Tuesday, December 26, 2006


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I am still in the midst of moving from the Detroit home to Sterling Heights. There is quite some distance between them and with my work schedule being rather full, it is difficult to make more than two or three trips up per week to make repairs and transfer my meager belongings into the new house. Aside from that, there have been the perfunctory holiday obligations i.e. business parties, friends, and Janice's family gatherings to attend. Each year they seem increase in number and duration. At least they serve alcohol.

As if I didn't have enough to worry about already, I have been fighting this very nasty and determined cold along the way. I suspect it was triggered by an allergic reaction to the dust and mold that had accumulated in the new home's ill-maintained furnace. After spending the better part of last Monday taking apart, cleaning, and rewiring the furnace of the Sterling Heights home, I began to cough and develop a severe sore throat. This is my fault for not wearing a dust mask. The blower and motor were covered in 3/4 of an inch of sheer crap and struggled to spin at all. I probably saved myself several hundred dollars in repairs and heating costs with one day of solid cleaning. I suppose, in hindsight, it's worth sneezing and coughing for a week.

So, I'm not as far ahead in painting and patching as I'd like to be and I'd prefer be installing the new windows or putting on the deck right now. We are also short-handed at work and there is no time off available for me to use, even were I to have the vacation time. Fortunately, there is no real hurry and Janice is super-organized when comes to packing and moving. I would be lost without her help.

Kol Tuv

(More updates to come!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Neturei Karta: And You Thought I Was Crazy?

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Recently, ranking members of the Neturei Karta joined President Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel Holocaust denial convention in Iran. I am ashamed to admit that some of my own cousins are among their numbers. The scary part is something very common among Chasidim; the impossibility for others to tell us apart. The guy in the back of the photo could be my uncle or even my grandfather. If I were still wearing the traditional levush, or chasidic garb, I too could easily be mistaken for one of these clowns. That is, until you speak with me.

I am not going to get into any debates about Israel, religious philosophy, and halacha. I am equally critical of both while, at the same time, understanding the necessity for both secular and religious underpinnings to Israeli society. I also feel the Palestinians have gotten a very raw deal. That is, however, a far cry from asking that Israel pack up and go away. I cannot, for the life of me, understand which Torah, Talmud, Jewish Law, or history book these traitors are reading from. Even if one agrees to the premise of their argument (I certainly do not) i.e. Messianism as the sole precursor to Jewish statehood, at this point the argument is moot. Since the rise of pan-Arab and Moslem nationalism, the nation of Israel and Jews around the world are in a state of Sakanah (danger) and that physical threat of terrorism trumps any and all other considerations.

As matter of Pikuach Nefesh for our state and ourselves, the Neturei Karta should be OUTLAWED in Israel and put into Cherem (excommunication) everywhere else on Earth. If the Israelis somehow saw it fit to outlaw the Kach Party (bad move I think), they should have no qualms whatsoever about throwing these assholes right out of the country. Then again, it's Israel; the land where what shouldn't be is law and what should be doesn't have a coalition strong enough to enact it.

It is one thing to harbor deep resentment for a nation that doesn't share your principles and beliefs. One should be encouraged to dissent and to argue those beliefs in any forum available. Yet, to actively rub shoulders with our sworn enemies in a manner of agreement with their core ideals is plain old-fashioned treason and should be handled as such. I respect dissent; it is what defines me. I cannot and will not offer even one word of compassion for those who physically join forces with those who swear to kill us.

Am Yisroel, b'Eretz Yisroel, Chai L'Olam!

(....and to the Neturei Karta...FUCK YOU!)

Kol Tuv

Friday, December 08, 2006

Usefulness Leads to Nothing

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There are times I feel the world’s indifference to my existence more than others. I never expected the natural universe to become codependent or subservient to my personal wants. I just feel empty of any sense of love for anything at times. I want to interact with something I won’t ever expect to love me nor should it expect to love me in return. I am tired of having ‘strings attached’, because most of the time, I am on being led around by the vast array of tendons anchored to my person by others.

This is the price of being dependable. You become only as valued as your ability to perform. I know this sounds somewhat shallow, but I see the effects of the effort and changes I endure for others and every so often realize that I am nothing more to them than a useful tool; taken out when needed and buried beneath the more popular or pleasing utensils when not, and otherwise, without such specific purpose, forgotten and left to rust. This must be what it is like for someone entering a nursing home to be storaged until holidays or death.

My whole life has been dedicated to one sort of usefulness or another. My father used me like a packmule to cart his tools while training me to be his trophy genius-son. My mother used me to run her stores and earn her some good money, but after that, I didn’t exist. My ex-wife saw me a stepping stone into married society and then, when my usefulness vanished for that end, I became nothing more than a child-support payment and convenient scapegoat for everything wrong with the world. I am the mule-scapegoat hybrid. Send in the crypto-zoologists!

I suspect that some people have actually loved me and I had no idea what to do with that. I do favors for those who ask because that’s who I am and it's also the only way I can be assured of their attention. they don't call me to have fun, just to get the job done. One can assume that my dependability leads people to think well of me, too. I have to stop expecting anything in return or this old man will continue to be disappointed by those who he thinks he can trust with his emotions. I have to stop being angry because of the way others use me. They can’t help themselves any more than I can at this point. Reading this, one can be sure to get a very negative and defensive response from the accused. They can’t imagine themsleves as ‘users’. No one ever does.

It’s too bad and too sad. There are so many thoughts and feelings to sort out. I want to get even with the world sometimes, but I don’t know what that would accomplish. Revenge just isn’t useful and ends up backfiring on the doer. Chas ve shalom I should ever lose my ability to be useful to someone. If that ever occurs, I wouldn’t exist at all! My biggest fear is becoming that 'useless nothing'. I will be found among the other undervalued items and the holders will wonder "Why are we still keeping this around?" That is maybe what nothing feels like.

You will find that the mere resolve not to be useless, and the honest desire to help other people, will, in the quickest and delicat-est ways, improve yourself.” (John Ruskin,1819 - 1900)

“Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” (Mark Twain,1835 - 1910)

Kol Tuv

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Chashmonayim: Motive & Opportunity?

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In the traditional one-dimensional Orthodox ‘theory of everything’, the story of Chanukah is one of noble God-fearing revolutionaries fighting a paganistic and savage conqueror; an occupying force hell-bent on destroying the Jewish faith and forcing its people to blend in with the rest of the Greek Empire. The war is viewed as yet another classic struggle of absolutes i.e. Good vs. Evil, with no in betweens and no hope for our sainted heroes without supernatural intervention and yet another supernatural event to affirm the kedusha of their victory. This, in a nutshell, is Orthodox view of every conflict in history. For now, we will focus solely on repairing the damage done to the Chanukah story.

The Chazal tell us that Matisyahu and his sons were the first to rebel, becoming incensed at the erection of Greek statue in the town square of Modin. We are told that this was the final insult that led to open revolt against Antiochus. Were the Chashmonayim really the only ones upset about this? You mean to tell me that there wasn’t one single Jew from anywhere else who also hated the invaders, and that all of Israel was passively enduring this harsh rule? I hardly think so. Weren’t other Jews suffering hardships of the occupation as well? Where were they and why haven’t we heard more about them?

Revolutions and uprisings are populist ventures. Populism tends to be a minority affair in terms of numbers. It is rare that populist movements catch on widely unless there are many other social or political variables in place that push the movement into the limelight. Had it not been for the First World War, the final decimation of an already crumbling Russian economy, and the political and religious intrigue surrounding the Romanovs, Bolshevism would have remained a fringe, albeit still rather vocal, philosophical movement. The American Revolution, too, was a populist ideal, as fewer than one-third of the colonists supported the war.

Just how many Jews participated in the revolt we will never know, but if it mirrors any of the other populist revolutions throughout history, the numbers would be somewhere between one-tenth and one-third of the Jewish population. I doubt that these men were all Chashmonayim or Kohanim, so there had to have been thousands of common Jews waiting for a leader to step up and take the nation to war. This man was Matisyahu.

Why ultimately did the Chashmonayim lead the revolt and not others? One would think that any devout, pissed-off Jew would have taken up arms, yet these Kohanim appear to have been first and most vocal. Why them? You have to remember, these were the days when the Kohanim were both the religious and political leaders, controlling not only the Bais HaMikdosh, but also education, a huge chuck of the economy, and they served as political advisors to the Melucha. Having a Kohen of some stature and fame sanction the undertaking lends authority to the effort. Men could go out from all over the hills and farms and invoke the name of ‘Matisyahu HaKohen’ and people would respond. If the Kohen says to do it, then it must be that HaShem is also in favor of it. This was true of many cultures, where war or revolt could not take place before the religious leaders gave it their blessings.

This revolt was brewing for some time already among the general populace of Israel. It is likely that the reason the Greek authorities began to erect statues in the squares of Jewish towns was an act of control; an announcement that “Greece is here!” and the Jews better wise up and behave accordingly. Knowing the stubborn nature of my people as I do, I would not have enjoyed the dangerous job of trying to collect taxes on behalf of the Greek government in ancient Israel. The Greeks, like the Romans many years later, were very happy to oblige the local peoples their superstitions and beliefs as long as the tax money was collected and order was preserved. For the Syrian-Greeks to have now begun to attack the religious authority and culture of Israel meant that there were already widespread troubles for the pagan occupiers.

(It is true that Alexander’s foreign policy was quite lenient and it is possible that Antiochus would have followed that course of action were it not for the Jews taking some advantage of the power shift after Alexander’s death. We tend to view Antiochus’ crackdown on Judaism as an action rather than a reaction. Antiochus may have been anxious to establish his own prominence in the wake of Alexander’s reign and found it difficult to win over the people. Then again, maybe Antiochus was just a total asshole.)

Matisyahu and his sons, the Maccabeans, truly deserve to have the revolt named for them. Matisyahu and his sons were prominent and public figures, easily accessible to the Seleucid gendarmes and those Jews who collaborated with the occupiers. They knew the risks of fighting a power with heavy numbers, heavy arms, and a very long reach. They knew their status and their lives were on the line. For a public and wealthy figure to stick his neck out like that shows uncommon valor. The Chashmonayim also did something that would be considered unique in our day and age. They actually fought alongside those Jews who joined the cause. Matisyahu and his sons never hid behind the Ephod or the smoke of the Ketores. They fought and died with brave common men fighting for a common purpose. I wish we had more leaders like that today. (I could offer a list of several, but I doubt you’ll like any of them.)

It is also probable that not all Kohanim and Jews were enthused by Matisyahu’s war on Antiochus. Some of them had already decided to cooperate with his regime, serving both the interests of Seleucids and their own ambitions. Some of those certainly hoped to influence the Seleucids to allow Jewish practice to go unchallenged. Some hoped to ride out the storm and pray for the best outcome. One can be sure that when news of revolt spread to Yerushalayim that there were many whose only response could be summed up by a heavy sigh and “Oh shit, not again.” To be honest, had I lived in those times, I would have had very mixed feelings about a revolt with such little apparent chance of success. After all, I have always been a bit of a ‘Hellenist’ deep down.

In Shmoneh Esreh during Chanuka we add “…..strong over the weak, the few over the many, and pure over the impure.” The authors of this tefillah mistakenly assumed there were miracles involved that allowed for a victory where none should be had. Occupations never last long because, as we have learned from countless such endeavors, since the indigenous peoples fight much harder for their home turf and, knowing the terrain, have a distinct home-field advantage that no number of conquering battalions can master. In truth, our numbers did not need to be greater to win; we only had to apply the force of our will. In such a situation, strengths and weaknesses become ambiguous. In terms of ‘few and many’, it is likely that many of those initially reluctant to join the revolt did wait and see how successful the campaign would become before taking an active role. The ‘few’ may have become ‘many’ as time went on.

There is one other point to make as to why the Chashmonayim and other Kohanim may have led the revolt, and it isn’t quite as noble as one would imagine, yet I wouldn’t say that it diminishes their heroism in any way. Now it is alleged that the Kohanim had were hot-heads; men prone to bad tempers and of little patience. It is surprising then, that it took so long for them to speak out and take action, considering that Antiochus had already screwed with the Avodas HaBayis. That should have been quite enough! Yet, it wasn’t. What other factors, in addition to the incident in Modin, may have contributed to Matisyahu’s anger? What else was going on that might have pushed him to the edge but not quite over it?

I do not know how the tax structure of ancient Israel was set up, how it was enforced, or how much was really collected. We do know that Shlomo HaMelech imposed very high taxes on the Jews and his son, Rechavam, when advised to lower the people’s tax burden, laughed at the idea and ended up splitting the kingdom in two because of it. Aside from the being taxed by the melucha, Jews also had the mitzvah of paying teruma and ma’aser to Kohanim and Levi’im. I am not sure how accountants handled the legitimate deductions in those days, but one thing was certain, the more wealth the Jews had to pay out to the Melucha or to Antiochus, the less was available for the Kohanim. Matisyahu and his sons had a very personal stake in the revolt, and I think it played a major role in their ultimate decision to get involved. Even in the American Revolution, which few would argue was not a noble cause, it was not until taxation became the issue that common man and land-owner alike were willing join the idealists in risky combat. I think our Chashmonayim saw their former status shrinking and fearing they might have to get real jobs, like the rest of the Jews, did not wish to give up an aristocratic and lucrative way of life.

The Chashmonayim may have had very good reasons other than money for fighting to maintain their economic status. Like it or not, whether a Kohen is a self-serving bastard or a tzadik gamur, it is still a mitzvah to pay terumah and ma’aser. If the Kohen, charged with ensuring the overall spiritual health of the nation, must advocate the fulfillment of all mitzvos, then these, too, should be high on their list of mitzvos to promote. We don’t feel the burden of those mitzvos involved with farming today, but in an agrarian society like ancient Israel the laws governing growing, harvest, and tithing were daily considerations. As in all things, there were likely to be those who were 100% sincere and those whose sincerity was somewhat lacking.

Heroism takes on many forms and has many motivations. Actions have a strange way of hiding the true intent. Those that appear as heroes and icons for their courage are often not acting from noble purpose. Let it be said again that none of the ulterior motives the Chashmonayim may, or may not, of had take away one bit from their heroism and bravery. If their intents were noble, selfish, or a little of both, it matters not. They took great risks and they sacrificed. I think they might have waited too long to start a revolt, but everything in life comes down to the proper timing. It’s possible that Matisyahu deliberately provoked the enemy in Modin as a feign to draw attention from the grass roots organizing that had been going on for months.

Honestly, I never take the Chazal at their word for anything anymore. Their take is always one-dimensional and shallow.

Maccabee Chai!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Man Pays $20K For Non-Existent Child

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Just when I thought I had heard everything regarding divorce, custody, and support issues, this story reminds me that there are always new lows that opportunistic ex-spouses will stoop to in order to squeeze another dollar from a non-custodial parent. If there were an honest child support system anywhere in the US, this following story could never have happened, no matter how vindictive or cunning the ex-wife became. The system not only offered her a opportunity to create the scam, but it refused to do anything about it once alerted by the ex-husband.


Man paid $20,000 in support for nonexistent child

The Associated Press

December 13, 2004

ALBUQUERQUE — Steve Barreras’ attorney said he had never seen anything like it.

After Barreras was hauled into court, peppered with threats and demands for money for a child he adamantly denied fathering five years ago and even paid out $20,000 to support, his ex-wife was under a judge’s order to produce the child.

So last week, Viola Trevino picked up a 2-year-old girl and her grandmother off the street, promised them a trip to see Santa Claus and $50 and took the girl to court, alleging it was her daughter.

“I have seen hundreds of jury trials and I have never seen anything like this,” said Rob Perry, Barreras’ attorney.

It was the latest chapter in a bizarre case that has prompted Gov. Bill Richardson’s office to call for a full investigation. The elaborate ruse stretched over five years and involved fake DNA evidence, a forged Social Security number and birth and baptismal certificates, court records show.

Last week, state District Judge Linda Vanzi ruled the child did not exist.

After feeding the stand-in daughter and her grandmother hamburgers, it seems Trevino parked near the courthouse, where she left the grandmother in the car and took the child into court. Only when the grandmother followed her into court did Trevino admit that the child was not hers.

The 52-year-old Trevino announced to a family-court judge in December 1999 that she gave birth to a girl fathered by Barreras that September. Barreras, 47, who says he had a vasectomy in 1998, said it was impossible. The couple had two adult children, a son and a daughter. Paternity tests were ordered, and, in February 2001, Barreras was ordered to pay Trevino child support. Barreras continued to protest.

Trevino was ordered to bring in a birth certificate, but she did not.

Her adult daughter was even fired from a hospital after she was caught attempting to create documents pertaining to the birth of a Stephanie Trevino, according to court records. Then another DNA paternity test was ordered, this time done by a private doctor, but Trevino did not obey the court order and instead went back to the same company where the first test was done. Court records show that both DNA tests were done by a friend of the couple’s daughter.

Because of the DNA matches, Perry said the Child Enforcement Division of the state Human Services Department garnisheed Barreras’ paycheck , forcing him to pay child support.

“How can this happen? It is like a plane wreck caused by a cascading series of events,” he said. Betina Gonzales McCracken, spokeswoman for the department, said her agency is not to blame because the division was only enforcing a court order for payment of child support.

Now, I realize that this story is a couple of years old, but it is still ongoing. The ex-wife was ordered to pay back $15,000, has refused and, to make things worse, is demanding alimony payments! Gov. Richardson, who had promised to look into the matter and make sure that Mr. Barreras was refunded his money from the FOC, reneged on his offer. Apparently, even a sitting governor has no power when it comes to the misuse of power by an FOC office.

This is not the fault of a scheming ex-wife. This travesty of justice is the fault of a system that is either too lazy or motivated by its own internal financial concerns to check into claims of fraud designed to bilk ex-husbands out of their money. I have had my own problems in the past with FOC agents and bureaucrats and their response to claims of fraud, even with irrefutable proof of such fraud, is generally a cold, numbing silence. They simply refuse to enforce honesty in the system. If the system was balanced, without automatically favoring women over fathers or men, then the presumption of her claims would have fallen flat as soon as Mr. Barreras refuted them.

The true test of fairness and balance and the prevailing attitudes among FOC officials that oppose this balance can be seen in the overwhelming opposition of FOC staff, judges, divorce lawyers, women’s groups, and even prosecutors to the various forms of the Shared Parenting Bill. Their excuse for not allowing fathers equal time are based in two fallacies. First, if the court allows equal time from the get go, then abusive fathers with not be weeded out and the children will not be protected. What? If the father is abusive, the mother should prove it to the court, rather than assume that he must be abusive because she says so. This stupid excuse proves my point that the courts, in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary, don’t believe that a woman would ever lie when it comes to her children. (Remember Susan Smith?)

Second, opponents of shared parenting think that the only reason a man would want 50% custody of his child is to avoid paying child support. This theory defies all logic and shows the capricious and vicious nature of the FOC. If a man has his child for half the year, then he is already supporting that child i.e. feeding, clothing, housing, etc. while the child is in his care. Their claim makes not one lick of sense, unless there is something else going on behind the scenes that has nothing to do with supporting children, but rather supporting the system that collects the support and the lawyers who make millions of dollars litigating such contentious matters as support and visitation.

Want to know why the system isn’t being fixed? Think about who stands to lose from reform. Clue: It’s not the Dads.

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What Kind of Bug Are You?

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Today at the office we had way too much free time to banter about. Inevitably, after a half hour or more of random babbling, we find out something about one of our coworkers that we were better off never having found out. We also tend to play games on occasion. For a while we played the 'movie game', which consists of naming all movies that start with a particular letter. Today, however, the topic was bugs, and which sort of insect, if you could choose one, would you prefer to be?

Needless to say that the ladies present chose either lady beetles or butterflies. Not bad choices, but still unimaginative. Choosing a bug simply because it is pretty or because it's the only one you can think of on the spot isn't all that amazing a feat. One fellow decided he would be a praying mantis, rather predictable considering his inflated ego, and another a water strider, a bug that actually walks on water. (No, he isn't a devout Christian.) Forced by the competition at this point to be original and witty, I waited patiently for my turn to speak up. I can't stomach any games, no matter how silly, that don't provide some artistic challenge, and topping the water strider (a very, very cool bug) would require some quick thinking.

So here's my response:

"If I could be a bug, I would be dung beetle. Why, you ask? This way, when my life turns to SHIT, I'd already be an expert at handling it!"

(For those of you who haven't seen a water strider, here is good picture:)

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Moving: No Cat Left Behind?

I found a great deal on a much newer home some 40 miles from where I now reside. It is about twice the size of where I am now, but for the price, I would be stupid not to take the offer. The home is in great shape, and other than some cosmetic work, a deck, and vinyl windows, it requires no extensive upgrading or repair. With a good cleaning and a coat of paint, the house is move-in ready.

The only thing holding me back is my sense of responsibility for the various forms of wildlife that frequent my home in search of a meal or somewhere warm and dry to crash every now and then. I am pretty sure that the next owners won’t be so generous with their table scraps and extra cardboard. I would honestly feel guilty leaving them behind. I feel that after all that had been taken from them in terms of habitat and safety, that we should owe them something back for the imposition on their species. It’s only fair.

I am aware that I have no control over their destiny, and even when I help them through a tough winter or feed them treats they wouldn’t normally find while scouring through trash bins and compost piles, I realize that our relationship is not personal nor is it going to become any deeper than it isn’t already. My feelings are my own internal creation and Nature cares nothing for them. I feel as I do, and I don’t plan on offering any apologies.

It was nice having the same pair of cardinals nest close by year after year. The skunks would occasionally tangle with the opossum or the raccoons and there would be some ‘fragrant’ after-effects lingering sometimes for days. I happen to like that smell. Late at night, one can hear the opossum eating from the large food dish outside, where they simply turn the dish over on its side and eat until something or someone interrupts their midnight buffet. I will miss sitting out with the raccoons while they sift through the scraps of food and carefully pick out the best pieces for themselves. The bird feeder will come with me and I’m sure that where there is seed and sunflowers, there will be birds to eat them.

The stray cats all have names and numbers and I am debating which ones I will be taking with me. Murray is a small orange tabby who was born under my neighbor’s home. Murray was named after a cat from a Showtime series “Dead Like Me.” He was taken in by another female cat named Firefly; named so because she is completely dark except for the very tip of her tail, which is bright white. Firefly is very timid and she trained Murray to be just as skittish. Firefly was replaced as Murray’s mentor by Dragonfly, another dark cat, with the mooching skills of a seasoned professional. Though he tries to get Murray to be more social with humankind, Murray’s early socialization won’t allow him to get much closer to me than two or three feet. Murray isn’t shy about asking for anything though and if the outdoor food bowl is empty, he will make himself heard at the kitchen window. Murray has been around my home since being a tiny kitten and, sadly, will likely be left behind when I move.

Princess and Silo will adjust. I will have to lock them in the new house for a few months just to acclimate them to their new surroundings, but I am sure they will be fine. With more space, the two won’t be crossing paths often, and therefore Princess, the calico, won’t be throwing her usual hissie-fits when another cat comes within her range. Silo responds to her wailing with deference, indifference, and sometimes he goads her into a fight. She is very easily manipulated because of her paranoia and control freak-ism. Silo probably thinks she’s an idiot.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the move. My neighbors have changed a few times in five years; some better, some not so better. The new area has a lot of unknowns, is quite a ways north of the city and much, much quieter. As a ghetto child, moving into less tumultuous surroundings might have a disconcerting effect, but a larger living space would also mean more space for another human being besides myself (she knows who she is), and I think she wants me to move just so we can get a bigger bed!

Either way, I will keep everyone posted on how things go. Everything should be decided within the next couple of weeks. The blog will stay active in the meantime.

Kol Tuv

They Just Won't Get Jobs

I have started asking the cats to find jobs and start earning some money. I cannot confirm this for sure, but as of today, I suspect not one of them has even bothered to check the printed want-ads or post a resume on-line. When I ask them why they haven't sought gainful employment, they merely offer a sort of non-chalant blank-ish stare, with eyes half-closed as if they are deliberately trying to put themselves into a deepened state of eternal indifference.

Dogs have jobs. In fact, there is whole group of canines known as 'working breeds'. No working cats to be found, I'm afraid. So far, feline unemployment is holding steady at 100%.