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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Auld Lang Syne - and good riddance!

This is the best of times. This is the worst of times. It is the spring of hope. It is the winter of despair. We have everything before us. We have nothing before us.
With apologies to Charles Dickens for stealing his words, they pretty well describe the state of America at the dawn of the Age of Obama. I can't remember an upcoming new year that was filled with so much hope and so much fear, both at the same time.
Yes, disaster looms almost everywhere we look. The economy, environment, terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - you name it, and we've got a crisis.
But at least we finally have a guy in charge who looks like he knows what he's doing. And more importantly, he has us. As Ronald Reagan said, "Once the American people set their minds to something, there's nothing we can't accomplish."
What kind of year was 2008? To paraphrase Walter Cronkite, "It was a year filled with the events that alter and illuminate our time. And you were there."
Indeed we were. It's rare to be conscious that you're living in a transforming historical moment, but it was hard to ignore in a year when we elected our first African American president and sank into the most painful economic crisis since the Great Depression.
So before 2008 is out, let's look at the winners and losers:
A Star Is Born: Rachel Maddow, Mike Huckabee, Waren Sapp and the hamster on a piano eating popcorn.
Falling Star: John Edwards. Somebody should have told him that the reason people were voting for him was because they liked his wife. Oops! There goes the attorney general position!
Best Quote: "I can see Russia from my house!" - Tina Fey. It defined Sarah Palin so devastatingly, the Yale Book Of Quotations named it "quote of the year."
Worst Quote: "The fundamentals of our economy are sound." - John McCain.
Animal Of The Year: The turkey that was slaughtered in the background while Palin's television interview took place in the foreground sold on eBay for $225.
Music Video Of The Year: will.i.am's "Yes We Can." It both captured the rising enthusiasm for Obama and contributed to it.
Losers Of The Year: Rod Blagojevich, Elliot Spitzer, George W. Bush and, through no fault of his own, David Letterman. What's he going to do now that he can't use his nightly "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" shtick anymore?
Journalists Of The Year: The ladies of "The View." Who'd have thought they'd make more real news than "Meet The Press" and "Face The Nation" combined?
Book of the Year: "Team Of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now that Obama has chosen it as the template for his administration, it's a must-read for anyone who wants to know what he has in mind.
Athlete Of The Year: Usain Bolt. What Michael Phelps did was phenomenal, but he didn't destroy the field as completely as Bolt did in his sport. The last time I saw such total dominance was Secretariat in the Belmont.
Gone But Not Forgotten: Dona Spring, Studs Terkel, Bo Diddley, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, George Carlin, Don Haskins, Arthur C. Clarke, Sir Edmund Hillary, Jerry Wexler, Sammy Baugh, Mark Felt, Gene Upshaw, Edie Adams, Van Johnson and, last but not least, Tim Russert. As exciting as the election campaign was, it would have been so much more fun with him.
So what will 2009 be like? I don't know, but I'm certain of one thing: It's bound to be different from 2008. History never moves in a straight line, and the future is never a direct extension of the present.
If you don't believe me, think back to how the world looked 12 months ago. If those trends had held, we'd be getting ready to inaugurate President Hillary Clinton right now, and we'd all still have jobs and IRAs.
Happy New Year to us.

All Creatures Great And Small

(Above: My first cat, Eliza Doolittle, when she was a kitten)

The cats and dogs of Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Kensington, Emeryville and North Oakland are losing a good friend today.
Mim Carlson, who has guided the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society (which serves all these communities) for the last five years, is handing in her resignation this afternoon.
"Do you want the real reason or the politically correct reason?" she asked me.
"The real reason," I said.
"I'm tired, she said. "I'm just worn out. You have to be a little bit of everything in this position - program person, fundraiser and liaison between the board of directors and the staff. And you're also the public face of the organization. It's the toughest job you'll ever love."
Her immediate plans are to finish the second edition of "The Executive Director's Survival Guide," which she wrote in 2003, just before she assumed the reins at the humane society.
"It'll be a very different book. I've learned a lot in this position."
It's impossible to overstate the good Carlson has accomplished. Before her, the humane society was strictly an adoption center and animal hospital.
She expanded it into the community with a pet loss support group, humane education programs in the schools and a partnership with PAWS-East Bay, which sends volunteers to the homes of low-income seniors and people with disabling illnesses to help them take care of their pets.
And on her watch, thousands of homeless animals have been placed in loving new homes. One of my favorite innovations is the Golden Paws program, which has found new homes for hundreds of older dogs and cats.
But I think her greatest accomplishment is the strong working relationship she forged with other animal groups and agencies.
This hasn't always been the case. Some animal groups have an unfortunate tendency to see each other as rivals, not allies. But that's never been Mim's style.
"I shall miss her terribly, both professionally and personally," said Kate O'Connor, her counterpart at the Berkeley Animal Shelter. "They rescue some dogs and lots of cats from our shelter, which gives us a little breathing space. I can call them and say, 'I haven't got any room at the inn. Can you help us?' And they'll send someone right over."
Unfortunately, Carlson is leaving at a time when donations to animal welfare organizations are way, way down because of the slumping economy.
She and her staff have been stretching their resources to get the maximum bang for their bucks. But scrimping and saving can only go so far. I visited the humane society last Tuesday, and it broke my heart to see all the empty cages and kennels.
They represent all the additional dogs and cats who could have been helped if only the humane society had the money to pay for their food and care.
If you'd like to help, you can send a tax-deductible check to the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society, 2700 9th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. Or you can visit their web site at www.berkeleyhumane.org, where you can donate online and find out more about their programs and services.
One is a holiday toy drive for the dogs and cats in their shelter. You can drop toys off from Noon to 6 Thursdays through Saturdays, Noon to 5 on Sundays.
The site also has a long wish list, everything from volunteers to walk the dogs and cuddle the cats to a micro-centrifuge for the animal hospital.
In this time of terrible economic stress, nobody is suffering more than those at the bottom of the ladder, including helpless cats and dogs.
If you can help, it would be the best going-away present you could give Carlson. And she'd be the first to point out that if you don't live in one of the cities served by the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society, there's no shortage of equally deserving animal groups in your own community.
Merry Christmas.