Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Big Bike Bag of Happy

The rain came and went. It began just as we entered the underground parking - on bicycles. By the time dinner was over, breaks in the clouds signaled dry weather. We set off for our night ride, the last block of instruction.

Bike Patrol Class, May 2017.

The realization would hit me the next day, hit like a throat punch. After nearly 20 years of bicycle patrol, a decade coordinating our program, countless classes taught and many hours patrolling in the company of my friends... I might have rung down the curtain on my career as a bike cop with that last night field exercise.

I decided, as the emotions ebbed and flowed, I did not know how to feel about that. My current assignment is rewarding (training recruits), the enticing prospect of retiring looming on the horizon. Yet, many of my favorite moments came on two wheels.

Nights, in the bitter cold. My friend of many years, a fellow sergeant, would arrive at my calls bearing a thermos of hot coffee. Up along Colfax on graveyard shift, my riding partner and I rolling up unseen on fleeing suspects. Hours and hours patrolling the Farmer's Market with a close friend. Working a beat along side an especially talented cop on her last night with our department.

Several of us created the bike patrol class - polished, honed and polished some more. We rode the obstacle courses a hundred times, proving their utility. We went over the curriculum. We delivered the class over and over, welcoming instructors from another agency - something that made us all that much better.

I was riding the Light Rail, headed home from lunch with a close riding friend. One of the RTD security officers approached during a fare check. I produced my law enforcement ID card and offered it to him.

"Sergeant, I know who you are," the young man said. "You taught our bike class."

The bikes were away, the 2017 class in the books. I was happy to ride - happier, really, that I could still ride well enough to teach. I was happy to have handed the class over to the two talented young men who had taken the lead. My legs were sore, I had several technicolor bruises from falling.

But, I am no longer...

"Two-fifty, I'm clear on the bike."

I don't think I'm happy about that.

A Fool for Marketing

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay. Donald Francis "Don" Draper (Jon Hamm), Mad Men (2007).

It is a yearly right of passage - what are the Super Bowl commercials going to be? Some are amazingly clever (Doctors surrounding a patient on the operating table "He's got money coming out the wazoo!!"). Some are stupid (choose your "favorite"). There is one goal each company has for the $5 Million they spend just for the thirty second slot. They want to make money by influencing a viewer to purchase something.

The same is true with political intercourse (pun very much intended). Unless the writer/speaker is warbling on merely to hear themselves speak (a charge often leveled at Bikecopblog), the diatribes of pundits, politicians and the true believers is directed at influencing someone to do something. Sometimes, it is to open a checkbook, brandish a credit card or otherwise enable the transfer of funds from them to the chosen end user. Political figure A appears at a podium, reads a speech in high dudgeon written for him by a graduate student beginning a climb within their party and, within moments, out go the emails to the faithful asking for money to address the ill. Or, defeat the awful, evil demagogues in the other party. Etc.

We've all gotten used to it. When Nixon's Committee to Reelect the President turned out to be more insightful than intended, the jokes ran hot and heavy, even as he was forced out of office. Gerald Ford, a gifted athlete, falls once ("Drive one truck and now I'm a truck driver?") and Chevy Chase turns pratfalls into comedic gold. Carter is an out of his league peanut farmer with an alcoholic brother. Reagan a doddering old fool. All meant to influence.

We live now in an overheated maelstrom of vitriol, with apparently no self-imposed limitations as to subject matter. A woman holds the simulated severed head of the current president and important, influential people come to her defense. Formerly respected media outlets first patronize sleazy inside operators peddling damaging information, publish it on the front page as fact only to find out it is lies...and the correction is buried. People with whom one disagrees are not just wrong, they are the lowest of the lowly dogs, barely human. They have no redeeming traits - they should be jailed, banished or... No one would be surprised if someone shot them, or stabbed them to death. "Which, of course, we hope doesn't happen."

Careers are built not on sober, factual analysis but on raised voices and a barrage of baseless charges. It isn't enough to win an argument, one must humiliate their opponent, for that is what they deserve. An election takes place, the results are in and the other side refuses to respect the outcome.

So when a deranged, self-righteous, politically-obsessed asshole brings a rifle to a baseball game intent on killing Republicans, the calm and self-aware of us quietly opine that it is the lunatic at fault. Surely, it could not be the cesspool of irresponsible personal attacks that call, in all seriousness, for violence. "Shut it down, shut them up. Disrupt, destroy..."

Bullshit. An unspeakably brave Capitol police officer drew fire. It's what we are trained to do when the shooting starts and citizens are the targets. "Here I am. Engage me." It provides the civilians time to take cover, beat feet or otherwise save themselves. Armed with a pistol, she and her colleagues took on a guy with a rifle and won the running gun battle. She was shot - while at the hospital, President Trump and the First Lady visited, bringing the officer and her wife flowers. What did someone say in print?

Basically, that the critically wounded congressman's past views and votes rendered him unfit to be protected by her.

I know... How about we say "Isn't it awesome that courageous, well-trained people find themselves in the right place at the right time? Isn't it nice of the President to show respect? Isn't it great that America in 2017 this amazing officer's wife doesn't have to hide?



Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Wait is Killing Us

The object of war is not to die for your country. It is to make the other poor, dumb bastard die for his. George S. Patton, General, US Army.

They are starting to come one right after another. Manchester, now London. Nail bombs at a teenage concert. Now another vehicle attack, coordinated with mass stabbings. Twenty-two dead in Manchester, the youngest eight years old. At least seven in London.

Churchill famously said "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." Reagan remarked "Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction." A CNN host's comment, regarding President Trump's statement that America must take measures to protect ourselves - the President is a "piece of shit."

Suspects are in custody, others were killed by police. Fine. In 1991 the world mobilized because a madman invaded Kuwait on a pretext. ISIS has invaded Europe, without pretext or apology, and the world prays for the victims, awaiting the next mass murder as though it's a flu epidemic.

These are bad people. They occupy territory, advertise themselves as sovereign, wave their flag and make actual, violent war on civilizations with whom we are (apparently) friendly and here we sit.

Enough.

An American platoon leader, surveying the results of a firefight in Iraq in the early 2000's, told a reporter asking about the war's progress: "Well, we've killed all the dumb ones. Getting to the smarter ones will take some time."

Let's make time for the smart ones.

 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Respecting the Rank

"Captain Sobel?" Major Dick Winters (Damian Lewis), as Sobel tries to avert his eyes from Winters'.
"Major Winters." Captain Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer), nodding.
"Captain Sobel! We salute the rank, not the man."
 Points, Band of Brothers,  (2001)

Dad was a patriot, in the strictest sense. He had once written the blank check to Uncle Sam every military member tenders - "Payable, up to and including my life." He'd fought as a Marine on Saipan, and Iwo Jima. In 1946 he returned home to Philadelphia, to finish high school.

He was also a Republican. He understood and accepted the need to stand up to communist aggression in Vietnam, but didn't much care for the way it was being handled. President Johnson had made glaring errors, he thought, and American kids - he always called them kids - were paying with their lives. LBJ was the object of derision during the inevitable dinnertime discussions.

My brother Dave and I picked up on the vibe. One afternoon, intent on putting a few holes in a target, we repaired to the back yard, BB gun in one hand and the cover of Time magazine in the other. A cover featuring President Johnson and VP Humphrey. We didn't get very far.

"I don't care for your selection of targets," Dad said, using a hushed tone that signaled disappointment. "Find something else."

That was the lesson for the day. No yelling, nothing belaboring the point. We were 14 and 12. The message - respect the office, don't cross the line - was read loud and clear.

Which makes the recent internet hoo-rah about the red-haired woman and the Trump mask all the more puzzling. Didn't anyone teach her manners when she was young? If not, why not?

Maybe she's lucky, I guess. If I pulled an asshole stunt like that, it would be on me. I was taught better growing up, by a guy who knew how to respect someone with whom he disagreed. Maybe, at some point, somebody forgot to teach that to her.

Or, maybe she's just an asshole.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2

The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur...  The Constitution of the United States.

It really is that simple. Legalistic pretexts have arisen within the last generation, to avoid the complexities of actually conferring with people and convincing them you're right. Nevertheless, the "Paris Accords" are an agreement to which the Obama Administration was a signatory. The United States was not.

Maybe the PAs are stupid, evasive and a pretext for the waves of ever encroaching globalism that carries before it the banner of "Everything not obligatory is forbidden." Maybe they are sensibly-negotiated and scientifically defensible accords leading to a better future. I'm not Mark Ruffalo - I don't pretend to be a scientist. I read the conflicting experts and am very confused.

The treaty was never presented to the Senate, let alone approved by a 2/3rd vote. Consequently, if Mr. Obama wants to reduce his carbon footprint, that's his decision. The rest of us are no longer bound by the treaty he and his administration negotiated. That's the way this works.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lost, Never Forgotten

Flight crew of “Lady Be Good,” from the left: 1st Lieutenant William J. Hatton, pilot; 2nd Lieutenant Robert F. Toner, copilot; 2nd Lieutenant D.P. Hays, navigator; 2nd Lieutenant John S. Woravka, bombardier; Technical Sergeant Harold J. Ripslinger, engineer; Technical Sergeant Robert E. LaMotte, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Guy E. Shelly, gunner; Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, gunner; and Staff Sergeant Samuel E. Adams, gunner.

The Lady Be Good, a B-24 Liberator, set out with it's crew in April 1943 to participate in a bombing mission over Naples, Italy. Bad weather scattered the formation. Although radio contact was made with the bomber late into the evening, the plane did not return and was presumed lost at sea. 

In fact, the aircraft had overflown its base. Fifteen years later, the remains of the Lady were located deep in the Libyan Desert. The crew had bailed out, one of whom was killed in the process. The rest found each other and began the long walk back to the coast.

The never made it.

All but one of the crew were eventually recovered and returned to the US.

This Memorial Day, we remember this crew for their service and sacrifice. Thank you. May God bless you.

 

Monday, May 22, 2017

To A Degree

How many times had she been through the dissertation? One might as well ask how many grains of sand were on the Santa Barbara beach the afternoon we flew in for her defense.

The small commuter airliner (redundant?) had barely lifted from the runway before the tray table was down, the markers out. More edits, several margin notes - clarify this, revisit that... There has to be another way to write this. While I gazed at the Earth below and listened to an audiobook, she went over a document she knew well. Only too well.

My friend and mentor told me years ago that writing for publication was an exercise in literary masochism engaged only by intellectuals too obsessive to relent. "By the time your novel is published, you'll recreationally write a horrible death scene for your main character. And then, delete it and move on." It was true.

I watched, fascinated in the between-the-fingers way one views GoPro clips of spectacular Russian highway accidents on YouTube, as my wife began her pursuit of a PhD in Leadership and Change. There was the initial question about acceptance into the University. Technical writing skills needed honing. Residencies, reading, group on-line chats. This person dropped out, that person has moved to candidacy. The dissertation proposal...proposal...proposal. Revise, resubmit, rinse, repeat.

One morning our truck was - literally - idling in the driveway. Bags packed, dogs packed. Somewhere off the coast of Florida a cruise ship made its way to the harbor where we would board. An airplane taxied to the gate, our seat about to be vacated, just for us. Her advisor, on the phone, told her "Take a deep breath, you can do this." And she sent a revised document, closed her computer and rushed for the Tacoma. We raced to the kennel.

And forgot the dog food.

"Advancing to candidacy" is a cruel euphemism drained of the horror in store for the candidate. A committee of kind souls is there to shepherd the soon-to-be doctor through the process. Often, they do so with a carefully studied stoicism, knowing the rigors of preparing the document for a proper defense. Writing, writing, writing. Missed grandkid time, preoccupation, sleepless nights, vacations scheduled around deadlines. Vacations spent in front of a laptop. More reading, more research. As the end nears, less sleep. Indispensable, heart-felt calls from close friends - classmates - urging her on, encouraging her. Commiserating about their own harrowing journey. Finally, the fateful day comes. Get on a plane, and explain why one is deserving of a PhD.

Fewer than half who begin the journey are successful. Two percent of Americans have climbed this mountain, and breathed the rarified air of an achievement so demanding that horribly bright people are routinely denied success.

My wife is one of the graduates. We stood in our kitchen, several days before we flew to Santa Barbara. We stared at each other, and the tears just flowed. Happy tears, proud tears, profoundly respectful at an accomplishment of enormous import tears. She stepped back, threw her arms in the air and yelled "It's going to happen!"

Never in doubt. Nicely done, Doctor Greer.