Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CSI - Christmas Season Investigations

Attacks against obnoxious but nevertheless defenseless inflatables occur daily in the streets of our great city. These are the stories of the dedicated men and women of the Christmas Season Crime squad who investigate these hideous crimes against these helpless… whatever you wanna call them. This is what they do.

CSI – Christmas Season Investigation
Saturday, December 13

When investigator Bob Sawyer arrived at the crime scene, he found his partner Judy Brown already there.

“What do we have here, Judy?” he asked, surveying the area as he spoke.

“It looks like a massacre, if you ask me.”

“How many vics do we have?”

“Three. They’re all in a pile over here.”

She led Sawyer to a pile of what appeared to be stack of official NFPA/CSFM Fire Retardant, weather resistant PVC coated rip stop nylon crap of all different colors but mostly blood red.   

“Can we I.D. any of them?”   

“I won’t know for sure until we get them back to the lab and I’m able to pump some air into them. But I’m guessing that this one is Santa and this one's probably some kind of a snowman.”

“How many kinds of snowman are there?” he asked, trying to relieve the tension.

She ignored him so he got back to business.   

“Do we know what took the wind out of their sails?”

She wanted to ignore him again but this was a fairly legitimate question, given the circumstances.

“Someone pulled the plug would be my guess. But who would do this? And why?”

“Who called it in?”

“A mailman. Said he was driving through the neighborhood and something just didn’t seem right. And then he saw them…just lying there…slumped over in a heap.   

“I take it we don’t have any witnesses.”

“No one’s talking but we’ve got some uniforms canvassing the neighborhood. The family wasn’t much help. They said that the last time they saw them, around three hours ago, everything looked fine. They were bouncing around, had big smiles on their faces, looked real cheery, you know…all Christmassy.”

“You believe them?”   

“I don’t know. You know as well as I that it’s usually someone close to the victim. But why would they do it? This neighborhood is pretty heavily decorated. Why would anyone take out their own Santa?”

“That’s our job to find out.”   

“I know one thing for sure.”

“What’s that?”

“They’ll be no rockin’ round the Christmas tree, tonight.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get the scrooges who did this.”

Sawyer directed the uniforms to put plastic caution tape around the plastic crime scene and went into the house to talk to the family. Judy Brown loaded the victims into her trunk and proceeded downtown to continue her investigation.

Several hours later Sawyer returned to headquarters. He entered the room where Lab Tech Brown was poised over one of the victims.

“It’s funny,” she said, “but I couldn’t help thinking…” her voice trailed off as if unable to organize her thoughts.

“What is it, Judy?”

“Well, I was just thinking how when I work on a human I put plastic gloves on to protect me…and I guess to protect the evidence and here I am working on a piece of plastic and I’m still putting on plastic gloves for whatever reason…I don’t know…you know.”

She looked quizzedly at Sawyer who looked just as confused as she did.

“I got a feeling that this is just the beginning of many strange things we are going to encounter with this case,” Sawyer said, sensing that she might be letting the case get the better of her. 

“It’s not going to be easy on any of us but our job is to speak for the victims. These guys will tell us what we need to know. We’ve just got to go where the evidence takes us. So what have we got so far?”

“I was right about Santa and the snowman. The other one appears to be a reindeer.”   


“I don’t think so. Look here,” she said, holding up the limp, lifeless plastic remains of what was once a charming fantasy deer. Sawyer tightened his lips and nodded, obviously impressed with his partner.

“No red nose. Good work.”

Suddenly the phone rang. Sawyer picked it up and Judy watched him grimace and shake his head as he listened. He put the phone down and just stared at the floor.

“What is it?”

“I think—” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Sometimes, even for a seasoned Christmas Season veteran, it all gets to be too much.

“Come on, tell me. We’re a team aren’t we? So let me help.”

“I think…I think we have a serial killer on our hands. We won’t know for sure until we get all the facts but it looks like two more Santa’s, another reindeer, some elves and an Easter bunny.”

“An Easter bunny!”

“Yeah, go figure. All I know is we got to stop this insanity before no inflatable individual feels safe in suburbia.”

“I don’t know? An Easter bunny at Christmas time. We may already be at that point.”

“Is there anything else we know, anything at all that can help us get to the bottom of this massacre?”

“Well there doesn’t appear to be any cuts or tears. They don’t appear to be shot and I’m ruling out poison—just because. I think my first hunch may have been right. Someone pulled the plug on these guys—but who—and why?”

“If ever there was a case for a case going cold it would be this one. There just doesn’t seem to be much to go on.”

Just then, a patrolman burst in, ran over to a television set and turned it on.

“Sawyer, you gotta see this.”

Fox News was highlighting a rally just a few blocks from the crime scene. An evangelical minister, standing in front of a manger scene and holding up a Bible was protesting what he called the ongoing war on Christmas. He was calling for Christians to unite and fight back.

“Stand up for what you believe in,” he urged the crowd of spectators. “We have to take Christmas back and put it where it belongs—in the churches. We have to put Jesus back into Christmas and take Santa Claus and Rudolph and those lazy freeloading elves out. We have to rid our department stores of the false gods of Christmas.
“Once we succeed in saving Christmas we have to take back Easter…and All Saint's Day too.”

“Did you hear that, Judy? I understand where he’s coming from, I really do, but honestly no one else is even thinking about taking Easter back—not with twelve more shopping days to go in the Christmas season.”

“You might have something there, Bob. No one would even be talking about saving Easter in December unless they’d just recently had an encounter with an Easter bunny. I think we’re going to have to pay a visit to this community terrorist…ask him a few questions.”

“Well, if we’re right about the guy, I know one thing for sure. We won’t have to trick a confession out of him. My guess is he’ll be squealing like a pig about to become an Easter ham just to claim credit for this crime.”

“The stupid ones always do,” Judy agreed, shaking her head in disbelief.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hippopotamuses sitting in a church in a jelly jar in a sewing basket

This past Sunday, the Virginian-Pilot published an article of mine. Among other things, I was critical of the Internet and the wrong or misleading information found on it. In the original draft I had an oft-quoted remark by Patrick Moynihan concerning facts and opinions, neither of which is in short supply on the Internet. This article came out of that article.

Everybody says we are living in the Information Age. 
More likely, the Opinion Age, I’d say because everyone has one.

I could be wrong about that, but I think I’m right. I dunno.
Recently I submitted an article to the paper for consideration. It included Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but they aren’t entitled to their own facts.”
The editor wrote back, “Lose the quote. Every submission I get uses it,” and then asked the question, “What’s up with that?”
Of course she was right. I myself had seen or read the quote a gazillion times. Maybe not that many. Maybe a hundred, fifty at least. No less than ten.
Fact is, hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t use the quote to discredit someone else’s opinion.  I fully expect Taylor Swift to release a new song any day now containing these or similar lyrics:
My boyfriend says I’m a bitch.
I tell him, “That’s your opinion.”
He says my exes all agree,
so it must be a fact.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
Like Patrick Moynihan says,
“You jerks entitled to your opinion,
No one’s taking that away.
But a lot of jerks don’t make it a fact.”
So listen to what I say.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
I dunno. I think it’s pretty good. But that’s just my opinion.
Nevertheless, a lot of opinions passing for facts and facts passing for opinions are floating around these days. I blame the Internet, where to misquote Roseanne Roseannadanna—and you can look it up—“You can always find something about something.”
I thought I’d prove my point by googling the most outlandish phrase I could think of. Despite my premise that anything can be found on the Internet, to be honest, I thought I could beat it. I thought I could come up with a phrase that wouldn’t produce a result. At that point I was prepared to get cute, use the phrase as the title of this piece and put it on my blog. Not only would the topic now turn up in all future Google searches but it would also draw attention to my blog. 
Before I had put a single word on paper, when this was just an idle idea floating in my head, I decided to go with the catchphrase, “Hippopotamuses sitting in a church.”
To my dismay I got quite a few hits. So I switched to, “Hippopotamuses in jelly jars,” which also pulled up many hits, as did “Hippopotamuses in sewing baskets.” I’m hesitant to show how far I will go to prove a point, but “Hippopotamuses in jelly jars in sewing baskets” turned up countless hits including a myriad of images depicting variations of hippopotamuses in jelly jars in sewing baskets.
In my opinion, it will not be global warming that does us in. It won’t be nuclear annihilation. It won’t be disease or pestilence or too many Big Macs. Mankind, in my opinion based on the facts, will be done in by information overload. We will simply shut down and just like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put us together again.
But if, on the outside chance there is a way to save mankind from this fate, I know where you can find it. I just can’t bring myself to say the word.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Life isn't a high school debate

The Virginian-Pilot Sunday Forum, November 30, 2014

Endless debate is becoming the new favorite American pastime; inaction our nation’s worst nightmare.

Scholastic debates are all about taking a position, any position and defending it. Teams get points for doing this with style and poise. Get enough points and your team wins.
Public debate—about real issues having real consequences—should be about more than tallying up points. It should also be a search for truth. And the truth shouldn’t be that hard to find.

Two factors make arriving at the truth so difficult.

One is the shear abundance of information out there—some of it good, some of it bad, and much of it misleading. Once something is put out there—even a boldface lie, easily and continually disproven, it lives on forever. It is never going away.

Opposing views in the digital age are not discussed by two people staring each other in the eye trying to make the other one blink. An issue like global warming in today’s heated environment will most likely be argued by two people staring down at their iPhones, pulling facts off the Internet the way two people watching a movie at the cinema might pull popcorn out of a jumbo box.  

Just as the last bites are hardly ever as good as the first ones, most of those facts have been out there so long they are beginning to get stale. Many of them weren’t that good to begin with.

The second factor preventing us from arriving at the truth centers on where the debate is not taking place.

In a democracy, our representatives should make up the debate teams. But all too often, the big issues of the day are being addressed outside of Washington. Issues like immigration reform, global warming, building the economy, defense, health care, and education—are being fought by cable news networks, with an unhealthy dose of viewer tweets as to “what’s trending.”

This is generally self-serving because voters generally tune in to the facts they like from the folks they like getting them from. Our elected officials are listening to this debate, and then waiting for the polls to point them in the winning direction.

It shouldn’t always be about winning but it usually is. This is why true campaign-funding reform faces an uphill battle. The challenge is always to corner the money, never reduce it. This is because while money doesn’t make for better elections, sadly, it still does win elections.

But political victories don’t necessarily lead to solutions. In fact, most of the time they won’t lead to anything. They’ll merely keep the debate alive. Too many of our representatives seem content to simply keep the debate going if it improves their own chances of survival. Not arriving at an end game seems to be their game plan.

Arriving at the truth is difficult but it shouldn’t be impossible. The biggest obstacle to arriving at the truth isn’t that it’s not out there. It’s that no one seems to be looking for it.

Our leaders in Congress are unwilling to lead, electing instead to score points by arguing for the sake of argument. Meanwhile, across the nation their supporters vigorously take positions shaped around often false or misleading information.

Our nation is paralyzed, frozen by the inaction inside the government and misguided action by those living outside the Beltway. In the end, it shouldn’t be about doing what we like to do—debate. It shouldn’t matter what debate team we’re on. It should be about finding the truth and then doing something.