Two days ago Schatzi got into a scrap at the dog park. There were eight or nine balls on the grass, but Schatzi took a shine to one in particular, a thick rubber orange job about the size of a tennis ball. She’s going blind but still has some vision, and I suspect she could see this one more clearly than the others. The orange ball, though, had already been claimed by another dog, and that dog was determined to defend it.
The other dog lay down on its belly with the orange ball between its front paws. Schatzi stood face to face with it, the hair on her shoulders and rump beginning to rise, a low growl coming from her throat. The other dog began to bristle and growl as well. The other dog’s owner decided to defuse the situation by taking the ball away. He reached between them for the ball, and the fight was on.
It lasted only a second, but such yelping and barking! Most of which was coming from the other dog owners! The man who’d reached for the ball dove into the furball and pulled his dog away. I wound up being the one to pick up the ball, which I hid in a nearby tree. Neither dog was harmed.
Afterward, with no ball to fight over, Schatzi and her opponent chilled, and the other dogs, who’d gathered round to watch the fun, went back to chasing one another around the park. The humans gradually settled down, except for the other dog’s owner, who fussily harnessed and leashed his dog and left. I began to feel a certain chill in the air. The other owners were giving me side-eye, as if they thought Schatzi and I were to blame for the ruckus. So we stayed. And after a while I plucked the orange ball from the tree and tossed it to Schatzi, who was delighted to find it again.
Did I mention our dog park has two sides, with separate gates and fences, one for small dogs and one for large dogs? And that Schatzi and I were in the small dog side? With us in the small dog side were six or seven people and a dozen dogs, mostly small breeds but not all. Mixed in were some special snowflakes … a full-sized boxer, a lab, and a golden retriever, big dogs who, their owners will swear if you confront them, would never harm a flea (until they do), are intimidated by other big dogs, and how dare you object to my breaking the rules because my dog is special?
The dog Schatzi fought with? It was the golden retriever, an animal ten times Schatzi’s size. That had no fucking business being in the small dog enclosure. Whose owner is a dog park douchebag. Give me side-eye for being in the small dog side of the park with my miniature dachshund? Oh yeah? Wanna fight?
This blog really has gone to the dogs lately, hasn’t it?
Sorry, I can’t help it. None of us can. When we look at dogs we see ourselves in them, no matter how often scientists warn us against attributing human feelings, thoughts, and emotions to non-human animals.
I think dogs are a hell of a lot like us. They grow and learn, they have distinct personalities, and they’ve lived and worked with humans since the beginnings of time. Even the most disciplined and objective scientist, I bet, goes home at night and talks to his dog.
I hope you’ll indulge me, then, as I try to get inside a dog’s head.
We live with two miniature dachshunds, Schatzi and Maxie. Schatzi is the elder, very much the alpha dog. We raised her from a tiny pup, house-training and teaching her everything she knows about living with humans. Maxie is, we think, slightly younger; she came to us as an adult, perhaps five years old, her habits and behavior around people already formed.
Their diet is regular: dry kibble in the morning, a dog treat in the middle of the day, wet food at dinnertime. The wet food consists of frozen meat pellets, which we buy in bags at the feed store and keep in the freezer at home. The pellets are made of beef, venison, lamb, chicken, rabbit, and duck — we buy a different flavor each time. Since the pellets are frozen, we have to thaw them out first. Each night at dinnertime, as the dogs are eating, we put two fresh scoops of pellets in a plastic container which we leave in the fridge to thaw for tomorrow.
When Schatzi and Maxie eat, they wolf their food in three or four gulps and finish together. Once they’re done Schatzi moves over to Maxie’s bowl to lick the last traces of flavor from it, while Maxie does the same to Schatzi’s bowl. Even so, I watch them while they eat, because sometimes Maxie is a little slower and Schatzi will try to muscle in on what’s left of her food.
What slows Maxie down is this thing she does where she jumps back from her bowl, then warily sneaks back to finish her dinner. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it’s clear something startled or frightened her. I started wondering what that something could be.
Whatever it is, it never happens at breakfast or treat time, only at dinner and then not always. So it’s not a fear of food, nor does it seem to be deference to Schatzi’s alpha dog status. It’s something else, and I think it’s me or something I’m doing.
Lately I’ve been watching Maxie closely as she eats. I’ve observed that she only jumps back from her bowl when I do a certain thing. Like the dogs, I too have a set dinnertime routine: I put one scoop of thawed pellets in each bowl, then put the bowls on the floor. As the dogs start to eat, I turn to the freezer, open it and pull out the bag of frozen pellets, then scoop tomorrow’s dinner into the plastic container to thaw.
Maxie starts in on her dinner without a care in the world, but as soon as I make a move toward the freezer she starts keeping an eye on me. She doesn’t jump back from her bowl until I open the freezer door, or at least that’s what I thought until last night, when I tried to observe her behavior more scientifically. Last night she kept eating as I opened the freezer door, but jumped back the second I reached inside for the bag. I’ll try to confirm that at dinnertime tonight, but I don’t want to take it any farther than that.
Exactly what it is that frightens her when I reach inside the freezer for that bag I’ll probably never know. But clearly it does frighten her, and that’s the last thing I want to do to this sweet little creature, who has always been wary and shy around humans. So after tonight, I’ll change my routine and stop preparing tomorrow’s dinner until both dogs have finished eating.
Maxie and Schatzi
We think we know and understand Schatzi, since she grew up with us. Maxie was an adult when we got her, her mannerisms and habits already formed. We don’t know much about her prior life. For a year or so before she came to us, she belonged to a friend’s daughter. The daughter was starting her own life, changing jobs and moving from apartment to apartment, so she had to leave Maxie with her mother, who already had two dogs of her own. Maxie was well loved by both daughter and mother, but we thought we could give her more attention and a permanent home, so we offered to adopt her.
The thing is, Maxie lived with someone else, possibly more than one person, before living with our friend’s daughter. We know nothing about that part of her life. Was she loved then, or was she neglected or abused? She had been spayed, but that’s all we knew about her medical history. Even her age was unknown — the vet, looking at her teeth, said she was probably a year younger than Schatzi.
We once had a coyote-collie mix named Duke, who like Maxie was grown when we got him. One day I dropped a glass on the kitchen floor and reached for the broom. Duke yelped and ran for the hills. It was pretty obvious he thought I was going to beat him with that broom, and he must have had a reason to think that, poor thing.
Maxie, like Duke, is afraid of something. You can fault me for anthropomorphising, but when she jumps back from her dinner I see fear. Did a previous owner do something bad to her? Probably, but it’s hard to imagine what it could have been. If she shied away from brooms and sticks, like Duke, cause and effect would be clear. But reaching inside a freezer? What could be threatening about that? We’ll never know, but it’s real to Maxie, and now that I realize it’s scaring her I won’t be doing it any more.
Most people who adopt adult dogs and cats call them rescues. Technically, I guess, Maxie’s a rescue, but I don’t like to think of her as that. She had a pretty good life, at least the life we knew about, when we took her in. It’s not like we were rescuing her from the pound or something. We thought she’d have a more stable life with us, and that she’d enrich our lives, and that’s how it’s turned out. Is she happy? If I may be allowed to attribute human emotions to a dog, I believe she is.
You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news.
Hacked traffic sign in Los Angeles (photo credit: unknown)
YCRT! updates from Tucson, Arizona, where 80 textbooks, along with the entire Mexican-American Studies program, were banned from local high schools in 2012:
YCRT! updates from Dallas, Texas, where we’ve been following an ongoing battle over books assigned to students at Highland Park High School (this is the school district where the superintendent at one time advocated red-flagging any book appearing on the American Library Association’s banned book list):
YCRT! banned book & censorship news:
YCRT! book review:
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
This is an older review, previously published in a YCRT! column, but having just read about parental attempts in Dallas, Texas to ban the teaching of a similar book on poverty in America, I felt it would be useful to look at the subject of textbooks that address the experiences of low-income working people in America and the controversy such books invariably engender.
This book was recently challenged by parents in Bedford, New Hampshire, who wanted it taken off a high school finance class reading list. The parents’ stated objection was to a sentence describing Jesus Christ as a wine-guzzling socialist vagrant, but I suspect their real objection was to the book’s political message … certainly that was the case with the many right-wing bloggers who took up the parents’ cause and cheered when the school board buckled and removed the book from the reading list. I decided to read Nickel and Dimed to see what the fuss was about.
Barbara Ehrenreich, hardly the Marxist described by her critics, goes undercover and tries to make ends meet by working a succession of low-wage jobs. Her experience underscores the near impossibility getting ahead, or even keeping one’s head above water, when you’re making minimum wage.
What’s interesting is that the book was written after the first wave of welfare-to-work initiatives imposed in several states during the Clinton administration. Things are undoubtedly much worse now. Then, there were still federal and state programs to help the working poor, if you knew where to look. Now there is almost nothing.
I must say, it’s a shocking book, and a depressing one. Workers, often single mothers, cannot live on one minimum wage job. They have to work two and even three, and still cannot afford anything but the basics: a roof, food … and often not even that. Cheap apartments or trailers are increasingly impossible to find, and the trend is for several low-wage workers to live together in weekly-rate motel rooms. Miss a day or two of work and you’re out of a job. Get sick, ditto. Your junker breaks down? Sorry, Charlie, and where did you get the idea trash like you was entitled to a car in the first place?
After reading Nickel and Dimed, it occurred to me that if I were to re-read Les Misérables, I’d probably find that not much has changed since Jean Valjean’s day.
Critics and political commentators have attempted to belittle Barbara Ehrenreich for undertaking her experiment, trying to make ends meet with a succession of waitressing, housecleaning, and low-end retail jobs paying, at most, $7 an hour, when all along she had an out: she could have returned to her comfortable life at any time, and she could (and did) move on to different parts of the country when she got bored and discouraged with any particular location and job. They characterize her as a rich dilettante, playing at being poor in order to sell books.
But the book needed to be written, and in my opinion high school kids (ye gods, especially high school kids) need to read it. Could a real single mom, slaving away at two or three part-time benefitless minimum wage jobs, have given voice to the plight of minimum wage workers in America today? I thank Barbara for taking on the project. It can’t have been fun.
A couple of casual observations to start the weekend.
Lately, Rachel Maddow has been asking why Congress isn’t debating President Obama’s military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It’s surely odd that Congress, which interferes with or tries to block everything else the President does, is allowing him free rein to conduct the war as he sees fit.
I think there are two reasons for this. One, neither party in Congress wants to wind up on the blame line for future Middle East disasters — let Obama take the heat; it’s nothing to do with us. Two, after years of opposing any kind of legislation that might make Obama look good, Republicans on the Hill have arrived at the point where they’re not willing to engage with the President at all. They’ve worked so very hard to trivialize Obama they don’t dare engage him in serious debate over ISIS and the Middle East lest they be seen to be taking him seriously. Jesus, what a contemptible lot.
I DVR’d the first episode of the Syfy Channel’s 12 Monkeys last night so I can watch it tonight while fast-forwarding through the ads. While it was taping I watched Fargo — the original movie, not the recent TV series. This has probably been said before, but I’ll say it anyway because it hits me so strongly every time I watch Fargo: there’s something deeply biblical about that movie.
Speaking of ads, they’re ruining regular TV for me. There probably aren’t any more ads than before, but the older I get the more intrusive they become. And you can hear the volume being jacked up about one second into the first commercial of a block of ads — didn’t we pass a law against that a few years ago? Thank goodness for streaming TV, I say, and the DVR.
Now, what to do about those content-blocking ads on YouTube and news websites?
Listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR yesterday, I heard a journalist guest argue that traditional media is the best place to get the news because professional journalists can be relied on to explore all sides of an issue and ask tough questions. Say what? Have you ever watched Meet the Press? Traditional media jumped on the bandwagon and helped Bush & Cheney lie us into a disastrous war in Iraq. Traditional media was silent when Obama abandoned his promise to keep single-payer health care on the table during the policy negotiations that led to Obamacare. Traditional media is ignoring the massacres in Nigeria today. Traditional media — Rachel Maddow excepted, as I noted at the top of this post — isn’t asking questions about the conduct of our current campaign against ISIS.
If it weren’t for non-traditional media — news and political websites and blogs, for example — tough questions would never be asked. Over on the right sidebar I have a blogroll of sites I visit daily or weekly. One of those is a political blog called Hullabaloo. If you don’t go anywhere else on the internet, go there. Wonkette’s not bad either, if you don’t mind sponsored content disguised to look like news (I use an RSS reader to view Wonkette because it cuts out the fake articles, similar to the way Amazon streaming TV cuts out the ads on The Sopranos).
Donna’s away until next Thursday, staying with our grandson Quentin in Las Vegas while our son and daughter in law take a short vacation in Florida. She left Thursday while I was at the Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale, so I came home to an empty house that night. Well, not entirely empty: there were three hungry critters waiting for me.
I have plenty of prepared food, which is good because I never feel like cooking from scratch when it’s just for me, and I’m slowly catching up with the streaming TV shows I like but Donna doesn’t. There’s a book club meeting this afternoon, a Hash House Harriers run tomorrow, and my museum tours on Wednesday. Monday or Tuesday I’ll probably take the motorcycle out for a long ride. Time flies, and Donna will be home soon.
Oh, one last thing. Last week I took a new vision prescription to Costco and ordered new glasses. I didn’t take Donna with me because I wanted to pick my own frames. This time I decided to go with tortoise shell. The glasses came in yesterday, so Donna hasn’t seen them yet. I don’t know whether she’ll like them or hate them, but I think I like them. Here they are:
Yesterday was my fourth pilgrimage to the Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s always fun to see the old cars, but the scale of the event is so large it’s hard to take everything in, the crowds so dense it’s difficult to find a clear line of sight for photography. This first photo, taken outside on the midway (yes, that’s a state fair/carnival word, and it’s exactly the right word to describe what Barrett-Jackson has become), doesn’t do the crowds justice. I took it early in the morning; half an hour later the midway was jam-packed. It does, though, give you an accurate idea of the prevailing weather: clear, beautiful, and 70°F, the kind of conditions that make Arizona a wonderful place to live … at least in January.
Part of the B-J midway (yes, they sell airplanes too)
None of the vehicles on display activated my lust gland, but maybe that’s because I’ve come to accept the idea I’ll never own or drive a classic car. I just don’t have the money. Still, there were some interesting cars, trucks, and motorcycles on display, and I’m glad I decided to lug the good camera and flash attachment around with me.
I’m going to insert blocks of thumbnail images in between paragraphs. As always, you can click on the thumbnails to see the full sized images on Flickr. Alternatively, you can click here now and go straight to the full photoset, skipping the words altogether. Who loves ya, baby?
I mentioned crowds. The event lasts eight days, from Saturday to Sunday of the following week (this year from Jan 10 to 18), but the actual auction … the part you see on TV … doesn’t start until Tuesday or Wednesday. If you, like me, are crowd-averse, the time to go is Monday, which is both a workday and non-auction day. The downside would be that all the cars may not yet be on site. I was hoping Thursday would be a good compromise: yes, the auction would be in progress, but wouldn’t the hoards be at work on a weekday?
No, as it turned out. I forgot that the collector car demographic is baby boomers. I’m a retired baby boomer, so I can go to B-J on a weekday. Well, there are a hell of a lot of people just my age and just as retired, and damn if they all didn’t decide to go on Thursday, too.
My gosh, how very many of my fellow first-wave boomers use mobility scooters! I can’t count the times I had to yank a foot back the last second to keep it from getting crushed under a Li’l Rascal wheel. Scooters were especially bad inside the exhibit tents, where everyone is packed into narrow aisles between cars and it’s hard to see scooter people because they’re low to the ground, hidden amongst the walking.
Outside, you’ve got all your fat fucks* in rental golf carts. Between auction employees and fat fucks, you’re just as busy dodging golf carts outside as you are jumping out of the way of Medicare-scam scooters inside.
*I am a fat fuck, but at least I can still walk a few miles and stay on my feet most of the day, for which I am thankful.
So anyway, I drove up with two Tucson friends, retired boomers my own age. The three of us share similar memories of the cars of our youth, so I have to assume all the other old guys at Barrett-Jackson do too. But that doesn’t keep us from wanting to bend our friends’ ears about how popular Renault Dauphines were in the 1960s and how you don’t ever see them today, or how the whole front of a BMW Isetta opened up and that’s how you got in and out, or how the VW Beetles of the 1950s didn’t have gas gauges, or how they used to hide Caddy gas caps under the taillight. My buddies and I refrained, but I saw plenty of other gray-hairs** forcing their knowledge of old car trivia on their buddies. Hey, everyone on Social Security, we all grew up with those cars.
**I’m not claiming any superiority here. I wanted to show off to my friends too. I know … next time I’ll bring my grandson!
It was a pretty great day in spite of the crowds, and we three amigos had a fine time. Even though I didn’t fall in love with any particular car, there’s another, smaller car show down in Tubac at the end of the month, and I’ll be there too, camera in hand.
I’ll close with a photo I found online, an aerial view of the Barrett-Jackson tents at Westworld in Scottsdale, to give you an idea of the scale of the thing. Don’t go without a good pair of walking shoes!
Watching NBC and MSNBC reports on the Charlie Hebdo terror killings in Paris, I see very few depictions of the magazine’s cartoons. In print and web-based media, though, the cartoons … even the really offensive ones … are everywhere. You’d have to be a cloistered monk not to have seen them, which makes me wonder why our TV networks are so squeamish about showing them.
I think I’ve established my anti-censorship cred here at Paul’s Thing, if for nothing else than my You Can’t Read That! posts. Oh, yeah, and that time I lost a friend for using the c-word to describe Sarah Palin. And all the times my wife has told me I shouldn’t have written about this thing or that. Freedom of speech? Bring it on, baby.
I confess Charlie Hebdo’s style of satire strikes me as gratuitously offensive, particularly its slams at religion, which are based on racial and cultural stereotypes so crude they’d embarrass a Republican. But when it comes to choosing sides, I’m with the irreverent satirists every time. We can’t give an inch on freedom of speech, even when — especially when — those who want to shut us up resort to violence and murder.
A friend asked me to read an interview with a former nun who says that, contrary to conventional wisdom, religion is not the driving force behind violence. When it comes to war, I take her point: while religion may be invoked to justify war, wars are fought for secular reasons like power, territory, and natural resources. Clearly, though, religion, or religion-based tribalism (which I think is a more accurate way to describe it), is a primary factor in terrorism.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims living in Western countries are secular, divorced from the religion-based tribalism sweeping the Middle East. They condemn terrorism carried out in their name by fanatics. You won’t see me jumping onto the let’s-kill-all-the-Muslims bandwagon, any more than I’d jump on a lets-kill-all-the-Christians bandwagon after an NAACP office or abortion clinic bombing. And I hope you won’t either. There are people who react to terrorism by trying to start tribal, religious, and racial wars. We have to stand up to them the same way we stand up to terrorists.
It’s not easy. When I see someone driving a pickup truck with a 2nd Amendment bumper sticker, I assume certain things about that person. When I see a woman wearing a hijab my thoughts are not kindly ones. To be human is to be tribal. I get that, because I see it in myself.
And since I harbor some of this tribalism myself, I don’t expect too much from other people. Muslims in Western countries have been under the gun since 9/11, and in the wake of recent attacks like the ones in France they’ll face even more prejudice, scrutiny, and suspicion. I can only hope governments act with restraint, targeting just the perpetrators of violence, not entire classes of people.
And wouldn’t it be nice if Fox News and right-wing talk radio just shut the fuck up for once? Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?