24 April 2017

One Thousand Copies Of My Book Arrived Today

I got an e-mail from Connie Brooks around 2 p.m. Monday,  she was a little shell-shocked, 1,000 copies of my book "Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us," arrived on a giant UPS tractor trailer that was the talk of the town.

It took the driver an hour to haul all the boxes into the store, and I know where Red and I and Maria will be spending much of our weekend.

The book is going on sale on May 5, Connie has already taken 600 pre-orders, which I will sign and personalize. Each person who orders or pre-orders my book will also receive a classy custom designed tote-bag made for the literary owners of classy dogs.

The book is personal, anecdotal and a bit controversial, there is a long chapter on the New York Carriage Horses and one or two dog-centric publications (the Bark Magazine being one) has refused in protest to review it. "Absolutely not!," they said.

No one has tried to ban me for at least a year or two.

The book is a very personal account of my life with animals, starting with my first dog Lucky, who I won in a lottery at an elementary school after getting my head nearly knocked off by the schoolyard bully. Lucky died after just a few weeks.  It continues through the deaths of Rocky, our pony and Simon, our much loved donkey.

I mean for the book to be an answer in part to Henry Beston's beloved century-old call ("Outermost House") for a new and wiser understanding of animals. I write about my use of emotions, food, body language and visualizations to talk to my animals and listen to them. If animals are to survive in our world, we must learn to understand their real needs and welfare, not our own needs and fantasies.

Working animals need to work. It is neither cruel nor abusive for them to do so. The book is an account of my 15 years of research into animal communications.

If you pre-order it, you will be supporting me, my work, the survival of animals in our world and a great independent bookstore. You can also call the store to order the book, 518 677- 2515. They take Paypal and major credit cards and are shockingly nice to deal with.

Connie has already sold 600 of these books, we would love to get to 1,000 before pub-date for several reasons. One, it's good for the book. Two, Connie reports to the New York Times bestseller list and 1,000 books looks good there, and I want her to sell all of these books and order some more.

My hand and spirit are strong, and oh yes, I think people who have animals or who live with an animal or who love animals could find it interesting and timely. I believe it is a call to help keep animals in our world. You really can talk to animals, you really can understand them. It's about what they need, not what we need.

I hope the book will make people think about animals in a new way,  and I hope you feel the same way when you read. You can also save books as a Christmas gift for dog and cat and animal lovers you know, farmers too. And thanks, you can order or pre-order the book here.

Every year, Connie sets up a  table and a blanket for Red and my own pen case and we sign books for days on end. There is nothing like it. Maria helps me plow through it and not screw up.

We're getting close and I'm getting excited. This part never gets old.

Posted in General

Army Of Good: A Priceless Gift To The Mansion

Gift To The Mansion

The Mansion Assisted Care Facility got a very special gift today from a local artist named Marilyn Brooks. She was commissioned last week by a blog reader named Eileen Peterson to paint a landscape portrait of the grounds behind the Mansion where the residents sit and walk, a view many can see outside of their windows of a path  over a stream bounded by some old stone walls.

Petersen found and contacted Marilyn, who works at the Battenkill Bookstore(the store is owned by her daughter, Connie Brooks) and hired her to paint the landscape, which arrived today and was immediately hung over the fireplace in the Great Room where birthdays and holidays are celebrated and parties are held.

I was shocked by the gift – Marilyn called me and asked me about it – but not nearly as amazed as Activity Director Julie Smith and the Mansion residents, who filed into the Great Room to look at it and wonder at their great fortune at having a complete stranger give them so beautiful and personal a gift.

Eileen insisted on paying Marilyn for the painting.

Thanks Eileen, I am familiar with your name but have never met you. That was an extraordinarily warm thing to do, and it meant a lot.

(Julie Smith, the activities director at the Mansion, says she is in need of two books, Easy Trivia books and Finish The Phrase books. I was able to find two copies of the later, but could not find the Easy Trivia books anywhere. If you have copies of either and are so inclined, the Mansion could use them in their daily reading program: 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. And thanks for the DVD's nearly 200 of them arrived this week. Julie says she keeps pinching herself.)

Eileen has left me a bit speechless. It took a lot of work and thought to get that landscape into the Mansion. A remarkable group of people.

Posted in General

The Refugees. They Are Here.


For the past few months, I've been on a very personal journey.

To meet refugees and their children, get to know them and photograph them, tell their stories. It is a personal, not really political journey for me. My grandmother was a refugee, she fled her homeland and was never able to return, and that is the definition of a refugee.

A refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return safely. Such a person is usually called an asylum seeker, and the refugee world of today is very different from my grandmother's world.

There have always been people in America who wanted to keep refugees out, deny them rights, or persecute them. There have always been people in America who have welcomed refugees and seen them – and immigrants as well – as part of our very cherished and unique heritage.

Today, the idea of the refugee is under siege and the subject of great, and perhaps appropriate, debate.

Today, in our world, the number of forcibly displaced persons, according to the United Nations, is 21.3 million million.  The number of forcibly displaced persons under U.N. care in 2015 was 65.3 million, it is believed to be much higher today.

No single country can absorb them all, or even a significant portion of them. America is having the kind of wrenching debate it ought to be having. What kind of country are we?

Immigrants can come from anywhere, but most refugees today come from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and Northern Africa, some from the Americas. Refugees are not especially frightening to many Americans, they evoke the understandable fear of massive invasions of people with foreign cultures. Many people, especially those who have suffered from loss of meaningful work,  believe refugees and immigrants will take their jobs. Still other thers believe many are coming to hurt us or to drain our social services and benefits.

It is, in many ways, a difficult and uncertain world.

These fears are episodic in the world, and global.

They are transforming the politics of many countries, including ours. As the descendant of refugees, I feel a special kinship with them. They go to the very heart of my idea of America, to the love of my country.

I understand and respect the fact that so many people here see them differently than I do. My goal is personal, to talk to them, photograph them, visit them in their homes, speak for them, tell the truth about them.

I'm sure there are some troubled and dangerous refugees, as there are troubled and disturbed people from every ethnic and racial demographic, including white people born in the United States.

I'm not pursuing this to argue about it or to change anybody's mind, just to explore the refugee and immigrant world and hopefully, capture the tenor of their real, not imagined lives. It's just something I need to do now.

RISSE, the refugee and immigrant support center in Albany, has graciously agreed to let me in. I appreciate that, it took me months to find a way into this story. The refugee children I am meeting are a threat to no one, and have suffered enough.

We've already begun to help the RISSE refugees. Some are going to the Great Escape Adventure Park, all of the kids there now have art and creativity kits from the artist Rachel Barlow, we are going to help the soccer team pay its fees and field the right uniforms. One student shows promise as an artist, if he wants to pursue art, we will figure out how to help him.

In this so far, I have been joined by the Army of Good. Kimberly in Minnesota has graciously paid for the entire soccer team to go to the Great Adventure, someone else has sent $300 for soccer uniforms.

For me, it's not about politics or arguments, it's really it's the most personal of choices.

The country is defining its soul on this issue, really, and there are strong arguments to be made all around. These refugees, these children, are here, and I believe they deserve our compassion and care and my support. They are not pawns or figures in any great political struggle they are in American and figuring out how to live here.

For now, that is a position I am happy to be in. I hope I can share it for you in a way that is uplifting, and not divisive, and if you see it differently, or disagree, you are very welcome to come along. I do not hate those who think differently than I do.

Posted in General

My Life: The Solidarity Party

On Solidarity

"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” – Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations.

I've never been much for the left and right, to me both are utterly failed movements with no true or honest vision for the present or the future, both utterly consumed and corrupted by the money of people who some called the masters. They have failed to inspire people outside of their own narrow circles.

I know that people love to put labels on other people, but I don't accept any single label for me, I annoy people on both sides of this sclerotic political divide regularly and get a stream of huffy and disappointed messages from both.

This is how I know I am alive and thinking. When everyone loves me and purrs at me, I will know its time to wrap things up and start my painting lessons.

My political idea has always been what I call solidarity, the idea of a common interest, the idea that we may differ on many things, but come together in accord and fraternity on broad values.

My big idea about America has been that our most common value is in welcoming people with ideals and ambitions and creating a world where they can lift themselves up. We care about others, not just ourselves. I think that is what we are really fighting about in America today. Some of believe that, and others – lots of others – no longer believe that, if they ever did.

To put it more simply, my political idea has always been that I am supposed to care about others. The new idea, I'll call it the corporate idea, the new and ascending political idea, is that you're only supposed to care about yourself. In the wealthiest country in the history of the earth, at least half of the country no longer believes there is enough to go around or to be shared.

You have to keep what you have, build fences and walls around it, and worry only about your own interests. In the Corporate Nation, there is never enough, not if you're a millionaire, not if you're a billionaire, not if your company posted record profits year after year. As long as anybody else has any money, you have to have it too.

Empathy, sympathy, generosity, tolerance have somehow slipped out of the system. I am not interested in the he-said, she-said screaming on cable news. In that barren space, there is no talk of hearts and souls.

I don't blame Republicans or Democrats, I attribute the collapse of solidarity to the unchecked rise of corporatism, which has overrun and corrupted our political system with money, and whose ideology, by definition is to get hold of all the money there is, and then go after the rest. Neither the left nor the right can claim the high ground.

Solidarityy, writes political theorist Naom Chomsky in his book Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration Of Wealth And Power, is a dangerous idea for the people at the top, for the billionaires shaping our public policy. There is no concern for others.

If you want to understand where the idea of a national economy came from, I'd recommend reading Adam Smith, who write Wealth Of Nations, considered the bible of capitalism, and a revered book among conservative economists. Smith is often cited by people who wish to dismantle health care and entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Smith invented the idea of a political economy, and his groundbreaking philosophy was based on the principle that sympathy is a fundamental human trait and emotion, but that it has no place in modern economics. It has no place in economic policy. You must expunge it from economic policy.

He preached that the modern economist must not care about others, only himself. This is an effective philosophy for the rich and the powerful – for our masters – but increasingly devastating for everyone else, as we are seeing in our own national economy now, where wealth is flowing like a raging river only one way: upward.

When it comes to solidarity and shared values, I have always admired the program called Social Security, it was of the great and most successful and humane experiments in social history.

You work hard all of your life and contribute a portion of everything you earn to a fund that gathers interest and returns to you when you and others may need it the most. It is not a gift but an investment.  The program has been extraordinarily successful, and yet is relentlessly under attack by the masters, it seems to drive them crazy to see all that money going to someone else, or to fund any program that cares for others.

I am now receiving Social Security, and it is one of those things I believe I have fully earned, I have worked hard all of my life, and I see so many people around me who depend on this money as they falter and fail through old age. I am happy for this money to go to help others than just me, Social Security is life and death for so many older people.  Some of my money goes to them, some goes to me.

I am proud to be doing that, to help others get what they need for working all of their lives. Isn't that what solidarity – and humanity –  is?

You don't really have to be a bleeding heart liberal, do you, to want to help hard-working people eat and be secure in their final years? Is that really an undeserved giveaway to parasites?

There is a lot of talk about the crisis facing Social Security, but most economists believe it is in good shape, it's problems are easily fixable and that it is that rare government program that has done exactly what it promised to do.

In 1945, mass higher education was primarily funded by taxes. Now, in more than half of the states in the U.S., most of the funding for state colleges comes from tuition, not from the state. That is an awful burden on students, many of whom are staggering under loan debts they may never be able to fully repay.

And it has cut off education from millions of young people who would otherwise get to benefit from it.

I feel solidarity for these students, I feel sympathy for them, higher education ought to be free to anyone, I can't imagine any program that would create more jobs or boost our economy. But the masters can afford to send their children to Harvard and Yale, so they don't need to care about those who can't.  And increasingly, they don't.

"In the 1950's," writes Chaomsky, "it was a much poorer society than it is today but, nevertheless, it could easily handle essentially free mass higher education.. Today a much richer society claims it doesn't have the resources for it.  That's the general attack on principles that – not only are they inhumane – but are the basis for the prosperity and health of this society."

Social Security, writes Chaomsky, is based on the principle of solidarity. Solidarity means caring for others. Social Security means that I pay taxes so the widow down the road can get something to live on and food to eat and maybe even keep her home.  For nearly half of the elderly population, Social Security is what people live on, it is all they have to live on.

The rich don't need it, therefore, there is a concerted and relentless effort in Washington to destroy it, primarily by defunding it or privatizing it.

In Washington, wrote Chaomsky presciently, the idea is to defund something so that it can't work, and then people will be so angry they will be happy to see it destroyed. That is how resistance is overcome.  We can see this idea unfold today with health care, the government is openly doing everything they can to defund and destroy the existing  system so that people will hate it so much they won't care if it is taken away.

And the masters have done a remarkable job of convincing the very people who will suffer the most to embrace the destruction of their very own health care. If you read Adam Smith, you will easily grasp the principle behind this cruel policy – if programs like that are destroyed, taxes will be lower for the wealthy and they can make even more money they don't need and can barely spend.

My political philosophy is Solidarity.

Sympathy and empathy are precious political goals for me, and I have yet to find my party or candidate. I can try to practice these ideas in my own life. I have empathy for the residents of the Mansion, I know what will happen to them is Medicaid is cut further, as many people Congress is eager to do.  I have sympathy for the refugees and immigrants, who come her in peace and good faith to be safe and prosperous and for their children to be able to live and prosper here.

Adam Smith was certainly honest, if not particularly empathetic. The very point of government, he wrote, is to protect the rich from the poor and keep them at bay.

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner," Smith wrote, "but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”

Why does this sound to familiar to me, so contemporary? It makes me queasy, almost ill.

I have empathy for the hard working people who have come here illegally to work hard and support their families, I think my Solidarity Party would look for ways to help them to contribute and keep their lives intact and their families together.

To me, every great leader – Gandhi, Mandela, Jefferson, Hamilton, King – has embraced the idea of solidarity, the idea that you are supposed to care about other people, not only yourself. For me, that is the black hole into which I sometimes feel we are descending, the lack of sympathy and concern for others.

I will keep it alive in my own life, and hope it is born again in the wider world. I believe it will be, it is a much more powerful idea than greed.

Posted in General

Red Moving Sheep

Red Moving Sheep

In the morning, at sunrise, the sheep crowd the gate where the hay comes in. It's slightly dangerous to have sheep crowding around like that, they get excited and can knock a person over in a flash. So Red comes in with me, and slowly and very calmly backs the sheep up to the feeder and keeps them there until I put the hay in the feeder and spread it out.

He is a good partner to have in the pasture. I will be doing hourly sheepherding demos with Red (and  Fate) during the Spring Open House, held her at the farm Saturday, June 10, and Sunday, June 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you need any further details about the Open House,  you can find them at Maria's website. Thanks.

Posted in General