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You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, the first novel in my fantasy adventure series. Visit the Edge of the World! Come for the view, stay for the adventure!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Tribute to an Old Friend-

This past Monday, November 15, it became necessary to put our old dog, Bernard, to sleep. He was fourteen years old, and gray around the muzzle. He was arthritic, partially blind, mostly deaf, and plagued by a large tumor in his side. For all of that he still had some pretty good days. Dog days, but all of his days were dog days.

During the week before we took him in to end his life, he was unable to keep much down in the way of food and water. The tumor had invaded his insides to the point of restricting his stomach. Any future he might have would be an extended period of vomiting and protracted starvation. Though with humans we do not permit a more graceful exit, with dogs a decision can be made and acted upon.

And so it was.

He came to us, fourteen years ago, when my daughter brought a puppy home. I was not thrilled. From the beginning it was necessary for someone to take him out to do his duty, and I was often that person. Over the years the kids moved away, but Bernard stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

He was, for the most part, a good dog. He was a Beagle mix, but mostly looked like a generic hound in black and white. I considered him the first of a new breed, The North American Stupid Hound. He really was not stupid, he was just very doggy. He was also the perennial omega dog. That's the opposite of the Alpha dog. Bernard submitted to everyone else in the pack.

For most of his life I was busy. My job required a lot of my time, and what was left did not often fall to the dog. In spite of the lack of any significant attention, Bernard became increasingly devoted to me. I always thought he got a bad bargain in the relationship, but dogs are dogs and can't help that deep and unthinking devotion.

During this last year I have been retired. I have been increasingly available to Bernard, and that suited him just fine. Over the last six months of his life he was seldom far from me. Indeed, in the last month or two I could walk no more than ten feet from the end of his tether. Beyond that and he responded as if being abandoned forever.

I did not abandon him. I allowed him the dubious benefits of my presence most of the time. I was present as he suffered the last indignity, which was handled gently and compassionately by the vet and her assistant. I watched and kept my hand on his head as he breathed his last.

I loved that old dog. In spite of myself and my devotion to my own cantankerousness and seeming insensitivity, I loved that dog.

No, I don't want another one. They are messy, inconvenient, and restrict mobility. What's more, they worm their way into your heart. Then they precede you into death, leaving you with a void that need never have existed. No, I don't want another one.

Then again, life has taught me to "never say never."

Goodbye, Bernard. You were my friend.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Guns and Freedom-

I cannot recall just how old I was when my Grandpa Laatz taught me to shoot. Not yet ten, I know that for sure. We used his .22 auto-load rifle. It was a relatively light rifle and pretty good for a boy learning to shoot. There were a number of other times we went shooting together, mostly with his .22 pistol.

Later I bought a .22 bolt action rifle from my Uncle Dave. I had it a number of years, plinking a bit now and then. I often looked at hunting rifles in the hardware stores and sporting goods stores. I went hunting a few times, though not often. I never did bag anything. Lever action Winchester .30 and M-1 Carbine were my weapons in those days.

After high school I entered the Army. Now the M-16 was my weapon, along with a lot of other toys they taught me to use. I really liked the grenade launcher. You pretty much just had to get the round in the neighborhood of your target, the explosions were exciting, and you could keep your distance. Staying away from an armed enemy always struck me as a good idea.

My favorite weapon, however, was the M-60 machine gun. Portable, more or less. Quick to break down and assemble. The .308 round traveled fast and hit hard. With tracer rounds it was easy to walk in on a target. You could put out a lot of rounds and it made me feel like Superman. Give me enough ammunition,  an elevated position and a clear field of fire and I was Superman.

Yep, that day of training was one of the best. I came away from the firing range feeling powerful. The next item on the training schedule deflated that feeling, however. Napalm. Not our napalm, either. It was the napalm the enemy would call down on that nice elevated position with the clear field of fire. Next thing you know, Superman becomes Cinder-man.

Since then the U. S. military has added a lot of new toys to the things we had "back in the day." I don't keep track of all of that stuff. It isn't a particular passion of mine. Still, I have some awareness of the new toys and what they can do. Destruction has never been so easy and so complete.

Many of my friends own guns. Some, probably most, simply own guns because they like guns and shooting. The weapons have an inherent charm for many of us, and the act of shooting is a skill that can be useful and has that wonderful sense of power associated with it. I still like guns and shooting, even though I haven't owned one for a long time.

Why not? The return is not worth the expense for me. Guns are costly, and require considerable care if they are not to become a danger in the household. The laws in most places around the country don't permit the carrying of such weapons for "self-defense." Additionally, the outcome in court is no longer favorable for the shooter even in self-defense. There are other self-defense alternatives that won't land you in prison.

Some people associate the ownership of a gun (or a great many guns) with freedom. Indeed, the gun has been a significant part of American history and freedom has sometimes been the consequence of their accessibility. The ownership of guns is a freedom still protected by law.

There are people, good people, who hold their guns as insurance against tyranny. They genuinely believe that, should "the government" overstep it's bounds and begin repressing the people, they could take up their arms and fight the oppressor. I suspect many of them get a good feeling from holding all of that firepower in reserve for preserving freedom.

I cannot maintain that delusion. I remember napalm.