Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Matter of Definition


Unarmed?
  • Authorities said 43-year-old James Clark, an MRI technician at Southern Tier Imaging, struggled with Smith before grabbing the officer's gun and firing at him. Smith, an 18-year veteran of the force, was hit three times and died at the scene.
  • A Navy news release Tuesday said the man approached the USS Mahan late Monday night at Naval Station Norfolk and was confronted by ship security personnel. The Navy said a struggle occurred, and the civilian disarmed the petty officer, and used the weapon to fatally shoot a sailor. The news release added that Navy security forces then killed the suspect.
  • Two Metro-Dade police officers wearing bulletproof vests were disarmed and killed Monday by a man who shot them in the head, apparently with their own weapons. Less than two hours later, police arrested a suspect in the shooting. He was identified as Charles Harry Street, 34, of Boynton Beach, who was released from prison 10 days earlier after serving eight years of a 15-year sentence for attempted first-degree murder.
This is not an exclusively American phenomenon. 

  • Three police officers and a suspect have died in two shooting incidents in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) on Friday and Saturday. One police officer was shot dead and two others were critically wounded by a suspect inside the Pinetown Police station west of Durban. The three police officers were busy charging the suspect, when he apparently disarmed one and opened fire. Meanwhile at Dududu on the South Coast an officer went to the home of a female colleague and shot her before turning the gun on himself.
Gun retention. Officers all over the world train to prevent suspects from disarming them. There are several techniques, none of which are any fun. One, a most effective method, involves reaching for a back up weapon and shooting the assailant at ultra close range.

"But the person was unarmed."

Deputy Sheriff Samuel Kent Brownlee | Weld County Sheriff's Office, ColoradoNo, they weren't. They were making a violent, concerted, often sustained effort to arm themselves by taking a firearm from the officer. The struggle sometimes is a fistfight. Sometimes, a brawl. It is always a fight for survival.

Sam Brownlee was a Weld County deputy who attempted to apprehend a domestic violence suspect who'd fled in a car. He, and others, got the vehicle stopped. The attempt to arrest the guy went badly. Deputy Brownlee was disarmed and murdered. Right up to the moment the suspect obtained Deputy Brownlee's service weapon the guy was....

Unarmed. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Glowing Hearts

My dream is for people around the world to look up and to see Canada like a little jewel sitting at the top of the continent.

I've written before about my admiration for the "Great White North." They came to our aid, publicly, in the first moments after the aircraft struck the Twin Towers in New York. Canadian men and women have stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops in conflicts all over the world. 

So it was no surprise to see this:



The True North, strong and free.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Exposure

"Darling, I don't know why I go to extremes.
Too high or too low, there ain't no in betweens." I Go To Extremes, Billy Joel, Storm Front (1989).

In the process of researching my soon-to-be-released novel The Heart of the Matter, I talked my way into a ride along with the Collier County Sheriff's Department in sunny Florida. They surround Gulf-side Naples, and extend into the scrub of Everglade country to bump up against Broward County. I arrived on time at the North Naples substation, and met "Skinny Vinnie," a corporal. He was tall and stout, a native of Long Island who had come to Florida after military service. He was talkative, proud of his organization and the kind of aggressive cop I'd love to have on my team. He drove with abandon to a nothing call (a deputy taking a routine report wasn't answering her radio) and, when I asked why, Vinnie replied stoically "In the next county over they lost three people last year. We take nothing for granted."

Of course, the subject of weather came up in the five hours I spent with him. February in Naples is soft and sweet. The sea breeze offsets Florida's bright sunshine, so that 70's and 80's are not uncommon. Naturally, the summer heat can be daunting.

"I'll bet you guys don't do much traffic direction when it's ninety-five degrees," he observed.

My reply - "Not often" - was more polite than accurate.

Several summers ago, four hours into bike patrol, my usual partner and I decided to stop at the substation to cool off and refill our water bottles. She made the mistake (or exhibited the good sense) of looking at the weather app on her iPhone. "Hey, this says it's a hundred degrees!" Change of plans. We got back into our cars. Our air conditioned cars.

In December of that year, working day watch, I rolled up to a call. I glanced at the car thermometer to see if I needed a hat - it was a brilliantly sunny Colorado mid-day. "-2" it displayed. Yes, I would need a hat. But I was lucky. The night shift cops had worked in seventeen below conditions the night before. It had snowed, those tiny flakes that appear when it's seems the air itself has frozen.

I was a brand new officer in the early Eighties when I was "voluntold" to direct traffic in the middle of a storm at a busy intersection. An early fall blizzard had brought down tree branches, cutting power to much of the community. It was snowing so hard that I could not see even one block. Steady dabs of thirty three degree droplets ran down the back of my neck and under my vest. Twenty degrees, snowing sideways and I'm soaked, cold and miserable. After two hours I was relieved by someone else.

A few days later I was taking a report near the same intersection. The victim of the minor crime observed that the day was nicer than had been those previous. "Some poor guy stood in that intersection for hours, directing traffic," he said. "I felt bad for him. I almost brought him out a cup of coffee." Nice.

"The weather in Denver tends to be beautiful," I told Vinnie. "At least we don't have your humidity."

No reason to go to extremes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Treasured Trash

"Union Steel Chest moved from Rochester NY to LeRoy in 1932. Operation of the company began in 1893 with the manufacture of drafting tables, and later machinists tool chests and specialty cabinets. The manufacture of light formed metal tool and utility chests began in the 1920s." MC, Collector's Weekly

There is nothing like a little garage envy to become motivated. We recently visited friends, who have put a lot of time, attention and money into making this oft-neglected space gleam. Upon returning home, our pet sitter/house cleaner had gotten a start on our...uh hem...mess.

With a weekend to kill (I'd post the pictures of my wife's business trip to San Diego, but I'm still in therapy) I undertook the chore of chores. I bought a big tool chest, a work bench and started throwing, cleaning, organizing. Tucked onto a forgotten shelf, behind several layers of "I'll get to this when I've submitted my More Perfect Union query" I found this:



I don't remember when or where I got it. One like it, for sale on eBay for thirty dollars, was manufactured in the 1950's. Perhaps it belonged to my late grandfather, a passionate fisherman. It could have been a gift - we lived not far from LeRoy (where, oddly, jell-o was invented) during the Sixties. It would not have been out of the question to have found it under the Christmas tree, my dad hoping his oldest would be the fishing buddy he craved. Sorry, Dad.

I learned early on that, with the exception of adolescent soirees into Powder Mills Park to entice trout (with worms, no less) I was content to do my angling in the fish section of Wegman's. Evidence of that finds itself on an ancient length of masking tape across the lid with the words "Paint, brushes, glue etc" written on it. I would love to know what I envisioned "etc" to be at eleven or twelve.

It is once again filled with fishing tackle - including a jar of thirty year old salmon eggs I discarded unopened. I assume I filled the box with hooks, lures and the other trappings of angling as my children grew older. Alas.... All three have something of their father's genes.

Thirty dollars for an old, beat up metal box? Union Steel Chest moved to Arizona in 1973 and ceased operations shortly thereafter. Apparently, time and plastics had rendered these lovely old things obsolete. A pity. What must it have been like, for the last employees to douse the lights, pull closed the door and walk sullenly away from the building they'd called "work?" With the company defunct, they are now collector's items.

Mine has collected memories of aircraft, automobiles and comic book heroes glued, painted, displayed and then discarded with the other trappings of youth. Maybe I'll keep the thing around, so it can talk to me when I'm old. There are no doubt stories it could tell me of the days when I was not.    

Every Other Year Indulgence

"The Democrats are the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then get elected and prove it." —P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores

Michael Ramirez CartoonMuch will be made of last nights election returns. Almost all of it will be self-serving nonsense. Wouldn't it be nice if the folks just elected to office would remember that there are 300+ million of us trying to get by during tough times. Making it tougher on us by allowing themselves to be assimilated into Big D, or Big R and towing the line won't help. How about, in the words of my very bright wife, we pick a few issues that matter to the majority (the economy, defense, energy development - those are my picks) and do something constructive? It wouldn't really take much. We might start with the notion that a good idea is still good if the opposition thinks of it, and move forward. 

Who knows, maybe the hard-core "ruling elite" in DC could begin to recognize the difference between ruling and governing.

A guy can dream.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Quantum Mechanics

"I like to drive with the windows open. I mean, before you know it, you're going to spend plenty of time sealed up in a box anyway, right?” Tom Magliozzi, Car Talk, WBUR (Boston)

They were a new presence on NPR, occupying the Saturday morning spot on a Public Radio station in Syracuse. A couple of clowns from Boston, talking about cars. I was five minutes into the first show, on my way to take a final, when I was hooked for life.
Tom and Ray Magliozzi were unlikely mechanics. Both had graduated prestigious MIT. Tom eventually attained a PhD in marketing. Yet, one could envision them peering into the engine compartment of virtually any car, puzzled, shrugging their shoulders and laughing. They were extraordinarily ordinary, a couple of...car guys, swapping stories, theories and life observations with listeners. Their shade tree manner never seemed an affect.

Their intelligence shone through even as they traded "auto noises," gave dating advice (often telling a woman to keep the car and get rid of the guy) and offered wry observations about life - “Kids: get away from the cell phones, get away from the computers, and mail someone a fish before it’s too late.”

Tom died of "complications from Alzheimer's Disease" at age 77. Honestly, maybe someday someone with cache will do the same and we'll dedicate ourselves to finding a cure for this fucking scourge. In the meantime, there are the archives, which his brother Ray insists be broadcast as long as there are listeners.

Via NPR's airwaves, the patented Tom Magliozzi laugh lives on, the brotherly banter between two American originals preserved as a way of saying - "Reality often astonishes theory."

Farewell Click. Or, were you Clack? 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Right of Passage

true.There are several key moments in a lawyer's professional life. All of them are critical. Only one of them is profound.

Law school is a kick. A law student is surrounded by amazingly intelligent people, dipped in the invigorating waters of humankind's search for justice and sorely tested...in front of their friends. Eventually, diploma in hand, they emerge as a Doctor of Jurisprudence.

An ugly truth awaits on the day after. No, not that consuming copious quantities of alcohol leave one ill. There is one more test to take.

The dreaded Bar Exam.

Not everyone passes. There are a number of graduates from prestigious law schools who never pass. The majority take it several times before being successful. One of my friends, an impressively intelligent man who went on to become chief counsel to New York's environmental protection agency, and later a judge, failed in his first attempt. There are many ways to fail, but only one way to succeed.

Believe.

Beth Mason, our oldest daughter (and middle child) found out yesterday that she passed the Maryland Bar Exam. Pro forma paperwork awaits, but some time in December she will be sworn in as an attorney, and counselor at law.

My heart is full of joy, my eyes weeping happy tears. Her comment?

"I passed the mighty fine Maryland Bar!"

Only, she didn't say mighty fine.

In a few short months she will have the right, the privilege...the honor to call herself a lawyer. May that day, and every day hence, be blessed.