Monday, April 13, 2015

Leaving With An Appetite

"Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really." ~Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

We said good bye today to our little Papillon Radar. His twenty years - fourteen with us - can best be characterized as eventful. Few of our animals have given so much when we really needed it.

We were between dogs, in the sense that a traumatic week of losing two grown animals in five days had set us a bit on our heels. We took a break, tending to our cats and discussing breeds.

Radar was a cast off from a divorce situation. One of the splitting couple was a puppy fancier, who purchased a new one when the present pooch had become, well, a dog. The adult fended for itself, often unloved and neglected. When Pat went to visit, to see if this would be our next pup she made the only decision possible. He was matted, smelly, with crazy teeth. She growled "There is no way I'm leaving that poor thing with them."

He came to us at no charge... Sort of. He had the unimaginative name of "Bobo." Okay, if you also have named a pet Bobo, I apologize. But... A Papillon?! That is French for butterfly. Who names a butterfly dog Bobo? "C'est monsieur Bobo, n'est-ce pas?" So the name had to go.

And the teeth. Three hundred dollars later his choppers were back in some kind of order. We were in our MASH animal-naming phase, so the flappy ears made Radar all too easy. He would still answer to Bobo for a while, but soon gave a puzzled look as if to say "Haven't we moved past that?"

He was never very disciplined, in the trained dog sense. Classes didn't take, treats were wasted efforts. Recall? Ha! His favorite game was to run out the front door while members of the household ran after him. Common practice suggests that chasing dogs only encourages them to run faster. With Radar, everything encouraged him to run faster.

In 2004 we were between houses, living in a hotel in Glendale. Radar was the perfect dog - well-behaved when we were gone, respectful of the carpet when we were home. He enjoyed the six weeks as an only pet (the cats were in long term kennel care), prancing on his walks as though he'd been liberated from those other, snootie animals once and for all. He was not amused when the move into the new house reunited them.

He was my companion on our back deck through three novels. He enjoyed sleeping in the sun while I hammered away. He asked for only one thing - a soft pillow to rest his head.

He was less than amused when we added first one, then another Portie. They were large, noisy, obnoxious animals as far as he was concerned. He stood up for himself, always getting the short end of the fight. There would be blood and yelping, the cone of shame and a big vet bill. Only late in life did he learn that "It's not the size of the dog in the fight" was made up by a huge frickin' mutt.

His twilight years robbed him of his wayward personality. Deaf and blind, he could neither hear nor see anything worth barking at. Much to Pat's chagrin I named him "Pinball Wizard." He played a mean pinball, finding his way by instinct, smell and a gentle bump along the walls. As doggie dementia took over the bumps became bangs, and he lost track of who, and where, and why.

He never lost track of us. He had the maddening - and charming - habit of getting underfoot. He never wanted to be too far away from his humans, for fear that... 

This week everything about him had shut down except his appetite. Over the past month Pat tried a number of different foods (none of which appealed to him), finally settling on spaghetti-ohs, canned ravioli and baked beans. He would virtually (and sometimes literally) climb into his bowl to attack them. Even last night, his last hours at hand, he tried to lick the stainless off the steel.

We wish him well. In the years we really needed his energy, his devotion and his big heart he gave it unconditionally. He was exactly the right dog, at exactly the right time. He went quietly, calmly. Dreaming, no doubt, about spaghetti-ohs.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Meanwhile, On The Mound

"Hasty generalization is an informal fallacy of faulty generalization by reaching an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence—essentially making a hasty conclusion without considering all of the variables. In statistics, it may involve basing broad conclusions regarding the statistics of a survey from a small sample group that fails to sufficiently represent an entire population.[1] Its opposite fallacy is called slothful induction, or denying a reasonable conclusion of an inductive argument (e.g. "it was just a coincidence")." Wiki, April 2015.

Pavlov's dog, and opinion journalists, salivate whenever a bell rings.

Over generalization, or concrete truth? The recent shooting death of an individual by a police officer in South Carolina rings a bell for certain journalists. They are quick to high dudgeon, suggesting that law enforcement is replete with "bad apples" who operate outside any legal framework holding them accountable. We are "them, we're they, above the law." In fact, say the ink-stained wise, it is in the nature of governmental authority to corrupt everyone it ensnares, creating thieves and thugs among officers making $300,000 per year. The accusers offer as proof a dozen examples of misconduct drawn from half a billion contacts per year by nearly a million officers nationwide.


Opening Day, Coors Field, Denver. Officer John Adsit and his son take the mound to deliver the ceremonial first pitch. Officer Adsit's son delivers a perfect strike, doing the honor because Dad is still recovering. He received his injuries on bike patrol, helping safeguard students protesting police practices. The sellout crowd gives the Adsits a standing ovation.

Opening Day, Frontier Stadium, Rochester, NY. The widow of Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson walks with an honor guard of officers, her 10 month old in her arms, and watches her eight year old son throw the first pitch. Officer Daryl Pierson died in September 2015 while apprehending a dangerous wanted criminal. The crowd, braving Upstate New York "spring" weather (37 degrees at game time) stood cheering.

The pundits did not mention either crowd, or either officer's sacrifice. A pity. While it would have diluted their point, it would have made another. That for all of our faults, all of the times we fall short, for the few (too many) in our midst who lie, cheat and steal, law enforcement is a noble calling that attracts many of the best America has to offer. But don't take my word for it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Lunatic Fringe

Ben Franklin: "The perfute of happineff?"
Thomas Jefferson" That's pursuit of happiness."
Franklin: "All of your S's look like F's, here."
Jefferson: "It's stylish. It's in."
 Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years (1961)

Noting the passing of Stanley Friberg, known professionally as Stan Freberg - ad man and satirist.

Mr. Freberg's career transcends description. His Wiki entry styles him as "an American author, recording artist, animation voice actor, comedian, radio personality, puppeteer and advertising creative director, whose career began in 1944. He remained active in the industry into his late 80s, more than 70 years after entering it."

In the run up to America's Bicentennial in 1976 everything flowed red, white and blue. Yet a skit, written and recorded in 1961, surfaced as one of the most genuine bits of satire extant. Our founders were fallible, misguided and consumed of the pomposity necessary to forge a nation. Christopher Columbus's affair with Queen Isabella results in her bankrolling his daft voyage. The national bird - the Eagle - was a mistake of Charlie the Cook, who thought that the turkey looked more appealing as a main dish. Ben Franklin is a cranky eccentric more interested in the sale of his magazine than signing a paper likely to have him "hauled before a committee." Washington's victory at Yorktown was a function of a canvas painted by "The Rockwell boy - skinny kid with the pipe."

America is a strong, brave land made and remade over two and a half centuries by the best - and the most  challenged - humankind has to offer. Freberg's approach to our often inflated self-image was to point out that, in spite of it all, we were born of and continued to boast some of the world's most fallible creatures. Our strength is in the reality that Americans are also a generous people who understand we have blundered our way along, holding on to a simple principle.

We are all created equal.

Lucky us.

A Hard Pill

"The truth can be hard to swallow, but it's always best to embrace it."

A North Charleston (SC) police officer was arrested after video surfaced that suggests he shot 50 year old Walter Scott as Scott tried to flee from a confrontation that began with a simple traffic stop. It seems ironic, and obvious, that the most horrific episodes in law enforcement often begin with the most mundane encounters.

"The investigation continues" as the saying goes. The department has fired him and he sits in jail, his pregnant wife at home. Scott left four children, a fiance and family members who have suggested calm as a way to honor him.

 Mistake? Intentional act of malice?

Police officers train to respond properly to that moment when anger, fear and adrenal outrage coalesce into the decision to act. Repetition, consideration and an understanding of the awesome responsibility vested by their communities leads to an avalanche of wise decisions, sacrifice and the bitter taste of the consequences of even proper uses of deadly force. We are, a stunning majority of the time, up to the task.

Human beings are fallible. One of the horrible truths of law enforcement, a college professor opined, is that we must select officers from among a group prone to error, to shortcoming. When the stakes are high, there must be a discernible margin between what is right, and what is not..

My prayers are with Mr. Scott and his family.

My thoughts are with those who wear the badge and enter the fray prepared to sacrifice everything for our communities. We always begin our day in quiet contemplation that we will not falter in the hour we are tested.

Because we are human.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Something for That

Posted on

As a Boston police officer was being treated for a gunshot to the face Friday night, Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross found himself explaining to a small crowd why officers opened fire on the suspected shooter.

In a YouTube video posted after the incident, Gross is seen offering to “respectfully” explain what happened to a group of bystanders, not seen on camera, who pepper him with occasionally hostile questions.

“Officers did a motor vehicle stop,” Gross explains after waiting for them to quiet down. “As the officer is taking him out the car, he shot the officer in the face, and the officers returned fire. That was it, short and sweet.”

“Y’all don’t have no protocol, any other way?” one young man is heard saying. “You got to shoot somebody?”

Gross interjects: “Did you hear the part where he shot the officer in the face?”

“You’re trained for this though,” says the young man.

Yes, we are trained for this.

An officer in a southern state confronted a shoplift suspect several years ago. In the ensuing scuffle the officer was injured. Grievously. His jaw was shattered, his tongue sliced open.... He soon realized that the man with whom he was struggling had shot him several times.

"Well, I had something for that," the officer commented. He drew his sidearm, shooting the suspect. The shoplifter later died.

Yes, we're trained for this. Now, go find a bathroom....

Then There WereTwo

"America's Veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world." James Doolittle.

Noting the passing of Doolittle Raider Lt. Col. Robert Hite at 95.

At a time America needed to know their fighting men and women were up to the task of defending freedom in the Pacific and around the world, the Raiders took off for Tokyo from the deck of an aircraft carrier. They had been detected and were leaving many miles earlier than planned. They suspected it was a trip that would end with their deaths.

Lt. Col. Hite survived, spending nearly four years in a prison camp. He was one of the lucky few POWs who made it home again.

From the Doolittle Raiders website:

In honor of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona presented a set of 80 sterling goblets to the Raiders following WW II. In turn, they were presented to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs by General Doolittle on behalf of the surviving members of the Raiders for safekeeping and display between reunions. 
The silver goblets are housed in a special glass-enclosed trophy case which is guarded by two Airmen. In addition to the goblets, the case contains a bottle of brandy to be used by the last two remaining Raiders at the last reunion to toast their departed comrades. Many of the goblets are already turned upside down for the men who were killed in the raid or who have since died.
At each reunion, the Raiders hold a brief ceremony to honor those who have passed away. This emotional remembrance often marks the passing of additional Raiders during the year since the last reunion.
Each goblet is inscribed twice with a Raider name - both right-side up & upside-down - so that the names are always readable.

Several years ago the remaining four Raid veterans opened the bottle and offered a toast. Now, one more goblet has been turned over. There are only two left.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cop Talk

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
― Zeno of Citium

Being immersed for five days in a room full of cops always increases the list of expressions I can employ. This week was no exception. The instructors played a video clip during a discussion of fitting the handgun to the shooter. In it, there are several scenes where a guy has handed a woman (by all appearances an inexperienced gun handler) some gargantuan weapon and invited her to shoot it. Invariably, the recoil either rips the weapon from her hand or slams it into her forehead.

The muscular, tattooed SWAT cop sitting in front of me shook his head and muttered "That's a dick move right there."

The meaning is immediately evident, even as one respects how compact the phrase is. On the continuum of insults, being a "dick" is even harsher than being an asshole. No respect is accorded to a guy who purposefully gives someone a firearm they can't handle, provides little instruction, then records the inevitable result.

One of the instructors had a favorite expression that was seamlessly adopted by the class. Someone who does or says something that is profoundly stupid, or worthy of extreme disrespect was invited to "Go into the bathroom, stick your head in the toilet and drown yourself." The meaning here is also immediately evident. Can there be a less dignified way to create one's own demise? Before long the invitation was shortened to "Go into the bathroom" and everyone got the idea.

The conversation this week turned to the Germanwings flight that ended in death and destruction in the French Alps. The murders of 149 people who sat powerless (but not unaware) in the final moments of their lives has to rank among the most disreputable acts of madness of this century. It is one thing to commit suicide in a fit of despair over the loss of girlfriend, health and possibly job all in the same week. But to take a plane full of men, women and children with him whose sole crime was having the statistically microscopic misfortune to trust their lives to him? I don't have to guess what Sully would say. The guy sitting in front of me supplied it.

"What a dick move. He should have just gone into the bathroom, stuck his head in the toilet and drowned himself."