When Fences Come Down

Fence.Mtn Lake

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote Robert Frost, and I think he was onto a larger truth. Of course, Frost – in his “Mending Wall” – was talking about rocks and neighbors, and the poem leaves us with ambivalence about the goodness of fences.

Fences and walls may, at times, make good neighbors – but the big ones tend to be symbols of enmity (think Berlin, Israel, Arizona…) and we just want them down.

A few months ago a high, dark fence went up around lovely Mountain Lake, in the San Francisco park that is one of my favorite spots on the planet. It’s a city park, but the lake (fortunately for us all) is part of the Presidio National Park and has been undergoing an extraordinary restoration for the past few years. It may not yet be back to the purity that made its water just fine for Spanish settlers (and probably the Ohlone and Coast Miwok indigenous people before them) to drink, but years of accumulated glunk, trash and sludge have been hauled away and the lake’s return to life has been a rare joy to watch.

The problem? Although the waters began to clear and native greenery emerged, a proliferation of non-native fish were quashing any hope of bringing back the fish who once belonged. We’re not talking just a couple of ordinary intruders. It was possible to stand on the beach near the murky water’s edge and watch goldfish the size of ahi tuna swimming casually back and forth. With native fish and turtles long displaced by casually dumped household pets, the lake was overrun with carp, bullfrogs – somebody reported a sturgeon – and who knows what else. This writer remembers the brief residence of an alligator, who famously evaded a gator hunter imported from Florida but was eventually removed to the local zoo.

Presidio Trust personnel tried snagging, netting and every known removal method before conceding that the only solution would be to poison the lake. They chose plant-based Rotenone, which kills everything with gills (and happily not much without) and disappears within three days. Thus the fence went up – presumably it was still not a good idea for gill-free people to be wandering near the water. Almost the moment the solution was poured into the four-acre lake, the alien fish died. They were scooped up by the thousands to be studied by ecologists (who reluctantly went along with the project) to determine their origin and soon composted as a final act of goodness. But the fence, for assorted reasons, did not come down.

Sign.Mtn Lake

And over the long weeks that followed it was as if the park itself was inhabited by an alien being. Children still played on the adjacent swings and slides, dog walkers still tossed tennis balls, this writer still exercised on the bars of the fitness trail – but the now-sparkling lake was hidden behind its foreboding shield. Even when the gulls could be heard returning beyond the black screen, and actually seen if you peered through the mesh, the park felt bifurcated and somehow forlorn. Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas was less merry, the New Year not yet happy.

A few days ago, the fence came down. Mountain Lake, the shimmering heart of Mountain Lake Park reappeared, putting on a show of new life. A few familiar ducks may never have left; now they have been joined by coots and grebes and a spiffy ruddy duck who is apparently courting two slightly less flashy lady ruddy ducks. Western pond turtles, chorus frogs and native fish will begin to return in the spring.

Lake.Mtn Lake

The metaphors are abundant: fences come down, sunlight spreads from reflected waters, varied creatures happily coexist, romance blooms.

 

Where is Robert Frost when we need him?

 

 

 

 

Shameless theft from ThinkProgress: a great source for progressive truth, and some new insight into Arizona craziness

Every now and then, when you’re dismayed and distressed about having zero time to put down any thoughts worth someone else’s time, you remember the excellent thoughts of someone else. In this case, a blog about recent goings-on in Arizona that was posted last week by my friend and very astute reporter on reproductive justice, Tara Culp-Ressler, Health Editor of ThinkProgress.org.

Arizona actions are a little difficult to follow, but they have to do with large issues. Issues like: when does your right to your religion trump my right to be who I am? Or, can your religion control my life? As in, does your religion have the right to determine whether or not I may choose to abort an 8-week fetus?

There is also a great deal of word-play going on (see ‘On choosing one’s words’ below.) As a general rule in these Arizona debates, “religious liberty” can be translated “I really don’t like gay people.” And “protecting women’s health” usually refers to limiting access to abortion. It’s easy to get lost in the wording and inuendo, and that’s why I appreciate others’ careful reporting and analysis. Here is the beginning of a thorough explanation of recent happenings in Arizona, lifted from Tara Culp-Ressler’s ThinkProgress page, which you may want to bookmark.

“All eyes were on Arizona this past week, after the legislature approved an anti-gay bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals under the guise of preserving religious liberty. The intense national backlash culminated in Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) decision to veto the legislation. But that doesn’t mean the lawmakers in the Grand Canyon State are putting controversial social issues to rest.

“Just one day after Brewer’s widely publicized veto, lawmakers in Arizona advanced new legislation to attack abortion rights. HB 2284, misleadingly named the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” would allow for surprise inspections at abortion clinics to try to catch them violating state law. The measure also stipulates that abortion clinics need to “report whenever an infant is born alive after a botched abortion and report what is done to save that child’s life,” inflammatory language that the anti-choice community often deploys to suggest that some doctors are committing infanticide.

“HB 2284 is being spearheaded by the Center for Arizona Policy, or CAP, the same right-wing group that was behind the controversial “right to discriminate” bill.

“State lawmakers gave the measure preliminary approval on Thursday. “I mean, for goodness’ sake, we even do unannounced inspections of Burger King and McDonald’s, but we’re not allowing them at abortion clinics?” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), the bill’s sponsor, said during the legislative hearing on the measure.

“In reality, Lesko’s legislation is seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures in the country, and the clinics that perform these procedures are already highly regulated. There’s no good reason to single out abortion providers for this additional red tape. Enacting these type of laws simply gives abortion opponents the opportunity to trigger state investigations — and, depending on the political affiliations of the people who serve on state health boards, this can be an avenue to force clinics out of business.

“’As an organization, we support bills that truly protect patient safety, but House Bill 2284 opens the door to provider and patient harassment,’ Jodi Liggett, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, told ThinkProgress in a statement.

“HB 2284 is part of a coordinated strategy to close abortion clinics that’s advancing across the country. And it’s also a clear reminder that, regardless of Brewer’s recent veto, the fight against “religious liberty” legislation isn’t over. This line of argument is driving efforts to restrict LGBT rights in other states across the country — and it’s directly related to attacks on reproductive freedom, too.”

For the rest of the story, surf over to ThinkProgress. Click those buttons at the top of the page if you appreciate it as much as this writer.

Leaving the driver at home

Ummm. About this robotic car business. Everyone says its day is near, and halleluia. Governor Jerry Brown, with a recent stroke of his pen, made it legal in California. According to the Los Angeles Times, driverless cars are already legal in Nevada anyway, and under consideration in Arizona, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Florida. (Further recent news from MVTrac suggests that if you fall behind in the payments on your robocar the repo guy might send a robotrack to snatch it back home. Clearly, people may become extinct.)

I am all in favor of driverless cars that allow passengers to catch up on business en route to that urgent presentation, or finish dressing the kids on the way to school. Computers are certainly less likely to kill me in the crosswalk than all the drivers loose in the land today who are eating hamburgers, concentrating on cellphone conversations or texting their buddies while I’m trying to cross the street and wishing they would notice.

But there are bugs to work out. Have the robocar people ever gone on vacation with two preschoolers who need to go to the bathroom right that minute? Do they have any idea how frustrating it is already to argue with the obnoxious GPS lady who insists you take Geary Blvd wherever you’re traveling east-west in San Francisco, when you know darned well the lights are timed on Bush and Pine? And can they figure out how to program a sudden rainbow, or the view of the beach just several blocks away, or even an aberrant pull-over to watch goats grazing in a field?

The Driverless Car Gets Stuck on a Curb
The Driverless Car Gets Stuck on a Curb (Photo credit: Melody Kramer)

 

The car manufacturing people say not to hold our breath for driverless vehicles. They’ll figure it all out, I’m sure, before this latest wonder comes to American roadways. But in case they need a consultant on really important details, I could make myself available. For a fee. And perhaps a drive down the coast.

 

 

Latest boomer gadget: tombstone microchips

Microchip e microciop
Image by Un ragazzo chiamato Bi via Flickr

This may be one step farther than some of us want to go. But for those seeking to live, somehow, forever, the Canwest News Service reports on a new e-gimmick on the market and apparently targeting the boomer generation. There are several more paragraphs in writer Misty Harris‘ report, but this space suggests that the following, and particularly the last sentence, cover everything you really need to know.

Ensuring virtual life after death, new microchip-enabled headstones allow the Me Generation to share their stories from the grave, with passersby simply swiping markers with a cellphone to retrieve biographical details — everything from the deceased’s political beliefs to their favourite recipes.

“My wife and I had just lost relatives and found it so underwhelming, in a sense, to know that these people had contributed so much and yet their lives were being summed up with just names and dates,” says John Bottorff, founder of Objecs, the Arizona company behind the RosettaStone grave markers.

The palm-sized tablets can be mounted to existing headstones or installed on new ones. Each is engraved with custom symbols representing the deceased’s life — an Rx for a pharmacist, for example, or a sheriff’s star for a police officer — and contains a Near Field Communications radio-frequency identification tag, which allows biographical data to be loaded onto any NFC-enabled phone with the wave of a hand (NFC is expected to be standard on new mobile phones in North America by 2012).

A unique web ID is also engraved so people without NFC can raise the dead — or at least their personal histories — on any computer.

As early as 2015, seniors will outnumber children for the first time in Canadian history, while the number of centenarians is projected to triple — perhaps even quadruple — by 2036.

For end-trepreneurs, this represents a killer opportunity.

Microchip tombstones latest boomer gadget.

Ex-Justice O'Connor on AZ immigration law: perhaps "a little too far"

Answering questions after a speech at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory School, from which her husband graduated in 1947, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said her home state should not be boycotted over its punitive new immigration law.

Still, she said, Arizona “may have gone a little too far in its authority, in encouraging local law enforcement officers to take action” against anyone they reasonably suspect of being an illegal immigrant.

Opponents say the provision invites racial profiling.

“It doesn’t read that way, but it might work that way,” O’Connor said.

Well, yes.

This space doesn’t see the logic in one state boycotting another — as some in California, including State Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, are suggesting. But Arizona’s law is wrong. And O’Connor is right in saying that “It’s the job of our federal, national government to secure our borders, not a job of state government.”

Now, if the federal government would just get to work…

The fears behind Arizona immigration law

If immigration reform has been on the back burner, despite President Obama’s campaign promises to tackle the issue, the May Day marchers hope to move it back to the front, and turn up the heat. They turned out in New York — 5,000+ in Manhattan’s Foley Square, in Los Angeles — fired up by singer Gloria Estefan and Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, and here in San Francisco — where the basic fears raised by Arizona’s new law were evident. SB 1070, signed by Governor Jan Brewer last week, makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally.

The (San Francisco) march, part of the annual worldwide May Day workers’ rights demonstrations, stretched four to five blocks and ended at City Hall, where members of the conservative Tea Party and local Golden Gate Minutemen held a counter-protest.

Jim Homer, a business manager for Local 216 of the Laborers International Union of North America, whose 100-member group led the march, said many fellow construction laborers fear Arizona’s SB1070 will spread to California and create cultural hostility toward foreign-born workers.

“The immigration system is set up to blame the workers who come here,” Homer said. “There needs to be reform of the immigration laws that put more focus on the employers and their responsibilities, not just on the people who come to this country to make a living.”

The two primary sides to the immigration issue were in sharp focus on the west coast:

(W)orkers and immigrants at the San Francisco march – and others like it in Oakland and San Jose – said the law will give police the right to check for immigration papers of any brown-skinned citizens.

At the Civic Center counter-protest, Elizabeth Kelly, an Alameda resident who supports the Golden Gate Minutemen, said she also wants immigration reform. The Minutemen are a local branch of the controversial national group that voluntarily patrols the border, trying to stop undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

“Close the border,” she said. “I want to see them go back. That’d be my immigration reform.”

The Golden Gate Minutemen, whose Web site features some scary stuff (May Day! May Day! Invaders Coming!) is part of the fear factor for a number of recent immigrant — some legal, some not — friends of mine. “They’re not going to ask questions first, they’re going to send you to jail or out of the country, and ask questions later,” said one.

Most reports say Obama won’t do much beyond tightening border control in the near future. A lot more is needed. Until we get real reform, including some reasonable guest worker provisions and amnesty for those who have proved themselves good citizens already, we’re going to continue to be a nation not just of immigrants, but of fear. Not a very comfortable social system for anyone.

Big S.F. protest of Arizona immigration law.

One immigrant's plight v Arizona law

My friend Maria is among the fairly good-sized community of illegal immigrants living in San Francisco. She works hard, buys local, supports her church and her daughter’s school, adds a lot to the city and state economy and functions in every way as a model citizen except she doesn’t pay income taxes. She would like to pay those taxes, but over the years that she’s been here she has not found an opening to apply for citizenship.

Once I asked Maria about her car, a nice one on which she paid hefty sales taxes but which, of course, she drives without a license.”I just drive very, very carefully,” she said, “and keep everything perfect with the car. If you’re stopped, maybe for a turn light being out, it’s $1,000 minimum.”

“A thousand dollars?” I said; “you’re kidding.”

“They impound your car. You have to find someone with a valid license, get them to go get your car for you, plus paying the fine and all the fees.” Maria said this in a quiet voice while I exhaled.

Now, if Maria is stopped in Arizona she will simply be sent home. And this makes very little sense to me. President Obama said the Arizona law threatens “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

He also said that he is monitoring the Arizona bill for civil rights and other implications.

“If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country,” Mr. Obama said.

In his remarks, the president didn’t offer a timetable for trying to pursue an overhaul of immigration laws in Congress.

Something seems not only unfair but un-American about making it legal for Maria to be summarily sent home after a traffic stop. Or some other kind of stop, no matter how vehemently everyone insists that racial profiling will never happen. We welcome Maria and her family in — after all, we need their labor if we’re going to eat strawberries — but once they’ve proven themselves solid citizen potential we throw them out.  Maria has cousins who were migrant workers although she herself has always been a small step up the ladder from that back-breaking job.

Admittedly, illegal immigrants come here for less than good-citizen motives. Certainly we must protect our boundaries. Arizona’s abuse-inviting law does not seem the right way to fix our immigration policies.

Obama Slams Arizona’s Immigration Bill – The Caucus Blog – NYTimes.com.