Archive for ‘ November, 2006 ’

Doggie downers and puppy uppers

Dogs get depressed, too, and they’re a lot like we are when it happens.

Last night, Candy seemed kind of sad. Not quite herself. Mopey. I don’t think it’s because our parents left Sunday morning, because she had seemed fine all day Sunday and most of Monday. But when it was time to take her out for one last pee, give her a bedtime snack, and tuck her in, she seemed detached. Usually she’s cuddly, licks my face a lot (which seems to have cured my rosacea, by the way), and butts her forehead up against me just like cats do when they’re being cuddly. Last night she just sort of lay there and looked at me. I cuddled, scritched, and kissed, and she just waited for it to be over.

It was weird, and it got to me. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. I felt randomly guilty about something, but I didn’t know what. Victoria swore up and down that I hadn’t done anything to upset her or our impromptu dinner guests. The cats seemed normal. I felt like I’d accomplished a lot during my long workday, so it certainly wasn’t work guilt. I tossed and turned for a while, harrassed V and the cats for a while, turned the light back on and read for a while, tossed and turned some more, and finally got to sleep a while later when Candy came upstairs and flopped down on her bedroom pillow.

This morning she still seemed listless, so I took an extra morning break from work (I work from home most of the time) to play with her. Even though I was trying to engage her with her favorite toys, she stood with her tail between her legs and looked like she was afraid I was going to clean and medicate her ears again (a weekly ritual that we all hate, related to her grass allergies; even her weekly allergy shots are easier for her).

So my theories at this point are:

  • The Prednisone she’s been taking for a week to treat a swollen ear flap (probably due to allergies) is a doggie downer.
  • She’s missing Mom and Dad and her kid sister, Flicka.
  • She’s missing her work.

Although it sounds the weirdest, I decided the last one was most likely.

Victoria and I have both taken Prednisone at one time or another, and neither of us remembered getting bummed out by it. Our cat Gjetost has taken it for months at a stretch (to treat a weird seasonal lumpy tongue thing that we guess is being caused by allergies) and it hasn’t ever bummed her out; in fact, it makes her friskier and burlier. So we decided it probably wasn’t the drugs.

What about her family? Well, you’d think their departure might bother her a bit, but after a week of having a puppy romp all over her and steal her toys, I think she was ready for a break, and sure enough, she seemed better rested and happier on Sunday than she had for several days. She probably agrees with our Grampa Vang, who repeated the maxim, “Guests and fish start to smell after three days.”

So that left her work, and here’s my theory. She needed to stop taking her daily arthritis medication (Rimadyl) while she’s taking the Prednisone, so I haven’t been throwing her retrieving dummies for her, because I don’t want her to mess up her knee when she can’t take her usual pain pills (she has two ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments, which is quite similar to my own ruptured posterior cruciate ligament, only one of which has been repaired). (Are you getting the feeling yet that this dog runs up some expensive veterinary bills? She does. She’s like me that way. Unlike me, she’s worth every penny.) Also, during my folks visit, we kept getting busy during the daytime and taking her for her walks after dark, when we pretty much have to wear reflective clothing and keep her on a leash, which means she gets less exercise. (Also like me, Candy wears a lot of black, which we musicians sometimes call “our safety colors,” especially when we’re leaving concert halls late at night and have to dodge one patron’s car after another in a desperate attempt to get to our own cars before being run over by tired, elderly people with failing vision.)

Temple Grandin writes in her fascinating book Animals In Translation that dogs of working breeds have their jobs to do, and they want to do them. If they don’t get to do their normal jobs, they’ll either invent new jobs of their own (like when sheepdogs start herding their people and cars around) or they’ll get neurotic. Makes sense.

Candy’s job is to retrieve, and boy does she love that job. Labrador retrievers were bred to dive into the icy waters off Newfoundland after fish and to flush and retrieve game birds from fields, lakes, and so on. Candy spent her working years (before the knee injuries) hunting and fishing with Dad, and to hear him talk, nothing made her happier. I’ll take his word for it. Since retiring from hunting, she has kept up an active career retrieving training dummies, tennis balls, socks, sticks, pine cones, and anything else she can find and talk me into throwing. When we step out the front door for any reason, she stares excitedly up at the training dummy in the eaves, where we store her toys between play sessions. She jumps at them, barks at them and us, and generally does everything she can to persuade us to get down a toy and play with her. Then she scrambles down the stairs faster than any other time, and she literally can’t wait for me to throw the darned thing for her. Once I finally do, she tears after it faster than I can believe and catches it, often before it’s bounced a second time.

Sometimes she has braking problems or the dummy takes a funny bounce and she has to do a sudden swerve, and this is both amazing to watch and hazardous for her messed up knee. Hence my caution in not taking her retrieving since she’s started the Prednisone and in turn the Rimadyl-ban.

Today her depression had me so depressed that I finally decided we would both be better off with a little knee pain than staying depressed, so we went out, I took down a dummy, and she was instantly back to her old self. She jumped around with such great excitement that she was a foot off the ground. She bounced down the stairs so fast I thought she might ski part of the way. She retrieved like a champ, and although I tried to keep my throws mellow enough to reduce the odds of injury, she still did her astounding braking and swerving maneuvers, and tomorrow she’s probably going to be a bit sore. But she also perked right up, was back to herself all afternoon, and when we went out for our late afternoon walk, she once again would not hear of my going down those stairs without one of her toys in my hand.

She’s persuasive. I grabbed a toy, and we did our entire walk (the backwards short loop, for those of you who know) as a retrieving and freedogging session. It was 4:30 when we left, so there was just enough traffic to make it a bit stressful for me, but Candy was delighted. She’s been hanging out with me ever since, helping with dinner (catching bits of dropped ham and cleaning out my egg-mixing bowl) and dishes (cleaning up a bacon grease mess I made on the floor) and now blogging (she’s lying in her office chair and giving moral support). Norton and Gjetost have also been helping me write.

So there you have it. Doggie downers: not working. Puppy uppers: working. Just like us.

No good deed goes unpunished–especially when it’s a screw-up

Or, How not to be a multiculturalist

In my work in software localization, I frequently exchange emails with colleagues around in the world in which we announce to each other that we’ll be “OOTO” (out of the office) for various public holidays. Since lots of holidays here are unfamiliar there and vice versa, some of us have adopted a custom of not only announcing our upcoming absences but also giving a brief description of the holiday.

For example, my colleague and good friend Kyoko in Japan recently explained:

Our office will be closed next Monday, 9th October.

Taiiku-no-hi(Health-Sports Day)

October 10 is Taiiku-no-hi. It is to commemorate the opening of the Tokyo Olympics on October 10, 1964, and since 1966 it has been a national holiday. Its purpose is to familiarize with sports and nurture physical and mental health. Sports flourish in autumn because the weather is good, but, especially on taiiku-no-hi, numerous school and regional athletic meets and sports tourneys are held.

Another time she wrote:

Our office will be closed tomorrow, 3rd November.

Culture Day

Day for celebrating love of freedom and equality, and promoting culture. (Commemorates the promulgation, on November3, 1946, of the Constitution. Prior to 1945, this day was celebrated as the birth day of the Emperor Meiji.)

On Culture Day we do not have special food and drink. these days are just national holidays, so people go to sight seeing trip on these days.

Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that when I send these kinds of notes, I attempt to make them amusing as well as informative. Here are a few of the descriptions I’ve sent in the past:

I just wanted to let you know that Monday is a holiday for us in the US. It’s Labor Day. I’ve never really understood what it’s for. I think it’s something about labor unions, but what it means mostly is barbecues, picnics, little trips to the lake, and “white sales” where the department stores have big sales on bedsheets, pillowcases, towels, and so on. (I have no idea what linens have to do with labor unions!)

Labor Day is of course a celebration of the oft-punished fights that labor unions have made to give us, among other things, the eight-hour work day and the five-day work week—no minor accomplishment. Most people recognize that today’s labor unions are far from perfect, but as a member of both management (in the corporate world) and labor (as a two-card-carrying member of two musicians’ locals), I think I can agree with my dad’s analysis: there is plenty of blame to go around. Usually corporations bring their labor problems on themselves by showing too little human regard for the employees who keep them in business, and labor unions in turn bring problems on themselves through excess and corruption. These are typically exacerbated by a failure on each side to communicate reasonably and openly with the other. Someday I’ll write here about some interesting examples of this kind of thing that I’ve observed during my career.

The next year I offered a slightly improved description:

Labor Day is ostensibly about honoring labor unions, but it is really about barbecuing and buying discounted bed linens. It is also the official end of the season in which white shoes are considered acceptable—-between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the rule. I don’t know anybody who has white shoes anymore—-except for athletic shoes, which don’t count. All the same, I’m happy to take a day off to barbecue.

Apparently this holiday is of some interest to me, because the next year I got still more explicit:

The holiday is Labor Day. Originally Labor Day was intended to celebrate the sacrifices and achievements made by labor unions and labor organizers. American productivity and prosperity have been due to plain hard work, of course, but it is perhaps more notable now to celebrate the ways organized labor changed working conditions, especially for blue-collar labor. Thanks to labor unions, we now take a five-day work week, vacation, minimum wage, overtime pay, basic benefits, and an expectation of safe working conditions for granted.

But in truth, most people rarely give a second thought to the origin of this holiday and instead treat it as any other three-day weekend— a chance to have a barbecue, visit distant relatives, or catch up on household chores. Department stores traditionally have a Labor Day White Sale, in which bed and bath linens are discounted, but nobody knows why. Labor Day also marks the end of the season in which polite ladies and gentlemen are allowed to wear white shoes: tradition dictates that white shoes are worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day only. (I believe exceptions are made for tennis, croquet, and other activities for which white attire is expected.)

Speaking of barbecues, here was one year’s take on the 4th of July:

next Friday, the 4th of July, is a holiday for the US team. If you’re interested, here are my thoughts on the holiday:

We usually call it “the 4th of July,” but its official name is Independence Day. This holiday celebrates the North American colonists’ signing of a Declaration of Independence from England in 1776. The Declaration was an uppity letter to the King of England that said, in effect, “You aren’t being fair, so we’re not playing anymore.” Their key complaint was about “taxation without representation”: having to pay huge taxes but not having voting rights. They argued that this was so unfair that, having been snubbed in every effort to change the situation, the colonies had a right to secede from England. It was a novel argument that if your government oppresses you, you have a human right to overthrow it. Naturally, it took a big war to settle the matter, and the United States of America as we know it today didn’t actually get underway until 1788, when our Constitution was ratified. An interesting point, though, is that even after seceding from England over a disagreement about basic human rights, the writers of the Constitution forgot to include provisions for basic human rights! So, right away, they had to make ten amendments to their document, which are called the Bill of Rights. This makes me feel better about how often we have to amend our [software localization] documents! 🙂

For no particular reason that I know of, it is traditional to celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks and barbecues.

On re-reading that today, I’m wondering why it is that the US doesn’t see anything wrong with perpetuating taxation without representation in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and so on.

Anyway, this year I went all out and decided to summarize all the upcoming US holidays:

Thanksgiving is the North American holiday where we celebrate and give thanks for the harvest by eating outrageous amounts of roast turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies, and all sorts of other fattening but delicious fall vegetables on Thursday. On Friday we either lie around feeling fat or else march to the shopping malls in search of big discounts in the “black Friday” Christmas shopping frenzy. My father insists that (American) football is also a big part of the Thanksgiving tradition, but I have no idea what he’s talking about.

The history behind the holiday is even more controversial than the question of football, and Wikipedia gives a decent summary of the issues.

In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated a month earlier, closer to the actual harvest but with less emphasis on extreme consumption of its bounties and more emphasis on doing something over the long weekend.

Our offices are closed from 25dec-1jan for the winter holidays, which include Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Childermas, Hanukkah, Rosh Chodesh, Asara B’Tevet, and New Year’s Day (some of which fall outside these dates).

What many of these holidays have in common are special foods, the fast Asara b’Tevet being a notable exception. Solstice and New Year are about the sun, and Rosh Chodesh is about the moon. Christmas is both a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus and subsuming many ancient indigenous seasonal rites, and a secular holiday prompting the year’s biggest consumer spending. (As of this moment, Wikipedia’s entry for Christmas displays a curious segment declaiming, “SANTA IS THE MAN.”) Childermas is a minor related holiday. Hanukkah is a lesser Jewish holiday that commemorates Maccabees resisting Greek assimilation (or as they say, “it’s another one of those ‘they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat’ holidays;” in this case, potato pancakes). Kwanzaa is a modern secular celebration of African-American heritage marking its 40th anniversary this year.

So we reach the denouement of our story, where my attempted good deed turns out to be a total screw-up.

In my fervor to describe all these holidays in an equally-tongue-in-cheek fashion, where no religion’s holiday gets preferential descriptive treatment, I managed to come off as disdainful to all of them. One of my colleagues kindly pointed this out, to which I replied, “Disdain? I don’t disdain any of them—just football!”

He then mentioned that others might consider “reconnecting with family” to be important.

Well, of course! Duh! And particularly among the more conservative in my audience, my failure to mention this, coupled with my failure to make overt mention of the importance of any of these holidays to me and mine, had to be offensive or at least annoying, particularly to my colleagues in the American South. The South is a region of the United States that has its own cultural identity and celebrates it to a much greater degree than any other part of the country (to wit, the Culture Shock international book series has a title devoted to the South, with special chapters on how Atlanta is still different). Among its values are a strong devotion to family, church, and local community (and the many overlaps among these). So, my casual disregard of the above would be an especially good example of me putting my “damn Yankee” foot right in my mouth and halfway down my throat.

I hastened to send a postscript:

Leave it to me to forget the most obvious point! All of these holidays are REALLY about reconnecting with family and friends. I get a little fixated on the food aspect of that, because in MY family the planning, preparing, and eating of special seasonal and cultural foods are the glue that pulls us all together.

Which is of course quite true, and it’s also true that I happen to love the holidays that apply to me—especially because of the food traditions—and I’ve been inclined to adopt a few more that don’t, again because of the food. I don’t know a lot of goyim who celebrate Hanukkah and Passover, but I do, due in no small part to my love of latkes, charoset, matzoh (and -kugel and -brie), gefilte fish, and of course horseradish. I just didn’t want to write any of that, because I didn’t think my own religious affiliation was appropriate workplace comment.

The beautiful irony here is that I, the earnest multiculturalist who labored to describe a whole bunch of holidays in an ecumenical and egalitarian way so as not to offend anyone, managed to offend just about everyone. So my attempted good deed was actually a screw-up, and I got the punishment I deserved.

For what it’s worth, three West Coast colleagues who value home and family no less than I do all thought it was amusing and took no offense to the general tone, and the Southern colleague could not have been kinder in his pointing out my gaffe. He’s pretty used to me and my foibles.

Another Southern colleague who’s actually a transplant shared this:

I recently saw a magazine page with a mother holding a big platter of turkey etc. On her head was a crown of thorns a la Christ.

Certainly an apt feminist response to the reality of many of these holidays, where mothers have traditionally been expected to spend a hot and tiring day in the kitchen while their menfolk relax and watch football on TV.

Indeed, for many oppressed classes, there are no real holidays. In the UK, they call them “bank holidays,” which I think is an interesting reflection of the fact that they are a break from commerce—not necessarily a break for all in the public. It’s also not lost on me that the word “holiday” derives from “holy day.” Although our so-called public holidays are supposedly secular, in fact not even our language is.

The darker side of gigging

Dementors are the guards of the wizard prison of Azkaban. Their origin is unknown, and it is also unclear how anyone reached agreement with them to carry out this role, as they are speechless, sightless and psychopathic. They feed on positive human emotions – happiness, hope, excitement. Their mere presence sucks every happy feeling or memory from any human present, leaving only cold dark despair in its place. The worst experiences of the victim’s life will flood through them as everything positive is stripped away. This effect causes the vast majority of Azkaban inmates to go insane in a very short length of time. Any wizard exposed to a Dementor for long enough is also likely to lose their powers. –Dementors were created by J.K. Rowling in The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I don’t remember whence I lifted this description (sorry)

I met a dementor on a carpool—someone who was so negative, unhappy, nothing-is-my-fault, self-absorbed, and whining that it sucked my own good mood right out of me. I had to take desperate measures to withdraw from further carpooling. 

I waited a very, very long time before posting this, so that the Dementor of the gig wouldn’t recognize him- or herself if s/he chanced upon this blog around the time of the gig.

Montclairberry Slurpee


Here’s a shot of the family product, a Montclairberry-vodka infusion. We also make a rum variety. The backstory on this fabulous stuff, which we freeze and serve slushy, is in a post from long, long ago.

Lazy blogger!

The easiest way I could find to get our logo uploaded to use in our page header was by creating this bogus entry and uploading the art into it.

And while I’m at it, here are some mispellings and alternate spellings for benefit of those who are ø- and å- impaired but are searching for our band:

  • Midnight Smørgåsbord
  • Midnight Smørgasbord
  • Midnight Smorgåsbord
  • Midnight Smoergaasbord
  • Midnight Smorgaasbord
  • Midnight Smoergasbord
  • Midnight Smorgosbord
  • Midnight Smargasbard
  • Midnight Smorgasbard
  • Midnight Smargosbard
  • Midnight Smargasbord
  • Midnight Schmorgasbord
  • Midnight Shmorgasbord

Another brush with fame (among well-read news junkies, at least)

David Brooks was on my shuttle from Dulles to Raleigh on Monday morning, a few rows ahead of me. I saw him stand up to escape down the aisle and that’s about it. I attempted to catch up to him in the airport to say that, although I often disagree with much of his thinking, I respect it and appreciate his writing, and ever since he would seem to have turned on Bush, I have more respect for his thinking. Not that it would have meant much to him, of course.

He was wearing a pink oxford and his glasses (and other things), and it looked like he had shaven recently. Respectable, in other words.

I was wearing microfiber camping pants, a t-shirt, a denim shirt, sneakers, and my leather jacket, and I looked like I hadn’t shaven, eaten, slept, or had water nor a coherent thought for at least ten hours (because, of course, I hadn’t, having flown red-eye from SF). Like hell, in other words.

While trotting from baggage to the rental car bus, I pondered the cost of fame. If David Brooks had looked as beaten up and downtrodden as I did on that shuttle, at least a few people would have recognized and thought ill of him, and it probably would have made gossip columns or at least a few blogs. If I’d caught up to him and spoken to him and he’d received my comments with any kind of grace, despite my appearance and probable incoherence, it would have been to his great credit.

I looked like hell, and nobody cared.

My politics are better and I’m sure I make way less money, but his life might be harder, and I’m not sure I’d trade with him. Anonymity has its privileges.

David Brooks, if you should google yourself and land here: I enjoy your columns. I often disagree with you, but you don’t make it easy. Further quibbling with your recent writing is less interesting than the preceding points.

And you look better in pink than I ever will. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Montana update from Dad

Dad replies with a note on voter initiatives in Montana:

We had several initiatives on our ballot, also. There were several more but the Montana Supreme Court threw out the ones that had been foisted on us by some whacko neo-cons, because of widespread fraud in the signature-gathering process. One of the initiatives that happily passed was an increase in the Montana minimum wage–a buck higher than the current Federal minimum. That won by about 80-20. A sticking point in that one was that it calls for annual adjustments in the minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index. The Republicans who managed to kill a minimum wage increase in the last legislative session will have lots of time to contemplate the sins of killing good legislation, because they could have gotten it pushed through without the CPI thing and bragged about how they helped working class Montanans. Now all they have is egg on their face and if the restaurant industry, who really fought the wage increase, thinks about it, they should remember who they got to this point.

Glad to hear you’re going to stay in the U.S.

My post-election day screed

Victoria and I had taken yesterday off to volunteer for the local Dems to get out the vote. Sadly, the local Dems were too poorly organized to take us up on our offer, so our big effort consisted of getting out our own votes. Candy walked us (about a mile downhill) to the polling place to turn in our absentee ballots yesterday afternoon. You’d think we could have filled them out and mailed them weeks ago, but as I’ve written many times before, it’s hard work being a good citizen in California.

First, we’ve got these bizarre relics of misguided populism called voter initiatives, aka propositions, meant to give the power back to the people but actually used either to catch hot potatoes thrown wimpy politicians or to ram crackpot lunacy down our throats, because who wants to buy politicians when you can buy your very own laws? My original policy was to vote No on all propositions, because it’s the wrong way to make law, but because there are the two kinds–actual decent laws that politicians won’t pass, usually because they involve taxes, and awful laws that are cleverly written to confuse the dickens out of even the smartest and best-educated voters–I’ve shifted to a new policy of researching which ones are which.

This year we had about a dozen of them, and it took me about four hours to figure it all out. I’m not sure if I got the right answer on two of them, but I did manage to be on the losing side of the most egregious one, basically exiling sex offenders from urban areas, so that those rural law enforcement agencies will have something to do with all their abundant resources. Never mind that sex offenders are such a trivially small part of the population that it would be cheaper and probably more effective to build them a nice resort in Oahu. We also resisted the urges to make cigarettes and gas more expensive, because although we love regressive taxes, we apparently don’t buy what economists have been saying for years, that if cigarettes and gas were more expensive, a few more people would decide that emphysema and SUVs aren’t worth it. (I don’t get it. An ugly rumor must have gotten out that economists are French or something.)

On the other hand, we did win six of our seven possible new taxes, told the parental notification zealots to start weaving their handbaskets, and told a New York real estate magnate where to shove his eminent domain ploy.

Second, there’s the judicial elections. I still don’t have a method for these. Our ballots list dozens of sitting judges on whose retention we get to vote yes or no. An hour of googling plus conversations with three progressive-minded lawyers left me no better informed on the matter. Many of us therefore adopt a “First do no harm” strategy of skipping most of them. There has got to be a better way to staff the courts.

Anyway, back to our walk to the polling place, we were pleased to run into three neighbors, all of whom made subtle indications that it was time to have Dubya taken out and fed to the hogs. We tried to get a ballot for Candy (an Oakland citizen, with tags to prove it) but were turned down. Her spirits picked up on the long schlepp back uphill, though, when she found not one but two tennis balls. About an hour later we were home, drenched in sweat and well spattered with dog slobber. Democracy is aerobic when you live in Montclair.

At the end of Oakland East Bay Symphony rehearsal last night, the conductor’s parting words were, “Well, let’s go home and see if we need to move out of the country tomorrow.” With the House regained and the Senate close, I’m happy to report that I no longer feel the need to spend today researching Canadian immigration law.

I don’t even mind that we reelected our Governator. Sadly, it was probably the right outcome–the alternative was an uninspired crook, and the actor was never as bad as we’d feared. Lately he’s actually been good. Let’s hope it wasn’t a cynical ploy to get reelected so he’d get four more years to scurry back to the right. For the first time in my life I cast a protest vote for the Green guy, joining a proud 2.3% minority, since I knew there wasn’t the least chance of my vote actually making a difference in the outcome.

In goofier moments for Left Coast pride, both Berkeley and San Francisco resoundingly passed measures to impeach Bush and Cheney, and our own Jerry Brown has added another title to his resume, making him Governor Mayor Attorney General Moonbeam.

I’m starting to believe in our republic again. I think I’ll go buy a flagpole, so I can hoist the stars and stripes for the first time in many years.