Letters to Paula, JF96

Robert Embick, Dana Point, Calif.:

About a year ago, it was announced that Ronald Reagan had come down with a nasty case of Alzheimer's and they made it sound like it happened overnight. I used to watch his press conferences and felt really embarrassed for him as he stumbled off his script--and that was 10 years ago. It was apparent to everyone at the time that Reagan was suffering from something, but we weren't told what. Why the cover-up?

A: You're right. It's not like the average citizen gasped and said, "How could that be?" when they heard Reagan had Alzheimer's. Most of us said, "Oh, yeah, I thought something was wrong."

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I talked to a syndicated columnist and political analyst, Mark Shields, who I love--when he worked with David Gergen on the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" they were the Bert (Gergen) and Ernie (Shields) of political analysis. I don't know if we can hold Mark personally responsible for everything the press does, but he certainly offered a believable explanation of the oversight. He said that Reagan was never any good with specifics.

"It wasn't," he said, "as if he was a master of this stuff and it started to slip away. He was never into details. Reagan had only two or three big things that he cared about--unlike Clinton, who can tell you the nutritional value of the school lunch program outside of Kearney, Nebraska."

Mark also said that, at their core, the press really respect democracy and that Reagan's election was an enormous surprise to them. It left them wondering if maybe the voters knew something they didn't. This may have caused a lack of scrutiny.

Johnathon Dunker, e-mail:

Have you ever looked at ways to increase your income?

A: Johnathon, I have considered and rejected the idea of taking things that don't belong to me. Is that what you mean?

Marisa and Alison Peacock, e-mail:

Is there any specific flower or plant exclusively for Passover?

A: My neighbor, Peter Himmelman, is Jewish and what I call very religious. He wears a yarmulke and a prayer shawl. His son wears a yarmulke. His kids go to shul. They can't go out to the Koo Koo Roo to eat with my foster kids and me because it's not kosher (at least they say that's why they won't eat with us). At Yom Kippur he and his wife fasted. The kids didn't fast, but couldn't wear leather shoes (his 6-year-old explained to me), which makes sense because sometimes when I'm hungry I'll slip on a leather shoe instead of eating.

Anyway, Peter doesn't think there's a Passover flower. You may choose any flower you'd like to celebrate with.

Write Paula c/o Mother Jones, 731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103. Fax her at (415) 665-6696; or send e-mail to Paula@motherjones.com.