A fox, the cat, and octopuses.

Mr. FoxA fox Family has moved into our neighborhood, only about six houses away. The people, on whose property he is camped, think that Mrs. Fox is always home with the only kit, an almost teenager by now, who typically just lays around the house doing nothing. That means Mr. Fox is responsible for feeding the whole family and that requires a lot of work. Mr. Fox has to be on the go all the time and that brings him by our house at least twice a day.

At first, we were thrilled but Precious Mae is very upset, and that bothers us. This is her home too, and she doesn’t like strangers barging in. When the strangers are people, our friends, we tell her she will just have to suck it up because all our friends are safe. We thought that the fox would be safe too – after all, they are about the same size and I would always bet on a cat over a same sized dog – but Precious Mae is too afraid to trust us on this. And maybe she is right, several days ago, Mr. Fox jumped up on the deck railing so he could look into the house, and last Friday, the fox pooped on our welcome mat making it clear that he regards this as his territory. Precious Mae now spends a good portion of her day, hiding under the dining table, staring out the open door. Mr. Fox-2

The point that I want to make is that these two souls, or beings, if you prefer, are individuals. Our previous cat, Spike, would have behaved entirely differently and a different fox would also. I am reading a book about octopuses, and octopuses are further from foxes, or cats,  than our imagination can take us. Whenever we meet aliens in a science fiction movie, they are, roughly, humanoid with a head on top, then the body with the legs attached; but octopuses have the body on top, and their head is attached to their legs, octopuses’ blood is blue – because they use copper to hold the oxygen in their blood rather than iron like us – they have three hearts, and part of their brain is in each of their legs. Still, Sy Montgomery, the author of The Soul of an Octopus, makes the point that each octopus she encounters is an individual, just like the fox, or one of our cats, and each one has a different personality.

As an aside, I really recommend The Soul of an Octopus. We all know that octopuses are smart but they are really smart. For example, they can unscrew the cap from a jar, take out their food, and screw the cap back on. They remember different people as individuals and interact with each one differently and they can multitask. One of the most amazing things about octopuses is that they grow very fast and learn very fast because they only live for about three to five years. If you are interested in animals or SCUBA diving, check this book out. End aside

An old comment on thuggery, now even more applicable

LibertyI haven’t been posting very much during the last couple of months. Often, I’ll react to something, search for it on my blog, and realize I have already said it. For the last couple of weeks, it seems like everything I want to say, I have already said. When Donald Trump said that Hillary was, to quote the New York Times, a World-Class Liar’ and may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency, my first thought was, Why is this ridiculous shit even repeated in a newspaper? Why is this taken seriously?

I asked the same question after newspapers published comments made by Ted Nugent in February 2014. The names have changed but most of my thought about the thuggery haven’t so I’m just going to post this old comment from Feb 27, 2014.

Michele and I saw The Monuments Men, a story about trying to save art looted by the Nazis, a couple of days ago. I kept thinking, How did these thugs take over Germany? As I type that question, it seems more rhetorical than an actual question because I do know the rough outline of how Hitler went from the failed Beer Hall Putsch to Chancellor. I somewhat know the facts, but I have a hard time understanding the undercurrent. They were thugs, afterall, and used the language of thugs; acted like thugs.

I really only know Germany through her artifacts; Audis, BMWs, and Mercedei, Leicas and IWC watches. The Germany of refined passion, of Bach and Run, Lola, Run. Her artifacts are so thoughtful, for lack of a better word. How did that Germany let itself be taken over by thugs?

One of my main tenets is that cultures are different but that people – worldwide – are more or less the same. I have a much better sense of The United States than I do of Germany and it doesn’t seem possible that thugs could take over here. It seems impossible that the Ted Nugents or the Duck Breath guys could gain real power. But, when I really think about it, I think that the first step – to take them seriously – is already here.

Why does the press – what we call The media, now – even acknowledge the ravings of a Ted Nugent? He is like a lunatic screaming in the street – the kind of guy we scurry by, heads turned away – except that he is not in the street, he is on the radio or TV. The media acts as if he actually had something to say. Part of it, I think, is that the media loves conflict, even manufactured conflict. It sells newspaper and airtime.

However, there is something deeper going on here. Huge numbers of Americans – and people worldwide – feel that their lives are getting worse and there seems to be no governmental plan as to how they will improve. Our government seems to be incapable of  solving the problems. Problems that I consider real problems; income inequality, gun violence, and climate change. But also problems that I consider phony problems or, even, actual improvements – but lots of people consider them real – like the diminishing influence of the Bible and Gay Marriage.

I listened to Nancy Pelosi on Jon Stewart and he kept asking her what were the systemic reasons that resulted in income inequality, the failure to control gun violence, and climate change, she kept blaming the Republicans and Stewart kept coming back to the question of the systemic reasons. I don’t think she even understood what he was asking, she just seemed completely befuddled. The crowd even booed her, this is the Daily Show crowd who are liberal, who should be her constituency. I like Nancy Pelosi – in March of 2010, I wrote With all the credit that should go to President Obama – and he has done an extraordinary job of getting the Health Care Bill pushed through – without Nancy Pelosi it wouldn’t have happened. Period! – and I was embarrassed, even pissed, and turned off the TV thinking She is not the solution.

When government loses people like me, when I lose confidence that government is going to solve income disparity or set a rational gun policy or forge a coalition to end destroying the world, it is easy to imagine, that people that didn’t like government in the first place, will look someplace else. Someplace where the people with answers are not part of The Establishment. Somebody who has answers that are easier to understand.

All over the world, people are finding those people. We see it in the anti-gay votes in Arizona and the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida. We see it in the resurging Nationalism movement in Hungary and Vladimir Putin being illegally reelected,  in the new wave of persecution and harassment of the Roma in Europe . We see it in the rise of Old Testament-hate-Christianity and old-time Mormonism, in Fundamentalist Islam and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Against all that I would have predicted, growing up in the 50s and 60s, a growing minority is becoming more religious and superstitious, less scientific. They are more willing to accept the simple, clear answer over the complex muddled answer.

We are herd animals, it is in our DNA, and we want leaders, most of us want to follow somebody. When our leaders leave a void, the screamers in the street, the Ted Nugents, the Pat Robertsons, the Rush Limbaughs, have room to move in. They get taken seriously.

What I kept forgetting, as I watched The Monuments Men, is that thugs can be smart. Being nasty is not the opposite of being smart, they can go hand in hand. Also going hand in hand with thuggery is the crude – as in simple – answer.

Muhammad Ali R.I.P.

AliMuhammad Ali passed away and I wonder if anyone can replace him in our National Hero Pantheon. Even trying to write a post about him is intimidating. He was a giant and I guess I sort of expected he would live forever; paradoxically, I also didn’t realize he was still alive.

Like almost everybody else my age, Cassius Clay sort of snuck up on me. Yes, he won the Light-Heavyweight class at the  Olympics in 1960 but Olympic boxing is not a major sport. He fought professionally with increasingly better results, but it wasn’t until February 25, 1964 when he destroyed Sonny Liston in the 6th round of a heavyweight championship fight, that Clay became a household name. I was in Yokohama and I still remember that fight.

There were probably fifty of us, in a waiting room without any windows at the Haneda Airport, all waiting – for hours – to be loaded on a C-47 to be flown to Kimpo Airport in Korea. We all knew about  the the Liston-Clay fight but most of us, including me, had no idea what time it was back in America or even what day it was for sure, when a young, very small, black kid picked up the fight on Armed Forces Radio. More accurately, he picked up the pre-fight and a doctor was talking about calling the fight off because of Clay’s heart rate which was sky high. All of us, I think, thought Liston would crush Clay and the black kid was betting on Clay; he was offering 10-1 odds and he had bet his whole paycheck, about $100. That kid walked away with about a thousand bucks and I still marvel at his confidence.

When Clay gave up his title, or had it stripped from him, because he wouldn’t go into the military, the conventional wisdom was the Clay was too stupid for the Army. In reality, he was too smart and too brave, saying, Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going…. That was 1967, and the world was changing, but it was still a treasonous statement. He had offended the white ruling class and was going to go to prison for it and almost everybody agreed that he had ruined his career and his life.

Very few people have that kind of nerve – sitting here now, I can count them all on two fingers, Clay and Chelsea Manning – and we love him for it now, but not many people did then. As an aside, I think that is worth considering that a fair amount of the people we admire for their bravery were reviled when they were being brave. End aside. Clay was a beautiful young man, he was a great fighter who would become even better as Muhammad Ali, he was a stellar poet, he became a powerful political force, but most of all, he was a moral example.

Often, when we say, Rest in peace, it is because the person did not have a peaceful life, but Ali did. He had a supreme confidence in himself, in his abilities, and in his moral judgement. The world is a little darker place without Muhammad Ali.

June 7, 2016: Well….that sucked

Bernie“The movement lives on”. Bernie

In the end, I really thought Bernie was going to do better. Fivethirtyeight said that Hillary had something like a 96% chance of winning California, but I was so far in the bubble that I thought Bernie would do better than the polls were showing. He didn’t, and I am disappointed way more than I expected.

Hillary won, not fair and square, but she won, and in sports, politics, and life, that is what matters.