Archive for November, 2014

Book Reviews: Foreign Babes in Beijing, by Rachel DeWosken, and Kosher Chinese, by Michael Levy

November 27, 2014

When you travel, do you want to really learn about a place, or experience a place you fantasized about?  Do you want to meet the locals and learn what they think about the world, or do you  want photos of places you’ve seen photos of?  Do you want the people you meet in that place you’ve traveled to, to  know YOU?  As a person, or as an American?

To be a Jew in the world it to always be an ‘other’.  I think a lot of non-Jews  think of  us as an oddity.  There are the stereotypes that  we are either  Hasidic in culture/nature, or comedians, or  odd people with Asperger’s (guilty), or lurking as  gentiles/goyem. In reality, most of us are secular humanists  trying to find a place for ourselves.

As a Jew, and anthropology major, I am intensely interested in the   experiences of  Americans  attempting to make a way for themselves in a foreign culture.  I guess I did ok as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Both books came to me, by coincidence, at about the same time:  1 was at a free book swap.  The other was given to me by a friend who sell s books.  Both of these books happen to be by Jews who worked in China.  Both had unique experiences, and ways of describing their experiences and interactions with  Chinese nationals.  That’s where the similarity ends.

DeWosken had a very unique experience.  Her father was an academic sinologist, and  she had lived in China as a child.  When she graduated  college (with degrees in English and poetry), she decided to go back and live her life as an adventure. This was in the  mid 1990s, and she was able to get a job at a public relations firm in Beijing…which she hated.  Via a chance meeting at a party, she agreed to be cast as a character in the soap opera which is the title of the book.  Unique  experience hardly addresses Dewosken’s adventurous life, negotiating for  living space and learning  the subtleties of Chinese (Mandarin) as she  bumped along.  But she managed.  She also recognizes the absurdity of the character she plays,  and how this gave her a bit of an edge in meeting Chinese  artists as well as people who would become her friends.

Levy’s book is much different, and much  funnier.  He became a Peace Corps Volunteer after from returning from a trip to Israel, where he studied in a Yeshiva and planned to make a life until  bus bombings too close to home.  He returned to New York City, and not two weeks later, the  9/11 World Trade Center attacks occurred.  He thought of joining the marines, but  his mother  persuaded him that  Peace Corps might be  more to his ‘lifestyle’ taste.

Every Peace Corps Volunteer goes through that period of adjustment where you  just marvel at how little sense anything makes, and just feeling that even if it appears to be working, it probably isn’t.  Levy makes do, learns the language, goes with the flow, and does an excellent  job of telling us how he managed.

I enjoyed both books, and would recommend then to anyone thinking of either  Peace Corps service, or  expatriating themselves  to China.

Jane Byrne

November 21, 2014

Not sure if anyone outside of Chicago saw the news, but our only female mayor ever  died at age 81.  She was mayor during the  mid 1970s.  She  followed Richard J. Daley, the noted mayor who got John Kennedy elected president by a little flim-flamming (when asked, by a reporter, why one candidate won an election, his response was, “He got more votes.”  whadya think?) and  was famous for saying,  (regarding the 1968 Dem convention riots), “The police are not there to create disorder, they are there to maintain disorder.”

What actually happened was that Richard J. Daley died in office. He had appointed Jane Byrne commissioner of consumer affairs. Our aldermen  voted  Michael Bilandic (another alderman, I guess the guy who stunk the least) in.  He—and the other alderman  got their panties in a bunch over Jane Byrne allowing the cab drivers to raise their rates. Bilandic fired her, then  we had a really bad winter with a lot 0f snow, and he wasn’t  able to manage to get  the streets plowed.  Jane Byrne having been   commissioner of consumer affairs for the city (sort of in charge of business licenses…not really all that controversial), and she managed to get  press and financial backing to beat Bilandic.

She  sort of promoted herself as a reformer, and, considering the sexism  at the time, along with the political machine, she  was able to do some things.  She started Chicagofest, and the  renovation of Navy Pier (a HUGE tourist attraction in Chicago), as well as other community festivals. She  moved into  a dangerous public housing high rise (albeit only for 3 weeks, but it sent a message) and  promoted  the filming of movies in Chicago—generating hundreds if not thousands of jobs (the Blues Brothers movie was filmed in Chicago).  Ultimately, she did not reach out enough.  Bunch of stuff happened. Harold Washington, a former state senator, decided to run for mayor, and he did have a coalition of Blacks, Hispanics, and Lakefront Liberals, was a true progressive, and was a much warmer personality than Jane Byrne.  Plus, a few racists got involved, which split the white vote.  Washington was able to  institute some progressive reforms regarding hiring in the city.

Nobody, however, was able to  stem the huge school drop-out rate, or kids testing below grade level. Some blame the  unions, I blame the schools of education that have  people major in education and minor in the subject they  want to teach (not vice versa)—or a school board that ignores your area of expertise and tells you  that if you want a job, you teach something you have no interest in teaching….as well as hiring teachers who disrespect minority students.  All that is another issue.

The importance of Jane Byrne  was that she was a tough broad who  bucked the system and  managed to get things done.  She was a great role model, even just as a public image.

The Homeless Dogs

November 14, 2014
The market  for Afghan Hounds became glutted by the end of the 1980-s

The market for Afghan Hounds became glutted by the end of the 1980-s


If we are such a nation of dog lovers that we support an industry that caters to our expression of love for them, why are so many dogs in shelters? Why are they not all in homes? Why are so many killed because nobody wants them?
It’s economics. Dogs are the victims of the shifting capitalist market.
The only way it would be possible for all dogs to find homes would be to stop the irresponsible breeding of dogs. That is: the breeding that takes place when the owners of the parent dogs—the sire and dam— breed the dogs without having deposits for puppies. People ‘fail to plan’ so they plan to fail: they don’t keep an in season bitch confined, and often allow her to breed or arrange breeding because the word on the street is that the market for puppies is good. Yes, the ‘word on the street’ really affects economic trends.
We have to stop not only the commercial breeders—the puppy mills—but also the backyard breeders—those people not breeding for the betterment of the breed, but for that amorphous market.
It is shocking to me that so many people breed their female dogs and don’t consider themselves dog breeders. The fact is that the person who owns the dam—the mother dog at the time of whelping—is the BREEDER. The breeders are the reason so many dogs end up unwanted. Yes, it’s an indirect route, but because they don’t ask personal, intrusive questions of the people who buy or take their puppies, people who are not in a situation to keep that pup forever can dispose of the pet when it becomes inconvenient.  Most of them never contact the breeder, so the breeder doesn’t know the placement failed. So, the breeder, having an easy time selling that last litter, breeds another litter, and keeps going. This is why 40 years ago, you could not get a Bichon Frise, Shar Pei, or Bernese Mountain Dog without doing research, and now they can be found everywhere.
Sometimes, these ‘backyard’ breeders (as they are known among dog fanciers and humane activists) get religion and realize they’ve played a part in causing dog over-population, so they stop. Sometimes, they genuinely want to breed dogs without genetic defects. Mostly, they are regular folks and just don’t care. It’s a free county. You don’t have to care about animals.
What is heartbreaking, of course, is that so they don’t become a public health hazard (running in packs, attacking people & animals, as well as spreading diseases), dogs are confined to shelters and rescue kennels. They were housedogs, and now they have a much less rich life—-as prisoners.
How long can a former pet dog live in a kennel situation without psychic/mental/emotional damage? It’s different for all dogs, but they become depressed, self-abusive, manic and aggressive. Shelter people know.
I have taken dogs as pets that were ‘kennel dogs’: they had lived their entire lives in kennels until I got them. I’ve had mixed results. Some got housebroken within days and were perfect dogs. Others were destructive and never trustworthy or housebroken. Being housebroken has nothing to do with obedience. It’s a different dynamic. Some dogs need such a dramatic, intensive behavior reshaping after living in a kennel environment that it is all consuming. How many families have the economic or time resources to rehabilitate a dog?
Many dogs, and we really don’t know the per centage because statistics are not kept, adjust and fit right in. They are genuinely family members of the household. Chances are, the household is a happy one with a regular schedule. Also, chances are that dog was a member of a household that, due to death, divorce, or economic crisis, disintegrated. Most dogs are resilient, curious, intelligent, and adaptable. But not all of them are. Just as many were spoiled and the bosses of their households, catered to and allowed to be unhousebroken, and spoiled. When they became too much of an inconvenience (due to a move, new baby, new partner, new job, etc, etc,), they were dumped.
In the mid 1970’s, I coordinated one of the first breed rescues in the country for the Afghan Hound Club of Greater Chicago. We nonbreeders persuaded the breeders in the club that we all should be responsible for the unwanted Afghan Hounds that were being dumped. Nobody had any idea what we were getting into. We didn’t anticipate the problem was as large as it actually was. In a year’s time, we dealt with over 50 Afghan hounds. I think 3 found homes. Where did all the dogs come from? A good number, at least ¾, were strays. Either they had gotten out of the yard or were let out of the yard, and none had collars with nametags. What are the odds that so many dogs would not have nametags? I am sure many were stolen, turned out to be too much trouble, and the market wasn’t as good as the ‘word on the street’ led people to believe. In fact, just a few years before, I had a friend who found an Irish Setter. She posted in the ‘Lost & Found’ section of the paper, and got over 20 calls. Nobody came out to look at the dog. They all said, over the phone, it wasn’t their dog. Obviously, nobody wanted to find his or her dog. This was true of the Afghans as well. I think in one case, an owner responded, and it was her dog and she took it back.
¼ of the dogs were offered by owners who wanted to surrender their dogs (or for me to help them sell the dogs). They found my contact information via animal shelters, veterinarians, and groomers. None of the breeders of these unwanted dogs were club members. The breeders of these dogs would not take them back. They were not show or breeding quality dogs (that’s no excuse, but it was the one given). None of the dogs were obedience trained, and none were housebroken. All the owners had bought a fantasy, and the reality was not what they had in mind. I told all these people that I would euthanize their dogs, as nobody wanted them. They could either take the dogs to the veterinarians themselves, or to a shelter, but if I got the dog, that was what I would do. They had created the situation by not training their dogs. It got to the point in several years, due to the puppy mills getting these dogs that the breeders would not take back, that the market was saturated. You couldn’t give an Afghan Hound away. What filled the void? Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers. As I write this, Wheatens are on the way out, and the void is being filled by the bracheocephalics (Bull Dogs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs) & the hybrid designer Poodle and Toy dog mixes.
It should be noted that in the area where I am ( Chicago, and the upscale suburbs) most people neuter their pets. Thus, people who want dogs are going to breeders (be they hobby breeders or commercial puppy mills), or to shelters. The pet shops—which ALL get their dogs from puppy mills, like Petland ( major chain) and other independent pet stores, are still doing bang up business. They buy low, and sell high—and they do sell a lot of puppies. The pups not physically healthy or genetically sound, but they have AKC papers for the most part (or ‘papers’ from bogus registries) and we’ve not even made a dent. People are convinced, through slick marketing and a professional atmosphere, that the dog they buy, even though they haven’t seen or felt one parent, are NOT from puppy mills. But they are.
Why aren’t people rescuing those shelter dogs? Because they are not the dogs people want. They are not naïve, they don’t want surprises. In many cases, the dogs aren’t good with children. Many dogs aren’t housebroken. In my area, up to 70% of dogs in shelters are Pit Bulls, bred by very low-income, uneducated people with no social consciousness. Those are the people who don’t neuter their dogs, breeding for ‘beer & cigarette’ money. Sometimes they are bred to produce fighting dogs, but mostly they are bred to look tough. That’s what they are: tough terriers—and very few people want tough terriers. There are the Shepherds, Beagles, Rottweilers, American Bulldogs, cocker Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers, as those are the dogs people breed the most. Sometimes, there will be other purebreds or a designer mixes. The economy is terribly shaky, people who considered themselves middle class until a few weeks ago lose their homes and wait until it is too late to find a home for their pets and are too embarrassed to contact the breeder.
Nobody wants to be party to a murder, and nobody wants to think their pet will be destroyed. Yet, had they been honest with themselves (will I have friends or family to take my dog in a crisis?) and had the breeder/seller been more probing with the buyer, this unwanted dog situation would not exist on the scale it does.
This is why there are so many dogs posted on Craigslist. Impulsive buys (could you spend over $1000 on a dog you weren’t sure you could keep until it died? I sure couldn’t), the ‘conventional wisdom’ that there are enough homes for all the dogs produced. There aren’t. It’s a crapshoot whether a dog find a permanent home.
Some breeds—-Salukis, Portuguese Water Dogs, Curly Coated Retrievers, Irish Terriers, Pulik—you never see in shelters. So few are bred and the culture within the breed is that you take back the dog you bred if the buyer doesn’t want it (which is why the breeders have so many related dogs), that that is just how it is. However, if the breeder just assumed everyone she dealt with is honest and ethical, then the dogs end up in the hands of people breeding for the market. They create a market by delivering more of these dogs than the ‘rare’ breeds: Beagles, Jack Russell Terriers, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, American Bulldogs, and the ‘designer mixes: ‘Morkies’, ‘Puggles’, ‘Goldendoodles, ‘Shipoos’. This doesn’t mean that when this particular dog dies, the owner will get another one. That’s not how it is. People who had Afghans and Soft-coated Wheatens rarely replaced those dogs with another of that breed. The owners of hybrids will not be able to replace the dog with a similar dog, as they don’t breed true.
So, what to do if you can’t keep your dog?
1. Ask the breeder —THE OWNER OF YOUR DOG’S MOMMY—-to take the dog back. You never know. Some breeders always have a waiting list for their dogs, and it is worth a shot. Even if they don’t take the dog back, you’ve put the shocking thought in their mind that not ALL the dogs they bred found forever homes;
2. Leave information with your veterinarian, groomer, and local pet shop. Stranger things have happened, but sometimes, someone is looking for an older dog like the one you can’t keep;
3. Post on Craigslist, in the newspaper, and contact the breed rescue. Some breed rescues take mixes of their breeds—-but don’t be surprised if they don’t take owner surrenders. Their priority is to take the dog given up—already without a home. Also, be honest. Don’t say your dog is good with kids when it isn’t, don’t say he’s housebroken when he’s not. When you aren’t truthful, the dog goes through a lot of stress before it is ultimately killed;
4. This is what animal shelters are for: the dog you can’t keep. Many shelters that are ‘open admission’ (taking owner surrenders) have a time limit for holding dogs. They just don’t have the space and personnel to care for dozens of dogs. You can ask if they then surrender dogs to other, no-kill shelters, but the fact is they have a limited amount of space and they know the odds of placing a dog;
5. Death is not the ultimate loss. If your dog has not been boarded in a kennel (or experienced dog daycare), s/he may not do well in a shelter. How much psychic pain do you want your pet to have to go through—then, have to adjust to a household that may or may not remember to feed him and give him water?
I don’t have any magic solutions. I do know that it is easier to find a home for a dog that has been obedience trained. It’s almost impossible to rehome untrained dogs successfully. It’s easier to find homes for small dogs than large dogs, and cute dogs than ugly ones.
It’s true that we euthanize too many healthy dogs with good temperaments in this country, but until pet owners understand their part in the problem, we will have this horrible problem.   Shelters and rescues  network and move more dogs around, giving them a better chance in a different venue, but big, ugly, untrained rural dogs will be at a disadvantage.
Many people don’t know this, but in urban areas, many of the so called ‘no-kill’ shelters that do not take owner surrenders, pick and choose the dogs they do take, based on adoptability. In fact, they often travel to rural shelters to handpick dogs (so—they have room in their shelters—they just don’t want to take unruly, scary dogs from owners and face possibly having to euthanize them—-or keeping them forever).
It’s unfortunate that this is the situation, but this is capitalism, and as long as people are free to breed their pets or allow them to breed—and not take responsibility for the animals they produce, this will continue to be a terrible problem.
If you want to do something about it, contact your state senators and legislators and ask for a statewide mandatory microchipping law—so we know who the first sellers are. Mandatory Spay/neuter will not solve this problem, as commercial breeders out of your area—untouched by such a law, will fill the void with unwanted dogs. We have to make the sellers or first owners responsible for the dog surplus.

Book Review:Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen

November 7, 2014
This ophot has nothing to do with the book. It is a rainbow over  Izmir, Turkey. However, is our knowledge of history based on  pretty images?

This photo has nothing to do with the book. It is a rainbow over Izmir, Turkey. However, is our knowledge of history based on pretty images?

I found this book. published in 1995, and subtitled Everything Your American  History Textbook Got Wrong, and I had to check it out.    I am naturally cynical and skeptical. I was in high school when the Viet Nam war was raging. There were rumors—which turned out to be facts well documented, that  Diem, a Catholic, with ties via Cardinal Spellman to President Kennedy (another Catholic—no coincidence) wanted American assistance not only to control the majority Buddhist population, but  to sell drugs–heroin, marijuana, mostly.  We delivered  a waiting populace for those drugs in the form of soldiers who  could not get  real jobs, who were patriotic, but had no clue what they were fighting for—but were told they were fighting against communism.  Recently, as I write this, the movie, Kill the Messenger, about CIA involvement in the  ‘covert’  war in Nicaragua in the 1980s      ( many don’t recall—Reagan did not send soldiers, he sent a boatload of money and weapons to a bunch of right wingers the CIA put together—the CONTRAS—to fight the Sandanistas, whose basic platform (making them socialist) was UNIVERSAL PRIMARY EDUCATION!  There is evidence that to finance this, the CIA  covertly was involved in the distribution of crack cocaine (for the CONTRAS)  in American black communities.  The movie wasn’t around for long, but you  can get it on Netflix.  Also, now in release, CITZENFOUR, a documentary thatEdward Snowden wisely  participated in, with the help of journalists,  regarding  the National Security  Agency (NSA—the CIA and the FBI  are not the only spy agencies spying on citizens) collecting communications data from private companies.  Will any of this ever be in American history textbooks?

One reason all this  interests me is because, when I was in high school, I used to sit in the library before school and read the  hardcover magazine, American Heritage.   It was published  four times a year. There  was an article about the Yoruba of West Africa,and their drama  culture.  This was about 1970, and  while I don’t remember  much about the article, what I DO remember is  that it was about African Culture.  It had been several years since  I had learned about slavery, but  my teachers had always taught that the Africans had no language, no culture.  They were savages living in trees, and white people had done them a favor by enslaving them and civilizing them!  Of course, this  was not true…but there was no internet, you had to go out and search for books, and few were available at that time to primary and high school  students.  It just opened up a world to me, but my parents would have none of it.  It being going to college and studying African Studies. So, I didn’t go to college at all (well, not for  about 12 years).  I learned to groom dogs.

That is neither hear nor there.  Loewen starts out with  Columbus and how  brutal he was  to the native Americans he met in the West Indies.  I knew they had been terrorized, but I did not know most died of disease and even suicide.

He goes on to  early settlements, and the myth of Thanksgiving (and how European diseases wiped out many native American communities  along the Eastern Seaboard), social stratification, labor history, the civil rights movement, and all the  myths we believe as facts.  I knewe Helen Keller was a socialist.  In fact, she was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. I did not know that Woodrow Wilson was an extreme racist and anti-semite, and that he was the one who segregated the armed forces by race.

I don’t have  children…but  think about this:  we have teachers teaching a history that is a bunch of lies:  stuff that really never happened, while ignoring what did happen because our government policy is controlled by elites.  On the one hand,  this is why  we have public education:  we all  should know the same stuff as ‘true and factual’…but instead of learning math or real history, it’s a system  of teaching how to remember ‘facts’ and act on those ‘facts’, and make decisions based on those ‘facts’.

I urge you to look for this book at used bookstores (ans support local small businesses), but if you can’t you will probably be able to find it on Amazon—and it is worth the read.