Baseball’s been very very good to …

Remember the Jose Jiminez character on the ancient Danny Thomas show?  (Yay, Hulu…).

I have an opinion (surprise) on the suspension issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really know A-Rod from hot-rod, but I do know kids and that is what concerns me about this issue of substance abuse and hero-worship.

It’s really simple.  Kids are going to look to all kinds of accomplished prominent figures in any field of endeavor. In fact, we want them to, as it gives them a model of the level of achievement and its parameters to strive for.

Just don’t make them into heroes.

Apparently, people will do just about anything to win.  That is one of the reasons I don’t like the idea of emphasizing competition and being ‘better than’.  What I do think is worthwhile is for all of us to know what constitutes best practices, state of the art, standing record, model of achievement, etc. in any arena.

When children are taught to draw and paint, they should be given masterful examples to copy.  If they are learning to sing, they should listen to the best in the genres and emulate them.  When they show an interest in the violin, they should study the techniques of the maestros.  If they have a talent for basketball, watch the NBA; for chess? Replay master games on the computer.  Is golf their passion? Watch the Masters over and over. And then in all of these, develop their own style and record of success, to the highest level of their capability.

Just don’t think that Da Vinci, Pavarotti, Menuhin,  Jordan, Fischer, Woods are ideal human behavior role models.

So, let the process grind out the final verdict on Rodriguez and he can decide what to do.  I don’t think any of us should come down on him or the Commission, either way.  Gaming the system, getting around the rules, garnering advantage are all part of the competitive nature as long as winning is what determines who makes the most money and money is considered the ultimate prize. Cheating is cheating and if that is what these guys did, regardless of who they are, they should be held accountable, but apparently, the owners have looked the other way on similar behavior for years.

There was a time when achievement and success, with all the accolades and rewards that accompany them were tied inexorably to honor, fairness, playing by the rules, ethics and integrity.  All we have to do is look at our political system to know that it is considered old fashioned, chumpism to behave that way today.

So, instead of endlessly hashing over who struck John in the parade of fallen idols, and using the excuse that our children need heroes and that is purportedly why all these adults pretend that this is an issue worthy of debate, let’s just call it what it is: opportunism.

Find heroes for our children elsewhere.

The burgermeister

This weekend, I saw a news segment on the discovery of a method for creating ground meat in vitro.  It struck me as a promising solution to one of our biggest environmental and humanitarian problems: raising and slaughtering livestock for consumption.

As the article below states

Scientists are hoping the development will meet the growing worldwide demand for beef, lamb, pork and chicken. It is the brainchild of Mark Post, a medical physiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands

One of my vegan friends, a cardiologist, wrote to me about this development, saying

Technology improves by the day. Stem cells (both somatic and embryonic) can also be manipulated via genetic re-programming, if need be. 3-D printers have already produced a rudimentary type of skeletal muscle / meat, according to the BBC. And the impact on the environment is not only desirable- it’s a must, as our current production of meat is absurdly inefficient and unsustainable. We feed cows about 16 lb of grain to obtain 1 lb of meat, while 850M people in the world are hungry/die from starvation, unable to get all that grain

Among other things, it is heartening to think that 3-D printers can be used for something other than producing guns!

garden burger

Gardenburger® Veggie Burgers – the only burger I eat

Hover and hoover

What a week we have had.  Just look at the stories we were contending with:

  • National security and self-deluded ‘do-gooders’ in charge of more information than they can responsibly handle
  • 9/11-style terror threats
  • Predators, traffickers, watching and waiting
  • An infamous politician and a sexting scandal

Reports on these incidents swirled around like an organizing tornado and when the spiral finally formed, it shaped the cloud of influences that hang over us all the time and permeate our psyches in an inchoate and insidious form.  We are all affected continuously by the specter of fear and vulnerability to scrutiny and exploitation.  It is a heavy burden to shoulder, exacerbated by our relative unawareness that it permeates our mental environment in a way that nothing else can.  And it accumulates rapidly now, part of our daily lives in the 2000s.

Guiding becon from a lighthouse. Digital illustration.I remember at the close of 1999, wondering how the new millennium could possibly be substantially different from the previous one.  Things were so bright, the economy was steaming onward and upward, there were no major wars, people were talking about what they would do with all their leisure time during retirement, where to buy that vacation home and what they would drop into their bucket lists next.

How things changed in just a few months.  When 9/11 occurred, even though I could piece together the puzzle in hindsight, it came as a shock to me.  I remember watching those towers fall on television, like two giants dropping to their knees and I was devastated.  I had lived just a few short blocks from the WTC and had only recently moved away, narrowly escaping a potentially life-shattering trauma.

Since that moment, it seems, we are never alone or at peace, in a social and societal sense. The world has become one big screen, a giant camera trained on all of us all the time.  Even the Google maps bot has been incorporated in our living template, unquestioned, roaming around unseen, snapping updates of our homes all the time.  Where once it only showed the outlines of our yards, it now zooms in,  depicting small features in great detail.

We are all broadcasting continuously, through our blogs, cell phones, Instagram, FB, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr along with emails, chats, phone calls.  We are ‘out there’, all the time, relentlessly and thus, watching ourselves and each other in a way that has never been possible before. There are surveillance cameras increasingly on every corner, on our freeways, in stores, banks, gas stations.  And this is just the beginning.

It’s not a new idea — think Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World — but its reach and pressure had to be experienced to be understood.  Merely imagining a world in which all this data was being scooped up and collated, then assembled into algorithms for all and sundry uses, could not be conceived even by such visionaries.  It has literally exploded exponentially into our current reality.

What interests me is the psychological impact this will have on all but those who hold the reins of power, who are in a position to apply these formulas to meet their individual ends, to drop this data into giant virtual honeycombs, that are ready and waiting, suspended in stasis until just the right moment when they will be wordlessly deployed like the Tripods in H.G. Wells’ Martian-controlled earth.  Now we know that the wizard behind the curtain is not a Typhon but someone as small and inconsequential as a private contractor, who in a few short strokes can unravel all our lives from any spot on this planet.  Much like a drone operator can wordlessly, anonymously and mercilessly troll the skies with a few computer levers from a tiny hidden cubicle.

How does our collective and individual psychological architecture morph to incorporate the weight of this knowledge, that nothing we do is any longer our own.  That we haven’t an ounce of privacy, and must be hyper-vigilant (once the domain of only those with certain classes of psychoses – remember the joke “…even paranoids have enemies”?) for life.

Add to this the sense of disempowerment the lobby-dominated corporatist culture that is fully entrenched in our centers of governance have created, and I wonder how any one of us ever gets a good night’s sleep again.

Rapt attention and the law of unintended consequences

As I have already mentioned, I am transplanted from the East Coast.

As such, I was used to a lot of greenery and wildlife around me.  Growing up in New York and New Jersey, we had miles and miles of solid trees of every kind and all the yard animals that go along with it, birds native to the Northeast, squirrels of course, the occasional skunk, possum, raccoon, etc.  Insects like butterflies, mosquitoes, you get the idea.

Moving to Valencia, I had to learn to get used to the chaparral, Sunset’s zone 18.  It is a fairly inhospitable climate – extremely hot and dry, high elevation, beset by desert-like Santa Ana winds on a regular basis.  Wildfire country, I came to learn.  In fact I spent one of my most nerve-racking days a few years back watching a fire spread on a distant hill, thinking it might somehow make its way to us and I would see a lifetime’s worth of stuff disappear in a puff of hot smoke (I was later assured, we were in a non-fire zone, but I am the nervous type to begin with).

Anyway, I decided I was going to recreate the verdant zone I grew up in, around me in this house, which I had picked because it was on the arroyo side of the neighborhood and already had quite a number of giant, mature trees.  All I had to do was fill in the rest. Dozens and dozens of plants later (which all had to be irrigated – a story in itself for another time), I was comfortably ensconced in my oasis.  Among all these flowering and fruiting trees and bushes, I made sure I included those that would attract song birds, butterflies, frogs (I had hoped), bees, and lady bugs.


What I didn’t think about was that it also attracted snakes, squirrels (they are pests when you have fruits and vegetables!), field mice and predatory birds like owls, falcons, hawks, and crows.

Yup, I have all of those now because in my attempt to make a wildlife haven by design, I forgot that I was providing food for a whole different category of animal.

So, every morning and every afternoon, we have to throw the windows open (goodbye AC) and be on the alert, especially for raptors.  Not only does all the greenery come with high maintenance that we do ourselves as the blow-and-go guys that are the neighborhood ‘gardeners’ wouldn’t have a clue as to how to maintain our yard, but I am on constant yard watch against a wide variety of varmints.  To date, we have personally escorted almost 70 squirrels, in a large cage, to the arroyo, along with dozens of mice, in a smaller cage that have to be kept clean and baited at all times.  Did I mention I am also a composter and have a bin of Australian red worms for castings and worm tea fertilizer?  That is a tale in itself.  I am not high maintenance enough all on my own by dint of personality, I created another whole layer of upkeep by virtue of this obsession to carry my old environment around with me like a snail.

This type of self-inflicted garden slavery was never in my calculus and I sure don’t remember it being an issue back East, growing up.  I cannot decide whether it was that I was just oblivious then (probably) or somehow nasty animals never ventured into our yard there because they had too many other safer, more convenient dining spots to choose from.

What I am trying to do here is discourage these intruders to the point that they simply move on to the large and well stock arroyo a stone’s throw from our house, where they would have provisions in abundance.  I have successfully trained the crows and condors to skirt our address, but the falcons are another matter.  Yesterday, there was an audible skirmish in the back and when I ran out, my pan and stick ready for driving whatever it was away, I finally spied a huge brown raptor, sitting ever so still like a big brown knot, in our rear pepper tree.  I had to climb from our table to the top of the stone wall, up into that tree and bang on the branch he chose, until, with one huge silent swoop, he flew up and away.

I was exhausted and had to laugh to myself, as the words of the elderly retired engineer across the street came back to mind.  When he saw us hauling in all the trees and bushes, like the tyros we are, he just shook his head and muttered, ‘You’ll be sorry’.


Junkyard kitties

When we moved to our current house, the previous owners had left one of their cats behind.  Horrified, I contacted their realtor and told her what had happened.  She came back to me later and claimed that they had in fact taken the cat with them, but it obviously ‘missed our house and found its way back’.  I Googled their new address and drove to it (not with the cat – I wouldn’t give a rat I liked back to those people) to satisfy myself that there was no way this animal could have made the trek – quite a number of miles and across two freeways.

So, I tried to care for that old cat, whose name was Max according to a neighbor, as best I could.  Then one day it disappeared, no longer taking the food I had put outside for it (I could not have it inside because I have a bird and this was an unknown feline).  I have to admit, I was not sorry to see it go at the time as it was not exactly a friendly, cuddly thing — which was hardly a surprise given the neglect it likely experienced with that family — but I did feel deeply sorry for it.

It must have become feral, because I kept finding dead birds in the yard.  The first dead bird was deposited at one of our doors, so I took it to be a gift of gratitude from the cat. Then the dead birds were arriving more frequently.  Now I am not sure it was the cat or raptors who frequent the arroyos nearby and, I now realize, have spent time in my yard (for which confusion I have guilted myself ever since).

I am a dog and bird person.  But really, a true animal lover has a soft heart for all species and I am one of those.  It is a problem, believe me.  As a vegan, I am clearly one of those individuals who takes animal welfare very seriously – to the point of profound despair.

Naturally, to do my part, swimming upstream in this brutal animal-abusive world, I have made small contributions to animal rescue charities, both wild and domestic, national and global (I have also rescued dogs and birds, some wild, some injured, finding a place to return them when I couldn’t care for them myself).  It presents a unique dilemma.  Once you start giving money to one charity, you are bombarded with requests from others. (Nonetheless, I do try to make even a token offering to as many as possible – I encourage everyone to try and help as well.  There is a huge need.)

Now, that would not be so alarming, if it were not for the fact that along with the solicitations and free labels, note-cards and maps, come the most mind-wrenching pictures and stories. If you don’t receive these, you would be shocked to know the kinds of practices that are common, beyond the infamous treatment of greyhounds and old horses, to say nothing of dogs, Easter rabbits and chicks – ugh.  The list goes on and on.  The latest one that arrived this afternoon was a thick envelope with the title “Junkyard kitties running out of time…”. OMG, I never even thought about there being junkyard kitties.

What to do? I hate to admit it.  I just contribute online now.  I don’t even read the e-mails when they arrive, I just pass it on to someone to make the payment from my account, so I don’t have to read any horrifying words or view a haunting picture.  They always seem to stay with me for years.  What good am I as an animal rights champion if I am so sensitive on the subject?

I used to post a lot about it on FB but people become so enraged when you do that and I have to admit, that fellow vegans sent me things that made me cringe and avert my eyes. Along with wing-nut trolls, those horror stories (clearly true, unfortunately) drove me from social media.

So I am not going to discuss it much, if at all here, and you can be sure I will not be posting any of those tragic pictures.  I just want to establish where I stand on all this.  I cannot even bring myself to kill a fly (yup, I know how to get them in a jar and escort them outside), much less consume or turn my back on factory farm animals.

And now I have to go arrange a contribution for those poor, dear little kitties.