Monday, July 27, 2015

Unamused

In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death the late Neil Postman describes how television (and, in a forward to the new addition, his son references social media) has cheapened the art of public discourse. This point is nowhere as evident as the life and death struggle relating to gun crime.

America's schizophrenic obsession with guns manifests itself in a lot of verbiage, and not a lot of discussion. It is impossible to draw truly useful conclusions with even a superficial survey of the headlines. One finds themselves buried with accounts of one fatal incident, while another appears and fades like a shooting star. Press organs of various political stripes manipulate the facts to create narratives fitting its editorial policy, unconscious to the true needs of its spectators.

We are allowing the anachronistic tail to wag the confused, horrified dog. In the meantime, the question that needs to be answered is ignored in an increasingly polarized rhetorical atmosphere. A man walks into a recruiting center and murders five servicemen. One pundit spends a thousand or so words arguing that it was not terrorism, but an act of war. Two of the men - one sailor and a Marine - may have used privately-owned weapons to defend themselves. The anti-gun lobby seizes on this fact to crow triumphantly that good guys with guns die when bad guys shoot them. Like that is new information.

A young woman enjoying the pleasures of an evening stroll with her father is murdered senselessly by a man who should have been in prison, or back in his native country. The ensuing conversation? Immigration policy and the wisdom of being a "sanctuary city."

A madman sits among a congregation of the faithful, armed. They treat him so well he almost abandons his plan. He murders nine anyway, pausing to reload as he goes. The ensuing public conversation revolves around a flag, and whether the time has come to dig up the remains of a Civil War officer and his wife.

A drifter crazy as a shithouse mouse inexplicably pulls a gun in a movie theater and randomly kills two others before committing suicide. The act propels individuals, including the President, to wonder if enough is enough.

Of course it is. Let's ask the right question, and look for the right solution. Let's start with - "How the hell did these men get their hands on guns?"

In at least two cases, guns were purchased legally by men who should have failed the background investigations mandated by law. In one, the FBI screwed up (and they feel just sick about it). In another the state of Georgia is apparently so inept that a man who has been institutionalized fails to ring the bell when his name is run on their system.

At what point do we point the finger at government and question whether the ding dong dillion we all pay to be protected from assholes like this isn't being pissed away on bullshit, feel good projects of meaningless posturing. At what point do we look in the mirror and ask when the hell we are going to get serious about keeping guns out of the hands of the insane (whether the insanity arises from mental illness or radicalization). The state of Oregon, fer christ's sake, has just made it a violation of a person's constitutional rights for a police officer to ask if they are armed.

America has, on her books, laws that would be effective in preventing many of these crimes. But, laws do not enforce themselves. Merely passing a law (and congratulating ourselves for doing so) does not solve the problem. We lack the will to enforce laws already existing. We have turned public opinion against the men and women charged with finding among us the deranged murderous before they act. It would be easy to say we get what we deserve, but that would be shameful.

We sow. People in a church, a theater or a wharf suffer. We act like we don't care enough to set aside the superficial, dogmatic arguments of political genuflecting long enough to ask ourselves - what are the root causes of these criminal acts?

We are in denial because the answer is - society as a whole lacks the will to look evil in the eye, preferring to be positively sick with sorrow about the results. We send flowers, we post pictures and then it's off to our next adventure.

I have an idea. Let those of us who have made a profession of confronting the monsters among us enforce the laws you have demanded. Ensure that background investigations for gun purchases be meaningful, and include information that seems increasingly relevant. Reasonable restrictions on gun ownership are constitutional, and effective. They should be rigorously, enthusiastically enforced by men and women who have the resources they need.

Or else, we could just keep watching people die.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Room with a View

Bikecopblog began six years ago, announcing its presence and urgently requesting backup. It got four hits.Three hundred sixty-three posts, and thirty-five thousand, six hundred sixteen visits later, I am, as usual, shamelessly hawking something. This time, it is not one of my books.

My friend Dan lives in Paonia, Colorado. He retired from law enforcement last year, relocated to the town where his parents live, and settled down on a modest piece of land. His log home sits in as pretty a piece of real estate as God has made, a three-sixty of the best our state has to offer. I was his guest this weekend. As we sat sipping excellent margaritas and watching the sun dip below the horizon he asked a favor.

In addition to the main residence there is a one bedroom apartment in a detached building on his land. It is perfect for a geataway. "I want to open my home and heart to all of my brothers and sisters who just want to get away for a few days," he said.

All of us in LE understand what happens when the bucket starts to overflow. Sitting on his front porch, surrounded by mountains, I could feel my bucket leak a little bit. My fitbit recorded a resting heart rate I've not seen since I was younger. After a good night sleep and a great breakfast, I returned to Lakewood a little bit better off than I'd arrived.

So here is the deal. Dan is on FB - look him up. Take him up on his generous offer. All you have to lose is a few gallons of pain you've been carrying in your bucket.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"I'm Off!"

President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen): "The world is coming apart at the seams."
Lord John Marbury (Roger Rees): "Well, then. Thank God you sent for me!"
The West Wing, "Lord John Marbury," Season 1, Episode 11 (2000).

Noting the passing of actor Roger Rees.

Roger Rees was a Welshman who came to America to work, and to live. His acting credits span several decades, and ninety roles. He was adept on the big screen, or the small one. Several of his stage performances won him accolades, and awards.

His obits mention, among other things, appearances on Cheers, and Grey's Anatomy. I will remember him fondly for his portrayal of the daft alcoholic, womanizing Lord John Marbury on The West Wing. Summoned to help avert the escalation of a war between India and Pakistan, he arrives at the White House calling his flight "intoxicating" and requesting a light for his cigarette. Not for nothing did the President call on him, as his international connections and understanding of the region turn the trick. Later, he becomes Great Britain's ambassador to the United States.

Although writing genius Aaron Sorkin provided the words, Rees supplied the artistry. One could imagine His Lordship's particular brand of eccentricity; a marvelous combination of charm, wit and searing intellect, educated at Cambridge and The Sorbonne, hopelessly ego maniacal but brilliantly capable. He sometimes confused White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (the late John Spencer) for a butler named Gerald, or so it seemed. McGarry's pain at the mere mention of Lord John often stole the scene, until His Lordship made his typical grand entrance and stole it right back.

Mr. Rees passed away in New York this week. His home. He had become an American citizen years ago.

On The West Wing, to a room full of people, instructions from the President in hand, he announced with a flourish "I'm off!" Indeed, and far too soon, sir.

Witness to A Whole Lot of Tough

There is a sort of sweet madness that accompanies Colorado's Triple Bypass bike ride. It is billed as "Those Who Dare," but the organizers never let outsiders know what the dare actually represents. Watching three friends yesterday complete the course illuminates it quite sufficiently.

I awoke at 5 AM, having committed to a day of providing "SAG." As previously discussed, this is not a fashion statement. It involves driving a support vehicle, making sure the riders have what they need and planning the next stop's location (usually somewhere obvious). One of the riders I was supporting, long-time and dear friend Jeromy, was already unloading his gear next to my truck.

By that time two other riders (Shawna and Jen), both coworkers who are often riding partners, were preparing to begin the course - 120 bicycle miles traversing three of Colorado's most demanding mountain passes. Typically, the journey begins at first light in bitter cold. Afternoon temperatures soar in the thin mountain air and elevation 10,000 feet sun. There is almost always a rain shower - alpine downpour usually a more apt description. Several times sleet has fallen.

"Can you feel your toes yet?" was a common question heard among riders who had just finished the high-speed descent into Idaho Springs. So far, so good. Later, I stood in line next to an exceedingly fit cyclist of about 40. Haggard, looking spent, he was waiting for the porta-potty at the Loveland Ski area rest stop. He'd just endured an uphill grind that lasted an unremitting three hours. "This fucking blows, man," he muttered. The guy was not yet halfway done, with Loveland Pass staring him in the face. Vail pass awaited, but not before a sharp, nasty climb up Swan Mountain just to prevent riders from becoming complacent.

Controlling a Frisco intersection was a former coworker, now a deputy sheriff in Summit County. He and I chatted about old times, our rider friends appearing out of the crowd. Storm clouds gathered overhead. "I don't think the heavy stuff is going to come down for quite a while," I suggested. No one laughed. Okay, it's a movie line and fit the situation perfectly. Of course it rained on them.

Finally, they made Avon and the finishing line twelve hours after starting, about ten of it actively pedaling. "I need a chiropractor," one of them declared.

One does not prepare for such an adventure by resting. Along the way they had trained in four-season weather, beginning the process of reminding their bodies how to climb. while passes were still choked with snow. Hours upon hours of turning the cranks took them along bike paths washed out with late spring rains - shoes caked with mud, faces splattered with road grime. The finishing line that seemed unattainable those first few yards in Bergen Park is earned in the months before. Triple Day plays out successfully because a cyclist puts in the time and then, when the tight back, knee pain and overall "This fucking blows, man" arrive they power through.

Congratulations to my friends. I enjoyed being a small part of your big day.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Damaged Goods

What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you’d like it to mean?
– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

The Oregon Supreme Court, in an obviously immoderate effort to raise the daftness bar in their state, has determined that an officer who asks someone who is lawfully detained "Are you armed?" violates their constitution. It is possible, theoretically anyway, to find a more disreputable misreading of the real world ebbing and flowing outside of their cloistered halls. I am getting up early tomorrow to spend the day with friends, and need my rest. So I will conclude, reasonably I think, that of the thousands of cases I have read (trust me, I read this one), I have never seen so many vacuous sentences masquerading as legal argument collected under one heading.

When one boils out all of the polysyllabic nonsense, one is left with the legal proposition that, at least in the state of Oregon, a police officer may not engage another human being in conversation. Other states have tried this approach (Colorado, sadly, is one of them) but this is the first time a court has ruled that their version of the 4th Amendment protects someone lawfully detained from being asked a question unrelated to the reason a citizen is stopped.

The concurrence (concurrence?!) surmised that it unlawfully extended the length of the contact. This is, of course, what really happens on a ped contact not confined to chambers in Salem. Let's play, shall we?

Officer (speaking to dispatch): Clear person, last name Saggypants, first Banger. DOB zero one, zero one, ninety."
Dispatch: Stand by.
Officer: So, do you have any weapons on you?
Saggy: Well...yeah, a gun.
Dispatch: Are you clear for info?

It took you longer to read than it takes to experience. Pretend you have not arisen to the exhalted position of Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. Pretend you are a citizen of average intelligence who knows the following about the law: Don't break it. Would the above lead you to conclude that the question was an unconstitutional intrusion? Do you think police officers are prevented by anything related to the real world from asking it?

We have entered an era where officers are reduced to being spectators at a melodrama. The losers are, among others, a thirty-two year old woman walking in the moonlight with her dad, shot down for no reason by some piece of shit asshole with a gun I can't ask if he has.

Obviously, the Oregon bar exam isn't hard enough.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Crazy George

"Krazy George" Henderson is a professional cheerleader. He bangs on a drum, and cajoles fans of professional sports teams to heights of frenzy unavailable to mere mortals.

"Crazy George" Takei is an actor. He is gay, married, and takes himself very seriously. As well he should. He and his parents were interred during WWII, because they are Japanese-Americans. They lost years of freedom, and much of their property, having done nothing more nefarious than spring from the wrong gene pool.

Mr. Takei is forthright in his belief that his sexual preference should have no bearing of how he is treated. (That is the position of Bikecopblog.) Consequently, when the Supreme Court discovered the right of same-sex couples to marry (much in the same way Columbus "discovered" the New World) he was justifiably happy. He had worked for many years persuading others of the human rights aspects of marriage laws open to all. He was ready to celebrate, and it was his right to do so.

The moment got away from him, and he decided (for some reason) to comment on Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas's dissent. Rather than point out places where Justice Thomas's scholarship might be found wanting, Crazy George made reference to the Justice's race. He chose poorly.

There is, however, an easy solution.

Dear Justice Thomas,

In the immediate aftermath of the Obergefell decision, I offered a public pronouncement concerning your dissent. It was the product of emotion, of years of pent up frustration that I, and others like me, were not afforded rights we believed were not the government's to withhold. I spoke without considering the price you have paid to be where you are.

I apologize. I did not mean what I said to reflect on your integrity as a jurist, or as an American. I am available, if you wish, to meet personally. Perhaps, in doing so, we can find common ground.

Yours,

George Takei

Maybe, in this unfortunate situation, we could all learn a lesson in humility, generosity and hope.

Out, On A Limb

I Think That The Soldiers Are My Role Models , Because They fight for our country. They Fight For The Right To Live, Right To Have Freedom, The Right To Have An Education. The Reason We're Probably here is because Of The Dear Soldiers Who Risk Their Lives , For Ours.

 Allyson Marie  

I was preoccupied.

The first half of my bike ride to Confluence was taken up with obsessing about something I'd read on Facebook. I know, I know. "Really?! Facebook?" Well, yeah.

There is currently a tiff among various Keyboard Rangers concerning a sign available on line. Someone can order something to put on their lawn that identifies the resident as a combat veteran. It asks for some consideration with regard to fireworks. The mere appearance of this on the goofysphere has turned the virtual water red with blood. Elite members of the "phony tough and crazy brave" have engaged brain (or at least fingers to keys) abhorring this display of...

I have no real dog in this fight. The closest I came to combat as a Naval Reservist was the night I stood patiently in line for a beer at the Pensacola O Club. My turn had arrived, when an arm, mug clutched in meaty hand, was thrust over my shoulder onto the bar. I turned to inform this dipshit that he could wait his goddamn turn. He was a Commander, dressed in the blue flight uniform of a Blue Angel. His mug said "The Boss." Oops. After you, sir.

 But, I digress. The author of the piece I'd read on FB broke the argument down into three distinct groups. Each of them were assholes, he surmised. All except for those who agreed with him, who were also probably assholes for not doing their own thinking. 

I spent my time riding down to Confluence in Denver thinking of the pithy things I would write, the rapier-like wit I would employ and how this veteran's ravings would be putty in my hands. I dined on a hot dog, had my picture taken next to a flag, and started home.

A couple rode ahead of me on the bike path. For some reason, even after riding most of Squaw Pass yesterday, I had legs. I closed the gap steadily. 

He was rugged and handsome, strong on his bike. She was tall, fit and tanned. They had the easy grace of athletes, turning the pedals effortlessly. They looked the type that usually blew past me with a kind word, disappeared around the next bend and were never seen again. They chatted casually, her brunette pony tail flitting across the light purple sleeveless jersey. I approached, preparing to announce the pass.

She had a prosthetic left leg.

The spoon thing at the end was clipped in. This was not an afterthought. Cycling was one of her sports, and she had adapted. Perhaps she had lost her limb in an accident, or to disease. Perhaps it had been a birth thing. And, perhaps, she had lost it in uniform.

An IED is indiscriminate. It does not intentionally spare the attractive young woman and decapitate the man next to her. It does not know, nor care, that the limb it takes is attached to a female cyclist who will return from the battlefield to her friends, her country and her road bike. It is as likely in 2015 that she lost her leg in a foreign country, in combat, as here. No matter how quick I was, I was not high speed enough to pass her.

Behind me, gears changed. A quick look - I expected to be passed. Other cyclist had come to similar conclusions and had fallen into line. When the couple turned toward Mile High Stadium we disbursed. 

A Veteran's right to have a little bit of consideration on July 4th? Who knew. It was a wonderful day to be an American.