The Rehabilitation Program

January was a busy month.  The tense, yet subdued Christmas vacation seems like a year ago.  I still stare at the scars on my hand.  They are all but healed.  A little stiff and lumpy…  A persistent reminder of our baby bear’s flash of violence last December.

I am a little torn about writing about Mishka.  While his attack was a traumatic event and one of those things you remember for a lifetime, it was and is something uncharacteristic of him and our lives together.  And it is something you don’t want to dwell on in melodramatic fashion…..  So, what is this about if not a melodramatic revisit?  Well, my last post was pretty melodramatic.  And I have found myself clogged until I move on, both literally and narratively.  I don’t want to dwell on Mishka, but I wrote a dramatic passage that has to come to some kind of closure.  And as several friends have pointed out, that sweet little bastard just must be dwelled upon…..

We took Mishka to a real actual animal psychologist.  It was Natasha’s and my agreement that we would abide by a professional’s direction.  If Mishka was redeemable, we would work to rehabilitate him.  If he was a hardened violent criminal, we would bring him to justice.

The doctor listened carefully to us as we recounted the event.  She watched clinically as Mishka played and interacted with everyone in the room.  He was really enjoying the attention, and acting ever so charming, cute and precocious.  He seemed to know this was all about him, but was not aware of what would be in store for him pending the doctor’s advice.

What was the diagnosis?  Over-indulgent parents matched with a very energetic and demanding dog.  Mommy gave him everything he wanted.  So did Daddy….  Natasha just did it with so much more flair and tenderness.  Daddy stood tall and acted like “pack leader” while Mishka merely put up with the posturing.

The prescription?  Discipline, discipline, discipline….  Everything must be earned.  Sit patiently before each meal.  Sit patiently before going out on a walk.  Sit patiently just because we are the masters.  Ignore and chastise bratty behavior.  Sounds like parenting….  There have been a couple of lapses.  One in particular when he attacked Who’syer in a flurry.  I was ready to kill the little bastard with my bare hands….  But I didn’t, and I was forgiven by the doctor.  She said I actually may have made the right impression on Mishka.  He knows we are serious.  He is trying.  So are we.

Mishka wears a “drag line” in the house.  It is a 6 foot length of cotton cord that clips to his collar.  This allows us to quickly step on or grab the cord when he runs about the house like a Tasmanian Devil.  It is very effective….and fun…for us!!!  Mishka doesn’t like his drag line very much.  He understands having a leash outdoors and even looks forward to it because it means outdoor adventure.  But the drag line???  It’s like training wheels.  It’s like the sign that my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Hixonbaugh, would hang around kid’s necks that says, “I have dirty fingernails.”  I never got to wear the sign, but I really feared the sign, and I understood the incentive NOT to wear the sign.  Mishka has dirty fingernails and he doesn’t like everyone knowing it.  He doesn’t fight the drag line.  He sits sheepishly when it’s clipped on.  He is ashamed.  It is a reminder of his probation.  For the first few days he would chew the line off.  But we would just tie on another 6 feet of cord from a 75 foot coil.  There was no hope of reprieve.

The boy sits patiently looking up at me sheepishly wondering when the drag line can come off.  The cord is unclipped for the night.  And then he gets a soft pat on the head and the charming smile returns…  There are doggie scandals being plotted.

The rehabilitation continues…..


The Mishka Event

It has taken a few days for me to put it in perspective.  Our little delinquent, Mishka, put some drama into our lives earlier in the week.

Natasha had returned from school about 8:00 PM.  Mishka, exhibiting his usual behavior, was spinning about, barking at the door, and loudly announcing her arrival in the drive-way.  I slowly rose from the couch and met her at the door, all the while lightly admonishing Mishka to behave and settle down.  Natasha was happy and a little excited herself having aced her first final exam.  I kneeled next to Mishka, patting his side and reminding him to behave.  I coaxed him on his side, but he wasn’t happy about it.  As I turned my attention back to Natasha, he clamped down on my right hand in a furry.

I recall about 10 seconds of violence.  Natasha pleaded with Mishka to let go and pulled at his collar from behind.  I eventually put my left hand to his mouth trying to force his jaw open.  I don’t remember him releasing, but I recall wrapping my hand in my shirt and getting to the kitchen sink.

I won’t go into details about the wounds.  They were (and still are) ugly.  But what Natasha and I both shared was a profound feeling of sadness and disbelief.  There have been brief nips from our energetic puppy, but nothing like this prolonged, violent attack.

I spent the next 4 hours at the emergency room getting medicated and cleaned up.  We had a lot of time in the waiting room, treatment room, the pharmacy, and at the Wendy’s on the way back home to talk about it.  But I knew my head would not be clear for some time to decide what to do.

Mishka spent the next 60 hours confined to the back yard.  Over the past few days I have told and retold the story.  It is difficult to tell a story about domestic violence.  Yes, I am calling this domestic violence.  We brought Mishka home when he was 8 weeks old.  He is just a couple of months short of 3 years old today.  He is “our boy”.  Some people understand, having experienced something similar at home.  Others stare in silence with thoughts of dysfunction and disorder.

I had a number of people tell me if a dog attacks his owner, “It’s over.”  All the experts and several of my friends and coworkers have said that an aggressive dog is a failure of his owner.  We don’t think of Mishka as aggressive.  He is a smart, funny, playful dog….  who attacked his daddy.  We know he isn’t a child, but that doesn’t really change the way we feel about him.  And, unfortunately, that’s the problem.  Children get unconditional love, dogs don’t.

Throughout my early life, I was not a “dog person”.  The running, slobbering, and barking always reminded me they were noisy, unruly animals.  And the teeth reminded me of what could happen if I gave them the wrong vibe.  I often gave dogs the wrong vibe, justifying my distance and caution.

It wasn’t until my first dogs, Lucy, and her brother, Who’syer, came into my life that I understood their loyalty and friendship.  Who has been with me for 10 years, while Lucy went her separate way with my ex-wife.  Who’s a bit odd and melancholy, but he has been my closest four-legged friend through divorce, 1000-mile moves, and the courtship of my Kookla.  Who never bit me.  I know I made a lot of mistakes with his training and upbringing, but he never attacked me, and I can’t recall a time he has done anything but worship me — the other endearing quality dogs have.

With Mishka’s arrival into our home, I had lost my earlier apprehension about dogs.  But with the development of Mishka’s primitive instincts, I have changed.  Maybe it’s the same “vibe” I had earlier in life….  It feels like it.

Mishka wants his buddy.  But I can’t be his buddy.  I watch him.  I listen to his every grunt, growl, bark, and whimper to judge his mood.  I have to be his master….if I’m up to it.  I’m not sure if or when the trust and love will come back.  We have to work on that.  Or it’s over…..

Technology Rant II

The challenge was to get Natasha through the “Online Learner Workshop” in order for her to register for online classes.  The Workshop is intended to help students understand the modern virtual world of internet-based education.  It is a wonderful techno-service-friendly world in which we live!!!

After successive weekend attempts to help Natasha access her college Online Learner Workshop, I sent a very thoughtful note to the college help desk (yes, it was really objective and polite….really).  The “Off-hours Help Line” did not pick up after about 20 rings.  We had tried about three different varieties each of her user id, password, and student number, because different variations are required for the college “Blackboard”, “WebEducator”, and “Student Services” pages.

NOTE:  I am using thinly veiled pseudonyms for the pages and I am closely guarding the college identity.  I am a part-time employee and Natasha is a student.  We value those roles.  But I suspect the experience is very much the same at community colleges throughout the country.

Natasha and I were then called and emailed on separate occasions by multiple members of the college online services staff.  I was called at work by a pleasant woman who sympathized with our situation.  Everything was re-set and we were sent a 17 step instruction on how to gain access to the Workshop and proceed through the learning experience.

Flash back a couple of years ago and I was going through a similar experience to get access to the college system to work as an adjunct instructor.  Back then each user was required to take a 3-day orientation.  Let me restate that for effect…. 3, three, THREE eight-hour day, orientation….  That’s 24 hours!!!  This is required to access to a web-based education system that is intended to simplify the college education process.  I simply told the college I was not going to take leave from my day job for 3 days just to learn how to post my student’s homework to the internet.  It was a very wonderful woman with my department that made it all better.  And I am posting homework the old-fashioned way….  I hand it back to the students at the beginning of class.

Well, unfortunately, my Natasha does not have the same advantages now as I did then.  She is one student among thousands of others.  She is indistinguishable from the computer-illiterates meant to be weeded out by the benevolent Online Learner Workshop.  So, I suffered along with her this time around.

We finally got on the Workshop.  Three hours and about 180 questions later, Natasha had completed the Online Learner Workshop.  The questions ranged from recall of the value and utility of the Online Learner Workshop, to what a PDF file was, to how to attach a file to an email.  At the end, Natasha and I could not help but feel that after successive attempts to get access to the system, to the hours invested in the “education”, that we had both lost a good part of our lives….

There were two modules of the Online Learner Workshop dedicated to “Technology Knowledge” and “Technology Uses”….  What does the Workshop consider as “technology”?  You got it…email, internet, digital photography, word processing applications.

OK, folks, I am officially a grumpy old man.  If this is technology, and it is supposed to make our lives simpler, then I am going to go back to living in a cave.

The Online Learner Workshop taught me nothing and it taught my wife nothing that isn’t already obsolete….  And we won’t get that time back.  Whatever is invented that WILL get us that time back….Now that is technology!!!

Local Color and the Technology Pages

Years (actually decades) ago when I was struggling through college, I was taking a class in Operational Programming.  We were studying information analysis and among the topics we discussed was the concept of “Local Color”.  Without getting into the socio-analytical details, which I would be challenged to recall anyway, Local Color is a characterization of the observable indications of what a community considers important.

I will get to my point eventually…..  But first let’s do a little Local Color exercise.  If you were to walk about the streets of Baghdad sometime around 2004 you might see scores of suspicious looks from the natives, dark streets patrolled by heavily armed American soldiers.  During the day, the traffic would be stifling with multiple check-points, barricades, black-market deal-making, and the occasional improvised explosive device detonation in the distance (if you are lucky enough to be on the opposite side of the distance).  So what’s important in this community???  Survival.  Protection.  Silence.  Power.

Contrast that analysis with a quick look at the daily cruise schedule on board the “Voyager of the Seas” during Natasha’s and my honeymoon….  A dozen different meal options, para-sailing, talent shows, musical theater, shopping….  Oh, and a visit to an exotic island nation.  What’s important in our little ship-board culture?  Comfort.  Fun.  Relaxation.  Entertainment.  Eating.  Got the idea???

Back in class one of the quickest ways to sample Local Color is to take a look at the newspaper (this was back in the 80’s remember).  So, if I was to take a look at the modern version of the newspaper, perhaps the internet would do.  How about USA Today?  That might be a reasonable approximation of American Local Color.  I was curious what America thinks is important about technology.

Here comes my point….  Click on the “Tech” link of USA Today.  What do you see?  The headline on the Tech page of USA Today on November 20, 2010, is “Prevent the ‘holiday bulge’ with new fitness games”.  It doesn’t stop there.  A total of 13 out of 16 stories on the page are dedicated to either social networking, internet entertainment, gaming, or cellular phone features.  The other 3 stories….  One is about internet medical consulting, and buried at the bottom is detection of a new planet, and finally, dead last is the story “Scientists claim breakthrough in antimatter hunt”.

OK, let’s do our Local Color analysis.  If we accept that USA Today is a reasonable approximation for American culture, what is important to this community from the perspective of technology?   Entertainment.  Social connectedness.  Virtual physical fitness!!!  And ho-hum….anti-matter.  Remember, this is the “Technology” page…..

So, when exactly did technology become synonymous with computer gaming and internet surfing?  I thought technology had something to do with physics, transportation, manufacturing, medicine, oh yeah….AND communication.

Years ago futurists like Marshall McLuhan and John Naisbitt predicted an evolution from the manufacturing age to the information age.  I was ready for that.  I think we were all expecting America to become smarter — the designers, managers, innovators, communicators, and leaders of the world.  What have we done with all of this information age leadership?  We are entertaining, surfing, sharing, gaming, dissing, blogging,…… hypnotizing ourselves and the rest of the world.

It starts with what we teach our children about technology and science — about what technology really is.  It starts with planting ideas about what is NEEDED in our world.  It continues with government investing in big, bold achievements that inspire change in our priorities and values.  That creates opportunity for industry and entrepreneurs to contribute to the vision and look for new markets.

But, alas, we are focused on the new iPad.  It seems Apple has figured out how to host a bunch of really cool fitness game apps…

The Keen, New, Innovative, Uniquely American Idea!

I voted the old-fashioned way this evening after work. On Election Day. Yes, November 2, 2010. I got in line at the neighborhood middle school gym. I showed my identification and signed the roster. I had done the absentee ballot thing in years past. And I actually had an opportunity to do early voting a few days ago…..

Early voting…. I don’t get the concept. Seems like it was our responsibility as American citizens to get to the polls to vote for the candidates of our choice. Get to the polls!!! Sometime after the time they open and before the time they close. Have we gotten so lax that we must have several opportunities to vote at a time of our convenience???

Last week I was getting my car registration taken care of at the county annex. I was a bit irritated to see the parking lot full and a small crowd of people milling about a specific distance away from the entrance. They had signs. They had cupcakes. They had smiles as they offered the cupcakes and small cups of cold water. “Are you here to vote, sir?”

I glared back. I wasn’t ready for this. I was girding my loins for the DMV, not for kindly political soccer moms offering me cupcakes. “No,” I muttered as I rushed to the door to the DMV netherworld.

Then as my mind wandered in the DMV line, I thought….early voting….hmmmm….. Am I ready to vote early? No, not really… But, what if….maybe…. Could I get an absentee ballot and contemplate the choices in the comfort and convenience of my home? Now that’s American thinking! I had neglected to mail in my ballot request, but how could they possibly turn me down now that I was at the county clerk’s office? Especially with all this early voting hub-bub going on! Well, you would think…

I quickly took care of my truck registration and hopped over to the county clerk’s office. As I approached, the woman at the counter asked me, “Are you here to vote?”

Now I was ready for the question! I explained my keen, new, innovative, uniquely American idea…. “Could I just get a ballot and take it home???”

“But early voting is going on right now!”

“I understand, but I’d really like to take a ballot home so I can make some informed decisions.” Man, what a smart, responsible idea!!!

“Would you like a sample ballot?”

What was it this lady didn’t understand? I calmly explained that didn’t fit my keen, new, innovative, uniquely American plan.

“But, you need to send in your ballot request and the date has passed for requests and the completed ballots need to be post marked by tomorrow.”

She sounded like one of the adults on a Peanuts cartoon….Wah wah wah…. wahwahaaahhhh…. She just wasn’t grasping the keen, new, innovative, uniquely American voting scheme. I gave her a sarcastic smile and rushed off to put on my registration sticker.

The moral of the story? I wasn’t sure whether I was angry with “the man” for oppressing my creativity, or if I should be ashamed of my audacity for expecting just one more accommodation to exercise my voting obligation. I have since decided I was ashamed of myself.

What happened to everyone in America voting on Election Day? What happened to every employer accommodating their employee’s obligation to vote on Election Day? How can the latest poll results mean anything if half of the voters already voted two weeks ago? What about those sudden blizzards that throw the election out of whack in the Midwest states and offer the underdog candidate a prayer of a chance to pull off a win?

Bottom line…. I voted on THE DAY. If you didn’t vote, then you basically have run out of excuses. You had early voting, absentee ballot voting, and just plain ordinary voting. But don’t try doing any combination of those at the same time… That old-fashioned bureaucratic oppression still exists….for now!!!

A Good Start

I was a recent participant in a length of service award ceremony at work.  It struck me how when we are young, we don’t tend to think much about things when we have plenty of time to make the best decisions.  Then as we age we tend to mull things over a bit more just as time becomes an ever more precious commodity.

During the ceremony the 25 year service awardees, like me, paled in comparison to those veterans of 35, 40, and even 50 years.  I wondered if those long-time veterans had figured out how to ease the passing of time.  Obviously they had made peace with their workplace.  Had work become another example of their patience and harmony with life, or was work a refuge of routine away from a life less lived?

I couldn’t decide whether to envy my more experienced colleagues or suggest retirement counseling.  Of course, I am not in a place to judge, nor are you…  The answer is that there is no one answer.

Some of us are truly happy coming to work each day and perfectly willing to keep doing that until the very last day we are alive.  Those are the lucky ones who have found their true calling and love what they do.  Either they are doing what they have always loved, or they have learned to appreciate the subtle joys of professional accomplishment.  The years go by like weeks in a vocation more like a vacation.

Then I remembered my dear friend who ticked off the days to her retirement, starting back at T-minus 3 years and counting.  It wasn’t that she despised her work, or struggled for motivation to fulfill responsibilities.  In fact, this woman was in demand as a natural leader, objective thinker, and a creatively productive worker.  But she had other stuff to do….  Greece, Italy, wine on the back patio, independent children with comfortable, loving relationships with their mom.

Back at the ceremony, as I approached the big boss, he smiled and said, “That’s a good start,” as he shook my hand and we posed with the 25 year certificate.  All I could think about is all the things I haven’t done.  Yes, there is unfinished work…  But I can’t help but think there is much more left to do in life.

I can’t start counting down just yet.  I think this grizzled civil servant has to quit mulling things over and get busy, whether it’s at the office or in the back yard.  After all, like the boss says, I just got started….

The Definition of “Troll”

A little education for the less than savvy internet surfers out there. I was recently characterized as a “Troll” by someone very experienced at the game. I have come to embrace the thought. Trolls are welcome here. Just make sure you can produce some entertainment value to the discussion, and don’t sharpen the barbs so much as to leave painful permanent scars…

Application of the term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used as an ad hominem strategy to discredit an opposing position by attacking its proponent.

Often, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer’s motives. Regardless of the circumstances, controversial posts may attract a particularly strong response from those unfamiliar with the robust dialogue found in some online, rather than physical, communities. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore him or her, because responding tends to encourage trolls to continue disruptive posts — hence the often-seen warning: “Please do not feed the trolls”.