Sherwood's Notebook: Everything Just Feels So Shaky

There are some big things:

The worldwide stock market. Public safety here and many other areas. Transit systems here, in New York and elsewhere. Politics? Take your pick. Hillary’s campaign or Trump’s GOP surprise rise? Sports. The woeful ’Skins or the start-and-stop Nats? 

And, there are some little things:

Summer is over. Noisy leaf blowers are revving up. And vodka sales are falling (but prices aren’t).

The list is not exhaustive, but you get the point. It seems like there is a surfeit of bad news.

We were feeling wrung out from all this until we went to the National Zoo on Monday for NBC4 to check out the new panda cubs that were born over the weekend.

Excited visitors to the Zoo were bummed that they couldn’t see the new pandas except on a video stream. But just being close to the panda yards was almost good enough for some.

Zoo director Dennis Kelly told News4 it’s a sensitive time for the pandas, weighing only a few ounces and needing 24/7 attention and care.

“They’re struggling for food, they’re struggling for warmth,” Kelly told us near where 2-year-old Bao Bao was distracting the panda-hungry crowds. “And [mother Mei Xiang] is used to only raising one so we’re swapping them out. They’re doing OK, but it is a critical time.”

We were joined by Lynn Mento, who is just finishing her first month as executive director of the Friends of the National Zoo.

“You’re kind of like the pandas — you’re brand-new!” we told her. “Not a twin, but brand-new, yes,” she laughed.

We told her that if we were one of the elephants in the adjacent exhibit, we’d be jealous of all the panda attention. She acknowledged the imbalance, but said all the animals are important; it’s just that the pandas have become the face of the Zoo.

“There’s something so special about the pandas,” she said. “In fact, we are the only free zoo in the nation that has pandas.”

■ So when should you visit? If the new panda cubs survive the first few weeks, it still may be a while before you can see them other than on the panda cam. Go to the Zoo, but lower expectations.

“Actually, coming outside is three or four months away,” Kelly told us. “These cubs are so tiny right now. Their eyes aren’t open. They have no fur. They’ll grow quickly. But just like Bao Bao, they won’t be out for three or four months.”

■ And their names? It’s a tradition that cubs are not given names for several weeks, in part because they are so fragile at birth. But soon enough, if all goes well, the Zoo will announce a way for the public to help name the two cubs.

“We will come up with a fun, good way to name these cubs,” Kelly told us. “And you’ll hear about that in the next few weeks.”

We’ve written almost a whole column without writing “pandemonium.” But that’s what it’ll be when the line starts forming to see the new pandas. You might get a head start by joining FONZ. It has 35,000 households supporting private efforts at the Zoo, and it’s always looking for more.

■ Schools are open. Monday was another good day for the District besides the pandas.
Only minor glitches were being reported as nearly 50,000 public school students reported to class for the new year. It’s the highest enrollment in the past four years. The city also opened four new schools.

On Friday, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson had appeared on the WAMU Politics Hour. As usual, she was excited about the new school year. But she also was mindful of the spike in violence that has unnerved so many in the city. She said school administrators and security personnel were briefed on community violence and were encouraged to be vigilant to keep the violence out of schools.

But more importantly, she said the school system was going to focus on positive things happening at the schools. There are new academic programs and new after-school activities. The system continues to improve school facilities. There still is uncertainty on what new private firm will provide school lunches and snacks, but the current operator has said it would not leave the system in the lurch.

Whatever its troubles, there is no doubt that the D.C. school system is not the place it was when Michelle Rhee took over in 2007. A lot has changed, and more change — a lot more — is needed. But Henderson and others say the city is on the right track. It’ll be up to the parents and guardians of our children to affirm that as the year unfolds.

■ What about D.C? A group called “The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation” is advocating that the section of 16th Street in front of the reopened Cuban Embassy be renamed in honor of slain human rights activist Oswaldo Paya.

We mean no disrespect to Paya, or the advocates. But many of the 650,000 people who live in the District of Columbia would like to suspend ceremonial renaming of streets until the citizens of this nation’s capital are given the basic rights of all other U.S. citizens. No more, no less. No more, no less.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

Contact Us