Once Bitten …

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imagesI thought I had my dog, Melvin, fully trained.  But, in recent months, he’s become harder and harder to control.  Every day, for example, he dutifully brings in the mail, sets it on the floor, even checks it out.  All fine, but, if there’s a picture of Donald Trump, he flies into a rage and defecates on it.

I realized I had to get him re-socialized.  I couldn’t be the teacher (I think, somehow, he associated me with Trump, though I’ve assured him I voted for Clinton).  I gave some thought to an on-line obedience course, but realized that, with no one physically present to assure discipline, it wouldn’t work.  Learning how to act properly in a social context requires a social context. 

The only option seemed to be obedience school, though the specter of recent attacks, most of them coming from their own students, and the awful, cascading copydog effect, worried me.  What if an unhinged Rottweiler or a Pit Bull with a grudge tried to wreak vengeance on its schoolmates?

But I at least wanted to check out the possibilities. I found a school nearby and met the owner.  I felt I had to share my concerns, which, she acknowledged, were legitimate and very much on her mind, so much so that the school had adopted key preventive measures:

Controlled Access: Each student entered and exited through an appropriately-sized doggie door.  Larger dogs, who were the likelier source of a truly dangerous attack, couldn’t follow the fleeing smaller dogs once they had escaped through their little doors. At least part of the school population would survive.

Helper Dogs: (1) Therapy dogs to calm, reassure, and redirect potential problem students; (2) Resource dogs (genuine, German Shepherd, police dogs) to guard the students and stop an attack; (3) Guide dogs to lead the students to safety if needed.

An All-Canine Instructor Corps:  The owner explained that the uncanny sensitivity of highly-trained dogs to their students’ emotions made them ideal teachers. 

I speculated that the teachers must be the key to any defensive plans.

Not really, she said.  Though, of course, the best defense is sensitive, compassionate teachers who guide their students to equally compassionate, responsible behavior, it’s not fair to put that extra burden on them.  With such unruly students, they’re under constant stress and, if they cracked in an emergency situation and harmed their own students, everything would be lost.

I was impressed and told the owner I would seriously consider enrolling Melvin.  But, before I could make that final decision, everything went up in smoke.

According to newspaper accounts, it started when one of the school’s video cameras caught an indistinct image of something entering through one of the doggie doors.  The school went immediately into defensive mode.  The Resource Dog on duty rushed to investigate, but found no one, and barked this fact to the owner.

The owner, herself, had actually seen the fleeting video image.  Concerned, but not panicked, she went on the school’s PA system to try to reassure everyone.  The transcript reads:

All of you, I want you to know the situation is under control and there is no cause for alarm.  We have no reason to think that whoever entered the building intends harm, and, in fact, the video image shows something so small it is unlikely it could cause a problem in any case.  So we will … wait just a minute … I think it’s coming into my office.  It has hopped on my desk … and … Oh My Goodness, it’s just a cute little …

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Adam and Eve Have a Serious Talk

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Unknown

Adam, we’ve been together for a few months now, and I think it’s time we had a talk.

About what?

Starting a family.

A family?  What’s that?

Well, I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve noticed that the rabbits always have little rabbits with them and those little rabbits become larger and gather little rabbits of their own and …  

Are you saying we should have little rabbits?

No, no, simply that, wherever they get their little rabbits from, there might be a similar place where we could get little … uh … 

Toys?  It would be nice to have something to do around here!

No, no, not toys.  I think maybe the word is “children.”

But why would we want these children things?

Well … I just think it would be nice to have something to keep us occupied besides just sitting under a tree talking about how we have nothing to do but sit under a tree and talk about how we …

Yes, boredom is  so … so …

Boring!  

Exactly!  But where would we get these children from?  Under a rock?  From a hollow tree?

I don’t think so.  I’ve been watching the rabbits and I noticed that the little ones come out from the bigger ones.

But, if they come out, they must have gone in.  It’s only common sense.

I don’t think so.  I’ve watched them and I’ve never seen a little one climb in, only out.  And, besides, I came from you.

But that was just a rib, not a whole you, not even a small you.  Let’s face it, we’ll probably never figure it out.  And, anyway, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.  I mean, if we got only a tenth as many children as the rabbits get in a single year, there wouldn’t be enough places to sleep, enough fig leaves, enough food.  Remember, this is just a little Garden.  

Well, there might be something beyond here.

Beyond here?  I think God would have told us.  And what if all these children somehow got children of their own, and those children got children, and …  What then?  Where does it end?

I don’t know and I’m getting exhausted just talking about it when we don’t even know how we’d get children, even if we wanted to.  Let’s have something to eat and take a nap.  Maybe we’ll be fresher afterwards.

Good idea.  Here, let’s split this apple … mmmm, ohhhhh, this is really tasty!

God, yeessssss!

I think I’ll lie down and just loosen my fig leaf a little — it’s really chafing my thighs.  Aah, that’s better.

I think I will too and … oh Lord!!  Is that what’s been hiding behind your fig-leaf?

Well … yes … and I suppose I could say the same, though yours looks quite different.

I have a feeling that we could do something with these that would solve the boredom problem.  Maybe, after all, we don’t need little ones to keep us occupied.  What do you say?

I’m in!

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A Not-so-Ill Wind?

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UnknownIn the wake of the opioid and gun epidemics, which have killed so many of us, and a toxic political environment that could push our most vulnerable over the edge, some experts had anticipated that America’s average life-span would begin to shrink.

Recent studies, however, suggest quite the opposite:  we are living longer and, in fact, the rate of increase has grown, especially since the beginning of 2017.

Researchers see no medical breakthroughs that would explain the trend, and statistics show no decline in suicides or accidental deaths.

Looking for answers, the experts have shifted from dissecting their subjects to interviewing them, especially the aged, the chronically ill, and the poor, where the gap between expected and actual death-rates has been most striking.

Results are still preliminary, but, surprisingly, suggest that the current political climate is a key factor in this good news.  Here are short interview excerpts that suggest key themes for further study:

It Beats Staring at a Blank Screen:

I love The Three Stooges, but you can only catch them once in a blue moon on TCM.  Now, though, it’s all back and a thousand times better and it’s on TV all day, every day. Sure, I’ll probably lose my medical insurance, but at least I’ll die laughing.

Strong Emotions Keep the Blood Pumping:

I’m waiting for Crooked Hillary (or, alternatively, “Our Idiot President”) to go to jail.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I know it will.  I can wait, and then die happy.

It’s Healthier to Talk than to Seethe:

The decline in common decency had me nearly suicidal. A lot of others at The Home felt the same way and we got to talking.  There were so many of us, we started a regular discussion group. If rationality and civility can’t come from the top, maybe it can start at the bottom, right here.  Now, I have a cause to live for.

A Strong Belief System Can Help You Endure:

I’m a religious person who believes that the End of Days is near.  All the signs are that Hell is upon us.  I WILL hang on so as not to miss The Rapture.

It’s Better to be Worked Up than Tapped Out:

I have dangerously low blood pressure, but those stupid Tweets have raised it to normal.  Now, if I jump from my chair to attack the TV, at least I don’t risk a blackout and a fatal fall.

Set Specific, Meaningful Targets:

I just want to live long enough to vote on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 and throw that bastard out (or, alternatively, “… re-elect My Man”).

Think what you may about our current political climate, it has given some of usimages-1 a new lease on life.  It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.

When Kim Met Xi

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images-1America cannot, alone, eliminate North Korea’simages
nuclear threat. We must engage China, which has a vital interest in regional peace and stability, and no small amount of leverage. To do that, we need to know what China is thinking and doing.

It was, thus, no surprise when the Agency, recalling my many insightful reports on North Korea and China, phoned, asking me to find out what I could on the recent meeting between Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping. With the usual Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell caveat, here is a bit of what I gleaned:

Ah, Leader Kim, welcome to Beijing. I hope your flight was not delayed by the particulate matter in the air caused by our extraordinary industrial and overall economic growth.

Flight? I came by train, though we had to go very slowly because of your so-called particulate matter.

Ah, train, how quaint, but at least that gave you a chance to see our beautiful countryside.

I think you miss my point.

Yes, yes, I see that you didn’t see … ha ha … Anyway, it must be refreshing to live in so bucolic and pollution-free a country as yours.

Are you saying that we are industrially challenged?

No, no, not at all, simply that what might have been your industrial talents and energies are instead focused on an area that is difficult to translate directly into the daily well-being of your people.

Well, at least our people can breathe free.

In a manner of speaking … So, have you noted how the world press have been distracted from your nuclear program and are focusing on your main source of sustenance?

Sorry, I don’t follow.

Every headline is Kim-Xi, Kim-Xi, Kim-Xi. Get it? Kimchi! Your main dish!

Oh … ha … but are you saying that we are culinarily challenged?

No, no, just a bit of levity. And, of course, a steady diet of pickled cabbage has — in your case, for example — more than sufficed.

Are you saying I’m dietetically challenged?

Not at all. It’s obvious that pickled cabbage has done you a world of good, in contrast to much of your population … which brings up a salient point. Under the right circumstances, we might increase our food exports to you — Moo Goo Gai Pan, Peking Duck, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, for example.

But aren’t your food supplies tight? Why would … oh, wait a minute, I get it! You’re planning to slap tariffs on American soy beans in retaliation for their tariffs on your steel. So, your soy sauce output will plummet and since, as we all know, Chinese food is useless without soy sauce, you foresee a food surplus that you can dump on us, get us hooked, and then use a possible cutoff as leverage to make us abandon our nuclear program.

I wouldn’t have put it quite that way. Rather, we were hoping that we would find a softer path to reducing the threat of nuclear disaster than sealing your land border, blockading your ports, and adhering to all international economic sanctions.

Hmmm … but, unless you abandon what we know is your plan to slap tariffs on U.S. soy beans, how could you guarantee us a steady supply of soy sauce, without which our food imports from you would be useless?

We are prepared to make that sacrifice in the name of international peace. But let us set aside such sensitive matters since I’ve been informed that lunch is ready. Interestingly, we have Moo Goo Gai Pan, Peking Duck, and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. Which would you prefer?

They’re all so delicious, I’ll take a full helping of each, with lots of soy sauce.  I hope there’s enough for second-helpings!

(Whispered aside to aide: We’ve got this dickhead hooked!! Find an immediate substitute for soy bean tariffs. But don’t touch McDonalds or Burger King. We need them now more than ever.)

Across the Great Divide

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UnknownIf you’re pro-abortion, odds are you’re anti-gun. If you’re pro-gun, odds are you’re anti-abortion.

This seems so normal a part of our cultural/political wars that it’s easy to miss an apparent anomaly: in their opposition to each other, both sides are taking essentially the same position, that the protection of human life is paramount.

This seeming convergence of views is easily lost in the noise of each camp’s main slogan — a woman’s right to rule her own body; a citizen’s right to possess a gun.

But, in any rational definition of rights, these must be secondary to the right to life.

In other words, each camp is either lying about what it really believes or blind to the contradiction between its own (presumed unimpeachable) moral foundation and the (presumed indefensible) moral foundation of its opponent.

The two sides may not think of themselves as hypocrites, but they are. No semantic evasion can avoid the fact that abortions take lives and guns take lives.

But logic is one thing and reality is another. These are essentially two tribes, with different beliefs and rituals, even different territories. Expecting them to recognize their moral blindness and abandon fundamental doctrines, which others may regard as mere second-order principles, in favor of some distant higher-order principle like the sanctity of life, is unrealistic.

A thought-experiment might be helpful here. If you are pro-abortion, would you accept an end to, or at least a curtailment of, the legal right to abortions if it meant a corresponding end to, or curtailment of, the legal right to own guns? If you are pro-gun, would you accept this quid-pro-quo?

The answer, right now, is pretty obvious: the NRA is strong and very unlikely to accept detente. Planned Parenthood, in its weakness, would have no incentive to capitulate.

The key is a reasonable balance-of-power.

If anti-gun sentiment should grow, as it has especially in the wake of the recent Floridaimages-1 school shooting, you don’t have to be an anti-gun activist to think that a few bullet-holes in the NRA’s balloon might be a good thing if it re-balanced the equation and improved the chances for a serious discussion of a shared — higher — value.

Call it cautious optimism, with very heavy emphasis on the cautious.

We Too!

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The unspeakable tragedies of American gun violence regularly raise hopes that we can, at last, deal with this national cancer. And, just as regularly, these hopes are dashed.

The recent killing of seventeen souls — most of them students — at a Florida high school, and the angry, politically-focused response of many of the survivors, raise our hopes once again.

This time, there may be a slightly better chance for progress. These kids elicit powerful emotions. But they and their supporters need an organized political force, proven in battle, that could test an adversary as powerful and implacable as the NRA and its legion of American gun-owners.

Sadly, that force will not come from a political party. Certainly not from the Republicans and probably not from the Democrats. Politicians, understandably, follow before they lead and, so far, no force has come even remotely close to challenging the political influence of the NRA and its supporters.

Sensible gun policies need American women. For many decades, they have demonstrated the power of organization, most significantly voting rights, and, when political means have failed — the Equal Rights Amendment, for example — they have built on social activism and educational achievement to earn power and influence.

The Me Too movement has added an important element to women’s activist muscle, demonstrating that mass support can assuage individuals’ fears of retribution, and sexual menace and violence can be successfully challenged.

The menace and the violence that comes from guns is not that different. Behind a pinch in the ass or a lewd remark lies the serious possibility of rape. Behind a gun in the glove compartment or concealed under a jacket lies the serious possibility of death.

Most sexual predators are men. Most gun-owners, including NRA supporters, are men. Women are savvy enough to recognize that relative security from sexual predators means little if they, and their loved ones, might be victims of gun predators.

I’m not proposing a war of the sexes. But American men — already in free-fall, now reeling from the disgrace of icons of male power, and more divided than women over the gun issue — are simply not in a position to lead.

Men grieve just as profoundly as women at the loss of a child to gun violence. But there still is a symbolism in motherhood that would make an expanded Me Too movement, allied with the voices of the young, especially powerful.

There’s a name waiting for the movement. It’s at the top of the page. And I’m ready to follow.

It’s Not That Easy Being Vincent

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Unknown-2In the early 1970’s, Don McLean wrote and recorded Vincent, a loving tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, consoling him posthumously for being misunderstood and scolding society for its indifference to his suffering.

As McLean’s song came out, Sesame Street was in its infancy, and Kermit the Frog was singing It’s Not That Easy Being Green to console children who felt different and confused.

A friend of mine, a Sesame Street producer, who loved McLean’s song, and saw the parallel with Kermit’s, thought the show might use Vincent’s quietly reassuring tone and McLean’s sweet, gentle voice to reach children with problems more serious than mere differentness and confusion.

Her colleagues agreed, but considered some of Vincent’s lyrics — darkness in my soul; how you suffered; they could not love you; you took your life as lovers often do — much too upsetting. They thought some rewording that retained all of the song’s other qualities might work.

My friend called me, explained the situation, and asked if I’d like to give it a try. I was (as I still am) an aspiring, but unpublished, poet, and I jumped at the chance.

Here’s what I came up with:

Starry starry night
Get some sleep and wait for day
Wake up and go out to play
And have a picnic
At the water hole.

Sunlight on the hills
Beaming on the window sills
Don’t forget to take your pills
I have them for you
Right here in my hand.

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you love to climb the tallest tree
And how it makes you feel so free.

I listened closely
When you told me how
Let’s go out and climb one now.

Starry starry night
Pale pink flowers on summer days
Soft white clouds and fields of maize
And, up above, the sky serenely blue.

Isn’t it so true
When you’re walking down a lane
And it starts to gently rain
That life is just so absolutely grand!

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
Happiness is just like poetry
What a joy to simply be.

I listened closely
When you told me, “Wow,
I feel so well-adjusted now!”

For everybody really loves you
As your love, too, is true
And now that everything’s all right
On this starry, starry night

You look at life as happy people do
And, as I’ve told you, dear friend,
This world was always meant for
One as beautiful as you.

I shortened it, as appropriate for kids’ attention span, and I kept the original’s meter and quirky rhyme scheme, but the tone and the meaning were the same — we understand; you are not alone. (Check YouTube: vincent don mclean). I sent it to my friend. She responded that things looked good and she’d get back to me. But, a week later, I got drafted, and, by the time I got back from Vietnam, Sesame Street had moved on.Unknown-5

I, too, had to move on. I took a job on Madison Ave and did quite well. You may remember my Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz, Oh What a Relief It Is for Alka-Seltzer. It wasn’t Vincent, but it paid the bills.

Ancestor Workshop

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UnknownMy family didn’t talk very much about our ancestry and I never had much interest. But recent breakthroughs in genetics and the availability of on-line DNA research services make it so easy to find out where we come from, I figured it was crazy not to give it a try. I looked around, and 23andme.com, with its catchy invitation — Find out if you’re a little bit Neanderthal — hooked me.

I checked the details and was relieved to see that all they wanted was saliva, not blood. I signed up. The collection kit arrived quickly. I opened it, but, since I was very busy, I left it on the kitchen table for a few days. Then I filled it and sent it in.

Three months later, when I still hadn’t received any report, I called the company. They told me they were trying to sort out an anomaly in my sample:

Anomaly? What is it? I asked.

Well, it says you’re 15% Schnauzer and 15% Poodle. We didn’t bother with the other 70%.

I realized immediately that it was my Schnoodle. He must have gotten up on the table and licked the container or chewed on it. I apologized, and they agreed to send me a new one, which I filled and sent off right away. But, once again, there was a long delay, so I called them and they explained:

We had to rerun the sample a number of times.

Not the dog again, I hope!?

No, not that. Even more unusual.

Unusual? How?

Well, can we first ask you a few questions?

Sure.

OK … umm … do you have trouble finding hats big enough to fit?

Yeah, in fact I do.

Do you slouch a lot?

Well, my wife is always after me about my posture.

Do you have scabs on your knuckles?

Well, my arms are very long and, with the slouching, they do occasionally scrape on the sidewalk.

Hmm. And do you have hair on your back?

Yes, but doesn’t everybody?

Sure, some, but do you have to shave it?

Yeah, well, I don’t do it myself, even with my long arms. My wife does it. But, really, what is all this about?

Our testing shows that you are 53% Neanderthal, which might explain the head size, the slouching, the long arms, and the back-hair.

Omigod! You’re joking!? That Find out if you’re a little bit Neanderthal blurb was just a light-hearted come-on, right? And, besides, even if I did have some of that, it’d have to be a tiny percent. I mean, they died out eons ago. There must have been thousands of generations to dilute their contribution to the gene pool since then. Right?

That’s generally true, of course. But your DNA numbers could be consistent with the theory that Neanderthals interbred with early humans, and, that, even after they died out, some of their mixed offspring interbred only among themselves for thousands of years. This would have kept their Neanderthal DNA percentage high. It’s possible a few remnants have survived up to now. You could very well be the proof we’ve been looking for.

Yeah, I get the point, but, if it’s true, what am I going to do? What will people think of me? How will my family, my friends, react? How will it affect my kids? What if I lose my job?

What we tell everybody is that you’re the same person you were before you learned what your DNA tells about your ancestry.Unknown-1 Nobody else needs to know, not your friends, not your employer. Your kids can grow up and marry normal people (sorry, didn’t mean that to sound offensive). True, the Neanderthal thing is very unusual, but if, by some chance, you did lose your job, you could do something else. Anti-discrimination laws would protect you. Why, you could do anything. You could run for President, you could even be President. After all, it has happened!

Shithole

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I can only presume that President Trump’s recent reference to Haiti and Africa as shitholes included Nigeria, a country I lived in, and dealt with, for six years.

I don’t presume to speak of, or for, all of Africa, but, as to Nigeria, I beg to differ with the President.

I love Nigeria.

This sentiment regularly shocks people. True, the country does not have a particularly high reputation and could not accurately be described as restful or peaceful, nor scrupulously law-abiding. (An official once told me, confidentially, that a Nigerian I had once known was the biggest crook in the whole country, and that’s against a lot of competition.)

But, really, who could fail to be charmed by the incredibly imaginative, almost poetic, stream of abuse that a Yoruba market-woman can unleash; the charming and persuasive letters from Prince Odipe, kindly offering you the opportunity to claim the million dollars your uncle left you; the colorful buses and wagons and taxis whose sole safety mechanism is the God Will Provide consolation painted on the front?

Maybe the best way to think of Nigeria is in nuclear terms. Its potential energy is enormous, available (and sometimes used) for destructive ends, but also available (and sometimes used) for positive ends.

How and where that energy gets used is up to Nigerians. But outsiders can help, at least if they have the common sense and grace to meet the country and its citizens on an equal footing.

It is not particularly helpful to smear the opening for dialogue with shit, especially when it’s so clear from what opening it actually is emanating. Perhaps the real shithole is right here:

 

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A Major Modern President

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UnknownIn Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, Major General Stanley sings “A Modern Major General,” a brilliant patter-song in which he blithely enumerates his knowledge of everything under the sun … except mattersUnknown-1 military.

Imagine how the ditty would go if — God forbid — such a situation should actually befall our country:

I am the very model of a major modern President.
I’ve information that three-hundredths really is just three percent.
I know the sum of four plus six, and seventeen plus twenty-one,
And I can hold my breath at least five times as long as anyone.
Each morning, when we face the flag, across my heart I place my hand,
So proud to be a second-grade Republican for Richard Stands.
At Monday morning show-and-tell, I’m teeming with a lotta news,
Of where we went and what we saw when Daddy took me on a cruise.

I’m very good at book reports and just gave one on Frog and Toad.
(Much better than the Lorax, who’s a silly, preachy, leftist load.)

In short, in matters really really very consequent-i-al,
I am the stable, brilliant, genius, model, President-i-al.

I clean the blackboards every day and once a week I wash them well,
Ignoring comments classmates make; may God consign them straight to hell.
I try to follow spelling rules, but still I cannot figure why
The I always precedes the E except when E precedes the I.

In fact, when I can understand just how a law comes from a bill,
When I can tell which House is which up on that godforsaken Hill,
When such strange words as dialogue and compromise at last are clear,
When I can tell what’s fake, what’s real, from all the muddle that I hear,
When I know what’s the capital of Arkansas or Delaware,
And when I find a decent gel that I can put upon my hair,
In short, when I have wisdom that is manifestly evident,
You’ll say no one has ever been so manifestly President.