5 December 2016

The Truth As A Revolutionary Act

By: Jon Katz
The Truth As A Revolutionary Act

The Truth As A Revolutionary Act

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, said Theodore Roosevelt, or that we are to stand by the President, "right or wrong," is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

It is difficult to find truth these days, I have never seen truth in so much trouble, or so lost, or so many dazed and angry people wandering in search of it.

The philosophers always said that in a democracy, protest beyond the law is not a departure, it is absolutely essential to it. I thought about this a couple of month ago when I removed two "For Sale" signs that the landlord had placed in the window of the Round House Cafe.

I thought it was a hostile thing to do, the town was swept with rumors that the cafe had gone out of business. I thought it was an unnecessary blow to the idea of community the cafe had come to represent.

The move  – my taking the signs down – was surprisingly controversial, in our culture of timidity and social media controversies, I had crossed a line, good people were shocked and disapproving, I felt like one of those turn of the century anarchists tossing bombs at bank offices.

I returned the signs the next morning, at the request of the cafe proprietors, but I was scolded by people who thought I deserved to go to jail or, at least, get arrested. After all, they were not my signs, and not on my property. I should, many said, be ashamed of myself. But I was actually quite proud of myself.

In a sense, I suppose I am a radical, although I do not see myself in that way. I am radical at least in the way I have chosen to live my life, for better or for worse.

I have not followed the many rules of corporate society. I do not have a million dollars tucked away so that I can grow old and give all of that money to other people and then die when they tell me to. I have sworn to face the truth about myself and tell it, and that is heresy in our anxious world.

In fact, I don't have much of anything tucked away.  I just mean to live the life I want to live, for as long as I can and as well as I can, and I refuse to live out the fears of other people, and  that means working for myself, and that makes me a revolutionary.

There is much pressure to be silent and quiet in our world. There are those trolls and raging mobs on Twitter, those identity thieves, those fanatics on the left and the right who hate anyone who thinks differently, all those self-righteous and nosy people on Facebook. I belong to the Church of Minding My Own Business, our congregation is small and shrinking fast.

It is simple enough to be silent. Silence becomes cowardice, though, when the occasion calls for speaking the truth and acting accordingly. An unbelieved truth can be more dangerous than a lie.

I was a journalist for many years, and journalism is an imperfect craft, not much maligned and mistrusted now, and also quite different from the journalism I knew and was taught. We were not nearly so mistrusted. I was taught never to lie. I was taught the sanctity of facts. I was taught that my mission was to seek out the truth and tell it.

Truth has been  orphaned in our culture, no one seems to know any longer what it is or where to find it, or what to believe and what to ignore. False news is the news, lies the currency of dialogue, indistinguishable from facts.  There is no longer any shame in lying, it is just another tool. I hear and read false things everywhere I go, from all kinds of people in all kinds of forums.

We no longer accept or share a common truth, we are each on our own, and a society without a common set of truths and beliefs is a house very much divided.

I believe in the truth. We all have a right to our beliefs, but there is an obligation to truth and facts, those are the underpinnings of government and believe and community and decency.  George Orwell said when leaders lie, the truth becomes a revolutionary act.

So I am radicalized, I suppose, I am joining this revolution.  The truth is now a revolutionary act.

It is my mission and purpose to seek out the truth and to share what I have found. It is my belief that the truth is more powerful than any lie, and will ultimate prevail. Perhaps I am naive about that, but I don't think so. The truth took me through the New York Carriage Horse controversy and showed me where to go. It brought me to my farm, and to the truth about myself.

It brought me to Maria, and to my blog and the books that I write. Every morning, I will look in the mirror, and if I respect the face I see, I will know I am on the right path. Those are the boundaries for me.

I wish the "For Sale" signs were still up, they have mysteriously vanished, and not by my hands. I'd love to go and take them down again.

 

Posted in General

Grandfather Chronicles: Thoughtfulness

By: Jon Katz
Thoughtfulness

Thoughtfulness

Robin, my new granddaughter, is just a few months old and I don't know what she is thinking or even if she is thinking. She as no words yet, I know that. She can grip fingers in her hands.

Robin has the ability to study people and situations and concentrate for long periods of time, and this seems an unusual trait to me, in babies or adults.

She strikes me as someone who needs to make up her own mind about things, and studies them carefully.

Her gaze is intense, even fearless, but it is, of course, impossible to know what a baby is thinking any more than it is to know what a dog is thinking. Human beings are arrogant, we tend to assume the entities we love are just like us, and we like to think we know what they are thinking.

We project our own stuff onto them all the time, and babies and dogs are blank canvasses, we can paint anything we wish onto them and they can't challenge or correct us. Babies and dogs do not have words, they do not possess our complex human narratives.

Unlike dogs, children do develop the ability to separate from us and tell us what they are thinking, and we often do not like to hear it. I certainly love this child, my daughter's child, but I am not being swept away in this river as many people promised I would be.

I won't be, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because I don't want to be, and that is the part that is up to me. This is not my child, she lives hours from me and I can already see how we will have a wonderful relationship, we seem to have no trouble connecting, even after a long absence.

Part of this is up to me. I will be attentive, send her thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) gifts and  hope to have time with her every month or so. It is not possible for me to go to New York City too often, it is a good ways away.  It is not possible for her to come and visit, although I hope the farm will be magical to her if she does. Donkeys have a way of entering the consciousness of human beings.

I do not wish to be one of those grandparents intimately involved in the life of a grandchild, my own life is full and challenging and needs my attention. I have only once shown anyone a photo of Robin, I don't show people photos of my dogs either.There is something presumptuous about it.

At the same time, I take photos of both and put them up on the blog, and perhaps that is my way of doing the same thing without acknowledging it.

People are free to look at them or not, I guess that is the difference in my mind. There are natural geographic and emotional boundaries at work here, but so far I love this child quite a bit. That's what I want.

That is the part that is up to me.

The next part is up to her. If she is drawn to the farm, to me, to Maria, if our bond grows and deepens – it well might – than we will go one step at a time. I have learned in life, especially with family, to be cautious and to not make assumptions about the future.  I am sometimes right, often night. Relationships are not predictable. I look forward to showing her things and taking her places, but she lives in New York City with two very attentive parents, there is not much she will not get to see as soon as she can see it.

I have a friend who told her son that she would kill herself if he and his daughters moved out of the country. I could never do that, and would never want Emma to live anywhere because I pressured her. She does not belong up here in the country, nor does her husband, nor does my granddaughter. It is not the best place for them at this point in their lives, I know it, they know it.

The job of the father, I believe, is for the child to not need him at all when he or she grows up, or if so, only occasionally. Emma lives her own life and makes her own decisions, most far better than the ones I made. She does need me once in awhile, and i it is a pleasure to try to help.

My granddaughter is not an emotional reward for my parenting, or an emotional gift to me. It has to work on its own accord, so far, so good. I things things are going so well.

I am not being coy or artificially male- like. My feelings for Robin, and for Emma are, I am sure, quite obvious. I wouldn't try to hide them and I would fail if I did try. I've been doing this awhile, and have lost the appetite or skill for deception.

As with politics, I want to wait and see what happens,  not rush to judgment. I am open to it, for sure. My life has been enriched by Robin, I love her stare. But it is still my life, and she has hers.

I guess in a way I am trying to be as thoughtful as she appears to me, perhaps we will swing around and meet one another somewhere along the line.

Posted in General

Be A Friend To The New York Carriage Horses

By: Jon Katz
Be A Friend To The New York Carriage Horses

Be A Friend To The New York Carriage Horses

An important new page for people who love animals: The Friends Of The New York City Carriage Horses

Last year, the Mayor of New York City and his supporters in the animal rights movement failed twice in their expensive and often cruel campaign to ban the New York Carriage Horses from the city.  The campaign was based on the increasingly controversial and debunked notion that it is somehow cruel for working animals – dogs, horses, ponies, all elephants – to work.

The most experienced trainers and equine veterinarians in America were nearly unanimous in saying the New York Carriage Horses are among the luckiest animals in the world, they are loved, content and well cared for. Still, animal rights organizations persisted in their relentless assaults – many of them physical – on the carriage trader, the drivers and owners.

We know now that the horses are not abused, they are the most regulated and monitored working animals anywhere, five different cities agencies participate in regular checks and tests as to their well being.

Still, the attacks on the carriage trade continue. An animal rights activist punched a carriage driver as he was trying to load some children into his carriage. A carriage horses supporter was recently arrested on absurd charges that she grabbed a pamphlet from a vegan protester. There is absolutely no evidence of any kind that the horses are suffering in their light work in the city.

Today, a new page was launched on Facebook called "Friends Of The New York City Carriage Horses," a place where supporters can gather and where animal lovers can learn the truth about the New York Carriage Horses.

In America, the truth is now under fire as never before, facts don't matter, fake news and wildly false accusations are everywhere, people invent their own reality in the name of justice.  Lies are not just. In New York, the animal rights movement has abandoned facts and truth, but the truth is ultimately more powerful than any lie. I will always believe that.

I know the people who are publishing this page, and the truth and facts live there. Check it out.

Everywhere in our world, animals are disappearing.

Here in our largest city, hard-working people, most with a long tradition of working with animals, have found a way to keep these magnificent animals among us in a humane and much loved way. Please consider supporting the carriage horses, liking their new page and joining them in what is by now a  heroic and stunningly successful campaign to keep these working animals in our world.

Several years ago, a retired carriage horse driver named Eva Hughes, a warrior for the horses, told me that the carriage horses were triggering a new social awakening, changing the narrative that is so mindlessly driving working animals away from people, out of sight and out of our world. You can support this new awakening.

We need a new and wiser understanding of animals if we are to save them. The animal rights movement has failed to grasp the real dangers facing animals like the carriage horses – it is not staying in our sight and consciousness, it is being taken away. They are in good hands.

Many people seek to ban the work of working animals, but very few bother to wonder what will become of them when their work is gone. The answer is readily available, most die and are never again seen by human beings. There is no place for Asian elephants, 2,000 pound draft horses, ponies in farmers markets to go when they are taken away.

And there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that work is abuse for these animals or that they are being mistreated or neglected.

More than 200 draft horse have been saved from rescue farms and slaughterhouses by this new social awakening. But their struggle to survive is far from over. The carriage drivers have suffered greatly in recent years, they need all of the support they can get. So do the horses. If you love animals, please consider helping to save them.  Please check out this important new page if you wish, it is about more than the carriage horses, it is about keeping animals in our world and among us.

Posted in General

The Portrait: Seeing The World Anew

By: Jon Katz
Seeing The World Anew

Seeing The World Anew

Portraiture is becoming an important part of my creativity. I took my first portrait about two years ago, I am learning more about it all of the time. I use two portrait lenses. For black and white portraits, a used Zeiss portrait lens, wonderful glass, a distinctive look. Now, I have a 135 mm Canon lens, used for portraits by many portrait photographers, it is more powerful than the Zeiss and has more range.

I like it because it allows me to capture a scene, not just the face and head of the subject. I like to show a context for my portraits, not just a face. Here, I asked Maria to stand still for one of my first portraits with the new lens – I can't imagine a better way to inaugurate the lens, and I liked that I could also show the pole barn, a place that is so important to who she is.

The new lens will enable me to set some scenes with my portraits, the existing one will give me the chance to move in close, for detail.

Portraits need to be honest, they need to capture the soul of the subject. They are not, in my mind, for formality or dressing the subject up or posing him or her. A successful portrait photo for me captures the reality of the subject, good or bad. When people see the portrait, they ought to be able to say, "yes, that is the person I know." Maria is simple in that way, she is viscerally authentic, she is incapable of posing.

Because she is uncomfortable being photographed, she is always real.

Posted in General

Meet And Greet (Or Phone) The Author. December 17- Noon to Two P.M.

By: Jon Katz
Meet And Greet

Meet And Greet

On Saturday, December 17, from noon to 2 p.m., I'll be at the Battenkill Book Store, Main Street, Cambridge, N.Y. to sign and personalize any of my books for people buying them as Christmas presents or just buying them to read.

You can call me on the phone if you wish at 518 677- 2515, or you can call the bookstore and order any of my books for me to sign. Or you can just say hello, as I realize most of the people reading this do not live nearby.

Connie Brooks says there is plenty of time for her to get the books shipped anywhere in the country by Christmas if they are purchased by December 17. You can also, of course, call the store anytime at 518 677 2515 and order a book of mine and I will be happy to come in and sign books for you as a Christmas gift, Connie will send them out in plenty of time for Christmas.

You can also pre-order copies of my next book, "Talking To Animals," and I will be glad to say hello on the phone. Connie takes Paypal and major credit cards. I will sign and personalize the book for you when it comes out next May. You will also become eligible to win one of Maria's potholders or tote-bags.

Speaking of Maria, she will be at the bookstore with me, along with Red and Fate.

We are happy to support this great independent bookstore – and my work –  to sign books, meet readers, talk to any of you on the phone. The number is 518 677 2515. Hope to see you or talk to you then. The dogs love book appearances, we might have to sit on Fate, but Red knows what to do.

December 17, noon to 2 p.m., Main Street, Cambridge, N.Y. Battenkill Books.

Posted in General