Monday, February 21, 2011

Fowl Play

I don’t have a photograph, so you’re going to have to use your imagination. We have two white roosters. Their names are Henny and Harry. Harry is a little bigger than Henny. They get into fights and Henny always gets the worst of it. The other day, I was in the room we built behind the garage, and above the goat grotto. It’s my music room and kind of sanctuary. The other day, I went in and decided to play one of the acoustics. Usually, my back is to the north facing window. Sometimes I turn around and look out. I saw the two of them going at it. They thrust our their chests, thump against one another and then literally go for the throat... or the comb. As usual, Henny resembles nothing less than Jake LaMotta after a serious beating. His comb and wattle, usually cardinal red are spotted in black blood. But he keeps going at it. I turn around and try to play something. The next time I look out, I see Henny sitting in the deep grass by himself. Not dead but pretty damned defeated. I try to decide whether I should play “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” or go out and see if I can do anything for the overpowered rooster. I get through two verses and put the guitar in the stand and go outside.

One of Henny’s eyes are closed. His comb and wattle look much worse close up. He standing still but his neck is jerking back and forth like the flag of the pole in the hole at a golf course on a windy day. He offers little resistance when I pick him up. Very unlike a free-range rooster. But, what do I do with him?

I brought him into the garage and set up the dog crate, scratching the fender of my parked car in the process. I put down a little straw and placed him gently in the midst of it. I was like Jackie Gleason asking Mountain Rivera after the fight where he was.

“I’m in Pittsburgh and it’s raining.”

Henny stayed pretty much where I put him. I went up and got some paper towels and the hydrogen pyroxide. There was a thick blood snot hanging from Henny’s beak. I wiped it off and tried cleaning up his crown. He shrunk away in pain and irritation. Then I put him back in the generously fenced off area where he lives with about sixteen or so other chickens and three goats. I placed him in some of the taller grass, away from any other animals (at the moment). I didn’t know what else to do. Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.

Bea would know what to do. She came home and we decided we’d sequester Henny in the chicken area up the hill, that’s divided in half—with the coop on one side and the poultry penthouse on the other. Both were open at the moment–have been for months–and the inhabitants are about as free range as you can get, being a chicken. We place him in a dog crate outside in the half with the penthouse. That night he stayed locked up in the penthouse. At least he was safe from Harry and other predators, like raccoons. In the morning we trimmed the feathers on one of his wings to impeded his flying and set him loose in the penthouse half of the chicken area, keeping the chicken wire door locked. Well, chicken wire is not exactly solid and the chickens free to hang out on the other side of the fence tended to notice the new kid on the block. Schmellman–the oversized bard rock rooster with the horribly misshapen feet and Johnny Havlichick (son of Larry Bird) took exception to the white rooster with the bloody comb. They started squawking and try to get to Henny through the fence. Well, this wasn’t going to work.

We moved Henny back downstairs with Team Fabio, where he belongs. But we couldn’t just let him loose. He was now as good as James Caan after Kathy Bates hobbled him in Misery. He was easy game for Harry. Clearly, we hadn’t thought this through.

We still have the portable tractor that Bea ordered when we first got chickens. There were five at the time. It turned out two were roosters—Fabio and Schmellman. How that number grew to over two dozen is an issue of mystery, bewilderment and consternation. We slipped Henny into the screened in tractor, safe, for the time being, from the gawking girls, along with Harry, Chuck and Fabio. He’ll probably have to stay in there until his wing feathers grow back.

The inestimable Johnny Havlichick

"Shmelly" Schmellman

Meanwhile, we had inadvertently riled up Schmellman and Johnny. They started going at it. Now, Johnny Havlichick is the son of a banty. He’s not all that big himself. He’s pretty much a good guy and he takes care of his three sisters. But introducing a strange rooster into the mix got his juices going. Schmellman, being old and handicapped, is no match for the younger, faster, healthier Johnny. This morning, we found Schmellman bloodied on his comb and wattle and cut on one of his feet. All because I couldn’t let nature be and not intercede in the aftermath of Henny’s fisticuffs with Harry. We cleaned and dressed the cut on Schmellman’s foot and locked him into the penthouse half. Of course, everyone else in his team have full, untrimmed wings and can fly over and hang with him anytime. He just can’t get up and out.

Oh, yeah... that gulf.

Just in case you've forgotten, there was a fairly catastrophic oil spill about seven months ago. I know. So much has happened since then that you can't help but put the situation on, pardon the pun, the back burner. We need to look forward and not dwell on problems that occurred in the past. Like, for example, the republicans who want to eliminate the EPA and any other government regulators concerned with the air we breathe, the water we drink and the ground we plant our crops in. They continue to show their transparent allegiance to big business at any and all cost.

Google "BP Oil Spill" and the first thing that comes up are the BP sponsored sites, throwing the same line of crap that they did last May. Only now, it rings a little more hollow, if that's possible.

A little piece ran in yesterday's Oregonian, tucked away on page 7 or something. A link to the full article is below. The headline read, "Oil stuck at bottom of Gulf, scientist says."

"Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a scientist's video and slides that demonstrate the oil isn't degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

At a science conference in Washington, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn't.

At a science conference in Washington, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn't.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told reporters Saturday that "it's not a contradiction to say that although most of the oil is gone, there still remains oil out there."

Earlier this month, Kenneth Feinberg, the government's oil compensation fund czar, said based on research he commissioned he figured the Gulf of Mexico would almost fully recover by 2012 — something Joye and Lubchenco said isn't right.

"I've been to the bottom. I've seen what it looks like with my own eyes. It's not going to be fine by 2012," Joye told The Associated Press. "You see what the bottom looks like, you have a different opinion."

NOAA chief Lubchenco said "even though the oil degraded relatively rapidly and is now mostly but not all gone, damage done to a variety of species may not become obvious for years to come."

Semantics. Mind games. Smoke and mirrors. This is a shameful situation all around. Shameful that a greedy company was allowed to drill in an unsafe location with an unproven procedure. Shameful that those who are to blame are not being held accountable--the claims against BP continue to drag on. Shameful for a government to have tried to gloss over the issue, gave insufficient initial response and too little follow-up. Shameful that one of the most important areas on the planet for sea life, fish, sea birds etc etc. has been destroyed.

And what about the clean-up after Katrina? Is that completely off the table now?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Farewell to the Colonel.

We didn’t adopt Wallace as much as we had him thrust upon us.

A dark green minivan pulled up to our gate. A typically overweight pale skinned woman behind the wheel. Two typically overweight kids in tow. It was a Saturday morning and we were about top take our dogs for a walk.

“I see you have goats–”

“Uh huh–”

“Do you want another?”

“Well, we weren’t really thinking about it.”

“Well, I’m movin’ and I can’t have a goat where we’re movin’, so–”

“When are you moving?”

“Well, the truck’s s’posed to come in about four minutes.”

She said it deadpan. We were stunned. We walked the dogs up the hill, to woman’s house. She had been renting it. We found out later, she was going to be moving into a Habitat for Humanity house. It was almost a year later, we read about her in the local paper. She was being evicted from the Habitat house for not paying the less than four hundred dollars a month for the place. The rental truck showed up right behind us as we approached the house.

He was a mostly white goat, with amazing light amethyst colored eyes and the remnants of his horns. He looked to be malnourished. They called him Wallace and we saw no reason to change his name. He remained Wallace, or Wally. Sometimes, we called him the colonel, on account of his long, full beard that reminded us of Col. Sanders.

We walked him down the hill, pulling leafy branches off of the trees that hugged the road to entice him to keep walking in the direction of our house. He was starving, and being loose and free were also the things he was hungry for.

At first–no, actually, for most of the time he lived with us, he was not accepted by the O.G. The original goats– Arthur, Molly and Annabelle.

He gained weight and got as spoiled as the others. He loved apples and especially tortilla chips for snacks. He would line up by the fence that separated the goats from the vegetable garden and wait for us to give him the tomatoes that had fallen to the ground, or lettuce leaves.

This winter, his coat turned color. It grew in sparse and dark in places. He looked like he had mutton chops.

We didn’t know he was growing weak with age and weariness. Curious, but lately, Wally had been more affectionate than usual. He’d press his lips to my face and sometimes try to nibble at my forehead. He’d get a faraway look in those eyes. Kind of the look he had when I found him Sunday afternoon, lying on his side half in and half outside of the goat grotto. I tried to get him to stand up. I don’t know why but learned later that it was the right thing to do. Dr. Deitrich said that when a goat lies on his side like that he’s liable to bloat. He was going and there was nothing I–or anyone else–could do. We got him to where he was comfortable, or more comfortable, anyway. Dr. Deitrich came over. He saw the blood dripping out where pee should have been. He told us he thought maybe he had bladder stones, then he took an ultrasound. Wally’s bladder had ruptured. We gave the doctor the okay, cried a bit and caressed the old boy's face as he drifted off.

He’s off running, now. In a field thick with fresh, full grass. His smile is genuine and he is free. Truly free.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Republican Spending Slashers

What Republicans are currently proposing will neither sit well with the squeamish… or the intelligent. According to various wire reports, Republicans have unveiled cuts in government spending that go to the heart of the administrations job-creating, clean energy and social programs. For example, they want to slash the home heating assistance program and federal block grants that help cities with their current budget challenges. So, the folks under two feet or so of snow need not bother turning on their heat. Boehner & Co. would rather you freeze to death. Oh, and Detroit? Forget that revitalization you’re experiencing. The next sound you hear is the bottom falling out. One of my particular favorites is the cutting nearly $760 million from the administration’s request for the WIC nutrition program that provides support to pregnant women and their children. These are the same men of compassion and concern that want to overturn Roe v. Wade. The conclusion is inescapable: we will neither allow you to end your pregnancy nor will we ensure you remain healthy during it. Oh, and we’re not all that interested in your baby being healthy, either.

Republicans on the House energy committee are proposing to block the EPA from reducing greenhouse gases. And they want to reverse the agency’s finding that climate change is dangerous. And why not? Climate change is a myth, perpetrated by unproven science and greedy whack-jobs like Al Gore. All the Democrats want to do is regulate, regulate, regulate. And for what--to support faulty findings and put a stranglehold on the energy industry? To paraphrase Mr. Boehner, “chicken crap.”

It makes perfect sense for the Republicans to want to strip the EPA’s ability to curb pollution and reduce emissions. It costs too damned much. Representative Fred Upton (R-Michigan), the author of the proposed legislation, was quoted as saying the EPA’s planned regulations would “boost the cost of energy, not just for homeowners and car owners, but for businesses both large and small.” It is interesting to note that Representative Upton received almost $39,000 in campaign contributions from EnergySolutions, Inc., and over $24,000 from Ford Motor Company. He also received almost $23,000 from CMS Energy and over $19,000 from DTE Energy.

Bad science, indeed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

It was fun while it lasted.

news item:
Palin, Daughter try to trademark names
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sarah Palin is attempting to trademark her name ahead of a possible 2012 presidential run.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate filed paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in November to register the trademark.

The federal office is seeking more information and examples of usage. The office is also seeking additional details for the application submitted in September by Palin's daughter, Bristol, a contestant on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" last year.

Palin's attorney, John J. Tiemessen, said Friday that he has six months to provide the information.

"We are preparing to respond to all their questions for both," he said.

Herewith are examples of possible usage:

This just in...
An application by Sarah Palin to trademark her name has been turned down by US officials.

Mike Bradbury, Sky News Online

The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate filed paperwork with the US Patent and Trademark Office in November.

But it emerged over the weekend that the application to register her name for "motivational speaking services" has been rejected.

According to the official record, the bid, filed by her lawyer, was rejected on the grounds that she failed to personally sign the application.

The records also show that two examples she had given supporting her application were "not acceptable".

Her application specimens were a story from Fox News saying she had been hired as a contributor for the network and postings about herself on Facebook.

According to the official record the specimens "are not acceptable because they do not show use of the applied-for mark in connection with any of the services specified in the application".

An application to trademark the name of Palin's daughter Bristol was also filed on November 5 by their family lawyer Thomas Van Flein.

That has also been refused because it did not have a signature.

- - -

Another great news story and late-night punchline sucked into the vortex and gone into the darkened halls of trivia, all because they didn't sign the applications!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In praise of Pinky.

I was going to write (yet again) about Sarah Palin. She gave the keynote speech at the tribute to Ronald Reagan yesterday, and, well… she said some Sarah-like things. But, you know, I’ve written a lot about Mrs. Palin and, she has never said a word about me, kind or otherwise. The net is filled with up-to-the-minute reports, opinions and critiques of the former governor’s speech. I wouldn’t be adding anything. You know where I stand—suffice it to say, Ron Reagan was kinder than I would be in calling Mrs. Palin a “soap-opera.”

Instead, let me turn my attention, and hopefully yours, to Pinky, aka Miss Pinky Stinksalot.

Our friend Dogfish Donna found Pinky in Los Feliz, somewhere near Hollywood Boulevard and Hillhurst. Clearly, she had been dumped. Her people may have known she was sick and in need of an operation. Maybe they just got tired of her. How anyone could get tired of Pinky is beyond me. Donna brought Pinky, who at that point was a Jane Doe, to the vet and learned she was probably about 12 years old and had bladder stones the size of a small developing nation. For a girl her size, they had to have been giving her a tough time. Donna conferred with the other animal rescuers–my wife and another woman–wondering if Pinky should have the surgery. Twelve dog years are a lot more people years, but they decided. Pink had the surgery. Being that Donna and her husband had a house full of crazy, big rescued dogs asked us if we’d take care of Pinky until she recuperated and could be adopted out. Actually, Donna asked my wife. My acquiescence is unspoken and taken for granted in most animal rescue matters, which is how we’ve no doubt ended up with four dogs and seven cats.

My wife insists that animals should have human names and, with one exception, the cats, dogs, chickens and goats do. The exception is Pinky. Not that I am disparaging the late Pinky Lee, whose real name was Pincas Leff and got his stage name while in vaudeville. Our little Pinky got her name from the color of her belly, which was shaved clean when we got her. In all probability, she wasn’t named until after a failed adoption attempt.

Christine Chavez, Pinky and me

My wife used to put on monthly pet adoption events in the Wells Fargo parking lot in Atwater Village the first Sunday of each month with Dogfish Donna and the other animal rescue-minded women. On the Sunday in question, Bea left early to set up and told me when to bring Pinky over, so that she could be put on display in the hopes of finding her a loving, permanent home. At that point, we already had three dogs, one of which was Mikey–another that Donna had rescued from living on the street. Do you see a trend here?

I brought Pinky to the adoption event. Christine Chavez was there that day. She is Cesar Chavez's daughter and at the time was running for state senate. She is most definitely a chip off the old block and a good sport. And so was Pinky. She was dressed in her signature pink sweater and took to the "adopt me" sign with good natured indifference–Pinky, that is, not Christine. She was paraded around for all of ten minutes when my wife looked at me with maternal resignation. "Take her home," she said. Pinky has been with us ever since.

That summer, Pinky sat and watched the Red Sox games beside me on the sofa. We even got her a pink Red Sox T-shirt. Her hair grew and she got comfortable and healthy. She held her own in our little pack. She may have been spoiled before we took her in. We certainly didn't correct any of her self-centered ways. She has her moments of being irate and sometimes she pulls her little psycho-dog act of running from one end of the house to the other, slip-sliding on the hardwood, with a look of grim determination. She has quite a personality. To look at her, you would never think of her as a guy dog, but I love her to pieces.

Pinky with her sister, Daphne

Pinky, with her sister, Chuckie

Pinky must be about 16 now. She lost her hearing a while ago. She's lost most of her sight. She still does her psycho-dog, but sometimes she runs into the wall. She stares into space and sometimes gets lost when she goes outside to pee. She has kind of a fermented dog smell and has had a bunch of bad teeth pulled. My heart breaks a little every time I see her not knowing quite where she is. My wife and I sometimes fight for holding rights to Pinky when we watch TV. The other morning I held her to my chest and she fell back to sleep on me. I swear my tinnitus subsided for those few minutes. A peaceful, quiet calm took over. I know she is in the post-golden years and hasn't got many more miles on the road of life. But, aside from a tumor near her heart and lumps and little growths here and there, she's healthy. She barks indignantly when its mealtime and sleeps like a log in front of the wood pellet stove. I'm not sure what I give her, but I know what she gives me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The King's Speech, and mine

I saw the King’s Speech Sunday. Great film. Colin Firth was simply extraordinary, showing restraint, gravity and the inner weight that a stutterer carries every moment. He was no Fish Called Wanda over-the-top comedy. He didn’t play it Porky Pig style. He inhabited the constant anxiety a stutterer carries within, fearing the without.

The film brought back many memories for me. No, I was never asked to ascend to the throne nor did I ever change my name to George. It’s always been Barry. Kind of like Bertie, in the sense of Ba-Ba-Ba-Barry. I was a stutterer.

Kids laughed at me. People thrust pads of paper and pencils in my face, imploring me to write down what I couldn’t say. My father and a business associate in the shoe business called me FD, or derivations thereof. It stood for Factory Defect. Nice, huh? I suppose it could have been worse. He could have called me Fuckup. The telephone was my enemy. I hated it. It compelled me to speak on demand. I would do all kinds of bizarre physical moves, unseen by the person on the other end of the phone, trying to push the words out, jerking my head, blinking my eyes, trying to utter a sound while taking in a breath. Oh, I was a sight. Later, I learned you can’t talk when you have no breath in your lungs. Kind of obvious, I guess. But that didn’t stop me from trying. I would bounce on consonants, often not getting past them. I, like Bertie, smoked. My doctor never told me it would calm me down. I found myself changing brands as each name became too difficult to say to the person behind the counter. They were all difficult. I guess I smoked M-M-M-M-Ma-Ma-Ma-Marlboros the longest. Ionce dated a girl in college who, when it was time to meet the folks, she asked if I would please not stutter. If only. I went to college in New York, the place of fast talkers… literally. They talk fast and expect you to talk just as fast. It was a little like hell. My father wanted me to get a job while I was in school. He could have helped me into a job in the shoe department at A&S or Ohrbach’s or somewhere. Can you picture it? Better yet, can you hear it? Mu-mu-mu-mumumumum-may I help yuh-yuh-yuh-yuh-you? Customers would run as if I was contagious. Actually, I worked in my father’s shoe store in Newton, Massachusetts summers between college. Once I tried waiting on a woman. Her reaction to me was, “Christ, they’ll hire anyone to work here.” I graduated and moved back to Boston. I studied advertising design and graphics. I was going to be a Mad Man. Or, should I say, a Ma-Ma-Ma-Mad Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Man. I interviewed with the top creative director at the biggest agency in Boston. He liked my work, but told me I’d never amount to anything with “that stutter.” His words. “You’ll never be an art director.” I nodded and left his office with my big, black portfolio. I wanted to toss it into the nearest garbage can, buy a box of pencils, stick them in a can and beg, like a blind man on the street corner. I was handicapped. Some people thought it was worse. They thought I was a retard.

I did go into advertising and design—never the top jobs, but jobs nonetheless. But I never did make it to art director while I stuttered.

Past tense.

No one knows exactly what causes stuttering. There are plenty of theories. The latest is that there is a stuttering gene. And, there is no cure for stuttering. But I, or rather a friend of my mother’s, found the next best thing. It was over 37 years ago when the Today show did a feature on the Hollins College Research Institute, and the work Dr. Ronald Webster was doing. At the time, their Fluency Shaping Program was fairly new. But, from the get-go, it had achieved amazing results. He had developed a program based on the tenets of behavior modification. He didn’t particularly care what the causation was. He attacked the symptoms by breaking down the participant’s speech, correcting it and building it back up again. A few months after hearing about it, they had an opening and I drove down to Roanoke, Virginia. Rather than boring you with all the details, the bottom line is that when I first arrived at Hollins for the three-week program, I was diagnosed as 66% disfluent, meaning simply that two thirds of the time you couldn’t understand what I was saying. When I left, I was 99% fluent. To be honest, I had a bit of a setback during the first year after going through the program. I attended a reunion of people who had gone through the program. That helped snap me right back to fluency. For all intents and purposes, I have not stuttered since.

Hollins’ HRCI has a pretty amazing record. They run at about a 91% success rate. I am confident it would be higher if their students would do the follow-up “maintenance.” I have heard some stutterers say that the HRCI is not for everyone. I agree. It is only for stuttererers who want to stop stuttering.

I am not unique. I don’t think I am particularly special. To paraphrase John Mellancamp, I’m the same old jerk that I’ve been for years. But I don’t stutter.

The Oregonian ran a piece about a stutterer in Eugene and tangentially, the National Stuttering Association. I don’t like the NSA. I abhor their philosophy and have for years, since I encountered them when they were headquartered in Orange County. I approached them to speak and try to inspire some of the people attending their support groups. My advice was not particularly welcome.

The NSA's approach can be summed up in a quote form Sheryl Hunter, who, according to the article that ran January 19, (Stutterers hope new film 'The King's Speech' sheds light on communication disorder), sits on the board of directors for the National Stuttering Association and said that, “the conventional wisdom now is that if someone stutters, let them.”

Bullshit. That may be conventional but it is certainly not wisdom.

No one is comfortable being seen as handicapped, special or in need of “acceptance” by others.

I wrote a letter to The Oregonian in response to their article. Strangely, it wasn’t published. In part, I said that Ms. Hunter’s statement that "A lot of therapy is designed to make people feel almost comfortable with it" is simply bad therapy.

I corresponded with one of the stutterers featured in the article. She talked about support groups, which the NSA advocates. "Support groups are support groups" she wrote me. But stutterers are not recovering heroin addicts or alcoholics. They don’t need someone reassuring them that their disorder is socially acceptable, or should be. It isn't. I never liked being laughed at and no amount of support from similarly afflicted people could minimize that.

I think that some people who stutter are so self-identified with it that they are afraid to let it go. They don’t want to lose it. I wrote to the paper and the woman who was profiled in the article about the success rate of the HCRI. She responded that she knew people who went through it but reverted to stuttering after a few weeks or months. So did I. And then I compelled myself to practice my new speech more vigorously. She said that the HCRI program is not for everyone. She’s right. It’s only for people who stutter who want to stop stuttering.

I apologize to anyone who finds my tone offensive, overly brusque or impatient. I’m also impatient with Christian fundamentalists who refuse medical attention for their children, believing that God will heal them from whatever ails them. When the child dies, they say, well, it was God’s will. And they are justifiably arrested and sent to prison. Their blind adherence to Jesus Voodoo killed their child. Refusing to seek out a known, proven program to stop you from stuttereing, or at the very minimum, to reduce your stuttering, is equally and willfully ignorant. If you stutter and that is the course you take, then don’t ask the fluent world to “accept” you. You are choosing to be disordered.

And, for the record, I hope Colin Firth wins the Academy Award, and Geoffrey Rush along with him.