"Walking the dog

We bought our dog a real bone at the farmer’s market last weekend, figuring this would be good for the dog. The bone wasn’t something shrink-wrapped or braided to look like a bolt of canine breakfast pastry. It came from a real carcass with blood and sinew.

So our dog took this gory treat to the patio and got in touch with his inner dire wolf. He chomped and chewed and he buried what was left beneath a pile of sticks and gravel in the window well.

We found all this quite entertaining.

Then, a couple nights later, our dog got an urgent look in his eyes. There’s a certain zaniness about this look; it’s got an energy that reminds you of those times when Curly of the Three Stooges drops to the floor, rolls on his side and starts spinning in circles on his shoulder. This is our dog’s way of telling us he’s about to blow from one end or the other. At this point, we have approximately 30 seconds to get him out the door.

This is not, thankfully, a frequent occurrence. But when it happens, as it did the other night, it usually marks the beginning of a process, the gradual migration and egress of matter indigestible, that lasts until said matter has finally been expelled to find its ultimate calling as nourishment for weeds.

“Let sleeping dogs lie” goes the old saying. But a dog with an upset stomach thinks nothing of getting up in the middle of the night and demanding a walk.

At least that’s how it seemed to me as I walked our dog around the park near my house at 4 in the morning. The air was humid and smelled like Florida. Even the birds were dreaming.

My dog appeared momentarily energized by the novelty of this situation. He trotted along with head up, ears forward. Meanwhile, at the other end of the leash, I shuffled along, stubbing my toes on the occasional cracks where the sidewalk buckled. With each jolt, news from the previous day bubbled dimly back into my consciousness.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, came to mind. He had given a talk at Columbia University in New York. Among the things he said was that no homosexuals lived in Iran. This was in answer to a question about why his government puts homosexuals to death. Ahmadinejad did not appear to be joking — but it was hard to gauge his sense of humor.

At one time it must have seemed like a coup for Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, to say he had the leader of Iran speaking at his school — a little like saying he booked Hitler before he was “Hitler.”

But then Columbia started getting flak for inviting a guy who questioned whether the Holocaust happened or not. American politicians like Joe Lieberman and Michael Bloomberg used the invitation as an occasion to look disgusted and talk about what a rat Ahmadinejad was. We can only guess about the calls Bollinger must have received from financial contributors threatening to withdraw their support from the university.

So when Ahmadinejad arrived to give his speech, Bollinger turned his introduction into an opportunity to look tough in front of his trustees and donors. Instead of merely presenting Ahmadinejad to the audience and letting the chips fall where they might, Bollinger threw an academic’s version of a sucker punch. He berated the Iranian president for exhibiting “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” called him “ridiculous, brazenly provocative or astoundingly uneducated.”

I’m all for the people who marched outside the hall in protest of Ahmadinejad’s appearance. And the people who came prepared with direct and impertinent questions for the Iranian prez deserve applause as far as I’m concerned. Indeed, I have nothing against heckling when it comes to the powerful among us — they get the spotlight to themselves plenty of times; it’s healthy to remind them their control has limits.

But Bollinger’s behavior had less to do with speaking truth to power than with playing to his critics. As a place where all ideas are subject to scrutiny and challenge, Columbia University made an appropriate venue for Ahmadinejad. This is what academic freedom is all about. But by jumping out in front of the process and insisting on his cheap shot, Bollinger short-circuited that freedom.

Makes you wonder how he’d introduce George Bush.

By this time my dog had pulled me to the park’s farthest reach. Here is where he chose to squat. I blinked and hoped he might finally expel those last bits of undigested corruption in his gut so I could get some sleep. But it was impossible to tell what passed — it was dark out there.