Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To a Tee

There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism.

An act of cowardice began events today in Ottawa. Nathan Cirillo, a twenty-four year old reservist from Hamilton, stood guard at his country's War Memorial. According to commentators, this hallowed place is analogous to our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Cpl. Cirillo was murdered by an assailant armed with a long gun who gave no warning. This asshole (who has been named, but will not be here - ever) then entered Canada's Parliament building. One can only imagine his intent.

Events inside, at least a portion of them, were recorded by someone bearing a shaky camera and an iron will. The images captured reveal something few police officers see in real life - a textbook response to an active shooter. 

Officers move in unison toward the shooter. Discussions with a friend (a former SWAT officer who happens also to be from Toronto) involved "diamond" and "T" formations, variations of which most police officers learn and practice. The video reveals a sort of hybrid, maybe now called the "Lazy T." They remain in the center of the hall, where (believe it or not) it is safest. It is, however, extremely dangerous.

 Visible at the far end of the hallway is a figure, presumably the suspect. The officers do not halt, take cover or falter. They drive, as they have been taught, toward the man with the gun. There is shooting, and the camera operator flinches. When they recover, the Lazy T continues forward, driving on the murderer. The threat is eliminated. In plain English, they shot bullets into him until he died.

News continues to pour out of Ottawa, as their nation comes to grips with an act of terrorism. They mourn the loss of Cpl. Cirillo, and as Americans we share in their grief, just as they did in ours thirteen years ago. 

They can be proud, as are we as fellow police officers, of the bravery displayed by the men and women of Canadian law enforcement. They did not just run to the sound of guns, they ran to the sight of one as well. They risked their own lives and ended the shooting spree. 

Out of the senseless murder of a good man arose heroes. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bandwagon With No Horses

If you see a bandwagon, it's too late.
Graham and his Papa

Of course. Camden Yards in September, home of the Baltimore Orioles, was unbelievable. A warm Maryland day, our daughters and their families in attendance and.... Okay, we watched them fall to the Red Sox, but it was one of those special times I'll cherish forever. I climbed aboard the bandwagon without a second thought.

Sweeping Detroit was ironic, since Katy, her husband Steve and their son Graham lived there for almost five years. Graham attended his first baseball game at Comerica Field, the Tigers' home. The photo of the four of us on 9/11/11 sits on my desk, next to the Tillman bobble-head I scored at Camden Yards a few short weeks ago.

My sentimental favorite is out, losing four straight to Kansas City. Almost as soon as I'd jumped on the bandwagon, the horses gave out. Doesn't that figure?

Still.... For one day in the warm September sunshine, I sat in Baltimore and cheered an adopted team with our girls and their families. I got much more out of that short ride than I owed.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Extraordinary Performance

Every day, first responders put their own lives on the line to ensure our safety. The least we can do is make sure they have the tools to protect and serve their communities.

The After Action Report regarding the Aurora theater shooting has been released. It is a massive document that evaluates, in often minute detail, the actions of the individuals who responded. In the executive summary, the following:

"All victims with survivable serious wounds were rapidly triaged, transported to local hospitals and recovered." Later in the report, they confirm that everyone who could have survived did. 

Wrap your mind around that.

They attribute this outcome "in large measure [to] a combination of extraordinary performance by the initial wave of arriving police officers acting on their own judgment and training, the medical care at the scene administered by fire and EMS personnel and later in the hospitals."

The report is lengthy. It discusses some of the ins and outs of active shooter response (including training needs and equipment considerations), and such important (but often neglected) topics as where to park the police cars. Many of the recommendations discuss the need for combat casualty care training for law enforcement officers, and the kinds of equipment this might require. There is an interesting discussion about the desirability of transporting victims with chest and abdominal wounds in police cars that is must read.

The obvious crowd pleaser, Incident Command, is considered at length. The observations and recommendations made in this area are not something the press noted (the discussion of unified command structure and command post placement won't attract many people to a web site). Professional incident managers will digest them thoroughly.

The report isn't easy reading. The incident was traumatic, the results tragic. Some of it, including details on the apprehension of the suspect, were redacted in the interest of successful prosecution. Within the calm, carefully-chosen wording one can still get a sense of the chaos, the confusion and the horror. One disturbing passage related how difficult it was on officers guarding the theater to hear the cellphones of the deceased ringing. It doesn't take much to imagine the emotions of the callers.

One obvious theme runs through the 188 pages. The men and women who responded - cops, firefighters, paramedics, ambulance crews, victim advocates and the innumerable others - are well-trained, courageous professionals. 


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Taking A Pass

Admiral Percy Fitzwallace (John Amos): The problem with that is that's what they were saying about me 50 years ago - blacks shouldn't serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I'm an admiral in the U.S. Navy and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff... Beat that with a stick. "Let Bartlett Be Bartlett." The West Wing (2000).

The topic of this scene was gays in the military, but it could easily have been about same-sex marriage. Arguments in opposition tend to offer, among other things, that it would be a disruptive influence on society. People would become confused.

The Supreme Court this week, without comment, let stand several Federal Court rulings that favor marriage as a constitutional right for all. Motives for why the justices so decided are easy to ascribe - countless legal beagle pundits have offered to fill in the blanks left by the Court. Since none of these scribblers know for certain, they are only guesses. So my guess is as good as theirs.

My guess is that they saw no particular reason to hear the cases. Not every social or cultural disagreement requires nine lawyers, no matter how accomplished they are, to add their voices to the discussion. The lower courts have heard the witnesses, weighed the evidence and ruled in favor of freedom.

Sometimes one can make the loudest comment by choosing silence.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cruisin' With Cici

My favorite place to vacation is anyplace by the ocean.

The amazing panorama was nearly as conducive to writing as the lack of internet access. We were sitting in the "Crow's Nest," a bar on Deck 10 facing directly over the bow. Laptops open, writing projects occupying us. Our ship, Holland America's Westerdam, sat idly at anchor off Santa Catalina Island, rocking gently. Below, tender craft brought back the last of our shore party. My Reggae Beat frosted over - a typical boat drink of mostly fruit juices with a splash of vodka - but Cici.... She was fighting for her life.

We'd applied a new theory to cruising this time. We totally unplugged from everything, including our usual spending the day reading and people watching aboard ship. Our port excursions were limited to brief forays ashore to eat something other than buffet fare, shop and stretch our legs. Each day we carved out four hours of writing time, made easier  by awful weather on day two, and nervous seas - what our captain called "The motion of the ocean." By the time good weather returned (the swells stayed, though...yo ho ho and a Dramamine) we'd established a rhythm. Spend a few hours at the keyboard and the rest of the day was ours.

Writing in the cabin was awesome. Staring at the screen, Cici's squad pinned down and being flanked and suddenly I'm stuck for a resolution. Walking onto the balcony to see dolphins and aha! The bad guys make a basic mistake that allows Cici....

But that gives away the ending. The last revisions of A More Perfect Union fell neatly into place right there on The Crow's Nest, and I close my computer. The ship begins to ease gently forward. Happy hour is in full swing, the trivia contest just concluded ("What spirit is distilled from the agave plant?" - really, that's trivial?!) Two 40s-ish guys next to me are engrossed in a very typical 40s-ish guy cruise conversation, which are generally descriptions of mechanical issues the boats...ships...they've been on had endured. Once, the guy in the ball cap says, one of the tender craft that double as lifeboats got stuck halfway up as it was being winched back aboard. The other guy is a fit-looking man in a wheel chair, left foot booted in a walking cast. He can top that.

"On one of the Holland America ships the captain came on the PA, 'Don't be concerned about divers in the water. It looks like we blew a seal.'"

I sipped my Reggae Beat and watched sea gulls, wings skillfully managing the gusts, hovering, just outside our window, above the Westerdam's bridge roof, afloat on the bow wave created by the ship's forward motion. It seemed an apt metaphor, a punch line remained unspoken, hovering in mid-air. 

Our cruise had been a working vacation...and listening in on this conversation was work. The essence of good eavesdropping - listen now. Laugh later. Maybe these two guys will find their way into a manuscript. Maybe, some day, they'll end up cruisin' with Cici.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


There is a saying in Baltimore that crabs may be prepared in fifty ways and that all of them are good.

Baltimore has been called "Washington's Brooklyn" (In case you are wondering, that isn't a compliment). Sportswriter Mark Kram, a city native, once wrote that his hometown was anonymous "even to those who live there." It is a place Philadelphia residents look down on with disdain - and the symbol of their city is a bell with a crack in it as long as your arm.  Who knows from Baltimore?

In the middle Seventies city officials decided to burnish the city's image. Plans for Baltimore's renewal were on drawing boards, but any campaign needs a hook. Pop. What can be more persuasive to sneering throngs than a new nickname?

Charm City.

Two days ago I watched Baltimore recede, my seat in a creaking, aged 737 affording a magnificent view of the busy corridor connecting Charm City with Washington. Clearly visible as we climbed were the iconic buildings constituting the seat of our Federal government - monuments to the collective wisdom (and failings) of generations of leaders.  Somewhere along the freeway tucked just below the port tail surface, our youngest and her son drove to their beautiful home in Perry Hall.

In my quick four day adventure we visited our middle child (living with her husband in Silver Spring) and then met them at an Orioles game. While my beloved Rockies prepare for the off season relieved they will not lose one hundred games, Charm City's team took the field assured of a top spot in the playoffs. A packed house greeted us, a long line leading to that Camden Yards delicacy - a crab mac and cheese-smothered hot dog. Yes, it was decadent, with rich sauce and a sweet, tender, generous portion of the local blues. We took our seats, me next to three year old Graham. He ate his hot dog with gusto while his mom explained baseball to her older sister. After a Red Sox homer in the top of the first - "How many points is that?" the budding lawyer asked. Midway through the game another spectator turned and said "You two are amazingly funny!" Their infectious laughter and spirited banter warm a father's heart.

Too soon I was packing. After a trip to "FUNdamentals" where somersaults and bouncy houses offered a cornucopia of toddler delights we went home to prepare for my departure. But wait.... It was too soon to surrender to the inevitable.

An hour later my young grandson and I had read all of the license plates in the neighborhood. He led me by the hand, marching from one mailbox to the next, proudly calling out their numbers. We saw a helicopter, waved to the mail carrier and had a bit of a spill. We were away long enough that his mom texted, wondering where we had gone. 

All of that was disappearing behind me. The unseemliness of a grown man - a career police officer nearing retirement - sniffling at panoramic Maryland. But, they are hardly tears of sorrow. We have raised three fine children, who have met and married honorable people. After three wonderful grandsons (two of whom live in Greater Denver with our oldest and his wife) our youngest is poised to deliver a little girl - Greta James Gaffney. We pray for her every night. 

Four hours later I was safely home. I am, in every sense of the word, charmed.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Play Toys

New cat, new play toys. I think it says that in the pet owner's manual.

The three AM woofing - Portie CJ wants out. Maybe it's something she heard outside. Maybe her bladder is sending subtle reminders of the big gulps of just before bedtime water. Maybe the snoring (pick a suspect) bothers her and this is payback.

Of course everyone wants to go out. Even Gilda - her MARPAT-like coat would make her impossible to find in the dark. And what would the neighbors say, old man wandering the backyard in his underwear yelling "Goddammit, Gilda."

The commotion has awakened ancient Pap Radar, who bumper-cars underfoot. Letting him out means going out to get him - blind, deaf, incontinent and now internal radar on very low gain. What the.... But, improbably, he finds his way back to the door. Grabbing a fresh ace wrap and him takes a practiced hand, especially pre-dawn. Practice...yes.

It's happening and.... What is the end of the ace stuck on? Tugging only anchors it....

"Dammit Gilda! The end of the ace is not a play thing."

While unhooking the end from her tiger claws Radar wanders off and pees on the floor. The big dogs look on, sniff and amble off to bed.

I roll up the wrap and start off in pursuit of the tiny dog dribbling down the hallway. And step into a dog dish.

I have now become yet another source of amusement for the new cat.