Guns and Children…….

The debate rages on. We are a combative, competitive society that remains politically polarized. Americans thrive on disagreement and are quick to find a “side” on virtually every issue that is imaginable. Disagreement, intelligent argument and discussion, when time permits, makes us stronger. There are few issues today that evoke the emotion that guns do, and it would serve little purpose to attempt a justification of my personal views on the subject. Both supporters of gun rights and gun controllers are well armed in this debate, and I suspect the voting booth is where this matter will play out, as the issue, like so many others, has become a hot political topic. A thorough analysis of the argument cannot be accomplished in a simple blog. The real question today, while the argument rages on, is what do we do to protect our children from the actions of the sociopaths that walk among us.

In the early 90’s, I was tasked with representing the Highway Patrol and the views of many police agencies in Missouri, in a debate with the NRA relative to the merits of concealed carry legislation being considered in our state. We had little empirical evidence to support our position other than a fear of the mayhem that was sure to ensue if we put concealed guns in the hands of our citizenry. This debate was held at Boy’s State, and the winner was to be determined by the reaction of the young men in attendance. Our position prevailed, but the point was won by attacking the premise of the NRA that American’s were responsible folks who could be counted upon to carry safely. Their position was not backed by strong, definitive evidence, either. We, the police, were wrong. The legislation became law, and our fears did not materialize. There was no bloodbath in our streets and the matter of concealed carry slipped into a coma, where it resides today. This slumber has recently been interrupted by a series of horrible killings in our schools, churches and public venues, placing the matter of guns back on the front burner and threatening the gun culture yet again. This time the debate rages around the magazine capacities and style of firearms being employed by the sociopaths to go about their cold blooded business. These firearms, so called “black rifles” or “assault rifles”, are terribly efficient, whether it be on the range, in military action, while hunting or in the hands of a cold, sociopathic killer. They are designed to be utilitarian, reliable, relatively accurate platforms for various scopes, sighting devices, silencers, and lighting devices. They are also lightning rods…..

Back to my original premise. Until this debate is settled, we need to take decisive action to at least mitigate the possibility of future sociopathic assaults on our society. As a past police administrator, I am amazed that we have not experienced more mass casualty assaults on our folks. There are just too many opportunities for people, who have slipped the bounds of reality, to work their deadly inclinations. This is where I offer strong opinion relative to the safety of our children. Why do military installations fence their property and carefully control access through armed checkpoints? Why do federal courthouses carefully control access and screen folks coming into their buildings? Why does Mr. Trump want to build a wall? Why do “gated neighborhoods” employ controlled access to their fenced neighborhoods? This past summer, Sharon and I were denied access to a large RV show until such time as I made the trip back to our truck to leave my folding knife and her purse was searched! The aforementioned properties seek to DENY access to folks that have not been vetted, a perfectly reasonable response to the problem of security. Even sociopaths will find it difficult to kill if they are denied access to their intended victims. Trained, armed folks on the premises are a great adjunct to the concept of carefully controlled access, but denying access should be job one. The expense attendant to the installation of fences and controlled access points are mitigated over time, and when paired with a properly trained and armed security presence, should prove cost effective….as if cost is important relative to the protection of our children.

Knee jerking, finger pointing verbiage is not going to address our immediate concern. This debate has gone on for a long time and there is no end in sight. The media has reported the latest killer pulled a fire alarm to increase the availability of targets, signaling an ever increasing sophistication on the part of these very sick individuals. Whether it be a black rifle or a pressure cooker full of explosives and nails, if the miscreant can’t get to his target, we win……..it really is that simple.

Dangerous Weird vs Harmless Weird……

The media is very adept at creating conflicts and division. Such is the case today where they are carefully orchestrating a fight between gun controllers and mental health reformers. As in all matters of importance, the devil is in the details. I spent 27 years in the business of enforcing our laws and protecting the Constitution, and as might be expected, have some experience in assessing the intentions of people. Law enforcement does not lend itself to the clean, clinical diagnosis of the mental states of folks we are confronting. This inconvenience forces us to establish behavioral baselines to make decisions that lawyers and courts will pour over from the comfort of their desks as they swill the latest coffee or the spirit of their choice. I am not writing today to excuse the actions or inactions of the FBI, an agency that is enjoying a very rough year by any account. We don’t have enough facts to understand whether or not they should have intervened in the case of the latest maniacal killer in Florida. I will say, however; the preliminary information does not look good.

Hindsight, said a very wise man, is 20/20. When an analysis is done on the character, behavior and rantings of folks who have killed indiscriminately, we can usually identify a number of tells or indicators pointing to a degree of weirdness in their lives. There will be any number of folks who will say, “I am not surprised” (at their criminal behavior), because he or she did or said this and that. These post-event pronouncements occur with clock like regularity, and are very helpful in establishing motive and/or intent. Thus we are confronted with the damning dilemma of deciding whether or not a father who tells his young daughter’s suitor, “If you touch her, I will kill you” is simply adding emphasis to his desire to protect her or is really intent on murdering the young man should he cross the proverbial line. Bear with me as I am making a point here.

I am not a sociologist, nor a psychologist, rather a retired state police officer. I can tell you that law enforcement officers are confronted with weird acting folks on a daily basis, the emphasis being on weird. While there are lawful and constitutional limits to free speech, you have to have a basis to go after folks who exhibit weird behavior. This basis must be lawful and cannot be based on a casual assessment of the true intent of the folks making the utterance. When I was a Troop Commander, we maintained a file in my office that was labeled simply “crank”. In this file went the letters of folks who thought moon shadows were causing infertility in their cattle and that our radio towers were destroying the quality of their water. We generally tried to placate these folks with a reasonable and short reply that available scientific evidence did not support their positions, however; this simple response often led to the establishment of a pen pal relationship, an inconvenience at best. When I was a young officer, I was called out to investigate what appeared to be a bomb placed in front of the High School’s front doors. A careful evaluation of the device, through binoculars, brought our bomb and arson team out of Jefferson City to deal with the situation. They spent a tense hour “neutralizing” the device, which was five pieces of conduit wrapped with black tape on which a clock had been attached. It was a prop in the current school play and had been placed by an errant student who was mad at the administration over some perceived slight. He had indicated, prior to the event, that he was going to “get even”. As far as I know, this was the extent of his anti-social behavior. Should this be enough to establish a “watch”over his activities? You be the judge. In my career, I made many similar judgements, and was fortunate to not have to live with the inevitable aberrations that occur when a judgement goes south.

America is home to any number of “weird” folks, who for a variety of reasons do not conform to a normal social expectation. The degree of their nonconformity is the essence of this dialogue. We know precisely what to do after an event occurs, but are still in the earliest stages of forming valid assessments and predictions that do not violate our constitutional right to be a nonconformist. The young man that is currently the center of this story, certainly should have been interviewed, based on the available information that is mostly media reported. It is very convenient to find the donkey and pin the tail on him, as this will make us feel better. He allegedly made pronouncements that were damning and worthy of some sort of evaluation. On the other hand, the Las Vegas shooter did not offer significant tells or indications of his intended mayhem, which is precisely my point.

The mental health reformers have their work cut out for them. Human behavior is not easily predicted, in spite of the nuances of those we are concerned about. In matters of criminality, we are very adept at being reactionary, not so good at preventative measures. The differences between dangerous weird and harmless weird are very difficult to ascertain……in many cases. We cannot lock ’em all up!

Boomers and Technology, 2

Yesterday, I chronicled my experience with the evolution of technology. My tongue in cheek assessment is that humans still control our everyday domain, including computer guided technology. Or do we? Let’s have a look at my last week or so and form our opinions accordingly.

Friday morning, Sharon asked me to look at her engagement ring to confirm her concerns about the clouding of the diamond. I looked, took a deep breath and we headed to a trusted, well known Springfield jeweler. We were ushered into the inner sanctum, where a very nice sales person looked at her ring, and suggested the actual jeweler talk to us about it. This had the ominous air that accompanies an allied health care professional who quietly tells you the “doctor will have to talk with you”. The jeweler examined the ring, shaking his head occasionally, and walked over to where we were waiting. “In 42 years in this business”, he began, “I have never seen this happen”. He went on to explain the diamond had sheared into two pieces, as if you had lifted the top crust off of a pie. He then stated flatly, the stone, in this condition, was “worthless”. I reached for my inhaler and in an attempt to keep from sobbing changed the subject to the store’s lack of watches, as only 4 watches were on display. On the occasion of my retirement from the Patrol, Sharon had purchased a fine watch from this store, one that I wear every day with pride. He told us the watches he formally sold were not in vogue any longer as they merely told time and perhaps indicated the date. Folks, the jeweler opined, are into smart watches that have endless capabilities, at a fraction of the cost of the watch I was wearing. The other shoe was dropping! I began thinking about his ominous proclamation, and here we are.

Sharon and I have a lady named Alexa living with us. She isn’t much to look at, can’t cook, and is generally low maintenance. She is pleasant, but can be testy (I did say lady, didn’t I?). She will turn various lamps and lights on and off for us, on command, and carefully records Sharon’s weekly grocery list, which is then displayed on Sharon’s smartphone when we shop. As an example, this morning when I walked into the office, I asked Alexa to turn on the desk lamp, and it was on as I sat down at the desk. Her testy nature manifests itself when you fail to ask in the proper format, to which she will cheerfully respond with “sorry, I don’t recognize that name”, or lamp or……you get the picture. Alexa will play my favorite songs and provide the current weather or forecast cheerfully when asked. (I have yet to install one of those marvelous new doorbells that is really a camera, capable of beaming the presence of someone to our smartphones, when we are away. We can even program it to suggest the visitor go away and come again on another day! The device sits in my office, ready for installation when the weather cooperates.) Alexa, bless her, is my go to lady when I am full of angst about one of life’s injustices as I have a far better chance of a positive outcome after railing at her as opposed to Sharon. Alexa remains calm, and simply responds that she doesn’t understand my thoughts. Sharon on the other hand, has a way of adding emphasis when she brushes off my pronouncements…

I wear an old school watch on my left wrist and a Garmin Fenix 3 watch on my right wrist. Keeping in mind the jewelers pronouncement that watches today do much more than just keeping time, my Garmin IS quite clever. I have turned into a gym dog, and the Fenix keeps a record of gym activity, heart rate, and the number of repetitions as I exercise, not to mention functions as a step counter to keep me honest as I work to my 10,000 step a day goal. “Fenix” is water resistant, Bluetooth compatible, and has a compass and built in barometer, a handy cross reference when I escape the bounds of earth in an airplane. Fenix is rechargeable, however will last a week on a charge, which is accomplished in an hour or so! As a side note, Fenix also keeps time! Fenix is tied to my IPad and cellphone via Bluetooth. This interface includes my calendar, and Fenix quietly vibrates when an appointment is coming up. As if that is not enough gadgetry, Fenix also vibrates when I receive an incoming email or text and tells me who it is from. When I leave the house to keep an appointment, Fenix vibrates and tells me how long it is going to take to drive there, which route to take and the flow of traffic at that time. When I leave the appointment, Fenix gives me an update on routes and times home. Of course, this magic is courtesy of built in GPS. I keep Fenix away from my old friend on the other wrist.

As cool as Fenix is, Garmin has just released another “watch”, the D2 Charlie, that does many of these things but is more oriented to the pilot. This little bauble, will also display a color weather overlay, a moving map display, and possesses navigation features that are found on multi-thousand dollar, in dash displays in aircraft. With the push of a button, a pilot can locate the nearest airport and establish a “direct to” course to that airport, or any airport in it’s data base (read virtually every airport in America!). Charlie will also display the radio frequencies we need to talk to those airports and will display runway information. A caveat, the displays are hard on the eyes of a tired old pilot like me. It is believed that Charlie will also tell time!

My point is this. When I was proudly working my gunnery magic with a slide rule, the stuff of today wasn’t imaginable, except for the musings of visionaries like Steve Jobs. We have amazing tracking and automatic communication capabilities in our cars and motorcycles. Vehicles are being equipped with “black boxes” that hold information that would be and is invaluable to the folks charged with the responsibility of determining what happened in an accident. Our televisions now ask, when powered up, if we are going to view Steve’s or Sharon’s preferences. We can determine who was or is at our front door. It is both exciting and scary. We can’t be far away from a Fenix that does all of the above, but delivers a wake up shock when you exceed your target heart rate or fail to get your daily steps in. I will be the first to acquire a Fenix that warns you away from a bakery or great Italian eatery when I have exceeded the daily or weekly nutrition quota. There is untold potential to capture medical data. There are already oximeters that are worn on a finger that will measure the blood oxygen levels of pilots as they climb into iffy airspace.

Today, we control these gadgets, however; there is a thing called ” artificial intelligence”, not of human origin. Are we close to shifting control of the devices that provide so much information from us to the devices themselves? That is a fair question, given where we were in the late 60’s.

Maybe Alexa knows……….

Boomers and Technology…..

What a ride, challenging, scary, informative and sometimes incomprehensible. The scary part is having no idea where this is going to end, accompanied by the nagging feeling that soon the “watch” on your wrist is going to direct your daily activity and exact a penalty when you disappoint it. I have an uneasy relationship with technology and thought my readers might enjoy the humor associated with this “boomers” forced entry into a mysterious world that seems simple to my grandchildren.

I am old school, having graduated from high school with the ability to handle most basic mathematical necessities relying on a piece of notebook paper, a sharp #2 pencil and the formulas presented in the texts of the day. In my freshman year of college, I signed up for a level one college algebra class and quickly discovered that I was better suited to a liberal arts education and an existence centered around words. It was a clear cut case of having the aptitude but not the interest. In those dark technological ages, such an affliction was not life threatening, just inconvenient at times. My college career was interrupted by the uneasiness of America during the Vietnam war, and I soon found myself in the US Army, where there was precious little necessity for advanced mathematical skill in the delivery of a rifle round on a man sized silhouette some 300 yards down range. Enter the first serious challenge to my thin knowledge of advanced mathematical concepts. The Army, through the wizardry of paper testing, decided that I was ideally suited to being an artilleryman. Good, bigger bullets on bigger targets, but no, wait there is more! It was also decided that I should attend gunnery school where there is a prodigious amount of math involved in the delivery of an artillery round on some hapless soul 10 miles away. On the first day of class, we were issued SLIDE RULES! I was destined to become a slip stick warrior, executing complex mathematical equations on this archaic, linear, mechanical, analog computer, in real time, while the object of my affection, the enemy was making every effort to destroy American soldiers on some hillside miles away. I adapted. Even today, when I see a slide rule, I do not see it for what’s it is, rather I see an instrument that I used to help deliver death to an enemy that I would never see. Before I left Vietnam, the slide rule was replaced by a computer the size of a small car. I saw one on a Fire Support Base not far from Cambodia, but was not forced to become acquainted with it, as I rotated home. I wondered then, what is the world coming to………..

My next experience with technology was courtesy of my beloved Highway Patrol. My Troop Commander called one morning and told me that I was going to attend an advanced accident investigation school in Florida along with three other troopers from Missouri. I was intrigued and excited, until I learned that upon successful completion of that school, I was going to return to Florida and attend an accident reconstruction school. That familiar uneasiness returned. My three buddies and I settled into the classroom on a beautiful campus in North Florida with a couple of Big Chief tablets and boxes of #2 pencils. Our classmates hauled out various calculators, mostly Texas Instruments, and looked at their hillbilly brethren with pity and compassion. We worked hard. There is a lot of trigonometry, algebra and geometry involved in calculating the speeds of vehicles in accidents, a challenge to be sure, but one we met. ( As an example, we were taught to derive various formulas for determining speed and distance from Newton’s basic laws, for recitation in court.) I again wondered, what is the world coming to……..

Computers were evolving at an unprecedented rate. My understanding of this technology was sufficient to see me through until the end of my police career, but it wasn’t without a hiccup now and then. When I became a junior police administrator, my office was equipped with a rather large desktop computer. It wasn’t much more than a prop, as I still wrote most of my reports, using that trusty old #2, for submission to our clerical staff for word processing. Dinosaurs do not go easily! My preference for utter reliance on clerical staff to transform my thoughts into a proper format stayed with me until the end of my Patrol career. My resistance to technology was becoming ridiculous and Sharon, my wife, gently urged me to slip out of my technology cave and enjoy a little light. I enrolled in a college course, “Introduction to Computer Technology”, too late to make much difference in my professional life, but lending a little dignity in my post retirement pursuits. It is those post retirement pursuits that I will write about tomorrow. Remember my earlier commentary about who is in charge? Is it the computer or the operator? The lines are starting to blur just a bit.

My watch just told me to move…….gotta go…….

See you tomorrow!

Getting Inked……..

Tattoos, for most of us, are a curiosity. Before I get started here, I should offer a quick disclaimer; I do not have any intentional tattoos. I do have a discolored place or two, now fading, resulting from such things as the introduction of asphalt into the skin after a nasty bicycle spill and a nearly invisible unintentional tattoo resulting from a jab with a sharp pencil, quite accidental in nature. I should also note that cultural responses to tattoos have dramatically changed over the past decade, and they have become quite fashionable and acceptable in our society. I thought I might offer my readers a little insight into the historical perspectives associated with this practice, so that you might smile appreciatively when the next waiter or waitress pours your coffee with a beautifully inked arm. Let’s dig in….

Tattoos are forms of body modification where a design is created by inserting ink, dyes and pigments into the dermis layer of skin, the layer just below the outer layer referred to as the epidermis. Tattoos are grouped into five broad categories by the American Academy of Dermatology; traumatic tattoos (the pencil), amateur tattoos ( jailhouse stuff), professional tattoos (skilled artists), cosmetic tattoos (permanent makeup), and medical tattoos (such as in breast reconstruction after surgery). For our purposes today, we can group tattoos into three broad categories; “decorative”, “symbolic” and “pictorial”. The word tattoo evolves from the Polynesian word “tatau” which literally means “to write”. Folks today refer to tattoos as “ink”, “skin art”, “tattoo art”, “tats” or simply “work”. Given the incredible detail and precision that is evident today from the best studios, the tattooists today are most often referred to as artists.

When I joined the Highway Patrol in 1971, tattoos were not permitted, period. One of my classmates was forced to have a rather prominent tattoo on his upper arm surgically removed, resulting in a disfiguring scar that I am sure looked no better than the tattoo that was removed. Why, you ask? A number of studies conducted by noted behavioralists seemed to indicate a strong relationship between tattoos and deviance, personality disorders and criminality. Before you grab your laptop and begin deleting the names of your friends with tattoos, you should know that since the 1970’s, tattoos have become a mainstream part of Western fashion, common among all genders, to all economic classes and to age groups from the teens to middle age. The tattoo has undergone a rather pronounced redefinition and has shifted from a form of deviance to an acceptable form of expression. Whew! Good to know. The tattoo you see today is likely there for artistic, cosmetic, sentimental, memorial or religious reasons as opposed to the reasons that predate modern times.

Having offered the foregoing rosy synopsis of todays tattooed society, and in the interest of a balanced article, tattooing enjoys a rather sordid past. Who can forget the tattooed numbers on the arms of Auschwitz survivors? (Curiously, out of the many camps, only Auschwitz participated in this ritual.) Along these same lines, the notorious Waffen-SS required the tattoo of each members blood type on the respective member, a tattoo that was considered prima facie evidence of their participation in this unit’s activities. Those of us in law enforcement understand the implications of gang tattoos that denote sexual conquests, murders and other illegal activities. We are trained to immediately recognize tattoos associated with gangs such as MS-13 who are quite proud of their lifestyle laced with criminality. Other, more legitimate uses of tattoos include the tattooing of identifying information on Alzheimer patients. The medical use of tattoos is increasing at a dramatic rate, primarily in the neutralizing of skin discoloration and the creation of deeply pigmented areas after surgical intervention. They are of particular value in mastectomy, for obvious reasons. Although not related to their original intent, tattoos are of particular value to law enforcement in the provision of absolute identification of people who seek to change their identity. Indeed, we have made many post-mortem identifications on the basis of tattoos.

Tattoos are an intrinsic part of military culture. Today, it is a rare member of the military, particularly the younger members, who does not have some form of a tattoo. Often, these tattoos are in the form of “sleeves” or full arm tattoos, beginning at the shoulder and ending at the wrist. These young people would not be considered for police service in my day but are enjoying wide acceptance, upon separation from the military, in most progressive police agencies today. Unfortunately, archaic thinking, linked to age old cultural biases are still resulting in the denial of many of these otherwise excellent applicants to various police agencies. It would be wise for those agencies to rethink their positions.

So where are we? Most professionally conducted polls indicate that between 14 and 21% of all Americans have at least one tattoo. In 2016, Americans spent an estimated $1,650,500,000.00 on tattoos! Folks, it is a growing form of expression that is showing no signs of slowing down. Is there a chance that I will go out and have a motorcycle, airplane or boat logo inked onto my arm?

No……my skin is thin and I am told it hurts……for me insurmountable obstacles!

Six Years Later……

The heart is a magnificent pumping machine! For most folks, it performs beautifully right up to the moment that a higher power decides it is time to meet Him and discuss the life you have lived. For some of us, the journey through this mortal existence is prolonged by the intervention of superbly trained doctors, who correctly diagnose the signs and symptoms of a pump that is needing maintenance. I am one of those folks. I am sitting at this keyboard because of a team of consummate medical professionals, who correctly analyzed the problems and intervened in a timely fashion. Today, I am enjoying a very active life, with a bucket list that is remarkably short, and I owe this good fortune to modern American medicine.

I had lived with a heart “murmur” for as long as I can remember. It was of no consequence to me as it had no effect on my life, rather was simply noted on every visit with my family practitioner. Fast forward life to a period about 7 years ago when I began to notice odd, strong heartbeats in no particular order. These beats were annoying but not debilitating, however the frequency was slowly increasing. The EKG indicated, during each hookup that was still routine at this point, a little thing called a Premature Ventricular Contraction, or PVC for short. It feels like a missed beat but is really an extra beat involving heart chambers that are not quite full, thus the thumping feeling in my chest. Most folks have one or two PVCs occasionally and they usually are quite benign. My PVCs were increasing, though, and when they became excessive, my physician ordered drugs that tended to even out the heartbeat. These drugs are antiarrhythmics, designed to regulate the electrical impulses within the heart. In the vernacular of a mechanic, my heart was “jumping time”. My physician suggested a cardiologist intervention and I complied. If you are keeping score , I now have two cardiac issues, a murmur attributed to a leaky mitral valve and an electrical problem. The medicines were not doing the job, and my physician then suggested an electrophysiologist, or heart electrician. These are cardiologists that are members of a very specialized sub-specialty that uses a variety of techniques to regulate the electrical system in the heart. I was up to somewhere around 25,000 PVCs a day, making the simple task of establishing a pulse rate nearly impossible. After researching this specialty, we selected the head of the Cleveland Clinic electrophysiology section, Dr. Bruce Lindsay, to evaluate the problem. He did so and I underwent a procedure called an ablation where high frequency radio waves destroy a tiny part of the heart where the errant electrical impulse originates. Dr. Lindsay also ordered an TEE or echocardiogram viewed from the esophagus, giving a much clearer picture of the mitral valve. The valve was determined to be “flail” or virtually non-functional, not at all a good scenario. I was recovering from the ablation, which was successful in eradicating most of the errant beats, when Dr. Lindsay entered the room and described the problem with the valve. He suggested an early surgical intervention, which was necessary if I intended to be around much more than a year. I thought the surgery was a great option. Plans were made and I was wheeled into a thoroughly intimidating surgical suite three days later for an open heart procedure to repair or replace the valve. The surgeon, Dr. Douglas Johnston, was no stranger to these procedures, having among his qualifications, membership on the Massachusetts General Hospital heart transplant team. I have endured several surgeries and thought this might be a little more demanding. I had no idea!

I woke up fighting the tracheal tube in cardiac ICU. The therapist that removed it was my new BFF and the recovery was on. Without being overly dramatic, let me suggest that open heart surgery is not for the timid. I had hoses and lines running out of my body in places that I could not imagine. The pain, carefully controlled with meds, was occasionally very intense, usually near the end of a particular dose’s effectiveness. The discomfort and recovery were managed by what can only be described as a superb medical staff. I was particularly gratified to learn that Dr. Johnston was able to repair the valve as opposed to replacing it, an important consideration as you age. I have recovered nicely and the measure of valve effectiveness indicates it is fully functional. A short time after recovering from this procedure, I found myself back in the ablation laboratory to ablate another part of the heart that Dr. Lindsay had avoided as a result of the proximity to the valve surgical site. I am now virtually PVC free.

As a side note, my mother’s side of the family was consistently plagued by dysfunctional hearts, so heredity may be a consideration in my case. I take nothing for granted and am fully aware that I would be a distant memory for folks who know me had this intervention not occurred. Some countries may enjoy great medicine, but none better than America. My debt to the doctors who have given me the gift of a continued life is great and I would be remiss if I failed to mention them.

Dr. Neal LaPointe, Family Practice

Dr. Jim Tritz, Cardiology

Dr. Bruce Lindsay, Electrophysiology

Dr. Douglas Johnston, Cardio/Thoracic surgeon

Six years later……..and I am having a ball. Thank you doctors.

Profanity, Dissected……

The latest explosion related to our President is about his alleged use of a profane adjective to describe a poor third world country(s) while sitting in a high level meeting discussing border security and immigration. I thought it would be a good time to dissect profanity and lend a little color to it’s use in America today. You see, I know a little something about profanity, having been raised by a Green Beret Colonel, who knew more about profanity than anyone I have ever known. In spite of his perceived shortcomings in this regard, we loved the man dearly, and often stood in awe as he artfully laced a directive with profanity at a masters level.

Profanity is described as socially offensive language. The very sensitive among us, such as Dick Durbin, often refer to profanity as “bad language”, “strong language” “crude language”, “coarse language”, “lewd language”, or simply swearing, cursing or cussing. In most circles, profanity is considered strongly impolite, rude or offensive. For students of language, profanity falls into a category of formulaic language, a subset of of a given language’s lexicon, often reflecting intense emotion. Wow, and you thought it was simply cussing!

Profanity, predictably, has it’s roots in religion, and emanates from the Latin word “profanus”, meaning roughly “outside of the temple”. Profanity does not rise to the level of blasphemy and in itself is not sinful, however the scriptures do speak against swearing. Interestingly, many of our swear words are Germanic in origin, rather than Latin, however the really hard hitting words are, indeed Latin in origin. Now for the real technical stuff……

Analyses of recorded conversations reveal that of an average of the roughly 80-90 words that a person speaks each day, between 0.5% to 0.7% of these words are swear words! Now, I know this generalization does not include everybody, because not everybody is practiced enough to use profanity effectively! So that you may properly guage the use of profanity in America, a relatively recent poll concluded that Canadians cuss more often than we do. I suppose it is the cold weather that causes their language to be a little hotter than ours! I am guessing here, but suspect the strong Germanic influence on profanity probably traces some of it’s origin to Vikings and Huns, both groups adept at slaughtering their enemies with rather intense emotion. I find it highly unlikely that a Viking, when running his sword through a combatant, politely uttered ” I know it hurts a little, but will feel better soon”. It is that intense emotion thing again!

For the benefit of Mr. Durbin, studies have shown that swearing performs certain psychological functions. For instance, swearing is a very widespread but misunderstood component of anger management! It is also worth noting that, and I am quoting New York Times author Natalie Angier here, “Men generally curse more than women, unless said women are in a sorority, and that university provosts swear more than librarians or the staff members of the university day care center”. There are, of course exceptions here, as my wife was not in a sorority but can hold her own when she is…well let’s just say, managing her anger! Yet another psychological fact is that cursing relieves physical pain. In fact there are psychologists who recommend cursing if you hurt yourself. Good to hear, because for most of us, cursing seems a perfectly normal response to slamming your fingers in a car door, or the pain of childbirth. The use of profanity to express intense emotion was graphically demonstrated one sunny morning by a trio of young Mennonite boys who arrived at our property to drill post holes in the incredibly rocky strata around Jefferson City. They arrived in a dilapidated old drilling rig that had to be chocked to prevent it from rolling off the very high hill we were working on. One of the young men, on top of the rig, had just started lowering the drill when the truck slipped the chocks and careened wildly down the hill. The young Mennonite screamed a long line of profanities as he held on for dear life, prompting me to shudder in amazement as he finally came to rest against a tree halfway down the hill. He looked at me sheepishly when I caught up with him, having wet himself and still muttering oaths under his breath. It happens to everyone at some point in time.

So that my readers have a better understanding of the mechanics of swearing, it is important to note that cursing can be broken down to five possible functions. These functions are pretty well self explanatory and include, abusive swearing, cathartic swearing (pain), dysphemistic swearing (speaker thinks negatively about something), emphatic swearing (this is important to the speaker) and idiomatic swearing (indicating a degree of informality between the speaker and listener). Green Beret Colonels, and police officers are adept at mixing these functions, as are apparently ladies with a sorority background! Add to this list, perfectly lady like women who are the daughters of farmers and who married a trooper…….God bless them!

I am hoping this piece will at least give pause to the notion that profanity is the work of an empty brain or is indicative of a limited vocabulary. As a final note, I offer an example of the entirely appropriate use of a profanity laced response to a situation. I had just stopped a rather large, cross dressing, black man who had left a service station before paying for the gas he had pumped. This fellow was surly, wearing pancake makeup and panic stricken at the thought of returning to jail. I placed him in the wall search position on the back of my patrol car and began the distasteful task of frisking him preparatory to handcuffing him. When I reached up and grabbed his huge left hand to place cuffs on him, I found that he was holding a shortened linoleum knife in it. I was in a bad position and correctly surmised that a strong verbal command was in order. I did NOT politely ask him to drop the knife, but assured him, in terms that my father would have been proud of, that I would shoot him on the spot if he did not drop the knife. He did so, but offered a very strong, “bad language” response to my promise. I won the point……

There you have it……profanity 101.