February 24, 2018

Visit to the Veterinarian

I woke up Thursday with a sense of dread. After avoiding making veterinary appointments for my cats Charlie and Linus, the day had finally come when I would have to capture the little beasts and confine them to their carriers. Fortunately, their appointments come only once a year, but I had vivid memories of the battle of wits that had occurred last year. By the time I had put the cat carriers into the car, I was bandaged and exhausted, and I was only slightly relieved that the cat hunt would likely not make us arrive late at our destination.

Charlie and Linus are wonderful and loving cats that, for most of the year, are a joy to have around. After sitting down at my desk or in front of the television, one or both cats usually finds his way to my lap. Well, Linus likes to be on my lap. So does Charlie, though he often climbs on my shoulder, which can make it hard to type or see the television screen.

I have never had any trouble picking up Charlie, to take him to the bathroom scale for a weighting, for example. (Each cat could afford to drop a couple of pounds. At the suggestion of my vet, I have been feeding them an obscenely expensive prescription food and making an attempt to monitor their weight.) Linus is another matter. Although the cats are litter mates, Linus has always been much more skittish than his brother. When I was first saw them considering adopting them, Charlie was willing to come close to me, but Linus did his best to hide.

Linus, in fact, is almost impossible to carry. If he is sitting on my lap and I try to rise and pick him up, he quickly escapes my grip and runs away. If he feels himself being restrained, he fights with a fearsomeness more often associated with the largest and meanest of carnivores. Although both cats often disappear behind or under furniture, Linus sequesters himself more frequently.

I had a plan for getting the cats into their carriers. To begin with, I followed the advice of various pet authorities and have had their carriers out and open for the past year. At one time or another, each cat had voluntarily entered one of the carriers, but this had not become a regular habit. Besides, I was less concerned with their comfort at being confined than I was with the process of confining them in the first place.

Preparation for the task ahead began with getting dressed. I put on my long-sleeve canvas Carhartt work shirt and had my leather gloves handy. I was hoping that shirt and gloves would provide protection from frantically waving claws. I closed the bedroom door to prevent any cat from retreating beneath the bed. (Extracting a cat from under the bad had proven difficult in the past.) Because the cats often sit on my lap or approach me in the bathroom, I had positioned one carrier beside my desk chair and one carrier in the bathroom just in case I got lucky.

My timing was probably a little off. In the early morning the cats are always out and about, waiting for food and fresh water. A bit later—I had not realized this before—they tend to nap, often in out-of-the-way places. I had timed the appointments to avoid rush hour traffic and to allow time to catch Charlie and Linus and put them into their carriers. I also took into account that I could have a helper, Olivia, around should she be needed. I put out two small bowls of cat treats in the hope that this would lure the animals out of their hiding places, but, when we pulled out of the driveway, the treats remained untouched.

One of the cat carriers
When my schedule called for corralling the cats, they were both under or behind furniture. It was time to call Olivia. Her job would be to wield a broom to flush the cats into the open. This worked pretty well for Charlie.  He walked out of his hiding place, and I was able to grab him without difficulty. I lowered him into the carrier, and Olivia zipped up the cover.

One down and one to go. Linus was hiding under a daybed. Two sides were blocked, and the two short sides were partially blocked. Olivia worked one side, and I worked the other. I thought I might be able to grab Linus as he came out from under the bed. He was, of course, much too fast for me. He ran between the litter box and the cat tree, which was set against the wall. I thought I had him trapped, but I was fooled again. Linus ran at breakneck speed across the room and up the stairs, a move I had not expected. At the top of the stairs was a closed door, so I seemed to have Linus trapped in a blind alley. I lunged to grab him, and he literally tried to climb the wall. The wall, however, was featureless plaster, and, although Linus gave it a good college try, there was nowhere for him to go. Moreover, his attempt to climb the wall meant the his body was stretched out so as to make him easy to grab. I clutched his torso, and thrust him into the carrier, which Olivia had brought up behind the two of us. A moment later, the top of the carrier was zipped up, and I was ready to put the cats into the car.

The trip to the vet was relatively uneventful. The cats rode in the back of the car, each huddled at one end of a carrier. They whimpered now and then, and I tried to say something reassuring in reply. Surprisingly, both cats were reasonably well behaved on the examination table. The vet even picked up and held Linus without injury to anyone present.

The ride home was uneventful. I let the cats out of their carriers at the top of the stairs, and I went downstairs myself a few minutes later. By that time, the treats had disappeared, and so had the cats. I poured myself a glass of port and relaxed with a movie. Charlie and Linus showed up later in the evening as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

February 23, 2018

Schools and Guns

I am encouraged by signs that the latest school massacre may actually result in some helpful legislation, largely due to the activism of the students who survived it. It is not at all clear that the students will get the changes in public policy they are demanding, however, either from the Florida legislature or from the Congress.

Any thinking person understands that the most effective and most obvious “solutions” to the problem of school shootings necessarily involve restrictions on the availability of guns. Despite this fact, politicians, “influenced” by the NRA, are loath to adopt any provision the NRA will construe as chipping away at Second Amendment rights. And virtually any proposal to make guns less available in any environment whatsoever will be so construed. It makes no difference that the arguments put forth by the NRA are simply insane. (At CPAC yesterday, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre delivered an angry speech calling any attempt to limit guns to be part of a socialist plot to “eradicate all individual freedoms.” LaPierre really shouldn’t go off his medication.)

Though heartened by possible solutions to mass shootings being widely discussed, I am distressed that the idea of arming teachers, an idea being advanced by President Trump, is being treated in the media as anything other than the harebrained idea that it is. Teachers generally chose their profession because of their interest in education and love of children, not because they want to hunt down miscreants intent on killing themselves and their charges. Perhaps the hazardous-duty pay Mr. Trump has advocated will find some takers, but I doubt that many schools will be able to enlist a posse of 20% of the faculty that the president proposes.

Our president—not my president, I am tempted to say—has opined that he disapproves of active shooter drills. This, like most of his remarks on the subject, is crazy. Does he disapprove of fire drills as well? Should we abandon school fire drills and simply give volunteer teachers fire extinguishers? Students can do whatever seems reasonable at the time.

Because most school shootings are perpetrated by actual students, security, whether in the form of armed guards, metal detectors, or key entry systems,will likely not deter a determined shooter, who has lots of time to identify lapses in security defenses. Moreover, once a shooter begins a rampage, he —invariably he—must first be found before anyone with a gun, be it a guard, member of the staff or faculty, or a law officer responding to the attack, can engage him. Even if the NRA’s good guy with a gun identifies the gunman, shootouts are notoriously unpredictable affairs. I doubt that many teachers anticipate with anything but dread a gunfight at the OK corral in the corridors of their school. Are armed teachers supposed to abandon their students to their own devices while they play Wyatt Earp? A shooter who knows that some teachers are armed—a student shooter might even know which teachers are armed—is likely to try to kill teachers first. Have eager teacher volunteers considered that?

In light of the foregoing considerations, I offer two alternative suggestions, each of which might be found desirable by our moron-in-chief or the NRA: First, we could simply replace all teachers with armed police officers. They can take on the instruction role and will be available for defensive duty when the need arises. (I’m not sure what to do with the displaced teachers. Perhaps they can find a more lucrative profession.) Second, if there cannot be armed adults everywhere, we can arm all the students. Therefore, wherever a shooter shows up, a good guy with a gun is guaranteed to be readily at hand.

Are my suggestions any crazier than Donald Trump’s?

February 20, 2018

What Does Putin Know?

Donald Trump continues to insist that there has been no “collusion” between his campaign and Russia. If by “collusion” is meant discussion regarding ways in which Russia could help the Trump campaign, wherein all parties had an explicit, shared objective, it may well be the case that there was no collusion. Trump’s assertion that the absence of collusion is an established fact, is simply fake news, however, or yet another instance of alternate reality in which the president indulges.

People rationally suspect some nefarious connection between Trump and Russia because (1) members of the Trump administration have a surprising number of connections to Russia; (2) Trump himself has such connections but regularly denies their existence; (3) Trump has refused to increase sanctions on Russia because of that country’s interference in our electoral process; and (4) Trump is loath to say anything negative about Russia or Putin and has, in fact, said some very positive things. Yet, anyone who has paid any attention to international affairs in recent years is well aware that Russia is not a nation friendly to the United States.

Of course, Trump seems fond of strongman leaders generally, with the exception of Kim Jong-un. Perhaps Trump is fond of dictators because he envies them. Putin, however, seems to be a special case. I have been perplexed by this, but I now have a working theory to explain it. Putin must have something so damning on Trump that our president dare not anger Putin, lest the Russian leader tell what he knows.

Given what we already know about Donald Trump, Putin’s hole card must be pretty damning indeed.

February 8, 2018

The Trump Parade

I was distressed when I learned that President Trump has asked the Pentagon to stage a military parade in Washington, D.C., at some future time. The president was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last year. That parade has a long history and, according to The Washington Post, often includes troops of countries other than France. (There were U.S. troops in the parade Trump witnessed, for example.) The Bastille Day parade is a French institution and not simply a display of French militarism.

Trump’s parade is something else. After praising the French procession, the president said, “We’re going to have to try to top it.” Trump, of course, always has to have the very best. The White House suggested that a D.C. parade will give citizens an opportunity to honor our military. One must suspect, however, that the event is less for him or the nation to honor the military than it is for the military to honor him.

Autocrats love their militaries, as the military is the ultimate source of an autocrat’s power. At least for now, the military is not the source of our government’s authority, but the president does enjoy the trappings of dictatorial power. No doubt, Mr. Trump admires Soviet Union and Russian parades and, most likely secretly, those of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as well.

The predominantly military parade is America is an anomaly. Such affairs have been staged mainly to celebrate the successful conclusion of wars, though inaugural parades during the cold war sometimes have had more than token military components.

For Trump, presiding over a military parade would be a demonstration to North Korea and the rest of the world that our military is powerful, that the president’s nuclear button is very big, as it were.

To American citizens, on the other hand, the proposed extravagance is a profligate use of time and money, as well as a distraction of the military from more pressing missions. Americans hardly need additional opportunities to honor the troops; one could easily argue that our military gets more attention than is healthy in a democracy. Do we really need warplane flyovers, military color guards, and ceremonies honoring wounded warriors at sporting events, for example?

To allies and adversaries, the Trump parade will be a sign of increasingly unpredictable and unilateral militarism on the part of the United States. It will be seen as a threat to world peace, discomforting both friends and enemies.

It is my hope that citizen shaming, and perhaps even congressional action, will kill the idea of staging a military parade in Washington so President Trump can say that his parade is bigger than President Macron’s.