A lot of presences lurk in my apartment building, some human, some not.
The latest to declare itself is the Trash Room, previously known as a modest place, where a resident could leave, yes, trash--old food, read newspapers, whatever. All would rest there quietly until the removal people came to take it away.
Maybe this was too calm for the Room. Maybe it wanted action, adventure, a touch of danger. The other day, it took a hostage.
The taking wasn't secret; the hostage's pleas for help could be heard through the door, but would-be rescuers in the building couldn't open that door no matter how hard they tugged and kicked and hammered.
What to do? Call the cops? No, nobody robbed or assaulted, that wasn't it. An ambulance? No was was sick or hurt, yet. The Fire Dept.? Yes, what a good idea!
The firefighters arrived quickly and opened the door about as easily as you'd expect of men used to battling twelve foot flames. Hostage freed, crisis over.
We residents are feeling pretty good. The freed hostage is truly happy. The Trash Room? We hope it''s learned a lesson but only time, as they say, will tell.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Thursday, November 21, 2013
One of the nice things presidents get to do is present deserving Americans with the Medal of Freedom. The awards remind the rest of us of what a fine, diverse place this country is.
Some--not all--of this year's winners:
Ernie Banks, the great Chicago Cubs infielder. It's not his fault they haven't won a World Series in more than a century;
Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post. Remember Watergate? President Richard Nixon resigning?
Gloria Steinem, a leader of the women's movement;
Bill Clinton--well, you know who he is;
Oprah Winfrey—you know who she is too
Richard Lugar, former Republican senator from Indiana, who was way smarter than most;
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space;
Dean Smith, former basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Well, there was the occasional loss to Duke, sure, but still....;
Loretta Lynn. Hard to end the list on a better note. Still love that voice, those songs.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
I wrote recently that America seems to be changing its mind on gay marriage. There's another straw in that wind today.
It involves two sisters, daughters of Richard Cheney, a conservative Republican who was George W. Bush's Vice President--so you can see we're not talking wild-eyed liberals here.
Mary Cheney, one of the sisters, is lesbian and has a wife. Liz, the other sister, is straight and disagrees with her sister. "I love Mary very much. I love her family very much," Liz said. "This is just an issue on which we disagree." Mary and her wife reacted promptly. "Liz has been a guest in our house...shared holidays with our children...to have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least."
Former VP Cheney, the father, issued a statement supporting gay marriage in 2009, after his term had ended. Well, it's a trend. There's nothing to say whole families have to adopt it all at once.
The newspapers remind me that it was fifty years ago this week that President John Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
The first question for readers old enough is, "Where were you?" Easy for me. I was a reporter then, working out of London. The news hit Britons, I think, almost as hard as it hit Americans. Big Ben normally tolls the hours, halves, and quarters like any clock with a bell tower. When a sovereign--a king or queen--dies, it tolls in mourning once every minute. It tolled once a minute for Kennedy too--the only time it's ever done that for a non-royal. On a more prosaic note, cab drivers, once they'd heard your American accent, wouldn't take your money.
The more serious question is, what is JFK's legacy? It's not so much what he did, I think, as what he started. He said men should walk on the moon and men--Americans--did. I remember that because CBS News, for which I then worked, stayed on the air the whole time astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stayed on the moon--twenty-some hours.
The most important domestic legislation of the 60s was probably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Kennedy's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, was president by then, but there's no doubt JFK helped set the stage for them.
Maybe the atmosphere of his years in power mattered most. His widow Jacqueline called it Camelot, King Arthur's realm. Many Americans came to believe she was right.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
President Obama's health care plan has debuted to very mixed reviews. In fact, the boos outnumbered the cheers. But I don't know that this is a great setback to the cause of national health care.
The law can be amended. Republicans would like to kill it, but they seem to lack the votes for that. I am covered by Medicare and Social Security because I am old. Did they start smoothly? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they had some early glitches, which eventually got straightened out. They've certainly worked for me,
Health legislation is complicated. It's not like a bill to buy more fighter planes or a few guns.
The United States is, I believe, the only major power that doesn't have some sort of national health insurance for its citizens. I would bet that in ten years this flawed bill will be viewed as an important first step in ending that.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
It's Veterans' Day, but that's its new name. It used to be Armistice Day, for the truce that ended World War I, which took effect, the combatants agreed, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It's easier to remember the numbers than the reasons for that long-ago war. Various monarchies started quarreling and the next thing you knew, there we were.
No catchy numbers for the next one. Nazi Adolf Hitler started conquering Europe in the 1930; we came in when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and other U.S. bases on December 7, 1941, a date which "will live in infamy," President Franklin Roosevelt said. This time the cause was clear. I remember Bill Mauldin, a much-decorated veteran of the war and famed editorial cartoonist, saying he wasn't sure the war had made the world any better "but we had to kill Hitler," which, considering his fondness for killing Jews and others, was certainly true.
Korea? Most said we were defending the South from the Communist North, though at least one book argued the South actually attacked first.
Vietnam? Our longest war. 58,000 Americans died in it. I have no idea why. Sure, the North was Communist, but we get along with them now, all those lives later. Why did we have to fight them then?
Maybe the solution is--honor our veterans, of course, but be very careful about which wars we send them to fight.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
This column has spotted a trend. We're not the first, of course, just happy latecomers. The country is changing on gay rights.
For evidence, take the headline in today's Washington Post: "Gay rights bill spotlights a shift." The story: fifty-four Democrats and seven Republicans voted to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The Post says it's been seventeen years since the Senate voted on the issue and the sixty-plus votes means the bill will probably pass. It almost certainly won't in the House, which is led by Republican social conservatives, but we're talking trends here.
Fourteen states have legalized same-sex marriage. Polls show Americans agree same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
And in Maine, Representative Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor, has announced he's gay. "They want people to question whether I am gay," Michaud said. "Yes, I am. But why should it matter?"
Increasingly, Americans seem to be asking themselves the same question and coming up with the same answer.
There's a big gubernatorial election in Virginia tomorrow, Tuesday, that offers a lesson about the future of the Republican party.
The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, is favored over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and that suggests a problem the Republicans face in other states too.
Cuccinelli is a very conservative Republican. This probably helped him get the nomination, but is a less attractive quality in a general election, where appealing to moderates can be important.
The kind of Republican with a better shot in a general election would be somebody like New Jersey's popular Governor Chris Christie, who is often talked and written of as a presidential possibility in 2016. He is in fact a moderate, which might well make it harder for him to get the GOP nomination.
Tricky business, politics But tomorrow in Virginia, bet on the Dem. Well, don't bet your life savings, of course, but you know what I mean.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
I think we have a lot of laws we don't need. Sometimes it's simple. I read from time to time about efforts in this state or that to make same-sex marriage more difficult, and I wonder why. If two men or two women want to marry, why shouldn't they? Nothing in what they're doing compels anyone else to do the same thing.
And if the same-sex couple adopt a child, who knows whether it will have a happy life any more than any other kid will.
Restrictions on abortion? That's a harder call because there's another life--the fetus'--involved. But it still seems to me a woman has the right to decide what to do with her body.
Saluting a flag? Surely it's up to you, not someone else, what flag, if any, you salute.
And I'll bet you can think of some more examples. My point is simply that we don't need a law for everything. There are plenty of questions grownups can decide for themselves.
Friday, November 1, 2013
It was their third World Series title in the last ten years, but it turns out to be the first the Boston Red Sox have won at home--Fenway Park--in 95 years. Who did they beat at Fenway then? It was, of course, the hapless, helpless, hopeless Chicago Cubs.
"Lovable losers," Chicagoans sometimes call them, but I've always had trouble with that even though they are my team. They last won the Series in 1908, more than a century ago. I think they're shooting for two.
Something unusual and good in Washington this week: one government executive looks at a troubled program and says--yes, my fault! When was the last time you heard that?
The troubled program is what the Washington Post called "the government's problem-plagued health care web site" under the new health care program. There, at a Congressional hearing, came the attacks. There, for the administration, sat Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who spoke the magic words.
The site has been "a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans," she said. "Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible."
They ought to carve those words in granite and put them up somewhere. A corridor in the Capitol? The White House lawn?