Barking Backward

A Blog by Jameson Parker

The Span of Life

The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

- Robert Frost

Officer Involved Shootings

August 21st, 2014 22 Comments

Turnbull 1911

 

In the aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, Wolf Blitzer on CNN asked an officer why police can’t shoot warning shots in the air, and why officers can’t be trained to shoot to wound instead of shooting “to kill.” (His words.) And this morning, in the aftermath of a man with a knife being shot by two officers in St. Louis, Ashleigh Banfield asked an officer essentially the same question about shooting “to kill,” along with questioning why a stun gun wasn’t used instead.

Both of these questions by veteran reporters come on the heels of a reporter for the Huffington Post tweeting a photograph of foam ear plugs and inquiring if they were rubber bullets.

It is easy to poke fun at people trying to make sense of things about which they are ignorant. God knows most of the questions I ask about computer and internet issues must make me seem like a nineteenth century moron to the vast bulk of computer users out there. No one can know everything about everything; no one can know even a little about everything. We all do the best we can, and the Wolf Blitzers and Ashleigh Banfields do a hell of a lot better job than most journalists could ever dream of doing.

But their questions reflect a tremendous misunderstanding about a topic that is red hot with emotion right now.

Approximately one hundred million Americans own guns. That mean that the other almost two hundred and twenty million Americans who do not own guns are going to have no idea of the reality or the use or effect of firearms. Unfortunately, those who are unfamiliar with firearms will have completely unrealistic perceptions (consciously or unconsciously influenced by popular entertainment) of what can or cannot be done with a gun, or the effect being shot will have.

Consider Mr. Blitzer’s first question. Where will the bullet from that warning shot come down? A hundred years ago, in a rural area, the odds were very good that bullet would come down harmlessly in a field. Now, in an urban or even a suburban area like Ferguson, those odds are greatly diminished, and the odds of it killing someone are greatly increased.

Consider Mr. Blitzer’s second question. No offense to Mr. Blitzer, who is a very capable journalist, but practically every single time a law enforcement officer shoots someone, the “shoot to wound” question will be trotted out, and if that isn’t a reflection of too many John Wayne movies, nothing is.

A handgun is a defensive weapon intended for use at close range and the best of them are nowhere near as accurate as non-shooters believe. Out to fifty yards, from a stationary position, a good shot, taking his time, can consistently hit a human-sized target, but there are problems even with that scenario. A bad guy isn’t necessarily stationary, and even hitting a target as large as a human being is far more difficult if that target is moving. The police officer frequently doesn’t have the luxury of standing still and aiming carefully, and shooting a moving target while you are in motion is very, very difficult. Now reduce that target to the size of a shoulder say, or a leg, or—always a popular choice with those who learn from television shows—a handgun that will be shot beautifully out of the hand of the bad guy without even seriously injuring said hand. Go to a range and try those things someday and let me know how it works for you.

Those are just the simple mechanics of the thing. There are other issues involved. Emotions, for one. A bad guy, the worst bad guy in the world, is still a human being, not a target, and it takes a lot—a lot—of training and mental preparation for a normal human being to shoot another.

Which brings me to the officer who might have to shoot someone. Cops are not Hollywood super heroes following a script where they know they’re going to live happily and get the girl, the gold watch and everything at the end. They have all the same emotions you or I would have when they are being shot at or confronted, and that includes fear. What do you think happens when you are terrified and have adrenaline pumping through you by the gallon? You get tunnel vision for one thing. You lose all sense of time. You cease to hear normally or even at all. Your extremities, in particular your hands (including the one holding the gun) become icy cold. You begin to tremble. You have trouble breathing, and breath control is critical to shooting with any degree of accuracy. And perhaps most significant of all, you lose fine motor control, i.e. the small muscle control necessary to perform precise actions. No matter what anyone tells you, or what you see in the movies, these things happen to everyone, no matter how well-trained or how experienced. Fear is normal. The only difference between a cop and you or me is that the cop has to saddle up anyway, no matter how scared he might be.

As for Ashleigh Banfield’s question about the police shooting of the man with a knife in St. Louis., consider a stun gun, or Taser, as they’re known. They are not always effective. On an unarmed suspect, a Taser would have been the wise choice; on a man armed with a knife, not so, and this is why:

The rule of thumb, depending on which law enforcement agency is doing the talking and training, is usually either twenty-one feet, or twenty-five feet as being the closest you should ever allow a potential assailant with a knife to get to you. At Scott Reitz’s International Tactical Training Seminars in Los Angeles, Scott has rigged up a track with a human silhouette target on it. The track is twenty-one feet long. The drill is for students to draw, fire, and hit the target before Scott can pull that target close to them. Before the first students step up to the line, Scott does a demonstration where a young man runs the same distance. The day I was there the young man was a stunt man, and he was able to cover the twenty-one feet in the same time it took Scott to pull his target along the track, approximately one and a half seconds. The difference was that the target stopped; the young man’s momentum carried him on and would have carried him right over anyone standing in front of him. So twenty-one feet is a damned critical distance even if you are a trained shooter, with very fast reflexes, and advance warning of the attack. Most people can’t do it.

But now consider that assailant with a knife. Do you really think a bad guy high on drugs or adrenaline or both is going to be stopped by a single bullet? It is impossible to predict how a man will react when hit by a bullet, never mind a man who is high on rage or chemicals or both. When I was shot, the first bullet spun me around, but it certainly didn’t knock me down or drop me or incapacitate me. Even after a second bullet (where I did go down on my own volition to play dead) I was able to get up and walk home. Every hunter knows it is impossible to predict how an animal will react even when shot fatally. Elmer Keith (a famous writer about firearms and hunting back in the old days) told a story about shooting three bullets, all perfectly placed into the heart of grizzly bear, three bullets that turned the bear’s heart into hamburger, but the bear still charged him, running over a hundred yards so quickly that Keith had to dive out of the way. I spoke to a highway patrol officer many years ago who emptied his handgun into an assailant, with at least three of the bullets being fatal, and the assailant still picked him up and threw him over his own squad car. You cannot predict or be certain.

As an historical note, John Browning developed the M1911 .45 at the request of the Army precisely because so many soldiers were being killed by Moro Islanders armed with a kalis (think either short sword or long knife) even after the Islander had been shot six times with a .38 caliber revolver.

But the basic fallacy of Mr. Blitzer and Ms. Banleigh and so many journalists and non-gun owners is that police are taught to “shoot to kill.” No one teaches that. All training schools, whether for law enforcement or for civilians, teach you to shoot to stop the threat. If one bullet does that, fine. If, like that highway patrolman, you have to empty your gun, so be it. If stopping the threat means the bad guy runs away in fear, uninjured, great: the threat has been stopped. If he’s still trying to shoot you as he lies bleeding to death on the ground, you haven’t stopped the threat. But stopping the threat is the goal, not killing.

Finally, in response to a lot of police bashing by a lot of people (and I am most outraged by politicians currying favor and sewing dissent by pandering over this issue) I would point out that the percentage of bad cops to good cops is the same as the percentage of bad guys to good guys generally. If a politician were fool enough to judge all black residents of Ferguson by the actions of the opportunistic criminals in the crowd, that politician would be rightly run out of office, but condemning cops and police departments generally has become a national pastime. The average cop is no better or worse than the average citizen, but there is a crucial difference, and that is that the average citizen doesn’t have the courage, the physical skills, the necessary mental skills, the disposition, or the rudimentary understanding of human psychology of the average cop. The police do hard, dangerous work that the rest of us won’t and mostly can’t do, and they deserve better than to have political curs and jackals snapping at their heels in times of trouble.

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At the Movies: Chinatown

August 20th, 2014 3 Comments

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I hadn’t seen Chinatown since it first came out in 1974, but I watched it the other night and was, once again, stunned.

Movies are, by definition, collaborative, so it’s hard to know who should get the credit for Chinatown. The script is, in theory, where everything begins, but as anyone who has ever spent more than ten minutes in Hollywood knows, scripts are frequently only considered rough outlines, mere suggestions of a possible storyline to be changed, manipulated, altered, or simply discarded at the whim of the—pick one, or all—director, star, producer, studio executive, or possibly the stunt coordinator. (A flagrant example: The Harvey Girls, originally intended as a straight-forward Western set to star Clark Gable and Lana Turner, was abruptly changed, on the heels of Oklahoma’s success, into a musical with Judy Garland and John Hodiak. Go figure.) The bottom line is that writers in Hollywood are given considerably less respect than the panhandler loitering outside the studio gates.

(Old Hollywood joke: Did you hear about the starlet who was so dumb she slept with a writer?)

Robert Towne wrote the script. In case you’re unfamiliar with Robert Towne, he wrote, in addition to Chinatown, The Last Detail, Shampoo, and Tequila Sunrise, garnering a lengthy list of award nominations and winning an Oscar for Chinatown. He also wrote a bunch of Mission Impossible Tom Cruise vehicles and a slew of other films I haven’t seen. He knows what he’s doing, but precisely because movie making is collaborative, who can say if Chinatown would have been as brilliant if it had been directed by someone else? Woody Allen, for example, probably wouldn’t have been a good choice. As it is, Roman Polanski created movie magic, but Polanski made changes, changes Robert Towne didn’t like back then and, apparently still doesn’t like today.

Mr. Polanski may have his personal issues, but no one can deny he is a stone genius when it comes to directing. Just consider some of the films he’s made over the years: Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Tess, The Pianist, The Ghost Writer, and those are just a few.

The performances in Chinatown are as brilliant as you would expect, from Nicholson and Dunaway down to small roles that linger in your mind even after the film is over (a snide little twerp of a clerk in the public records office; a secretary who wisely distrusts Nicholson; a cop who mocks him with a gesture; little roles, walk-ons, made memorable). The look and color of the film, the sound effects, everything is magnificent, but the reason I’m dwelling on Mr. Towne and Mr. Polanski is because of the ending.

It’s one of the most debated endings in movie history, with some people loathing it, and others—self included—loving it. Mr. Towne allegedly wrote an essentially happy ending. Roman Polanski changed it into the darker ending and, presumably, is responsible for the famous last line, a line that has long since passed into common usage as a tag line for any unpunished governmental malfeasance: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

The movie is based, loosely, but not all that loosely, on the historical facts surrounding the development of Los Angeles. Very briefly, Los Angeles is the metropolis it is today because a handful of venal politicians, unscrupulous and dishonest businessmen, morally bankrupt newspaper publishers, and public figures and public servants, all made themselves unimaginably rich by stealing land and water, sometimes semi-legally, mostly by graft, embezzlement, fraud, and swindling, occasionally by murder, stealing that land and water from, essentially, you and me. (All of these events were chronicled by the late Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, published some ten years after the movie was made, and one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. If I told you a history of water rights, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers, was a good read, you’d probably think poor old JP was getting a little gaga; in fact Cadillac Desert is so well-written it’s like a mystery novel, one that will keep you up late at night turning pages to find out what happens next.)

But it’s the tone of Chinatown that is so extraordinary, with its dark sense of menace and manipulation, its complex and multitudinous layers of corruption and obfuscation that Nicholson’s character must peel back to get near the truth. And Nicholson’s character is no glittering knight on a white horse: Jake Gittes is a sleazy private investigator lining his pockets by taking ugly photographs of husbands and wives doing athletic things in beds with people other than their spouses. He is crude, foul-mouthed, amoral, uninterested in his clients or their problems other than cashing their checks. And even after he gets sucked into the vortex his quest for truth is motivated by nothing more than a desire to clear his own name and screw the guy(s) who set him up.

So, a happy ending for this dark film? A United States Congressman buys cocaine from an undercover cop and is allowed to resign his seat without ever spending a day in prison. A United States Senator is convicted of income tax evasion and not only doesn’t have to serve time, he actually gets reelected to two more terms in office. The head of the largest and most influential bureaucratic governmental agency in America violates the law and lies under oath to Congress and is allowed to resign with pension and benefits. A United States Senator tries to ruin an American citizen and drive him out of his family business in order to cement an illegal deal with a foreign government… Those too are true stories, and the list goes on. And you want a happy ending?

Forget it, Jake. It’s Hollywood.

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Stephen King: On Writing

August 13th, 2014 23 Comments

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I haven’t written any reviews lately because I’ve been on an ancient history kick: the first three volumes of the Will and Ariel Durant series, The Story of Civilization; Herodotus, The Histories; Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War; Polybius, The Histories; bits and pieces of Suetonius, Xenophon, Lucretius, occasional forays into Ovid and Homer to remind myself of this, that or the other, additional brief dips here and there into even more obscure and tangential associations:

Cruel, but composed and bland,

Dumb, inscrutable and grand,

So Tiberius might have sat,

Had Tiberius been a cat.

It’s been fun, and I plan to keep marching along down the highways and byways and shady lanes of man’s consistent folly and brutality and his occasional bursts of brilliance and magnificence, but I have no intention of reviewing the likes of Herodotus and Polybius. I may not be the brightest bulb in the tanning bed, but I’m not that arrogant a fool.

However, I took time out recently to read Stephen King’s On Writing, an interesting pastiche of a book, partly a combination of instructions on the craft of writing and partly a memoir. It is, in fact, accurately subtitled, A Memoir of the Craft.

I suspect many writers, probably most, have lives that are duller than dirt. After all, a writer of fiction spends most of his time sitting inside his own home, inside his own office, inside his own head, a sequence which may make for ecstasies of excitement among the readers of his books, but one which is not calculated to cause the average observer to do much other than doze off. The only notable exception to this rule who springs to mind is Hemingway. No matter what else he might have been, or what you may think of his writing (uneven, ranging from the best of the best to the worst of the worst) he combined a naturally adventurous spirit, enormous personal physical courage, and a capacity for marrying well that allowed him to indulge in various adventures such as safaris and deep-sea fishing. Couple all that with the fact that he also wrote as a war correspondent, and his life makes for great reading. He is, however, the only post-World War Two writer I can think of about whom that is true.

Since Stephen King is, by his own admission, severely, chronically, and habitually anal compulsive about his craft, it is proof of his genius as a writer that On Writing is as entertaining as it is.

I had forgotten how good King can be. On Writing is, to be honest, the first book of his I’ve read in a long, long time, but it brought back my own memories of the first of his books that I ever did read, back around 1980. It was The Shining, and I read it in the safety and security of my own tiny little hillside home, my very first house, in the Hollywood hills overlooking the back lot of Universal Studios. I was training for my second-degree black belt and thought I was a lot tougher than I really was; the house was buttoned up for the night; my wife and son were peacefully asleep in their beds; and that damned book scared me so badly I sat up until three in the morning to finish it, and then had to go from light switch to light switch to make it the bedroom. Oh, yeah, I was a tough guy alright.

But that’s good writing.

On Writing doesn’t provide the thrills and clammy sweat of most of his work. What it does is provide a very candid glimpse into his personal history and his triumphs in overcoming a childhood of grinding poverty, and an early adulthood of chronic alcoholism and drug addiction. Perhaps all this is known to his legions of fans, but it both caught me off-guard and inspired me, which is, of course, why he chose to tell his story the way he did. If he can overcome that degree of alcoholism and addiction (he claims to have no memory of writing Cujo) then by golly, Junior, you too can get your life in order regardless what your problems might be.

Woven through the personal inspiration theme are his comments and observations and suggestions for those people who have succumbed to the writing illness. (It’s like addiction, only different.) Most of it is very, very good advice, and like Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird, it combines practical nuts-and-bolts advice with humor, charm, and encouragement. If I have a criticism (and who the hell am I to criticize Stephen King?) it’s that he tends to assume his work habits and goals will work for everyone. He talks about making sure you don’t leave your desk until you get your daily two-thousand words down. Say what, Steve?! Two-thousand words? I go through periods where I’m lucky to get two-thousand words down in an entire week.

Which brings up another small criticism. King recommends getting the story down as quickly as possible (two thousand words a day quickly) and worrying about the polish later. That’s fine for him, but as even he points out, some authors prefer to polish as they go, reworking each sentence before they go on to the next one. The point is, each of us works differently, and what works for Mr. King might not work for you or me or Malcolm Brooks or Donna Tartt.

King also does a very funny send-up of writing classes, the frightfully serious and studious kind of instruction where students read each other’s work and criticize it for the—theoretically—edification of the writer. King’s advice (and, for what it’s worth, mine) is that such classes are complete waste of time. First of all, who made the guy or gal at the next desk God and gave him or her a pipeline to the taste and Weltanschauung of the reading public? More importantly, who taught Homer to write? Who taught Shakespeare, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Hemingway, Faulkner? The only way to learn how to write, as King points out, is to write and read, read and write. Do it obsessively, do it constantly, and then read and write some more.

And one of the books you should read is Stephen King’s On Writing.

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A Horse Is An Accident Looking For A Place To Happen

August 11th, 2014 15 Comments

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An old Marine Corps joke:

Question: “What happens if you lock a Marine in a padded cell with a bowling ball?”

Answer: “In twenty-four hours he will either lose it, break it, or (insert fine old Anglo-Saxon verb meaning to copulate) it.”

Horses remind me of that joke. Just before he left our place with lots, I mean lots, of our money in his hand, our vet responded to an anguished question from my bride by saying that if he were going to use a place to demonstrate the proper care of horses, in particular what kind of fencing is best, he would use our place.

You can already tell where this going.

Darleen woke me bright and surly Sunday morning, shortly before the break of dawn, to announce that her mare Rosie, had cut herself to ribbons. It was only a slight exaggeration. By the time I got my clothes on and made it down to the barn, Darleen had already rinsed the dirt out of the cuts with Betadine, but blood was still flowing out of two of the cuts, one fore, one aft, but what stunned me was that all four legs were cut to some extent. If you live with horses long enough, you’ll see everything, as well as some things that are technically impossible, so I’ve seen my fair share of leg cuts from horses that got themselves hung up in a fence, but all four legs? That high up?

It struck me as so odd that while we waited for the vet, I walked the fence line in the pasture where Rosie spent the night. I suspected it was a case of her getting hung up, but part of me honestly thought it might have been an attack by an animal—some moron’s dogs running loose, perhaps a starving and desperate mountain lion—because all four legs, and cuts that high up, struck me as out of the ordinary.

Nah. It was just routine, run of the mill, par-for-the-course horse behavior.

It took me a while to find the damage because the portion of the fence where she had gotten herself hung up (think “tangled) was the portion I was most proud of, the one part where I had managed to put up horse-wire (the safest equine fencing there is) and railroad ties over uneven ground, but keeping the horse-wire up high enough that even if a horse were dumb enough to lie down right in that particular spot, and even if she were able to compound her stupidity by rolling into the fence, there would always be enough space between the ground and the bottom wire that she couldn’t possibly get hung up.

(If you read the above sentence again, you’ll see an excellent example of human frailty and stupidity in anyone imagining he can ever come close to overestimating a horse’s ability to get itself into trouble.)

I have no idea how she did it.

The bad news is that the money Darleen and I had earmarked for our first vacation in over ten years is now in the hands of our vet. (Emergency call; ranch visit; Sunday morning; tranquilizers; pain-killers; surgical procedure; stitches; bandaging and vet-wrap supplies; tetanus booster; penicillin; bute (an oral pain-killer for horses); multiple and varied topical cleansers, antiseptics, and fly-repellents; and of course the special, dreaded getting-your-vet-out-of-bed-on-his-day-off-when-he-could-be-lingering-with-his-wife fee, a fee that has been known to cause stronger and richer men than I to burst into tears and curl up into the fetal position.

The good news is Miss Rosie will be fine. Her owners’ nerves are shot, their checking account depleted, their sleep-deficit quotient is on overload, and Pete the Boxer missed his morning walk, but she will be fine.

Now I have to go fix the (insert adjective form of fine old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to copulate) fence.

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Your Government Is Here To…Oh, Never Mind

August 7th, 2014 14 Comments

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This stuff is great! This is the kind of stuff no one, except possibly Mel Brooks, could make up. This is the headline from USA Today, hardly a bastion of conservative governmental criticism:

“619 Billion Missing From Federal Transparency Site.”

I kid you not. The story goes on to say:

“A government website intended to make federal spending more transparent was missing at least $619 billion from 302 federal programs, a government audit has found.

And the data that does exist is wildly inaccurate, according to the Government Accountability Office, which looked at 2012 spending data. Only 2% to 7% of spending data on USASpending.gov is “fully consistent with agencies’ records,” according to the report.

Among the data missing from the 6-year-old federal website:

• The Department of Health and Human Services failed to report nearly $544 billion, mostly in direct assistance programs like Medicare. The department admitted that it should have reported aggregate numbers of spending on those programs.

• The Department of the Interior did not report spending for 163 of its 265 assistance programs because, the department said, its accounting systems were not compatible with the data formats required by USASpending.gov. The result: $5.3 billion in spending missing from the website.

• The White House itself failed to report any of the programs it’s directly responsible for. At the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is part of the White House, officials said they thought HHS was responsible for reporting their spending.

For more than 22% of federal awards, the spending website literally doesn’t know where the money went. The “place of performance” of federal contracts was most likely to be wrong.

That’s a problem, said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“We live in a world in which information drives decisions,” Carper said. “And, given the budget constraints that our government faces, we need reliable information on how and where our money is being spent.”

Golly, Mr. Carper. Do you really think so?

The headline is, I admit, slightly misleading. The website is not actually missing money itself; it is missing data on government spending, partly because the vast bulk of government, including the White House, either didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t report their spending, and partly because government follows the laws of nature which state that whenever anything becomes too big it gets unwieldy and inefficient and ultimately unable to survive.

If the government doesn’t even know where our money (that’s yours and mine, Baby) is going and how it’s being spent, if it can only account accurately for between two to seven percent of its spending, maybe the solution might be to work on increasing efficiency and oversight. Just a thought. But what do you want to bet some bright boy in the White House or the Senate or Congress will suggest we throw some more money at the problem to try and fix it?

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Puppies In a Bucket

August 2nd, 2014 15 Comments

Puppies in a bucket (Small)

 

An absolutely gratuitous photograph of puppies in a bucket, in this case, Cardigan Welsh corgi puppies from Coedwig Cardigans, posted for no other reason than to make you smile.

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A Fine Quote, and Dogs

August 1st, 2014 10 Comments

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I stole this fabulous quote from Steve Bodio’s blog, Querencia at: http://stephenbodio.blogspot.com/

“Stuff is eaten by dogs, broken by family and friends, sanded down by the wind, frozen by the mountains, lost by the prairie, burnt off by the sun, washed away by the rain. So you are left with dogs, family, friends, sun, rain, wind, prairie, and mountains. What more do you want?”

Federico Calboli

Mr. Calboli is a geneticist, a post-doctoral Research Fellow at Imperial College, London, and—to be painfully honest—does the sort of work I am nowhere near smart enough to understand. But reading his opening page about himself (http://www.federicocalboli.com/) prior to stealing his words, the following sentence caught my eye:

“Alongside my genetic association research, I have worked on the analysis of complex pedigree records, using simulations to asses pedigree complexity, inbreeding and gene diversity loss in dogs.   My work on the analysis of the pedigree of purebred dogs in the UK has been key in the recent challenges to the practice of closed registries for dog breeds, on the grounds of animal welfare.”

Readers of my blog know I am no fan of anyone trying to tell me what to do, and when the government starts meddling in my affairs, I put my ears back like the false prophet’s donkey in the Bible and refuse to cooperate. Even more, I begin to think fond thoughts of Guy Fawkes, the sharpshooters who stood by the rude bridge and fired the shot(s) heard round the world, the men who picked their teeth while letting the rope of the guillotine go, all those who tell authoritarian governments (I know that’s redundant) to go perform anatomically impossible acts upon themselves. But…

But in this case, I have to admit I’m all on the side of science, or at least on Mr. Calboli’s science.

One of the blogs that was lost when my website had that embarrassing accident (wrong finger on the wrong key at the wrong time) was about this very issue. The moment a gene pool gets closed, disaster begins. It’s true of men (look at some of the royal morons and madmen that have cluttered up various thrones around the world throughout history) and it is especially and radically so with dogs. Dogs apparently have a genetic marker that allows them to evolve more rapidly than other species, which is why in such a comparatively short evolutionary timespan, the descendants of the wolf have been able to assume the shapes of Chihuahuas and Irish wolfhounds, whippets and bulldogs.

Closed gene pools have given us guard dogs that are afraid of their own bark, hunting dogs that can’t hunt their way to the meat counter in a supermarket, and companion dogs that bite their owners. No one is advocating mongrelization here, but for God’s sake, if crossing a little Malinois, say, into your German shepherd will delay the onslaught of dysplasia and spinal atrophy, or fear biting, do it. I have an antique dog book (I would have just called it an old dog book, since it was published in 1934, but apparently that qualifies it as an antique in today’s frantic world) with a cover photograph of a German shepherd. That dog bears no more resemblance to the German shepherds of the show ring or Schutzhund ring today than I do to LeBron James. If it sounds as if I’m picking on German shepherds, well, I am. As a child in Germany during the late fifties and the first half of the sixties I used to see them and admire them so much: magnificent and fearless athletes, calm and steady, polite with strangers, but fiercely protective of their owners, the ideal dog. Today… Let’s just say that with any breed, if the body can’t stand up to the rigors of being walked around suburban neighborhoods and the temperament can’t stand up to the rigors of being a beloved family pet, then that breed is, to quote a fine old Army phrase, FUBAR: fucked up beyond all recognition.

A kindly reader saved all my old blogs and sent them to me, for which I am very grateful. I will go back through my files and try to find that original blog and re-post it. If it has stood the test of time.

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A Stranger in a Very Strange Land

July 30th, 2014 9 Comments

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The worst has happened.

I have been dragged, like a cat across a carpet, into the twenty-first century. I have been (pick one) persuaded, threatened, admonished, cajoled, tricked, induced, bullied, sweet-talked, conned, exhorted, or perhaps just bamboozled into opening a Facebook page.

Having said that, I’m not at all sure I’ve done it successfully. Sometimes I go onto Facebook and see someone who looks like me. At least I remember the very-much-the-worse-for-wear Stetson, and I recognize the books on the shelves in the background, and the guy looks vaguely familiar. But other times I see a young man in a tank top who does a lot running. Sometimes I see a young African-American man who lives in Birmingham, Alabama and loves music. Sometimes I end up somewhere else entirely, wandering dazed and confused, wondering who I am, or even if I am. It’s a strange new world out there.

Where I end up seems to have something to do with how I try to get onto Facebook, but I haven’t cracked the code yet. My most recent venture into the social-media universe was a simple, straight-forward attempt to find a shortcut that would let me click on a desktop icon that would in turn take me straight to my Facebook page. You can’t even begin to imagine where I ended up, and don’t ask me, because I have no idea, but it sure as hell wasn’t where I wanted to go. It’s a little like a nightmare version of getting into one of those new smart cars, the ones that are supposed to be able to drive themselves while you take a nap or Tweet or text or sext or whatever, only this smart car takes me to places I didn’t even know existed.

And who are these two mysterious other Jameson Parkers? Are they distant relatives? Are they manifestations of some alternate reality? Are they manifestations of some hitherto unknown and hidden dissociative identity disorder of mine, along the lines of The Three Faces of Eve? Or am I a manifestation of some dissociative identity disorder of theirs? Am I actually listening to music in Birmingham, Alabama or out jogging somewhere and just imagining this other life in California? The possibilities are endless, not to mention disturbing.

I am definitely a fish out of water.

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Promo Promotion

July 25th, 2014 9 Comments

changingearthchangingsky

Okay, bear with me here. This is a little like a blind man in a foreign land leading a bunch of the local inhabitants who all have 20/20 vision, but…

My agent informs me that something called “Kobo” is offering a special promotional purchase opportunity on Changing Earth, Changing Sky. The link is:

http://www.kobo.com/tgifsale

Since I am a stranger in a strange land, I have never heard of “Kobo” nor do I understand how any of this works, but since I’m sure all of you are far smarter and more internet savvy than I, I feel confident it will all make perfect sense to you.

Don’t get lost.

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James Garner

July 24th, 2014 19 Comments

james garner

 

James Garner was one of the most underrated actors ever and I think the reason had much to do with his acting. He made it all look so easy, so effortless, his personal brand of charm and humor always showing through, so that it was hard to believe he was really doing anything. His first acting job was apparently a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, starring Henry Fonda, and if you have any interest at all in acting, and if your IQ is bigger than your hat size, it would be impossible to watch Henry Fonda night after night without learning a lot. No one ever accused Jim Garner of being stupid, and you could say he had some interest in acting.

Darleen and I fell in love in part because of James Garner. This is one of those tricky series of coincidences, so follow me closely here.

Around 1978 (I don’t remember the exact year; dates and I have never gotten along too well) I quit the soap opera One Life to Live and got cast in a movie that started filming literally the day after my last day as OLTL’s Brad the Cad. The movie was an ambitious project, an unsuccessful film version of Sylvia Plath’s famous autobiography, The Bell Jar. In keeping with my bad boy persona back then, I was cast as the narcissistic, preppy, predatory college Lothario, Buddy Willard. The star of that movie, the lady playing Sylvia Plath, was Marilyn Hassett.

In 1980 (give or take a year or so; damn dates), James Garner filmed a pilot for a new series called Bret Maverick, based on his highly successful late-fifties series, Maverick. The lady who co-starred opposite him in that pilot was Marilyn Hassett. Garner got injured doing a stunt, took some time off, looked at the footage for his pilot, and decided he didn’t like Marilyn’s work, or that they didn’t work well together, and decided to re-cast her and re-shoot the pilot. One of the girls who auditioned for the replacement role was an exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead by the name of Darleen Carr.

The problem was the “little” part. Darleen claims five-two, but I think five feet is closer to actual fact. Garner, on the other hand, was six-one or two and taller still in cowboy boots. Garner liked what he saw in the filmed audition scenes, but everyone kept telling him it would never work because of the height difference.

In the meantime, also in 1980 (again, that date is more or less) Simon & Simon was filming its first season, showing in a disastrous time slot, and earning ratings somewhat lower than the test pattern. We were filming an episode that had something to do with a zoo, and the lady chosen to play the head zoo keeper was an exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead by the name of Darleen Carr. She had already filmed two auditions for Bret Maverick, and they asked her to film a third one with Garner. She refused, saying it would interrupt her shooting schedule on Simon & Simon.

We were filming at the zoo in Griffith Park, and Darleen was sitting in a car, going over her lines, when out of nowhere a limo pulled up, James Garner got out, took her hand and helped her out the car, spun her around once, and said “You’re not too little,” got back in his limo and drove off. That was her third and final audition, and as soon as she finished filming with me and Mackie, she went to work playing photographer M. L. Springer on Bret Maverick.

Darleen and Garner

(Above: Darleen as M.L. with James Garner. I know that look well and my heart goes out to poor Bret Maverick.)

The show was an instant hit and got excellent ratings. Simon & Simon, on the other hand, sank down lower than the local Chamber of Commerce airings and was cancelled. Over on Bret Maverick, the writers had decided to add a love interest for M. L. Springer, and I was cast as that potential love interest in the very last episode of that season. It turned out to be the very last season, period, the only season. A lot of varying reasons for the show’s demise were trotted out, none of which made a lick of sense, given that it was the highest-rated new show of the year. The truth, which was hushed up for obscure reasons, was that Garner—nobody’s fool, as I said—had discovered that one of the producers had been stealing from his production company (an incident I later incorporated into Return to Laughter) and in disgust he pulled the plug. That turned out to be fortunate for me, because the creator and producer of Simon & Simon had been waging a very successful PR campaign to have us aired at a better time during summer re-runs, our ratings had suddenly sky-rocketed, and CBS decided to give Simon & Simon another chance. In the meantime, I had gotten to know the exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead and decided I liked her. Nothing more than that: we were both married to other people, but I thought she was definitely okay. Quite alright. Fun. Intelligent. Talented. A lot of fun. Not to mention exceptionally pretty and very sexy.

While I knew none of this until many years later, after Darleen and I had gotten married, Garner won my loyalty by his treatment of Darleen. Her son was dying slowly of an undiagnosed illness and she had notified Garner and the producers that her three year old was in the hospital and that things were not looking good. She would check in multiple times every day, calling the hospital from the stage, and it just so happened she had just finished rehearsing a final scene with Garner, her last of the day, when she made one of her calls and was notified that her boy wouldn’t last the night. She turned around, intending to film the scene and rush to the hospital, but Garner took one look at her face and pulled the plug on that day’s shooting. She protested, saying they had to finish and then she could go. He replied, “We’ll get it when we get it,” and steered her to the door.

Darleen as M.L.

(Above: Darleen as M.L. You can see why I fell in love.)

Garner was nominated for an Academy Award and countless Emmys, Golden Globes, and a slew of other awards over the years, many of which he won, and he deserved them all. He had a reputation for being extremely loyal to his friends and all the people who worked for him, and while some of his friends were household names, just as many—perhaps more—were just anybody he happened to like.

Garner had, by all accounts, an appalling childhood, and he could have taken any one of the myriad doors for good or ill that open to us all. He chose to became a gifted actor, a great star, a good and loyal friend, and from what I read, a devoted husband and father. He was an easy-going affable man, but not one who would tolerate anyone trying to take advantage of him. His multiple lawsuits against multiple entities in Hollywood are famous. Less famous, because he didn’t make a big deal about it or gloat publicly, was the fact that he won every single one. Also less well known is the story of his cornering the president of MCA, Sid Sheinberg, at that time the most powerful man in Hollywood and one of the defendants in Garner’s lawsuit against that company. Mr. Sheinberg had very publicly said some very uncomplimentary things about Garner, and when Garner trapped him in a hallway at Universal Studios, Sheinberg had a pretty good idea of what going to happen and called out to a security guard:

“Stop him! Stop him! He’s going to hit me!”

Garner turned around and looked at the guard. “Are you watching?” Then he slowly and deliberately raised one fist and decked Sheinberg. Easily. Effortlessly. With his own brand of charm and humor.

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