A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vick - as in sick

(Above: one of the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels)

Ever since Michael Vick signed a $6.875 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on August 13, the reaction from the sports media has been overwhelmingly positive. The only debate has been whether he'll be rusty from the year-and-a-half layoff.
Some he hanged, some he shot, some he electrocuted, some he drowned, and some he simply beat to death.
And what was their crime? They wouldn't fight because they were too gentle.
During his trial, one of his co-defendants said he suggested that dogs who wouldn't fight should be given away, but Vick replied, "They got to go." Translation: Kill them.
At the time, Vick denied everything.
"It's a property where I'm never there. I'm never at the house," he said. "I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name."
Now, flash forward to his interview on "60 Minutes" last week.
He said he cried many nights thinking about how he had let down his fiancée, his kids, his teammates, his fans, even Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. Most of all, "I let myself down, you know, not being out on the football field, being in a prison bed, in a prison bunk, writing letters home."
The only ones he didn't apologize to were the victims of his crimes. Interviewer James Brown tried his best to prompt him, repeating, "But what about the dogs, Michael?" But the most he would say was, "It was wrong."
In short, he doesn't get it, and he never will. He's a classic sociopath: someone who is completely unconcerned about the effects of his actions on others.
And make no mistake: He did it for the sheer sadistic pleasure.
"I thought it was cool," he told Brown. "And I thought it was, you know, it was fun, and it was exciting at the time."
His defenders say everyone deserves a second chance, but is that necessary true? What if he had been convicted of child molesting instead of killing dogs? Does anyone think the NFL would - or should - give him a second chance then?
Of course not, because child molesting is just too icky. So all we're really debating is whether a given offense passes the ickiness threshold. And I think killing and torturing dogs does.
Like children, dogs are innocent, trusting, completely dependent and utterly vulnerable. They feel love, fear and pain, just like us. And they don't want to die.
Besides, the dogs aren't the only victims. Do you know how they are trained to fight? By giving them smaller animals, like puppies and kittens, to "practice" on. A large number of family pets that go missing from the backyard turn out to be kidnapped by organized dogfighting rings.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has conditionally suspended Vick through October 18, although Vick could play as early as Week 1, pending a final decision by Goodell.
By coincidence, the Eagles' game on October 18 is against the Raiders, here at the Coliseum. Kickoff time is 1:05 p.m.
If Vick is reinstated by then, I hope the Coliseum will be ringed by peaceful picket lines of dog lovers and their pooches. Wear your Raiders jerseys if you have them.
And if you attend the game, let the boos echo to the top of Mount Davis. Let Vick know that football fans love their dogs, too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Day

(Photo from the George C. Marshall Foundation)

August 25 will be the 65th anniversary of one of the happiest days in history: the liberation of Paris after four years of Nazi occupation.
We've all seen the newsreels showing millions of deliriously ecstatic Parisians swarming around the Allied tanks, with pretty girls showering bouquets and kisses on the G.I.s.
In the crowd that day was an American intelligence agent from Berkeley named Tito Moruza, who had already been in Paris for three weeks, waiting in hiding for the troops to arrive.
He landed in France with the 82nd Airborne the night before D-Day, riding in a flimsy glider made of canvas and plywood. When the glider landed, its belly was ripped open by one of "Rommel's Asparagus" - wooden logs driven into open fields along the Normandy coast.
The three soldiers sitting next to Moruza were mortally wounded.
"The youngest, who was only 18, cried for his mama," he says. "The second called for the medics, and the third cussed. That was when I lost my religion. I still haven't gotten it back."
The paratroopers immediately went to work fighting Germans. But Moruza had a different assignment.
His job was to change into civilian clothes - which would have gotten him shot as a spy if had been caught - and make contact with the French Resistance, who would smuggle him into Paris.
Then, as soon as the city was liberated, he was to go to Gestapo headquarters and seize all the files before the retreating Germans could burn them, so they could be used as evidence after the war at the Nuremburg war crime trials.
And that's exactly what he did.
"I found only three Germans there, and they were just clerks, not SS," he says. "They'd made a half-hearted attempt to burn some documents, but the most they did was singe them around the edges."
He has nothing but admiration for his comrades-in-arms in the French Resistance - especially an extremely brave couple named Paul and Marcelle Dufour, whose farm outside Beauvais was a safe house not only for Resistance fighters sneaking into Paris, but also for escaped Allied prisoners going the other way, making their way via a network of safe houses to neutral Spain and safety.
He admires the Dufours so much, he named two of his children after them.
But he has nothing but contempt for the Johnny-come-lately "patriots" who were nowhere to be seen when the fighting was going on but came out of the woodwork after the liberation to "prove" their patriotism by shaving the heads of women who had slept with German soldiers.
"We hated them, and they hated us," he says. "It doesn't take much courage for a mob to torture and humiliate a defenseless woman."
His greatest honor was being chosen to deliver certificates of gratitude, each personally signed by General Eisenhower, to the French and Spanish families who smuggled escaped American prisoners to safety.
And what was his greatest blessing?
"The fact that I never had to kill a single person. I'm not belittling those who did have to kill; that was their assignment. I'm the lucky guy."
He narrowly escaped capture and death many times, but he bristles when anyone calls him a hero.
"The real heroes," he says, "are lying in the 9,000 graves at the American cemetery above Omaha Beach."