Thursday, June 30, 2016

Running the Gun (Part One)

"He was two hundred and fifty feet away and shooting at a moving target. Oswald got off three rounds with an old Italian bolt action rifle in only six seconds and scored two hits, including a head shot!" Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) Full Metal Jacket (1987).

What does that look like to you? 

Here's a hint - it is a military, semi-automatic rifle that fires a 7.62mm...basically a thirty caliber...round. It does not have a detachable magazine, or pistol grip. Two of my friends were shot with one similar to it. A Jeffco SO sergeant was killed almost 20 years ago with one.

 How about this?

This is a Colt A3, an AR-15 system. It fires a .223 (5.56mm) caliber bullet - sort of a 22 on steroids. It is very similar to the one I carried when I was on patrol. It (and related systems) has been used in several high-profile mass murders, including one several Christmases ago in
Webster, NY where two firefighters were shot to death.

Can you tell the difference?

Well, of course you can. That was a silly question, right?

 How about this one? Getting tired of the games? 

Yeah, me, too.

The long-overdue gun discussion is lurching into the public consciousness, put there by yet another madman with a rifle. Only, this time (and several others), their madness grew not from defect, but from an inextinguishable passion to kill in the service of...something. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

What makes the black gun in the middle deadlier than the others? Or, is it? A matter of definition? Totally.

Let's start with lethality. One of the things I've learned is that any projectile, properly placed, can be deadly.

 "Richie loved to use 22s because the bullets are small and they don't come out the other end like a 45, see, a 45 will blow a barn door out the back of your head and there's a lot of dry cleaning involved, but a 22 will just rattle around like Pac-Man until you're dead." Vincent "Vinnie" Antonelli (Steve Martin), My Blue Heaven (1990).

Pistol grips, made of plastic, lots of attachments?

I carried this type of rifle in the ROTC in college. It is made mostly of wood and does not have a pistol grip. It is an extremely lethal weapon, very accurate and has a 20 round magazine. 

How about magazine capacity? If you have 30 rounds, you are more dangerous than a shooter with 15 rounds? No! The "black gun" is more quickly reloaded than the ones without detachable, easily accessed magazines. A skilled, experienced (but not necessarily expert) rifle handler can exchange magazines in a second, plus or minus. In the time it takes for someone under fire to perceive that there is a lull, the asshole has reloaded and is back to work. So, that makes it more lethal, right?

No. Another aspect of lethality is mission. What is the point of shooting someone, nestled in the mind of the shooter? Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy with an eight shot Ivers-Johnson .22 caliber pistol. That murder (like his brother's before him) probably changed the course of world history. SS really didn't care if anyone else was shot (in fact, five others were). He wanted Kennedy dead for (wait for it) his support of Israel.

So, fuck it. We're so confused. Let's get rid of all semi-automatic rifles, as a start.

Lee Oswald shot President John Kennedy with a bolt action rifle he had purchased through the mail for about 20 bucks. He used an alias. From an observation platform in a building in Dallas he fired three shots in under six seconds, striking Kennedy twice. Texas Governor John Connolly was also struck, possibly by one of the rounds that had passed through Kennedy.

A co-worker and I stood in the School Book Depository, mere feet away from where Oswald's sniper position had been reconstructed. We looked down onto Dealey Plaza, the spot where the bullets had struck the occupants of the car less than a hundred yards away. For Oswald, a trained marksman with a 4 power sight, it would have been easy.

Claire Davis, fifteen years old and a horsewoman of considerable ability, was the only victim of the December 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School. Was her death less tragic, the event less senseless, because she was the only one who died at the hands of a killer with a shotgun? Because she wasn't the intended victim?

Guns must be reasonably, rationally regulated. The trick then, is how? Keep the damn things out of the hands of people bent on murder, allow the law abiding to purchase them for their own uses. They are all lethal, especially in the possession of a trained marksman. Semi-auto, bolt action. Flint lock. They all kill. You want to decrease gun violence?

Figure out a way to keep guns and murderers as far apart as possible. How?

Many of you won't like the answer.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Reprieve, of Sorts

"You're no daisy. You're no daisy at all!" Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer), Tombstone. 

 The Supremes ended the 2015 term this morning not with a bang, but with the doorknob smacking them in the butt. The "blockbuster" cases decided today were... Not so. No law porn. At all.

Okay, The Supreme Court goes and gets an abortion case (decided in the Circuits in favor of the law), concocts a reason it "unduly burdens" a woman's rights and this is something unusual? They find everything an undue burden. No matter how you come down on this issue, once they granted cert it was just a question of who was going to write the opinion.

The reckless DV case was granted because the Circuits disagreed. There is technical language concerning the meaning of "reckless" and the requirement that there be some kind of criminal intent... ZZZZZZZZ. One of the defendants later killed a bald eagle. The other was a druggie. No reason either of them, or dudes like them, should own a gun. Sympathy meter needle not even trembling.

A former Virginia governor's conviction was sent back because there was something wrong with the jury instruction, and whether he had performed an "official act" in furtherance of blah, blah, blah. I didn't read this one very carefully because no one ever offers me hundreds of thousands of dollars to show favoritism to a recruit. Consequently, it has nothing to do with me and, anyway, the justices were unanimous. If they have no reason to argue with each other, who am I?

See you in October!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

In For Nothing

Please help me welcome to the wild world of blogging my friend Scott. He and I have worked together for years. He is a consummate professional, that voice on the other end of the electrons in Dispatch who says, calmly and without having to utter the words... "I have your back." We both grew up "Upstate" in New York, and understand how different the region is from the fast talking, hustle and bustle of "The Big Apple."

Enjoy his writing - the man has some serious game.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Shown the Door

"That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, July 4, 1776.

It seems ironic that those words come to mind on the day after Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union. Much of last night was consumed following the news on Twitter, considering the ramifications of an exit. A long FB conversation with a friend who served in the armed forces of Great Britain explored details unavailable elsewhere, an hour-long lesson in the realities of life in Europe.

Taking sides is an entirely human trait. Its deep psychological roots lead to an impulsive "us/them" reaction that then searches for justification. English citizens want freedom...or, they are setting themselves selfishly on the road to ruin, and taking the world's financial markets with them. Etc.

But... Isn't it majestic when a free people go unafraid to the polls and peacefully vote to restructure the principles under which they are governed?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Like A River

"The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets." Christopher Morley.

I got up this morning intent on riding. A flat, no spare tube (why that matters is for another time). Undaunted, I run errands, stop at a bike shop and hustle home.

The slog - it was a total slog - found me, finally, at the top of Lookout Mountain. Overweight, without a lot of high-end training this spring and a ride looming. Still, the view was gorgeous and I had enough gas in the tank to make it home with my dignity intact.


My diary from Bikecentennial says I spent tonight, forty years ago, in Virginia City, Montana, finding a bike inn after 60 inconsistent miles that day. Reedsport, Oregon was 1140 miles (and three-ish weeks) in the rear view. Starting out alone (as an "Independent") I'd made a riding friend named Glen. Riding mostly together (more on that later), we had gotten almost to Yellowstone.

The pages are filled with references to events long ago lost from memory. There are long climbs and terrifying descents. The weather is gorgeous along the coast and pouring rain in the "desert region"of eastern Oregon. There are bars, diners and snack foods. 

Lost on the pages, but still vivid in my memory was an old saloon in the small Montana town of Wisdom. One paved road - the way in, and the way out. There was a wooden Indian on the porch. Inside, weathered tables, creaking stools and a worn bar. The beers are cold, and rejuvenating. 

Some days I am strong, the hills mentioned for their views, or not recorded at all. Some days it takes everything I have to remount after a rest. There are flats, mechanical breakdowns. There is rain.

This is 1976. Gore-Tex had been invented only a few years before and was not widely available. Riding clothing mainly consisted of jean shorts, t-shirts and running shoes. The best any rain gear could do was keep one warm. You can imagine what wet cotton feels like pressed against a cycling saddle.  

The wilderness areas of Idaho were beautiful - lush, dense forests that seemed to extend forever. It rained for several days straight, and I was soaked. One night, unable to find a room in a very small town, I took refuge in a laundromat, dried out something to wear in the sleeping bag and, improbably, pitched a tent in a driving downpour. It was still coming down in ark-planning proportions the next morning.


I was all of twenty-one. I would make it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Seeking Perfection

"Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, but I know...
It's my own damn fault." Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett (1977).

Father's Day, 2016.

 Ribs on the Traeger. Bike ride in the AM, writing "Karen 3" and sipping a margarita. Of course.

Many readers of Bikecopblog will not be astonished. While a cold glass of white wine is de rigueure, when it's time to have a mixed drink out comes the tequila bottle. A good friend once commented that the best margs are made with a splash of "Grandma." The next question is - "What is the best margarita?" I've had several.
I had a best one just yesterday. Daughter Katy, husband Steve and children Graham and Greta moved from Perry Hall, MD to Aurora, CO about two weeks ago. I thought to visit, settled on a time and, in about half an hour, arrived at their front door. I came bearing gifts - among them a bottle of pre-mixed "Stinky Gringo" margarita. Katy and I sipped, got caught up. Greta decided to make a game of throwing a sock on my lap, running the length of the living room and then accepting it back. Another trip around the living room and...rinse, repeat. She giggled, we laughed and enjoyed the no-pressure afternoon. That was a perfect margarita.

I love the Rio Grande restaurant - Blake Street, downtown Denver. They have among the best margs in town. Limit: three. I've hit that a couple of times, always the same reason. I'm sitting with one of my friends. We haven't seen each other in a while. We exchange stories, laugh, remember the days we spent being cops together. Proud of ourselves, and each other. Thankful we are still in one piece. Perfect.

For several years I met Katy at the Rio for lunch about once a week. Often, lunch ran a little long and we hustled back to her office. She was an admin person for an oil company, and one day attended a briefing on the BP mess in the Gulf of Mexico. She had taken notes. For the next ninety minutes this extraordinarily bright young woman ran me through the whole situation. We sipped perfect margaritas.

Daughter Beth used to live in Ft. Myers, and worked for Rick Scott in Naples, before he became Governor of Florida. We made the 45 minute drive in the morning, and then I would prowl the beach until afternoon. Much of the novel "The Heart of the Matter" was written in waterside cafes. restaurants, bars and pavilions along the Gulf shore. At night, we'd stop at a fish store, cook in her kitchen and have a few drinks. Tequila, triple sec and mixer. The results were always perfect.

Son Matt is more of a wine drinker, but one night we met him, his new girlfriend and her parents in Ft. Collins. Of course, we did not know it at the time, but the young woman with whom we shared margs would be his wife. Together, they have two adorable children. Dinner had been a perfect start.

We had set sail from Port Canaveral on Freedom of the Seas. Our week-long cruise stopped for a day in Cozumel, Mexico. We had booked a shore excursion, to "Salsa, Salsa and Margaritas." We learned to make authentic salsa, danced a few steps ("Wax on, wax off) and made margaritas the local way. The cruise got us away from hectic lives pulled in every direction but together. We had "unplugged" from the net. It was just lovely Pat, the fresh Carib breeze and a brief immersion into a culture I've come to love. How could that not be perfect?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wind in the Hair Speaks

"I am not the thinker Kicking Bird is. I always feel anger first. There were no 
answers to my questions." Wind in the Hair (Rodney A. Grant), 
Dances With Wolves (1990).
Fifty people dead. Fifty-three wounded. The shooter is a man with ties to ISIS, a medieval organization who have apparently taken responsibility for this act of cowardice. It is a declaration of war.

I feel anger first. 

At work, I am able to submerge my emotions and do the job I've been trained to do. I have dispassionately put handcuffs on murderers. I've sat calmly and listened to child rapists spill their guts. I've looked at the exposed skull bone of a DV victim, and helped arrest her lover. I've done all of those things remembering the oath I took.

I've taken no oath not to hate people who have sworn an oath before their faith to kill us all. Fifty people dead. This was not an attack on one community. These were someone's friends, co-workers, family members, lovers. Americans, enjoying each other's company.

I feel anger first.

The picture is of a helmet worn by an Orlando SWAT operator, struck in the exchange of gunfire. We worried that the war would come here. It has.

I feel anger first.

Mr, President, your words were too conciliatory. Let's get on with it. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Unsocial Media

"Perhaps a lunatic is simply a minority of one." 1984. George Orwell.

A recent article appeared online suggesting that Facebook, the modestly intrusive, massively ubiquitous internet social-interaction giant (net corporate worth - $50 billion, give or take) is not an objective observer when it comes to political expression. Former employees told stories of being encouraged to fudge statistics, ignore trends or otherwise manipulate data in the interest of partisanship. Stunning as it might seem, these whistle-blowers were not suggesting that Facebook's behind the scenes shenanigans were designed to make conservatives look better.

Here is my shocked face.

One need not be a regular user on FB to notice some interesting trends. Oh, wait...

Full disclosure - I'm up on Facebook a lot, if you define a lot as "a lot." The interactions, even those with individuals whose politics are in clear opposition to mine, are refreshing, most of the time. Okay, I've blocked a person or two (mostly because I detest name calling) but that's just recreational. I keep up with current events, chat with friends and share pictures and memes of beaches. Occasionally, a friend will mention me while she is sipping a margarita at the Rio.

I use FB to get out the word about my writing. It is likely that you are reading this because I posted the link. So far, out of the nearly 47,000 hits Bikecopblog has enjoyed, two-thirds of them came over from FB. Readers have responded to the announcement of a newly-published novel, the beginnings of a manuscript or flocked to a web site to support fellow Wild Child authors.

I'm certainly not an FB rookie. So when I saw the news article I was already familiar with Mr. Zuckerman's creation.

But, wait!

A few days ago I clicked on a cop posting. It was one of the feel-good stories, of an officer racing to save someone. It was nice work. When it concluded, I returned to the main page.

Suggested Videos

"Cop shoots 4 year old. 'Mommy, am I going to die?'"

I was, of course, unamused. Let me first acknowledge that the accidental shooting of a four year old (the officer was shooting at her dog... I can't imagine) is deeply disturbing. It is a blessing she survived, and it would be highly unusual circumstances for that officer to remain employed. 

I just want to know - why would FB suggest to me, having read an "Officer Friendly" story, one where the  cop is almost certainly the villain? Why would anyone, their software included, think there was something to be gained?

I'm not worth $50 billion, so my guess doesn't count.

Mr. Hockey

"All hockey players are bilingual. They know English and profanity." Gordie Howe.

Noting the passing of hockey great Gordie Howe.

No one who saw young Gordie Howe play, a big kid from Saskatoon trying out for the Detroit Red Wings, had the slightest doubt he would stick in the NHL. That he would lead the league in scoring multiple times, be serially most valuable player and be known as one of the greatest hockey players of all time was still to be determined. But, the young man definitely had game.

Gordie made his Red Wing debut in 1946 at the modest age of eighteen. His contract - a few thousand a year - had a unique signing bonus, one the team nearly forgot. So the story goes, the quiet six footer stood uncomfortably outside of the GM's office, shifting to and fro. He had come to claim his bonus...a Red Wings team jacket.

Hockey in this era was a different sport than the one currently played. Helmets were rarely worn (often only in the aftermath of a head injury, discarded as soon as possible), and goaltenders braved blistering shots, rock-hard pucks whizzing past their ears, wearing nothing on their faces but a crooked, scarred frown. The National Hockey League had six teams, with only four...three and the Montreal Canadians...making the playoffs. Trains - including overnights in Pullman cars - were the preferred method of travel.

Hockey was also a meaner sport. Judicious use of a stick was an accepted method of retribution. So was a deft elbow.  Howe stories abound where he felt slighted by someone (often for the inexcusable act of taking the puck from him), and exacted immediate, often painful revenge. One referee (in those days, there was only one on the ice) remembers a building-shaking crash behind him. Turning, he saw a player, who had moments before bodied Howe, crumpled in an inert heap. Howe was skating away, angelic look on his face.

Another time, a player stole the puck from Howe - "picked his pocket" - and started back up ice. The opponent recalled a "whoosh, whoosh" sound behind him, similar to an approaching freight train. The blade of a stick appeared under his arm, tip menacing the end of his nose. "Check out, Junior," Mr. Hockey growled. The kid did what he was told.

Howe  played into the 1970's, long enough for his sons to join him. By then gray haired and a half step slower, he was still a formidable force. I saw him play in a dreary, damp rink in Boston, in the waning years of his career. He played for Houston, a member of the fledgling World Hockey Association, appearing against the New England Whalers. He was not much of a factor in the game, but it was obvious players did not trifle with him.

He passed away at 88, the victim of dementia and advanced age. There have been a few great hockey players over the years. Several had a profound influence on the sport itself. A handful can be called truly gifted. Gordie Howe didn't change the way the game was played. All he did was change every game in which he appeared, the moment he stepped on the ice.

Mr. Hockey. Number Nine in your program.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Champ

"I hated every minute of training, but I said 'Don't quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion."

Noting the passing of Muhammad Ali.

Before there was a "most interesting man in the world" there was a man who was most recognizable. Muhammad Ali was more than a boxer, personality, activist. Of all of the human beings of his era, he was the one man who could go to places renowned or remote, populated by moderns or sustained by tribes and be instantly the center of attention.

He was an athlete who straddled two Americas - one where race prejudice was practiced publicly, legally and  institutionally, and that he helped build. Where, together, the vestiges of discrimination are slowly, inevitably, rendered a thing of the past.

He was at the top of his game, a glib, unapologetic master of the ring, when he appeared on an afternoon talk show. He told the story of driving cross country, stopping for gas and to use the restroom. He was refused the door key. "I got back in my Cadillac and left."

Some years later, at a gas station outside of Charlotte, I held the door open for a young African-American man of about twenty-five. He hesitated, staring, as though a prank was about to unfold. Apparently unaware of the local customs, I waited until he walked through.

There is so much more to do. The Sweet Sport is a cruel master. It robbed us - first of Ali's glibness and now of the man himself - at a time when brash but candid could sure come in handy. He was a man who refused to be anything but genuine.

He was, and may always be, the most recognizable man of my generation.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'
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