January 4, 2014

Smut, my black Lab, woke me up about 4 AM New Year’s Eve. “I need to go to South Dakota,” he said. “Will you get up and drive me there now?”

“What? You silly dog, I’m not going to drive you to South Dakota or anywhere else. Go to sleep!”

“I have to go NOW!” Smut barked at me. “It’s urgent! LUX needs me!”

“What are you talking about, Smut? What is LUX? No, I don’t want to know. Just let me go back to sleep.” I shoved him away from the bed with my foot and pulled the covers over my head. “Just get out!”

“This is not debatable,” Smut said imperatively. “CMS contacted me about a half-hour ago and said I have to help LUX!”

I was awake now, without any chance of getting back to sleep. I got out of bed grudgingly, went to the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. While the coffee was brewing, I told Smut to go to the living room and sit. He did, pulling his smoking jacket around him tightly, and straightening his fez, but he looked irritated.

“From the beginning now, tell me what you’re talking about,” I directed.

“CMS—that’s the Canine Message Service—barked me up to tell me that LUX is having trouble with an experiment, and they can’t find a WIMP, so they need me ASAP.”

“Wait, Canine Message Service did what? Barked you up?”

“That’s not important,” he said. “What’s important is that I need to go to South Dakota!”

“What is LUX? It can’t find what?”

“LUX is the Large Underground Xenon experiment in the Black Hills,” Smut explained. “To find dark matter, they buried a tank filled with liquid xenon surrounded by rock and a tank of water, all a mile underground. The only thing that gets through to the xenon tank will be WIMPs, weakly interacting massive particles. But they can’t detect any.”

“Maybe they aren’t there,” I remarked, pleased with myself for offering a solution to his physics problem.

“You silly human,” Smut said in an exasperated tone. “Of course they may not be there, but if they are and the experiment’s not set up right, we won’t know, will we? Oh, the coffee’s ready, by the way. Will you get me a cup with cream?”

When I returned with the coffee, one with cream and one black, I told Smut, “Well, we’re not going to South Dakota. The Black Hills are almost 2,000 miles from here.”

“Is that very far,” Smut asked. “Will we be back for supper?”

“No, because we’re not going,” I answered.

Just then, I heard the dogs down the road barking loudly.

“Never mind, Smut said,” CMS just let me know that LUX discovered the error in their experiment. They’ll reconfigure it and try again, so we don’t have to go to South Dakota this year.” He poured himself a dram of my scotch whisky, reached for his meerschaum pipe, and leaned back in his chair, no longer concerned about LUX and WIMPs, having received the message from CMS.

Smut licked his lips and asked, “What are you fixing for breakfast, then? Bacon?”

As I stared at the old black dog—dark matter, to be sure—through sleep-deprived eyes, it occurred to me that he may have detected a wimp after all: me.



December 29, 2013

My black Lab Smut walked out on the pier where I was fishing and watched me for a moment, then asked, “If you catch a fish, what will you do with it?”

“I’ll scale it, clean it, filet it, dredge it in cornmeal, and fry it for supper,” I said.

“Well, if you catch two fish, I don’t mind you doing that with the second one,” Smut said, “but don’t cook mine. And don’t bother scaling it or cleaning it either, please.” In Smut’s mind, if I only caught one fish, it would be his.

“You mean,” I asked, “if I catch a fish for you, you don’t want me to cook it?”

“No,” Smut said, “I want it for something else.”

“Well, I’m not having any luck. Let’s go back to the house.” I began gathering my gear to head back.

“You have no patience,” Smut observed. “You’ve only been at it for three or four hours. I really need a fish!”

“Smut, if you have more patience than I do, you’re welcome to use the gear and catch a fish yourself,” I told him. But the lazy old dog ignored my offer and followed me back to the house.

When we were settled inside, I with my cup of hot coffee, and Smut with his glass of Scotch whisky, we went to the living room. Smut sat in his favorite easy chair, placed the whisky on an end table, reached over to the humidor and pulled out a Cuban cigar. I know: it’s illegal to have them, but Smut has habits that must be satisfied.

“Mind if I smoke,” he said, not so much as a question but an announcement.

“You know I do,” I replied, “but that never stops you.”

He ignored me, sipped some whisky, and lit up. He was the figure of sophistication and erudition in his red fez and burgundy smoking jacket, and his Advanced Particle Physics text on the table beside him.

“Smut,” I said, “You didn’t want me to cook you a fish! I’ve never known you to turn down food. What do you want a fish for?”

“Well, if you must know, I want to get a date.”

“So? What’s that got to do with fish?”

“A fish will help me attract a date,” he said.

“Don’t understand, Smut. How will a fish help you attract a date?”

“Fish don’t reach their full potential until they’ve been dead on the beach under the sun for a while,” he replied didactically. “Then they become aphrodisiacs, you see.”

“They become rotten and disgusting,” I pointed out. “Why do you think they become aphrodisiacs?”

After taking a puff of his cigar, he told me, “When they’re just right, the aroma is overpowering.”

“Can’t argue with that, dog.”

“Then I can roll on it and get all smelled up. Female dogs find it extremely sexy and appealing. Don’t expect me home all night when I go out on my date.” He settled back in his chair looking expectantly pleased with himself.

“If you roll on a rotten fish, I don’t want you home that night. Be sure to swim around in the river for a while before you come back to the house. And I won’t let you in without giving you a bath, you disgusting dog.”

With an expression of consternation on his face, Smut pointed his cigar at me and said, “You’re criticizing my smell of choice? When you put on the stuff you use sometimes, I’m repulsed at the rank smell. It’s a wonder you don’t run women off with that stuff.”

I don’t much like the smell of what I use either, but the ads say it really attracts women. I guess what passes as cologne for men or dogs leaves a lot to be desired. But at least I don’t roll in mine.


November 9, 2013

Yesterday Smut, my black lab, asked me why people are arguing about Obamacare. “Smut,” I replied, “you’re a dog. It’s a complicated issue that you might not understand.”

We had just finished a long walk in the fields behind my house. Smut had donned his smoking jacket and was relaxing in his favorite easy chair, an unlit cigar in one paw, and an empty glass in another, clearly signaling that he wanted me to pour him a shot of Scotch whisky and give him a light.



After I had, with mild disgust, reinforced his bad habits, he crossed his hind legs, leaned back in the chair, puffed his cigar and took a sip of the whisky. “I am a dog,” he said, “and the subject may be complicated, but don’t forget that you’ve often depended on me to set you straight when you’ve been faced with a sticky problem for which you couldn’t find a solution. So humor me and answer my question, please.” It’s not easy living with a precocious dog.

“Well, Smut, it’s like this,” I told him. “Congress, both houses of which were controlled by the Democratic Party, passed a healthcare act in 2010 that contains over 11,000 pages that would create a stack of paper 3 feet tall. No one in Congress read it before voting on it. The Senate vote was held by the Senate leadership prematurely Christmas Eve 2009 in order to give the opposing party little notice or time to mount substantial opposition. The House then concurred in 2010, after the Speaker said that the House needed to pass the bill so they could know what was in it, and then the president signed the bill into law. The major provisions of the law take effect in 2014.”

“That seems to have been a rather sneaky way to pass a law,” Smut observed. “What is the objection to it?”

“Well, for one thing, it appears that health care for most middle-class Americans under the AFA will cost more than under the old system, which was really expensive. Another objection is that anyone who is eligible for coverage under AFA must sign up or pay a penalty. And it was promised that anyone who wanted to do so could keep the coverage that they had prior to AFA, but it turns out that was a false promise made in order to get support for the law.”

“Why does it have to be so complicated?” Smut asked. “Can’t people just go to their vets, I mean, doctors, and get treated? What’s so complicated about that?”

“Treatment is expensive and people have to buy insurance to be able to pay for treatment. And the insurance is very expensive. So the politicians said they would create a system in which the insurance would be cheaper and everyone could afford health care. But as the government always does when it gets involved in anything, it created a system that is so complex and with so many regulations, that the effect is opposite what was intended,” I stated, proud of my ability to explain the situation.

“Is it opposite what was intended?” Smut asked, with a smug look on his face.

“What do you mean, dog?” I asked, not quite understanding what he was getting at.

He uncrossed his hind legs, took a long sip of whisky, and leaned forward in the chair. “Did the politicians really intend to create a law that would benefit you, or did they intend to create another government bureaucracy in which they could give jobs to their friends, and extend more government control over your life?”

“Smut,” I replied, “they couldn’t really be so evil as to do that!”

“That’s what they do whenever they pass such a program into law,” he remarked laconically. With a smirk on his face, he settled back once again in his chair, drained the whisky from the glass, and took a long, slow puff of his cigar and slowly exhaled, generating a cloud of smoke that glowed from the light cast on it by the lamp on the end table next to his chair.

With the shock of sudden realization, I knew the old dog was right.

“Don’t ask me anymore questions, Smut,” I said. “You already know the answers to them.”


November 3, 2012

“Smut,” I said, “you are a truly amazing dog. It took you a while, but your dogged persistence in searching for the Higgs Boson paid off!” Smut, my black Labrador retriever, was sitting contentedly in his favorite easy chair, looking deep in thought, which meant to me that he was contemplating particle physics.

“Wasn’t really that amazing,” he said, looking up and taking a slow puff on his cigar. After adjusting his fez, he said, “It just takes a lot of concentration, and I’m uniquely designed for intense concentration. You’ve watched me in retriever mode often, so you know what I mean. By the way, good pun.”

“What pun?” I asked.

“Never mind,” he replied. “It’ll come to you.”

“Well, congratulations are in order anyway. And after spending years on the Higgs, and particularly after your cancer surgery in January, you deserve to, ah, lead a dog’s life for the rest of your time.”

Ignoring my pun, he looked at me reproachfully and said, “Can’t do it, sport. If I only have a little time left, then I have to really concentrate to find the platypus.” He straightened his smoking jacket and took another puff of his cigar, slowly exhaling the smoke away from me so as not to blow it in my face.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“The platypus particle, of course.”

“What’s that,” I said, clueless as to what he was talking about.

“Well,” he continued, “you know about leptons and hadrons, don’t you?” looking at me expectantly.

“No. Should I?”

“Yes, you should. I’ll explain.”

He crossed his paws and proceeded to explain in depth until I was completely lost in a morass of leptons, quarks, hadrons, positive charges, negative charges, and other mysterious terms I can’t remember. Finally, he appeared to be at the end of his baffling “explanation.”

“So, a particle could exist that is a bit like both leptons and quarks: a leptoquark,” the old dog finished, with a look of satisfaction at having enlightened me.

“Wait a minute, I said, I thought you were talking about leptons and hadrons.”

“You don’t listen, do you?” he replied, irritated that I had not understood. “I already explained that a quark is the basic building block of hadrons. Keep your car on the highway!”

“Oh, sorry,” I apologized, still baffled.

He calmed down a bit, sat back in the chair and tapped the ash from his cigar into an ashtray. “So discovering a leptoquark would be like discovering a platypus, a mammal that’s furry somewhat like a beaver, but that lays eggs like a duck. See?”

No, I didn’t really understand that leptoquark stuff, but I can see that now he’s going to be intent on retrieving a platypus, something I think is very odd for a Labrador. I just hope he doesn’t try to use my credit card to buy a ticket to Australia.


November 1, 2012

When I was in the Air Force, I followed the Watergate story in the Washington Post every day until the rest of the news media caught up, and even then, the Post was my main source of news about Watergate. And as a journalist, I was proud of the Post for its vise-grip on the story, and its dogged determination to follow it to the end.

At the time, I never considered whether the fact that Nixon was a Republican had anything to do with the Post’s determination to dig out the facts of the story and print it regardless of its fallout; I just assumed that any journalist, and any news organization, would do that, whether the subject was a Democrat or Republican. Indeed, during the Watergate period, news media whose editorial policies were both Democrat and Republican followed the story to conclusion, as we would expect news media to do today.

But times have changed. There are sufficient questions surrounding the attack in Benghazi and the death of the American ambassador to Libya to make a real journalist salivate and dig relentlessly to uncover the truth. But is the Post doing that? No. And neither is any “news” medium whose editorial stance is pro-Democratic. They all should be ashamed of themselves. I certainly am ashamed of them.

That leaves Fox News as the only “news” organization digging to get the story, and one wonders if the events had happened under a Republican president if Fox News would be as lackadaisical as the Post is now in pursuing the story. One also wonders how diligent Fox News would be if the events had occurred after the election, and whether the pro-Obama news media will pursue the story more diligently after the election, should Obama be reelected.

The Washington Post and other media survive now as instruments of party or presidential propaganda rather than “news” media. It is the job of the Fourth Estate to protect the people from government by letting them know what the government is doing; by spotlighting the unconstitutional and other misdeeds of our government. Given that the media no longer performs those functions, what does that say about how long Americans can remain a free people?


April 14, 2012

Smut had two tumors removed from his rear end last December. They were benign. But another one has appeared in a rather sensitive place on his bung hole. He asked me to take him to the vet. We went yesterday. The vet said this one is different and deep. It may be malignant. Smut’s scheduled for surgery May 1.

On the ride back from the vet’s office, Smut and I talked about the situation. “Smut,” I said, ” you know it could be malignant, and, even if it’s removed, some little part could remain, and it may metastasize. At some point it could become pretty painful. Rather than having you suffer, I would ask the vet to put you down.”

“I know that,” said Smut, “and I would be thankful to you for not letting me suffer.”

“I don’t know what I will do without you, Smut,” I replied. “We’ve been together 13 years. I will miss you terribly.”

“You’re so maudlin and pitiful. But we’ve had some good times,” he said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed our talks, and, of course, our hikes, all the running, fetching and swimming. You will miss me, I know, but we have no regrets, do we? And you’ll still have Mischief to keep you company.”

“It just won’t be the same without you, you old dog. With whom will I discuss particle physics? You’ve given me perspective in my rants on politics and society. Mischief doesn’t care much about all that.”

“Well, you’ve learned from my input and I hope you will, as you think about all that, ask yourself what I would have told you before you think you’ve arrived at a definitive answer. And don’t underestimate Mischief. She’s been reticent to express herself about a good many things because of my awesome presence. But she knows enough to keep you in line.”

“But just having you around has been so comforting. You are so wise and serene. ”

“You must keep things in perspective, old man. This tumor may not be malignant. Dr. Rose is a good vet, but his suspicion may prove unfounded. It could be another benign tumor. Even so,  I’m 13 years old. That’s pretty near the end of my natural lifespan. I’ve had a good run. I want to live as long as I am healthy and can function normally, even with some aches and pains common to old age, but I don’t want to be one of those crippled and suffering old dogs that people look upon with pity. I want to go out while I still can inspire awe among you humans. Remember that, please.”

“You’re so full of yourself, you mongrel! You’ll be OK, and probably live for at least five more years out of pure stubbornness and pride, or at least until you have confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson.”


March 29, 2012

Obama’s opposition does not give him (or his minders) enough credit.

He just made a speech at the White House this morning in which he deftly portrayed the oil companies as robber barons (which they are, of course, but that’s another blog) and put Republicans in the position of opposing his energy policies in favor of the big, bad oil companies, all the while diverting attention away from escalating gasoline prices, for which Obama’s policies are partly responsible.

So when Republicans argue that Obama is largely responsible for higher gas prices, the Democratic talking point will be that no president can affect gas prices, and Republicans are just trying to protect their oil company masters by diverting attention away from the oil companies’ shake-down of the American people; and of course the proper action to take is to tax the hell out of the oil companies and for Americans to turn to other, much higher-priced sources of energy to line the pockets of the Democrats’ chosen energy providers.

Republicans are quite vulnerable to that kind of crap because they have for so long supported their oil cronies and done nothing about energy policy.

When will they ever learn? Or maybe the question is will they wake up and fashion a sensible energy policy and articulate it clearly to the American people as an alternative to Obama’s policy of pushing gas prices so high that we have to turn to his cronies’ higher-priced alternate sources of energy? The answer is probably not, because the Republican Party’s real policy, as opposed to its mendacious campaign rhetoric, is pretty much the same as the Democrats’ policy: spend us into oblivion while increasing the power of the federal government and taking away our liberty. That “same as the old boss” posture is making the Republican party irrelevant.

Maybe libertarians will advance the best energy policy, which is, in the short term, to make it possible for a free market do everything possible to extract all the oil here in order to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, while simultaneously developing the least expensive alternate energy sources to replace oil in the long term. It’s all about government policies that preserve our freedom and protect our liberty.

But give Obama credit for pulling the rug out from under Republicans.