Monday, May 31, 2010

Jane Austen

I like to read a classic of literature at least once a year. June is the month that I usually do this mostly because I tend to have vacation time in June and a good book is a requirement. I remember once, when I was a young adult, having very little money just taking off with a copy of Dicken's Hard Times and reading it in my tent, in a youth hostel in Ludlow Vermont and then Montreal. I remember being lonely and broke but having a great vacation nonetheless.

Tomorrow is the first day of June and I just read the introduction to Pride and Prejudice and I couldn't be more excited to start a book. A few months ago I posted the question to friends whether to read it. The guys said to skip Jane Austen and all my woman friends responded with an emphatic Yes. For this reason alone, I am curious. It couldn't be more cut and dry on the gender appeal. I tend to like classics for the language more than the plot. Austen is less famous for her use of language and more so for her character development. I already know the story of this novel from seeing several film versions so I hope to pay close attention to how she uses character to drive the plot. Some of my favorite books are written by women (Wuthering Heights, Beloved and The Fountainhead) so I tend to think that I will not agree with the guys on this one.

Jane Austen's first novel was Pride and Prejudice but was not the first to be published. She finished it when she was only 21 years old. When her father read the manuscript, he immediately brought it to a publish and it was immediately returned. She later published Sense and Sensibility then Pride and Prejudice published afterwards. Neither book bore her name. The first said "by a lady." The second simply said "by the same author as Sense and Sensibility." It wasn't until after her death in 1817 that her name actually appeared on her books when Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


People have been invoking Hitler so often these days that it is difficult to take any of it seriously. Someone drawing a Hitler mustaches on portraits of Obama protesting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) ... what's that all about? So if you are against something and if Hitler did anything like it regardless of the reason or scope ... you can compare that person to Hitler? Really? Hitler pulled Germany out of a recession, modernized their highways and advanced women's rights (some woman obviously). So if Obama does any of these things ... are we going to compare him to Hitler? Mind-boggling really! We can blow this nonsense off pretty easily, but it does desensitize us a bit. When I heard about the new Arizona law, SB1070, the first thing I thought of was all those WW II films I've seen where the SS officer commands "Show me your papers." Comparing the Arizona Senate and Republican Governor to Hitler would be really handy right now, but since all those crazies have been doing it to Obama for the past couple of years, it really isn't going to have the same affect.

We really need a new boogie man. Stalin would do for this situation. If only he had a funny mustache. Actually, the USSR is good comparison to the new Arizona "show me your papers" law. Many of us are old enough to remember the Soviet Union and know people who visited before the wall came down. I know and have read a number of people who have described the terror of people asked for their papers while backpacking in Russia, while doing the touristy things in Moscow, while visiting Red Square. Remember when we used to say, so glad I don't live in that type of country. Why haven't I seen any images of Governor Jan Brewer compared to Hitler or called a communist? umm, wait a minute. Quick google and youtube search ... man, they are out there. Gotta love the net!

SB1070, as July 28th, 2010, makes it a misdemeanor to be in Arizona without legal documents. Any officer of the law can ask for your papers if they have reasonable suspicion of your legal status. A valid driver's license is good example of such papers. So if you are on vacation and driving around with a rent-a-car with some friends heading out to the Grand Canyon and you have a headlight burned out, you can be pulled over by the police and asked for your papers. Not just the driver but everyone in the car including the kids. If they don't have the papers, they and you (as the driver) can be put in jail until you produce the appropriate papers. You as the driver would be under suspicion of transporting aliens. What is reasonable suspicion? That is subjective. I am a white guy and I don't tan well so I am probably safe. Not so sure about my friends. The state would pay for the jail time, I believe, but not for the frustration, all lost time at work or anything else that you may incur.

As a white person, non-Arizonan, who lives near the Canadian border (not Mexico), you could say that this doesn't have an effect on my life and I don't really know what is going on down there. This is a valid point. The only fear we have here of Canadians is if too many of them come down, they may cause a lot of car accidents from turning left from the right lane. Also, we could have a french fry problem ... "no, I did not order gravy and bean curd on my fries!" But I work for a New York City office and I have a lot of brown friends and co-workers. Laws don't get passed in vacuums and have a tendency to creep. If it happens in Arizona, it could happen elsewhere. Precedents get set. If you complain only about injustice when it happens to you directly, you will find that you are alone when you are trodden upon. So yes, there are a lot of situations in life where you are asked to present an ID, like the doctor's office or the DMV, but you are not thrown in jail if you don't have them there and everyone has to present the document, not those under "suspicion." "Reasonable suspicion" is a euphemism for a lot of distasteful things that I don't have the time or space to address here. A few years ago, I was pulled over in Brookline Mass so some bogus reason that I cannot even remember. Cops in Brookline pull over cars of people who don't seem like they can afford to live in Brookline. So I understand what "reasonable suspicion" means from personal experience. Rich people, particularly, rich white won't get bothered.

Here is some data that might put some of this in perspective. A quarter of all Major League Baseball players are foreign born. Of those that are foreign born, an over-whelming majority are from Latin countries. Half of them are on National Teams that have to visit Arizona several times a year and half of them are on teams that have Spring training in the Cactus League. Already problems have arisen where some players are saying that they will not play in Arizona. A lot of players like to bring their families along on road trips. Their contracts will not allow them to refuse to play but they can stop bringing their families with them. The 2011 All Star game is scheduled in Arizona, the players union has already petitioned Commissioner Selig to have it moved. I stand by them just like I stand by the Cubs fans who petitioned outside of Wrigley last week when the Diamondbacks were in town. If they don't listen to reason, they will listen the empty twang of a purse string. I was planning on a trip to Arizona to see the Cubs for Spring training next March, but perhaps, I will go to Florida to see the Sox.

The crime stats that I keep seeing, from right wingers, are very suspicious. They are saying that Arizonans are not safe. I don't really trust politically charged crime stats ... like I wouldn't trust the crime stats that came out of the Jim Crow South either. Politically, this whole thing doesn't make sense to me. They might get some short-term political gain out of this, but long term one has to really scratch your head. One tenth of all American ten year olds, right now, are of Hispanic origins along with one quarter of all two year olds (numbers that are pale in comparison to the German American influx of the 19th century). Probably not a good idea to alienate this crowd. I wouldn't expect this law to last very long nor to help the situation (economics, crime or politics) whatsoever. Just a very bad idea.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hamlet's Eulogy

I put my best friend down this week. He was quite active most of his life, even his last, his 18th. According to the chart in the waiting room at the vet, an 18 year old cat is in the geriatric stage of his life. He was 88 in human years, yet he’d still play with string or chase a light beam across the floor. When he was a kitten, I discovered that he’d play fetch. You could take a small piece of paper, crinkle it, his face would light up and then he’d chase it after thrown … he’d jump, pick up the ball with his mouth and bring it right back. I didn’t teach him this, he just did it one day to my surprise. We had been doing this together for almost two decades, since I was in my twenties. He was the best companion you could have expect from a dumb little cat. This week, I paid a man to inject chemicals into him that would cause him to exit this mortal coil in a humane fashion. I cannot help but hate myself a little even though I know it was the right thing to end his suffering. I have survivors guilt, it seems.

In 1992, I had been living in the Boston area for about a year. I had moved to Boston not only to start a new life but to get away from the old one. Like many Americans, like Gatsby, I had a plan to reinvent myself and a big vibrant city is a fine place to accomplish this task. I did not plan on the loneliness. I became a Big Brother and one day, I decided to get a cat at the Dedham Animal Rescue League. I let my little brother, Angel, pick the cat. He chose the one that was meowing the loudest, a white domestic short hair with some patches of gray and brown. I had always wanted a cat named Hamlet due to the neurotic nature of the Dane. He had been found in a Burger King dumpster by a BK employee and brought to the shelter so he always had a link to royalty. He not only gave me companionship but he gave me someone to come home to and someone to be responsible for. It gave me a strength from a source that I didn’t expect. It allowed me to stop concentrating on myself for a little each day. The moment I brought him home was probably the moment I started to grow up.

In the 18 years I had him, he had moved with me many times from Dedham to Brighton to Watertown to Concord to Roslindale to Burlington Vermont then to my first house in Monkton and now to Westford where he lies in a grave in my yard. He was always an outdoor cat. I have never believed in keeping cats captive inside. I find it amazing that he died of his kidneys failing and not getting hit by a car or eaten by a predator. He never really went far from the house. The furthest he ever went here in Westford is when he went out to the mail box with me. He’d follow me to the road and then follow me back. This is just one of the events I do each day in which I miss him now. When I am not thinking about him, I see a white spot off the corner of my eye and I think it is him. I feel him at my feet when I am sleeping and expect to awaken with him on my chest. When I work with my laptop, on my deck, I swear I can always hear him. Disappointment, a sense of loss, grief … it is daily now. My fondest memory of Hamlet’s adventures outside is one day, when I lived in Brighton, I stepped off the bus on my commute home and walked through the parking lot behind the Dunkin’ Donuts. As I approached I saw a big group of pigeons walking around in a big circles. “What is happening here?” I asked myself. I walked a bit further to see some donut pieces lying on the pavement “Why are the pigeons not eating the donuts?” I walked further to see the entire circle of pigeons with Hamlet in the middle of the circle watching. It was quite funny. He was like a lion, the king of the beast, on the serengeti. He was that beautiful.

In the spirit of this Blog, what I learned today (not just today but this week) is what a true sense of loss is. You could consider me lucky in that in my middle age, this is the first time I feel a sense of loss due to the death of a loved one. I know it sounds impossible. My grandparents died when I was very young. My mother’s death lasted a decade in which she suffered from a stroke. We lost her in steps which made the grieving experience less sudden. The long time allowed for gradual healing. You could also say one of the reasons why I haven’t lost anyone close to me because I don’t have many people in my life I am very close to. I am closer to my pets than I am to most people. When I was a kid, I asked for a puppy every Christmas. If they had only known that they could returned all my toys for just one pet that I could call my own. It wasn’t until I was older and had my own place that I could actually have a pet of my own. It has been almost a week and I have already gotten into the habit of going for a walk to his grave with one of my dogs each morning. It is a nice little spot at the top of a hill with a pile of rocks scattered with wildflower seeds. I have never understood until now why anyone would visit a grave. It is just a way to keep someone you miss in your life, however faint. Life is cruel and we cling to those that make it less so however unfulfilling that pile of rocks is.