Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My two cents on the usual sad news...

Another day and another act of violence caught on camera. Another black man killed. I have been thinking a lot about this. I am not a police officer. I am not a black man. I am unqualified to make any kind of suggestions on how we are going to get beyond this. I can make a few observations. I am making them more as an attempt to clarify my own thinking, and not as an attempt to preach about something I know little about.

The old joke that we firefighters like to tell ourselves is "Do you know what firefighters and police officers have in common?" The answer is that both took the firefighters' entrance exam.

The truth is police officers and firefighters have a lot in common. We get to interact with people who are having a very bad day. We see horrible things that people do to each other. We see the effects of a broken system where mental illness and addiction have become  manifest in so many folks' lives. More than anything, we are all people who took our jobs because we wanted to help people. Yes, there are bad apples, like any profession. Only our bad apples' actionscan have a pretty big impact on our communities.

Racism is alive and well in the USA, as well as a lot of other "isms," but our country, and its economic underpinnings were built on racism. That's my opinion. But it's an opinion built on historical fact. This is a legacy which we will be dealing with for a very long time. Every generation gets a little better but we have a long way to go. I get why "Black lives matter" trumps "All lives matter."

As I mentioned before, untreated mental illness and alcohol/drug addiction are an epidemic that makes encounters on my job sketchy at times. When my crew and I show up, it is always to help someone, never to arrest anybody or get someone to cease a bad behavior. Yet, because of some behaviors brought on by mental illness or addiction we often find ourselves in some tense situations. I can't imagine how it must be for a police officer who might be dealing with the same person when she arrives to enforce a law.

There are more guns in our country than there are people. At least that's what I've heard. And I can believe it. A handgun or two, a shotgun and a rifle for hunting and... Well, it adds up fast. Until just recently, if you called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher that you were worried because you haven't heard from grandma in a couple of days, the response would be typical. The fire department would get dispatched. We would ring the doorbell. We would talk to the neighbors. We would look for a spare key under the doormat. Then, with no other way in, we would pry open a window and crawl into the home to see if grandma was incapacitated or worse. That none of us in our fire department were ever shot by a resident that we were checking up on is a miracle. Guns plus Alzheimer's/other mental illness/substance abuse was a  potential tragedy that we climbed through windows to encounter on a daily basis.

Prevalent guns, racism, citizen impairment are now colliding with a renewed vigor to reassert our rights as human beings. I had a conversation with a younger person the other day. Now this guy is one of the smartest people I have met. I was saying that when a police officer tells you to get down on the ground you are required to do so. He disagreed. "Not if I didn't do anything wrong, I don't." I found the statement absurd. We allow officers of the law to do things like this to us if necessary. It is a compact we have with them. It is for everyone's safety that we let them do this. If police abuse this authority then they have violated that compact and should be dealt with. He still disagreed. I think I am right. He thinks he is right. So do his friends. So do a lot of people.

I am not a cop. I would guess a lot of their training has to do with what we expect of them. If they encounter a suspect who they think has a gun and they tell him to drop the gun and the suspect just drifts away,  I would think that they would think that people in that neighborhood would not want this person to be wandering around. Maybe 99.9% of the time nothing bad would happen, but that one time that it did, the officer who did not stop the guy with the gun would be vilified. This puts officers in a tight spot.

I think we are on the verge of something wonderful happening in this country. It is a shame that all the sons, husbands and brothers who died because of their skin color died to get us to this point. It is a shame that it took "bad apple" police officers to get us to revisit our system. It is also a shame that some good police officers made honest mistakes because our expectations of them put them on that razor's edge. If you think it doesn't bother a cop to kill someone, even a person who is truly a "bad guy," then you don't know the police officers that I do.

I think, thanks to social media, public debate and voters fed up with firearm violence we are now entering into a long overdue conversation on racism, civil militarism, individual rights, mental health, drug addiction and gun control. More that that, I think we are all going to have to decide what our expectations should be for police officers - normal people who we have granted superhuman powers to go along with our superhuman expectations. Maybe, in the future, an officer will not pull the trigger even if it means a community might be more endangered by not doing so. Maybe, in the future, expectations for us, as citizens, will change too. Maybe we won't be getting down on the ground when an officer tells us to. I don't know.

We are on the verge of something great happening in our country. I am happy that this is going to happen and I hope I am still alive when we get there.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

What am I listening to?

When I run, I usually have my ear buds in, except for when running on trails. Trails deserve their full attention, not just because I don't want another face plant, but also because having all senses absorbed in the act of running in a beautiful environment is a wonderful gift. I want to appreciate it fully. When on the road, I listen to podcasts. Sometimes, I will listen to audio books. But, if there are a lot of characters or too intricate of a plot, it's easy on a long run to miss a lot of the story. When I have studied for promotional exams, I have listened to one audio book on the test bibliography so many time that I felt like I was going to throw up on my running shoes.

So what are the podcasts I listen to?

 Lately, my favorite has been Real Time with Bill Maher. This is nothing but the audio of his HBO show. There are also a few bonuses. You get some of the jokes he was testing out before the show and also an extended conversation with his guests. Bill and my political beliefs jibe well. However, there are some things that we don't agree on. And some of the points he has made have made me change my mind on some things. He is certainly a Liberal but he also attacks Liberals on things they should be attacked on. He treats his Conservative guests and panel members pretty well and lets them have their say. You get the feeling that he and Rick Santorum have a couple of beers after the show - a show where he showed no mercy to Mr. Santorum's beliefs. Sometimes, I laugh while running. Other times I get a little miffed at Bill for missing a key attack point he could be using.

Futility Closet is candy for the mind. It consists of a husband and wife team who recount quirky historical tales. They do some debunking but mostly they just tell the stories. The second half of the show is a lateral thinking puzzle. When I know the puzzle's answer and they are having a hard time figuring it out, I will say the answer out loud. If someone is passing by on a bicycle and they hear me scream, "Because she was dead from the beginning!" I might get a funny look. Most of the time the puzzle is solved before I can get the right answer.

The Tim Ferriss Show. Tim is famous for his The 4-Hour Work Week and The 4-Hour Body books. The guests are people who have excelled at what they do. Four star generals, comedians, writers, athletes, etc. Tim asks great questions and gets them to share some of their "hacks." Mostly, I like listening to their philosophies and stories. I only listen to the shows that I think will be interesting to me. Tim is really into the stoics. I am too, but I've read as much Seneca and Marcus Aurelius as I think is necessary and when Tim is reading from their books I usually skip those. Likewise, some of the athletes I don't listen to.

Common Sense with Dan Carlin is pretty good. He takes a look at contemporary political issues. Not really a Left vs. Right show. Dan looks behind the current problem and has a great historical perspective. I like his voice and there is a little self-deprecating humor. In other words, he kind of comes in sideways on an issue and attacks it from there. Those of you who know me can probably guess I feel a kindred spirit in this endeavor.

Hard Core History with Dan Carlin. Imagine a six-part podcast about World War One. Taken all together it's, I don't know, 20 hours long and you don't want to stop running because you want to hear what happens next. Mr. Carlin researches the crap out of a myriad of historical subjects and then tells you what he learned. Again,a great voice. The only downside it it can be months between episodes. So, you can forget some of the groundwork that was laid down from the last episode. Your best bet is to wait until he is completely done with a subject and then listen to all the episodes. A great place to start is Wrath of the Khans, a history of the rise and fall on the Mongol Empire. So good.

Trail Runner Nation. I like this podcast. The comradery of the two hosts is fun and they have great guests on from every aspect of ultra running. After a while though, there's only so much you can say about running. And there's only so much you can listen to while running. Their opening credits features the sound of someone running toward you on gravel. This has frightened me when I have been out of it.

You Are Not So Smart takes a look at why we think the way we think, including some of the fallacies involved. The host  David McRaney is currently writing a book on how people change their minds. If you are into logic and philosophy you will really like this show. The conclusion of each show is a reading of a cookie recipe sent in by a listener whereupon the host eats said cookie.

 Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History reminds me a little of You Are Not So Smart. However, Mr. Gladwell has more of a personal relationship with the subject matter and is more of a storyteller I think.

 On Being with Krista Tippett has been rapidly moving up my charts. It's a show about spirituality and thought. From atheists to full-blown deists, she has guests that really make you thing about how to live your life.

In case it's not obvious, I love hearing people tell stories. These stories can be about their lives or someone else's. Hear are a few more that I occasionally listen to. HOME: Stories From L.A., Stuff You Should Know, TEDTalks, TED Radio Hour, Serial, The Moth, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, Star Ship Sofa, Cool Tools, Marc Maron's WTF, The David Feldman Show. 

There have been a lot pf podcasts that I used to listen to and have fallen by the wayside. Marc Marons' WTF is one I still listen to but less and less. I was a Maron listener back when he was on Air America and not very successful. He started doing a podcast (I was there for the beginning of that too) out of his garage and wow! He has done so well, that he just concluded his third season of a TV show - Maron.  He interviewed Obama in his garage. I used to listen to a podcast where the hosts took apart every episode of Star Trek. I get hooked on stuff like this for a while especially if I am training for a really long race.

How do I keep those earbuds in my ears. I use earhoox for earpods. They're little doodads you add to your preexisting IPhone earbuds.

Some of these shows are dependent upon donations to keep running. Every time I have donated, I've received a very nice personal email. Sometimes, I get a thank you note in the mail. After a while, after so much time and so many miles, you feel like you have some kind of relationship with the host of the podcast, and it's nice to know they are nice people!