Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Parable of The Dogs- Where Politics is Going

Here is a parable for you. It is a tale of four dogs- or more accurately, two pairs of dogs. One pair of dogs I own today and one pair I owned a long time ago. This is a true story of hardships survived, pampered lives and the courage to face danger for the things and people you love. It is also an object lesson in how your philosophy affects your ability to survive.

Recently I had an experience that mirrored one of the most dangerous and formative events of my life. I relived that memory while I was walking my current dogs, Harry and Jake.

Jake is a very sweet, yellow Labrador Retriever. He is also a Liberal. He is handsome, smart and wants everyone to love him. We bought him from a family on Cape Cod almost a dozen years ago. He was the runt of his litter and had been coddled accordingly. He can be irritatingly dependant at times but, then, he is so endearing you can’t help forgiving that. One night, when he was barely more than a puppy, some neighborhood kids decided to work through their changing identities, assert their newfound strength and maturity and express their uniqueness in this wondrous universe by hauling up one of the landscape timbers that we had just installed in our flower beds and throwing it through our living room window at two o’clock in the morning. We were all asleep when the window shattered and before I realized what was going on I found myself stalking barefoot around the front lawn with an aluminum baseball bat, wearing nothing but jockey shorts and a tee shirt. My wife called the police and as she was dragging me back in the house, I wondered aloud, "Where is the dog?"

Jake, who was pretty well house trained by then, was pretending that he was locked up inside his training crate. The door was wide open but Jake was lying down in there doing his best to look like he didn’t know that something had happened. Even when the police arrived, the usually gregarious Jake stayed in the crate and watched the action from there, clearly he wasn't much of a watchdog. From that moment on, we knew that Jake would always be a peaceful and compliant companion who would never intentionally hurt anyone or anything. For Jake, War is Not the Answer- ever.

Harry, on the other hand, is a Progressive. He was supposed to be a miniature poodle- that’s what the folks at the big breeding kennel told us. He never grew up. He is now six years old and the size of a smallish cat. He is a lap dog. If you have never owned or known a poodle (especially the smaller varieties) you simply can have no idea how entitled, amusing, imperious, adorable, irritating and lovable they can be. Harry struts around the house with the brisk assurance of ownership, always appearing to be on some important errand. If he doesn’t get his way he becomes petulant, often using the odd, strategically placed pile of feces and/or puddle of urine to express his displeasure when he feels slighted. Its not that he doesn’t know the rules, he just holds them in contempt- and he does it with an insolent flair. Ever since I described the argumentative strategies of the modern left as “antic nihilism” in my post about the obfuscatory style of the left, I have been unable to look at Harry without thinking of that phrase. Of course, one of the reasons Harry seems amusing and adorable in spite of the other characteristics is that he is less than a foot long and weighs less than eight pounds. He ordinarily has no real ability to cause pain or disorder. When a human progressive leaves one of their verbal piles of excrement on the floor (oh, say, “no blood for oil”, or “BusHitler” or “Israel is apartheid” for example) it is not adorable, not just because it is untrue but because it causes liberals to become upset and encourages them to behave in ways that endanger everybody.

Harry often plagues Jake. He will push between Jake and his food bowl when a treat is dropped in. When Jake is being patted or getting his belly rubbed, Harry either puts himself between the patter’s hand and Jake or harasses Jake, nipping at his ears and jumping up and down and pawing his face until Jake can’t stand it any longer and retreats from the scene. Most dogs ten times larger than Harry would maul him out of sheer irritation but Harry knows Jake too well; Jake is too sweet and gentle to hurt him. So Harry takes advantage. Worst of all, Harry’s sheer energy and willfulness leads Jake astray and drives him to get into situations he wouldn’t dream of putting himself into otherwise.

The other day I was walking the two of them in the park. We met up with another dog walking with its owner along the way and what happened next made it necessary for me to write this post.

I live in the beautiful city of Newton, Massachusetts, a densely populated but still suburban place on the western margin of the Boston urban core. It was evening and we were headed, in the dusky light, down one of the paths in the park next to my house. There was a big dog and its owner coming toward us from the other direction. I know from experience what to expect in situations like this. Harry is excitable and at the sight of the other dog approaching he began yapping, lunging and dodging hysterically. I pulled him back with the leash and switched hands, putting Jake’s leash closer to the oncoming dog and Harry on the opposite side. Jake, the craven love puppy, had already begun wagging his tail and lunging toward the other dog to make friends.

Now, I had both of them on retractable leashes that have spring loaded reels in the handles. When the reels are released the dogs can have as much as fifteen feet of line to play around with. When you want to bring the dog close to you, you can work them back by alternately pulling and letting the spring take up the slack. The problem is that when they are pulling hysterically and you are trying to get both of them back at the same time it is very difficult to make much progress. So as we approached each other I was yanking on both leashes, trying to get the dogs close enough to control.

The other dog was confused, here was Jake threatening to disjoint every vertebra in his spine in submissive wriggling and on the other side was Harry, a squirrel-sized blur of noisy aggression. The other dog seemed to be a good egg and looked to be inclined to ignore Harry and go for the friendly mutual heinie sniff with Jake; but as the two bigger dogs approached each other, Harry darted in between yipping loudly and repeatedly darting forward right in the stranger’s face. Harry has clearly been spoiled by Jake’s tolerance; he had no idea that a bigger dog could do anything other than bear his ignorant rantings politely. The other dog was not so inclined, however and he was quite overwhelmed by the variety of different stimuli that were being sent his way. He drew back and saw Jake’s bulk rushing toward him; he clearly felt the irritation of Harry’s acoustical assault and reacted out of instinct.

He nipped at Harry. In a lightning move, he grabbed Harry and gave him a quick squeeze with his teeth. It was not a serious bite; he clearly could have bitten Harry in half and had held back. He had merely squeezed with enough force and intent to warn a reasonable dog off.

I understood the strange dog’s reaction completely, what I didn’t understand at all was the reaction of my two dogs to this. Harry, scared but unreformed, ran in a wide circle, crossing his leash with Jake’s leash, tying up Jake’s legs and wrapping me in into one big loop of confusion. When he got around behind me he resumed his insane yapping and the infuriating lunging and dodging dance, thereby weaving a very complicated tangle of leash in very short order. Jake, who you might have thought would come to his little friend’s defense or at least have a moment’s pause over the violence, didn’t even seem to register it. The reserve of the other dog and the racket created by Harry just made him more anxious and spurred him to try even harder to “make friends”. He just redoubled his vigorous and subservient greeting. The other dog glanced at him and wasn’t buying it. Struggling as I was to untangle and subdue Harry, I was unable to stop Jake. The other dog growled, barked and then lunged at Jake. Just in time, I took up the slack on Jake’s leash and between the tug I got on him and the effort other dog’s owner, Jake didn’t get hurt.

That’s the best that can be said about it. No one got hurt. On the way home from that encounter I walked through the dusky sunset with these two silly, purebred dogs and recalled an encounter that I had experienced with two very different dogs a long time ago. Looking back on it, It seems a different lifetime really, it was before my divorce, watershed in anyone’s life, and it was before I became aware of The Beast. I was lucky on that day to have been with dogs of a very different political stripe.

Sammy was an odd sort of Libertarian. He was a cheerful, independent mutt who came to us from a rescue agency. He had, roughly, the look of a golden retriever but with shorter legs, a wirier coat and the stout heart of a terrier. Friendly and energetic, Sammy had had a pretty difficult puppy-hood. The story that the shelter people told us was that he had been owned by a local college student who had failed to take proper care of him. She had apparently allowed him to run freely around the campus at night had not neutered, or registered him. He had not even had any of the usual vaccinations. A little less than a year old when he arrived at the shelter, he was clearly used to shifting for himself and he had a jaunty self-assured attitude. If he didn’t get what he wanted from his people, he’d help himself.

We were actually shopping that day for a dog to be a companion for Morgan (more about her later). We found Sammy in the shelter and thought his jolly, independent but friendly personality would be a good match for Morgan and took him home that day. The very night we brought him home, we began to notice that he had become lethargic. He felt warm, and soon began to sneeze and cough. His eyes and nose were running copiously. Within a few hours we knew we had to get him to the veterinarian. It was distemper. Although they had given him the shot against distemper at the shelter, he contracted the disease there before the vaccines had had a chance to establish complete immunity.

We worried over him for three days but he was strong and the partial immunity he had gained from the belated vaccination prevailed. Morgan, our other dog hovered tenderly over him much of the time, often checking on him by pressing her nose against his neck. On the fourth day he began to recover.

Sammy was a true individual, perhaps it was the unstructured environment of his youth or maybe it was just that he was simply a true independent but he was full of quirks and odd-ball traits. Some of his quirks were funny. For instance, somewhere along the way he had conceived a liking for cigarettes. Not lit ones (at least, that we knew of) but stale butts that he would find on the street. You would be walking him down the street and look down to see him stepping nonchalantly along beside you with a butt that he had snagged on the fly sticking rakishly out of his mouth. He also had an extremely odd way of “talking to you”. He would utter a series of gasps, half barks, stifled howls and voiced panting that made it seem as if he were “speaking in tongues”. I have never heard anything like it in a dog. It was so unusual that a researcher at a local University once asked us if she could record it. Some of his quirks were profoundly touching too, as was the way, when anyone in the family was sad or ill, he would find a way of climbing up next to you in bed or on the couch and putting his cold nose against you in quiet, comforting commiseration. Perhaps he learned that one from Morgan.

Morgan was a Conservative. If we could have bred Morgan with another dog of her exact physical type and psychological makeup we would have established a new and sensationally popular breed. Morgan was a pound puppy of mixed ancestry but the mixture was a noble one. She was big. You immediately saw in her the bone structure and regal bearing of a Great Dane, the coloring, soulful eyes and rippling musculature of a Rottweiler and the handsome, broad, floppy-eared, head of a Labrador. The combination was one of impressive size, heart-catching grace and sensitive intelligence.

Her early life had been harder than Sammy’s. The shelter people intimated that Morgan might have been abused to some degree. By the time we met her she was almost two years old and fully grown. She became the most beloved dog I have ever owned. Perhaps because of her earlier deprivations, it was clear that once in our home she was determined to show us that she was grateful and deserving. She did this with dignity and strength in a thousand little ways. She kept watch on us gently, but with a dedication that surpassed instinct. Large enough to stand on all four paws and still look directly out the window, anytime there was the least noise or movement outside on the street or the back yard, she would get up, walk to the window, look out and give a deep, breathy, barely audible, “woof”. That woof said “Morgan is on guard, this is my family and I will shoulder any burden to protect it.”

Many protective dogs are unpredictable but Morgan was smart and under control. She would never hurt anything that did not threaten to hurt her or her family. I recall one day that I was sitting with my wife and kids at the kitchen table. We were waiting for a sales person to arrive for an appointment. Morgan, as she always did when we gathered as a family, was lying on the floor close by. We were talking- involved in conversation when Morgan got up and trotted briskly into the next room. This was odd. Unlike other dogs she never had that “places to go, people to see” walk when there wasn’t something of note happening. My wife and I looked at each other and I got up and followed Morgan into the other room. When I came around the corner I froze. The salesperson was a small, slightly built woman. She had come in through the side door of the house without knocking or ringing the bell. None of us humans had heard the door open, but Morgan had. She had trotted to the side door, reared up on her hind legs and placed one huge paw squarely at the neckline of the woman’s dress. The two of them were standing, motionless in the doorway a statue of homeland security twenty tears before the term came into use. Morgan, was content to wait for me to tell her what to do and the visitor was terrified beyond speech or flight. Many protective dogs would, I think have attacked and hurt an uninvited intruder. Most would certainly have made a terrifying, noisy spectacle out of it barking and snarling menacingly. Morgan didn’t need to make all that noise and she didn’t want to hurt anyone she just wanted to see to it that we were secure. As soon as I came to my senses and said, “OK, Morgan, down!” she dropped her paw, and trotted calmly away.

Then there was the time that I had a violent stomach bug. My first wife had gotten tired of me keeping her awake with my tossing and turning so she went downstairs to get some sleep on the couch. Sometime in the wee hours, I got up and went to the bathroom. I was seized with violent retching for some time. After a few minutes my wife came upstairs and into the bathroom with a look of surprise on her face. She told me how Morgan had gone downstairs to the couch, insinuated her great head under her back and lifted her to a sitting position. Then, when the woman stood up, the dog put her head into the middle of her back and pushed her gently but firmly up the stairs to the bathroom where I was in agony.

Morgan was a perfect walking dog. She adapted to the personality and purpose of the person walking her. When my first wife, who only weighed ninety-five pounds, walked her she was gentle and cooperative. When my oldest son took her out wearing his roller blades, she would pull him down the street at a wild gallop with him whooping his delight and encouragement. When I walked her she was alert, steady and serious on the leash. Walking with her through the woods or fields, even a domesticated suburbanite like me could feel the protective, reassuring, almost primal bond that evolves between a great dog and a man.

Back then I lived in Holliston, MA a much more rural place than Newton. Our regular morning walk took us out across the main road, past the small pond at the top of a hill, out along the margin of an old sand pit that had grown up in scrubby meadow, skirting a horse farm and then back through the lower end of the Sand pit where construction was starting up on a development of luxury homes. We walked at 5:30 every morning. Here in New England that means walking in darkness four months of the year and in the earliest light of dawn for another four months.

One unusually warm March morning, we were walking in the half-light when we encountered a beast of a different kind.

As we passed the horse farm, that morning, both Sammy and Morgan began to behave oddly. Sammy began to emit some of his patented yips, whines and grunts. Morgan was stepping a little faster and both of them turned their heads to look behind us. We had seen deer out there many times so I thought, perhaps they had spotted one.

But the backward glances continued and I began to notice that their demeanor was more like anxiety than the excited alertness they usually exhibited over deer. It didn’t take long for me to realize that something very unusual and threatening was happening. Something was following us. The dogs were now trying to wheel around and face whatever it was. I tightened my grip on their leashes and allowed them to turn me. There, on the trail, not more than ten feet behind us was a coyote. Not your average urban-suburban sized coyote either but one of those that some wildlife observers theorize might be the product of coyotes that have interbred with wolves. The result of that interbreeding is a strain of eastern coyotes that are much larger than normal. I was standing there with Morgan, surely one of the bigger dogs in Massachusetts, on a leash and this thing was taller than her at the shoulder by two or three inches. From that distance it could, I guessed, be on top of us in one leap.

I stared at it for a moment, long enough to realize it wasn’t gong to attack immediately. I thought that our best chance to avoid trouble was to turn slowly and walk, as calmly as possible, away. I went to turn the dogs and as I looked down I saw that Morgan was looking fixedly in that direction already. I followed her gaze and felt every hair on my body stand on end. Another coyote, larger even than the first, had used the few moments I had spent staring at the first coyote to circle around us, cutting off our line of retreat.

Now that I was facing front again, Morgan switched her gaze back to the threat in the rear. She stood with her shoulder up against my hip, a great boulder of reassurance and courage, not making a sound or moving a muscle. Sammy was with me too, on my other side, shifting a little on his paws, but clearly aware of the threat and equal to doing his part. I knew I had to take some action. I had read somewhere that yelling, throwing stones and behaving in an aggressive manner are helpful in these kinds of situations. With my heart racing, I reached down to the bottom of my vocal register and bellowed the first thing that came to my mind, "Get out of here! Get out of the way! Go on, Scram!" The coyote in front of me reacted only with a slight shift of its posture, half a question, half a fidget. I switched both leashes to my left hand and bent down to pick up a rock. I now knew that if the dogs panicked and started to move around I could be tied in a knot instantly by the leashes. I had committed to the rock in one hand but what should I do with it? Would the coyote understand the threat as a dog would? If I threw the rock, would it provoke an immediate attack or prevent it? I knew that the worst thing I could do was to stand still and let the coyotes retain the initiative. The last thing I wanted was to have a wild animal making the decisions. I took aim and threw to rock. The Coyote dodged, moving slightly to the left of the trail. In the same instant I had to make another decision: Pick up another rock or press the advantage that we had gained by putting the coyote on the defensive and making him move? I opted for the latter. Grabbing Sammy’s leash back with my now free throwing hand I started forward slowly but deliberately, continuing to yell at the top of my lungs. The dogs moved with me, both of them understanding the strategy and complying precisely. Morgan trotted sideways, watching behind and Sammy walked stiff-legged with his head down and his tail pointed up and over his head. We advanced down the trail and the coyote, having begun to move off the trail, continued to give us room as we went by. Soon they were both behind us and the tension was broken.

Now, I am going to tell you- and ask you to believe me- that I am as wary as anyone can be about ascribing human thoughts and emotions to other animals. I spent much of my undergraduate and graduate schooling reading about and doing behavioral research with primates so I have the taboo against that deeply ingrained in me. On the other hand the parallels between animals chemically, biologically and behaviorally are manifest in reality. Used with the proper judgment and qualification they are powerful and accurate tools for understanding humans in all of those dimensions. It is with this caveat that I offer the following observations.

How thankful should I be that, on that morning when I confronted those coyotes, I had a libertarian and a conservative with me? What would have happened had I had Harry dodging around me making his infernal racket and Jake doing his fawning dance of submission instead of those two rock-solid warriors?

After recalling my experience with Morgan, Sammy and the Coyotes, I began to realize that the alternate tale of Harry and Jake in the park can be seen as a nearly perfect allegory for the idiocy of much of what the left wing does. Take Nancy Pelosi’s late trip to Syria for instance. I know I’ve written about this before but its such a perfect illustration of this point…

Pelosi, like Jake, is a liberal. Modern Liberals (it wasn’t always this way, e.g. JFK) have, as one of their guiding principals, War is Not the Answer”. It doesn’t matter to them what the question is, they somehow know that warfare is never the solution. Their operational assumption is that if war is being threatened, you are simply not negotiating (talking) enough. Does a terrorist organization based in another country kill 3,000 of your people on your own soil? Oh well, let’s brew up another pot of mint tea and have a nice sit-down. It would, perhaps, be a nicer world if all that was needed was conversation- but history has proven this to be a delusion. Bloody despots like Assad, Ahmadinijad and Saddam are a reality and, like reality, they have to be dealt with- or they deal with you. Ideological pacifism is a sham, a camouflage- meant either to disguise and to excuse the spinelessness of those who refuse to stand up to an aggressor or to hide the naked political calculation of “leaders” like Pelosi who exploit the fear of confrontation to create and manipulate their power base.

As a professional politician, Pelosi’s first objective is always “popularity”. She has a liberal core constituency that she caters too. Liberals, like Jake, are sweet, friendly people but are not known for their ability to discriminate between friends and enemies. Actually most of them feel that discrimination is a bad word. In fact, one of the deepest problems of the liberal core in the United States is that they have fallen prey to the hyperemotional rhetoric of the far left. Progressives and socialists have always been very adept at “emotionalizing” key words and concepts in political discourse with phrases like “bush lied people died” and “No blood for oil” and “I care about all of the victims of Middle East violence”- and if there is one thing liberals are powerless to resist, it is an emotional appeal. This works especially well if it makes them seem (God forbid!) as though they are unfriendly or chauvinistic if they resist it. The liberals and their leaders have been so agitated and distressed by the rhetoric of the Progressive Left that they have begun to slide further to the left themselves. Liberals who used to stand up for freedom, democracy and the obvious benefits of the open and tolerant Western Tradition are now sunk in the dismal and hopeless swamp of multiculturalism and the attempt to placate and be friends with people who despise them and want to kill us all.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I want to be clear about one point. I love my dogs. That is to say, I am in no way saying that Jake is as spineless as most liberals. He, at least, reacted defensively (if somewhat hysterically- and from the safety of our enclosed porch) by barking loudly and even growling when a raccoon family was treed by a coyote here in Newton. Nor am I saying that Harry is as detestable as Pelosi and the rest of the liberal leadership. At least Harry serves a valuable function in our family. We can laugh at his antics and even I like it when he jumps up into my lap and insists that I pat his head for an hour or so. I do not intend to equate Pelosi’s power and approval hungry motives to Jake and Harry. In my experience, a dog’s motives are always above reproach. They are just doing their best to be the dogs that they are. Politician’s motives are often below contempt- and they are always mixed to some degree. I make the comparison because Jake’s sweet harmlessness is a perfect metaphor for the sadly craven liberal lust to be loved at any cost and Harry’s imperiousness mimics the far left’s antic nihilism to a “T”.

Besides, the political template of my dog’s behavior has no power to kill and enslave people. Whereas, even such a frivolous and silly exercises in tail wagging, tongue lolling and slobbering on the hand of evil as the one Pelosi indulged in Syria has serious implications. As Farid Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria wrote in the Washington Times:

Pelosi's ill-timing undercuts substantive efforts by the opposition within and outside Syria to develop a meaningful democratic alternative to a hateful regime that in the end neither benefits U.S. interests nor those of the Syrian people.
It is a matter of knowing who the enemy is and what they stand for; and as Mrs. Pelosi's colleagues in Congress announced their intention to ban the term "global war on terror," it may come as little surprise that such myopic disdain for this regime's serious ill will against stability and democracy in the region seems to dominate certain policy quarters within the U.S. government.

My only disagreement with Mr. Ghadry is that where he sees “myopic disdain” I see a solid formation of tail-wagging idiots accompanied by a chorus of self-serving, yapping lapdogs. There can be no gainsaying him on one point however, this trip, “…will have serious negative repercussions for U.S. interests down the line.” We are seeing this already in Lebanon and, especially, in Iraq where jihadists and equipment flow in steadily from Assad’s Syria and her mad patron Ahmadinijad’s Iran.

Our cultural enemies are fond of calling us dogs (as well as pigs and monkeys). Well, there are dogs and there are dogs. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about Morgan. She was the finest dog I have ever known and was far too good to have been a human. I think of America in the same terms that I do that dog. Lord Byron said it best so I’ll let him close for me with this description which fits Morgan, America, our armed services, Israel, and it also embodies our hopes for our next president whomever we happen to support in the race:

“…one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.” ~George Gordon, Lord Byron, "Inscription on the Monument of a Newfoundland Dog"


Jewish Odysseus said...

Yaacov, this was maybe your best yet! AWESOME!!

You, sir, are a great example for all human beings: YOU LEARN LESSONS FROM YOUR BAD EXPERIENCES. And they are the RIGHT lessons.

All of us in life have the opportunities to learn the same lessons...but too often we see no lesson to be learned, or worse, learn the wrong one.

I guess, in a way, this is the difference between a liberal and a normal human being.

And it's the root of the old definition of a "neo-conservative": "A liberal who's been mugged."

Jay Tuch said...

Excellent stuff. I am adding you to my blogroll.

Papa Ray said...

Yaacov, you write well and I enjoyed this post very much. I have had many dogs over my long life and am helping my one and only granddaughter with her first dog, a brown Lab, who at 8 months already weighs 55 lbs and she is not fat.

Sometimes it is difficult because Sissy (the puppy) is very active and doesn't know that my granddaughter is not a puppy to play with. My granddaughter Sarah is six and about average size for her age (maybe a little skinny) and she is outweighed by her puppy.

But they do ok, and only hurt each other once in a while.

On other matters. The world seems to be turning topsy turby now, but looking back in history, it's not much worse than its been before.

The problem is that now, people are fed lies and shaded truths from those that don't understand or if they do, are working against those that understand the dangers of this world.

Take care and take care of those you love.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! I am going to send it to my parents -- not dog people, but they'll appreciate it.


P.S. Irving Kristol is the one who said a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged BY REALITY. It's completely possible to be mugged without changing your worldview at all -- just see Robert Fisk!