Sunday, August 26, 2018

Let All The Children Boogie

There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile

Starman, David Bowie ("The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust"), 1972.

 Ah, Facebook...

"Earthrise" is a photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. It depicts our planet coming into view as the spacecraft's orbit takes it from the far side of the Moon.

Beautiful blue and elegant, it was called "The most influential environmental photograph ever taken" by adventurer Galen Rowell. One can easily conclude that, despite petty bickering, we share an elegant and unique place in the universe. Preserving what we have, finite and delicate as it is, should be a priority over destruction and disaster.

It was also thought to put at least one thing - that the Earth is flat - to bed. That notion, of course, is cute.

Someone posted Earthrise on FB. The reason they did so is lost in what happened next. The thread was taken over by individuals, many especially exorcised and impassioned, alleging that the Moon landings of Apollo 11 and 12 were faked. Also 14-17. No human being has ever landed on the Moon, they screeched. One poor soul, obviously demented, wrote his opinion in all caps and included in his statement approximately twenty exclamation marks.

Ben Franklin once remarked that "Three people can keep a secret if two are dead." Tom Clancy wrote in The Hunt for Red October that the ability to keep a conspiracy secret is inversely proportionate to the square of the number of people involved. The possibility that NASA faked the Moon landings and has successfully kept it quiet is about as likely as President Trump's minions keeping the Stormy Daniels story among themselves.

But, that is not what is fascinating. Conspiracy theories abound, especially on the internet. Some of them are preposterous. Others... Insane. One need ask not whether they are true, but what it is about human nature that causes people to want to believe.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Righteous Mind, suggested that people follow intuition first, and then look for evidence later. In the absence of evidence, economist Dr. Thomas Sowell suggests, human beings concoct rational-sounding arguments based on "common sense" but little else. Those people, Dr. Sowell observes, do not look for facts to support their theories.

One need ask - why would someone want to believe that the Moon landings were faked? What interest, what emotion, what personal need would that conclusion serve? What would compel someone to be so sure, in the absence of evidence, that they would troll FB and foist their improbable conclusion on total strangers? Why am I wasting valuable minutes of my own life writing this?

That's what writers do.

One question for the conspiracy theorists. Telemetered data was broadcast from the spacecraft every second of each mission, which was readily collected by anyone with the proper equipment. Any idea why the Soviets didn't call bullshit on the whole thing?

Oh, right. They were in on it, too.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Life Serving Others

"In prison, I fell in love with my country..." John McCain.

Mourning the passing of John McCain, senator, naval aviator, patriot.

John McCain (right)
Required viewing in my "knife and fork class" as a new direct commission ensign in the Naval Reserve was a series of videos shot aboard the carrier USS Forrestal on 29July 1967. Multiple aircraft sat running, fully fueled and armed, awaiting launch for an attack against North Vietnamese forces. 

A flash... An errant missile from an F-4 Phantom. One explosion after another. A dozen pilots trapped in their cockpits as flames threaten to cook off their ordinance. A chief, wearing shipboard khakis and carrying a hand-held fire extinguisher, runs toward the planes as canopies come slowly open. Another explosion and the chief is gone.

Lieutenant Commander John McCain's A-4 Skyhawk is right in the middle of the holocaust. The cameras record him jumping from his cockpit onto a wing, then tumbling off down to the deck awash with spilled jet fuel.

He escaped the disaster that killed 134 sailors and pilots, only to be shot down and captured in October of the same year. He spent the next six years in a North Vietnamese prison camp. He was tortured, his injuries ignored. Yet, he demonstrated courage, leadership and an iron will. He would suffer the after effects of his injuries for the rest of his life.

His political career took him first to the House of Representatives, and later to the Senate. He developed a reputation as a maverick, with the unique ability to anger and frustrate both sides of the aisle. A bill meant to curtail lavish political contributions designed to influence politicians (some would say purchase their services) was co-sponsored with Russ Feingold, left wing Democrat senator from Wisconsin.

His run for president in 2008 was pure McCain. He chose as his running mate a little known woman governor from Alaska with a reputation for bucking well-connected political machines. She initially appeared to be a fresh, plain-spoken breath of fresh air. That she turned out to be a lessor figure on the national stage, probably responsible for voters souring on their ticket, did not cause McCain to toss her to the wolves.

On election night, the presidency lost, he took to the stage and... Marveled, celebrated, that he had lived to see the day the United States of America had chosen an African-American as her president. He was proud to be an American, he said.

As one might imagine, he was opposed to the unconventional interrogation methods used in the aftermath of 9/11. Reasonable people disagree on this subject, but Senator McCain never waivered.  Agree or disagree, it is always the right of a man who endured torture to hold his country to higher standards than the ones he had been shown.

He was not perfect. He could be difficult, petulant, petty. But, on the short list of great Americans he finds a comfortable place among our most distinguished servants, and warriors.

Fair winds and following seas, sir. The battles you fought on our behalf were worthy of you.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Inside Scoop

"I'm a cop at heart. It's in my blood." David A. Clarke, Jr.

It was an impromptu moment, one I miss most of all. Running errands - that is, picking up BDU pants to wear test - I stopped at a nationally-recognized coffee shop for a salad. It wasn't hard to pick out the unmarked supervisor's cars in the lot.

My friends sat at an outdoor table, relaxed. I went over, intent on saying hi and moving on. I had things to do.

"Sit down," one of them said. "Let me buy you a cup."

We have been work friends for years, he and I. Once, thirty or more years ago, he and I disarmed a man with a gun who had forced his way into an apartment and was beating a woman with a telephone. We still chuckle about that, how the guy had planned to be gone when the police showed up. Big mistake.

The three of us, sergeants all, talked about the things police supervisors discuss. Rumors, gossip... Families and friends. The good times. One excused himself for a meeting.

"I'll get the shield back to the station," he said as he left.

"We just came from talking a suicidal guy with a gun out of a hotel room," my friend said. "I wonder how many of these people know what we really do."

Not many, we decided. By design.

America - big cities and small towns, industrial states or ranches and farms. It works because there are men and women willing to do things in the service of their communities. Firefighters, nurses, dispatchers. City workers, transportation departments. People who answer calls for services large and small. Many citizens, perhaps most, don't know what the average officer does. And, that's good.

I stood talking yesterday to a former co-worker who took a job with a local fire department. Her last duty day they'd made almost twenty runs. She'd gotten four hours of sleep over her twenty-four hour shift. She wasn't complaining. She and her wife have a kiddo. The schedule works for them

Who really knows what first responders do?

Those three guys in uniform sitting at a table, drinking coffee...two of them fresh from convincing a guy that his life was still worth living. The one guy in the soft uniform thirty-nine years removed from his first day "on the job" who trains the next generation, the ones who will pick up the shield when we have had enough.

All day long.

The picture? That's New York police officer Jesse Ferriera Cavallo. All she did was leap thirty feet from an overpass to save a young boy...while off duty. That's all.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Sticky Wicket

"Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins."

The kneeling, the charges and counter-charges... It must be football season again.

Lest we forget, the National Football League has attempted to curb the practice of players kneeling during the national anthem, or not appearing at all. Much silliness is made of First Amendment protections, workplace rules and the apparent ungrateful nature of a field full of millionaires refusing to show the most common respect for our country. Let's be fair...

It's about us...cops. According to these men we are racists. Hell, a US senator with aspirations to the White House said something similar just recently. The whole system is racist, and must be protested every Sunday on fields purchased primarily by taxpayers and protected by men and women in blue. In some of these cities officers have - very recently - given their lives in the service of the communities cheering these...gentlemen.

Her: "The Broncos are on."
Me: "I'm watching St. Kitts versus Guyana."

In a nutshell, I'd rather watch cricket than the National Football League. That's what I think of them and their opinions.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Toward the Sky

A B-25 Mitchell flew over, gear and flaps down. The radial engines sputtered and grumbled, throttles back as it approached the runway. It was our first glimpse of an aircraft at AirVenture 2005. John and I had driven the eleven hundred miles to witness the airshow of a lifetime.

Our second glimpse was of an ultralight aircraft in a ditch, surrounded by traffic cones. We found out later that the engine had quit, the glorified umbrella descending with all of the grace of a coal shovel. The pilot wasn't seriously injured.

Over the course of the next week a thousand airplanes came and went. So did a monster rainstorm. Therein lies a life-changing tale.

I had already written my first, manuscript. That's how the power of presumption seems to work, for me at least. I've written several million words of fiction - none of it in police reports, smart ass - but never considered anything a novel unless it was published somewhere. 

A Miracle of Zeros and Ones was written, and had been read by several friends. It wasn't very good, was grossly overweight... Most commercial novels are less than a hundred thousand words. Miracle was almost 200K. Oops. I guess I got a little carried away.

I got a lot of rejections from publishers. What did I expect? Although several returned nice comments there didn't seem to be much interest in a policewoman being stalked through the mobile data terminal in her car. I had guessed wrong, sort of.

Any number of the books I'd read for writing classes I'd taken (among them how to write romance...really) talked about providing variety as a means of getting published. I'd tried what I knew best - law enforcement from the grunt level. I felt like Sundance.

"We've gone straight," Sundance says, the effort having resulted in death and disaster. "What do we try now?"

Tuesday, I think it was, in soggy Oshkosh. Damp and overcast from the previous evening's downpour. The afternoon airshow went on as advertised, with some modifications to account for the lower cloud deck - the ceiling. Overhead were Mustangs, Spitfires, AT-6s... Lots of them. Formations, single aircraft passes. John had a receiver (he's a pilot). We listened as the airplane drivers talked to each other, coordinating a 200 mile per hour, 3D ballet.

We learned later that evening a Mustang had crashed off airport grounds. Sadly, the pilot rode it in and was killed. And, the words just started spilling forth.

What if?

Years later, I would have jumped onto my travel laptop and started typing. Heck, my daypack has several notebooks that would have come in spectacularly handy. But, this was 2005. I was a rookie. John had a pad of sticky notes. It would have to do.

Over the course of the drive back to Denver I invented Deputy Karen. Her marriage over, her life a shambles. Dispatched to an airplane crash, meets a guy...

Out of Ideas was published by a small California imprint, and then reissued through Amazon. The day it went live - I became a freelance writer. A novelist.

Every July I think about the extraordinary trip to Oshkosh with a fabulous friend. I came home with a ton of memories, and an aviation story to tell. Now I have a web site (, many more books to sell and a dream. All from looking toward the sky one gray day in Wisconsin.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Special Mind

Please welcome Bridget Quenzer Shank. She is a Blue Line Wife, whose husband Amos would be an asset to any police department. She and daughter Katy are inseparable Maryland friends. This is reprinted with permission.   

I'm not sure what goes through your head. I can't imagine how hard your brain works to process and translate language from what makes sense to you into what makes sense to everyone else. I'm sorry for the moments you feel like a parrot, trapped and forced to mimic sounds other people want to hear, with all eyes on you. I'm sorry for the expectations placed on you that feel totally impossible to meet. I'm sorry it's just so darn hard to speak. And please know that if I could take this, if I could somehow miraculously switch places with you, I would. But since that can't happen, please know this... I love you. I love every perfect part of you. And when it feels tougher than usual, when it feels like no one speaks your language, remember that I do. Even when I can't understand your words, i hear you, and I will leave no stone unturned to advocate for your every need. You are an absolute delight, so beautifully and perfectly made, and just about the funniest person I know. Thank you for your patience dealing with me, my brain is not nearly as complex and smart as yours. I'm just an ordinary mama with an extraordinary daughter.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Your Social Media Law Glossary

Social media, as an adjunct of (or 21st Century substitute for) back fence conversations, chance front porch encounters and coffee talks, is abuzz with all manner of discussion about the latest of just about everything. A blog about the Presidents latest (gaff, prevarication, foot-in-mouth...fill in your favorite term) on the world stage would be stale and superseded before I got finished proofing it. Let's talk law.

I know. Groan. My only intent here is to provide a balanced, non-partisan and objective glossary of legal terms to help navigate the shoal waters of the news, social media and your average, everyday overheated moron holding a sign and walking about totally unsupervised. In no particular order - or, even alphabetical...

Perjury - a lie? No. Otherwise all but a few of the world's most unimaginative members would be locked up forever. Lying is as human a foible as breathing, eating and falling asleep watching paint dry...or soccer. The crime of perjury requires three things - (1) a knowingly false statement (2) made under oath (3) about a material fact. If one is missing the statement, however outrageous, it is just a garden variety misstatement that requires emergency staffing, a week of late night meetings and collective (almost universal) amnesia to unscrew.

Under Investigation - the sinister, life-altering, career enhancing (depending on your perspective) act, meaning someone, somewhere has taken an interest in you. "Hey, darlin'. What's your sign?" is, under the broadest definition possible (keep it clean), an indication someone is "under investigation." But add three letters:

and everyone loses their minds. It's just...

I and several others assisted in a Federal warrant roundup. An FBI agent and I "cleared" a house. That is, we searched it for any hidden suspects. He was semi-jocked up, a very nice ballistic vest with rifle plates and "FBI" Velcro patches. He was lead. I noticed fairly quickly that he moved hesitantly, his hands shaking (which made the muzzle of his weapon dance). Me: "Dude, you okay?" Him: "I haven't done this since the Academy." Me: "Well, okay."

We got through it. He was a great guy, very smart and willing to do whatever needed to be done. "I'm an analyst," he said later, apologetically. "I look at data. Somebody said 'Get your body armor and let's go.' So, I fished it out from under my desk." I would probably suck at his job. My takeaway? They are just like the rest of us - well-trained, courageous, unused skills dulled with passing time, other skills very sharp...people, doing their best. Just like us. Even that guy with the weird facial expressions and the paramour (which, growing up in Pennsylvania, was how we pronounced "power mower") who testified...if you could call it front of Congress. People.

Nazi - some guy behind a counter yelling "No soup for you!"

Honestly, if you get all Laptop Rangered up and start flinging this term around... Go read any one of the hundred books about WWII that discuss what those assholes were really like. Maybe that - and a nap - will help.

Indictment - a word that causes normally sensible people to assume a trial has taken place, evidence examined and something akin to guilt is assumed. "Where's there's smoke, there's fire."

Who are you, Smokey Bear? Or, Smokey the Bear. Anyway...

"In a bid to make prosecutors more accountable for their actions, (New York State) Chief Judge Sol Wachtler has proposed that the state scrap the grand jury system of bringing criminal indictments.
Wachtler, who became the state's top judge[January 1985], said district attorneys now have so much influence on grand juries that 'by and large' they could get them to 'indict a ham sandwich.'"

There are three important things about grand juries to take into consideration before an indictment announcement makes your day. First, the evidence is presented without cross examination of witnesses. The defense is excluded from the proceedings. Everything really is taken at face value. Second, the finding only means that probable cause exists. Remember? Civics, poly sci... Anyone?

Probable cause is a threshold finding. It allows a person to be arrested, a place to be searched. Fourth Amendment stuff, for those of us into law porn. There is sufficient evidence to suggest a crime was probably committed, and the person who probably did it is probably the one probably indicted.

But, probable cause is not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Since everyone not found guilty (or convinced to plead guilty) is presumed innocent... Okay, this is where common sense and the niceties of the law part company. Let's say (as often happens) there is video of some dude doing something illegal. Okay, someone out there is poised to argue that nothing is irrefutable. The guy could have a twin, or a doppelganger. Well, save it.

Seriously, we are going to "presume" he is innocent, huh? In fact... The prosecution has the burden of proof at trial, to prove the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of each and element of the crime or crimes alleged by introduction of admissible and credible evidence. 

Wow, that sounds complicated.

Hence... If someone is indicted, pour a drink, pull up a chair. All it means is that things might get interesting for a while. Nothing else.

I know things sound a lot more serious when it's on CNN. Breath. It's a melodrama, and the script writer already knows who plays what part. We're the only ones in the dark.