Thursday, October 30, 2008

Row v Wade?

I’ve been having some very spirited discussions as a result of my two preceding analogies. A little like playing soccer with a beehive instead of a ball. But that’s all right. I’m tougher than I look. So I thought I’d try just one more…

You’re in a big boat, rowing across the lake.
You become aware that you're boat is taking on water.
You have two options: bail or row.

Your group – none of whom can swim very well-- quickly divides up into a pro-rowing faction and a pro-bailing faction.
Let’s call them the Rowpublicans and the Bailoutcrats.
They each present a pretty good case for their respective approaches, what with several engineering students in each group. Some of them, it turns out come from long lines of Bailers or Rowers, and can easily and proudly sing the praises of each of their family traditions.

But the trouble is this: the maximum amount of water you can bail out per minute, if everyone bails, is LESS than the amount you’re taking on.
If you bail, you’ll eventually just drown.

On the other hand, the minimum time it will take, at the maximum speed at which you can row, to get within wading distance of shore, if everyone rows, will be greater than the time it takes for you to take on enough water to sink you in deep water.
If you row, you’ll eventually just drown.

Now, the Rowpublicans and the Bailooutcrats realize that they’re going to have to either work together or go down to the bottom together. So they put their minds into overdrive to calculate just what combination of bailing and rowing might get them to shore safe and sound. What with gallons per minute, coefficient ratios, vectors, wind resistance, water tension, the current…….pencils were flashing like lightning and wearing down to the nub fast.

Hitherto unnoticed, sitting in the rear all alone with a stern look on his face, is a kid from my old neighborhood in Chicago. Let’s call him “Jack,” because that’s his name.
Muttering to himself, Jack takes off his leather jacket, wads it up and then ties the mooring line around his belt. He hands the end of it to you.
“Don’t let go of this, “ he says as he starts to clamber over the gunnels.
“Where are you going?” you ask, dumbfounded.
“Well obviously, Numb-nuts,” he says in his native tongue, ”Somebody’s got to patch the fucking hole in the fucking boat.”

The moral of the story is this:
Don't accept the limited choices presented in a false dilemma.
Think outside the boat.
And take action.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Worst Case Scenario II

It seems some of my friends really liked my fire-fighting analogy.
And it was pretty good, too, even if I do say so myself.
It’s one way to look at the situation.
Here’s another one:

You show up at a structure fire that, if not brought under control, threatens exposures on all sides. There’s a tell-tale gasoline can lying near the A-side entrance…
There are three attack lines already laid out. There’s one guy on line 1, and one guy on line 2. Line 3 is laying unattended on the ground.
The guy on line 1 calls for you to come over and help him.
So does the guy on line 2.

“Come on,” says the first guy. “This is a brand new 2 ½ inch hose, with the latest nozzle, in the most popular designer color. We’ve been waiting to use a hose like this one for a long time!”

“Come on,” says the second guy. “I’ve got 17 years of experience and 9 new certificates to prove I attended training sessions and stayed awake the WHOLE time!”

Meanwhile, there’s the fire…..

Decisions, decisions.
Which hose do you pick?

I’ll make it easy for you.
Hose 1 is connected to a hydrant that’s out of service.
Dead. Dry as James Bond's martini.
And so is hose 2.
Hose 3 is connected to a mini-pumper, and it’s charged.
Me, I’d pick the hose WITH THE WATER IN IT.

I don’t know if I have ENOUGH water to knock down the fire, but at least I have SOME. I might at least be able to slow it down.
You can only do what you can do.
But there’s no hope whatsoever of fighting the fire without any water in the hose…

The Democrats and the Republicans may appear to be manning different hoses, but both those hoses are hooked up to the same hydrant, and it isn’t delivering any water and won’t be delivering water any time soon.
Hasn’t delivered any for a long time, either.
The relative merits of the hoses or the personalities of the characters presently manning them is irrelevant; there is nothing in those hoses that will put out the fire.

That third hoseline, that’s Ralph Nader, or Ron Paul, or Cynthia McKinney.
There may not be enough water to put the fire out, but SOME is better than NONE.
What’s the point of lining up behind some idiot with an empty hoseline?

But the analogy is a little unjust.
Because hoselines 1 and 2 aren’t REALLY hooked up to a dead hydrant.
They’re hook up to a gasoline truck.
I’m pretty sure we’re not going to put out the fire using the same stuff that got it started in the first place.

Maybe it’s a losing battle.
Maybe we’ll lose the house, the exposures, everything…
We always say risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot, risk nothing to save nothing.
Is there anything in this country worth saving? Anything worth fighting for?
Anything in that dusty old Bill of Rights you’d like to hang on to, maybe pass on to your kids?
Or is it smarter to go along to get along, pick the lesser evil, add your straw to the camel’s load and pray like hell when the world explodes?

To me, hoseline 3 looks like the only sensible choice.
Even with nobody to back me up.
I may not put out the fire with it, but at least I won’t be feeding the fire, either.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Worst Case Scenario

You arrive on the scene of a structure fire.
Defying thousands of years of self-preservation instinct, you go inside, on your hands and knees, feeling along the wall on your right, visibility zero, searching for victims.
You find one.
The victim is inert, unresponsive.
It’s possible they have stopped breathing.
It’s possible they are in full arrest.
It’s possible they have all kinds of other injuries.
All these things desperately need attention.
But not right now.
Now is not the time to think about any of that, because you're in an environment that is immediately life-threatening, and the threat is about as imminent as imminent can get.
Right now, your job is to get that victim OUT of the burning house, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest of it will matter.
So you drag the victim out of there.
Then and ONLY then can you turn your attention to the victim’s injuries.

The 2008 Election is a lot like that.
I don’t have any illusions about Mr. Obama.
I don’t think there’s a substantial difference between his platform and the platform of Mr. McCain. There MIGHT be a SLIVER of a difference, that MIGHT mean a POSSIBILITY of improvement with Obama that does NOT exist with McCain.
And maybe not.

But it seems to me that the immediately life-threatening environment of a McCain-Palin administration makes it urgent to drag the country out of there as quickly as possible.
No doubt about it, the government is unresponsive.
Maybe our national heart has stopped beating.
Maybe our country cannot be revived.
All these things desperately need attention.
But not right now.
Right now, our job is to get the country OUT of that burning house, because if we don’t, none of the rest of it will matter.

So I’m going to go in and try to drag the victim out of there, by voting for Mr. Obama, because I think then and ONLY then can we turn our attention to our country’s injuries.

I won’t like it.
I’d rather vote for a good man, a man who’s demonstrably honest and the best man for the job, which, in my opinion, is Mr. Nader.

But then, I’d rather that house wasn’t on fire, too.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: Romancin' with Brandy

Next day, Brandy still had her halter on her – but she was wearing it like a necklace.

I didn’t think it feasible to try adjusting it was on her.
She literally wouldn’t stand for that.
So I decided the best thing was just to slip it off of her again.
Took some doing.
Every time she lowered her head down to the grain bucket, the halter slipped down her neck to her ears and she didn’t care much for that. After a few times, I was able to time it right, and caught the crownpiece for her so she could slip out of it.
I positioned the halter in the bucket again and let her eat most of her grain through it. Then I removed it and let her finish up the last nibbles while I touched her jaw and forehead….

Between meals, I keep bringing her apples.
Increasingly, I “hide” the apple so she has to do a lot of close-quarters nuzzling and touching to get it. I offer her touch on her jaw and neck.
Sometimes she accepts it easily.
Sometimes not…

After another time or so with the halter-in-the-bucket set-up, it appeared that we’d reached a plateau. I was beginning to feel quite tempted, at certain moments, to “achieve” getting her halter on her and I don’t want to get sucked into that.
As a change of pace, I backed off for a feeding.
No halter.
Just lots of touch. She seemed all right with that.

While I was trying to figure out what to do next, I happened to run into an old acquaintance of mine -- Don Warner, by name --who’s a damn good horseman and has worked with a lot of young ponies.
I’d been fortunate to have seen his manner with horses a few times and admired it, and we’d had some good talks about the connections between horses and everything else. He’d taught me some basic roping techniques, too and I’d had a chance to try “team roping” at his ranch, where he does quite a lot of it.
Then we’d just sort of lost touch. You know how that goes.

Anyway, it was good – as well as a pleasing piece of synchronicity --- to see him again.
I mentioned Brandy to him and he suggested an approach he’d actually told me about before. I’d even done once it to get a catch rope around a reticent gelding.

It’s a very ju jitsu sort of thing.
If, for example, you want to slam a guy’s face into the bar, you don’t just grab the back of his neck and push. He’ll resist, pushing back and now it’s a wrestling match. Instead,
you grab him by the back of his collar and PULL, as if to pull him backwards off the barstool. His natural reaction is to resist by pulling forward. As soon as he starts to do that, you reverse your pull, going along with his energy and direction, adding your push to it. In a sense, he slams his own face into the bar.
Using your opponent’s own reactive force against him.
Elementary, Watson.

Here’s how Don caught me it applies with horses.
In the case of the reticent gelding, he would tolerate some light touch on his neck. Instead of trying to get a rope around him --from which he’d bolt --- I gently pushed him away from me.
Naturally, he pushed back.
When he did, I yielded away from him.
I did this a couple times.
Then, when he pushed back, I yielded a little, but left my hand in position and when he pushed back, he put his neck right under my hand and toward me so I was almost hugging him around the neck. --- something he’d not have allowed me to do otherwise.
After doing this a few times, I repeated it with the end of the catch rope in my hand, and when he pushed himself under my hand, I just let the rope fall over his neck.
Once we got to that point, he was fine. He allowed me to loop his nose and away we went.

I’m a little chagrinned that I didn’t think of doing something like this with Brandy, because, as with all magic tricks, the solution is obvious, once someone explains it to you.
The next time she and I got together for dinner, I took this tack, capitalizing on her high motivation to eat her grain as an aid, the grain, itself, a huge reinforcement.
And I experimented a little.
If I just reached out, say, to touch her poll, she might shy away. But if I pushed her away first, when she pushed back to reach her grain, she was perfectly all right with that contact.
So we danced this danced through dinner and made appreciable progress, I think. She accepted substantial and sustained touch all around her head and neck and some even down toward her chest.

This feels like a good direction to go in right now.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: More Brandy

If you could see my pony on a night like last night – cloudless sky, a bright moon but plenty of stars --- the way he seems to glow, you’d swear he was made of moonbeams.
Restless, I stopped by the barn last night just to tuck him in. One more apple. One last kiss on the nose.
Let him get on with his moon dancing...

I decided to slice up a few apples and look in on my girl, Brandy, too.
She nickered to me as I approached, came right to me in the round pen, and pigged out on apple pieces while I easily stroked her jaw and forehead.
Almost like we were old friends.

Then today, when I approached, I didn’t have any apples.
I stayed outside the round pen. Talked to her. Let her nuzzle my apple-less hands.
Then I moved away.
And she followed.
More hand nuzzling.
I moved away.
She followed….

Very slowly, I reached in with the back of my hand and stroked lightly down the length of her nose.
And again.
And again….
I don’t know how many times. If I went too fast, she pulled away, as if wary of a left hook. But if I went slowly enough, she would allow it.
In a while, I moved on to her forehead and forelock. Brief contact first. Then longer. Then she not only allowed my rubbing her forehead, but she lowered her head a little and did some subtle chewing, letting stay in contact with her for almost 5 full seconds.
Then I moved away.
She followed...
I stayed with her a few more minutes then went on about my other business.
This was the first time she had accepted my invitation for contact WITHOUT the quid pro quo reinforcement of food. I had a feeling we’d just progressed to an important “base” in out romance.

At feeding time, I took her grain bucket in and again laid her halter inside of it to oblige her to poke her nose through it to get to her grain. This was the third time I’d done that with her and she did her part without hesitation.
While she ate, I offered her touch on the jaw, forehead and poll – some she accepted, some she declined. Then she began to eat putting her head VERY far into the halter.
I caressed her poll with the crownpiece.
Finally, I just let go of it and it fell into place behind her ears.
This did startle he a little, and she withdrew, trotted a lap around the pen with the unclipped halter jingling on her head. But she didn’t panic, didn’t seem upset. Just taken somewhat by surprise.
She decided it wasn’t important enough to forego the rest of her grain, and came back to her bucket. I offered her the bucket so I could reach under her chin and fasten the clip. I was afraid if she tossed her head the loose snap might hurt her. I fastened it while she ate and either she didn’t notice or didn’t care.

This halter is REAL loose on her. I’d made it as big as possible so she could slip her head into it easily. Probably could have put it on two horses at once. So I wouldn’t be surprised if she took it off during the night. But in the meantime, even if it feels a little awkward, like your first pair of Cuban-heeled boots, she has a chance to get comfortable with it. See that it won’t harm her.

But more important to me, I hung out with her afterward as she ate some hay. She even took some from my hand. So I think she’s ok with the way this happened.
I didn’t put a halter on her head.
SHE put her head into the halter.

Tomorrow I’ll have to see if we’re still ok, or if she thinks I owe her an apology.


Friday, October 10, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: The Courtship of Brandy

There’s a pony I’ve been “romancing.”

She’s one of a pair, neither very old –the smart money is guessing maybe 3-4 years old.
They were out loose and on their own for at LEAST several months.
Maybe longer.
Nobody really knows for sure.

A kind soul started offering them grain, eventually offering it in a round pen. They were then enclosed in the pen, herded into a trailer, and relocated.

It’s been very interesting making friends with her.
“Slow process” doesn’t begin to describe it.
It reminds me of descriptions of 19th century courtships, familiarity advancing by the tiniest increments, lest one be thought presumptuous. I like that idea a lot better than I like the idea of "breaking" a horse (as in breaking her spirit) or "starting" a horse (like starting an engine?) or even "breaking in" a horse (like she's a new pair of shoes?). The words you use to describe a thing determine how you conceive of that thing, how you feel about it. Like "collateral damage" is a different feeling from "mangled women and children."
You can test my theory for yourself.
Just think a thought for which you have no words.

Anyway, I've decided to call this process "courting" or "romancing." Both have connotation s for me that are very positive, gentle, sweet, tender and loving. Feels like the right stuff.

This all started out with me helping the trainer and the owner drive her into the round pen, separating her from her pal.
Now THAT was a bit of a rodeo.
If you’ve never had the experience of 700-800 pounds of horse hurtling directly at you at a full gallop, you’ve really missed something. I got a glimpse at the primal effectiveness of cavalry as a weapon. Watching how these two ponies avoided being driven was fascinating. Especially the part where they would veer away from an obstruction so much at the last possible instant, that my heart was in my throat, fearing they might suffer an injury. Very impressive command of distance as well as remarkable agility.

Upon reflection, I know that the horse isn’t intending to gallop over me – not if there’s another choice, anyway. Nevertheless, it’s like a mad game of “chicken” and the distance she can tolerate before she veers off is a lot closer than the distance I can tolerate before I get the hell out of her way!

This little pony is braver than I am. There’s something about that I just love...

I see how observant this pony is, how curious. The way she watches me when I’m near the round pen. The way she follows me – at a safe distance – when I go in.
I get the feeling she would like to be friends, but she’s not big on trust.
There’s something I can appreciate.

The initial approach the trainer took was a sort of “standard” round pen thing, but she didn’t respond well. Didn’t seem to de-sensiitize. Got worked into an increasingly greater lather instead. Stubborn. Maybe she's been out on her own so long she figures, hey, who needs YOU?
We broke off at that point, and there was a suggestion that maybe it would be best to drug her, just to get a halter on her. Put a little something in her feed…..

I didn’t care much for that idea, but it's not up to me. Sounds like date-rape.
I asked the owner if it was all right if I kept courting her in the meantime. Fortunately, the owner wasn’t that keen on the drug idea, either, so it hasn’t happened yet. So there’s a little pressure for me to get a halter on her sooner rather than later…

My approach is not to pursue her, but to let her come to me, to whatever extend she’s comfortable. I want to build a history of success and trustworthiness with her.
I figure ever time I put her in a situation that makes her step out of her comfort zone and nothing bad happens as a result, I’m building a trust with her.
I want her to think to herself, “OK, that’s scarey, but SJ says it’s all right and he’s always been reliable before, so it’ll probably be all right if I trust him this time, too.”

I don’t want to trick her, trap her or betray her.
Like pretend I’m going to give her a treat and then suddenly --WHAM! ---whip a halter on her head. If someone did that to me, I wouldn’t like it much. And I would never trust that person again. And I would advise that person never to turn his back on me.

So I’m going very slowly.
I let her dictate the pace, though I offer her a chance to go faster if she’s ready.
I lavish her with apple pieces, taking advantage of food as a prime motivator, and letting her associate me with food.
I began by offering her bits of apple. Just "come and get it." All she had to do was take it from my hand.
Then I started holding the apple in such a way as she had to touch my hand, nuzzle it around to get at the apple.
Next I added my other hand to the mix, offering the apple with two hands, then touch her chin, or jaw with one hand. Did this with her grain, too. Got to the point she would allow me to stroke her jaw, her neck, her forehead, even up around her ears some.

On our last "date," I put the noseband of a halter into her feed bucket so she had to put her nose into it to get at the goodies. Wanted no part of that at first. But she decided the grain was worth the risk, I guess. Toward the end of that meal, when she slipped her nose into the loop, I pulled up against her, like I was trying to keep her away from her remaining grain. Naturally, she pushed toward the grain and further into the halter. I was able to rub her forehead with the poll strap a little,
I think, little by little, she’ll allow me to put the halter on her. As much as possible, I’ll let her put it on herself.
It's all up to her. I'm not going to chase her, corner her, or coerce her.

Meanwhile, she's helping me cultivate my capacity for patience.
I have to resist the urge to rush, to skip a step, to try to go too far too soon.
If I do, I may destroy the trust we HAVE and I’ll have to start all over from less than zero. “Less” because I’ll have given her a good reason NOT to trust me.

This probably isn’t the fast, “easy” way to go about it.
But I’m in no great hurry.
I don't want to project any intention of a hidden agenda and the best way to do that is not to have one.
I want her to understand I love her, I won’t hurt her and she has nothing to fear from me.

I’ll let her take her time, and whatever time it takes, it takes.