Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The sad loss of Maggie the Dog

Maggie the dog died just the other day. It was sudden to us, although, I guess, it had been long in developing. We were out at a concert and friends were with her and our new dog, and texted us that Maggie couldn’t close her mouth. They worried that something was stuck in there and tried to get it out but there was nothing they could find. We came home and she was not whimpering or having difficulty breathing, but couldn’t close her mouth and drooling. We took her to the emergency vet hospital, and they ended up over some hours sedating her to examine her. She had a hugely enlarged tongue which was a tumor, not blood or abscess. Perhaps it had just grown to a certain point, or perhaps she injured it chewing something and it swelled more and that threw it over the edge. It couldn’t have been taken out with clean margins, and even if it had she would have had no tongue and no way to eat or drink. We said goodbye and were with her as the veterinarian euthanized her peacefully.

It was very hard, harder because my father died just two weeks ago and we are still reeling from that. Maggie was a really good dog, kind and sweet and loving of attention. She was probably 12 or so, so we knew we would lose her eventually, but had no idea it was imminent. Ironically, we had just gotten a new dog from the shelter a few days earlier, to be trained by Maggie on being on good dog, but had no idea she’d be gone in 3 days. Just that morning we went on our usual 1.5 mile walk through the desert, and later Pat and the dogs went on another long walk. Everyone who walked dogs around here knew her, and knew how sweet she was. She ate and drank well until the mid-afternoon. And now she is gone. And we miss her. Maggie’s former buddy, Fry, died earlier this year, also from cancer, but he went downhill over several weeks.

We will miss you very much, Maggie. We hope that Molly can someday emulate your grace. We are glad that when the time came you were able to exit peacefully. And I hope that when my time comes I am as well. Maybe by then we will `be able to let people who have come to the end leave with as much dignity as we let dogs.

RIP, love.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Spring in Tucson is not Spring in Toronto: But it's still Spring!

Maggie the Dog and I went for a walk in the desert again this morning; I’ve been away in Toronto for a meeting, so it’s been a bit. At 5:30am, it was chilly in Tucson, a shorts-but-fleece morning, although it started to get a little warmer when the sun came up. Still, in the mid-to-high 50s, it was at least 10 degrees warmer than the high temperature the whole time I was in Toronto! A friend from across Lake Ontario in Rochester, NY, wrote to me that it was darn cold for that time of year; certainly was for someone coming from Tucson where it was 97 the day before I left! (It has since come down a bit to a high in the high 80s.)

At least the temperature in Toronto (both outside and inside the conference hotel, where climate control always makes them the same everywhere) allowed me to wear my lovely Harris tweed sport jacket that I bought the last time this same conference was in Toronto, maybe 15 years ago. It was in a different hotel, and there was a tailor in the basement who was retiring and selling his handmade stock a discount prices, and I bought it along with two wool suits. Thus, two labels inside: one designating the fabric as a genuine Harris tweed made in Scotland and the other the label from Harrington tailors in Toronto. Mr. Harrington, who told me he began as an apprentice tailor in London (England, not Ontario) at the age of 14, may or may not still be alive, but the jacket is in great shape, and, with a windbreaker, kept me fine walking around Toronto, including a quest led by others, looking for an open Thai restaurant with a less-than-2-hour wait, as the sun went down and the temperatures dropped to low 40s. (We actually didn’t find one, but had a fine meal in a Chinese restaurant in Toronto’s Chinatown; a place in an old warehouse-looking building with a big mural of Chairman Mao looking down on us and a menu that probably had 25 items total, appetizers through deserts, instead of the characteristic many pages in most Chinese restaurants I have been to.)

Some of my colleagues had brought down jackets. And of course, many were from places that were no warmer than Toronto was. And, back here in Tucson, the first other person I saw walking her dogs this morning was wearing her down jacket at over 55 degrees, so cold is certainly perceptual, and 55 is perceived as cold here!

Anyway, it is getting to be late Spring, but there are still plants flowering. Here is some prickly pear, and most beautiful I think the Echinopsis, which flowered about 20 blooms two nights recently – all of them gone by midday the next day. Trying a third time to see if I can put up enough screen and chicken wire to prevent the whatever-it-is (ground squirrels would be my guess, since they are ubiquitous) from eating my tomato plants before they even get started (later we’ll worry about birds and hornworms – actually the screen should prevent birds getting in). Big hefty lizard in the yard now. If anyone knows what (plant I think, not animal) the spiky thing on the tree is, let me know.
And of course the obligate picture of last night’s sunset!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

White supremacist attacks and mass murders: It's not anti-religious, it's anti-people.

Shortly after the horrific massacres in two mosques in New Zealand, committed by a white nationalist who cites Donald Trump as an inspiration (and who the #Trumpenik has refused to disown – unlike YouTube sensation PewDiePie, also cited by the killer), I heard an interview with a person involved in anti-hate activities on NPR. She emphasized the religious nature of the killings, calling for an end to attacks on religious people. She cited, along with the Christchurch murders, the murders of Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue and of African-Americans in Charleston, SC. She even mentioned the bombings in the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL in 1963, where four young girls were killed.

I do not know if she truly believes that such attacks are motivated by anti-religious beliefs. My guess is that this was a strategic emphasis, trying to get the attention of those who value and laud religion (usually, in this country, Christians) to share in the horror, to identify with the victims as fellow religious people, rather than the perpetrator, as a white guy. To the extent that this is at all effective, I hope it works. My sense is that religious people – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others – who have any sense of the morality associated with their religion already condemn them, and that those who do not will no more identify with groups that they hate because they are also religious than they will because they are also economically oppressed.

Because, of course, all of these attacks, by white supremacists Dylan Roof in South Carolina, by Robert Bowers in Pittsburgh, by Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, and all of the others, were not based on opposition to religion. They were based on hatred of groups of other people, and all were committed by white nationalists, the overwhelming majority of domestic terrorists in the US – and in New Zealand, and Norway, and other majority white countries. The fact that they occurred at places of worship were the result of convenience, as they are places where the worthless thugs who committed these crimes knew that those they hated gathered.

Yes, Jews and Muslims are of a different religion than that of these perpetrators, but African-American Christians are not; what the vicious thugs have against them are not that they are Christian but that they are black. And white nationalists hate Muslims and Jews because of their “race”, their identity, not for their religious practice. For Jews, this has long been true. Judaism is a religion, yes, but it is also an ethnicity; one identifies as a Jew – and more important, is identified as a Jew – regardless of one’s level of belief or religious practice. Unlike Christians, a Jew can have no religious beliefs, can be an atheist, can come from generations of atheists, and still be a Jew, just as a person of Italian descent remains Italian even if they no longer practice the Catholicism of their ancestors. We call this the “Hitler definition”: if Hitler would have executed you, because one of your grandparents (or farther back) was Jewish even if you are an atheist or a practicing Christian, you are a Jew.

Muslims are somewhat different when considering the world as a whole. While there are at most 10 million Jews in the world, even counting the secular and atheist, mostly in the US and Israel, and while there are actually ethnic differences among them (Ashkenazic, Sephardic, African, etc.), there are over a billion Muslims, representing many countries and ethnicities. The largest Muslim population is in Indonesia, a country that itself has many ethnic groups, none of which are at all Arab, the ethnicity most associated with Islam among white nationalists and other racists. I don’t know about these countries, I don’t know if one can give up Islam and still be considered “Muslim” in Iran, or Indonesia, or Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan, but I doubt it.

However, the important thing in the context we are considering is perception in majority white (European origin) countries among racists. There, Muslims, like Jews, are a minority, and are a target. The sidelocks (payes) of Orthodox Jew, or the hijabs of Muslim women, may make the most religious easier targets, but the hatred is not of the religious practice but – however irrationally – of the people. Racist Muslim haters are not that careful. In 2012, a white supremacist named Wade Page shot ten people in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, killing six. They were, of course, not Muslims, but I don’t think Page would have been sorry; he killed himself, but there is no reason to think it was regret for his mistake. In 2017, Adam Purinton, a white supremacist, shot at two Hindu Indian men in a bar in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, killing one. Also in a Kansas City suburb, Overland Park, a white supremacist named Frazier Miller killed two people at the Kansas City Jewish Center and one at Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community. Again, targets of probability – these are places that one might expect to find Jews, like a synagogue. In fact, as it turns out, all three victims were Christians.

It is not because of their religious beliefs that Muslims, Jews, and African-Americans are victims of racist white supremacists. It is because they are “other”, a convenient group (or groups) for the hater – often a person who has been victimized him (it is always a “him”) self by the society – not by the people that they victimize but by those with real power, the corporations and billionaires who control society – to take out their frustration on. A recent piece on the Scientific American blog notes that there has been a huge upsurge in gun ownership in the US since the Obama years, but the percent of American households with guns is not increasing; the number of guns in some of those households with guns is increasing. Three percent of US households possess 50% of the guns. Mostly, they are men. Mostly, they are white. Mostly, they are at the economic margins. Most are angry.

It is a dangerous cocktail, bitter angry white men with lots of guns who think something has been taken from them, and blame not the perpetrators but the “other”. It is stoked by people like President Trump, who says white nationalism is not a problem, but that if “my police” and “my bikers” start to attack his enemies it would be “very, very bad” (wink, wink). Who stoke Islamophobia and talk about the “majority of our country” (wink, wink). Ethnic and religious minorities repress and murder and commit genocide upon others all over the world, in Israel and Saudi Arabia and Syria and Myanmar and India, and it is never ok. Not at all. And it is not ok in the US – or in New Zealand, or Norway.

So, although it might be a way to raise the awareness among religious communities of the majority faith (and, in fact, white people with strong religious ties are much less likely to be racists, not to mention potential mass murderers), it is not an anti-religious crusade. It is a racist one, and it needs aggressive action to suppress it, not encouragement of a brownshirt mentality.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Bad driving in two cities

When I moved to Tucson a few years ago, people told me to be careful because the drivers here were really bad and it was dangerous. My first thought was that driving anywhere is dangerous, and there are terrible drivers everywhere. No, they said, it is worse here, from a number of factors together. First of all, there are a lot of old people driving, both retirees who live here (like me) and the “snowbirds” who come down in the winter.

There are also the students from the University of Arizona, who drive crazily because, well, they are young. Which means that they are, at least in their own minds, immortal. Practically, it means they take risks. This turns out to be partially neurologic, in fact. The brain doesn’t completely develop until the mid-to-late 20s, and the last part to finish developing is the frontal lobe, the seat of both executive function and judgement. So when you ask the 19 year old what they were thinking when they drove into that intersection with other cars, they can answer, honestly, “thinking?”

Most of the students come from other cities, as do the retirees, and the snowbirds, of course, live somewhere else most of the year, so they add to the problem by not necessarily being familiar with Tucson traffic characteristics. So winter is the worst time. And Tucson has a lot of dangerous characteristics, like, for one, suicide lanes, extra lanes where people can take lefts. In either direction. Or wait for an opening. Leads to a lot of accidents.

Tucson drivers do a lot of stupid and dangerous things, but I think that the classic move has to do with the fact that virtually all stores in town are in strip malls. One might drive to the exit, and wait for a gap in the traffic to take your right (or left). But – what if there is no car coming right then, and if you slow down, maybe one will. So you come in fast to the street and, if there is no one coming, you can make your right turn. And if there is, you slam on your brakes. Problem is only for the person driving in the right lane, who sees someone coming at them from the parking lot on the right very fast, and doesn’t know if they will stop or even can, so slows quickly, possibly creating more problems.

But I also drive in San Diego, where no one says that the drivers are terrible, but it is just as dangerous because they also do really stupid things. It is a little different there, though. In San Diego everyone thinks that they are a great driver, and, with their really expensive fast cars, can zip in and out of traffic. And so create lots of dangerous situations. They’re not that good. Driving between Tucson and San Diego it’s mostly I-8 and mostly in empty desert with little traffic. Going fast is fine. But west of Alpine it is an urban freeway, and different rules (should) apply. And if the signature move in Tucson is coming fast from your right out of a parking lot, the signature move in San Diego is passing on the right. A truly bad idea, and almost routine in that town.

Of course, neither Tucson nor San Diego drivers believe in using their turn signals. Perhaps they forget, or don’t know if they’re actually going to turn. Certainly you don’t since they don’t use them! I think it is also, at least in part, not wishing to let other drivers know their plans. If they did, you know, they might take advantage. And cut you off. Or pass you on the right. Gotta be pre-emptively aggressive, right?

Wrong, of course. Dangerous is dangerous. Driving dangerously because you think you are a terrific driver, as San Diegans do, is especially dangerous.

But seeing the very large woman coming toward me in a motorized wheelchair, going the wrong way in the bike lane at night with no lights? That was in Tucson!

Military anthems, militarism, and our youth

  “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” Most of us have known these lyrics to the “Marine Hymn” since childhood. Or I gue...