Tuesday, September 28, 2010

About Lily: A Difficult Decision

During the past few days I spent my 15 minute writing period discussing Lily, her behavior problems, how they have intensified over the past 6 months, and the difficult decisions that must be made about this situation. Dr. Nichol was, in the end, very frank about the stark choice that we face. He was quite clear that if we decide to keep Lily in the household, we would never be able to let our guard down regarding her for the rest of her life, even if we use medications and behavior modification, spending thousands--primarily on the training--she will remain untrustworthy. The only option to removing her from our household is euthanasia. Or as we used to say in those days when the Engineering Geek and I were growing up, putting the dog down. And the decision remains ours. He did not tell us what to do.

From the outside it looks like an easy decision: the dog is displaying more and more fear-based aggression, and the target is generally Shayna, the low dog on the totem pole, the dog who is generally quiet and shy. The obvious thing to do is to put the difficult dog down and to let the shy and quiet dog blossom. Except. . . except that such black and white pictures of the two different canine temperaments happens only in mediocre novels and B-movies.

Although Lily has indeed been showing more and more incidents of aggression towards Shayna, she is still a sweet and obedient dog with us, and is a pleasure to have around most of the time. Since consulting our very capable trainer, Casey, we have instituted a program of home training and she not only has learned to sit, stay, and down-stay, but she is beginning to come when she is called. She is affectionate, and she enjoys Umbrae's company much of the day in the dog run without incident. All of this makes it very difficult to contemplate putting a healthy dog down.

And Shayna's shyness is not all sweetness and light. It has the dark side of fear to it. Shayna will snap if she is cornered by a person, especially a large male person. She never makes contact, and the snarl and snap are a warning: "Look at these teeth and leave me alone!" If she is not cornered, her MO is to run to her "office" (her crate) and hide. She is very reactive to loud noises--pots and pans banging, a door slamming in the wind--and she is absolutely melded to her routine. Although all dogs are creatures of routine, Shayna gets physically ill when it is changed. Shayna can be said to be on sensory overload a good deal of the time, and she manages her anxiety with routine. She, too, will likely need a course of anti-anxiety medications and has already begun training--the beginning of her behavior modification.

By now, the gentle reader may be wondering why it is Lily's behavior and not Shayna's that has created the need for the decision that we are about to make. The difference lies in the nature of the behavior problem. Although both dogs are reactive, Lily's reaction consists of an all-out attack. Further, she has not only attacked and physically injured dogs, she goes after strangers and has come close to injuring people. And that is a line that cannot be allowed to be crossed. Although during the current escalation of aggression, Lily has only attacked other dogs, this must not be construed to mean that it will always be so. Lily cannot be trusted with other people. Ever.

It is also a grave concern that Lily attacked and injured Shayna in the dog run, when we were not there. Usually dogs do not fight when alone. When they fight--which is more common among females*--they tend to fight over resources. Food. The dog bed. Attention. And a person can generally end the fight by walking away. That she attacked when we were not there is very abnormal behavior and is impossible to predict or prevent except by keeping the two dogs completely separate. Forever.

*Female-upon-female fighting is very common. Male-upon-male is a distant second. And male-upon-female almost never happens. Had I known this, the make-up of the canine side of the household would have been different.

These are the reasons that the decision must be made about Lily and not about Shayna.

As is true with most difficult decisions, this one has moral implications. It is generally the moral import of a decision that makes it difficult. Choices that are about pure preference are seldom difficult. We go with what we like. Chocolate or vanilla? Cake or pie? There is no moral dimension to such a decision, as as human beings become practiced choosing our preferences, we make such choices without much thought.

But a decision that involves life and death, even that of an animal, has a moral dimension. It is not the same moral dimension as such a decision about a human being. That is entirely separate. Animals--even animals as sophisticated in social structure and the ability to make decisions as a dog is--are not moral souls. They do not make a conscious choice between good and evil, right and wrong. Rather they make decisions based more on instinct, and are hard-wired to act in favor of survival. And an animal is not conscious of its own death in the future. Dogs, like most other mammals live in the moment. (Dogs are aware of the difference between a living animal and a dead one, but they do not generalize it). That consciousness of impending death is what makes the human a moral being; the myth of the tree in the garden is a story about becoming conscious of mortality and thereby acquiring the need for morality.

Because she is a dog, Lily will not be aware of her impending death--should that be our decision--even when we go to put her down. We will make sure that her passing is unanticipated and painless. A walk in the meadow. A ride in the car. Going out to the garden at the Vet. That is all she will know until she knows no more.

But we are aware of it. And so the factors of our decision include important questions. When is it proper to destroy the life of an animal? Is it ever proper to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on uncertain treatments for a dog, when a limited amount of discretionary wealth inevitably means that humans in the family will have to choose to do without certain wants, and even needs?

What about Lily? Is she ever really relaxed? Does her anxiety overwhelm the good life for her? What does it do to her brain to go repeatedly into that out-of-control place?

And, of very great importance, what about the threat of pain and suffering to another human being that Lily poses? As much as we'd like to believe that we can keep Lily from encountering another person and harming him or her, there is always chance. Dogs escape. In the confusion of comings and goings, they see the open door and the beckoning world and out they go. Lily was on a leash and slipped her collar and ran toward the neighbor dogs that she bit; they were minding their own business on their own property. She could do the same to a human being should she go into that "red zone" and get loose.

In my moral calculus, a human being's welfare is more important than the life of a dog--even a dog I love. This is so because I am obligated to respect the rights of another person, and also because I can only imagine the pain and fear caused to another person who is attacked by a dog. A dog for whom I am responsible, and whom I cannot cure.

And of course, every attack by a dog on a person creates problems for neighbors, dogs and dog-owners everywhere. Whole breeds of dogs are collectively held responsible for the irresponsible behavior of a dog owner who willfully or inattentively lets a dog harm a person. Dog owners find their lives more and more restricted, no matter how responsible they are and how good their dogs are. It tears the social fabric, making for strife between neighbors, anger and fear, and inevitably guilt and shame for the responsible dog owner. Can I keep a dog that is clearly becoming more aggressive, one that I have been warned can never be trusted, and take the risk of creating such chaos?

These are the questions that must be answered. The nature of the questions themselves predict for me the inevitible conclusion. A little time must be taken in order that every human being in the household has the opportunity to ask these questions and prepare themselves for the consequences of the decision that must be made.

A little time. But not so much time that a decision is never made. Not so much that the decision is taken out of our hands by events. A mensch--a real human being--does not let events determine her morality. This idea has been a long time coming to me, even though it seems so simple. I was raised in chaos. I did not learn until late that what I do matters. It has an effect upon the world. In fact, the home(s) or origin for both our problem dogs probably mirrored mine in that important way. But I am a human being and I can learn to be a mensch, and I am obligated to make decisions based upon my ability to think about the future and to make conscious choices. And so, too, with the other humans in the house.

This is not an easy decision. But then, life was not meant to be easy. Life was meant to be life. And it is in the wholeness of life and in the nature of a human being to make such decisions.

Monday, September 27, 2010

About Lily: We Get a Prognosis

"You didn't create a monster," Dr. Nichol assured us as we left the small exam room at Albuquerque's Veterinary Emergency Center. "You were dealt this problem."

After six months of incidents involving aggressive behavior of our dog Lily toward our dog Shayna, and two other dogs in the neighborhood--each incident of which has caused injuries, and repeated trips to the vet for the other dogs--we were at the end of the line. We had consulted a trainer, purchased crates, used calming collars, instituted behavior changes, each of which had been cause for hope, and each of which appeared to achieve a certain measure of success--for a little while. After a quiet period that lasted 4 months, Lily has once attacked Shayna again, and this time it took a dry-firing of a 22 to get Lily to disengage. Poor Shayna had both staples and stitches, and she is becoming increasingly reactive to sudden movements and loud noises. Not a good situation for a dog that lives in a house with a family.

When Shayna was being treated at ABQ Vet Urgent Care Center, Dr. Fizpatrick told us that we ought to consult a behavior specialist, and she recommended Dr. Nichol, who is working on his board certification for Veterinary Behavioral Medicine. "This pattern is not going to get better," she said. "In fact, it is going to get worse each time. Exponentially. Unfortunately, he is not cheap," she continued, "But Jeff is well known throughout the region. He's among the best."

So last week, the Engineering Geek worked from home for a day in order to babysit the dogs, and he spent an hour on the phone with Dr. Nichol's research assistant. We both filled out long questionnaires and submitted them by e-mail. The questions not only required that we detail the agressive incidents, we were also asked why we had chosen this dog, what her daily habits are, where the dogs sleep, how all the dogs and the cats interact, and more. From our detailed answers Dr. Nichol was able to glean quite a bit about our dogs, even before he met us--and them.

On Wednesday afternoon, I loaded all three of our canines--Lily, Shayna, and Umbrae into the Honda, and drove over to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic. There, the Engineering Geek met us, and we went into a two-hour consult.

Dr. Nichol met us in the foyer, greeting the dogs first. A promising sign, I thought. He complimented us on the use of the Gentle Leader head-collar for all three dogs. When we got into the consult, he got straight to business. He had read our questionnaires, and he had many questions. Most of the consult was related to the questions, and near the end of the consult, he also listened to and responded to our questions.

According to the information we had been given about the consult, sometimes dogs are examined and given a battery of lab tests to screen for underlying health conditions before behavioral interventions and any medical treatment begins. When I asked about the blood work toward the end of the interview, the mood got very serious.

Before we get into that, I would like to discuss with you the prognosis for this dog, he told us. Basically, he said that we have a very complicated situation. We have two dogs with behavior problems--Shayna, who is very shy and reactive and may not be using normal signalling to other dogs, and Lily, who displays fear agression that has become physical in the past six months. Umbrae, on the other hand, is a well-adjusted dog. This is not surprising because he has been raised by us since he was a very young puppy. He is not part of the problem at all, and may even mitigate it to some extent.

Now, as if a switch has been thrown in Lily's brain, her threatening behavior towards other dogs, which was always present to some degree, has become outright attacks on other dogs and threats toward people. And because she and Shayna are in the same household, they have begun an transaction in which Lily threatens and then attacks--and her agitation ramps up very, very quickly. In response to three attacks with injuries, Shayna's reactivity has increased, but that also increases the chances of another attack. If we keep both dogs in the same household and do nothing the attacks will certainly worsen in ferocity and the resulting injury over time. And threats towards people will most likely become attacks on people, something that we cannot allow.

The question thus becomes what to do. "What are your goals?" asked Dr. Nichol.

Our first response was to say that we wanted peace in the house, that we want the fighting to stop. When pressed by Dr. Nichol, we expressed that we wished to rehabilitate Lily if possible, and to bring Shayna to a point where she is less reactive and more obedient towards others in the household. (She obeys me, but if I am around she ignores commands from others).

Given these goals, Dr.Nichol discussed with us two broad actions, the second of which has two possible directions.

1) Keep both dogs in the household, treat both with anti-anxiety medication, and institute a program of behavior modification for both of them. (Umbrae would continue with his therapy dog training, as he is not part of the problem anyway).

Prognosis: We may see limited success for a period of months or even years. But we can never trust Lily with strangers or with other dogs--even our own, and the likelihood of another, and more severe attack months or even a few years down the line is high. Bottom line is that we could spend thousands upon thousands of dollars, and completely change our behavior and we still will have to be very vigilant toward Lily for the rest of her life with us.

2) Remove one dog from the household, and treat the other dog.

Here, it was clear from the beginning of our discussion that the dog we were all considering removing is Lily. She is the one with aggression problems, and they pre-date Shayna's advent in the household. As I noticed that this was the subtext of the conversation, I interrupted the conversation. "If Lily is removed from the equation," I asked, "Do we have a better chance rehabilitating Shayna?"

"Definitely," came the reply. Shayna does not have problems with agression. Any aggressive looking response she gives Lily is defensive in nature. However, these attacks will eventually make the behavior more entrenched, so a decision should be reached before we end up with two aggressive dogs. Although treating Shayna's fear and anxiety, which was present prior to any interactions with Lily, will not be a walk in the park, a combined approach of medication and behavior modification has a good chance of succeeding.

We discussed two possibilities regarding removing Lily from the household: re-homing her and euthanasia. Separately, both the Engineering Geek and I had answered on the questionnaire that we had thought about euthanasia. Bruce also indicated that he had thought about re-homing. My response to the re-homing question was a little different. I had written that I had thought about it, but was reluctant to pass on a dangerous dog to others.

According to Dr. Nichol, rehoming isn't really an option for Lily at this point. First, he pointed out, she does have issues with aggression and they are persistent and entrenched. Even if we managed to find a new home for Lily, having been direct about the problems, and even sharing with the new owners the report for Dr. Nichol and getting them to sign a waiver of liability in blood, they could still come back and sue us later should Lily injure someone. Further, part of the genesis of Lily's problem is already that we are at least her 3rd home. She probably had at least one home prior to being a stray, she was then a resident of the shelter, and then she came to us. By the time she came to us, she had made and broken attachments in at least two other places. Each such transition is hard on most dogs, and particularly hard on one that has fear-aggressive issues. "Frankly," Dr. Nichol said, "Your home is the last stop for both of these dogs." He was talking about Lily and Shayna.

So at this point, we stand on the cusp of a weighty decision. Rehoming Lily is off the table. So is doing nothing and hoping the problem will go away. Shayna cannot take more of this. So the decision is whether we ought to begin treatment of both dogs with anti-anxiety medications, along with behavior modification supervised by a trainer, or whether we ought to euthanize Lily and treat Shayna. Certainly this issue has financial considerations attached. It is also a highly emotional decision that cannot be taken lightly, and that despite the emotional cost, must be decided rationally and thoughtfully, taking into consideration the impacts on every member of the family and upon the household as a whole.

And making such a decision is going to take some time. How do we deal with the dogs in the meantime? There are more questions than answers at the moment. We (the humans) of Ragamuffin House have to each make a choice of our own, and come to terms with it, and then we have to talk it out, reaching a choice as a family. We must take into consideration the needs of all the non-talking residents--Lily, Shayna, and Umbrae--who are involved in the dynamics that have gone so terribly wrong, and who are impacted by our decision. In the process, we will undoubtedly wrestle with the mistakes that we have made with these dogs, as well as the problems that we were dealt unknowingly, and the sense of failure that humans feel when no choice has a happy ending.

It is hard enough to consider and make the choice for euthanasia when a dog is old and ill. To contemplate putting a dog down before end of life decisions would ordinarily be made is harder.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Individualized Doctoral Plan: Back to the "U" Daze

I took a year off from my Ph.D. studies for a number of different reasons: Continental Congress 2009, helping the Rasta Jew become a better high school student, and angst about the direction of my research. The last was probably the most significant reason that the original plan to take a semester off stretched into a full year. But that year is over now, and after dealing with some typical UNM bureaucratic idiocy, I'm back at the "U". (Why, oh why when there is nothing offered in the college for doc students during the summer, do they count summers as regular semester, thus essentially fining a person the cost of applying to the program again for taking a fall-spring 2 semester combination surrounded by two summers? I think they nickel and dime students in order to afford the exorbitant athletic budgets--but that's a different blog).

So here I am back, and that angst that kept me from registering last spring--along with the worst winter weather in a generation for the East Mountains--means that I am rethinking my research direction. Which is interesting and a little nerve racking, but I understand that it is not uncommon. The particulars are unique to each student, though, as are mine.

My background is heavily in the sciences. Prior to going into teaching science for a host of life-course and personal reasons, all my university work--undergrad and grad--had been in the sciences--biology, geology, although a minor in Anthropology and my interest in history allowed me to take a teaching certification in social studies as well. (Science and math certified teachers almost never get to teach anything else, because of the dearth of science teachers, and that was true of me, but I have the endorsement).

That heavy science background made it natural for me to consider a dissertation project weighted toward a scientific study when I decided to pursue a Ph.D. after earning an MA in Special Education (emphasis in Gifted/Twice-Exceptional--that is, Gifted with another qualifying diagnosis). So I planned to get a dual Ph.D. in Special Education and Psychology--spanning not only two departments, but two colleges. My research was to be on the differences in brain development among typically developing children, intellectually gifted children, and intellectually gifted children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I began charging into it. I enjoyed courses in Neurobiology, Neuroanatomy and physiology, research seminars. I enjoyed courses in children's psychopathology, intelligence testing, and still more research seminars in psychology. But I did not enjoy the deadly serious politics of the Psychology Department at UNM. Whereas the Special Education Department is particular open to students developing an Individualized Doctoral Plan (IDP) for studies, the Psychology Department is not. And although the Office of Graduate Studies advisor was enthusiastic about such a "edge of the envelope" venture, the Psychology Department was not. So among other things I was doing during the 2009 - 10 school year, I was floundering, and wondering if I really wanted to do this Ph.D. at all.

As the summer 2010 days wound down towards August, when registration is required, I ran into one of my professors, who also happens to be my advisor's husband, playing guitar at ABQ Uptown. We had a nice conversation during which I allowed that I might return to the program. The next day I got an e-mail from my advisor about a special course, a Dissertation Seminar, that she recommended I take. That was the encouragement I was looking for, and I am now re-admitted, taking six hours, and thinking about my research.

I have decided a few things. First, now that I know the psychology dual degree will not work--I could go on beating my head against that wall, but it is likely to give me a headache and make me tired--I want to change my focus in the research. The point of the dissertation research, my advisor keeps saying, is that it be something doable so that I will get it done. "It is not your life's work," another member of my committee advises. "It is the ticket to the next phase of work." I have been down this path before--a gargantuan project that took so long that I hated it, and the field, before it was all over. I tend to dream up these huge, complex projects that are doable--if I want to delay graduation until I am 75.

So--the focus. I want it to be related to the minor hours I have been accumulated over the three years I was taking significant coursework. Obviously, it also has to be related to special education. Since I have had experience as a homeschooling mom, and I have contacts in that community, my advisor suggested that I think about looking at some aspect of homeschooling for Gifted/Twice-exceptional children. I thought about that, and I think it is good. Nothing much has been looked at in this area--in fact, educators in general tend to ignore homeschooling as a significant educational alternative, even though more than one million American children are now homeschooled. It's not the mainstream, but it's certainly not the province of a few religious fanatics (as the MSM would like you to believe) either.

One caveat my advisor and I decided upon is that I need to narrow the field for the Twice-exceptional qualification. Twice-exceptional (2X or 2e) means children who are intellectually gifted (IQ usually 125 - 130 and above) and who have some other IDEA qualifying exceptionality. In kids who are a priori gifted, these exceptionalities do not include Mental Retardation and generally not Traumatic Brain Injury, but they can include severe physical disablities ( like Cerebral Palsy), Emotional-Behavior Disorders (which encompasses mood disorders, anxiety disorders and conduct disorders), Specific Learning Disabilities, Other Health Impaired (this is usually ADHD, but also encompasses severe and life-threatening diseases, such as cancer or Type I Diabetes) and Autism. With respect to Autism--which has been my interest--intellectually gifted kids aren't generally found among the severely autistic, whose intelligence is hard to assess. 2x students with ASD usually have Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.

So today, as I write this, I have the beginning of an idea, but not really the idea itself. I know that I want to tap into the relatively unexplored field of homeschooling. I know that I want to focus on some aspect of Gifted/2X. It is thought that the number of gifted students among the homeschooled population is high, though I have not seen any numbers. For the 2X component, I want to focus on those gifted kids with what Temple Grandin calls "different minds." These are the gifted kids who, although they have enormous potential, learn so differently that they are far less likely to be successful in the school environment. So I am thinking of those with Autism, severe ADD (without the behavioral component) and related syndromes.

I see the broad outlines now, but I do not really have fleshed out questions or ideas. Yet. Those will come. I think they will come from thinking and writing, along with a good dose of preliminary research. And of course, I welcome reader's thoughts--especially if you are or have been homeschooling a very smart and very different child. Or if you are intellectually gifted, no matter what your age or background.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Media Circus: The Book Burning That Never Was

In my first post on this topic, I said that what we have here is a tale of two provocations. I also said that they are not equal in weight. I covered the first and weightier provocation--that of building a new mosque at Ground Zero--in my first post. The counter-provocation, if counter it was, came when the media created a circus around an obscure Florida Church.

Pastor Jones, who preaches at rural church of 50 members, let the media know that he intended to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The mainstream media took the bait. And Pastor Jones sat back and counted off his fifteen minutes of fame. In watching the predictable reactions, one has to wonder who was taking whom for a ride to the old fishing hole.

In the more sedate newspapers here in flyover country, such a story only gets a few lines in the National Round-Up' --if it even gets that. And gets it only if the event actually occurs. It is a curiousity, not news. But the national media, ever eager to jump on anything that confirms its prejudices about ordinary Americans, worked itself into a frenzy over the bookburnings that never were. And after he had gotten a sufficient amount of attention--including interviews with international leaders, a call from the President of the United States, and a free trip to New York to act out his vision of himself as a high-level negotiator--Pastor Jones announced that the Koran burning was off. Apparently, he had gotten the attention he was looking for. Pastor Jones-1, MSM-0.

Apparently, too, the MSM succeeded in creating moral equivilency between the construction of an expensive mosque-cum-community center at Ground Zero and an obscure Florida pastor from the hinterlands threatening to burn books. This is unsurprising, because the media "elites" no longer ask if a story will "play in Peoria"; they ask if the story confirms their prejudices about the American heartland. This story did just that, allowing them to portray ordinary Americans as narrow-minded bigots that are all eager to be caught on film burning books.

For the record, most Americans are opposed to the wanton destruction of burning books, flags, or anything else. In the heartland especially, a certain polite rectitude unknown inside the beltway creates a certain restraint, and people that live in the towns of flyover country tend to be friendly to one another and the stranger within their gates. Most people in this country are not salivating to hate their neighbors; they are too busy working to fulfill their dreams, to feed their families, to educate their children, to make of their communities and towns good and pleasant places to live.

That the media was willing to fan the very tiny spark of one unimportant pastor of a small church of 50 people threatening to burn a Koran in rural Florida is telling. It is telling in the story that is not and never was. The story that the MSM was dying to find. The story of hundreds of thousands of Americans ready to take up the torch and burn Korans in great bonfires across the country. There were 50 people. And some others on the internet, not really engaged, who tried to fan the flames of the book-pyre that never was.

Also telling is the story of the reaction of Muslim clerics and leaders worldwide. The threat of rioting in the streets and violence against Americans and Christians, if the Koran was burned. In an interview with CNN, for example, he Imam of the Ground Zero mosque, Feisal Rauf had this to say:

O'BRIEN: Then why is it hard to back up and say, and now that we've done it, let's undo it, let's just say we won't. Let's pick another spot that's been offered?

RAUF: As I just mentioned, our national security now hinges on how we negotiate this, how we speak about it, and what we do. It is important for us now to raise the bar on our conversation--

O'BRIEN: What's the risk? When you say "national security," what's the risk?

RAUF: As I mentioned, because if we move, that means the radicals have shaped the discourse. The radicals will shape the discourse on both sides. And those of us who are moderates on both sides -- you see Soledad, the battle front is not between Muslims and non-Muslims . . . The radicals actually feed off each other. And in some kind of existential way, need each other. And the more that the radicals are able to control the discourse on one side, it strengthens the radicals on the other side and vice versa. We have to turn this around.

(CNN Transcripts, Larry King Live, Sept. 08, 2010, retrieved Sept. 20, 2010 from http://archives.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1009/08/lkl.01.html).

The point here, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, is two-fold, according to Rauf. First, is the implied threat that if Rauf actually has the sensitivity to American values, manners and mores--that is if he respects the values of the country in which he lives--and moves the mosque to a more politic location in lower Manhattan, then Muslims somewhere will make some violent move against the United States. This is the threat of an act of war, placing our national security at risk. It is an veiled threat that if not made by the Imam, was at least delivered by the Imam. If the Imam knows of some substantial threat to the United States, then it is his duty as a citizen, on pain of treason, to deliver that knowledge to the government of the United States.

Secondly, Rauf is making the same claim of moral equivalency that the MSM invented for this drama. He is claiming that Pastor Jones and his misguided congregation of 50 people is morally equivalent to radical Islamists. Certainly threatening to burn the Koran is an imprudent act, and in my mind a morally offensive act of wanton destruction. But it is not a crime. It is self-expression protected in the US by the First Amendment. Jones and his church members are hardly on the same moral plane as radical Islamists who turn passenger jets into instruments of wholesale murder, strap bombs to the bodies of children to kill civilians, and have attacked the United States Navy in peacetime at a neutral port.

This game of moral equivilancy is the stock and trade of those who play the victim to get what they want. Rauf has planned an act of extreme insensitivity towards the families of those murdered on 9/11, a provocative act toward the people of New York City and the United States, who were attacked that day, but by this claim he wishes to convince us that he is the moderate by making Pastor Jones and his wingnuts the moral equivilant of trained killers who are well financed by various Islamists polities and organizations. Please! As Mark Twain used to tell us: "Saying so don't make it so."

The planned mosque is a great provocation to the people of the United States, and by his protests that he can't change its location without violence from unnamed but very real organizations in the Moslem world, Rauf is engaging in moral blackmail. And more. He not only wants to force the issue of the mosque upon us, he wants us to give our moral sanction to it in the name of tolerance. But blackmail is wrong: it is force, and a violation of another's liberty. And the threat of violence against innocent Americans and their allies the world over, people who may or may not hold any opinion about this mosque, is purely evil. To tolerate such evil in order to placate terrorists is injustice. No matter how much he protests otherwise, Rauf is not moderate, he is a spokesman for terrorism. He deserves no hearing, no sanction from us.

And Pastor Jones? He is a wiley operator who saw the opportunity for a brief moment of martyrdom by editorial, and took it. He understood well the old saying that "no publicity is bad publicity." He deserves to fade back into obscurity, as he will when the performance is over. The Koran-burning that never was became a media circus, a small provocation that was supposed to be used by the media to incite division and violence. It didn't. It wasn't even news.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Hearts He Broke: The Provocation of the Mosque

"Our hearts he broke, he burned the Torah,
burned the Torah,
Ash and smoke and crushed Menorah,
crushed Menorah.
Antiochus, Antiochus."
--Hayo, Haya

In the time of Hadrian, Emperor of Rome, the study and practice
of Torah were forbidden. The teachers of Israel said: "How survive
without the Tree of Life? Why live when the soul is dead?" And so
they taught and learned and in doing so, Israel's ten
martyrs were taken and doomed. . . Hanniniah ben Teriadon
was wrapped in a Scroll of the Law and placed on a pyre
of green brushwood and burned alive. As he was so burned,
he opened his mouth and cried: "I see! I see!"
His students asked: "Master, what do you see?" And he answered:
"I see the parchment burning while the letters of the Law soar upward . . ."

What we have here is a story of provocation and counter-provocation. They are not equal in weight.

The original provocation--the announcement that a mosque-cum-community center will be built at Ground Zero--is explosive. The site has become to Americans a sacred place. A place to which the entire people of the United States look to honor those who were murdered by fire on that day so awful that it instantly became known by its numbers: 9-11. Most of the bodies of the dead were never recovered, having been vaporized in the extreme heat of burning jet fuel, or pulverized into elements and compounds by the weight of the buildings coming down upon their heads. There is no cemetary to go to, no place where the mortal remains of the murdered have been laid to rest. There is only a hole in the ground and a reflecting pool at the place where they died. A place that is on some of the most expensive real estate in the civilized world. They are in some ineffable way there, where their lives were deliberately taken, in the name of Islam; and when we go there or hearken to them in our hearts that were broken that day, we are standing in that sacred space.

That those buildings, full of civilians who went there to work in the service of their own individual lives, goals and happiness, were attacked and destoyed in the name of Islam, is not in dispute. The men who planned the hijacking of the airplanes--and the murder of everyone on them as well--and the men who duly flew them into the Twin Towers, all did so in the name of jihad--holy war--a duty for all who have submitted to the god of Islam in the name of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam. That there are those Moslems who do not accept such behavior in their own names is real enough, but very few of them have publically abjured the murder of the "infidel" in the name of jihad and in the name of Islam. And even if the vast majority of Muslims worldwide had stood up against the jihadists of that day, and even if they had not celebrated the murder of innocents from 'Arabia to Zanzibar', they would have so stood against these murders out of shame for what was done in the name of Islam,and in their own names.

It is simply unbelievable that Imam Faisel Rauf and his wife do not understand how absolutely inappropriate is the construction of a mosque anywhere near the sacred place where innocents were deliberately killed in the name of Islam. If this Imam is indeed a moderate Muslim who understands American culture, then he knows. And his wife knows, too.
It would be like erecting a shrine to German culture at Auschwitz. It is true that every German did not condone the actions of the German National Socialist Party, and nevertheless the murder of European Jews was done in their name. Most German individuals are not responsible for those murders, but nevertheless they have the sensitivity to understand the pain such a building would bring to the survivors and their families. They have manners. And of course, Germans the world over do not dance in the streets to cheer on the Nazis, nor do they regularly gather in large groups to shout "Death to the Jews." A majority of Muslims the world over have and do. And the Imam and his wife dwell in America and could stand to develop some sensitivity toward American values, manners and mores. That they refuse to do so casts great doubt upon their stated motives.

In a very real sense, Ground Zero represents to Americans the burning of sacred text. The sacred text that is written large upon the lives of ordinary Americans, who in going about their daily work were in that moment pursuing happiness. They were the living text of the American dream. And in the next moment, the jet fuel brought upon their heads by the jihadist hijackers turned them and the work of their hands into an auto-da-fe for Islam. When the buildings came down and the ashes poured through the streets of Manhattan, we all watched the sacred letters of their lives rise toward the heavens in the form of a myriad of papers wafting into the perfectly clear blue Tuesday morning sky.

The mosque at that sacred place, the place where the living texts of American lives were vaporized, crushed and burned, all in the name of Islam, is a very large provocation. It is made even larger by the habit Islamists have had for centuries, the habit of erecting their mosques on the crushed ruins of places of worship the world over; the ruins of the peoples that Islam has conquered by the sword.
It should stop here. It should stop now. If there is a moderate Islam--and we are waiting to see evidence of it in the actions of the supposed moderate Imam Rauf--then such triumphalism should end now. At Ground Zero, that sacred place.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What a Long, Strange Monday it Was . . .

Talk about a bad Monday . . .

Yesterday, I started my 15 minutes a day 12 step writing regime, and I even have a sponsor.
I had already had a conversation with the family about mom needing to finish her graduate school career. At 50, it's getting ridiculous! And that means starting the dissertation. Because 90% of dissertations that are not finished were never started.

And yesterday I did several hours of housework in order to get some order back after First Day Rosh Hashannah (no work done), Second Day Rosh Hashannah (no work done), followed immediately by Saturday--an all-day seminar (no work done). I was feeling proud of myself after I put in my 15 minutes of writing that expanded to 30, followed by phone calls and getting a necessary form filled out for the Catron County Assessor--for the Ranch!!!--and a trip to the Albuquerque Uptown Borders store to purchase Strunk and White. (That's The Elements of Style, and oldie but goodie!)

I was feeling on top of things. I was doing my life pretty well indeed.
Or so I thought . . .

I picked up the Rasta Jew from Cross Country practice at about 6, and when we pulled up, I asked him to bring the dogs in. Shayna was already inside, but Lily and Umbrae were in the dog run.

Now usually, the Rasta Jew waits a while before bringing them in. He generally needs to inhabit his room alone for a while, and reassure himself that he is part of his space. So, looking forward to sitting down to read a book about a city girl turned farmer, I went about putting away some clothes in the closet. And was suddenly surrounded by two very excited, wild and crazy dogs. (I usually make them all sit in the dog run before I open the gate, and again at the door before I let them in. I do this to avoid what happened next. And when Lily jumped up on the bed, I ordered her down. And she jumped straight over the footboard and right onto Shayna.

We had a repeat of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in my bedroom.

Except that the Rasta Jew had to dry fire his pellet rifle next to Lily's head to break her away from Shayna. So it was a Monday evening trip to the Vet Urgent Care with Shayna, who had multiple abraisions and wounds on her left foreleg and chest. She was more serverely injured than I thought by looking at her.
Over three hundred dollars later, I was ready to take Lily in for immediate euthanasia.
Rehoming her seems irresponsible since I'd just be passing the problem on to someone else. . .

The Urgent Care Vet gave us the name of an animal behaviorist, and the Engineering Rancher Geek, who had initially said we should euthanize Lily today, spent 45 minutes on the phone with one of the researchers. I filled out a very long questionnaire, as did the ERG. To see this person will be quite expensive, but that expense includes a full medical evaluation and lab tests. If this leads to a definitive answer that either something can be done or it cannot, it could give us peace with whatever decision we make.

In the meantime, upon return from the vet last night, a groggy Shayna went into her crate and has refused to come out in nearly 24 hours. I cannot give her the antibiotics--the priciest item on the estimate for her care--but I think if I can just entice her to eat one of the liver-flavored pain tablets, she will come out and eat, drink and take the antibiotics. And take a short, halting walk outside . . . this is the longest Shayna-on-strike we've had since we brought her home.

Whatever hard choices we make in the next few days, for sure we cannot let this happen to poor Shayna again.

Oy. I don't like Mondays. At least, not Mondays like this!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Murder in the First Degree: Remembering 9-11on 9-12

Yesterday, I was quiet. I did not write of it.

I remembered that day of ash and smoke, come out of a clear blue sky. It came out of the blue, but it came not by accident. It came by the intention of evil men. Murder by malice aforthought.

And the wound is still raw now, nine years later. I still feel ripped open, vulnerable and I still experience the red fire of anger behind my eyes. ( I who witnessed it by television from a thousand miles and more away).

And I wonder at those who want me, want us to curb our anger, to worry about what those who did this think about me, about us. About US.

A person who does this-- who brings buildings down upon the heads of the people of a city--who plans ahead the murder of innocents and innocence with such extravagence;
A person who does this deserves no thought, no consideration, no concern. A person who does this deserves nothing but to have destruction rained down upon him. He has chosen to become not a human being and has forfeited any consideration from human beings.

And those who would use the liberties vouchsafed for them by the Constitution in order to bring about the destruction of the cities and people who protect that Constitution, even to bring about the destruction of the Constitution itself, deserve no protection, no consideration and no concern. They deserve nothing from the people who look to the Constitution for the protection of rights.

Let us not forget who did this and why they did it. Anger is an appropriate response to such an intrusion upon the rights of the innocent people who were murdered on 9/11. Hatred of the evil deed and of those who deliberately took over 3,000 lives, and of those who supported it, cheered it, and approved of it, is a proper response to the murder of innocents.

This was no accident. It was no tragedy--no consequence of the exegencies of nature, no coming together of random chances. It was murder in the first degree.

Catching Up: A Bitter-Sweet New Year

Catching Up: Circumstances and holidays, Jewish and American, have all come together to create a blog-cation of nearly two weeks at Ragamuffin House and Ragamuffin Ranch. This is the second catching up post today! This week, I am beginning a regular writing routine, in order to be more faithful to blogging on all kinds of topics, not just politics.

Rosh Hashanah 5771:

Shanah Tovah--as the graphic says: A Good Year--for a High Holy Days season that kind of snuck up on us, beginning in the same week as Labor Day.
Our lunar Jewish calendar is intercalated with the Western solar calendar, so that seven times in 19 years, we add a leap month to keep the holy times and seasons in line with the actual seasons. Sometimes leap month comes every two years, and sometimes, like this year, it comes in the third year. When that happens, the second year comes with holy days that are very early according to the solar calendar.

So Rosh Hashanah 5771--the Jewish New Year--snuck up on me, and we almost missed Elul, the month of preparation. Or did we? So much is happening in the world and in our lives, and during Elul, I think our hearts and minds were busy with changes--some welcome, some unexpected, and some necessary to the times and seasons.

On Wednesday evening we ate a very good dinner complete with round cinnamon-raison Challah, dipped our apples in honey--for a sweet year, and then went to synagogue to welcome the new year with our beloved (if at times exasperating) fellow Jews. We hoped and prayed for a good and prosperous year for ourselves and the whole House of Israel. May it be so! May we make it so!

On Thursday and Friday at the first and second day morning services, we performed the Mitzvah--the commandment--of hearing the Shofar, the wild calling of the Ram's Horn, to awaken us, to warn us, to strengthen us for what is coming: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Given the signs of the times, I think the bitter-sweet mood among our fellow Jews is indeed timely. Economic hard times are only beginning, and tends to cause the anti-Semites to come pouring out of the woodwork. Israel is threatened, and war with Iran may not be avoidable, which brings a large number of our people under the gun. And the new Exodus from Europe--Jews leaving countries where they are warned not to tell who they are, or wear a kippah, or a star, for fear of retribution from the growing Muslim majorities in Sweden, in France, only because they exist as Jews. The world grows harder and more troubled.

And yet, we remind ourselves at our solemn and yet hopeful assembly:

". . . how unyielding is the will of our people Israel! After the long nights, after the days and years when our ashes blackened the sky, Israel endures, hearts still turned to love, souls still turned to life.
So day and night, early and late, we still rejoice in the study of Torah, we will walk by the light of Mitzvot. They are our life and the length of our days. Praised be the Source of Life, and Love, and Israel, our people!"
--CCAR and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1978): Sha'arei T'shuvah: The New Union Prayer Book for the Days of Awe (p. 25-26).

We have survived worse, and come back to flourishing life. The dry bones are clothed in new flesh. And at those times when the outside world becomes hard and troubled, we must summon within us the resolve to keep the flame alive within our own hearts, and within the hearts of our homes and our synagogues, in order to succor the strength and resolve to come through this latest great gate in history with strength and honor and love of life.

And may this year indeed be a good year for me, and you, and the whole House of Israel, and the whole world. For Rosh Hashanah commemorates and celebrates the birth of the world, and the goodness of life.

Catching Up: Labor Day at the Ranch

Catching Up: It has been almost two weeks since I posted, and during this busy summer, I have not been posting often anyway. So much to do, so little time! I will be posting a few blog entries to catch up, and then establish a writing routine so that new entries will be posted at least 3-4 times a week.

Labor Day at the Ranch: We spent much of the Labor Day weekend at the ranch. We moved some boxes down there, and took the dogs for the first time. Transporting three dogs three hours each way was an adventure, but we managed it well, I believe. We did some soil samples and marked our fields, and now will be planning various projects to be done once the High Holy Days are done.

Because the former owners are still in residence, finishing up their various commitments, we have been staying in the cabin each time. I love the front porch and the view across our little valley. And the back faces the rimrock, part of the Colorado Plateau formations.

The Rasta-Jew makes friends with Cowboy J.'s horses. They will be moving with him, but in the meantime, they enjoy a peaceful early fall morning at the watering tank.

The Rasta-Jew loves the ranch and finds much to do there. On Labor Day weekend, he repaired the drive shaft of an old Jeep truck, put in transmission fluid, and replaced the battery and cables. He forgot brake fluid though, so he was driving in low gear and stopping by coasting on level ground.

Sister Sarah the burro shelters in the shade near the stock tank by the gate. She comes with the ranch, because moving would be hard on her. She's getting on in years and has a bad hip. But she loves us already, and comes up in the mornings to get apples and petting. And she is still a good animal guard.

The Engineering Rancher Geek had some lessons in Tractor 101, and immediately began grading the road and the driveway, including the area in front of the barn.

While he was doing that, I was sifting the soil samples and getting them ready to ship out to NMSU, where the State Extension Soil Labs are located. They will be tested because we will need to add amendments this fall in order to be ready to plant in the spring.Lots to do! LOTS!

We were hoping to go the ranch this weekend, too, but it would have been just to much with Rosh Hashanah Thursday and Friday. Shabbat was strange as I had a Dissertation Seminar (a PhinisheD support group for this the loneliest time of the process) late Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Lots of discussion, seeing old friends at different stages of their research and writing.