According to the Associated Press:
HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) - A fire hydrant painted as an American flag has been removed from a dog park after complaints it was disrespectful to let dogs use it for what dogs do.
And that's about as far as anyone read. All across the fruited plan, patriotic Americans choked on their coffee and reached for the phone, registering with one voice their horror at the very idea that anyone short of Ahmadinejad would dare to paint an American flag on a fire hydrant in a dog park, where it would be desecrated daily. Oregon may be a liberal state, but even there, one would think, more respect would be shown to Old Glory.
Studies indicate that, of people who started reading an article online, a very large number never get further than the first paragraph. That's why as an author, it's a good idea to have a captivating lede - for many folks, it's your only chance to grab them. And what more eyeball-grabbing opener could there be than the thought of Fido whizzing on the Stars and Stripes?
Naturally, as the article says, the howl of protest was so overwhelming that the hydrant was removed forthwith. And all, for nothing!
You see, the hydrant was not placed there as a public safety measure. It, and indeed the entire park, was dedicated as a memorial to Hondo, a heroic police dog with the local force who was killed in the line of duty. There are fewer Americans more patriotic than police officers, and it beggars belief to think that they would ever countenance a situation in which the American flag would be treated with less than the utmost respect.
Sure enough, the hydrant in question wasn't just sitting on the sidewalk. As the fifth paragraph of the article goes on to state, "Parks officials had thought of that problem, and had put the red, white and blue hydrant on an 18-inch-high base, surrounded by "dog-unfriendly" shrubs including prickly barberry bushes." So, the flag in question was well out of range to all but Berkeley students or Columbia professors, and always had been. Indeed, there wasn't even a report, much less proof, that any harm or disrespect had befallen it.
But that didn't matter. Nobody read that far. Just the first couple sentences, then off to file a note of protest. Is this a sign of the times? A scourge of the Internet age?
In the early years of this country, several of our Founding Fathers wrote a series of newspaper articles called the Federalist Papers. This body of work forms the best explanation of the thought processes and reasoning behind our Constitution; it was written as both explanation and argument for it. Article by article, clause by clause, line by line the Federalist Papers work their way through the whole Constitution. You can read them online; they are as excellent as you'd expect of our Founders, and quite clear to understand even today.
There are 85 of them. Each article is several book pages, or in Internet terms, a half-dozen screens of small type. And, history tells us, they were widely published and republished in newspapers, because Americans wanted to know, and wanted to read.
Now, the Federalist Papers are about as far from a fire hydrant in a dog park, as the American flag should be from excrement. But the point remains: how can you take action in a rational way if you won't even take the time to understand the issue you're incensed about? Hallmarks of this sort of problem can be seen all over our politics, from the "politics of personal destruction" to the candidates' 30-second sound-bite health care plans, the legislation for which would, in reality, fill an 18-wheeler.
When was the last time Americans, as a nation, seriously read through and thought through a political issue? Nowadays, you get a few elites, wonks, and activists that really know the issue - at least, their side of it - and bash it out between themselves, while the rest of the country goes through life in blissful ignorance. When it's time to vote, a quick rehashing of well-crafted but meaningless debate points and bromides, and off to the polls. Is it any wonder that our government is the way it is?
In the case of the hydrant-memorial, it was restored to its proper place after a reaction by interested parties, well aware of the reality of the situation. Would that our freedoms, and good governance, would have such a happy result.