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Tag: war

Fireworks: Do we really need the bang?

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There are only two possible explanations for this stand I am about to take:

One, I have come around to my dog’s way of thinking on the matter of fireworks, which is that they are to be feared, freaked out by, and avoided at all costs, even if it means hiding in the bathtub.

Two, I have become a certifiable old fart.

Oh wait, there’s a third possibility: Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

I am speaking here of the entire gamut of fireworks, from big sanctioned municipal events to small backyard displays to solo performances by those who feel the need to mindlessly fire a gun into the air while intoxicated.

With New Year’s behind us, and the Fourth of July ahead, I pose the question: Do we really need any of it? And, if so, is it possible to have the spectacle without the noise?

There’s a town in Italy, called Collecchio, that has reportedly introduced legislation requiring people to use “silent fireworks” out of respect to animals, for whom the noise causes some serious stress.

That’s an idea worth importing.

Other than a reference on a travel website, I couldn’t find a lot of information about the proposal on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, good and quiet ideas tend to get buried by loud, stupid and flashy ones.

Nor could I find any truly “silent” fireworks. There are a few videos on YouTube that claim to feature “silent” or “quiet” fireworks, but the companies behind them seem to be promising more than they are delivering.

In the UK, this past November, Birmingham Botanical Gardens offered a silent fireworks show they promised would be “ideal for the little ones,” but it was followed by complaints from parents who said they were forced to leave because the loud noises frightened their children, according to a BBC report.

Why is it society has been able to come up with the technology to put silencers on guns, but not on fireworks?

Fireworks have been an American tradition for more than 200 years, and any voice calling for putting a muzzle on them — much like any voice calling for gun control — is likely to be blasted as unpatriotic.

For dogs, they are more than just annoying. They confuse and stress out many dogs, often leading them to run away, sometimes getting hit by cars in the process. They have negative effects on birds and other animals, too, not to mention air quality and all the injuries to humans the do-it-yourself variety cause.

But the spectacle, and the tenuous link to patriotism, somehow rate as more important than all that.

Even in an age of heightened fears over terrorists, we still feel the need to see and hear the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air. We need to see and hear what is, in effect, a re-creation of war.

Fireworks displays are like Donald Trump — big and loud and in your face, full of bangs, booms and bombast, a spewing spectacle that prides itself in being outrageous and pushing the limits.

I would not mind in the least if they both went away. But neither is likely to, even though there are quieter, saner alternatives.

Laser light shows are one, but they don’t seem to have wowed us like traditional fireworks displays.

When an air pollution control district in California offered three towns $10,000 to call off their fireworks shows and replace them with laser light shows in 2012, none of the towns accepted the offer.

“You can’t have a Fourth of July show with just light beams,” one fair official said. “It would have been two minutes and the kids would have been done and gone.”

Another California town, Morro Bay, tried a light show in 2009 — due to predictions of a foggy night — but says it won’t do it again.

“It was like a bad Pink Floyd concert,” one official said.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as silent fireworks or, for that matter, such a thing as a bad Pink Floyd concert. But both my dog and I — while not being so brash as to suggest celebrating peace instead of war — cast a vote for quieter celebrations.

Here’s a not entirely quiet example, from a company that provides “quiet” fireworks for weddings and other events:

(Photo: Freestockphotos.biz)

A hard hitting ad from guide dog foundation

This public service ad for a Dutch service dog foundation certainly isn’t the typical “awwww”-invoking stuff you see from do-gooders trying to raise some money.

It’s pretty chilling, as is its tagline: “We not only help people who cannot see, but also those who have seen too much”

The ad was made for the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation (KNGF Geleidehonden), which in addition to supplying guide dogs for the blind, also trains assistance dogs for veterans coping with PTSD and other war-induced traumas.

Established in 1935, the organization has trained over 5,000 dogs for guide dog users in various parts of the Netherlands.

The ad won the the Gouden Loeki (a Dutch commercial award) in 2014.

Do we really need a “war” against dog poop?

In the annals of Gotham’s crimefighting superheroes, Abby Weissman might not go down as one of the all-time greatest.

But at least he will be noted for capturing a dog pooping on camera and, far more important, that doggie’s caretaker not picking it up.

Faster than a speeding bullet, he posted it on Facebook:

 

In the post, Weissman fires a first blow in his quest for justice, and calls upon others to join in fighting the scourge of canine caretakers who don’t pick up after their charges — by submitting photos and videos of scofflaws caught in the act to his block association’s Facebook page.

Weissman is president of the South Oxford Street Block Association in New York’s Fort Greene neighborhood.

The association started a “Dog Walkers Hall of Shame” campaign July 30, after his home security camera captured a dog walker, busy with her cell phone, walking away from the mess the dog had just deposited on the sidewalk in front of his house.

Weissman hopes a little public humiliation will be more effective than the seldom enforced “pooper scooper” law, and its $250 fines.

Since 2013, 63 “pooper scooper” violations have been issued in Brooklyn, DNAInfo reports. An officer must witness the incident to issue a summons, according to the Department of Sanitation.

Weissman, like any good superhero, seemed to take a great deal of pride in catching the scofflaw, at least on video. “We always wanted a photo or video or someone actually letting their dog shit and purposefully leaving it there. Here it is, thanks to Dropcam.”

I’m all for owners taking responsibility for what their dogs drop, and all for laws enforcing that. And I’m fine with fines.

I’m just not so sure we have to view it all in terms of a “war,” and I question whether all the high tech weapons being seized upon — like hidden cameras, and sending dog poop to laboratories to see if its DNA can be matched to a particular dog — are a bit of an over-reaction, better used on terrorists than people who don’t pick up dog poop.

I have a problem with public “shaming,” too — whether it’s being used on deadbeat dads, the customers of prostitutes, or those who fail to pick up dog waste. It reminds me of those stocks and pillories we used to punish wrongdoers in colonial times. I’d like to think we’ve become a little more civilized since then. And I’d like to think we’re smart enough to realize people who engage in shameful behavior often don’t have a huge sense of shame in the first place.

Most of all I’m puzzled about how we let something with such a simple solution become so huge, and gobble up so much time, money and technology. How much is being wasted sending dog waste through the mail for analysis in laboratories? How many hours did Weissman spend watching video to pinpoint the culprit who pooped in front of his house?

Sometimes I think our species is prone to escalating anything that can possibly escalated.

Perhaps a psychologist could explain that to me.

In the meantime, can’t we all just pick it up?

Taliban show off captured military dog

The military dog captured by the Taliban — and shown off by his captors on a video posted on the Internet — was apparently attached to a British special forces unit.

While the Taliban identified their captive as a U.S. dog, military sources who asked not to be identified say the bomb-sniffing dog was British, and that it disappeared after a deadly firefight in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on Dec. 23, according to the Washington Post.

Officials  at the Pentagon said it is the first time they recall a military dog being taken captive.

The British Defense Ministry has not confirmed the nationality of the dog.

In the video, the dog, believed to a Belgian Malinois, stands amid a group of heavily armed men, appearing confused at times, tentatively wagging its tail at others.

“Allah gave victory to the mujahideen!” one of the fighters says in the video, adding, in apparent reference to U.S. forces, ”Down with them, down with their spies!”

The dog wears a black protective vest, which was oufitted with what the Taliban said were sophisticated electronic devices.

The video was posted on the Internet Feb. 5 via a Twitter account often used to disseminate Taliban propaganda.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the dog was captured after a firefight between coalition forces and Taliban fighters in the Alin Nigar district of Afghanistan’s Laghman province in late December.

“The mujahideen valorously put tough resistance against the troops for hours,” he said. “The dog was of high significance to the Americans.”

U.S. Special Operations troops often use the Belgian Malinois, some of which have been trained to parachute and rappel with their handlers.

A Belgian Malinois was among the members of the special forces team that found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on ”Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  ”… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room –  no matter how sexy its voice – saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives – though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

National monument honors dogs in combat

monument

The United States’ first national monument to military working dogs was dedicated at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio on Monday.

The nine-foot tall bronze statue, built with private funds, features four dogs and a handler and is inscribed with the words “Guardians of America’s Freedom.”

Lackland is home to the U.S. Armed Forces center that has trained dogs for all branches of the military since 1958.

The sculpture features dogs of four major breeds — Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, and Belgian malinois — and honors all those who have served in all branches of the military over theyears.

You can learn more about the memorial, how it came to be, and donate to the cause here.

(Photo: Benjamin Faske / U.S. Air Force)

Disabled dog gets in on homecoming

Excited dogs greeting returning soldiers have become an Internet staple, but here’s one with a special twist.

Emma, a pitbull mix who suffers from a congenital anomaly that affects her spine — leaving her front legs only partially functioning and her back legs useless — didn’t let that stop her when her human returned from a six-month deployment.

She pulled and slid herself across the floor to greet him, along with the other two family dogs.

Melissa Swanson uploaded the video of her returning husband and excited dogs on YouTube.

“Emma and her daddy were very close! It broke her heart when he left,” she wrote. “When I come in the door, she normally sits at the end of the hallway and waits for me to pick her up. This time, when her daddy came in, she went to him … Gotta love homecomings!”

The Swansons heard of Emma through SNARR  (Special Needs Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation), and became her foster parents. They’ve since decided to adopt her. They’re still trying to find the perfect cart for Emma — one that will require her to keep using her front legs without putting too much pressure on them.

You can learn more about Emma on her Facebook page.

Each window has a real representative of the parent, but in our case the child to start next read or heard became a quivering jellymountain of misery.