Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our Finest

Tough year. 

This is the enduring image - a Dallas Police Officer shields a citizen during the shooting that left five other officers dead. Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.

Stay safe, brothers and sisters. You did it right this year.

 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Editorial Page, or Funnies

Shocked.

My attention was directed today to a column on the editorial page of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Inasmuch as my late brother and I delivered said newspaper in the late 60s, I thought I might avail myself, for old time's sake. Oh boy.

The eye candy attraction was a snow plow, apparently going about it's grim, mundane but entirely necessary business of clearing a roadway. Upstate New York is fertile ground for such endeavors - in my first year of law school at Syracuse we received one hundred sixty eight inches of the white filth in one interminably long winter. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the evolving technology of winter snow removal, written during a visit to the National Snow Removal Convention (or some such) in...Syracuse, of course.

In any event, the editorial was a celebration, of sorts, of camaraderie and selflessness in the face of deep political divisions. Wait... Don't go, it gets better. One of the townships, ahead of a particularly nasty storm, had lost a significant number of plows in a fire. How, the writer did not share. But, fear not!

The victimized town, largely Democrat in voting patterns, was the recipient of succor at the hands of Republican enclaves in surrounding jurisdictions. No, really. The D's and R's set aside their differences, shunned the sort of Gallup poll algorithms that are the bread and butter of pundits and...lent the poor Dem souls some plows. We, as a society, are rising mightily from the ashes.

For the love of God. I have never read such utter nonsense.

Me, to the Denver officer I am assisting: "So, Denver almost always elects a democrat as mayor, huh?"

Her: "Pretty much."

Me: "That's okay. We can still work this call together."

It is the stock and trade of civil servants. It is called "Mutual Aid." Firefighters, cops, paramedics, snow plow operators, mechanics... Nobody cares what political party usually runs your town. Get the job done, be there for each other.

Who writes this shit?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A New Hope

[the Millennium Falcon, under siege, won't start]
Princess Leia: [sarcastic] Would it help if I got out and pushed?
Han Solo: [also sarcastic] It might...

Noting the passing of Carrie Fisher - actor, writer, advocate...icon.

The Boston Herald American newspaper (circa Spring 1977) had a small article about a new sci-fi flick coming out in May. Called Star Wars, it represented the next generation of the genre - good graphics, a decent script and something missing from most 50s and 60s space movies...charm.

Most of us who had entered our early twenties (barely) by then had grown up with the usual stuff. There was the cockpit of the rocket, long levers everywhere, lights blinking haphazardly, windows huge and flimsy. The outside shots of the rocket often revealed the wire upon which it slid, exhaust plume shooting out of the tail and then...raising up (!?) in the micro-gravity of space.  

Women crew members - they tended to be window dressing, there primarily to be a eye candy for the inevitable space monster, the distressed damsel dressed in tight-fitting "uniform" and often requiring multiple rescues per movie by the male lead, usually played humorously by an actor of modest talents. Star Wars, bring it on.

It was, of course, awesome. Epic. The spacecraft actually looked substantially like...well, spacecraft. The villain looked like a villain, talked like a villain and had the nasty habit of crushing things that displeased him - rebel troops, insurgent planets. His own commanders.

The good guys were good. Pure. Luke was a talented kid stuck on an isolated planet. The Empire killed his aunt and uncle, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Obi Wan, a sort of zen master put out to pasture, is there ("These are not the droid you are looking for"), or maybe not. Roguish Han Solo steals the show - he is handsome and dashing, with just the right bit of larceny in him. Even the robots are fun times, C3PO's dashing off some of the wittier lines.

There was, of course, Princess Leia. Fisher played her as brash, no nonsense, able to command the respect of rebel warriors while effortlessly parrying Solo's chauvinistic advances. Diminutive in stature, brassy in everything else, she could be hard...and then soft. She was beautifully, memorably, sensually played by a talented actor not yet twenty.

Ms. Fisher had a busy life. She wrote books, did voices for animations. She worked a lot in movies. Her relationships seemed not to last very long, complications always tugging at her sleeve. She battled illnesses, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her forthright public statements, her advocacy for better treatment of mental health concerns and addictions, lent hope to others suffering in anonymity. When she revisited Leia in 2015, hers was a face, a voice, a heart, who had seen a lot and overcome it all.
 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ode to Freedom

On December 25, 1989, Bernstein conducted Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in East Berlin's Schauspielhaus as part of a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He had conducted the same work in West Berlin the previous day. The concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded Friedrich Schiller's text of the Ode to Joy, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). Wiki



Remembering the Berlin attack victims, their families and Germany this Christmas. Be safe and thanks to law enforcement and military all over the world this Christmas, who will be away from home so that we may be free to celebrate our faith.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hand Me Down Love

"There's always something special when the service academies play each other that's not in any other game. This is not a regular game and everyone involves knows it."
-- Roger Staubach, former Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner

I got the text last night - "Are we gonna bet on the Army-Navy game?"

My father was as proud a veteran as one could find. He'd enlisted in the Marine Corps before he graduated high school, fought in some of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific and came home to marry and have children. He rooted for Navy.

My Uncle - I am his namesake - was an especially gifted man. He played violin so well that he was featured on a Philadelphia radio station (in the '30s that was a major accomplishment). He was bright, so much so that when war broke out and he enlisted in the Army the powers that were kept him home, working to improve tank designs. He talked his way oversees, helping retake the Philippines. He rooted for Army.

They made a bet every year, my dad watching from the living room of a small house in the Philadelphia suburb of Southampton and then Pittsford, NY; my uncle in Michigan, Germany and Colorado. It was a friendly rivalry, the two veterans launching friendly digs as the game progressed. When Uncle Jim passed, a little piece of my dad's joy for life went with him.

I served as an officer in the US Naval Reserve, getting my commission in the late 80s. Daughter Beth enlisted in the Army, and was injured in boot camp. We are veterans, on opposite sides of the coin toss today.

Go Navy! Beat Army!

Her grandpa would be proud. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Godspeed, John Glenn

They were caught up in the living moment, exactly as we are, and with no more certainty of how things would turn out than we have. David McCullough, The Course of Human Events (2003).

 Noting the passing of John Glenn - Marine pilot, astronaut, Senator...American.

One need only stand in the "Rocket Garden" at Kennedy Space Center to understand the enormity of the undertaking. A Mercury "spacecraft" is perched on an Atlas rocket, its grandiosity underscoring how small and intimate it really was. The cockpit, no bigger than the tumbler of a clothes dryer, sat atop a booster that weighted a quarter million pounds - most of the weight being spectacularly explosive fuel. It stood less than one hundred feet tall.

Being next to it lends an almost surreal sensation of extreme danger, that the occupant of the tiny pod was strapped to a giant bomb that, even when properly controlled, still wielded enormous power. Enough to reduce the astronaut to atoms, in the event of a disaster. It was into such a contraption that John Herschel Glenn climbed in February, 1962.

The Audio/Visual aid had wheeled a "portable TV" into our third grade classroom, and plugged it in. The thing tipped the scales at approximately a ton, had a rabbit ear antenna and was, of course, a black and white set. Our teacher turned it on, tuned to NBC, and we sat back to take in history. An American was about to be launched into Earth orbit.

Everything stopped. We all held our breath. Three orbits. Just before the launch a voice is heard - "The good Lord ride all the way," followed by another. "Godspeed, John Glenn." It was that dangerous.

It wasn't flawless. At some point, mission control received an indication that the heat shield - a part that would ablate...flake off...under the intense heat of reentry, had come loose.

John Glenn got through it, received a medal from President John Kennedy (with whom he became friends) and took his rightful place among America's greatest heroes.

Colonel Glenn's is a story of aeronautical spirit, steely-eyed courage and grace under fire. It is also a love story. He was a square peg in a class of gifted pilots, but privately flawed men. He did not own a sports car and, when called upon by his fellows to loosen up and pour on the juice (insert double entendres here) he went home to beloved Annie.

He'd married Anna Margaret Castor in 1943. She had a hitch in her speech - what author Tom Wolfe described as a "hammering stutter," the kind that exhausts both speaker and listener. Wolfe wrote that she and her husband were a team, that when public speaking became necessary they engaged in a sort of duet. Later in life she mastered her challenge, in the process becoming an adjunct professor in Ohio State's speech pathology department.

This remarkable couple had passed their seventieth wedding anniversary at the time of John's passing yesterday. Godspeed, sir.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Blood On The Badge

Detective Ron Harris: (Ron Glass) [brings Mayflower, who's dressed in full pimp regalia into the Squad Room] Okay. Come on. Come on. Come on.
Mr. Mayflower: Hey, man, since when is it a crime to come to the defense of a lady and try and protect her honor? Since when?
Detective Ron Harris: When you push her trick out of a second story window.
Mr. Mayflower: Don't tell me chivalry ain't dead

Noting the passing of actor Ron Glass.

No one who has ever been "on the job" will seriously differ with the next sentence... The TV show Barney Miller (1974 to 1982) came closest to how police work actually looks from the inside. Say whatever you will for your own nomination. It's not even debatable.

There was the elder statesman whose over sixty urinary tract needed regular attention. The lovable, and a tad dense, guy with the girlfriend who bakes him a dish of hashish brownies. The Japanese-American cop who, when told "I've never seen a Japanese cop before" replied "Ever been to Tokyo?"

And there was Harris. He'd gone to law school, but instead of pursuing that career he became a cop. He spent much of his down time at his typewriter, working on his novel Blood on the Badge. He hoped it would make him famous. It was his ticket out of the madness, to capture it all on paper for an unbelieving world. He enjoyed modest success but never left the precinct house job.

I know the feeling. In the end, it isn't a way out. It's a way to stay in, to make sense of it all.

Ron Glass played Harris with understated grace. Oh, the man could summon a righteous indignation worthy of any detective on a heart-felt rant. He could shame with a word or phrase, put down with a glance. He was bright, urbane - a thinking man's cop.

Mr. Glass enjoyed a long and distinguished acting career, working regularly until just a few years ago. His were supporting roles, often teachers or lawyers.

Congratulations on your novel, detective.  Rest easy, my brother.

Always a Hero

One gains a visceral understanding of mortal danger the very first time. The patrol car door opens - into the traffic lane - and "boots on the ground" land in lane three. Passing cars, many drivers not only oblivious but annoyed, barely slow to the posted 65, or 75, mph speed limit. They rocket by mere feet away. The only apt analogy is to go to a rifle range, stand on the fifty yard line and have shooters of varying skill levels fire bullets past your head from the hundred.

The men and women of the Colorado State Patrol serve their state in just such an environment every day of the year. Bitter cold, blazing heat, in big cities and open farmland. It can be harsh winter in the mountains and brilliant summer sun in Denver and the same trooper may work both...the same day.

They never flinch. They never falter.

Yesterday, Trooper Cody Donahue was struck by a vehicle on I-25 as he investigated a crash. He had been with CSP for eleven years. He leaves behind two children, countless friends and thousands of brothers and sisters of the blue who mourn his passing.

Law enforcement officers understand that they face peril every time they put on their uniform. Ambushes and snipers garner headlines. But, in truth, death tugs at the elbow of every cop who gets out of the car on an interstate. That Colorado's troopers do it day in, day out because it has to be done...

Fare well, Trooper Donahue. Thank you.

Havana Daydreamin'

There is not Communism or Marxism, but representative democracy and social justice in a well-planned economy. Fidel Castro.

Noting the passing of Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.

We had departed Atlanta on a morning flight to Liberia, Costa Rico. The weather was severe clear, not a cloud in the sky. The aircraft, a Delta Airlines 757-200 in mint condition, skirted Florida's Gulf Coast. Below, Tampa...Ft. Myers...The Keys, all clearly visible. Surely, our flight path would soon alter, with our impending encroach over enigmatic, mysterious Cuba.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Rus cast an enormous shadow over the coming-of-age years for those born in the mid-Fifties. He was a revolutionary, or villain. Dictator, or savior. Man of the people, or criminal opportunist. John Kennedy believed him to be the natural outgrowth of American soft imperialism. He may have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for Kennedy's murder.

Cuba in the 1950s was known as "The Latin Las Vegas," as much for its government's strong ties to organized crime as its casinos, prostitution and drug markets. American companies owned substantial interests in agriculture, ranching and mining, with the US government ensuring that their interests were preserved. Our neighbor to the south was ripe for revolution, ruled as it was by a man who sentenced rebels to death by firing squad while skimming ten percent of his island's gaming profits.

Castro, his brother Raul and Che Guevara fought for years before ultimately taking control. Here, written history diverges into multiple (often mutually exclusive) narratives, depending as much on the sympathies of the authors as on what actually took place.
 
It all seemed surreal at first. Castro was a baseball fan, having pitched during his student years at the University of Havana. He was a supporter and financial backer of the Havana Sugar Kings, who played in the International League against American teams. Prior to a game between the Sugar Kings and the Rochester (NY) Red Wings in Havana, Castro pitched two innings for an exhibition team called Los Barbudos, "The Bearded Ones." The next day, the game ran late and, at midnight, celebratory gunfire broke out (for a national holiday). One of the Red Wing coaches was wounded. The game was cancelled.

 America's negative response toward the Castro government evolved over time. We tried assassination, embargo and invasion. 

So the story goes, Kennedy was being briefed on plans to support combat between Free Cuba forces and Castro. Once the insurgent forces were ashore and gained a toe hold, the US would recognize them as Cuba's legitimate government and move in to assist. During the military presentation, a Marine officer put a transparency onto the overhead projector. The sheet contained a small speck.

"This is Tarawa. In four days of fighting the Marine Corps lost nearly three thousand men." The briefer placed the next clear plastic map over the first. The land mass represented obliterated the tiny dot. "This is Cuba."

Perhaps that story is true. It could be just that...a story, meant to make a point. The invasion into the ironically-named Bay of Pigs collapsed. Several years later, with the Soviet Union now a major ally, Castro allowed (or encouraged) nuclear missiles to be positioned within his shores. Che later said he would have used them, several million casualties being the price necessary to ensure the revolution. Cooler heads prevailed, the weapons were removed and the world moved back from the brink of annihilation.

In 1963 a former Marine, defector to the Soviet Union and Pro-Castro sympathizer with a penchant for aliases named Lee Oswald murdered President Kennedy from the window of a warehouse in Dallas. Bizarre and tortured an articulation as that might seem, in the tumultuous 60's it was an important, and profound, turning point.

America's dyspepsia and fascination with Cuba, and Castro, survived years of hostility, mutual distrust and, sometimes, open warfare. There were provocations and pronouncements. Refugees floated across the 90 mile strait, escaping Castro's tyranny and arriving aboard everything that would float (literally, including rudimentary rafts). Many died in the attempt.

Until very recently there was never a rapprochement with Castro and his government. America had made peace with many previously bitter enemies. In the years when American law prohibited tourists from visits to Cuba, one could easily travel to Vietnam, Moscow or Peking. Thus, when our airliner flew over Havana I was astonished, and then embarrassed. And enchanted. Later, on a cruise ship balcony, my wife and I drank wine and watched the lights of the forbidden island on the not-especially distant horizon. Someday, we mused.

So, Castro is dead. He was a thug, a dictator...a man who wrested control of his island from many of the worst manifestations of capitalists only to bind it to another of humankind's economic wastelands. No one who remembers the early 1960s will forget that, once, the entire world hung on his every word.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Phone Rang

I had arrived at my parent's condo only hours before. Dad had passed away, it was time to say good bye. My phone rang in the middle of the night.

"I'm in the hospital," daughter Katy said. "I may lose the baby. I may not make it."

The baby. At week twenty-eight, he had a name already. His room was almost fully decorated. There were plans for this couple to welcome him, love him and watch him grow into a man.

But, I'll let her tell it. She is gifted, and will make you laugh and cry. It's a tender story of a family that refused to give up, refused to feel sorry for themselves and, in the end, got to welcome a new little life to this world.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Both Fish and Foul, Continued

“Predators did not need mercy.”
Conn Iggulden 


Yesterday, we reviewed the reasons a city might be circumspect about assisting with The Soon-To-Be Trump Administration's plan to begin deporting undocumented immigrants who have criminal records. We discussed the very real issue of chilling legitimate calls for police service by someone who is both undocumented and the victim of a criminal act. Law enforcement's commitment to them is real, hard to develop and fragile. Still, we are responsible for finding a way in.

Tonight, one of the corollaries to our desire to professionally police these communities. It is a basic tenet of community policing, an undeniable truth, that one of the best ways to partner with a neighborhood and decrease crime is to arrest and jail the people committing illegal acts. Among the best indicators that a person will commit crimes is that the are committing crimes.

One need only look at the Kate Steinle case from California for an example of how it is done wrong. The man who shot her in the back with a .40 caliber handgun had been deported five times, had seven felony convictions and was on an ICE detainer. He was released from jail because he was in a sanctuary city that did not honor the ICE detainer. The weapon used had been stolen from a federal officer's vehicle days before. Among the harshest critics of local officials at the time this occurred was Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein. 

Unfortunately, a federal law increasing the prison sentences for assholes like this is still - a year later - tied up in petty partisan bickering in Washington.

Government has a duty to protect its citizens. Is it any wonder that a candidate for president who says a man like the one cited above ought to be deported, or face lengthy imprisonment when he refuses to stay deported gains a measure of support from citizens - and non-citizens - who are tired of their daughter's last words being "Help, Daddy" after she's been shot?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Both Fish and Foul

Red Herring - "something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting." Wiki.

Sanctuary city -  "A sanctuary city is a city in the United States or Canada that has adopted a policy of protecting illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them solely for violating federal immigration laws in the country in which they are now illegally living." Wiki.

Chicago mayor Rahm ("Never let a good crisis go to waste") Emanuel has announced that his city, regardless of the change in administration in Washington, will continue to be...and always will be...a sanctuary city. As such, they will not assist with President-elect Trump's intention to deport undocumented who have arrest records. Locally, Denver and Aurora have followed suit.

Immigration reform has been examined here. If you decide to click on this link, please read the Karen Sorenson short story included. There is nothing easy about the situation in which we (as a nation) find ourselves.

A country has every right to regulate who enters and remains within their borders. Their laws also determine what happens when someone violates those laws. Simple?

Hardly. The Federal government (See, Arizona v. United States [2012]) has exclusive jurisdiction over immigration law, and the enforcement of same. Plainly, ICE doesn't need Mayor Emanuel's permission to enter Chicago and detain persons illegally within the United States. Nor do they need the good mayor's input on how priorities are arranged regarding who is at the front of the "knock-and-talk" line.

Additionally, federal agents have access to all of the same data bases local cops do. And then some. I've arrested people in the past, only to receive a call from our friends at the FBI - "Why are you contacting him?" before I'd gotten to the station.

Finally, the "Immigration reform" engaged in by the outgoing administration was done by executive order. Like it or not (I express no opinion here) the next president can take that shit, or leave it. Deporting citizens of other countries who are here in violation of immigration laws, and who have criminal histories (See, eg Kate Steinle's murder) is reasonable, rational and justifiable.

So... WTF?!

I know, right? Here's the thing. If there are three million individuals illegally in the US who have criminal histories, that means there are close to ten million living mostly under the radar. You know those folks working their asses off, paying taxes (and social security), raising their kids to be decent and hoping to be left alone? Guess what.

When someone assaults them, rapes them or steals from them, you know what they do

Nothing. They suck it up because they are afraid to call the police. They are afraid of being deported by the officer who shows up to help them. They are easy prey to gang members, petty thieves and every other asshole looking to victimize vulnerable populations.

Getting into their communities is hard work. Gaining their trust takes years. It is painstaking, one individual at a time grunt-level law enforcement. Announcing a round up can screw up years of work.

Emanuel is a politician, playing a politician's game. His career doesn't matter to most cops.

The people we serve do.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Peacable Assembly

Circa August 2008, Pepsi Center. Denver, Colorado

The motives of protesters, despite shouted invectives and artfully-phrased signs, is sometimes hard to discern. Come with me...

I was one of two supervisors responsible for first floor security in the Pepsi Center during the Democratic National Convention. When trouble started, I usually made my way there, if only to have an idea of what we might have to do in response.

The mob had formed somewhere else, and materialized at the gate separating "The Venue" from the rest of Denver. A tall fence ringing the building ran along the north edge of Auraria Parkway, with breaks every so often where the magnetometers were. By the time I got there, protesters were shouting, rattling the small barricades set about (bike racks, actually) and putting on their best mad-as-hell faces. This was the "Recreate '68" crowd. Officers of my police department (including SWAT), Denver and Colorado Springs faced off.

I was alive in '68. I remember the riots in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. There was teargas, there were clubs. Blood was spilled, skulls were cracked and a very messy scene showed the world our shit wasn't entirely together. What were they protesting?

Our involvement in the Vietnam war. America had gotten herself embroiled in a mess. In an awful expression of "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" we were trying to support democracy, limit the expansion of communism and end aggression in South Vietnam. For all of the heroism, sacrifice and battlefield skill of our fighters, things seemed to be going backward, even as several hundred Americans (and a tragic number of Vietnamese civilians) perished every week. The outgoing president in charge was a Democrat. Fair enough.

What puzzled me, standing on the calm side of the Mag Stand, was...

The War against Terrorism, begun with popular support and swiftly fought, had evolved into something akin to Vietnam. Americans died, disagreements evolved over tactics and strategery, and we seemed to be going in circles.

But... A largely unpopular Republican president had overseen the operation. The Democrats were poised to nominate a black candidate who was wildly fawned over and expected to win big. The whole Party had every chance of taking over come 2009. What the frick?

Among other things, it was a social event. Oh, there were the violent assholes who will descend at any such event and use it as an excuse (or cover) to attempt mayhem. There were the anarchists, who apparently believe that any government is morally bankrupt - sort of the "You're-Not-The-Boss-Of-Me" party. Sprinkled among the throng were folks who were truly protesting a government that fed itself first, regardless of party (eight years later, I'll bet they voted for you-know-who).

I was watching a happening, a group of people caught up in the emotion of a mass event and reacting for reasons defying the rational. Years later they would reminisce, ensconced in a booth at the club, drinking a boutique cocktail and getting ready to return to their law firm, about that wonderful day they were eyeball-to-eyeball with The Man. Good times.

Wait...

Maybe,this is an extrovert issue! 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Pundit A Day

The voices were muted, at least for a day. Shock stilled laptops, phone "lines" (is there even such a thing anymore?) buzzed as the chattering class grappled with an outcome so...so...different from the one they anticipated. In a business where nano-technology drives hits, which drives income, which drives a career ever upward, tomorrow's headline (and the bulk of the column) was probably written yesterday. When the anticipated outcome comes out, a polish, a click and you get the first thousand views. Cha-frickin'-ching.

It didn't happen the way most people thought it would last week. We got twenty-four hours of bliss, with those brave souls offering unvarnished, unfocused thoughts and being, for once, readable.

It didn't last. Why?

Unlike the volunteer staff here at Bikecopblog (and the owner - you don't see any banners, do you?), many of the men and women who ply their trade on the wild, unruly Internet do not get paid if they do not produce. Production equals traffic. Traffic counts (believe me on this one) are directly proportional not only to how well one writes, but how often. Take a week or two off while, I dunno, vacationing in Mexico and you go from a very healthy monthly count to next to nothing.

So, to coin a phrase, pundits gotta pundit. You can't expect (no names, please) a far left writer who has a healthy following among progressives to suddenly start examining how a Trump presidency might not be so bad, right? To paraphrase Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind), people think with their hearts and then search for evidence to reinforce their conclusions. 

See, we're doing it right now. 

A person who put their heart and soul into Candidate A, who could envision the sweet sensation of total victory, only to watch the whole thing crash and burn... They don't want to hear how fabulous Candidate B was in the end, how humble and gracious. They want to know what happened - it being something other than the right numbers of people in the right states preferred the other person. That's just not acceptable. Who should be blamed?!

A woman associated with a modest newspaper operation in a Western NY city appeared on Facebook on Wednesday, bereft. She was a pro blogger, had used FB as a means to generate traffic (yeah, me too but for different reasons) and was furious. None of her efforts, hard as she had worked at them, had produced the intended results. Her candidate had lost. Even her vote didn't make any difference! Etc! She was going back to using FB as just a way to keep in touch with friends, share vacation photos and chuckle at the occasional meme.

Forget, for a minute, that NY went big for her candidate. She will come to her senses when her blog numbers plummet and her employer wants to know what she's going to do about it.

Which brings me to the central point. America finds itself far more polarized than at any time since the Insane Sixties. Here's my theory - pundits make no money writing about unicorns and butterflies. They make a ding-dong-dillion reinforcing the hardened views of their readers, basically giving voice to those who are horribly upset. You're a conservative who thinks Trump is a jackass? There are a few writers for that. Trump with a powdered wig would look a lot like the guy with the phallic-looking monument in Washington? Got that, too.

And everything else. 

I got an idea. How about, instead of copying, pasting and then telling good friends you've had for years, who've stood by you in good times and bad that they are "--ists," just because some asshole pundit with a keyboard and internet access says you should, that you just keep going, let them have their say and be happy you still are in touch. 

Yeah. I'm talking about me, too.

How about...I know it seems like I've had a few margaritas (I haven't, yet)...how about we celebrate the fact that they trust you enough to honestly disagree. They have different ways of processing information and they hold things in their hearts in their own way.

We had an election. The Constitution is very clear about what happens next. Turn off the pundits. Turn on your love light. Here in The States, we have it pretty damn good. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Looking in Vain



The presenter, a labor lawyer who has deployed overseas as a Navy reservist, remarked that he was empathetic for those who had to sit through his class. Some, he explained, had suffered a terrible shock the night before. Others were recovering from celebrating a terrible shock.

"Look out the window," he said. "No fires, no angry mobs, no automatic gunfire. Just America. I've been places where the opposite was true."

Last night, before we started to digest the returns, Pat played this for us. 




Proud to be an American.

Monday, November 7, 2016

I Know A Guy

Caring - about people, about things, about life - is an act of maturity. Tracy McMillan.

Noting the passing of Janet Reno, former United States Attorney General.

Everyone has "that friend," the one they meet in entirely ordinary circumstances who goes on to have an extraordinary life. There's that kid who always hung around high school sports teams who becomes a Navy pilot. The shy girl who ends up in Congress. The skinny, blend-into-the-crowd teen who finds his way to Coronado Island, acing SEAL training.

I know a guy. We worked together in the early years of my LE career. He was funny, unassuming and a pleasure to be around. One night, assigned together, we made four arrests in four separate situations and put six miles on the patrol car. That's a car partner to treasure.

Our kids were roughly the same age, so we swapped children's clothes. Dinners, back porch beers... Great times. Then, he got a job with the Feds. I lost track of him after that, meeting periodically through a mutual friend. That guy, also a co-worker, kept me up on the latest.

We finally got a chance to chat at length one afternoon. He was retired, and had come to visit. He'd finally found a home at the FBI, doing a number of jobs that took him all over the world. Among his assignments was to look after the security needs of the AG. I asked him who he'd met, and what they were like. He went down the list (he'd become actual friends with one of them) and came to Janet Reno.

Reno was a tall, bright woman who graduated Cornell, went to Harvard Law and prosecuted cases in Miami/Dade. AG Reno had a tumultuous Washington career. She was named Attorney General during the Clinton Administration. The Branch Dravidian disaster occurred at the beginning of her tenure. The decision to intervene in that cult's pedophilia-as-proselytizing operation led to a botched ATF raid in which four agents were killed in a two hour gun battle. Ultimately, eighty people died when the FBI stormed the compound after a months-long siege.

There were also many triumphs. Ms. Reno presided over successful prosecutions of the Unibomber, the "Blind Sheik" who masterminded the first World Trade Center attack, obtained arrest warrants for the Atlanta Olympic bomber (apprehended in 2003) and prosecuted the shooter responsible for the CIA killings in Maryland.

Then there was Elian Gonzales. He grew up in Cuba, and was taken by his mother on a trip to America. Mom drowned, Elian was initially placed in the US with relatives and that's where the story becomes complicated. International treaties don't allow one parent to take a child permanently to another country over the objections of the other parent. Elian's dad wanted his son back. There was angst, there were court battles and, in the end, dad won. The relatives made some molon labe noises - you know, come and take? The Clinton Administration sent Federal SWAT members, who came and took. It didn't go especially well, a famous photo showing a crying Elian being pried from the arms of an uncle by a federal agent with a submachine gun.

So I asked my friend about MS. Reno. "I liked her." It seems that, during the discussions within the AG's office about little Elian, she had asked my friend "What do you think?" He hemmed and hawed... He was an FBI agent, not a policy maker. "You're a father," Reno replied. "What do you think?"

"She listened. That's not all that common in Washington."

Ms. Reno completed her government service and returned to private life. She was a board member of the "Innocence Project," using DNA results to spring the actually innocent. She did a number of other things that served the interests of justice. 

She passed as a result of Parkinson's disease. Love her or hate her, she was an uncommon person. Thank you for your service, ma'am. You will be missed. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Stick and Rudder

"Much of Cooper's fireproof confidence was based on the fact that he was a 'Natural born stick and rudder man' as the saying went." The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979).

Noting the passing of R. A. "Bob" Hoover, pilot.

There are two kinds of people - those who look up when an aircraft flies overhead, and those who do not. For the latter, they missed something.

Stick and rudder... It means that a pilot is relying on the controls of the airplane that they manipulate. No computers, no autopilot, no enhanced stability software. Hands and feet, flaps and ailerons. Cool, calm, and steady.

Robert Anderson Hoover was a pilot, learning to fly in Nashville. He paid for lessons out of his own pocket working in a grocery store. When WWII broke out, he enlisted. Assigned to a unit equipped with British Spitfires, he was shot down on his 59th mission. After almost a year and a half in a POW camp he escaped. He stole a German FW-190 (an aircraft type he'd never flown), got it airborne and headed for freedom. He was twenty-three years old.

Chuck Yeager broke the "Sound Barrier" in the Bell X-1 in October, 1947. His back-up and chase pilot? Bob Hoover.

Over a period of years during jet propulsion's adolescence, Hoover flew a progression of air-breathing American military aircraft, in addition to rocket planes. He went to Korea and taught pilots to fly the new and idiosyncratic F-86. While there he flew it in ten bombing missions.

It would be easy to write that he was "best known" as an airshow performer. That is true, as far as it goes, for the several million people who watched him over the course of forty years of exhibition flying. His routines in a P-51 Mustang called "Ole Yeller" (it was yellow...duh) were breathtaking. He also flew that aircraft at the Reno races, the "pace car," as it were, that started the heats.

His skill was most at show center when he took off in a Rockwell Shrike Commander light twin business airplane. Propeller-driven, piston engines, meant to safely and comfortably fly executives. The type, in fact, had been used as "Air Force One" periodically by Dwight Eisenhower. In Hoover's hands, it was an aerobatic spectacle. Aside from the usual display of upside down, inside out...over and under, he would shut off the engines and continue the routine. The plane whistled, the crowd oohed and ahhed... Hoover brought it to a stop at show center, a perfect display of aviation physics. Several times, my family and I were lucky enough to be there, awestruck.

He was also known to knock back a few. He knew all of the big names in aviation's coming-out era, no doubt having joined them in toasts to their lost friends. Last month he joined the departed souls, lucky men and women who have learned to control winged aircraft in flight.

There are awards and accolades galore for a man like Bob Hoover. One stands above all of the others. "He was the best stick and rudder man I ever saw," Jimmy Doolittle said. Yes, that Jimmy Doolittle, a pretty fair pilot himself.

You've slipped the surly bonds of Earth, Mr. Hoover. Thanks for everything. Fly high.

Paint Pills

Three of us - experienced officers, seasoned trainers - sat in the classroom while recruits geared up. Phones at the ready. The modern era, where minutes after an officer involved shooting we can get the breaking news on our tiny, omnipresent computers. Two more officers down, one dead. NYPD would bury another of its own.

Later, two officers in Missouri were shot, both of whom will probably survive. Yesterday was just another tough twenty four hours in a rotten week. Nine deaths, including several in traffic-related incidents. A little more than half were murdered. Two were ambushed within minutes of each other for no particular reason than that they wore uniforms.

The "War on Cops" phrase may be accurate. Suspects today seem more willing to assault and kill officers, even at the cost of their own lives, than in recent years. Ambushes are up, assaults against officers up, gunshot deaths up. We have better training than ever, better equipment and still...

The problem we face, though, is that wars can end. One side surrenders. There is an agreement to cease hostilities. Something.

American police officers have willingly faced danger since there was such a thing as American police officers. The NYPD officers shot yesterday stopped a man they suspected might be armed - a routine occurrence. 

Routine?!

Totally. But it isn't the gun that matters. Law enforcement is a people profession. We deal with people as they present. The New York city cops were dealing with a man who had been arrested seventeen times. He had a gun. He was desperate. That happens all of the time.

So, we train. We prepare. We take forty-six young men and women, suit them up in protective gear, give them pistols that fire paint pills and teach them to win a gunfight. Not survive. Win.

Not because we are at war with our communities. Because our communities expect us to deal with criminals like the one who shot two Iowa officers as they sat in their cars. Like the one who shot the NYPD cops. And the Missouri cops. And... 

The students were ready. We put away our phones, put on our paintball helmets and went back to the business of teaching recruits how to stay alive. Hoping it would be enough when their moment came.

It always does. It always will.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sweet Dreams

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League.

A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request, Steve Goodman (1983)

The scene in Cleveland last night was surreal, but not in the unreal sense the word is often employed to portray. It was more "dreamlike," every changing camera recording visages which said something profound about the outcome of a baseball game. Surreal.
 
A friend's favorite one word description of the fantastic - Epic! - was voiced in the giddy aftermath by a reporter to David Ross, a well-traveled catcher who had just played his last major league baseball game. Tears welled in Ross's eyes. Yeah, he agreed. It was epic.

When the Cubs moved out to a four-run start it seemed that the "Go, Cubs, Go" ending was only a matter of end game. Set them up, mow them down and start the celebration. Their starting pitcher, a guy who looked unruffled to the point of boredom, had things well in hand. He struck out a batter to end the fifth inning.

Or not. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook's evolving strike zone struck again. Ball four. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, an odd character even as baseball managers go, inexplicably pulled the starter. He was relieved by Jon Lester, a pitcher who comes with a personal catcher (Ross, since their days together in Boston) and who, remarkably, can pinpoint a 97 mile per hour fastball from sixty feet six inches but has a phobia about throwing to first. Lester, it must be repeated, is normally a starting pitcher. Several batters (and one Ross throwing error) later, a fifty-five foot pitch bounced up and struck Ross in the mask, careening wildly away and knocking the catcher on his ass. This allowed two runs. On one wild pitch.

Cubs baseball.

Lester rallied, Ross keeping him calm. Together, they got out of the jam and Ross hit a homer, a sort of atonement, he admitted later. They got the Cubs into the eighth. 

Of course Cleveland eventually tied it. Rajai Davis hit a pitch that rose perhaps fifteen feet above the grass as it rocketed into the left field seats. Bottom of the 8th. 6-6.

Then, disaster struck the Indians. The rains came, but instead of playing through it (as they had an inning before) the umpires sent for the tarp. The players retreated to their clubhouses. 

Cub Jason Heyward called a players only meeting. Channeling Winston Churchill, he reminded his teammates, in so many words, that they had not gotten to Game 7 of the World Series "Because we are made of sugar candy." They responded.

Years ago, working shifts that had me home during the day, daughter Beth and I watched the Cubs on WGN. She was barely two, but would remind everyone that she was a "Cub's fan, and a Bud man" in her best Harry Caray (the late Cubs announcer... But if you needed to be told that, perhaps this is the wrong blog for you). The 1984 Cubs were good, but faded in the playoffs. It was a magic summer. Last night her sister and I texted each other throughout the game, which ended just past eleven Mountain time.

The Cubs did not fade last night, playing an exceptionally good team that gave no quarter, and expected none. There was cheering and yelling. Thousands of fans poured onto the streets surrounding Wrigley Field, some not intending to do so...just drawn there. In Indiana, a man sat listening to the game at his father's grave. On an outside wall at the ballpark people wrote names with chalk - names of family and friends who had passed still dreaming of a Cub world championship, Steve Goodman being one of those.

 Asked what he had said to Lester after the game, Ross turned his back to the camera. He was crying. "I told him I loved him," he said finally.

Epic.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Reading Wild

Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks): "I made the decision."
Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise): "Must have been a tough one."
Apollo 13, (1995)

I read the email this morning, letting me know that publisher Wild Child was shutting down at the end of the year. This was not unexpected news - the publishing business is tough, competitive and (right now) awash in titles. Heck, anyone with Word and internet access can get something onto Amazon. Self-publishing firms are everywhere. A small house like WC (and sister Freya's Bower) jockey's for position with everyone else, trying to command attention. Readers seem in shrinking supply even as their reading options multiply. People who know the ropes, are attuned to trends, say this is a tough time to make a living in the writing business.

I'll say.

But, nobody needs to call the waaaambulance for me. Marci Baun, and her publishing company, have given me an opportunity I never thought I'd get. To read the email - "We like the manuscript you submitted. We want to discuss publishing it" was one of the most joyous moments in my writing life. 

It was a little after 0400...the proverbial "Oh-dark thirty." I was eating breakfast, reading emails and getting ready to drive to work for six AM roll call. Attempts to gain the attention of an agent or publisher had gone unavailing...for two years. Nearly a hundred submissions. In some cases, the publisher responded with "Not our genre." A couple thought the stories interesting, such as they were. Some never responded back, despite SASE. The bastards. My personal favorite was an email submission that required only six minutes to come back "Sorry." That was it!

A Parasol in a Hurricane evolved from a combination of conversations about how to address the brick wall I'd encountered. It represented a departure for me - a short story instead of a novel - being something bite-sized and, perhaps, tempting. Publisher Wild Child caught my eye. We had called one of our kids (need I mention who) the wild child. Enya's song of the same name was her ring tone. Fate?

Then I got their response. I went upstairs and woke up my wife. Did I mention it was 4 AM? We laughed, we cried. We hugged.

Over the next eight years the little shop in Culver City and I did the short story and two novels together. Neither of us got rich, obviously. But, I'll never forget the look on Pat's face when I told her I'd found a publisher.

For that, and a hundred other things... Thank you, Marci.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

In Search of Honor

The week started with a sound bite - a man in his late middle age uttering crude comments about women. Having assiduously avoided reading them, I am not in a position to dissemble the madness. Suffice to say...what a jerk.

The week ended with the murder of 27 year old police woman Lesley Zerebny, who fell beside coworker Jose Vega in Palm Springs. She had returned recently from maternity leave, her child born four months ago.

Irony is for amateurs. I have been blessed to serve in the company of heroes who happen to be woman. We have fought together, bled together, laughed together. I have put my life in their hands - they in mine.

How does one respond to dishonor? 

By remembering heroes. By remembering the best our communities have to offer. By remembering a 4 month old who won't really be able to remember Mom.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

It's Your Secret

Co-worker: "You talk like your characters are real."
Me: "They are."

What would Karen/Amy/Cici do. Or, in more contemporary terms, who would they vote for in the presidential race.

Pat and I have had this conversation. Seriously. The question came up as we were talking through plot lines for "Karen 3." 

None of them are really mine.

My first novel, born in naivete and nurtured through hours of earnest inexperience, featured Flatiron Valley police sergeant Amy Painter. I wanted her to wrestle with a variety of challenges - danger, death and the awful dilemma of options. Several good friends helped me mold her into 3D. She occupied hours of discussion with Pat, often during long beach walks or plane rides.

The "finished manuscript" in hand, I headed for Kinkos, to get copies printed for friends who would read my first attempt at publication. Getting out of the car proved a challenge, the emotions were so strong. Amy would no longer be mine.

She would belong to readers. They would have opinions - some good, some not - about who she is, what she cares about and whether she made the case for women in law enforcement. Some of the input would sting. But... Writers write, said William Forrester, so readers can read.

Karen Sorenson sprang to life at an airshow. The words poured out - lonely, emotionally abused and longing for someone to love, she set that all aside to solve a murder. The manuscript was enormous, unwieldy and a hot mess.
Two writer friends helped me trim it down.

But, writing for publication is a business. I took Karen to the home of a woman fleeing from an unacceptable past. The story concluded after a mere nine thousand words, but it got the attention of Marci Baun at Wild Child. We were off and running.

Cici. She started as a plot line, one dimensional. Drones, death and martial law. The story virtually wrote itself, but my main character had no depth. She wasn't real. Enter a coworker who would become a friend. And Cici took on a real personality.

So who would they vote for?

That's up to you, my loyal readers.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Shootings

"The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision." Maimonides.

Maimonides was a philosopher born in the middle of the 12th Century. He studied the philosophies of we would now call "The Classics." Likely, he never served as a police officer.

Recently, two separate decisions by officers in Charlotte and Tulsa resulted in the use of deadly force. Two men died. Both situations seemed to begin relatively routinely, but did not end that way.

"Relatively routinely." There was a time when we could name on one hand the number of weapons calls to which officers were summoned. Now, they are commonplace. "We're actually getting pretty good at them," a friend said recently. "There are a couple every shift."

One night not long ago, officers responded to a gun call. They were confronted by a man with a shotgun, who fired several shots at them. He missed. Return fire struck the suspect, who retreated into an apartment (and later surrendered, with serious but survivable injuries).

Men and women who work in risky professions continually face critical situations in which lives hang in the balance - often, their own. Four Wilmington firefighters fell through a collapsed staircase last night. Two died. In Westminster (CO) police responded to a robbery. The confrontation ended in the death of one suspect. Douglas County deputies dealt with a suicidal person shooting randomly - the detective wounded in the exchange is just now regaining some semblence of consciousness.

Two years ago several of my coworkers responded to a welfare check. What could be more routine? Someone is acting in an unusual manner and it is law enforcement's role to assess their behavior. My friends came under sniper fire. Two were seriously wounded. 

What makes being a first responder unique - fire service, law enforcement, EMT, HAZMAT - is that we are rarely able to walk away from an unresolved situation. We have to engage. We have to make decisions. Sometimes, it involves people who may be armed. There is that moment, one critical blink of an eye, when the mind says "I"m about to be killed."

What happens next?

I have no firsthand knowledge of either the Tulsa or Charlotte incidents. One officer got to see his city in flames. The other has been arrested.

The risk of being wrong hangs as a dark cloud above. No matter how well trained a human being is, that is a risk we all live with. We saw, we perceived, we concluded. Officers must act.

And, we have to live, or die, with what we do next.