Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The State of the Union

Well, I just finished watching the State of the Union address by the President. It was unlike the usual State of the Union laundry list of 1,000 little policies that need enacting (recall Clinton's incredibly long addresses). Instead, Bush's fifth State of the Union offered us a more philosophical look at the pressing items on the agenda than his prior addresses.

Given that the President's approval rating is still in the 40th percentile, he does not have the political capital to spend on a large agenda (apparently he spent it all, like he promised he would when he won re-election in 2004). Instead, he needed to appeal to common ground, and to make efforts to appear concilatory--to reach across to Democrats as well as his usual conservative base. He exprssed such sentiments in this speech. It was a well crafted public address, appealing to the shared values of freedom and liberty, and reminded us that no one wants to see another terrorist attack in our country.

The speech cleverly reframed the domestic surveillance program by the NSA as the "terrorist surveillance act," prefacing his discussion of it by saying that the Constitution and statute gives him the authority to engage in such surveillance in times of war.

The hearings on whether President Bush is correct in his interpretation begin February 6. I look forward to having that public discussion.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Loony Lefties vs. Raging Righties

It's bad enough that our federal government is involved in domestic spying. (Or what President Bush relabeled the "terrorist surveillance program" in his press conference on January 26th--a clever turn of phrase.)

Now, I read that an aggressive conservative has found new tactics for advancing the view that all college professors are liberals. A UCLA alumni group's president is offering up to $100 for college students to provide the group with tape recordings of UCLA faculty who are talking politics in their classrooms. (Read the LA Times story.) The group's aim is to finally have evidence that there is a pervasive, abusive climate for conservatives on college campuses.

In the meantime, the alumni group, called the Bruin Alumni Association has created a website called UCLAProfs.com that aims to expose "UCLA's most radical professors." The alumni president, Andrew Jones, writes in his "A message from" that the profiles of faculty on the website demonstrate that "these professors are actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic."

I was curious to see if he actually had any evidence for this in his profiles of five faculty at UCLA. Interestingly, in the critiques of the five faculty there is no evidence presented that these faculty are "proselytizing" in the classroom or attacking students whose views are unlike their own. Instead, the critiques focus on their academic writings.

I was curious if Jones was refuting or contributing to a vigorous dialogue of left vs. right views by offering counter arguments and critical thought on the ideology these professors were allegedly using to indoctrinate their students. I was disappointed.

The website's prose reads like the worst of ad hominem attacks. Take for example the prose of the featured "Radical of the Week" Douglas Kellner. Now, I read Douglas Kellner's writings as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Kellner is a postmodern theorist and critic. Although his writings aren't likely to square with those of a conservative, I did not read him as especially anti-conservative, per se. Kellner's views are those of someone in the Marxist tradition. No surprises there. That's usually what critical theory means.

Mr. Jones writes a seething attack on Kellner, in the first paragraph declaring "A close look at Kellner's personal history and theoretical background reveals a professor whose political views are a witch's brew of worldwide conspiracy, Marxoid theory, 'critical pedagogy,' and an overwhelming dose of anti-Bush hatred."

Of the five faculty featured, Kellner by far gets the most attention. Mr. Jones reprints dozens of paragraphs of Kellner's as illustration that Kellner is, for lack of a better phrase, a dangerous man. It seems that Mr. Jones finds Kellner the most problematic because Kellner has featured 9/11 and the Bush administration prominently in his most recent academic writing.

I'll give you an example of the kind of argument Jones produces. Around paragraph 30, Jones writes that Kellner writes about Bushspeak: "Kellner, however, is not making predictable jokes about Bush's common malapropisms. Rather, he criticizes, in one example, Bush's 'incessant assurance that the "evil-doers" of the "evil deeds" will be punished, and that the "Evil One" will be brought to justice, implicitly equating bin Laden with Satan himself.' Kellner's complaint sets a new low standard for the hate-America crowd, as it literally disputes the idea that Osama Bin Laden can properly described [sic] as evil, and denies that we can logically distinguish between Islamofascists and Western democracy."

Do you see the flaws in Jones' reasoning? I see a few that trouble me greatly. The first is the move to label Kellner part of the "hate-America crowd." This is a classic example of ad hominem attack--attacking the person rather than the argument. By labeling Kellner, in essence, anti-American, Kellner's critique becomes instantly suspect. How could someone who hates America have credibility?

Okay, that's the first problem. The second related problem, is the assumption that anyone who is critical of the President or the war in Iraq is anti-American. To my mind, those who express critique are embodying America's most cherished principles. We want and need critique to ensure a healthy, functioning democracy. It would be terrible dangerous if we were a country of nationalists, blindly following our leaders. It would be even worse if we were a country that silenced critique.

The third problem is the claim that Kellner is disputing that bin Laden can be described as evil. It's not that Kellner is saying bin Laden cannot be labeled "evil." His critique is that the language of "evil" situates the war between us and al Qaeda as a religious one as indicated by the religious metaphor of evil. I think every American feels that al Qaeda and bin Laden should be brought to justice. The events of 9/11 were truly a national tragedy and those who perpetrated such acts should be punished. The question is the way that punishment is executed. But, Jones seems not to understand that we share a common belief in the need for punishment, even if we disagree on how it should be executed, and how such punishment should be framed. Instead, he seems to want to paint those who oppose the war in Iraq as, well, "evil-lovers."

The fourth problem is the final sentence. Jones says that Kellner "denies that we can logically distinguish between Islamofascists and Western democracy." Again, that's not Kellner's claim. Kellner's message is one of caution. We must take heed to protect the principles we hold dear to us. If we recklessly and lawlessly go after our enemy, we risk becoming like our enemy.

For example, let's return to my comment at the start. The President has ordered the National Security Agency to wire tap American citizens conversations with people oversees. He has ordered the detention and has supported the torture of enemy detainees. With the support of Congress (through the Patriot Act), he has advocated a hightened level of surveillance on American citizens in many aspects of our daily lives, from what library books we check out, to what search terms we use on Google, to what banking we do and with whom. To the President's credit, I do believe he genuinely wants to stop another terrorist attack on America's soil. And, for that, I think we in America share a common desire to not have 9/11 repeated.

The dispute comes in how far we must go to protect ourselves. How many people must be tortured? How many Americans must have their rights violated before we say it's too much?

I wish Mr. Jones would genuinely engage the faculty he is attacking, instead of making unfounded allegations that faculty are brainwashing students in the classroom. If we were to have an honest dialogue, perhaps instead of causing even more harm and pain by personal attack and "most wanted" lists, we might learn something from the exercise of exchange. Our democracy would be the better for it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Stuff On My Cat

A friend emailed me a URL to a blog that I cannot resist sharing. The blog features photographs of cats who their owners have put lots of, well, stuff on. The site, aptly named, is stuffonmycat.com. This one is my favorite.

I'm doing better this week than last. My life is hectic with the start of the new semester at SUNY, which helps. It's still strange to wake up in the morning and only find four cats on the bed. On the positive side, I have a little more leg room . . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I found a few pictures just of Shadow. (Most that I have are with her and Fisher curled up, since that was Shadow's favorite thing to do--lie around with Fisher). The first one was taken about a month ago. The second one with Jon was taken in August. Shadow could be very snuggly with us when she wanted to be.

Feeling her absence greatly today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sick Kittie

Not as in "ewww,you sick kittie," but as in, "I have a very sick kittie."

Jon and I have five cats. It's a lot of cats. When we sleep at night, we are covered in them.

Three of the cats are "grannies," the older set of cats we acquired early in our relationship. The fourteen year old Fisher, the white one, I canvassed from a friendly, crunchy-granola 40 something Volvo driver in a suburb of San Francisco when I was going door to door for abortion rights.

The second oldest is Hailie. She's the one lying furthest from the camera--the brown tabbie. Hailie is 13, and she was originally intended for my mom as a mother's day gift. But, when we brought Hailie home from the animal shelter in Minneapolis, an awkward, shy, wide-eyed cat, with huge paws, we instantly fell in love and kept her.

Shadow is the youngest of the Grannies, also 13. She's the one nestled up next to the white cat. She was collected from San Francisco when Jon and I made a return visit after moving to Minneapolis. My ex-flatmate, Heather, had rescued a pregnant stray, who had four fluffy kittens, two black and two silver tabbies. She didn't have homes for them all, so we volunteered to take one back with us to Minneapolis.

Then there are the "kittens." They're not kittens anymore. They're now one and a half years old. My friend Kate rescued them from a golf course in Philadelphia where they'd been abandoned. One is a boy, the only boy cat of the bunch. Since his neutering, he has had a squeeky little voice, so we call him "Little Boy." His sister, Tillie, short for Attilla, is a tank--stalking, heavy, and square. They're the two who look alike in the foreground of the bed.

My sick cat is Shadow.

I am presently sitting here at my computer waiting for a phone call from the emergency animal hospital veterinarian. I don't know what else to do with myself, so I'll reminisce about "squirt," "the peester," or "Slim Shady."

When we moved from Philadelphia to Albany we noticed that Shadow had become lethargic and had developed a nasty cough. So, after getting settled, we found a vet and took her in. After some tests she was diagnosed with heartworm. Cats generally don't get heartworm, and our routine vet had never seen an instance of it. Unlike dogs, it's much more difficult to treat heartworm in cats because of their smaller vascular systems. They risk dying of clots and pulmonary embolisms. Basically, when the heartworm dies, it breaks into pieces; because it's so large relative to cat's veins, they cause clots in the lungs.

The veterinarian just called. Heck of a nice guy and genuinely interested in trying to figure out why Shadow seems so sick.

See, Jon and I have been working with the assumption that Shadow is a terminally ill cat--slowly; our regular vet estimated Shadow would live another two years. She's now 6 months passed her expected departure date, if you will. So, when she started to hang out away from us last week and eat less, we suspected she might be getting closer to her death. We'd agreed that we'd prefer she die here at home rather than go through the trauma of the cat carrier, the drive, and the vet's office. But, yesterday she was in terrible distress; she couldn't breath. It's a terrible scene to witness another living creature struggling--or, even worse, failing to get--oxygen.

We brought her to the emergency clinic.

The veterinarian on duty last night took X-rays of her chest and ran blood tests, and declared that her condition was not related to heart worm. Her heart seemed quite strong, but her lungs were abnormally enlarged, and she had patches of pneumonia. He suggested she had asthma coupled with pneumonia. She stayed overnight in an oxygen tent, infused with antibiotics, and broncho-dialaters.

When we picked her up this morning, she was a little better although not good enough to go home. They recommended we take her back to our regular vet. So, we did. Along the way, Jon and I puzzled over this new prognosis. Perhaps, the original diagnosis was incorrect and she didn't have heart worm at all. This made me feel very angry. I'd been operating on the assumption that she was a terminal cat because of heartworm, but what if she actually was asthmatic, and we failed to treat *those* symptoms. We could have prevented this crisis if we had known.

We delivered Shadow to our regular vet clinic early this morning, where a vet who recently joined the practice saw her. He put her back into the oxygen tent, and hummmed and puzzled over the conflicting information we now had: asthma/pneumonia or heartworm. Our new vet said that sometimes cats fight off the heart worm with their "amazing" immune systems, and said he'd continue the treatment prescribed by the emergency clinic. We collectively hoped that she would be well enough to come off the oxygen by the time the practice closed.

But, when we checked in this afternoon, and then when we went to pick her up at 6:00 this evening, the news was the same: her condition hadn't improved enough to let her come home. As we waited for Shadow to be given back to us so that we could drive back to the emergency overnight clinic, the veterinarian came in a little wide eyed and without Shadow. He explained that she had had a "little" seizure as they were taking her out of the oxygen tent, and he wasn't sure we could take her to the emergency clinic. The wrinkle for him was that his practice closed at 6:30, so if she stayed, she'd be unsupervised all night. He told us to wait, and he'd see how she was doing. He returned 5 minutes later with her in the carrier, told us that he had given her Valium to calm her down, and that we should hurry (without getting a speeding ticket) over to the emergency clinic (a 20 minute drive away).

So, I drove quickly to the emergency clinic, where she is now. The veterinarian on tonight, who just called, was quite puzzled by her X-Rays and by her condition. If she had patchy pneumonia, she should be doing much better by now than she is. He told me that he'd sought the advice of an animal cardiologist. Together, they came to the conclusion that the original diagnosis of heart worm was correct. Their guess is that one of the worms died, and as it broke apart it caused a series of embolisms in her lungs.

He is not optimistic about her condition, but because there has been some improvement, we've decided to wait the night and see what tomorrow brings. There's a good chance she'll go into arrest. But, there's a small chance she'll see the dawn. So, we wait.

I must confess to feeling that I don't wish to have the new vet at our normal clinic. The original vet we saw when Shadow was diagnosed is great, but I don't care for the new guy. First, his attitude seems to be that he can't be bothered to do more than is necessary. He didn't bother in the least to really understand her condition and investigate the conflicting diagnoses we brought to him this morning. Second, both in our telephone calls yesterday, and our interactions today, he's not committed to being at the clinic any longer than his shift. Now, I don't expect veterinarians to give their all in the same way people doctors, do. But, I was hoping for a little more effort from him.

Ugh. And poor Shadow. I feel so bad for her. She was always the most high strung of our cats. Her father was likely ferile, and she took on shy, nervous, territorial traits from him. She hated any sort of change. She really hated it when new people stayed at the house. She disliked my brother's presence so much she peed on his shoes.

She was also incredibly cute, and she could be very cudely. She and Fisher were absolutely best pals. I'm holding both of them in the other picture. She made the funniest little chatter noises whenever she saw birds. She was delightfully playful.

Jon and I have been mourning tonight, reminiscing about her presence in our lives. Hers will be the first death which which we've dealt (if you exclude humans, that is). Although she has not yet passed, I am not optimistic for her survival.

When our grannies were young and we had grown our little tribe in Minneapolis to 5 (two adults and three cats), I had this fantastic surreal-ization: there are animals in our house! Animals that should be wild but have somehow through training and breeding been tamed into this co-existence with us humans. What an extraordinary thing. I felt and saw them not as cuddly creatures for me and Jon but for what they are--animals. That sensation quickly evaporated, and I again saw them as our pets, our beasts.

And the reality is that those animals share more of my temporal life than any of my friends or other relatives (with the exception of Jon). Shadow has been with me for as long as I've been married, more than one third of my life on this earth. She was a good member of our little tribe, and a constant presence in my daily life, on my lap as I read for my grad classes, on my keyboard as I was trying to write term papers, curled up on my chest as I slept.

The reality of her death, takes the energy out of me.

[Addendum: We had Shadow put to sleep tonight. Around midnight, we talked with the vet again. He expressed concern about her condition, that she was quite uncomfortable and that there wasn't any improvement. After a painful discussion, we decided it was time. We drove back to the clinic, and Jon held Shadow in her arms as she was given the overdose of anesthesia. Very sad.]