A Car Accident

There were two things I noticed about the dog before it hit my car. The first was that it was a beagle — I could tell by the body shape and by the brown and black spots on the coat. The second was that there was no possible way it was not going to hit my car.

Which is not to say I didn’t make the attempt to avoid the connection; I swerved. This is why, to be blunt, the dog only hit the forward edge of the car instead of going under the wheels. In one of those things that is a little strange to be thankful for, it was a relatively clean hit: When I stopped the car and got out to inspect the damage, there was no blood on the bumper and nothing on the wheels. I imagine the dog’s head and upper body hit the bumper and then the animal quickly went in the other direction. It’s pretty clear also that the dog was dead the second it hit the car. I think this is a good thing.

I saw the dog the fraction of a second before it hit the car; I didn’t see the hit but I heard it and I felt it. I immediately pulled over to the side of the car and Krissy and I did our own internal triage: We were fine, Athena was fine and our dog (who was in the car with us) was fine. Although I believe the collision was unavoidable, I managed to keep control of the car without much of a problem; I was a fan of ABS brakes before but now even more so. Athena was of course very upset that something had happened, so both Krissy and I made ourselves very calm and explained to her that something hit our car but that everything was fine and we just had to check some things. I got out and inspected the damage: the front bumper on the driver’s side was caved in, but otherwise superficially the car seemed fine.

That part of my brain that does these things did the quick math for f=m*a: Beagles are not very large dogs, and I’m reasonably sure the dog didn’t hit square on. And yet the damage to the bumper was extensive; I doubted this was something a body shop was just going to hammer out. My wife works in insurance and sees the damages that’s visited on cars that have been hit by deer or livestock, and it’s literally like someone hit a wall made out of blood. I’ve never hit anything larger than a bird before, so while I could intellectualize the idea that a deer, or a cow (or a person) could destroy a car, the understanding of it pretty much wasn’t on my radar. It is now. I also very much understand the idea that you have that fraction of a second where you perceive something leaping toward your car and you process the knowledge of what is going to happen next without having the ability to do anything about it.

You have no possible idea of how grateful I am that this incident didn’t involve a human being. As it happens, when I was 10 years old, I was hit by car. I leapt out from between two cars and into the road to cross a street and got whacked by a Pinto; the impact threw me about 30 feet into the air and turned by right tibia and fibula into powder. I can’t imagine how that poor man who hit me felt (he was out of his car and helping me the second after it happened; he didn’t run and as far as I know he never tried to avoid blame), but considering how I felt after I felt the dog hit my bumper, well. 25 years on, my heart goes out to that guy.

Once it was clear that we were all right and the car was not destroyed, I went back to look for the dog. I doubted it was alive but if it was I needed to know, and in any event I would want to know if it had any tags or other identification so we could find its owners. Dogs are part of homes; legally there’s probably no “hit and run” penalty for hitting a pet, but speaking as a pet owner I know I would hate it if my dog went missing and I had no idea what had happened to her. Being a decent human being meant going back to find the dog.

I didn’t find the dog; I found the owner, in front of whose house I hit the dog. Her first question was about me and my family and if everyone was okay. I assured her we were fine and that I was coming back to find the dog. She mentioned that her son had already picked up the dog from the road and asked again if we were okay and then told me that she would be happy to give me any insurance information I needed. I walked back with her to her house to get the information and she said that she had gone to feed the cats when the dog got out and headed for the road. She had heard the hit from our car and then another as another car hit the animal (the other car, from what I could see, did not stop).

The dog lay in the driveway, next to the family cars. It was dark enough that I didn’t see the dog or any damage very well, but it was clear enough that the animal was lifeless. As I said before I imagine it was dead the instant it hit my car, but to the extent that something like this can be considered good, it was good to see that whatever suffering the dog had was brief. It’s hard to know your pet has died. But I imagine it would be harder to have that pet have lived even briefly in such terrible pain.

I told the owner that I was very sorry for her loss, and she said something I think was very important, which was that up to the minute the dog had died that it knew it had been loved. It had had a good life, with people who cared for it; it was never abused or hurt. It had known happiness; it had known love. At one point she reached down and touched the dog, as if to say goodbye. I have no doubt that what the owner had told me was true: This was a dog that was loved, whose life was good until the moment it died. For a dog, you can’t ask for much more. You can’t ask for much more if you’re a human, either.

We’re fine; the car can be fixed; the dog is dead. Our insurance companies will handle the details and assign legal blame for the purpose of paying for the car. I am very sad for the family and woman who lost a beloved pet, and grateful that her first contact with me, the one whose car it hit, was one of concern for the well-being of me and my family, and understanding that the death was something that I wish with the whole of my heart had not happened. It take some measure of grace to be able to do that. If my dog were to run in front of someone’s car, I could only hope that I would have the same understanding and concern that she showed me and mine.

For my part, I’m fine. I wish the dog hit not been in front of my car, but I am convinced there was little I could have done to avoid it. It was night, it was a rural road, and the dog was moving quickly toward my car. I did what I could in the circumstance to do the right thing for my family and for the family who owned the dog. As far as awful things go, this one ended as well as it could, and I’m satisfied that I did as many things right as could be done. All the same, it’s not something I’d want to have to go through again. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.

Quick Note on Clarke and Right-Leaning Blogs

(Quick unrelated note: In the comment thread I note the appearance of the 6,000th comment posting on the Whatever since I switched over to Movable Type. It’s the second posting, so feel free to check it out. I say nice things about you (speaking in the second-person plural sense).)

I’ve been blogging quite a bit about Dick Clarke over on the Detroit News blog (link — and the link to my entry archives is here), so I won’t repeat myself here; just go over to the Detroit News blog and see what I have to say on the subject. But to get a bit blog-centric here, I will say that I’m very nearly dumbfounded at the extent to which many right-leaning bloggers appear to be totally clueless as to how bad Clarke is making the Bush administration look — to be blunt, he’s making them look like secretive, paranoid blunderers, and he’s adeptly coring the Bushies’ core re-election issue (i.e., the idea Bush as done a good job fighting terror) and hollowing it out in ways that deeply compromise it now and which set the stage for larger pummelings to come.

Clarke’s Sunday Talk Show Massacre this week is a perfect example: Rather than imploding under the weight of Republican hints he’s a lying sack of crap, he’s dared them to declassify everything he’s ever said, which he certainly knows they won’t do. But it doesn’t matter; he’s called their bluff, and when they fold, the Bush folks won’t just look bad, they’ll look weak — and that plants the seed of doubt which will undoubtedly blossom over the next several months (the handwritten “thank you” note from Bush that he propped up on TV was a nice touch, too). This is beyond bad for Bush, who frankly has no other issue on which to run. Really, what else does he have? The economy? Well, let me just say this about that: It’s hard to tell people the economy’s better when they can’t find jobs. The war on terror is all Bush has got, and it’s getting taken away from him.

But you wouldn’t know it on the right side of the blogger table, where they appear to give the impression that it’s already settled that Clarke is a dissembling aggrieved bureaucrat, and we can all move on from here. Well, no, guys; it’s not settled. Clarke’s credibility is high (because unlike any number of Bush administration members one can name, he’s testified under oath and publicly) and getting higher as he leads the Bush administration into rhetorical corners and then hands them buckets of paint to slather about themselves. Let’s have a moment of bracing clarity, here: When the best the Republicans can do regarding Clarke is Bob Novak’s implication that Clarke’s real issue with Condi Rice is that she’s black, that’s a pretty good indication there’s nothing more substantive to go after this guy with.

So why aren’t right-learning bloggers being more honest with themselves that Clarke is kicking the hell out of the Bush administration — and that he’s using the Bush administration’s own inclinations toward paranoia and secrecy against them, i.e., hoisting them on their own petard? I mean, come on, now: Even if you don’t agree with Clarke’s message that the Bush administration is staffed with incompetents, at least you can admire the craft with which the message has been delivered. The Bushies have been defending themselves against the same guy for ten days now — ten days! Even Bush’s pathetic deflective attempt to gain goodwill by tossing up the idea of broadband for everybody by 2007 was shown to be just that — deflective and pathetic. Come on, right-wing bloggers, just come out and admit it: Clarke is beating the Bush administration like a festive piñata. You’ll feel better when you do. And you’ll get candy!

But I doubt they will, and here’s why: Most right-wing bloggers I read are either generally neutral on Bush or actually sort of dislike him for every other thing except the War on Terror — but their focus on that War on Terror is such that when it comes to it, they’re willing to put up with everything else — the contempt for most Americans, particularly the ones who are not rich, the fundamental disregard for entire swaths of the Constitution, the unseemly theocratic leanings — because they believe Bush’s actions since 9/11 have kept them safe; the entirety of their political thinking, therefore, can be summed up in the words “There’s a War On.” If Bush is in fact shown to have been negligent or incompetent in the execution of this war, what happens is that these poor folks are going to have their noses rubbed in the fact they’ve willingly compromised every other important political position they have in order to put their trust in someone in whom that trust was entirely unwarranted. In short, they’ll look like they’re naive dumbasses. For the sake of their own personal political self-image, they have to defend Bush’s war on terror to the bitter, contradictory end.

Let me make it easy for these guys: Yes, I believe that Bush’s moves after 9/11 have in many ways made this a better and safer world in the long run (for Americans). But it does not necessarily follow that Bush actions were the best actions — indeed that they were even primarily correct actions. To use a metaphor here, if a patient is gravely ill with a disease in his leg, the doctor who amputates that leg at the hip might save the patient’s life — but a more competent doctor could have saved the leg and the life. Is it ungrateful for the amputee to note that a more skilled doctor could have saved his leg — or to wish that a more skilled doctor had been the one wielding the knife — or to make sure the less competent doctor doesn’t get a chance at his other leg?

Bush is an amputator par excellence — of the many things that people say about him, positive or negative, “subtle” has never been one of them — but it’s entirely fair to ask whether an amputator is what was required then, and certainly whether such drastic services are still required now. Personally, I am glad for the leadership Bush provided directly after 9/11, and I’m glad his “moral clarity” allowed him to make some important, correct decisions. However, I do not delude myself that all — or even most — of Bush’s implementation of those decisions have been skillful to any degree, either in the War on Terror or in the Invasion of Iraq. Some 18 months ago, regarding the Iraq War, I noted that it was possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Today I will note it’s entirely possible to do the right thing, and do it really badly.

Bush has done things really badly in the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. Clarke, whatever his other motivations, is entirely correct in pointing this out to the public. I feel sorry for the right-leaning bloggers that they can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea that Bush could have good ideas and poor execution, but that’s their karma, not mine. I’m just glad it’s not me. My head would hurt.

Different. Better.

Anyone who reads the Whatever knows how much I adore James Lileks, but this bit from Friday’s Bleat is puzzling me:

So if Al Qaeda had failed on 9/11, do you think OBL and the rest of the merry band would be sitting around a table in Kabul holding hearings about who was to blame? I tend to think they would have moved on.

Well, see, the thing is: Aren’t we supposed to be different than OBL and his merry band? Oughtn’t we have, well, higher standards in terms of accountability? Shouldn’t we expect our leaders to do a better job of understanding the failures of their policies than a bunch of zealots hiding behind a holy book to justify their amoral and immoral acts? Can we not expect the citizenry of the United States to be offered a better quality of introspection on an executive level than bin Laden may feel he’s obligated to provide his followers?

I mean, I hate to be touchy-feely about this, but I think we are, we ought, we should and we can. If nothing else, I’m an American, and that means that by virtue of the fact my government works for me (is it not, after all, as one of our executives put it, “of the people, by the people, for the people” — of which I am one?), I should not unreasonably expect it to resolutely examine 9/11 in order to gain as complete an understanding of it as possible. My government owes me explanations. I’m not terribly interested in blame; I’m interested in knowledge. I’m interested in comprehending what happened and why. I’m interested in knowing how my government has conducted its business since 9/11 to keep our nation secure, and if it has (or can) do so while still keeping the essential character and quality of our country intact. If it means having some hearings, well, again, not to be touchy-feely here, but it seems such a small price to pay for what we as a nation stand to benefit.

No, bin Laden and al Qaeda wouldn’t have hearings. But that fact is to my mind not a recommendation against having them. Indeed, I’m rather pleased to discover ways my leaders and my government are not like these two. It beats discovering that they might have too much in common, I would think.