June 22, 2007

I have never known a day in my life without my grandmother, Clara Alice Robinson. Every child who is blessed with a grandparent knows the unique joy that relationship brings. An older, loving figure you can put on a pedestal without any of the fears or anxieties you have with your parents; love and affection without discipline or question. In my life, “Grandma” was always that person.

I have lived in a house with her, or in a house she owned, for most of my life. When I was four, my parents were going through some hard times, and she and her late husband, Jim Robinson, invited me and my siblings to live with them until things got sorted out. One year became two, then four, and so on, until the next thing we knew, we were under their roof for more than twenty years, long enough for my mom and dad to send me and my two sisters and brother to college (and me to law school). And for much of that time, our household also included her mother (my great-grandmother), as well as the family of her other daughter, after they moved here from Wigan.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that she taught me how to read, or to add, or gave me my passion for current events and for American history. I have a lot of teachers to thank for that, as well as my mom and dad. But Grandma was always there to read me a book when I was little, or to help me count to a hundred, or what was the correct pronunciation of “Czechoslovakia” when I was browsing the encyclopedia when I was six. Every night, without fail, she would pour me a bowl of cereal before I went to bed; that went on ‘til I was about 16. To this day, the best reason I’ve ever been able to come up with for having children of my own is to expose them to this great, sweet lady.

She had a sharp wit, and until recently, did not look or act anywhere close to her age, which was 92. She watched "The Price Is Right" and "Young and the Restless" each morning, and any Grand Slam event in pro tennis, but other than that, she was a CNN junkie, and had an opinion about everything. She never got over the fact that the people of her home state elected an Austrian bodybuilder to be their chief executive; she was still amazed than an actor could get elected President.

During WWII, she had worked in a factory on the home front, a genuine Rosie the Riveter. She never tired of telling me the story about how her father, an immigrant from England (by way of Edmonton, Alberta, where she was born), ran afoul of the KKK when they were marching in the mid-1920’s, refusing to doff his hat at the American flag they carried when they paraded by. He had taught her the lessons she would later teach her daughters, and then her grandchildren: that prejudice is a fool’s game, and we should take people as they come, not as we wish them to be.

Her idiosyncrasies were legendary in our family. She never learned to drive a car. She hated being photographed, which was especially odd since she wasn’t a bad-looking woman even at the end. She ate sparingly, and every day would down at least one hefty-sized bourbon and ginger ale; let’s just say she preferred her bourbon dry.

Two years ago, she fell at her house, suffering a cracked knee cap, and I don’t think she was ever the same physically. She began using a walker to go everywhere, and after awhile, a wheelchair, and a lot of the enthusiasm she had for life suffered. She could still perk up when my nephew (now almost four) came by to visit, and she adored her pet dachshund/Chihuahua hybrid, “JR” (named after my granddad), but mostly, she just sat, meditating on her long life, and probably, those loved ones who had passed on before her. Regardless, she always had time for visitors, and her big heart ensured them that they would always have a welcome place in our home.

In mid-April, when I was over at her house, she fell face first in the kitchen. We took her to the local hospital, where they stitched her up, but the toll had weakened her. What we didn’t realize at the time was that she had suffered a stroke. When she continued to seem lethargic and unresponsive after she returned home, we booked her into a hospital bed at Providence-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, where the doctors’ diagnosis turned out to be our worst fears.

For the last four weeks, she battled, showing a reservoir of physical strength we didn’t imagine she possessed as various tubes and oxygen masks were tried on, in an effort to rehabilitate her strength. Slowly, she came back to us, in spite of what must have seemed to her like a torture right out of the Inquisition. Always, her repeated goal was for us to take her home, and on Sunday, the doctors told us that the chances for her were good; that she would be moved to the rehab unit, and arrangements could be made to bring her home shortly. Even in that false spring, it was clear that her time at the hospital had taken a great deal out of her, and she would never be that same person whose self-deprecating wit and rambunctious laughter brightened the lives of all around her.

Early this morning, she took her leave. Her last hours were spent surrounded by her family, in the comforting bed of her home. When she returned for the last time, her eyes seemed to sparkle, as if she knew she was finally going to get some peace and quiet.

I suppose in the traditional obit, it would mention she was a widow who was survived by two daughters, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren (and another one on the way), as well as numerous other nieces, great-nephews and what-not. But like so many other people whose names never make it into a newspaper at the end of her life, she touched so many other people, too numerous to count.

She will be missed. I know there will be times of joy in my life, to go along with this day of sadness. But it strains me to think about how not having her with me, in the present, will temper any happiness. It won’t be the same without her.

Clara Alice Robinson (1915-2007).

June 21, 2007

The Fourth Estate: Not the press, according to the Vice President, but himself. When he's trying to avoid public disclosure requirements, he claims he's not part of the executive branch, but when he's trying to cover up kickbacks received by his "Energy Task Force," it's Executive Privilege all the way, baby.

June 19, 2007

This should not be considered an endorsement of her campaign (it's early yet), but this is amusing on so many levels....

June 18, 2007

The Path to Hell: From declassified documents at the National Security Archive:

However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?
--Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (12/2/2002) making a funny concerning a recommendation that more coercive interrogation techniques, such as forcing prisoners into "stress positions," ie., standing for long periods of time (see p.6, section 4(d)), be permitted for military personnel.

The memo itself is full of legal weasel words, like "specific intent," to justify circumventing longstanding Constitutional denunciations of torture and cruel and unusual punishment, not to mention international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory, including the Geneva Conventions. Remember, this memo predates the invasion of Iraq by four months, so any doubts that Abu Ghraib was somehow beyond the pale of American policy should be squelched. As far as reacting to what this government has done, the ticking time bomb went off a long time ago. [link via Andrew Sullivan]
In these politically correct times, it is a shame we are deprived of seeing pop groups with goose-stepping back-up vocalists:

Speaking of which, whatever happened to Ken Layne & the Corvids?

June 17, 2007

The Trial of Tony Blair: Well, I saw it, and I can't say I was overwhelmed. The actors, particularly the Blogmuse, were terrific (saying "Phoebe Nicholls was superb" is like saying "water is wet," or "the San Antonio Spurs are spirit-crushingly dull"), but the story itself left a lot to be desired. If you intend to make the case that Blair, Bush, Cheney et al., should be held accountable before a legal tribunal for the mendacity in which they took their countries to war, a case which I wholeheartedly endorse, it might make more sense not to make your "villain" the only person in the movie who acts out of a sense of principal and conviction, nor to invest everyone who advocates putting him on trial as motivated only by cynicism. I suppose the filmmakers might respond by saying that the only way a fairy tale notion that a Western leader could actually face what has traditionally been "victor's justice" is for his erstwhile allies to believe that political expediency leaves them with no other choice, but it doesn't do the cause of international law any good when its advocates are portrayed as a bunch of conniving a-holes, and the process itself as little more than a formality before a guilty verdict is imposed.

I also had the impression that a lot of the film had been cut out for its American debut, on BBC America. Like ESPN Classic, BBC America is a cable channel that is inexplicably bad; other than its news broadcasts in the early morning, and the occasional showings of "Little Britain," its programming leaves a lot to be desired. I have the impression that PBS gets dibs on all the really good programs from the U.K., while BBC America gets stuck with reruns of "Footballers' Wives," "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" or what it aired tonight, which ironically wasn't even shown on the BBC in Great Britain, but was instead on the cable off-shoot of Channel Four, a competing network. If BBC America is an attempt to convince Americans that the vast majority of British television is stale and schlocky fare, it is succeeding beyond anyone's wildest dreams.