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Stop and Watch the Bees Joan McCaul



(Erin Otwell / The Free Press)

Thirty years ago, I was rushing to get my son and daughter, who were then eight and ten, out of the house and into the car to go to school. All parents know the drill: children passing each other in a blur of activity, looking for sports jerseys and musical instruments that should have been put out the night before. Kids and adults become whirring satellites, each on a different orbit. 

It was spring, which is lovely in my part of Australia—sunny and warm. 

But I wasn’t enjoying the weather. My only concern was getting my kids and their things on their way, and my son, Stephen, was nowhere to be seen.

“Where are you, Stephen?” I called out from the kitchen, in the vague direction of the stairs. “Are you dressed?”

I climbed the stairs to look for him, and peered into the bedroom my husband and I shared.

That’s when I found him, sitting on our bed in his undies, staring at the tulipwood tree outside our large bedroom window. It was covered in yellow spring blossoms. 

“What are you doing? Hurry up!” I pleaded. 

“I’m just watching the bees,” he said, not moving his gaze.

I watched him, completely calm, lost in his own little world. 

My husband, who was passing by in the hallway, stopped to look at our son, too. Stephen was in a really nice, peaceful place, and there was something uncomfortable about the moment, like my husband and I had intruded on something private.

Not just that, but the stillness and beauty of that moment made us feel kind of silly, like we had done something wrong. There we were, ready to lecture our son on the importance of being ready, and there he was teaching us something far more important. 

Life isn’t about rushing out the door. In conducting the symphony of children and lost shoes and instruments and jerseys, I had forgotten that.

Watching him, I was transported back to my own forgotten memory of being ten years old. As a kid, my family went on holiday to North Stradbroke Island, just off the coast of Brisbane. Though the island was close by, it had wild horses and only one dirt road. On this particular holiday, my brother and I had prowled the sands of a subtropical shoreline looking for a fish for Mum to cook. We presented her with a washed-up puffer fish, which she politely disposed of while telling us never to touch one again. 

My father died the following year. That was the last time we went to Stradbroke as a family. 

Watching my son look at the bees brought me back to that precious time. I felt once more the sun on my neck and the softness of the sand, so bright I had to shade my eyes. At midday the beach was almost deserted, just the sky, the water, an occasional fisherman, and children chasing gulls. 

Now my son is 41. I wonder if he even remembers the wisdom of his eight-year-old self. At 74, I know I do. 

The natural world has been an important part of my getting older. It’s been helped by the availability of time, which allows me to slow down, to be in the moment without needing to check my watch. 

My daughter has a five-year-old son who loves watching ants. He gardens with me and notices each new flower that blossoms on a bush or a tree. He loves the weather; he tells me when the sky is dark and it’s going to rain, and when there’s going to be lightning. Now that I’m older, I can move at his pace.

It’s a privilege to have reached the last third of my life. So many don’t. The natural world is a great source of solace when the inevitable aches and pains, the slowness, and the unforeseen aspects of old age rear their head. Knowing the cycle of my garden, the unexpected delight of the smell from my flowering lemon tree, the daisies that crop up each year like old friends after seemingly being lost to the ground forever, and the crows that send out their raucous challenges from the clothesline whenever I step outside, are a constant delight. Their companionship refreshes me and their appearance each year reassures that I’m part of a larger life cycle. And whenever I forget that, the image of my son, perched on my bed, is there to remind me. 

When a child tells you they’re watching the bees, leave them to it. They’re using their time well. And perhaps sit down next to them and watch the bees with them, too. 

Joan McCaul, 74, was born in Brisbane, Queensland, and has lived there ever since. She retired nine years ago after teaching and working in social work.

Read the other Senior Essay Contest runners-up, Cheri Block Sabraw and Jonathan Rosenberg.


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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller




In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond





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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum




November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 


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