Jodeane Albright writes, Ukraine…deal or no deal?

February 20, 2014

Have you felt something disturbing in the air lately? Have you sensed there will be more clashes, more violence, more destruction of the old, more chaos — here or many places in the world? And are you ready for what the rest of the 21st century might bring — the end of the way things used to be, the beginning of a whole new civilization?

Nowhere is that tipping point more obvious than what has been happening lately in the Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union, now its own nation, and where more of its country men and women are refusing to go back to Russian ways.

In November, when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, loyal to Moscow, gripped by his own nepotism and cronyism (he has placed many family members and friends into top government positions), plus his personal amassing of considerable fortune, scores of Ukrainians hit Kiev’s streets in protest of his billions of dollars economic deal with Russia.

No, a thousand times no, they told Yanukovych, we want to be a part of the European Union. Ukrainians fully expected, they demanded their government accept a $15 billion bailout from the EU so Ukraine would not have to be in thrall to Russia ever again.

Ukraine’s government responded by ignoring its citizens’ requests and as of this past week, tried to broker a deal with Russia — clearly lighting the match to the protesters’ tinder.

As with so many backward, conservative-thinking groups, the Ukrainian government failed to recognize it can’t go back to the cozy arrangements of its Soviet days. In fact, at heart of the fiery chaos overwhelming Kiev is the split between those who don’t want to change against those who want Kiev and all 46 million of the country’s citizens to look West. Thus, becoming a new partner with the European Union.

The protesters refused to back down, they said no compromise to the Kremlin or the Ukrainian government. They wanted Yanukovych’s resignation, new elections, and protesters took over the central post office. Scores of buildings in Kiev were badly damaged or destroyed. Athletes from the Ukraine in Sochi, where the Olympic Games were held, withdrew from the Games — to protest the violence taking place in their homeland.

And while Ukraine’s president and opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, met Feb. 19 to try to quell the violence, by Feb. 20 this emergency truce was shattered. At this point scores of protesters were killed. There were as many as 67 police taken prisoner by the demonstrators. In one week, more than 100 people in Kiev had been killed.

Russia told the Ukrainian president, “Don’t be a doormat!” The U.S. warned it was time for Yanukovych to go.
Yanukovych tried, one last time, in desperation, to force his own parliament to declare the demonstrators terrorists. But by now even Ukraine’s parliament was fed up after months of the country’s fighting and rioting. In a unanimous vote on Thursday, the parliament rejected their president’s demand to label the opposition as enemies of the state. They openly defied Yanukovych. They said very clearly, despite his pleas, the protesters would receive anmesty. Yanukovych was defanged, declawed, despite holding a majority in the parliament.

It was left for the EU to try to stem the bloodshed. In an all-night emergency meeting the European union was able to get the two sides to come together. By Feb. 21, still distrustful, still glaring at each other across the table, a tentative deal was set between Yanukovych and the opposition leaders.

For now, the call has gone out for early elections, restoration of the 2004 constitution and demands laid down for a unified government. If the agreement between the two opposing forces lasts, there lies the possibility of working out an arrangement for Ukraine to join with the European Union and release Russia’s stranglehold on its government.

Like I said, this remains the hope. The protesters are not firmly convinced of their government’s good intentions. One of the protest leaders, Pravy Sektor, who led the violent clashing with the police said, “The national revolution will continue,” Interfax reported.
And of course, because it appears they have been vanquished, Russia has gone on record citing Friday’s deal as in the best interests not of Ukrainians, but specifically what the United States wants. Leonid Slutsky, who chairs a committee working with ex-Soviet nations in Ukraine’s parliament grumbled, “It’s entirely in the interests of the United States and other powers, who want to split Ukraine from Russia.”

There remains much to worry about whether the peace deal will hold. For centuries Ukraine and Russia have been joined, most particularly in Kiev; the capital is regarded as the cradle of Russia. But by the time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the Ukrainians, having grown weary of Russia’s dominance, wanted to split from the burgeoning Soviet Union. They wanted to be their own people, not a party to Soviet interests.

The Soviets didn’t listen, of course. They crushed further dissent. It would be as late as 1991 before the crumbling Soviet empire finally released its grip on Ukraine.
But Russia, under Vladimir Putin’s presidency, kept putting the screws to Ukraine. Russia had too much to lose if Ukraine joined the European Union, or NATO, or any other Western organization.

For now, the Molotov cocktails lie silent. For the moment, the faces of the Ukrainians are turned toward the sun of a new day, expressions of hope the peace deal will hold, democracy might take root. Maybe Yanukovych will step away, far away from the presidency.
Or else the bloodletting will return. And all of Ukraine’s dreams will die.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist and blogger as well as the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.


Shirley temple … early feminist

February 13, 2014

You know, the argument can be made that the late Shirley Temple was an early feminist.

Yes, that same Shirley Temple, who passed away Feb. 10, who became such a cultural icon the world over, that her 56 bouncing blonde curls were recognized everywhere, her infectious sunny grin lightened up the darkest days of the Great Depression, who, after her child star days were over went on to decades of public service work — that same Shirley was feminist.

And if you’re convinced I’m out there in some alternative universe claiming Shirley Temple as feminist, even Gloria Steinem said she adored watching Shirley’s movies. Yes indeed, that same Gloria Steinem who was one of the founders of the feminist movement itself.

Shirley Temple began working at the age of three. Think about it; already in the work force and being paid for it, not too shabbily, either. At this tender age she starred in a series of short films called “Baby Burlesks,” which are hilarious when you consider tiny moppets paraded around in oversize diapers parroting and parodying the likes of the day’s sex symbols such as Mae West or Marlene Dietrich (who, by the way, were fiercely independent women who called their own shots in their respective movie careers).

Shirley took it in stride, of course; and after those movie parts, at the ripe age of six, she was loaned to Paramount and Warner Brothers Studios, with the expectation she would fulfill the usual child bit roles. But, she showed up the paternalistic studio heads who had no clue her charm and intelligence would far outshine and outlast their ideas of what Shirley was good for.

In 1934, she was cast in her first feature film, called “Bright Eyes,” and she introduced the entranced public to the now-classic song, “The Good Ship Lollipop.” While the song itself is so sugary and so childish, somehow Shirley made it fun. The song sold 500,000 sheet music copies right away. By 1935, because of the success of “Bright Eyes,” she won a special Juvenile Oscar and put her child hand- and foot-prints in the wet cement at Grumman’s Chinese Theater.

By the time the Depression wore down and the cannons of World War II were booming in the distance, Shirley grew older, too, and her usual sweetness didn’t sit as well, at least not with the studios at that time. She departed from 20th-Century Fox and realizing as she headed toward puberty she just wasn’t going to be the star people wanted to accept anymore, after a few relatively successful wartime films, it was likely time to do something else with her life.

At the age of 15 in 1943, Shirley met John Agar, a sergeant in the Army Air Corps. They married when Shirley was just 17; yet within four years, their marriage was over. Even as a young woman, Shirley would not suffer fools, and she refused to accept Agar’s womanizing and drunken bouts. They divorced in 1949, and Shirley gained custody of their daughter, Susan, who was born in 1948.

Shortly thereafter, Shirley met Charles Black, who was an intelligence officer in the Navy, received the Silver Star and was nine years her senior. He was conservative, the son of a rich family, and when the Korean War broke out, they moved to Washington, D.C.

Thus began Shirley’s second career. Although it was the ‘50s, and most women were shoved back into the home, she still took up options that would work out with her raising their three children. One of her most successful ventures was “Shirley Temple’s Storybook,” an anthology program of fairy tales that brought in plenty more wealth for Shirley and NBC.

In the early part of the 1960s, she knew appearing in the occasional television show would keep her in the public’s mind and memories. She also knew it wouldn’t be enough, and she itched to be more involved, to do something of lasting value. So she entered into politics.

While her bid to be the Republican candidate in California’s 11th congressional district against Pete McCloskey failed, mostly due to her support of the Vietnam War, (this was 1967), her venture into GOP politics caught the attention of no less than President Nixon, who appointed her to the 24th United Nations General Assembly.

After that, she was ambassador to Ghana, nominated by President Gerald Ford. She was the first female chief of protocol and in charge of President Carter’s inauguration. And she wrapped up her diplomatic career as U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, in 1992.

In 1972, when she underwent a mastectomy for removal of one of her cancerous breasts, she went public with the operation and was one of the first prominent women to speak up for and about breast cancer — even before Betty Ford did with her breast cancer.

In her autobiography, “Child Star,” Shirley quite pointedly remarked when she embarked on her diplomatic career, that although she was short on diplomatic experience, she said she was assisted by her years as one of the most famous child stars in the world. That recognition, she said, “Was very helpful when you want to explain your country’s position on various foreign affairs.”

Throughout her long, generous and productive life, Shirley Temple Black could very well be seen as both inspiration and the forerunner to such sterling women — and decidedly feminist at that — such as Caroline Kennedy (now serving as ambassador to Japan), the above-mentioned Gloria Steinem and even former Secretary of State, past U.S. senator, presidential candidate and First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Shirley went forward in her life with considerable intelligence, aplomb, charm, steadfastness and guts. Even today, she is still recognized as one of the most prominent, hard working and successful women the world has ever known.

And yes, indeed, for all that she was, Shirley, we will “surely” miss you.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist/blogger as well as the community editor for the Idaho State Journal.

Jodeane writes about Hell in West Virginia

January 25, 2014

It’s been hell in West Virginia these days.

Just ask Eric Waggoner. He is an English teacher at West Virginia Wesleyan College. He has family in the Charleston area. He has been helping his family survive the effects of the chemical spill that devastated the Elk River and turned into a nasty brew that has sickened more than 300,000 people in a nine-county area.
Eric was so shocked at the effects of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (and its companion toxic chemical, PPH, or polyglycol) that leaked into the river, the region’s water supply, from Freedom Industries, makers of the chemicals that helps process coal, that his reaction was gut wrenching to the core of his being.

When he came to town after the chemical poured into the river water to offer his family members aid, bringing with him 10 cases of bottled water, he was hit, first thing, by a smell both sharp and sweet, somewhat like licorice.

Waggoner grew up in Charleston. His father had been a fireman well versed in hazardous spills. The younger Waggoner has known his entire life what it is like to be surrounded by rolling green hills, the fogs and the rain, the wood-frame houses, the old grocery stores — and underneath lies the source of this part of the nation’s richest and filthiest energy sources — coal.
He said, when he gazed at the West Virginia-American Water Company just yards upstream from Freedom’s rusted, leaking chemical plant, he said he was filled, “I mean filled — with a rage that was quite sudden, very unexpected, and utterly comprehensive.

“But something in this confluence,” he said, “the way I had to bring potable water to my family from two hours north, the strange look of the landscape wreathed in rain and mist, the stench of a chemical that was housed directly upstream from the water company — something about all of that made me absolutely buoyant with rage. This was not the rational anger one encounters in response to a specific wrong, nor even the righteous anger that comes from an articulate reaction to years of systematic mistreatment. This was blind animal rage, and it filled my body to the limits of my skin.”

Was Waggoner out of his mind? I doubt it; he knows very well the legend and lore of coal, coal mining, coal processing, coal poisoning, and how coal has decimated West Virginia (as well as Kentucky, parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other cities and towns that grew so dependent on this most deadly of fuels).

Waggoner raged against the companies that sacrificed miners and townsfolk for profits. He suffered visceral despair over the lack of environmental regulations that have been ignored for more than 20 years. He had every right to hate, as he said, “every single screwjob elected official and politico under whose watch it all went on, who helped write those lax regulations and then turned away when even those weren’t followed.”

You see, people like Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, from the Cincinnati area of Ohio, and whose political base derives smack in the middle of this coal area, upon hearing about Freedom Industries’ toxic spill smugly said, “I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people.”

Of course, Speaker Boehner, who has mocked the American people since 2010, would say that. The hell with regulations. Let’s not interfere with businesses doing what they want to do. Who gives a damn if tap water for cooking, cleaning, bathing and drinking is so sick-making that even now, a week later, the filthy, urine-colored water is still so putrid all the flushing in the world can’t clean out this mess.

Boehner is in a bit of a bind. Freedom Industries, the company with the leaky concrete containment foundations and rusted-out storage tanks, gave $5,000 toward Boehner’s election campaign. And Freedom Industries also has political ties to the right-wing creep guys, the Koch Brothers.

And Freedom Industries has gone into Chapter 11 bankruptcy since the spill occurred.
So there you have it in a nutshell, or a lump of coal. Congress refuses to regulate companies that clearly violate the health and well-being of the local populace. Republicans could care less about the devastating effects of coal; the only thing that matters to Republicans is no regulations, period.

Worst of all, as Waggoner pointed out, has been the long, history of coal’s destruction on a people both enslaved and dependent on it for their very survival.
Generations ago, men went into West Virginia’s coal mines and many would never return. Decade after decade piled on, adding coal dust to miners’ lungs, coating their skin every day, ruining their health and if you were so unlucky, you’d live in acute suffering from years of coal soaking into their blood.

It’s no wonder that Waggoner slumped into despondency over what the chemicals have done to his town, his family, the state where he lives. No wonder he hates the corporations, the corruptions of the politicians that fed upon coal’s riches for their own gain.
“To hell with you,” Waggoner moans. “This is the one moment in my adult life when I have wished I could still believe in Hell as an actual, physical reality, so that I could imagine you in it.”

Like I said, it’s been hell in West Virginia lately. And it’s hell for the rest of us to witness all their needless, damn suffering.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist/blogger and the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.

Jodeane writes on Christie’s waterloo (bridge that is)

January 10, 2014

Quickly, before you can dash through the toll booth without paying your fare, the scandal engulfing newly reelected Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has blazed into the governor’s Bridgegate — or “Bridge Too Far,” if you prefer, as some media pundits have dubbed it.
It has all the earmarks of Nixon’s Watergate, and we know how that turned out. (GOP Nixon did know about the bungled burglary break-in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., back in 1972. And Nixon is still the only president in American history to have resigned from office. He said, “I am not a crook.” Seems history says otherwise.)
Republicans never learn, and why should Chris Christie, once regarded as the last, best, great white hope for the GOP to steal the presidency in 2016 from Hillary Rodham Clinton, be any different? Since when does he wear the victor’s laurel wreath? Only in Republican dreams anymore.
Before I continue further, here’s what Bridgegate is: Last August, the George Washington Bridge, one of the largest toll bridges in America, and a port authority between New York and New Jersey, shut down a few traffic lanes. The result was traffic snarled so bad that ambulances couldn’t get through in a timely manner, a 91-year-old woman died before EMTs could get to her and a child went missing far longer than law enforcement could help. Even school buses had trouble getting through.
All because, Christie, or at least his closest aides, used the bridge shutdown to punish Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing the governor in his reelection campaign. Yes, Christie made a personal face-fo-face apology to the mayor, but will that effort help Christie at this point?
The whole stinkin’ irony of that was the sheer number of Democrats who, now, belatedly, have come to recognize — and regret — they gave so many votes to let Christie back into the governor’s office. Talk about buyer’s remorse.
A little digging by a regional newspaper, The Record, showed some very revealing e-mails were transferred back and forth between one of Christie’s senior staff members and the manager of the George Washington Bridge Port Authority on Aug. 13.
Since Christie, or his closest aides, were major miffed that Fort Lee’s mayor wouldn’t jump on the Christie reelection bandwagon, there was a flurry of e-mails that in essence showed the governor’s top officials would force a few “traffic woes” on the mayor and the city of Fort Lee. That’ll show him!
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” burbled a triumphant Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy on Christie’s senior staff.
The now-infamous e-mail went to David Wildstein, one of the executives in charge of the Port Authority. Happy to comply with the well-coiffed and beauteous Kelly, Wildstein happily responded by closing some of the bridge’s traffic lanes and wrote back to Kelly, “Got it.”
Of course, Kelly and Wildstein were the first to be fired by Christie; but anyone care to ask why Wildstein is pleading the Fifth?
Three weeks later during the first week of September the traffic lanes were shut down. Which created the mess. And have now embroiled Christie in such a disaster that he has all but ruined his chances of becoming president; he’d be lucky to be chosen dog catcher in Roberts, Idaho (if he had to suddenly move to Idaho, that is. Maybe that should be an Idaho tourist claim: “Run-in with the law? Politics got you down? Are you a scandal-stained politician? Then come on out to Idaho! We got plenty of space, lots of places for you to hide! We’d even vote for you!”)
Wildstein, and his boss, Bill Baroni, both who tried to convince Sokolich of the wisdom of shutting down the traffic lanes (or the mayor might end up in the East River, or six feet under in Hoboken, or wherever Jimmy Hoffa’s mortal remains are) have since resigned. Not that their resignations help Christie. This is a huge amount of egg that the Guv can’t wipe off his kisser.
In the 153 years since the Republican Party began, with President Abraham Lincoln (they shot him — probably too progressive for the GOP), the Republicans haven’t learned a damned thing. Need I remind you of South Carolina’s Republican governor, Mark Sanford? He of the pining for his mistress, some Argentine glamour gal. Have to admit, though, in his case, maybe the affair improved him somewhat; made him sexier, so that he could get reelected to the House of Representatives. Then again, his seat in Congress must have been like coming home —- he was a congressman from 1995 to 2001, before he opted for the state’s governorship.
Plus Virginia’s ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Tea Party Republican, in his farewell to Virginia tearfully apologized to the state for his taking gifts from a Virginia businessman who helped get him into office in the first place. As if apologizing somehow makes corruption more acceptable.
For the record, Christie has apologized for the asinine behavior of his staff and the resultant scandal. He said he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by their behavior. He claims he knew nothing of the Kelly-Wildstein e-mail exchange. And yes, Christie apologized Thursday to the town of Fort Lee as well to the residents of the state for the mess.
Yet his apology, however sincere, won’t deflect the sad history of Republicans in public office all too often mocking the integrity of public service.
In outraged tones Christie said during his news conference, “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover. This was handled in a callous and indifferent way.”
Yeah, Christie, but what’s the stupidity, the callousness here? That some of your staff, or state agencies of which you have authority over, got caught? Thus making you look bad, really bad?
Sometimes apologizing for your or somebody else’s bad behavior just plain gets out of hand. Remember the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart sobbing to his ecstatic but equally horrified congregation Feb. 21, 1988, “I have sinned!” He was referring to his night out with a prostitute. Then in 1991, Swaggart asked another woman for sex in Indio, Calif., despite being temporarily (too bad) removed from his church office.
Seems these days, though, Republicans try to clean up their messes with abject apologies. (”I am most truly sorry, Mrs. Lincoln,” John Wilkes Booth might have said.)
Perhaps this Bridgegate brouhaha might be resolved in a fair manner. Maybe Gov. Chris Christie really was caught by surprise. It’s possible by 2016 all will be forgiven and everyone in the country will gather round the guv and rush him into the White House.
But like another bridge that is constantly up for sale in the same area, the George Washington Bridge scandal is just one too many bridges for Christie to cross. What a shame. For a second there he almost made the Republicans believable.
Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist/blogger and the community editor at the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, Idaho.

Pope Francis: A man for all seasons

December 12, 2013

Eagerly awaited every year is Time magazine’s announcement of who they selected as Person of the Year (I remember when it was Man of the Year, thank heaven those sexist times are past). And unexpectedly, while everyone thought Time would select someone with a political ax to grind or someone just plain questionable, the magazine selected Pope Francis.

Yep, even if he hasn’t been on the job for a full year, Time decided the pope has done more than anyone to shake up the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church — and after getting over the initial shock, our world has embraced the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina as our own.

It’s not the first time that Time chose a pope — John Paul II was selected in 1994, and John XXIII (of whom comparisons are made in terms of warm personality and humbleness) in 1962 — but Pope Francis seems to be the kind of pope tailor-made for the 21st century.

And that’s by going back to the original tenets of the church nearly 2,000 years ago; in other words, fulfilling the fundamental message of Jesus. You know, compassion, love thy fellow person, humility, acceptance, diversity, support of the poor and civilization’s tempest-tossed sufferers. How odd and yet how fitting that by going back in time, Pope Francis has come to embody how ageless the gospel of Jesus truly is.

And yet the pope is a man of our times. He poses for a “selfie” with a few young people and doesn’t begin to be criticized for the same kind of thing three world leaders ended up being harangued for (President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Denmark’s first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt were all castigated for taking a picture of themselves at the late Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. Personally, I prefer our world leaders to express a little levity once in awhile.)

Pope Francis has a Twitter account and people across the globe tweet this Man in the Vatican. He disguises himself — as much as is possible for such a well-known figure — and will visit with the homeless. He lives in a communal building because he needs to for his mental health — so much for the ostentatious papal apartments so favored by centuries of other popes.

He thinks there is nothing wrong and certainly everything right in embracing a badly disfigured man. He kisses babies and hugs children. He once led Mass for bikers on their Harleys. He washes the feet of a Muslim woman — how in the name of Christendom can a pope consider a Muslim equal to a Christian? How can he not? And wouldn’t Jesus have done the same?

Pope Francis has inherited the Throne of Peter, and yet he is the most unroyal, the most unpretentious of religious leaders, right down to his plain black shoes, iron cross and simple white vestments.

He will call strangers in distress, even offering to baptize the baby of a divorced woman whose married lover wanted her to abort the baby. How’s that for compassion instead of puritanical condemnation?

Pope Francis is a man who has taken on one of the most damning issues of our time and has jumped into the fray like a gladiator fending off the lions. With growing inequality, the polarization in so many worldly societies of who has wealth and who doesn’t, the former “slum priest,” so titled because he mixed and mingled with the most poverty stricken in Buenos Aires in the years before he became pope, he has called to the world’s attention trickle-down economics don’t work. In other words, this pope has dared to question the value of capitalism.

Say what? Right-wing conservatives such as radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh have called Pope Francis a Marxist. When Rush said that, I went yippie, right on, Pope Francis! Finally, this man of the highest stature has lit a bonfire under the greed and consumerism and materialism that has so dominated modern society. And ordinary people are listening to Pope Francis, sharing with him that maybe it’s time to end the excesses, maybe it is time to share the wealth of the rich, maybe businesses have to get beyond profit, profit, profit.

There’s no question, Time magazine got it right in choosing Pope Francis. That’s so much better than Republican Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, who almost derailed America’s economy with a senseless, meandering filibuster meant to bring Obama to his knees (turned out Cruz got crucified, particularly when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, decided enough was enough and nuked the GOP with the nuclear option. Now it’s no more filibusters, a simple majority is all that is needed, and now Obama can get in up to 93 judicial appointments.)

And thank you, thank you, singer Miley Cyrus and her absurd twerking were yanked off the stage. Yes, seriously, folks, little Hannah Montana, daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, who makes obscene amounts of money as a butt-twitching pop star, was under consideration as person of the year. For what? The ultimate in shallowness and silliness? If she ever met up with the pope, I bet he’d hand her a jacket because she spends way too much of her career barely clothed.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden, now seeking asylum as a “guest” in Russia, was also a contender. But there’s no comparison between one of the holiest of men who has decency and a conscience with a self-serving twerp who thinks he can bring down governments by leaking frankly questionable classified information.

So Pope Francis it is. Time magazine took the step of reminding us that you know, it isn’t how controversial you are, or how political you can be, nor if you’re young and pretty, what really matters is that you have a big heart and a lot of faith, Christian or otherwise. That you are willing to give even the smallest of a damn for the downtrodden, the disfigured, the people society all too often throws away, ignores and even condemns.

Pope Francis is all of this and even more. He’s the best thing to happen to the earth in centuries. And if we take up his example, are willing to have warmth and heart and caring, then his time as the World’s Pope will be a blessing to us all.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning blogger/columnist and community editor for the Idaho State Journal.

Jodeane writes on JFK

November 22, 2013

I’ve been waiting 50 years for some kind of understanding, some sort of resolution of that shocking day nearly half a century ago when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963.

I think America and much of the rest of the world, too, is hoping this year’s commemoration, our honoring him may finally bring some sort of healing, or at least acceptance and the chance to move on from the almost fatal wound we have borne all this time.

That’s a murky maybe. And, like so many damaging wounds to our societal body, we’re becoming less and less able to bounce back. Think about it this way: When President Kennedy was murdered, it set off a chain of events, a veritable cascade of raw anger that saw the rest of the decade of the ‘60s awash in fury, that we became unhinged. As in knowing full well a terrible injustice had been done and we had no way, no recourse to fight back.

There has always been something telling that within the space of five years, from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, to the murder of Islamic civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1965, to the slaying of Martin Luther King Jr., in April 1968, and the slaughter of President Kennedy’s brother, Bobby, in June of that same year, there was one common thread in all these killings.

Come on, just guess. For anyone around, old enough (you could have been a kid, an aware and smart kid) to have experienced the 1960s, what was the one factor that brought out the worst in the enemy? It’s a simple word, and it’s the one thing of which Americans even in the 21st century refuse to let go: It’s intolerance.

The Kennedys, beginning with the president, tried establishing something that, until then, was unheard of. Polite society didn’t mess with the accepted order of things, the other guy was always suspect, the color of your skin relegated you to the lowest rungs, women had no voice — well, only certain people were allowed voices, not even votes. Even your religion, if it wasn’t Protestant, was considered a threat. And God help the Kennedys for being Catholic.

What were the forces of evil swirling around the Kennedys other than intolerance for everything they stood for, or tried to accomplish? Wasn’t it a time when America burned either by the cruel crosses from the Klu Klux Klan and other groups gushing with hate used to terrorize black people? Wasn’t it a time when injustice reigned supreme?
Damn right it was. No wonder people took to the streets. No wonder we yelled, rebelled, protested, and burned up things. No wonder we were so fed up with the overstuffed, smug hypocrites, the self-righteous, the white faces, more often than not contorted with madness, the gleam of fanatic insanity smoldering in their blind eyes.

Just as when Barack Obama became president in 2008, so, too, President Kennedy as president proposed and pushed the unthinkable in 1963. Civil rights. Equality for all. Removal of the laws against black people. Support the poor; give them a chance, a sliver of hope.

Shortly before President Kennedy was assassinated he had appointed a commission, he even was looking for ways to give women opportunities to come out of the kitchen and into the world.

If you’re beginning to get the gist of why President Kennedy was shot and killed, why subsequent civil rights leaders were assassinated, why his own brother had to die, then yes, civil rights — the denial of civil rights — well, killing the leader of those nasty civil rights makes total sense.

There. I’ve said it. The forces of evil are the very people who oppose civil rights or justice. We know who they are and what they stand for. Back then it was the Deep Fried Southerners, for Dallas in 1963 was a haven of hate. The Kennedys, John F. and Bobby, and Jackie, they knew that when they went to Dallas, they might not come back alive.

It was that kind of time. Going into the South was like going into a war zone. Going to Texas, if you were a Kennedy, was like reviving memories of the worst of our Civil War (so inappropriately titled — there was nothing civil about the war 150 years ago that almost tore us in two.)
So, 50 years from gunning down President John F. Kennedy, half a century removed from those dark and terrible days, where are we today?

We’re still bleeding, maybe not quite so much, but the wound is still raw. And like the holocaust itself, we cannot be a decent world anymore if we forget what Nov. 22, 1963’s assassination wrought.

We’re still paying for it. We’re still hurting in 2013. And we’re still furious that there are forces today afoot to undermine, even destroy all the good that President Kennedy stood for.

It’s time, 50 years worth of time, to end the hate, start to heal and live, really live with honor, compassion and justice. To do JFK proud.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning blogger/columnist and the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.

Tears for my father

November 15, 2013

How many times can a daughter cry tears of pride and joy for her father? That’s exactly what I did when my father, Forrest S. Allinder, nearly 90 years old, was honored with a prestigious medal at the University of Utah Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11.

Forrest, better known as Daddy (I’m the community editor at the Idaho State Journal), and father-in-law of Richard Albright, local photographer and owner of All-Bright Camera in Pocatello, is a veteran of World War II. Daddy shared the honors with 10 other Utahans who had served in either World War II, the Korean War and in the Vietnam War.

I was far from the only one choking up, there were so many family members in the audience who simply couldn’t — and shouldn’t have — contained their emotions. I cried when the bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” I cried when my father was introduced, as he was escorted by a young ROTC cadet to the stage up front in the student union ballroom. I cried when we stood and placed our hands on our hearts (if you were a civilian) or saluted the veteran honorees (if you were a veteran yourself) because my husband, a veteran of the Vietnam War in the Navy, saluted my father.
I cried once more when the bugler played “Taps,” in remembrance of those who were gone. And when the ceremony was over and I went up to congratulate my father, I cried one more time.

It was just that kind of ceremony, simple yet profound, strong and sentimental and it takes a truly hard-hearted person not to feel a catch in the throat to know what these veterans went through during the wars in which they served.

Daddy was in his freshman year at the California Institute of Technology when he enlisted into the Army. He and his division were assigned to Gen. Patton’s Third Army, 76th Division, 417th Regiment. Feb. 7,1945, he and his battalion had to breach the Siegfried Line at Echternach by crossing the Sauer River. Of course, the division was attacked and the regiment was ordered to cross the river in small boats. The boats were overloaded; the men crowded in, and because the river was in flood stage, most of the men in the boats drowned, including Thomas, my father’s closest friend.

There was, as my father said in later years, a 62 percent casualty rate that day. Even after all these many years, Daddy said of this battle, part of the Battle of the Bulge, was, “… so brutal, so dirty, there is no way to communicate it.”

That’s what struck me, was how incredibly brutal World War II was, and how it was nothing short of miraculous that Daddy survived and thrived so that on the cusp of his 90th birthday he could be honored for his service.

No family can truly grasp the vitality of the nine men and one woman who were honored along with my father, nor can families imagine how any war, every war, carries levels of atrocity, brutality and horror beyond our ability to grasp.

So that’s why I cried. The tears shed amongst all of us this past Veterans Day at the university’s ceremony was the very least we could do to share with them what they went through.

Jodeane Albright is Community editor for the Idaho State Journal.

Jodeane walks the Portneuf

October 25, 2013

It’s been all about the walk lately.

You see, I’ve been spending my mornings — well about half an hour of it — escaping from civilization with a quick jaunt down by the river. It’s led me to all sorts of musings, amusing or not, plus it’s turned out to be a boon of just plain pleasure.

How can exercise be considered a source of enjoyment? Isn’t exercise, or doing some sort of physical activity that health experts say is good for you, supposed to be a drag, a royal ache in the backside, it’s got to be the high point of suffering, according to our health police. No enjoyment allowed, we must be disciplined, tough, sweating worse than a horse, “no pain, no gain,” pass out in the Journal parking lot from exhaustion when it’s all over.
But pleasure? Such a naughty word – makes the stoic among us cringe.

Of course, I’d be the first to admit, it’s not like I’m jogging faster than lightning down this local path, pounding the pavement with such a resounding thud that everyone can exclaim, “That must be that odd editor from the Journal out for her morning constitutional, let’s set our clocks by her, let’s see how high she got on the earthquake Richter scale.”

I don’t jog. I don’t do those power walks that look like a bad episode out of “Monty Python.” I don’t trudge like a marathoner, either. Hopefully, I look like a normal woman striding briskly, confidently, with strong purpose. At least I don’t do the perp walk.

(Aside note: The perp walk is sort of a journalistic lingo we apply to prisoners coming down the hall of the courthouse on their way to the courtroom. Usually they are handcuffed and often enough the poor people have chains on their ankles. I feel a lot of pity twinges for these souls.)

At least I plan on looking intelligent, but maybe that’s just a pipe dream of mine. It’s quite possible I’m about as stunning as an elephant bouncing across the savannah. (”Mommy, why is that lady dressed up like Babar? What’s that weird stuff flapping from her armpits? Mommy, I’m scared!”)

OK, so I’m not Jillian Michaels. My abs are flabs, my backside is as big as the dark side of the moon (as in mooning, and I know someone who, along with some friends, once actually mooned vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro years and years ago. More power to him! I was impressed).

Anyway, back to this walking thing, which is becoming a hedonistic, epicurial pastime that I can hardly wait to do while the morning air is bright and cool, while the yellow, red and gold leaves drift lazily onto the path and dot the purring Portneuf River.

Well, not exactly. More often than not, I end up doing a two-step to avoid the No. 2 left over by dogs. I have to keep a sharp eye on things in the surrounding landscape or I’ll end up head over heels in the bull rushes. The nearby charter school kids will just laugh. I’ll say some words a fourth-grader shouldn’t know (although they probably do in this day and age). The teachers will be shocked, the children will be warned to run the other way in horror of this woman and I’ll still be sitting there, in the muck and mud, swearing like a stevedore and everyone has already gone home.

Plus, what’s going to happen when the weather gets truly blustery and blizzardy? Since I’ve set myself on this path (asphalt, no less — no Yellow Brick Road, no ruby slippers to wish myself back at the office — sigh), I’ve no choice but to go forward. I’ve got my crampons ready for the first ice attack, although someone’s warned me crampons are for walking up an ice cliff, not across ice puddles.

But goldarnit, I bought these princess pink crampons so I can safely trod the ice better than Capt. Scott ever could when he trekked across Antarctica. (Capt. Scott and his fellow explorers actually suffered horrible fates and died on the ice at the South Pole, but that’s another story. I hope someone comes to my rescue if I am trapped out there on a miniscule frozen patch! I carry my cell phone with me for a reason!)

Now where was I? Oh yes, skipping gaily down Pocatello’s primrose path, better known as the Hirning Trail that’s part of the Portneuf Greenway system. Sorry, no actual primroses, but there are trees and shrubs and proper river vegetation, something they call rimrock, or riff raff, I guess. Nice rocks, too, lining the area between the river and the road. They’re not the usual Bonneville boulders that construction crews unearth around here, but these stone piles are arranged satisfactorily and I assume correct in terms of safety. Don’t want dogs and children falling into the river; too expensive liability, I hear.

I was going to wax poetic about the river in its many moods, but actually, it only has two emotional states: sluggish or as dangerous as whitewater whirpools. In other words, you have a choice of inertia or hysteria. Before the Portneuf gets to the bridge, wherever it comes from (what is the source of the Portneuf River? Lava Hot Springs? Some bigger and better river in Utah? Hold up a snail shell and maybe you can hear the roar of the Pacific Ocean? No one’s ever said where our piddly river comes from) — the river is slow and silted up and pretty murky. Lots of bug larvae and bloodworms, so the charter school kids tell me.

The other half at the bridge flows faster than Niagara Falls, but maybe that’s because there’s a drain pipe pouring into this section of the Portneuf. Very strange, but I suppose runoff has to go somewhere. In bygone years the Portneuf River had a tendency to overflow its banks and cause nasty floods worse than the original Bonneville Flood thousands of eons ago. Nowadays runoff is sent on its merry way through the marvels of modern engineering.
But how good was the engineering when this year’s Sept. 3 floods hit Pocatello in that deluge of a rainstorm? “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink,” the Ancient Mariner said. You wouldn’t. That water was filthy.
By now I’m back at the office, admittedly a little huffy and puffy from my sojourn. I resemble one of Richard Simmons’ golden oldies stomping to the musical moldies. My hair looks like a haystack, my feet have accumulated 25,000 blisters and after all that effort, I still resemble a red-faced Dumbo!

Beats the heck out of working, though. For that I’ll do The Walk as long as I’ve got legs to move me.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist/blogger and the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.

A meteoric moment in history: Iran, U.S. relationship thaws

October 1, 2013

It came out of the blue, sort of like the way the meteor hit Russia back in February — unexpected and historic. And like the meteor, after the dust settles, the world is thinking about things a little differently.

I’m talking about the thaw between the United States and Iran. And yes, there are obvious parallels to the thaw back in the ‘80s when Gorbachev rose to power in the old Soviet Union. Glasnost or détente, it was called, and for the first time in the completely frigid cold war that had existed between America and the Soviets, there was a measure of hope that someday, maybe very soon, Russia and the U.S. could be allies, perhaps even friends. And history since 1989 has borne that truth out.

With Iran, however, it was a much more frightening, and more difficult situation than shaking hands, all is forgiven, let’s bury the hatchet. That was because in 1979 Iran took hostages at the American embassy in Tehran — 52 American men and women — and forthwith overthrew the shah’s government in a bloody and permanent religious revolution. It scared the hell out of us, we wanted those hostages back, we were traumatized by the event, and the world looked on in confusion and dismay.

Fast forward 34 years: Today the president of the United States is Barack Obama, the first black president. He is not Jimmy Carter, and Obama would not have made the insane decision to allow the sworn enemy of Iran’s revolutionaries, the shah himself, to come into the U.S. for medical treatment.

Carter may have extended the olive branch of compassion to the shah because the shah was stricken with lymphoma, but Carter’s results were disastrous. The 52 hostages that were captured Nov. 4, 1979, were not released until Jan. 20, 1981, when Ronald Reagan became president.

What we called the Iran hostage crisis was by Iran’s description, the “Conquest of the American Spy Den.” So as the Carter presidency waned, and the former shah died July 27, 1980, during this critical election year that cost Carter his reelection chance, back in Iran the Ayatollah Khomeini surged to absolute power and normal relationships with the U.S. were shattered.

After the hostages were released, within minutes after Reagan was sworn into office, the fervent, fanatic religious revolution stayed and forever changed Iranian culture as well as its relationships with the rest of the world. Iran became a supporter of terrorism and terrorists.

Carter had made a politically fatal error in his support for the cancer-ridden shah. He also failed in a secret mission, Operation Eagle Claw, in which eight Navy helicopters were flown into Iran on April 24, 1980. But mechanical failures doomed the helicopters, a sandstorm, poor command and in the end, one helicopter ran into a tanker aircraft and crashed, killing eight servicemen and injuring several more. An Oct. 29, 1980 second attempt was made, but it, too, failed before it could be launched. The hostages would be incarcerated in Iran for 444 days until they were released. The relationship between Iran and the U.S. was damaged beyond repair and would remain so for the next 34 years — until September 2013.

After years of the frankly crazy Mahmound Ahmadinejad, who led Iran from August 2005 until August this year, it is all the more extraordinary that Iran’s current cleric leader, President Hassan Rouhani, extended his hand — no weapon in it — to Obama. Although there was no official, face-to-face meeting between Rouhani and Obama when both leaders spoke at the annual UN general assembly opening held a couple of weeks ago, Obama spoke directly with Rouhani in a 15-minute phone call as the Iranian leader was on his way to the New York airport.

Obama initiated the call. They had a very cordial conversation. Rouhani later tweeted from his (Iran’s) Twitter account to Obama the U.S. is a “great” nation and wished Obama “a nice day” in English. Obama responded, with the Persian sign-off, “Khodahafez,” which translates to “May God look over you” in Farsi, the language spoken in Iran.

With that simple conversation, it was as if a door swung open and the possibility of glasnost, an Iranian type of détente stood on America’s front-door porch landing. Will America invite Iran in? Can they possibly share refreshments at a neutral place? Was it a diplomatic dream about to come true? That Iran and the U.S. don’t have to be enemies anymore?

My sense is that yes, the enemy days are over. Though it may take several years to restore a normal relationship between the two countries. Sworn enemies don’t suddenly become best buddies overnight; there are so many complications involved, countless deals to struggle through, and there is always the risk that like some human relationships, all the goodwill or kind and diplomatic gestures, the relationship may not be possible, it wasn’t meant to be. Much depends on how far they and we are willing to meet in the middle.

Not for a second do I think Rouhani is a cheat, a trickster who will extend one hand in peace and then shoot us with the other hand. He has good reason to ask for a friendship with the U.S. Not the least of it is that the hard economic sanctions we have imposed on Iran have worked. The sanctions have hurt the Iranian people. If the cleric rulers of Iran wish to maintain good relationships with their own people, and continue to rule, they cannot hide behind religious revolution ideology and oppression anymore.

They have to support their people, economically and culturally, and they can’t do that in isolation from the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Above all, they have to prove their nuclear program is actually for energy purposes and not to build a devastating bomb. And the U.S. cannot afford to repeat a Cuban Missile Crisis such as occurred in the early 1960s, when the Soviets and America were poised with their nuclear warheads to end each other’s world.

It’s also a possibility Rouhani has been inspired by the actions of Pope Francis. If you don’t see the connection, think about it this way: The pope is the leader of all Christians around the world. Rouhani may visualize himself as a Shiite version of a clerical leader cut from a similar cloth as the pope. If compassion, humility, striving toward peace and a more united world is the aim of Pope Francis, then perhaps Rouhani wishes to do the same. Therefore, try to become friends with the U.S. and at the same time, the world can relax a bit.

So what are our (the U.S.’s and Iran’s) leaders to do? From our point of view, Obama has chosen to be “clear-eyed” as he deals with this new Iran. In a White House meeting with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu Sept. 30, the leader of Israel, America’s staunchest ally — and us theirs — Netanyahu warned Obama despite Iran’s less strident gestures and words, Reagan’s view, “trust but verify” remains in place. For now, at least.

Israel has strong reason to worry — a kinder, gentler Iran seems unlikely, as Iran has continuously spoken against Israel. Netanyahu says Iran is still committed to Israel’s destruction. That may very well, at this point, be true.

But remarkable things happen. History changes. The Berlin Wall was literally torn down in 1989, the Soviet Union is no more and Russia has rejoined the League of Nations. Revolutionaries get old, succeeding generations bring with them different desires and needs, the world progresses.

So if it’s true, if Iran’s gestures are real, if the U.S. is willing to at least run with the ball clearly in our court, then miracles can happen.

I’m betting on it.

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning blogger/columnist and the community editor of the Idaho State Journal.

Jody says, bon voyag(er)!

September 19, 2013

Like Elvis, Voyager I has left the solar system. Unlike Elvis, Voyager, and its twin, Voyager II, aren’t going to return any time soon — they’ll be wandering the deepest reaches of our galaxy, meeting up with who knows what 40,000 light years from now. That’s about the time l’il ol’ Voyager may encounter a dwarf star in the constellation of Cameloparadalis. Makes you wonder what kind of shape Voyager will be in by then.

Speaking of constellations, have you noticed how a totally random star pattern is always named after something it’s supposed to resemble? Really, does Cameloparadalis look like a camel to you? Or Ursa Major look like a bear? Or Leo resembles a lion, Taurus a bull? No? I thought so.

It’s quite a feat, really, for a piece of machinery made 36 years ago on Earth, has now whirled its way out of our planetary system, to finally break free of the heliosphere. You know, the outer reaches of how far the sun’s influence and gravitational pull can reach.

Technically, according to the scientists, Voyager has yet to fight its way through the Oort Cloud, which is where comets come from (and you thought you knew the facts of life; a cosmic cabbage patch where baby comets are born …), which is an icy shell on the fringes of the solar system. It’s way out there, like billions and billions of miles from us. This belt of frozen bodies is joined by the Kuiper Belt, which is in Neptune’s neighborhood.

And the two of these together are thought to be what was left after the solar system itself formed, more than four billion years ago (not 6,000 years ago, sorry Creationists).

According to NASA, the American space agency, Voyager’s lonely trek into interstellar space is the first time ever that something made by humans is flinging itself across the universe. Now, if you subscribe to the Eric von Daniken theory that aliens visited the earth and created civilization (check out those stone temple carvings), then us waving bye-bye to Voyager is sort of a reverse of aliens among us. Now we are among them.

There was such a to-do about creating Voyager, or V’gr, the nickname given to the machine in the first “Star Trek” movie. We were so excited scribing into a gold plate as much human and animal and earth information as we could, even etching a drawing of a man and woman waving, “Hello, we’re friendly!”

Such technological marvels are quaint by today’s standards. But Voyager is no Edsel; despite what may be politely described as made from clunky technology of decades past, Voyager — both of them — are still going strong, their little nuclear-powered batteries now hurling them into space parts unknown. Not too shabby for using an eight-track tape recorder and computers with less memory than an iPhone.

Throughout Voyagers’ I and II histories, they sent back to us eagerly awaiting humans the most stunning, jaw-dropping and joyful pictures of our fantastic solar system. Who knew Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus had rings around their collars, that Saturn had scads of moons, that tiny moonlets make up Saturn’s familiar and oh so gorgeous rings, that icy eruptions periodically vent from the many, many moons shared by our system’s gas giant planets — that everything out there is so staggering awe-inspiring, wondrous and beautiful, beyond anything our little minds could imagine.

“This is historic stuff,” Edward C. Stone, now 77, and one of NASA’s top Voyager experts exclaimed. He started working on Voyager back in the bygone days of 1972, and probably never dreamed Voyager would keep trundling along at a speed of 38,000 miles an hour more than 11 billion miles from earth. Holy space probe, Batman!

A little explanation on the heliosphere, what it is and how it works: The sun, our star, tosses out charged particles into space, creating a hot plasma bubble all around the solar system. While not exactly like winds on our planet, the windy principle is similar, “blowing” hydrogen and helium gas way, way out there, cocooning us from the cold of deep space. Our solar wind, full of charged particles from the sun’s corona, interacts with the winds of space (space-time, maybe?), and creates a termination shock. Think of all these particles, gasses, and winds screeching to a halt, colliding into each other at the edge of this solar-produced space bubble. Sounds like a space train wreck to me.

Voyager apparently punched its way through this plasma and gas melee, and now has encountered interstellar gasses and winds. This is as far, far out as the Orion Arm of our Milky Way galaxy. Jeesh, but that’s a long way from home!
What’s even more amazing is that Voyager still will send us back radio info of what it finds out there, like what ancient star explosions are really made of — and the big if — what, if possible, Voyager meets up with a space probe sent by an intelligent species from another galaxy far, far away.

Well, it might happen!

I say Voyager’s venture into the final frontiers of space has been well worth our time, money, blood, sweat and tears. There’s something endearing about this little machine (sort of, Voyager is the size of a four-door sedan) that is zipping through the vast reaches of space, whistling in the dark corners of the universe. And we have every right to feel wistful about our representative fledgling leaving its solar nest, heading out on the Milky Way highway.

Who knows what adventures will come its way?

Jodeane Albright is an award-winning columnist/blogger and the community editor at the Idaho State Journal.