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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of The Tweens, By The Tweens, For The Tweens

It had to happen: Now there's a blog called the Malia and Sasha Fan Club.
It was created by two sisters in Memphis, Tennessee, named Kailysia and Kaila, who are 10 and 8 respectively - about the same age as the Obama girls. And their grandma is their webmaster.
It's a blog by Tweens for other Tweens, and it reports every story from a Tween perspective. For instance, when the President and First Lady visited Buckingham Palace, the headline read, "Malia and Sasha's mom and dad meet the Queen."
Needless to say, they've been all over the Bo the Dog story from the very beginning. Even before he was chosen, they were conducting an online poll on what he should be named. ("Moose" was the favorite with 50 percent of the votes, followed by "Frank" and "other.")
Every time Malia or Sasha is spotted taking Bo for a walk, or another one of Bo's siblings pops up somewhere in the country, you'll read about it first at the Malia and Sasha Fan Club.
There's a dictionary icon you can click on to look up words you don't know. And if you're so young that you haven't learned to read yet, you can click on another icon to hear an audio version of the text. (That was Kaila and Kailysia's idea.)
There are also a lot of fun facts to learn and games to play, but when you click on the "Games" link you have to read a Bible verse first. (That was Grandma's idea.)
And there's another link you can click on to donate to Kailysia and Kaila's favorite charity, StandUp For Kids, which helps homeless children.
During March Madness they asked everyone to root for Memphis because, as they explained, "Our dad is going to have a fit if they don't win!" (Alas, the Tigers lost.)
Now, one of the nice things about being a newspaper columnist is that I have absolutely no hesitation about calling up perfect strangers.
So I called them when they were at Grandma's house. And they were a total delight: smart, sweet, enthusiastic and extremely polite - just like Malia and Sasha.
"The only reason we started the fan club was that we couldn't find a kid-based website on the Obama girls," said their grandma. "They were fascinated when I told them they could start their own fan club, where other kids could read about America's First Daughters."
The whole experience has been incredibly empowering, and it's had an unexpected bonus for Kaila, who previously disliked her birthday: July 4th.
"I could never get my friends to come over and celebrate with me because they were busy celebrating the holiday with their families," she explained.
Then, while doing research for the blog, she discovered that Malia's birthday is July 4th, too.
"It made me feel awesome! Now I LOVE being born on July 4th!"
Their fondest hope, of course, is to meet the Obama girls in person. But what will they say to them when they do?
"I'm just going to treat them like real people," said Kailysia. "A lot of people say, 'Oh gosh, you're the president's daughter!' But I'm going to treat them like we've been friends forever."
You can visit the Malia and Sasha Fan Club at http://kailysiakaila.blogspot.com/

Sunday, May 10, 2009

No Greater Love

(Above: Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, as a 19-year-old serving with E Company of the 442nd RCT. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.)

Did you know that no private monuments are allowed in the East Bay Regional Park District? It's been a strict rule ever since the district was founded 75 years ago.
But there's one exception: In Roberts Park there's a memorial to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Japanese American World War II unit that was awarded more medals, man for man, than any other unit in American history.
Their heroism is even more impressive when you remember that they were fighting and dying for our country at the same time that their families were imprisoned in detention camps back here.
Never mind that they were American citizens, or that there were no similar mass roundups of German Americans or Italian Americans.
If I had been in their position, I would have told Uncle Sam to take a hike. But the men of the 442nd were made of better stuff. They not only agreed to serve, they volunteered.
The longtime general manager of the park district, the late William Penn Mott, was so moved by the 442nd's patriotism, he waived the rule against private monuments.
That's why there's a plaque and memorial bench in Roberts Park, right beneath the historic Blossom Rock Navigation Trees, a pair of towering redwoods that ships sailing into San Francisco Bay used to get their bearings during the Gold Rush days.
And the best time to visit the monument is at noon onMay 16, when the men of the 442nd gather for their annual memorial service to honor their friends who made the ultimate sacrifice.
One of them was Sadao Munimori, a 22-year-old who was the first member of the 442nd to receive the Medal of Honor. He was killed when he threw himself on a live grenade to save his friends. The date: April 5, 1945.
When I first read that, it gave me a start, because that was the day I was born.
It brought home to me the fact that Munimori - and all the other 500,000 Americans who lost their lives - died so you and I could live. They gave up their futures so we could have ours.
All of Mott's successors as general manager, including the current incumbent, Pat O'Brien, have followed his tradition of treating the 442nd with honor. The park staffers knock themselves out each year to make the memorial service as easy as possible for these heroic veterans. They even waive the parking fees!
For years, the men of the 442nd have asked me to thank the park district for them, but for one reason or another I never got around to it. So let me correct that now: Thanks, Mr. O'Brien, to you and all your people. The men really appreciate it, and I know Mr. Mott would approve.
Over the years, the ceremony has been broadened to honor all World War II veterans. And the men of the 442nd cordially invite you to join them.
Roberts Park is located on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland. Just follow the signs for the Chabot Space & Science Center and look for the turnoff to Roberts Park, about a mile before you get to the observatory.
Drive through the first parking lot and park in the second lot behind it. You'll find the 442nd monument just past the picnic area.
I look forward to seeing you there.