Dog Grooming from Muppet Paws to Chicken Legs

This is Jackson, a 5 star dog, one of the most wonderful dogs the world has ever seen.  He is 12 years old, a long haired, dapple, miniature dachshund.

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I had the privilege of taking him to the groomer recently to make him look even more spectacular.  All did not go as planned.

Jackson has been blessed with what I call “Muppet Paws.”  His legs and paws are fuzzy and somewhat hilarious, much as you would expect on a Muppet.  This is a trait I have always prized.

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The groomer’s instructions were to bathe him and brush him, clip his nails, do other things with some glands too gross to mention here, and tell me when to pick him up.  I requested no haircut for him, just a brushing.  But apparently a haircut was what the groomer felt was needed and she clipped the hair around his legs, giving him a chicken leg appearance.  Until it grows out, no more Muppet paws for me to enjoy,

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See?  He’s so sad…

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And a tummy rub only exhibits the shame.  Poor Jackson!

 

I don’t like it, but it’ll grow out.  But why did bad haircuts become breed standard for some dogs?  Not to mention the awfulness of docked ears and tails, which I consider even more barbaric than the bad taste shown by an awful haircut.  To show a dog in its best light at a dog show makes sense, but really, is this necessary to do so with such absurd looks?

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This is a wonderful intelligent dog.  If it wins the competition, in every picture it will have this haircut.  It will be immortalized just like this.  We are fortunate dogs don’t have a strong aesthetic sense.  Entire breeds would no longer be our best friends.

The Athenian Oath

“We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice.

We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many.

We will revere and obey the City’s laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught.

We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty.

Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

 

The Athenian Oath was taken by the young men of Athens when they reached 17.

Bravery for the Modern Child

In the Wizard of Oz, we meet the Cowardly Lion.  His natural desire is to overcome his cowardly nature and he travels with Dorothy to ask the wizard for courage.

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We understand that courage is to be desired by all.  Even children can grasp the concept of doing the right thing, despite risks.  We tell them stories of selfless acts and our nation has virtually deified Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mr. King was one who never accepted the injustices he saw around him, but always respected the consequences of breaking them.  He did not avoid arrest.  Going to jail, or risking a beating (or worse) for the right cause was not something he avoided, but rather something he accepted.  This action takes courage.

Acts of courage are recognized the world over as the material that makes up the best of man.  Our own Medal of Honor, our highest military medal, is given for an act of courage.  Courage is understanding the risks and choosing the take the difficult path despite fear.  A fool can do good deeds, but can have no courage unless he understands the risks he is taking.  It is the man who falls on the grenade who gets a medal.  There can be no courage without risk.

Today, children have most of the risks of their lives removed.  Even some of the smaller risks, such as attempting to succeed at sports, have had the possibility of failure removed from them.  The movement towards increasing self esteem through constant praise and little to no negative feedback means there are no consequences to failure.  Without consequences, there is no courage required in attempting anything.  There is no risk at play.

With modern grade inflation, one of the first places in which a child may fail is getting into college. If you are offered a day off from school to protest, that takes no courage to take that day off.  If you never receive criticism for your artistic skills, you will become very thin skinned when true criticism finally arrives.  You may not have the courage to continue with it when you wilt the first time you receive a negative review.  College is too late to be a first introduction to success and failure.

It takes courage for a boy to ask a girl out (I’m old fashioned, but that is how it was when I was a boy).  He risks rejection and failure, but hopefully he grows from the experience.  When he finds the right girl, he doesn’t duck into the background, but approaches her and smiles despite his fear.  Practicing overcoming fear is excellent preparation for living a courageous life.  The rewards for courage, for taking risks and being true to oneself, can make a life whole and satisfying.

Without being tested, we may never know the mettle of a man.  But having opportunities for bravery encourage one to understand the consequences and teach one to overcome fear.  Life has a way of testing us as we age.  Without practice, we may not be prepared for what is to come.  I fear our children may be in for a rude awakening as they grow to adulthood.  They will quickly discover not every fall has a spongy landing.  Not every time they try their best will it be good enough. The security they have experienced in their childhood was only an illusion.  True self esteem comes from overcoming real risks.  We need to teach them to keep striving and to keep fighting.

 

Family and Coffee Cake

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Elizabeth, NJ.  My parents would drive my brother and I up for a visit on any given weekend and we would eat Jewish Deli food.  This consisted of lox, bagels, whitefish, and a bunch of the less attractive fare such as herring in cream sauce and gefilte fish.  Herring wasn’t a problem for me, but gefilte fish was another matter.

I’ve always found gefilte fish utterly disgusting and awful.  I mean, who really wants a mashed up fish patty with terrible flavor that is served out of a jar.  And in that jar it has been sitting suspended in a clear gelatin.  The thought makes me shiver.

 

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Clearly I am getting sidetracked by the horror of gefilte fish.  Back to the important part of this story.

These were wonderful family meals and my grandparents loved to host their children and grandchildren.  They rank among my fondest memories from my childhood.  My grandma always made chicken soup from scratch which was a star attraction of the meal.  And she always had Entenmann’s Crumb Coffee Cake fresh from the store in that box with the cellophane top.  This was one of my favorite foods.  It was a soft cake, with a dense crumb top and I loved it every time I came to their house.  You cannot eat it without the crumbs getting everywhere.  Plus, when you were done, you could sweep all the crumbs that had fallen onto your plate into a small pile and eat them too, which was the best part.  Alternatively, I would smush the crumbs together into a single giant crumb that I ate.  It was an amazing combination of saturated fat, salt, sugar, love, freshness, and high calories.

It is not everyday you find yourself with a perfectly made delicacy that is both inexpensive and (since the company went national a few years later) available in most supermarkets.

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Entermann’s discovered that people loved their cake so much that they expanded into an “Ultimate” crumb cake with more crumbs on top.  This was a good effort, but a mistake.  The cake had exactly the right number of crumbs on it.  Do not buy the “Ultimate” version that comes in a box with much more blue in it.  The one you want is the “Classic Crumb Coffee Cake,” much like Classic Coke.  And don’t think you can get the same thing in a bite size with their mini coffee cakes.  These simply aren’t the same eating experience or quality (in my opinion) as a square of the original stuff coming from the box.

For those uncertain of the correct etiquette of eating the cake, you cut it out of the box with a knife and eat it with your hands.  I guess you could eat it with a fork if you were frightened of getting white sugar on your tuxedo lapels, but I consider that similar to Bobby Kennedy eating his pizza with a fork and knife.  Sure, you could do that, but that’s not how it was done back in the old country of North Jersey in the 1980s.  Anyway, I don’t think it has confectioner’s sugar on it, so you could probably wipe away the mess with a napkin.

Many years later, in my late 20s, I came across an Entenmann’s coffee cake in a market and picked it up.  It was as good as ever and I now buy it whenever company comes into town. You only have a few days to eat it before it goes a bit stale, so it is better to have someone else in the house who enjoys it as well.

Sure, they have lots of other products I devour, such as their golden cake or those donuts that look like they’re covered in small tumors, but the crumb coffee cake is truly awesome.  Go buy a box right now.  Eat some.  Take it from me, if you don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself because this reflects poorly on your character.  But I promise you, you’ll like it.

It is even rumored that Frank Sinatra had a standing order for Entenmann’s coffee cake wherever he went.  Is this true?  I have no idea, but the internet says it is, so it must be so.

 

Drones, Theft and a Prediction

Recent news included a tidbit about drones (the kind with cameras, weapons, etc., not the kind from a beehive).  Apparently there is already a prototype drone that can land on electric lines and draw power to charge its battery.  This would enable the drone to remain in the field for long periods of time as it would not have to go back to a base to recharge. 

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Good Lord by Trustocorp, 2011, back lit stained glass

While the military implications of drones are fascinating, I believe the real significance of this article is in the potential of the technology.

If drones can steal electricity to charge their batteries, they can steal electricity to use for any purpose whatsoever.  Image if you have a drone that can perch on a line and has a plug that extends down to the ground.  Free electricity!  You need no knowledge of how to hook up a line to steal it.  You take no risk, the drone just flies up to the power line and you’re good to go.  When you’re done, it flies down and you pack it up.  No evidence exists of your theft at that location and the power plant picks up the bill for your usage.

In addition, if you have an electric car, it would only be a small jump in technology to have a small drone in the trunk and you could recharge your car’s battery anywhere you could find a power line.  No more stopping at a gas station for you.  No more worrying about the low range of your electric car.  Enormous potential abuses exist if there is an easy way to steal electricity with no way to be tracked.

 

My prediction

Perching drones will be made illegal for non-military usage as soon as they appear on the market. 

 

Though they may be as effective as a plastic gun printed with a 3D printer, the potential for abuse is far too high for Congress to allow them in private hands.  On the other hand, the government trusts itself to do the right thing, so their use will be monopolized by the government the instant they are available. 

Because most power companies are so heavily regulated that they depend on the goodwill of politicians, they won’t let out a peep of protest and will pass the cost of the theft on down to the private consumer.  Since the stolen electricity will be “free” to governments, as an expense passed on to private citizens and businesses, governments are guaranteed to abuse their new found powers of theft.  New technology of this sort cannot be put back in Pandora’s Box.  Once you learn to open the Kryptonite lock with a plastic pen, the whole design must change. 

What will become of our power lines?  Will they all have to be buried at great cost?  Will this be an excuse to watch everyone even more closely in our liberty loving society?  Or is there some far less costly solution?  Whatever the case, the winds of change are blowing.  This new technology will have a greater impact than a small plane that gets to hang out a bit longer taking pictures.

Artistic Appreciation with Age

As I get older, I see beauty everywhere.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was in my teens and 20s, I had no interest in a natural setting.  I found no special enjoyment from a mountain or river scene, unless it was of the extreme Ansel Adams variety.Image

Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, by Ansel Adams for the National Park Service.

 

Now I can look at a lake and feel peaceful.  A waterfall holds my attention and an Olympic athletic performance keeps me riveted as never before. That change alone has added to my enjoyment of life.  I finally appreciate those things my parents and all the people around me have enjoyed for their whole lives.  The change has not stopped there and this is where I find things shifting to the absurd.

 

I now find beauty and interest all around me.  I still find some things much more attractive than others, such as the photo below.

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Tribute to Man Ray by Guy Le Baube (1994)

 

When I look around, I see beauty in the random patterns of wood flooring, in a chaotic pile of driftwood, in a broken down desk.  I take joy in the artistic unattractiveness of an enormously fat person on a scooter,  smoking, with bad skin and stains on their shirt.  It makes me want to take a picture.  I find cheaply made items, broken golf clubs and plastic toys from the 90s and I want to capture the image.  I don’t even want to make a statement about them.  I have no message to send, just the joy in the image.  I want to see them for what they are.  In doing so, I enjoy them.  As my joy in the simple and unimpressive has grown, I fear I am becoming like that kid in the movie American Beauty.  He describes a plastic bag blowing around as the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.  I have ridiculed this for years and I disliked his character intensely.  Now I’m not about to call something like that the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but I understand what he is saying.  I have to accept this is the one way street my mind has chosen to travel.

 

If this continues, I will find beauty in a plain white light switch on the wall or in the dust bunnies on the floor.  I find if I stare at something long enough it starts to grow on me and I see it as artistic.  I never understood the appeal of distressed wood (why damage something intentionally?), but now I find it may add to a table.  Perhaps I will appreciate the modern art paintings of a red square on a white canvas in another ten years.  Maybe on my deathbed I will appreciate the unpainted canvas alone.  I have always looked upon this sort of art with horror.  As a kid, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup paintings seemed a waste of time.  Now I love them.  Diane Arbus photographs of everyday people appeal to me now more than ever before.

 

Though my opinions of art have spread far and wide, I find greater beauty in specific wonderful pieces more than in the everyday.  The beauty of the truly stunning has become so great in my eyes I stand transfixed when I see it.  Put a couple of drinks in me a I have to own it, to make it a permanent part of my life.

De gustibus non disputandum est.

(Roughly translated, there’s no accounting for taste.)

 

Here is one of my favorites:

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The Weight of Water, Part 3 by Tara McPherson, 2008

 

Ancient Thought, Modern Agoraphobia

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

-Seneca

I started reading (or rereading) some of the thinkers from Ancient Greece and Rome over the past two years.  Perhaps it is a time in life or simply an openness to timeless concepts that has drawn me back a couple of millennia.  Certainly the quotes above are meaningful to me, though I have picked concise, brief thoughts to share rather than lengthy discourses of some depth.

What strikes me most is the difference between how we perceive these early philosophers and the nature of their lives.  When I used to think of Socrates, I thought of a portly old man, expounding on life, or drinking hemlock in a sterile environment, wearing a white robe.

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Influential.  Brilliant.  Sterile.  Tedious.  Long gone and dusty.

 

In fact, Socrates was a very interesting man, always talking, feasting with friends, drinking and socializing.  In reading Plato’s works, I learned Socrates fought in battle as a soldier, showed courage and loyalty, and was invited to feasts as a favored guest.  Socrates spoke of the nature of love and beauty in rich and poetic language, not as a mathematical formula of A=B, therefore C.  Though his ideas were usually accepted as the best of those in an evening, his voice was one of many people enjoying a topic, rather than a teacher dictating to his students.  This was a man who loved his life, loved learning about it, and loved living it.

The more I read of ancient thinkers and philosophers, the more I am unimpressed with the sterile lives led by our current experts.  Modern experts frequently go from college to graduate school and on to professorships, never peeking their heads out of a library, never truly living the life existent beyond the confines of their ivory towers.  How few would attend a feast (or throw one) with a mix of more and less educated guests, from many walks of life, with opposing political and religious views?

I fear I have painted with too broad a stroke.  There are those who write and discuss beyond peer reviewed journals and safe, small gatherings of colleagues.  There are those who live the life of the mind, yet climb mountains, fire rifles and swim in strange waters.  Those who are unafraid to speak their unpopular ideas in their search for truth.  Those who are open to a challenge of their beliefs that they may be either refined or discarded.

I lament there are so few who show such courage.  How many of our politicians or scholars will be read thousands of years from now, much less in a hundred?   Whose words from our time will resonate through millennia as do the words of Cicero or Augustus Caesar?  Perhaps a fierce intensity of living should be placed alongside books as a good prescription for learning and discovering the intense truths of life.  I recommend starting right away.

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

-Seneca

 

Fortune cookies – It is time they told the future and nothing else

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Fortune cookies.  Those magical cookies with a piece of paper inside telling us the future.  Never requested, but always included in every inexpensive Chinese food takeout.

The cookie itself is dry and bland.  Imagine a plate of just fortune cookies.  Yucko.  Without the fortune, nobody would ever eat one, but the fortune itself makes all the difference.  Plus, in my family, there was a tradition that the fortune wouldn’t come true if you didn’t eat the cookie.  And it’s one of the few times that everyone tells what their fortune is without fear that the telling will destroy the wish.  The fortune itself made all the difference.

I grew up in the age before fortune cookies had lucky numbers in them, making something tacky into something downright ridiculous. I’m a bit of a purist, so lucky numbers are hard for me to accept.  But the fortune itself?  That is truth writ large.  I have no choice.  I must accept my fate.

Sometimes the fortune is missing entirely, which is a loss.  You can always ask for another if that happens, so everything will be made whole.  But nothing is more aggravating than the fortune that does not tell the future.  “Your heart is a place of true happiness”  THIS IS NOT A FORTUNE! (Hopefully true, but not a fortune.)  “Sometimes traveling to a new place leads to a great transformation”  THIS IS ALSO NOT A FORTUNE!  I know about the present, I want to know what is to come.  If I wanted advice on how to live, I wouldn’t have ordered that egg roll.  I want to know that money, or wonderful journeys are in my future, or good news is coming, or even that I should expect a lucky Friday afternoon.  Don’t tell me platitudes.  Don’t tell me what Confucius thinks.  Uncover the veil of the unknowable future and give me that knowledge right now.

I received the fortune recently that “You will spend many years in comfort and material wealth.”  Awesome!  Maybe no spiritual growth, love of family, or anything beyond the  base material existence, but hey, it’s something I wasn’t certain of in my future until now.  Now that’s a fortune, and makes the $5 price of the meal worthwhile.

 

 

 

Some Car Thoughts

My first car was a 1987 Volkswagen Quantum.  My parents bought it used for me in 1991 for around $4000.  Over the next 6 years it held together, but I only saw 5 others on the road the entire time I owned it.  It certainly wasn’t cool.  In fact, it sucked all the coolness out of the air anywhere it went, but I loved it and it had power locks and steering, so good for me.

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Today I went shopping for a specific car that appears to be equally rare:  A used Hyundai Equus.

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Looks pretty cool with those mountains in the background.  Definitely a step up. Like my former car, this is not a young man’s car, more of a very comfy car for driving around diplomats and such.  I have always enjoyed cars with lots of headroom, legroom and amenities over the sleeker sportier variety.  Some versions of this car actually have a fridge in the back.  The inside is high luxury, everything anyone could ever want, but there were two things that stood out in particular when I took it for a test drive.  

1.  The back seats were more comfortable than either of the front seats.  I’ve never seen this before.  The front seats were fine, comfy and all, but the back were amazing.  So many controls, you could even open the opposite side passenger window from your door without having to reach across the middle.  Unfortunately, since I love to drive and this could become my car, I wouldn’t spend too much time in the back. The front seat did have a massage option, which is obviously cool. 

2.  Driving this car takes you away from the experience of driving.  It is like traveling in a silent bubble above the road.  Road feel?  Not a bit of it.  I could barely notice I was on the road at all.  You don’t notice your speed, any bumps, anything.  Everything about it is easy.  This is not necessarily a good thing for someone who loves to drive, though it is awesome for a passenger.  At the end of the drive I had no idea what I thought of it, driving it was similar to sitting still in the parking lot, except it brought me places.  Sure it has a powerful engine and all that sort of thing, but this was the first time I had experienced a car whose sole purpose was to make you forget you were driving.

All in all, I liked it very much.  It is a contender.  I’m not sure I want to give up road feel, but I do enjoy a good driving massage.  Since no one has heard of it or seen one before, I would be driving a mystery car. You can’t even find the Hyundai emblem anywhere on it, just the weird Equus symbol everywhere.  I think it looks like a wishbone with bat wings.

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