Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Owner Accountability

I was walking my dog this evening, listening to my headphones, when I heard shouting and the sound of feet pounding pavement behind me. I turned around to see a boy racing down the hill toward me. Then I saw the dog running in front of him, right before it attacked my dog.

My headphone cord and the leash got tangled up and I dropped everything in shock as the headphones were ripped off my head. My dog was bowled onto her back by the larger attacker, which went for her throat. The boy immediately grabbed his dog and began to pull it off mine. I was shouting at the other dog but I didn't move for it.

My hesitation was partly due to shock. It was also partly due to the fact that my instinct when faced with an aggressive dog like this one is to do my best to kick the shit out of it. Growing up in southern New Mexico, I had a number of run-ins with mean dogs whose owners refused to take any responsibility for them. Fortunately none of these encounters went beyond throwing rocks or a swift kick to the ribs. My best friend's father didn't fare so well--a pit bull attacked his two spaniels while he was walking them, killing one on the spot. When he tried to pry it off, it bit through his hand. He had to stab the dog with a pocket knife held in the other hand to drive it away. We drove him to the hospital. The owners of the dog hid their animal when Animal Control came by looking for it.

Anyway, when a dog's owner is nearby, you instinctively wait for that person to intervene, which in this case happened. I had to restrain myself from hitting this kid's dog as he struggled to hold it back and calm it down, because for a moment I thought it was going to get loose.

My dog is 11 years old. She's a beagle mix. I won't lie and say she has the friendliest temperament. But she's never gone after another dog or a person. She barks at them. This attack was completely unprovoked. Fortunately the other dog was pulled off before his bite could break the skin, so my dog was just frightened with a big string of slobber across her throat.

I was stunned when I realized that this dog had run from its house, crossed the street, and charged easily 50 yards down a hill to where we were walking to attack my dog. We were nowhere close to his territory--we had never even been on his side of the street. An animal that goes that far out of its way to attack another animal is just plain vicious.

The father came out of the house a few moments later with a leash to retrieve the dog. Like every other person I've ever met who owns a dangerous dog, he acted as though his dog's actions were completely unexpected and inexplicable. I didn't get much in the way of an apology, and I was pretty pissed off. I said I would stomp his dog's head in if it attacked my dog or anyone in my family like that again.

After getting my dog home I cooled down and walked back to his house--he lives just a few houses away from me--and explained that while I was grateful that his son had gone to the effort to catch and restrain his dog, I was very disturbed by the incident given that we were nowhere near their yard. I got the standard "I guess your dog just smelled like the wrong dog" shrug, along the lines of "boys will be boys."

He even had the bright idea of telling me that his former dog had been attacked once along the irrigation canal that runs near our neighborhood, as if somehow we were commiserating with each other. Not really, pal. Your fucking dog ran down the block and attacked my dog. The fact that in the past some other asshole's dog attacked a different pet of yours really isn't an equivalent situation. It's shifting responsibility from you as an owner and implying that this is just something that happens to good people and nothing can be done about it. No one is to blame.

I accepted this lame response calmly, making it clear that I would protect my dog if something like this happened again and they weren't around to intervene. Now I was angry that I had made a gracious gesture of thanking the boy and gotten no equivalent expression of remorse, just the same tired responses that people who can't control dangerous animals always give.

It's utter bullshit for these people to say that they had no idea that their dog is capable of such an attack, just as it's disingenuous and irresponsible of them to brush off the harm that could easily have happened. Why would the boy be chasing his dog full speed and yelling warnings at me if he had no idea his dog was violent? He was scared that something was going to happen. That sort of response doesn't just come out of nowhere. If he hadn't been there, it's a sure bet that one or both of the dogs would have been injured, and possibly me as well when I tried to break it up.

But I've never in my life met the owner of a vicious dog who was willing to accept any responsibility for the violence of their animal, much less acknowledge that the animal was a threat to others or should be put down after an attack. I don't know if this is a specific blindspot for such people or if it reflects an overall lack of accountability and inability to take responsibility for their actions. It's probably the former, but it sure comes across as the latter.

I'm just glad my dog was just roughed up and limping afterwards rather than bleeding, so that it wasn't necessary to go to the next legal stage and deal with all the denials. But my opinion of these neighbors, whom I rarely have dealings with, has dropped. And for the next week I'm sure I'll be a little anxious and extra watchful as I go for a dog or walk on my own along my own street, until this incident fades away in my memory because it pisses me off too much to think about it. Because if these people are lying to themselves as well as to me about the kind of dog they own, it doesn't fill me with confidence.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Unintentional Comedy from Wall Street Jounal

Stumbled across a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled, "The Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace." Apparently Bush tried his hardest to build bipartisan bridges and protect our freedoms and received nothing but scorn. Wow. And here I thought Bush was an intellectually lazy, partisan, power hungry, vindictive, morally hypocritical sack of crap who demanded loyalty over competence and was totally in the tank for the business partners of his friends and family.

The author, one Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, spends a lot of time commenting on how Bush was damned if he did, damned if he didn't in his decisions, insofar as he couldn't make either party happy. In doing so, the editorial conveniently overlooks the reasons why Bush failed to satisfy either party--he repeatedly made incompetent, hasty, poorly planned, and generally half-assed manuevers.

In such a circumstance, it is the JOB of the representatives of either party to criticize the poor decisions and lousy performance of the commander-in-chief. Perhaps the author thinks the grotesque attempts to expand executive power that have taken place in the Bush administration should include freedom from accountability or criticism. We first tried that with John Adams and the Anti-Sedition laws. It doesn't hold water now.

Shapiro identifies himself as having been part of the 2004 John Kerry campaign. Apparently this is supposed to make it seem as though he is a Democrat who sees the true greatness and nobility of the Republican Bush. On the one hand, claiming a role in Kerry's campaign does not fill me with respect for anyone's political insights. On the other hand, if you go to his website, you'll see that Shapiro appears rather conservative for a mainstream Democrat, so much so that he seems to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Plus he's most famous for being obsessed with the JonBenet Ramsey case and being accused of crossing ethical lines during his journalistic investigation. He also wrote a book on the Kobe Bryant trial.

Anyway, the followup comments on the editorial are filled with people either expressing their disbelief or people talking about how fantastic Bush was and how things are going to suck as soon as he's gone. Ah, people, things suck NOW.

People unwilling to acknowledge Bush's incompetence, arrogance, and all around jackassery (go read this book of administrative quotes on the leadup to the war in Iraq) continue to amaze me as much as people who insist that Reagan was a brilliant President who defeated communism, shrank government, and boosted the economy. (All of which involved increasing the size of government, running up huge deficits, and pushing through federal spending at more than 4.5% of national GDP no less than four times, according to the current Office of Management and Budget.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Lesser Creator; In Dog We Trust

A recent debate about science fiction got me to thinking about the Singularity. In a nutshell, this is the point at which technological change moves so quickly that humanity as we know it is left behind. In a lot of models, artificial intelligence becomes a (often frightening) reality.

The question of how super-smart machines would choose to treat people got me thinking about this:

What would a religion that assumed that the Creator(s) of its followers was inferior to those followers, rather than vastly superior to them, look like?

In this scenario, creation, at least of intelligent life, is not the purview of a supreme being, or even of godlike beings arranged in some pantheon, but of some lesser being or beings that built something greater than themselves.

In other words, what if established religious doctrine taught that human beings were created by creatures on the order of chimpanzees? Or dogs? And there was a widespread religion that believed this? How would humanity treat its own origin story? How would they view their creators? And how would this shape the nature of their religion? Are there any religions out there with a central tenet like this?

This sprang to mind because to the kinds of hyperintelligent machine constructs envisioned by Singularity supporters, their human creators would look pretty pathetic in terms of their capabilities. But it would still be obvious that the machines owed their creation to these lesser beings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Final 2008 Presidential Debate

Just finished watching the third and final presidential debate.

My most significant impression was simply that Bob Schieffer did a rather poor job as a moderator. He let McCain interrupt constantly and allowed him to get the last word in repeatedly, even when McCain was misrepresenting facts with his final statements.

For example, McCain slid in the claim that the United States has one of the highest business tax rates in the developed world, without Obama getting the chance to make the counterpoint that the sheer number of tax breaks and shelters available to American businesses greatly reduces the actual tax rate. That was simply annoying.

Then there was the low comedy of McCain following up the points about the negative ads by going on the attack with cheap shots about the most irrelevant aspects of Obama's past. Real hypocrisy at its best.

Obama seemed quite calm, dignified, and eloquent throughout; McCain seemed impatient and testy. For someone claiming that he can build bridges and be a major statesman, it seemed ironic. They were both fairly repetitive, but I thought if McCain said Joe the Plumber any more times, I'd go crazy.

More thoughts later, perhaps, as I digest things.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Wayne Identity

Having recently watched a couple of the Bourne movies and seen the ads for the new series My Own Worst Enemy, I got to thinking back to the themes of implanted identity and false memory in Alan Moore’s great Miracleman series. And this is what it sparked.

As a boy, Wayne’s first response to the deaths of his parents in a terrorist attack was to retreat into a shell. But then he tried to dedicate himself to becoming a one-man army, a weapon aimed at those who traded in fear and the lives of innocents. He spent years using his considerable inheritance to buy exceptional training in spycraft, forensic psychology, weapons, and unarmed fighting techniques.

Ultimately, he failed. Whatever singular obsession was needed to keep him focused on his goal, whatever mental quality that would let him go back and forth from stone-cold vigilante back to upstanding member of society, he didn’t have it, wasn’t in that special two-percent of the population that could flip that switch.

Then he learned about the offshoot of MK-ULTRA designed to program operatives into agents functioning at the peak of human efficiency. Photographic memory. Submerged alternate identities that could be assumed while under cover. Heightened situational awareness. Chemical cocktails and nerve grafts designed to enhance neurological connectivity and processing speed. Immediate threat assessment and response at an unconscious level. Conscious control over autonomous functions. Mind over matter. The program had failed as well. But Wayne sought out the surviving minds behind the project and made them a deal: restart their work with full funding, on one condition. Once they perfected the process, Wayne himself would receive the treatment.

That was years ago. Today Wayne seems like a contented man, a self-help guru whose company markets a variety of very successful psychological aid products. But he conceals a demon inside of him, one unleashed by the symbol of the silent nocturnal hunter that the project ingrained in his subconscious mind. Wayne knows about the existence of the Bat, but has no memories of what his alter ego does.

He also knows that the project was destroyed, and that the Bat was at least partly responsible for its demise. He sees stories in the news of strange, twisted men and women who prowl the night dressed as clowns and cats. He sifts through some of the files he was able to retrieve, about some of the test subjects—the ones who volunteered, and those who never had a choice. He wakes up with strange scars and the charred remains of a playing card resting on the nightstand. And he knows that he is fighting the monsters he helped create as well as those from other dark places.

At his mansion he sometimes hears voices at the back of the wine cellar, coming up from a sub-basement that isn’t on the blueprints, whose entrance is concealed even from him. He knows there are people down there, in the dark, waiting for him and his orders. Or for the dark avenger that wears his face. He tries not to think about it.

If he knew about how some of the scientists from the project had returned to their original patrons to apply the project’s results, how they had used their findings to trap a being of immense power in two fabricated personas, one a mild-mannered reporter, the other an alien emissary, so that no one outside of a few handlers can even find him, much less unleash him—if Wayne knew all that, he would be very afraid indeed.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Vignette: Confessions of an Evil Mastermind--World Domination Rant

"Like the song says, I used to rule the world.

On three occasions, in fact. The longest lasting 52 hours and 23 minutes. Not that I was counting.

Let's get some things clear. Anybody--well, a surprising number of people, enough so that you really shouldn't sleep well at night, believe me--can build a doomsday device and hold the world hostage. That's impressive after a fashion, I admit. I wouldn't have done it myself if it wasn't worth doing.

But you don't start the 'sole sovereign master of the globe' clock until you get formal recognition of your terms and the capitulation of the major nation states and international corporations, in writing.

You'd be surprised how many would-be conquerors forget about the business side of the domination equation. And it's actually helpful. Once the cream of the Fortune 500 recognizes that your ironclad control will be offset by the chance to pursue all those shelved R & D projects without fear of safety regulations or lawsuits, they're all too happy to jump on board. And then you've got something better than orbital laser cannons when it comes to persuading the leaders of the developed nations. You've got lobbyists.

And yes, I said developed nations. This isn't the General Assembly of the UN, where a majority vote counts for anything. You need the economic and military powers of the world recognizing your power. Everything else falls into line after that. At least in theory. Besides, even a world conqueror has to draw the line of pragmatism somewhere. Is my robot army really going to put me in charge of the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan? No. Can I get a private autobahn named after me built across Europe? Absolutely.

The Guinness Book of World Records currently lists the "Longest Rule of Earth by an Individual" as just under two weeks, said record belonging to Kronos. This is unadulterated crap. For starters, any primate can see that giving a record based on temporal units to a time-manipulator is idiotic. But let's concede that point for the relativity-challenged. The simple fact that nobody alive during that time has any memories of what took place during ten of those days should be a clue that something is fishy. Like, say, she skipped the entire planet ahead in time. That's right, Kronos is just a David Copperfield ripoff in a cape and heels, and I've got the orbital position data to prove it.

I thought about obliterating the Guinness people out of spite, but frankly I'd just have to establish a new institution to record my achievements later. But don't think there won't be corrections made the next time I'm in charge of it all.

Regardless, I was the real deal. That last time I even had my own currency printed up. You can still find the occasional bill on ebay, but don't look at the pictures too long in ultraviolet light. It has something of a hypnotic effect. (And when you do it anyway, because you people never listen, the new address for minions to report to can be found by turning the maze on the back of the latest package of Sugar Bombs upside down and staring at it until the map forms.)

I'll let you in on a dirty little secret in the super villain community. The biggest threat to your imperial status isn't the good guys. It's the other high profile villains. We tend to be a hyper-competitive, individualistic lot who don't respond well to authority. Otherwise we'd just get rich and powerful living amongst the unwashed masses, like all the heroic hypocrites.

Plus you tend to end up with severe ideological differences. The messiah of a new race of mutants isn't going to play nice with the undead sorcerer, who in turn has a fundamental philosophical conflict with the scientific mastermind. Even during my reign, I had to grant control of the world's oceans to that saltwater snorting prick The Atlantean. If you can't get some kind of truce negotiated beforehand, be prepared for the spandex avengers receiving a little behind-the-scenes assist from someone nominally on our side of the fence.

In my more melancholy moments, I think this inability to cooperate is what ultimately dooms the elite among us to failure. Then it occurs to me that the solution might be to set up a coalition to conquer alternate Earths, so that everyone gets a big blue marble to play with. I get this one, of course.

Sound hard? Of course world domination is hard. If it was easy, every megalomaniacal superman or woman would do it."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Vignette: Veteran Superhero Shares Some Wisdom

“Here’s a tip. People are going to tell you their origin story. Sometimes they do it in a moment of weakness, sometimes it’s a bonding kind of thing in a time of crisis. And some people just get off on telling it over and over, like losers who can’t get over their greatest achievement in high school. Whatever. The point is, don’t believe them.”

"Why? Plenty of reasons why somebody would lie about it. What if your actual origin was getting anally probed by aliens who left some kind of radioactive suppository in your body that gave you powers?"

"Am I serious? Heh, sworn to secrecy, my friend. But that’s not the point. Even if you think you’ve got a wonderful origin that every mother dreams of for their spandex-clad son or daughter, it’s probably not real anyway."

"Look, people think they know their true origin. And they’re constantly being proved wrong. For years they think it was the radioactivity in the spider that bit them, then they eventually figure out it was the altered genetics of the spider, then someone comes along and tells them they were actually chosen as a champion by the emissary of some ancient spider god."

"Nobody knows for sure how they got their powers or why. You don’t. I don’t. We just have a best guess about it. And someday some creepy ex-government agent, eccentric scientist, or moody sorcerer is going to pop out of the shadows and turn your world upside down with an earth-shattering revelation."

"Your parents aren’t who you thought they were. Your arch-rival is really your half-brother or sister. Your mystical scepter is really a piece of sophisticated alien technology. You’re not a mutant, you’re the reincarnated spirit of some long-dead hero or the avatar of some mythological being. Your powers might even change. You’ll learn new stuff or forget old stuff. And you’ll have to roll with it. Whether you can or can’t, as much as being able to fly and shoot lasers out of your eyes, determines if you belong with the capes and cowls."

"That’s the world we live in, kid."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Boise Train Depot

Driving up Vista Avenue
I saw the old Bell Tower embraced in scaffolding
Looking like an antebellum rocket ship
in white stucco and red tile
Workers scurrying around its gantry
The last bits of fog rolling away from the base
Like the hot breath of some infernal steam engine
Preparing for liftoff
As the bells ring out the countdown

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Morning walk

In Catalpa Park, 
The giant riding lawnmowers cut circular patterns 
around the scattered trees, 
Leaving behind rings in the wet grass, 
As if the trees were stones dropped into a green pond, 
Ripples spreading out from their bases, 
frozen in the moment after impact. 

Seeing this seems to slow time
And for a moment I feel my sneakers
are walking on water

Friday, September 5, 2008

Been a Long Time

I thought I'd get back into this blogging thing, having barely gotten my feet wet the first time.

I'm feeling a bit melancholy at the moment. It came on somewhat suddenly yesterday, so I'm not sure if it's an emotional blip or the start of a cycle. I work at home, which means that during the summer, when I'm working I'm also dueling with my kids for time and quiet, though my wife is always a HUGE help when she's not teaching classes or going to conferences. Even during the school year, I had my son all afternoon. Now that my son has started first grade, he's gone for the bulk of the day.

And it can get a little lonely. Last week I went to the grocery store for the regular shopping without him in tow for the first time in a couple years.

The funny thing is, I had about one week of this quiet before our in-laws came to visit for this week. They're great people and good company in general. But we don't necessarily interact much during the day and it feels a little odd trying to work up a schedule with an x factor involved.

I was also working pedal to the metal on a freelance project and got ahead of schedule only to have them extend the deadline. Normally that's great news, I suppose. But without the pressure of having limited time during the day to work, a looming deadline to meet, and having guests in the house, I've been very unproductive. My allergies have also been awful for the past few weeks, combining with my medications to adversely affect my sleep and concentration. Usually I go for walks to settle my mind when it wanders, but lately that's been asking for more bleary-eyed, congested punishment.

So I'm trying to get through this week and then settle into an actual routine next week. I feel guilty about not having gotten work done on the freelance project, but no one is harassing me about it at this stage because I haven't missed any due dates.