Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Headed Home

Noting the passing of evangelist Billy Graham.


We are told that this, and a few other things, are not discussed in polite company. I'm sure that's true.

Religion can be a place of great reconciliation. The church into which I was confirmed, in Pittsford, NY, was among the first around to have women preaching, the first to have men and women of color address the congregation and - amazing that this would even be the case - the first to invite (they accepted) nuns to attend. 

Billy Graham had a high profile - a stunning world-wide profile - as friend of, and spiritual advisor to, presidents. He spoke internationally. Much has been written about him, more now that he has passed. Gone home, he would tell his followers when asked what death would mean to him.

In the Fifties, he befriended a man named Martin Luther King. Over the years they lived their own destinies, and sometimes differed. But, in 1963 when Dr. King was arrested during the Birmingham campaign, Billy Graham was there to get him out of jail.

My own relationship with "The Church" has ebbed and flowed over the years. It is impossible, at least for me, to escape the notion that even as I look all around me, realize everywhere is away and conclude I am the center of the universe, I'm not.

Neither, Mr. Graham would have said, was he. But, he had a particular gift for believing he knew where that center was, and making it a little more accessible to those seeking it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Rose, By Any Other Name

Someone who has odd interests, and is often silly at times. A dork is also someone who can be themselves and not care what anyone thinks. Urban Dictionary.

Previously, we examined the word "geek" and how that appellation applied to me. The context was plane spotting, and two guys from London. Today's lesson - Why Jim is a Dork.

Our recent cruise aboard the gargantuan Oasis of the Seas was hit or miss - mostly hit. How can I complain about being away from work, love of my life at my side, margarita in hand aboard what is basically a floating all-inclusive resort. 

But, I am nothing if not observant. A quick run through the TV in our cabin revealed the following:

How to buy diamonds at the port calls, or;
Where we were, how fast we were going, or;
The cruise director (who was actually funny) being funny, or;

There were two flavors of ESPN - one which had the usual talking heads yelling at each other about football players we had never heard of, and;


Okay, I can see you reaching for the mouse all the way from my office. I know what you mean. But, it was the only thing worth watching, since NBC has the Olympics locked up and Royal Carib hadn't bothered to buy the package. Lucky us, right? So, we gave cricket a look.

So, it isn't baseball... But, it actually is at least a distant cousin. But, let me try this out on you. It looks, for all the world, like a combination of baseball (a ball and bat), hockey (somebody protecting a goal) and that time-honored kid past time, running bases. Okay, go ahead and tell me that doesn't sound better than a sales pitch for bamboo sheets.

Combine that with the locale of the tournament  being broadcast - Antigua. I'll save you the trouble - It's one of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. The matches we watched were played under the lights, the pitch surrounded by lush stands of palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze. Jamaica was playing Guyana...with some big dude from Guyana hitting the ball well into the darkness.

We went to a small Mexican restaurant aboard and watched cricket as we ate. One of the wait staff, a guy from India, explained some of the niceties. There is a strike zone (after a fashion) and if you can get past the sight of the "bowler" running up to the pitching line, throwing straight-armed and bouncing the ball up to a guy wearing leg pads, guarding wickets... One of the commentators actually said, "Oh, that's untidy cricket" about a play that would have made it to "C'mon, Man!" if this was the NFL.

I was fascinated. I was rooting for Guyana, but Jamaica had some serious game...


Never mind. I'm going back to reading Cricket Explained, a book my dear wife bought for the husband she knows so very well. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Whistling Past the Graveyard

If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done.
— Peter Ustinov

Few things are truly certain. One is that people will offer grand, sweeping statements in the aftermath of a tragedy. Yeah, me too.

The latest school shooting, this one in Florida, is no different than the last, or the one before that. Or the one before that. Some disgruntled asshole obtained a weapon - this time apparently legally - walked into a school and began shooting. Multiple fatalities, multiple injuries. Much political hay being made on all sides. No real discussion, no real debate. In time, this will just be another historical artifact.

Here are a few things I think are factual.

First, the ubiquitous AR-15 platform began as a project to fill a need within the US Military. The US Military purchases weapons for one reason - to arm service members. The notion that the the AR-15 was not conceived as a small arm intended for use in shooting human beings is absurd.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic shoulder weapon that is functionally indistinguishable from any number of other semi-automatic rifles. The differences are sometimes cosmetic (most AR-15s are black), but sometimes meaningful.

The AR is ergonomically superior to the weapons systems it replaced. Mild recoil, compact design and the straight line bore-to-shoulder make it easier to fire multiple shots accurately (the argument over magazine capacity is a side show). Advancements in "furniture"  - stocks, fore grip pieces, etc., enhance the shooter's ability to run the gun. Optics that make target acquisition child's play are inexpensive, rugged and efficient.

Rifle trainers, and those who know much more than me about ballistics often engage in meaningful discussions about the effectiveness of the .223 (or, NATO 5.56) versus the .308 (roughly the NATO 7.62). Sadly, the lethality of the .223 in mass murder scenarios is beyond question.

Finally - despite the need the AR-15 weapons system was invented to meet, it's not exclusively a "weapon of war." Many individuals whose opinions I value suggest the AR as the premier home defense weapon. It has been used successfully in that capacity all over the country. I know, everyone loves the shotgun. It's easy, it's point and click... And every trigger pull unleashes eight or nine thirty caliber pellets moving in a steadily expanding pattern. If half of them hit the target - pretty good shooting - four are still headed downrange.

So, now we reach the second issue. Does the Second Amendment of the US Constitution secure the right of citizens to own this efficient killing machine? Undoubtedly it does. The landmark Supreme Court cases of Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) clearly state that the right of an individual to own firearms is "central to the inherent right of self-defense." Not target shooting, not hunting, not macho posing. 

A number of commentators go on at great length about the right to protect one's self against governmental tyranny. Sure, fine. 

But, before anyone runs off to buy a machine gun... The Supreme Court also said that reasonable restrictions, to address "compelling governmental interests," would be constitutional. What are they? 

The court in Heller left it for us to work out. So...

We're the grown ups. We have failed the children we are supposed to protect. We haven't enacted quickly enough laws designed to keep the frightfully efficient AR-15 out of the wrong hands. When enacted, the agencies charged with enforcing those laws has been remarkably inept at doing more than apologizing profusely as yet another mass murdered slips through the dragnet. We've gotten really good at burying school children, though. And saying beautiful phrases at their memorial services.

Some schools have chosen to arm teachers. This is, among other things, an intensely personal decision to be engaged in by...wait for it...grown ups.

Let's all grow up a little. The right to keep and bear arms comes with a degree of responsibility that we have been criminally reckless in avoiding. The absolutists on both sides - yeah, I'm talking to you, too, NRA - need to understand that firearms are valuable tools that keep people safe. And, they are dangerous instruments of mass murder that some people ought not to possess. The Constitution recognizes this, and is awaiting us to get off of our dead asses and do something about it. Does this mean that a lot of people will have guns? Yes. Does it mean some very nice, well-meaning people won't be allowed to have them?

You're damn right it does.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Holding The Line

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

It is not unusual to hear reference to the law enforcement profession as closed, reticent, hard for outsiders to enter or understand. With the murder of El Paso County Deputy Micah Flick this evening the familiar conversations unfold. We hug each other, say supportive things to each other - grieve together, cry together and, eventually, tell funny and illustrative stories about the fallen...together.

In the midst of this horrible period - three Colorado Law enforcement officers killed in five weeks - we turn to each other. It is not that we are more worthy, or better. It isn't that the courage it takes to be one of us is superior to that of other professions or callings. It's that we know what this particular calling entails, what it takes to make a go of it, and what it extracts from all of us.

It's the officer responding to a call, at the same time on the phone hearing of another fallen brother or sister. It's the significant other that packs lunches, washes undershirts and vest covers and eats dinner, or sleeps, or puts the kids to bed...alone, four nights a week. It's the mom and dad, the cousins, the nephews who watch from afar and hope...pray...that they never get that phone call. It's the man, or woman, who marries into the profession and, before too long, gets a belly full of processions and Class A uniforms and "Something happened in the Springs tonight." It's the cop kids who grow up understanding far beyond their years what mom or dad...or mom and dad...risk every time they go to work.

It isn't that we don't trust others. It's that we trust each other so much. With our lives, with our hearts... With everything we have. When an officer falls, we have each other. And we know, when it happens again, and it will, we are there for each other once more.

Then, we see the flags, and the citizens. We see the firefighters, ambulance attendants. We see construction workers and kids and military. We see the people we serve standing by the side of the road, saluting. We go for a cup of coffee and find out our money is unnecessary - it's been paid for by the woman with the little kids who just left, wanting nothing in return.

And we suit up. Our loved ones say good bye and cope with our absences. And it all, somehow, makes sense.

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Drama, In Many Acts

This is a Law Porn Alert.

The release of todays Nunes FISA memo has created a firestorm of charges, counter-charges and prognostications. Most of the talking (or shrieking or screaming) heads are giving the memo their utmost attention, to either:

Proclaim that the future of our free Republic is at stake, or;

This not only doesn't live up to its billing, it isn't anything at all.

Much depends on what people have said in the past, how what is in the memo supports/refutes that, and where their bias takes them. Me?

I have poured myself a glass of wine, chopped up some cheese, selected some crackers and sat back to watch it all unfold. This is going to be interesting.

The underlying allegation contained in the memo seems to be that members of the FBI used information gleaned from (either in whole, or in part) opposition research done initially by Republicans, but later taken over by Democrats. It is possible that some, or all, of the information was - how would you say - fanciful. Made up.

It isn't important, at this juncture, whether the information is credible, or garbage. It isn't important how much, or little, it mattered in the original FISA application. The mere (mere?) fact that the information is questionable is sufficient to trigger all kinds of things. To wit:

If the original FISA warrant is based on fabrications that the FBI knew to be so, or they were reckless in determining the voracity of the information, the warrant could be void, and any evidence suppressed. This would be the subject of a very tasty suppression hearing, multiple appeals and perhaps eventually heard by The Supremes.

The same names keep coming up, with allegations of bias surrounding them. Is this a case of good-faith reliance on facially credible information, "It's true because I wish it to be so," or an understanding that - in the event of a Clinton Administration - their activities would be overlooked? Or rewarded (Victor Davis Hanson has an interesting piece from that perspective).

Wither the F...B...I? I have a number of friends, and co-workers, who are or were FBI employees. Every one of them (without exception) is honest, competent and a professional. None of them are political appointees. That is probably a meaningful distinction. It is possible that holdover Obama Administration employees have been less than objective. It is possible there is a giant conspiracy within a weaponized DOJ. And, it's possible that this is nothing other than the usual bullshit - four thousand or so political assholes jockeying with each other over who gets the cash and the perks, employing whatever dirty, shameless methods appear at hand.

I'm a law geek. How this all shakes out is an amazing exercise in self-government. Because, as I've written previously - Tom, Ben, Jim and George are not here to help us out. We have to figure it out on our own.

And, we're not especially good at doing that without drama.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Something in the Air

A mere few weeks since the murder of Deputy Zackari Parrish another deputy is killed in the line of duty. Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm, shot while chasing a suspect. Another of our best taken in the cause of service above self.

Social media posts in the aftermath of an officer death sometimes begin, and end with a simple word... "Enough." I get it. I know the feeling.

I attended my first police funeral when Arvada Officer Walter "Mike" Northey was struck by a car and killed in August, 1979, while I was in the police academy. He was just twenty-five, a year older than I was. I will never forget the sound of his wife sobbing in the otherwise hushed church.

There have been so many since then. Good men and women who fell chasing a calling that does not easily translate into words. Rather, the deeds themselves speak the language of the love one has for their country, their community and the friends with whom they share the danger. It is a love that carries hardship, and sacrifice. And, it always will.

We live in an imperfect society, a paradox of the best, and the worst that people can show. Surrounded here in Colorado by several million good, honest, hard-working people, there are those few who prey on the weak, victimize the vulnerable and rob the innocent of the dignity they should enjoy of a life free from fear.

"Who will go?” And I said, “Lord, I'll go! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8.

And so, we go. To the disturbance in Douglas County. To the assault in Thornton. We go, knowing what might happen. Knowing what must happen. And men and women keep lining up to be chosen.

The writer in me would like to tell you a story, in its entirety. The police supervisor is ethically bound to keep confidences. So, here is what was open to public view.

As part of our agency's recruitment and selection process, we administer a physical agility test. It isn't easy - requiring the candidate to climb fences, run an obstacle course and drag a 150 pound dummy. It is run at a recreation center, in full public view. In fact, several individuals watched the proceeding and cheered on the huffing, puffing applicants. All had come from out of the state - where there is a great deal more air in the air. Most of the men and women completed the course within the allotted time. Three did not, and were allowed a re-test. In the years I've been doing this I've never seen anyone be successful the second time through.

One of the second-try candidates was failing. Her legs were giving out, her lungs screaming. Those of us with the stopwatches could only watch, and wait. The sad ending was inevitable. Then, it happened. My work partner, a big, imposing man of great personal character, bellowed - 

"Just how bad do you want this?"

I don't know from where the renewed speed, the strength and the never-give-up stamina were drawn. The applicant did not quit. She passed. And then, collapsed.

Who will go? Who will take the place of the fallen and carry on, have the watch? Protect our communities?

She will. The others cheering her on will. The next generation will. You are in good hands.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Positive Waves

"Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?" Oddball (Donald Sutherland), Kelly's Heroes, (1970).

Other people's discomfort. Nothing sends me to the computer to blog like reports from someone of his or her misfortune. This time it was my brother and his flight to London on a "seasoned" United Airlines 767. His comments encouraged a general discussion among friends about the current state of disarray in commercial flying. I have to agree - not like it used to be.

My first flight was with my dad, from Philadelphia to Detroit to see his brother, my Uncle Jim. I was all of two, which made it (probably) some time in 1957. My dad remembered the aircraft as a DC-7, or an Electra. I thought it might have been the majestic Lockheed Constellation - it's the romantic in me. I remember dimly a flight attendant playing peak-a-boo with me. In reality, she was probably flirting with my 30 year-old barely out of the Marine Corps father.

My next flight was June, 1972. My Uncle Jim (funny how things have a way of working out), now living outside of Frankfurt, Germany, had invited me to spend the summer with my aunt and him. The flight to Frankfurt would become the standard against which I've compared all other flights. To wit:

My one-way ticket translates to about $3500 in today's dollars. I flew from Rochester to Syracuse (seventy miles) and then sat for several hours. The next flight was down to Philadelphia, where I sat for several more hours. Perhaps two hours late I boarded a creaky, cranky, aged TWA 707, a four-engine jet aircraft, bound for London. Only, the airplane couldn't make it that far on one tank of gas, so we stopped in Bangor, Maine to top off. Advertised as a forty-five minute delay, it was triple that.

I was wedged into the middle seat of a plane packed to the gills. On either side, two beefy (and surly) guys who had not gotten the message that the armrests belong to the dude in the middle. I had a book to read, and headphones were provided for the entertainment system.

Entertainment system...Ha! They plugged into the seat, but were acoustically operated (as opposed to electronically). The sound was literally piped to the ear pieces from some hidden, central location. The playlist - six or eight songs each on the six or eight channels - was bland. I still get a chill up my spine whenever I hear Argent's Hold Your Head Up, which came around every half hour from dusk on America's East Coast to dawn at Heathrow. There was a movie during the flight, which was so awesome I don't remember a thing about it. Dinner was served around midnight (nothing special). I was not even old enough to wash it down with a cocktail. I arrived in Frankfurt nearly 30 hours after I'd begun, a trip now made non-stop from Denver in a tad over eight hours, costing about a third as much, this for a round trip. Thus was international coach flying, circa 1972-style.

Compare that to a glorious flight in an exit row on a gorgeous US Airways A321 (Assholes and Elbows) in 2014. Flying home from seeing our oldest daughter sworn in as a Maryland attorney the day before the birth of our fourth grandchild - a little girl (On Track) seated in an exit row next to a Naval Academy cadet on Southwest. Flying down to see our eldest get married (Plane Talk) in Florida, watching the pelicans with Graham.

None of which beats a Thanksgiving flight we took to Liberia, Costa Rica to see some good friends marry each other (isn't that totally a fun sentence?). The FAs outnumbered us on the flight from Denver to Atlanta and the drinks were free. We had a ten hour layover, so we checked into the airport Hilton and headed for the bar. She had a deliciously light sun-dried tomato pizza, I a mound of crisp, tender cornmeal-encrusted calamari dipped in an elegant marinara sauce. After a great night's sleep we boarded a Delta 757 in mint condition and settled in for what we thought would be a normal flight.

It wasn't.

Pilots call the weather that day "Severe Clear." As we flew down the Gulf Coast of Florida we could see the Keys from thirty-something thousand over Tampa. Straight over the forbidden Island of Cuba, and out into the middle of the Caribbean. From our perch in coach, a cup of excellent coffee in one hand, a very good book in the other and the love of my own life at my side...we could see the Cayman Islands, little emerald jewels on a turquoise sea.

My friends are right. Flying just ain't what it used to be.