Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

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Salsa’s tale

Posted by boakley59 on September 4, 2020

NOTE: It seems I never hit publish on this in 2018. Beloved Salsa, RIP, May 9, 2018. I will soon add Dear Pepper, RIP, August 29, 2020. Forever in our hearts, Spice Dogs.

The key turns in the lock and the door swings open. “Daddy’s home,” Suzy calls from her desk and soon the tapping of claws on the kitchen floor signals my joyful welcome.

“How’s my pretty girl?” I ask as Salsa’s eyes shine up into mine and her tail flaps out the message that she’s just fine now that the house is full again. “Do we need to go tell the birds and squirrels Daddy’s back?” and she runs to the deck door to do her duty. I give Suzy a kiss and lift blind little Pepper from her nesting to join Salsa as Dad and dogs make our evening yard check.

For eight years in Batesville, that has been our daily renewal of family, and now it is held forever in family memory as Salsa has gone through another door ahead of me. She had not been able to keep food down for a few weeks and we found inoperable masses blocking her system. Rather than have her suffer wasting away into dehydration, I took her for one last round of her favorite haunts and pleasures; then Suzy and I held her close and scratched her ears as she went in peace.

Those ears! So soft, so befitting her gentle nature.

Bright eyes, windows to a gentle soul

Her bright eyes! So direct and unafraid to look right through you with grace and joy and forgiveness of human frailty. And the tail, ever in motion, a marker of energy and a call to action — one more adventure, one more game, one more good deed, one more moment loving life.

I tried to give her all of her favorite moments loving life on that last day, the proverbial “best of times, worst of times” so familiar to all with broken hearts.

My “pretty girl” had come to us years before at a time of distress and destruction. Suzy had found Salsa at the North Little Rock Animal Shelter while we were still mourning Mesa, a beautiful Lab/Chow/Corgi/Husky mix. Mesa had been given to Suzy as a weeks-old puppy, and we lost her to a wasting disease in her later years. We had then tried to rescue Tux, a sick little fellow who also proved beyond medical help. And Hurricane Katrina had formed and was about to hit stateside, so it was a time when thoughts went to rescue and companionship and needs.

Love from first sight to last light

Suzy says she knew at first sight Salsa belonged with us. That was a Friday in August, but we had to wait through the weekend to adopt. And there began Salsa’s tale. From the start, she was a morale officer, a comforter to our wounded hearts, a friend in our need.

She was about 9 months old when we got her, the vet said, apparently a mostly Manchester terrier mix, black and tan with white socks and loads of energy. We had a big split-level house and a big fenced back yard with lots of room to run. And how fitting that my pretty girl loved to run!

She would sprint any fence line with neighbor dogs. Inside, she would take a running start from our den and only touch one step of the seven as she leapt up to the hallway, ran into the bedroom to bound onto the bed, twist and race back down the hall to check on me still at the den. Sometimes she challenged me to run laps with her. Then I had to chase up the stairs so she could show her moves and swerve around me on her way back down. “Ha, Dad: I’m low; you’re too slow!”

Now and then she would scoop up her rope bone or stuffed squeaker toy on the run, hoping for a tug of war in between laps.

In time, the games and duties changed. The next house had no stairs and a shorter hall, but the race still went on to the bed and back through tighter turns. Eventually, Salsa’s joints protested the leap to the bed, but we could still play “flop left, flop right, rub belly” before tucking in for the evening. Always the bright eyes and the perpetual motion tail, always the devoted heart.

“Guardian of the Realm” alert at launch post 1!

In Batesville, besides her job as official welcoming committee, she was “Guardian of the Realm.” She had a special bark when trucks, trains, or bicycles passed within hearing and she diligently patrolled against birds and squirrels out back. A squirrel on the deck railing could count on a spirited chase to the tree in the back yard, with Salsa taking a flying leap from the deck to the grass 4 feet below.

Salsa never caught the squirrels and never figured out that they went up the tree trunk, either. I guess her head wasn’t in the clouds; she was strictly down-to-earth. She did manage to earn an alternate title as “Bug Hunter,” trying to clear the house of the occasional fly, moth, or mosquito. She was entirely unforgiving of snakes.

And stay off! Stupid squirrels.

She must have had riverside heritage in her blood, because she loved rainy days and splashing about in soggy grass. She rumbled her own challenge to the thunder, but fidgeted to be let out in a drizzle.

I say she had a special bark and I did learn to translate “Bark” for Suzy (in two dialects with Pepper’s idiosyncrasies). Salsa learned many of our words, too, and particularly enjoyed howling “Out! Out! Out!” when she needed a potty break or exercise — or a dance in the rain.

“Want to go for a walk?”

“Out! Out! Out!” The tail whipped impatiently as she headed for the bin where leash and harness are kept.


“Out! Out! Out!”

She knew “outside, walk, out, eat, snack, potty, couch, bed, Mama, Daddy.” “Ride, Nanny, birds and squirrels, train” were familiar too. And Suzy did her part spoiling our princess, teasing that “I did not say I was going to give you a belly rub.” Salsa would immediately flop on her side and raise her front paws to make way for gentle handling.

She heard us; she knew what we meant; she tried to do what we needed. That included trying to help with Pepper’s potty training by growling when Pepper squatted inside or alerting us when it was their time to go outside.

And Salsa could get an idea across with a look and a leap, too. We took our girls to the Chase Race and Paws in Conway when I got back into road racing. We two-legged folk run a two-mile race, then can pair up with our leashed friends for a mile.

They let us run, AND they give us trophies!

Salsa and I finished top 10 three years running. We didn’t know how she would handle it the first time because we didn’t run with her much on the leash at all. I had a long leash so she could run mostly free but I worried about fire hydrants and rival dogs leading to abrupt stops along the way. Suzy had Pepper on a short leash, waiting beside a large German shepherd for “Go!”

Salsa and I took off and she proved a good navigator, weaving through the leashes and around the other pairs. I have an image of her looking back and bounding off as if to say, “C’mon Dad!” and I’m pretty sure she gave the other dogs a look as we moved to the front that meant “Hah! My two-leg is faster than yours!” Meanwhile Pepper took about three steps and planted her feet worried about being trampled in the crowd of bigger critters. Suzy had arm cramps from carrying her most of the way and that was the end of Pepper’s racing. Salsa got a top 10 trophy: I was happy that in our house, the dog can run a 7-minute mile too.

Does this thing go any faster?

The next year, Salsa was ready to go and Dad had gotten with the program. We got closer to a 6-minute mile with two-leg in better shape, but we had a challenge as a younger fellow and his dog came alongside us near the finish. Salsa worked pretty hard sprinting with me and we went neck-and-neck until the other dog had an “Oh, look, bubbles!” moment and came to a dead stop yards before the line! Trophy number two.

We raced one more year but age was starting to gain on us. Our walks at home were not enough to keep Salsa in shape for that kind of run. This time she stopped at three-quarters and looked at me: “This is the water station, right?” (It was; I brought water.) Then on we went and the last hundred yards we again had competition. Salsa looked, listened and lit out: “OK, Dad, I’ll do this for you.” One last trophy.

She was my buddy, running in races or rumbling at thunder, waiting for a walk or warning away a squirrel.

Peace and love. RIP, Salsa 5/9/2018

Salsa saved me from depression and fear of uselessness when I was couch-bound with my last Crohn’s disease flareup when she was new to us. Suzy was off to work; I was feeble with no duties that I could manage or interests that I could indulge. I was a shell, doing nothing but rebuilding myself — except I also had Salsa, who gave me both friendship and responsibility. Small as the job was, tending her gave me “other-focus,” preventing the collapse of the shell.

Now, years later, I am rebuilt but there is a new hollow spot. The house is a little too quiet as I step through the door at night. There should be claws tapping.

The Landers is a little lonelier when I clean there. Isn’t that strange? I never had Salsa with me working, but I feel an absence.

We feed Pepper but there’s a bowl missing in their corner.I became well tending to Salsa; it is well with me still as I tend her memory.

Rest well, my friend. That was a glorious run!

Posted in Health, Personal, Philosophy/Life Lessons, Running | 1 Comment »

Dress reversal

Posted by boakley59 on February 9, 2017

If I were a woman, here’s the fashion advice I would be offering these days:

We dressed like women,

Women suffragists marching on Pennsylvania Avenue led by Mrs. Richard Coke Burleson (center on horseback); U.S. Capitol in background. (Library of Congress)

and you said we were too emotionally unstable to vote.

Nevertheless, we persisted.

And we marched until you yielded the franchise.

We dressed like women,

and long years later, we marched again.

You said we should have voted, and that your numbers were greater (photo evidence notwithstanding).

Nevertheless, we persisted.

Women's March on Washington (32593123745)
We dressed like women,

and you said we made you irresistibly aroused.

Nevertheless, we persisted, and testified and sent you to jail when we could.


We dressed like women,

and you said we didn’t deserve equal pay because we interrupted work for child-rearing.

Nevertheless, we persisted, often putting you through school because you couldn’t work and raise children at the same time.


We dressed like women,

and you said impregnated women couldn’t get chosen medical care.

Nevertheless, we persisted.

We sued and men dressed like women, in black, said we had a right to such care.

We dressed like women,

and you said no matter who was wearing wedding rings, you could grope us.

Nevertheless, we persisted.

When we spoke up for “family values” and against groping, you said you didn’t want ones like us anyway.

We dressed like women,

Girls from MHamid (2357918553)

and you said we were hiding terrorist faces trying to sneak into the country.

Nevertheless, we persisted.

Men dressed like women, in black, stopped your exclusions.

We dressed like women,

and you said we couldn’t read a letter from a murdered black man’s wife that said a white man who perpetuated racial injustice was unqualified for a leading justice role.

Nevertheless, we persisted.


Elizabeth Warren

We dressed like women,

and you said pregnant women now may have to get your permission for that medical care we fought for and won so long ago.

Nevertheless, we persist.

So, dressed like women,

mommies in particular,

we offer this fashion advice:

Hurry up and grow out of your diaper.


And please change your sheets.

KKK night rally in Chicago c1920 cph.3b12355
Because we have always dressed like women,

And we are legion. However you stack the deck against us, nevertheless, we persist!

Posted in Philosophy/Life Lessons | Leave a Comment »

Value family

Posted by boakley59 on January 30, 2017

The challenge in stopping a jerk, a bully, a monster is in not becoming one yourself. The difficulty in an “Us or Them” conflict is that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

It’s easy to defeat even presumably superior force with force if you have any means (see Revolution: American, ca. 1770s; War: Vietnam, ca. 1960s-70s), if you are willing to adopt the inhumanity with which you are being attacked.

Gandhi solved the problem through extreme nonviolence, relentlessly turning the other cheek until the cruel saw themselves as the monsters they were. Martin Luther King deployed an aggressive strategy of mass peaceful resistance — a collective shout, impossible to ignore, that “we are here; our lives matter.” Their followers paid a high price and they themselves paid the ultimate price — and their work remains undone. Indeed, these days their work is being undone.

Lament with me that we have seen this all before and yet there are some so blind that they will not see.

The thought of defeating force with force, violence with violence, brings me to deepest sorrow; my will to violence only arises in desolate anger, when I don’t care who if any may live or die. I try not to go there and to get out if I do have a foot in that door.

Instead, I will be marching when and where I can; I will be pleading here for a broader community, a bigger house undivided.

Over the years marginalization has been justified through appeal to “family values” and nowadays the attack is from the other end with rejection of “identity politics.” Used to be “they” didn’t deserve to be treated fairly, now “they” are being unfair pointing out they’ve been mistreated.

And here is where I take my stand, because “family” and “identity” mean something more to me than the narrow usage of the domineer.

I am the adopted son of parents who have no offspring. I have an adopted sibling with whom I share no biological parentage. I have a son whose mother and I divorced, so that I missed his middle school years but his stepmother and I shepherded him through high school. He is an enrolled Rosebud Sioux through his mother’s line. He lives with his girlfriend and her son.

My mother used to joke that I was her “little Jewish boy” because of my build, coloring and facial characteristics, but she raised me Catholic: grade school, high school and university. She grew up Protestant, Methodist I think, in Virginia poverty in the Allegheny Mountains, but converted to marry into my father’s Irish and German family, Depression-era shopkeepers in the industrial Northeast Great Lakes area.

My collegiate prep high school and my prominent university gave me a strong grounding in Catholic doctrine, in math and science, and in literature. I began college as a chemistry major but my degree is in English. I became an atheist at college, but nuns, priests, chaplains, and pastors have always been in my circle of friends.

(I’ve written about this before, and I probably said it better back then, so visit See, I don’t fit in for more.)

The upshot is that there is only one family value: Love others. That makes us all family. So watch where you direct your threats: We defend our families.

Be sure you understand identity. In math, identity is an expression of unity, not separation. Two expressions are an identity if they evaluate to the same: Two plus two equals four. “Black Lives Matter” is a reminder that “All Lives Matter” not a claim that some don’t. The identity here is “black lives are lives.” The point is that labels are superficial indicators of identity.

Am I Jewish? My mother joked about it, but in truth, I have no information on my sire and dam, so my genes may very well support that identity. I presumably am a bastard, though married couples do give up children, too, so maybe not. I am not Christian, but until I point that out or do not join in worship, I suspect few Christians would see my behavior as alien to their culture. I’m a Yankee in the South. I’m on disability but I coach running.

When you put on a white sheet, when you close the borders, when you burn mosques, you attack my family. You challenge my identity. You are a monster and I will call on my family to stop you. We will not become you.

Our family is not just one man, one woman, and children. Our family has many faces — Jewish, Christian, atheist, Yankee, Sioux, married, divorced, single, degreed, disabled, rich, poor, artistic, scientific, kind (for all those different labels, in fact just one kind) — and we love each other.

So say all of us.

Posted in Philosophy/Life Lessons, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Mexican sendoff

Posted by boakley59 on January 10, 2017

I fear I will have a hard time finding places to eat under the new administration. See, we eat weekly at a Mexican restaurant and regularly enough at a second Mexican restaurant with a great fish tacos special.

But now I have been assured by our fearful leadership (isn’t it supposed to be fearless leaders?) that Mexican immigrants are illegal in the first place and wicked to boot. The sharpest tacks in the pack tell us that the only ones who come here are the drug crooks and the rapists fleeing the law in their homeland. Paradoxically, it seems these are only the incompetent drug types who aren’t living high (so to speak) but instead must disguise themselves as dirt-poor vagabonds to sneak over the border to then take our most precarious low-paying jobs all while stealing from our support programs. It’s all take, take, take with them, we are told, and they are a menace.

I see it now, I suppose: I go to the restaurant, they take my order. I eat and they take my plate. Then they take my money and pretty soon I’m asleep and can’t work and my wallet is lighter. I’ll bet their evil cousins probably took the vegetables right out of our rich nurturing soil and probably didn’t pay taxes on their slave wage but ran to the emergency room for free care with expensive subsidized medicine at the first sign of a broken back.

Over the top? Of course it is — I know it and you know it. Yet these are the openly declared elements of the narrative that is to drive change in our immigration policy. Similarly twisted lies paint as terrorist secret agents those refugees, particularly Muslims, fleeing war in their homelands. Again, it’s a profoundly incompetent secret agent who must disguise himself as a dirt-poor refugee of no standing who must petition a ponderous bureaucracy for minimal shelter and food in order somehow to have a chance to then amputate the hand that would feed him.

But you know that too. You pass the lies to support your fear and validate your selfish cruelty.

The truth is these are your neighbors, already here; these are our invitees, “tired, poor, hungry, yearning to breathe free.” No, we can’t help them all, but neither can our response be “no room at the inn” and “you’re enemy evildoers.”

Because it’s not true that these people are draining our reserves; they don’t get benefits. It’s not true that they’re stealing jobs; they’re being exploited getting a pittance without rights or protections at jobs their hosts won’t take. It’s not true that they’re warriors, crooks, spies.

It’s not true that you even know who they are: If I understand correctly, the “Mexican” restaurants I mentioned are actually run and staffed by a mix of Mexicans and Central Americans. You can’t tell by looking at someone or listening to their Spanish — or Portuguese — whether they’re undocumented. And you can’t be sure if a woman in headgear is a Muslim, let alone whether anyone so identified is bent on destruction.

The Mexicans I meet and know work hard, love their children, and do good. The hardest worker on the high school cross country team, Mexican heritage, played a heavy family role at home when his mother was sick. He contributed to the team and took care of family, a dutiful son we can all see and understand. He joked about having to leave the country after the election. Does his family have their papers? Not really funny, because the blanket condemnation of “his kind” does not grant the presumption of innocence — including that they are not immigrants but natives.

Are the Mexicans learning the language at the local literacy organization I support — so they can enjoy and help more fully their community — going to be the first suspects to be rounded up? If Mexicans come to the county fair where I help, do I point them out to security if I have to show them the ride ticket prices in Spanish? Are they helping or hurting the economy spending hundreds of dollars treating their children to a carnival one night or one week a year?

Have I just been lucky so far not to have seen the inherent evil in “these people”?

The cross country team a couple of years ago had another hard worker, gentle soul, dedicated teammate. An observant Muslim, he followed the fast during Ramadan and would not even drink water before sundown. In Arkansas late summer heat and humidity, he held to his faith without shirking his commitment to his public school team. Am I to suspect this was toughening himself for a terrorist mission someday? Again, not an immigrant, but still would be smeared with the “they’re all that way” brush.

This is the corner we paint ourselves into by accepting false narratives for political expedience. We find villains to blame for problems we imagine. Now we have leaders ready to burn the bedroom to save us from the monsters under the bed that they suggested to childish minds. What do we do when they come with the flamethrowers?

It is ironic to be telling stories to ask people to reject false stories, but those who fear monsters under the bed aren’t impressed by the truth about the room: the locks on the doors, the absence of monster footprints, the lamp beside the bed. So, we must make them see their neighbors, friends, and even kinfolk in their target zone. They must see that bigotry is ultimately self-hatred. We are more alike than we are different.

The stories I tell above are biographies; these are real people, real targets, real victims of the bigotry we are told to unleash to resolve problems that don’t exist. Immigrants are ineligible for the funds they are said to be draining; they do not steal jobs and undercut the economy but in fact are exploited by the captains of business lining their own already-subsidized pockets; they are desperate, fleeing criminals and terrorists rather than being them.

The United States spends about half of the money spent in the world on military power, and that dwarfs all the rest of our spending. If we have a financial drain, it’s not anything to do with a few people in rags walking across our desert border to siphon our riches. They can’t get at enough money to make that difference. And we average 10 equivalents of 9/11 in gun deaths every year, so any problem of sneaky ragamuffins trying to establish a terror base is dwarfed by our existing “guns don’t kill people” death spiral.

Tackling problems by going after the Mexicans? You’re going after my friends. Muslims? The ones I know are good people. When you come for them with your lies, you come for me. And we resist your purge.

Recognize wisdom from another wartime: We have met the enemy, and they is us. We are one, or we are none.

Posted in Philosophy/Life Lessons, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Ladies, first

Posted by boakley59 on December 11, 2016

I am confused about women. We laugh that this is the basic condition of the male of the species, but the recent unpleasantness has brought this to a more disturbing level.

We have been assured by our next leader that women are putty (damn autocorrect!) in the hands of men, at least men who are stars, and that there are pretty much two kinds of women to notice: Those who look hot but are totally cool with being putty and those who look hot but are chill enough to allow themselves to be putty. Marital status of putty or putter is irrelevant. When one woman spoke up about not being cool or chill, but added that she was hot with anger when he bothered her, he did allow that there is a third kind of woman. That third kind is the liars who don’t meet his apparently universal standard of beauty to make them worthy of groping in the first place.

So, now I have a problem. Some women I know have been vigorous on Facebook in support of our star putter for telling it like it is and further pushing this country on the right (well, far right) path. How do I greet such women when back in meatspace with them again? If I don’t grope immediately, am I insulting their appearance? Signalling that they are too old, too fat, too thin, too unattractive? Am I suggesting that they are too cantankerous, not chill as a worthy woman should be? Or am I short-changing myself, perhaps undermining my own status by not assuming star privilege?

If I don’t grope like we are told a star would, will the women I coach every year in the beginner’s running clinic take me seriously as an authority? Will they know to trust my advice if I’m not confident in myself enough to reach out to them?

And if I happen to think there are more kinds of women than those three, should I reassure any I meet that not groping them in no way reflects negatively on their attractiveness or personality or my own level of confidence? More important, should I reassure them that not all men live out or permit “locker room talk”?

I’ve been in locker rooms and they are most certainly not meat inspector-free zones. “Nice pair,” “Hoover action,” “your mama so …” Penis assessment away from the counselors at youth church camps. Boys being boys. College friends of mine used to gather at a bar and laugh about the “Wuw,” the world’s ugliest practitioner of the world’s oldest profession. I didn’t join in, but I didn’t stop them either. I did once write about it where they and all the university community could see. They may have backed off a little, at least when I was around. So, talk happens. But it’s NOT acceptable. It certainly shouldn’t escape (or in fact survive) the closed spaces. It MUST NOT BE ALLOWED to be a call to action or a point of pride!

Do I need to assure the mothers of the high school girls (young, healthy, happy — in the simplest sense naturally attractive) I help coach that I will not impose myself on their daughters, nor do anything that intrudes on their own marriage? Do I tell the boys I help coach not to try to be a certain kind of “presidential,” or even a certain kind of “star”?

Should I meet the next president, do I immediately tell him my wife is not to be groped? If I do, will he look at her and say she’s hot and I am not powerful enough to stop him and his security team? Will he look at her and say she’s not hot enough for him to bother and he’s sorry I’m not star enough to have done better? Will he look at me and say, “That was just some talk to help me get elected and of course I’m not that way now that I am married for the third time”?

I asked a fairly ordinary, nice older lady whether I should ask women any of these questions so that they wouldn’t be insulted by my behavior or lack of it, and she said I certainly should not even bring the topic up — it obviously isn’t fit for public consumption! (We don’t have irony here in this town.) She did allow as how it was mighty suspicious that “those women” waited 10 years to complain about a putty press. The cop show on in the background had a prosecutor begging a rape accuser to testify despite fear of the suspect’s power, wealth and position. (The local cable provider doesn’t carry an irony channel, either.)

Yes, ladies, we have problems. We men do like to look at you and touch you, and most of us limit ourselves to one. We don’t generally like other men to look at and touch those of you in our circles of influence. You like to be looked at and touched, mostly limited to one, and not any and everyman. You generally don’t like other women to be looked at and touched by the men in your circle of influence.

But beauty and propriety are fluid concepts: Years ago in hospital post-operative recovery, a friend brought the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue thinking it would be pleasant viewing to cheer me up. Suzy made him take it away as smut. I rested in the middle. We’ve been at this a long time: In the ’80s (late ’70s?) I worked at a newspaper where a young sports columnist wrote a “Welcome girls!” piece celebrating the midwinter arrival of that year’s sunny edition, and one of the women I worked with on the copy desk was upset because it was instead an exploitive, non-athletic photo album. Back then, I pointed out that after all women were doing the posing and showing of skin.

I’ve changed (matured?) some since and figure it’s allowable to be beautiful and desirable — but it’s quite reasonable to be offended by leering or groping or the sight of skin. We have to work out the personal boundaries among ourselves, but there are some lines we ought to draw in open space.

“Locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” are NOT acceptable, particularly to the extent of “you know you really want me to grope you” or “please don’t interrupt his promising athletic career just because he raped some woman.” Women’s lives matter — no, that doesn’t mean men’s lives don’t! It means “Also,” not “Only.”

“Slut shaming” and “she was asking for it” by the way she dressed or drank are also NOT acceptable. Sure, if you’re not part of the floor show, a bikini in a fine restaurant is not appropriate, but it is no more an invitation to assault than having a penis is a permit for assault.

I guess that brings us about where we started: I am confused about women. Natural, really, because there’s a lot of living packed into our relationships and they aren’t simple. On the other hand, a lot of the confusion goes away once we admit that our relationships are with persons, not stuffed skin trophies.

Ladies, some of you appeal to my eyes, some to my mind, some to my emotions. I am pledged to one of you. I was once pledged to another who still feeds memories of love and regret. Some of you do not appeal to me, in those same aspects. Be that as it may, I do not presume open access to your person or even clearance to air my thoughts about your person, whether in a locker room, at the water cooler or over the gossip fence. I am a lucky husband and many of you have lucky husbands as well, and that is integral rather than irrelevant to our relationship.

At one time, I thought it “need not be said” that I am not out to grope you, but — our next leader be damned — times have changed.

Basic human decency, common courtesy, even much-mocked political correctness are not signs of weakness. Indeed, all of those actually demand that we stand up to bullying pigs.

With your permission, I will accompany you as we navigate these newly mean streets.

Posted in Philosophy/Life Lessons | Leave a Comment »

Curse the silence

Posted by boakley59 on September 15, 2011

It’s been happening again lately: Showmanship trumps discussion as our nation faces crippling difficulties. I cannot hold my temper as a barrage of shallow phrases casually dismiss my existence or suggest that people like me are the cause of the problems rather than victims of it. I cannot hold my temper as I am told that “my side” makes stuff up, too.

I saw a Facebook note not long ago to the effect that everything would be all right if only we would get prayer back in our schools — and send the Muslims back where they came from.

Such suggestions put me in turmoil. Would it do any good to point out the stunning lack of self-awareness in the suggestion? Muslims pray, too, and we could just as readily make a case for facing Mecca daily in schools and sending Baptists or Methodists or any other religious minority back where they came from, if dogma is to be our filter. Would it do any good to point out the lack of historical understanding in the suggestion? This nation encoded separation of church and state precisely because many of its early settlers left their homelands to avoid forced practice of a state-endorsed religion — in some cases from nations whose sovereigns formed a state religion so as not to yield to the pope! We are twice removed from mandated religion! Would it do any good to point out that individuals can pray at will in our schools (barring classroom disruption), and that it is a freedom held in communion with Catholics and Mormons and Wiccans so that no faith is crushed by powers and principalities.

Why must we have this discussion at this late day in our nation’s history? These questions have been settled. If I remain silent to preserve friendships or social standing, do I have friends or standing worth having? If I speak out, do I have the time or strength to continue as I am rejected (or at least scolded) as the intolerant, angry one?

Should we not all be angry at this? Isn’t it obvious that forcing (yes, “forcing” — not “allowing”) prayer in our schools is getting citizenship wrong, parenting wrong and even Christianity wrong? If you need forced prayer to save the schools (or society), what have you taught your children about responsibility, behavior and manners? If forced prayer is the way to demonstrate Christianity, how is Christianity distinguishable from wearing gang colors, your favorite team’s jersey or designer jeans?

People aren’t good enough, or people don’t do enough good — that I get. Muslims are so bad they are a threat just by existing and they could never become good enough — that I reject. The reality is that the Muslims in America are a tiny minority: If I understand correctly, about 1 percent of our population. (For reference, inflammatory bowel disease patients like me are about half that, 0.5 percent of the population.) Most of these people are your quiet, unassuming neighbors who love their children and their pets, go to school or work, watch TV and donate to flood or earthquake victims when the need arises. They do not disrupt or threaten your life in any way, unless you lose face because in polls, Muslims hold more strongly to Americanism than to their religion than do other belief groups. That is to say that Muslims are less likely as a group to push for religious dominion in the United States than are Christians. Sharia law here? It’s a dog whistle for Christians who want to impose Mosaic law and banish strangers to hell.


I heard a prominent Republican not long ago call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. I heard a Republican audience cheer a record level of state-sponsored murder, which was then defended as justice against outsiders. I heard another Republican argue against vaccination as a health risk. These are the frontrunners shaping the debate and the platform. I am told these notions just represent differences about the way things should be done and the proper role of government.

Here’s the thing: I am an outsider on Social Security disability with an autoimmune disease whose treatment puts me at higher risk of infections. These policy positions threaten my well-being. Someone who gets the science of vaccination backwards is a threat to my life if in a position of power, not to mention it hurts my head just to contemplate the sheer stupidity. Someone who would dissemble about Social Security as a wedge to dismantle it paints me as a criminal while preparing to pick my pocket. Someone without reservations about killing “the other” is not someone I can afford to trust.

When I hear serial adulterers use family values as a club to bludgeon those they would deny familial rights, I cannot trust them to make principled decisions. I cannot trust them to resist temptations. I cannot trust them to respect me or my rights. I have talked about this before: I am the adopted son of parents who had no biological children; I am divorced from my son’s mother; I am remarried to a woman with no biological children. What can the phrase “traditional marriage” mean to me but a confusion of failed promises and a wrenching struggle to love through great stress? If this is something that really can be protected by preventing the wrong kind of people doing it, we need a much better focus on just who the wrong kind of people are.

So, I’m sorry, but the people or the party espousing ideas that threaten me, even if they’re “merely” staking out extreme negotiating positions for later compromise or making a show for their own followers, are not people I can afford to dismiss simply as having different views. These are people threatening or attacking me, and I can’t sit quietly by waiting to find out what their good ideas are for fixing the problems they identify. Their bad ideas trumpeted in public put me and mine at risk.

Even if those on “my side” aren’t telling the whole truth, I’ll take the liars whose lies don’t put me at more risk.

And yes, every once in a while I will raise my voice and not just sit still, cursing the silence.

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With a deck of 51

Posted by boakley59 on September 18, 2010

(Nov. 30, 2010 Note: I set this aside in draft mode months ago pondering some refinement that I have since forgotten. With unremembered flaws intact then:)

This spinning rock has carried me around the big yellow ball one more time and as usual I like to take a look back at the track and see where I’ve been, hoping for some insight into where I might be headed.

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Maybe next year

Posted by boakley59 on December 31, 2009

I’m not much of one for New Year’s resolutions or year-end retrospectives, but lately I have a headful of observations. I’ve been looking both forward and back, and neither resolutions nor observations quite covers the territory, so I’m going to call my list reservations. Some of these are the happy, hopeful reservations like those you get for a table at a fine restaurant. Others are the simple, worrisome reservations like those you have about going out on a cloudy day without an umbrella. The darkest ones are the ones where we hide from ourselves, like the nuclear reservations where we confine our toxic waste.
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Vicious Bru

Posted by boakley59 on December 28, 2009

“Why are you so vicious?” she will ask when I react angrily to certain speakers.

The answer is simple, but loaded — as, it turns out, is the question. I become what she calls “vicious” when I am frustrated. I find that I am most angry when I feel at fault. If I spill paint on the carpet, I am upset that I made a stain, but I am FURIOUS that I could be so clumsy or perhaps that I was trying to carry too many things with too few hands. My anger is proportional to how culpable I feel for the accident. In a similar way, I become vicious when I am ashamed of myself.
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Gentle echoes

Posted by boakley59 on December 2, 2009

In dealing with disability, I have many moments of melancholy. I am busy in Bruce-watching, because I must be attentive to my health so as not to become sicker. When you are busy watching yourself be sick, though, mostly what you see is how you have faded from your remembered youthful vigor.
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