Thursday, October 30, 2014

Panik Stricken

"Come on, let's play some more!" The Umpire Strikes Back, Ron Luciano (On recording the last out of the season).


The Kansas City Royals are an exceptional baseball team. They are fundamentally sound. The good players play well in the clutch, their great efforts. Every play is pure, each pitch contested, no lead safe. They are a pleasure to watch. Last night, in front of a sea of blue, it wasn't enough.

Joe PanikTheir home stadium holds around forty thousand people, give or take. They packed in 106% of capacity, Game Seven tickets bringing eleventy billion dollars on the open market. It seemed everyone had on their best Royals regalia (except for the guy sitting in row one behind the plate - red Marlins stuff? WTF was that about?). They had tied the game at two and it seemed the flood gates would soon open, and they would be champs for the first time since the Eighties. Then, it happened.

Writing that Madison Bumgarner happened would be easy - the guy was World Series MVP. He'd pitched a gem just two days before, and now came in to relieve Jeremy Affeldt (who played a season and a half for the Rockies, coming over from KC in 2006). KC made every at bat count, fought right down to the last out. In the bottom of the ninth a friend commented that the announcer could stop with the man crush on this player. It's not hard to understand how lavishing praise on the lanky pitcher could happen.

The game turned on a play that began innocently enough long before Bumgarner took the mound. The ball seemed destined for center field, the Royals' fastest player on first. The center fielder would scoop it up, throw to the cut off man and it would be two on, no outs. Any little leaguer knew that KC would small-ball at least one run home. The way they were playing, a big inning seemed about to unfold.

A player with a name right out of Dickens stretched, snagging the ball as he slid on his belly. Okay, so it would be an infield hit. First and second, instead of runners at the corners. But, wait....

Joe Panik didn't. He flipped the ball - scooped it backhand - to short stop Brandon Crawford for one. On to first and.... The runner was initially called safe, having successfully executed the difficult and dangerous head first slide. Replay revealed that he was, in fact, out by an inch. At most. The bases were empty, two out. Whatever might have happened with those runners didn't.

Bumgarner's heroics could have all been for naught had the third inning turned out differently. A rookie (Panik came to San Francisco in June), a desperately instinctive move and an inch.... Today in KC they would be celebrating a win.

Madison Bumgarner admitted after the game that he was exhausted. He, and his teammates, had nothing left. Oh, they cavorted like kids and sprayed cheap champagne on each other. Maybe the plane ride home was chaotic (although, in 2007 the World Champion Boston Red Sox stayed in a Downtown Denver hotel and left the next day). The only way to beat a really good team is to be really good yourself, and give everything you have to the effort. It makes for epic baseball.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lower Than Zero

“... on the historical scale, the damages wrought by individual violence for selfish motives are insignificant compared to the holocausts resulting from self-transcending devotion to collectively shared belief-systems. It is derived from primitive identification instead of mature social integration; it entails the partial surrender of personal responsibility and produces the quasi-hypnotic phenomena of group-psychology.” 
― Arthur KoestlerThe Ghost in the Machine

We are thugs. We are self-aggrandizing hoodlums accountable to no one. We are part of a corrupt system rendering our fellow citizens "serfs." We don't make mere mistakes - we are reckless to the point of deliberate indifference because nothing happens to us. We're the cops, and you're not.

Wellesley officer reading to elementary school children
So says yet another writer for a popular conservative publication (I'm tired of including a link to their piece. They've never once done it for me). He highlights...trumpets from the parapets...examples of errors by law enforcement in the course of SWAT operations. Several of them, including an incident involving an injury to a two year old, are troubling. Going to the wrong address, seeking the wrong suspect.... Somebody isn't using a very good checklist.

No law enforcement professional reads these accounts without cringing a little, or growling a lot. In spite of safeguards, double checks and legal oversight mistakes happen. Thousands of deployments occur nationwide each year. Given the stakes, nothing but perfection is acceptable.

But we are people. Try as we may, human beings are prone to mistakes, no matter how well trained we are. In the process of high risk, high stress we tend to mess up. When we do, people get hurt. Sometimes it's us. Sometimes its an innocent somebody. Occasionally it's both. The critical press pieces that follow, the demands for an accounting - all that is understandable. Got that.

The thrust of some articles seem to have taken an ugly turn. We are being depersonalized, rendered as nameless, faceless automatons carrying out the heartless bidding of...them. "They" want Americans to enjoy fewer freedoms and so have created armed, armored hordes to do their bidding. Police officers aren't part of the community.

For the most part the trash talking is harmless, self-aggrandizing gibberish. The writers...if you want to call them that...are seeking an audience. A recent column in the aforementioned conservative publication garnered eight hundred and three comments. Several of them were mine, suggesting that the pundit was being an asshole. Only I used bigger, calmer words. In the process I heard:

The deaths of police officers are not tragedies.
Deadly force should be used against cops.
When they shoot someone in the line of duty, they should sit in jail until a verdict is rendered.

And other gems. For the overwhelming majority of people this is harmless rhetoric, served up by men and women who derive their living from stirring up emotions and demanding action! Someone else is moved to type "DAMN RIGHT!!!!" in the subtle manner of social media interactions and we all go on with our lives.

Or do we. The day before this column was written some asshole gunned down a Canadian soldier standing ceremonial guard at their War Memorial. Law officers ( and one very brave retired cop) confronted and then killed the suspect. A day later two sheriff's deputies in California were shot to death by a twice-deported felon - for apparently no good reason.

Punditry - the high-brow and the low-rent - have found in law enforcement's errors, omissions and ironies a means of stroking deeply-held American aversions to authority and constraint. They do so, in many cases, by withholding, bending and straining the facts to suit their narrative. And what becomes of us?

You call, we show up. People shoot at us. That's the gig.

Sacramento County Deputy Danny Oliver had a wife and two daughters. Riverside Deputy Michael Davis was married, with four children. They served proudly.

We are real people. Nothing anyone writes about us can take that away.

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.