Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Dog Is from Where?

An intellectual battle rages between researchers centered around the UCLA lab of evolutionary biologist Robert K. Wayne and the Royal Institute of Biology, Stockholm lab of Pier Savolainen for pinpointing in time and space the origin of the dog.  Savolainen and his colleagues place the first dogs in the ‘area south of the Yangtze River” not before 16,000 years ago.  Their findings are based on mitochondrial DNA studies, and the last few times out, they have engaged in all manner of mental contortions to keep their first dogs from breaking free of their geographic isolation. 
Wayne and his colleagues end up looking at the Middle East wolf with significant contributions from European and Chinese wolves, going back 40,000 or more years.  Their estimates are based on scans of the entire genome, especially of the nuclear DNA (from both parents, whereas mitochondrial DNA comes from the mother and the Y chromosome from the father.  
Now comes in PLoS One a study of the Y chromosome in wolves and dogs, including village dogs from the Middle East and the Area South of the Yangtze.   Sarah K. Brown of the University of California, Davis, author of the study, says the evidence points to three major patrilineal clades--in Africa, the Middle East, and the area south of the Yangtze, with the latter being the primary center of domestication, based on its higher levels of diversity.    Furthermore, she says that all European and modern North American breeds fall within that clade.  
A persistent bias in all these genetical analyses assumes that the highest genetic diversity is found at a point of origin; indeed, the statistical analysis the researchers use is based on that assumption.  Another built-in bias assumes that an expanding population radiated out evenly from the place of origin.
Both assumptions have been shown to be inaccurate, but they persist in part because statistically they must and in part because the results are what the researchers want to prove their point.    They do not.  
For all we currently know the founding dog population--or its descendants--could have been decimated by war, disease, or the influx of a few favored dogs--or masses of dogs.    Mitochondrial diversity can be increased by preferential keeping of breeding females for food production, as was apparently done in the Area South of the Yangtze River.  It can also increase through expansion of the dog population in an environment where it is relatively isolated from large-scale infusions of fresh blood that might overwhelm the native stock.  
If the dog was born on the move, we would initially expect a smallish population formed by inbreeding and outcrossing to other dogwolves and wild wolves--in other words breeding with what was available.  In How the Dog Became the Dog, I suggest that the important regions for that kind of mixing and matching were where various game and migration routes met, like the area of the Black and Caspian Seas and the Caucasus Mountains and the region of the Altai Mountains and Amur River headwaters.  A population of Middle Eastern dogwolves on the move with Homo sapiens from the area that is now the Persian Gulf passed through, even lingered in the former on its way to residence in the latter in the neighborhood of 30,000 to 40,000 years ago.    
As the ice sheets of the last glacial advance retreated the descendants of these people were on the move again--east, south and back to the west.  At least one of those movements would have brought dogs to the Area South of the Yangtze sometime after 16,000 years ago and probably closer to less than 10,000 years ago.  Impossible?  
A signal problem with the Area South of the Yangtze River is an apparent dearth of wolves and people, two essential ingredients in formation of the dog, until the dog appears 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, and it’s not for a lack of digging.  Another questions involves how dogs would exit the region in time to catch the great migration into the America’s beginning by many current estimates before 16,000 years ago, not to mention the rest of Asia and Europe.  
For now, it would be nice to see some village dog samples from northern China and Mongolia and more from the Carpathian Mountains and the Caspian and Caucasus region.

Read an excellent analysis at The Retriever, Dog, & Wildlife.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chesapeake Bay retriever [final]

A reader named Matthew Phillips contacted me with a question about the origins of the Chesapeake Bay retriever, specifically whether it had any Native American dog heritage.  I would run his query, but there are technical difficulties.  I would answer him privately, but he left no email address.  He apparently has already queried retrieverman, who is the authority on these breed histories.  There is a legend that Catahoula leopard dogs have Native American dogs in their ancestry, and similar arguments are sometimes made about various of the curs.  The Chesapeake Bay retriever is at base a St. Johns water dog, I believe, a cur from that island where the basic dog was cleaved into two or, if you count the Chesapeake, three dogs—Labradors, Newfoundlands, and Chesapeakes.  That's my notion, but there are many people who would disagree.

Farley Mowat in Sea of Slaughter (1984) argues the the black St. Johns water dog was the dog of the Beothuk, the native people of Newfoundland, and that it was different from mainland dogs.    The Beothuk were killed off, but their black dog survived as the St. Johns water cur, which essentially was a mixed breed of the sort that came to exist in America where European dog with local dogs and apparently wolves.  Although it was a dog with input from many sources, it bred to a broad type.

So if we follow Farley Mowat, we would conclude that the Chesapeake is derived in part from Native American dogs.  But Mowat is a lone rider on this question, it appears, and, according to retrieverman even backtracked on it.  It important to remember that English and European settlers brought their own dogs and had little interest in Native American dogs, which they considered wolflike unrefined savages, like their human companions.  They killed both.  That is not to say that some mixing didn't occur; it is to say that the dominate lineages, even for Catahoulas, are European.

The official breed history says the Chesapeake is descended from two Newfoundland dogs bound for England in 1807. The Newfoundland was apparently the St. Johns water dog, said to be from England, crossed in the 17th century with one of the large mountain dogs, although I suspect it was initially just a large, slightly curly version of the St. Johns dog.   The claim of English decent was, I suspect, an attempt to claim that the Labrador and Newfoundland were at base good English dogs.

Landraces, or autochthonous breeds, aside—they are types of dogs that have formed in particular areas or regions, to which they are adapted--there are two primary ways to create a breed—consolidation of a particular type from a more variable landrace and crossbreeding of different dogs to create a composite then consolidated through inbreeding to fix the desired traits.  In both cases the gene pool is severely narrowed. Although admixture brings an initial burst of variability, it is quickly bred out once the desired form is achieved.  The Carolina dog is consolidated from a more general type.  As far as I know, no genetic evidence suggests that it or any of the other putative Native American dogs live up to expectations.  But the surveys are not complete, and that allows anyone to claim just about anything.  Suffice it to say, that the Chesapeake is a distinctive and distinctly American breed.  The St. Johns water dog, if it still exists, should be protected.

The dog is ancient.  The genetic sorting of breeds has shown that some of them have not mixed with other breeds for a long time, and for that reasons researchers have called them 'ancient breeds.'  It is, I think, an unfortunate choice of words. What that means in terms of behavior is a much discussed question with no easy answers, no matter what some experts suggest.  In any event, the Chesapeake is a mix of Chesapeake Bay water dogs, all probably of European descent.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Contacting Me

Several people have tried to contact me by leaving comments to posts on this blog in response to my essay in the October 29, 2011, Wall Street Journal, on the origins of the dog and an interview in Salon posted on October 28.  If you do contact me in that way and you would like me to respond, please incude your email address in your comment; otherwise, I have no way to reach you.  Blogger—Google, of course—sends comments to me from a 'no reply' box.  I then have the option of publishing them or not.  As a rule, I don't publish the personal messages, so your email address will not escape.  Were I to publish your comment, with your permission, I would strip off your email address.  I set this system up to keep me from being bombarded with messages from that group of on-line commentators whose idea of rational discourse consists of insulting in no particular order the writer's intelligence, education, motives, and parentage—and occasionally proclaiming that whatever disease or disability he or she might have is obviously well deserved.

So there it is.  If you would like me to respond personally, include an email or phone number.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Obama Care Is Bad for All of Us

“U.S. Health Insurance Cost Rises Sharpely, Study Finds”– that’s the headline for Reed Abelson’s story in today’s New York Times, and it it should surprise no one. I say should because the average rise of 9 percent in health insurance costs for American workers seems within the bounds of what the Obamans consider circumspect or restrained. If they really believe that they are truly incompetent and should be removed, or they are nothing more than tools of the insurance industry, which has used them to gain extraordinary profit. If they are simply lying in the hope that someone, anyone might believe that Obama’s healthcare reform benefits anyone but insurance companies, then they are more delusional than the Nixonites in their darkest hours. That anyone who voted for this misbegotten piece of legislaltion still feigns shock and surprise at what is happening is living, breathing, but about to expire politically proof of why the Tea Party continues to score well in the polls despite an antediluvian social polciy.

What i find saddest about this article is its portrayal of a president and administration with no learning curve–none. They are vain, ignorant, and incompetent, but unfortunately so are their chief allies and their enemies. Obama won election in part because people wanted healthcare reform. The Democrats were trounced in 2010 because no one wanted the healthcare bill they passed. In 2012, they will be trounced again because of healthcare–costs that suppress the depressed economy and a ‘reform’ act that makes everything worse. Losing twice on the same issue is proof of stupidity.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Passing of the Kate

The Kate (10 March 1998  to 13 September 2011)

The intrepid kelpie Katie barked her last about noon o’clock on September 13, 2011, letting the vet who had kindly come to relieve her of her suffering know that she was The Kate, boss dog of all she surveyed, the one creature on earth solely responsible for the well being of two hapless bipeds and that in the name of all the gods and goddesses who had ever dared to lay claim to this lost planet, she was not about to go gentle into the great cosmic void, even though she had been telling those same two bipedal klutzes that her time had come, her spine was failing along its entire length and her pain was constant.  Her eyes had the unfocused distant stare of an animal waiting for death.  When she did move, which was seldom, she propelled herself as fast as she could in an inevitably doomed effort to keep ahead of her failing hind legs, and then sprawled on the floor, she would look shocked and betrayed.  After one particularly rapid propulsion across the room the night before her death, she stood by me and gave a plaintive whine/yelp, call it a ‘welp,’ indicating clearly that she wanted to go.  And so she went, her head in my lap, with Gina stroking and soothing her, and telling her as the anesthetic took hold that she could finally rest, that she would look after the old klutz.

I had told Gina the night before, after the Kate’s welp, that she would on principle not go gently.  That was not in the nature of a dog who had only two speeds--naught and ought, i called them, zed to flatout with nothing between--but was also capable of the most carefully calibrated maneuvers.  She routinely ‘matrixed’ walls for six or ten feet at a stretch and once performed  a three-foot vertical jump from a stand still to the top of the back of a sofa and then walked five-feet along it before sliding down next to me, couch bound with a fractured femur. For all her athleticism, or perhaps because of if, she needed to be engaged, primarily with people, other dogs being more hindrance than accomplice to her games. 

The initial object of her desire was a tennis ball, and within ten minutes at ten weeks of age, she learned that if she wanted to ball tossed for her, she had to bring it back to the thrower, who for the Kate was always precisely defined as the person she chose to throw her the ball.  She played frisbee for a while, but that was replaced by a tennis ball.  Traveling farther and faster, it nonetheless stayed in play longer--floating on the water, bouncing off the ground--thereby allowing her to deploy her full athletic repertoire and show off the mental acuity that earned her the moniker, ‘two brain.’  

Tennis ball for the Kate was an exercise of acrobatic precision.  She loved running under the long throw and catching it over the shoulder, then pausing so that her audience might appreciate her skill--and invariably there was an audience, including people who ordinarily wanted nothing to do with dogs in the park. She would enlist individuals in her game, dropping her ball at a person’s feet and backing up, eye on the ball, barking if they were too slow by her measure to understand that they were to throw the ball.  The Kate abandoned those who threw poorly while favoring those with canons for arms.  If she dropped a ball, she would race it back to the same thrower and demand that they repeat the throw until she got it right. When arms failed or the heat was too great for running, she would engage in short order drills, displaying reactions to make the best shortstop envious. 

At poolside, she would wait, poised until the ball was tossed gently in a high arc over the water and then leap for the catch, twisting, tucking, turning to grab it before she hit the water.  It will doubtless be said that such contortions stress the spine, contributing to problems of the sort that beset the Kate late in her lfe, but then she would have been denied an activity she loved that helped keep her in excellent physical condition.  

The Kate recognized no inside or outside if there was a ball to be had. We routinely warned visitors not to engage the Kate with a tennis ball unless they wanted her to plague them the whole time they were present--or until they begged for mercy.   We emphasized that when we said don’t touch the ball, we meant with any part of their anatomy.  The warning was expansive, because the first time we warned guests to avoid playing ball with Kate, no matter their instincts, she unveiled a new game, she brought the ball to the most dog phobic guest, the one who had ignored her most assiduously and carefully positioned it on her chair so that it touched her leg  while succumbing to the pull of gravity.  She waited for the ball to hit the ground before returning it to the same person and repeating the process until she relented and rolled the Kate the ball and then did it again and again with obvious pleasure. The game became a part of the Kate’s repertoire. She had a special appeal to the disaffected, a capacity for engaging them in order to please herself.
Then the Kate’s spine began to deteriorate and her lungs to fill with fluid.  Retired from ball playing, she would rest on the pool steps, her front feet planted on on level, her hindquarters floating above another, and bark.  We would joke that she was reciting all the sacred texts of the world, but we knew that it was the Kate’s proclamation that translates roughly: ‘I am here now, and I am Kate B. Kate, also known as the Kate, a creature unique in the world, and you can be the same.’

For thirteen-and-a-half years the Kate shared our lives. She arrived as a nine-week-old puppy, named Katie, a gift from a rancher friend in Texas who thought she was a little short in the wheel base to handle the 1,000 pound steers he ran on his ranch.  She entertained, amused, sometimes aggravated but always engaged and amazed us.  The diminutive faded from her name.

Did she love us unconditionally as some writers on dogs proclaim?  Did we love her? I have pondered that question for a long time, and I think it fair to say that at its best what lies between humans and dogs is something like love that is much more paradoxical and elusive.  At their best humans and dogs form am empathic union that is essentially nonverbal and  nonmaterial while being intensely physical and communicative.  It is a relationship grounded in an unquestioning loyalty that neither side demands--or let us say that those who demand loyalty invariably fail to receive it--but that both sides expect.  Like true love itself this empathic union is often approximated, rarely achieved.  Even within the same household, individuals will have different relationships with the dog or dogs.  Yet when it forms and is nurtured, that empathic union can become transcendent, 

Kate was the last one standing of the six dogs we have had in 30 years together--and the eleven I have had in my sixty plus years.   Each of them was unique, including the one who was neurologically miswired to the point of self-destruction.  I would be hard pressed to say that Kate was the best of them, although she was the most brilliant and the best athlete, but my relationship--I dare say, our relationship--with her was subtly different for a host of reasons that boil down to one.  

She was The Kate.   She is emblematic of them all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Reminder

Occasionally people come to this blog hoping to find a way to contact me directly by way of making a comment.  Indeed, that works—all comments come to me for deciding whether to print them—most I do, although as a rule I don't allow anonymous comments.  There are easy to conceive circumstances that would force a person to cloak his or her identity, but in this country, Anonymous too often is a cover for incivility or worse.  I support anyone's right to say anything he or she wants as long as they attach to their comments an identifiable nom de plume or nom de guerre.

That said, if you are trying to contact me, do so through a comment, noting whether you want it posted, and including in the body of the message your email address—Blogger does not include your return email address in the comment it forwards to me.  It strips them off.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Fear and a Shrinking President

In today's Guardian Ha-Joon Chang observes that much of the current crisis has less to do with economic policies or lack thereof than with the failure of governments to curb the power of ratings agencies and financial institutions  that had just a few years ago brought the world to the brink of Depression.  Now, at the least, they have triggered a financial panic the likes of which have hot been seen by anyone living.

Panic—generalized, objectless fear—is driving this sell-off, which has drained trillions of dollars in valuation from the world's markets and caused investors to flee to U.S. Treasuries as one of the few safe investment havens.  That is correct: the Standard and Poor's downgrade of America's credit rating from triple A to double A-plus has had the effect of reinforcing  the  place of US. debt as the most secure in the world.  That fact alone ought to slow the panic, but it does not. 

The irony should be lost on no one that those trillions of losses would have covered increased taxes on the wealthy and still left trillions in profit that would not have vanished, because there would have been no panic. 

The Obama put himself in front of the world yesterday in an attempt,  we must assume to calm the markets.  He failed.  They have fallen more precipitously since he spoke, and the reason, I think, is that he failed to say, 'Basta!,' to the rating agencies and financial institutions.  'You have proved yourselves bad citizens, purveyors of false and misleading information for purposes of market manipulation.  We are going to rein you in, and if you won't be reined in, we are going to shut you down.'   That is a speech, the Obama lacks the ability and capacity to make.  Indeed, yesterday we saw a leader shrinking from, not rising to, the occasion.  

The result was more fear and more panicked selling.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Half-Baked Obama

Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory University, has a smart, damning, and ultimately depressing—for us—assessment of Barack Obama as president in the op-ed section of today's New York Times.   Obama's inability to lead—or his refusal to do so—has meant that he has squandered one of the great opportunities in history to change society in a way that benefits not special interests and wealthy individuals and corporations daily growing wealthier at the expense of working men and women but that improves the lives of those same workers, as welll as the  weak, old, frail, and disadvantaged.  Read Westen for the details and then shed a tear for alll of us.

Off the Workers

Using newly released U.S. commerce department figures, today's  New York Times lays out in dollars and cents the decline of the American worker.  The bottom line for those not wanting to read the story is that corporate profits have risen at the expense of workers, whose salaries and wages as a percentage of national income have fallen to below 50 percent by one measure and by any standard are near record lows.

Betraying Democracy

I had thought that the political establishment from all parties would go into full attack mode on the eejits at Standard and Poor's who downgraded the sovereign long-term debt of the United States because they didn't approve of the political process that pushed to the midnight hour before performing a technical task.  Well, la.   I don't care for that process either.  I especially don't care for the obstructionist Republicans and the self-negoitator, the current Republican president.   But I like even less having a credit rating agency or any other private enterprise or group presume to tell any 'democratic' government that it does not run properly, which is effectively telling the people how to act and behave.  

The Congress and president should be united in their outrage at this arrogant assault on democracy.  They should do now what they should have done in 2007 when the subprime crisis began to unfold—break up the huge banks and credit ranking agencies and other financial institutions responsible for the subsequent economic meltdown.  The failure of our elected officials to do so betrays the oath they swore to the Constitution.  Whether they act out of ignorance, hypocrisy, corruption, or any or all of the above matters little.  Their failure to defend the fundamentral principles of democracy disqualfies them from office.  They should be removed.  

Friday, August 05, 2011

time to deep six the credit rating extortionists

With Standard and Poor's downgrading of U.S. credit worthiness, it should be clear that the macabre debt ceiling dance the U.S. president and Congress just performed was not about credit worthiness or fiscal policy or economic fundamentals.  It was a battle between extortionist credit rating agencies—Moody's, Fitch, and Standard and Poor's—and most recently the U.S. government, although Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and now Spain and Italy have also been engaged.  As usual, President Obama rolled without much of a fight, and Congress went along after multiple public tantrums only to have Standard and Poor's declare the world's largest economy incapable of meeting its long-term obligations. S&P, Fitch, and  Moody's were involved in giving their credit blessings to those trash securities that have brought us to this state, so why on the face of it should we believe anything they say?  The agencies might say they are simply providing advice to investors, but they are really economic terrorists profiting from the instability they bring to the markets with their pronouncements  on a nation's or business's credit worthiness. Let them pass judgment from behind bars—that's where they belong.

The real paralysis in the U.S. is political. and it  is due to the large and growing disconnect between the people and our elected officials who serve only monied interests and their own venality.  We need a mechanism for dissolving Congress and calling new elections.  We also need to recognize that the current electoral system is corrupt—in thrall to the rich—and I include the President with Congress.   The size of the Congress should be doubled at least and people seeking to represent those smaller districts should actually have to go meet and talk to their constituents.  I say that because of a deep suspicion that a fundamental reason people don't vote is that they don't know the candidates. The candidates don't know them either, leaving them to represent anyone willing to contribute toward their permanent advertising budget.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Questions in Blood

In Pakistan recently, a teenage boy accused of robbing people in a park at gunpoint was arrested, shot twice while pleading for his life, and left to bleed to death, as the video on CNN clearly shows.  His gun reportedly was confiscated immediately following his arrest, not to reappear.

In Miami Beach on Memorial Day, at around 4 am, a dozen police officers surrounded a stopped car and opened fire, killing both car and driver in a fusillade of bullets and wounding four bystanders. Notwithstanding 'discovery' by police two days later of a semi-automatic pistol hidden in the car, there is scant to no evidence that the young man fired at anyone or anything. By every account but their own, Miami Beach Police on the other hand, physically tried to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses.  Unlike the young man in Pakistan, the young man in Miami Beach, Raymond Herisse, did not beg for mercy—he was given no chance to before he was gunned down. 

No one has been arrested or suspended in either country.  In fact, the Miami Beach police apparently have the full support of their city government. There is no independent investigation into what happened.  More dangerous, these trigger happy thugs are out on the streets of the city where they can threaten anyone with impunity. 

The Pakistan killing has raised protests around the world.  The question from Miami Beach is where are the ACLU, Amensty International, Human Rights Watch and the rest of the NGOs devoted to social justice and human rights? 

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Urban Beach Week Agony

Most readers of this blog will by now have seen far more of the cellphone videos of the killing of car and driver on Memorial Day, during the crescendo of Urban Beach Week, than i because I don't have a television feed.  But I've seen and read enough to know that we are lucky no riot followed the pollce mayhem at 14th Street and Collins Avenue in the wee hours of Memorial Day 2011. Indeed, that they did not says more about the general good spiritedness of the Urban Beach Week crowd than any news report I've seen or heard.

They certainly were better behaved than the police, who tried mightily in the aftermath of their shooting to death of a car and driver to provoke a full blown riot. The police tried to seize any camera or camera phone that might have recorded their perfidy.  They maced and physically assault people, and let us not forget, they shot four innocent bystanders.  The police deny these charges, David Smiley reported in the Miami Herald, although it is a bit hard to refute video tape showing an officer pointing his gun in the witness' face—this witness being the one who taped the police overkill.   Smiley's story ends with a cryptic statement that police found a gun in the car they shot up two—that's right, 2—days after the event.  Elsewhere, the gun was identified, I am told, as a 9mm Baretta 92f, a rather large semi-automatic pistol said to be possibly the most abundant 9mm in the world.  It is hard to fathom how that crucial piece of evidence could have gone unseen for two days, especially since police insist that the driver of the car had fired at them.

When I heard a report that the police shooters included officers from Hialeah, the heavily Hispanic, largely Cuban, city built on the mainland on the heart of the historic Everglades, I flinched.  People on the Beach who have been pushing for an end to Urban Beach Week routinely claim that their objections have nothing to do with race, but in fact race cannot be ignored.  The self-interested tolerance that represents one of Miami's finer qualities eventually comes face to face with racism and loses.  Thus, Haitians who make their way to the coast are locked up until they can be shipped back to their impoverished homeland, while Cubans are immediately and legally welcomed.  For 51 weeks a year, DWB (driving while black) is problematic in South Florida resort communities, including Miami Beach. The singling out of people of color for special scrutiny is behavior born of racial intolerance that doesn't change for one week a year.

What can be done to clean up this mess?  Miami Beach officials need to recognize that a significant number of police officers, perhaps including the chief, have committed a heinous act that might also leave them open to criminal charges.  For that reason they cannot be expected to investigate themselves, and so the city needs to request an independent investigation by the U.S. Justice Department or sponsor its own fully independent investigation. If it has not done so already, the city needs to collect the badges and guns of all officers involved until those investigations are complete.  It needs, as well, to rethink and redesign the training of its officers.  Finally, it needs to talk to the organizers of the Urban Beach Week in an effort to make it safer for everyone.

Those might seem like simple recommendations, but simple changes are often the hardest to make.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Who Was Out of Control

Who was out of control during Urban Beach Weekend?  That is the question the forces of righteousness on Miami Beach should ask themselves as they watch the cellphone video of a dozen or more out of control, armed and dangerous police officers shooting a car and its driver to death on crowded Collins Avenue in the wee of hours of Memorial Day.  The car was stopped when police running toward it and and those standing close by unloosed a fusillade of bullets that riddled car and driver.  They then appear to go after witnesses, especially those with camera phones, including the people taking this video.

I'm sure excuses and justifications will be thrown about with abandon—indeed, that's already begun—but a look this short video, made available through the Miami Herald shows that what happened went way beyond police brutality.  It was an atrocity perpetrated by officers who from all appearances worked themselves into a frenzy of fear and loathing and rage that left one person dead and at least four non-combatants wounded.

While the necessary independent investigations move along, those of us who live on the Beach should worry less about Urban Weekend revelers and more about our police, their training and judgment.  Certainly none of the officers involved in the shootings during the Memorial Day weekend should have a badge or a gun until this barbarity is thoroughly adjudicated.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Miami Beach Urban Weekend

I've kept this blog free of local politics primarily because Miami Beach and the rest of South Florida are so weird that they are not easily described or understood.  What I find most curious and admirable, used advisedly, are the simultaneous distrust of and tolerance for people who are different, the recognition, no matter how begrudging, that if I am to be allowed to be different, I better do the same to others, even if I don't like it—the Golden Rule turned into practical politics.  Everyone benefits, whatever their motivation.  It has not always been thus; like the rest of the country, especially not excepting the rich resort communities, these cities were founded in inequity and never made a turn toward true democracy.

Put another way, Miami is place where you don't ask a person on first or subsequent meetings what he or she "does," largely for fear you will hear something that turns you immediately into an unindicted coconspirator.  Miami is a place where someone you've known for years can suddenly one day come up to you and state: "Contrary to what many people think, I am not in the Federal witness protection program."  Miami Beach is a place where a small crowd of 'gentlemen' gather on the boardwalk to stare at a nice set of buns sandwiching a thong only to become offended when the object of their desire rolls over.  They accuse him of deception.  Miami Beach is a place where gay and lesbian couples with children are commonplace.

Miami Beach is also a place more than a quarter of a million young largely African-American men and women have gathered every Memorial Day weekend for the past decade or so for a raucous debauch.  Each year one or more of them go home in a box, victims of gunshot or automobile or motorcycle accidents.

As a rule, they have shot each other, but this year, Miami Beach cops did the shooting.   They killed one young man and wounded four or five others.  Their gunshots also caused a car to run into one of the city's squad cars.  These events have triggered cries from some residents of the Beach to shut down the Urban Weekend, as if they had any legal right to do so.  A number of people object to the sea of scantily clothed revelers moving from beach to street and back, to make me think they must not live on the Beach where scanty garb is the fashion.  People object to the noise—it is purely obnoxious, but no worse than for any other over the top event —the Super Bowl, for example—and the contempt the visitors have for the city, as seen in their inconsiderate sloppiness.

What should concern those of us who live on the Beach is not the behavior of the Weekenders, but of the Miami Beach cops, who already had become known for their harassment of and rudeness toward Beach residents.  Beach police managed a shootout with one car that resulted in a dead driver and wounded bystanders and cops.  The other shootout with a car lead to a crash that wrecked a policer cruiser and the other car.  It also led to the arrest of the driver, a veteran firefighter, it turns out.

Police should not be firing their pistols at cars anywhere but especially not on crowded streets where the risk of injuring innocent bystanders is great.  It is well documented that Miami Beach cops are lousy shots to begin with.  When you add to that the natural and well documented propensity of people not to fire directly at another person and semi-automatic pistols with ten or more shots in a clip, you have a recipe for mayhem.  And when you top that off with poorly trained cops who don't have the brains to step out of the way of a moving car but instead think they can stop it by standing in its way and firing at the driver, mayhem turns to bloody chaos.  How much easier would it have been to step out of the way of the  car rather taking a stand, gun blazing, as if you were a Soviet-era border guard sworn to prevent someone—anyone—from escaping to freedom?  How hard would it have been to follow the car until it stopped or could be safely stopped and then arrest the driver rather than fire round after round into the car, him and the crowd.

People demanding an  end to this annual gathering might think about why they came this way.  Rather then feeding people's worst instincts, city officials might concentrate on training their police better, starting with the lesson that they serve all the people and ending with the ability to respond intelligently to strange situations—that is without opening fire.   These steps would serve everyone.

But beyond all of that, city officials must make clear to the police that anyone seeking to block a full inquiry will be fired immediately.  Early police attempts to stop people from posting or sharing their videos of the shootings were ham-fisted attempts at censorship that are intolerable. That is the stuff of dictatorships.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Brief Note

I have never been accused of being a neatness freak; in fact, chaos seems to attend me.   I once kept piles under piles whose contents I could recall well enough to locate the paper or note or memo I wanted.  The computer has killed that--90 percent of what I must recall is stored electronically in generally incomprehensible filing systems.  At least they are not physically manifest and therefore not mappable the way papers, magazines, and books were.  As a result things go missing or untended more often, and thus it sometimes is with comments to this blog.  I have various feeds and filters set up, but they clearly miss a lot; thus, if I have missed posting your comments forgive me and be assured it was for no reason other than I didn't see it.

Occasionally people try to contact me through the blog.  If you do that please remember to include an email address I can use--or a phone number--since blogger puts in its own 'do not reply' email address to discourage spammers.

The next post will be about something interesting--I hope.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The World As We Know It

For as long as I can remember, which now is approaching sixty years--granting that before one year of age, memory for me is more a function of guess work and received wisdom than actual recall of events, although I have definite knowledge in the form of some kind of memory of events when I was just days old and certainly from two on--years that is.  My short term memory is known to process directly into long term, and it's anyone's guess what that means--all that aside--for as long as I can remember certain of the town criers have been preaching apocalypse, the end days, with every war, 9.0 magnitude earthquake, land scrubbing tsunami, civilization burying volcanic eruption, and nuclear meltdown serving as further proof of the end of our time on this planet--perhaps even the end of life in the Universe, which is a little hard to credit.  But who can say?
I prefer to think that when life ends, it is dispersed into the quantum gruel, maybe to be reconfigured, maybe not.  Certainly reincarnation is a matter of faith at present, and I suspect well into the future. Saying that, puts me in the camp that believes life in the Universe is rare, and that, despite the lack of evidence to the contrary, is as an absurd assumption. I'm going to have to go with Heraclitus on this one and say that the Universe is in constant flux, a dance of destruction and construction.  There's no one behind it---not even a phony wizard in this Oz.  It is, and it follows its own rules which themselves are doubtless always in flux.
Tempting though it might be to look for an astroid or some cosmic lightning bolt that would purify the Earth, such an event is unlikely.We are far more likely to be hit by a succession of lesser--a relative term--catastrophes from which we ultimately cannot e   scape. Their cumulative power is too great, and we are too weak or overextended.  From a certain remove, of course, these take on the characteristics of a single event. 
But they are not.  They are constants in our lives.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Obama Doctrine?

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian is normally one of the more sane and thoughtful commentators on contemporary international politics, so his giddiness over the Obama's comments following Mubarak's backflip on resigning last night, Thursday; rather than this Friday morning warrants some attention.  Certainly in forcefully and openly siding with the protesters, the Obama did finally plant himself on the side of the angels.  Whether in doing so, he elucidated a clear doctrine that places the U.S. on the side of the forces of democracy everywhere remains to be seen.  I would  like to think Tisdall is right--and the Obama continued in his new voice after Mubarak resigned--but we'll see what happens when Jordon and Saudi Arabia start to wobble in weeks to come.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Backing the Wrong Pony

At this point, it is clear that Obama'a chief goal is to divide zero.  The latest proof of this desire comes from his response to the people's uprising in Egypt.  Reuters reports today that the Obamans were caught "off guard" by the force and ferver of the protests.  No doubt they were, but the decision to attempt to shield Mubarak by encouraging him to undertake democratic reforms and the people to play along with him shows a deeper level of incomprehension than that brought on by surprise at a spontaneous revolt.  The Obamans response reflects the typical American habit of backing friendly--that is, bought--dictators rather than the people or even  the nation.  The Obama's embrace of that wrongheaded American habit is made worse because it bespeaks rejection of his own calls for democracy to replace autocracy.    In this case, as in others, the Obamans want to reassure the autocratic rulers of oil rich nations that America always stands by its boys--Karen DeYoung puts it more politely in today's Washington Post. The problem for the Obamans is that when you back the wrong pony, you lose the race.  Mubarak is not Egypt, and it is Egypt and the Egyptian people the Obamans should be doing everything they can to help.  The message they should give despots everywhere is that the United States supports the legitimate desire of people for democracy.

Instead, Obama dispatched an envoy to deliver the word to Mubarak that he should not run for re-election in the fall--eight or nine months from now-- David Kirkpatrick reports  in today's New York Times.   Maybe that has a hidden diplomatic meeting, but on its face, it is laughable--not to mention completely bonkers.  Can anyone who is not delusional seriously think that Mubarak is going to last beyond the end of the week?  And after Mubarak? All those billions in foreign aid will be paying some posh estates for exiled potentates while the U.S. Congress holds hearings on who is responsible for losing the Middle East and all of its oil to people who don't like us and don't want us around no matter how much we are prepared to spend on attempting to acquire influence with them;.