Monday, February 29, 2016

Not Tonight

Sometimes, the words don't come.

Sometimes, it is left for other writers to say the things your mind cannot yet summon from your heart.

A good and decent man went to work today, and did something he hadn't done in quite some time. He asked a question in public. It created a stir.

I tried to write about it.

After an hour of drafting and deleting, moving and rearranging... You will not see it.

But, he is a good and decent man whose friend died recently. He did what he thought he should do on an awkward, painful day. May God give him peace.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

For The Love of Love

Times are tough. Politics (and a stunning number of politicians) are painful to behold. Law enforcement deaths are up - get this - 1100% this year. Were it not for a job that, by design, pays all of the bills I would move to some small town that has a beach and pour beers for people.

But... Yesterday I watched one of my grandsons play basketball (with a gusto reminiscent of his Aunt Katy, who set picks like they were body checks). I went for a great bike ride with a delightful friend. Pat and I Uberred (if I can verb the noun for a moment) into Downtown Denver and had a first rate dinner. I came home, fired up the laptop and discovered a John Prine love song I didn't know.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Prine - he has a significant genius for putting human emotion into compact phrases that are as unforgettable as they are poignant. He has an "of the masses" voice that has grown weary and raspy due to significant health problems. Without further delay,

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

No Routine Calls

If you die trying for something important, then you have both honor and courage, and that's pretty good. I think that's what the writer was saying, that you should hope for courage and try for honor. And maybe even pray that the people telling you what to do have some, too.”
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

Law enforcement officer death.

Each time an officer falls, whether by an act of a madman or of happenstance, it represents an individual loss, a singular sacrifice. No matter how many... Each man or woman leaves behind grieving friends and family, struggling to make sense of why them, why their cop.

Today's loss - Park County Corporal Nate Carrigan - looks, at first blush, like an unusual situation. It wasn't. It is the bread and butter call, the ordinary delivery of a court order after a long and acrimonious legal battle.

Without knowing all of the facts (I do not pretend to possess inside information) this is an example of what law enforcement officers encounter on a fairly regular basis. The murderer appears to have been known to the small community. He was not bashful about his views, nor about his associations. He was linked with a fringe group. He made representations that suggest he had conflated his protections under our Constitution with a peculiar opinion that he need not pay his mortgage for obscure and convoluted reasons. His protestations of persecution included a lurid (and almost certainly embellished) encounter with law enforcement. He owned at least one firearm. When deputies arrived to serve him with paperwork he opened fire.

This call, and many thousands like it, are what police officers, sheriff's deputies and state troopers do for a living. An ordered society has laws. Enforcement of those laws ensures that citizens who obey them have the advantage of safety, security and freedom. Dealing with those who presume to suggest that the laws don't apply to them falls to...

Law enforcement. Eventually, cops are sent to deal with assholes like this guy. That's what the job is all about. The good people of a community know that there are men and women who will go someplace and deal with something that represents grave risk. They can go about their own productive lives in peace, secure in the understanding that men like Corporal Carrigan are on duty.

Another mask on the badge. Another good and decent person taken from his community. For nothing? For something mundane and routine?

There is no such thing as a routine call. Every time an officer faces danger, they are doing it for one simple reason.

They serve the higher calling that says "Pick me. I'll go."

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Appealing to a Higher Court

"Wait a minute. I just had some work done to my fence and I had to have a permit. Why wouldn't you need a permit to open an adult book store?" Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments, March 2004.

Noting the passing of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Antonin Scalia.

My daughter, an attorney admitted to practice in Maryland, sent me a text - "Holy crap- Scalia died." With those words, she noted a sea change in American constitutional jurisprudence.

Antonin Gregory Scalia served on the Court for 29 years. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate on September 17th, 1986. He is often called a "conservative" justice. NBC, announcing his death at age 79 tonight, described him as "anti-affirmative action and anti-abortion rights." Similar words will be uttered by legions of the clueless as the week unfolds, and members of the legally-challenged press struggle with his legacy.

Justice Scalia has amassed a considerable body of work. In addition to his opinions for The Court (his many dissents, some featured in the book Scalia Dissents, are among the tastiest legal writing extant), he is the author of a number of books explaining constitutional interpretation. He sought to explain, in language accessible to lawyers and lay people alike, what he thought was the most coherent approach to understanding a 200 year old parchment.  They are thick and, sometimes, ponderous.

In an interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge, Scalia explained that interpretation of the Constitution without some foundational assumptions about its meaning when enacted (and when it's amendments were adopted)  reduced the republican form  created by the Founders to "A show of hands among nine lawyers." The fluidity sometimes engaged in to arrive at a "just" outcome was confusing. "I'm a lawyer," he said. "How do I advise a client under those circumstances?" The People had agreed to a constitution that limited the government's power. Everything else? "Get together and persuade your fellow citizens that you are right." Leave it to the people.

He could be petulant, and rigid. One opinion voided statutory attempts to spare child sex assault victims the anguish of facing their rapist in open court.  Another made searches of motor vehicles that had been permitted for decades by the court unconstitutional. His reasoning? Um...

One of the most interesting facts of the Court was his close friendship with Justice Ginsberg. A more unlikely pair may not exist. But, ideology is not destiny. They were two exceptional lawyers who happened to work for the same part of the government. They had a great deal of affection for each other, a fact that Scalia was not bashful to admit.

In 2004 Pat, Beth and I traveled to DC to watch a friend argue a case before the Supreme Court.  It was the case noted in the above quote about the fence, a zoning matter, really. Scalia sat back and listened, mostly, to the lawyers making their cases. When he sat forward, there was a hush. He uttered the question... Well, that was that. The case was decided 9-0. Everyone needs a permit.

Now he is gone. Daughter Beth said it best "He was a brilliant and entertaining jurist. I will miss reading his opinions, and even more so his dissents."


Thursday, February 11, 2016

For Good

"The law? Whose law? The law runs a man down out here, just like them cattle." Ezra (Joe Seneca) Silverado (1984).

Open a news web site, an email from a heartbroken child or check Facebook and you'll see what kind of week we've had. An officer in a beach town in Oregon, a Colorado sheriff's deputy. Two deputies in Maryland, a Fargo cop. A major in Georgia. All murdered in the line of duty in one week.

In the midst of it, a column from a well-known writer - something about cops not being "the good guys." It is the usual litany of scandals, none of them news. Pointless, to a true believer, to observe that these resulted in arrests and convictions. We are, in this writer's eyes, an indication of the failure of a political party...or, some such.

A friend sends a text - "What happens when all the cops walk away?"

It is an interesting question. Truly, in the event officers stayed home (why should we serve a community when one of their opinion-leaders calls us names, while we are being slaughtered) there would be no one to call when...

This is the audio of an active shooter incident in Omaha. Yesterday. Someone fired shots at a business and then fired on responding officers. They were able to safely negotiate his surrender. But, what if they refused to respond, because it was too dangerous. Since no one cares if the officers who responded lived or died, maybe cops should shy away from these situations and let them resolve themselves.

A superficial look at the city of Baltimore gives a glimpse into that hypothetical. Officers feeling abandoned by their community leaders (whether this is objectively reasonable or not is another essay) do not pursue criminal conduct with the same energy as they have previously. In effect, they voluntarily withdraw from the "chalk on the cleats" philosophy that says we will use all of the lawful playing field against our opponents. They play it safe, physically and tactically. They are, in a sense, mere spectators to lawlessness.

But... I may have the privilege of riding with a Baltimore cop in a week's time. I'll bet I know what I'm going to hear, pro to pro.

Bullshit. We would never abandon the citizens of our community to the barbarians. The hell with the politicians and the brass. We serve a higher purpose. Okay, maybe we're looking out more for each other. Maybe we're making doubly sure that what we are doing is rock solid. But, we answer calls, we look for criminal activity and we serve with honor.

Law enforcement officers aren't going anywhere. If a citizen picks up the phone and calls for help, cops (whether they are called police officers, sheriff's deputies or troopers) will respond. This has been an expensive week. We mourn, we struggle and we shed tears.

No one will have to know what it is like if cops refused to show up. We feel a sense of duty. To you. And to each other. Maybe the average person doesn't understand that level of commitment. That's perfectly okay.

We do.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Last Hours

A friend put it best - the lead story on tonight's news is the Bronco Super Bowl Parade?

It probably says a lot about where a TV station's priorities stand. Forgive those of us who wear uniforms and serve our communities. One of our own is living out the last hours of his life hooked to machines, the victim of gunshot wounds. Several lucky people will live on, recipients of the generosity of his family even as they mourn a loss too horrible to contemplate.

That is not to say the tragic end to a noble life should elbow everything from our consciousness but mourning. One of the results of an officer's final efforts - and the professionalism of his teammates to apprehend the asshole who shot him - is that the people of his or her community continue to live out their own lives in peace, security and freedom. 

Maybe we could have thanked our lucky stars for the life of a warrior before moving on to celebrate a game. Farewell, Deputy Geer. To many of us, your honorable service and ultimate sacrifice will live on in our hearts long after the echos of a parade have faded.

Monday, February 8, 2016

His House

"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." Ronald Reagan

It was a peculiar exercise in leadership, Payton Manning's Super Bowl performance. Without looking at the stats, it seems obvious he generated modest numbers. At moments when a first down might have kept an oxygen-sucking defense off the field for a few more minutes he misfired on throws (which often appeared labored) or handed the ball to a running back who made...a yard. The punter trudged onto the field, with Carolina's potent offense awaiting yet another opportunity to strike.

The Denver defense - Vonn Miller being just their most obvious star - received richly deserved accolades while the strips of confetti cannon paper were still falling. They were the stars. They seemed to relish the opportunity to make Cam Newton run for his life, to mangle the young star's dreams.

But there was a moment in the waning minutes of the game that spoke very clearly of Manning's leadership and character. The ball was changing hands again, and a Panther stopped him on the field. The Carolina player appeared animated, insistent. He had something to say and did not want to await the cacophony of cameras and microphones at the end that would sweep up Manning. By the body language, it was heartfelt praise. A young man, inspired by the old warrior's lifetime of nobleness, acknowledges a quarterback who just happened to play for the other team.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Good Bye to a Beloved Riding Partner

“In the short run, technology many be more efficient than man, but it will never be perfect. Every piece of equipment will eventually reveal an error code. In the long run, man will never be perfect, but prove to be more reliable than technology.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

The telltale rattle and erratic power surges were inescapable evidence not of decay or decline, but of destruction. It behaved as does any machine when wear and tear have deprived it of usefulness, a once-proud device now a collection of parts.

My turbo trainer was damaged beyond repair.

It took almost twenty years to break it. I've not been entirely faithful, cheating (after a fashion) with spin bikes and electronic trainers. It sits for eight or nine months a year, retrieved and resurrected as snowy weather makes riding both dangerous and uncomfortable. 

It served a useful life. It saw me through several rehab periods, including one on the heels of a spectacular wreck. I built fitness for a number of events. Turbo training is mind-numbing, but there is no denying its usefulness. Watching TV while on the thing is to double up on virtues - riding positions true to the coming summer, and being less slug-like about viewing habits. A favorite DVD and an hour of riding. The Broncos or Rockies. Bobby Flay.

We had a tough moment together, several years ago. I'd found a heart rate book that contained proven workouts. It had remained hidden in boxes we'd not yet unpacked after moving. I hungrily set up to ride, heart rate monitor in place. I could read neither the book, nor the monitor, without reading glasses. Undeterred, I got started. Seeing my reflection in the old man with gray hair and reading glasses chugging along, going now where. It seemed metaphorical.

The new one arrived this week, complete with sweat tray and front wheel block. A transient upper respiratory born of long hours, stress and prolonged exposure to single-digit temperatures may keep me from doing more than assembling it. Nevertheless...

I have learned one thing about my riding partner. Take an angle on the TV. That way, I can't see my own reflection.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hell Yeah

        This is a Karen Sorenson short story. If you enjoy it, please stop by Wild Child Publishing or Amazon for the Karen novels Out of Ideas and The Heart of the Matter.   

Hell Yeah

“I’m going to kill you, bitch.”
The man burst out of the shadows, and never hesitated. He lunged at Deputy Karen Sorenson before she could fully dismount the sheriff’s department bike she rode to patrol her beat. The struggle was personal, instantaneous, vicious – a strong, determined man’s stale-alcohol grunts, insane eyes that burned in unrestrained fury, and a hand that clawed desperately for her duty weapon while his other savaged her. Her initial reaction – disbelief – soon gave way to an overpowering anger that the man would put his hands on her.
“You’re gonna die,” the man screamed, his meaty paw around the butt of her pistol.