DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Tossing Pebbles in the Stream: 01/01/2011 - 02/01/2011 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our Best Friends: Dogs

Those who know me, know I am unusually attached to my lovely Great Dane, Heidi. Over the years, I have had many dogs as pets, sometimes more than one at a time. They were great pets and enjoyed a good life here on the farm.

After I had my last dog which was a Great Dane/Doberman cross with the markings of the latter and the temperament of the former, I wanted another dog. (This dog was killed by a neighbour for no other reason that he could and enjoyed the act of killing.) I decided I deserved, at my age, a special dog, the dog of my choice. I chose a pure bred Great Dane.

Heidi has become enormously important to me as a companion and an object of my affection. She also is a great source of amusement. The thought of some day losing her which is a reality and part of the covenant of having such a pet, haunts me from time to time. This is a sort of pre grief, grief. Great Danes like all large dogs do not live very long. I imagine I will out live her. Now I understand how my dad felt about is Colette, a small French Poodle.

Recently, this was made real to me, when my son had to finally put down his beloved dog, Hannah, a chocolate Labrador Retriever. I knew how hard this moment was forParker. Hannah was, in a way, his first child, a lovely puppy before his had children. Hannah lived to be 15 years old. The last three or four years have been difficult for her at times.

Hannah and Parker had gone to obedience school, until Parker got trained and Heidi got properly socialized, a wonderfully obedient pet. She never had to be tied up for she was trained to stay on the property, which always amazed me.

Hannah was a wonderful family pet, who gained the affection of the three grandchildren as they were born and joined the family. She put up with very young children doing things to her which must have been annoying. She also became a playmate as the kids got older. For all she was a constant presence in there lives.

I shall always remember Hannah for the times she came to the cabin on the farm by the river. She was a water dog and loved to swim and chase after a stick tossed into the river. Even as she aged and suffered from arthritis, by the water she would act like a pup to chase sticks in the water, to evenually suffer pain the next day for her efforts.

Some day my son's family may get another dog. It will be hard to imagine a dog as wonderful as Hannah, their perfect family pet dog.

Hannah, the last picture I took of her as she quietly enjoyed the company for the family.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

It is a dog's world around here. This is a collage of Heidi's neighbours, who sometimes drop by.

Top left is the Golden Retriever from next door who caused me to have Heidi spayed, only to be give away by his owner. The mongrel black puppies (8 in all) belonged to the brown dog, Pepe on the top right. They have sinced found home and moved South. On the lower left are two of the three Boston Bull Terriers from the first neighour toward town. (What a lovely friendly breed they are.) On the lower right is a Huskie from the last farm a mile of the road. The elegant Great Dane is Heidi, looking for canine company. They are all lovely dogs.

Heidi I keep tied up out of fear that a neighour might shoot her. I do not want her to run so she is the one who is visited and not the visitor.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

George Carlin ReDux

George Carlin!, where are you when we need you?

I always enjoyed George Carlin's stand-up routine about the "seven words you can never say on television." I think it was because to hear them with my young ears was delightfully naughty. I grew up in a household where swearing was frowned upon. Damn! was the one word we could say, with only a mild reprimand. I once called a boy a "homo" in front of my mother which got me a lecture. I didn't even know what the word meant. I only knew it made the boy not nice. In our house naughty bodily sounds and parts were referred to with their biologically correct terminology and an apology for using them, when necessary. Tits were teats and a fart was breaking wind. . . .well you know. . . . I need not go on further.

While Carlin's words are now regularly used on television (how times have changed at least for a nice suburban middle-class boy like myself) it seems he missed a couple of words, I think, ( he later expanded his list to an epic number of 200 which I have not seen.) He missed nigger and faggot. The n***** and f***** words are five letter words and not four letter words, perhaps that explains it?

These words have both been in the news lately. The expurgated copy of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn substituted more acceptable words for nigger among other "politically incorrect" ones. And now the Canadian Broadcast Standard Council has banned the playing of the Dire Strait's song "Money for Nothing" unless they bleep out the "faggot" word.

Producing a child sensitive version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn may be a good idea. Better still would be parents showing a little sensitivity in deciding when children are old enough read the original text that was in dialect and reflected an historic time. Best, of course, would be to have parents read these books to their children so that they could help them put the language particularly the "nigger" word in historic and present social context. I remember my mother reading both of these books twice to me with no ill effects.

I lived in the black community in the United States, first in Roxbury. Ma and later in New Haven Ct., for nearly 10 years. Believe me! nigger is a commonly used word there. I lived in a neighbourhood where Parker and I were the only white family. He was three and I was sitting on the front stoop watching him play with some of the children on the street. The kids were a little older but we were popular because Parker had lots of interesting toys. Suddenly, there as a scuffle between a couple of the kids. "Give me that you dumb, nigger." In an instant, I had taken Parker into the house to give him his first lesson in race relations. "You must never, ever, use that word, nigger." I heard myself sounding like my mother, "You must never, ever hit a girl." I wanted Parker, even at his young age, (it was a matter of survival for us in that neighbourhood) to understand that words have power and there is an appropriate context for them, even some of the most offensive. I don't ever remember him using the word so maybe I did make an impression. I knew if my blonde haired ,blue eyed son called one of the kids on the street a dumb nigger, we would be in trouble.

Interestingly enough nigger is widely used and common place in some media. Have you seen the lyrics to gangster rap music. Using nigga instead of nigger does not make it any less offensive. I guess in some quarters it is fashionable language. Makes me wonder if we do not speak well of ourselves we have little reason to expect others to speak well of us.

What is most musing is that commentators on this issue in any media in an intelligent conversation cannot say or ever spell the word. It is the "N" word or n*****. Come on! folks it is only a word. It seems it is the most powerful word in American english.

I am sorry to say it is still used in my hamlet by children with Canadian French as their first language. For years, this always bothered me and I spend some time trying to get them to not use it. There personal encounter with an African or Caribbean, or Haitian Canadian would be rare to none. So I think they spoke out of ignorance. I finally decided that they were using a French Canadian dialect word "negra" which is less powerful meaning only "black." It still made me uncomfortable.

I took a local young girl to the city of Toronto years ago. She was one of the children I tried to stop from speaking about "negers". We were staying at my sister's place in a lovely neighbourhood of the city. She rented out a room to a lovely Jamaican girl. The second day this tenant poked her head in the door of the kitchen to say hello and almost before she left the room my young friend exclaimed "She's a "neger!". I just prayed that the young woman did not hear her. The next day, while sitting in the kitchen once again, we heard a noise at the front door. My young friend went to seen who it was and in an instant she was back, "There is another "neger".
I was sure the woman must have heard. She was my sister's cleaning lady. I went into the front hall to speak to her and gauge her reaction to my young friend's comment. I ended up telling her that my friend had never seen a cleaning lady. (How is that for redirection of the conversation. Cowardly me!) She came from a home of five children and her mother cleaned her own house. If the woman heard her comment, she was too polite to say. I was glad I did not have to make an apology and explanation that my young friend had yet to learn the power of some words and the ways of the larger world.

Confession time! When I was growing up we just loved the licorice candies "nigger babies". We would shamelessly ask for them at the store with our small allowance, three for a penny.
This was acceptable in my all white neighbourhood. We didn't know any better. Also, my favourite book when I was first learning to read was "Little Black Sambo" I am still not sure why it is so offensive. And for, course we loved to get to the "nigger toes" (Brazil Nuts) first in the Christmas bowl of nuts. I remember trying to decide between things using the rhyme, "Enie, meanie, minnie, moe, catch a Nigger by the toe. . . .) " When I first heard a black child in my neighbourhood in New Haven begin this I was stunned waiting for the dreaded "N" word. It never came "catch a tiger by the tail" he sang out. I would be an adult before I found this deeply offensive and shocked myself into not using these terms. It was not until I was midway through high school when I actually met and talked to an African Canadian, our new physics teacher and football coach. The civil rights struggle was in the news. They say confession is good for the soul. I think I and society have made some progress.

In spite of the sensitivity we have, myself included, to the use of this words we should be able to use it when discussing it in historic and socio-political meanings.

As for faggot, someone needed to inform the Canadian censors that the song in question used the word in a satirical way. I understand this song has been around for 25 years. I guess they figure better late than never.

Also, they should maybe make exceptions for this British group. The derogatory use of the word referring to homosexuals is largely a North American obsession. Faggot is widely used in Britain in several contexts. A faggot, or fag, is a cigarette. It is also a popular dish to eat. It is a bundle of sticks. I have seen it used referring to the yule log when a faggot of wood from one Yuletide is saved to start the fire for the next one. Historically it had been used to refer to a not so nice woman which may have resulted in it being used to refer to effeminate men, whether or not they are homosexual. Fag can be a verb as well as a noun. A faggot would then be a lower classman who fagged (did chores for) and upper classman. And there is the classless "Furious Famicom Faggot" cartoons. You may want to read Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" where you will find the word, before they bring out an expurgated version. Enough, enough! I invite you to see how many more uses of the word faggot there are.

I would hate to see the altering of historic texts by changing words that were once used and now are considered offensive. This is a slippery slope we should avoid. I also would like to think that we are all adult enough to say offensive words in certain contexts, such as an intelligent discussion of the word usage and power in our culture. Slang is part of the richness of the language, some just colourful; others, offensive. They tell us more perhaps about the speaker that what he is referring to. We need to think long and hard before we banish any word from any or all usages.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Winter Break

I finally managed a trip to the Toronto area. I just got back from a visit which began in the last minutes of the passing year.

I had been trying for at least a month to arrange for a visit with my friend Lynne and my sister, Penny, during Christmas and New Year. I was frustrated with being unable to make arrangements to do so. The biggest problem was arranging for the care of Heidi while I was away. I originally wanted to be in Mississauga by December 19. That did not work out. Then I tried for Christmas Eve. No luck. There were a couple of more abortive efforts when I finally gave up and agreed to look after a neighbour's dog while he went South to spend the holiday with his daughter and new grandchild. At the last opportunity another member of the neighbour's household showed up and took over the dog sitting duties. I had heard that my son would care for Heidi but he would not be back from his visit South until the New Year. Finally, I took a chance and asked my neighbour to take care of Heidi and feed my cats until my son could come and get her. Such a plan worried me but I really wanted to visit South not only for some of the seasonal festivities but also to be present for my sister's 70th birthday.

After a neighbour drove me to Sturgeon Falls I caught the bus South. It would turn out to be an 11 hour trip which should have taken only 7. This got difficult when there was a layover of an hour in North Bay followed by the heaters on the bus failing making it difficult for the driver to keep his front windows clear. Luckily it was not very cold outside. I got off the bus in north Toronto and took the subway south to the Union Station where I could catch the GO (Government of Ontario) train to Mississauga. I just missed my connection as I sought to purchase a ticket only to find out rides were free this New Year's Eve. After waiting an hour I was on the next and last train out of Toronto. I finally made it to Lynne's place in Mississauga with less than an hour before welcoming in the New Year. It had been over 11 hours since I left my house.

I was finally in the warmth of Lynne'spresence and home with the welcome I lloked forward to expressed in the belated Christmas card below:

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Lynne had a lovely book to accompany the card. It is one I had expressed an interest in. ( I had mentioned it in a previous posting).

(click of photo to enlarge)

This is Lesley Hazleton's lucid explanation of the historic schism within Islam that began after the death of the Prophet. This is the division of Shia and Sunni Islam. It is a fascinating read made very understandable by the clear writing style of the author. I spend time during my visit to read it and and managed to finish it on the train ride home a week later.
I had a lovely visit with Lynne which began with watching on TV some of the festivities on the streets of Toronto (Nathan Phillips Square) and in Time Square New York welcoming in the New Year. It was a relaxed week with Lynne. There were several lovely meals, a visit from her daughter and granddaughter, some movies on TV and some games of Scrabble. We each won a game and have yet to play the rubber match. Lynne is quite competitive so I expect we will play it the next time we meet. We had an opportunity to go to the NHL hockey game in Toronto and for some reason I was reluctant to go, so we took a pass. Shame on me! (I am not the fan I once was. How un-Canadian of me.) Another day we were planning to go to the Theatre and use Lynne's subscription tickets when her daughter was not able to go. I happened to mention the World Junior Hockey final was being played the same evening in Buffalo. Immediately, the theatre was out. Lynne is a enthusiastic hockey fan and we just had to watch on TV the Canada/Russia game for the gold medal. In Canada hockey is a "religion". Canada lost to the Russians , in a dramatic third period way, which made the game a national tragedy. We will get over it. At least we did not lose to the Americans. :)
January 4 was my sister's 70th birthday. Lynne and I went to share in a family party. Penny and David's four grown children were there along with their grandson. Elizabeth, her daughter, was home from London where she works and Scott, her eldest son, came in from Montreal, which he calls home. There were some friends also present. Good conversation, delicious food and reminisences were the activities of the evening. It was a lovely time and I am glad I made the effort to be there.
The next day, Penny came to Lynne's house and shared her thoughts and photos on her pilgrimage trek along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Last year she did part of it with her youngest son. This past year she did the rest of it, part with her husband, David; the rest alone. She did have a short visit from Elizabeth during her trek. It was interesting to hear her impressions of the pilgrimage and the significance the whole experience was for her. This historic route was travelled prior to the Christian era by the ancient Celts who believed they were travelling to the edge of the World. It turns out it passes by the recent archeological finds of the oldest human ramains in Europe. Christians used this route as a pilgrimage route to celebrate the Life and influence of St James (Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James) whose relics (bones) are thought to be buried at the Cathedral of Compostela. Saint James is the patron saint of Spain. I think Penny was most moved by the ideal of travelling the Way that so many pilgrims had travelled before for centuries. There are many historic sites and symbols along the way. She completed the whole trail and earned the designation of "Pilgrim". It was an admirable feat for someone her age and I am happy she found it so meaningful.
This year Penny will be travelling again. She and David are going to Australia to visit a neice there. She also is going to London for the Royal Wedding. She has plans to sleep on the street overnight (weather permitting) in order to share the experience with the common folk gathering for the day of celebration) to wait for the wedding party to pass by. She is even more of a Royalist than I am. I would like to be there myself although I could not convince Lynne to consider it. My mother was always very interested in the Royal Family and in its own way being there on this occasion would be a tribute to her. I shall be glued to the TV for sure as will so many millions around the World.
Finally, the day came to come home. I had called my son's home to arrange with him to drive me home from Sturgeon Falls. I was so relieved when my youngest grandson, Travis, volunteered the information that Heidi was very good while there. I worried about her all the time I was away. I came home by train, my prefered way of travel. It takes about 5 hours to North Bay and then a half hour bus ride to Sturgeon Falls. Unfortunately, there is a two hour wait in North Bay to make the connection. I managed to finish the last few chapters of my book in this time so it passed quickly.
It was good to get home although the heat had been off in my house while I was away so it took a while to get it up to temperature. It would be a day before the walls, furniture and the like warmed up. I slept in my own bed with all my clothes on as the mattress was very cold. It was good to be home with Heidi who now was warming the other side of the bed. It was a lovely trip with no regrets.