Thursday, April 26, 2012

Booze, Bullets and Bada Bing

Revelations that Secret Service agents might have enjoyed the favors of a more international roster of prostitutes than earlier disclosed raise important practical questions. And they involve booze and guns.

Americans tend to get all riled up over matters of morality and image and such things. In that context the notion of federal agents cavorting with hookers is worth a dark scowl. But the level of scrutiny into the sexual peccadilloes of hyper-macho guys in a testosterone-fueled profession is misplaced.

Investigators should focus on factors far more serious and relevant to the mission of the agency under fire: How much these gun-toting romeos were drinking and how late they were staying out at night.

No scientific study is needed to conclude that hangovers and exhaustion are antithetical to optimum job performance. And when the job at hand is protecting the president of the United States, it isn't too much to ask that agents exert a higher level of personal discipline than a bunch of plumbing supply salesmen at their annual convention.

It doesn't really matter whether the agents involved had front-line protection roles. Supposedly all their work is important to the mission of preventing harm to the president and other top officials. Missing a detail in a report or blowing off a boring task to nurse a hangover can carry devastating consequences.

When the Secret Service fires agents for hanging out with Colombian or Salvadorian hookers it is attempting to preserve its public image. That is far less important than determining whether the agents involved compromised their mission through their behavior.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pencil Me In

Mellville House
Artist David Reese has written a profound book: How to Sharpen Pencils.

Laugh if you will, but I am sure in my heart Rees' thoughts on the artistry of pencil sharpening will be quoted for years to come. That he is an artisanal pencil sharpener demonstrates his commitment to wood and graphite communications.

Yes, I am, indeed, a pencil person, I have long believed even the most perfect pen has less personality than the five-cent, basic yellow No. 2 we gnawed on as schoolchildren.

The eraserless stick pencil favored by pre-computer-era newspaper editors remains my favorite. I own a small collection of yellow pencils from the San Diego Union-Tribune Publishing Co. and black ones from United Press International. Different in girth and the firmness of their "leads," they each reflect their organization's personality.The Union-Tribune sticks are sturdier and draw a sharper line. UPI's are thinner and wear out more quickly.

When these declining examples of history are trimmed to stubs, I "point"  them one last time and stick them in the pockets of jackets and coats to make sure I will always have something with which to record ideas and the many things I hear and see and absolutely must remember.

One day these artifacts of more halcyon days will disappear into a pile of paint flecks and sawdust. I will be sad. But I will also know that they were used as their creators intended, to communicate and enlighten and amuse. And that will make me less sad.