“The Roosevelts”

On a warm day in 1900 a special train pulled into Union Station in Atlanta, Georgia. The train was carrying vice presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt, who was crisscrossing the country, campaigning hard to help get President William McKinley re-elected for a second term. During 1900 Mr. Roosevelt would visit 567 cities in 24 states, making more than a dozen speeches a day. He was young, ebullient and irrepressible, a whirlwind of energy who invigorated crowds everywhere he went. A throng had formed in anticipation of Mr. Roosevelt’s arrival, and when the train had stopped they crowded about the car where “Teddy” bounded out to the railing and began his rapid-fire speech. He spoke for 45 minutes and then the people eagerly reached for him as he began personally greeting as many as he could.

(George) Martin Fishback, my great-grandfather, wanted to see young Mr. Roosevelt in person and took his little daughter, my grandmother Lucie, with him for this once-in-a-lifetime event. He held tight to her hand as they waded through the mass of people swirling about the railroad car, and he listened intently to the speech, though Lucie began to tire after a time and complained that she couldn’t see anything. He picked her up then and stood her on a crate next to him so she could see better. When Mr. Roosevelt finished his speech and began to move into the crowd, he glimpsed my grandmother waving and made his way toward her.  He grasped her small hands in his and kissed her on the cheek, exclaiming, “God bless you, honey!” and shook my great-grandfather’s hand before he moved on. As Mr. Roosevelt released Lucie’s hands she gazed after him as he swept away, and Martin said, “That man’s going to be our president one of these days.”

I remember my grandmother telling me this story the first time when I was very young, and I loved hearing it again when she related it from time to time over the years.  I imagined how Teddy Roosevelt had kissed her and could feel her excitement. As soon as I was old enough, I looked up Mr. Roosevelt’s biography at the library and gazed at his picture, thinking how he’d spoken kindly to her and that she’d never forgotten it. The biographies I read as a child told of his exciting exploits, and I marveled at this man who always seemed larger than life to me.

therooseveltslgI thought about this story again while watching Ken Burns’ excellent 14-hour documentary film on PBS, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.” I’ve read a number of Roosevelt biographies over the years, but this new film brought out information and insights that were new to me. I felt a thrill as I watched photos and footage of Teddy Roosevelt campaigning, both for President McKinley and then for his own elections. I admired Eleanor’s fortitude in conquering her fears, pushing herself to do the things she was sure she couldn’t, and her desire to keep going and keep doing, no matter what. I was in awe of Franklin’s political shrewdness and deftness and how he was truly the right man at the right time to lead this country.

But what I admire most about all three Roosevelts is their sense of altruism, their constant sense of duty and service towards others, the desire to make life better for as many people as possible. They had their faults and shortcomings and certainly made their share of mistakes, but they kept at it, they kept trying, kept moving forward, as they moved a country and a people forward, helping them to think and to reason and to stretch in ways they might not have otherwise. They changed the way government works in this country, and proposed and implemented most of the social programs that benefit all of us today, such as conservation of natural resources, food inspections, Social Security, unemployment benefits, the right to organize labor unions and their right to negotiate, the 40-hour work week, our national park system, the FDIC, to name only a few.

It is this sense of altruism that is missing in so much of American government today. Too many elected officials seem interested only in blocking beneficial legislation, in cutting benefits to Americans stretched to the limit, and in downgrading another political party when they’ve done so little good in their own. Theirs is not an attitude of service, but of self-serving childishness and pettiness, wasting their terms in office by failing to adequately serve the needs of their states, districts and constituents.

Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt made countless enemies during their presidential terms in office, usually because of their brashness in pushing legislation through, in going above and beyond the Constitution when needed and possibly overstepping their executive powers at times. But these bills were written and pushed through so they could benefit the largest number of people in the shortest time possible. If they erred, it was in the best possible way, always making the needs of the people, of their own generation and of future generations, the most important factor. Would that more of today’s politicians had more mercy towards others in their souls, rather than hardness in their hearts; the Roosevelts never forgot those they were elected to serve.

Project 52, Week 51 — A Fact of Life in the United States Today

Recently my daughter’s cell phone went on the fritz, so while she’s trying to decide on a new phone she’s been using my old one, which still works well enough for getting by.

My daughter never calls me; for years she’s been sending me text messages instead. We generally have something to text each other about every day, even if it’s just to determine who’s going to pick up dog food on the way home. So I was a bit taken aback last Wednesday when my phone rang and I saw her name on my caller ID. When I answered I heard what sounded like a struggle going on and someone trying to speak, unable to get the words out. I immediately began shouting for her to answer me, but to no avail, and after several agonizing seconds, the phone went dead. Trying not to jump to frightening conclusions, I called the bakery where she works, but there was no answer as I let it ring 20, 30 times. Trying then not to sound frantic, I called her boyfriend, who also works at the bakery, but he was away at the time and I implored him to have her call or text me as soon as possible to let me know everything was all right. About 45 minutes later I received a text message from my daughter stating she was fine, that although she puts the touchscreen phone on “lock” when she has it in her pocket at work, it doesn’t seem to stay locked, and the phone must have dialed me by accident. That she had it in her pocket in a busy bakery accounted for the muffled sounds I couldn’t interpret at the time. All was well, I was relieved.

You might think I had a bit of an overreaction, that it should have occurred to me that the phone called me in error in the first place, and yes, I did think of that. But this occurred on Wednesday, the day after the tragic shooting at the Clackamas Mall here in the Portland area. As a community, we were still reeling from that and feeling on edge, and I was still thanking my lucky stars; my daughter used to work at that mall until a few months ago when she began working at the bakery. At that time of day she would have been in the food court where the shooting was taking place. It’s not that I necessarily seriously thought a shooter had entered the bakery and had shot my daughter, who was struggling to talk to me as she lay in a pool of blood, though I have to admit the thought did cross my mind. The fact that it was even a realistic possibility was frightening, and depressing, but it is a fact of life in our country today.

As the Portland area sank from shock into sadness and was beginning the long road of healing, on Friday the unthinkable happened in Connecticut, where young, innocent children were shot multiple times in their classrooms and the staff who tried to help them were gunned down as well. This new shock has put the entire nation on edge, and the world mourns these young innocents, and is sad for a country where firearm abuse is out of control, and no one in power seems truly willing to do anything that will help change the situation.

There have been two issues that have been at the forefront of my “causes,” if you will, throughout my entire adult life. I am a staunch believer in universal health care for all Americans, as a right, not a privilege, and strict gun control laws. However, I am willing to concede that even just reasonable, practical gun control laws would considerably reduce the deaths in this country from firearms, so I am in favor of whatever legislation will help reduce the carnage from gunfire that mounts up daily in the United States. However, gun control is not a popular issue, for some odd reason, and once this country begins to heal from this heinous crime in Connecticut, cries for sane gun control laws will begin to lessen until it is no longer part of the national conversation. Until the next mass shooting, of course, and these shootings will continue, and the cycle of “We must do something!” and the dwindling of these cries will continue as well. Nothing will change.

In this country, when something is deemed harmful and capable of severe injury and even death, legislation is passed that will reduce the harm as much as possible. A car can easily be a deadly weapon. Over the years efforts have been made to make cars safer, to make drivers safer, from seatbelts to shoulder restraints to child safety seats to airbags to outlawing cell phone use while driving. These laws are passed and though some may grumble a bit at the loss of “freedom,” we realize they are for our own good and we adjust, as these new regulations become part of our daily lives. We have regulations for workplace safety through OSHA, we have restrictions and laws regarding food safety, medication safety, traffic safety, airline safety. Though these laws don’t always work perfectly, they do reduce the harm to our fellow citizens.

So why are guns, which are capable of producing harm and death every bit as much as a car and more so, not regulated the same way? There are outcries from many gun owners, and the gun lobby, not to mention the NRA, invoking the Second Amendment as an unlimited freedom to carry, both openly and concealed, firearms of every kind, with no restrictions whatsoever. But the freedom to bear arms also has a converse freedom, that of unarmed people being entitled to safety and freedom from fear of those misusing their Second Amendment rights. If limiting firearms goes against the Bill of Rights, then it’s time to change the Bill of Rights with a new amendment. I firmly believe that if our founding fathers had known what the state of firearm abuse in this country would have been like over 200 years after that amendment was penned, it surely would have been written differently.

This article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof summarizes what, in my opinion, sensible gun control should look like. It can save many lives; not all, of course, but many. Gunowners, no one is taking away your guns. If you are a responsible, mature gun owner, there’s nothing here you should object to. There will still be less regulation than in owning and driving a car. But in a civilized country, this is what needs to happen.

But it won’t happen. And more’s the pity. We are a nation of violence. And until we stop loving it that way, our children will keep on dying. As a nation, we should be horribly ashamed and moved to change at last.

Project 52, Week 42 — “The Man Who Fell to Earth”

Like most people, I had heard about the man who was going to make the jump from the edge of space and hopefully hurtle to earth faster than the speed of sound. We were informed of the dangers involved and the precautions taken, and the benefits to astronauts from information collected from this historic jump. We were also kept informed as to whether he’d be able to make the jump on any given day, depending on the weather and wind.

I knew about this, and intended to watch yesterday, but when the time came I was involved with other things and was still not fully awake and only vaguely noticed that Mr. Baumgartner had started his ascent. I clicked on a couple of news sites and though the headlines kept me informed, I had trouble finding the live internet feed at first, and actually got there only a few minutes before he’d reached the height from which he intended to jump.

I was distracted then and had to feed the dogs, thinking he wouldn’t be jumping for a few more minutes, but as I turned and watched from the kitchen, he was already stepping out onto the small platform. I stood transfixed as he saluted and then I gasped as he leaped into the thin atmosphere and his figure quickly shrunk as he fell away. I felt sure he was not going to survive this jump and held my breath as the seconds, then minutes, ticked away. I was distracted a few more moments, but when I turned back he’d opened his chute and his descent was slowing. He looked all right; would he be all right?

When he landed safely and kneeled, thrusting his arms into the air, I had to admit I had tears in my eyes; what a marvelous feat, what a truly thrilling event. Did you see it? Wasn’t it amazing? If you didn’t, watch it right now:

There are those who sneer at such a feat, saying it was just a stunt to get into the record books, that he was stealing the thunder of others who’d set records in the past, but there was a great deal of scientific data collected that will be helpful. The best part, however, was that a man who’d had a plan to do this for years captured our attention, imagination and caused us to leave our own lives behind as we watched a moment in history in the making. Well done, Mr. Baumgartner, well done!

Project 52, Week 36 — Making an Important Choice

I had mentioned last week that I was going to discuss the book The Art of Choosing in this week’s blog entry, but because of circumstances and a heavy work load this past week I have not yet finished the book. I’d rather wait until I’ve completed it to give my impressions and share some of the conclusions I will have reached as a result.

But I do want to talk about choice, a specific choice, which will be coming up soon for all of us here in the U.S., but which many people may forgo. I am talking about voting on November 6th; this is a very important election for all of us, and will determine the country’s direction for some time to come. We need to make the choice as to what kind of country we want this to be, and every vote is important. Starting today, and each weekend until the election, I will be calling registered voters on behalf of the President to urge them to be sure to vote and not let apathy keep them from casting their ballots.

I first became involved in a political campaign in 1970 when, at age 16, two friends and I volunteered to help elect John J. Gilligan as Governor of Ohio. We were too young to vote ourselves, but we cheerfully wore green banners and straw hats and passed out leaflets, encouraging people to vote for then-candidate Gilligan (who went on to win and did become Governor of Ohio). It was an exciting time and we felt gratified to have a part in the campaign. Then in 1974 I became involved in the campaign of Charles “Pug” Ravenel for Governor of South Carolina. I typed memos and answered phones in the campaign office, went door-to-door and talked to people about the candidate and urged them to vote. In this case, Mr. Ravenel was disqualified late in the campaign due to seemingly not having met the state’s 5-year residency requirement and therefore did not complete his run, but up until that point it was a gratifying experience.

After that, although I voted and encouraged others to do so, I didn’t become involved in another campaign until 2008. I decided at this point I wanted to become a part of history, and volunteered to make phone calls to get out the vote. I enjoyed doing this, as I like talking with people, and it was truly an eye-opening experience, mainly because of the misinformation and outright lies people were choosing to believe about then-candidate Obama. I spoke with many people in my area and was floored to discover that these college-educated folks persisted in choosing to believe some emails they’d received with this misinformation, rather than checking out the facts for themselves. I lived in a heavily Republican district at that time and felt rather like a salmon swimming upstream during the campaign, though Florida did go for President Obama that year.

I hadn’t planned on becoming involved in the campaign this time around, but because of a growing realization of how pivotal this election is, I felt I had to volunteer. I now live in a heavily Democratic area and my state will very likely go for the President, so most of my calling will be to registered voters in swing states, such as Florida and Ohio, to strongly encourage them to make sure they cast their ballots. If you are a registered voter in the U.S., VOTE!

(Note:  I do not plan to become involved in a political debate in this blog, so comments that are intended to start one will be deleted)

Project 52, Week 33 — Discombobulated, Temporarily

Not long ago those of us who use iGoogle got the message that that particular application won’t be around anymore after November of 2013. That might seem a long way off, but with no comparable replacement available now or on the horizon, it was more than a little disconcerting. I’ve been using iGoogle to keep myself up to date with what’s going on in the world for years, and though some warn against having all of one’s internet eggs in one basket, I’ve liked using several Google products and the way they all work together so well, especially Gmail and Google Calendar, which I usually access from my iGoogle start page.

Not wanting to be caught flat-footed a couple of Novembers from now, I started searching the web to see what other iGoogle fans were planning to do. Some said they’d use MSN.com or Yahoo! for their start page, though I’m hearing rumors that Yahoo! will also eventually do away with their current format. Some recommended Protopage and NetVibes, and I checked them out, but they’re not entirely satisfactory. Some said something similar to iGoogle could be set up in Google Chrome, but I prefer using Firefox. Also, though I can check Gmail at some of these other sites, I can’t access my Google Calendar from them. Google Calendar is probably my most important tool for making me look efficient and on top of things; without it I’d be pretty lost. There are other good calendars, but I don’t have a “smart” phone, and I can update Google Calendar with regular text messages. Zipcar coordinates with it as well. It’s simply the best.

Anyway, I came across a forum where a fellow posted that when Google made the iGoogle announcement, he stopped using it immediately and simply arranged his browser with the tabs keeping open the sites he felt were most important and used most often, plus a good news website. Duh! I looked at my iGoogle page and saw that I was using it mostly for a jumping-off point, that keeping the tabs open on the 5 sites I use most often would certainly be the easiest option, and had a why-didn’t-I-think-of-this-before moment. So I’ve stopped using iGoogle as well, and my 5 tabs are Google’s regular search, Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter and Weather Underground. This appeals to my great appreciation for the KISS principle, and I’m finding I don’t miss iGoogle very much at all. There were some fun widgets, but nothing I can’t find elsewhere.

So I was only discombobulated by this for a short time. I often dislike and have trouble adjusting to change, but it’s our only true constant, so at least this time it’s been relatively painless.

Project 52, Week 28 — Yes, I’m a Hot-Weather Wimp!

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and that has me looking forward to autumn. Personally, I wish we could just skip over summer altogether and get back to cool, grey, drizzly days with occasional “sunbreaks,” because I hate hot weather, and it doesn’t like me much, either.

I was always the kid with the flushed and sweaty face just minutes after starting to play outside in the summertime, as if my mother had let me go out to play with a high fever. We didn’t have air conditioning, and at that time in Southern Ohio we didn’t really need it most of the time. I managed during the summers of my early adulthood in South Carolina, learning to do what the locals did, running errands early and shopping for groceries after dark in hot weather. Then, on moving to Florida, I became totally addicted to air conditioning for 25 years. I managed there 9 months of the year by living in a home with central air, having an air-conditioned car, shopping in the freezing stores and malls which were typical in Florida. The other 3 months I reveled in the clear, cool, breezy, glorious weather I lived for the rest of the year.

Then, my last year in Florida, the air conditioning in my home finally failed.  Oddly, when the house was built the air conditioning lines were run UNDER the cement slab. There was a leak somewhere under that slab and there was no getting to it; a whole new system would have to be installed, to the tune of many thousands of dollars. I didn’t have that kind of money lying around, or even access to that amount, so we gritted our teeth and realized we were going to face months of temperatures over 90 degrees with humidities to match, inside the house.

Window air conditioners were not allowed in our neighborhood, so I bought 3 portable units, which were truly less than adequate. Most days, in my home office in the corner of the family room, the average was 92-93 degrees, with a portable AC unit next to my desk. I worked wearing wetted-down t-shirts and shorts with a wet towel on my head. This went on for six months, May through October; it wasn’t pretty. Our only relief came from the afternoon thunderstorms, when we took our chances with the lightning so we could stand outside in the rain. Our only hope was that we knew we were moving to Oregon the next spring; Portland was like a beacon of cool light at the end of a very hot tunnel.

When we arrived in Portland in early May of 2010, it was still cool and damp, even chilly, and stayed that way for weeks. I loved being able to wear turtleneck sweaters in June, the sweaters I wore for 3 days out of the year in Florida. Locals apologized for the late appearance of summer that year, to which I said, “Are you kidding?” Then they would ask why in the world I wanted to leave Florida, to which I said, “Are you kidding?” People here would rhapsodize about how much they’d enjoyed Walt Disney World when vacationing there and how much they’d like to live in Florida. I just chuckled and shook my head.

Last summer here in the PNW was also short; our first 90-degree day didn’t occur until late August, which thrilled me to no end. We don’t have AC in our townhouse; we didn’t see the sense in getting a unit for the handful of days when it might be needed. We realize there are occasionally days of 100-degree temps, but we haven’t had to deal with that yet. We’re considering  buying a swamp cooler (also known as an evaporative cooler) to take the edge off any really, really hot days.

Today is forecast to be a 90-degree day, after a few days in the mid to upper 80s. The construction work we endured on our building last month and the month before seems to be helping; the upstairs bedrooms don’t get nearly as hot on sunny days, and the new door and window downstairs seem to seal out the heat better as well. We let in as much cool air as possible early and then close up tight until late evening, which will get us through. But I still long for autumn…

In writing about this today I am acutely aware of the misery endured by millions of Americans this past week, with days and days of 100+ degrees temps and power outages that have been keeping air conditioners off around the country. There is some relief coming, I see, but that misery will take awhile to be erased, and the memory of those who perished in the excessive heat will never be erased. I hesitated to tackle this subject because I’m not likely to face that kind of weather extreme anymore, and a 90-degree day without AC (and low humidity) is nothing like what so many have been going through. So that may make me sound even more like a wimp. But I think, especially in light of that last 6-month stretch in Florida, I’ve earned my wimp status. So be it. Stay cool, all!

Project 52, Week 23 — Peace…It’s Wonderful

It’s peaceful and quiet here at home this morning, which is a major change from most mornings these days. As some who have heard me complain already know, especially those who follow me on Twitter, I’ve been dealing with construction noise going on around me for a few weeks now. The apartment community where I live is undergoing a much-needed facelift. The owner is sparing no expense; he is replacing the roofs, the insulation, the siding, the windows, the doors, everything. When the project is completed it’ll be very nice indeed, but the process has been, to put it mildly, excruciating on a daily basis.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I could escape each day by going to work, but for my job I telecommute from home. I also babysit three dogs during the day 5 days out of the week. The pounding, banging and the whine from the high-speed power tools starts promptly at 8 a.m. and goes until nearly 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. After not being able to hear myself think for the first couple of days, I developed a system of fashioning a set of earplugs that will fit under my headphones, turning up the volume on my computer, which allows me to at least do my work. I can still hear the construction noise in the background, but it blunts enough of it that I can concentrate and hear what I need to hear relatively well.

The dogs had trouble adjusting to the noise at first, but they seem to have adapted to it a bit now, even sleeping through it at times, but still sound the alarm when they see workers tramping back and forth on the deck. I close the vertical blinds so they see as little as possible, but occasionally they can’t resist peeking between the blinds, and the barking starts all over again. Being these are little dogs, they can only go about 2-3 hours without relieving themselves, and they were frightened at having to pick their way around the workers several times during the day at first, but they seem to have mostly adjusted to that, too.  They only tremble a bit now when the noise they encounter outside becomes too much for them.

I felt we were doing pretty well at coping with this, but I didn’t figure on the toll the stress level from unrelenting noise would take. I am having frequent headaches and heartburn, and sleep only restlessly at night. One of our dogs, the one who is most fearful, is having frequent diarrhea. Other members of the household are exhibiting stress symptoms as well, and neighbors are complaining of their own difficulties coping. That’s why today is so precious. At least Sunday, being the traditional day of rest, is the one day the workers aren’t here, and life begins to resemble normalcy for 24 hours.

We are told the entire project will take three months, May through July. We’re through the first month now; our building has a new roof and the doors and windows are in. The siding is in progress. Our building, being the oldest, has been worked on first. Yesterday the owner and the manager both said work on our building will essentially be over by the end of this coming week. There will be ongoing work on the other three buildings, but at least the noise level will be somewhat reduced by virtue of a little distance.

This is all very temporary, of course. Again, when it’s finished, the results will be quite satisfactory. But I’ve gained a new appreciation for those who deal with noise pollution on a daily basis and can’t escape it. We’ll be through it in a few weeks, but if this was unending, I’m sure we’d all be finished permanently sooner rather than later.