Better And Better

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ruh Roh, Hraggy. Brahd Shience!

See now the imminent storm to the eastern coast.

The importance of this hurricane Irene isn't its speed. It's not that this is the umpteenth storm of the year. It's just that it's bearing down on a raking path through some of the most populated portion of our nation. That's it.

This is not a notable climate event.

This is weather. Just like this long hot spell for us (we missed the record, darn it. Who wants the silver? Bah!), is just weather.

Just like that long icy period that we had at the end of January here in north Texas was just... weather.

I'm not a climatologist*, but I've taken Research Methods, and I've taken Statistics, and outliers happen. We tend to throw them out.

Trying to take anecdotes and turn them to prove your personal theories on climate is NOT GOOD SCIENCE, people.

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*It's amazing how many folks do tend to want to argue with them that are. I'll listen, but really, if your argument is based on anecdotes, your science ain't up to snuff, y'know?

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Thinking about tragedy.

I just got off the phone a few minutes with my friend Ambulance Driver. If you're not aware, this is a practitioner of emergency medical response who has dedicated his life to teaching its effective application in the field. Last year, I was telling him on the phone about a CPR case that I had worked until we shoved the guy into the ambulance. He pointed out to me some changes that have recently been made in protocol, and said derisively, "Some paramedics are still treating cardiac cases like it's 2007." I made him repeat that. It was 2010. "Para medicine has made some real advances lately," he told me. "Especially in cardiac cases."

So when I read his recent blog "To Jennifer," I thought back to the compilation that we worked on together. I have in the past few years met the people affected by that wreck, and I promise you that AD has, too, from his end.

I just wish that I could write as well as he can.

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For what it's worth, I think we'll just put together a little Perspectives post again, soon. Too many of our experiences dovetail.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A time to listen.

19 years ago last month, I took a trip with the woman who would eventually become my wife. We didn't know where we were going, really. We had a Ranger pickup, and some camping gear, and a very little bit of money, and a desire to go see some countryside.

We headed south, because we wanted to see the Hill Country. And we headed west, because we wanted to camp in the desert. We didn't know where we were going to camp until we pitched our tent, the first night, in the Monahans Sandhills.

We went on to explore the petroglyphs among the great climbing rocks at Hueco Tanks, because my father had told me of some interesting ones that he had found there. I went right to the ones that he was talking about. I had listened.

We went north from there, and, running on fumes, stopped at the entry to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park for directions for gas. The desk ranger laughed with a friendly smile, and advised me not to give up driving north; I had stopped 400 yards shy of a gas station just around the bend from the entrance. She invited us to come back to the park. 11 years later I did, and wished that I had come back earlier. But I had listened.

We got to Carlsbad, and saw the Caverns, and continued north to Carizozo, where we met the friendliest people I've ever met, who helped us with our ailing tire, and provided us shelter from a passing thunderstorm before giving us instructions to a (then) new campsite called Red Clouds, up in the mountains north. In these days of GPS, it is surprising to think that I found the remote campsite, up a gravel track miles off the secondary roads. But we did, and we marveled at the beauty of the oasis in the mountains, green and cool above the desert below. We had listened, and were glad.

We went on to Taos, and up into the Kit Carson National Forest, where another tire let go on us. We couldn't change it because the previous owner had put lock lugs on the tires, and they had been wallowed out by over-enthusiastic air hammering. We used a repaired foot pump every mile or so until we made it to a mountain general store, and learned that the last plug patch had been sold. A passing fly fisherman heard my plight, and pulled out from his truck an enormous tool kit, from which he removed a hammer and chisel, some giant Vise Grips and a breaker bar. He saved our trip, because he had listened. (The vacationing mechanic from Clovis would take no money.)

We went on to part of the Cibola National Forest, where if we had listened better, we would have donned some clothing before the National Guard helicopter flew over us at treetop level. We still laugh about that.

Then we drove home, across the droning emptiness that is far eastern New Mexico and West Texas. This is the Llano Estacodo that has worn out many a traveller with its sameness. It is miles and miles of miles and miles. For the first time in our trip, my someday-future-bride-to-be and I got snippy with each other. It was just the irritation that the nine-day trip was over, and our money was gone, along with our vacation time at our respective crappy jobs. But looking back, I fell in love with my wife on that trip. We listened to audiobooks on tape during that trip together (I recall Scott Turow's excellent Presumed Innocent was one.), which helped, but we also listened to each other. We told each other stories and anecdotes which are now old to each other.

Hear me: the roadtrip is an experience-building opportunity for you and your companion. In this case, my companion eventually became my lifelong companion. But I think back to trips that I've made with my father, and my best friend, and my roommates, which are benchmarks in our relationships. They're a great time to talk, and to listen to others.



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Monday, August 15, 2011

Space. I can't help that I love it.

Today I listened to a broadcast of RadioLab, in which they did several quick audio essays about space.

Look, I know that it's pushing it a bit to say that the Constitution authorizes our government to spend my money on space exploration. But I love that we're doing some of it. The very last story in the one-hour show is about trying to get private companies to explore space.

The first one was about the meaning that, Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, puts into the golden record that she directed the production of, just before it was launched with Voyager. I have to admit, her story got to me.

It's a quick hour, divided up into short essays, if you'll give it a listen.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Define Tea Party Movement for me.

I'm seeing very, very wide variation in perceived planks of the Tea Party movement.

I personally have considered it to be a movement that I would affiliate myself with, because it was based on the idea that we are overtaxed, and that our governments had best not be using our taxes on things not directly mandated in their mission. Fiscal conservatism, in other words.

But I'm being told that Tea Partiers are:

1--Pro Gun (Well, why not? But is that a mandate?)
2--Pro Republican (Wait-- I thought that the Tea Party movement was critical of the Republican Party?)
3--Anti Democrat (Wait-- more so than the Republicans?)
4--Pro Christian (Why? Did Christ say "No taxation without representation!")
5--Anti Gay (You know how they love to spend, spend, spend! That's why all gays are poor, as opposed to us Breeders...)
6--Pro-Whitey
7--Anti freedom of speech
8--Pro War (but wait-- war costs money)
9--Anti Abortion
10--Pro-Death Penalty
11--And maybe, if they get around to it, pro-balanced budget and pro-reduced spending.

So what is it, folks? What's absolutely intrinsic to the Tea Party Movement? Please note whether you identify with it, in your answers.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Misplaced enthusiasm for failure.

I was working security for a Drunken Barn Dance on Saturday, and an inebriated local businessman sidled up next to me.

"'D'd'ja hear wha' happened to our economy yesterday?" he asked me, with fumes of Bud Light stinging my eyes.

"You mean the downgrading of our loans by S&P from triple A to double A? Yep. Heard that," I said.

"Well, it means.... we're screwed," he wheezed. "'Cuz you know who owns us? You know what's gonna happen to us?!?"

"Are you implying that China, who owns a large portion* of our debt, is going to suddenly call in our markers, now that they see us at a moment of economic weakness?" I asked.

"Yeah! They got us by the short hairs! We're screwwwed!" he said, as he tipped back his coozy-covered can.

"Okay. Let me ask you: Who is China's biggest market?" I asked levelly.

"Huh?" he asked, with his beer still draining into his mouth.

"Think about it. Where is China's biggest market. Where do they sell most of their cheaply-made products?" I asked him, speaking slowly.

He looked at me searchingly with wet, rheumy eyes, before venturing, "The U.S.?"

"Right. Their best customer is the very country whose debt they hold. It is in their interest to see our economy do well, so that we can buy more of their crap, right?"

He slowly nodded, "Right. Right."

"And, honestly, when China does get paid back, they'd rather the dollar was a bit stronger than it is, so that those billions of US dollars would bring more value, right?" I don't think that he got this part, but the other part had hit home.

"Yeah. Yeah! Sir, I want to shake your hand. You're the smartest guy I know," he slurred.

I laughed out loud as I shook his hand. I didn't mean to insult the man. He had been worried, and now he felt a little better. "Not hardly, sir. Not by a long shot, I promise you." As he over-shook my hand, I began to worry about him having a sober ride home.

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A self-confessed north Texas liberal (they exist, but they're rare, and most of them, unlike Barry Green, are rabidly irritating) wrote today:
"I don't think I ever seen so many people (who happen to be President Obama haters) so giddy about unemployment and a stock market crash."

I have to admit that I agree. Hey, I don't want the guy as my President, either. But he's got the wheel of the ship that we're in, so why should we be gleeful about him putting us on the rocks?

I believe that I've spoken to this topic before.

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*Actually, only about 26% of our foreign-held public debt. Which is a lot, but it's not the Whole Enchilada, or anything.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

We can't trust until we've unearthed the corruption.

Thanks for nothing, NOLA P.D.

You've helped create a national distrust of police that affects me every day that I work.

While the five New Orleans Police Department officers convicted today weren't found guilty of murder, they were found guilty of improper actions resulting in the unwarranted deaths of citizens, and the cover-up of the shootings on the Danziger Bridge.

I live a few hours west of New Orleans, and regularly am told that I simply have to visit the place. For the culture. For the food. For the history.

Y'all can keep that stuff. I'm not voluntarily going to a place where, when you're in trouble, you don't dare call the cops, because you're afraid that they're crooks, too.

Having never been to New Orleans, I have thus never left anything there, and have no reason to go there. From what I can see, it is our nation's greatest shame. Why didn't we just quit the town, after the hurricane?

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The time it never rained.

Dad has more than once referenced the terrible drought that Texas went through in the mid 1950's. Friend Art, who lives in Terlingua, TX, actually indirectly got some land out of that. The Terlingua Ranch was a very large ranch (by which I mean to say hundreds of sections) in the Big Bend area. While it was desert out there, it could support cattle, so long as the rancher did his part to put in guzzlers and windmill-fed stock tanks. But water catchments don't work when it stops raining, and even springs and wells will dry up, when there's no water trickling down to the groundwater. The ranch fell on hard times, and the land was subdivided and sold off in parcels. Art bought some of it back when the original buyers subdivided again and sold it again, and then again bought some when the descendants of the original buyers sold off what seemed to them to be a questionable inheritance.

My wife has twice been down there in that desert country with me, and she refers to it as a "mudhole." It seems that her visits are very good for the wildlife down there; she attracts rain. The running joke out there is "We only get 7 inches of rain a year... but you should be here the afternoon that it falls!" I have seen some torrents out there.

This year is dry in north Texas. Actually, that's something of an understatement; it's on track to become the driest year this state has ever recorded. It's impressive that they're talking about the drought as state-wide, because we share little in common here in NE Texas with climate in SW Texas, which has little to do with the Panhandle region or the Piney Woods or the Gulf Coast or the Rio Grande Valley. It's 689 miles as the crow flies, from Amarillo to Brownsville, TX. It's 729 miles for that crow to fly from Texarkana to El Paso, TX. From the northwest corner of the panhandle to the SE corner of the state, it's a straight line flight of 799 miles, according to Google Earth. So when we say that "the state is in a drought," that's a point of significance.

Cattle owners are sending this year's beeves to slaughter, but more importantly, they're sending next year's heffers up, too. There's no more grass and hay, and water's now a consideration. This is good news for the consumer purchasing beef in the very near future, but next year, I expect that it's going to sting when you buy a T-bone. When I chased a young bull back into its pasture after he had pushed through a decrepit barbed wire fence to get at the meager ditch grass, I spoke to the landowner about fixing up the fence. "It don't matter," he told me. "They're all going to the feed lot tomorrow, anyway. Hay is $128 a round bale, when you can get it. I can't afford to keep 'em. I'm selling out." This from a cattle owner with diverse investments, like the bar that he was running while he spoke to me over the phone.

We're noticing the heat more than most years. I read that the state average temperature for the month of July was 87 degrees. Well, that doesn't sound so bad, does it? It does when you realize that it's the 24 hour average, from July 1 to July 31. I cannot recall the last day that it wasn't triple digit temperatures, here, but I know that it's been more than a month. The bank sign shows the highest temperatures at about 7:00 PM. My wife started to pull over and take a picture of it when it showed 112° F, but then decided not to take the picture when it dropped back down to 111°; it's just too common around here. 108° was cool enought that my elder daughter went out to wash and decorate her little sister's bike, just for the fun of it.

Foundations are shifting. My back door wouldn't open until I lay a soaker hose at the junction of the patio and the house, and ran it for about 6 hours to re-hydrate the clay soil to get it to push the foundation back up.

My yard has long since turned yellow, which grass crushes into a beige ash under my footsteps when I go to water the trees. The tomato plants are almost denuded of vegetation because they are the only green leaves near the grown. Grasshoppers have turned into brown locusts that are three inches long, which explode from under my feet as I walk. As they swarm, my thoughts turn from their polymorphism toward the plagues of Moses. This spring, we had some terrible hail storms that took out windows and destroyed the local blueberry crop. Now the drought and the plague of locusts. My cats brought fleas (not unlike lice) in, and I had to repeatedly bomb the house to get rid of them. So far, I've not had boils, but if I see too many frogs, I'm going to worry about my elder daughter's health.

I think I'm joking.

I just got a fancy new vest from SafariLand for work. It has better coverage, but it has a sealed cover over the panels that makes them feel like they're wrapped in shower curtains. Frankly, I'll take my chances tonight; I'm not wearing it when it's this hot.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Remember the collar-bomber bank heist story?

Back in August, 2003, pizza delivery man Brian Wells robbed a bank with a bomb locked around his neck. When the cops caught him, he sat on the ground in front of a police car, while they all waited for the bomb squad. On camera, he exploded 15 minutes later.

Well, Wired Magazine writer Rich Schapiro wrote a superb story on that case, which really, finally gives us The Rest Of The Story.

Go read.

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