The last time I was at the pet store, buying my cats one or two more balls with bells in them, I spun that metal carousel of books about pets (Know Your Ferret, How to Raise and Train Your Potbellied Pig, Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot, etc.). I was amazed at how useful these guides are.
In Know Your Guinea Pig, for example, it says:
They are small furry animals, eight to ten inches long, four inches high, and one to three pounds when fully grown. They have a quivering Roman nose, short hairless ears that droop forward, and big eyes. They have pointed incisor teeth and no external tail.
There. I got it. I could spot one anywhere.
This is the kind of information we need in politics, some sort of field guide like Know Your Right Wing.
Take Arianna Huffington. She's a genus to herself. I saw her on "Good Morning America." She looked a bit decoupaged, varnished and buffed to high gloss. She seemed like she should be accompanied by one of those miniature dogs with a bow in its hair and a heart rate of 1,000 beats per minute and should carry one of those little rhinestone purses that couldn't possibly hold more than a lipstick and a love glove. Her lips slid across her big teeth in a prepared smile and her orange hair never moved as she turned her head in a courtly fashion.
Arianna is the wife of Michael Huffington, the multi-millionaire who spent $30 million of his own boodle trying unsuccessfully to buy a Senate seat. She's the engine of his ascension. In fact, it's hard to tell where she ends and if he begins. Since Michael Huffington finally conceded the California Senate race to Dianne Feinstein, Arianna has resurfaced with a vengeance, promoting herself, her book, her television show idea, and her philosophy. Michael has been deflated and stored.
Guinea pigs can be happily housed in a clean, dry cage, in temperatures between 60o and 85o F.
Arianna, on the other hand, wants to live in the White House, or so they say. I was blown away by reports that she'd "made plays" for Jerry Brown and was once a "liberal Democrat." That's why I need a field guide. It's hard to pin down Arianna's species. If only her ears drooped forward.
Of course, Arianna regularly retools herself. She was a longtime follower of John-Roger and a minister in his Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (considered a suspicious organization by the Cult Awareness Network, a religious watchdog group). But since her husband's campaign she's claimed that, although she continued to give money to the organization, she didn't know about many of his wacko teachings. When Arianna was confronted with a picture of herself undergoing an MSIA baptism in the river Jordan, she said something to the effect of, "Lots of people were in the river." Maybe she was just swimming and was baptized by accident.
The lead female strives for rank among her contemporaries. In doing so she often exhibits special behavior. Sitting on her hind legs, she twists her rear end back and forth and chatters her teeth.
(from Guinea Pigs: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual)
In Arianna's recent book The Fourth Instinct,
she says we should be nice. She says it in 248 pages, using her own nice thoughts as a standard toward which we all should strive. She explains that the pursuit of success, wealth, and recognition is a spiritual dead end. It's not that I think she's wrong, it's just that it's difficult to hear that coming from a successful, rich, famous woman. I wonder if she clawed her way to the top just to show us heathens how empty it is? God, how she gives.
She says the fourth instinct, which follows survival, power, and sex, is the drive toward spirituality, meaning, and generosity. That's probably about my sixth or seventh instinct. My fourth is to go to the movies.
Arianna argues that volunteerism should replace government programs. You see, we grow spiritually when we volunteer, so when the government provides aid to the poor, it denies the rest of us our opportunity to grow by volunteering.
Given this theory, it's unclear how Arianna was able to sprout her wings. According to Vanity Fair, neither Huffington has a history of volunteering and, although Arianna claimed to have volunteered at Storyteller, a Santa Barbara organization that cares for homeless and abused children, its executive director said, "No, she has never volunteered here. In three years no one has ever seen Arianna but twice, and both times she brought a TV crew with her."
It's possible that the guinea pig will gnaw on carpets or furniture during exercise time, or leave droppings, or even vomit.
It scares me to think what Arianna might leave behind. She might be just a funny American novelty if it weren't for the power of Michael's wallet--and the fact that she's a favorite of Newtie's.
Guinea pigs are remarkably fast breeding.
Letters to Paula Lee P. Grossman, e-mail:
Why don't poor people incorporate? Then they'd be eligible for all kinds of subsidies, and wouldn't need welfare.
P.S. You can have this idea for free. Newt doesn't return my calls.
A: Like some kind of big doofus I asked my accountant, Bob, your question. I have tried to give Bob the impression, up until now, that I knew all about finance, but was just too busy thinking to do the little chores I pay him for. Now he knows I'm an idiot and he'll probably embezzle.
I asked him, "Why don't poor people incorporate?"
He said you incorporate for liability and tax purposes, and you have to be a business.
Newt's probably still feeling the sting of embarrassment from asking his accountant.
Sara Ewing, e-mail: I've been going to my new roommate's church for about two weeks. It seems legitimate, yet I've been told that it's really a cult. What's the difference between a religion and a cult?
A: Sara, I'm responding as quickly as I can to your letter because, frankly, I'm worried. I saw a Kristy McNichol made-for-TV movie once where her brother belonged to a cult. It was very scary.
One definition in Webster's New International Dictionary, second edition, says a cult is "any religion regarded as unorthodox or even spurious." This seemed a bit vague to me since, presumably, if I believed one thing I would regard all of the others as spurious. So I called the Cult Awareness Network in Chicago. Their working definition of a destructive cult is that it is unethical and deceptive in its recruiting and/or influence techniques. Say, for example, you are participating in a workshop-seminar-emotional-experience-type program and once you're tired and vulnerable they tell you you need more and it's gonna cost $$. That would be an unethical influence technique.
In the Kristy McNichol movie, her brother kept saying "Father, Father," over and over again. That would be something to watch for, too.
Michael Salvia, e-mail: Why do people pick on me? I'm such a nice person.
A: Among my six cats, Annabelle, a skinny little Siamese, is the most picked on. I used to think it was because she was the youngest, but then I got a kitten who right away beat the crap out of her. Like you, Annabelle is nice, but she cries a lot and interrupts when I'm petting another cat.
Of course, your problem may stem from another situation entirely. Cathy Yarbrough at the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University tells me that in general a chimpanzee is likely to be picked on because of the mother to whom it was born. Chimp hierarchy is fluid, however. In Chimpanzee Politics, Frans de Waal says, "Dominance must be constantly proved." So there would be hope for you among chimpanzees.
My friend Nina Rosen, who teaches nursery school, says, "The child that gets picked on one day can be the picker the next day." But she also said, "Children come into the world with a personality," which leaves us with the "just a big dork" possibility. I'm hoping it's more of a chimpanzee thing.