Thank you, George H.W.

I GHW Bush 1never voted for President George H. W. Bush nor any of his relatives — and probably never would, left-leaner that I am. But his death the other day at 94 was, in a way, one more gift to the nation after a lifetime of public service: It reminded us of how a leader should comport him or herself, and as many commentators are expressing today, presents a truly stark contrast to what we’re currently witnessing. And not only in the office of the current president, but throughout public and private life.

I am sorry I ridiculed our 41st president when he expressed amazement at his first encounter with a supermarket conveyor belt moving shoppers’ selections toward the cashier or when his handlers told him he should do some clothes shopping to demonstrate how consumers could help the then-ailing economy. I laughed along with the rest of the nation when he emerged from the store with nothing but a single pair of socks. Of course, this man whose life was privileged even before he entered public life, had never done his own grocery or clothes shopping. We should have cut him some slack.GHW Bush 3

We all need to learn to put ourselves in another’s shoes and think for a moment before lashing out, whether in jest or in anger. As someone trying hard not to let my advancing age be too obvious while the changing world catapults ahead of me, I know I need to keep my mouth shut until I have an inkling of what I’m speaking about.

Case in point: When my (younger) brother, the computer science guru, mentioned a “nifty new tool” that showed up as he was composing an email to me, I grumbled that I’d already encountered that “nifty tool” and sacrificed several minutes of my diminishing time on earth trying to figure out how to get it off the screen. I passed along my contention that continually “upgrading” computer software along with other changes in everyday life (popular music, television personalities, slang expressions) is part of an ongoing plot to show old people it’s time to think about moving along.

But almost immediately I was reminded of an elderly (probably younger than I am now) aunt in New Jersey asking me if I planned to do the newly allowed “right turn on red” driving practice. Having just moved back from California where that was a long-accepted procedure designed to keep traffic moving, I scoffed: “Of course!” “I’m not,” she said. “Then,” I thought but did not say out loud, “You’re going to have a lot of angry drivers behind you leaning on their car horns and otherwise exhibiting their displeasure at the delay you are causing them.”

(How did I get from trying to say nice things about George H. W. to imagining angry New Jersey drivers’ expletives? I don’t know; it’s a gift of old age. “Reel it back in to the subject,” one of my daughters would say.)

Reading and watching coverage of the ceremonies surrounding the elder George Bush’s death brought a new appreciation for the man whose New York Times front page article was headed “A Genial Force in American Politics.” Inside that same Sunday issue a special section with copy by Adam Nagourney elaborates on the “geniality” theme with a headline reading “A Genial President Who Guided the Nation to the End of the Cold War.” A lot of American history represented in those 94 years.

Photos: azfamily.com; pbs.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Birds

condorAs a break for those of us who have been glued to TV-radio-print coverage of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I want to talk about the return of the condors. I stumbled across this NPR coverage of the once-a-year releases of young birds to the wild after a 20-year effort by the Peregrine Fund helped by various organizations and state and federal agencies.

“With a wingspan that can stretch nearly 10 feet,” the Fund’s Chris Parish observed, “California condors are some of the largest birds in North America. They’re also some of the rarest.  After the population plunged to just 22 in 1982, all were taken into captivity for safe keeping and breeding.”

Just a few are released once a year into the wild in Northern Arizona; others are released in California and in Mexico. Thanks to interventions such as this there are now nearly 500 California condors in the wild.

I have never forgotten seeing a condor in a zoo either in Sacramento or San Francisco.  While we stood in front of the enclosure, the giant bird jumped down from its perch with a huge whoosh of wings. and craned its naked pink neck toward us. That might be where my fear of birds came from and not, as I used to imagine, from my friend Lucy’s parakeet. In high school, when I’d stop at Lucy’s house, her father took great delight in watching my reaction when he’d let the bird loose to fly around the kitchen for exercise.

In spite of that, I’d love to attend one of those condor-release viewings. Especially because the birds circle above cliffs some thousand feet above the eager binocular-wielding bird-watchers. My kind of bird-watching.

bird watchers

 

 

 

Rest in Peace, John McCain

John McCain

Our country sorely needed something like John McCain’s memorial service this morning in Washington DC , and if you were not able to sit transfixed before your television for its three hours’ duration, I urge you to search the internet for a re-broadcast. It was a hero’s final gift to us.

Photo: kbtx.com

What About The Children?

immigrant children 2Today marks three months since our government announced its “zero tolerance policy” toward undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, ripping children from the arms of their parents and placing the kids in detention facilities across the country.  I’m sure it seems much longer for the parents, some 400 of whom have already been deported and whose whereabouts the government has no clue.

After worldwide protests, “zero tolerance” was abandoned and close to 2,000 families (of the original 2,500) reunited. A family reunification deadline imposed by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has been missed more than once, and the government tried to fob off the rest of the job on the American Civil Liberties Union whose attorneys are working with immigrants who were apparently duped into agreeing to be separated from their children.

(The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit challenging newly imposed stiffer requirements for granting asylum.)

While the ACLU has expressed a willingness to help, Judge Sabraw demurred. “That will be 100 percent the government’s responsibility,” he said. But he added that the ACLU cooperate, as described by the Los Angeles Times, “by establishing a lead counsel or steering committee to decide how to best track down their deported or missing clients and advise them of their legal options.” Both entities are directed to work together on a plan for this cooperative effort. The details of that plan are due Friday, Aug. 10.

Once the reunification mess is sorted out, there will be a need to address the trauma that has been endured by children and their parents.

immigrant children 7immigrant children 3

Photos: npr.org, newyorker.com, hrw.org

 

 

 

 

‘This Isn’t Who We Are.’ Apparently, It Is

Make American Human

As if snatching children from trusting asylum-seekers and then losing track of them were not atrocious enough, now there’s a new horror happening in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Foreign-born military recruits who enlisted with a promise of U.S. citizenship upon completion of their service, are suddenly being discharged with little or no explanation. The only explanation is xenophobia, according to Margaret D. Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and immigration lawyer who helped create the program that attracted these people. Known as the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI ) program, it was created during the George W. Bush administration to recruit immigrant troops with valuable language and medical skills. More than 10,000 have joined, almost all in the Army. Our country’s thanks to them is to send them off to uncertain futures with questionable military records and unknown citizenship status.

I first became aware of this situation last night with an excellent piece by Joy Reid on MSNBC. Wanting to know more, I found two items in today’s New York Times, one on the news pages titled “They Came Here to Serve, But for Many Immigrants the Service Isn’t Interested” by Dave Phillips and the other an editorial on the OpEd page titled “Trump’s New Targets: Immigrants in the Military” by Rob Cuthbert.

I want to say, as I have repeatedly lately, “What is happening to us?” But I know. Ugly times.

At last week’s Families Belong Together demonstration, there was that sign, “Make America Kind Again.”  Another read “Make America Human Again.” I know we haven’t always been either. Only consider our history with Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans and now Muslims and others trying to become Americans.

For most of my life, I’ve wondered how Germany and other fascist countries got to where they got in the 1930s and ’40s. I’ve read books and toured Holocaust museums in many cities, puzzling over what happens to good people who get caught up in bad times. (Scott Simon mentioned a few months back on NPR that 22 percent of Millennials never heard of the Holocaust.)

So I’ve wondered. And now perhaps I know.

 

My Old Passat — No Longer Passé

“Do you always look for things that legitimize your own ideas?” “Of course. Doesn’t everybody?”

I was alerting my daughter to a Los Angeles Times story describing a renewed interest in station wagons. Of course the cars mentioned were high end — in the $70,000 – $85,000 range with plenty of extra add-ons.

My own wagon is 11 years old and has recently been re-registered as “salvage,” which I think means it’s worth nothing. But it still runs well, and now that its body has had a makeover, it looks pretty good. And until I read the LA Times story, I’d been referring to it as “the last station wagon in America.” It is a VW Passat, a model that Volkswagen chose to kill a year or so ago but which a glance at the company’s website shows me has been reborn, sort of.

The Times story by Russ Mitchell highlights two luxury models from Jaguar and Volvo, but mentions Mercedes and Buick, along with Volkswagen, as other companies selling station wagons in the U.S., “prompted,” he writes, “by the steady success of the Subaru Outback.”  Having no interest in owning an SUV — my husband and I once turned one back at a car rental place (“You don’t like this car?” the agent asked incredulously), I thought the Outback would be the closest I could come to replacing my car when the time came.

And then here came Michell, the car reviewer, admitting to owning an SUV but writing, “I’ve always been partial to station wagons,” (Yes!) “and I’m glad to see more of them hitting the market.” He explains, “I enjoy driving, and station wagons, being lower to the ground, cruise more smoothly and handle curves with far more agility than a top-heavy SUV. Both cars hold the road like a sports sedan, but unlike with a sedan, I can fit a lot more junk in the back.”

Well yes, but besides junk, my wagon is useful for hauling groceries, cases of wine, packages for the post office, contributions for Goodwill, and until a couple of years ago, one 130-pound Great Dane.

So why the body makeover? In recent years, posts and similar stationary hazards have been jumping out at my car to the point where it was looking pretty shabby. And then I moved into an apartment building with a garage and an assigned parking space bordered on one side by two huge concrete posts. Being very aware of the nice-looking car in the adjoining space, I was carefully maneuvering mine into my space, making sure I was not too close to my neighbor, when my car and one of the posts kind of leaned into one another. No bang, just sort of a sigh. But when I exited the vehicle, I was horrified to see the entire back door on that side caved in.

I don’t think in all the years of car ownership, we ever put in a claim to the insurance company for something that was our fault, but this time I did. When the adjuster came to see the damage, he observed that, along with the many other dents, scrapes and loose-hanging parts, the car could easily be considered totaled.. Would I want that?  I said “Okay,” not realizing that would bring the “salvage” designation. Trying not to think how much the car cost when it was brand new, I used the insurance money to have the worst of the damages repaired. As for what will happen when it’s time to renew the insurance, in one of our current president’s favorite expressions, “We’ll see.”

VW Passat 1

 

Me & My MSNBC Friends

It’s always a comfort when something you have an affinity for — and which friends and family members imply you are addicted to — shows up as a page one feature in The New York Times Sunday Review section. Case in point: “The Age of the MSNBC Mom” by Kat Stoeffel.

Observing life these days in the home of her retired, empty-nester parents, Stoeffel notes that MSNBC reporters and commentators seem to have become an ubiquitous presence, whether speaking or muted on one TV screen or another, or by being increasingly referenced in mother-daughter conversations. Her mother, Maggie Stoeffel, has become an MSNBC mom: “a liberal woman whose retirement years coincide with the rise of Donald Trump and who seeks solace, companionship and righteous indignation in cable news.”  Her father, whom she describes as “a Republican-turned-independent, absorbed in his iPad pretends to be out of earshot.”

Like Maggie Stoeffel, MSNBC is not my only source of news. I start the day with NPR and, while the coffee brews, retrieve three daily newspapers to read (excessive, I know, but I’m a former journalist). After that, a news/politics junkie like me could spend the entire day with MSNBC and in fact, during my hospitalization a year ago, I complained loudly about the unfairness of providing TV that broadcast Fox News and not MSNBC.  But back in the land of the healthy, life intervenes and other things must be done. Nevertheless, I do tune in a lot.

As women in the past sometimes formed attachments to the characters in their daily soap operas, I consider the MSNBC anchors and their guests almost as friends. I notice when one changes a hairstyle or improves her makeup. But most important, are their words — intelligent, informed, frequently witty.  And they care fervently about our country and the direction it’s headed in. They are people I’d like to invite to dinner if I still gave dinner parties.

Since I live on the West Coast, I am able to eat lunch while watching the program of the delightful and continually astonished Nicolle Wallace, a Republican and alumna of the George W. Bush White House. She frequently invites as a guest her former colleague, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s presidential campaign and who has the further distinction of being the person who prevented Sarah Palin from forcing herself onto the stage when McCain delivered his concession speech. These days Schmidt’s anger about our current governmental situation is righteous, and his articulate rants about the danger to our democracy are suitable for framing.

After lunch, even though I’d love to continue watching Chuck Todd, Ari Melber, Chris Matthews et al, I try to hold off  until the 5 o’clock wine hour when I’m joined by Chris Hayes whose work I remember from The Nation magazine. Then I fix dinner with the brilliant Rachel Maddow, a onetime Rhodes Scholar, and eat dinner with Lawrence O’Donnell whose knowledge of the workings of Congress stems from his years as an aide to the late Daniel Patrick Monahan. And finally, wrapping it all up is “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.” Except that here when it ends it’s 9 p.m., still plenty of time for reading.

When a friend questioned how I could stand all of this news and politics. I emailed back: “Not to preach, but to stay informed for the sake of our democracy. (Oh, I guess that is preaching. Sorry.)”