Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rebirth Follow Up

I posted last week about a photo trip gone weird and promised pictures. They're here.


That person is being fully submerged under water.


This person is getting ready to be saved.

Interestingly, I just read a great piece from Sociological Images (a blog I highly recommend, by the way), about early socializing to Christianity. Included was this video. I've only seen it with the sound off, but it's still pretty amazing. Again, I'm refraining from judgement, but as an (extreme?) left-leaning person, it was fascinating to see something close up that I usually only see in snap shots. Read the full text from SI, don't just watch this video.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Santa Mac

(you've seen these if you follow my flickr, but I love them so much, that they're here again.

my santa

santa in the hood

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rebirth in Berkeley

It's been raining here, finally. I love the rain, but it doesn't make for great shooting. Yesterday I decided I'd go out and shoot, regardless of the weather. C recently gave me a Sparta Ful-Vue for my birthday because I was coveting hers. How awesome is it that first she gave hers to V, who has been been making great pictures with it, and then bought TWO to assemble a working camera for me for my birthday! Anyway, I needed to shoot, and I needed to shoot with my new toy. So I headed to the Albany bulb to take some pictures of weird art and muddy dogs. I figured it would be quiet there, which was fine, and sloshy, which was also fine. I just needed to shoot.

If you're not from around here, or just haven't been to the Albany Bulb, it's a weird place. I've been struggling to find a good website about it, but I can't find one. The Albany Bulb used to be a landfill, and is now a weird sort of multi-use piece of land that juts into the Bay. People make art on it, and walk dogs on it. It's not as giant and popular as its neighboring park, Point Isabel, probably partly because of the transient people that tend to live on the Bulb, along with the rough terrain and the steep cliffs that fall right into the ocean (I've had some close calls). One of the blogs I follow has some cool photos of the bulb, and has written extensively about it, if you browse through.

The point is, the crowd there is a little odd. There's the folks who make the Bulb part of their home, the artsy fartsy types, the punky people who walk their awkward dogs who can handle off-leash stuff but can't handle the crowds and amateur hour of Point Isabel, and a bunch of other motley crew. It was perfect for my purposes of trying out my new toys. It's next to the almost-defunct racetrack, and not somewhere you just GO. It's a destination, but for a certain only-in-Berkeley-or-at-least-the-East-Bay crowd.

So I get there yesterday and there are very few people, as I expected. It was really icky out, by Bay Area standards. But I notice right away that there are a few nicely dressed people- by nicely I mean, upstanding. Clean-cut. More normal looking than me, and I'm more 'sheveled than the average person at the Bulb. There are some 8-10 year old kids playing. I notice this and keep moving. On my way back towards the beach area, I see more people gathering, maybe 30 in total. They are huddled in a little amphitheatre area and I hear some applause, see quite a few cameras. I think maybe they're gathered for a family portrait. Although it's cold and blustery, it's actually a great place for a picture- even with the bad weather, I could see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. I head to the beach area to take some more pictures, and the group also moves that way.

The group is made up of people dressed warmly, maybe for a hike. They're clean cut, REI or maybe Target type demographic, mostly white, a few Asian, and one or two black people mixed in. There are quite a few children. One man has his dog that is romping with the other dogs on the beach. The group gathers on the shoreline and I realize what is happening when the leader of the group emerges- a white guy maybe 35-40 years old walks into the bay with all of his clothes on up to about his waist. A younger woman of color follows him, in less clothes, but still clothed. He has her cross her arms in front of her, says a few words that sound like wedding vows, she answers that she does take Christ to be her savior, and he pushes her under the water. The crowd, including about 10 children about 10 years old cheers. This repeats twice, with a youngish black woman and a black man. The crowd then disperses. I take a few more pictures, including an attempt at the woman being shoved under the water baptized, and I also get moving. It was cold, I was hungry, and I had already shot two rolls of film, more than I ever do in one sitting, and I didn't even know if my new camera worked.

This was one of the oddest and unsettling things I have seen in a long time. People get baptized all the time, I suppose, but I've never seen it in person, only on TV or the movies, or in books. The juxtaposition of the scenery of the Bulb- the rough, overgrown foliage mixed with rusting out metal, remaindered outsider art, some piss-poor graffiti; the "regulars" at the Bulb- grey-haired-former-radicals, some people who live there, and people walking their scruffy rescue mutts- with this group of people who looked like they had taken a trip out to the Bulb from Antioch or San Ramon or Fairfield was bizarre enough. I had a feeling they had chosen Albany Bulb because no one would care what happened. The Bulb is a bit of a free-for-all. People watched, I even took pictures, but all 10 of us that happened to be at the Bulb that morning did just what we would do if we saw anything else strange going on there- shrugged and kept moving. It was 50ish degrees out there, and people were voluntarily walking into the sea, standing there, and then dunking. I didn't see anyone trying to get warm afterwards.

My friend keeps telling me I take things to far, but there was one further component of this that stayed with me. The group was largely white, but the three people baptized yesterday were people of color. Seeing the white man push them under water was disturbing in a way, as they didn't seem to have much agency in the act. I was driving out at the same time as the young black man who was baptized was, and he was being driven by a much older white man. Something felt almost like I was seeing missionaries in colonial Africa baptizing the happy natives. Taking things too far? Or watching happy white people feel self-righteous as their converts sacrifice a whole lot of creature comforts on a Sunday morning.

Again, I'm reading all of these things into this church group- I'm sure there are a million other explanations, but these were the impressions that I had. That this group had to come to a place where anything goes to practice their religion. That they'd do almost anything, including take a dip on a beach probably riddled with hypodermic needles in frigid temperatures to practice their religion. And that there were some racial overtones to Sunday morning baptism, as well as the unsettling enthusiasm of the small children cheering for a cold dunk.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mike Davis: Planet of Slums

"Planet of Slums" is one of the most apocalyptic books I've ever read. Basically, if you are reading this blog, you're literate, on a computer, and probably will never live in the kind of slum Mike Davis writes about. The kind of slum that pretty soon over half of the world's population will live in. Where you have no access to water, let alone sewage, you have a good chance of getting or dying from tuberculosis, malnutrition, or HIV/AIDS. You may share a room with 15 other people, and the toilet to human ratio may be something like 1 to 100, so you shit wherever you can. Really. "Planet of Slums" was a hard read. The global south is full of failed states that Davis chronicles briefly, jumping all over the world- Asia, Africa, Central and South America, etc. He writes about the IMF and World Bank's direct involvement and causation of these problems, and leaves the reader feeling both responsible and hopeless. I felt a sinking in my stomach each page. Fortunately I have a bathroom available about 10 feet away.

This is not a great book. Davis basically sums up about 50 other studies, maybe 500 other studies, there were a lot of footnotes. I felt like I was reading one of my college papers- I always did too much research and then summed it up without ever really writing my own thoughts. I was good at pulling together the pieces for unique work, but not so good at then saying "now what." The slums are bad. I get that from "Planet of Slums." Really, really, really atrociously bad. Disgusting overcrowded, environmental and economic disasters that 1st world people like us have no idea about. I'm reminded of this photo that is circulating on twitter of New York graffiti:

That is a first world problem. A third world, slum problem is having to rent living space on a sidewalk. Making less than $200 a year, to feed a family of 10. Having your neighborhood bulldozed every few months, with all your stuff being pushed underground. I have a feeling this will be an issue haunting me. One that I can't put a finger on, or think about much, because it's just too much. Davis rips the NGOs that claim to help, but don't make a dent. The "microeconomics" that don't allow for any accumulation of wealth, even for the "entrepeneurs" they claim to be helping. Slums in the global south are generally "out of sight, out of mind" for first world people. I will no longer have them out of mind, but Davis' book doesn't point me in any meaningful way to move forward.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dehumanizing Through Marketing

... it's still a problem.

I remember a younger version of me being so proud of boycotting Calvin Klein when Kate Moss was a teenage waif, naked and anorexic in his ads for perfume. Moss was 19 years old but looked 12, and looked like she hadn't eaten in a few months. I was an outraged young feminist, hot off readings of "The Beauty Myth" and "Backlash" and these ads were perfect examples of The Industry exploiting women, and "society" falling for it, hook line and sinker.

When I talk about these things now, people think I'm crazy. My peers- age and job-wise- think I'm nuts. They aren't the same peers of my early teens, and the second wave of feminism is even further in the past. We've fallen for it, and we've forgotten what it was we worried about swallowing. My last post, about my frustration with the Cosmo survey positing women's sex acts as deviance, was along the same lines: normalcy is dictated by the media, by ad-agencies, and constructed in an unachievable ways. Don't take my word for it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Survey Results and What That Was All About

Almost three weeks ago and two whole books ago I begged and pleaded for you to take my survey. I know it was weird, and I know I left you hanging, but I've been busy. I started to post the results post a couple times but a)it's complicated and b)I'm not good at charts or reading instructions. Google documents aren't that easy! Or, I'm not that good at reading instructions. Or los dos.

So, I'll start from the ridiculous and end up with the real reason I made the survey in the first place. It may take more than one blog. Ridiculous are two questions a friend and I fell on opposite sides of. We'll start where themacinator looked really dumb (only one of the bajillion times a week that this happened.) I went to a Warriors game and lo and behold they played the Clippers. What, says themacinator, is a Clipper? I suppose a clipper is something obvious.

I know my dear readers are smart and well edumacated, but I had no idea what a clipper was. I figured that it was basketball, maybe they clipped people. Whatever that means. But as the majority of you knew, a clipper is a ship with 3 masts. Right. Why, I asked, is a team from Los Angeles named after a sailboat? Like I should get that? Well, apparently the Clippers were orignially from San Diego. Where apparently they sail boats a lot. See more here, and pat yourself on the back if you got that one.

Next inane question was about dirigibles. A dirigible is basically a blimp. Most of you got this one, as did I. Some of you, wisely, didn't care. One has been flying daily over Oakland, which is kind of cool in an absurd sort of way.

Now we get more to the meat of the matter. I threw in a trick question here about shooting. I don't shoot guns, I don't like guns, but I was feeling sneaky. It's my stupid survey, I'll trick you if I want to.

I've written about this before- about my weirded-out-ness about shooting people wihtout noticing, but V and I recently had a conversation about how this kind of drive-by-shooting was "in" again. (Shootings of the gun kind are also "in" again in Oakland, but that's another story for another day and another survey, now that I'm so technologically awesome.) I really am curious about people's opinions: obviously a lot of people who read this blog think it's cool/edgy. I'm just not there, yet. Plus, with my obsession with film lately, I'm terrible at it. It's not easy to focus a twin lens reflex and then shoot cock the shutter AND shoot without looking. I'm too clutzy for that. The digi is big and bulky, and I'm too self concious to walk around with it in places that could take unseen photos. And I'm just not going to take pictures of sleeping/passed out/otherwise vulnerable people. But I'm open for photo-ethics-discussions.

The last question was the reason I made this quiz. It's also the question I screwed up, inadvertantly leaving Google Doc's "option #4" choice in. This is the choice that 9 out of 24 participants chose, basically screwing/skewing my data in an otherwise extremely statistically significant poll.

I know this seemed like an odd question to find on since I am unabashed prude. I will talk about feminism often and sexuality occasionally, but rarely actual sex or sex acts. The question: "Would you have a one night stand?" is definitely about sex. The choices that I meant to include (not "Option 4), "Yes, I've done it," "I'd do it, stuff happens," and "I thought themacinator was a prude. What's going on here?," were personal, and, well about sex. So what brought this on?

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the break room at work and encountered an issue of "Cosmo" magazine. I've heard of this magazine- even though I live in the dark ages in terms of pop culture, Cosmo is not totally beyond me. After picking it up, I kind of wish it was. It's gross. Peruse the front page of that link for a sampling of all kinds of things that I think should probably be covered in paper when sold on the newsstand. Anyway, I was possessed by an evil spirit to take a quiz. I mean, I was a teenager once, or more like a pre-teen once, who read 17 magazine and things like that, and quizes were the best part. The more I think about it, quizes in awful teenage magazines were how my friends and I determined what was "normal" or "acceptable." And Cosmo is still at it. Only, the magazine establishes what is "normal" by positioning everything else as deviant, "naughty," or objectionable. Which left me unsettled and in need of creating a quiz. Here is how the quiz is presented:

The quiz is set up in a catchy format, but hooks the reader/quiz-taker in by suggesting that OTHER women are doing naughty things. The first page is blank, and offers the three choices for each question (as I tried to do in my "real" question): "I've done it," "I haven't, but I'm curious," and "I wouldn't." Reader gets the chance to fill in all of these questions and then, on the next page, is presented with

What bugged me so much about this? (And why has it taken me so long to write this?) I guess I feel like, for whatever reason, the stats are skewed. And because of the way the data is presented- "Wicked things other women are doing," "Cosmo's naughtiest poll," etc, I feel like women are being demonized for, well, doing what women do. Here are a snippet of the results that really bugged.

Having sex with an ex, having a one night stand, and having sex on a first date all scored at or above 50% of women saying "I wouldn't." This wording that sounds like absolute "No," on a quiz that, I'm guessing most women my age, a little younger and a little older, would say is the kind of quiz that helped them figure out "what is normal," posits this kind of sexuality as abnormal. This kind of sexuality that is often described as "slutty," or "loose," or in Cosmo's terms, "naughty" and "wicked." Is it wrong to have sex with someone you just met? Or someone you've broken up with? Accroding to Cosmo's readers (or the numbers Cosmo's published), less acceptable than "sexting" naked pictures. The definitions of "naughty" and "wicked" are what got me here.

And what took me so long? Well, I don't like to talk about sex, for one. Those who answered that themacinator is a prude were absolutely right. Also, cutting and pasting and scanning was a pain in the ass. themacinator is also kind of lazy. I'm fascinated to hear your thoughts, though.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Amy Bach: Ordinary Injustice

Amy Bach's "Ordinary Injustice" is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Partially, I suppose, it's because I'm off of the horribly depressing food and drink kick I was on. And partially this was just a Really Great Book. A couple of years ago, I read Courtroom 302, which is the same genre as "Ordinary Injustice": intrepid journalist picks target in criminal justice system and tears it apart, making reader weep. Bach mentions Bogira's Chicago's courtroom, but has a larger scope in her book: how the US court system fails daily to do its job. She defines ordinary injustice as happening when "a community of legal professionals becomes so accustomed to a pattern of lapses that they can no longer see their role in them."

It's not one judge sleeping at the bench, or one public defender who doesn't even meet his clients, those these things happen, it's the whole system around the sleeping judge and the sloppy lawyer who let these things happen- either because they don't care, or because they're part of the system, too. And the people who suffer are myriad: the victims of crimes, the falsely accused, the communities who don't know how justice works, the communities who don't bleieve in justice because it's never served, the communities who see violent criminals re-released back into the streets, the communities who lose innocent family members.

America's justice system is "adversarial": trials are fought by a prosecutor (the state) and the defense attorney (on behalf of the accused). The judge plays umpire, making sure everyone stays in the lines. The accusee has rights to make sure that everyone does stay within the lines, that the playing ground is fair, etc. There are rules in place to make sure that the adversarial nature of the justice system doesn't collapse, taht the two sides don't become friendly, that the game doesn't become a scrimmage. When it does, when "collegiality and collaboration" enter the "practice of criminal justice they are in fact the cause of system failure. When professional alliances trump adversarilaism, ordinary injustice predominates." This can happen for a variety of reasons- the people involved think it will benefit the community to "speed up" the process, there is a mentality of "we've always done it this way," the court system is overburdened and underfunded, or the players are literally too friendly with eachother to be impartial. Both victims and suspects lose out here: they might not be read their rights, they might end up pleaing to something they ddin't do, they might take pleas they don't understand, they might not get an attorney, their cases might not get charged, etc.

Bach makes a lot of great suggestions on how to improve the court system, many involving helping the average person understand it more, and making it more transparent and accountable. In the meantime, I suggest not getting arrested.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My New Nephew, Kona

My sister's adorable dog. Almost a Wordless Wednesday, since that's a few words, and these were shot yesterday. First time pulling out the digital for ages- and it was a strange experience. One of the huge benefits of film is I don't have to mess with post-processing, which I really don't like. Huge turn-off for shooting is looking at/messing with all those pictures later. Plus, the giant mess of pictures. Film is so... slow, short and done.

This dog, he's a good egg.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Robert Glennon: Unquenchable

I've been going on and on about "Unquenchable" without even having finished the book. Robert Glennon's "Unquenchable" is just that good. Or, more accurately, water is just That Big of a Deal, that Americans and Californians especially, are just that good at ignoring. I imagine that most of my readers, who are probably drawn from my select (elect?) group of friends, are aware of the impending climate crisis, and are doing whatever little things that they can to mitigate their impact on environmental devastation. But we're human, and first world humans, so our lives, for the most part, are part of the problem. Awareness, and action, is definitely part of the step towards solution. And awareness of the importance of water and water usage is a big part of it.

When I was younger- maybe early to mid-teens, I remember I used to say "Water is the root of all problems." I don't know where I got that, or why I was so sure, but it sure is at the root of a lot of problems. I know that I was deeply influenced by a family trip to Israel (although I believe that my stance on water came first), where I came to the (simplistic, but partially true) conclusion that there was enough land to go around- the land in question is the irrigated land. There's a whole bunch of vacant desert sitting around unclaimed. In the meantime, people are have been killing each other for centuries over reclaimed desert. This discord has stuck with me for almost 15 years. I remember an early fascination with the decimation of the rainforest- not just because of the species driven to extinction, but because of the fascinating amount of water that the RAINforest contained. Perhaps this is all due to the fact that I grew up in a drought- a fact I proudly spit to anyone who will listen. I blame my disinterest in lingering in the shower on the drought- two minutes and out for this girl. I remember bricks in the toilet and still live by "if it's mellow, let it yellow." I bolster my Northern California Snobbery by looking down my nose at the vast amounts of water that Southern California "steals" from us for "petty" things, after building vast cities in the desert. Have you seen Chinatown? Seen those swimming pools? Sheesh. Because of course the Bay Area is innocent... I have been stricken by the children in "developing" or "third world" countries who lack access to fresh, clean water. I've drunk the same water- water with visible bugs floating in it. I've contracted salmonella (probably) from the water, and survived. I've met families who have lost children to the same water.

Robert Glennon lays it out. Water is a valuable natural resource, maybe the most valuable resource, and Americans go through it like it's infinite, and just there for the taking. We don't monitor how much we use, we waste it, we dump shit into it (literally), we dump it into other water, we pity the fools who live downstream, and we don't have any kind of plan for when we run out. And we are going to run out, soon. Glennon makes a lot of good suggestions, some of which are even taking place on local levels- San Antonio gives away low-flow toilets to home owners with older houses. Other organizations have figured out how to work deals with farmers and cities to "transfer" water rights so that water can be conserved on farms and then transferred back into streams or rivers that need it. But these are small successes. In the meantime, most places allow unlimited access to local wells, unlimited drilling of wells, and unsupervised pumping from the aquifers. The water is going to run out.

Our shit stinks. It's mixed into the same pipes that run-off goes into, and even though the pipes are cracking and need replacing, I didn't get the feeling that any one is seriously talking about building a better system that separates sewage from run-off. Meanwhile, we're wasting a shitton (my favorite word) flushing toilets in the United States. It was great that we figured out a way to stop dumping chamber pots out of windows (hundreds of years ago), and to stop dumping sewage straight into the ocean (early 1970s due to the Clean Water Act), but flushing has got to stop, too. I felt all righteous with my early-years brick in the toilet, and my current low-flow toilet, and my mellowing, but I feel pretty bad now. A normal household uses 32% of their water in flushing the toilet, and the majority in outdoor stuff (gardening, I guess). We don't do yardwork, the dogs do, so I'm guessing close to 65% is flushing. What's a girl to do? Well, says Glennon, we're supposed to compost. And if even I'm not going to compost, who is going to compost? I might compost, actually, if this were my house. But I rent, and my landlord is not going to install a composting toilet, and my neighbors are not going to stand for a composting toilet, not in this part of Oakland. Cultural norms are all about flushing. And flushing, from the plumbing industry (yes, unions are against compost), to the crappy sewage/drainage plumbing systems, to our cultural norms of poop, say that conventional toilets are here, for the time being. Which is too bad, because we're wasting a lot of water.

"Unquenchable" is a pretty good read, and very provocative. Water waste is everywhere- from companies like Google (and any internet company) who provide our internet time, to obvious sources like alfalfa farms. There are new resistors to change like environmental supporters of the Salton Sea, and old, traditional ones, like the farming lobby in Southern California. Glennon surprised me right in the introduction- some of the hotels in Vegas are doing a great job of water conservation, considering their obscene attempts to seem like they're wasting water in their indoor Venetian canals and giant fountains. Meanwhile, it's business as usual in the ever-green lawns all over the country. Alternative fuels, like ethanol, are some of the most water intensive/wasteful new technologies out there. We (as individuals AND as a country) need to read Glennon's book, and adjust our water consumption, to start treating water as gold, not sand.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sofafree Saturday

My creation

1. work sofa free, 2. bleak sofafree, 3. supa sofafree #100, 4. two of my favorite subjects, 5. 3 in 1, 6. gordosfree, 7. el hombre y el sofa, 8. green green sofafree of old, 9. inaugural TGISFW, 10. no parking, 11. dumping in style, 12. guess where that sofa is free, 13. cushion free, 14. pink leather sofafree, 15. sad, sad sofafree, 16. mystery locale sofafree


themacinator believes that we all have a theme song. Mine, according to my coworkers, is "Follow the yellow brick road." I prefer to sing a little "doo dee doo" song and call it a day. Sort of like a little bit out of it, a little bit cheerful, but just putting one foot in front of the other. Not super ambitious, but optimistic and somewhat grounded. Mac sings a similar doodee doo, but with a dumber, thicker, oh, there's a road? quality.

Lately, themacinator's sound was a little more like when the hurricane picks Dorothy up then when she's cheerfully following any yellow brick road. I don't like it like that. Sometimes it feels like one thing after another- I know everyone knows that story. Through it all, there was Mac, comforting me from his therapist chair, or at least the bed under my desk, or from his/my brown blanket on the bed.

My grandmother had the ugliest poster on the door of her art-room: a cartoon man with his head sawed open and a bunch of lemons in there. I don't remember how the lemonade came out of him, a spigot nose, maybe, but the old cliche "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade," was the moral of the poster. Lately, my friend and I have been using the code word "lemonade" to each other to remind ourselves that there *is* a nice sweet/sour juice if you look for it, or work for it.

Even though Mac has been part of my Kansas hurricane, (how many metaphors can themacinator use in one short blog post?!) he's also been the lemonade. I've been hesitating to post this, but he is doing a lot better. I'm cautiously optimistic. I weaned him of the prednisone and he's been fully off of it for almost a week. His personality is back to normal, which is a huge relief. The stressed out, amped up Mac is gone, replacing him with therapist Mac, chill Mac, dodeedo Mac. His pain level seems decreased and I've walked him a few times where I stop him before he tells me he's done because I don't want to push it.

This is lemonade- I never thought watching Mac walk 6 blocks would be a relief. For awhile, coming home to Mac was stressful and scary, which would make me guilty and worry about quality of life. It's back to a wonderful thing to see my dorky, beautiful veteran dog now when I open the door. He sleeps under the covers again, just in time for some cooler Oakland weather. He's even a little chunky from all the peanut butter he's getting with his treats, and I'm letting him keep his extra pound- normally I'm compulsive about his weight (never mine!).

I'll leave you with a recent-ish picture of Mac, having a blast on the beach, right before he hurt his back. I'm still not 100% sure I can let him do this again, but I know that happiness is back for him. Lemonade.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Lawns Suck

In another prelude to the review for Robert Glennon's "Unquenchable," themacinator would like to point dear readers to a past post from way back in April of 2009. This post included an even older link to a July, 2008 Elizabeth Kolbert article about the sociological and environmental issues of grass. As in the green, green lawns that most Americans proudly and obsessively maintain in front of their houses. It's a must read, really, just like that Penn & Teller video was a must watch, and the Bizarre Survey I just posted is a must take. (Really. I know it's weird. themacinator is weird. All will be revealed, eventually.)

The lawn is a cultural status symbol, a cultural mandate, which makes it almost impossible to get rid of. (And it's not just in Celebration that this is true. Writes Kolbert
A lawn may be pleasing to look at, or provide the children with a place to play, or offer the dog room to relieve himself, but it has no productive value. The only work it does is cultural... A lawn came to signal its owner’s commitment to a communitarian project: the upkeep of the greensward that linked one yard to the next.

“A fine carpet of green grass stamps the inhabitants as good neighbors, as desirable citizens,” Abraham Levitt wrote...“Some feel that a person who keeps the lawn perfectly clipped is a person who can be trusted.”

Over time, the fact that anyone could keep up a lawn was successfully, though not altogether logically, translated into the notion that everyone ought to.
Meanwhile, the lawn has no positive environmental value. It actually has substantial negative value. The grasses that Americans use to beautify their lawns (because they have to, to keep up with Joneses!) are almost exclusively non-native, can't reproduce on their own, and require extensive watering. The United States is on the edge of a water crisis, Glennon explains, and our obsession with neatly trimmed is both a part and a symptom of this crisis. Not only do lawns require vast amounts of water, they also require extensive chemicals to maintain, chemicals that poison water, and the animals and plants that need that water. In our culture of grass, we use AND abuse our scare water resources.

My parents once converted their backyard to native plants. It was beautiful and much more environmentally sound. My back and front yards are, well, yards of waste, due to laziness and having no need for any kind of garden at all. I rake my leaves (and my neighbor's dog shit) when the mood strikes me. And I glare at vast expanses of lawn all over the city. But the thought of replacing lawns, or letting our yards "go to seed" sounds heretical, even in the East Bay. Read the article. Google "anti-lawn" for more information, and "freedom lawn" for some alternatives to icky grass.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dear Reader, a Survey

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bottled Water, Really?

I just started reading a book about water. The author Robert Glennon (review coming soon, don't fret,) recommends a video from Penn and Teller's show Bullshit (I didn't know anything about this show). The video is long, and the best part is at about minute 8, during a water taste-test in a fancy restaurant. It's pretty hilarious. Know what you're drinking.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Mary Roach: Stiff

Mary Roach's "Stiff" was recommended to me by a vet that I work with and frequently trade books with, especially books like my recent spate of books about what we eat and the random chicken book I read awhile ago. I see why she recommended it- the subject was fascinating. But Mary Roach's writing truly annoyed me, almost from page one. She writes as I imagine she talks, or maybe as she imagines we'd like to read a book about a slightly taboo subject, with "humorous" asides. It's kind of like reading this blog- if you don't like how I talk, which is almost exactly how I talk- you won't be able to stand it. On the other hand, I write blogs that, at their longest, are approximately 5 paragraphs. Roach's book was almost 300 pages of torture. Which sucks, because her discussion of what happens to dead bodies was actually fascinating, and totally new to me. But reading it was like pulling teeth from a cadaver. Or something.

Mostly, "Stiff" is a long line of anecdotes strung together about the various things that happen to dead bodies (mostly in the United States). They are used in research about the safety of various things like cars and land mine shoes, parts are used to help the living, they are buried, they are used as teaching tools, occasionally they are eaten or used as folk medicine, etc. Roach documents some gross historical experiments with cadavers and some historical problems with identifying when the dead were really dead. She seems to brag about how un-squeamish she is, and the walls she runs into trying to get into places like crematoriums, anatomy labs, that really shouldn't be big problems because hey, she's not going to vomit on anything! I can't recommend this book, and I can't say much about it- it's not thought provoking, it's more of a bathroom reader. It's not even good for the creep-out factor at a party. The best I can say is that "Stiff" is a great argument for organ donation, and for letting your loved ones decide what to do with your corpse after your death, since you really can't take it with you.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Elections, Hypocrisy, Misogyny, and Racism

Or, themacinator calls herself out on hypocrisy and gets annoyed at essentialism.

I told my coworker that I would forget this conversation that happened on election day, but I didn't, and can't. I like this coworker very much- I would probably call him a friend- he is kind and quietly, wryly funny, and a very hard worker, which I value immensely. We started at the same time and have watched each others backs since then. We were riding to a departmental training, and I asked him if he had voted. (Note: this is probably not an appropriate workplace conversation. I remember having to note this to myself previously, but somehow had forgotten this note. Typical.) He had not voted, and said he only votes in the big election. I made some joking comment to the effect of the only thing that mattered was going in there, voting for Jerry Brown (or anyone but Meg Whitman) and leaving. He responded, not joking, that that would be fine, because he doesn't vote for women in any of the top offices- Governor or President. Women, he believes, just don't get along with each other, which causes too much politics. Men, he said, always get along.

I could have asked for more information, and possibly had a good conversation with my friend, as we do have the ability to have these conversations, but I found myself resorting to the same kind of essentialism that he was resorting to, and I cut myself off. "Stop," said themacinator, "before I say something that I shouldn't." My coworker is Chinese, and along with his family, got citizenship at 18. He went to part of high school here, but still, according to him, very strongly identifies as Chinese. When we have had political discussions in the past, I have found my eyes widening and thinking words like "control of the media," "brainwash," etc. I have widely skirted issues like Tibet and Taiwan, and then sat back and realized that there's no reason "my" opinion is any better than "his," and felt like a Western snob.

So when my coworker said this, rather than engaging in a discussion, I had to stop myself from retorting something completely inappropriate and unfair about where he came from, and how women are expected to behave there. About what culture says women do and don't do when it comes to being in charge. I was pissed that this was the first thing that came to my mind, and equally frustrated that I wasn't able to have a dialogue with him. I think *he could have handled a dialogue, potentially without throwing out anymore hurtful and redactive stereotypes, but I was starting with one that I felt was unspeakable, and didn't want to sink any further from there. In fact, I didn't want to start there. My coworker had realized that this was a potentially poor place to start and said "no offense," but that's about it- he still put it out there. It's his belief, of course, and personal beliefs are what they are, and can be offensive. I suppose it's where we go from there. I don't know where to go from here, but want to acknowledge that my response to an essentialist position about women was to internally respond with an essentialist racist position.

I want to excuse myself that at least I can acknowledge this position, and its bias, but I don't feel like it's enough. I know the history of mis-information between China and the US, and want to know more. I want to acknowledge the racism inherent in attributing one Chinese-American man's beliefs to a whole (huge) group of people. And I want to get rid of my tendency to make sweeping generalizations as a first resort.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Susan Choi: A Person of Interest

The last time I wrote a fiction review, I kind of said I wasn't going to do it anymore. Which is why I finished this book a week ago and haven't written this yet. Susan Choi has written an interesting book (yuk yuk) that I wouldn't have read if it weren't a Dad hand-me-down. I'm really not reading much fiction lately, and I rarely read psychological mysteries, which is what I think this is. Suspense or something. The book was actually quite good, and I had to put it down sometimes because it was too creepy. But I don't have anything to say about it. If you want the book, a weird mystery thingy set at a university, it's all yours.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

But His Tail's Wagging!

Monday I had an incredibly frustrating experience at the vet. Mac had his first appointment with the chiropractor, and it just didn't go well. As though these things can be chronicled with lists, I keep telling people that Mac is on narcotics, steroids and anti-inflammatories, and that he's gone to the chiropractor, had (m)acupuncture, acupressure, and aqua pressure. As if listing these things in my dry way will somehow make them more humorous, less real, more tolerable. As if the amount of refills we go through a week, the maneuvers I'm learning so that he can't get the pills out of the peanut butter (and trust me, Mac is about the easiest dog I've ever had to pill), are all hum-drum.

I guess they are hum-drum- getting old is part of life. If I were the zen person that I keep telling myself I am, I could accept this the way that I am doing a decent job of doing until my weekly vet appointment comes around. Every Monday when I get to the point of the vet saying "oh, this gets better" and I find myself arguing that Mac is NOT in fact getting better, I lose it. I don't like crying, and I don't like crying in public, and I don't like the way the vets and front desk staff look at me, blankly- the same way I probably look at people who are bawling in an incoherent way, saying things like "he is not allowed to die." That makes total sense to me, and not a whole lot of sense to many other people.

The chiropractor was horrible. I think it probably actually really helped Mac, because he's still in his two-days-after-vet-visit-relatively-pain-free mode, but she made me feel like shit. Like I was giving up on him. She hadn't read his chart, didn't know his name, asked me repeatedly how he injured himself, including if he slept wrong. I'm pretty sure I haven't slept with both eyes shut since then, to ensure that Mac sleeps "right." I'm not sure what sleeping "right" is, since this is a dog with no nerve endings. It reminds me of that second time Mac and I crossed the country in the Volvo, with my mom- the car was packed to overflowing, and Mom and I thoughtfully created a seat for him, but the other two spots in the backseat were jammed full. I'm not sure Mac sat in "his" seat once. He sat on top of the stuff in the other seats, sometimes with his head dangling down into "his" seat, sometimes upside down. I wish I had remembered this when the chiropractor asked me. Well, actually, lady, about 8.5 years ago, Mac did this weird sleeping thing for 8 straight days. I'm pretty sure that was it!

She was so impressed at what a happy dog Mac was at the vet. Mac is always happy at the vet, and that day, he didn't look very happy. He was panting and his eyes were very wide. I could see that he was stressed, agitated, and even painful. Mac almost never pants- this has started with the pain. When she touched him, maybe 5 times, he rotated himself away from her fingers in a subtle avoidance move. In "normal" dogs, again, I'm sure she would have thought, oh, it's a little tender. But this was Mac. The fact that he was painful only 3 hours after his pain meds, when he's normally clear, killed me.

And then she told me that he was doing great, because he was wagging his tail. Mac's tail never stops wagging. I don't know how to describe it without hyperbole because his tail IS hyperbole. And it was going and going like that in the vet's office. She said "most dogs with lumbar sacral can't wag their tails." Two days before, I saw Mac's tail tucked for the first time in 8+ years. I tried to articulate this to her, and she said "but it's wagging now!" No, that wasn't the point. The point is that this isn't getting better. Sure, you could call Monday a good day, or you could see it as I saw it, Mac's owner, keeper, partner. He wasn't having a good day, he was having a mediocre day. He was fighting- his tail was wagging- and he was in pain.

I know my dog. I love my dog probably more than I've ever loved anything before, and it's easy to say more than I'll ever love anything else, but I can't know if that's true. This is awful. Eventually, if this doesn't get better, like the vets keep telling me it will, I will have to make an awful choice. I know it's their job to keep telling me not to let go. But it's also their job to respect my understanding of my dog. To know that I'm not looking for the worst. That the last thing I want to do is give up on my monkey, the monkey who can sleep in a 3" space with his head hanging upside down, who has already made it through more than 8 years with me with such an awesome attitude that he has never tucked that tail. I'm not giving up. I owe it to buggy not to give up, and not to let him suffer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

To Every (Baseball) Season

A little over a year ago, I redefined Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is kicking in a little early this year- standard time, or whatever it's called when the time changes, hasn't even happened yet. What has happened is that the Phillies lost yesterday, and baseball season is really truly over for me. I honestly don't care about the Giants. I just don't. I am thrilled that the Yankees didn't make it to the Series, but I could care less about the Rangers, and while it's nice to see a local team in the Series, seeing the Giants play only-a-little-less-worse than the Phils in Game 6 doesn't exactly make me want to root for them. Brian Wilson creeps me out, their infield is mediocre, and they just don't have my boyfriend, Joe Blanton.

I was excited to go shoot some stuff in the city today, but it was raining. I adore the rain, but the downpour cramped my public transit style. And this is how SAD begins: baseball ends, the days get shorter, shooting gets more difficult, and malaise sets in. Woe, woe is themacinator.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Michael Pollan: The Ominvore's Dilemma

Over two years ago, I posted the short version of my long pondered question: why do people eat artichokes? As long as I've been alive, we've been going to the same spot at the beach, and as long as I've been alive, we've been driving through the same vast fields of artichokes where those pictures were taken. Artichokes do *not* look like anything resembling food, at least to the modern American eater, even a modern eater raised next door to the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, with adventurous parents who more to cook and serve homemade Mexican black beans and Chinese-style stirfry than hamburgers for dinner. But artichokes always puzzled me. Who thought of eating them? How did they figure out to get the fruit? Who on earth figured out that the heart was edible, or that the leaves were good if you scraped them with your teeth? Just weird.

I don't usually read in themes, but if you've been following along as themacinator drifts from her normal topics (pit bulls, baseball, animal welfare, photography, and, well, Mac) to food books and food and food books again, you'll see that it started with Novella Carpenter in August with "Farm City." The more distanced I am from this book, the less I like it, mostly because of Carpenter herself, and the NIMBY sensation I have. Did she have to do this in Oakland? The short answer is probably yes- like me it's awesome to be next door to the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley. And she lives (lived?) in Oakland, so yes, she had to have her backyard farm in Oakland. But the farm, especially once she added the pigs, disgusted me, both as a sentient person- GROSS to pig shit and rotten scraps- and as an animal person- her rabbit ethics especially disturbed me, and knowing this is going on in my town really put me off.

So I decided to bite the bullet and read "Eating Animals." (see also The Pain and Hypocrisy.) This book troubled and moved me, and also demanded, ala Carpenter, that you know where your meat comes from. In a way, as a long time vegetarian, I felt vindicated. Only in a very, very small way. You can only opt out a little bit, as an American, as our culture is all about meat, and fast meat at that. I don't really opt out, either, not in any meaningful way, as I consume fast dairy and eggs, and Mac eats meat, meat that I don't pay particular attention to where it comes from- I wish I could say it does, and I wish that saying that I pick my battles was a good argument. It's not, but it's what I do, and what I can do at this point in my life. The book prompted me for the first time to consider being a vegan. I'm not, and won't be, but did make me consider more than the extremism that the word usually provokes in me.

So I decided to read Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma." Like Carpenter's book, this book was not particularly readable. It wasn't as morally difficult as Safran Foer's book, but more morally unpalatable (yuk yuk) than Carpenters. It takes Pollan 2/3 of his book to get to his title: The omnivore's dilemma is the dilemma of the artichoke. "The blessing of the omnivore," Pollan finally writes on page 287, "is that he can eat a great many different things in nature. The curse of the omnivore is that when it comes to figuring out which of these things are safe to eat, he's pretty much on his own." In the first part of Pollan's book, he talks about monoculture: America has turned a vast diversity of food options into one thing: Corn. Basically, we live on corn. Everything we eat- animal and vegetable, and all processed food can be traced back to corn, which is grown in giant monoculture. Farmers, the few of them that are left, grow corn. They ship corn. Corn is processed in a few different ways, fed to animals that have been redesigned to eat corn, which they didn't do a few decades ago, and they then are slaughtered, processed with more corn (which has been reprocessed into a variety of things) and then they are served up with corn in the form of soda and other beverages and side dishes. Delicious and not-very-nutritious. Yum.

The second part of Pollan's book- the conceit he uses to get to his main point is following three separate meals from the very beginning. The first is a meal at McDonalds, hence the super processed corn. The second meal is from a farm he finds that truly sounds sustainable and local. He has to kill chickens, but the chickens, he believes, live real-chicken-lives, which makes it OK. As OK as it can be. He eats everything right there, on the farm. The third meal, when he finally gets to the omnivore's dilemma, is a hunted/gathered meal- which involves mushrooms. They can be dangerous, fatal, even, which proves his point: if you don't know what to eat, you can die. If you know what to eat, you can have the best most awesome meal possible, available only to people, because they will eat anything. And the community that comes together to eat this meal enjoys a "perfect meal," because they were all involved in the making of it, including the ritual of cooking, another human thing. (Interestingly, Safran Foer starts his book discussing the ritual of meals, and how something is lost with the eating of meat, although he believes it is replaceable.)

Questioning and killing the eating of animals, Pollan stresses, is a new thing. Being a vegetarian, or even worrying about the animals we eat, is new, and kind of odd. In the same vein, the kind of mass production of animals, industrial farming, that Americans rely on, is also new. Both novelties are part of the same thing: distancing us from the fact that humans are also animals. Killing and eating animals is an animal thing. Being on the second farm, and having the "kill area" open to the air was a kind of transparency that Pollan found refreshing, and almost a defining part of a sustainable farm. Customers could and did come watch the process: if they didn't approve they could skip on the purchase. Pollan found himself immensely proud of shooting a pig, something he thought would repulse him. But both processes- the slaughter of a chicken who had lived a chicken life and the killing of a wild pig- reminded him that he, too, was an animal, doing an animal thing: preying on a prey animal, in a human way- with guns and knives. Primitive? Yes. More realistic than a vegetarian's idealism and an industrial farm? Also, yes.

I was sold by this, almost as much as I was sold by Safran Foer's arguments against eating animals. I've always argued that I don't eat meat because of the way we over-do it. If everyone ate meat in moderation, I've said, maybe I would, too. If people ate meat in the ways that Pollan ate meat in his second two meals- through local, transparent farms and in the once a year hunted meal, it would require moderation, and awareness. The animals would be real animals, not just meat for the table, which I think even Safran Foer might agree with. The humans involved would be treated as humans, not just assembly line workers. The environment, the earth, would be treated as a part of the process, not just a resource to be mined. Together, the pieces of both philosophies work. Separately, they're pedantic. In all likelihood, they're both improbable. If they're going to start anywhere, they're here in Oakland or Berkeley. I wish Carpenter, who had the most likelihood of doing it right, had done it right, rather than dabbling in every possible food animal. Maybe there's still a chance.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Oakland Is

h/t to J of StrangerProject.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Cuz Mac is Back

(that's a Mary J Blige reference...)

Thanks to everyone who commented, called and emailed to check on Mac. He's doing great on his new pain meds- a muscle relaxant and a temporary does of prednisone. He's got a disc issue down there by the lumbar sacral thing, and hopefully it will resolve itself by somehow calcifying (or something?) and then the pain will go away, or some other way that I can't remember. Regardless, the medications have brought my normal, wiggly, soft body Mac back. No more mincing!

I know he's still old, and that this stuff isn't going away. But having Mac back reminds me where he was, and that keeping him comfortable is critical. It keeps me comfortable, on the selfish side, but as I wrote a few days ago, I owe the Professor this much.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Think Good Thoughts for Oakland

Because this is what we're up against in November:

Well, this and Don Perata. I can't even talk about him.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Professor Mac

Beware, cheesiness ahead. Those who read themacinator for dry wit and serious analysis, skip this post. I flatter myself- "those who read themacinator"- ha ha. And here I go with the dry wit.

I took Mac to the vet today, again, for the second time in two weeks, or maybe in one week. Mac has been in pain, although it took M to kick me in the ass and remind me. Just this December I started a running program for both Mac and myself. It was amazing- Mac was a puppy again and I was in shape. When I say running, I mean a slow trot for myself and a fast paced walk for Mac, mostly on flat ground, never for more than half an hour. It seemed to bring Mac into a new energy- energy he's never really shown, since he's mostly a slug, willing to energize when I ask it of him, or when he's on the beach. The we had some setbacks- one day he wouldn't run, I had a weird itchy thing (don't ask)- and we stopped running in about May or June. I took him to the vet in May and he was diagnosed with lumbar-sacral disease- some kind of scarring around the very back of the spine by the tail. The vet told me I could keep running with him if he told me he wanted to keep running. Mac was prescribed a low grade herbal pain medicine.

Lately, maybe the last two months or so, Mac slowed down. Walking became a peaceful easy stroll with him. He stopped hulking out over c.a.t.'s, and never pulled on the leash. And for the first time ever, I saw him pant on walks. Even when we were running, he rarely panted until the very end of our runs, his jaw slowly dropping and then heavy breathing would start. Recently, our walks would include true panting after only a block or two of strolling. In the last month, I've been walking only a couple blocks- sides of blocks, not whole blocks- before turning back, because Mac was panting, telling me he was done. I had been slacking on the glucosamine supplement that I had been giving Mac for years, and had completely forgotten about his herbal pain meds.

I was dumb and blind. M gave me a much needed wake up call and said what I needed to hear- Mac was painful, not just slowing down due to age. At first I was mad at myself- duh, themacinator, Mac is painful, why couldn't I see that 9 years is not THAT old, and I should have seen this. But when you live with a dog (or a person) every day, subtle changes just become routine and hard to see. I appreciated Mac's new pace, and that it was easier to walk him. After 8 years of constant scanning for c.a.t's and working on leash walking, it was such a relief to walk him easily. Sometimes it takes an outside person to see what's right in front of you. Two weeks ago (one week ago?) I took him to the vet, where the vet found nothing specific wrong with Mac- he refuses to show pain. Remember when he broke my windshield? That had to hurt, but it didn't. So the vet prescribed "real" pain meds and took blood work. The pain meds haven't helped and the blood work turned out fine. I cried when I heard this- I wanted so much for there to be something wrong, something that would be easily fixed with a pill.

This morning we went back to the vet again. (They love me. They love Mac because he rocks, but they love me because I am a big spender.) More xRays showed that Mac has a disc issue- right above the lumbar sacral thing, he has scarring around the disc, which is probably what is causing him pain. We changed his meds and added a muscle relaxant. Hopefully this will help, since we have a more precise idea of what is causing Mac's pain.

But this isn't the point. The point is that I started crying again a little, and spilling my guts to the receptionist, because Mac is my teacher, and my teacher is getting old. (Read the quote on the sidebar at Running With Dogs for an awesome quote on the subject of dogs as teachers.) He's my partner and my teacher, and the epitome of what dogs can be as partners. I told her our story, and I thought I would write about it, because it helps me process. When I was little, I started my autobiography. It seemed a little premature, even at the time. Precocious, but premature. When I started this blog, I swore it would not be an autobiography. Yucky overshare. This is not an autobiographical posting as much as a panegyric to Mac and the life lessons he has taught me and continued to teach me. I think I've written about some of them here, maybe all of them, and I apologize for any repetition, but I'm sad about my old dog. It is what it is.

I loved my family dog, Kozi. When I went to college, I kind of begged to bring her. It wasn't practical, my mom would have missed her too much, and Kozi would have melted in the snow. She hated getting her feet wet. By the middle of my freshman year, I had a boyfriend in a nearby town, and I *really* missed Kozi. I bought an old Volvo for a couple thousand dollars and started driving back and forth to visit my boyfriend and to volunteer in the animal shelter. I was hooked. I was especially hooked on pit bulls (much like my shelter now, the shelter was full of pit bulls, rottweilers, and chihuahuas.) I quickly fell for the pit bull optimism and love of people, and was charmed by their unconditional love for any volunteer who took them out of their kennels. I became a regular volunteer, coming at least two times a week. The spring before my senior year in college, I spoke to my upcoming roommates and landlord, and all agreed that I could foster dogs for my final year.

That summer, I was set to volunteer for Amigos for the second half of the summer. The first half of the summer, I arranged to do a mini-internship at a different shelter by my house, full time, every day. Maybe a month into it, I found Mac. You've seen this picture before, but he was really really cute.

When I got him, I didn't know what I know now in so many ways. We (shelter workers and I) aged him, by his teeth, as a year old. We though, based on that, his size, and his shape, that he was a beagle/pit mix. (I still get asked occasionally if he's a beagle, but it's sort of like asking if he's a rottweiler. He's not.) He had those huge hound ears, and he was about 40 pounds. He carried his tail at flag tail all the time like a pit bull, and pointed. He was only a little bigger than Kozi, the wheaten. Oh, the things I've learned about dog conformation. He also submissive peed, on every man, woman, child, tree, dog, stick, person, building, sidewalk, etc. He wasn't scared, he wasn't flinchy, he was just soft. Oh, I'm so happy to see you! he said to everyone, let me show you by squirting all over you. You like pee, right? There was this great time where he peed on someone my thesis-advisor was mentoring. That was great.

I kept him on a leash all the time in the house I shared with my college friends (this was before I even knew this was a good idea), but I had to keep him on one of those chain leashes, because he chewed through the other ones. We had an open floor plan downstairs, and if I didn't do this, he used our house as an obstacle course, and of course, if anyone said hi to him, he jumped on them and peed. Everywhere. Everyone hated the noise of that leash. He didn't chew anything that wasn't his, but he did love to shred paper. He was generally a Very Good Dog. But he was a puppy- not a year old, as we thought. He was probably 6-10 months, and he grew. Into a pit bull. Maybe a pit mix, maybe just a badly bred pit bull.

Mac taught me a LOT. He kept pointing. First he was obsessed with squirrels. He would silently point, much like a real beagle. He treed them, but didn't do much else. Then he forgot squirrels and moved onto pigeons. He didn't point at pigeons. He lunged at them, silently, hitting the end of the leash. Then he forgot about pigeons. He moved onto cats, and I believe I've discussed cats and how Mac turns into the Hulk around cats. See above post about the windshield if you need a refresher. For another reminder, I at the vet today, Mac heard a cat and growled and hackled. The vet had never heard him growl or seen a hair raise on his body in almost 7 years of going there. The Vet! I worked on his submissive peeing and had that mostly under control after a year, with occasional slip ups for the first 3 years or so. Mac also had what I thought was separation anxiety. He wouldn't stay in a crate, and I believe he ate through 7 or 8 of them, starting during our first year, in college. He would bust them, and then pee and poop. One time, we left him in the car, in a crate. This was in the back of a jeep. The crate was carabinered shut on top of the normal latch. The crate had approximately 2 inches of room between the door and the sides of the Jeep walls. We left him for 10 minutes- I came back to check on him and he was in the front seat. Mac has a big head. It was a miracle of physics.

The first year that I was out of college, I got a job at a fancy pet store, selling fancy beds and fancy food and fancy shampoo to fancy people. I brought Mac to work, because I couldn't leave him at home. I learned much from my boss who had been "doing dogs" for decades, and from the pit bull rescue that I was volunteering with. I brought Mac everywhere in the car, where he was fine, or stayed home. And then I decided that this had to stop. I left Mac alone one day, for about an hour, out of the crate. I got home, and found Mac sleeping on the bed. He didn't have separation anxiety. He just hated to be crated. So I got a new job, at my first animal shelter. I haven't looked back, and I've only tried to crate Mac when I'm in the room. It still doesn't work very well.

My first shelter job was cleaning kennels, evaluating behavior/temperament both at other shelters, and at that shelter, and training dogs. I did adoption counseling, and learned to teach training classes. I learned a lot and continued to learn from my dog. He was developing some leash reactivity, but this was maybe the easiest challenge I have ever dealt with with him. I made tons of "dog friends" and we worked together with our "problem dogs," especially pit bulls and pit mixes. I moved and worked at an animal control facility, where I staffed the shelter, and learned more about community issues, and also about cats and other small animals. Mac developed a fear of and prey drive towards children that I'm still working on, partially due to the dramatic decrease in our socialization opportunities. He learned to co-exist with "the kids" (the dogs belonging to T, although Abby wasn't around yet) and we fostered Ditty, who Mac did not coexist with- we crated and rotated.

There have been all kinds of emotional events, eventful events. The time Mac literally swam to sea in the bay, and we had to have a yacht rescue. The time Mac almost bit someone, and I thought I was going to euthanize him. The next time he almost bit someone, and I was sure I was going to euthanize him. The time I moved in with my dad while I tried to find somewhere to live with a big-head-dog. The time I got pulled over with Mac in the car and I held it together while holding my breath hoping the cop wouldn't shoot the big head dog. All the awesome time Mac helped me help my friends with their leash reactive dogs. My second parents who actually *like* Mac, even though they don't like dogs. My parents, who told me they turned down one apartment building because Mac couldn't come there, whether that was true or not. These are all parts of our time together.

Since my first shelter jobs, I've done a variety of animal welfare jobs, including teaching humane education and currently, working as an animal control officer. I continue to learn about raw feeding- when we moved back to California after college, Mac began his spell of "mustard poop"- nothing came out of him that wasn't the color and texture of French's. After trying what felt like everything- bland diet, different "prescription" dog foods, antibiotics, etc- we switched to raw, and Mac was better two days later. I've learned tons about dog behavior, dabbled in dog sports for Mac's benefit, and taken at least one dog training class every year. He has slept in my bed almost every single night since I've had him- for over eight years.

I have a hard time leaving Mac alone- I joke that I have separation anxiety, but it's not really a joke. And I've been stressing about his back, even though I tell myself to "be here now." Which is why I wrote this: the point is, our life together has been a life together- a journey. Mac has taught me so much. I've become an adult while I have him, whether I feel like an adult or not. He's aging now- all of those problems he's had, and I've only listed a few of them, believe it or not- these are old dog problems. And now, I'm going to have to learn how to deal with them, with Mac, and also for Mac. He has taught me so much, I owe him to learn a little more, about how to age gracefully. Change is hard, but I'm going to do it as best I can, for Professor Mac.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Princess and the Bone

(as opposed to the pea. He *does* know how to eat peas.)

Most dogs eat bones like so:

This is Abby, of Running With Dogs fame, demonstrating proper bone eating technique. You can sort of see one of her paws under the bone. Another paw is raised, ready to pin down the bone, as if it were a hand, helping to get the food into the mouth. This is useful, especially if the bones are awkwardly shaped.

Here, Pocket demonstrates this type of awkwardly shaped tasty morsel (a bull penis). Soon, she too will settle down and use her paws to manipulate the food into her mouth. Smart dog!

Everyone knows Mole is a wise older fellow, but this photo demonstrates that this paw technique is useful. The bone is now empty of its innards, and Mole looks content, and happy.

Contrast this with my very lovable, very dumb, and VERY prissy dog. Mac does not like his feet to get dirty. Anyone who thought pit bulls were rough-and-tumble dogs has not met Mac.

He started like so, and it took him a LONG time to realize he could lie down.


Prior to lying down, he stooped. This allowed him slightly different angles on the bone. Very clever, Mac.


Genius dog finally lies down, and picks up giant bone in his mouth, rather than holding it. Notice where his feet are- as far away from giant bone as possible.


Genius dog finally gets comfortable. I think the missing paw in this picture may actually be tucked UNDER him, to avoid contamination from messy messy food.


Finally, a closeup on the extremes to which Mac will go to avoid touching his food. Contrast this with the success Mole had eating his food. It's a good thing I love him, because this dog... If a dog can't even eat properly?


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why I Am Sad About the A's

It is not because they were eliminated today- it's impressive they made it so far. I am sad because they are old. Older than me. (Well, not all of them, but too many.) Which makes their upside not very great.

Let's have a look, shall we?

Boof Bonser, relief pitcher: DOB: Oct 14, 1981. Career experience: 19 wins, 25 losses. 5.23 ERA. 107 Appearances in parts of 4 major league seasons. He's almost 29.

Bobby Cramer, starting pitcher: DOB: Oct 28, 1979. Debuted this month. He's almost 31. Career experience: 2-1 including a not terribly bad start I saw last night. Not terribly good, either, for a 31 year old rookie.

Justin James, I think a relief pitcher: DOB: Sep 13, 1981. Grand total of 4 innings pitched, all this month. Just turned 29.

Jeff Larish, supposedly first base: DOB: Oct 11, 1982. OK, he's practically a kid, and a veteran at a career 95 games in parts of 3 seasons. At almost 28 that's not too bad, right?

Steve Tolleson, second base and wherever else the A's feel like playing this stunner: DOB: Nov 1, 1983. Debuted April of this year. Another kid, he has a grand total of 47 at bats at almost 27 years of age.

Matt Carson, outfielder: DOB: Jul 1, 1981. Debuted September of last year and in his 40+ games has a stunning batting average below .200. It's ok, he's got 11 years till 40.

These are only some of the guys on the active roster- I've lost track of the 25 other guys who have been up and down and up and down this year. I know, we're all getting older. I'm getting older and self conscious about it. And they can always have cruciate repair surgery or Tommy John or something else. But with "rebuilding" always on the horizon, this makes me despair.

Go A's. Next year in Jerusalem. Or Fremont.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Film Friday

From my vacation (did I mention I was on vacation?):

spartacus: stranger #49

Jennifer Egan: The Keep

I remember why I started writing these book reviews (to remember which books I've read) but I don't remember how/if I ever wrote fiction reviews. The reviews sort of morphed into something much bigger- discussions of the "issues" and what I thought about them. They've turned into something I really care about- while I'm reading, I'm thinking about what I will write, which is great, because it means I really think about what I'm reading. On the other hand, sometimes I'm reading books, especially fiction, and thinking, what on earth WILL I write? So basically, I'm going to try to simplify fiction reviews, to let myself just read, and to take the pressure off this part.

I don't even really like fiction that much any more, which has nothing to do with blogging. It has to be Really Good Fiction, or to be topical to something I care about a lot, or nonfiction disguised as fiction. Jennifer Egan's "The Keep" was none of those. It was a hand-me-down from Dad, sitting on the shelf for a long time, and I read it in an effort to keep getting through the "Books I Haven't Read" shelves. Yes, there are two shelves, as well as the pile on top of the shelves. I'm guessing that if I do another scan through of my shelves, I can find more "Books I Haven't Read," but I'm going to keep working my way through the existing ones before I let myself do that.

"The Keep" was another one of these magical realism books I keep stumbling on, or maybe some kind of psychological suspense thing. Partly I stumble on them because Dad likes them, and partly because it's popular maybe? I've read some other book by Egan, and remember liking it, but I'm sure I couldn't tell you what it was, or why I liked it. This book was well written, and had some cool twists and turns, especially in the last third, but it also had some not particularly likable characters, and some not particularly believable twists and turns that turned me off. It's very modern- cool to read about texting and internet and not feel like the book was dated, and some of the underdeveloped characters were very well sketched- I knew the type. It's going in the free-pile, though, so if anyone likes this kind of fiction, it's all yours. If it's your kind of fiction, I think it's a good, fast, hard to put down read.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Mac Helps Clean


Hypocrisy, Double Standards and Coming Clean

I think this will be the last on my eating choices for now. But I've thought that each time I've written something about Safran Foer. I guess that's the sign of a good book- it sticks with you. And blogging is for me- it's so nice to know that themacinator has dear readers, but, dear readers, this blog is for me. Ouch! Bam, boom! Piff! Poof! It's to process. And as I spilled all yesterday about the pain and suffering, and how those things were secondary to me, (I realized I forgot a large dog/factory farmed animal connection), I felt like a self-righteous jerk.

I eat cheese and milk things with eggs in them. I don't eat eggs straight, because I just don't like eggs. But I eat all kinds of processed foods without reading the labels, and I seek out dairy products. And as much as I was moved by "Eating Animals," the stubborn American in me says "So WHAT!? It's all about freedom, my freedom, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Human happiness." And I'm going to be honest, I see that stubborn flag-waving voice winning out over the "right" voice in my previous two posts for now. Because I love cheese. I'm drooling over my lunch at Gordo's in a few hours already. The tortillas are probably going to be dipped in lard, and I have a don't-ask-don't-tell policy about Mexican food- I can't live without it, and if it means minimal meat goes into my body, (i.e. if I can't see it, it's not there,) that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

How does that fit with my previous posts? It doesn't, at least where the pain of the animals and the environmental damage comes in. It does when you consider Safran Foer's eating as storytelling, eating as ritual, and just the importance of food. That doesn't mean eating can't and shouldn't be rethought, but that I'm not there yet.

The second half of this is Mac. He eats meat, all day, every day. He eats a modified BARF diet- Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, depending who you ask. He eats mostly poultry these days when he eats whole bones, because he's old, has soft teeth, and has already had two of his chompers pulled. So chicken feet, chicken backs, duck wings. We've recently found a company that makes great ground mixes, so there's beef and green tripe back in his diet. He loves fish. LOVES fish. Actually, I'm lying- Mac loves any animal product. And I'm going to continue to feed Mac animal products. I'm not going to feed him a vegan diet because I believe it's inappropriate for dogs, and I'm not going to feed him kibble because a) he did terribly on it and b) because I think it's terrible for dogs with all the crap in it and c) it's probably one of the worse things for the environment out there.

I used to say (maybe until last week?) that it's all about moderation. I still say it's all about moderation, and that I don't really care what other people do, eat, drink, etc, because we have to make personal choices. I wrote about this in the very relevant discussion of why I voted against Prop 2. So I have always justified feeding Mac meat for the last 7 years (well, besides the above reasons), that his minuscule about of meat is a moderate amount that doesn't make a dent, especially if I consider my sources carefully. Sort of the flip side of what I would say to people about why I was a vegetarian: It's all about moderation. If everyone ate meat in moderation, maybe I would, too. (I probably wouldn't at this point, because it doesn't appeal to me taste-wise, but it intellectually, it sounds good.) But honestly, I don't always consider my sources carefully. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I pick up a tasty morsel of full fish at the Mexican supermarket that I know Mac loves. It comes in a shitload of packaging, which should be the first tip off. Now I know how many animals got thrown overboard to make Mac a cheap pound of fish- two meals for Mac. Sometimes I check where the companies I buy from get their animals, usually I buy by convenience- filling a freezer full of Mac-appropriate foods is a pain.

Yesterday I wrote about being human, and how much suffering I felt was appropriate to inflict and still call myself human. I don't want to hurt anything. But part of being human is erring. And downright fucking up. And making choices that don't add up. And doing things out of convenience. And feeding your loved ones the things they love to eat. Even if your loved ones are dogs. Even if your loved ones like to eat things that aren't good for the Earth. I don't have any answers, because part of being human is gray area. Hypocrisy, if you must. Honesty is part of being my kind of human. I'm not going to hide behind what is Right. I want to continue to grow, and learn. And improve. And be honest.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Pain: Eating Animals, Continued

You may have noticed, or you may not have, that I didn't really get into a whole lot of discussion about animal cruelty in my discussion of Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals." This may or may not have struck you as odd, since it's a big part of Safran Foer's book, and a big part of why many people don't eat animals (or animal products) and a big part of any (reasonable) discussion of eating animals. Commenter Jennie of City Pittie (check it out!!), commented that I discussed the "human cost" Safran Foer writes about. This wasn't meant as a criticism, and I didn't take it as such, but she is absolutely right. This was only one part of "Eating Animals," and it's only one part of conscious eating.

Some background maybe is in order. I stopped eating meat (animals), in a fairly traditional order- I didn't go "cold turkey"- what a terrible phrase in this context. In an odd twist, it was the Seventh Day Adventists that started it all. I went to camp every year as a kid with my chorus, who rented space at a Seventh Day Adventist boarding school for two weeks. Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarians- until this moment I had never thought to look up why. Apparently, SDA's believe "For more than 130 years Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. Whatever is done in eating or drinking should honor and glorify God and preserve the health of the body, mind and spirit." (See more at the SDA website.) Ironically, the food at this boarding school was complete and utter crap. Sure, it was the early to mid-90s, but I think I ate more potato products and things cooked in Jell-O molds in each 2 week period that I was there than I have in all of my life since then. The second or third year that we were there, they turned off the soda machines, since they had been plugged in every meal, and kids were going sugar crazy. They definitely served fake meat, and I remember it being the early kind of fake meat (probably made of potatoes)- white strips of fatty looking stuff with pink stripes was bacon. Vegetarian does not have to equal healthy. The point is, after the year that I was 12, I came home from camp stopped eating red meat. A couple years later, I'm not exactly sure why, I stopped eating chicken, turkey, etc- "white meat." I was down to only eating fish/seafood, and not very often. When I went to college at 18, I quit all fish, altogether, though for the first year or two I would eat sushi when I came home on vacation- sushi has been my favorite food since I was about 2 years old, and that was hard to kick. After the first couple years, I eliminated all meat.

Long story short, I eliminated meat from my diet because I thought of myself as an environmentalist. I obviously wasn't influenced by the SDA's, though looking at that position statement and their nutritional recommendations, they're clearly onto something. About a year ago, I wrote about how I'm just not as passionate as I used to be. I also don't feel like I know as much about as many things as I used to. When I was in little-kid-school, I feel like I knew a lot about a lot of things. I especially knew about the environment, and cared a lot. Remember how the "rainforest" was a hip "cause?" I cared, a lot. Cows were a big deal to me- I knew exactly how many gallons of water it took to grow a pound of beef, and how many acres of rainforest were decimated each minute to grow a cow. This really bugged me. I also knew the numbers about chickens and antibiotics- I could spout this at you and would say "I want to have antibiotics work when I need this." I still believe all of this, but I don't know the statistics off the top of my head to back it up. And I'm not going to look for them. The point is, I didn't stop eating meat because the animals were suffering. I believed they were suffering, but that wasn't The Point. I stopped eating meat because I believed my individual choices mattered in a big picture way, for the Earth. It wasn't about the pain. Which is weird, considering what I do for a living.

On the other hand, it's not weird at all. I was recently described by a good friend as having a heart of steel (more on the context a different day). I flinched at this- I'm not heartless, or cold-hearted, or even steel-hearted. We amended the definition- I have a cage with barbed wire around my (very large) heart. I don't do my job solely because of the pain the animals I deal with suffer. This sounds terrible, like I'm one of the "bad" animal control officers out there (and yes, there are officers out there that just don't care. I'm not going to stand up for them). I do care. I'm not going to defend the fact that I don't cry at every animal with a broken limb, or that is hit by car. And I'm not going to defend that I don't eat meat solely because the animals suffer. If I didn't have my cage, I wouldn't be good at my job. I would cry all the time, and basically lose my ability to do it.

Safran Foer took the cage down, though, when it comes to eating Animals. Again, not meat, Animals. I didn't talk about this at all in my previous post, which is why I am back for part two. This isn't really what I want to be writing about on my vacation- vacation posts are pictures of Mac at the beach, discussions of car shows, of the Phillies back in first place. But eating Animals is more than just the human factor, it's the Animal Factor. Safran Foer tells a story of his first "aha" moment when he was 7: he had a vegetarian babysitter who was watching them eating chicken. Her answer to not eating with them was that she didn't want to hurt anything. Safran Foer writes
What our babysitter said made sense to me, not only because it seemed true, but because it was the extension to food of everything my parents had taught me. We don't hurt family members. We don't hurt friends or strangers. We don't even hurt upholstered furniture. My not having thought to include animals in that list didn't make them the exceptions to it. It just made me a child, ignorant of the world's workings. Until I wasn't. At which point I had to change my life.
So most of us, especially the people I chose to surround myself with, and I like to include myself in this, don't like to hurt anything. Eating Animals involves hurting things. Sin of omission or comission? Does it matter? Does it matter once you Know Better? Reading this book means you know better.

Safran Foer describes some of the sadism that people who work in the factory farms engage in. I'm going to continue to be the eternal rose-colored-glasses and tell myself that the shitty conditions of The System make them do it. I'm not going to repeat the pain that these things cause. Some of the things that stuck with me are again, with the pigs and the fish. Fish first this time. Aquaculture is not the answer, even if it somehow seems better than wild fishing, based on the grossness of line fishing described by Safran Foer. In salmon farm, there's so many "sea lice" in the dirty water that the fish have open wounds on their faces. Sometimes the lice eat through the fish's faces, all the way down to the bones. In order to lower the bodily waste prior to transport to slaughter, the fish are starved for seven to ten days before transport. Starved, for over a week.

Pigs live in crates, for all of their lives. They're bred with all kinds of deformities in order to achieve "more tasty meat," which causes them to suffer without even really doing anything. Pigs are outdoor animals- they nest, the burrow around, they shit and live in separate areas. But in their factory farms, they never even see outside. Female pigs, sows, have about 9 piglets at a time, and is pregnant for as much of her life as possible, because we need more pork. Her "gestation crate" is not even as large as animal welfare people recommend for a dog who is going to be "crated": she can't stand up, lie down, and turn around. She can't turn around.
Her bone density will decrease because of the lack of movement. She will be given no bedding and often will develop quarter-sized, blackened, pus-filled sores from chafing in the crate... More serious and pervasive is the suffering caused by boredom and isolation and the thwarting of the sow's powerful urge to prepare for her coming piglets...To avoid excessive weight gain and to further reduce feed costs, the crated sow will be feed restricted and often hungry... The system makes good welfare practices more difficult because lame and diseased animals are almost impossible to identify when no animals are allowed to move.
The pigs are treated like brood bitches at a puppy mill. Only worse, I imagine. And then we eat them.

The meta question is "What does it mean to be human?" I can think of all kinds of excuses we can make. The weakest one is "it tastes good." There are lots of things that taste good. They don't have to involve cruelty. Other weak ones include "it's cultural." Well, no. Until the last 50-60 years, factory farms didn't exist. Safran Foer documents the woman who "invented" (I guess developed?) the first chickens who would become the chickens who can exist in the factory farm situation. Eating this kind of heavily doctored (literally- genetically and once alive) animal is not a cultural thing. It's a recent, economic development. Another argument is economics: "only rich people can eat ethically raised animals." Well, yes, maybe, right now. But it's perfectly possible to eat as a vegetarian- people do it all over the world. It's also perfectly possible to eat a hell of a lot less meat than most Americans do now, and at least wean ourselves off some of our dependence on factory farmed animals. Another economic argument that doesn't hold water: "But it's the jobs! What about the jobs!" The amount of jobs in factory farms and slaughterhouses are very small compared to what agriculture used to be for the US (of course I can't find this in Safran Foer's book right now). The jobs are shitty, have extremely high turnover (I think it was over 150% a year, if I remember the number right from the book), and are dangerous. Few people will work them. Read Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" for more statistics and information about this human toll. The industry is not "for the people."

"But I like it." Well, so do I. What a first world problem. I eat eggs, and dairy, in the form of cheese, and pizza, and quesadillas, and ice cream and lots of other delicious foods that right now, I can't see giving up. And I don't eat consciously at every meal. And I still consider myself human, and a pretty decent one. I'm just no longer able to pat myself on the back quite as easily as I was last week. It kind of sucks. Also, a first world problem. I certainly don't have any answers, as self-righteous as I sound. I hate sounding self-righteous. Part of me regrets reading this book. Ignorance can be bliss. But that's not how themacinator rolls.