A Dog Looks at Life (and Politics)

For many years it was believed that dogs only saw in black and white. This saddened me, thinking that our canine companions with their heightened sense of hearing and smell were destined to live in a world where everything appears in shades of grey. More recent behavioral tests have shown that dogs perceive some of the color spectrum, but to a much lesser degree than humans. I’m not sure why, but I take comfort in the knowledge that dogs can see some colors.


Most of the schools around us will start classes again next week. I have very vivid memories of those back-to-school days, especially during my grade school years. The beginning of a new school year also meant a new pair of sneakers. Lacing up those shoes for the first time, with their fresh-out-of-the-box rubber soles, taking a few exploratory steps then bounces, made you feel like you could run faster and jump higher than any kid had ever done. Another clear and pleasant memory was getting that new, pristine, 24, 48 or 64-count box of Crayola crayons. It was a sensory overload with a scent unique to a newly opened box of crayons and a visual treat of perfectly pointed and unsullied colors, surely capable of creating any masterpiece the coming grade would require.

Alas, as I got older a new pair of shoes, became just a new pair of shoes … containing no superpowers. I gained the knowledge that my brain interprets the reflected light of different wavelengths from objects as colors and a new box of crayons became less magical.


My grandson went through a stage where he wanted to put hot sauce on everything from eggs, to french fries, to hamburgers. From a culinary perspective, this is very immature. Fortunately, he soon outgrew that. Life (and dining) is not a choice between unseasoned oatmeal or hot sauce, it is a wonderful mix of nuances and subtleties.

This same grandson told me that he didn’t like onions. I listed off several of his favorite dishes and told him that they all contained onions. He seemed surprised.

“You probably don’t like raw onions,” I said, handing him a sliver of an onion that I was dicing.

He gamely took a bite then quickly said, “No, not a fan.”

I tossed the diced onions into the skillet with a little olive oil and sautéed them until they became translucent, filling the kitchen with a wonderful aroma. I offered him a small spoonful for tasting.

He nodded thoughtfully then said, “Better.”

I reduced the heat, added a little butter, slowly stirring until the onions became caramelized.

“Wow,” he said, “Totally different.”

One onion does not fit all situations. Caramelized onions would be terrible in guacamole and raw onions would ruin a good French onion soup. There is room for all types of onions.


There is a function in Adobe Photoshop to convert an image with multiple shades of grey into an image with only black or white pixels. One of those options is called the 50% threshold. If you choose that option every pixel above 50% grey becomes black, and every pixel below 50% grey becomes white. For those pixels at 53% or 47%, there is no negotiation, there is no moderate position, they are assigned to one extreme or another. Increasingly this is where our political landscape is taking us. Admittedly I have a few issues that I perceive as black or white. One of those is the sanctity of human life. I believe that human life is precious throughout every age and every stage. On this issue, there are no shades of grey for me, it is literally a matter of life and death. There are other issues where I have strong opinions but accept the possibilities of other options. Further down are issues that I am attempting to research and investigate, but have no firm opinion yet.


The centrifuge of the media attempts to spin us faster and faster towards opposite ends of the political spectrum; oatmeal on one end, hot sauce on the other, raw onions on one end, caramelized on the other, black pixels vs. white pixels, red states move to the right, blue states please take your position on the left. Moderation has ceased being a virtue and is now portrayed as a weakness.


Mimsy and I take our final walk of the night. It is late summer and I soak in the sounds, smells, and sights of the cornucopia of life that surrounds us. The synchronized rise and fall of the cicadas’ chorus has given way to the chirps of crickets and songs of tree frogs. In the distance is the drone of a lawnmower as someone attempts to take advantage of the last rays of dusky light to finish their lawn care. The night breeze carries the sweet smell of new-mown grass. Twilight has muted the colors of our landscape that would have been bright and brilliant just a few hours ago. I wonder if this is how Mimsy views the world at midday, the new box of crayons reduced to muted colors.


I dread the coming winter as much as I dread the coming election. The nuances and subtleties of summer’s growth, sounds and life will give way to a 50% threshold of dead branches against a cloudless sky.

“Let’s go home Mimsy,” she understands the command and does a 180.

I shut the door softly behind us. She is a creature of routines and can’t wait to go to bed (though she has slept most of the day). I unbuckle her harness and she dashes upstairs.

I step briefly back on the front porch, leaning forward, palms pressed against the porch rail. As if on cue, fireflies started to dance above the lawn.

Yes, winter is coming … but so is spring.

Peace, Poppy

A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Hating

 

… I hate people now. Well, not all people, of course. Just people who voted for Trump  … Actually, Trump voters are not the only people I hate. I also hate Jill Stein voters and Gary Johnson voters and Bernie deadenders with their ridiculous delegates math … Looking at you, Susan Sarandon and Slavoj Zizek! You are idiots and my heart seethes with wrath against you. And of course, I hate myself, too. That’s how hate works.” (Year One: My Anger Management by Katha Pollitt)

I read the entire article by Ms. Pollitt. By the time I finished, and it wasn’t that long, I was emotionally drained. We have never met, but she obviously hates me on any number of levels. I wondered if I should find a way to hate her back, that seemed like the appropriate respond, but the only emotion I could muster was pity. If she knew I pitied her, I’m pretty sure she would become even more enraged. In some perverse way, hate has become a virtue (if you hate the “right” people).

If you hate that much, then what brings you joy? I’m not sure I want to know. Is happiness considered a weakness?

Of course, Ms. Pollitt hardly has the monopoly on hate. If you read the comments thread of any, even slightly controversial news article you will understand that. The main purpose of social media in general is to provide the opportunity to post cute cat videos and engage each other in heated and often hateful debates over extremely trivial subjects.

I’m no saint, ask my family. I get mad. I’ve been known to lose my temper and slam inanimate objects around. I’m not proud of that and I always feel very silly and juvenile when I cool off. But that’s not hate, that’s just me channeling my inner two-year-old.

After reading her article I tried to find someone to hate. In my mind I ran through the entire catalog of everyone I know or have ever known, but couldn’t come up with anyone truly hate-worthy. Maybe I don’t know enough people. Maybe I’m emotionally deficient, somehow lacking in the full range of feelings I should possess. I’m pretty sure if someone deliberately harmed a member of my family I could hate them, but I don’t want to test that theory for obvious reasons.

Maybe I’m starting too big, perhaps I should bring it down a notch. Mosquitos … poison ivy … people who throw trash out of their car?

I’m getting closer but still haven’t achieved the right level of vitriol.

Wait a minute … I think I’ve got it.

It’s that stuff in the aerosol can that is passed off as cheese. Yes! I’m calling you out, Cheese Whiz! Even the name is an abomination. It contains no real cheese, manufactured of various chemicals, has no redeeming value. Did I mention it’s squirted out of an aerosol can?

I hate you Cheese Whiz!

I’m not sure I feel any better, but at least it’s a start down the path of hate.

Poppy

Tonight, I Sliced a Tomato …

Tonight, I sliced a tomato. It may have been the most important thing I’ve done all day. You see, it didn’t involve Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey or Hillary Clinton.

Tomatoes, like people, are ubiquitous, easily found but for the most part bland and sometimes rotten. My go-to source for good tomatoes, the Ferguson Farmer’s Market has closed for the year. I was left with only grocery store options. If you are thinking, what’s the big deal, then you don’t understand tomatoes.

Like you, I am bombarded with news and information to the point I don’t know what to believe. This is when I narrow the focus of my thoughts. There are few things that I know for sure, but one of them is the love of my family, and darn it, they are going to get the best tomato I can find!

I seriously debated just skipping the tomato, a tasteless tomato is worse than no tomato at all. But I was on a mission, and I was in a mood … this was for family and I was going to give it my best.

I paced in front of the produce section. The options were limited, hot-house beefsteak tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and tomatoes pitched as still being attached to the vine. Looking them over, if I were a tomato, I would not have dated any of them. Thankfully, I am not a tomato.

I was preparing dinner for 3 members of my family. It was a simple menu of roasted potatoes and onions and a sandwich constructed of good deli turkey, mayo mixed with a few shakes of Frank’s Hot Sauce to spread over the brioche bun, a slice of provolone cheese melted on top with a garnish of avocado and tomato slices. Can’t miss!

I made the mistake of turning on my iPhone right after sliding the potatoes into the oven to roast. I had a few moments to kill, so I thought I would catch up on the news … big mistake. There was nothing that I needed (or wanted) to know, there were descriptions of things I really didn’t want bouncing around in my head, so I turned it off.

I grabbed the tomato I selected, peeled off the little sticker with the price code, ran my thumb across it’s surface, laid it on my cutting board and raised my chef’s knife. The slices needed to be thick enough to taste but nor so thick as to make eating difficult. A gentle sprinkle of sea salt compensated for any lack of flavor.

There are moments when things come into focus, when it’s easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s rarely big events … most of the time it’s the ordinary, the common. The trick is learning how to spot them.

Screw you Harvey, Donald, Kevin and Hillary, tonight I’m slicing a tomato for my family!

Poppy

 


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The Last Cowboy and when Politics became Religion

As Americans, we entertain a romantic notion that we are a group of rugged individualists. We imagine ourselves as the cowboy sitting astride his horse in a driving blizzard, hat pulled low, coat collar turned high as he watches over the herd. We have visions of life on the prairie, the pioneer wife, busting through the sod to plant a crop to feed her family, or the rugged New Englander, launching his hand-made wooden craft into the stormy Atlantic in pursuit of lobster or cod.

That individualism may be a part of our national gene pool, but if we’re honest, we are mostly a nation of joiners. We join the Lions Club, Kiwanis or Masons, we become Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals. We sign up for book clubs and knitting groups, identify ourselves as Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox or Yankee fans. And of course we align ourselves as Democrats or Republicans.

There is value and comfort in joining with others of like interests. It provides a common bond, a baseline of communication and a sense of belonging. It allows us to relax, knowing that we are with others of same beliefs. That group becomes our community, more than our neighbors or the residents of the town we live in. They become our tribe.

But humans are an inherently flawed species, and all this joining carries with it a dark side. Somehow we understand that our tribe is made up of a collection of individuals, we are willing to cut each other some slack for our idiosyncrasies, for our differences, for our humanity. But that other tribe, the group that we don’t belong too, we paint with a broad brush. We use terms like, “those people.”

And then we have politics.

Somewhere along the way, politics ceased to be a preference of one policy over another. We no longer debate the merits of the New Deal or the Truman Doctrine. Economic and foreign policy issues have been relegated to lessor importance than social issues, and with the focus on social issues, political debate has become very personal and very divisive. National politics has become our national religion, an unholy alliance of church and state.

To know God’s love and grace is a wonderful thing.

To believe that God is aligned with your political party is a scary and dangerous thing.

Once you make the leap that God is on the side of your political party then there is just one answer as to who the other political party serves. If your party is good and the other party evil, then there is no reason to communicate, there is no need for compromise because who would want to compromise with evil. The result is vote after vote divided strictly along party lines.

Once you decide that God is on your side, then every action, every attitude, no matter how cruel or vicious is justified. We know that God hates evil, therefore it is perfectly permissible to hate members of the other party. We become crusaders, fighting a new holy war.

The irony is that this religion doesn’t even require a belief in God.

No matter, because we can make one in our own image. Sometimes he appears as a white, middle-aged, Republican living in the mid west. Other times she takes the image of an east coast Democrat, a vegan hipster, espousing radical environmentalist views. This is a God of our own construct, miraculously aligning with our party’s platform.

Our sacred texts are no longer delivered on tablets of stone, but flow daily in no more than 140 characters from Mount Hollywood or the white marble temples of Washington D. C.

If we need more motivation than tweets can provide, there is always Facebook. Our need for periodic outrage can be satisfied by selecting from an endless smorgasbord of questionable news sources.

The high priests and priestesses of these national religions tolerate no heresy within their own ranks, only true believers will be accepted.  Any Democrat who entertains thoughts of being pro-life or any Republican considering gun control is shunned and removed from meaningful committees.

Marie Newman, a long-time Democratic activist said in an recent interview. “No matter how you feel personally, you have to vote to support the Democratic Party values. We have all looked at the 90-page document that is the Democratic Party platform that was created last year.”

Individual thought is discouraged while “groupthink” is praised.

Wikipedia offers this description of groupthink: Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.


Somewhere on a high mountain sits a cowboy.  He looks down into the valleys below and sees a string of towns and cities, glittering in the night. He can see the twinkling lights, but they do not compete with the canopy of stars above him. He has been to the city. He knows that the lights they have created block from view the constellations and galaxies that form the roof over his head.

By their measure he is uneducated, but he can tell the weather by watching the skies, and knows when a storm is brewing. He is comfortable with himself, he needs no titles or trophies.

The cowboy appreciates that the constellations he now enjoys will slowly shift over the horizon as the seasons change and smiles knowingly that herdsman in other countries will soon view the same stars. The stars create a perspective that can’t be denied. The heavens above remind him that he is just one small person in God’s creation. God’s creation illuminates the slums of Haiti, the sidewalk cafes of Paris, the villages of China, the high-rise apartments in New York, around the globe the light of the stars and sun shine on all the world. God recognizes no political parties, no sports teams and no organizations, he only knows his children, which is to say, all of us.

The cowboy whistles softly to his dog and they trot slowly back to the herd, leaving the glitter behind.

Be the cowboy … Poppy

A Big Salute!

DDay

I’m finally getting around to reading, “The Greatest Generation.” On this Independence Day I’m willing to say, shame on me. I’m humbled and proud at the same time. If it were in my power, I would make this required reading for every American.

From the book … “This generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values­­ – duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.”

When I read of the “sappers” (the soldiers at the front of the first wave on D-day, whose job was to find and detonate the land mines) who had their limbs blown apart but shot themselves full of morphine so they could stay conscious long enough to direct the men following them to safety, serving as human markers … I’m not too proud to say I choked up.

When I compare that to our current national debate over who can pee where … I’m speechless. Continue reading “A Big Salute!”

Hazel vs. Hillary vs. Donald

hillary-trump

I try to stay away from politics in any form of social media. I’ve seen people so ready and willing to give everyone a piece of their mind, that they have little remaining. But gazing across the current political landscape I can’t help but comment and to shake my head and say, “Really, Is this the best we’ve got?”

Feeling a little down and hopeless, I remembered this incident in John Steinbeck’s brilliant, light-hearted novel, Sweet Thursday. It brightened my day, hopefully it will also provide a brief escape for you.

A sequel to Cannery Row, this story takes place after WWII as the characters are returning home from the war.

First, an introduction to some of the characters:

Hazel, one of the bums. Steinbeck describes Hazel’s mental status like this.

“Hazel was in the Army long enough to qualify for the G.I. bill, and he enrolled at the University of California for training in astrophysics by making a check mark on an application. Three months later, when some of the confusion had died down, the college authorities discovered him. The Department of Psychology wanted to keep him, but it was against the law. Hazel often wondered what is was that he had gone to study. He intended to ask, Doc, but by the time Doc got back it slipped his mind.”

Fauna, the madam of the local whorehouse, who gives horoscope readings. Continue reading “Hazel vs. Hillary vs. Donald”