Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summertime Luge Event (Asphalt)

Fellow blogger Ambulance Driver relates his unintentional entry into the traffic Olympics in a current post. Happily, he barely managed to make his mark in the standings and, being young and healthy, should heal up rapidly. Even his scoot should recover with minimal capital outlay. Being a FAIRLY rational being, I’m sure he’ll admit to having undergone an attitude adjustment in a couple of seconds of, shall we say, high anxiety. I’m most happy his physical trauma was minimal and the visible damage was mainly limited to fabric and metalwork.

(No, this is NOT AD's bike, just a convenient image.)

I’ll admit that my own experience in motorcycling has been small and narrow. My late brother Jerry was into dirt biking and he’d occasionally invite me for a day’s scrambling about the trails. It was lotsa fun and even at low speeds, provided enough thrills for me. Still, I managed to break a bone in my right hand and got some scratches from time to time.

Back while I was a police patrolman for a suburban department, I lived in Fort Worth and it was about a 15-minute drive to work. Money was not plentiful, and from time to time I was inspired to explore more economical modes of travel. Hey, gasoline was headed toward a dollar a gallon back then. I cared little for huge, powerful motorcycles, but thought to pick up a good, used medium-sized bike. I didn’t want my six-five, 240+ frame to look like a circus bear on a mini-bike. I even got to the point of shopping around a couple of times.

Unfortunately (for some others) and more luckily (for me,) every time I got serious with this idea, I’d work or assist at some serious accident involving a motorcycle. This would revive the uneasy feelings about going into traffic on two wheels which my Dad had instilled in me early on. Sure, I could rationalize the situation. I was not some daredevil kid. I was a mature man, a cop who would frequently ride to work in uniform, and it would be necessary to - - well, at least, not present a BAD image. I knew the concept of driving defensively -- that phrase was just coming into common use at the time. I’d keep a good lookout at all times and obey BOTH the traffic laws and physical principles: If a few hundred pounds of ’cycle and rider come into violent contact with a couple of tons of four+ wheeler, the former ALWAYS loses. If I simply did everything right, all would be well.
Wouldn’t it?

Let’s see - - It was during warm weather, sometime in 1971, I think. I was working a district which included part of a Corps of Engineers lake and surrounding parks. Dispatch sent me to the scene of a major traffic collision on one of the park roads. Ambulance en route, backup unit coming from the north end of town. I was on the scene in two minutes, but a volunteer fireman and a nurse were already there. I parked, leaving room for the ambulance and trotted over to them. Their gray looks and the motorcycle wedged beneath the front of a large sedan pretty well provided the prognosis.

The ambulance guys did their thing and I did mine. Fortunately, there had been witnesses to the entire situation. The motorcyclist, mid-twenties, clean-cut, be-helmeted, had been putting along the park road - - Good, dry asphalt, two wide lanes, no curbs. The posted speed limit was 35 mph, and a following motorist said they were both doing somewhat less. A beautiful day, plenty to see, no rush.

The road took a gentle curve to the right, around a steep hill. On the opposite side of the road, the ground sloped downward. A pickup truck, brand and color not now recalled, was oncoming. The cyclist edged slightly to the right, making sure he didn’t crowd the center line. Here’s where things became a bit sudden. Another oncoming vehicle, this one a green Chrysler, appeared. Everyone later agreed that not a soul involved was speeding, nor out of their proper lanes. The motorcyclist encountered a minor spray of gravel on the pavement, apparently left by some earlier motorist cutting the curve edge slightly. There was only a few pounds of rock in the traffic lane.

The cyclist steered his front wheel through the rock but the back tire caught some of it and began sliding to the left. Even at the modest speed, the rear tire broke loose and the bike went down on its right side. The rider was observed to pull up his right leg and hold on for the ride. Three witnesses -- one following, one in the pickup truck, and the driver of the Chrysler -- all said it was as if in slow motion. The bike slid right across, into the path of the green car. The driver, standing on the brake pedal, started off to his right but was looking straight into the cyclist’s face as he disappeared under the hood. The front bumper of the Chrysler caught the cyclist on the brow, immediately below the expensive Bell helmet.

Highway Patrol and a Sheriff’s Deputy arrived while I was questioning witnesses, and I had time to do good interviews and take complete statements. I got clear photographs of the markings on the pavement. The State Patrolman (this was before they were called State Troopers in Texas) helped me with the calculations. Closing velocity at impact was likely under 20 mph. All three officers agreed: There was no wrongdoing on the part of any person. This was as true a pure accident-by-misadventure as one could imagine. NO excessive speed. NO fail to yield. NO drive in wrong lane. NO evidence of alcohol or other drug involvement. Sometimes, stuff just occurs. In this case, simple happenstance left a young widow groping for an explanation, with a little boy too young to comprehend. A few years thereafter, an organ harvest might possibly have given some cosmic justification for the incident, but this was a bit early on . . . .

I probably drove that stretch of park road a hundred times thereafter, before moving on to a better job. NEVER did I pass that way without thinking of the dead motorcyclist -- and the distraught driver of the green sedan. And NEVER again did I even consider buying my own motorcycle for commuting.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing personal against two-wheelers, nor against those who enjoy riding them. It’s just not for me.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Heroine for the Ages

1910 -- 2008

My friend and former co-worker, Bob Powell, sent me this e-mail:
This is one of those stories that breaks your heart and makes you glad to be alive all at the same time.
Sendler -VS- Al Gore

This is the kind of story - tribute, really - that comes along only a VERY few times in your life. PLEASE watch this. If you have anything else that is more important, put it on the back burner for less than 3 minutes. It can wait. This is about Irena Sendler - a Polish woman ... but I'm not going to tell you any more. I guarantee that you will sit there, at the end, with your mouth agape at the very least.

As always


And my reply:

That was excellent, Bob. Thanks for sending it along. I watched that particular tribute with great interest, and then spent some additional time watching most of the other YouTube clips pertaining to Ms. Sendler.

I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of that courageous lady before today. Her actions and life stand as an inspiration to us all. (I HAVE heard of Al Gore, and his Peace Prize. Sorry, but I can't say I'm particularly inspired by THAT lying sack of excrement.) I'll FWD your e-mail and the link to several friends and family members. Ms. Sendler certainly deserves to be remembered.

By the way: I notice she died on my birthday. Would that I -- any of us-- could claim to have made one-tenth the contribution to the world she did.

All best to you and your family.

A more complete story of Ms. Sendler’s life and her activities in Warsaw, written during her life, may be read in Irena’s Children.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Along the Border

I spent some 20 years of my Peace Officer career as a District Attorney’s Investigator. Most Texas Prosecutors and their staffs were members of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. These remarks apply to the association as it was from early 1970s through 1992. There were obvious benefits of professional camaraderie and training, plus a lot of social interaction at the various gatherings of the association. The annual meetings were spread around the state, so the same members didn’t always need to travel to a central location. The DA of a District up in the panhandle was heard to complain of always needing to drive or fly to Travis County for committee meetings. He said, “Some people don’t realize that there are four other state capitols closer to me than Austin.”

Some years ago, an annual TDCAA meeting was held in El Paso, at the far west end of Texas. That year, the New Mexico Prosecutors’ association held their yearly get-together in conjunction with us. The then-president of the NM group addressed the combined groups during an early session. He paid tribute to the various peace officers also attending the meeting. He told a story, to this effect - - -

Wild and wooly as was New Mexico in the old days, Texas held the title for most badmen and toughest lawmen per square mile. Some time around 1900, several banditos stormed into a small town near the border and robbed the local bank. They got a goodly haul and took off southward. It happened there was a Texas Ranger encampment nearby, and within the hour, four Rangers were hot on the trail.

The next day, the lawmen reached a small village somewhere near the river and surprised the desperados in the local cantina. A noisy difficulty ensued, fatal for all but one of the robbers. Only a few gold coins were found. The sole surviving outlaw spoke no English whatever, and alas, the Rangers didn’t have 20 words of Spanish between them. The bilingual tavern operator was conscripted as translator.

The Ranger Captain had him tell the outlaw that they needed to recover the bank loot so they could take it, and him, before a judge. El senor bandito was uncooperative. The tired, dusty Ranger had the cantinero explain that, if they couldn’t take back the gold, they wouldn’t take back a prisoner either. He punctuated his statement by cocking a large pistol pointed at the outlaw’s head.

The barkeep carefully and at length explained the situation in Spanish: The capitan of rinches states that if you don’t give up the loot at once, he will kill you on this spot.

The bandit swallowed hard and declaimed: Clearly, this capitan is a brutal and determined man. Very well. We stopped at the jacal of my cousin Rodrigo, an hour to the west of here. I hid the gold in his well, behind the dark colored stone in the third row down.

The cantina operator turned back to the Rangers and sadly shook his head. “This terrible criminal says, you go ahead and shoot. He ain’t afraid to die.”

History: 132 years ago on the Greasy Grass; TV: 44 years ago on the tube

In her own fine blog, Friend Tamara makes note that this is the anniversary of George A. Custer’s demise at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. It is strange that this is how that conflict is known to most people. It is more customary for the victors in a battle to provide a label for the event. The Lakota referred to it as the Battle of Greasy Grass Creek.

Battle of Greasy Grass byTucson Artist Allan Mardon

One commenter, Ben, wrote, “Anyone else remember 'The 7th is Made Up of Phantoms'?'

Too bad you couldn't bring up the tank. It woulda helped.'

For some reason, I was thinking of that excellent fantasy/time warp episode of "The Twilight Zone" just the other day. I didn't recall the name, though, until Ben mentioned it. I’m glad he did. It provided me a good hour of Googling and watching the old TV show on YouTube. This link will get you to part 1 of 3 and links to the other parts. It is worth watching.

Yes, the acting was a bit heavy handed, but it was a good view. I only noted a couple of historical problems.

One was the National Guard’s use of a very old M5 Stuart tank instead of a later M4 Sherman or M24 Chaffee.

And both the MSGT and the CPL wore rifle cartridge belts while armed with carbines. For being such a history buff, you'd think MSGT Connors would have called Custer by his proper rank, Lieutenant Colonel. The officer was appointed to the temporary brevet rank of Major General in OCT 1864 and then reverted to Brevet Brigadier General 13 MAR 1865, near the end of the War for the Liberation of the Southern Confederacy. He acted as BG for a bit over a year before being returned to his permanent rank of LTC. (JUL 1866, until KIA 25 JUN 1876.)

Historically, George Armstrong Custer was an audacious, aggressive, courageous cavalry leader. He was also extremely egotistical, arrogant, and headstrong. These characteristics sometimes lead to glory, and frequently to one’s early demise. Unfortunately, they also often result in heavy losses amongst those who must follow the leader’s orders.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Mug Meme

Oh-Kay. Elder Son Matt G tagged me, along with several others, to display what mug/coffee container/tea cup we are currently using. He specified, No fair picking a special mug-- this is a come-as-you-are party. (Or in my case, come-as-I-was.)

Good enough, then.

When I first read Matt's this morning, this -- the clear glass one -- is what I had on my mini-hotplate coffee warmer next to my keyboard. The lettering on the other side says, "pessimist's mug."
Beloved Bride gave it to me for my recent birthday. It came from . It's worth a click to see all the nifty stuff they offer. I'll bet BB has spent a couple of hundred dollars ordering gifts from them.

The other cup is just a standard-type to-go Styrofoam cup with a particularly well-designed lid and an attractive printed design. I probably have six or eight road cups, none with matching lids. The only good ones end up being given to visitors about to hit the road, or else I leave them somewhere. Hey, I drink so much bad coffee in so many questionable places, I can't tell that the expanded plastic is hurting the taste. If I reach home with such a cup and a good lid, I rinse and dry them for later use.
Anyhow, I'll tag two residents of Louisiana, the Bayou Renaissance Man and Ambulance Driver . Let's see what they're using for sipping vessels.

Watching the high darkness . . .

And BOOM, there it was! Up in the sky, right on time. Precisely on time.

Late evening, 8JUN2008. I was set up on the tool box of my truck, 8x40 binoculars in hand, glancing at my watch occasionally. Then, there was a BRIGHT light peeking out from behind a tree, kind of, no, Exactly to the northwest. Moving? Yes, moving FAST. I fine tuned the focus of my glasses. I couldn't make out any detail - - It was just a very bright, white light. Did I say it was fast? I've seen jet aircraft at low altitude go across my sky faster, but never with any altitude. I watched it the entire sweep. I was a little close to the trees to my immediate SE, but the light was dimming rapidly at that point. I lost it behind the trees about the time it got too dim to see.

I had seen the International Space Station, with the Space Shuttle Discovery docked. Real time, no video, no film - - live action from outer space, boys and girls.

Total duration of this viewing? Maybe 40 seconds, perhaps over 50. Who cares? I saw it. It was very worthwhile. My thanks to Elder Son for giving me the time and spotting information. I was kind of, sort of, uh, PROUD, in a strange way. I've been quietly advocating for the space program since before we really HAD such a thing.

I've been disappointed that the effort got stalled for so long. But this, this was tangible, visible evidence that we DO have human beings up there, out beyond the atmosphere. Okay, maybe not in way far, DEEEEP Space, but, right on out there. And the dream lives on.

I climbed down from my truck bed and headed into the house. I was smiling.

I hope your evening went as well.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Making some progress

I went to Cabela's for a while this afternoon. I picked up a pound of Unique and tried to buy an eight-pound container of Win 231. They had it in the distribution center and I was going to pre-pay for that and pick it up at the store, to avoid shipping charges. Turned out they can't do it that way. They could send it to my home, but would have to charge some $10 shipping PLUS the $20 HazMat fee. This additional $13 just ruins the economy of buying in bulk. So I cancelled the request.

I got some more bullets to try in my Super .38: Hornady XTP in 124 and 147 grain weights. Picked up some .357 SiG ammo for Matt. This is about the best price this side of a gun show, and it's really stunning how much ammo prices have risen in this past year. Oh, well . . . If you're gonna play the game, and all that.

Apparently Speer is about to bring out a new edition of their Loading Manual. I bought a copy of the current (??) edition for ten bucks.

My old concealment vests were getting pretty ratty - - I still have an ancient "Shoot Me First" vest from Banana Republic, as well as about three Chinese knock-offs of same. I got an entirely different model with button front and a lot fewer pockets. Also, a good blue windbreaker. I've pretty well gotten the jump on this fall/winter. Lotta good these garments will do me until then. Current temp outside: 94 F.

Hasta - -


Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Well, the best laid plans, and all that.

I shut down my computer the other night, just as normal. The following morning, I turned it on, with every intention of running my traps, checking the news, and doing my daily reading. I was then going to settle down and do some serious writing. I had two blog posts in mind, and wanted to start on a couple more. The only problem: My computer wouldn't boot up. I could get to the opening screen, but no farther.

Hummm - - I called a couple of friends who have a lot more cyber expertise than I. It really doesn't take much to reach THAT standard. Some were out of touch, some out of town, and . . . ? I phoned Peter who had provided invaluable support in the past. The hitch there is that he lives several hours away. Our discussion boiled down to - -

A. Spend big bucks at the local technicians, with a predictably daunting minimum bench fee. This might easily result in fees well above the worth of a two-year-old computer.

B. Await Peter's next visit, at least a couple of weeks away, and see if he could remedy the situation, OR

C. Shop around with a view toward getting a new 'puter, and hope to install my old hard drive and try to access that using the new rig.

The latter seemed best, especially when Beloved Bride checked around on-line and found that Fry's in Irving had a sale in progress. I phoned and discussed the matter with a helpful technical guy. He verified that the item I was considering had enough room in the case to hold my old hard drive. The price, while a little bothersome, wasn't as bad as I'd feared.

I did the hour's drive, took in by old processing unit and found the guy I'd talked with on the phone. He soon had me fixed up with the new purchase, a refurbished Compaq with a 90-day warranty. I also purchased a two-year extended warranty and paid for removal of the old hard drive and re-installation in the new unit. They did the work while I waited, drank coffee, and read a new Loren Estleman book. I was out in not much over an hour.

Have I mentioned that I'm essentially cyberlexic? On a good day, I can find the "ON" switch and fumble my way around the 'net. I can barely use a couple of word processing programs, and can play Free Cell and solitaire. My younger son despairs of my learning to play any more complicated games. Anyhow, I'm trying hard to install Open Office and implement some sort of image management arrangement. I much prefer to write off-line and just cut-and-paste my work onto the blog. And I really enjoy presenting some images with the text. Oh, well, things will proceed, however slowly.

I've managed to do some hand loading in the past several days, and have a working stock of my favorite low-end .357 magnum ammo, a fair number of .44 Specials, and, joy of joys, I've loaded my first hundred or so Super .38 cartridges. Matt and I spent a couple of hours at the range Sunday aftrernoon, and I'm very gratified with the way the new/old Super shoots. Later on, I'll discuss why this was NOT a foregone conclusion. I have a lot of experimenting to do with Super .38 loads. Right now, I'm satisfied that I have a good target/training/steel plate load. I'll want to develop a good, stout-but-not-maximum 124-grain JHP load, and likely something with a good 147-grain hunting bullet.

I'm satisfied with my .357 loads, both low-end and the heavy loads using 158-grain JHP bullets. My all-around .44 Special load is good, and I may or may not bother to work up a heavy hunting load.

Anyhow, as I regain computer capability, I'll have plenty on which to write, just on handgun cartridges. I also ponder a couple of historical items.

Later - -