SHAUN THE SHEEP

Several months ago, my wife and I disconnected from cable television and now confine ourselves to watching shows streamed through the Internet on Amazon Prime. I have been amazed at how much more selective my viewing habits have become and, consequently, how much the quality of the shows has improved. Even my grandchildren are beneficiaries. Whereas my younger grandchildren formerly wanted to watch the unbearable Sponge Bob Square Pants, they now clamor for the clever Shaun the Sheep.

Shaun is a really smart sheep who, in contrast to Sponge Bob, accomplishes his goals with ingenuity and a sense of humor. He sometimes aligns himself with a stocking-capped sheepdog, but more often pits his wits against the dog and a farmer. Shaun also teaches a lesson of some kind in most episodes. Polling of a small group of city employees revealed that only one was familiar with Shaun, making this column a public service announcement. By way of caution, Shaun’s theme song is one of those tunes that gets in your head and never escapes.

Farm animals have been on my mind this week as the City Council has wrestled with the weighty issue of whether or not to allow raising pigs within the city limits. Our current municipal code flatly prohibits “swine” in the city, while allowing less redolent animals such as cows, chickens, horses, and rabbits. The proposed pig ordinance comes at the request of a mom who wants her children to be able to raise two pigs as a 4H project. The Council appears to be sympathetic to the proposal but felt the need for additional process before passing a new ordinance. Consequently, pig proposal proceeds ponderously, preventing porcine project’s prompt passage.

Albany is not the first city to wrestle with pigs. Oakridge once had a very long community debate over whether to consider second-generation pigs as nonconforming or illegal. An ordinance was passed prohibiting pigs in the city, but allowing existing pigs to be considered nonconforming. Hot debate ensued when the original pigs were taken to be slaughtered and were replaced by new pigs. Horses eventually settled the issue by replacing the offending pigs.

I probably shouldn’t make light of animal issues because they often become the most time-consuming and difficult problems to resolve. Dogs, cats, rats, deer, skunks, and pigs have demanded a fair amount of my time over the years; but my favorite story involved a somewhat overweight Lane County sheriff’s deputy chasing an emu down Highway 58 about 30 years ago.

Animals enrich our lives in many ways and have influenced my career in ways I would never have imagined. I hope to retire without any more animal controversies and with continued appreciation for opportunities to watch Shaun the Sheep with a steadily increasing number of grandchildren.

It’s not good enough, but it’s getting better

Some friends of mine were having a conversation a few weeks ago about people living in the past. The gist of their thoughts was that people, particularly old people, should focus on the future and stop dwelling on their past. I didn’t participate in the discussion and felt a little guilty about my enjoyment of history and historical fiction. My wife and I recently sat down to watch the BBC television show “Poldark, ” set in 18th century England and ended up watching the entire first year of the series in one sitting.

History has been interesting to me throughout my life, and I have no plans to change interests in the near future. I will continue reading online news and newspapers as well as listening to or watching news reports through various media, while also reading good history wherever I can find it. I’m particularly interested in the lessons we can learn from the past that might help us build a better future. I’ve written on this subject before, and I was gratified to come across an opinion piece in The New York Times that shares my point of view. The link below will lead directly to the article. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/02/15/is-humanity-getting-better.

I believe, like Professor Wenar, that anyone who has paid attention to history realizes we are living in the best of times. We are certainly not guaranteed that all our lives will always get better as time passes, but more of humanity has a better chance for a healthy and prosperous life now than at any time in recorded history. I can’t think of a time in my life where times were better worldwide or even in the United States. Anyone who doubts this hypothesis should go to a library and look at a newspaper from the day he or she was born. The headlines and articles tend to look depressingly like the same stuff we read today; however, we should be able to remember without assistance what things were really like in the good old days.

Shorter life spans, more primitive health care, nonexistent emergency services, limited technology, more widespread warfare, and limited access to education are just a few of the reasons life was less attractive in the past. The most dramatic change in my lifetime has been the increased opportunity for more people to take advantage of the benefits of an advanced civilization. So why is any of this important?

I really liked the conclusion in Professor Wenar’s opinion piece about our attitude toward the present and how it might affect the future. He wrote:

“We can’t relax; the upward trends in time’s graphs may crest at any point. Yet batting away the positive facts is lazy, and requires only a lower form of intelligence. There are immense challenges: climate change, resource scarcity, overpopulation, and more. Still, these are the follow-on problems of species achievement, as the world gets more crowded and productivity grows. These are the burdens of our success. Something is happening — especially since World War II — as we add more energy to our species. What future generations might marvel at most will be if we, in the midst of it, do not see it.”

Honoring a Difficult Job

City workers do some very difficult jobs, and it’s probably dangerous to make comparisons about which one may be the hardest. I have seen public works employees working up to their knees in human waste as they repaired a broken sewer line (they were wearing waders, fortunately); and while I served as a volunteer fire fighter, I saw the results of some horrible accidents. Even our office jobs often involve dealing with angry people or routinely making hard choices. Regardless of where someone might land on which job is the most difficult, I think we can all agree we owe a debt of gratitude to those law enforcement officers who honorably serve our community.

We received a reminder close to home this week when a Seaside police sergeant was killed while dealing with the kind of situation police officers confront every day. Sergeant Jason Goodding will be buried today with well-deserved honors, accompanied by the unimaginable grief of his family and friends. I can think of very few jobs where ordinary events routinely and often instantly become life threatening without warning.

Sometimes after a hard day, I feel like I’m carrying a heavy load of worries and concerns about a broad range of city issues. I worry about things like personnel issues, the budget, citizen complaints, or various projects. I do not worry about having to make an instant life or death decision that could affect my family and me for the rest of my life. That kind of decision can mean that an innocent person will die or the officer, like Sergeant Goodding, will lose his or her life. I have lived in places where my life was at risk, but I seldom had to worry about my decisions putting anyone else at risk. I think that burden must be one of the most difficult parts of being a police officer.

Sadly, some bad decisions by a few officers have caused many people across the country to question or disparage law enforcement officers in general. I do not blindly support the actions of all officers all the time, but my experience is that the overwhelming majority of police officers I have known do their best to protect and serve the citizens who employ them. I have seen through the course of my career higher standards, better compensation, more training, and generally strong support for police officers. Any reversal of those trends will degrade the quality of law enforcement and turn problems into crises.

I appreciate the daily work of all City employees who make the effort to live up to our Mission Statement and are committed to serving Albany citizens. I’m also glad to live in a community where most people respect and appreciate our good work. I would add special thanks today to all of our police officers for the many difficult things they do every day to make life better for the rest of us.