A Dog’s Life

16 09 2013

Montana Dog

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
-Roger Caras

Since we adopted him last fall, an australian shepherd named Montana has become a full-fledged member of our family, and what a wonderful addition he’s been. He has brought much more to our home than I had ever anticipated. I find it interesting that something so seemingly insignificant as an inanimate object or, in this particular case an animal, could be a catalyst for introspection and reflection.

We’d always planned on getting the girls pets once they were old enough to care for them, but it was a more sinister force that precipitated this dog’s sudden arrival into our lives.

The presence of squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits is an idyllic benefit of living next to a golf course and green space. Nature has a way of losing some of it’s glamour when those cute little mammals raze to the ground all of your carrots, spinach and romaine, or trash your koi pond.  A new fence around the garden and an electric wire for the pond took care of some issues, but what do you do about the thievery perpetrated by squirrels? The few peaches they took became a tolerable, albeit annoying loss. However, when the raccoons came under the cover of darkness, and in one night stripped my apple tree of all fifty ripe and ready-to-eat fujis, the romance was over. This was a declaration of war by villainous scum. Within a month, I had found the perfect ally, and Montana came to live with us.

As a “working breed” he is always ready to go and do – anything. He loves my early morning runs, and bounds with joy whenever someone comes outside with his leash. As much as he loves to be busy, he is just as content to lie at my feet, being close to his family. Nothing makes him more content than an appreciative pat on the head, or scratching of his belly, nor is it ever enough. No matter how long I pet him, as soon as I stop, he lifts his head, perks his ears, and looks at me, as if to say, “What, that’s it?”

Pragmatically, raising pets is a great way to help our children learn the importance of being responsible. There’s nothing like having the life of some cute little critter completely in your hands to reinforce this ideal on a daily basis. It’s been rewarding to see how the girls have stepped up in “owning” their responsibilities, feeding him his meals, while also caring for the rest of the menagerie (hamsters, hermit crabs & fish) they’ve acquired over the same period. They’re even big enough now to clean up his poop! (now if they would just keep their rooms clean!)

My hope is these pets will also provide some “teachable moments” on mortality. Admittedly it’s never  easy dealing with the death of a loved one, but it seems there’s a little perspective that can come from flushing a few dead goldfish, before eventually burying a hermit crab, a hamster, and inevitably, even our beloved dog. Well, it’s a plan that “looks good on paper,” anyway.

One thing I had not anticipated, is the emotional attachment that has blossomed since his arrival. It has been fascinating to witness the bond that occurs between man and animal, and the strengthening of our own familial bonds in conjunction. The girls, especially our oldest, are always giving Montana lots of luvin’. Both my wife and I, who tend to be otherwise relatively stoic in our demeanors, are much more expressive of our appreciation and love of this dog than I would have foreseen.

For me, the unconditional loyalty of a dog is a powerful reminder of what it means to be dedicated to your loved ones.  He reminds me that no matter the circumstances, we will always be family. These girls will forever be my daughters, and I, their father. I will always be there for them.

He is a role model for forgiveness. Within minutes of being scolded for some infraction, he is back at my side, as happy and devoted as ever. No matter how frustrated my wife and I may get with one another, at the end of the day, we’re still committed to making one another’s life better.

He reminds me that loving my family as deeply as I do isn’t enough. I need to show them, in deed and manner, how much they mean to me, and I need to do this every day. He reminds me one can never hug his children too much.





The Doctors of Spin

11 04 2013

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I was just reading this blog post from Peter Brown Hoffmeister, entitled, “On School Shooters – The Huffington Post Doesn’t Want You to Read This.”  How could I resist the temptation presented in such a title? I guess they changed their minds.

I found it quite an insightful read, considering his personal experiences, formerly as an angry, gun-toting teen, and coming full-circle to that as a teacher.  I’m also in total agreement with his assessment that kids need to get back in touch with nature. (I would add that we all do, and regularly.)

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir quoted by Samuel Hall Young

His is a down-to-earth rumination on the issue of gun violence from his very personal perspective.  Interestingly, he points out what he considers a major difference between his angry teen phase and that of the young shooters in recent history; he didn’t play violent video games.  In this matter-of-fact manner, he suggests a connection between violent video games and acts of violence.

This “potential” connection  is an accusation that pops up from time to time, it’s re-emergance seeming to coincide with a rise in gun control rhetoric. Anybody remember the Brady Bill and the congressional hearings on violent video games during the Clinton Administration.  (could these two issues have something in common, I wonder?)  This time, however, the gaming industry was prepared, hiring yet two more lobbying groups to help steer the conversation in their favor. (Huffington Post)

Enter the Spin Doctors.

The Spin Doctors (not the band), like to play a “shell game” with words and ideas, obscuring the issue for their own aims or gain. The corporate-owned media does it because it gets them the ratings they need to reap the advertising dollars they profit from; nothing puts “butts in the seats” like an intense battle royale between good and evil. Lobbyists do it whenever the actual facts don’t back their side of the issue. This is what their clients are paying for, whether in an attempt to maintain the status quo, or in the name of change. Politicians march in lockstep, thereby padding their own personal 401k’s, and war chests for the next election cycle.

The tobacco industry started doing it 60 years ago in a relatively effective attempt to thwart growing public awareness that smoking causes cancer.  They were able to postpone the eventual outcome for a few decades more of profit, and indeed, there are still those who dismiss the scientific evidence.  (Does the climate “debate” sound vaguely familiar to you? If you’re over 30, and can remember when they first started putting health advisories on cigarettes, it should)

Creationists have been spinning it to combat evolution, even getting some school districts to consider teaching the two side-by-side. (uh, yeah, the earth is only 10,000 years old)  I wonder if their literal interpretation of “god’s word” also includes selling their daughters into slavery or stoning their neighbors to death for working on Sunday?

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source: jamespowell.org

The climate change – deniers are doing it to negate public acceptance of the very real human impact on our climate. See the chart  here as proof that there’s not complete consensus on the science of climate change. Shouldn’t we therefore discount and disregard the other 99.8%?

The entertainment industry argues against any serious causal relationship between what we view on television and our actions. (Yet In 2011, the total U.S. TV ad spending was a whopping $71.8 billion, and it’s only expected to increase)  Can anyone explain to me why so much money is spent on advertising when it doesn’t influence our purchasing decisions?

See any similarities in these examples?  I do. I see people wanting things to be a particular way, and resisting the scientific fact that they’re not.

And the Spin Doctors are getting really good at giving the people what they want. All the while the general public, it seems, is getting worse at sorting through it all, and recognizing the truth from the hype, fact from fiction.  Let’s take this current debate on the relationship between violence in the media and video games, and violent behavior.

There’s already been a lot of research on this relationship.  But as with all behavioral sciences, one can’t account for the multitude of variables and forces at play.  There is no control group. Apparently there are some ethical issues with keeping people completely isolated from all but the desired inputs or something of that nature.  Which leaves the scientists in the less-than-ideal position of, “Well, yes, but…” A recent article in the New York Times entitled Shooting in The Dark,”  sums up the results of a number of recent studies this way:  “No one knows for sure what these findings mean”

Whether this is a result of the Spin Doctors at work, or just an example of a lazy-ass reporter being unwilling to take a stand, I don’t know. “No one knows for sure what these findings mean,” is just a chicken-shit half-truth.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, is a retired Army Ranger, West Point psychology professor, and an expert on the psychology of killing. He has testified before the U.S. House and Senate, and his research was cited by the POTUS in the wake of the Littleton school shootings.(www.killology.org)  His two books should be the definitive resources on this topic.  Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence, and On Killing, both delve into the psychology of killing from the perspective of one who’s job it was to train soldiers to kill.

A quick synopsis of the salient points of Lt. Col. Grossman’s research. (or go to this article he wrote for a more in-depth look)

  1. We, as with other species, are hardwired not to kill each other. WWII rifleman had a 15-20% firing rate against an exposed enemy.
  2. Our military recognized and ‘fixed’ this problem. In Vietnam, the rate had risen to 90%.
  3. The training methods the military used to overcome this human trait include:
    • brutalization
    • classical conditioning
    • operant conditioning
    • role modeling.
  4. Violence on television and in video games provide the same things.

As responsible citizens, we’re faced with a plethora of serious issues.  We need to take the time to intelligently arm ourselves with knowledge in order to make the right choices. Who should we be listening to? The Spin Doctors?

Calvin & Hobbes

source: Watterson, Bill (1995) The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, Kansas City, Missouri: Universal Press Syndicate





Kill your T.V.

22 02 2013

00025 Kill your Television

(click here for link to this bumper sticker)

IRAQ! AMERICAN IDOL! AFGHANISTAN! JERSEY SHORE! OBAMA! ICE ROAD TRUCKERS! MURDER! CONSPIRACY! THE KARDASHIANS! SANDYHOOK!

The media’s actions are understandable, albeit unscrupulous.  The nature of the  entertainment industry, of which CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are part, is to increase viewership.  Increased viewership means increased ratings, which translates to more advertising dollars, which is how broadcasting makes money.  Braodcasting agencies are driven, as is any corporate entity, by what generates profit.

Television “sells.”  We’re all aware of all the advertising that is continually interrupting whatever fine programing it is we’re wanting to watch.  Even though we realize this is simply part of the television experience, how many of us stop to consider the world view being promoted by all of this marketing? This stuff can warp our sense of reality all by itself.  Over and over we are shown that, “all happy people are beautiful,” as in glamour model, does-not-exist-in-reality beautiful, (see my earlier post Evolution?) and that “All beautiful people are successful, and happy because they own product X!” Obviously, my life just won’t be complete until I do, too.

But what about the bill of goods we’re being sold  under the guise of informing us.  I’m not talking about info-mercials.  The insidious part of all that’s being sold is a skewed perspective of our world, and CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are the frontrunners pitching us a load of crap.

We can dupe ourselves into believing that we’re becoming more informed about the world around us by watching the news, but this is a dangerous, misguided belief.  The news that we’re fed is designed to entertain us, and keep us wanting more.  The purposes of informing, educating, or enlightening come in, at most, as a second priority, and only when it helps achieve the primary goal of increasing profits.

Now we also are being inundated with “reality” t.v.  Now there’s an oxymoron.  (I love the fact that I can reference “reality” t.v. with an adjective that includes moronic.)   Fortunately I cannot claim expertise on these shows.  I have NEVER watched an episode of Survivor, American Idol, Jersey Shore, any of the Housewives, Dancing with the Stars, nor the Kardashians.  From the few episodes of such winners as Duck Dynasty, and The Ultimate Fighter  I’ve suffered through, I can verify that they all suck.  (I just tune into the last 10 minutes of The Ultimate Fighter for the fight)  There is very little reality in a group dynamic when you add a camera crew, and the profit motive that comes from knowing you’re gonna hit a big payday for being a dumb-ass.

I remember seeing a bumper sticker as a child that read, “Kill your television.”  For the life of me, I didn’t get it.  I just couldn’t figure out the joke.  Now I’ve got it, and it’s not a joke.  It’s not even remotely funny.  Turn that damnable box off and go do something.  Read a book.  Go outside.  Play solitaire.  Hug your kids.  Workout.  Go for a walk.  Knit a sweater.  Kill your television.  Really.

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Constant and never-ending improvement

5 11 2012

With fall here, I’ve been getting caught up on a number of projects, in preparation for all that comes with the change of seasons: fall pruning, garden winterizing, gutter cleaning, and halloween decorating.  Thus the last few weeks of missing blog posts.

In addition, we brought a new member into our family last week.  We adopted an australian shepherd from the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie Rescue of Northern Nevada.  A big THANK YOU  goes out to Kathy Givens of ABC rescue, and Kathy & Rick (Montana’s foster parents) for all of their efforts in caring for all these animals in need!

Montana is a handsome “tri” and is settling nicely into our busy routine around here.  I’m sure I’ll be posting more on him in the future.

I find myself reflecting, as I do with every transformation of the seasons, on the change that is constant in our lives.  Spring to summer, summer to fall, and so forth, cycling back around to start all over again.  This circular perspective can feed into the misconception that we, too are just running in circles.

It’s really more of a spiral, isn’t it?

For me, the question becomes this: are we spiraling upward or downward, forward or backward?

Over the past 26 years of teaching & coaching, my purpose for teaching hasn’t changed very much.  My goals for my students have always been based on my goals as a martial artist, and as an idealist.    My perspective, however, certainly has changed, as I’ve morphed from a young single college grad into a much older husband, and father.  This additional perspective has only served to validate and reinforce my ideals and goals.

Simply stated, and on a grand scale, my purpose is to make the world a better place.  I’ve always been an idealist, and I believe each and every one of us has the opportunity to leave our mark, whether small or large.  Each of us will impact the world we live in, and our legacy is for the future of all mankind, for better or worse.  Like a pebble thrown into a pond, our actions cause ripples with unknown and far-reaching possibilities.   Isn’t it our moral responsibility to make our contribution as positive as possible?

The martial arts have provided me an avenue to teach the things that I believe are key to helping positively effect powerful change in the lives of the students.  By extension, they can help lead others to accomplish the same.

The martial art philosophies of courtesy and respect, self-discipline and humility, patience and commitment, are all vital tools for life.  Perhaps the most important skill, and the one I believe binds all other ideals together is embodied in C.A.N.I., a term coined by Tony RobbinsConstant And Never-ending Improvement should be ingrained in our lifestyle, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.  It is a mistake to think that at some point in our lives we get to coast.  Only if we are continually striving to be the best person we can, will we ever experience our true potential.

Since becoming a parent, my goals have become even more crystalized in my mind.  Now all of this pertains not only to the students and friends I may wish to influence in a positive way, but to those dearest to my heart; my three daughters.  Just as I would imagine all parents feel, my hope is that my children grow up to be an improvement.  I want them to be better people than I am, and to have a better life than I have.

The only way we, as parents, can accomplish this, is to strive for the same ourselves.  We must lead our children by example.  If we want them to be well prepared, we must be well prepared.  If we want them to achieve their full potential, then we must be striving to achieve our own.  We must constantly and continually be learning and growing, thereby improving ourselves in mind, body, and soul.  Only in this way can we lead our children, so that they, too, can be the best that they can be.





Evolution?

17 09 2012

Already as beautiful as could be!

The Lovelace is an old hotel in my hometown that had been converted into apartments long before my time. It was a pretty cool place to reside back in my college days, with a community t.v. room in the former lobby, and a toilet and a shower down the hall. It was one of those old buildings with a boiler in the basement, and the radiator heaters that clank and hiss as the steam passes through, constantly waking you in the middle of the night, and heating the building in the dead of winter to a temperature just short of blistering. The adjustments never worked on the individual radiators, so you were left to controlling your room temperature by how wide you flung open the one window that wasn’t painted shut. My friend and I rented a couple of the more swanky apartments, with our own kitchens & bathrooms.

But I digress…

While living in the Lovelace, a group of us watched an extensive, multi-part, BBC documentary on human sexuality. There are two key points I gleaned from this show that have been the basis for my philosophy on the subject ever since.  The first is the simple biological forces at play in human sexuality, and the second is the media’s manipulation of those forces for their own gain.

The first episode discussed the biology.  From a purely scientific standpoint, sex is about the propagation of our species; the survival instinct. A large part of what drives us is simply the species’ need for the successful production of healthy off-spring. What is considered ideal when selecting potential mates, however, differs slightly between males and females of a species. (These differences, together with social conventions lead to a whole list of other issues, better left for another post.)

Males want to assure the proliferation of their off-spring, as opposed to another male’s. What better way to do that than be there first? Thus, females that have just passed puberty are desirable, and girls of this age tend to be proportionately long legged. A healthy mother is more apt to be able to birth healthy off-spring, so all of the traits we associate with health, such as bright eyes, and clear skin, come into play. Other attractive physical traits include enlarged breasts and flushed skin tone (arousal).

The Barbie Doll is an extreme exaggeration of these traits, with physical proportions that do not even exist in reality.  However, everybody knows that’s just an imaginary toy, right?  (I should rephrase that: these proportions don’t exist in the natural, un-manipulated state, since they now apparently do exist in reality, thanks to modern cosmetic surgery!)

In a later segment they applied this knowledge to advertising. They took a photo of a blond model in a black skirt, revealing plenty of cleavage and leg, lying on her side in a sultry pose. As we all know, she has already been doctored up with plenty of make up, and the lighting/photography is just right. Then they put this photo on a huge computer screen (common enough today, but remember, this was back in the early ’90’s!) The computer tech then proceeded to completely manipulate the image. First, he eliminated every skin blemish at the pixel level, a level unobservable to the naked eye! He added a little more color to simulate arousal, and added a little shading to increase the definition around the breasts. He then increased the size of the breasts and width of the hips ever so slightly, while decreasing the waistline just a touch. Finally, he increased the length of the legs by something like 20%. Now we have a “photograph” of a woman that DOES NOT exist.

I was unable to find the above mentioned documentary online, but came across this excellent ad from Dove.  It pretty much says it all.

Our reality is so twisted by technology and the media, and given the overwhelming, non-stop bombardment we have created, i.e. billboards, magazines at every checkout, t.v.s in restaurants, smartphones, computers, it’s like a science fiction story come to life. This is so prevalent, it’s no wonder members of both sexes have completely unrealistic expectations. And now we’ve got botox, liposuction, silicon implants, and laser treatments to try and attain a state of perceived “beauty” that has never existed.

I have always found this disturbing, and now, as a father of three daughters, the sense of urgency has me looking for a cabin far from the insanity of the suburbs! Don’t people see the terrible message they’re sending to their daughters? We tell our children they’re beautiful, and then buy them makeup so they can be “more” beautiful? Our society glamorizes movie stars and pop stars, as if it’s an ideal to aspire to. Has everybody forgotten that it’s all fake? The people we see in movies and in music videos and read about in magazines are not real.

As this media blitz continues to expand into every corner and niche of our daily lives, bombarding us with image after image of the impossible, the line between reality and this completely man-made virtual reality is becoming harder to distinguish.   Are our actions as parents helping our children recognize this, or are we just feeding the illusion?

(here’s a link to a good article from CNN, with some great links on this subject)








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