The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism… But the trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. So to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. And then there was the cop who came into the cigar shop… complaining…

The other day a police officer, with whom I wasn’t familiar, strolled into the South Philadelphia cigar shop where I regularly puff… and started complaining.

Which isn’t unusual among most folks. Even the regulars at Anthony’s Twin Smoke Shoppe. As my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy used to exhale with one of his omnipotent puffs on his omniscient corn cob pipe:

‘Complainers change their complaints, but they never reduce the amount of time spent in complaining.’


And if there is one thing I’ve learned about most of the rather amicable uniformed cops and detectives with whom I regularly blow cigar illusions is that they are usually complaining about two things: The way things are… and change.

This officer, who was assigned to patrol that evening’s Philadelphia Eagles Football game, was kvetching about his post game duties. And that was having to do his job of ‘serve and protect’ the planned and permitted protest by “dose (expletive deleted) liberals and dem college punks.”

It seems the protesters had obtained all the government issued permits, licenses and what-not to lie down and block one of the main intersections near the NFL football game for 4-and-one-half-minutes. It was in keeping with similar national demonstrations to express a unified displeasure with the police shootings and choke-hold killings of black men. Most recently in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, New York, a Walmart store in Ohio, and a kid in Cleveland.

In many respects the protest is simply to voice discontent and anger with the lack of dignity accorded to certain American citizens.


To express it much more mildly than I wrote last week, I love it when people ‘younger-than-I-am’ do what we were doing back in the 60s and 70s and 80s. And that is protesting against war, and for civil rights, and for workers’ esteem and against government perfidy.

Like voting, protesting is our duty, our obligation and one of the most sacred rights and responsibilities of a democracy. Protesting is like a Verdi opera, like a Tchaikovsky symphony, like a dash through a winter thunderstorm and like a bonfire at a pep rally…

But it is so much more than something that is simply pleasurable — it is our remonstration. It is also our duty to maintain a vigilant check-and-balance on the ever vigilant curds of tyranny and oppression. We all must be anything but ‘indifferent.’

But this officer was particularly unattractive with his invectives — as well as with his begrudging restraint ‘not’ to run his police van over the (expletive-deleted) SOBs.

That’s why I love America. We’re all a-holes allowed to fart frontwards through clenched teeth. And we do all say the most stupid things. Even me – sometimes. I know, I know, that comes as even more of a surprise than my last paternity suit –particularly since I’ve been ‘shooting pool with a rope.’

But this time, contrary to what my fellow smokers had expected me to do — and admittedly what I usually do — I did otherwise. I didn’t engage his parochial halitosis. We are all ‘razed’ at our own ‘warped’ speed. Obviously a man of 35-years-or-40-years is pretty much cemented in his cerebral infirmities. His mental circuitry has long been spot-welded by a reactive childhood and visceral adulthood that left him too psychologically incapacitated to appreciate the obvious — that his brain should be on drugs.

So I merely mentioned that his pledge to ‘protect and serve’ doesn’t seem to distinguish who he is to protect and serve. Now does it? We are all supposed to be equal under the law.

He searched my sincere face and growled something from beneath a tortured haircut to the effect that he will do it. “But I don’t like it. Some of them aren’t even from Philadelphia!”


No doubt just like ‘some’ Philadelphia cops ‘aren’t’ from Philadelphia. Yet they are employed and paid by our city taxes. And just like ‘some’ Philadelphia policemen in recent months and the past couple of years who have been charged and convicted of corruption, theft, brutality, robbery, rape and other egregious crimes against those very folks they are sworn to serve and protect.


And just like his police union protested – aka arbitrated – against the-powers-that-be to earn him a decent salary, paid benefits, vacations, guaranteed (guaranteed!) overtime hours yearly, comp-time, sick leave, time-and-a-half for sitting around all day waiting to deliver testimony in court, a pension after just 20 years of service, a deferred retirement option to earn him a couple of hundred thousand more… etc., etc., etc…

All this to provide dignity to his life because cops and other folks before him, legally, or otherwise, ‘protested,’ arbitrated and negotiated for rights apparently not accorded – whether perceived or real. And all this to be able to live his life with some dignity – even while indignantly having to suffer ‘others’ who may not like you… Or appreciate you…

Or criticize you… Because we all know that most folks would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.

Like last week with the chief of his FOP (Fraternal Order of Police). The jowly chief raged against a political cartoon that depicted a group of black children asking Santa for protection from police. And he ranted some choice words while demanding an apology from the newspaper.

“There is a special place in hell for miserable parasites in our media who seek to exploit violence and hatred to sell advertisements,” snarled the chief between his puffy chipmunk cheeks. At that he wished the newspaper a “bankrupt New Year.”


How un-profound. How mundane. Such a paucity of neurons at work. And here all this time I thought the greatest threat to freedom was the absence of criticism. And whether you are a cop, or a doc, or a lawyer, architect, politician or priest, or even a journalist – ah-hem. You have to recognize that to avoid criticism just do nothing, be nothing and say nothing.

After all, we are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.

A few days later I happened to bump into the disgruntled police officer from the smoke shop. And I politely inquired how it went the other day at the protest.

He felt compelled to be courteous and sniffed that it turned out all right. “But I still didn’t like it.”


At that I merely stated the obvious: “If we only did what we liked, most of us would never do our jobs… or our duty.

Hmm… Why is it that the people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks?

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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