Thursday, June 29, 2006

Now here's a dog who's not afraid of the teeter-totter

Aron in action. They don't call it agility for nothing.

Pasji picnic

In honor of Lyra's third birthday.

Dogs and people had a great time.

Group photo above, from left to right: Lyra, Grin, Olivia, Aika, Missy, Aron.

Too hot here to write more. I'm melting over my keyboard.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Not as quiet over here as it seems

Judging by the dates of the posts below, it looks as though I haven't posted for awhile. In fact, the latest ones were written over the last few days. But I recently discovered and have put to use a useful little feature that lets you falsify the dates. Just so you know.

Additionally, I've been spouting off all over the internet in the form of comments on other blogs, on the topic of American war crimes in Iraq and the dickery-bickery politicians in Washington, D.C. who are responsible for them. Won't repeat myself here.

Agility alert: big competition tomorrow in Domžale. There are nearly forty dogs entered in A1/J1, and the forecast is for hot, dry weather, conditions which don't match our usual recipe for success, so I don't have great expectations. But despite some trepidation, I'm really looking forward to the event, and the challenge. The visiting judge from Finland who will be officiating has a reputation for setting killer courses. On that basis, I'll be happy if we make it back alive, thrilled if we're ranked (i.e. not disqualified on either run), and ecstatic beyond words if we bring home a cup.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A day in my life: June 13

Drink morning coffee on the patio. The real stuff today, after two days of instant (ran out over the weekend, only replenished the supply yesterday afternoon). Take Monika to school. Put in load of laundry. Water and fertilize the flowers in the garden. Dump compost, gather cultivated wild strawberries (about forty of them make a decent-sized and flavorful mouthful). Admire growing lettuce and parsley, which have so far escaped being dug up by Olivia. Pull up dead tomato plants and prepare soil for second attempt with new plants, to be purchased tomorrow. In between garden chores, play tag and keep away with Olivia, sometimes getting on my hands and knees to better mimic a dog. Lyra is still in Ljubljana, on vacation with Jana and Dean as a reward for coming third in Maribor, enjoying the attractions of the big city (especially Tivoli Park) and being wined and dined by Slovene TV celebrities.

Leave Olivia in yard, go off to talk to neighbor about plight of tomato plants. She confirms what another neighbor told me, that chopping up nettles and soaking them in water for a day or two and then watering the plants with the (smelly) mixture will keep away pests. While we’re talking, Oli appears out of nowhere, having found an escape route from the fenced yard. She considerately refrains from attacking my neighbor. Good dog.

Back home, translate text on the dire straits of the Slovene book market under the new capitalism and commercialized “cultural industry.” Apparently these days culture is only worth something if it can turn a profit.

Hang up sheets to dry in the June sunshine and breeze. After school, take Monika and a friend to the coastal town of Koper for clothes shopping for the “valeta” the next day—a dance thing put on for the benefit of students and parents (and teachers) to mark the end of primary school. It’s extremely hot outside, and hence in the car (old car, no air-conditioning). Leave Oli with aussie-owning friend near Koper for dog-sitting while we shop. I expect to get a phone call of distress any moment—Oli has spent time with Lilit and Grin before on group hikes, but we’ve never just up and left her in the care of near-strangers before. I don’t know what to expect, but trouble seems the most likely. But my fears prove to be groundless: Lilit sends periodic text messages about how wonderfully Oli is behaving—not growling or barking, playing well with Grin, following Lilit around, coming when called…phew, that’s a relief! In fact over the course of the afternoon Lilit becomes so enamored of Olivia that her last message says she’s in love and we can just leave Oli there. (Photographic documentation of Olivia's afternoon vacation by the sea courtesy of Lilit here.)

Shopping is fruitless and frustrating for the first three hours. Nothing fits, nothing works. During the last half-hour, in a burst of productivity, Monika finds skirt, shirt, belt, shoes, and hose that all add up to a nice outfit. Mission accomplished.

Back at Lilit’s, we linger a while for drinks and chat in the garden. Lilit’s mother is an avid and experienced gardener, and yet another practitioner of the nettle formula theory. In fact, she has just watered the garden with the mixture, and apologizes for the resultant smell. It is stinky, no denying—reminiscent of liquid cow manure.

We leave (with Olivia, whom Lilit has—reluctantly—agreed to relinquish) as dusk is falling and the air is cooling off, which makes the return trip far more comfortable than the outward one. All in all, a satisfying day.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup soccer mania

Watch video here.

(And in case you're wondering, no that's not a border collie in the goal--a real border collie would never have let the ball get by.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Agility round-up

Agility season (like allergy season) is in full swing, with competitions just about every weekend now. I was intending to write a full account after each one, but here it is late Friday evening in June, I've been to four competitions in the last six weeks (none reported here as I write this), and I'm off to another one tomorrow. So tonight's goal, as I wait for Monika's return in the wee hours from an end-of-the-year fun trip to Ljubljana--and then get up before the butt-crack of dawn a few hours later--is to dutifully start filing reports of the ones already gone by. Turbo agility blogging. I'm post-dating this one so it'll be on top.

Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who read this shit, and find it interesting. But even if they didn't, I would still yield to the compulsion, to have a record for myself and to help me analyze our performance, and try to improve on it the next time.

My excuses for not getting to this sooner: I've had a flurry of translations to do (hvala bogu--they pay the bills), along with a load of garden chores, the usual responsibilities associated with parenting and running a household, plus I'm lazy and undisciplined. As for the ongoing struggle against U.S. imperialism, well, my shoulder is temporarily off that wheel, but thankfully there are stalwarts like Eli to keep up an unrelenting attack. We dog-owning single mother peasant women are allowed to take a day off now and again, especially during the agility season.

Maribor, June 3

Hm, competitions in eastern Slovenia that take place on rainy days and attract fewer competitors than usual that I run in hiking boots seem to be our recipe for success: we achieved another third-place finish. Over twenty dogs had been entered, but only twelve came on the day, likely due to the bad weather. We weren't brilliant--five faults in the first run for a missed contact zone, and Lyra needed lots of time (and courage) to negotiate the teeter-totter. On the second run she ran underneath the pole of a jump after a tight turn, so we went back and tried again. At the time I thought that was grounds for disqualification (shows how well I know the agility rules), but it's only five faults, and she was clean on everything else. And so we came home with a cup (and a bag of dog food!).

Oh, for those days of innocence, when I was thrilled to make it through even one run without being disqualified...I'm getting ambitious, and third place is getting old, especially in such a small field of competitors.

But the day was special in other ways, too: Olivia's breeders and their dogs and her brother Bryce and his owner Stefan came to watch: Maribor is only about 50 km from Bryce's home in Austria. It was great to see them. Olivia did not seem to remember her earliest caretakers, but gradually warmed up to them. After the competition we followed them over to the village of Eibiswald, Austria and had a delicious and much appreciated dinner at Stefan's. The next morning the sun made an appearance after nearly a week of dreary weather, and we went for a hike along the Slovenia-Austrian border at Radlpass. Oli played tag with her brother and cooled off by flopping in a mud puddle, which turned her from a blue merle into a blue merle with lots of tan.

Driving back home, I was struck yet again by how beautiful and green a land Slovenia is. And how yummy the the famous Trojane doughnuts are.

Ložnica pri Žalcu, May 13

Ložnica is near the town of Žalec (pop. 5314). There are a lot of hop-growers in the surrounding region, whose harvest is used in the making of "liquid bread"--a product which is reputed to be very, very good for you. I consume a lot of it myself, and just look how healthy I am.

The grounds of the Pluton Kennel Club are quite close to the main highway between Ljubljana and Maribor, but give the impression of being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded as they are by crop-fields on one side and a small forest on the other, and reached by gravel road. The four representatives of the Ajdovščina team (and their border collies) traveled in one car (Monika and Oli stayed behind on this trip), with Lyra sharing the rumble seat squished between Aron and Aika (and emitting growls of displeasure from time to time) and Kena lying at Franc's feet in the front.

We finished the first run with five faults, which put us 11th of 25. On the second run we messed up multiple times on the slalom, and then on the second to last obstacle, a tire, Lyra jumped through the side, instead of through the middle, which resulted in disqualification. A little disappointing, since this competition was one of six which count towards the Eukanuba Cup, but there will be other opportunities, with the ranking at the end of the season based on the best four results of six.

And anyway I have reason to be proud of Lyra's performance that day, since there was also a team agility run, and Lyra had the best result of our four, despite being the least experienced. She was the only member of our team to have a clean run--Kena had five faults (knocking down a pole on the very last jump, aargh), Aron ten, Aika was disqualified. Lyra came 17th out of 61 competitiors total; our team was 8th of 16. This is actually the first (and so far only) time she has had a clean run on the agility portion (as opposed to jumping); it's ironic that it happened on a more difficult, A2 course. And yes, she did encounter the dreaded teeter-totter on this course, and negotiated it without any faults, just very, very slowly--which is why our time of 34.05 was a good ten seconds slower than that of the fastest dogs.

Since I didn't have my car with me, I used one of the wooden kennels on the site for stowing Lyra from time to time for periods of rest (in between competing, playing ball, and going for walks in the woods). And so I could watch in peace. I can't have her with me when I watch other competitors; she goes nuts whenever she sees other dogs on the course, and barks incessantly and uncontrollably. It's easiest just to put her somewhere out of visual range of the course. At Ložnica she got an extra large box with a soft blanket in it, in the shade of a large stand of pine trees. It looked so inviting I crawled in there with her for a time during the mid-afternoon heat, stretching out, snoozing and listening to the wind in the pines.

I took pity on her and asked for permission to have her with me in the back seat on the way back, instead of sardined with Aika and Aron. It was a little cramped, with Nuska and a bunch of luggage there too, but there was less growling.

And now it's time for a lunch break--I hear liquid bread is on the menu.

Selca, May 6

Selca is a village of about 700 inhabitants, located in the Selška Sora River Valley, between Škofja Loka and Železniki, about half an hour's drive northeast of Ljubljana. The grounds of the Škofja Loka - Železniki Kennel Club/Kinološko društvo Škofja Loka - Železniki are located in an absolutely idyllic setting, part of an expansive area of parks, fields, and meadows at the outskirts of the village of Selca along the Selška branch of the Sora River. A footpath parallels the river, with several access points where dogs can go splash in and cool off. And the weather that day was fabulous.

Our agility results were a little less than fabulous. Lyra had 15 faults on the first run--ten for making mistakes twice on the slalom and five for missing a contact zone on the bridge. This put us far down in the rankings for the first run and pretty much eliminated any chance of making the top three, even if we'd been able to pull off a fast clean performance in the second run. In fact we were disqualified in the second run (as were nine other dogs, of 22 competitors total). The tunnel was set up in a U-shape, and the dog had to go in the correct entrance, which Lyra didn't. Nevertheless, I was well satisfied with her second run, since she was perfect on everything else. And just being in a beautiful setting on a pretty day, watching and doing agility, walking and playing with my dog--life doesn't get much better than that.

It was a great experience for Olivia, too (aka the Australian Shepherd from Hell). Lots of socialization as well as exercise and play. She and Monika went on frequent walks throughout the day, sometimes with me and Lyra, more often with Petra and border collie Veni, their classmates from puppy kindergarten. Poor Veni! Olivia regularly terrorized her when they were sitting on the sidelines watching, even though she played nicely with her when they were out on walks. Veni tried to hide from her persecutor by climbing into Petra's lap.

We left a little early (one advantage of not getting a cup! You don't have to hang around till the end of the day to collect it. But damn those cups were nice-looking...AND they gave out bags of dog food to the winners...sigh). Instead of going back by way of Ljubljana and the motorway, we took the scenic route, continuing through the Selška Sora Valley to Podbrdo, and from there through the Bača River Valley, with the Julian Alps to our right. At Most na Soči we turned south, along the lower Soča Valley, and followed the road home. Great day.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ptuj, April 29

English speakers will no doubt have some difficulty with that initial consonant cluster. One of these days I will indulge my inner linguist and write a post on phonotactics. If you can say “Patooey” that’s close enough for now.

Ptuj is in eastern Slovenia, not a part I know very well. About a two and half hour drive from here. I left at about 5:30 a.m., with both dogs. Monika stayed home, ostensibly to study. It was some extra work and stress for me to have Olivia along without Monika to handle her, but she benefits enormously from the socialization experience—the exposure to crowds, strange sights and sounds and people and dogs--so I took her.

Olivia and Lyra have completely opposite behaviors in cars. In a moving car, Oli curls up (or stretches out, depending on her mood) and goes to sleep almost the moment the engine starts, and pretty much stays that way unless she needs a bathroom break, which she lets us know by whining restlessly. Lyra is alert the entire way, sitting up, looking out the window, occasionally trying to herd a passing or oncoming car. In a parked car, on the other hand, Lyra curls up into a little ball in the back seat, pressed up against the door, and snoozes, pretty much oblivious to the environment. Meanwhile, Oli turns into a slavering vicious beast, jumping all over the interior and snarling and lunging at anyone who passes within a few feet. We’re working on that. And, er, many other things as well.

It rained most of the way there, and indeed most of the day. Not hard, but steadily. The course was wet, but not, fortunately, overly muddy. I ran in hiking boots, which slow me down but keep my feet dry and provide much better traction than the smooth soles of my worn sneakers. We had ten faults on the first run, for missing a contact zone on the bridge and flubbing the first slalom attempt. I think. Hard to recall the details now. I do remember she was unfocused in her attitude and helter-skelter in her movements, and I wanted to do a nice slow controlled run, especially in the wet conditions, so I called her back a few times when she got too far ahead of me. I was pleased, and a little suprised, when she took the bridge right in stride, since in previous competitions she's been hesitant. Unfortunately, she was a little too bold and forward-going, and leaped off right over the contact zone. We lucked out in one respect: originally the teeter-totter was one of the obstacles on the agility course, but the judge replaced it with an ordinary jump when the first competitor, a very seasoned and unflappable small dog, slipped on it during his run. The teeter-totter is Lyra's bête noire.

We were sixth after the first run, of 14 competitors. Lower turnout than usual, probably because some people wimped out at the last minute due to the rain. Then we had a clean run on the second, jumping run. Many of the dogs in the small and medium categories were disqualified on the chute obstacle, having balked at going through the sopping wet fabric. Didn’t seem to bother the border collies, though, with their speed and size. With a clean second run, overall we managed to come third, and took home another cup. No dog food, alas—not all competitions are sponsored by dog food manufacturers. A little disappointing, especially given the relatively high travel costs—I had no idea the motorway between Ljubljana and Maribor cost so much.

Still, it was well worth the trip: there was a team competition in addition to the individual, so Lyra got to go a third time, on a more challenging course (J2). She made quite a respectable showing for a relative novice. Just five faults for missing the entrance on the slalom the first time. My fault; I should have positioned myself on the other side of her and come at it at less of an angle. She corrected it quickly, and sailed through the rest. Our Ajdovščina team came tenth of sixteen. Four members can compete on a team; the best three results are used in the ranking. Since there were only three of us Ajdovščina folks competing, this is a solid result.

The star of the day was Aron, with three clean and fast runs, winning in his A2/J2 large category, and contributing the best performance of our team.

As for Olivia, she started out as a menace, snarling threateningly at passing dogs and people, especially when crowded, gradually toned it down to the level of a nuisance(dirty looks, muffled growls, and avoidance), and by the end of the day was mingling with the others happily and safely.

On the way back home I dropped Lyra off in Ljubljana, for a mini-vacation with her friends Jana and Dean. She adores them, and the feeling is mutual.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Graduation Day

Friday, June 02, 2006


The massacre of Iraqi civilians by US Marines that occurred more than seven months ago in Haditha has been getting a lot of attention lately, including, amazingly enough, in the United States, the home country of the grunts who did the killing and of their superiors (right on up to the Commander-in-Chief). Indiscriminate killing of Iraqis by US troops has been going on for more than three years now, but rarely does it generate much media coverage, let alone any outcry, in the country responsible. So what's so special about the Haditha "incident" (as these people and their stenographers prefer to call it)?

Two things, I think. First, the story was reported in Time magazine (though that just begs the question of why other such "incidents" were not) and second, it has seriously upset Congressman John Murtha, who is vocal with his outrage. This gives the Haditha massacre a visibility that cannot be ignored by the American press, public, or political elite, despite the military's efforts to cover it up. And as such it may well mark the beginning of the end of America's occupation of Iraq.

I'm not in a position to comment at length on the subject, but I recommend reading Dahr Jamail's and Rahul Mahajan's commentaries, and the recent posts on the subject at Left I on the News (here, here, here, and here). And I’d like to share a couple of observations of my own, after browsing the blogs and news reports over the past few days.

One thing that struck me was how much of the reporting, and especially the quotes from various American officials and think-tankers, present the Haditha massacre primarily as a P.R. problem for the US. Never mind the dead and orphaned, the most worrying effect is the tarnishing of the US (and Republican) image, and the undermining of support for the war. And so we are treated to thoughtful soul-searching analyses such as this:
One senior Republican Congressional aide said the members of his party on Capitol Hill were nervous about the political impact of the episode and wanted to get information out quickly to avoid a "drip, drip" of news stories leading up to November.

"You've got an election that the White House is doing everything possible to prevent from being a forum on the president and Iraq," said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid appearing to criticize Republicans. "And here you have the biggest P.R. problem since Abu Ghraib running right smack into the summertime before a major campaign."

and this:
The case just added to the administration's many Iraq woes. Just when things seem like they can't get any worse, they do.
''When something like Haditha happens, it gives the impression that Americans can't be trusted to provide security, which is the most important thing to Iraqis on a day-to-day level,'' said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
''It tends to confirm all of the worst interpretations of the United States, and not simply in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan and in the region,'' Cordesman said.
The disclosure of the allegedly unprovoked killings of civilians in the Iraqi town comes with the war looming large in this year's congressional elections, and with the administration still struggling to explain the American treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, compared Haditha to My Lai ''on a smaller scale.''
''My Lai symbolized the wanton reckless use of force that was associated with B-52 bombings, and the use of napalm, and the screaming children with their clothes burned off their skin by American incendiaries,'' O'Hanlon said.

And, while U.S. use of force in Iraq is on a far lower order of magnitude, ''these sort of things do reverberate,'' he said. ''And, yes, Iraqis do pay attention to the media, and they watch TV. Their overall impression of the U.S. is not very favorable, and this will make it a little worse.''

Gee, ya think? Now if only we could stop the media from reporting on it, the Iraqis probably wouldn't even notice all the violent deaths in their towns, and the bright US image would remain untarnished.

The other thing that struck me was the stubborn, deluded mindset of some Americans, who are prepared to defend US actions abroad no matter how demonstrably heinous they are. When I read some of the commenters here, like the one who closes every post with "God Bless America and God Bless the American military" or the one who morally justifies the killing of pregnant women and little kids as legitimate enemy targets, I'm reminded of William Blum's opening paragraphs in a recent Anti-Empire Report:
I'm often told by readers of their encounters with Americans who support the outrages of US foreign policy no matter what facts are presented to them, no matter what arguments are made, no matter how much the government's statements are shown to be false. Included amongst their number are those who still believe that Iraq had a direct involvement in the events of September 11, that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al Qaeda, and/or that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

My advice is to forget such people. They would support the outrages even if the government came to their homes, seized their first born, and hauled them away screaming, as long as the government assured them it was essential to fighting terrorism (or communism). My (very) rough guess is that they constitute no more than 15 percent of the population. I suggest that we concentrate on the rest, who are reachable.

I am the anti-Condi!

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been in the news lately, and so it seems like a good time to play some one-up(wo)manship. File this one under the category of shameless self-promotion.

I am the anti-Condi. Really, I am. A trusted friend and authority on world affairs told me so. See, about a year ago I posted an ad on an online dating site. (No, not in the London Review of Books. Maybe I'll try that next.) I haven't actually gotten any dates, but I like to think that's because most of the men who contact me live many thousands of miles away, and not because they find me unattractive. After all, the photos I posted of myself are at least as seductive as the one of Condi above. Anyway, I've gained a few pen-friends, we swap information about our bodies, our selves, our lives, our dogs, our fetishes, our politics, etc., and after learning more about me, including the fact that I used to play rugby for the Oxford Old Boys RFC, one fellow paid me the ultimate compliment:
Jean, you are the anti-Condi!

Jean: Plays rugby football with Old Boys in spite of disapproval of male power elite.
Condi Rice: Pretends to like American football to suck up to old boys in male power elite.

J: Former Sovietologist working for world peace.
C: Former Sovietologist working for world war.

J: Serves as mentor to Slovenes wishing to speak English as a second language.
C: Serves as mentor to president who can't speak English as a first language.

J: Sometimes gets in trouble for speaking the truth to power.
C: Lies through her ass to support those in power.

J: Bathes in Alpine streams after walking over verdant mountains.
C: Bathes in blood after walking over mountains of dead Iraqis.

This is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me, and I just can't help bragging.

Hey, would anyone like a date with the anti-Condi?