March 5, 2014

Arapahoe, February 23

I came home from church to find Smut, my old black Labrador retriever, the picture of contentment. He was sitting in his favorite easy chair dressed in his finest smoking jacket with his red fez sitting at a jaunty angle, a cigar in his mouth and a glass of my good Scotch whisky on the table beside him. He was reading the Sunday paper, and two of his particle physics textbooks were lying on the table beside his glass of whisky.

Smut Rev IMG_2296“Well, hello old dog,” I said. “Glad to see you’re calm and content this afternoon.”

Smut gave me a dismissive look and resumed reading the paper. After pouring myself a cup of coffee, I sat down at my computer to check emails. As I put my hands on the keyboard, I felt something gritty and looked down to see distinctive paw prints and sand on the keyboard. I shook the sand out and went to Smut.

“You have been on my computer, silly mutt. What are you up to?”

Confronted with my anger and evidence, Smut’s air of self assurance dissipated and a look of guilt, then resignation, spread across his face. “All right, I confess,” he said contritely. “A few weeks ago I borrowed your credit card and joined”

“You used my credit card to join an online dating service! What were you thinking, you silly canine?”

“It was worth it, though,” he replied. “I met a wonderful Labrador named Bonnie, and I have been corresponding with her online. At night when you go to sleep, I talk to her on your cell phone.”

“That was dog slobber on my phone! I thought it felt nasty.”

“Bonnie and I have gotten to know each other and like each other,” he said.

“But you already have a companion,” I told him. “That’s why we got Mischief several years ago.”

“That’s what everyone thinks. Because they see us together, they think that Mischief and I are a couple. The truth, though, is that although I like Mischief very much, she doesn’t feel the same way about me. She thinks of me as a casual friend. And she’s younger than I, so we don’t share the same life experiences. When you feed us, she will not let me eat until she’s finished.”

“Well, I know Mischief can be a bit testy, but I thought you two were compatible.”

“No, I want someone I can talk to and feel comfortable with. Someone who shares my interests. Someone I can enjoy being with. Someone with whom I potentially can develop a deep and caring relationship. Bonnie is so nice, and she is interested in particle physics. She’s more interested in the practical side of physics, while I enjoy the theoretical aspects, but the interest is complementary. We’re like the Higgs boson and Inflation.”

I did not know the old dog could be so eloquent in expressing his feelings. I didn’t understand the bit about the Higgs boson and Inflation, though. “What is that,” I asked him.

“The Higgs boson is a scalar particle that contributes sense to the standard particle physics model, and the Inflation is a scalar particle that contributes sense to the cosmology standard model, the Big Bang theory. As you would say it, ‘Bonnie and I are two peas in a pod.’”

“Oh. Where does Bonnie live,” I asked.

“She lives in Raleigh,” he said.

Understanding where the conversation was going, I told Smut, “That’s too bad, old dog. I’m not going to take you back and forth to Raleigh to develop a relationship no matter how wonderful Bonnie is. It’s too far.”

Smut looked at me imploringly. “Please,” he said, “We like each other and we want to meet nose to nose.”

“Not gonna happen, dog,” I told him. “Have you even seen a picture of Bonnie? What does she look like?”

“No, I haven’t seen a picture of her.”

“Well, what if she looks like a…” I realized that what I was going to say was both ugly and of course pointless.

“I don’t need a picture to know that she is beautiful,” Smut said. “I know that from talking to her and getting to know her.”

“Well, it’s just too far to travel,” I repeated.

Smut crossed his paws, looked at me calmly and said, “Bonnie’s human told her it was all right to invite me to visit this Friday. One way or another, I’m going to Raleigh.”

“What do you know about Bonnie’s human,” I asked.

“Bonnie says she is sweet and loving to her and a good companion. They live alone.”

Well, that piqued my interest. I gave in and said, “OK, Smut, we’ll go up to Raleigh.”

Raleigh, February 28

After we knocked on the front door, we were met by a black Lab that looked like Smut, and a very attractive human, uh, woman. Bonnie and Smut performed the obligatory sniffing and then went into the back yard. Bonnie’s human and I talked on the back porch.

Both dogs are near the end of their lifespans, but that was not apparent as they romped around the backyard, quite obviously smiling and having fun being with each other. They looked so happy! It reminded me of how Smut had been as a puppy and a young dog, before the arthritis set in, and before he acquired his distasteful habits involving cigars and Scotch. Smut was right, of course, about Bonnie’s appearance; to him Bonnie is beautiful.

Before I realized it, a couple of hours had passed and it was time for Smut and me to head back to Arapahoe. On the trip back, Smut seemed very happy, but uncharacteristically, he had little to say, except “Thank you.”

Arapahoe, March 1

“What’s wrong with Smut,” Mischief asked. “He’s hardly spoken to me all day, and he has this dreamy, satisfied look on his face. Did you give him drugs when you were gone yesterday? ”

“Not exactly,” I said. “Smut’s just thinking about someone he met.” I was, too.

Arapahoe, March 2

When I returned home after church, Smut approached me, doubtful about how to ask what I knew he wanted. But I preempted him.

“Smut,” I asked, “if I can arrange it, would you like to go with me to Raleigh Friday?”



January 31, 2014

I could tell that something was on Smut’s mind. He was slouched in his easy chair and uncharacteristically, he had let his Cuban cigar burn out and go unsmoked. Characteristically, though, he was deep into my bottle of good Scotch whisky, I observed with regret. When he saw me come into his presence, he gave me a doleful look.

Smut is my old black Labrador retriever. In certain ways he is a remarkably intelligent dog, even by human standards. He has contributed a great many ideas and discoveries to the world of particle physics, and he’s one of the best scientific thinkers alive. In other ways, though, he is just an annoying old dog. While he has excellent taste in Scotch whisky, he drinks it to excess as my bank balance proves. He favors the most expensive cigars, and constantly begs me to take him to the tobacco store and buy him more of them.

He is a bit of a fop. He likes silk, and he coaxed me into getting several smoking jackets tailored for him from good silk cloth. Most dogs don’t like hats. My other black Lab, Mischief, will shake off a hat in seconds if you can get one on her in the first place. But inside the house and in warm weather, Smut likes to wear a fez decorated with fine needlework. In cold weather he wears a tarboosh.

Smut likes to take me on long walks through the fields and woods while talking to me about dog things: How a raccoon’s bones crunch when he catches one by the neck and shakes it to death, how to differentiate among the scat of various animals, and how exhilarating it is to smell a bitch in heat.

But I’m digressing. Something was wrong with the old Lab. “Smut, you old mongrel,” I said fondly, “you look a little down in the dumps, and a bit drunk. What’s wrong?” I could tell, though, that whatever was wrong, it wasn’t wrong enough that he put down the glass of whisky.

After a long swallow of my whisky, he looked at me with a pained expression and hesitated before answering. “We need to have a talk about the future,” he said. “I’m getting old, and have lived much longer than all my friends of the same age. Why, my best friend, Dale, Jr., was only a couple of years older, and he’s been gone for over five years now. So I know I don’t have much time left.”

“Aw, Smut,” I replied, “you’re going to live forever, you old dog. Don’t think about that; it’s depressing you.”

“I’m not depressed,” he said. “I’m thinking about you. I’m afraid you won’t be able to deal with my demise, and I want to plan for the time that I’m not with you anymore.”

“Now you’re making me feel sad, Smut,” I told him.

“Good. I’ve been thinking about what to do when the time comes to put me down” He settled back in his chair and took a small sip of the whisky. “I’m going to tell you my plans now, but I’ve written them so you won’t forget anything. Your lawyer has a copy of my request and will give it to you when appropriate.”

“What? You’ve written a last request? You gave it to my lawyer?”

“Yes, so you won’t forget, that’s all.”

I thought he probably wants me to bury him with his favorite toys, and maybe put his name on a grave marker. “Okay, tell me what you want, Smut.”

“I want a proper memorial service. Going out is a big thing. First, save one of my legs to be cremated in the normal way. Then build a raft, pile it with kindling and other combustibles and tie it to the end of the pier. Invite all my friends, and even Mischief, I suppose, to gather on the end of the pier. You be careful not to slip! Lay my body on the raft, say some mumbo-jumbo words you humans say at this kind of event, set it afire, and push it out into the Neuse River. As I’m floating to Valhalla, I’m sure you’ll all be pretty choked up because of how great a loss to the world my death will be. But you can survive!”

“You’re not a Viking, Smut! This is just silly, you over-dramatic old cur! And why do you want one of your legs to be cremated?”

Another swallow of whisky! “Well, I like Viking culture and pageantry. Please honor my wishes! Oh, by the way, I’ve written a news release about my death that I want you to send to all the particle-physics journals. I know you would think of that, but I wanted to be sure it’s accurate. Sometimes you don’t get the facts right, you know. Not criticizing; just sayin’!”

After that insulting statement from the old canine, I was determined to rattle him a bit. “I was just going to bury you in the backyard, like most people do when their dogs die. Maybe put a plastic hot dog or a dead raccoon on a stick as a grave marker.”

Smut’s feelings clearly were hurt. “That is so thoughtless,” he said tearfully. “I thought we were close friends. A friend would honor his friend’s last wishes.”

I felt a little bad about saying that. “I guess it was thoughtless; I wasn’t thinking. Okay, I’ll feel pretty foolish, but I will do what you want.” Once he’s gone he won’t know that I didn’t do all the crazy stuff he’s telling me.

“I’m glad to hear you say that, because I want you to carry out the rest of my request.”

“And what’s that, old dog?”

“Well, when you have my leg cremated, please have the ashes put into an urn shaped and decorated like my favorite fez. Seal it well, because it’s going to get shaken about in its travels, and I don’t want my ashes to fall out.”

“Do you have any idea what that will cost, you silly mutt?”

“But you said that you will do what I want!” He looked so pitiful, I had to make him feel good.

“Okay, okay. I will. Sorry. But what do you mean about the urn getting shaken while traveling? Where is it going?”

“Well, with you, of course!”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“We’re such good friends and so close, that I know you can’t bear to be apart from me, even when I’m gone. So to make you feel better about your loss, I want you to carry my urn with you wherever you go.

“You know how I like to ride in the car, so you can sit me in the front passenger seat whenever you travel somewhere — don’t forget to use the seatbelt — and hold my urn out the window occasionally so I can feel the wind. You can imagine my ears flopping around; that will cheer you!

“You can keep me in your briefcase when you’re at meetings, or show my urn to your friends and colleagues. That will be a good conversation starter! At home, every night you can put my best smoking jacket around my urn and set it in my favorite chair, pour a glass of Scotch for me and light a cigar. I know that will comfort you immensely!”

Yeah, I thought, I’m going to show the urn to my friends and colleagues. If that kind of conversation starts, it will end with me being committed. That dog had better live until I’m senile, because senility is the only thing that will make me carry a dog’s ashes around with me. “Have you gone to la la land, dog? I’m not going to do that!”

“But you promised, and I know you will keep your promise! And one last thing: Each night when we go to bed, place my urn on the soft pillow next to yours, and pull the covers up around it. Don’t let me get cold!”

We go to bed? We? Only in your dreams, Smut. Now if I can just get that image out of my mind. Maybe a big glass of Scotch whisky will do it. If there’s any left.


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.”


May 16, 2011

The final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavor. Photo credit: NASA

While watching the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor this morning,  I reflected on the waning U.S. space program that has been a constant in my life and that has produced technological advances that have positively benefited almost every aspect of the lives of people around the world.

I recall the early years when the program suffered one failure after another, culminating in the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in 1957, placing the now-defunct nation firmly in the lead for space exploration.

Then came the heady years of the 1960’s with the flight of Alan Shepard, the Mercury flights, the Gemini flights, the Apollo moon flights, including the first moon landing, followed by a decade of deep space exploration and the accumulation of a wealth of scientific data.

Columbia, the first space shuttle, flew in 1981, followed by the flights of the space shuttle fleet, the launch of the Hubble Telescope, the construction of the International Space Station, and the Mars landers.

Now we are here: On June 28, Atlantis will lift off as the final shuttle flight, marking the effective end of America’s space program. There will, of course, be future launches of satellites for scientific missions, and American astronauts will visit the ISS, but they’ll have to depend on the Russian Federation to get them there (an interesting historical revolution), as the U.S. no longer will have a vehicle for manned space flight.

Americans will visit the museums in which the shuttles will be parked forever and marvel over what has been; but, for the first time, they will do so without another program for manned space flight to look forward to. So this constant in my life has ended.

The space program is analogous to a person who overcomes a difficult birth to become successful, meeting one challenge after another, leading to a bright future, but who is cut down in the prime of life.

Is the end of the manned space program a portent for the nation? The preceding analogy could apply to the life of this country: America overcame a difficult birth to flower into a great nation, meeting one challenge after another, with seemingly a bright future, but in recent years sowed the seeds of its own premature demise by ignoring its basic law, creating federal programs beyond its constitutional authority that exceed its capacity, and becoming an oppressive oligarchy like the one it struggled against at its birth.

Like the space program, the future for America holds little promise: the present administration is presiding over, and has hastened, the end of the space program, as it is presiding over, and has hastened, the decline of the United States as the preeminent nation.

The seeds of our destruction have germinated and the roots have taken hold. Americans have morphed from a nation of freedom-loving individuals who looked upon limited government as a necessary evil, to a people who are content to be part of a collective and who look upon government as a parent who knows best, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Absent the wisdom and will of the American electorate to stop the decline by hard choices, radical changes to the way our national government operates and a reaffirmation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the United States, like the space program come June 28, has seen its day.


February 18, 2011

In a post related to the preceding post, Page Five Jumps asserts that nullification is right and proper.


December 7, 2010

For the past couple of days I have listened to the news about the WikiLeaks release of more classified U.S. government documents, and heard several people calling for Julian Assange to be arrested–one person even said he should be executed–and most said that his intention was to harm the United States.

If Assange (who is Australian by the way) hacked into government computers, or if he stole the documents some other way, or paid someone to do it, then he should be prosecuted. But not because he published the documents on the web. Is this still America, or did I wake up in another country? Where was I when the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed? When did folks begin believing in censorship?

If someone lets the pigs out and they tear up the garden, do we punish the pigs? The leak of the documents may have embarrassed, even harmed, the U.S. government. But what should really embarrass the government is that someone within its ranks supplied WikiLeaks with classified documents. Whoever did that broke the law. If all Assange did was to receive the documents and publish them, well, that’s the government’s fault for not having adequate security for its secrets.

Don’t punish the pigs.