Thursday, February 22, 2007

87. Whose walk is it anyway?

There is an Internet e-mail that circulates with the "Ten Peeves Dogs have about Humans." They are cute and silly, such as number five, which lists as a ‘human' peeve as, "Any haircut that involves bows or ribbons. Now you know why we chew your stuff up when you're not home." The other peeves are just as fun.

I have, however, often thought about what is listed as number three, "Taking me for a walk, then not letting me check stuff out. Exactly whose walk is this anyway?"

I know the mere mention of a walk sends my three dogs into a wild frenzy. They scamper in circles, including over the furniture, up and down the stairs, and back and forth with each other. The mere mention creates such an upheaval that we have eliminated the word "walk" from our vocabulary except in the context of "taking our dogs for a walk."

Such excitement does beg the question, whose walk is it anyway? One Internet site, suggests the following as the first of ten tips for walking your dog:

"Train your dog: Formal classes if they are available. Start while the dog is a puppy and continue until the dog can be trusted off leash. The AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate can be earned by your dog, which indicates a level of obedience and training attained."

I do not know about other dogs, but I know mine could not care less about an "AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate." I mean what would they do with it? Show it to their friends, or hang it on the wall next to their beds? What would I do with it, I mean really, who cares? What is it with humans and their obsessive desire to have their pets obedient to them? Somewhere along the way, an unruly animal was taken as a personal reflection of its owner. My dogs behave sometimes, and sometimes they do not. When they do behave, it is because of our relationship, not out of the fear. When they do not behave, I regard it as dissent- and rarely a fellow admires dissent more than I.

So I am discouraged when I see dog owners feverishly training their dogs to walk correctly- whatever that means. I understand that the constant pulling can be a bit troublesome for both the dog and the owner. But some dog owners seem determined to have the dogs walk methodically next to them, so much so that it looks as though both are walking on a treadmill. My dogs do like to check stuff out. They like to make note of those that have been their before, while at the same time marking their place in history. They also like to notice their surroundings, greet other dogs and get to know the neighborhood kids. Of course, we try not to be rude; we stay out of the neighbor's landscapes and clean up after ourselves.

I usually walk our dogs at the park, however, and when I do, they are on a fifteen foot lead. This gives them a large radius in which they can stop and do their things while I keep walking. If I get too far ahead, the dogs enjoy the brief gallop to catch up. In between they are completely engaged, enjoying the world of nature. For me, it is more fun to watch them in their environment. And as a former biology professor of mine quipped, "I think they should be able to do what they want." I agree, after all, it is their walk.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

86. Even crumbs would be fine

In the movie “All the King’s Men,” the gubernatorial candidate Willie Stark makes the argument that when the rich have everything they need, when they have eaten all they can eat, perhaps then the leftovers could be afforded to everyone else.  The movie, based on the book by the same name, resembles the political career of Huey Long.  Ultimately it describes the path to corruption, but in real-life Louisiana, Huey Long worked to make things more accessible to the poor, including building highways, making textbooks free to all students, establishing scholarships for the poor, and repealing the poll tax.  He introduced a new economic plan entitled, Share Our Wealth, in which he argued that there was enough wealth in this country for everyone.

The top one percent in this country owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined.  Making such an observation is not an endorsement of socialism; rather it is a criticism of capitalism- the astute will note that there is a difference.  It is difficult to understand, in a democracy, how things reached this point.  If this country represents “the people,” how is that the bottom 40 percent of the people only enjoy .2 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 60 percent own 4.7 percent of the wealth?  This 60 percent represents a majority of the population, yet the top 1 percent owns 38.1 percent of the wealth and seemingly makes all the decisions.
Do pure capitalists really believe that the bottom 60 percent of this country are lazy, uninspired and content to rely on leftovers?  Because that is the argument often presented.  It is reasoned that the poor do not work hard, that they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or that they would “play” the system to receive welfare handouts.  Rarely considered is the idea that our economic system fosters a distribution of wealth intrinsic of this great disparity.  

The connection to our corporations is a natural reflection of our economy.  The wealthy are the ones that own the companies; they build their wealth through business equity and financial securities. Subsequent generations maintain their wealth through inheritance.  It is easy to recognize that shareholder wealth is built at the expense of employee salaries.  Yet, even with a majority of the population owning next to nothing, labor unions are decreasing, salaries are decreasing in light of inflation and health care costs, and American jobs are being forfeited to third-world countries.  Why are the people not holding their legislators accountable?  Why does every proposal to raise the minimum wage have to also offer financial considerations to the wealthy?

Shareholders seem willing to reward those responsible for protecting their wealth, and this is best illustrated through CEO salaries.  This measure is usually calculated in relation to production worker pay.  In 1960, CEOs were paid approximately 50 times that of production workers.  In 1970 that number was about 80 times; in 1980, it was back to around 50 times.  But then came the 1990s, where CEO pay reached 100 times that of production workers in 1990; 200 times in 1992; 300 times around 1997; over 500 times in 2000.  Currently that number is at about 405-410 times the pay afforded to production workers.

Probably the most remarkable statistic is the amount of wealth according to races.  The median wealth of white Americans in 2000 was $79,400 when you include home equity, and $22,566 without.  Comparably, for Hispanics it was $9,750 and $1,850 respectively.  And for black Americans, the numbers are an uncomfortable $7,500 and $1,166.  People might be created equal, but it would be difficult to argue that people enjoy equal opportunity.  Affirmative action may or may not be the answer, but it obvious that something is not working.  The evidence is overwhelming.  The data is also discouraging when one considers that the major source of wealth for all Americans is home equity. (Statistics from “Who Rules America,” by G. William Domhoff).

Another telling piece in the distribution of wealth is the amount that is passed along from generation to generation.  Unfortunately, the story is the same.  In a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, only 1.6% of Americans (the same 1 percent of Americans) receive $100,000 or more in inheritance. Another 1.1% receives $50,000 to $100,000. And 91.9% receive nothing (Kotlikoff & Gokhale, 2000).

Capitalism rewards the hard working, fortunate and wealthy.  In the financial “survival of the fittest,” the winner is often those with the head start- not, notably, the hardest working.  This truth is acknowledged by Warren Buffett and his wife in an ABC interview, “They (the Buffetts) believe their kids were born with the advantages of wealth, and grew up with great opportunities because of that. He says they had a gigantic head start, and that dynastic megawealth would further tilt the playing field in America, when we should be trying to make it more level."

Raw capitalism creates disparities in wealth- that is a fact.  Before the enactment of income taxes, business owners like Rockefeller made $10 million a year, while his employees made $500 per year.  The nation rebelled, and over time, progressive tax schedules were passed and labor unions were formed.  Since then, things have improved, but this country still lacks equal opportunity as well as a moral distribution of wealth.   I do not want socialism; I want a fair, vibrant society in which all Americans can enjoy the wealth of this very prosperous country.  Leftovers would be just fine.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

85. What's bad about dog's life?

Each day starts the same way- the caring brown eyes, the pitter-patter of feet and a bundle of enthusiasm. The early morning optimist can hardly control herself, enthralled with the idea that it is a "brand new day." Our small Shepard mix, Shea, brightens every morning with her idealistic attitude, as though today will somehow be different.

Shea cannot help but put us in a good mood, even if the day's prospect hints toward an apathetic measure of routine. She is lighthearted, endearing and dances to my playful taunt that it is indeed a "brand new day." It is only partly more accurate to suggest that she is more interested in breakfast than the celebration of a new dawn.

Shea has had a warm and contagious attitude from the first time I saw her. She was rescued from unfortunate circumstances and has never been shy about showing her appreciation. She seems to enjoy life- always receptive, always up for anything, always ready to go.

Not many of us wake up with that same exuberant vigor each and every morning. New days usually bring routine and a list of tasks. This is also true for dogs, and for them it is the same routine five times a week. So entrenched is their routine, and our routine, that they seem to know when the weekend is here. In fact, the occasional day off seems to upset their schedule.

Shea certainly does enjoy her breakfast. During preparation, she often spontaneously breaks out into her dance, a "twist-like" effort in which she stands on her back paws and shakes her stuff feverishly. She quickly finishes her meal, takes a quick trip outside and then waits to see if our others dogs have left anything over. We do this morning routine, day after day.

She is the type of dog that always comes when called and does not need walked on a lease (although she is for her safety). She follows us from room to room, always sitting in the far corner, just watching us and wagging her tail. She does not participate in any traditional dog games, such as tug-of-war or fetch, although she is quite playful. Her favorite season is winter, as she runs around the yard, eating snow and trying to bait the other dogs into chasing her. Her soft thick fur allows her to stay outside for extended periods of time.

I picked Shea out at first glance. We saw a number of dogs that day, all left in an adverse condition. I pleaded with my wife to go back and get her as a companion to our other dog. Even though I spent not more than a minute with her, I just knew she was special. We went back a few days later, tested for compatibility, and never looked back. Now, ironically, she is my wife's best chum.

When we fostered our latest rescue and tried to find him a home, numerous people, people who don't even like dogs, said, "No thanks, but we'll take Shea." Her attitude and affection is contagious; she makes our mornings a bit more bearable. She also reminds me that it is a "brand new day," and with that- anything is possible. It was not her good fortune that we rescued her; it was ours that she found us.