1 July 2015

Bedlam Farm Elegy

By: Jon Katz
Bedlam Farm Elegy

Bedlam Farm Elegy

“God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.” – Augustine of Hippo, City Of God.

I read once on the top of the hill that pride is the beginning of sin, when the soul abandons him to whom it ought to cleave, and becomes an end unto itself. This, I believe, is what happened to me on Bedlam Farm, which is no longer mine. And what is pride, but the craving for undue exultation?

After eleven quite amazing years of ownership, I am happy to tell you that Bedlam Farm was sold today, now in the worthy hands of Tara and Scott Smith who, by all accounts, will be the loving people the farm deserves. I wish them every happiness there, it is the most wonderful place. it is time. It is past time.

Red and I went up to Bedlam Farm late this morning, I wanted to just be there one last time as an owner – Maria's name is not on the title, she has said her goodbyes to the farm  – and pay my respects to this amazing place and to the spirits of creativity that were so good to me there, and to the spirits of the animals I loved there.

It was a bit of gloomy goodbye.  We got there just as a heavy downpour erupted, full of lightning and thunder, we huddled under the big and expensive shelter I built for the donkeys just for weather like this. I am happy to say Red and I were bone dry in there as lightning flashed all around us, thunder boomed, and heavy winds swept across the pasture. Looking out over the house and outbuildings, I could hardly believe  all the work I did on the house and barns, all of the outbuildings, the foundations, the ditches and water. In a way, it was a form of paradise, for me, for the animals.

Bedlam Farm was a grand stage, you could do pretty much anything there, and I did. I lost perspective, and then I lost my mind.

I decided not to write too much about the farm tonight, I've said a lot about it, and it is in the past, not the future for me or my life with Maria. This feels like an elegy to me, not a farewell or celebration. I walked up the hill to the spot where I carried Orson up the hill and where he is buried – we brought the marker to our new place, no one but me will ever know just where he is buried.

I talked to him a bit,  said goodbye, I don't imagine I will be returning there.  I went to the Pole Barn where Rose loved to sit through the storms, to the outer pasture where Elvis roamed, to the pasture where I first met Red, fresh from Virginia, to the Studio Barn where Maria and I fell in love with one another, to the hay lofts where I used to sit and read and pray.

I didn't go into the house, I felt as if I were intruding on a stranger or someone else's house, it is not mine any longer. I felt a lot of emotion up there. I don't miss the farm, it is not the right place for me and Maria to live, it was past time to go. I went into the big barn where Maria and I got married, and stared into the windows of the Pig Barn, where she had the first art show of her artistic life.

They say that madness and creativity are often tied to one another, and what I mostly felt was some sorrow over the pain I felt, the loneliness that engulfed me there, and the madness that finally brought me to my knees, and then to recovery and self-awareness. My life is filled with stories. That was one story, I live in another.

It was a profoundly creative place for me, as is our new home, which fits me, which fits us. I spent all the money I had on Bedlam Farm, and never once imagined it would take four years to sell. Bedlam Farm made me, and very nearly destroyed me. There is some lesson in that, I will be sorting it out for awhile. I am so grateful to Kirsten Preble, our wonderful realtor. We stuck with her and she stuck with us, and tonight we both cried a bit on the phone. We have been through a lot together.

We are going to lunch next week to have our own quiet celebration at the Round House Cafe.

The thing about madness is that you see the world one way, then, if you are lucky enough to survive, you come to see it another way. I am not the same person I was when I bought the farm in 2003. I see it now through very different eyes. It is not home to me any longer, there is nothing there for me now.

Life is full of pain and glory, and there was a lot of life at Bedlam Farm. I walked up to the top of the hill and sat up there where I read "City Of God" by St. Augustine to Rose and to me. The farm was a shining city on a hill for me, I will never forget the thrill of moving there and surviving my first winter. I came of age there, for sure, and was knocked down to size as well. I faced myself there, learned who I was, accepted who I am. I faced some awful truths about myself, I gained perspective.  Bedlam Farm was the destination point on my hero journey, it was joyous and wonderful, it ultimately became a weight too heavy to bear.

So I am done with it, looking ahead, moving on with life. There is a new Bedlam Farm, and it is where my life is now, where I belong. Good luck to the Smiths, lucky people, lucky farm.

"Pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation – when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself.” – Augustine, City Of God.

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Death Rattle For The Horse Carriage Ban: Peeking Inside The Hate Bubble

By: Jon Katz
Death Rattle

Death Rattle

A few weeks ago, a young woman who once worked with me at a newspaper in Philadelphia, and who is now working with NYClass, the animal rights group spearheading the ban against the carriage horses, messaged me and said she was working on something "very big, a game-changer. When you see it, you will not believe it, you will stop writing that the carriage drivers are good people and you will stop writing all that garbage about the animal rights movement in New York. It's big, very big, it will upend the City Council and touch off an uproar against the carriage trade,  you'll see."

I kept this to myself, I wasn't sure what to make of it, and I didn't have any details about it. I was concerned, I suppose, my mind considered some possibilities. Maybe somebody was poisoning the horses in the stables, or hauling horse bodies off in the night and replacing them with fresh victims, maybe some maniac was beating them in their stables or feeding them rat-infested food.

Yesterday, I saw what she and NYClass had been working on, and I was shocked for sure, but not in the way she imagined. I was shocked in a different way, and disgusted. I felt as if the Three Stooges had entered the carriage  horse controversy and taken over their massive and spectacularly unsuccessful campaign against the horses. NYClass, – "We Love Animals, And Hate People" –  it turned out, was earmarking a half-million dollars to distribute shocking fliers to hundreds of thousands of city residents to get them to demand their City Council members vote to ban the horses.  A four year investigation had uncovered three drivers who had, in turn, used the world "nigger," "faggot" and "whore" against people shouting at them and their horses.

Within minutes, one gay council member announcing he was switching his vote to support the horses, three others said they were thinking of doing the same thing. All over the city, startled residents and gays and lesbians and African-Americans and others said they found the pamphlets outrageous and offensive. The council members were flooded with protests, but not against the horses, against the fliers.

Larry, Moe and Curly had seized control of the carriage horse debate, they have struck again.

__

Last week, it occurred to me that the awful left-right struggles aside, an outbreak of rationality seemed to have occurred in the world. There was a Pope, of all people, addressing a message to me and all of the other people in the world pleading for something every single person reading this has known to be true for some time – climate change is threatening all of us. And then the Supreme Court reaffirmed the notion that in a free society, people can marry who they wish to marry. And then in the same week, that same court decided not to take health care away from seven million frightened people because of some technicality in the writing of the law.

Irrationality is not the province of one political philosophy or the other, it seems to be much more dangerous to Americans than the Ebola outbreak ever was. Maybe the wheel is finally turning and there is an outbreak of rationality. I see the New Yorker Magazine thinks so too. In New York City, the long and bitter campaign to ban the horses always seemed profoundly irrational to me, part of the fever of blindness and rage that seemed to hit our political system around the same time as the Internet and cable news.

Let's kill the horses in order to save them. Let's claim the horses are abused when they are not. Let's replace horses with big and ugly electric cars and claim we are helping the environment. Let's put hundreds of people out of work but never speak with them and visit them or hear their side. Let's leave truck and bicycles in the park but not the horses for whom the park was designed. Let's say the horses are unsafe when they are the safest transportation in the city's history.

I realized sometime last year that certain – not all – elements of the animal rights movement in New York have become hate groups, not a group promoting the welfare or rights of animals.

According to Wickipedia, a hate group is an organization or movement that advocates and practices hatred, hostility, or violence towards members of a race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any other designated sector of society.

Does it fit? For me, almost perfectly. It is the story of the campaign against the carriage trade, which has been marked by hostility and hatred, the dehumanization of human beings,  and increasing acts of intimidation, harassment and violence.

Hate has become a political currency in America, it seems in this case to have little to do with the welfare of the horses and much to do with the disease of control, power, rage and victimization promoted and nourished online and in what sociologists call "bubbles of hate." These exist on blogs, and all over the country, on the "left" and on the "right."  They are disconnecting people in the country from one another and making rational debate or dialogue impossible.

Sadly for animals, many elements in the animal rights spectrum have deteriorated.Disturbing, for the rest of us, because a powerful mayor has signed up.

This has been known to the carriage trade for some time, but since they have been portrayed as drunks, abuses, thieves and monsters, no one much has to pay much attention to them. The evolution of these groups in New York has escaped the attention of the city's news media, content mostly to transmit accusations about the carriage trade without doing much fact-checking or reporting. Very few journalists ever set foot in a carriage stable until Liam Neeson showed up to call the mayor a wussy.

Imagine if journalists were being harassed and attacked and marginalized in this way, or museum directors, or investment bankers or real estate developers?

The harassment, cruelty and persecution of the people in the carriage trade is a stain on the animal rights movement, the mayor, and the coalition of organizations seeking to banish the horses – the U.S. Humane Society and A.S.P.C.A in particular – who seem to have been taken over by the most extreme and enraged elements of the movement that says it is supporting the rights of animals.

Historians know that any campaign of real or cultural genocide begins with the dehumanization of it's victims. Jews, African-Americans, gays, lesbians, many women, and yes, carriage drivers are all too familiar with this awful practice. The targets are portrayed as immoral, less than human, they are dishonest, depraved, something other than decent and law abiding systems. Thus, no one need care what is happening to them or what will happen to them.

This kind of elitism is a hallmark of the campaign against the people in the carriage trade.

The mayor says their work is immoral, NYClass, the millionaire-real estate developer founded  group working to destroy the carriage trade by showering politicians with money,  has called the drivers "random people," thieves, abusers and torturers, alcoholics and drifters.  It was only a matter of time before they got to accusing them of bigotrry. This week, the lowest yet, the lunatic and shockingly costly (for a non-profit animal rescue organization)  advertising ($500,000 worth) campaign that claims carriage horse drivers utter racist, sexist and homophobic remarks freely and continuously.

But here, the strategists of NYClass have erred, and grievously. Exploiting bigotry and insensitivity to people who are experiencing so much of it, and so graphically and recently, is a huge blunder. In comparing the carriage horse controversy to Ferguson and Charleston, to the decades-old struggle for gay rights and same-sex marriage, to the epic struggles of women for equality is not only hateful, it is just plain stupid. And it has instantly backfired.

“It is a deeply offensive flier,”  Central Bronx councilman Ritchie Torres, who is gay and a person of color, told the Capital News Service.

“Whatever your opinion on the horse carriage ban, it has nothing to do with homophobia or racism or sexism,” he said in a phone interview with Capital.

“The notion that NYCLASS exists to eradicate racism is absurd on its face. I resent the treatment of the serious problem of racism as a political prop."

Torres also said that the mailer was so offensive that it may move him to oppose the carriage ban.

The mailer shows pictures of injured horses lying prone in city streets and features block text that reads, “Horse carriage drivers are notorious for using hate speech against anyone who shows concern for horses. They make anti-gay, sexist and racist remarks freely. If this is how Horse carriage drivers treat people, just imagine how they treat horses.” Over the course of four years, animal rights activists secretly videotaped and recorded three drivers that they insulted and taunted and who allegedly made offensive remarks to them.

To accept this idea, you need to embrace several other ideas.

– The carriage drivers are committing suicide by insulting gays, lesbians, women and blacks in New York City at a time when the mayor is seeking to ban them.

– The carriage drivers are notorious and shout "nigger" and "faggot"  and "whore" to innocent people walking past them across from the Plaza Hotel and all along Central Park,  and no one has ever complained or protested. If they are notorious for this behavior, how is it that no one but the people working for NYClass have heard a word about it? And if this  is how NYClass treats people, how well could they possibly be entrusted to decide the fate of the horses?

– Racists and  homophobes cannot love animals and treat them well. Really?

– The horses should be banned and put in peril because some of the people who drive their carriages say offensive things to people who are saying offensive things to them (I have more than once heard the protesters claim that the drivers are murderers, torturers, thieves and vermin.) Check out this video of demonstrators who drove a child wanting a carriage ride to tears. I'm amazed the drivers have been as restrained as they are.

– NYClass, which has been insulting and harassing the carriage drivers for years now in the cruelest and crudest way, will help us fight insensitivity and discrimination about blacks, gays and women.

I wonder how many people contributed their hard-earned dollars to NYClass believing their money would go to help save animals rather than to hateful fliers and political contributions. I wonder how many people knew where their money would be going, and how it would be used?

__

We are at a crossroads, as the Native Peoples say. They say the message of the horses – and now the spiritual leader of much of  the world says it too – is that we shall either learn to live in harmony or we shall perish together. It would be a travesty, for humanity, decency, animal rights and Mother Earth for the horses to be driven from New York City to make room for electric cars that  would further clog Central Park's busy roads and cost $160,000 apiece.

Believe it or not, the campaign against the carriage horses points to rationality as well as hatred and abuse. Nobody is buying it. Two years ago, 64 per cent of all New Yorkers said they wanted the horses to stay in the city, as have all three newspapers and the city's business and labor communities. Two weeks ago, the figure was just about the same. No  age, racial, ethnic or gender group favors a ban on the carriage horses, even after all the millions of dollars spent to drive them away and turn their stables over to developers.

This ugly flier is a death rattle, the effort to ban the carriage horses is failing, there are not even enough votes in the City Council to get it out of committee and bring it to a vote. In desperation, these trapped-in-their-own-hate- bubble people think gays, women and people of color are so ignorant they'll go for something that blatantly transparent. They might do better if they started speaking to other people than one another. But hate bubbles don't work that way.

In fact, in this long and loud campaign, there is no evidence that Curly, Mo, and Larry have changed one single mind. I guess rationality does live. And truth and facts still matter. As the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan said on the U.S. Senate floor, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

So this then, becomes the test of a rational democratic government. Do we listen to the people, or do we ignore them?

___

Feel free, if you are so inclined,  to write a letter to the mayor of New York and let him know what you think about the carriage ban, and his claim to be a leader of progressive politics in America: Mayor Bill deBlasio, New York City Hall, City Hall Park, N.Y., N.Y., 10007.

Related: The Most Offensive Ad In The History Of Animal Rights.

Posted in General

Spring Rain

By: Jon Katz
Spring Rain

Spring Rain

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Chewing On Red

By: Jon Katz
Chewing On Red

Chewing On Red

Fate loves herding sheep and she loves going for walks and hanging out with Maria. But near the top of the list is chewing on Red. She chews on his ears, on his nose, on his neck, he is unfailingly gracious, accepting and tolerant of her. This photo was taken a few weeks ago, and Fate's teething is easing up a bit, but just a bit. She still loves chewing on Red, he still lets her do it (as long as he isn't eating, then there is a low growl that sends her skittering.)

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July 1. With An Open Heart

By: Jon Katz
With An Open Heart

With An Open Heart

Do you celebrate the first anniversary of near death, and Open Heart Surgery? I don't know, truly. It is not something I ever experience or imagined I would experience. Last June I went into the hospital for the first time in my life and on July 1, doctors stopped my heart, put my on life support machines, moved some veins and arteries around, open the pathways to life.

They say recovery takes a year, so I am now officially recovered.  If people ask me how I am, I am not sure what they are talking about. My cardiologists doesn't even want to see me for another year. We respect one another, but we are not close, I always get the feeling he's in a rush, and he probably is.  My nurse practitioner is a student in my writing class. She and I are close, we talk easily and honestly to one another.

Today is an emotional day for me, and for Maria. There is the open heart anniversary, and also the sale of the first Bedlam Farm, I go to say goodbye later this morning. It is not my farm any more. Comings and goings, new beginnings. We started talking about last July this morning, Maria told me something of how she felt when she saw me on life support and in the recovery room, how I looked, how it broke her heart to see me.

Today, we are so grateful for one another and for our love. We kept touching and hugging each other and crying all morning. It's as if all this emotion was waiting for recovery, then began to come out. Sometimes it takes rituals like anniversaries to mark the passages of things. We had almost forgotten about it, yet seeing Maria's face as she told me how it felt for her, well, it could have broken my heart all over again. I am so lucky to have found this good and loving person.

I did not know how I looked, half machine and half human, gasping for breath, eyes rolling body twitching. I imagine it was much worse for her than for me. And how could she love someone who was such a wreck so much? How could I be so fortunate?

Maria had withheld some of these feelings from me, she was crying this morning, and soon enough, I had withdrawn very deeply into myself. We are going to dinner tonight to celebrate. The surgery changed me and my life. The heart is the center of the human spirit in so many ways, it nourishes all of us. At the open house last year, I could barely walk into the pasture with Red, this year, I was moving about all day, feeling strong and sure.

I need to take a walk all around Bedlam Farm and let it go, it belongs to some good people who love it very much. A miracle unto itself.

And I will walk and walk today. My love of walking has been renewed, I no longer rationalize things with old people talk – a poison for any spirit. Old people talk is a killer, a toxin unto itself.

I feel strong and engaged, the heart fuels the soul. I have work to do. Yesterday, I spent most of the day on the phone with Karl Wolfmueller, an astonishingly dedicated and human and knowledgeable support tech at Apple. By evening, we had saved some of my photos, repaired the damage to my computer, reorganized and rebuilt my photo maintenance program. I still lost 50,000 pictures, but I told him I didn't really care.  My computer had stopped crashing.

I don't believe in looking back, a photographer can always take more good photographs. So I want to walk and think and reflect today, internalize all of this feeling. Karl told me he was surprised at my attitude, he said it was positive and forward-looking and he appreciated it. I appreciated his professionalism and concern as well.

I told him I had open heart surgery  last year – we had lots of time to fill between downloads, we had bonded – and open heart surgery, I told him,  taught me to consider what is a crisis and a tragedy and what isn't. A therapist once told me I had lost perspective, open heart surgery is all about perspective, really. I have a choice, I can see my life as a series of struggle stories and laments, or I can move forward into life, appreciating what I have, living in gratitude and meaning. I reject fear and anger and panic and gloom. The world is what you make of it.

All around me, life is breaking out – puppies, pony's, blog posts, photographs, friends, love, flowers, books. What is there in all of my life to complain about or regret?

Happy anniversary, heart, and here's to many more.

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