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

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Best Reporter That Ever Was

(Photo by Richard Koci Hernandez)

It was a blue Christmas for many members of the Bay Area journalism community because Paul Grabowicz died from cancer the day before.
I've had the privilege of working with some great reporters, including Kevin Fagan and Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle and Harry Harris, the great crime reporter for the Oakland Tribune. But I think Kevin, Henry and Harry would agree that Grabs, as we called him, was the best of the best. He was our hero as well as our friend.
If you were a politician on the take, or a developer who was covering up the fact that he was building on a dangerous earthquake fault, or someone in power who was abusing his authority, Grabs was your worst nightmare, a guy who would never rest until he unearthed the truth.
But if you were an ordinary Joe getting screwed by the system, or a younger reporter in need of guidance, or one of his students at the UC Berkeley journalism school, or a homeless kitty cat, you never met a sweeter, kinder, more generous person in your life. And you never will.
Grabs was a reporter of the old school: funny, profane, cantankerous, hard drinking, irreverent, necktie askew, typing with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, and a cuss word for everyone and every occasion. But his grouch persona was just a mask, and we all saw through it to see the abiding love - there's no other word for it - that lay barely below the surface.
"The UC Berkeley School of Journalism had no higher honor than Grabs flipping you off as he passed you in the hall, which somehow always felt like being bathed in warm light," said former Express reporter Kara Platoni, who taught with him at the J-school.
Whenever I saw him, the first words out of his mouth were always "(Bleep) you," which felt like a love letter.
Grabs worked at the Tribune for 20 years, then spent the next 20 years teaching journalism at Cal, although he refused to call himself a journalist. True to form, he preferred the old-fashioned, working class term, "reporter."
Paradoxically, for someone who was the embodiment of the old school, he was the first to embrace the new school. At a time when most journalism professors were pooh-poohing the Internet as just a passing fad, he recognized that his duty was to prepare the next generation of reporters for the digital age.
He taught the J-school's first course on blogging and created a training program, the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute, to help reporters learn digital skills.
"Without him, the school would not have entered the 21st Century," said former dean Tom Goldstein.
In 2013 the graduating class asked him to be the keynote speaker at their graduation, and he advised them to keep digging but not to forget to have fun. "Journalism that only seeks to entertain is frivolous," he said. "But journalism that is only high-minded is a bore."
My deepest sympathy to his wife Anne, to his beloved kitties, and to all of us who now have to live in a world without him in it.
(Bleep) you, Grabs. There will never be another one like you. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. (Grabs would have used a different word.)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Christmas Jeremiad

"How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, his precepts! O! 'tis easier to keep holidays than commandments." – Ben Franklin
Ever since I was a little kid, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. The presents were nice, but that's not what really attracted me.
It was the Christmas story itself. I loved the irony of those innkeepers turning away Joseph and Mary, not realizing that the baby she was carrying would turn out to be the most important person in history.
How I enjoyed looking down at those innkeepers! What fools they were, I sneered. We would never do that, would we?
Yes, we would. We do it with regularity, especially this year, when thousands of refugees desperately fled the Syrian civil war, only to knock on our door and find there's no room at the inn.
Remember that photo of the dead body of a little boy lying face down in the sand? That little boy was Jesus. And we crucified him all over again.
Ben Carson calls the refugees "rabid dogs." Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say we should only admit Christians. And Chris Christie says even three-year-olds are too dangerous to take in.
But our bigotry isn't confined to Muslims. Last year, when children from Central America crossed the border to escape drug lords who were killing and raping them, they were met by mobs of American "patriots" screaming and spitting hatred and vituperation. Donald Trump went so far as to say that they are the rapists.
For the first time in my life, I am ashamed of my country. One doctor dies from Ebola, and we panic and blame the victims. After terrorists attack Paris and San Bernardino, we try to bar all Muslims from entering the country.
By contrast, France, the country that was attacked, is set to take in tens of thousands of refugees. Canada, with one-tenth the population of the U.S., is going to take in more than double what even President Obama is calling for. Prime minister Trudeau welcomed the first refugees at the Toronto airport, handing out teddy bears to the children, who have been traumatized beyond what we can possibly imagine, and saying, "Welcome to your new country." But we freak out and chicken out.
Whatever happened to the home of the brave?
And for Muslims who already live here, this year has been a nightmare. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims have tripled. Mosques have been firebombed. A sixth-grade girl in the Bronx was attacked by three boys who punched her, stripped her of the hijab she was wearing, and called her "ISIS." In Pittsburgh, a passenger in a cab shot the driver, who was Muslim. In Anaheim. a bullet-riddled copy of the Quran was left outside an Islamic clothing store. In San Bernardino, a man pulled a knife on a Muslim woman at a carwash and threatened her. And politicians are calling for a national surveillance system to spy on Muslims or even round them all up and imprison them, as we did to Japanese Americans in World War II.
Whatever happened to the land of the free?
God is watching us, folks. And as Thomas Jefferson said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
Merry Christmas anyway.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Musical Tribute

                 (Above: Audrey and George)

After George Gershwin's death, novelist John O'Hara wrote in The New Yorker, "George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."
I know how he felt. I feel the same way about George Cleve, founder and artistic director of the Midsummer Mozart Festival, who died last summer. His loss is that painful.
A few days before his death, his protégée and surrogate granddaughter, Audrey Vardanega, the brilliant 19-year-old pianist who made her debut with the festival at age 14 (the youngest soloist in the festival's 41-year history), went to his home and played some of his favorite piano pieces for him. It was the last live music he ever heard.
Since then, she's been struggling to find a way to express her sorrow, and she's finally found it. On January 3 she'll perform a memorial concert at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, playing the same pieces she played for him last summer. It's called Concert For George, of course.
"The last few months have been a whirlwind of emotions as I struggled to grasp how the world could possibly not have George in it," she says. "I found solace through wholeheartedly turning to the piano as a source of grief therapy. The performance you will hear will not be a solo piano recital. Rather, it will be as if I am playing for George in the living room of his Berkeley home."
The playlist: Piano Sonata #4 by Mozart, Annees de pelerinage by Liszt, Ondine (part of the suite Gaspard de la nuite) by Ravel, and Klavierstucke (short piano pieces) by Brahms.
"The Mozart sonata was an obvious choice because how can I not include Mozart in a concert for George Cleve?" she says. "The first movement is incredibly beautiful, which reflects the way I've felt for the last few months – sadness, a feeling of nobility, and a catharsis. I haven't played a Mozart sonata in quite a while, but it felt right for some reason.
"Ondine was one of his favorite pieces. I decided not to play the other two pieces in the suite because they're showy and virtuosic, and that's not what I'm trying to do in this concert. I don't want to treat this like a solo piano recital. It's a way to mourn, to remember, and a to express my gratitude for all that time I had with him and the enormous effect he had on me."
The Hillside Club, a masterpiece of the Arts & Crafts movement, was declared a City of Berkeley Landmark in 2004. Its exquisite, acoustically excellent concert hall holds only about 200 people. "It's a very intimate space, which is very fitting for this concert, I think," Audrey says.
The concert starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the door and cost $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors, and $10 for Hillside Club members. Audrey is donating her share of the proceeds to Hand In Hand For Syria, a charity that works on the ground in that war-torn country to provide direct assistance to families who are still trapped there. You can find out more about it at www.handinhandforsyria.org.uk/
George Cleve died on August 27, 2015, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dear Santa

"Dear Santa, Are you real? If you live at the North Pole, how come I can't find your house on Google Earth? Love, Max."
"Dear Santa, How are you, Mrs. Claus, the elves, and the reindeer doing? I would like a Buster Posey jersey for my dog, size XL. Love, Noah."
"Dear Santa, For Christmas I want a computer, find my lost tablet, and make Daddy stop drinking beer." (Unsigned)
Once upon a time, letters like these ended up in the U.S. Postal Service's dead letter office. But for the past 29 years they have gone instead to the consumer affairs department at the main Oakland Post Office on 7th Street, where you are invited to read and, if you like, answer them.
"You don't have to send a gift," says MaryGrace Cruz, USPS Consumer & Industry Contact Manager. "The children appreciate just knowing that somebody cares."
But, of course, if you're moved to send a present, too, nobody's going to stop you. To get in on the fun, call the Santa's Mailbag hotline at 510-874-8737 and leave a message, and one of Santa's elves – Toni Harmon, Nina Tan, Susan Romance, Janet Ezell, Jodi Black, Regina Paje, and David Tachibana - will call you back.
In the meantime, here's what our kids are asking for this holiday season:
"Dear Santa, Merry Christmas! Thank you for watching us all these years. I really want a new Dell computer with a cool touch screen and turns into an iPad because I really want it and it looks awesome. But if you can't make that happen (but I really want the computer, I want to have the most amazing Christmas ever. I hope to have the most merriest & wonderful Christmas with my family. My family is very important to me; they are my favorite people in the world. I love them. I also hope I am on the nice list. You are the best person ever. Love, Ella."
"Dear Mr. Claus, Please help me find the perfect puppy for my family. Whenever my brother says 'papidog please,' I start to cry. I know you're busy, but one wish I have is for my family can find the perfect pet. I live in two places. My mom and dad are divorsed. Please help. Love, Paola."
"Dear Santa, Hi! It's Mia. I am 9 now! But how old are you? I never knew. Wait – do you remember you're reindeer's name. I forgot. Love, Mia."
"Dear Santa, It's me, Kenya. Never mind the other letter I sent you. I want something different, a Russian hamster. Aren't they cute? It would be great if you could get me the other accessories that it needs, like food and the cage. Thank you so, so, so much! Love, Kenya."
"Dear Santa, I want a whole new cool life, super powers, and 100 wishes. From, Alyssa."
"Dear Santa, My name is Jose and I have a brother named James, 9m and a sister named Allison, 7. We live with mom and we don't have a father. My mom is not working at this time and she doesn't have enough money to have a merry Christmas. With all my heart I appreciate your reading this letter of mine to help us have a very Merry Christmas. Thank you very much and God bless you Love, Jose, James and Allison."
"Dear Santa, I've been pretty good this year. I'm enclosing a list of what I want for Christmas. Oh, you know why I'm sending it early? It's because I want a lot of toys, and your elves are going to have to work hard.  So thag's why. Write yes or no if you understand. Check one box. Yes I understand, or No I don't understand. I need this before Christmas. Love, Valentina."
"Dear Santa, Lots of people at my school don't believe in you because they never get any presents from you. I was going to ask you what your favorite color was and I thought it might be green. That's why I mad a green frame around this letter. Anyways, if you are allowed to, please tell me your favorite color. Love, Rachael."
"Dear Santa, My name is Keysha. I am 9 years old. I have been a good girl. I want a pair of boots and a baby doll. My brother is Marcus, and he is 8 years old. He would like a chuchu train and a truck and a car. Love, Keysha and Marcus."
"Dear Santa, My Nana died. I miss her. I have tried to be a helpful and considerate girl. Love, Charli."
"Dear Santa, I miss you too much. I'm in the (redacted) grade, but you might already know that. Please respond to my note! I want to know how you're doing. Love, the one and only Mia."
"Dear Santa, For Christmas I would like to spend some time with my kids. Please send my husband a job so I can do this. Love, Jessica."
"Dear Santa, I should get a present because I listen to my friends' ideas, I help my family, and I play with my brother even if I don't like the game he is playing. Thank you! Yours truly, Aneesh."
"Dear Santa , My name is Amelie and I am four years old. I have a little brother named Grayson. Your scout elf Snowflake has been visiting my house. She sits on a shelf on the wall and visits our Christmas tree. She is now my friend and I say good morning evey m morning when I see her. I have tried to be very good this year so she will gtell you good things. Marry Christmas! Your friend, Amelie."
"Dear Santa, My name is Grayson. I stay home with mommy and I love my family, especially my sister Amelie. Love, Grayson"
"Dear Santa, I am so sorry to interrupt your cookies and milk break. I am writing for my sister because she is 5 and doesn't know quit yet how to. Neither do I because I spelled 'quit' wrong. You kno what I mean though. My sister is very shy and she was wondering if she could get an American Girl from you. We can't afford one by ourselves, so can you and Rudolf helper get a 'Grace.?' Sincerely, Gloria. P.S. Sorry about the sloppy handwriting."
"Dear Santa, In case you are looking for ideas for gifts for me, here are some ideas. But really, anything you like is fine: 1) My son to do his homework every week so we have more time for family fun. 2) My daughter to remember to eat a snack after school so she doesn't get cranky or bite my head off when I get home from work. 3) My husband to make his super yummy special dinner that I love, even if my dumb kids complain. 4) Izzy – no dead things in the house. Merry Christmas, Yvonne."
"Dear Santa, Can I have my train early? Because it will tke a long time to build it. Love, Jenna."
"Dear Santa, I have been really good this year by listening to my parents and getting to school on time most of the time.I was also kind to my friends and I was really excited when I was Panther star at school the week before my sister was. Thank you, Ada."
"Dear Santa, I love my family and I love you. Please come and eat cookies and milk and let your raindear eat many carrots. From, Tiffany."
"Dear Santa, Please, please, please! Send my Elf On The Shelf really soon! By the way, her name is Shelly. He had brown hair and blue eyes. Please, will you write back to me? You are my most favorite person ever. Love, Zoe."
"Dear Santa, My mom doesn't have any money to buy me anything for Christmas. She is very stressed out. Santa, you are very nice and your always doing something, so please can you bring me something? Please reply to me as soon as you can. Hugs and kisses, Denise."
"Dear Santa, My name is Juan. I'm nine years old. I am a child with special needs. I have autism. I am in the 4th grade. I wish I could have some clothes for the winter. I am a size 12 in pants (large), size lg in shirts and jacket, and size 2 in shoes. Thanks for your support. I wish you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2016. Love, Juan"
"Dear Santa, This Christmas all I wish for is that all the needy have food, warmth, and something to share. Love, Anghlie."

Pizza To Die For

Whenever New Yorkers get together in the Bay Area, they always complain about how much better the pizza was back home.
That's pretty arrogant, but these are New Yorkers, after all. (You got a problem wid dat?) And in this case, they have a point. If you've never tasted New York pizza, you haven't lived. Jon Stewart is right about that.
Well, I have good news for all you transplanted Gothamites: There is one place that sells the real thing. But it's so tiny, it's easy to miss.
It's an unpretentious hole in the wall called Arinell Pizza, located right on top of the downtown Berkeley BART station. It's so authentic, they serve the slices on waxed paper, just like in the Big Apple.
It all started 40 years ago, when Ron Dermijian, who was teaching elementary school in New York, came out here to visit some friends. One night, they said, "Wanna have some pizza?"
They took him to a well-known local pizzeria, and he was underwhelmed.
"It was very mediocre. They told me, 'This is as good as it gets,' so I thought, 'If I brought authentic New York pizza out here, it could be a big hit.'"
Problem was, he knew nothing about making pizza. So when he got back to New York he made a beeline for his favorite pizzeria, Carolina Pizza at the corner of Nicholas Avenue and 181st Street in upper Manhattan, and made the owner an offer he couldn't refuse: "If you teach me how to make pizza, I'll work here for free."
The guy was wary at first, "but after he finally believed I wasn't going to open up a place right across the street from him, he agreed. He taught me how to make it just like they do in Rome."
On February 15, 1975, Ron and a friend named Larry went into partnership and opened Arinell Pizza in Berkeley. (The name is a phonetic spelling of their initials: R and L.) It was a hit from the start – so much so, Ron was able to buy Larry out within a couple of years, although he kept the name.
"I've never wavered from the recipe, which I was encouraged to do because Californians want their food Californicated," he says. "Pizza is best served plain, with maybe one or two toppings, max."
That means nothing exotic like pineapple (ugh!). "People are constantly asking for it," he says, "and I once gave in and bought a case of pineapple, which is as cheap as pepperoni. But I still couldn't bring myself to put it on the pizza, as hard as I tried, so I finally threw it out."
But even more important than the toppings – or, in this case, the lack therof – is the crust, and Arinell's is sheer perfection: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with just the right amount of chewiness. It's enough to make grown men weep. And his grateful customers reward him by coming back over and over again.
"It's humbling," he says. "In New York City, every corner has two pizza places – an OK place and a good place," he says. "All I ever wanted to do was be the good place. Who would have imagined all the attention we've gotten here? We've become iconic."

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."