Friday, December 21, 2007
Iraq war dog loses his handler but gains a family
From Rusty Dornin
(CNN) -- Lex attended the funeral of his best friend in March, playing with the 20-year-old Marine's younger brother away from the crowd. He was beside Cpl. Dustin Lee when Lee was killed in a mortar attack in Falluja.
Wounded himself, Lex didn't want to leave Lee's side after the attack -- fellow Marines had to pull him away from the young man's body so medics could do their work.
Although some shrapnel remains in his body, Lex recovered from his wounds and returned to duty at the Marines' Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, to await a new assignment.
On Friday, Lex gets that new assignment -- retirement to Lee's family home in Quitman, Mississippi, where the 8-year-old bomb-sniffing German Shepherd will live out the rest of his life.
Jerome Lee, the young Marine's father, lobbied the Marines hard for months to adopt the dog. Marine officials initially told Lee that it would be no problem to get the dog. But persuading the service to give up Lex before the dog's mandatory retirement at age 10 proved to be a challenge. Watch Dustin's father describe how the family struggled to adopt their son's dog »
"Since Dustin's death we've been trying to get his dog, Lex, from the Marine Corps, and needless to say we've had some difficulty there," said Lee, a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer. "This thing went from colonels to generals all the way up to the commandant of the Marine Corps, and it almost went to the secretary of defense."
One of the issues was making sure the dog was not "overly aggressive." His behavior with the Lee youngsters -- Lex played tug-o-war with 13-year-old Camryn at Dustin's funeral -- seemed to assure that wouldn't be a problem. Marine officials also said the request had to go through the Air Force, which is the approving authority for all military dogs.
Finally, on December 13, the Marines agreed to let Lex live with Lee's family. It was the first time the Marines have released a dog before its retirement to a former handler's family.
"Lex has had two tours in Iraq," said Jerome Lee. "He's been through a lot, and we just want to get Lex home to our family, and let him have a happy life."
Well before joining the Marines, Dustin Lee was known by all for his devotion to his country. A member of Quitman High School's cross-country track team, Lee and three teammates participated in the Americans United: Flag Across America Run after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.
So it was no surprise when the young man joined the Marines out of high school in 2004, nor was it a surprise when he went to Albany to train military police dogs, inspired by his mother's work with the county's search and rescue team dogs when he was a boy.
Dustin, an animal lover who also rode horses, played hide and seek with his mother's canine companion as a child, Jerome Lee said.
"He would let the dog get a sniff of his clothing and then go hide to see if the dog could find him," the elder Lee said.
At the logistics base in Albany, Lee said, Dustin "worked with all the dogs and became the kennel master."
Dustin and Lex had been stationed in Falluja for nearly five months before the fatal attack. When the Marine's body was returned to Quitman in late March, hundreds lined the streets waving American flags to say a tearful goodbye. And Lex was there.
In Albany on Thursday, current kennel master Mike Reynolds led Lex through his paces for the last time in his military career. Now it's time for the old pro to learn some new civilian tricks. In a ceremony on Friday, Lex will join the family of his best friend.
Jerome Lee hopes his other two children will feel closer to their missing older brother.
"There's always going to be that missing link with Dusty gone," he said. "But part of Dusty is here with Lex."
CNN's Mike Phelan contributed to this report.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Apparently her latest fertility tome has informed her that 4:30 is the magic time of day to test your ovulation. She has been holding her, um, fluids since early morning and informing me every so often that she has X number of minutes of Kegel force squeezing left until she can pee. Now the blessed moment has arrived and she is off to the bathroom.
Ahh, thank God, I sigh, knowing that she will be locked up with her pee stick for a good ten minutes, staring feverishly to see if a second plus sign appears. (Before I get a hundred e-mails from hopeful parents-to-be, no, I don't mean to portray women struggling with fertility as desperate, loony, or sad. I just advise you not to share the intimate details of your pursuit with your employees, who don't have any way to escape your Font of Too Much Information.)
I settle in for a happy rendezvous with Medical Arts Press, hoping to finish some orders for the office, when the front door opens and a patient walks in.
"Hello!" Tammy waves. "I know I'm early for my appointment, but I don't mind waiting till she's ready." She grabs the latest issue of People Magazine and starts speculating as to whether K-Fed will get the kids or not.
I hear a flush in the restroom. A moment later, Dr. K rushes out and ducks behind the front desk. "Hello!" she greets the patient merrily, then turns to me.
"Here," she whispers. "I think it's negative, but I didn't have time to wait the whole ten minutes. Will you just watch this for another, oh, three and a half minutes and tell me what it says?"
I look down to see her waggling her pee stick at me. I feel myself grimace as my subconscious mind grasps what my sense of propriety cannot accept. She wants me to babysit her pee stick.
"Don't worry," she assures me when she sees my eyes widen and my lip curl back. "It's clean." Before I have a chance to speak, she drops her pee stick on my desk and hustles out to the waiting area. "So, how have you been?" she asks Tammy, enveloping her in a big hug and escorting her back to the adjusting area.
Meanwhile, I turn and stare at the pee stick. What am I supposed to do? The pee stick stares back from the countertop, winking its lopsided | + at me. I imagine that it can speak.
Me: What am I going to do with you? This really isn't my day.
Pee Stick: You're telling me. I spend all that time in the factory learning chemistry, then I finally land my first big job and they wrap me up in a tiny capsule, ship me off to a darkest corner of the pharmacy, and ignore me until this afternoon, when I get a face full of . . . "
Me: Okay, okay, I get it! So we both got the short end of the stick!
Pee Stick: Cute. That your idea of funny?
Pee Stick: And all the boss cares about is results, results, results. I mean, I have a life, you know?
Me: Oh, you have family?
Pee Stick: We're trying.
Pee Stick: Not as easy as if once was, you know. Production levels at the factory are down. Something about all the manufacturing jobs getting shipped to Malaysia.
Me: Well, you could always adopt. Overseas adoption, very fashionable these days.
Pee Stick: [Sigh] I just thought there would be more to life than this. I'm looking at retirement now, boss says I'm all used up, and have I made any plans? No. I never though time would go by so quickly. Maybe I should just end it all.
Me: Hey, you're tottering too near the edge!
Pee Stick: Might as well go out in a blaze of glory . . .
I watch silently as the pee stick flings itself into the trash can, a bright golden spray arching poetically behind it.
I shake myself. Back to reality. Resolving not to touch the pee stick, I scoot my chair a little farther into the corner and continue working. Tammy comes up to pay. I can see that her eyes are fixated on the pee stick but I ignore her stare, get her rescheduled (dang I'm good), and go back to work.
A few minutes later, Dr. K wanders up to the desk. Seeing the pee stick still perched where she left it, she snatches it up. Brandishing it at me like Perry Mason with a smoking revolver, she can't keep the panicky yelp from her voice.
"Hey," she cries indignantly. "You left this here!"
Craft the Vote!
Winning the presidency with a Bedazzler and a crochet hook.
By Jessica Vitkus
Posted Monday, Aug. 13, 2007, at 3:55 PM ET
Presidential candidates take note: Knitting is no longer a hobby. It's a lifestyle. In America, do-it-yourself handicrafts are everywhere. Magazines like Bust, Make, Craft, and ReadyMade reach out to a hip, young audience whose hands are rarely idle. Even Hugh Hefner's ladies on the reality romp The Girls Next Door have a scrap-booking room in the Playboy Mansion.
Forget NASCAR dads and security moms—it's the craft vote that can no longer be ignored. The candidates already missed an opportunity to woo craft leaders at the inaugural Craft Congress, which convened in Pittsburgh this March. (Musical version coming to Broadway in 200 years.) But it's not too late for campaigns to embrace the crafting kind. Sewing circles as fund-raisers! Collage and glitter billboards instead of e-mails! I challenge Hillary, Obama, Mitt, and Rudy to whip out their pinking shears and win the hearts of the DIY crowd. I've suggested politically appropriate projects for each party—DemoCrafts and RepubliCrafts—and whipped up some samples.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Semaj enjoying his birthday dinner with friends.
This picture actually reminds me of Semaj when he was still a small semajlette, right after he had drunk about a quart of Kool-Aid and was about to attack an unsuspecting luaplette.
But why, Crittergal wonders, is he holding two knives? Guess he's gonna need those cookbooks from Mom and Dad. Maybe an Eatbook too.
Here's a quiz for you:
Does Semaj look more like:
A) James Hetfield from Metallica?
C) the Cowardly Lion?
Friday, December 7, 2007
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Gypsy Attempts Flight
One day I was driving along with my dog when we pulled up to a stoplight. Gypsy crawled into my lap and poked her head out of the window. A little old lady in the car next to us saw her and started cooing and waving and blowing kisses. I smiled and waved back. I guess Gypsy got confused because next thing I know, she leaned back on her haunches and sailed right out the window. Good thing it was the middle of the day because she skittered onto the pavement behind the old lady's car.
I froze and the little old lady's mouth made an O, but thank goodness for the Hispanic guy in the pickup behind me, who immediately leapt out of his car and crouched down, calling to my little Amelia Earhart. Knowing she was afraid of men, I thought his attempts would send her scampering across the median and into oncoming traffic. I threw off my seatbelt and jumped out of the car. At first I tried calling to her but I guess she was just as startled as the rest of us because she stood there looking around helplessly.
I darted over and grabbed her, then ducked back into my car just as the light changed. Rolling up my window quickly, I hugged her to my chest.
A few days later, I was taking her outside when I heard a voice behind me. "Hey, it's you!"
I turned around. It was the Hispanic guy. "Hey," he said. "I saw your dog fly out of the window over on Jasper Mill Rd. Craziest thing I ever saw!"
Turns out his name is Ignacio and he lives a couple of floors down from me. Now we wave whenever we see each other and he always asks me how my "Flightless Wonder" is.
The weekend after the mancub's fourth birthday, we went up to my Dad's house to celebrate. When we first arrived, the mancub was totally overwhelmed. He had grown accustomed to little Gypsy but was still afraid of bigger dogs. The sight of big ol' behemoth Telmah was too much for him, I guess, because every time he caught sight of any of the hounds, including Gypsy, he started shrieking, "De dog! De dog!" and trying to hide.
We went out on the deck and tried to teach him how to open presents. Totally unimpressed by the possibility of new toys, he toddled up to my dad instead. After studying him for a moment, he raised a finger and pointed.
"You are The Man!" he declared. We all busted out laughing. We had been test driving Big Poppa as a grandpa name but the mancub would have none of it. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, whenever he wanted to talk to my dad, he would address him as The Man. As in, "Hey The Man, what are you doing?" "The Man, you need to eat your dinner." "Please The Man, help me." And even last weekend when he came over to visit, he asked me, "How is The Man?"
Other adorable moments included the mancub dissolving into giggles for no apparent reason, being more overjoyed at receiving clothes than pretty much anything else, and climbing into my lap in the middle of the gift giving to take a brief catnap before jumping down five minutes later to resume opening presents. And let's not forget his crazy butt-bobbing wiggle dances at the sound of anything remotely resembling music, or him climbing onto the sofa and reciting bible verses loudly with occassional interjections of "Praise de Lord!" and "Holy ghost fire!"
Speaking of holy Ghost fire, last weekend T-Bone and I went to his friend Eille's church. You see, Eille was in a terrible car accident last year and had broken both her legs. To top it off, her two motherless nieces had just joined her from Cameroon and her husband was still in Africa, leaving her alone with the girls. However, the girls were able to care for her and she regained use of her legs well before the doctors had said she would. As a gesture of thanks to God, she wanted to sponsor this weekend's church service.
So apparently this was one of those churches where the preacher doesn't stop talking until the inspiration stops falling. We got there at 9:00 in the morning and wrapped up the service a little before 2pm. In between there was a lot of rising up to sing, sitting down to pray, and even flailing of limbs and speaking in tongues.
Even with all the aerobics, I kept nodding off. So I hardly noticed the flurry of activity as little girls began to leave their seats and assemble at the back of the church.
Now at Eille's church, they don't pass the plate for collection. No sir. About halfway through the service, the little girls rose and started handing out envelopes. T-Bone pulled out some bills for me to tuck in my envelope and stuffed some in his as well. I sat back complacently to wait for the plate to reach me but suddenly T-Bone poked me.
"Rise," he said. "We are going to process."
"We're gonna what?" I asked, totally confused.
"We will process," he insisted, glancing urgently down the aisle. I looked back to see a cluster of people gathered near the rear entrance. Are we leaving? I wondered. What about my donation?
No time to wonder aloud, though, as T-Bone had risen and was looking flustered. I grabbed my purse just in case we were leaving and followed a trickle of people to the back of the church.
We stood there for a minute before I realized that we weren't standing at all. At first it seemed that everyone was shuffling in place; then as the musicians picked up, I realized they were bobbing up and down in rhythm to the music. At some unknown cue, the women in the front of the line squatted down, butts thrust out, and began to bob more furiously. This had a ripple effect, with the wave of earnest butt bobbers rapidly approaching where I stood, the lone white girl in the crowd, stiff as a board and clutching my purse to my chest like I thought one of holy annointed was going to rob me.
I was engulfed in a sea of roiling worshippers. Not wanting to look awkward and judgmental by remaining motionless, yet afraid of causing bodily harm if I slung my own hindquarters around too vigorously, I settled for bending my knees up and down. The effect was not unlike a stork on a pogo stick.
The leaders in front saw that everyone had taken up their thrusting rhythm. One woman lifted her foot and planted it firmly in front of her, bobbing for a few beats before taking the next step. Immediately the whole group followed her slow rhythmic procession. As we were swept toward the front of the church, my fellow parishioners raised their envelopes high. Some of the women began to ululate; others howled in tongues; still others hitched up their skirts higher and squatted more deeply into their dance. The men cried out praises and prayers. A tall gentleman in the aisles snapped pictures; I blinked, temporarily blinded as the flash popped rapidly around me.
Finally, mercifully, we reached the front of the church. The tithers in front of me dropped their gifts into a wicker basket, then twirled off to dance their ways back to their seats. I made one sincere attempt at a genuine butt bob as I dropped my envelope in among the others. Feeling my face convulse and convinced that I looked more like an ad for Pepto-Bismol than a grateful supplicant, I tucked my chin under and scooted back to my seat.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Purpose: [pur-puhs] noun
the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
I just want to debunk a myth that was fed to us as children: the purpose of a dictionary is not to inform us of proper word usage. I repeat, you cannot use the dictionary to prove that you are using a word correctly.
English dictionary editors are adamant that their only job is to reflect how words are used, not to endorse that usage as correct or not. This is not France with its Academie francaise (my apologies for Blogger.com's lack of dictatorial marks and foreign letters) or Spain with its Real Academia Espanola devoted to regulating how language is used. Our editors' primary concern is that when you hear a word you do not know, you may consult the dictionary to learn its intended meaning. (For word geeks, this is known as the conflict between prescriptive and descriptive approaches.) Therefore, the minute a definition enters "common" usage - whatever that means - it will also enter your dictionary, whether it is commonly used correctly or commonly abused, disgraced, and left for dead.
Sorry, just had to share that . . .
Friday, November 30, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
If we have a bad week, she frets, "I don't know what kind of energy I'm putting out there that people aren't scheduling."
If we have a few new patients, it's, "Isn't it interesting that we have all these new people coming in? I wonder what's up with my energy that I'm attracting more people."
Every day I hear about how her magical energy is either attracting or repelling patients. When I hang up the phone, she immediately asks, "Whoisit?" before I can draw breath to tell her. Whether it's a patient calling to schedule or to cancel, I remain completely flummoxed when she declares their actions a result of her personal force field and then asks me how her energy is projecting.
"Umm, looks fine to me," I usually mumble.
This from a woman who refuses to order holiday cards with the more neutral "Seasons Greetings" on them because the phrase denies "The Reason for the Season," i.e. the birth of Jesus.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Best line of the night:
Nivek: I could never cut down a tree just so I could put it up in my house! That's so bad for the earth.
Dad: Yeah, I've decided to stop breathing to reduce my carbon footprint.
Sorry Niv but that was dang funny.
I was up with the dawn to let Yspyg out. Even though I was dead-dog tired, I decided to figure out what vegetable I was going to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. I had tentatively proposed bringing green beans at Nnerb's birthday dinner and that seemed relatively well received, so I drove to the market and picked up a couple of pounds of green beans, some chopped almonds, and some mushrooms.
Once I got back home, I started chopping the beans and mushrooms. I boiled the beans for a couple of minutes, then packed everything up to take to Mom and Dad's. I had a red pepper and a yellow pepper in the fridge so I chopped those up too and packed them. Then Yspyg and I went for a stroll, I showered and packed up my car, and we headed up to Boyds, with plans for T-Bone to join us a little bit later.
We pulled up the driveway and I opened the door for Yspyg. She leapt out and immediately started tearing around the yard with a huge tongue-lolling "happy dog" smile. Semaj was fixing his car so we waved and strolled into the house.
Telmah and Anyhc gave us their usual cheerful greeting. It looked like I was the first child not-in-residence to arrive, so I hung with the folks and finished up the veggies so I would be out of Dad's way while he dealt with the turkey.
Luapellek and Niverb arrived and happy chaos ensued. We had a great time joking and catching up. The guys went out to help Semaj rotate his tires. Eventually T-Bone was released from the jaws of oppression and was able to leave work to join us.
We sat down to eat. Everybody's dishes were soooo tasty! Mom kept sneaking turkey to my dogchild, who T-Bone informs me is getting fat. Lots of general hilarity around the dinner table as well.
After dinner, Nnerb opened her birthday presents. She got some pretty cool stuff! While she was opening her gifts, Dad wooed my quivering mutt, which was my favorite part of the evening. Am I weird?
After all the excitement, I got slammed with a turkey coma. I wilted into the couch while everyone else watched some football. Once I woke up, I had to get home so I hugged and kissed and took the little food packets that Mom had so thoughtfully prepared for us, grabbed my pooch, and headed off into the darkness.
Monday, November 19, 2007
"Okay, here's what I want: a tall . . . hmm, what I really want is a chai but I have that every morning, so maybe a latte, no . . . a gingerbread latte! I want a tall gingerbread latte, two pump, extra hot, decaf - definitely decaf - with, hmm, should I get whipped cream? Light whipped cream, make sure you tell them light, oh, no foam, did I say foam? No foam. Yes that's what I want."
She fished in her purse for some cash. "I know I'm high maintenance," she said chattily, "but I figure, I spend so much money in there that I can be as high maintenance as I want."
"I mean, I spend $1300 there a year."
"Have you thought about an espresso machine?" I asked.
She gave me her arched-brow "what do you mean by that?" look. "Well, we used to have one but I just like it better when they make it for me."
I nodded. "Oh, okay!"
So I bundled up and dashed across Rockville Pike as darkness fell. When I got to the Starbucks, I ran into a girl I used to work with. Her family is quite wealthy so I chatted her up about chiropractic and handed her Dr. K's card. When it was my turn, I read out the order, which I had written down on a post-it note. "Here, let me see that," the barista said cheerily, plucking my note neatly from my hand.
She squinted at it. "Ordering for the boss, huh?"
"Mmhmm," I nodded.
"Jeez." She rolled her eyes. "I bet she's a joy."
I laughed. "Mmhmm."
"So it's like that," she said sympathetically.
"Yeah, it's like that," I told her. She chuckled.
"Okay, calling!" she shouted, turning to the baristas manning the espresso machine. "Can I get a tall decaf no foam extra hot gingerbread latte with light whip!"
"Wait wait wait!" the others pleaded as they grabbed for jugs of milk, pump bottles, spray cans of whipped cream, and little espresso cups. She read it again, then told me my total was $3.68.
"Thanks!" I said, dropping the change into the tip jar and tucking the dollar bill into my purse.
I hurried back across the street, trying to clean up the milky brown whipped cream goo that kept spewing from the sip hole and dribbling onto my Steve Madden sheepskin jacket. Once I got to the office, I sped first to the kitchen to wipe off the beverage so that Dr. Kat would have a nice clean cup to drink from, then slipped into her office.
Dr. K was on the phone. I set the cup down gently but before I even had a chance to let go, she was thrusting out her hand and wiggling her fingers. I dug through my purse and handed her the dollar bill. She continued to wiggle. "Where's my change?" she mouthed.
My heart dropped.
"I, uh, gave it as a tip . . . " Her face darkened. "I'm sorry . . . I just assumed . . . I always tip when there's a tip cup, I just thought . . . " I sputtered off pathetically.
In truth I had hesitated before depositing the change. But I just would have felt too embarrassed not to leave a tip. When I was a barista, we really relied on the couple of dollars doled out to us at the end of a busy shift, and to me it's a necessity to toss some change in there. If I can't afford a tip, then I can't afford to make a purchase.
Apparently Dr. K feels otherwise. Her eyes bulged and her fingers curled shut savagely. She hung up the phone.
"You did what?" she asked quietly, biting into every word as if it was my head.
"I'm sorry," I blubbered. "I just always give a tip. I assumed - I'm sorry - here, I have the change in my purse," I offered quickly. I mean, what's a couple cents in exchange for peace and quiet?
"No, no," she spat. "That's okay. It's just I really counted on getting that change. I really needed it this week."
"Gee, I'm so sorry," I apologized again. "It was my mistake. Let me get you your change." I turned to grab my purse but she stopped me again.
"No," she sighed. "No, that's okay." She looked morose. "It's just one of those weeks when I really needed that change."
"It's okay," I told her. "It's no problem. I screwed up. I have the change right here." I ignored her as she called out another breathy reassurance and hustled to grab my purse. I counted out exactly thirty-two cents and went back to her office, plunking the four coins down on her desk in a stack.
"No no no," she insisted. "Really, it's okay." Then she caught sight of the coins. "Is that it?"
"Mm-hmm," I murmured, trying not to sound snappish.
"Really? Just thirty-two cents?"
"Yup, that's it."
She considered this for a moment. "Oh. Because I really thought it would be more."
"Mmm," I responded. I returned to my desk but I was feeling very angry. Perhaps I wouldn't have felt quite as angry if Dr. K had not shared with me the following tidbits throughout the day:
"I took Jen out to lunch yesterday. It only cost sixty dollars."
"I ordered Mary a bottle of wine for Christmas. We're not very close friends but she really likes wine. It only cost a hundred bucks."
"I bought our tickets today. We're using our miles so it should only be about three thousand dollars when we go to Egypt in April."
Three thousand bucks.
So begrudging some beleaguered coffee slingers a couple of cents after they made your confusing-as-hell drink to your specifications seemed a little uncharitable. Particularly after I sat through a networking breakfast the day before where she rudely whispered through somebody's entire presentation, sharing with me fascinating tidbits about how all the Jews in the group really piled up their plates because they wanted to get their money's worth, and then jabbing me every time a Jew lifted fork to mouth.
With that in mind, I was feeling pretty pissed. But I didn't say anything because, well, she's my boss.
She, however, couldn't let it go. The rest of the evening I kept hearing about "the thirty-two cents" and how she would have been shipped off to the poorhouse if she hadn't had it. I continued to murmur my assent and try to look as industrious as possible, so that maybe she would drop it. Not satisfied, however, she tried a different tack.
"It's just that I pay so much," she said, "and I expect things to be done right. And," she continued, "I bought you that latte."
Oh, Lord, I thought. She did not just go there.
It's not that she doesn't pay well. I feel fairly compensated for my work and she is right to expect that I execute my job responsibilities completely and accurately. But even if the situation by itself had warranted all this breast-beating, there were a couple other elements that contributed to my growing exasperation.
For example, every week Dr. K goes to a networking lunch in a heavily congested part of town. She has to feed a meter in order to park and she never has enough change. Every week she asks me for change and nearly every week I give her a dollar or two. She also never has postage and I frequently give her stamps for her outgoing mail. I was not concerned about this because I like working in a mutually giving environment and I felt comfortable saying "No" if necessary.
I had no idea that we were keeping a running tally of who owed what to whom.
So I literally gaped at her as if she had lost her mind. "Wow," I said. "I . . . really don't want it to be like that. Do you?"
"What do you mean?" she asked cluelessly.
'Umm, just, I mean," I stuttered. I felt uncomfortable listing examples of my generosity, especially in such a "take that!" way. "Well," I continued, "I give you parking money every week."
She stared at me as if to say, "Yeah, so?"
"And . . . " I drawled. "And I try to give you postage whenever you need it . . . "
Was I really having this conversation? I felt as if I'd been transported back to the fourth grade, deciding whose Barbie deserves to wear the pretty outfit this time.
Apparently she had no such qualms. "I thought the latte took care of that," she said snippishly.
"Oh, well . . . " I didn't have anything else to say. I mean, if on her planet a $3.68 latte "takes care of" a forty or fifty dollar gift, then I guess I don't live on that planet.
I really stood back and reconsidered whether Dr. K is someone I can work for. Through most of her insanities, I can step away and chuckle to myself, enjoying to some extent the truly bizarre vagaries of her mind. But something about her resenting a couple of cents dropped in a styrofoam cup as a thank-you for good service made me reconsider. Maybe our values are just too divergent for me ever to be able to anticipate her needs. Maybe I won't ever have a day when I don't think, "I can't believe she wants me to do x. This is so wasteful, inconsiderate, or irresponsible." And maybe my resentment at having my suggestions dismissed, at feeling forced to be destructive, rude, or thoughtless, is just too large for me to stick with this.
I am sticking with it. I'm going to try to continue to learn and become a better employee, because I do have a lot to learn. But one of the things I've learned is that in some situations, I can't just shrug it off. I can't just mentally rub my hands with glee as I start imagining my next blog entry.
Some things are just worth more than thirty-two cents.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
T-Bone got a call last night from the hiring director and is scheduled to have his interview this morning at 10:00. Thank you for all your positive thoughts! I personally think he is very gifted at one-on-one interactions so I expect he will be brilliant, though I may be just the tiniest bit biased.
Now here's hoping this will turn into the Promising Job Offer!
Monday, November 12, 2007
As I sat blearily on the bed this morning trying to put on my socks, T-Bone suddenly burst out of the bathroom. "Guess what, mami?!" he cried, brandishing his toothbrush at me.
"What?" I asked cautiously.
"Guess what happened at my tribal meeting?!"
Weekends are always busy in the Cameroonian diaspora, but this Saturday was enough to make the most steadfast warrior tremble. A woman in Bowie was having a baby shower; there was a wedding in Laurel; the set-in-stone monthly meeting of T-Bone's tribe, the Banyangi, would be held in Columbia; and to top it all off, a bus full of lawyers and political activists had tumbled off a cliff in southwestern Cameroon and needed to be mourned. Their friends and relatives here in the States had to get home as soon as possible so a "sitting," the exile's version of a viewing - minus the bodies - was hastily scheduled for that night. Respects would be paid and financial gifts collected to help pay for plane tickets.
T-Bone being the moderate man that he is decided to attend all of these events in moderation. His strategy for hitting every occasion? He purposely wore shoes that are too small so that he wouldn't linger too long at any one event, thereby offending another host by depriving them of equal "T-time."
The logic is astounding.
Well, somehow he made it through his whirlwind tour and back home safely to me - yes, call me a bad wife but I declined to attend. So back to this morning, with T-Bone spraying toothpaste and me struggling to find two matching trouser socks.
"What happened at your tribal meeting?" I asked.
"They want me to be chief!" he crowed.
I blinked. "Chief of what?"
"Chief of the tribe!"
"Like chief chief?"
"Like chief chief!"
I considered this. Would T-Bone become T-Bone-Through-The-Nose?
And what sartorial options would open to me as Chieftess?
Happy Holidays from Megan and Tabe!
(Apparently the Universal Code of Dissatisfied Looking Fashion Models with Weird Hair is truly universal.)
"Does that mean that people can't approach you at parties?" I asked, recalling one such event where a particularly eager white guy in a daishiki rushed a platform of traditional tribal leaders, hugging and grasping hands with alarming urgency.
"No, no," he assured me. "You are thinking of the fons. Those are more like figureheads."
"Oh, and the chief is like the political leader?"
"Exactly." He laughed. "Can you imagine me, a chief?" He shook his head. "No way!"
I could, actually, but we both laughed.
I finished getting dressed and moved to the kitchen. I was shoving a banana peel into our overflowing trash can when T-Bone reappeared, ready to head out to work.
"Call me Chief T-Bone," he murmured as he kissed me goodbye.
"Chief T-Bone," I purred indulgently against his lips, "Will you take the trash out?"
Friday, November 9, 2007
Following an in-depth investigation into puppy mills in Virginia, the Humane Society of the United States raided Horton's Pups last night and seized unlicensed breeder Junior Horton's 1000 dogs. That's right, folks. You read that right. One thousand dogs. This video clip, released on Monday, offers a look at the puppy industry in Virginia and features Junior Horton, among other.
The rescue where I got Gypsy, the Washington Animal Rescue League, received 105 of the dogs late last night and is in the process of assessing them and treating their numerous injuries, illnesses and birth defects. I received this press release from them earlier today:
WARL Rescues 105 Puppy Mill Dogs
Now the real work begins...
Dear Friend of WARL and Animals,
Forgive me if this is a bit disjointed, but it has been a long night.
After spending all day Thursday assisting authorities in Hillsville, Virginia with the puppy mill rescue efforts, the WARL team arrived at our shelter at 4:00 a.m. A team of staff and volunteers met them here to feed all the dogs, give them clean water, and make sure they were comfortably housed and at rest.
Nine nursing mothers with a total of 35 puppies (some as young as a day old) were immediately placed in foster care with WARL volunteers.
All 105 dogs are now safe and in good hands. Among the breeds we have are Yorkshire Terriers, Bichon Frisés, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Cocker Spaniels, Maltese, Cairn Terriers, Corgis, Beagles, Peekapoos, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Poodle mixes.
The WARL Medical Center, with its three veterinarians, has cleared its schedule for the day so that each of the dogs can be thoroughly examined, treated for external and internal parasites, and given an individual treatment plan to correct any problems found.
This process has already started. So far we have found respiratory infections, parasites, dental disease, severe matting, eye maladies, and malnourishment.
Many of the dogs will be available for adoption in about a week, perhaps even a day or two earlier. The youngest puppies will be made available when they reach eight weeks of age.
Even by WARL standards, this rescue mission is a large one. We have managed to get these dogs out of a horrible situation and into a supportive environment with the best available veterinary care. Their suffering and trauma is over, but their rescue will not be complete until they are healthy and living in permanent, loving homes.
To finish the rescue, we will need the entire community's help. Specifically, we urgently need two things: adoptive homes for these dogs and funds for medical care and supplies.
The cost of treating and caring for these vulnerable dogs will be at least $200,000! It may even be more, depending on what our veterinarians find today. In short, we need everyone's generous help to save these 105 refugees.
You can make an online donation by clicking here for the donation form, or you can rush a donation to Puppy Mill Rescue, WARL, 71 Oglethorpe Street, NW, Washington, DC 20011.
And please help us find homes for these dogs. Spread the word far and wide!
Thank you in advance for your much needed assistance.
For the animals,
T-Bone's interview for the Promising Job Prospect was scheduled for yesterday but on Wednesday night, the man who was supposed to interview called to postpone. Apparently he had picked up a bug on his last trip to Africa and had to call out sick. He didn't have his schedule with him at the time but he is supposed to call sometime next week to reschedule, so please keep those positive thoughts/good juju/groovy vibes/prayers coming! Thank you to everyone who has lifted us up, with special thanks to Uncle Luap for his drum dance.
After work yesterday, I went home to get the dog and then we drove to the bank to deposit my paycheck. I decided to go to a different branch. As I turned into the parking lot, I noticed a new shop next door called bark! It promised "premium natural pet food and supplies" so I decided to check it out. They had so many wonderful things, gifts for pets and humans as well as a daunting variety of organic, natural, and raw food diet options for all kinds of animals. The staff was super friendly and very knowledgeable; they helped me select a bag of Orijen, which is a grain-free kibble made of 70% meat ( a combo of "the highest inclusions of fresh grain-fed chicken, fresh wild-caught Whitefish and fresh whole eggs — regional ingredients that arrive at our factory fresh — never frozen or dried, and are low temperature cooked at 90c to preserve their natural goodness") and 30% veggies, all farmed in western Canada. And the best part? It was the same price as the grain-based Chinese-made Menu Foods brands that have been poisoning dogs.
I think what I appreciated most, though, was the time each staff person took to get down on the floor and coax my somewhat shy dog into his or her lap. She is still shy of men but even the one guy in the place got her to eat out of his hand and roll over for a tummy rub. By the time we left, she was wagging every time he came near her. What a great place!
Monday, November 5, 2007
Friday, November 2, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
So yesterday I definitely had "Acquire a Halloween Costume" on my to-do list. Dr. K has also suggested that we could dress up, which I thought sounded like a fun idea, so I had to find a little something for myself as well. When a patient came in rhapsodizing about how she'd found an adorable lion costume for twelve bucks at the Old Navy across the street, I made a mental note to check it out.
After my shift, I drove across the street (I only drove because I have to cut through that shopping center to get home anyway). I quickly found the Halloween costume section but naturally the pickins' were a little slim. Really the only two costumes I could find in the mancub's size were a pumpkin and a chicken. I thought a pumpkin might be kind of boring but I wasn't sure what the mancub or his father would think of the chicken costume.
After all, what might it mean to a boy's fragile psyche to dress up as a chicken? Might I be condemning him to a lifetime of dead-end jobs?
Then again, I told myself, it could be worse. What if he turned out to be a blood-flinging wack-job?
With a little trepidation, I bought the chicken costume ($11.61!) and headed home.
Yspyg and I took an hour-long nap, I tidied up and then I had a massage client at 7:00 so I began the long task of gathering all my paraphernalia and getting it down to the car. Just as I was downloading directions and about to head out, T-Bone and the mancub arrived home. The mancub made a beeline for me. He crawled up in my lap and started to suck his thumb - he seems to like me okay. I hope I don't screw that up too bad. I asked him about his day and then I said, "I have a special prize for Daddy. It's on top of the television. Why don't you go give it to him?"
He hopped down and ran to the television, where he quickly found a CD box. I had given T-Bone a double CD of Marvin Gaye hits a few holidays ago - T-Bone LOVES Marvin Gaye - and it had been missing for a l o n g time, almost a year. We had both searched everywhere. Well, my attempts to gather massage music had found me with my arm stuffed down behind the CD stand, where I discovered Marvin Gaye wedged like a splinter between two pieces of pressboard. I slowly wriggled the CD out and displayed it for T-Bone to see first thing.
When T-Bone saw his CD, his eyes lit up. "My Marvin Gaye!" he crowed, cradling it. "Oh, my Marvin Gaye!" He did a crazy little wiggle dance and clasped it to his chest.
The mancub laughed. "I have a surprise for you, too," I told him.
"Where?!" asked T-Bone.
"In the bedroom. On the closet door."
They both thundered back to the bedroom. I was nervous. I hoped they wouldn't think it was silly - it was the best I could do.
There was a moment of silence. Then I heard T-Bone say in a strained voice, "What's this? Oh, a . . . chicken." A beat. Then the mancub said excitedly, "Chicken Little!" Well, it sounded more like "Ticken Yiddo!" But you get the idea. I had completely forgotten that the mancub loves Chicken Little. I got up from the couch and peeked around the corner. He was fingering the bright orange felt chicken legs lovingly.
"Ticken Yiddo!" he said reverently.
"That's right!" T-Bone told him. Assuming this had been my grand plan all along, he said, "You're Auntie did so well! Did you tell her thank you?"
The mancub tumbled out of the bedroom. "Auntie, Auntie! Tank you for my Ticken Yiddo!"
"You're so welcome!" I told him, giving him a big hug. I slowly separated myself from my men and headed happily off to my massage.
After all, you could do a lot worse than having a movie star in the family.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Very busy weekend. Lots of mancub madness. Yesterday I ran away from home. Well, not really. T-Bone took the mancub out for some man-time and I used the opportunity to run over to my mom's house where Gypsy and I took a breather from the non-stop commotion caused by constantly having to say, "Stop jumping up and down - people live beneath us. Stop bouncing the ball on the television. Stop throwing the ball as hard as you can against the floor. Stop pulling the dog's legs. Stop chasing the dog. Stop jumping on the couch. Stop jumping on the bed. Stop trying to jump off the balcony. Stop peeing in the bath water. Stop drinking the bath water. Lift the toilet seat. Put the toilet seat down. Wipe. Flush. Wash your hands. (pause for five minutes of running water) Stop washing your hands. It's time to eat, let's sit down. Sit. SIT!"
. . . and on and on and on. I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and I thought I might be getting sick but it was probably just sore from my non-stop yammering. I don't think we're being TOO restrictive. We're not marshalling him around or expecting him to sit there like Little Lord Fauntleroy lisping platitudes. But at the same time, we live in an apartment building. We share our walls and floors with other families, families who have always been very tolerant but might not enjoy the constant pounding on their ceiling at 6:00 AM or shrieking renditions of "The Jungle Book" playbook at top decibel for forty-five minutes, with occasional interjections of cannon fire as the mancub pretends to blow his toys to smithereens. If we lived in a single-family home, we'd let him jump up and down until he collapsed, but until then we have to be a little less understanding of his boyish exuberance, which kind of sucks.
Fortunately, he does take plenty of breaks from the exploding cigar routine. He'll crawl up on the couch beside me and just play with his matchbox car while we chat, or he'll doze. He's pretty good at letting us sleep late, too. He'll lie in bed and just snuggle for a long time before he prods you and tells you, "Get up, lazybones!"
But by Sunday afternoon, I had pretty much had it. I tossed the dog in the car and we headed over to Grandma's house.
We went around to the backyard first and Crazy Aunt Sundance greeted us. The two dogs bounced around for awhile and my mom caught sight of my dog's boobs. Now I may not have mentioned this previously but my dog has huge nipples sprouting from pretty much everywhere a boob can sprout. She has long stretchy black udder-like nipples and weird little pink nipples that look just like human boobs. I mistook one of her littler boobs for a tick and tugged and tugged, even tried to get the vet to "pluck" it. The vet was like, "Uh, this is a nipple."
"But it's in her armpit!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, well," the vet nodded, surveying my dog's tummy. "She has a lot of boobs."
Anyway, so her doting grandmother told her she needed a bra. Next time she'll probably run a finger down her back to see if she's wearing one. Oy.
Grandma totally corrupted her by feeding her freeze-dried chicken strips and nylabone "chewies" made of compressed something-I-don't-want-to-know-what and an entire can of fancy meaty dog food with her dinner. I wasn't complaining, though, as one of Mom's Toasted Almonds took me to a happy place.
By the time I got home yesterday, the mancub was already in bed. T-Bone was cooking a stew for the next couple of days. I "helped" by chopping carrots while watching the end of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and crying at the boy who built a solar heater when he was thirteen so his family wouldn't have to use coal heat anymore and his sister the epileptic wouldn't have asthmatic fits from the smoke and they didn't even have running water and they had tires on the roof to keep the roof from blowing away and . . . Oh no, I'm getting all verklempt! (sob)
Anyway, so we cooked some stew and went blissfully to sleep.
Friday, October 26, 2007
HOW DO YOU TURN THE FREAKING HEAT ON?!
I am cold. I am finding it difficult to do my work because I am cold. I am staring dumbly at the computer screen thinking that even the boring tedious tasks that comprise my work would be more fun than sitting here being cold.
I jogged around the office. I sang some show tunes. I burnt my tongue drinking really hot coffee, which gave me goosebumps, which made me feel . . . you guessed it. Cold.
I called Dr. K and left a message asking if she would be okay with my turning the heat on and if so, does she know how to do it? I tried but the techno-thermostat thingy has blithely ignored all my machinations and stubbornly refuses to turn on.
It's getting cold in here
So go and blow your nose
I am sniffling so bad, I wanna chop my nose off
Yeah, I know, I need some remedial Hip Hop 101.
Brrr . . . .
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Looks a lot like my little girl, no?
The notation in the corner said Papillon.
The Papillon, which means butterfly in French, is a toy breed that I don't know very much about. All I really knew was that that they had the huge fringed ears that had given them their name.
So I decided to do a little research. Were Papillons known for their prey drive? Did they like to chase things? Were they known to be social or a little reserved around strangers?
Here is what I learned:
Often called the "Butterfly Dog" because of its fringed ears that resemble a butterfly's outspread wings, the Papillon ("Pappy-Yon") is one of the oldest purebred Toys. It appears in paintings in Italy as far back as the 15th century. In France the court ladies and royal children were frequently painted with a Toy Spaniel pet, as the breed was then known. As the merchant class in the Low Countries (modem Belgium and Holland) became wealthy, the little dwarf spaniel appeared in many family scenes. Gradually painters all over Europe were portraying them. These Toy Spaniels had drooping ears, but otherwise the prettiest of them were unmistakably the same breed we have today. The dropped ear variety is known as the Phalène (which is a French word pronounced "fah-LEN"), named for a moth that droops its wings, to distinguish it from the erect-eared modern variety-the Papillon or Butterfly dog.
With its unusual ears, waving tail plume, and flowing coat, the Papillon is a standout. It possesses what has been termed "sensible glamour" because the owner does not have to become a slave to preserve its beauty. The Papillon has no doggy odor and its silky coat is not prone to matting. However, Papillons love to be clean and bathing is easy; they wash like an orlon sweater! They have no undercoat to shed out twice a year as with most long-haired breeds and the resilient coat texture sheds dirt and dry grass with the touch of a brush. The pet Papillon requires no trimming of the coat, although the bottoms and sides of the feet can be trimmed for a more tidy appearance (this is usually done for the show ring).The possibilities for color and markings are very nearly unlimited so you will find no two Papillons are exactly alike. For the show ring, they are always parti-color or white with patches of any color(s), with color covering both ears and extending over both eyes. Patches of color on the body may be of any size or shape, and of any color including black, tricolor, red, orange, tan, and sable. A symmetrical white blaze and noseband are preferred on the face but not essential for prize winning.
Their height at the top of the shoulder blade averages 8" to 12" This is the height range allowed in dog show competition (with over 11" as a fault, and over 12" as a disqualification), but smaller and larger individuals do occur infrequently. The Papillon Standard does not mention weight, but they should be height/weight proportional (typically weighing between 3 and 9 pounds). The delicate tinies can serve as exquisite companions for senior citizens, while the oversized ones with larger, stronger bones make delightful additions to active families with well-behaved children.
Papillons are active, lively dogs, although generally not nervous or yappy. They might alert you when someone is at the door but should quiet down immediately when that person has been admitted as a friend. Most Papillons retain their puppy playfulness to some degree throughout their lives. They travel well (car-sickness is rare), and enjoy the attention they draw wherever they go. A Papillon can change homes at any age and if suitably placed, will adjust happily.
This is a relatively healthy breed. Although it cannot claim absolutely no genetic problems (no breed and no species of animal is entirely free of harmful genes) but in comparison with many breeds, the Papillon seems to have no serious problems widespread throughout the population. They are seldom finicky eaters but are not prone to obesity. Contrary to popular belief, they should not grow fat or change their personality after being spayed or neutered.
The Papillon is not considered to be a rare breed, although it is far from common. For 1998 it ranked 52nd (among 145 breeds) with 2,914 new registrations with the American Kennel Club. With growing popularity, regrettably, increased numbers are being produced in "puppy mills" for distribution to pet shops. Luckily, it is still mostly bred by knowledgeable fanciers devoted to protecting its interests and producing stock that is sound of mind and body.
The Papillon's popularity also has grown at the dog shows because they are easy for novice exhibitors to groom and handle. They also are known to "show themselves" and will catch the judge's eyes by dancing happily on the lead with ears held erect at attention and tail plume waving. Their "trainability" ranks extraordinarily high, enhanced by a strong desire to please; thus, they are rapidly becoming sought after as obedience competition dogs. In comparison to the more common large breeds found in the obedience trials, the Papillon's small size, lively action, and intense attention to their handler always draw a crowd of spectators to ringside. It is one of five top breeds in obedience competition when all its scores and titles are factored in with its registration figures. It has been discovered that the Papillon has exceptional abilities in tracking (following a human scent) and agility (maneuvering a canine obstacle course).
The breed also is ideal for service as Hearing Ear Dogs for the deaf and hearing impaired and therapy dogs (visiting hospitals and nursing homes). They also do FULL mobility work, and do it as well as the big guys!
It is often said that the Papillon is a big dog in a little dog's body. They can do virtually all that a larger dog can do, but with less effort, upkeep, and space requirements. Truly, their unique beauty goes far beyond their glorious ears!
It all sounds a lot like my baby dog. Maybe I've found her dominant breed!
Friday, October 19, 2007
Last week the mancub came over. He had a really bad cold, poor little guy. He couldn't sleep Friday or Saturday night because he was coughing so much. Seemed to be feeling better by Monday, though. I caught the cold and have been a little sniffly and coughy, but really nowhere near as sick as I thought I was going to be on Monday. That's when I started getting the aches and slightly sore throat that usually mean a full-blown cold is coming on, but for whatever reason, it hasn't materialized. I am going to chalk it up to chiropractic because that is the only thing I am doing differently, at least the only thing that is good for me. :-)
Dr. K is going to Atlanta next week so I will have the office to myself on Thursday and Friday! Yowsa!
Please send out more positive energy as the hiring manager who will be reviewing T-Bone's resume will be returning from Cameroon tomorrow. All fingers, toes, intestines are crossed!
Yesterday I got off of work around 12:30 and the little dog and I went and sat on a grassy hillock in front of my apartment and just hung out. She's still on restricted movement so we couldn't go for a walk, but she's a young dog and she gets bored being cooped up in the house all day. She sniffed the air and watched the birds and tried to kill a squirrel or two. Bad dog.
While I was sitting there, a car passing on Connectinut screeched to a halt. A dark black man was waving inside. At first I thought he was waving to someone on the sidewalk but when I looked, I saw that there was no one. Then I realized that he was waving at me.
I thought maybe he was some friend of T-Bone's that I met at a party once three years ago and had no recollection of, but he remembered me because I'm so white. Happens a lot. So I strolled down to the sidewalk and peered into the car.
"Do you live around here?" the guy asked. Oh, so maybe he needs directions, I thought.
"Mm-hmm," I answered.
"Oh," he continued, "because I live across here," indicating the apartment complex on the other side of the street, "and I saw you and I thought, 'I've never seen this person here before.'" He flashed a hopeful grin.
I have to admit, I had an uncharitable response to this clumsy line. Part of me was like, (sigh) LOSER! and part of me thought, Why would you have seen me around here before? There are only, oh, a thousand people wandering around this neighborhood. Leave me alone and let me enjoy the day.
But instead I asked him where he was from. When he said, "Sierra Leone," I said, "Oh, my husband's from Cameroon! Okay, have a nice day!" I turned around and walked away. I thought later that that might have been rude but it didn't occur to me at the time. In my mind I was just done with him.
He sat there for a moment before driving away. Weird, right?
Friday, October 12, 2007
"Umm, which lights?" I asked half a second later, confused and not wanting to look like an idiot. I mean, if you're standing in a doorway and want the lights turned off, you lift your hand and press the light switch in a downward motion, right?
Unless she'd suddenly remembered that she'd left the dome light on in her car, I couldn't think which other lights she might mean.
"The ones in there," she said impatiently, flicking her hand at the recently vacated doorway.
Why do I even ask?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
On Sunday we spent half an hour watching her disembowel her stuffed bear. She kept picking at the stitches until finally she opened up a tiny hole, then she burrowed her little nose in and kept working and nibbling until finally she could poke her whole snout in. She shook her head violently and began pulling stuffing out with a great deal of wild victorious head thrashing.
On Monday night, she discovered her reflection in the glass doors of our entertainment center. I glanced over and saw her sitting perfectly erect with her ears perked on top of her head. She was sitting very very still and staring intently into the glass. When I looked, I saw that she was focused on her reflection. Ten minutes passed and she didn't move a whisker. Finally, she stretched her head out to investigate. When the reflection did the same, she scooted back, alarmed. After a few more minutes, she gave her little warning growl. Her head bobbed up and down curiously and she tried another little growl. No success. The other head kept bobbing too.
Finally she hopped up and crept around behind the entertainment center, trying to find where the mystery dog was hiding. Nothing was there! So she crept around to the other side, only to discover that the other dog had disappeared. After another fifteen minutes of her sniffing and poking and puzzling over the mystery dog in the glass, I plunked down on the floor with her. I tried to show her that there was no other dog. I tapped on the glass, I opened the doors, I took out the DVDs and CDs that we keep down there. But I don't think she was convinced. She started chewing her rope but every once in awhile she'd cast another intent look in the entertainment center's direction.
Yesterday I took her to the vet for her last round of heartworm injections. I brought her little stuffed squirrel so that she could have something from home. When they led her away, she hung her head and looked back at me as if she knew she would never see me again. It was SO tragic! I almost cried. But I stayed strong.
So she's getting treated today and then tomorrow I'll go pick her up. I can't wait!
Monday, October 8, 2007
We were out for our evening walk. Another dog was walking toward us on the other side of the road and No Name wanted desperately to go and greet it, even though it was a huge Pit Bull that looked like it wanted to eat her. As the dog and its owner turned down a side street, she threw her head back and barked. "Ruff!" she said in a high-pitched squeaky voice. "Rarara!" And then she came running back to me with her tail wagging so hard, I thought she would fall over.
I started laughing. Then I called T-Bone. He already thinks I'm crazy so I thought I would make him laugh. "Your daughter just barked!" I crowed when he answered the phone.
"Er, wha-?" he asked.
"Your daughter! She just barked!" We both started laughing. After a little gentle ribbing on his part and some indignant parental pride on mine, we said goodbye and little No Name and I headed back to the apartment for some dinner.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
*this chart was not originally published with Lakoff's article
I thought it would be fun to reprint this excellent article from cognitive linguist George Lakoff. When I first read this article, published in the The American Prospect in 2003 and based on his book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, we Dems were floundering under the neocons' seemingly inescapable stranglehold on American policy. Americans seemed to be signing up in ever-increasing droves for policies that would rob them of their prosperity, security, and even their basic liberties. As with Europeans in the early twentieth century, Americans responded to the uncertainties of this new century by focusing on one tangible enemy and clinging to the belief that protection from this "other" would keep us safe, despite the numerous more immediate threats to our lives and livelihoods. Our devolution into a fascist state seemed inevitable.
George Lakoff's article was literally like a supernova of hope bursting over the horizon. I wasn't the only one who felt it. Suddenly liberals across the nation were given a vocabulary to understand what was happening. We had a blueprint for how the impenetrable conservative fortress had been built, and if we couldn't destroy theirs, maybe we could drown them out with an even more impressive stronghold of our own.
The bricks with which we would build this beacon of hope? One word: "framing." Lakoff showed us that every policy in America was being debated with terminology created by the right wing, so that the minute you mention a policy, say "gay marriage," people immediately begin to think of the issue from a conservative viewpoint - in this example, as being about state-sanctioned gay sex rather than about "freedom to marry," "state-controlled love," or the government's "commitment penalty" that punishes two people who want to make a lasting commitment by judging their personal lives as immoral.
I was already well aware of conservative "framing." The "right to life," the "marriage penalty," the "death tax" were all pretty transparent examples. What was totally new to me, and to most Democratic power brokers, was the notion that we had the power to fight back, that we could ignore conservative terminology and simply choose to discuss those issues only within our own frame. Abortion? Never heard of it. Now patient privacy, that we can talk about. Sex ed? No, my kid had health class. Socialized medicine? You mean the right to live.
I believe that Democrats are more nuanced in their thinking about government's role in society. We naturally shy away from clouding the discourse with slanted terminology - after all, why should we have to resort to parlor tricks when our ideas should be powerful enough to sway hearts and minds? We have accepted the words offered by the Republicans or clung to the terms that we judged to be as free of prejudice as possible. But just as a debate between an Israeli and a Palestinian is already won when they decide to hold it in Hebrew, so we relinquish the battle before we've begun to fight when we allow conservatives to choose the language.
One mistake Democrats continue to make is discussing how they will implement policy. No one cares. You have to ignite an emotional response in people and talking about a "universal single-payer system" doesn't cut it. Reach into Reagan's goodie bag, dust off the old "welfare queen," give her a Beamer and Blackberry and you've got a cocktail Conservative.
I look around today and the hope I felt in '03 is a little shaken. We've gotten better, to be sure. No one talks about the "war on terror" anymore without a smirk. But we still have some lessons to learn. We still strive for balance in our terminology. "Health Care," "Immigration," and "The War in Iraq" are all dry terms that evoke nothing more than the policies they refer to. Problems with immigration spring very simply from lack of resources. How about "Underfunding Homeland Security?" Or "The President's War in Iraq?"
We don't have to be ashamed of using language this way. Politics should evoke an emotional response in our citizenry. People should be enraged that health care is out of reach for many of us, whether we have insurance or not. We should be baffled that a family's health care access depends on where Mommy and Daddy work - what does employment have to do with whether I need to go to the doctor? Our guts should twist with fear when we consider our future on an ever hotter planet. A righteous anger fueled not by twisted biblical interpretation but by simple conviction that each life is valuable should drive us to end the death penalty, strengthen worker protections, insure that all our children have access to safe communities and good schools.
Progressive policies are sound because our morality informs them. Most voter choice is not based on self-interest - will this person's policies make my life better? Most voters make their choice based on their perception of the candidate's character - is this person good? When we discuss our policies, we need to choose language that conveys our commitment to justice, equality, and opportunity not as high-minded liberal elitism but as the most important moral choice many of us are ever asked to make.
Framing the Dems
How conservatives control political debate and how progressives can take it back
George Lakoff August 31, 2003
On the day that George W. Bush took office, the words "tax relief" started appearing in White House communiqués. Think for a minute about the word relief. In order for there to be relief, there has to be a blameless, afflicted person with whom we identify and whose affliction has been imposed by some external cause. Relief is the taking away of the pain or harm, thanks to some reliever.
This is an example of what cognitive linguists call a "frame." It is a mental structure that we use in thinking. All words are defined relative to frames. The relief frame is an instance of a more general rescue scenario in which there is a hero (the reliever), a victim (the afflicted), a crime (the affliction), a villain (the cause of affliction) and a rescue (the relief). The hero is inherently good, the villain is evil and the victim after the rescue owes gratitude to the hero.
The term tax relief evokes all of this and more. It presupposes a conceptual metaphor: Taxes are an affliction, proponents of taxes are the causes of affliction (the villains), the taxpayer is the afflicted (the victim) and the proponents of tax relief are the heroes who deserve the taxpayers' gratitude. Those who oppose tax relief are bad guys who want to keep relief from the victim of the affliction, the taxpayer.
Every time the phrase tax relief is used, and heard or read by millions of people, this view of taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes gets reinforced.
The phrase has become so ubiquitous that I've even found it in speeches and press releases by Democratic officials -- unconsciously reinforcing a view of the economy that is anathema to everything progressives believe. The Republicans understand framing; Democrats don't.
When I teach framing in Cognitive Science 101, I start with an exercise. I give my students a directive: "Don't think of an elephant." It can't be done, of course, and that's the point. In order not to think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. The word elephant evokes an image and a frame. If you negate the frame, you still activate the frame. Richard Nixon never took Cognitive Science 101. When he said, "I am not a crook," he made everybody think of him as a crook.
If you have been framed, the only response is to reframe. But you can't do it in a sound bite unless an appropriate progressive language has been built up in advance. Conservatives have worked for decades and spent billions on their think tanks to establish their frames, create the right language, and get the language and the frames they evoke accepted. It has taken them awhile to establish the metaphors of taxation as a burden, an affliction and an unfair punishment -- all of which require "relief." They have also, over decades, built up the frame in which the wealthy create jobs, and giving them more wealth creates more jobs.
Taxes look very different when framed from a progressive point of view. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said, taxes are the price of civilization. They are what you pay to live in America -- your dues -- to have democracy, opportunity and access to all the infrastructure that previous taxpayers have built up and made available to you: highways, the Internet, weather reports, parks, the stock market, scientific research, Social Security, rural electrification, communications satellites, and on and on. If you belong to America, you pay a membership fee and you get all that infrastructure plus government services: flood control, air-traffic control, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and so on.
Interestingly, the wealthy benefit disproportionately from the American infrastructure. The Securities and Exchange Commission creates honest stock markets. Most of the judicial system is used for corporate law. Drugs developed with National Institutes of Health funding can be patented for private profit. Chemical companies hire scientists trained under National Science Foundation grants. Airlines hire pilots trained by the Air Force. The beef industry grazes its cattle cheaply on public lands. The more wealth you accumulate using what the dues payers have provided, the greater the debt you owe to those who have made your wealth possible. That is the logic of progressive taxation.
No entrepreneur makes it on his own in America. The American infrastructure makes entrepreneurship possible, and others have put it in place. If you've made a bundle, you owe a bundle. The least painful way to repay your debt to the nation is posthumously, through the inheritance tax.
Those who don't pay their dues are turning their backs on our country. American corporations registering abroad to avoid taxes are deserting our nation when their estimated $70 billion in dues and service payments are badly needed, for schools and for rescuing our state and local governments.
Reframing takes awhile, but it won't happen if we don't start. The place to begin is by understanding how progressives and conservatives think. In 1994, I dutifully read the "Contract with America" and found myself unable to comprehend how conservative views formed a coherent set of political positions. What, I asked myself, did opposition to abortion have to do with the flat tax? What did the flat tax have to do with opposition to environmental regulations? What did defense of gun ownership have to do with tort reform? Or tort reform with opposition to affirmative action? And what did all of the above have to do with family values? Moreover, why do conservatives and progressives talk past one another, not with one another?
The answer is that there are distinct conservative and progressive worldviews. The two groups simply see the world in different ways. As a cognitive scientist, I've found in my research that these political worldviews can be understood as opposing models of an ideal family -- a strict father family and a nurturant parent family. These family models come with moral systems, which in turn provide the deep framing of all political issues.
The Strict Father Family
In this view, the world is a dangerous and difficult place, there is tangible evil in the world and children have to be made good. To stand up to evil, one must be morally strong -- disciplined.
The father's job is to protect and support the family. His moral duty is to teach his children right from wrong. Physical discipline in childhood will develop the internal discipline adults need to be moral people and to succeed. The child's duty is to obey. Punishment is required to balance the moral books. If you do wrong, there must be a consequence.
The strict father, as moral authority, is responsible for controlling the women of the family, especially in matters of sexuality and reproduction.
Children are to become self-reliant through discipline and the pursuit of self-interest. Pursuit of self-interest is moral: If everybody pursues his own self-interest, the self-interest of all will be maximized.
Without competition, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings. Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Those who are not successful should not be coddled; they should be forced to acquire self-discipline.
When this view is translated into politics, the government becomes the strict father whose job for the country is to support (maximize overall wealth) and protect (maximize military and political strength). The citizens are children of two kinds: the mature, disciplined, self-reliant ones who should not be meddled with and the whining, undisciplined, dependent ones who should never be coddled.
This means (among other things) favoring those who control corporate wealth and power (those seen as the best people) over those who are victims (those seen as morally weak). It means removing government regulations, which get in the way of those who are disciplined. Nature is seen as a resource to be exploited. One-way communication translates into government secrecy. The highest moral value is to preserve and extend the domain of strict morality itself, which translates into bringing the values of strict father morality into every aspect of life, both public and private, domestic and foreign.
America is seen as more moral than other nations and hence more deserving of power; it has earned the right to be hegemonic and must never yield its sovereignty, or its overwhelming military and economic power. The role of government, then, is to protect the country and its interests, to promote maximally unimpeded economic activity, and maintain order and discipline.
From this perspective, conservative policies cohere and make sense as instances of strict father morality. Social programs give people things they haven't earned, promoting dependency and lack of discipline, and are therefore immoral. The good people -- those who have become self-reliant through discipline and pursuit of self-interest -- deserve their wealth as a reward. Rewarding people who are doing the right thing is moral. Taxing them is punishment, an affliction, and is therefore immoral. Girls who get pregnant through illicit sex must face the consequences of their actions and bear the child. They become responsible for the child, and social programs for pre- and postnatal care just make them dependent. Guns are how the strict father protects his family from the dangers in the world. Environmental regulations get in the way of the good people, the disciplined ones pursuing their own self-interest. Nature, being lower on the moral hierarchy, is there to serve man as a resource. The Endangered Species Act gets in the way of people fulfilling their interests and is therefore immoral; people making money are more important than owls surviving as a species. And just as a strict father would never give up his authority, so a strong moral nation such as the United States should never give up its sovereignty to lesser authorities. It's a neatly tied-up package.
Conservative think tanks have done their job, working out such details and articulating them effectively. Many liberals are still largely unaware of their own moral system. Yet progressives have one.
The Nurturant Parent Family
It is assumed that the world should be a nurturant place. The job of parents is to nurture their children and raise their children to be nurturers. To be a nurturer you have to be empathetic and responsible (for yourself and others). Empathy and responsibility have many implications: Responsibility implies protection, competence, education, hard work and social connectedness; empathy requires freedom, fairness and honesty, two-way communication, a fulfilled life (unhappy, unfulfilled people are less likely to want others to be happy) and restitution rather than retribution to balance the moral books. Social responsibility requires cooperation and community building over competition. In the place of specific strict rules, there is a general "ethics of care" that says, "Help, don't harm." To be of good character is to be empathetic and responsible, in all of the above ways. Empathy and responsibility are the central values, implying other values: freedom, protection, fairness, cooperation, open communication, competence, happiness, mutual respect and restitution as opposed to retribution.
In this view, the job of government is to care for, serve and protect the population (especially those who are helpless), to guarantee democracy (the equal sharing of political power), to promote the well-being of all and to ensure fairness for all. The economy should be a means to these moral ends. There should be openness in government. Nature is seen as a source of nurture to be respected and preserved. Empathy and responsibility are to be promoted in every area of life, public and private. Art and education are parts of self-fulfillment and therefore moral necessities.
Progressive policies grow from progressive morality. Unfortunately, much of Democratic policy making has been issue by issue and program oriented, and thus doesn't show an overall picture with a moral vision. But, intuitively, progressive policy making is organized into five implicit categories that define both a progressive culture and a progressive form of government, and encompass all progressive policies. Those categories are:
Safety. Post-September 11, it includes secure harbors, industrial facilities and cities. It also includes safe neighborhoods (community policing) and schools (gun control); safe water, air and food (a poison-free environment); safety on the job; and products safe to use. Safety implies health -- health care for all, pre- and postnatal care for children, a focus on wellness and preventive care, and care for the elderly (Medicare, Social Security and so on).
Freedom. Civil liberties must be both protected and extended. The individual issues include gay rights, affirmative action, women's rights and so on, but the moral issue is freedom. That includes freedom of motherhood -- the freedom of a woman to decide whether, when and with whom. It excludes state control of pregnancy. For there to be freedom, the media must be open to all. The airwaves must be kept public, and media monopolies (Murdoch, Clear Channel) broken up.
A Moral Economy. Prosperity is for everybody. Government makes investments, and those investments should reflect the overall public good. Corporate reform is necessary for a more ethical business environment. That means honest bookkeeping (e.g., no free environmental dumping), no poisoning of people and the environment and no exploitation of labor (living wages, safe workplaces, no intimidation). Corporations are chartered by and accountable to the public. Instead of maximizing only shareholder profits, corporations should be chartered to maximize stakeholder well-being, where shareholders, employees, communities and the environment are all recognized and represented on corporate boards.
The bottom quarter of our workforce does absolutely essential work for the economy (caring for children, cleaning houses, producing agriculture, cooking, day laboring and so on). Its members have earned the right to living wages and health care. But the economy is so structured that they cannot be fairly compensated all the time by those who pay their salaries. The economy as a whole should decently compensate those who hold it up. Bill Clinton captured this idea when he declared that people who work hard and play by the rules shouldn't be poor. That validated an ethic of work, but also of community and nurturance.
Global Cooperation. The United States should function as a good world citizen, maximizing cooperation with other governments, not just seeking to maximize its wealth and military power. That means recognizing the same moral values internationally as domestically. An ethical foreign policy means the inclusion of issues previously left out: women's rights and education, children's rights, labor issues, poverty and hunger, the global environment and global health. Many of these concerns are now addressed through global civil society -- international organizations dedicated to peacekeeping and nation building. As the Iraq debacle shows, this worldview is not naive; it is a more effective brand of realism.
The Future. Progressive values center on our children's future -- their education, their health, their prosperity, the environment they will inherit and the global situation they will find themselves in. That is the moral perspective. The issues include everything from education (teacher salaries, class size, diversity) to the federal deficit (will they be burdened with our debt?) to global warming and the extinction of species (will there still be elephants and bananas?) to health (will their bodies be poisoned as a result of our policies, and will there be health care for them?). Securing that future is central to our values.
These are the central themes of a progressive politics that comes out of progressive values. That is an important point. A progressive vision must cut across the usual program and interest-group categories. What we need are strategic initiatives that change many things at once. For example, the New Apollo Program -- an investment of hundreds of billions over 10 years in alternative energy development (solar, wind, biomass, hydrogen) is also a jobs program, a foreign-policy issue (freedom from dependence on Middle East oil), a health issue (clean air and water, many fewer poisons in our bodies) and an ecology issue (cleans up pollution, addresses global warming). Corporate reform is another such strategic initiative.
Promoting a Progressive Frame
To articulate these themes and strategic initiatives, using government as an instrument of common purpose, we have to set aside petty local interests, work together and emphasize what unites us. Defeating radical conservatism gives us a negative impetus, but we will not succeed without a positive vision and cooperation.
An unfortunate aspect of recent progressive politics is the focus on coalitions rather than on movements. Coalitions are based on common self-interest. They are often necessary but they are usually short term, come apart readily and are hard to maintain. Labor-environment coalitions, for example, have been less than successful. And electoral coalitions with different interest-based messages for different voting blocks have left the Democrats without a general moral vision. Movements, on the other hand, are based on shared values, values that define who we are. They have a better chance of being broad-based and lasting. In short, progressives need to be thinking in terms of a broad-based progressive-values movement, not in terms of issue coalitions.
It is also time to stop thinking in terms of market segments. An awful lot of voters vote Democratic because of who they are, because they have progressive values of one kind or another -- not just because they are union members or soccer moms. Voters vote their identities and their values far more than their self-interests.
People are complicated. They are not all 100 percent conservative or progressive. Everyone in this society has both the strict and nurturant models, either actively or passively -- actively if they live by those values, passively if they can understand a story, movie or TV show based on those values. Most voters have a politics defined almost exclusively by one active moral worldview.
There are certain numbers of liberals and conservatives, of course, who are just not going to be swayed. The exact numbers are subject to debate, but from talking informally to professionals and making my own best guesses, I estimate that roughly 35 percent to 39 percent of voters overwhelmingly favor the progressive-Democratic moral worldview while another 35 percent to 38 percent of voters overwhelmingly favor the conservative-Republican moral worldview.
The swing voters -- roughly 25 percent to 30 percent -- have both worldviews and use them actively in different parts of their lives. They may be strict in the office and nurturant at home. Many blue-collar workers are strict at home and nurturant in their union politics. I have academic colleagues who are strict in the classroom and nurturant in their politics.
Activation of the progressive model among swing voters is done through language -- by using a consistent, conventional language of progressive values. Democrats have been subject to a major fallacy: Voters are lined up left to right according to their views on issues, the thinking goes, and Democrats can get more voters by moving to the right. But the Republicans have not been getting more voters by moving to the left. What they do is stick to their strict ideology and activate their model among swing voters who have both models. They do this by being clear and issuing consistent messages framed in terms of conservative values. The moral is this: Voters are not on a left-to-right line; there is no middle.
Here is a cognitive scientist's advice to progressive Democrats: Articulate your ideals, frame what you believe effectively, say what you believe and say it well, strongly and with moral fervor.
Reframing is telling the truth as we see it -- telling it forcefully, straightforwardly and articulately, with moral conviction and without hesitation. The language must fit the conceptual reframing, a reframing from the perspective of progressive values. It is not just a matter of words, though the right ones are needed to evoke progressive frames.
And stop saying "tax relief."
George Lakoff is a senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Whose Freedom: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea.