Friday, February 25, 2011

. . . could be raining.

I have to confess: I broke Robert's Rule.

More particularly, I broke the Rule that states what you know well enough: "It can always get worse." I broke the rule by violating the essence of the proscriptive corollary, which, is that one must never, ever say: "Could be worse . . ."

Like so many who run afoul of Robert's Rules, and suffer the deserved and inevitable natural consequences of their sin, I thought I'd found an exception to the Rules. This despite the Rule that plainly states there are no exceptions to the Rules. In my defense, I was just trying to get along. I had written a lot here about  freedom to travel as a canary the coal mine,* suggesting that the TSA's security theater was not merely pointless, but actually nefarious. Friends of more moderate mind -- perhaps more charitably disposed toward the state, or perhaps just concerned about the proliferation of sheepdogs on various watch lists --  told me it smacked of blogger paranoia to posit that the genital gropes and virtual porn scanners are meant to be the thin end of the wedge.** So I told myself, "enough already," which was really just another version of "could be worse . . ."

And just that swiftly am I punished. Because, clearly, it could be worse, will be worse, indeed already is worse.

How else to explain the latest? How else to explain the federal government conducting warrantless searches, far from any border, of citizens who have finished traveling? If the justification for abridging my God-given, Constitutionally-assured rights is supposed to be that "flying is a privilege" and that we "must keep the travelers safe" and that all this is worth it "if we can save just one life," doesn't that justification evaporate when you start fondling nine-year-old train passengers after they get off the train at their destination? I'm a clever enough fellow. From time to time, I am actually paid to take a position. But I lack the suppleness of mind -- or maybe the time machine -- to conjure an explanation for how searching child travelers after they get off the train is a practice intended to make train travel safer.

And if the stated justification of safer travel is are gone, then what are you left with, if not the damp and undeniable nose of the camel under the tent?***

* That's one.

** That's two.

*** That's three. Those who post with comments containing additional cliched metaphors for giving inches and taking miles (that's four) will be eligible to receive exclusive Suburban Sheepdog coffee mugs -- if any are ever created. Resort to research about Lydia Sigourney and here Arab miller will disqualify you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Blocking out the scenery.

Turns out you can ignore everything I’ve been saying. Courtesy of the excellent gun blog Everyday, No Days Off, we have a link to the ultimate answer to the question, “Who you gonna call?" As it turns out, you won’t need to call anyone. And forget all that stuff about the triad of skills, equipment and mindset. Just post a sign.

Indeed, your only responsibility is to somehow choose from a "wide selection of colors, shapes, and messages."

The company's product description explains everything, but before sharing it with you, I'd best post a warning of my own:

Before reading further, put down now any beverage
you don’t want to shoot through your nose onto your keyboard.

 OK. With that bold and colorful warning in place, we're ready to read on and learn how signs stop crime:
Gun-related crime and accidents are a pressing issue across the country-violence affects us all. A No Weapons Sign and a bold graphic gives a stern warning that violence is not tolerated.* A sign can warn visitors that such activity is illegal, even when you are not there. Protect your grounds with a range of heavy-duty security signs - ideal for a variety of schools, playgrounds, businesses, and other public placed. Send a message to weapon owners: keep your guns at home.

• Promote a serious no-weapons policy on your premises. Don't let the threat of gun incidents or violence undermine the security of your property, or the safety of your patrons.

• A bold red-circle graphic crosses all language borders. A clear sign keeps firearms away.

• A sign is one of the most consistent statements you can make. Signs are hard to ignore, and make your patrons aware of your standards and regulations. 
• Heavy-duty, laminated vinyl and aluminum construction can give you years of security protection.

Well that is all very reassuring, don’t you think? Take that Jared Lougher and Clay Duke.

I'm thinking of running up some signs of my own. Tell me what you think of these:


Heart disease is America's leading killer. But you can protect your family and guests from this scourge with these bold signs. Check out our cancer, diabetes and car crash signs as well. Don't you want your family to be protected?


Society is a minefield of prejudices, bigotry, sexism, racism, sectarian division, extremism and bad will toward our fellow man. When placed at the entry to your business, school or government office, this sign's strong language and subtle rainbow color scheme will keep all that bad stuff outside.


Every athlete -- professional, college, high school or club -- wants to perform his or her best. With our customizable G-force signs posted at your your field, arena or stadium, you decide how strong gravity will be on the day of the big game. Signs are available in all sizes and come with enough numbers (decimal points included at no charge!) to allow you to really get home-field advantage. (Increased buoyancy signs available for swimmers.)

*The bold italics are mine. The idiocy is all theirs. As Dave Barry says, i am not making this up.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Internet, heal thyself.

I’ve mentioned here before that the name given to a law can always be counted on to tell you a lot about the law – albeit too often because the law is intended to accomplish precisely the opposite of what the name implies.

So I invite you to consider the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, now being pressed. It is called this because its proponents, while they may well be statist thugs and freedom-hating scoundrels, are not complete idiots. They know that a law called The Screw Free Speech, We'll Shut Your Fucking Mouths For You Whenever We Damn Please Act would be more difficult -- but, sadly, I'm guessing not impossible -- to pass. The law would grant sweeping powers to the executive to flip a “kill-switch,” shutting down the Internet. It does not allow for judicial review. Take heart though: Such a shutdown could only last for four months before it would have to be authorized again.

I invite you, also, to choose your particular outrage. Here are just two:

Demonstrating that some people are immune to irony, the sponsors are pushing the law immediately after the President’s rightful criticism of the Egyptian government’s use of precisely the same technology in an attempt to squelch organized dissent there. (Here’s a Google search result with lots of hits pointing that out. You will note that, while the Suburban Sheepdog values reasonable discourse, not everyone does.)

And then there’s my personal favorite, Joe Lieberman, who clearly just cannot help himself. China’s got a kill switch he tells CNN, so why don’t we? Yes, Joe, good plan. Let’s try our best to emulate a nation which has recently used its control over the Internet to keep its own people from learning that a jailed government opponent there won the Noble Peace Prize.*

So be sure to link today's blog post to your friends, and to learn more about the bill, and to e-mail your representatives, and to fire up this issue on Facebook and Twitter -- while you still can.

* Lest you think my contempt is reserved for Democrats who tout limits on free speech: First, note that my contempt for Joe Lieberman is multifarious and longstanding. Second, note that the Act has Republican support as well. And finally, ask my poor, long-suffering wife, what it was like trying to have a conversation with me about anything else for several days after George Bush's Press secretary Air Fleischer warned that, post 9-11, Americans "need to watch what they say."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mr. Hammer, meet Mr. Nailhead

My friend, Miggy, wields the hammer over at Gun Free Zone.

Ready or not.

Robert’s Rule – with due deference to the Coast Guard* and the Boy Scouts** ­– puts it this way: Ready is better than not.***

Of course the Rule begs a question: Ready for what? For those little everyday inconveniences, we have what my family calls the Bat Belt. (It’s not really a belt; it’s a little shoulder bag about the size of a carton of cigarettes. But we go with “Bat Belt” because Daddy gets cranky when it’s called a purse.) Little boy with a cactus needle in his finger? Shooting buddy shaky from dehydration? School spirit flag won’t stay attached to the car? Never fear, because tweezers and pouches of electrolytes and cables ties (oh, blessed cable ties) all nestle in the Bat Belt’s depths.  For under $15 you can buy one of your own and stuff it with whatever will make you more ready.

But some inconveniences are more inconvenient than others, and little in this world is as inconvenient as suddenly acquiring more holes in your body than you had when you began the day. Holes tend to leak and those leaks can kill you. Whether shot or hurt in a wreck – or even impaled by a plummeting piece of Skylab – it is now widely understood, in both the civilian and military context, that immediate action to stop blood loss is the key life saving technique for victims of such injuries.

Now, should such an inconvenience befall me, would I prefer the attentions of a trauma surgeon over the help of say, an attorney? Sure.  But I spend time around a lot more attorneys than trauma surgeons, and even an attorney – with a little training, a bit of the right gear, and the proper mindset – can plug a hole and save a life.

So can you. First you have to reject the Unified Field Theory of Dependence and the fallacious notion that you cannot help others, or even yourself, in the case of traumatic injury. The necessary techniques – direct pressure, use of pressure points, use of tourniquets and hemostatic dressings, and so on – are accessible to anyone with an interest in learning them. In fact, you can learn the useful basics, along with CPR, in a day.

Thus, my truck and my briefcase both contain “blow out kits”: compact (about the size of a Stephen King  paperback) specialized first aid kits dedicated to the proposition that blood belongs inside the body.  For $50 or so, you can purchase or put together something similar. Be sure to include a proper tourniquet, hemostatic gauze (such as QuickClot) and the right kinds of dressings. That the presence of such kits and people trained to use them, can make a difference was readily demonstrated a few weeks ago in Tuscon. **** It comes down to another version of “who you gonna call?” Just as “dial 911” does not constitute a complete home defense plan, neither does “dial 911” alone suffice for saving lives.

As discussed here before, readiness is a triad of equal parts skill, equipment and mindset – where mindset is more equal than the others. No less so here.  The day you find yourself deploying your blowout kit is not going to be a good day. Knowing what to do is going to be the least of it. I can tell you from personal experience that a large quantity of human blood spilled on the ground has a smell unlike anything else. Add piquant accents of bladder, bowel and terror sweat on a sunny August afternoon; set the scene to the tune of someone screaming ceaselessly in true agony; and then imagine the victim is a person whom you love.

Now do what needs doing anyway.

That’s proper mindset, and it’s in you if you make yourself ready. Because ready is better than not.

* Semper paratus.

** Be Prepared.

*** Here I respectfully depart from The Bard, who contended in Hamlet, Act v., Scene 2, that “the readiness is all.” Ready is better than not. But it’s not all. 

**** The concept for the kits began with the military. Having each soldier carry such a kit means that, when a medic gets to him, the tools for stopping blood loss, opening an airway and depressurizing chest wounds are always on hand. Moreover, each warfighter is able to offer that same assistance to his comrades and even to himself. Many police departments now equip their officers with something similar.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No good deed.

Julius Caesar contended that "cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."* At the biggest corporation in the world, that philosophy is slightly revised. There, cowards may die many times before their deaths, but the valiant get terminated.

Just ask Layton, Utah, Walmart employees Gabriel Stewart, Shawn Ray, Lori Poulsen and Justin Richins.

You can read the news story and the police report. In short summary, loss prevention workers Poulsen, Ray and Richins caught a fellow stealing a computer. They stopped him at the door, took him to the loss prevention office and were joined by assistant manager Stewart. Once everyone had crowded into the small room, the shoplifter -- a convicted felon named Trent Allen Longton -- drew a pistol, put it to Stewart's back and demanded to be released.

No one was able to shoot Longton to the ground, since Walmart policy disarms its employees.** So the workers took the thief's gun away from him and sat on him until the police showed up. In terms we've used here before, they acted violently enough soon enough for long enough to end the threat.

They did not panic and decide that they were helpless victims. Nor did they allow this armed criminal to flee into the crowded store it was their job to protect, there to threaten or harm or abduct someone else. That the circumstances seem not to have given them any other real options -- as one employee describes it, there really wasn't anywhere for the four to flee even if they had wished to -- makes their actions no less valiant or correct. Many are those who might not have reacted so well. Not that these four need me to validate them, but given the available descriptions, I'd say their actions were tactically and morally perfect.

And so, you reasonably ask, what was Walmart's reward to these heroic folks? Are they even now being whisked to the Bentonville headquarters via private jet,*** there to be honored for their service, perhaps to be awarded the Sam Walton Medal for Valor?**** Will they get a lifetime membership to Sam's Club? Would you believe a free chewy pretzel?

No, none of this. Instead, Walmart gave all four employees some time off. Well, more accurately, they gave all four employees forever off. Walmart fired them all. Walmart shill, er, spokesman Dan Fogelman put it this way:
We appreciate the intentions demonstrated by our associates in this situation, but the actions taken put their safety -- and potentially the safety of our customers and other associates -- in jeopardy. In their roles within the store, they were aware of our expectations regarding safety and, unfortunately, their actions have led to them no longer working for the company.
The first sentence contains a lie. It has to be a lie because no human being capable of speech could be that dumb. The employees' actions didn't increase the danger to the others in the store. Once Langton produced the gun, and given the options available to them,  the loss prevention people were right to defend themselves, disarm the bad guy and contain him away from others he might have attacked.

But a lie from a fellow in Fogelman's position is no big deal. What's really foul is that last unctuous, passively evil clause: "[U]nfortunately, their actions have led to them no longer working for the company."

Bad enough that cowardice is evidently Walmart corporate policy. Worse that Walmart "associates" -- even the ones who exchange heroism for minimum wage -- are disposable. What stinks worst of all is that Walmart's cowardice is so complete that it cannot even take responsibility for its own actions in firing these people. Don't blame the company, it's just "unfortunate" that these employees' actions somehow "led to them no longer working for the company."

The fact is that Walmart expects its loss prevention people to use "reasonable force" to detain shoplifters, unless and until the shoplifter produces a weapon, at which point the employees are supposed to "disengage." Although that policy is desperately flawed on about three obvious bases, let's let it lie for now. Because the policy isn't the problem this time. The problem is Walmart's mechanical application of the policy and its struthious disregard of the circumstances -- and of the effect on the lives of four people. That's management by cowardice, plain and simple.

Still, I have to believe that Stewart, Ray, Poulsen and Richins won't be long out of work. Surely Layton, Utah must be home to at least one employer who values something more than low prices.

 *Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene II, Wm. Shakespeare. 

** Repeat Robert's Rule with me now: "Gun-free zones aren't"

*** Walmart's private fleet is the largest of any company.

**** No such medal exists, although Sam was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush 41 in 1992.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I think I've said all that can profitably be said about the inherent idiocy of zero tolerance, so I'll keep this short.

Police in New Jersey have arrested and criminally charged a seven-year-old for possession of a Nerf gun. A five-dollar Nerf gun, which my Christmas forays into Toys R Us tell me is a very small Nerf gun indeed. You don't even get a large-capacity Nerf magazines at that price.

Dr. Dan Blachford -- doubtless a bright and guiding light in the firmament of New Jersey pedagogy -- explained:
We are just very vigilant and we feel that if we draw a very strict line then we have much less worry about someone bringing in something dangerous.
Something dangerous. You know. Like a seven-year-old armed with foam rubber.

A mom at the school -- evidently less of a pedagogue, as she doesn't know the difference between "then" and "than" -- was relieved:

I would rather them go a little bit too far for the safety of all the children then to say "okay, it was probably nothing."
 Nothing. You know. Like a seven-year-old armed with foam rubber.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No offense.

The first Christmas after we were married, my wife and I invited my parents to come visit, promising better-than-Cleveland weather, the opportunity to meet several score of new in-laws, and the chance to experience Noche Buena. My adoptive mother's response: "Oh. I don't know if I can eat all that hot, spicy food." Whereupon I spent the next few minutes setting out the cultural and culinary distinctions between Mexicans (one of which my bride is not) and Cubans (one of which she decidedly is). Having analogized yuca to the more familiar potato, having drawn a distinction between jalepenos and comino, and roast pork being no stranger to Mom's table as both child and adult, all fears were soon eased.
I couldn't blame her for her ignorance. Before moving to Miami, I was hardly better informed. Little did I -- the Cleveland-raised Irish/German child of Czech adoptive parents -- realize that what had seemed from a distance to be a great Latino monolith was, on closer viewing, a mosaic of discrete cultures. I quickly learned that if the distinctions between, say, an Argentinian and a Venezuelan, or a Cuban and a Puerto Rican, were then too obscure for me to discern, the members of those groups had no such trouble.*

Since then, in part because of my status as el unico gringo in a very large Cuban family, and in larger part because I have done all I can to reach into the multifarious life of this unique city, I have sat at many a noisy and cheerful table while folk from every Caribbean, Central and South American land held forth in goodhearted passion on such weighty topics as arroz con gandules** versus gallo pinto,*** or the inherently superior qualities of each one's native rums, newspapers, governments, soccer teams, mountains, beaches and women.  I've shared a table with a Haitian buddy and a Dominican one -- not for nothing, their peoples share an entire island -- and found that all anyone could manage to agree on is that we ought to order another Mexican beer.

Decidedly, the cultural fault lines, while narrow, can run deep and so warrant close attention. Even a common language can be a minefield. I suggest you do not ask the Cuban lady at the fruit stand if her papaya is ripe,**** nor should you ask your Mexican dinner guest if he is lleno,***** nor ought you yell to your Honduran soccer teammate to ¡coger lo!****** if the ball is headed out of bounds. But, with just a little bit of good will, all of us gringos, Boriquas, Catrachos, Trinis, Ticos,  Guanacos and the rest manage to get along well enough most days.

Sadly, however, good will is sometimes in as short a supply as common sense. And so we have Robert's Rule, which clearly states that "If you look carefully enough for an insult, you will always find one."  For a perfect demonstration of this principle -- and a counter-example to the corollary, which holds that "The sufficiently robust cannot be effectively insulted." -- consider this "news story" out of a South Florida classroom today. For extra credit, be sure to read the comments.

* Joke told to me by Argentinian shooting buddy: How do you kill a Venezuelan? Push him off of his own ego.
   Joke told to me by Venezuelan shooting buddy: How do you kill an Argentinian? Push him off of his own ego.

** Rice and beans.

*** Beans and rice.

**** Unless you are seeking a date, or a slapped face, inquire, instead, about the state of the fruita bomba.

*****  "Full" to most Spanish speakers; slang for "drunk" in Mexico.

****** "Get it!" to most Spanish speakers; something decidedly more intimate in Honduras.