Monday, May 28, 2007

The best I can manage: cat stories.

I have been unable to write of late; between the pain, the fatigue, and the meds, I’m having too much trouble with short-term memory and linear thought to work on my books or blog- but not writing is even more frustrating than writing crap, so I’ve been casting about for something I can still do in this condition. I find that older memories come through clearly, so perhaps I can reminisce.

I’ve written of our oldest cat, Laurie, twice before- here , and here . As I imply in those anecdotes, she can be a handful sometimes- in fact, in the early days, I didn’t even like her all that much. We took care of her because she had become what used to be called a “Chinese obligation”. I’m sure that’s not PC, but I don’t know what the modern term would be. Something tonight, however, reminded me of the incident in which she won my heart- the single deed that pays for all her sins.

This occurred about eight years ago, when she was actually the youngest of six, the bottom of the totem pole. Laurie was always more of a cat’s cat than a people’s cat; she worshipped the ground the Alpha Female, an imperial Siamese named Gato, walked on, even though the love was never returned. She accepted that newcomers get hazed, and never caused any fuss among the cats. (She reserved her temper for the inferior humans) She took abuse from the Alpha Male- a light ginger/dark cream tabby named Tommyknocker- in good humor, even though he was a third her size.

Then Gato got inoperable cancer. We were told that although she would get ever weaker, there would be no pain until the end- so there was no point spoiling her quality of life with treatments that would only buy her weeks and not cure her. So we treated Gato as usual, with the only symptoms at first being that she slept more than usual. It soon became apparent, even to the other cats, that she was sick. she was weak, she drooled, she could no longer yowel as only a Siamese cat can.

Then came the day when we put down a plate of tuna for Gato, and Tommyknocker shouldered her aside for first dibs. Laurie streaked across the kitchen like a furry missile and hit Tommyknocker so hard he rolled over twice before he could react. She sat stiffly in front of that plate of tuna- never even looking at it- until Gato came back and ate her share. Then, and only then, could the others re-enter the kitchen. From that moment until Gato went to the vet the last time, all food and treats were protected by Laurie until Gato exercised her right of first refusal. You could put a plate of Salmon down right in the middle of them, and they would all back off three feet and wait until Gato inspected the plate- even if it took an hour for her to wake up and smell it. God help them if they didn’t.

Laurie’s defense of Gato’s rights won my heart. Behavioral psychologists and vets and such can talk all they want about pecking orders, and pack mentality, etc.. Laurie was the biggest cat in the house by a 50% margin, and the baddest by an even bigger margin- she could have been dominant from the moment she entered the house had she wanted... but she gave an elegant old lady her dignity in her last days- and then returned to her place behind Mehitabel in the seniority list! In my book, she earned more brownie points than she will ever be able to spend in this life.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Update to “wistful VICTORY”

In my post wistful VICTORY , I reported that Wiccan veterans had finally won the right to have the symbol of their faith on their tombstone- something that the Veteran’s Administration had denied them for nearly a decade since the first request. Pictures have been released of the first five markers so engraved, and can be seen here . If you look closely, you will see that they are veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and both desert wars, and that there are multiple Purple Heart and Bronze Star winners.

This represents two victories to me. First and foremost for the veterans themselves; they’ve finally been accorded the religious liberty they died for. But secondly, this is a victory for all Pagans, and all those whose beliefs are out of the mainstream- even the biggest religious bigot will have to stop and think after seeing those headstones at Arlington.

Alternative Buddhist meditations

With the cover article of the latest UUWorld being about UU Buddhism, I thought I’d pass along these meditations from a Jewish Buddhist.

Sayings of the Jewish Buddhist

If there is no self,whose arthritis is this?

Be here now.
Be someplace else later.
Is that so complicated?

Drink tea and nourish life;
with the first sip, joy;
with the second sip, satisfaction;
with the third sip, peace;
with the fourth, a Danish.

Wherever you go, there you are.
Your luggage is another story.

Accept misfortune as a blessing.
Do not wish for perfect health,or a life without problems.
What would you talk about?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Oy.

There is no escaping karma.
In a previous life,
you never called,
you never wrote,
you never visited.
And whose fault was that?

Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?

The Tao does not speak.
The Tao does not blame.
The Tao does not take sides.
The Tao has no expectations.
The Tao demands nothing of others.
The Tao is not Jewish.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Forget this and attaining Enlightenmentwill be the least of your problems.

Let your mind be as a floating cloud.
Let your stillness be as a wooded glen.
And sit up straight.
You'll never meet the Buddha slouching like that.

Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers.
Each flower blossoms ten thousand times.
Each blossom has ten thousand petals.
You might want to see a specialist.

Be aware of your body.
Be aware of your perceptions.
Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.

The Torah says,
Love your neighbor as yourself.
The Buddha says,
There is no self.
So, maybe we're off the hook.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It’s all over but the cutting

After weeks of tests, scopes going up one end and down the other, (I do hope it wasn’t the same scope), and consulting with specialists, we now have a plan of action: in two weeks I undergo two surgeries simultaneously. A few weeks after that, barring complications, infections, etc., I should be pain-free for the first time this year!
Hey- perhaps being free from pain would allow linear thought, and my blog posts might start making sense! Nah, it would take more than that...

Monday, May 14, 2007

I'm on a liquid diet right now,

but not to lose weight. My posting has been a bit erratic lately, and I've not commented on all the fascinating entries all of you have made as I would have liked partially because my already complicated life has recently included tests that have involved drawing twelve vials of blood, an overnight hospital stay, and a transfusion. The liquid diet is in aid of a colonoscopy tomorrow- the closest thing to "solid" I'm having is Vicodin. I admit to being just a bit scared. If you think of me tomorrow, please chant "negative" three times- it would be much appreciated.

Cancer, polyps, etc., all negative! Which, of course, means more tests; but on the other hand, almost all the really bad possibilities have been eliminated, and the probability is that what's left can be treated with outpatient surgery.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Why political parties matter

There is no greater perjorative these days than partisan; you could get a Catholic to denounce a Papal edict if you could convince him it was partisan politics. Ivory tower types of the left and right alike regularly boast of how they “vote the man, not the party”, and periodically posit new voting systems that would weaken or eliminate the effects of political parties. Of course, any working professional in government- or even an educated layman who understands how the world works- knows that anyone talking like that is a fool, even if he is a Harvard professor... and yet somehow, this has become the social zeitgeist.

Well, we here in Indianapolis have just received an object lesson in such foolishness, one that will cost us dearly before it’s done. Yesterday was our Primary Election- and the biggest debacle in state history. How big? well...
1. 5 polling places never opened at all. This is even worse than it sounds, as one of those was in the suburb of Southport, which only has two!
2. 45 polling places opened late- most around four hours late, but several up to ten hours late- out of the twelve they are open!
3. 100 more of the polling places that did open had one, two, three or more of the following problems: none of the personnel were trained, they were just volunteers pitching in; wrong ballots or no ballots delivered- meaning that even though the poll was “open”, voting was not possible for 6 to 10 hours; no keys or wrong keys for the voting machines; voting machine non-functional for a variety of reasons.
4. Today, as the official legal tallying of the election was to begin, no supervisors for the 40 workers showed up; so they were all sent home- at full pay- to try again tomorrow.
Newspaper articles about the election are here and here .

What lead up to this disaster? The party out of power- Democrats in this case, though it could well have happened to Republicans shut out as long as the Democrats were- spent all their time, money, and resources getting big names elected instead of party-building. First they won the mayor’s office, then a majority of the City/County Council... then when they won a majority of the votes for Secretary of State in Marion County, by State Constitution that gave them control of the elections as well. Therein lies the problem... Lots of money and clever consultants can get a man elected; but only a political party can govern. That was the Marion County Democratic Party’s mistake; they got the keys to power without a grass-roots organization or a machine in place. The party running the election has to supply the county with 917 Inspectors (the trained, legally responsible election officer), 1,834 trained Clerks and Judges, and hopefully 917 elected Precinct Committeemen who can supervise all that, make sure it comes off. (The other party must supply clerks, judges, and committeemen as well) They only came up with 700 Inspectors, and nobody knows how many of the rest of the list were available. (the loss of the legally responsible Inspector renders the rest moot) The only thing we can be sure of is that they didn’t have the Precinct Committeemen either; otherwise they would have stepped up and taken over for the missing Inspectors.

This lack of Committeemen is potentially troubling in another way. If an elected official dies, or is thrown in jail, or otherwise cannot fullfil his duties, who replaces him? In Indiana, his successor is chosen by a vote of the Precinct Committeemen of the same party. Suppose the mayor were to die tommorrow? There is literally no mechanism in place to replace him- first the County Democratic party would have to convene and appoint a bunch of Committeemen, and then hope they all show up to vote!

My point to all this is not to run down the Marion County Democratic Party- I’m sure they recruited plenty of people; the problem is that the only way to tell if your recruits are reliable is to see if they show up, and this time the party had a run of bad luck. In future elections, those who did show up will be highly rewarded, and those who didn’t will be shunned like lepers.

No, my point is to make people understand that the country is not run just by elected officials, or even by the paid government employees; it is run by millions of volunteers, who are coordinated by the political parties. Just to run the Indianapolis elections require 6,419 poll workers, plus the gophers to fetch their lunches, etc., on top of the legal government officials! When you sneer at political parties, you are sneering at a poor clerk, working 12 hours straight to run that election, receiving only a $50 per diem for food and babysitting. And that’s just elections- when you sneer at partisan politics, you are sneering at tens of millions of volunteers all over the country, doing all the strange, ad hoc jobs that must be done to keep society running, but are uneconomical to hire government staff for.

Many people are proud to have participated in democracy because they voted one year in four for President. Those who have given to or worked for a candidate give themselves special airs... I say those things are the minimum necessary to consider one’s self a full citizen! I say that the election debacle was not the fault of the poor clerk, or the County Democratic Party; no, the blame lies with the fact that out of a population of a million, the election failed for a lack of 150 Inspectors! It is the people of Indianapolis who should be ashamed- and any citizen anywhere who has not taken his turn volunteering.

Friday, May 04, 2007


For some reason, "comments" turned themselves off on my last two posts, and I had to go into each one individually and turn them back on- if it happens to you, just "edit draft", and "post options" in the bottom left corner of the box has comments options.

Thanks to Kitty and CC for the heads-up!

The church gender gap

Periodically it is noted that nearly all churches have more women regularly attending than men, and Phil’s Little blog on the Prarie notes that not only do we UUs share this gender gap, but that it is an impediment to growth. What he does not do is examine at length why this is so, and we need to understand why in order to address it.

*Disclaimer* I am not a sociologist, and have no formal studies to back up the following opinions, but I believe them valid none the less. As Bob Dylan said, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

The first problem for the UUA is that men tend to be more conservative than women- the gender gap that is noted at the polls. As the UUA is more liberal than society at large, this exaggerates the gap. I don’t see what can be done about this portion of the gap.

Second, men tend to be consumers more than joiners. They need and value church and spirituality as much as they need and value a doctor or lawyer- and treat tham all the same way. They’ll gladly pay the maintenance fees to ensure they’re there when they need them, but until then, unless the doctor or the minister wants to be a fishing buddy, it’s “Eat right and exercise- gotcha, doc! I’ll be back when my leg is broken.” If you want him to attend, you must offer something that makes him want to attend.

This next reason probably applies more to middle and lower class churches than to UU congregations, who have far fewer members who work with their hands. Men are more likely to have jobs that are physically brutal. There was a ten year period in my life when Sunday was the only day of the week free from pain, and I seldom wasted it going to church. It takes a pretty good incentive to overcome that factor.

Lastly, I believe men have less patience for word games than women do- and the UUA plays more with rhetoric than any other denomination I’m aware of. If the UUA could be considered to have a central doctrine at all, it would be that controling the rhetoric controls the reality. For example, even Libertarians who believe in open borders are likely to say “ ‘undocumented immigrants’? Puh-leeze... they are not citizens, and therefore are aliens. They entered the country illegally, and are therfore illegal aliens- don’t you own a freaking dictionary? Give them amnesty and green cards, fine, I’m down with that. But they are in fact illegal aliens, and what’s more, it’s not racist to say so!”, or “What’s a living wage? If you think the minimum wage should be $12.00/hr, just say so!” Maybe we should make the eminent UU Matt Groening the official arbitor of language for our social issues- say it the way Bart would; men will respect the honesty.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Truth or dare...

We all in the UU blogosphere have recommended to each other blogs and websites that make you think... places where important discussions take place... places where we can learn new outlooks, new thoughts. But these aren’t the only places you check daily! You know what I mean... come on, there are websites you check every day that you would try to cover the screen if someone you knew walked up on you suddenly- don’t try to tell me otherwise. Well, I’m going to admit to a few of them right now - dare ya to match me!

The DM of the Rings . Yes, I am one of those nerds who have been playing role-playing games since their inception more than thirty years ago. This web-comic is made by another long time role-player, and if you’re a gamer, it’s coffee-through-the-nose funny.

Oh My Gods! . Another web-comic... if you are, or know, a Pagan, you will see yourself and all your friends in this strip.

This one is a real guilty pleasure... even though I check it every day, I cannot bring myself to comment. Or even to admit to the title- just look .