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

Friday, March 6, 2009

What They Should Have Done

(Above: Didius Julianus)

Welcome to Snapp's School For Stupid Politicians, where we advise our elected officials how to remove the feet they keep stuffing in their mouths.
Let's start with Bobby Jindal, who is still in hiding two weeks after his wince-inducing response to Obama's non-State of the Union speech.
But laying low is the worst thing he could do. Instead, he should be on David Letterman, letting Dave make fun of him.
That's what another young southern governor did in 1988, after giving what is generally considered the most boring convention keynote speech ever.
The only applause occurred near the end, when he said, "In conclusion…" And the weary crowd erupted in cheers.
His future seemed over before it began. But a few days later he popped up the Johnny Carson show, inviting Johnny to take his best shots and even making a few self-deprecating jokes of his own.
He completely changed his image from the guy who gave a lousy speech to the guy who knows how to laugh at himself.
Four years later that young governor, Bill Clinton, was elected President of the United States.
"Those 20 minutes on 'The Tonight Show' did more for my career than speaking for two days at the Democratic National Convention," he said later.
Next, we turn to Roland Burris, who appears to have lied under oath when he told an Illinois state senate investigating committee he hadn't raised any money for Rod Blogojovich as a quid pro quo for appointing him to Barack Obama's old Senate seat.
I don't know whether he'll get indicted for perjury and tossed out immediately, or if he'll manage to hang on until he gets crushed in the primary election next year. But either way, he's a political dead man walking.
If he'd only asked me, I could have told him what to do. As soon as Blago announced the appointment, he should have held a press conference to declare that he was refusing to accept the seat from Governor F-bomb but would be happy to accept it from the voters, and that he was calling for a special election and declaring his candidacy.
He would have come across as Mr. Clean and been a prohibitive favorite in the election. Instead, he's going to wind up as an obscure footnote in the history books.
But maybe that's all he wants. Richard Nixon said, "Some men want to be president, and some men want to do president." Burris doesn't appear to want to do anything; he just likes the sound of "Senator Burris." What else would you expect from a man who has already built his own mausoleum?
Burris reminds me of the Roman Emperor Didius Julianus, who got the job by being the highest bidder after the Praetorian Guard murdered the previous emperor and put the office up for auction. Here's how Edward Gibbon described his first night on the job in "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire":
"Yet it was observed that after the crowd of flatterers dispersed and left him to darkness, solitude and terrible reflection, he passed a sleepless night; revolving most probably in his mind his own rash folly, the fate of his virtuous predecessor, and the doubtful and dangerous tenure of an empire which had not been acquired by merit, but by the purchase of money."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reading the future

Every year, I look forward to the annual Glenview Elementary School Read-a-thon in Oakland with a mixture of pleasure and sadness.
On the upside, it's a delightful one-day treat for the kids, when they put aside their regular schoolwork and do nothing but read for sheer pleasure.
Some of the little ones come to school in their pajamas, toting sleeping bags and their favorite stuffed animals.
Using blankets and chairs, they make "forts" in the middle of the classroom, drag their sleeping bags inside, and read to their heart's content. It's beyond cute.
And as an extra treat, local celebrities, including Oakland firefighters and Cal basketball players, are on hand to read aloud to them.
The Read-a-thon is preceded by a two-week fundraising drive conducted by the Glenview PTA. The kids fan out through the neighborhood, raising money to pay for essentials that have been cut from the school's budget.
These include such basics as pencils and paper, which the teachers otherwise would have to pay for out of their own pockets, as well as library books, an onsite school counselor and a playground supervisor.
Every effort is expended to make the drive fun and safe for the kids, but what makes me sad is that the drive is necessary. These children have to go begging door-to-door for things that were taken for granted when I was their age.
When we're talking about infrastructure, what could be more crucial to our future than the next generation? They're even more important than bridges, roads and electrical grids. Without them, we have nothing.
And they can't wait until next year, or even next month, for our political leaders to get their act together. Every day they spend not being challenged to do their very best is a day lost forever. And those days add up awfully quickly.
The need is greater than ever this year because of the economic crunch. Last fall, the PTA wisely set aside a $10,000 contingency fund in case an emergency cropped up; and sure enough, it happened.
Halfway through the school year, the money ran out for the school's performing arts programs. Without the contingency fund, there would have been no more dance, chorus or drama programs for the rest of the year.
Glenview is far from the poorest school in Oakland. It isn't as rich as some of the schools higher up the hill, which can raise more in one night at an auction than Glenview can raise all year. But at least it has good neighbors.
Like Richard Wee, owner of Ultimate Grounds Cafe, who is giving away free coffee on Saturday to everyone who donates a book to the school library. And Debbie Long, owner of Glenview Lock & Key, and Omar Korin, owner of Savemore Market, neither of whom have kids at Glenview but donate anyway because they know how important the school is.
"The schools I really worry about are the ones in the flatlands, where they don't even have the resources that we have," says PTA mom Pamela Fong.
The fundraising drive started on Wednesday and will culminate with the Read-a-thon on March 19. If you live in the Glenview district, be on the lookout for some adorable moppets who will be knocking on your door soon.
And if you don't live nearby, your own local school probably needs help just as badly. Give them a call and ask how you can help.