Southeast of Disorder


California Burning
October 26, 2007, 2:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

An acquaintance posted a very thought-provoking item about the fires raging in Southern California, along with an impassioned plea for aid for the victims. His item was so thought-provoking, in fact, that although I intended only to write a brief response, by the time my own apparently until-then-submerged feelings about the subject finished implanting themselves on the page, I had written more than he did.

I’m still not sure I’ve explained my position well. It’s a thorny issue, and as usual, I find myself on more than one side of it.

# # #

I, too, feel for the people in SoCal’s blazing acreage, but there are some things bothering me about the situation, too. Please don’t think I’m heartless, but….

Is the media catastrophizing just a tad? I appreciate their death-defying feats in covering the disaster, but honestly: Is it necessary for HOUSTON television stations to send staff reporters all the way to San Diego to cover the fires in person instead of relying on feeds from affiliates who already are there? “Look! A disaster that conceivably could affect someone living in Houston! Let’s send several MORE bodies out there to get in the way!” Sheesh.

The national media aren’t really helping, either. Yes, they do put “a personal face” on the disaster by interviewing those affected, and they have given the rest of us information we can use to help, but seriously: Relentless, 24-hour coverage using the same footage ad nauseum only leads to battle fatigue among viewers. There’s a very real risk that eventually everyone will tune out any sort of legitimate reportage as just so much additional noise.

As for the victims themselves, my heart goes out to them. I cannot even begin to imagine losing everything I own in one fell swoop. Hopefully, people and animals will evacuate safely, and physical goods are insured. Those who could not afford insurance desperately need and probably deserve our help. Those who could afford it but chose not to invest in it hopefully have learned something about planning ahead. Let us all hope that some portion of the ridiculously high personal income taxes Californians pay is set aside to assist in emergencies like this one. (I know I can think of no better use for the non-resident income taxes I pay in California!)

Just as those of us along the Gulf Coast realize some day The Big Hurricane will catch up with us, people in Califonia know there is the possibility that one day they’ll be caught in a massive fire, earthquake or mudslide. Whether they choose to admit that to themselves is another matter, just as it is here. The people I know in California all recognize the specter of disaster that looms over them constantly, and they dread the day it may become terrifyingly real – but they don’t deny the possibility, and they plan ahead for unpleasant contingencies. When one chooses to live in a known danger zone, one does so understanding the risks.

One particular interview on CNN continues to haunt me: A young-ish woman surrounded by her four young children told the reporter she had received a telephone call the previous night alerting her that she needed to be prepared to evacuate immediately upon receiving a follow-up call. The follow-up call came at 6 a.m. the next morning, and the young woman said all she was able to scramble around and gather was her children, some blankets and a few clothes. What I’m wondering is what she did in the hours between the first and second calls. I know I should feel bad for her, but I’m having a little trouble drumming up tremendous sympathy. Of course, I don’t know her complete story. Perhaps she was paralyzed with fear and indecision.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying we shouldn’t help. OF COURSE we should help anyone who finds himself or herself in unfortunate circumstances for whatever reason. I guess after two years of Katrina/Rita aftermath (which to this day remains unresolved for hundreds of thousands of the poorest all along the Gulf Coast, not just in New Orleans), I am saddened and angry about the way media, government and profiteers shamelessly exploit these events for personal gain. We need to look beyond the sensational headlines and avoid knee-jerk reactions that are helpful to no one.

OK – you may all set upon me now with pitchforks and burning brands.



A Conversation With Dog
October 2, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Dog | Tags: , ,

“So how’s what’s-his-name?” my brother asked. Even through the phone he sounded distracted.

“What’s-his-name? You mean my significant other?” I asked.

“No, no. Not Crabby. The little one — you know, uh…. Oh, the Mexican hairless!” he finally spat out in exasperation.

It’s usually a bad idea to take a big swig of liquid while talking to my brother. Some of the iced tea ended up on my shirt, and some ended up across the room. “Did you just say ‘Mexican hairless’?” I couldn’t suppress a chuckle.

jlpbandito2.jpg Dog raised his head from the couch, his ears standing at attention and displeasure in his eyes.

“You know who I mean,” Brother informed me sternly. “That little dog thing you have. Never mind. I don’t care anyway. Gotta go. Bye.”

“‘Mexican hairless’?” Dog asked, cocking his head and raising one eyebrow. “What kind of thing is that to say?”

“It’s an antiquated term for Chihuahua,” I told him.

“It’s rude,” he said, scowling. “Clearly it’s incorrect, and it’s ethnically insensitive.”

“Of course it’s incorrect,” I began blithely. “Wait a sec…. Did you just say ‘ethnically insensitive’?”

“I did,” he replied. “That sort of language is what leads to profiling.”

“Aw c’mon,” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Let’s not start this. Surely you’re not going to tell me profiling is a problem for you. The only thing you’ve ever been ‘profiled’ as is small and cute.”

He sat up tensely. “And yappy and nervous and ill-tempered and helpless and foo-foo….”

“I am well aware of the power of words,” I interrupted. It wasn’t the first time we’d had this discussion. “But the only way they can hurt you is if you let them. Their power is all in your head.”

“Hmph,” he snorted. “And I suppose ‘Mexican hairless’ doesn’t carry any baggage.”

“I said it was antiquated,” I responded peevishly. “That means hardly anyone ever uses it.”

Dog was not to be swayed. “Next thing you know, he’ll be insisting I get a green card, mow his lawn and have myself neutered.” He shook himself from end to end to resettle his fur, jangling his tags in the process. “I’m not even from Mexico! I was born in Conroe.”

“You speak Spanish.”

Un pocotito.

“You’re not helping your argument,” I told him.

“Besides, we perform a vital function in this country,” he continued. “We do the jobs other dogs don’t want to do.”

“I realize it must be a terrible strain on you to be peppy, portable and precious at all times,” I said, “but I assure you, The Man appreciates your sacrifice. Besides, it’s not like your civil rights are in jeopardy.”

“Hmph,” he repeated. “Let my people go.”

“This people is going into the other room if you’re going to be such a sourpuss.”

“I’m just sayin’,” he continued. “We’ve been stereotyped for generations, and it’s about time that sort of behavior stopped — before things get ugly.”

jlpbandito_100207.jpgI was only vaguely disquieted by the suggestion, but I had to ask, “Ugly?”

He curled one side of his upper lip so just the tip of one fang showed. The sudden image of a pack of tiny canine guerillas clad in bandoliers and serapes flashed before my mind’s eye.

I sighed. “Okay, then, what would ‘your people’ prefer to be called?”

“Chihuahua-Americans,” he pronounced succinctly, slipping in a sneeze at the end.

“I’m not sure I can get the punctuation right,” I told him. I’ve never been a particularly adept sneezer. “But I’ll spread the word. And what do I get in return?”

“I shouldn’t have to make deals in order to loose the unjust shackles of society’s oppression,” he said, laying his ears flat against his neck and gazing up at me with big, sad Chihuahua-American eyes.

“And I shouldn’t have to feed you homemade treats precisely at 7 p.m. daily, either.”

“You do that because you love me,” he responded, climbing into my lap and licking my wrist.

“Yes, and you should make the deal because you love me, too.” I scratched him behind one diminutive ear. “How ’bout no more scooting under the bed to avoid capture? I’m not as young as I used to be, you know.”

“Even when it’s time for a bath?” he asked, turning his head so I could scratch behind the other ear.

“Especially when it’s time for a bath.”

He stood on his hind legs, placed two tiny front paws on my chest and gazed directly into my eyes for a good, long while. I think he forgot we weren’t playing “Alpha Dog,” because when I spoke it surprised him. “Well?”

“Oh, all right,” he said, a bit miffed. “I’ll do my best to respond positively to the voice of doom. Satisfied?”

“One small concession from Chihuahua-American kind; one giant boon to bad knees,” I replied, grinning and extending one hand. “Shake on it?”

“How ‘bout we seal the deal with a snack instead?” He stretched languorously and then hopped down from the couch and trotted toward the kitchen, his nails making little clicking sounds on the floor as he went. “I’m in the mood for some yogurt.”