A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's gamble

The pundits are fond of saying that the vice presidential candidates don't make much difference in presidential elections, but this time could be different.
To put it crassly, the odds of a president dying in office are getting shorter and shorter.
For almost 150 years, we had presidents dying every 20 years: Harrison in 1841, Taylor in 1850, Lincoln in 1865, Garfield in 1886, McKinley in 1901, Harding in 1923, Roosevelt in 1945 and Kennedy in 1963.
But it's been 45 years since the last time. And this year both presidential candidates are at risk: Obama because of the ever-present threat of assassination, and McCain because of his age. At 72, he would be the oldest president ever elected; and because of the torture he suffered during the Vietnam war he's probably older, medically speaking, than his chronological age.
So it behooves the electorate to take a closer look than usual at the vice presidential candidates this time because one of them very well could end up in the White House.
On one hand, you have Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which gives him great expertise in two of our most urgent problems: America's isolation in the world community and the politicization of the justice system. Whatever you think of him, he clearly has the gravitas to step into the top spot if, God forbid, it becomes necessary.
And Sarah Palin? Someone who has been in office for only two years? With zero experience in national or foreign affairs? Does anyone really think she'd be ready for that 3 a.m. phone call?
It's clearly a cynical attempt to appeal to disgruntled Hillary voters. But I think even Republican women will be offended by McCain's implicit assumption that any female candidate, no matter how lightweight, will do.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Two new arrivals at Fairyland

Children's Fairyland in Oakland is celebrating the arrival of two new four-footed residents: Twinkle the lamb and Dori the Shetland pony.
Twinkle, who is only five months old, was slated for the slaughterhouse until Fairyland offered her a home. And she's already fitting in like an old-timer.
"She's as sweet as can be," said Yvonne Backman, Fairyland's animal caregiver. "Her mother rejected her at birth, so she was bottle fed, which means she really connects with humans."
Twinkle is so people-friendly, Fairyland is featuring her as the "Animal of the Day" on weekends, taking her out of the corral to the grassy area in front of the duck pond, where children can come up and pet her, up close and personal.
"She's so good with them," said Backman. "For her, it's a chance to do two of her favorite things at the same time - munch grass and get petted."
Dori, who is 13, is also wonderful with the little tykes.
"That's no surprise because she was the children's pony at the Chabot Equestrian Center for the last three years," Backman said. "And before that, her job was giving rides to disabled kids."
Despite her gentleness with children, Dori has a mind of her own when it comes to other animals.
"We call her 'the diva' because she likes to have things her way," said Backman. "For instance, Juan the alpaca always used to have his special 'pacing zone,' where he could have a clear view of the goats, whom he loves.
"But Dori likes that spot, too, because that's the main thoroughfare where people walk by the corral, and she loves to get petted. Needless to say, Dori has won that disagreement."
The only downside for Dori is that she's been put on a diet.
"She has a huge appetite, which is typical of Shetland ponies. But the vet says she needs to lose 50 pounds," Backman said.
Meanwhile, Dori and Twinkle's predecessors, Coco the pony and her totally devoted friend, Bobo the sheep, who delighted Fairyland's pint-sized visitors for 20 and 11 years, respectively, are enjoying their retirement at Goats 'R' Us in Briones.
"They've been sleeping outdoors from the day they got there, and loving every minute of it," said Backman. "They're not on a schedule; they come and go as they please. I think they're as happy in their new home as Twinkle and Dori are in theirs."
The best news for Coco is that she's made friends with three young stallions in the neighboring pasture.
"They only have eyes for her, and vice versa," Backman. "She spends a lot of time at the fence flirting with them - swishing her tail, strutting back and forth and calling to them. It's a real May-December romance."
This is Coco's first chance to bond with other equines since 2006, when the Oakland Police Department eliminated its mounted patrol unit, whose stables were located next to Fairyland in Lakeside Park. For years, Coco's best friend was a huge - 17 hands - thoroughbred named Sanchez.
"Every morning before the park opened, I'd let her out of her paddock, and she'd run over to the chain link fence separating us from the OPD stable," said Backman. "She and Sanchez would just stand there for hours, nuzzling noses through the fence. I'm glad to know she's going to have that kind of friendship again."
And how's Bobo doing?
"He doesn't care where he is, as long as he's with Coco. "