Category Archives: etc.


BAXTERJBOYBaxter, the last of my original Westie clan, is gone. Truth to tell, all the qualities that had made him such a distinctive personality and entertaining companion had vanished long before I took him to the vet. He wasn’t even a shadow of himself, but I wanted him to hear his name and feel loving hands stroking him right up to the end. I could do that much for him.

Among the original members of Clan Westie, Baxter was the instigator, always up for a tussle or a game. If things got too quiet, he was happy to get something going. His signature move was to walk slowly through the living room with a squeaky toy in his mouth, dropping it every now and then, looking around before picking it back up, getting the other dogs wound up as he made it clear he was holding the greatest toy in the known dog world. It almost always worked. When it didn’t, Baxter made his own fun. On several occasions I saw him leaping and lunging around a treat or a toy, pretending it was trying to get away from him.

Sadie, his consort and sparring partner, preferred to tussle outside, usually from underneath a chair where she could leap out and snap at Baxter as he ran past. (Ever the strategist, she knew that out in the open Baxter would roll over her through sheer momentum.) That was during the day. At night, Sadie could turn the tables on him. Many a night I would step onto the back deck and see two little white blobs dashing back and forth through the yard, occasionally coming together, then splitting up and running circles around each other. This was their pattern right from the start. When we were deciding if we should get them, we went into a playroom and from the second their paws touched the floor they were scrapping. Baxter would chase Sadie, Sadie would chase Baxter, lather, rinse, repeat.

Baxter was funny even when he was demanding. He had a way of pushing his snout at people’s ankles or hands that became known as Baxter Bumps. One of my oldest daughter’s friends thought Baxter Bumps were so cute, she would deliberately interrupt a petting session in order to get a few.  His round black eyes communicated innocence, even when he shredded rolls of paper towels that had been left on the floor or deck.

And yet, for all his scalawag ways, Baxter was the sweetest, most even-tempered dog you could ever hope to meet. I don’t think I ever saw him bear his teeth at any person. He really did want to be everyone’s friend. Once he broke away and trotted to the sidewalk to greet a woman walking her dog. When it turned and snarled at him, he was so upset he needed three days to recover his usual happy-go-lucky demeanor.

But he was a Westie, and that meant he was a hunter. A very ruthless one. We only knew a nest of skunks had been established under the tool shed when dead kits started turning up. When he spotted a snake crawling in the neighbor’s wood pile, catching that snake became his obsession. One afternoon in the back yard, a friend squinted and said, “Wow, Baxter sure loves his snake toy.” He loved it so much I had to collect it with a shovel for disposal. I was relieved to see it wasn’t a poisonous snake, but sorry to see it was a pest-catcher — a garter snake, maybe. It was hard to tell.  

Baxter was seventeen years old. He outlived Sadie by a year or so, but his decline was shockingly abrupt. He had been chugging along as an old campaigner, slower and a bit fatter but still game, always on patrol in the yard. Then something happened. Some switch was thrown, and Baxter was gone. No more bumps, no more grand morning entrances to demand to be carried downstairs and then served breakfast. The round eyes turned squinty, and when he wasn’t napping he was wandering around the house like a little lost soul. When I picked him up I could feel his muscles jumping. Pain? Probably, but Baxter was a stoic. He never complained.For two days he ignored his food and water. Even when I placed some liverwurst in his mouth and held it shut, he didn’t swallow.

Even on the table at the animal hospital, Baxter didn’t seem aware of his surroundings. The vet administered a sedative as I held him, and after a few seconds he slumped heavily against my arm. “Go to sleep, little man,” I whispered to him as the final shot was administered, and his body unclenched. The curled forelegs relaxed and his head fell limp. The Baxter I had known was already gone, but at least now the pain was gone, too.

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The product

The strange thing about crime-scene photos is that their reality doesn’t immediately come across. Our notions about what death looks like have been so shaped by Hollywood movies that an image taken without artful lighting, music cues, and reaction shots throws us back on our own resources. In all the crime scene photos I’ve looked at, the flat lighting and utilitarian angles create a sense of distance that makes the dead bodies look unreal, mannequin-like. It doesn’t last, though, and as you take in the details you realize that you are looking at actual blood and brains, that those wounds caused real pain and death. Above all, in the worst pictures, you stare at the corpse’s face and understand that this is a human being who experienced the horror of knowing that death was coming.

That’s why I’m glad Gawker ran this crime-scene photo of Trayvon Martin. The Zimmerman trial has generated a higher-than-usual amount of vapid commentary on cable news, and the conspiracy claques have been hard at work coming up with fantasy scenarios that turn Trayvon Martin into a violent, hoodie-clad stand-in for every black kid who ever made you fume in your car as he took his smirking time crossing the street. I’ve even read crap that has the Kenyan Muslim Socialist trying to manipulate the trial outcome from the White House. 

When it comes to personal firearms, policy is fear-driven and fantasy-based. Death Wish fantasies informed the Florida handgun laws that allowed Zimmerman to indulge his own vigilante fantasies. Variations of the same fantasies are driving much of the commentary I’ve seen.         

So take a look at the photo and understand that this is the product of those fantasies. That kid sure doesn’t look like he was in a knock-down, life-or-death struggle with Zimmerman — not to me, anyway. But all I know is what I can see in that photo. That’s the reality of what happened. And, questions of good taste and journalistic restraint be damned, that’s why this photo should have been on every front page and every cable news channel.    

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The damage

This afternoon I took a drive along part of the Jersey Shore. It wasn’t a long drive — in fact, I spent more time getting there than I did driving through it. I started at Point Pleasant with the idea of heading south, but I only got as far as Bay Head before I encountered a roadblock on Route 35 South.  But I saw plenty of damage and, as far as I could tell, not nearly enough work done to bring things around before summer. At least, not to my untrained amateur eye.

You’ve seen the pictures of the devastation wrought by Sandy. Along Point Pleasant, though, I was struck by the amount of sand covering everything. It sat in heaps along the curbs and covered long stretches of sidewalk. There was a small mountain of bulldozed sand in the municipal parking lot. Again, I’m no expert on these things, but I wonder if that sand isn’t something akin to toxic waste by now. As with the flood water that inundated New Orleans, there must have been chemicals, sewage, and other crud in the water left behind by the storm. Does that sand have to be disposed of instead of being spread along the beach?

Things looked a little better in Bay Head, where people have enough money to start rebuilding on their own. But I glanced down some of the beachside cul-de-sacs and saw badly damaged houses propped up by fresh lumber. Outwardly fine houses had piles of debris at the curbside. I had a camera with me, but I thought about how it would feel to see passersby-by snapping images of what was left of my family home. After that, the camera stayed on the back seat.

I was already disgusted by the Republican politicking over relief funding for survivors of the disaster. As is usually the case with this strain of post-Gingrich wingnuts, there is no such thing as rock bottom — just when you think they can’t get any lower, they find a way to surprise you. I might suggest that Rep. Steve Palazzo, the Mississippi Republican who voted against relief for Sandy’s victims after welcoming such relief for his constituents following Hurricane Isaac, be forced to camp on that hill of sand and explain to all and sundry why this was the time to start — what did he call it? — a discussion on the need for disaster relief reform. But we have enough riffraff of our own without importing any from other states. I’d much rather see the riffraff swept out of Congress entirely.    

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The magic of the marketplace

Having spent a good portion of my life in the newspaper industry (as it used to be called), I always get a good laugh whenever I hear somebody chant the conservative catechism about the superiority of private enterprise over government intervention. I’ve worked in plenty of shops where the only real difference between the management and a swarm of lemmings was that the lemmings have a better sense of direction.

Apropos of which, this news story has the chief executive of Hostess Brands — manufacturer of Twinkies and Wonder Bread — trying to blame labor troubles for his decision to shut down the company. History will remember him as the only man who couldn’t sell sugar and fat to Americans. Talk about the magic of the marketplace.

ADDENDUM: Dow Jones has the scoop. Anybody who tries to blame this fiasco on the unions is full of something, and it ain’t vanilla creme.

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Deja spew

It wasn’t all that long ago that a bunch of sleazy operators who claimed to have inside knowledge were telling us that Iraq was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. We all know how that one turned out, so it’s a little incredible to see Benjamin Netanyahu on the tube hawking almost the exact same script about Iran.

Because the neutered American media long ago surrendered their ability to subject this guff to actual analysis, I turn to this Mideast expert to provide some factual background and independent insight. Neocons may salivate whenever Bibi rings his bell — nothing gets their blood up like the prospect of dropping freedom bombs on Mideast countries — but the rest of us know we’ve heard it all before, and we’re not buying.  

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