Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Monday, August 27, 2007

"If you take a dog which is starving and feed him and make him prosperous, that dog will not bite you. This is the primary difference between a dog and a man." Mark Twain said that. It's quoted in a column by Jonah Goldberg, in which Goldberg argues that Michael Vick's worst offence was betraying trust. Not the trust of his fans, but the trust of the dogs he abused.

Goldberg writes: "Torturing a dog or cat for sport is not disgusting because animals have rights, it is repugnant because human beings have obligations."

This whole Michael Vick thing has really tweaked a nerve in the American psyche. And this is no PR stunt -- the public outrage sweeping the country is not occuring because of media consultants or spin doctors, but in spite of them. It's 100% genuine. This is how people feel. And anyone who suggests that the loathing with which we regard dog-fighting in general and Michael Vick in particular is some kind of disguised racism is totally missing the point.

Maybe you haven't heard this particular argument, so here it is in a nutshell: African Americans are the group most involved in dog-fighting. Therefore, condemning dog-fighting is really a disguised, racist attack upon African Americans.

Well, most paedophiles are male. Does that mean that condemning child abuse is really a disguised, feminist attack upon men? I mean, come on.

The vast majority of Americans abhor both dog-fighting, and those who indulge in it. Black, white, brown, yellow and all shades in between. It's not about race, and never has been. It's about human decency.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I wish I'd never heard of Michael Vick.
Apparently, he's decided to plead guilty to charges relating to dog-fighting. The Federal indictment runs to 18 pages. The maximum sentence is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. And he might get less.
An Atlanta journalist describes Vick as "one of the most exciting and polarizing figures in the NFL" -- and as far as I'm concerned, this is as "disturbing" as the "disturbing actions" to which Vick has admitted. Exciting? I can think of lots of adjectives to describe the revolting, so-called "sport" of dog-fighting and what I consider to be the sociopaths who indulge in it, but "exciting" isn't one of them. And polarizing? Is there anyone who will actually admit they approve of dog-fighting? Or that they think Vick should get off?
Besides, there's not a whole lot they can do to Michael Vick. Anybody who finds enjoyment in forcing helpless animals to tear each other apart isn't going to mind prison very much. All that delicious sadism and violence and cruelty. And what's a $250,000 fine to someone who's got a $130 milllion contract to play football for the Falcons? A mere slap on the wrist.
I think they should give him 500 lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails. Or put him in a cage with half a dozen hungry lions and let nature take its course. But we're civilized, aren't we? We don't do such things. We're human beings and we don't condone the inflicting unnecessary, gratuitous pain on sentient creatures.
Unlike Michael Vick.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Can dogs communicate? Absolutely. Mostly, it's non-verbal communication. But that's okay. Most human communication is non-verbal, too. When it comes to verbal communication, I use words. Bao barks.

But barking isn't the same thing, people say. Actually, it is. It's communication, clear and concise. Different barks convey different messages. Someone's at the door. I need to go out. Where have you been? And of course there's a whole separate set of barks for dreaming. Right now Bao is dreaming about the two very large dogs who've just moved in down the street. I can tell.

When Bao is happy, he purrs, his little body literally vibrating with contentment. These soft, throaty, chortling sounds are sometimes mistaken for growling by people who don't know him, or who are unfamiliar with this Shih Tzu trait. Bao has also perfected something that sounds like Mmmm? It means, Haven't you fogotten something? and usually refers to food. Very occasionally, he growls, mostly when something frightens him.

Quite a repertoire, when you stop to think about it. In fact, I know people in Australia who vocalize much less frequently and are harder to understand. And other people who talk continually, but never seem to say anything.

Friday, August 17, 2007

We met Shelly at the Alaska Writers Workshop

Shelly was kind enough to give us a ride to the airport. She also gave me a copy of her book, Educating Shelly.
It's been a long time since I had children in school. My son is dead, and I have no grandchildren. So my interest in what does (and doesn't) happen in American public schools is what you might call academic. These days, I find I have more in common with dog trainers than with teachers.
But this book is something else. It held my attention from beginning to end. It's the book every parent (and grandparent) ought to read if they want to understand why kids are the way they are. The sad truth is that we probably spend more of our discretionary income on our pets than we do on our schools.
Shelly isolates 26 separate issues (she calls this Shelly's alphabet) as she follows her children Jeff, Melissa and Mathew from kindergarten through high school. Shelly's alphabet includes everything from homework to fund-raising to sex and her book is cross-indexed so that you can either read it chronologically (as I did) or topically. Either way, you're in for a fascinating read. Especially if you're a parent with kids in the system.
Shelly concludes that "our educational system is like a monster that's eating itself." There's no standardization. There is no requirement or expectation of civilized behavior in schools. "Age appropriateness" has replaced excellence. Educators focus on inadequacies rather than achievements. "There were so many ways I could have received help for my children, but I didn't know where to go, who to talk to, or how to ask for help," Shelly writes. Thanks to her book, other parents might find help sooner.
Educating Shelly, by Rochelle La Motte-McDonald. It's not in bookstores, but you can get it through Amazon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mountains and Glaciers from 35 000 feet

Can you see the glaciers? Isn't it just magnificent? I don't think there's scenery like this anywhere else in the United States!
It took nearly five hours to fly from Anchorage to Salt Lake City, and they showed a movie to help pass the time. It was supposed to be set in Scotland but to my bemusement, everyone in the movie was speaking Spanish. What's going on? I asked the cabin attendant. She told me to switch channels. Channel One is English, Channel Two is Spanish.
This gave me pause.
A hundred years ago, my grandparents came to the United States of America from Russia, Poland and Germany. They all ended up in the Lower East Side of New York, with barely a word of English between them. They learned, though. They had to. They'd come to America because they wanted to be Americans, and Americans spoke English.
They were working 6-day weeks and 12-hour days just to stay alive, and there were no ESL classes, back then. If you asked them, they'd probably have said if they had a choice, they'd rather not have to learn a new language on top of everything else. But nobody asked, and they had no choice. So they learned.
But being an American is more than just speaking English, you'll protest. It's not the language that holds us togeher. Rather, it's our set of unique, shared values.
I agree, totally. But I'm wondering how people go about sharing their values if they don't also share a language with which to enunciate those values. Do you suppose dogs have this problem? Do Shih Tzus speak Shih Tzu and Cocker Spaniels speak Cocker Spaniel? Somehow, I don't think so.
It's no easy thing, being human. Dogs probably think it's our punishment for being bad dogs in a former life!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bao schmoozing with Jeff and Deborah Herman

Do you know how many aspiring writers would absolutely kill to be sitting where Bao is sitting?

Jeff Herman actually "wrote the book" about how to get a literary agent and he and Deborah run one of New York's most successful literary agencies. (But they specialize in non-fiction, and I've written a novel. And I've already got an agent) As for Deborah -- Bao took one look and fell in love. And you know what they say. Dogs know.

We got home last night. We flew Delta, coming home. The trip was deliciously uneventful. We took off on time and landed on time, and in one piece. And they fed us. These days, that's high praise indeed. I think all senior airline executives should be forced to fly coast-to-coast incognito at least once a month. Let them enjoy the dubious pleasures of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for seven or eight hours at a stretch (not in the VIP lounge but out there on the faux leather seats with the rest of us peons) and maybe things might improve.

Don't know what it is about Bao and airports. He loves 'em. He prances along the walkways, holding his little head high and proud, his plumed tail wagging away as if he's King of the World. Everyone smiles as we pass them, even sour-faced airline ground staff. People actually take photos. We spread sunshine through every airport we visit. Well, Bao does. It's kind of nice, though. I'm thinking, perhaps airlines should consider employing "therapy dogs" to soothe their disgruntled passengers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bao doing dinner with the movers and shakers of publishing

And wondering what all the fuss is about. Dogs don't worry about publishers or editors or -- God forbid -- agents. Dogs just squat or lift a leg. They write their novels and autobiographies in urine, but at least they get them out there for other dogs to read ... Sadly, that's more than you can say for most of the people at this Writers Workshop.
The message seems to be that the biggest barrier to publishing is publishers. It isn't about books, anymore. Everyone agrees on that point. Even if the Aquisitions Editor loves it, if the sales people don't go for it, you and your book are a non-event.
So where does that leave an author who writes books for people who love to read?
Unpublished. And alone in her room, staring into her glass of red wine, wishing she was a Shih Tzu.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In front of the spectacular fountain at Loussac Library

A pretty amazing venue. It seemed a pity to have to spend the day indoors.
The general opinion of the half dozen publishing gurus gathered here is that there are too many stupid people in publishing - present company excepted, of course.
Well, hell. We knew that, didn't we? The microphones malfunctioned right at the beginning, scaring Bao so badly that I thought we might have to leave. But he settled down when he smelled the food.
Mostly, I came because I wanted to meet Renni Browne, the legendary editor who plucked my unpublished novel from obscurity, guided me through the polishing process and found an agent to represent me. We're having dinner tonight.
Everyone loves Bao, who is basking in the center of attention and enjoying the cool -- compared to Tucson -- weather. But I wish we had more time for sightseeing. Guess we'll just have to come back next year!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Anchorage is filled with blooming summer flowers.

There's not much to the downtown area, and the prettiest bit is this little green park. I don't know why, but the grass seems greener and the colors more vivid, here. Something to do with the atmosphere?
To my surprise, people seem a bit grumpy, even irritable. It's nothing personal, someone told me. Everyone's just tired. It never gets dark, during the summer. So we don't go to bed until after midnight, but we still have to get up and go to work.
Turns out, most people who live here prefer winter. Just as well, because that's what they've got, nine months of the year.
Some really beautiful art, but the prices are astronomical. Everything is expensive.
Bao seems to like it. Give him a steak sandwich, and he's happy. Just don't forget a glass of red wine for me!
Time to go to the conference. More tomorrow.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bao in bed in Anchorage Alaska

The good news is that Alaska Airlines is fantastic. You leave on time. You get there on time. The staff smile at you, and say please and thank you. And they loved Bao.
The bad news is that their only flight out of Tucson is the one to Seattle. Bummer! I'd love to fly this airline all the time.
It was still light when we got here. They get 18 hours of daylight this time of year. Even when it's dark, it's light. Weird, although it didn't worry Bao.
Anchorage doesn't look to be a very big place. But the scenery flying in was magnificent, like what I imagine the Scandinavian fjiords must look like from the air. We saw glaciers, too. The flight alone was worth the trip.
Today, sightseeing. Tomorrow, the Writers Conference.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bao without his bow

Omigod! That's not Bao, is it? What happened to him?
The "new look" has not been an unqualified success, although a handful of friends insist they actually like it better this way, because it shows off Bao's sturdy little body. Yeah, and his skinny little legs. And you can also see all his bits.
It sort of reminds me of when I was a teenager and dyed my hair black and everyone tried really hard to find something nice to say. Happily, Bao isn't the least bit fussed. And in this heat and humidity, short back and sides must be more comfortable for him. And -- I keep telling myself -- it'll grow back. Give it a month, and there'll be enough on top for him to wear his little bow again. I love that little bow.
But at the moment he looks a lot like the tiny dogs you see scampering around beneath tables in 15th century paintings, where they're usually referred to as spaniels. The Shih Tzu is one of the oldest breeds (although they didn't actually have breeds as such before the 18th century) and who knows how many of them were carried along the Silk Road? The big eyes, the floppy ears, the plumed tail -- maybe the earliest spaniels were really Shih Tzus.
Meanwhile, I'll have to call the guy who's supposed to start painting Bao's portrait and tell him to put everything on hold for a month or so.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

There has always been a gorgeous little body underneath all that hair, and now the whole world gets to see it. Bao, shorn. I keep telling him how beautiful he is. Well, he is beautiful. It's just that there's a bit less of him, now.

We didn't have a choice. All the time we were away I brushed and brushed and brushed, but even so, his undercoat was hopelessly matted. And he hates having the mats brushed out. Besides, I think the Brittney Spears look is sort of cute on him. And it'll grow back. Meanwhile, it's summer and short is cool.

And guess what? Bao got a Birthday card from his Aunty Char and Uncle Bill. He was thrilled.

Tucson has had quite a bit of rain this summer. We drove through a very violent thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, just when we were almost home. Then this morning I read in the newspaper that during the same storm, a Tucson motorist drowned in one of the washes. Even six inches of water is enough to carry your car off, they say. It also plays havoc with the roads. A couple of miles from where I live, a sink-hole swallowed an entire intersection, and there's a gaping hole where the road used to be. I almost drove into it this morning. Never a dull moment.