Monday, July 25, 2016

Human Events

They lived in the present. The difference is it was their present, not ours. They were caught up in the living moment exactly as we are, with no more certainty of how things would turn out as we have. David McCullough, referring to the Founders; "The Course of Human Events," The 2003 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, delivered Washington, DC, (May 15, 2003)

It was a rite of passage, or more precisely, the result of an accident of birth. While many of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War were fought elsewhere, The Thirteen Colonies proclaimed their independence with a document signed mere miles from our home. It was the fate of all children attending William W. H. Davis Elementary School, located northwest of Philadelphia in Southampton, to queue up silently for the obligatory stroll though Independence Hall. That was me, at age nine.

The Liberty Bell had hung nearby, in a frame out in the open air. We were all invited to touch it. Originally cast in England, it was recast by workmen John Pass and John Stow after sustaining a crack. Legend had it that the bell was rung to proclaim liberty on the date the Declaration of Independence was adopted, a story almost surely inaccurate. The present crack formed thereafter, perhaps as it proclaimed the death of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, a war veteran who endured brutal winter conditions at Valley Forge. It was a symbol, nevertheless, an iconic one at that. My father and his friend had gone to its side in 1943, laid their hands on the cold metal, pledged their lives in service of their country and then enlisted in the Marine Corps.

I found myself in Philadelphia again, in February of this year. I was in the company of daughter Katy, her husband Steve and their kids Graham and Greta. Graham is five, not materially younger than I was the first time I walked these grounds. I could conjure vague recollections. I had been here before, when the trajectory of my life was anything but certain. Now, one of my children had brought her son and daughter to see where America was born.

But while it is essential to remember them as individual mortal beings no more perfect in every way than are we, and that they themselves knew this better than anyone, it is also essential to understand that they knew their own great achievements to be imperfect and incomplete.
The American experiment was from its start an unfulfilled promise. There was much work to be done. There were glaring flaws to correct, unfinished business to attend to, improvements and necessary adjustments to devise in order to keep pace with the onrush of growth and change and expanding opportunities.  David McCullough.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Grammar Fail

That also has the added benefit of being true.  Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler.

So, I axe ya...

If someone lies perpetually, to what extent is that the same as someone whose relationship with the truth is so casual that he/she recklessly disregards it?  Is the fact that someone knows they are lying worse than someone who doesn't much care what the truth is?

These seem to be distinctions that do not amount to much of a difference.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bright Lights

"Remember, this is not our party. Our job is to make sure everyone is safe." Lakewood Police Division Chief, Democratic National Convention, The Pepsi Center, Denver CO,  2008.

It was a different era. An unpopular Republican president was on the way out. The Democrats were nominating an African-American, campaigning on a platform of social justice. The host city welcomed hundreds of officers from surrounding jurisdictions to assist with protecting "The Venue" and the many thousands of people who attended. As the 2016 conventions begin, some thoughts on a very interesting week of fifteen hour days...

  • There were a lot of very nice people associated with the convention. Our food was supposed to be provided - at least a couple meals a day. That quickly broke down. The days prior to the actual convention, when we were on station as things were set up, none of the vendors were yet up and running. So, we scrounged. Several enterprising officers found food, coffee... Talked some of the folks in the press tents into feeding cops. By the end, caterers were delivering high-quality meals, meant for dignitaries, to the officers and Secret Service agents working inside. Free.
  • The Secret Service is good at keeping some secrets, horrible at others. I'm almost finished with a tell-all book written by a Uniformed Division White House Guard. He doesn't have a very high opinion of the Clintons. Neither did any of the men and women I met. There were no stories told at the Pepsi Center of black eyes, thrown lamps and shouting matches. There was just a general disdain for a person who treated them like hired help, and gave no thought to their welfare. They gave the following example: There were a lot of late nights, where the protectees stayed out into the wee hours. A morning breakfast meeting was scheduled, so agents went home, got two or three hours sleep, and returned for the new day's events. Only, the breakfast meeting was cancelled because of the late night. No one thought to tell the Secret Service. "If it happened once...okay," an agent remarked. "It happened constantly."
  • An agent and I were standing on the Main Floor, listening to an early convention harangue by one of the  party's lesser lights. The SS guy was probably a Republican, like me - we stood shaking our heads at what sounded to our ears as half-truths and ham-handed distortions. "How do you stand it?" I asked. "I'm not really listening," he replied, chuckling. "We have simple criteria for protectees. Give your fucking speech, get in the fucking limo and let's go." He smiled. "I have a life to lead away from them."
  • Most of the people involved were likable, away from the spotlight. Partisan knucklehead Harry Reid came over to a clutch of us and shook our hands, thanking us for our service, and for protecting them during the DNC. We stood chatting amiably for almost ten minutes. Former MSNBC lightweight Ed Shultz, seedier away from the camera than one would think, was funny in a gruff way. I gave him several credential sleeves (worth their weight in gold) and he promised to say nice things about us. For the rest of the convention he named the Lakewood agent guarding the door nearby and commented that we were the best department in the world. How can you not like that? Even Katie Couric would stop what she was doing and pose for pictures with any cop who wanted one. Oh... Megyn Kelly is even prettier in person.
  • "Recreate '68" didn't. Our alleged food venue required us to leave the secured grounds, exit past metal detectors and walk among the pedestrians surrounding the building. One officer went on a sandwich run for his team. Meanwhile, an angry crowd formed, lots of yelling, war faces and fence rattling. Here comes our guy, carrying a big box, wading in. "Excuse me, pardon me." The response? "Oh, sorry, officer," as folks stepped aside for him, before returning to yell anti-cop obscenities at the stern-faced SWAT team. "What the hell were you thinking?" we asked our officer. "I was hungry."
  • Bill Clinton's handshake isn't very impressive. But, he's a hoot. He had come down from the suites and was about to get in his limo. But, he spied the crowd inside the building and took off to do some unscheduled gladhanding. I got the cold fish handshake, a "hi, officer" (I'm a sergeant, sir) and he plunged into a venue full of thousands of people, one SS agent in tow. The Secret Service went nuts, the convention attendees loved it and, for a moment, it looked like he was going for a walk in Downtown Denver.
  • Finally... I had the time of my professional life. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Competitive Lot

The fervor comes from their ideology. It has this terrifying hold on them because it is credibly drawn from their religious doctrine. If you don’t get that, if you think you can blithely dismiss jihadism as “cowardice” and thus avoid the unpleasant burden of understanding why it happens, you are never going to get what we’re up against. You are never going to summon the resolve it is going to take to overcome the enemy. Andrew McCarthy, National Review, "Terror in France and the Annals of Willful Blindness."

I read this book...
The lexicon of the twenty-first century has been made over with the digital revolution. It was recently said that it is easier to purchase a gun than a book. I can, in about ten seconds, shop for and choose the digital version of just about any reading material my aging heart desires. I need not buy the print version, either - I can have the thing read to me. It may seem lazy, but consider - back porch, adult beverage, eyes closed while the latest best seller drifts across the headphones.

Commuting, trips... I've "read" more books in the last year simply because I don't have to read them.

One such book, recommended by my iconoclastic primary care physician is The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. I've listened to it several times, and keep going back to one section. In it, he describes the Darwinian concept of selection by groups.

Dr. Haidt writes (I am paraphrasing here) that not only do individuals compete for the right to advance their DNA into the future, but so do groups. Collections of individuals adhere because of similarities of all types, and jockey for primacy with others. The collective that wins out becomes dominant, it's belief system passed on while others become secondary, subservient...or die. He calls it the "Hive" side of human nature. Religion, for all of its mysticism, is an especially strong hive-maker because people find the social - the group aspects - not only so appealing, but so beneficial.
We are encountering one such competition. Savage individuals with firearms, explosives and vehicles are willing to kill, and die in the process, for their group. Those who are vested with the responsibility of responding, on behalf of our group, have identified commonalities among our adversaries, what it is that makes their hive worth fighting for. Those commonalities render them especially lethal, because their soldiers do not appear to fear death in the manner our group does. In fact, the soldiers who venture forth into our midst do not view "suicide mission" as an especially negative phrase.

In the wake of yet another attack on late-night revelers in Nice, it might be a wonderful idea to admit that we are losing this competition, even if we don't understand (or are unwilling to admit) how, or why. While the competing group attacks apparently at will, we modify our behavior, clamp down on civil rights, increase expenditures for security and burden ourselves with layers of (often ceremonial) personal affronts. Soon, there will be metal detectors and wanding guards at the entrance of any place individuals congregate. Even that will not be enough, as our enemies alter their tactics to adjust.

In his book Warrior Politics, Robert Kaplan asserts that, in order to enjoy liberal domestic governance, we must employ a robust Machiavellian foreign policy. Me - in the interest of our group and those who are still alive to enjoy the benefits of it, I think we should Machiavelli the shit out of the assholes who subscribe to a medieval interpretation of their religion, and who kill indiscriminately in its name.

Before they change us beyond recognition.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jihad's Ground Zero

In his book Give War a Chance author PJ O'Rourke recalled the phrase "An acceptable level of violence." It referred to the strife in the '70s and '80s in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants killed each other in clumps (with the British somewhat on the Protestant side...or maybe it was the other way around). If you haven't read it, you should. 

Tonight, in excess of eighty people killed in the French city of Nice by some asshole driving a semi. Early reports claim he got out of the truck with a weapon, but was soon "neutralized." I'll bet.

At what point does the world - or at least the leaders who determine what response is appropriate - decide that NO level of violence is acceptable? Whoever this poor child was, he or she will not be accompanying us into an uncertain future in which some die so that others do not have to face the reality that there are those among us who will use any tool at their disposal to kill indiscriminately.

Was this another ISIS demonstration project? At this point no one knows. Apparently, though, there was celebration within the borders of their territory. It is not only shameful, it is an act of barbarity. It demands a response.

Today I read something quite astonishing, even among punditry known for cranking out today's dose of prose untethered to their previous scribbling. Terrorosts, the author claimed, do not represent the kind of existential threat posed during the Cold War. Although thousands are killed a few at a time, life goes on...for the rest of us. There is no need to panic, things are better than they were.

The level of violence, though tragic, is acceptable?

How have we gotten to this point? Does anyone know the way?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Toward the Foe

With the sheer volume of writing about the Dallas murders, there is no scarcity of voiced opinions or narratives. Regardless of the "side," one can find writing that suits the need to read something reinforcing an intuition. High-brow writers, famous individuals and the usual parade of limelighter politicians... The "elite" of opinion peddlers. Not to add to the intermingling of voices, but to speak a little lower to the ground:
Photo by Robert Moore

  • The Dallas Police chief is an especially impressive man. His comments about society's over-reliance on law enforcement to solve problems better suited for others were well stated. His other statement - "We're hiring" - was brilliant. 
  • There are no more chilling words for a friend, coworker or family member than "He didn't make it." Until that point there is hope, however slim. After, only the pain of loss that never goes away.
  • Agree or disagree with their position, Black Lives Matter protesters have every right to express their opinions. They are under no obligation to frame their arguments, or express their grievances in any manner other than the ones of their choosing, except that it be done "peaceably." By all measures the Dallas protest fit that description. That officers who were present to keep the peace would rush to protect people who were moments before marching against police actions is only astonishing to the uninformed. 
  • The outpouring of support for law enforcement has totally drowned out those few who attempt to rub salt in the open wounds for their own aggrandizement. Theirs is a malignant, pointless, self-important message of hate. It is one of the true flaws in our information culture - an idiot with a smart phone can express an opinion seen by thousands, while the young mom who buys coffee for an officer at Starbucks goes on her way, raising her children, and society's net worth, in blissful anonymity.
  • The woman who was tagged in the leg is a hero. The way she told her story, how she wanted her kids to see the protest, then shielded her son after she'd been wounded, is so gently told from such a good heart that it is impossible not to tear up. Her heartfelt gratitude for the officers who fell, and those who rescued her, stands as a symbol of how good typical Americans truly are.
  • I am awestruck, and at the same time not surprised, at the heroism of the Dallas officers. I am, every day, blessed with the company of many such heroes, men and women who have run toward the sound of guns. 
  • Finally...BOOM! No, dude, it wasn't a candy-gram.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Pick Me

We were told by our soldier (an occasional guest blogger on these pages) not to mention where she was going. By now, most everyone knows that she enlisted in the US Army and reported for basic training. Most of you also know she sustained a serious, but non-life threatening injury that will probably end her military career. In typical Beth fashion, she has made life-long friends among her platoon mates, as well as those who are sharing their days recuperating from their own mishaps. Beyond that, it is her tale to tell.

Relieved she will soon recover, we are also deeply disappointed that her goal may not be realized. We could not be prouder of the courage her decision took, her strength in the face of an intensely painful occurrence and her optimism that she will return to health. She dedicated a year to preparing for induction. None of that will go to waste.

We have three extraordinary children. One has been a police officer for 18 years and is an exceptional father. Another is the mother of two precocious, engaging children - both of whom were born under the most trying of circumstances. She is tougher, more resilient and braver than many people twice her size.

Then, there is our soldier. She swore an oath and said "Take me. I'll go." On this July 4th weekend, we celebrate another American who pledged her life, her fortune and her sacred honor in defense of liberty. We will see her soon.