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, November 25, 2011

Slimebags? Or Patriots?

Last week, a letter to the editor in the Berkeley Voice called the Occupy protesters "slimebags," adding, "Water canons, stun guns, clubbing and arrests must be used on these freedom violators, with full force and with no possible legal actions against our police officers."
I couldn't agree more. Who do these kids think they are?
I watched the police break up the Occupy Cal encampment on the UC campus, and I was shocked by the violence with which the protestors attacked the police truncheons with their stomachs.
The chancellor had it absolutely right when he said, "It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience."
Right on! Violent arm-linking has been an intimidation tactic at least since the days of those infamous terrorists Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King. And, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, don't forget Occupy Oz, when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion linked arms as they skipped down the Yellow Brick Road on their way to murder a witch.
Then, a week later, an overwhelming mob of 12 students at UC Davis protested the events at Cal by sitting down, linking arms (that violent tactic again) and attacking the police tear gas canisters with their faces.
There's been some criticism of the police actions in that incident, and a handful of people - only 80,000 - have signed a petition calling for the chancellor to resign. But as Fox News' Megyn Kelly pointed out, "Pepper spray is a food product, essentially," just like those other yummy snacks, mustard gas and Agent Orange.
In fact, the restraint shown by the authorities has been admirable. It reminds me of the so-called Civil Rights marches of the 1960s, when the Birmingham police magnanimously provided some cute little dogs for the demonstrators to play with.
And, because Birmingham tends to get hot in the summertime, the police, no doubt worried that some of the demonstrators might get heat stroke, cooled them off by spraying them with fire hoses.
The entire University of California system is beset by tight budgets, and you might be wondering, as I did, where the money came from to buy such expensive riot equipment and give the campus cops their riot control training.
It turns out that the funding was provided by the Department of Homeland Security, which is also good news.
I don't know about you, but I'm sure relieved that Homeland Security is focusing on student protestors - but not all student protestors; the ones who rioted at Penn State are OK - instead of wasting their time chasing Al Qaeda and Timothy McVeigh wannabes.
It might be a long struggle, folks, but don't despair. The day will come when people think twice before speaking their minds; and government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations shall not perish from the earth.
We shall overcome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Toy Story

Memo to Santa: Interactive toys are in this Christmas, passive toys are out.
So says Devin McDonald, co-owner (with his life and business partner, Jenny Stevenson) of Mr. Mopps' in Berkeley, one of the last of the old-fashioned neighborhood toy stores.
"Kids love to fill in the gaps with their own imagination," he says. "Just give them an open-ended toy, and they'll take it from there."
Which means out with toys where you all you do is push a button and watch them do their thing. And in with toys that you can actually play with. For instance:
* Do-it-yourself kits such as Make Your Own Friendship Bracelet and Make Your Own Monster Doll (with extra eyeballs in case you want to give him four eyes, or even six).
* Spy kits, which include ink pad, dusting powder & brush (for detecting fingerprints), magnifying glass, mirror and fingerprint files.
* Educational jigsaw puzzles such as Great Inventors, which spotlights some inventors you know (Edison, Guttenberg, Wozniak and Jobs) and some you've probably never heard of (Ts'ai Lun, who invented paper, Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano, and Aryabhata, who invented the concept of zero).
A pretty good sign of an interactive toy is that it doesn't need a battery.
But there are exceptions. Moon In My Room is a 3-D lunar landscape that you hang on your bedroom wall, a remote control that lets you put the Moon through all 12 phases, and a CD audio tour of the Moon. Way cool.
Then there's the Anti-Monster Flashlight, "guaranteed to scare away any unwanted monsters that might be hiding in your room, under your bed or behind the curtains. Also effective against ghosts, witches, warlocks, werewolves, zombies and clowns."
Meanwhile, doll houses have been re-invented as wooden play sets, allowing kids to construct an arctic polar glacier (with Eskimos, seal pups, a whale, a walrus and a penguin), King Arthur's castle, or a pirate ship with pirates, cannons, cloth sales, a rum barrel and, of course, a plank!
But the best toys of all are the same ones you loved when you were a kid: finger puppets, building blocks, swings, trampolines, hula-hoops, magnetic dart boards, and board games, including Anti-Monopoly. (Remember, this is Berkeley.)
Mr. Mopps' has been a Mecca for Berkeley children for almost 50 years, most of that time under the ownership of Eugene Yamashita. Several generations of kids grew up and brought their own kids and grandkids to his store.
One of them was Devin, who has been a loyal customer since he was a toddler, when his grandmother took him there and bought him his favorite teddy bear, Mr. Choo-Choo (who, by the way, is still with us, residing on the mantle in Devin and Jenny's living room).
When Yamashita retired a couple of years ago, he turned down several higher offers and sold the place to Devin and Jenny because he felt they were the best ones to continue his tradition.
Old-fashioned toy stores like Mr. Mopps' are rapidly becoming an endangered species. But there are still a few left, including The Magic Leaf at Children's Fairyland, the ToyHouse in Montclair, Five Little Monkeys in Albany, Rockridge Kids in Rockridge, Sweet Dreams in the Elmwood, and Toy Safari in Alameda.
Check them out instead of the giant Internet and chain stores this holiday season.