Sunday, June 28, 2015

Broken

"I guess the fucking thing is broken." Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci), My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Today, a commercial rocket intended to bring supplies to the Space Station exploded into about eleventy billion pieces two-ish minutes after launch. Boom.

The "anomaly" began somewhere in the front half of the vehicle. What happened next can only be described as "disappearing up your own asshole." The booster assembly churned furiously on as the rest of the thing disintegrated. Finally, the first stage motors vanished into a cloud of pipes, fairing, yogurt, water bottles and shaving cream. Then, everything fluttered down into the Atlantic like maple leaves in an October breeze.

Mission Control, only minutes before describing the event as the most stupendously stupendous thing all week, was mute. Oh, there had to be a lot of WTF-ing on the command circuits, but nary a "kee-rist" crept out until the long, painful silence was broken by a somber voice.

"This mission has been declared non-nominal."

I'm no rocket scientist. My wife was one, once, but I'm not. But, I think when part of it is supposed to go into orbit, but the whole thing vaporizes itself in one giant bang... Non-nominal?

I'd be more inclined to agree with Vinny.

Going Postal

Two buddies were driving to their favorite hunting grounds. They came to a road sign - "Bear left." So they went home. Author unknown.

Waiting for the brats to cook (no, I wasn't grilling the neighbors) I stumbled across a post on Facebook. Apparently, an appeals court reversed a district court - the DC ruled the Post Office's ban on firearms on Postal property violated the Second Amendment. The Tenth Circuit found in favor of the ban. Well, okay. One need not be overwhelmed with common sense to detect a rule we can all live with.

Dropping off a package, mailing something to my writing instructor... The only time I have a gun with me is when I'm getting the thing done on duty. Nobody seems to care; an armed, uniformed police officer calms a lot of people down (believe it or not). Fine.

Pro tip: Don't take a break from alcohol on a night you intend to read the comments on an FB posting.

I'd guess (based on the small sample I soldiered through before being overcome with anguish) 90% were supportive. They broke somewhat evenly between people affronted by firearms per se (and deeming people who aren't "idiots" and "creepy"), people who now felt safer and anyway it was about goddamn time, and those with horror stories that seemed to involve either close brushes with post office shootings or some free-form associations involving the term "Going Postal."

The remaining ten percent? Some surely suffered from an abysmal case of Nothing Better To Do (which, now that I write that, might include me and this blog entry). Several seemed inclined to be merely contrarian. Finally, an array of frustrated gunfighters bent on shooting it out with terrorists and robbers trotted out the usual "You'll be sorry when" arguments.

Bored, I read the case. It involves a man with a true Western Slope name -Tab Bonidy - who does his snail mail business at the post office in Avon, Colorado. In true latter day cowboy fashion, Tab had no real quarrel with Postal Law, so he thought to leave his shooting iron in his vee-hickle. Except - that was also prohibited. The whole case was about whether he could have a gun in his car in the post office parking lot.

My opinion lurches and sways between laughing until I pee, and being horrified by the whole process. You know why?

Because gun control in this country is too important to cultivate a terminal case of stupid. The conversation about keeping guns out of the hands of assholes who would shoot innocents going to the Post Office, or to church, or to school, should have begun with Columbine (if not before). We endure massacre after massacre without having the serious, grown-up, it will actually do something about it conversation common sense demands. We create signs and symbolism meant to make us feel better. Honestly, does anyone really think a guy bent on emptying his gun into a crowd is deterred by a sign that says it's a misdemeanor to have the gun he's using to commit murder?

Conversely - if you had a gun under your pickup truck's seat when you went to check your PO box, wouldn't you just STFU? Why make a big deal about it? Is it that boring in Avon?

This is a silly, pointless, shameful exercise. Thorough, meaningful background checks based on discovering those things that predict violence must be created. Honest, law-abiding citizens must back off of demanding the right to buy anything they want immediately, so long as there is room on their Master Card. We need to grow the frick up and stop wasting our time about truly peripheral stuff. We're arguing over parking lots and signs?

Keeping guns out of the hands of people who cannot be trusted with them works. Let's figure out how to do that better.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Now I Axe Ya...

"If, even as the price to to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: 'The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity' I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of a fortune cookie." Obergefell v. Hodges, Scalia, J, dissenting.footnote 22, (2015).


Needless to say, this has been a tumultuous twenty-four hours at 1 First Street, NE in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court demonstrated, within two distinctly different cases, that it has lost its collective mind.

A brief examination. In a case decided on Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, announced that the following sentence found in the Affordable Care Act (Ocare): "an Exchange established by the State" actually could be read as saying "by the State and Federal Government." By inserting this additional phrase the Court was able to amend Ocare in such a way as to breathe life into it for yet another term.

The following day, without apparent shame, the CJ wrote:

"But, this Court is not a Legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be." Obergefell v. Hodges, Roberts, CJ, dissenting. (2015), as the Court found a liberty interest in the Constitution supporting gay marriage.

To a casual observer, it might seem that the Chief Justice entertains no real underlying interperative principles as he veers drunkenly (I mean that figuratively, of course) from one side of an argument to the other. But, as has been muttered ruefully by my poor, long-suffering wife, I am not a casual observer. Let me share my analysis.

Roberts has lost his mind.

No, really. Our Constitution, as he pointed out in Obergefell, grants no legislative powers whatsoever to the Court. While certain principles of statutory interpretation allow a court to cure confusing construction, it does not have the power to re-write a law that was carefully drafted to mean precisely what it said. Okay, that's kind of a mouthful. If a legislature writes a law that is unclear (as is a fairly common occurrence), a court can save it. They do this by giving it a reasonable re-reading. So far, so good.

The idiot who helped draft Ocare (the guy who called us stupid, by the way) intentionally included in the law the language about State Exchanges (allowing a tax credit for them, but not Federal exchanges) to coerce States to establish insurance exchanges. Go ask him. But, some states refused to take the bait and policies that would be affordable under the tax credit scheme were suddenly unattractively expensive. Whoops.

Never fear, Johnny Boy and his posse of re-writers to the rescue. Voila! In total. absolute, incredible violation of everything the Founders agreed upon, the Supreme Court of the United States announced a new law. It had not begun its stilted life in the House (because, as the CJ had legislated a couple of years ago, this law contains a tax, not the penalty in the original), had not been passed by either - let alone both - chambers of Congress and had never been signed into law by the President. Not that Mr. O wouldn't have signed the crap out of this bitch.

Okay. So now we get to same-sex marriage. Trigger warning - I totally agree with Justice Kennedy's opinion. Okay, have your WTF moment. I'll wait...

You're back? Dude, here's the thing. In Obergefell they were deciding whether a right exists, not trying to decide what a statute meant. The Founders were reluctant to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Why, you ask? Because, when you make a list it seems like you are making a whole list. And, in the law, a list that includes some things (and doesn't say "among these...") is interpreted to be inclusive - that is, it has everything in it that applies. Many of the men who wrote the Constitution said "Seriously?! Who would possibly think that?"

Antonin Gregory Scalia of Trenton, NJ. He is an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He believes that if a right is not found in the Constitution then Congress may determine if it exists. Well, what could possibly go wrong with that idea?

Ultimately, it is the right of a free adult to, as Tony K wrote, order their lives in the manner of their own choosing. Most of us with healthy, rewarding marriages take for granted our right to seek out our partner, develop our relationship and build our lives together. The fact that the person who fits these perimeters is the same gender as us should be of no concern to the government. To decide otherwise is to deprive free men and women of a liberty interest to which they are entitled not by the Constitution, but, as Mr. TJ wrote so many years ago, by the Creator.

You see, inalienable rights are not a creature of government. You have them, I have them... Everyone has them no matter what the Supreme Court says. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is, well...

"To secure these rights, governments are instituted" among free people. This week, the Supreme's decided that a right that goes to the very heart of sharing the gift of life and love with another human being belongs to everyone. That seems not just sensible, but well within the authority of the Supreme Court to decide.

So, how to reconcile the two decisions? Ready for this? On the one hand, they acted without any moral or legal authority at all. They blatantly re-wrote a crappy, poorly-drafted statute passed in defiance of the rules of Congress (with Roberts admitting, and the others joining this sentiment, that it was crappy and passed in violation of the rules of Congress) without the slightest shred of authority from the Constitution. The next day, they did a gutsy, elegant thing in the name of liberty. The first was an exercise in statutory interpretation (that they got badly wrong). The second was a question of whether the liberty to marry free from governmental interference is recognized under the Constitution. That one they got beautifully right.

So, why did I include the above quote from Scalia? I love the man. When he is writing in a snit, it is pure, unadulterated law porn. I can't wait until the First Monday in October!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Playing Catch

[on who the Voice meant by "Ease his pain."]
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner): It was you...
Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta): No, Ray. It was YOU.
Field of Dreams (1989)

Noting the passing of composer James Horner.



The breadth of music written my James Horner spans decades of America's favorite movies. From blockbusters like Titanic and its dominating theme (for which he won Oscars), to gentle gems like The Rocketeer, Mr. Horner weaved emotion among the words and scenes crafted by some of the world's leading filmmakers. The accusation that he self-referred...borrowed passages from his own works...only meant re-acquaintance with a cherished friend, the whisper of a comfortable memory. His music helped create tension, and celebrate improbable triumph in Apollo 13. The Perfect Storm score perfectly told the audience that, to paraphrase, the Andrea Gail was so small and the Atlantic was unsurvivable. As the "Fighting 54th," America's first formal African-American brigade closed on Confederate Ft. Wagner in Glory" crescendo after crescendo marked the pitched (and futile) attack that cost half of the men involved.

Horner's music took on a personal quality in Field of Dreams. Haunting, evocative... The strains gracefully captured the wisps of yesteryear and the mists of the great beyond from which Shoeless Joe Jackson and other Golden Age baseball players emerged into the 1980's. The main character's mission, and quest, are propelled by a voice, audible only to him, that whispers "ease his pain." He learns that it is his own heartache, born of his estrangement from the father who died before their relationship could be repaired, that the field was meant to ease. Horner eases us, as well, to the scene where the main character's father, again a young catcher with most of his life ahead of him, is introduced to his ganddaughter. Ray says "Do you want to have a catch?"

Horner helps us process the tears. His music was always there, no matter which boat was sinking, spacecraft soaring or eyes meeting. His was the gift of unlocking emotion in a way that valued the movie goer, treated them not as a manipulated pawn but as a trusted partner. He took us, and the movie characters, on a wonderful examination of our own souls.

Someone was once asked what he would say to a certain famous 18th Century composer, were it possible to communicate with him. "Thank you," was the reply.

Thank you, Mr. Horner.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

People of Faith

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 Senseless murder. Honestly, is there another kind?

Each revelation from the Charleston Church murders is more disturbing than the next. There is the horrible incongruity of an individual sitting among worshipers, him knowing he is armed and intends to kill them. The randomness - that church, that night, those men and women.... Word from inside the investigation revealed that the homicide almost didn't happen, that the murderer almost changed his mind because his eventual victims had been so nice to him.

The usual gaggle of pundits and politicians ride to the podium upon hobby horse, worn and tattered pages of a favorite speech trotted out once more. We are racists, they sputter. We share in collective guilt because our gun laws don't stop people consumed with hatred.We are troubled, flawed and at the same time somehow unique in our acceptance of mass murder.

A minister interviewed on NPR in the hours after the crime hoped that race hatred (from which this act surely grew) would pay the price of ostracism, that bigots would be shunned. He wanted them to feel uncomfortable in a society that does not share their views, that rejects their fundamentally flawed outlook. It seemed, as anger turned to mourning, an entirely sensible thing to say. The more that is known about the murders, the more his words turn out to be true.

The murderer is a racist asshole. He was dangerous, and disturbed. He had been left behind by an evolving society trying to make equality a reality and that pissed him off. Even as the congregants treated him with love and respect he could not get past their skin color. He is representative of....

Nothing. He's a bad guy. He had a gun. He used it on innocent human beings worshiping their God, living honorable lives in peace. The laws prohibiting what he did (which are as old as civilization itself) were not going to stop him. He belongs in the cage in which he now resides, put there for the rest of his pointless life by a just but enraged society. The men and women sworn to enforce the law will see to it.

In the aftermath?

The words of David "Big Pappy" Ortiz come to mind. To paraphrase - This is our fucking country. Nobody is going to dictate our freedom. We are working to make the blessings we enjoy a reality for everyone. Nothing will stop us, all the while taking strength from nine nice people who went to their God with loving hearts.



Friday, June 12, 2015

Turn the Page

“Step back in perspective, open your heart and welcome transition into a new phase of life.”
Linda Rawson

They marched in two by two, forty-five graduates of a demanding eight hundred eighty hour training course. Dressed in their Class A's, they were trim and confident. The auditorium was filled nearly to capacity with friends, family and soon to be coworkers. The audience stood as the class entered, and then something amazing happened.

The sound. Hundreds of people created the most amazing sound. It began as a cheer, a cacophony of greetings called out to a loved one. But, it built into a crescendo of praise, of respect and admiration reserved for those who step up to accept a worthy challenge.

Law enforcement is under fire. It has become a blood sport to locate an event that portrays an officer in a bad light (sometimes, but not always, deserved) and then casually extrapolate. Employing the broad brush of careless rhetoric, it is "cops" who made the mistake, as though some collective form of guilt by association falls over everyone in uniform. Many of the perpetually self-interested leap to judge before the involved officers have a chance to catch their breath.

Yet, admirable men and women still step up. "Pick me," they say. And then they fight for the right to be part of something bigger than themselves.

This is a fabulous time to become a police officer. The need for strong, fair-minded and service-oriented individuals has never been greater. It is easy to accept a challenge when things are going well. It takes a particular kind of person to see the struggles they will face, roll up their sleeves (figuratively - Class A means long sleeves and a tie) and say "Let's get to work."

Be safe, strive for excellence. Don't be strangers. We're proud of you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Beginning Our Descent into Mediocre

Hey, You.
Yes, I'm talking to you. All four of you who walked past a hundred tired, stressed Southwest Airlines "customers" whose only need was to be treated with respect, dealt with professionally and to be served by employees who stayed until the job was done.

I know it wasn't your fault that two flights were cancelled within minutes of each other. It isn't even your fault that several complicated issues presented - a large group traveling together that included several passengers in wheelchairs, for example. It isn't even your fault that there are limited flights out of Rochester (no kidding, huh?) onto which an extra two hundred plus people needed to be fitted.

What upset me last night, and continues to piss me off, was the attitude. In the midst of the confusion, the long immovable lines, the Southwest Airlines Web snafus and hour-plus telephone holds four of you put on your coats, picked up your lunchboxes and walked past us. Going home. When I asked, your reply was "I've been here since 4."

I feel ya, dude. I've also seen "lazy" public sector workers who have put in 14 hour days. I've seen police officers working in hour fifteen, holding a perimeter position in below zero weather. I've watched firefighters who've gotten maybe eight hours of sleep over 48 hours of duty (in a series of 45 minute cat naps) doing CPR on a person they know will die anyway, the relief shift awaiting their return to the station. Teachers I've known sat at concerts, sporting events and dinners grading papers. Snow plow drivers working all day and all night during storms.

If all of you had pitched in, it would have taken twenty minutes to clear out the gate areas. Instead, you went home. You left a few coworkers behind to deal with the disheartened throng. There were couples on the way to honeymoons, business people away from home, folks (like us) fresh from funerals who just wanted to be on our way back to our new normal. But, you couldn't be bothered.
Next time you are want to make some kind of stupid comment about a public sector worker you'll remember the night you could have made a difference for two hundred people who'd mistakenly thought placing our welfare in your hands was safe.

Instead, you went home.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

In The Hood

"Supermarket automatic doors open for me; therefore, I am." - Craig Bruce

I try not to be John Pinette at the grocery store. I don't tell people what to buy, and I don't grumble at the nice folks who wait for the total before looking for their check book. I try to be polite, say excuse me when I need to get by. When someone is parked in front of the stuff I'm trying to select, I don't make a big production out of looking past them. I do most of the shopping and cooking, so I get a lot of practice.

I don't buy a lot of honey. There is, however, an amazing array of the stuff. Organic, free-range bee honey, Australian Manly-Man honey. I swear there was even honey certified to have been made solely through wind power. I was weighing my options (literally - it's how much per ounce!?) and a woman chuckled at me.

"Welcome to our world," she said. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it." This caused another woman to join in, commenting about understanding food choices. Grocery stores, apparently, are about learning how to make decisions.

I know no offense was meant. But, let's say, I'm at Ace Hardware, ogling the Traeger grills. A woman walks up next to me, glancing at the manly features of a pellet-fed, thermostat-controlled slice of heaven and I say...

"This is a complex piece of machinery. One of the Weber kettles would be a nice starter set, something to get your feet wet."

That's called being an asshole.

I have done our grocery shopping for (easily) fifteen years. No, I'm not looking for accolades (or sympathy). Fact of the matter is I love managing the household menu. Standing there explaining that to these delightful women would seem...overkill.

But I did text several people about it. In 2015 that counts as a snappy comeback, right?

UPDATE: Buying beer at a Wegmans in Henrietta, NY, I am asked for ID. This is not an issue, because it has to be entered into their drug buyer data base. When I present a Colorado license the clerk summons a manager, because I have provided an out of state ID and it needs to be approved.

Wait... I may not look 60, but what are the chances I have procured a fake Colorado driver's license so I can buy beer in New York?

Just what the hell is going on in grocery stores?






Monday, June 1, 2015

Serious About The Craft

"I know what you're thinking...did he fire sixteen shots or only fifteen. But, this being a Glock 34, the finest combat handgun made and will blow a barn door out the back of your head, you have to ask yourself...." Detective Crazy Henry McClanahan.

If you are waiting to find out what the guy had to ask himself, perhaps this is not the right blog for you.

If you had your whiskey, tango, foxtrot moment nine words into this post, welcome. We are kindred souls.

I was doing the grocery shopping today when a woman passed me, talking to the person with whom she was cruising the aisles. Something had happened and the first woman said "I'm dying here, Smalls."

Puuhhhh-leeeze.

The line is "You're killing me, Smalls." It is from the movie The Sandlot. In the world of movie lines, it is iconic, worthy of respect, dignity, even reverence. There is, truly, no reason to paraphrase.

Thus it has been written, and thus truly said, that paraphrasing a movie line is like defacing a fine sculpture, or painting. A screenwriter somewhere labored over it, honed it, loved it. A gifted actor...well, an actor, anyway...delivered it in such a way as to cement its place in the world of movie line-dom. They should be cherished, nurtured and delivered at the right place, the right time and with just the right inflection. To wit:

Things are tense in the ole Command Post. Acting on the "commander's intent," the Ops person has put together a series of plans and contingencies to deal with the emergency. The incident commander turns to the SWAT Team leader and asks his/her opinion. "I love this plan," is the response. "I'm excited to be part of it!" Everyone laughs, because -

It isn't just the line, it's the situation in the movie being summoned. The Ghostbusters have been driven back ("If someone asks if you are a god, you say YES") and are about to "cross the streams..."

No?

My daughters and I are moving furniture, so we can put down Pergo floors. I say "Pivot it a little." In unison both yell "Pivot!" and begin laughing so hard they have to set the thing down. It is from Friends, which I guess means it isn't technically a movie line. The fact that I've never seen that episode doesn't mean that I don't say it (or, that including it in a manuscript is out of line) to get the chuckle the girls got.

Which brings me to a peripheral point. Movie lines are gender neutral. Women are as adept, as talented, as good at this art as men, sometimes better. My wife and daughters can rock a movie line with the best of them.

Pivot has entered our lexicon, just as:

(The late comedian John Pinette is at a Dairy Queen and there is a skinny person in front of him.) "The guy says 'How small is a small?' It's small. The mediums are medium, the larges are large. If you have to ask how small is a small you're not hungry enough. COME BACK LATER!"

So when a good friend asked the barista, "How small is a small?" I couldn't help myself. I had to channel John Pinette. "It's small."

But the art requires accuracy. Would an aficionado of John Wayne quotes say "Fill your paw?" Did The Terminator say "I shall return?" The "Make My Day" law in Colorado was so named because THAT'S WHAT DIRTY HARRY SAID!

So, look. Can we all just agree. Movie lines are...sacred. Have some respect.