Archives for category: Politics

I am contemplating Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima as we shift into Memorial Day weekend, a time when Americans remember our fallen warriors. I have no issue with the president’s visit – we must always remember and never forget.

Obama said: “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

“We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow. Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

It seems so long ago. Some 60 million people died over the years that World War II raged, including the final acts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet my own family to this day represents the past and present.

My father sailed into Yokohama Bay as part of the conquering force, having expected to fight his way into Japan but for Harry S Truman’s decision to deploy the first and only atomic weapon. “Everybody knew we were going to Japan,” Dad told me. Then Truman made the fateful decision. In the awful aftermath, the U.S. Navy sailed on to Japan. Dad’s convoy ported at Yokohama, the Imperial Japanese naval base south of Tokyo. Over the next few months, he helped transport the tortured and emaciated American soldiers who had been liberated from Japan’s notorious POW camps to U.S. medical ships for treatment.

Fast forward 70 years. Our nephew Kyle, a Marine, visited last weekend. He was recently posted in Japan, and expects to return. His memories of Tokyo are far different from my father’s, and I am struck by that. Kyle’s stay in Japan took him to Tokyo and Okinawa and Mount Fuji and beyond. He talked of the blinding lights of Shibuya, the Japanese equivalent of Times Square, part of the long resurrection of Japan’s economy after the war years. He’s also stood sentinel at the DMZ in Korea, an ongoing symbol of the uneasy East-West relations.

Yes, Kyle is today’s face of our long military relationship with Japan. As was my father long long ago. Separated by seven decades, yet the mission eerily similar: Keeping the peace.

May we never forget.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

My family has suffered a terrible tragedy. My 28-year-old nephew died over Memorial Day weekend while on a camping trip with his family deep in the mountains of Alaska. Dusty’s cause of death is still unknown. (Update: He died of heart failure)

I won’t/can’t go into the whole religion/higher being thing. He came from a Catholic lineage, and I know for a fact that faith will help my sister and her family cope with their grief. Everyone else will have to search for meaning in the seemingly senseless death of a vibrant young man.

There were many images posted to social media that proved Dusty’s mastery of the snow and the wilderness, as well as snowboard moves that stupefy city folk like me.

What spoke to me were the many visuals of Dusty with his brothers and sisters and parents and friends, the dime-a-dozen photos that become treasures only when a loved one is lost. I thank God that his family has hundreds of those images to remember Dusty. This is a family which lives life to the fullest, and relishes sharing it with each other.

This one video struck deep in my heart: Dusty’s brothers and a friend, 20-somethings at play on a children’s carousel, snatching a few moments of sheer delight from the depths of their sorrow. Check out their soulful glee.carousel

It reminds me of my own two sons, same age as their cousins, rediscovering their inner child on a playground in New Zealand.

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My only message here is to encourage you to hold your family and friends close, love and laugh, hug and be hugged. Because you never know when the merry-go-round will stop suddenly.

If you spend even a random weekend enjoying snow sports, consider giving money to the Alaska Avalanche School in memory of Dusty and those who live their lives ISO the best that nature offers.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

 

“Mayo is personal to me.”

This is how I opened my remarks to a group of journalists and Mayo Clinic doctors a few days ago. Mayo has been treating presidents, foreign royalty and VIPs like Lou Gehrig and Ernest Hemingway for 150 years. Mayo is celebrated for its global reach; Mayo also treats the humble in its midst.

If you were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness where I grew up, on the Minnesota-South Dakota border, you made a beeline to Mayo. My father came here for treatment of his prostate cancer. My uncles were treated at Mayo, as were many neighbors. One neighbor was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early 1970s, practically a death sentence back then, and Mayo nursed him through that cancer – and several more – until he finally succumbed 40 years later. Forty additional years of life.

Mayo is personal to me.

photoA little history. Dr. William Mayo was appointed by President Lincoln in 1864 to provide medical examinations of men joining the Union Army in Minnesota. In 1883, a tornado destroyed much of Rochester. The Mayo brothers, Charlie and William, then built the hospital that was the beginning of the mammoth complex that exists today. Mayo now treats 1.5 million patients a year.

Mayo won the Nobel Prize for creating cortisone (though lost out on a fortune in profits that went to Merck). Its list of achievements is so long I’ll just provide a link here. A long line of presidents have been treated by Mayo doctors: LBJ, Nixon, Bush I, Reagan and more. In the middle of rural, white, Norwegian Minnesota, Mayo is a multicultural island, a veritable United Nations of Mayo staff and patients from all over the world.

I was at Mayo this week as a healthy person, along with 25 journalists learning about individualized medicine, a concept that exists through the miracle of technology and science. It is another step in a long line of miracles that Mayo performs every day – the miracle of life.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

CRR and I finished our circuit of the Del Ray farmer’s market, a Saturday morning ritual. It can be hard on your wallet – the vendors demand, and get, top dollar for their organic, pesticide-free fruits and veggies and the homemade focaccia and apple cider donuts. Today’s take was pretty light for us – new potatoes, leeks and onions.

We jumped into the car and drove around the corner. There, little more than a block away from the happy buzz of the boomers and Gen-Xers at the market, a hundred people quietly stood in line outside the Alexandria social services office. The line stretched around the block. They were waiting for food assistance.

Almost one in 10 Virginians doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. The government has a bureaucratic name for it: food insecurity.

Also known as hunger.

There are dozens of ways to help those who are hungry in this land of bounty. The Boy Scouts have a food drive every year. So do the postal carriers and AARP. My church publishes places you can volunteer to help people who are hungry. Next Saturday, for example, church members are ‘gleaning’ produce that will go to food banks.

In Alexandria, 11.9 percent of the residents are food insecure. That’s 16,600 of my neighbors. Curious about your community? County-by-county hunger stats here.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

After months of suspense, Alexandria police have finally charged Charles Severance in the murders of three well-known Alexandrians. Curiously, the prosecution will not seek the death penalty.

A grand jury indicted Severance for the murders of prominent realtor Nancy Dunning, wife of the former Alexandria sheriff, in a once-cold case dating to 2003; the November shooting of transportation planner Ron Kirby; and the February shooting of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato.

All three were gunned down in the foyer of their homes, within an area roughly one mile square. The murders shocked this small town, where few people locked their doors while they were home, as I described in an earlier post

The death penalty absence is interesting. Virginia is not shy about it — there are currently nine convicts on death row and the state has executed 110 killers since it reinstated the ultimate penalty. 

Police Chief Earl Cook said the death penalty is up to the prosecutor and he declined to describe a motive. Why these three victims, we hope to one day know. “I don’t know if it was targeted or not, because i can’t get into the mentality of Mr. Severance. The evidence may show something different,” Cook said.

 

 

 

I was weeding the garden (a never-ending task) when I heard the little critter: the unmistakable high-pitched whine of a mosquito. It was early morning and mosquitos are notorious at that hour in our garden plot. I looked at my exposed skin but didn’t see any skeeters settling in for breakfast. So back to work, silently cursing that I hadn’t spritzed myself with bug spray.

The buzz was insistent, and I kept looking for mosquitos to no avail. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something aloft about 50 yards away. It was a small drone, being flown by remote control by a man while his delighted young daughter chased it around.

Curious, I walked over and asked him a few questions. It had a wing span of 38 inches, he said, and could hold a 5-pound camera. He bought it online, and uses it to take video for television ads. He was practicing with a new remote control.Gadget Show

I found the drone online – it sells for $1,300. Amazing. I know drones are an exciting prospect for law enforcement and for commerce. The FAA has projected as many as 7,500 commercial drones may be in use by 2018, and the drone industry hypes that more than 100,000 drone-related jobs will be created in the next decade.

What began as a weapon of war, costing taxpayers $90 million for each of the most sophisticated killer drones, has morphed into an airborne videocam with unlimited domestic potential. I suppose we should be grateful to the military industrial complex for its ingenuity. But I can’t help but worry that if a guy can buzz my garden plot with such ease, what could a criminal or terrorist pull off?

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

A guest column from CRR on his big birthday:

WASHINGTON – In the spring of 1965, when I was turning 11 years old, Jack Weinberg, a free-speech-movement activist and graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, told a reporter that young people should not trust anyone over 30.

I’m turning 30 times two tomorrow, smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation. How ironic that seminal line of the Boomer/60’s generation looks from this vantage point.

Had Weinberg uttered those lines today, it would fire up what we now call a viral event, going global with the Speed of Tweet. Something new to argue about. The generational experts would come out swinging, Xers vs. Boomers, Millenials proclaiming their independence from it all. Partisans would look for a quip or attack line to win the moment. The phrase would be hash-tagged into infinity, hashed over into exhaustion on the cable talk shows.

 The line would be no wiser today than it was in 1965. The generation that came of age scarred by Vietnam, embroiled in the Civil Rights movement, catered to and obsessed upon in the culture like no other, is easing into retirement leaving the country deep in debt, and with a political trust deficit just as deep.

It’s not all the Boomers’ fault, but a lot of it has happened since we turned 30. And as if to remind Boomers of the often petty natures of our disagreements, Tom Brokaw re-introduced us to the Greatest Generation.

Now, in their twilight, these old soldiers come to the World War II Memorial here, wielding canes instead of guns this time, offering a more quiet contemplation of their own sacrifice and the trust they had to put in one another to get the job done.

Never trust anyone over 30? In 1965, that would have included the millions of men and women who helped defeat the Nazis in Europe and the imperial Japanese in Asia. Even if he didn’t really mean it, as Weinberg has been reported to have said since, it became a touchstone line of the ’60s generation growing old. How arrogant that seems these nearly five decades later.

So what is there to learn? That nothing is static, that no challenge is truly new, that any proclamation on its face, however popular or pithy, is best judged over time. We learn that conflict and friction is part of the human experience, and that wisdom is not a generational birthright. The Boomers turned 30, saw writ large our own character and judgment flaws in the presidents of our generation – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – reveled in the Me Decade and the tech boom that empowers the individual. But, despite the Beatles’ plea, came together only in the most horrific moments, like 9/11. Turns out we didn’t trust each other.

That same spring of 1965, the Who’s Pete Townshend wrote the lyrics to “My Generation,” on his 20th birthday. His line, “hope I die before I get old” became a musical catch phrase of my generation. He’ll be 69 on Monday.

Sandy Johnson will be back next week. She is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

 

I was talking with my mother, cell phone in hand, idly straightening things as I walked around the main floor of our house. Then I walked past the living room window and froze: A police car circled our cul-de-sac and parked in front of our house. Followed by a second police car.

I hastily bid adieu to my mother (sorry Mom!) and hollered to CRR, “There are two police cars parked out front!”

Why the panic?

A seemingly random killing in Alexandria had occurred two days earlier, following another in November. Both within a mile of our house.

We like to think we live in a small town. Alexandria, Va., has fewer than 150,000 people, and the fabric of this city is still as tightly woven as when George Washington called it home. Many conversations include the phrase, “You know so-and-so, right?” and the answer is usually yes.

So these two recent unsolved murders in a neighborhood where crime is almost nonexistent, following on two earlier killings since we moved here, have rattled an entire community. The murders have this in common: The victims were shot in broad daylight in the entryway of their homes, either suggesting they knew the killer or unhesitatingly answered the doorbell as most people do in this area.

Or did, past tense. We are all paying attention to our surroundings now.

We talk about the oddball connections with the victims. The latest, Ruthanne Lodato, is the sister of my longtime gynecologist, who lives just a few blocks over from us. The November victim, Ron Kirby, was a respected transportation planner who was known by several friends and colleagues. One of the earlier victims, Nancy Dunning, was a real estate agent who wanted to sell our house on Windsor Avenue at a price we deemed too low (turned out her estimate was spot on, ruefully). Another was Robert Rixse, a doctor in our pediatric practice.

If you live in a minority or poor neighborhood of Washington, murders happen all the time and rarely break into the Washington Post metro section. But these killings made the front page, occurring as they did in an affluent neighborhood where everybody knows your name, as the “Cheers” TV slogan went.

It is a comfort to know that Alexandria is such a caring city, even as we mourn the dead and speculate about the possibility of a serial killer.

Back to the police presence on Sunday. I walked out and asked the three policemen what was going on. They said they had a “message to deliver” to my next-door neighbor. It probably wasn’t good news, but it was a relief to know it wasn’t related to the murderer in our midst.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

Once a year, the ghosts and goblins of Congressional Cemetery come alive.

The cemetery, a stone’s throw from the Capitol, was created in the 1830s as a way station for newly-deceased members of Congress and other Washington luminaries before their remains were shipped home. Among them:  Presidents John Quincy Adams and William Henry Harrison.

Today, it is the final resting place for thousands of VIPs and lesser folk. Nearby Capitol Hill residents walk their dogs amid history (and pay a fee to do so, for maintenance of the cemetery). Our friends Mel and Lisa befriended dog owners such as House Speaker Tom Foley and Sen. Mary Landrieu through walks with their dog Grits through the cemetery.

Last weekend we joined them and other friends at the annual Halloween benefit bash at the cemetery, and giggled at the astonishing array of costumed guests: A man dressed as the Washington Monument guarded by a human “barricade” (remember the shutdown?)…a John Boehner look-alike … cast members from “Game of Thrones” … assorted werewolves, Frankensteins, goblins, monsters and a Satan.

The highlight was the lantern-guided tour through the cemetery. Our tour guide was dressed as first lady Dolley Madison, holding of course a portrait of George Washington she rescued from the White House when the British sacked Washington. The real Dolley spent a few weeks in a crypt at Congressional Cemetery before making her final journey to the family plot in Virginia.

Along the darkened path, actors dressed as the dead VIPs told their stories. Mathew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer who died penniless. John Philip Sousa, who gained fame as a composter of patriotic marches but was bitter that few knew of his operettas and other musical talents. Tobias Lear, the faithful secretary to George Washington who was at his side when the nation’s first president died. Infamous bordello proprietress Mary Hall, who was recruiting “girls” from our 1397490_10201696745133304_685348387_otour group, having imbibed perhaps too freely from her champagne stash.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is buried here, as is his lover Clyde Tolson. More than 170 members of Congress made a pitstop or a permanent home here, and scores of generals.

This is a wonderful place to visit – in the daylight or at night for this odd Halloween “Ghosts and Goblets Soiree.”

Our Dolley guide said the cemetery is still open for “guests.”

Q. Do you have to be a Member of Congress to be buried there?

A. No. You just have to be dead.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

I know fall has arrived when the Episcopalians set out the pumpkins.

The front yard of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill turns orange with pumpkins every October. The congregation unloads hundreds of pumpkins of all colors and sizes, trucked in from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Then church members sell the pumpkins (and some other goodies) from morning til night, through Halloween. The profits go to local charities like ALIVE! and Carpenter’s Shelter and international ones like Heifer International. “Buy pumpkins, help the world,” the church sign says.1186252_518431311583381_357164123_n

Like many places in 250-year-old Alexandria, Immanuel has a historical footnote. Gerald R. Ford lived a few blocks away and the Ford family attended Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill for years. He served as an usher and the first lady taught Sunday school (presumably before presidential duties intervened).

The church plays a role in our family history as well. After we moved to this neighborhood, we would roll a red wagon to the pumpkin sale with our sons and they would carefully choose among the pumpkin bounty. One year, Sam insisted that I not discard the pumpkin “guts” when we carved his pumpkin, and make a pie instead. So from that year forward, I have roasted a pumpkin and pureed it for a pie. A little more work than the $3.19 canned pumpkin from the store, but it brings back memories of Halloweens past.

This year, our “mystery” volunteer plant in the garden turned out to be a pumpkin vine that sent runners around two sides of the garden. Though lush with many blossoms, it produced exactly two pumpkins. CRR turned one into a savory pumpkin soup. The other one will be carved at Laurie and Mark’s annual pumpkin salon.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.