We say “thanks” often, reflexively, usually without much thought. And we love the Thanksgiving holiday as time spent with family, friends, food and football. We probably even take a moment during the day to acknowledge our bounty and good fortune with thanks. We know about gratitude and consider ourselves lucky when we tally all that we have to be grateful for. But have we turned a genuine appreciation for our blessings into shallow platitudes?
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925, an American politician known for his persuasive speaking skills) offered another perspective, which actually caused me to stop and think. He added to my understanding of Thanksgiving; perhaps you will be similarly affected.
I’ve needed distractions for many months, and enjoyed these. Educated by Tara Westover was mind-boggling, God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright of particular interest given my environment, and Mick Herron’s Slough House series starting with Slow Horses brought laugh out loud relief from current events. I struggled to become engaged with Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders but was ultimately swept away. Good writers continue to have my undying respect and devotion.
It can be hard to find in Texas, so we headed south to the Hill country this year, probably a little too early in the season for full effect. We had foggy mornings, drove through rolling hills past wineries, and stayed in a wonderful little log cabin for a change of pace. In a few more weeks there may be more color to see; the scenery is different in this part of the world and can offer a fun surprise.
I like and use TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com), the web site that collects advice from travelers about places to go, things to do, where to eat. I have found it useful and a generally reliable resource for developing travel plans, and dreaming of new adventures. A recent TripAdvisor post caught my eye because, of course, I wondered how I was doing in accomplishing what “Travelers Say These Are The 10 Best World Landmarks To See Before You Die (And Here’s How).” The “Travelers’ Choice award winners this year includes historical sites, scenic attractions, and breathtaking examples of architectural innovation in destinations far and wide.”
I haven’t seen them all, but those I have would make my “best” list too … except for one: Alcatraz. Alcatraz, along with the Golden Gate Bridge, are the two landmarks which represent the United States on this list. I get that they may be unique, and the bridge is certainly an iconic symbol of San Francisco. But Alcatraz? I can’t say it’s an example of anything I’m particularly proud of about our country. It’s a 22 acre rock, with ruins of a former federal penitentiary. It also has a lighthouse and lots of birds, but I don’t think tours would be filled with enthusiasts if stories of criminals weren’t part of the experience. I really don’t understand the appeal. I agree it’s an historical site, and taking the ferry around San Francisco Bay is very scenic, but compared to other options on the “best list”… the Taj Mahal in India … St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome … the Parliament building in Budapest? I have no trouble choosing. And wouldn’t you think travelers would find the Grand Canyon or the giant Sequoias or the Lincoln Memorial more noteworthy sights in America than Alcatraz?
(I did find the locks looking through the fence toward Alcatraz of some appeal as a tourist photo op).
It’s nearing mid-term elections, and the news is full of noise I mostly tune out. But one rainy afternoon I decided to find out what my Congressional representative has been doing to serve his district. There are many websites through which one can peek behind press releases touting accomplishments that members of Congress love to send to their constituents. I began with house.gov, linked to my representative’s web site, and then branched out to opensecrets.org, govtrack.us, votesmart.org, and links beyond links. I should have done it years ago.
I know that statistics alone do not tell the full story of the complex workings of Congress and the difficulties in moving a bill from introduction into law, nor do titles of sponsored bills give much clue as to their value to the voter. But basic facts are quick and easy to come by, and here’s what I learned about my Congressman:
- Since arriving in office in 2005, he’s MISSED 6.8% of votes, higher than the median 2.4% missed by fellow representatives during similar tenures
- He is an extremely reliable vote for his party (93.9%) when he votes
- He serves in NO leadership positions on any committees or subcommittees, after 10+ years in Congress
- He sponsored ONE bill in 2015, portions of which were incorporated into legislation that was enacted, (which appears to have amended a tariff schedule on bulk cargo.) On his website he claims authorship of two other bills in 2015 that were passed by the House, but I found no indication they moved beyond the House into law.
- He is a member of the majority party, which controls the calendar of business in each chamber. Nonetheless, during 2018, he introduced 12 bills (placing him 283 out of 450 House members), none of which have made their way through committee to the floor for a vote.
- Press releases on his website about issues of importance to me are dated from 2015 and 2016.
I am not impressed. I will not support him, and it won’t concern him one bit. He is in a safe seat, helped by the squiggly district borders drawn by the Republican controlled state legislature following the 2010 census. I will turn my attention to the Senate seat up for re-election in my state instead, which offers more opportunity for change.
We had been to the San Francisco Bay area before and always loved it, but perhaps never for so many good reasons as this trip offered: we attended a wonderful wedding in Sonoma at a gorgeous location, dined with long time friends, visited family, and celebrated our anniversary. The weather also favored us far beyond expectation.
We chose to stay in Tiburon, in the delightful Water’s Edge Hotel, just steps from the ferry-boat landing, and once settled in we didn’t use our car again. Taking the ferry from Tiburon to Fisherman’s Wharf offered a completely new perspective on the city, its famous bridges, and Alcatraz. But the best location for immersion and pleasure was sitting on the hotel deck at dusk for cocktails, and for morning coffee. San Francisco was visible across the bay, and the sinking sun brought a shimmer to the view. Darn close to heaven.
Considered to be a coastal invader which can choke out other native plants and alter the soil, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests not planting the species, and removing it whenever possible. A drive along the Sonoma County coast last weekend, in hazy morning light, made that reasonable explanation and request very difficult to support.