Sunday, August 23, 2015

I've Been Complaining About Cops For Years, It Is About Time You Admit I Am Right

Think back to when you were high school. If you are high school now, you can do this also, look around you. Think of the dumbest person in your class. He/She was sitting in the back of the room, perhaps carving something into the desk, maybe sleeping. What is this person doing now as an adult? It is possible they made something of themselves. Perhaps they went into the military or pulled their act together somehow. I hope so, but they could be in jail.  Also, there is a good chance that they are a cop. 

For me I think of this one guy that I used to walk to school with in middle school and for the first few years of high school. He was someone that I was very good friends with in elementary school, from my neighborhood, but as I matured, we went our own different ways. He couldn't read while I was buried in books. He used to torture bugs. A few times he dropped acid on the way into school. I stopped walking to school with him after a while. I was hanging with a different crowd. What is he doing now? He is the chief of police in my home state not too far from where I grew up. I assume and hope he turned his life around, but from my experience with cops, this is not necessarily true. This isn't exactly a profession that attracts the most intelligent and for some it may attract the most sadistic among us.

I have not lead a life of crime. My life has been quite boring, but I did speed a lot when I was younger and I did get a lot of speeding tickets. I was a nervous driver. But after awhile, I started to get pulled over and told I was speeding when obviously I was not. When cars were passing me. I was an easy target for cops who had quotas. I'd challenge them in court and lose. Who was the judge going to believe, the college kids with long hair or the cops which she knew. Of course, I lost. I was once given a ticket on Cape Cod for driving 70 MPH up a hill from a stop with my K car. For those who don't remember K cars, they were a crappy four cylinder car that could barely get to 70 MPH on a flat surface, never climbing an incline. Again, I was an easy target, an out-of-stater with a bad driving record. I just payed the fine rather than challenging the ticket because it was less expensive than taking a day out of work and school to go to court ... and then to probably lose. I ended up getting an attitude of "why not speed," I am going to get a ticket anyway.

That was a long time ago, but my attitude hasn't changed.  Not about speeding, no, I don't speed much anymore especially since I bought a Prius. My Prius doesn't use gas if I drive around 35 MPH so I chug along these dirt roads going real slow. My attitude about cops hasn't changed. They are dicks, power-seeking douche bags out to financially-rape the tax payers. Cops are not a source for good in the world. Cops are there to maintain the status quo ... to keep the poor down and keep the wealthy ... wealthy. They are not there to keep our roads safe, but to raise revenue. I don't call a cop unless I absolutely have to. It is my experience that having a cop present usually makes any experience worse.

I say all this as a white guy in Vermont. Since I moved to Vermont, I have noticed that the cops are a lot nicer and seem to harass the tax payers much less than a lot of other places in this country. Occasionally, I do get pulled over for bullshit like my headlight is burnt out or my license plate is obstructed. While Vermont's meth and heroin problem is still out of control, you can rest assured, our headlights are just fine.

I know plenty of people from around this country and some of them are not white. I hear their complaints about cops, I usually believe them but I know most white people don't. But now that we have had so much coming out these days from dash board cams to iPhone videos, can anyone really not believe me or them when we say that cops are dicks? I know the immediate response we get is that "my brother is a cop and he is a good cop" but let's face it, the dick cops have relatives that think they are good cops too. Do you really know that the cop you know is one of the good ones? Isn't it about time to admit that we don't have have a crime problem, but a cop problem?

How much more evidence do you need than this?

Exhibit A: A Staten Island man, Eric Garner, being choked to death by the NYPD. Mr. Garner's crime: selling cigarettes.

Exhibit B; When a bunch of black kids show up at a pool party in a white suburb in Texas, this what happens:

Exhibit C: Here is what happens when you run from a cop in Charleston, South Carolina.

Exhibit D: Here is what happens to you when you peacefully protest at UC Davis. That's right, that is pepper spray.

I could go on, it is very easy to do here from my back porch in Vermont.  Just type "police brutality" in your search engine. It is fun!

I could imagine that being a police officer is a difficult job. I could also imagine that it can take a toll on you psychologically. I am not sure what the solution is to this problem. I think we might want to start the solution by stop the recruiting cops from the bottom of the pile. If we simply picking the best of the sadists and sociopaths that we can find, I can see why we are where we are.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

My New Religion: Boxerism

I have pondered in the past about how many of our religions today are based on books of superstitions written in the Bronze Age. This thought always makes me think, why not have a religion based on a newer book from the last century perhaps. But of course L. Ron Hubbard beat me to it. I would rather have a religion based on a good book, something from the literary canon. What about Animal Farm by George Orwell? This an allegorical book not to be taken literally. This is the perfect book to base a religion on.

In the book, after the animals take over the farm, the pigs take charge and found a religion called Animalism. I could start following Animalism. Why not? I love animals. This does cause me some personal conflicts. The first commandment of Animalism is "Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy." I do identify with this. I trust and like most four-legged creature more than I do two-legged, but this first commandment would put me in the category of the enemy. This is not a good religion for me. I need a religion that puts me at the top, that puts me as the good one and the other (non-followers) as the bad. I could rewrite the tenets to support my needs like the pigs did.  For example, they added the words "to excess" to the fifth commandment to be "no animal shall drink alcohol to excess" and they added "without cause" to the sixth to be "no animal shall kill any other animal without cause."  In kind, I could amend the first commandment to be "whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy except for me and my friends." That might work. I could easily use this commandment to demonize anyone I wanted to. That is one of the best advantages of having a religion, you get to moralize and get to have an easy template to judge others. Ultimately, Boxerism works better for me.

Boxer is the horse in Animal Farm, more specifically a work horse. Boxer is simplistic, naive, innocent and hard working. He does most of the work on the farm. He believes all you need to do in life is work hard and good things will come to you. "I will work hard," is his motto. He is a hero of the rebellion for he was an important factor in the Battle of Cowshed where he had a decisive victory over the stable boy. He ends up breaking his leg and the pigs sell his carcass for some whiskey and his remains carted off to be made into glue. I love this book. I've got to reread it again.

Boxer is perfect for a religious figure. For one, he is a rebel. Like most rebellions it was only successful for a short of time The human overlords were simply replaced by porcine overlords, but he is still a heroic figure, someone the people can look up to. He was killed, perhaps martyred, by someone he trusted that is a plus in the religious realm. He returned after his death as glue. 

The workhorse reins will be our religious symbol, we will wear these around our neck:

If our bosses complain, we will claim religious persecution. After all, it does bear the motto, "I will work hard" on its base.

Our religious city will be in India, Motihari, the birth place of George Orwell. We will lead bus tours for the holiest of Boxerists. Our gift shops will make a killing selling kitschy crap like this:

Why? Because Boxer is sacred. "All hale Boxerism!"

Since we don't know what day Boxer was transformed into glue, we will randomly pick a day to be our high holy days ... let's say, I don't know sometime in late December. 

I once had a girlfriend who told me that she cried when she read Animal Farm. This was toward the end of the relationship of my young adulthood, when I was grappling for reasons to like her. My ears perked up.  "Do tell!"  Was she lamenting the state of the humanity, a doomed political animal? No, she said, "Poor Boxer!" Yes, it does work at a literal text. It is perfectly fine to extol the masses and then take their money. Televangelist do it everyday. Let me snort their glue (in religious ceremonies only of course) and be happy with their delusions.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Cokie #bestdogever

Euthanizing your pet is perhaps the most macabre experience you will ever have in your life. I've had to do it three times now and I can't imagine ever getting used to it. It is not just the loss of the creature that you love that is so awful, but the experience in general is really difficult. The vet comes into the room with a syringe of chemicals, they insert it into your pet's veins and they slowly pass-away in peace. They don't even seem like they have died. They seem like they are just staring.  You have to close their eyes. When you pick them up, only their limp body convinces you that they are gone. Perhaps it is more humane than the alternatives, but this doesn't stop it from being an awful experience. Not only do you have the loss of a loved one to deal with but now you have this awful memory for the rest of your life.

I am a privileged person to have had my dog, Cokie, in my life. She is the only dog that we've had that we have had since the very beginning of her life. When we picked her up she fit in the cup of my hands. All our other dogs came "pre-owned" with a ton of issues ranging from aggression to abandonment, while Cokie had none of these. We like to think it is because we had her since she was born that she was perfect. I can't say I've ever met a dog like her. She lit up the room. Everyone wanted to pet her. We had a line of people who wanted to dog sit. She was sweet and gentle and every child we knew wanted to take her home with them. How an extremely imperfect person as myself got thrown into the role of making the decision on whether this perfect creature would live or not ... I do not know.  How could I judge of her suffering? How do I judge on whether it is her suffering or my own that drives this decision? I am a wretch.

Cokie's perfection started in 2002. We had only one dog, Rex, at that time. He needed companionship for when we left him alone. My wife saw a free German shepherd puppies ad in the paper. She drove over Lake Champlain to Crowne Point, NY to a trailer park. The only pup left was the runt that no one wanted because she was so small. She was the smallest in a litter of ten so she didn't get a lot of time at her mom's teats early on. The people who owned her parents, kept them outside so when we took Cokie home her stomach was distended with worms. She had the worst puppy breathe I have ever smelled and she was obsessed with licking which is something that she never got over. I don't think I've ever fell in love so quickly.

I remember a few years ago, I was on the phone with an insurance agent who wanted to charge me higher rates because I had a German shepherd and I tried to explain "she only weighs 40 pounds" and of course, she wouldn't ever bite anyone, but might lick someone. This didn't convince him and I found another agent. She didn't look like a shepherd. We got a lot of comments about her when we brought her into public.  "Is that a fox?"  " ... a coyote?"  "... a dingo?"  Right! I have a dingo as a pet. Both of her parents were German Shepherds but she didn't look like one. She never got any black in her coating.  It just meant that she lacked the agouti gene so she was only tan. Her being only tan and very small, convinced some that she wasn't a Shepherd.

About three years ago, we were vacationing with two dogs in Saguenay, Quebec, a beautiful area just a few hours drive from the Canadian border. We rented a dog-friendly place that wasn't really very friendly for dogs. This is just a reminder that dog-friendly only means that you can have dogs; it doesn't mean that it is a good place to have them. This place had a loft for the bed and a steep staircase that was more like a ladder. There was no stopping her from going up to be with us at night while we slept. I could help her get up but getting her down was another story. She fell down the last few stairs and hurt her hip. This breed normally has hip difficulties so this didn't help and she was around ten years old so prognosis wasn't good. She hobbled around for awhile and she got worse as the years progressed. When she was young she used to run around the dog park keeping pace with the whippets, but no longer. The last year and a half of her life we had to carry her outside for her bathroom breaks. The winters were not pleasant. Her light weight made this a lot easier for us. She spent the last two years of her life on her bed not doing much, but not in pain. Her quality of life was still good. It must have been the pain killers that eventually destroyed her liver.

I had a dream today that I was holding her. I could feel her very familiar coat, I felt the breathe in her chest going up and down and her heart beating. I believe she even licked my face like she used to do. This was nice. It felt very real and sweet; it felt like a good-bye or perhaps that she was forgiving me. Regardless, I had a somber reminded of my loss. I know it is an irrational guilt I have for euthanizing her, but it will remain. It did with the other two. No matter how I tell myself it was the ethical thing to do, I feel just awful about it.

Now that my three dogs are dead and I have two new ones, I honestly pledge that I will never have three dogs around the same age again.  Too much heart-ache and expenses all at the same time.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Comparing my Paris and Spain Trips

Last year's trip to Spain was a blur, quick and hectic. This year when we went to Paris, to celebrate my 50th birthday, it was well planned and longer in duration. One of the few things I can say about both of them, Europe is awesome and beautiful and her people are friendly. I am not sure why anyone would spend a cent on a Disney vacation, when Europe is so close, especially for anyone on the East Coast like us.

I don't go to Europe often. If I had more money, I would remedy this. I've only been on that continent four times. It is not cheap, but with the Euro not doing so well, it is a pretty good time to go. If Greece pulls out of the Europe Union, which it might shortly, expect the Euro to crash and this becomes an affordable trip for anyone not in the EU, provided that non-EU currencies don't go along with it. My first trip to Europe was to the western half of Ireland (the Ring of Kerry, Galway, Killarney, etc.) for an in-law's wedding. This was a great trip with no problems with language. The greatest challenge was driving on the left hand side of the road with our rental. I caught a bug, a Europe travel bug. I loved it. In 2007, we took a river cruise on the Danube that went from Prague in the Czech Republic through Germany and Austria and ended in Budapest, Hungary. It was one of the best times I've ever had. Last year's Spain trip and this month's Paris trips are only other times I've been.

It is difficult to compare these two trips because they were so very different. Spain was coastal so we rented a car and hit many towns and cities while in Paris, we stayed in one city and took the Metro. Spain was spontaneous and short while Paris was well planned and twice as long.

Spain: Last summer my wife and I were contacted by a single friend who received a week of free time at a time share in Spain. She had no one to go with and since it had two bed rooms and she is friendly with both of us, she asked us to accompany her. We took the opportunity, she picked the city and we paid for the rent-a-car. The car and flight were the big costs, the food wasn't so much because we had a kitchen. We were there for only a week. From the apartment's porch we could see the Mediterranean Sea, but we were atop a huge hill. There was little close to us, with no coffee maker in the apartment, I had to drive to get coffee. We were in the Costa de Sol (translate to the Coast of the Sun) which is aptly named. It is quite beautiful.  It is in the Andalusia region near the stunning city of Malaga which I heard pronounced about ten different ways. We drove up and down the highway all week going to different spots, a couple of days were just beach stop. We had a great time, but it was tiring. Driving in Spain sucks.

Paris: When I was pondering what I wanted for my 50th birthday. We thought of some material goods, like I've thinking of buying a scooter, but the idea of going to Paris for a week seemed so much more appealing and special. We learned from our trip to Spain last Summer that a week was too short of a trip. By the time you recover from jet lag, half of your week is done. So we stayed for ten days. Renting a car was out. I don't want to drive in Europe again if I can avoid it. We decided to stay one place the whole ten days and do day trips from a home base. France is famous for their mass transit system, so we did everything we wanted to do via train, metro and walking.

We stayed in Montmatre which meant nothing to me until I visited. It is a gorgeous urban neighborhood in Paris famous for its big hill with the Basilica at the top. It is home to the Moulin Rouge and the neighborhood where they filmed, Amélie , one of my favorite French films. It is also famous for all the artists that lived there like Picasso and Dali. We found the apartment on, a web site which has served us well. We haven't yet had a bad experience and have used it about a half dozen times. The apartment was small like most Paris apartments. When we pulled the couch out for a friend, we had to move the kitchen table. Its smallness didn't matter. This was basically just a place to sleep and eat, a home-base. It was perfectly situated on two major Metro lines. When we stepped out of our front door (see above), we were surrounded by cafes and bakeries. Each morning we planned our day's adventure over breakfast.

The Two Complaints I Hear About Paris:
Our experience of Paris couldn't have been better. The two complaints I've heard the most was the rudeness of the people and dirtiness of the city (namely, lots of dog shit).  We didn't have any problem with rudeness. It is a large city and we expect a certain level of "urban flair," but Paris is no more rude than New York or Boston. Most of the residents (non-service people) that we talked to were very pleasant and downright enjoyable to talk to. One guy started talking to me on the Metro because he noticed we were playing the same game on our phones, Two Dots. Between his broken English and my very poor French, we talked a while about the game. Compared to the stone-faces I get on the Boston T, this was downright joyous. My guess, is that the people who complain about Paris being rude, aren't very good tourists. They are probably are rude themselves. Probably the same people who complain about Montreal being rude.

On my last trip to Manhattan, I stayed in a neighborhood that had a dog shit problem. You really had to watch where you walked, the sidewalks were very gross. This is what I expected from Paris. In the ten days I spent in Paris, I think I saw only one pile of shit and it was on the side of a trashcan. Apparently, this really was a problem at one point. It has been illegal to not pick up after your dog in since 1982 but they just started to enforce it. This NPR story covers it well.  I guessed, I timed my trip well. Bon voyage sans excrement! (something like that).

The Best Of Paris:
Our experience is that the best of Paris are the smaller things. The Louvre was okay, but we preferred the smaller museums like the D'Orsay Museum which is in a spectacular old train station. Of the museums we visited, we enjoyed the Musée de l'Orangerie and the Rodin Museum more. While the Louvre was overwhelming and extremely crowded even on a Wednesday, these other museums were intimate and not so crowded. The L'Orangerie is mostly Impressionistic paintings with two room size circular Monet paintings. You stood in the middle of these paintings surrounded by them. Because the Rodin Museum is mostly sculptures, most of his work is in a garden. We were there on a beautiful Summer day and we got to see of his major work, The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell.

We bought a couple of five day Museum Passes that covered the entrance to all of these including a pass to a short boat cruise on the Seine and a double-decker bus tour around the city. It also covered the Metro for those days. We did the math and we saved about $50 by buying the pass. You also got to go to the front of the line with the pass. Our friend, Julia from Germany, who used to be our foreign exchange student, stayed with us for a few days. She got into all the museums for free because she is a student in the European Union. Gotta love Europe!

Like the museums, the smaller cathedrals were more interesting. Notre Dame was spectacular but we enjoyed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris  (Sacré-Cœur Basilica) and Ste. Chappelle more.

The Basilica is atop of the highest hill in Paris and just a short walk from our apartment. Ste. Chappelle, which is on the same island in the Seine as Notre Dame, is unique in its architecture. You are not going to see anything else like it. This might be that when I planned to go the Notre Dame, I knew what to expect, while these other two were completely foreign to me.

In addition to all the museums and cathedrals, we did a lot of eating. Every meal was amazing. We went up the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, walked along the Seine, went down into the Catacombs, visited a couple of historic cemeteries and even went to the zoo. We walked a total of 55 miles in ten days. So if you are planning a trip to Paris (a city of stairs), try to go with someone with which you are comfortable reciprocating foot massages.