Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Now We Are Six (Months)

Vaska turned six months old a couple of weeks ago and I thought I'd document the little fellow's progress.

He seems to be through the most outrageous growth period, but he still surprises anyone who hasn't seen him for a couple of weeks. He weighs about 70 pounds; I'm guessing he'll be around 110 when he's through, but I wouldn't be surprised if he differed by 10 pounds either direction. Right now, he's rangy and his feet and his leg joints are still outsized, so he'll add a bit more height and considerable weight before he's through.

He's like a gangly 13-year-old and sometimes can run with the pack at the park and then suddenly, particularly on a turn, will lose his footing and will at least go into a slide if he doesn't wipe out completely. This morning, he had a couple of times when he tried to rocket up the steep river bank and had to take a second shot at it.

He really is at a "tweener" stage, where he'll wrestle and run with the big dogs, but then, at the last moment, give a funny little puppy pounce, because he still is just a baby. Similarly, he has become a real dog companion to me, and I can see the adult dog he's going to be, but then, suddenly, he's a puppy again -- often at night, when it's time to go to sleep and he suddenly decides it's time for a tickle-fight and starts biting my hands. As with all good tickle-fights, the initial annoyance quickly dissolves into fits of giggling and the chances of going to sleep all but disappear.

Here he is with two of his best buddies, Tanner the Pit Bull and Bogey the Chocolate Lab, all having a tug at a foot-long chunk of knotted rope. He and Bogey will go long distances, each holding an end of the rope or stick, trotting along as if they were yoked like oxen, as Bogey's owner and I walk the length of the dam site park, which is where we all get together while the dog park is closed for mud season.

With Tanner, the game is more apt to be wrestling, though they enjoy a good tug, and actually, all three dogs really enjoy keepaway more than actual tugging. But Vaska's ability to learn has been very evident in his wrestling, and Tanner's owner and I have watched him pick up moves and then pull them off himself in the next round. Tanner is a little over a year old and they first met when Vaska was still a wee pup. Tanner was very gracious in scaling down to the puppy's abilities then, but all that is over now as they merrily fling each other around.

What is particularly interesting with these three is how generous they are about alternating who is dominant and who is submissive at any point in the game. They never lose their tempers with each other and are quite happy on top or bottom, just so long as the game is fast and loud.

Here are Vaska and Bogey sharing a duck retrieving dummy which floated down the Connecticut River from god-knows-where and was around the park for more than a week, providing lots of good fetching and fighting over. One advantage of the dog park -- which opens again this coming weekend -- is that dog toys stay there until they begin to fall apart, while, in an open, unfenced park like this one, well-meaning people think they're seeing litter or abandoned objects and pick them up. Alas, the duck disappeared well before it had been completely dismantled.

In 25 years of owning them, I've never had a ridgeback that I thought was particularly clever. They're not stupid dogs, but they are hounds and no hound has ever won a Nobel Prize for innovative thinking. However, Vaska not only learns wrestling holds but can think his way around things, and I am not used to that. The back porch is covered but open, and I had a cable slung around one of the pillars so he could go out in the unfenced yard, enjoy the sun and gnaw on a bone. But I realized he was losing more than a foot of freedom by virtue of that pillar, so I tied a length of rope around the pillar and clipped the cable to that.

And we promptly had our first jailbreak, as the little dickens figured out that, if he gnawed through the rope, he'd be free, albeit "free" trailing 20 feet of cable behind him. Fortunately, he didn't go far, but he continued to ponder the matter and, the next time we went to the post office, by golly, didn't I come back out to find him attempting to gnaw through the leash that was tied to a lamppost there?

He now has a chain lead and I've hidden the bolt cutters.

His life is extremely harsh. I get up between four and five in the morning and spend the next two or three hours working on ComicStripoftheDay.com. However, if you picture my faithful hound sleeping at my feet, you are deluding yourself, because that would require the faithful hound to get out of bed and walk into the next room, which is far too much effort for that time of day. He gets up around seven, usually when I've filed the blog and am starting to rattle pans in the kitchen.

He has some breakfast while I catch up on the rest of my on-line reading for the morning and then we head down to the park for an hour or more of walking and playing with whoever has turned up. And there's a second session in the late afternoon before dinner and an early bed time around 8:30 or 9. So, of the roughly 13 hours he's out of bed, three or four of them are spent at the park, which is a pretty good ratio.

However, last week, we were recruited to doggy sit for Cousin Puck while Jed and family went down to NYC for a couple of days. During that sojourn, he and Puck managed to stretch the keepaway/tugofwar time to something more in the nature of seven hours a day.

That worked well because, while the property is not fenced, there is an Invisible Fence and Puck has the collar that keeps him inside it. So both dogs stayed on the property. Until we went back for Easter dinner and Vaska decided to test a theory he had apparently been pondering, which is that only Puck has to worry about the Invisible Fence. However, the neighbor was very nice and brought him back, since she didn't need help putting in her garden after all.

Here is two minutes and forty seconds of the aforementioned seven hours, shot during our dogsitting gig.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why I am not horrified by the TSA search

(We've now had more that 24 hours of delighted, hour-topping broadcast outrage over a little girl getting a secondary pat-down in an airport. Perhaps if these drama school drop-outs had spent a little time in the trenches before they became anchorpeople, they'd have covered a few stories like this one. In which, I would note in hindsight, it appears that the chief investigator and I were having a contest to see who could be more dry.)

Press-Republican, Plattsburgh NY
Wednesday, March 18, 1992

By Mike Peterson
Staff Writer

ROUSES POINT - An arrest at Champlain last week led to the disruption of a smuggling ring that encompassed three continents and a half-dozen countries, as U.S. Customs inspectors and the New York State Police combined to foil the importation of a shipment of nearly pure heroin.
   The initial arrest came March 11, when Alex Afful, 34, a citizen of Ghana living in Montreal, attempted to cross the border at Champlain with his three-year-old daughter According to Customs Service Special Agent in Charge John O’Hara, a routine computer check turned up Afful's name as a possible drug smuggler, and he was brought over to the customs shed for a secondary inspection
   There, a customs inspector discovered a stuffed toy dinosaur that had been re-sewed on one seam, which he then inspected more closely and finally opened, revealing heroin in the form of 89 hard-packed, tape-wrapped cylinders the thickness of a thumb, which had been put into condoms and tied off with dental floss. A search of the child turned up 10 more condoms of heroin, secreted in her snow boots.
   When the drugs were found on his daughter, Afful confessed that he was bringing the heroin into the country, and that he had previously carried the drug into Canada from Ghana by ingesting 101 condoms of the drug, which had originated in Thailand.
   By the time it arrived in Montreal, the drug had passed through Afful’s system and he was reluctant to re-swallow the condoms for the trip to New York City He was reluctant to do so, drug investigators said, because he had been sick the first time and the prospect was less appetizing on this leg of the journey.
   Accordingly, he devised the alternate stratagem of using the toy and the child's boots.
   Customs officers and troopers, realizing they had only 99 of Afful's reported 101 condoms of the drug, took him to CVPH Medical Center, where he was inspected by physicians who found no solid indication of more condoms. However, after enemas, Afful passed an additional condom.
   After further observation, it was decided that no more remained, and he was taken from the hospital.
    Afful’s daughter was returned to the custody of her mother in Montreal.
   Faced with the realities of his situation. Afful was persuaded to cooperate with authorities and called his contact in New York City, offering a police-provided false explanation for the delay of several days in his scheduled arrival. He was told to drive to Albany, where he met with Toure Daboya, 20, and Lakazo Ouro-Adohi, 22, citizens of Togo living in the Bronx. The two Togoans were arrested and. in turn, led officials to Judith Adarikor, a citizen of Ghana living in Yonkers, who was described as a central figure in the West African drug-smuggling ring.
   A search of Adarikor's residence turned up more drugs, as well as between $15,000 and $20,000 in cash She was arrested Monday night.
   All four face federal charges of possession of heroin, O'Hara said State charges may also be brought, he said, unless the strength and severity of the federal charges suggest that state prosecution would be superfluous.
   O'Hara described the border arrest as a combination of good investigative work and good fortune, since it would have been extremely difficult to intercept Afful once he cleared the border and reached New York City, his original destination
   Officials set the value of the heroin, which would have been diluted eight to 10 times to reach the appropriate potency for street use, at $1 million. Afful was paid $5,000 when he picked up the drug in London and was to have been paid an additional $5,000 upon delivery. A good monthly wage in Ghana is $50, O’Hara said.
   While Afful faces up to 40 years in prison, his arrest and subsequent trip to CVPH may have saved his life.
   "When they removed that last condom from him, it had started to rupture," O'Hara said. "The dental floss was gone and the condom was starting to go."
   Had that happened even at the hospital, chances of saving the man were slim, O'Hara said. "We estimate this stuff is about 90-percent pure; he probably wouldn't have lasted more than a minute," O'Hara said. "Apparently, he didn't know the danger of it, or didn't think it was that significant. We were concerned about his health, but then again, too, we wouldn't have been able to make the convoy (to Albany) if he were dead.” 

I've just started getting weekly pics from 360Cities.net and have thought about passing them on. There are some spectacular landscapes as well as oddities like the interior of a classic library, which is the piece that Richard Thompson passed along on Facebook and that got me playing with this.

The controls make me feel like a gunner in a ball turret, but they are controllable. And I suspect this particular view will delight a few of the people I know are checking in. But do explore the rest of what's available, because you can also, for example, use the site to visit the Royal Gorge.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lecture with music, or vice versa

One of the benefits of living in a small community with an Ivy League college is that, if you keep your ear to the ground, you can stumble across some pretty interesting events.

South African musician and activist Johnny Clegg came to Dartmouth this week, delivering some classroom lectures on Wednesday and then delivering a kickass concert Thursday night. It wasn't terribly well promoted, but I spotted some posters while I was walking Vaska and I managed to make both his public lecture at the end of the day Wednesday and his concert. That picture is from the lecture part, and most Johnny Clegg fans wouldn't recognize it, since he's generally more colorful, but they would recognize it in that his concerts are a sort of confessional in which he talks about himself and his life and his country's culture and then slams you with some fantastic music and spectacle.

The lecture was more restrained than that.

I've been a fan since sometime in the late 80s when he came to Montreal and, in addition to giving a concert, appeared on local TV. I didn't make the concert -- probably a combination of a job that was often more than 9-to-5 and being a single dad. But I was blown away by his interview and one song on the TV show and went out and got a couple of his CDs.

Clegg was born in England but lived in Zimbabwe (his mother was Rhodesian) as well as Zambia and Israel before settling in South Africa, where, at 15, he saw a man on the street playing Zulu guitar, an instrument that uses different string placements and tunings to convert a European instrument for African music. The player was a maintenance man, but in his off hours, he gave the young white boy lessons on the instrument, and Clegg began to hang around the hostels where the migrant workers lived.

These, he recounts, were large residences, where a couple of thousand workers might live, and, because "home districts" are critical to Zulu identity, it was not uncommon for entire floors of hostels, or even whole hostels themselves, to be taken over by men from the same or allied districts. They worked during the week, but, on weekends, you could find them selling various native things or vending traditional food and beer, while dance teams practiced or competed against each other in the streets.

"When I first saw the war dances, I was smitten," Clegg said. "I'd done karate, which comes from centuries of Japanese tradition, and when I saw the war dances, I saw some of the same thing." The way the Zulu men moved in the dance not only reflected their daily lives and culture, but "carried certain messages about masculinity, certain messages, values and concepts." He applied himself to learning those as well as the music, and became accepted as, he admits, "something of a mascot" to one of the dance teams.

In the mid-1960s, hanging around the hostels was a little dubious, but what was plainly illegal was when he visited his Zulu friends in their districts. But the dance team was headed up country, to visit a district with a powerful chief who had 35 wives and 160 kids, and the now-16-year-old Clegg went with them.

"I had certain romantic ideas of Zulus from seeing them living in the city," he says, but seeing them at home changed his perspective. "It was a wild place for me," he says, and the difference in seeing them there rather than in the urban environment was that he now saw how they incorporated a world of animals -- both the animals they hunted and the cattle they raised -- into basic aspects of their culture, especially in the ways the men expressed their identity in dance and in stick-fighting, a form of martial arts that defined their place in a very strongly structured pecking order and that informed the form of their dancing.

And on the third day, he was arrested by the security forces for being in an area forbidden to whites. He was threatened with deportation and his friends were charged with bringing him into a tribal area, and were only spared by a technicality -- the signs barring whites from the area without permits had not been erected.

But he continued to sneak into the tribal area to be with his friends and to learn more about their language, lives and culture, and at this point in his lecture, Clegg went into a discursion on cattle and, specifically, bulls.

A Zulu man is inextricably linked to the bull of his herd, he explained, and there are certain rites that must be observed, including that the man must rise in the morning before the bull and must take his morning piss before the bull takes his. It is a matter of pecking order. The bull is his "little brother" and must keep his place, but, of course, for that to happen, it's more a matter of the man asserting his status than expecting the bull to defer.

If the bull is sick, the man is sick, and, if the bull seems likely to die, it is critical that the man slaughter and replace it before that happens. For the bull to simply die would be a disaster for the man.

When two men have a serious rivalry, it was common to settle it by having their bulls fight, and Clegg managed to get video of one of these events, which are becoming rare. The two men shouted encouragement and "praise words" to their bulls, and supplied trash talk while the bulls, excited by the attention and atmosphere, began to paw the ground and go at each other. (I would point out that, at least in this particular instance, they didn't seem to inflict much damage, but rather did some pushing, shoving and clashing until one yielded, to the immense delight of its owner's human rival.)

Clegg noted that a bull has one horn with which he deflects blows and that he initiates his attack with the other horn. Similarly, in stick-fighting, the boy has a small shield -- very much smaller than a goalie's blocking pad -- on one hand and a stick with which to attack in the other. You could not only see the similarity to the bull's attack and defense in the video, but (and Clegg did not mention this) it was also apparent how this system of stick-fighting would translate very directly into use of the cowhide shield and the short spear, the assegai. I was also struck by the fact that Shaka, who invented the shorter form of the assegai around the turn of the 19th century, also devised an attack strategy that involved a double-flanking move and that was known as the "buffalo horns" formation.

Clegg's interest being musical, he noted that the bond between man and bull is such that there are "bull poems" recited that record the bull's history -- where it was bought, how it fought, etc. And the dance team is referred to as "oxen" when they do a group dance, and they are "plowing the dance" with a dance leader who carries a stick.

A man who seeks the "ugly heart" of the bull can become the type who constantly starts fights, but that "ugly heart" is also part of the paradox of masculinity, Clegg said: A man must work well with others, as one of the neutered oxen, but he must also be prepared to take life when that moment comes, as the fertile and intact bull.

"There's a lot of pecking order in their culture," Clegg said, "and, when a man walks into a room, it can be very funny seeing how he gets sorted out into his place."

I was fascinated by his lecture because I had never contemplated the nature of a warrior culture that raises cattle. Many of our own native people have a deep, rich warrior culture, but they don't have a strong identification with animal husbandry. After the coming of the whites, they did have horses, but only the Nez Perce are strongly associated with purposeful breeding of stock, and, while the coming of horses transformed many native cultures, this basic identity that Clegg spoke of simply doesn't exist within those cultures: American Indians have a strong identification with the animals they hunted, but that's an entirely different relationship.

The buffalo dance is simply not the same as the bull-influenced dances of the Zulu because no Lakota or Blackfoot ever felt compelled to drag himself out of bed in the morning so he could be sure to piss before the buffalo had pissed. It's a different relationship because the relationship with the buffalo is impersonal -- it is not "that" buffalo, but buffalo in general. The Zulu knows the specific bull with which he is linked the way he knows his wife or his child and he has a daily, working relationship with that bull.

So I walked around pondering all that new information for a day, and then went to Johnny's concert and got to see some of what he had spoken about. He had two young men who danced, and I have to say that, while everyone cheered and whistled, I sat there and thought to myself that I was seeing only a very small moment of something that, if I wanted to know what I was looking at, I should have started thinking about it when I was 15, and I should have been living in Johannesburg and I should have been willing to go over to the hostel to take guitar lessons, and to listen, and to learn.

Or I could have done it the simple way and be born into the Zulu culture. But I don't think there's another road to follow. And I think only Johnny Clegg can be Johnny Clegg.

Here he is in action. "Asimbonanga" translates as "we have not seen him" and refers to Mandela, as do the lyrics about looking across the water, since Mandela was being held in an island prison.

Of course, things have changed since the days when Johnny Clegg's integrated band couldn't be promoted (but sold thousands of albums anyway). Now, it looks more like this: