My mother's trouble with dubious authority goes back at least as far as her one-girl crusade on behalf of Abraham Lincoln. The authorities she antagonized on Abe's behalf were her history teachers at her Nashville junior high school, back in the late 1920s.
"Some of them were Confederate war widows," she says. "All of them were old biddies. And they said horrible things about Lincoln."
Ronald Reagan changed America, and -- with all due deference to his dedication to principle, his indomitable spirit, his affability -- not for the better.
Historians will argue how much credit Reagan deserves for the ratcheting down of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. By any measure he surely merits some, even if he spent the better part of his presidency ratcheting the Cold War up.
Suddenly "Pomp and Circumstance" was booming out of the Zellerbach Auditorium sound system and there she was -- my daughter Miranda, that short blonde in the front row (no mere mortarboard could obscure those locks) as the orchestra section filled up with hundreds of graduating University of California history majors last Friday morning. And just as suddenly, but not in the least surprisingly, I was overwhelmed by every stereotypical parental emotion: How had that erstwhile little munchkin become this terrific young woman? How had she grown so supremely capable at a whole range of things that neither her mother nor I could do if our lives depended on it? And -- inevitably -- where had the time gone?
"Nobody dast blame this man," says Charley in a spontaneous eulogy for his neighbor, Willy Loman, in the concluding scene of Arthur Miller's tragedy. "A salesman is got to dream, boy."
And certainly nobody blames Nicholas Berg, beheaded in Iraq by ghouls from the Dark Ages. Berg had his dreams, and they weren't just of business opportunities in Iraq. Though just 26, Berg was already something of a globetrotter in the cause of building a better world. Working through the American Jewish World Service, he'd gone to Kenya to help construct a water access project -- the kind of project that Africa needs most, and for which Berg's idealism, engineering skills and evident affability suited him to a tee.
By the middle of the 20th century, Los Angeles and Houston were the dominant cities in the dominant states of the just emerging Sun Belt. Politically, though, they were both still tight, white little towns.
Each city had a remarkably small informal governing committee -- all white, all Protestant, all CEO, all right-wing -- that held sway over matters large and small. In Los Angeles, the Committee of 25 met regularly in Asa Call's office at Pacific Mutual Insurance, tending to the selection of pro-business mayors. To persuade Norris Poulson, a conservative congressman, to run for mayor in 1953, committee members had to promise him that they'd personally shell out for a chauffeured limousine should he be elected. (He was and they did.)