Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: September 2016

Kids reading to dogs benefits the DOGS, too!

A few weeks ago, I posted an article, Canine reading tutorsabout the growing popularity of using therapy dogs to boost children’s literacy.

Kids who read aloud to dogs never get corrected when they say a word wrong or spend time puzzling over it, and they never get hurried up if they read slowly. Instead, the dog lies next to them, warm and reassuring, and always seems to like being read to. It’s a great confidence-builder.

But could it also benefit the dogs? Perhaps surprisingly–yes! Last March, NBC News featured a story about a new idea in a St. Louis animal shelter. Kids read to dogs in the shelter, to help calm and socialize the dogs. I’m sure the extra practice didn’t hurt the kids any, either.

Here’s a video that tells a bit more about the program:

The human-canine bond is an old and mutually-beneficial one, as I’ve written before. I don’t know about you, but I loved seeing another way in which that connection is still going strong, after all these millennia. I’d also like to thank The Dodo, for its feature on this program. I happened upon this story there, first.

IMAGES: many thanks to the Huffington Post for the photo of the little girl reading to the dog, and to NBC News for the photo of the girl and the shelter dog, and YouTube, for the video about the program.

The importance of our work

The Artdog Quote of the week: 

Where do we find meaning in our life? Often it is through our work (whether job or avocation), and the services we provide to others.

For those who are unable to work, whether through disability or unavailability of work to do, finding meaning in their lives can be a struggle.

It can be a struggle for anyone with independent means, who does not have to work. They soon discover that a life of endless leisure and self-pleasure is shallow and unsatisfying.

I’m sure there are many people who struggle to make ends meet, who’d like to give that “endless leisure” thing a try! But once they’d had a chance to rest up, they’d probably admit sooner or later that they’d become bored.

I think that’s why so many retired people immerse themselves in volunteer work, if they are physically able. Humans need each other, and they need to feel as if their presence on this earth means something. For a great many of us, at least some portion of that meaning is found through the work that we do.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Ignatian Solidarity Network, for this image and quote.

Not perfect yet

The Artdog Images of Interest

In a perfect world, everyone would work at jobs they love, reach their full potential, and have a good life. If that sounds like socialist pie-in-the-sky to you, double-check your Kool-Aide. I’m paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

Unfortunately, we’re not perfect yet. We weren’t in 2001 when Mike Konopacki drew the cartoon above, and we’re not perfect now, either. We still have people who work hard at one or more jobs (if they can find them), yet still have no choice but to rely on public assistance to make ends meet. In my opinion, raising the minimum wage is a social justice issue.

I know the arguments against raising the minimum wage. We hear them each time the question gets raised. The Cato Institute lists the four most common ones, which I have listed below. I’ve also listed the Department of Labor’s answers to these objections, which are called myths on its “Minimum Wage Mythbusters” page.

1. It would result in job loss, because employers would cut back on employees. Not true, says the DOL page. Research shows “increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

2. It would hurt low-wage employees, because because employers would cut back on employees. Not true, says the DOL page: “Minimum wage increases have little to no negative effect on employment as shown in independent studies from economists across the country.”

3. It would have little effect on reducing poverty, either because employers would cut back on employees, or because most poor people don’t make the minimum wage. Not true, says the DOL page, citing a survey of small business owners who say an increase “would immediately put more money in the pocket of low-wage workers who will then spend the money on things like housing, food, and gas. This boost in demand for goods and services will help stimulate the economy and help create opportunities.”

4. It might result in higher prices for consumers, because some prices have gone up in the past. While some prices might indeed go up, the DOL page categorically states that it would not be bad for the economy: “Since 1938, the federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times. For more than 75 years, real GDP per capita has steadily increased, even when the minimum wage has been raised.” In other words, prices go up all the time, whether the minimum wage does or not. 

Side question: if raising the minimum wage is a bad idea, isn’t the recent upward trajectory in CEOs’ compensation also a bad idea? Just asking.

As someone who has taught in a high-poverty school, I’ve seen what happens to families when there is not enough money to make ends meet. Students’ health, ability to learn, and many other areas of need aren’t met, either. There is often hunger, and there can be homelessness.

These kids’ parents weren’t lazy. It amazes me, how often rich people think the poor are lazy. I suspect they’re mistaking resentful for lazy. Most of the poor folks I’ve known worked several jobs, postponed their own health care to take care of their kids’, went hungry so their kids could eat, and worried a lot.

It’s not exactly the picture Thomas Jefferson painted, is it?

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Workplace Justice Project, for the Mike Konopacki “Poverty” cartoon, to The Times of San Diego, for the photo of workers marching for higher wages, and to We Party Patriots, for the Rick Flores cartoon about wages. 

Opportunities wanted

The Artdog Quote of the Week

What does this quote have to do with creativity? Everything, in my opinion. Our ability to be paid a living wage and occasionally get some time off to take care of our own and our families’ needs is directly tied to our ability to develop our creative sides.

Although today’s quote was written in a different age, many of those old battles are being re-fought today. In recent decades we’ve seen a shift of public opinion away from support of unions. Some of that has been due to overreach by certain unions. Some has resulted from corruption and ties to organized crime in others.

And don’t forget the unintended results from the union agreements hammered out during years of prosperity that later proved unsustainable. (Question: if both management and labor signed on to those agreements, why is it only labor that got blamed?).

Some corrections were inevitable. But today we live in a world where not everyone has bounced back from the Great Recession at equal rates, and where we can all too readily wince in acknowledgement of cartoons like these:

I live in a so-called “right to work” state, which, in the peculiar usage of recent rightist legislation actually means it’s no easier to get work, just a lot harder to unionize–which is what the second cartoon is all about. Unions are still regarded as “the bad guys” by a lot of people, which is why such erosions of union strength are still popular in more individualistically-focused, conservative regions.

But at what point can we agree that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far? If each one of us is a lone-wolf law to him- or herself, the only organized parties left standing will be Management.

Companies certainly are not going to decentralize: they’re headed the other direction, with mega-merger after mega-merger. Individual employees, working individually, stand little chance of changing large multinational corporations. 

As I sometimes caution my younger female (“we’re past the need for feminism”) friends, if we don’t remember our history we’re going to have to learn those lessons all over again. No, we’re not post-feminist. Not even close to post-racial either.

Rights taken for granted and not guarded are all the more quickly lost.

IMAGES: Many thanks for the Samuel Gompers quote to IZQuotes, via Quotesgram. Many, many thanks to Denver Post cartoonist Mike Keefe for the cartoon about the middle class, and to Texas Observer cartoonist Ben Sargent for the cartoon about the right to organize–both via The Daily Kos.

When is it play, and when is it creative work?

A much-belated Artdog Quote of the Week!

I’ve been playing a little more than I “should” this week (always with the “shoulds” [insert quiet groan here]. You’d think I’d learn).

Last week, I finished my final editing pass on Going to the XK9s. It’s the (eighth draft of the) first novel in my planned “XK9 Series.

I sent it off to my editor, took a deep breath, and . . . OMG! Really wanted to get going on the next one!

I don’t know if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. I’ve been told that one should take a vacation, or at least a nice, relaxing break, after finishing a novel manuscript–especially after finishing the kind of fine-toothed-comb, line-by-line editing process, where you sweat ALL the details.

My problem with that? I’m bubbling over with ideas and energy for the next book. My XK9s are a pack of sapient police dogs who shake things up on their adopted space station home, while sniffing out bad guys. Writing about them is a lot of fun (as I hope reading about them will be).

I’ve also had enough experience to know that “flow” like this doesn’t happen all the time. It’s wise to hop on and ride it out, when it comes, which is what I’ve been doing, instead of writing blog posts (sorry). Every job feels like “a job,” sometimes–just not right now, for me.

So, then, am I relaxing? Am I working? Is it okay to say “yes”? If your work feels like playing, do we have to draw the line somewhere?

Gosh, I hope not.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Pinterest, via Betype, for the John Cleese quote, and to Marine L. Rot for the “creative flow” banner.

Who needs labor unions?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

On this Labor Day, I wish both relaxation and a moment of thought to all of you. I know that in this country there are many people who think labor unions are the worst thing possible, so for you folks, here’s my trigger warning.

As a teacher who will forever be grateful that my labor union went to bat for me when I was being unfairly treated by an employer, I have a very positive view of the need for labor unions. 

I believe strongly that all human beings who work bring something unique to their work, and that they should be treated fairly, respected–no matter what their job is–and paid a living wage.

I’m a student of history. I know that not all labor unions have been positive influences at all times. Some labor unions have functioned like political machines in a corrupting way. Some labor unions have overreached and been intransigent when perhaps they should have been more flexible. Some have been controlled or heavily influenced by organized crime.

But I also know that labor unions have been deeply involved in helping to empower everyday people so they can take part in creating safer, fairer, and more free and well-paying job situations. My theme this month–a creative look at labor–will explore the positive aspects of the labor movement, and the need to keep on cherishing the right to help create better workplaces for tomorrow.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wheniscalendars for the Happy Labor Day logo, and to Quotesideas for the image and quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Canine reading tutors

This week’s Artdog Image(s) of Interest

Today’s images show an increasingly frequent literacy strategy for helping children learn to read with greater fluency and confidence: using reading therapy dogs. 

As you’ll see if you take time to watch this video, reading to dogs can help children with difficulties grow into stronger readers–but also gain confidence, and improve in all sorts of other areas you might not expect, from better math skills to improved hygiene!

Are the dogs magic? No, it’s just a natural outcome. People have taken comfort and strength–not just help, food and utility–from animals.

The first recorded use of animals for therapy that I’ve been able to track down was a program for disabled people to work with farm animals in Geel, Belgium in the 9th century (yes, during the Dark Ages), but they must’ve gotten the idea from somewhere–namely, the millennia-long history of interactions between humans and the other animal species they encountered, lived and worked with.

Side note: there’s still an active focus on community-based psychiatric care in Geel today, based on its very old tradition.

During August, I celebrated the traditional back-to-school season with a return to the “roots” of this blog (which used to be called Artdog Educator) and a focus on education, which has been well received. I thought the photos and video of dogs at work to help children read was an appropriate way to close out this theme (for the moment) and segue into my September “Creative Approaches to Work” series.

Keep checking back, for more working dogs in September.

IMAGES: Many thanks to FirstBook’s article Sit, Stay, Read about a program in the Chicago Schools, for the photo of the girl reading to the dog in her classroom, and to the Stamford Advocate, for the photo of two girls on a couch in Stamford, CT reading to a dog, and article about a local literacy program that uses dogs in schools. Thanks also to YouTube and Intermountain Therapy Animals of Salt Lake City, UT, for the video about their Reading Education Assistance Dogs.

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