Thursday, June 21, 2018

Farewell Bubba

Much sadness today as we said farewell to our beloved Bubba.  While he was only 6 and a half years old, Bubba was experiencing a lot of pain these last few months as he seemed to have lost the birth lottery in regards to his knees, hip, and back.

It is very easy to remember the first day we met Bubba.  We had been looking for a rescue for a few weeks, then received an email from a local shelter that they had a Beagle-Lab mix, 2 months old, that we might like to meet.  My daughter, her friend, and I went to the house and there he was, the cutest puppy you might ever see.  While he seemed to have large feet, they told us he would peak at about 45 pounds.  He was affectionate, he was active, it was love at first sight.

As the days passed into weeks, Bubba grew.  And grew.  And grew.  Once he passed 60 pounds, we knew the shelter people may have underestimated his growth potential.  Eventually he topped out at 90 lean and muscular pounds.

Bubba's favorite games involved balls and tug-of-war.  He had a favorite, hard plastic, red ball with a tennis ball inside it.  Bubba destroyed virtually every toy ever given to him, except for that ball.  As I look at it now, there are numerous holes from his teeth and practically every inch looks effected by chewing.  Bubba would chase that ball, grab it through one of the large holes in it, swing his head back and forth, then prance back to me so I could throw it again.  In the last few weeks, Bubba could only chase the ball a half dozen times or so before he got tired, but he still reveled in that game.

Bubba also loved tug of war.  We purchased a tightly wound rope a few years back which he would carry over to one of us to pull.  He was extremely strong, and mostly won that game, occasionally either ripping the rope from our hands, or pulling us off the chair we were sitting on. 

We often bought Bubba cloth toys with squeakies inside.  He would find the squeaky noise, then rip apart the toy and remove the squeaky, using the plastic part as chewing gum for a bit.  Then the cloth would be ripped into shreds.  To be honest, sometimes watching him play could be a bit disturbing, as he gave those toys no mercy.  (We believe that the cats who also live with us saw him play which deterred them from playing with him as well.)
We were told very early that Bubba was a DAWG, not some prim and prissy poodle.  Perhaps that was reflected in the way he played.  While he may have had Beagle ears, his demeanor and attitude said hound.  Bubba was a HOUNDDAWG.

Despite that sometimes aggressive play, Bubba was very gentle with children.  At this point, the neighborhood kids don't know he has gone to doggie heaven.  I know they will be very sad to hear of his passing as many people considered him the neighborhood dog, almost a mascot.  He tolerated little kids running up to him, hugging his neck, petting him almost to the point of smothering him but he never seemed to mind.  He gave and received affection unconditionally and in that regard he was a great example and influence.

Bubba also loved the water.  These last few days, my wonderful wife Nora, let him swim in our local creek, something we didn't always do because he would smell horribly afterwards.  While we couldn't leave him swim unleashed, he still enjoyed paddling about, dunking his head.  When we took him on vacation, he would gravitate right to the baby pool, walk right in, drink the water, then plop down.  As a result, we purchased a pool for him at home which he loved to rest in when the heat soared.  He was in the pool everyday this week.

Bubba was treated to ice cream yesterday and today.  Along with the river dunk, and the peanut butter treats Nora had made for him, Bubba was king this past week.  It was the least we could do.
Unlike our cats, Bubba loved to go in the car.  When he saw one of us grab his leash, he was excited to go for a walk, but when he saw us grab the leash and the car keys, he was ecstatic.  He would jump right into the back seat, sometimes hanging his head out the window, sometimes sitting in the middle of the seat, looking straight out the front.  On longer rides, he would eventually settle down and relax. 

Today, knowing this would be a one way trip for him, I felt strange seeing his excitement as he practically dragged me to the car.   Nora took a picture of him in the back seat, one of many she took today including the one below.  If you look closely, you can see a stool on the chair in the background. That is because Bubba was having a love affair with every chair in the house.  Self soothing, the vet called it, indicative that he was in pain, as he generally expressed his tenderness when we left the house.  We won't have to put chairs on chairs anymore when we leave, but we also won't be greeted at the door by the most lovable dog ever created. 

Of course, Bubba, being a DAWG, could be very irritating,  His games of grabbing virtually everything left where it shouldn't be, could be exhausting.  I often called him effen dog when he bounded down the stairs with a shoe or blouse or razor or whatever he found in a room with an open door in his mouth.

Effen dog.  He annoyed us, he frustrated us, he stole our hearts.  He will be missed.

As we drove home from the vet, an empty collar in the back seat, water running down our faces, we momentarily felt like we had abandoned him, left him on the floor in an office without company.  Suddenly the check engine light went on.  Bubba!  He was OK, running without pain, ripping apart toy after toy to find the squeaky inside, chasing the big, red ball, playing tug of war, looking forward to a dip in heaven's creek.  He was telling us that our sadness would eventually pass, but that he would remain in our hearts forever.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Rule of Law 2

I ended my last post with the following question:

What do we do when the rule of law has been altered so insidiously that it no longer seeks justice for the many, but prosperity for the few?

Some might think it is specifically directed at the policies of the current administration, and certainly there is reason to be alert when one considers the changes that have been implemented in the area of environmental protection, consumer fraud protection, and worker's rights, to name a few.

But, after reading The Rule of Law edition of Lapham's Quarterly, it is painfully obvious that the law has been fashioned far to often to benefit those with the most, at the detriment of those in the minority or without resources.  In other words, that this is nothing new.

Two effective illustrations to that point are Lie of the Land from I Saw the Sky Catch Fre by T. Obinkaram Echewa, and an excerpt from Jill Leovy's Ghettoside.

I Saw the Sky Catch Fire consists of memories told by the grandmother of the narrator about the Women's War of 1929 in Nigeria.  It details the process by which the residents of the small villages in Nigeria slowly lost their rights, both as landowners and citizens.  To put it bluntly, "the while man made and broke laws as he went along, shook hands to treaties he had no intention of keeping, violated oaths the same day, week or month that he swore them."  Similar to how we treated the native American Indian here in North America, the law was used without concern to gain whatever those with the power and the arms wanted to gain.  When the law was violated by a native to the land, he was punished swiftly and violently.  When it was violated by someone in power, the law was changed to provide justification for whatever atrocity might have been committed.

(I could mention here the recent justification of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents, a cruel and horrendous policy that has been defended by citing, not only the rule of law but the Bible as well, but I will resist the desire to pick such low hanging fruit.)

Jill Leovy's piece reflects the research she did in the early 2000's while working as a crime correspondent for the LA Times.  For me, it addresses two salient points.  First, the wonderment of many in the white community about why law abiding citizens in minority communities, especially African American communities, do not more actively help the police turn in those criminals that live among them, and second, how those in minority communities perceive the law and the police. 

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a white, right leaning pundit dismiss statistics about the disproportionate representation of blacks in the judicial system who are arrested, charged and incarcerated with the statement, "well, they are criminals, so they should be put in jail", I would have a bunch of nickels.  The fact that most research shows a race bias in our criminal justice system, from the perception of the everyday officer, straight through to the judges on the bench, seems easily ignored.  Sadly, there will not be a time in their lives when a white man will be transported back in time to his teenage years as a black man, to live the same life he did again with a darker skin.  Assuming he was an average youth, he most likely will have 2-3 brushes with the law, only this time his parents won't be called, he will be arrested, his bail won't be met, he will be remanded to await trial, and his sentence will be executed to "send a message", not suspended since "boys will be boys".   

Is it any wonder then, why some in black neighborhoods who have experienced first hand the effect that having a darker skin has during a police interaction, not to mention the very real possibility that they have heard family stories handed down a few generations which describe the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century and the complicity of the police in the lynchings of that time, might be less than encouraged to cooperate with the police.  Past history indicates less than positive future results.

Leovy came to believe that inner-city violence was a occurring at the level of a "public health catastrophe" and began a website to track the murder victims, which listed over 1100 in the LA 
county area alone in 2004.  Truly an epidemic!  But, rather than doubling down on efforts to address the problem, cops patrolling these areas often heard the phrase "one time" to reflect the fact that they seemed to prefer one short visit to a black neighborhood, along the lines of "been there, done that" as opposed to making a real effort to address crime.  One might even conclude the white majority who controlled the law, preferred a high murder rate; less of them to worry about.

Contrast that, and the crack cocaine epidemic of that time which claimed the lives of still more African American young people, or the HIV epidemic of the late 20th century that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths in the gay communities, with the current opioid epidemic which is getting so much more attention since it is effecting white communities, and perhaps we might get a glimpse as to why minorities not only distrust white laws and its corresponding system of justice, but, as Leovy discovered, might gravitate to a ghettoside "law" which while also ruthless at times, better reflected the everyday existence of the residents of the area.  Or put more directly, was one they understood and felt was consistent, as opposed to the white man's system that always leaned towards a prejudiced and impersonal result.

Attempting to govern a free people via the Rule of Law, is certainly progress over a ruling class limited by birth or income or political ideology.  But we must not forget that the rules are created and enforced by people, and thus subject to the best and worst of our species.  History is replete with laws that seem barbaric today, and there are undoubtedly some current laws that will be viewed by future historians with befuddlement, just as I (hope) we view white only bathrooms and water fountains of the mid-20th century today.

The challenge is to walk that tightrope between obedience of the Rule of Law so as to avoid chaos and anarchy, while always staying alert to those laws which demonize other humans, create or encourage non-equal treatment of those in the minority, and which are used to justify crimes that violate one of the Big Rules that transcends religion and nation; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rule of Law 1

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Rule of Law, how it is a key fundamental in our democracy, and for some, how the Trump Presidency seems to be a threat to both the basic tenets of its importance and the underpinnings of the ideals which created our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Heady stuff!

But after reading the Lapham's Spring edition, called Rule of Law, I find my belief in the founders perspective that all men are created equal, their insistence on the three branches of government as a protection against tyranny, and the noble concept that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, somewhat questioned.

This is not to say that I doubt the importance of the founders' grand experiment with democracy, nor their belief that rule by the people is preferable to rule by divine right.  It is clear, that some form of democratic rule in which the people have a say in the direction of their country is a far better system than one without such inclusion.

But what, exactly, were the founders' main concerns when they created those incredible documents during the tumult of our nation's birth?  We often forget that most of those great men were land owners and/or men of business, with education and wealth beyond the vast majority of their fellow colonists.  They understood the history of property rights, were well versed in the meaning of the Magna Carta, and knew very well that commerce, personal ownership, and laws which protected one's ability to create and sustain that wealth, were threatened by a government that found it all too easy to take without asking and tax without representation.  Was it merely about money and land?  Certainly not, but lets not be naive to think that they did not abhor taxes mainly because it cut into their profits, less so because of the morality of the issue.

In Lewis Lapham's preamble, he describes very succinctly the distinction between values which enable a democratic society to prosper as compared to values which embody a capitalistic society.  Values reflected in the various forms of trickle down economics that basically say that "money ennobles rich people making them healthy, wealthy and wise;  money corrupts poor people, making them lazy, ignorant, and sick."  It is the driving force that exults in tax cuts that transfer upwards of 80% of the advantage to those already rich, while justifying cuts to the safety net programs that stave off poverty, starvation and death of the less advantaged.

This is not to say that the framers wanted our country to fall to a state where only the rich have power and influence, but it is a result of their core belief that possessions and wealth must be protected from the government's grasp, and it is perfect justification for a populist leader who can manipulate that message to turn the everyday citizens against any government regulation that restricts individual rights regardless of whether that restriction protects against polluted air and water, the destruction of the environment, or the creation of a "corporation" that has all the power of a person but no responsibilities for those people who create it when that entity breaks laws or engages in immoral acts.

When the government becomes the enemy of the people, there must be recourse for the citizens to retake rule and create a new form of government.  It is a rallying cry that was as apparent and powerful today as it was 242 years ago.  But what do we do when the government is run by people who have perverted the rule of law to only favor those with wealth and influence, who set themselves above the law while using its tenets to control the population?  And, who do so, not through force or deceit (Mueller's probe not withstanding), but by convincing the citizenry, through attacks on the free press, government run propaganda outlets, and a constant stream of divisive tweets that divert our attention by demonizing those who disagree, are of different color or country of origin.  Who then use the foundation of our unique government, the executive, legislative and judicial the branches, to create a fortress of laws that will protect their wealth at the expense of the people?     

What do we do when the rule of law has been altered so insidiously that it no longer seeks justice for the many, but prosperity for the few?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trump's Summit with Kim Jung Un

I was planning at least two, perhaps three posts on the Rule of Law now that I have finished the Lapham's Spring Edition called Rule of Law, but yesterday's historic summit in Singapore demands a comment.

First, if I were to be consistent with my belief that it is important to remain positive and seek the silver lining in most situations, then clearly this is a great achievement by President Trump.  For now at least, the tremendous tension that existed just a few months ago when the two leaders traded personal insults and the phrase fire and fury was being bandied about as a strategy for resolving our differences, has been replaced with hand shakes and compliments.  Talking is always better than fighting.  It is the basis of all international treaties, all meetings between rivals, whether they be business, ideological or national.

And so, it is incumbent upon us to remain optimistic that finally, regardless of how we perceive President Trump's methods and his overall policies, there is a positive dialogue between the United States and North Korea.

The good news is that while coverage of this summit on MSNBC has included comments by many knowledgeable people about international negotiations, North Korean life, past agreements made and violated by North Korea, and the plethora of details that separate how this process has transpired compared to past approaches, there has also been a real effort to give the President the benefit of the doubt, to suggest that perhaps a new approach is what was needed, and to attempt to understand Trump's thinking and perspective.  Far from fake news, the coverage has presented the pros and cons of this meeting using lessons from history, facts related to past attempts to address the Korean Peninsula situation, and an in-depth understanding of how intense, difficult and time consuming these kind of negotiations have been and will be in this case.

We can only hope that Kim Jung Un is ready to bring North Korea into the family of nations, first by removing its stated goal of reuniting Korea under his control, second, by addressing the structural inequality that exists in North Korea based on a series of rules that grants more or less rights to North Korean citizens based on genetics, relations to the dictator's family, and past activities by ancestors related to past wars.

Also, we can also hope that President Trump is less focused on improving his chance of reelection, or his place in history, and more interested in the interests of the United States, its citizens and our allies.

In essence, it appears that we have already given Chairman Kim two wins, things he, his father and grandfather have long sought; parity on the international stage, and a reduction in military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.  At this point, this summit gives North Korea fodder for its propaganda machine that will present this meeting as a coup for Kim Jung Un, the leader of a country that has openly threatened our country and closest allies, and has one of the worst human rights records in the world today.

Have we, in effect, rewarded North Korea for establishing a nuclear program?  Certainly from their perspective, it could appear that we have come to the table out of fear that North Korea could strike our mainland with a nuclear tipped missile.   And if that is the message, what other countries might pursue the same course?  Why wouldn't Iran double down on its nuclear program using this summit as an example of what nuclear capability can gain?

Finally, in light of the recent G-7 summit which featured a reluctance of Trump to contribute to a joint statement of support and cooperation, this agreement with one of the world's most notorious autocrats, in addition to Trump's stated desire to bring Russia back to the G-7 and his open admiration of other strongmen such as Jinping in China, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey and Duterte in the Phillipines, make me feel uneasy that Trump's admiration for leaders who do not have to work within a democracy reflects on his preference to act alone, without consult or recommendations from others. 

In the end, perhaps that should come as no surprise if we understand that this has been Trump's recipe for success his whole life.  Expecting a leopard to change its spots is unrealistic, yet we continually act  surprised when he does what he has always done.   Which makes it all the more surprising that Trump would expect Kim Jung Un to change his spots.

The spectacle is over.  Let's hope that the meat and potatoes of this attempt to bring some form of peace to the Korean Peninsula in specific, and that part of the world that includes many of our strongest allies in general, relies more on the traditional forms of diplomacy, the use of informed opinion and factual knowledge of the history of the region, and a sincere understanding that verification within a closed country with an autocratic leadership is a far reaching and incredibly difficult goal, perhaps far more difficult than President Trump seems to think.