promise Of America" (Cruz), "Defeat The Washington Machine" (Paul), "Make America Great Again" (Trump), "New Possibilities. Real Leadership" (Fiorina), or that Seinfeldian slogan that says absolutely nothing, "Jeb!"
Sure, there have been some lousy slogans in the past, like "I'm Madly For Adlai" (Stevenson 1952) or ""We Polked you in '44, We shall Pierce you in '52" (Franklin Pierce 1852), referring to James K. Polk, who was elected eight year before.
But many of them have been great, although some of the winners reneged as soon as they were elected. For instance:
"54-40 or Fight!" (Polk 1844), referring to a border dispute with Canada. Polk won but settled the border on much less favorable terms, at the 49th parallel, instead.
"Read my lips. No new taxes." (George H.W. Bush 1988), who, of course, promptly raised new taxes.
"A chicken in every pot and a new car in every garage." – (Hoover 1928), who within a year was presiding over the worst depression in American history.
"He kept us out of war." (Wilson 1916), who took America into World War I six months later.
"Let's make it a Landon-slide." (Landon 1936), who got his wish, although not the way he intended: He lost in the greatest landslide in history up to that time.
And, of course, "Nixon's the One" (Nixon 1968), a slogan that took on ironic meaning during the Watergate scandal.
But some slogans have been sheer genius, including:
"Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" (Harrison 1840), referring to his victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe. His running mate was John Tyler.
"Keep cool with Coolidge." (Coolidge 1924)
"I'm just mild about Harry." (Dewey 1948)
Occasionally we have had dueling slogans, for instance:
"Ma, ma, where's my pa?" (Blaine 1884), referring to Grover Cleveland's admission that he had fathered an illegitimate child.
"Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!" (Cleveland 1884)
"No third term." (Willkie 1940)
"Better a third termer than a third rater." (FDR 1940)
"In your heart you know he's right." (Goldwater 1964)
"In your guts you know he's nuts." (Johnson 1964)
 And the best presidential campaign slogan of all? Easy: "I like Ike" (1952). Short, sweet and simple. And it rhymes!
But my favorite slogan comes not from a presidential race but the 1991 Louisiana governor's race. On one side: former Gov. Edwin Edwards. He was corrupt through and through, which wasn't much of a problem in a state that has a long history of charming rogues. (He once boasted, "The only way I'm going to lose is if I'm found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.") But he did have a big drawback: He was a supporter of civil rights. A local newspaper predicted, "The only way he could win would be if his opponent is Adolf Hitler."
His opponent wasn't Hitler, but he turned out to be the next best thing: David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a notorious neo-Nazi.
Edwards' winning slogan: "Vote for the crook. It's important."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Kitties!

(Above: Barbara and Sweetie)

Two years ago, a kind soul in Oakland – whose name I'm withholding to protect her privacy - adopted a homeless orange male tabby cat that kept coming to her door and named him Red. Red had been living in a nearby feral cat colony, and it's unusual for a cat past the kitten stage to be tame enough to be adoptable. But not Red.
Last week, she found out why. She took him to the Fix Our Ferals spay/neuter clinic in Richmond, where they discovered he had not only been neutered already, he had a microchip. Clearly, he had once been someone else's kitty.
But whose? They did an Internet search for the microchip and came up empty. So Michelle Jewell, the clinic manager, called the microchip company, and they told her the chip had never been registered. All they had was the name of the animal hospital that inserted it.
 Michelle called the hospital, and they gave her the name of the first owner, who lived only a few blocks away from the new owner.
She told Michelle that Red – whose original name was Tego – had escaped from her house six years ago, just two days after she moved in. And being new to the neighborhood, he didn't know where to go. He was lucky to find that feral cat colony. She had no idea he was living only a few blocks away all this time.
Michelle put the two women together, and the new owner handed Red – or Tego - over. She was sad to give him up, but she knew he would be happiest with his original mom.
Moral: It's not enough to get your dog or cat microchipped. You have to take the final step and register it.
If you'd like to support Fix Our Ferals' lifesaving mission, you can donate online at fixourferals.org or send a check to P.O. box 13083, Berkeley CA 94712. They're an all-volunteer group; so if you'd like to help, call 510-215-9300.
                                          * * *
Meanwhile, there's good news from Berkeley: Darling Flower Shop finally has a new cat, a tiny grey-and-white kitten.
The shop had been without a cat since this time last year, when the previous kitty, named Kitty, died. Owners Jay and Barbara Touriel missed her too much to even think of getting another one.
But last week Jay got a call from Walter Griffin, a friend of his in the Berkeley Lions Club, who had a family of feral cats living in his back yard. One of the kittens, the runt of the litter, had been abandoned by the mother and left to die. Walter nursed her back to health and then called Barbara and Jay.
They went over to see her and instantly fell in love. They named her Sweetie – and no name was ever more appropriate – and moved her into the flower shop, which she promptly took over.
Sweetie loves everybody – the employees, the customers, the local letter carrier, everybody. But her heart really belongs to Barbara and Jay, and the feeling is mutual. Her favorite pastime is riding around on Jay's shoulders or inside the bib of Barbara's smock.
Welcome, Sweetie. You have some mighty big paw prints to fill, but I know you're more than up to the job.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Heads In The Sand

Who is the president of Mexico? Don't know? Neither do I.
Meanwhile, our neighbor to the north, Canada, held a national election on Monday. Do you know who won?
Most of us know that Vladimir Putin rules Russia, but who rules China? Or Japan? Or India?
Who are the major players in the Middle East, which is giving us so much trouble these days? Or on the Indian subcontinent, where India and Pakistan keep threatening to go to war with each other, both armed with nuclear weapons. Who's in charge there?
And that's just the leaders. I won't even bother asking who leads the opposition in these various countries. Or what the major political issues are. Or what people in other countries think of us. Or why.
My point is that we Americans are woefully ignorant about the rest of the world, and that's a recipe for disaster. If anybody runs the world, we do; but we know next to nothing about that world we seek to lead. So we continually get taken by surprise, over and over again.
Admit it: Before the terrorist attacks on 9/11, you had never heard of Al Qaeda. Ditto for ISIS before it suddenly popped up in the headlines last year. For that matter, why does Obama call it ISIL when the media call it ISIS? There's actually a reason, but do you know what it is? I don't.
The pundits predict that foreign policy will be a major factor in next year's presidential election; but with an electorate that knows absolutely nothing about the issues, how can we possibly make an informed choice?
Most Americans would say that we already lead busy lives and don't have time to do the homework, so we leave it to the experts to do our thinking for us. But these "experts" don't know much more than we do.
In 1953, the experts in the CIA and State Department teamed with the British Secret Intelligence Service to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossaddegh, and replaced him with the Shah.
We promptly forgot all about it, but the Iranians sure didn't. So when the Shah fell in 1979, the Iranians, instead of turning to pro-Western alternatives like Abolhassan Banisadr, turned instead to Ayatollah Khomeini, who wasn't tainted by association with us.
In 1954 the experts did it again, overthrowing the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. That let loose a Pandora's Box of Arbenz's followers, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who spread throughout Latin America, fomenting revolution wherever they went for the next forty years.
Ten years later we went to war in Vietnam on the theory that North Vietnam was just a proxy for Chinese expansion. Who knew that the Vietnamese and Chinese have mistrusted each other for centuries? Not the experts in Washington.
And no one was more surprised when the Soviet empire imploded in 1989 than the CIA, which had no clue that the USSR had been rotting from the inside for decades.
There's plenty of blame to go around, including the news media and our schools, who have been woefully inadequate in educating us about the world. But in the final analysis, as Shakespeare said, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."