Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Better change the channel on that emotion.

As expected, when the economy takes a dip, the tweakers start burgling more. There's a group around here that's been kicking in doors of apparently unoccupied houses, to take what they can grab. The other day a member of this group hit a house just outside of our city limits. The lady of the house was actually at home at mid day, and frantically dialed 911 when she heard the miscreant trying to kick in her door. She screamed for the county to send her a deputy, but they were running a bit slow. The dispatcher never thought to send my department, which would have had a probable response time of less than 90 seconds, given the location of the house and our on-duty officers. Too bad.

The lady of the house heard the kicking go on and on. And on. And on. She became frantic. She says that it took 4 minutes, but I'll bet it was 2 or less. Time really distorts in those moments. She could see the attempted burglar through the window. Suddenly, he saw her as well. He ran. As he started to get into his white pickup that he had backed up to her front door, he looked back toward her before driving away quickly.

This morning, she called me at the P.D., begging me to do a close patrol. She had left with her husband that morning to go somewhere, and had seen a white pickup drive past. She was scared that they were coming back.

I told her that I would check on it immediately, and did so. Nothing to be seen. In the new frost, I could see that no one had walked around the house. No tire tracks in the neatly-trimmed yard. I returned to the P.D. and called her back.

I reported that her house was safe. I also remarked that, in the two minute drive there, I had passed no less than six white pickup trucks, it being the morning commute time for many laborers in Texas. I gently explained that her attempted burglar had driven the single most commonly seen vehicle on N. Texas roads. White is the default fleet vehicle color, and pickups are ubiquitous around here. "You're going to have to inure yourself to the sight of them passing your house," I said.

I took a breath, and soldiered on. "Look, you feel violated, and I get that. I really do. I've been there. It's really upsetting. You're scared, and you don't feel safe in the place that was your haven," I began.

"I don't even come and go without an escort, now, and I don't feel safe when I'm at home," she said.

"Right. Being where you were terrified, when you had thought that you were safe there, does that to you," I said. "But are you willing to hear some good news?"

"You caught him?" she said, gushing hopefully.

"No. Realistically, I don't know that we will. We will try. We are not without leads. But here's the good news: You're less likely NOW to have your home targeted than you were two weeks ago."

"How can you possibly believe that, after this?" she asked.

"Well, aside from my degree and three-quarters in the field, I've got a little experience in this stuff," I began. "Let me ask you: What did he do when he found out that you were home?"

"He left," she said simply.

"Did he yell at you? Threaten you? Anything like that?"

"No. He just left," she said.

"Exactly. This guy wants your stuff. He doesn't want to hurt you. He does daytime burglaries because they're low-confrontation. He's probably on drugs, and just wants to sell your stuff cheap to buy more drugs. The last thing he wants to do is come back to your place again. In his mind, the last time he went there, he almost got caught or shot. That's why he looked back," I said.

"The deputy said that he was looking back to see if I was coming after him," she said.

"Sure. He was also looking to see if you were going to shoot him," I said.

"But I didn't have a gun," she said, weakly.

"No, but most Texans do, and you were benefitting from his realization of that," I said, perhaps planting a thought in her head for later. "Here's the thing: at that moment, he was likely more afraid of you than you are of him."

Silence. She was pondering that.

I forged on. "You've had time to prepare for his return, and he knows that. He and his friends you can be sure will NOT return to that residence. Too risky. They will move on."

"But that doesn't make you feel much safer yet, does it?" I asked, rhetorically. "You're scared now. But soon --I hope it's soon-- you'll transition from that fear to fury. Anger is the correct emotion, and much more useful, in my opinion.

"This... punk... came to your house uninvited, and attempted to enter your residence by force. Who does he think he is?!? Be angry. Be furious. Because anger makes you strong. And you could use the strength."

We talked for a few more minutes, and I assured her that we would come help her if she called. I hope she finds peace in her house soon.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

In which my deepest terror is realized.

A fellow in Belgium has spent the last 23 years in what was supposedly a vegetative state, only to have new technology finally prove that his brain is normal. Rom Houben says that he's been able to hear everything going on around around him, but hasn't been able to speak or move on his own, with everyone around him thinking he was an inert husk.

This yet another disturbing example of medical misdiagnosis*. His family has reportedly always believed that he was aware, and has taken him to the U.S. five times to attempt (and finally succeed) to prove that he was aware, and find a way to communicate with him.

If this were written up in a dramatic short story, it would make "Flowers for Algernon" seem like the feel-good comedy hit of the year.

_______________________________
*And yet another reason why, though I have deep respect for the science of medicine, I get a bit twitchedy when medical doctors start thinking that they are worthy of telling the rest of us what to do.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting credit the old fashioned way...

When my wife married me, I had a couple of credit cards maxed out with payments for school. Yep, I was paying minimum balance on 19% APR revolving debt, on a few thousand dollars. Terrible. She sensibly enough asked me if I were going to, you know-- FINISH my degree, and when I answered timidly in the affirmative, she had me get some school loans at cheap rates, and consolidated my debt down to a nice tiny rate, deferred until I graduated. Good stuff, and a smart move, that was.

We bought a house, with that debt sitting there.

We sold that house, and bought another one, with that debt sitting there.

Nowadays, I pay a bit every month on that debt, and it's still there. I figured that this would make my credit look kind of stale.

Apparently not. We just got locked in a nice rate for our house that we bought last year (international bank of Mother In-Law), and which we would like to pay off. The rate was astoundingly low, at 4.75% for 15 years, and I'm pretty happy about the tiny size of the payments. I asked the banker lady about our credit, and she snorted. Near perfect. She showed me the credit reports, and my jaw dropped. I'll be honest: having never really studied the whole credit thing very much, I didn't know that the numbers went that high. I was vaguely aware that over 700 was pretty good.

I'm not bragging-- all I did was marry a good wife who takes what little I bring home, and manages it effectively. She also says "No" a lot, which means that we don't have a lot of expensive white elephants that I would love to have around the house, but which would drain our finances and ruin our credit. And she can cook. And... well, there are other benefits.

Okay, maybe I'm bragging a little. I married well. But I've mentioned that, I think.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day, and thoughts about treason

91 years ago today, the fighting stopped in The War To End All Wars. I'm sure that this fact was not lost on our President, who went to Fort Hood today to a memorial service for the 13 men and women (mostly soldiers) murdered there last week.

They died while in service for their country, as soldiers do, and always will do. I hope that the President gives as much thought to those who died overseas, for our nation.

Dad and I were talking about how the murderer, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, should be charged. (They haven't charged him as of this writing.) We agree that we would want it to be a capital charge, and that Mr. Hasan (he will soon be formally stripped of rank) should die. We've seen too often how even our own media likes to claim that rights of prisoners are trampled, on the basis of religious affiliation. Let him die for his actions, and have nothing more said about how he is treated.

Now, obviously, the Army will want to charge him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But I suspect also that the federal Department Of Justice will be itching to charge him with a violation of the U.S.C. But if that doesn't work, please recall that Ft. Hood is in Texas, and we have a rather efficient Capital Murder statute on the books, and we know how to use it.

Dad and I were curious if there was any crime in the UCMJ that is a capital crime, beyond Treason. Treason is the only crime defined in the United States Constitution, and is described thusly:
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

That makes it sound more like it's under the USC, and in fact it's found under USC Title 18, 2381, making it a capital crime. Hm. Will the DOJ get this?

Senator McCain says that his action was an act of terrorism. Hm. To what end? Some reports have Hasan yelling "Alahu Akbar" as he was shooting. Was he acting on behalf of a terrorist organization? Our Congress has declared war on Terror, which would mean that he was acting on behalf of our enemies against the U.S. during a time of war, which constitutes Treason.

I've seen some online claim that this was simply murder, and not Treason. I submit that the case is more complicated than that. When we see an act of treason, we must call it what it is. This man was a soldier who indiscriminately killed other soldiers.

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Blogarado, Part 2: It's Not A Party Until The Police Are Called.


We rolled to a stop behind the several bloggers' vehicles, on a lonely farm road in SE Colorado. What happened?

"Ambulance Driver hit a deer," we were told. Aw, crap.

We pulled around to the front of the line, and lit up the front of A.D.'s Dodge pickup. Not TOO bad. Must have been a small deer. I went to help drag it it in from the field, where it had expired after being struck by the grill and radiator of A.D.'s Dakota.

Whoa.

That's a big buck. No, that's a REALLY big buck.

At first glance, I figured 250 lbs. After having helped A.D. drag it the 100 yards to where the vehicles were stopped, I began to revise my estimate to far closer to 300 lbs. Mind you-- A.D. and I aren't petite little things, either.

We pulled it up on the road, and then the jokes started. 15+ bloggers, all beginning to get a bit chilly, thinking of the pot roast that FarmGram had prepared in town, began doing what they do: snark.

"I swear to Gawd, after what he did to my truck, at least I'm gonna mount that buck," A.D. said.

"Damn, A.D.-- you already killed him. Now you want to defile the corpse that way?" came a chorus.

The question then came up: Now What? We contacted our hosts, who were already at or near town, and explained the situation. It was decided that we would tow the pickup with already present pickups. We figured that it would be a shame to let the meat spoil and...

Crap. Three off-duty cops were present, and here we are, planning to leave the scene without reporting it.

I called 911.

"911. What's your emergency?" asked the dispatcher.

"Minor vehicle crash. Pickup versus deer. Both are expired. No injuries, Some road blockage. Copy 28?" I said, offering her the license plate number of A.D.'s pickup.

"What's your location?" she asked. Sensible enough, in case we lost connection. I had to ask what road we were on, and told her.

"Are there any injuries?" she inquired.

"No. That's why I said 'minor crash,'" I said, slightly impatiently.

"How many occupants in the vehicle?" She asked. Good question, but I didn't know, precisely. I asked, and told, and reminded her that no one was hurt. I told her that everyone was okay.

"Okay, I've got an ambulance en route," she said.

"But, as I've said, No One is hurt. We don't need a box. We need a game warden," I said, a little plaintively, now.

"Well, sir, it's just our policy, whenever there's an accident, we send medics," she said.

"Who will have less experience than the Paramedic instructor that was driving," I muttered.

"What's that," she asked, typing in the background.

"He said the he'll decline treatment," I said. "Please also notify the game warden." I hung up.

Just after this call, an off-duty Colorado Department of Natural Resources man happened to drive by, and told us that A.D. could keep the meat, but not the head. There was much cussing.

AD decided to get to work removing the head, and asked for a knife. About 10 were immediately opened and handed toward him.

Old NFO's fixed-blade knife turned out to be well-suited for the job, but not better than the Sawz-All that FarmDad produced from his pickup.

A.D. got busy removing the head.

After some time, a Sheriff's deputy arrived, and began to introduce himself. This young man was every bit of 16 years old, I'm certain. He never blinked at a large party of armed, laughing bloggers who took lots of pictures and made lots of risque comments. But he did a full triple-take at the hood ornament on A.D.'s pickup.

I quick stepped over and presented to him the business card left by the DNR man. "He said that we could remove the head," I said.

"Okayyyyyyy," said the deputy. "I've got a state trooper en route to work the accident."

"How far out is the trooper?" I asked.

"35 minutes, or so," he answered.

"You don't work these kinds of accidents?" I asked.

"Oh, I work 'em all the time," he answered, "but we're supposed to let the state troopers work them when they'll come to the scene."

"So you're leaving?" I asked.

"No, I'm staying with the scene, until he gets here," the deputy answered.

"To work an accident that will take about 20 minutes to work," I sighed.

"Yeah. Listen, I didn't make this policy," he said resignedly.

We started quartering out the deer. And by "we," I mean that Ambulance Driver got bloody, and we cheered and made inappropriate comments, and laughed and took pictures.

We discussed posting this picture (gore warning) without explanation, with a request for caption, under the post title: "Take That, Broadripple BlogMeets!" (Some of us not in the MidWest hear of much fun at those blog meets. Well, we're having fun, too...)

When the ambulance arrived, the EMT called it a baby deer, proclaiming that she had killed a much bigger one last year. I, still panting from dragging this one in, was indignant.

"Lady, that's about a 300 pound buck, no teeth left to speak of. He'll be about 5 years old," I said.

"Oh, I mean his rack is tiny. Probably about 130, maybe. I've got a 160 inch rack at home," she said, smugly.

Now, look. I know this wasn't a monster rack or anything, but my friend Ambo driver had just lost a radiator to this big boy. Last thing I was going to have is some smug para med from Colorado go dissing his deer. Besides, I've scored a buck or two, myself.

"Lady, that's a 20 inch spread, with near perfect symmetry," I said. "Nice beams, too. He'll go about 150." Honestly, I was pulling that number straight out of my butt.

"Oh, that's maybe a 16" spread," she said. Where y'all from, anyway?" she said, knowing the answer.

"Texas," I said, stepping into the trap.

"Oh. I might have known," she answered.

A tape was pulled out, showing an honest 20" spread (this picture has a point obscuring the final total, but it's 20"). Points were measured for later scoring. Just as well we measured it. The D.N.R. guy came back and took the head. Ambulance driver cussed roundly.

I took some more pics, and we all laughed and giggled in the cold for the next hour. If I had been the deputy, I would have assumed that everyone there was drunk or high, when in fact everyone on scene was sober.

We (A.D., with lots of spectators) finally got the deer skinned and quartered, and put it and A.D.'s gear and guns in the back of the Atomic Nerds' pickup. With 5 garbage bags of meat, about 10 rifle cases, and theirs and A.D.'s stuff, it made quite a pile. The Nerds prepped to tow A.D.'s pickup with a tow cable.

"Do you finally feel validated for having the truck?" asked LabRat to her stoic husband.

"Yes." Stingray looked satisfied.

Back at the FarmFam's house, I learned that Stingray is a hell of a brewmeister. His stout is superb, and I found nothing wrong with his IPAs, either. But after a glass of stout and four IPAs (Hey, back off-- I was on vacation.), I was feeling no pain. Whew.

What a lovely time.

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"Blogarado" Part 1. It's good to go see good people.

So Dad and I left a wedding on Saturday night, and drove across the Texas Panhandle and the Oklahoma Panhandle to end up in Colorado, at a blogmeet first proposed by FarmGirl, and hosted by her whole family.

"Mountains!" you're thinking. Nope. We were in a part of Colorado where the terrain is less geographically interesting, though I liked it.

The people there are quiet, and fiercely independent. That's not to say, though, that they are distant or rude; they just don't need Nanny Government to help them live their lives. People carry guns, and generally do it in the open, without comment about it. Elderly man limping around his pickup at the Dollar General? That's a 4" revolver on his belt. Plump woman at the Loaf 'N' Jug? That's a small auto on her belt. They're not brandishing; they're just being compliant with the law, which requires them to obtain a concealed carry license if they want to cover their guns, or requires them to carry openly if they don't have a CHL.. Carrying a gun is not a stunt; it's just a simple aspect of living.

We showed up early in the sleepy little town, and decided to nap in the car outside the breakfast restaurant, waiting for our friends to arrive. FarmGirl and friends went in, past our snoozing selves, and texted me to come inside.

I met plenty of great folks that I had read, and a few that I had not.

After a leisurely breakfast wherein we all snickered at the effect of a large and amorphous group (that constantly changes number and tables) has on a well-meaning but scatter-brained young waitress (bless her heart), we retired to the range.

At the range, there was a pistol table and a rifle table, and we had reactive targets at the lines near both. The first firearm I shot was the most famous Bersa Thunder on the Internet.

I then fired the Atomic Nerds' Wedding Rings: A pair of Les Baer 1911s that Stingray and LabRat had given each other in lieu of literal rings, for their wedding. I'm not kidding when I say that I almost choked up.

I won't go into the litany of all the guns we fired, because, frankly, I'd bore you. I will say that people were more than eager to share their guns with each other, and more than happy to give each other ammo, to levels of generosity that were just silly. Old NFO handed me a Browning Citori in the keenest leather-and-canvas fitted case that I've ever seen, and told me to go have fun shooting clays, when I lamented that I had left my shotguns at home. The beautiful over/under looked unfired. When the dadgummed case for a shotgun costs more than most of the firearms that I brought, that's a sweet rig.

FarmGram fed us all like kings. To say that we ate heartily would be an understatement.
Nobody watched where their guns or worried about them. Everyone took the safety of the others on as their responsibility, especially the safety of little KB, AmboDriver's daughter.
Everyone took care to make sure the others got their stuff back.

We had a great time.

But then...

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Happy birfday, InterWeb.

21 years ago, I was a little unusual in that I regularly contributed to the North Texas VaxCluster Bulletin Board System (NTV BBS). We used telnet to communicate with people down in Houston, and California, and such. I was so impressed when one of our regular contributors fired off some messages from Bangkok, Thailand. We were living in the future, at 1200 baud dial-up.

Graphic interfaces? Are you kidding me? It was all text. ASCII test, actually, and on a monochrome amber monitor.

I remember, two decades ago, considering whether to pay for the online service to get the Fort Worth Star Telegram for something like $20 a year, but then deciding not to. (The beginning of proof of the end, even back then. They were beginning to see that their marketing plan wasn't ready to deploy effectively.)

I remember firing up ProCom Plus on that XT Turbo with the new 20 meg hard drive, and that slight thrill as the external modem trilled and connected, blocking all other calls as it did so, so that I wouldn't be kicked off. No other phone. No interruptions.

I remember working nights in a help desk at Xerox in 1995, and deciding to go retro with the Windows 3.11 computer, going online with text-only programs, even though we technically could use graphic interfaces. As Xerox was part of the backbone of the Internet, I was amazed at the speed with which we could play network games research customers' problems.

ARPA put up ARPNet 40 years ago this month, and the Internet was technically born right then, some quarter-century before most of the world knew anything about it. It used to be a privelidge to get on the Internet; I remember having to sign some special paperwork to get an email account assigned to me at UT Austin back in the fall of 1990, and later at UNT in 1991. Now they automatically assign you one, and terminals are sprinkled around campuses like litter baskets or like payphones used to be. But like payphones, they're no longer much used, because the entire place is a WiFi hotspot, and everyone has a laptop, an ebook, or a superphone.

There used to be a technology gatekeeper at the doors of the internet: only those geeky enough to have a computer and keep it going, and willing to install and utilize their modems, would be able to get on. As such, there were some pretty bright people on there, back then. Now, in the Age of the Common Man, any fool can get on the internet as easily as he used to turn on Good Times or watch an ABC After-School Special. And they do.

The Internet is bringing us a tool for a world that is slightly different than we imagined even 15 years ago. It is paving the road for a new sexual revolution, allowing complete strangers to find each other far easier than ever before, for meaningless couplings.

Look at the data we can get.

Look at the connections we can make.

But people mostly still just use it to watch YouTube and porn.

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