You Follow Me

Band: Nina Nastasia & Jim White
Album: You Follow Me
Best song: “Odd, Said the Doe”
Worst song: “Late Night”

Though I never played it in earnest, hockey is my first memory and something I cherish. I’ve probably watched more football and, most certainly, played more baseball (and softball and tee ball) by miles. And I know way more about baseball and cared about it most vehemently for a number of years (my teenage years).

Certainly, in recent years, have cared way more about the Chicago Blackhawks than any other sports teams and, since the start of the 2012 season, have watched or listened to 90% of the team’s games. My favorite players have been ‘Hawks and mostly American ones. I met Jeremy Roenick, by luck, when my family took me to a famous Chicago steakhouse for a birthday as a kid. When Roenick was traded, Tony Amonte (another American) was the team’s face. My favorite non-Hawk was Brett Hull, a US Hockey star and the son of one of the Hawk’s best players. Currently, the “face of American hockey” is my favorite player. Patrick Kane is a dynamic player with one of the best set of hands and, I’d argue, the best ice vision in the world. He’s an artist more than a hockey player and I’m glad he plays for my favorite NHL team and my country.

The US men’s team won silver in Vancouver and I watched every minute of the team’s games. Kane himself scored the equalizer in the gold medal game before Sydney Crosby won the game in OT. And the women have been just as exciting. Since the women’s sport was added to the Olympics in 1998, the US women have medaled every time. I have been a huge fan since 1998, when Sarah Tueting was the goalie for the first women’s gold medal hockey team ever. Tueting was two years ahead of my sister at New Trier and she was met as a hero when she came back from the games.

In short, I adore Olympic hockey. The bigger ice gives a platform for more offense and the national pride I never feel bubbles up only during these events. I’ve always rooted for players like Julie Chu, Roenick, Amonte, Hull, Kane and Tueting.

But this year, I will not support the Olympics in any way, shape or form. It sucks that I won’t watch any of the Olympic hockey, but I simply cannot support what is happening in Sochi and live with myself.

“The friendliest dogs are easiest to catch.”

We did this to these dogs. Were these dogs meaner, they would’ve stayed away, like arctic wolves do. But these dogs were pets and the people of Sochi probably treated them well. But, either way, they didn’t deserve their collective fate.

It’s no secret that I love animals and have an affinity for dogs. My mother and sister are allergic to cats and it’s certain that my life would be very different were they to have been allergic to only penicillin and weird laundry detergent, as I am. I had various little pets as a kid. Quite literally, I or my family have had a dog my entire life, save for the four months between my moving to the DC area and the time I adopted Nino. The dogs were of different names — Puffy, Toto, Humphrey, Nino and Mattie — and different breeds — toy poodle, cocker spaniel, Shar-Pei and bulldog. But, they’re all dogs. They were descendants of the great grey wolf and were socialized through genetic selection by humans to be the things that dogs are: sociable, loyal, curious, obedient, wonderful.

I suspect it’s an American thing and it’s most certainly a Western thing, but it is my thing. Dogs are what we humans have made them. We’ve made them into little hot dog-looking things and we’ve made them into sheep herders and we’ve made them look like squat little whatever Corgis are. I prefer dogs that have smushed faces, can’t breathe and — in the case of my canine roommate — have worlds of skin problems. But, however we’ve made them look, we’ve made them pets. We have made them “man’s best friend.” They sit and they stay they wear dinosaur costumes and we take silly photos of them in front of birthday cakes. We (the childless) treat them the same way others treat their kids on social media and we (maybe just me) lose our shit when they pass away.

And I watch hockey with mine. But, not for now.

Dogs are not smart. The smartest dogs are probably marginally smarter than a baby or even a toddler, but dogs don’t look at the world we do. The things we do not know about animal cognition could fill so many libraries. But, it seems pretty clear to me that dogs are people pleasers; we genetically engineered them over centuries from the combination of packiest animal wolves and the wolves that could connect with humans most easily. It’s why they are easy to train and they do our bidding. Dogs’ personalities, largely, are the ones we’ve trained into them or encouraged innate characteristics as much as possible. An aggressive dog is the kind that that’s been trained to be a fighter, a timid one is one that’s been abused and an affectionate one has been loved.

The above dog was found barking at training Olympic skiers in Sochi, where stray dogs are “a problem” (Some problem. A city with tons of dogs sounds like heaven to me.). This dog is probably dead right now, but the video above is most certainly evidence that this particular dog is not mean. It simply wants to play. It’s a curious being that’s been raised to interact pleasantly with humans. It’s not a wolf that wants to eat those skiers. Look at its tail. It just wants to play.

The above dog was simply curious as to what was happening. I don’t want to ascribe any human emotions to the dog; I don’t know if the dog was simply scared by the loud noises and went to investigate. But, either way, the dog is not a threat. It is wasn’t growling, barking or being aggressive. Just curious.

I imagine that dog has been killed by now. And the one barking at the skiers is probably dead, too. That simple fact made me cry to type it.

I keep mining my own social media nonsense for this space — stay tuned for a bigger piece on gender that does just that — and I’ll do the same in writing about Russia, homosexuality and what’s been going on in that country the last couple of years. Fuck it, I’ll post it verbatim. I wrote it Thursday.

Having grown up in the late-era Cold War and with popular culture as much of a parent as the two from which I was spawned, it doesn’t take a lot for me to feel negative feelings about the Russian government. More specifically, the political culture — huge props to Prof. Paul Wallace of Missouri for that one — in Russia is one that has not changed a ton from the days of my youth.

Which is why I’ve enjoyed all the “Sochi ruin porn” — as Deadspin’s Drew Magary called it this week. Russia in 2014, at least to my Western eyes, is a mess of epic proportions. But, the thing is this: Russia’s mess and corruption is not new. A few years ago, I read Merchant of Death (the book about Viktor Bout, the most profitable arms dealer in the world and the man who supplied, basically, all the arms that have kept African civil wars going in my lifetime) and that book recounted the circumstances that made Bout so successful. First and foremost, it was Russia’s corruption in the wake of the Soviet Union’d downfall (see also Prokhorov, Mikhail) that made Bout’s success so easy. So, to know that Sochi is a flaming mess is not a huge surprise, assuming that context. Russia is not Japan or Canada or S. Korea or Germany or even the United States (we’ve got plenty of problems here, to be certain).

And so it is with the attached piece from GQ. I, intellectually, know that Russia is a terrible place for LGBTQIA people, but this piece — and the one posted on Gawker today on the British show Hunted — really hammers it down. It’s terrifying that the waves of history and scapegoating (Nazi Germany is referenced in the piece, not to get all Godwin-y) comes back so starkly in a place like Russia, which remains one of the world’s largest and most powerful nation-states.

My reading of democracy — especially popular democracy, as reflected in polls cited in the piece about Russians supporting the anti-gay laws– remains that its underlying notion of, in general, is such that the modern version’s flaw is that propaganda (or advertising or PR or all of the above) subverts the proverbial will of the people. Prop 8 is the grand example in this country’s recent history (and the talking points of American anti-gay organizations are the ones Russians are often articulating in the GQ piece). In the case of Russia circa 2014, Putin and the Russian Orthodox church are able to convince people that homosexuality=pedophilia (ALWAYS THINK OF THE CHILDREN) and the downtrodden Russian people are the ones doing the dirty work of beating/shooting/ LGBTQIA Russians. It’s not super far from the Ugandan law and, with all due respect to Uganda, that place is not the international power that Russia is. Uganda does not have a seat on the security council. Russia fancies itself the one of the great powers in the developed world, after all.

I’m articulating it very poorly, but I am completely shocked by this piece, even though I know I shouldn’t be. It’s hard to look at the gains we’ve made in the West on these, seemingly, pretty simple human rights issues and then look at another superpower and see things so devastating. It’s terrifying, really, what humans can do to other humans that simply want to love who they love.

So, obviously, it’s not just dogs that the Russians are treating like shit. I have trouble with the way Russians are treating the LGBTQIA community there and it was the thing that brought me to consider boycotting — again, I do not think it will have any effect on anything — these Olympics.

I know, intellectually, that there is no purity in the world. Most certainly the dog food I eat is made by corrupt conglomerates and my electronics were made by slave labor. The heat in my apartment and the electricity I use are created via fossil fuels. I keep my money in a bank that’s certainly part of the crimes perpetuated on the American people the last 30 years. By no means am I pure.

But, I can’t abide by this. I know my non-viewing won’t change anything but my being able to sleep at night. It means I can look at my wonderful bulldog knowing that I helped support the slaughter of her kind.

I am not a vegetarian and I realize that is hypocritical. But, some animals are different. Animal sentience is not well-known, but I do think lines are drawn. Elephants, cetacea, great apes and others certainly have a different mind than ants. Again, what we don’t know about animal brains is vast, but we all draw lines and I draw mine.

Because dogs are different. For whatever reason, I — and humanity, at large — have connected with them in a way that is wildly different than how we’ve connected with other animals. We’ve made them this way and slaughtering them just because the Olympic games were poorly planned is, for me, a bridge too far. Having them fight to the death for no reason other than gambling is a bridge too far. Shooting them with poison so they suffocate is too much. It’s all just too much.

These dogs are to be killed by a “pest control” company, if they haven’t been already. The dogs playing by the stadium, the dogs who — if however briefly — befriended American journalists, the dog barking at the skiers. Probably all dead. And I can’t handle that.

I kind of can’t connect this with any music I’m listening to now. I just wanted to write this and get it online. I love that Nina Nastasia record, though. I’m listening to it as I write this, with my dog sitting next to me, curled up. My dog’s a runt; she has skin problems and allergies and is super nice to people.

She probably would’ve been one of the first to be killed in Sochi.

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