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 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.


December 13, 2013

Mischief and I took a walk this afternoon. It was cold, wet and entirely uncomfortable, the kind of day Mischief favors. She is a Labrador retriever, and revels in cold weather, and finds the cold water of the Neuse River in December to be pleasant.

“Let’s go in the house,” I suggested after about ten minutes.

“Come on, let’s stay out a while,” she responded. “I haven’t identified all the new smells here since I returned from Greenville. Why did you dump us there last week?” she asked.

“Will and I wanted to eat oysters at home without your friend Smut competing with us for every one of them, so we left both of you in Greenville for a couple of days. But then I had the accident, and couldn’t fetch you for a few days.”

“Oh, yes, the accident,” she replied. “You fell off a pier and bumped your head, as if humans don’t do that every day. And except for a little cosmetic deterioration, you don’t look bad. You weren’t pretty to begin with. So don’t start again. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but I—and probably everyone you’ve talked to over the past week—am fatigued at your constant talk about ‘the accident.’ Please just shut up about it. It’s over.”

“Point taken, Mischief,” I replied, a little annoyed that she would be so blunt. My human friends, of course, are too polite to tell me to shut up, even though they should, according to Mischief.

We walked a bit more, then I told her that I was cold and was going back to the house. “You can stay out by yourself,” I said.

“Okay, we’ll go back,” she said, sulking. “Guess we’d better check on Smut, anyway. No telling what he’s gotten into.”

Smut is my other lab, a sneaky and resourceful old dog who is a brilliant particle physicist, but in all other ways just a typical old lab.

As we entered the living room, I saw Smut scoot through the kitchen door and quickly flop into his easy chair. His fez was askew, and his smoking jacket was awry, but the look on his face was lazy and unconcerned.

“What are you up to, you old mutt,” I asked with acid suspicion.

“I was just getting some water,” he replied. “Why do you look so suspicious?”

“Because I know your tricks,” I said.

While Smut straightened his fez and adjusted his jacket, I looked in the kitchen. There on the floor in front of the refrigerator was a bone—all that was left of half a country ham.

I angrily returned to the living room and found Smut leaning back comfortably in his chair, legs crossed, puffing on a cigar, a glass of my 16-year-old Lagavulin in his other paw.

“You ate my country ham, you nasty dog,” I shouted at Smut. “That was going to be breakfast for days to come, and it’s gone! No grits and country ham with red-eye gravy! No country ham biscuits! No eggs and country ham!”

While he finished a swallow of whisky and exhaled a puff of smoke, Smut said calmly, “Well, you know I don’t like grits. And that ham was too salty for you.”

“But you didn’t leave me any,” Mischief whined at him.

Why can’t Smut just stick his tail between his legs and hang his head in shame like other dogs, I thought.


November 2, 2012

Either Obama will win a second term, or Romney will win the White House. I feel pretty confident of that prediction.

Will I be pleased with either result?

Obama has presided over a disastrous first term, not just because Bush screwed things up, but because he, Obama, has screwed up worse. I know that a great many people who voted for Obama in 2008 intend either to vote for Romney in 2012, or not to vote.

Romney has spent his campaign trying to find the right thing to say to get elected, never mind that he hasn’t spent past years doing the right thing, so we have no clue what the hell he would do as president, except continue, like Obama, to promote corporate interests and, like Obama, to spend our tax money profligately.  (An aside to all those who intend to vote for Romney because they think he is the lesser of two evils: There is no lesser of these two evils.) And a great many who really wanted the Republican party to nominate someone other than Romney may not vote.

I, like them, will not be pleased with either Obama or Romney. What the campaigns are calling “a clear choice,” is no choice at all.

Those disaffected with the Democratic and Republican candidates should consider voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but mostly for the preservation of our freedom and liberty. But I know they won’t. I cannot tell you how many people with whom I’ve talked say that they do not want to vote for Obama or Romney, but that a vote for a third-party candidate–even one with whom they mostly agree–is a wasted vote.

That isn’t true, of course. If you vote your conscience, it’s not a wasted vote. If all those disaffected people voted for Gary Johnson, what a statement that would make! If he were to capture a significant part of the vote, it would send a message to both the Democrats and the Republicans that Americans are tired of extreme partisan politics; that we want candidates to work for the good of all Americans, not just whatever faction or corporate interest they secretly represent; that we want politicians to listen to us and understand that they work for us, not the other way round, and that we want, above all, forever to be free from government oppression.

If Johnson were to come in second, beating one of the major party candidates in the vote, it would scare the shit out of both major parties. To the major party that came in third, it might mean that it no longer has legitimacy as a political party, and to the major party that won, the message might be “you’re next!” In either event, both major parties would scramble to pay attention to the voters, and that is what we want.

But, like I say, people are short-sighted and so timid that they will not have the guts to vote us out of the terrible mess that we’re in. People just don’t understand that the two major parties are confident that one of them will win this time, and the other one later, so they can continue this charade of being different while carting us down the path to fiscal destruction and social upheaval with impunity.

So my prediction stands: Obama or Romney will win, and America will lose.


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.