Hunter

Perhaps dogs have souls. Perhaps they live lives every bit as emotionally rich as ours. These are questions of open debate among those who have been lucky enough to count dogs among their friends, and a non-issue among those who haven’t. One thing is certain. Dogs have personalities as unique as snowflakes, fingerprints, and scatterings of golden leaves on the autumn ground.

Dog are trainable, and agreeable enough to accept that training, but no amount of training buries the personality underneath. No training can completely subvert the drives that make dogs the perfect companions for us poor, wandering two-leggers.

In the case of Hunter, that personality appeared right out of the gate. He’s a chicken-butt, a nervous Nellie, and the captain of the fun police. He cowers every forth of July as the fireworks boom and crackle. He responds to other dogs, runners and bicyclists with fear aggression, and he works semi-aggressively to maintain a respectable level of calm among our other, entirely-too-playful dogs.

Hunter inherited pack leadership from Austin, who wore his own crown with ease as all Australian Shepherds seem to do. Austin’s second in command rose to the top in the natural order, but never wears it in natural style. He worries, he frets, he runs behind his mama’s legs at the first sign of conflict, and perhaps most importantly, he is roundly ignored by his theoretical followers.

But none of that matters.

Hunter displays the highest levels of greatness in the most important ways. He’s a black Labrador – Aussie mix of medium bulk who is entirely, completely devoted to his number one human. He will follow her anywhere, and he will overcome his natural nerves to protect her against all the random dangers in the world, real or imagined. He will unfailingly appear at the front window to greet her upon her return. Though not normally excitable, he will set his stub of a tail wiggling at the sound of her voice, and in his quiet way, he will gaze upon her like the pure goddess he sees before him. To look into his eyes is to see deep into an uncanny well of intelligence and understanding that only old dogs with old souls possess. He sees and he understands. He cares.

Then he ignores commands. You see, his goddess is not the alpha in his eyes. She’s the source. Sometimes she needs a little help to understand what is necessary, and Hunter is there to assist. At the first sign of a leash, he will take command, grab the leash in his mouth and lead her directly out the door. At the correct time each night, he herds her to bed, proceeds to curl up on his own plush accommodations right next to her like an over-sized black bean, issues a couple of room destroying farts, and guards her through the night.

In other words, Hunter is one of a million definitions of the perfect dog, and he turns twelve today. Happy birthday, old man.

JF Perkins

A Subtle Sexism

I have been accused of sexism in my writing more than once. The most aggressive accuser was at least kind enough to call it a subtle sexism. I figure if I’m a large hairy male critter who can manage “subtle” in my view of women, I’m doing fairly well. That doesn’t mean that I have no strong opinions, however. It means that like everyone, I have my own ways of looking at a very complex subject and reducing it to a worldview that works with integrity to my beliefs.

Why write about sexism in the midst of so many other election year topics in a world that could very well be coming apart at the seams? This article and its companion comments triggered my particular venting of opinion.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/09/23/why-women-should-stop-trying-to-be-perfect.html

Before I talk about my actual opinions on the subject, I want to point out that I read a lot of  this kind of article. Not only am I interested in the views of women, I find that those views are a critical and frequently overlooked piece of the great tapestry of American society. In other words, if we want to make progress as a nation, we cannot ignore anyone, especially the women who make up the majority of our numbers, and do so against a surprising onslaught of challenges that men never face.

If you were to roll past the body of these articles, into the comments section, you would find a stock cast of characters. There are the balanced comments, of course, the women (for the most part) who try to see it from both sides, basically like their husbands, and struggle with their demands in the best way they can. These voices make up the bulk of the comments and cover a range of good points.

Next, you invariably have the man-haters who are poised to lay the blame for every problem they have ever experienced at the feet of a heartless, condescending, exploitative patriarchal society. The wolves are guarding the sheep. There is a basis for that kind of thought, but if the entire universe pivots around it, I suspect there is a lot of potential happiness is being left on the table.

To support that worldview, the so-called alpha males always stick it in. (Crude innuendo intended) They like to take the tack that women should be happy that we let them have shoes and leave the kitchen, or they like to start whining about how men are far more put upon than women, never mind that they have the lion’s share of societal advantages.

Those “dudes” like to point to the gamma male, the guys who actual have the ability to sympathize with the challenges of women, and to give them women the credit they deserve for the sacrifices they make. First the alphas make fun of the gammas for an obviously ineffective tactic for diving into the britches of hapless and gullible (in their view) women with the whole sensitive male bit, then the mentally muscular alpha proceeds to issue the pointless threat that if they were to meet up with one these gammas, they would undoubtedly kick the living crap out of the poor sensitive male. It would probably be a bad day for an alpha if a gamma were to express support for women, and then proceed to demonstrate that how a man thinks about women has no bearing on his ability to open up a can of whoop ass.

And that’s the play. There are plenty of opinions along the continuum of thought in the battle of the sexes, and other type casts for specific issues like abortion rights, but these characters seem to appear at any gathering to discuss women’s issues. Does anyone think that the most prevalent breakdown of communication the human race experiences, namely between men and women, can be expressed this simply?

Where I fall in the tumble depends on how you define sexism. If you think that men and women are exactly the same, blank human slates to be filled with the programming of the world around us, I think I am definitely sexist. I believe that we are different, and that we were made (or evolved, your choice) that way for good reasons. Aside from the obvious fact that women can have babies, we have profound biological differences that affect everything from child rearing to how our brains are structured, and I regard that as a very good thing. For every idiot failing I have, there is a woman in this house with a compensating strength.

If, on the other hand, you define sexism based on how we treat men and women regarding the technicalities: rights, equal pay, the glass ceiling, reproductive rights, religious rules, and all the other ways that men try to force women into a second class in society, then I’m a solid feminist. I believe that women should have every opportunity that men do, on an equal playing field, and I further believe that they are fully capable of filling any roles they see fit.

Equal, but not the same.

At risk of losing my membership in good standing of the Big Hairy Male Society, I’d go so far as to say that I have no problem seeing about ten million things that women, as a rule, do better than men. I also believe that women have a number of competitive advantages in the game of life, and when I make a point of those things in my stories, that’s probably where I cross the line into the subtle sexism zone.

I’m not covering any new ground here, but how many men have done something purely stupid because they were doing it for an attractive woman? How many men have wrecked their entire lives for the same basic reason? Yeah… How many women have noticed how one of those really beautiful women seem to have it so easy, with men stumbling over themselves to offer some form of assistance, anything from opening doors to buying extravagant gifts?

Yes, I understand that women prefer, as a rule, to be measured by their accomplishments rather than their looks, but there is no way to interpret that basic biological power over men as a general disadvantage. Does it lead to frequent instances of victimization by men? Sure it does. Does the pursuit of that advantage lead women to do crazy things to attain it? Yep. That too. In extreme cases, women pursue beauty like politicians pursue high office. In both cases, the below-the-line advantages outweigh the fight. Is there an entire industrial strength layer of society devoted to extracting money from that basic desire? Sure. The point is that if female attractiveness and the male desire to possess it at all costs were not a baseline advantage for women, then a bolt of the fabric of our society would not be built around it. Another swath is devoted to resisting it.

The previous two paragraphs could brand me as a not-so-subtle sexist. I get that, but I don’t think that really detracts from the truth of it. Growing up in the South, I was taught a whole set of common rules of etiquette that involved things like opening doors for women, and pretty much everything else you might expect, good and bad. It was a shock the first time I tried that move out here in the Pacific Northwest, where I’ve learned that a great many women are striving for total equality, including ignoring the fact that they are indeed women. I opened the huge door on the front of the Barnes & Noble for a middle aged woman, and received a huge scathing lecture for my trouble. It’s not easy to shed the teaching from my youth, so I just keep opening doors and trying to guess whether I’ll get a thank you, a dirty look, or a lecture.

The waters are muddy these days. My guess is that both sexes are struggling to define the proper roles for themselves, just like I’m playing door-roulette for sport. In terms of how we actually deal with each other, women and men, it’s an anything goes scenario, and we probably have a long way to go to work it out, if a resolution is even possible. It could be that every detail of gender relations is a fluid construct – forever, and we’ll always muddle through as best we can.

However, in technical and legal terms, there is no reason that we should define ourselves differently. Women have great strength and some weaknesses in any given situation. Men have great strength and some weaknesses in any given situation. The best we can do is to figure out which strengths and weakness apply to that situation and give full credit to whoever can solve the problem of the moment. Full credit, for the record, means equal pay, equal rights, and some smart accommodation for the fact that women still bear the major burden for childbirth, child raising, and you know, the perpetuation of the human race.

The Market of Belief

I read too much. I watch too much, and I make sure to cover every side of the spectrum. Why? Quite honestly, I don’t expect the truth from anyone.

I’ve made the assertion several times that politics is just another belief system. Like any belief, certain aspects of our politics, no matter how we identify ourselves, are based in faith. That’s not to say that we cannot grab facts to support our faith. We always can. Just like a revival, we can offer our testimony for a certain set of political beliefs. That’s perfectly fine. One of the great things about this country is that we can believe the way we see fit.

The problem – one among many – is that most of us live at the receiving end of a giant and well entrenched system that is designed for the express purpose of manipulating those beliefs. If you are offended by Romney’s recent unearthed comments about the 47%, there is an army of liberals trying to make you believe that it makes him a heartless rich bastard, and therefore entirely unsuited to represent your particular brand of Americanism. Likewise, if Obama is not loudly and aggressively hunting down terrorists right now, an army of Republicans is trying to make you believe that he is weak, and therefore unsuited to run the country in a world full of shadowy terrorists.

We see news that is almost laughably designed to make us look at the pretty birdie while Congress passes something that goes against our beliefs. Since we can’t really accept the news we are fed from every spouting electronic mouth, we are compelled to examine the issues from a viewpoint of some kind of logic. Does this make sense for Republicans or Democrats? Who is most likely to benefit from current events? Could it be someone else altogether, like China. What is happening in the world that we hear nothing about? And right now, how does everything affect the upcoming elections? Is there a larger game at play? It’s tiring, being the pawn in an information war.

I recently read an article in Wired magazine about the modern markets. Apparently, some investors will actually drive down the value of stocks they own in order to manipulate the currency market, where they actually make their money. It’s seems shady in a system that is intended to create value for companies and investors that someone would intentionally destroy value in one place to create it somewhere else. But it’s a good analogy for the patterns I see occurring every day, and the source of the title of this post.

What if (and please bear in mind that I write speculative fiction) there are people out there who think of our political beliefs as a kind of commodity that can be traded? Our beliefs can be built up for one purpose, and destroyed for others, so that the political power conferred by those beliefs can be traded for something of “real” value, like an election, or a war, or even something more subtle, like the tendency to use credit like the future doesn’t matter.

Everything has a spin. Sometimes the spin is delivered with a language that assumes that I am part of a certain platform of belief before I hear it. If I’m viewing the conservative side, the world is a scary place, teetering on the brink, and it’s made worse by those pesky Democrats. If I’m listening to the liberal side, it’s warm and fuzzy and the government will take care of everything for me, except for the stifling efforts of those pesky Republicans sitting on their hands. If I listen to the Libertarian side… Well, not much point in that in an election year.

I’m not saying that anyone’s political beliefs are wrong, mostly because, like that other great purveyor of belief known as religion, no one can legitimately claim to have the whole picture in hand. Especially not us, the average Americans who try to make sense of our world. Just as a survival tactic against an overwhelming tide of complexity, we are forced to have faith in something, or someone, just to retain some semblance of order in our heads. Over time, most people turn that faith into a kneejerk to the left, or a spasm to the right, and we forget the fact that almost everything we see and hear is intended to impose someone else’s beliefs upon our lives.

Am I calling for everyone to dedicate long hours of his or her life to wrestling with some grand, underlying truth? No. Frankly, most of us have better things to do with our time. I am saying that we might question our beliefs from time to time to discover where they arise. Unfortunately for me, when it comes to politics, all I do is question. I’ve lost my faith in any recognizable part of our ostensibly representative government. I’m not sure who they actually represent, but I’m sure that it isn’t me. I would further contend that, by and large, they no longer represent the Constitution, the founding ideals, the health and well being of the citizens, or any agreed upon concept of what makes America great.

And what made it great? You. Aware, responsible, educated, hardworking Americans trying to build something better, without trampling the rights of everyone else attempting to do the same. Your great-grandparents may have come to this country with a simple dream, but they did not contend with the flood of noise aimed directly into their skulls, trying to trade beliefs like food stamps for frozen pizza. They were not such victims of the Market of Belief because the tools were limited. That doesn’t mean that politicians haven’t been playing the same game forever. It just means that you can’t create an entire ideology in a single whistle stop campaign speech. It takes time. It takes access.

So, here we are, believing that government should do more or the government is way too big and prevalent in our lives. We believe that the free market governs itself, or that regulation is the only way to keep an out-of-control system from using us like the money batteries we’ve become. We believe that unions are the only thing that keeps the playing field level, or we think they are the greatest destroyers of progress, efficiency, and improvement in the country. We believe we should engage the Middle East in a meaningful dialog for peace, or we have decided that we should nuke them until the desert is a shiny bowl of glass. Either way, we believe.

Control your own beliefs. Don’t be a commodity in a chaotic market. It’s one of the prices we pay for this experiment of freedom and one of the sources of what made this nation special in history. It’s who we are – ornery, cussed, opinionated, independent Americans.

Thanks for reading.

Special note to politicians: Here’s a thought. Be honest about your beliefs, and stop changing them with your shoes. Better yet, find out what your constituents believe and, I don’t know… Represent us.

 

 

“War is Peace” – Orwell, 1984

The world seems messier than ever. This is actually a good thing, because it compels me to write. For every other purpose imaginable, it’s bad.

Before I get rolling, I wanted to let you know that I am hearing all of your requests and the fact that Decay is not released yet bothers me as much as it does you. The worst excuse in the world is “circumstances outside my control” but that happens to be the truth, and has been for quite some time. Fortunately, those circumstances are shortly coming back within my sphere of control, and I am looking anxiously forward to releasing Decay as soon as possible. The same applies to the mythical Renewal in a single volume, as well as several other books I have written.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I have a dilemma. Ok, about nineteen dilemmas, but who doesn’t? The one I want to write about is the one that involves casting a vote in November. You see ( and understand, I expect), I see no good options at all.

A vote for Obama boils down to a known set of problems. His platform aside, it virtually guarantees another term of political gridlock or a set of moves so radical and unconstitutional that I won’t like the result. There are pieces of Obama’s vision that sound pretty good. Of course I want a 21st Century economy based on the American ideals of innovation and “hard work always pays.” I don’t want an entitlement system we can never afford and I don’t want to spend our way to prosperity. I think there are a multitude of problems that government will not – indeed, cannot – solve, and the fact that we have been on a trendline of trying to train the American people to look for the government to solve our problems is a tight corner, surrounded by wet paint.

Romney, on the other hand, starts by being a sort of dried turd of a human being. I can’t relate to him personally, any more than I think he can relate to me. There is a solid handful of Republicans I would have preferred to take the nomination. I don’t believe in trickle down economics for the sole reason that we have been watching the effect of giving more power to the wealthy and already powerful, and I think it’s safe to conclude that they don’t give the proverbial rat’s ass for the lives of us poor typical Americans. I also see Romney as the perfect spokesman for the interests of some very large players, namely those that fall into the military industrial complex. If you happen to think that corporations, banks, investment houses, and the government itself is running roughshod over your future, I feel fairly certain that Romney will do nothing to slow the steamroller.

I could always toss my vote at the Libertarian candidate, but why? It seems that finding an actual Libertarian who likes the guy is hard enough without tossing a vote into a two-percentile void.

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the new 9/11 attacks on our embassies. The story is still unfolding, and Romney is shouting shrill accusations of weak leadership at the President. I’m not even sure what the President is doing. An event like this is a tragedy, no doubt, but it’s also an opportunity. Let me speculate wildly.

If Obama responds as one might expect, then this whole situation is a win for Romney. Obama takes his reasoned, cautious, some say Muslim sympathizing approach, and all Romney needs to do is sit back and utter the phrase “weak leadership” until November. If on the other hand, Obama moves aggressively and starts hunting Al Qaeda like wildlife in deer season, he eliminates Romney’s argument. That one, at least.

I think this is a decision point. We can continue to live as victims of a headless serpent of terrorism and whatever drives it, or we can stand up and say enough is enough. As average Americans we have paid far too much in dollars, lives, and freedom for the results we have been given in this so-called war.

Perhaps, still speculating wildly, a leader of the free world (in theory) could call today to withdraw all support to Libya and Egypt on the simple premise that they have failed to provide a civilized level of support and security to our embassies in their territory. Yes, I know we are talking about young governments, and yes I know that withdrawing support is inviting the radical elements to take control. Bring ’em out in the open. Perhaps the same leader could say to every country with known terrorist ties and operations that we are going to be conducting investigations in their lands, and that they can offer full support and cooperation, or lose all American support and be put on the list of enemy nations. While we’re at it, we can set up a stiff level of sanctions to throw them all into economic distress. We can declare loudly that we have had enough of this fight. It’s a losing game unless we fight to win.

What about the innocent victims of these actions, the women (who tend to be highly disadvantaged in those societies) and children (who are always victims of adult stupidity)? Well, we are talking about people who were willing to put their lives on the line for freedom in the Arab Spring. Guess what? In a free country we are all ultimately responsible. If the government does something to make us suffer, we are supposed to stand up, and so are they. If we cause pain and suffering for allowing terrorists to operate within their borders, then it falls to those citizens to take responsibility. The outcome of such a move would create great pressure to change the policies of governments, if not outright revolution, and US targeting terrorists could find themselves very unwelcome. Call me stupidly optimistic, but I think that if we declare our intentions to rid the world of known terrorists, and act loudly to accomplish that very goal, people will quickly understand that we mean business, and they can make the choice of whether to work with us or against us. In reality, we conduct entire wars with American lives on the line and stated intentions that do not match consistently with our behavior. We can’t actually make war and peace at the same time. That’s a fantasy, which means that there is a choice, and our leadership needs to choose. If they won’t do it, then we need to choose.

What do we really want? Do we want to police the world? Do we want to control the oil? Do we want to continue to operate as an empire while pretending that we are really spreading democracy? Why not simply take over and install the puppet government of our choosing? That might look bad for us, huh? Do we even want the truth? My theory is that any high government official that attempted to tell the real story would not survive the speech.

In my dilemma, I watched both conventions, lots of speeches. I’d really like to know the best choice for me. Instead of coming away with the feeling of truth from either side, I was left trying to calculate the BS factor of what I was hearing. Facts spoken for positive effect. Facts omitted for positive effect. Facts stretched and handpicked to within an inch of outright lies… Fantasy.

Still speculation, but wouldn’t it be nice to have Obama stand up and say, “Yes, I was right with the auto industry, but the stimulus package, well, that was for the banks. You don’t mess with the banks and live to tell the tale.” Or to have Romney stand up and say, “I can’t release my tax returns because then you will all know that I was active at Bain when I said I wasn’t, I did outsource those jobs, but my job was to make that business work, and I will apply the same level of diligence to my presidency.” Better yet, it would be fun for him to admit that he wasn’t tithing properly and the Mormon church would withdraw support. I’d chuckle.

The point is that you can wade through some version of the truth forever in politics and never come up with the real story. It’s a question of belief, and charisma, and media manipulation, never the full story. So, when it all adds up into something akin to a pattern that can only be recognized over time, my not-so-humble opinion is that you can resolve the reality in one of two ways.

1) Our government is wholly incompetent for the purposes of working for us. I don’t buy the incompetence argument because it takes way too much sophistication to even land an elected office.

2) Our government serves a different master than the concept of, “By the people, of the people, for the people.” There are million theories, from straight partisan politics to radical conspiracies, that apply here, but even if the new version is simply, “By me, of my homies, for my pockets,” the result is the same. We are bleeding rights, freedom, and prosperity out of every orifice and our esteemed leadership seems to be unable to respond, at least not for any purpose that serves us. You know us, the “For the people” crowd.

So, I’m left with the most acute case of choosing a lesser evil in my middle aged life.

If Obama gets it, I can expect to watch the walls crumble as we wrestle over inconsequentials while still failing to pass a budget. We’ll trundle up to the edge of the economic cliff and jump like lemmings. Not necessarily because of Obama’s actions, but almost certainly because of partisan resistance to allowing him to maneuver, and I say that with a high level of disagreement with his position. Sometimes it’s better to try something than to wait for the conditions to approach perfection. In 2016, the Republicans can take the reigns from a deadlocked system and appear to rise from the ashes of American decay.

If Romney gets it, I expect war, and lots of it. The Iranian nuclear program is a nice opportunity to keep the war machine in gear, but it comes with some very large strings attached, and we can’t pull one without yanking the others. Now war is bad, but if you are a top level financier, war is profitable business. It’s even possible that war on a large enough scale could pull a WWII, and leave us with economic prosperity in its wake. The question is whether that’s the flavor of prosperity we want. On the other hand, I can’t imagine reinvigorating this country without some kind of hardship, so maybe war is better than the collapse of the social safety net or some sweeping austerity measures. In any case, we cannot afford to remain weak much longer. The costs of being less than the economic leader of the world are incredibly high and will last forever.

Where’s the balance? Where’s the truth? Where is the American Dream? I’m not sure we can get there from here, but I’m anxious to hear what you think.

As always, thanks for reading.