More Carmel Pictures and Memories

Day’s Verse:
[Jesus] sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”
Mark 9:35

While Carmel’s here, what else would I put online but pictures of her?

She’s feeling plenty at home here, a day after Dad dropped her off. I imagine that it helps that her home travels with her.
Carmel at home

Of course, it probably also helps that Ian lies on the floor and rubs her belly practically on demand.
Ian & Carmel (1)
We claim to train dogs, but I’m pretty sure they actually have us well trained.

For example: This morning I was happily dozing in my warm, cozy bed, listening to Ian getting ready to go to work and enjoying not getting up (this is one advantage of having no work). Then I felt a damp doggy nose press into my hand and then an insistent doggy paw reaching up to scratch at my arm. It was clearly time to go for a walk. By the time I’d gotten out of bed, Carmel was jumping around like an excited puppy (although rather more stiffly; 10 years is a very respectable age for any golden retriever). She kept checking to make sure that I was putting shoes on, then jacket, and when I finally got to the stage where I put three plastic baggies in my pocket, she’d nearly worked herself into a lather of excitement. …All for a 1.25-mile walk in the cold morning wind. Where’s spring? Anyway, we got home and she knew what happened next: I eat my breakfast, then she gets her food. She flopped on the kitchen floor and kept an eagle eye on my progress through my breakfast. I’m not used to having an audience for toast and OJ. Almost as soon as I stood up to put my plate away, Carmel was up and following me around. I fed her and she decided that I’d lost all interest — having walked and fed her, I have no more use until dinnertime, unless she needs her belly rubbed or her ears scratched — so she cozied up into her box and ignored me.

Having the dog paid off otherwise, though. I came down from doing the small amount of actual work I had today and saw this.
Library + Dog = Heaven
Dog, library, comfy couch… what more could I ask for? Later she came and plopped down with her back against the fluffy chair I was reading in and it felt so cozy and domestic, with the rain and the dog and a good book, that I swear my heart almost burst from gratitude.

Carmel, on the other hand, needs a lot less than a cozy chair and a book. She just needs her rope nubbin.
She Loves that Rope
It’s her favorite toy and has been ever since we got her. This is what’s left of what started as probably 6′ of rope when she was 9 months old. She’s slowly shredded it, but we’ve rationed it out so she couldn’t shred the entire thing in a few days. I’m curious how much she’s actually ingested versus spit out; we keep finding chewed rope strands around the house. When the rope was still long enough, Carmel’s favorite game was tug-of-war. We’d drag her all over the linoleum in the kitchen, her legs all braced and scrabbling for a grip. I remember one time when Carmel was still young (is a year old considered a puppy for a golden retriever?), we tied one end of the rope to a post on the porch. She fiercely tugged on the other end, refusing to give in. Surely that post would let go eventually!

We got Carmel when I was in high school. I missed her prime years, living in Massachusetts. Honestly, one of the hardest things about being in Massachusetts was not having the dog around. I could talk to my family and friends on the phone, send them emails, write them letters, and have a sense of connection. But a dog’s value is that tangible physical solidity that’s there for you no matter what. It’s devotion. It’s love that can’t be experienced over long distances. Coming home it’s been my delight to get to have Carmel back in my life. When she dies — and I hope it’s not for a long, long time, but she is getting pretty old for a golden — I can tell you right now my heart will break. It makes me teary to think about it.

So I’m going to go cuddle with her stinky, hairy, shedding self while we have her.

Is Facebook Stealing Personhood?

Day’s Verse:
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, [Jesus] said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Mark 8:34-37

Here’s a philosophical question for you. Let’s say that you could map all your neural connections and processes into a computer so that the computer exactly, identically duplicated the way your brain works. It’s a perfect copy of your neural network. It will respond exactly the same way you would in any given situation. The question is: Is the computer copy you? If it’s not you, is it still a person? Would erasing it be murder? Does it have a soul? Is it alive?

At first blush, I’d say no, it’s not a person; it’s just a clever copy made possible with some amazing technology. It’s just 1s and 0s floating around. But giving this a little more thought gets into some pretty hairy philosophy pretty quickly. It really asks a deeper question: What makes a person a person? How do you define personhood?

This is a particularly interesting question because so much of our lives — what we do as people — is mediated by technology these days. In his book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, Jaron Lanier argues that we’re actually losing what it means to be a person because of our increasing reliance on computers, and particularly websites like Facebook, for mediating human interactions. Essentially, by fitting ourselves into simple categories, as required by social networking sites like Facebook, we’re sacrificing the depth and breadth of what it means to be a person. This one reason why it’s important to know what makes a person a person: So that we don’t inadvertently lose some key element without even realizing it, and later find that we aren’t as human as we used to be.

Lanier’s concern is that no database can accurately capture the nuances of a person’s individuality. Drop-down menus and multiple choices can’t really capture what makes you you. For example, on Facebook I’m listed as Deborah Ferguson’s daughter, even though I’m her daughter-in-law, because there’s no daughter-in-law option. This loss may not seem particularly important, but cumulatively, these compromises in nuance add up. Lanier argues that we’re losing culture because people are less individual and more cookie-cutter than they were. This blog, in fact, would almost certainly draw his scorn because it’s template-based, and not as truly reflective of me as if I’d created the entire thing from scratch.

I’m not on board with all of what Lanier says in You Are Not a Gadget, but I have to agree that by moving relationships online, we have sacrificed depth for breadth. Instead of having 10 good friends, we can now have 200 Facebook friends, whose status updates we follow religiously. It lets us feel involved without actually being involved. I’ll take in-person or even just voice any day.

Now, Facebook does have its place. It’s a nice way to “keep track” (I use quotes because that’s the phrase I most often hear in this context) of people you wouldn’t regularly communicate with. Those old high school or college friends who might in the past have just faded from your life in years past now play more of a role in your life, if you want. I’m frankly ambivalent about even that “benefit”: Is there real value in keeping track of people from previous phases of your life?

Anyway, I’m not sure about Carmel’s personhood, but she’s our house guest for the next three days while Mom and Dad are out of town. She sheds more than other house guests, but she also fetches tennis balls, which most people don’t do very well.
Carmel, April 13, 2011

What I Saw and Didn’t See

Day’s Verse:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:26-28

This Porch is Comfy!
I think Carmel likes laying on the step because it gives her something to lean against and it’s just the right height to perch her head on.

Riding home on the Burke this evening, I saw three astonishing things.

  1. I heard, but didn’t see a car crash on Montlake Blvd. There was a shout — and then the distinct crunching noise of a bumper meeting another bumper. I didn’t turn to see this particular event, being distracted at the time by #2.
  2. A shirtless, well-muscled guy pushing a grill up the trail from Pend Orielle Road. Not just a little grill, either. This was a full-sized, man’s dream grill, and he was moving it along at a good clip. The guy I was riding with, Mark, and I commented to each other, “You never know what you’ll see on the trail!” I wondered what grill-man said when he passed people — “Burgers on your left”?
  3. A fistfight. Seriously. Here’s what I saw happen. Mark and I are riding along behind a couple of slightly faster cyclists just past 40th Ave NE. Then one of the faster riders moves over onto the graveled pedestrian path that parallels the paved path at that point. The next thing I know, the guy on the gravel path (Cyclist A) has stopped and is standing there, shouting. The other guy, Cyclist B, slams on his brakes and skids to a halt perpendicular to the trail, which brings me and Mark to quick stops. Cyclist B picks up his bike off the trail and heaves it into the bushes — and hurls himself at Cyclist A. Or maybe A rushed him. I didn’t see clearly. The next thing I know, they’re literally punching each other in the face, yelling, calling one another filthy names; then they’re on the ground, rolling around in the gravel, pummeling each other, gouging eyes, all-round attacking each other. Mark and a couple other guy bicyclists hurl themselves into the fray and pull the two fighters apart, with no small difficulty. The guys continue yelling at each other until Mark’s repeated shouting “Break it up! This isn’t worth it!” penetrates their skulls. Cyclist B says, “Let me just ask you one question,” but Mark says, “No. Just keep riding or I’ll call the cops.” One of the cyclists says, “This is a free trail!” and Mark overrides their protests, very firmly repeating, “Keep riding or I’ll call the cops” a couple more times. Cyclist A and B exchange parting insults (“Put some ice on that, b*tch!” “See if you can catch me, old man!”); Cyclist B rides off and we take off after him.

    The kicker: They were fighting about Cyclist B’s riding through stop signs and Cyclist A’s chastising him for it. They yelled “Red means stop!” and “I stopped at every f*ing stop sign!” “You did not!” etc. Both were well over 30 years old.

  4. A strange tandem. The front seat was a recumbent holding a little kid with very short legs. The back was what I assume to be the kid’s dad. This contraption (pictures of similar bikes here and here) pulled a trailer with another kid inside. Mom (I assume) followed on a battered mountain bike and she didn’t seem to feel the need to put her hands on the handlebars.

Here’s a map of where these strange things happened.

View Strange Signs on the Burke in a larger map

After all the excitement near the UW, I gratefully rode the rest of the way home with only the usual level of excitement. I found out that Mark works for Cray Computers, and that he ran a program on their fastest computer yet, but that’s really small beans compared to everything else.
Testing the Air
This afternoon Carmel went outside and stood very still for quite a long time, quite intently sniffing the breeze. She seemed a bit disturbed.

Floppy Dog
Right after the air-sniffing moment, Carmel came in, gnawed on a marrow bone for a little while, and then adopted the lazy Sphinx pose. I’ve never seen her lay like that before.

Apparently I also missed an exciting day in Pioneer Square yesterday, between President Obama’s whirlwind visit and the clueless private pilot’s inadvertently invading Air Force 1 airspace and causing the scrambling of 2 supersonic fighter jets.

Dogsome House Guest

Day’s Verse:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

Ian and I are dog-sitting for my parents this week while they’re in Cannon Beach. This is our barter system: We do laundry at their house; we watch the dog for free when they go on trips. Here are a couple pictures showing how agitated Carmel gets when Dad isn’t around.

Carmel Earlier

A little while later:
Carmel Later

This morning I decided to take the day off and/or work from home a bit, and had the morning free. It was cool and shady in the front yard, so to keep Carmel from pining after Dad, I tied her to the tree in the front (which is dying because we aren’t watering it) while I weeded. There’s way too much beauty bark and small shrubbery in our front yard, if you ask me. At first I gave Carmel a good long section of rope, but she immediately tangled the rope in a shrub and I had to come untangle her. When I shortened her leash, she immediately headed back for that same shrub and, when the rope stopped her short, strained against it anxiously. She even came over to me and whined and walked back to the shrub. Well, that seemed like pretty clear communication, so I let her off the leash and grabbed her collar. She lunged for the bush, shoved her huge schnozz under there, and emerged with a large bone. It looked like leftovers from somebody’s rib BBQ. I took it from her — boy was she reluctant to let it out of her mouth — but decided, well, she eats sticks and pebbles, and chews on marrow bones; what the heck? So I gave the bone back and she made very short work of it indeed. I hope we don’t have any negative repercussions from this episode. But boy was she happy for the 20 seconds it took her to crunch that thing down. Yum. Makes you wonder how it ended up back there.

Then of course Carmel endeared herself to all the neighbors out on walks by barking and snarling viciously at them, particularly if they had dogs along. I had to shorten her rope even more to keep her off the sidewalk, as she was ready to dash out there and do…something. So we won’t use Carmel as a way to get to know our neighbors, I guess.