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Turtle Time

It is officially turtle time.

Every spring turtles of all types emerge from their muddy hideaways, under stream banks, under logs, or burrowed deep into the soft dirt on the side of a farm field.

Turtles are gentle creatures, hurting no one, and yet when they make themselves vulnerable by appearing on the sides of roads, or trying to cross roads, many drivers go out of their way to hit them. Seems obvious to say, a turtle hit by a vehicle will either die a long, lingering, painful death, or if they are small, they will be crushed outright.

What the hell is that about, anyway?

Seeing these sad, destroyed, dead little things strewn about on the roadsides is painful. Turtles really bother no one, and they should elicit human compassion and empathy for their slow but intense drive to find a safe and soft place to dig a hole and lay their eggs. It is not their fault that humans have built uncrossable roads with no wildlife tunnels, or that some humans delight in maiming little animals.

Please slow down along Front Street in Susquehanna Township and entering into Harrisburg, and give the turtles there a break. After millions of years, they have earned it.

It will not hurt to drive slower, but it will definitely help

Are so many of us harried, in a hurry, a bit frayed around the nerves and feeling out of time?

Yes. This frenzied lifestyle is common.  It is a sign and way of our time now, where life does not stand still for a second. Smart phones, GPS, email, texting, everything is happening real-time, right now, and we MUST respond and act. We are scheduled by the minute.

Adrenaline junkies like it, and everyone else stays laser focused to the exclusion of much else, goal oriented all the way.

This modern anxious existence is a form on tunnel vision, and it can be witnessed anywhere there is a red traffic light, a stop sign, a pedestrian cross walk, a parking lot, heck even a school pick up zone.

These locations are choke points, places where cars and people tend to gather, and where prevailing traffic must slow down. But a lot of drivers do not slow down in these areas, either because they have tunnel vision or because they are desensitized to congestion. Like everything else, they just plow through it.

Daggone, drivers are in a HURRY to get to that next stop sign, or the next red light. If they would pay attention to the vehicles around them, they’d see that blasting from one light to the next does not advance their cause, but it does eat up their gas and increase the risk of hitting someone.

Parking lots are the biggest buggaboo I see and experience, where drivers just go way too fast. Parking lots are relatively small areas and there is little room for error there. If a driver speeds, driving fast in a parking lot during business hours, there is a real possibility of a pedestrian or two walking through to their car but meeting up with the speedster, instead.

Let us ask some simple questions: Why are we hurrying in these small, tight, confined spaces? What actual time saved are we hoping to bank, a second, two seconds?

What is that miniscule amount of time worth against the life or health of another person, who may be walking nearby? What is our time savings worth when we hurt someone, and then suffer the consequences along with them?

It won’t hurt to slow down. It might even help, because accepting the terrible fate of losing a few seconds of time can become a form of Zen relaxation.

Try it, you will like it.

 

Dr. Wil Steger, My Friend, My Hero

Dr. Wil Steger sat next to me on a domestic flight, up in Buffalo, New York, I think, in 1994.

By the end of the flight, I was a big admirer of his, among a long line of admirers around the world. We maintained a relationship up until today, when he died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by family.

A former employee of the RAND Corporation in the 1950s, Wil and his wife Sheila started their own analytical service provider, CONSAD, in Pittsburgh, in the 1960s. Wil’s PhD in economics from Harvard shaped the way he saw government policy and decision making, and it allowed him to remain objective and aloof from the messy politics involved. As a result, Wil’s dispassionate and insightful research was sought by private and public customers around the world.

Wil was an economic and policy advisor to every president from JFK through W, and he showed me his blue “WHITE HOUSE” cap with pride. He had been in the White House a lot; more times than he could recall.

But you would never know that Wil was so smart, or so successful. He was humble, and self-effacing, and funny. He and Sheila were committed to their Pittsburgh community, to financially needy families, to educational institutions, to friends, and to family.

Some of my best adult memories are of sitting in their Squirrel Hill living room late at night, with a glass of wine or a tea in hand, talking about whatever with both Sheila and Wil, and then with just Wil after Sheila left us.

Bye, old friend. Your advice and professional guidance helped me make a lot of careful decisions that shaped my career, personal life, and my family, and I am forever indebted to you for your kindness and good way. May you rest in peace.

The service is Monday, in Squirrel Hill.

 

A Flyers’ Bill of Rights

If you fly on planes to get long distances, then you know the experience has changed dramatically over the past fifteen years. Ever since 2001, flyers have become suspects, meals have been removed, and it is no longer a fun or exciting experience.

The reduction of personal space allotted to seats, i.e. the increase in the number of seats per plane without increasing the size of the plane, has made it a much more cramped experience.

For most people, flying has become a tense and uncomfortable undertaking.

With United Airlines’ recent assault on the most innocent and gentle Dr. Dao, who suffered a concussion and knocked out teeth because he dared to sit in the seat he had purchased on a United Airlines plane, a national discussion has begun.

This discussion is about what rights do passengers have, and what duties do airlines have.

Shouldn’t passengers have lots of rights?

Shouldn’t airlines have lots of duties to their paying customers?

If the way its staff treat its passengers, United Airlines is an especially poorly run company and is downright dangerous for the passengers. Go online and search out “United Airlines violence passengers” and you will see plenty of videos of innocent flyers who have been targeted by rude, impatient, bullying stewardesses, captains, and other flight staff. The smallest of perceived slights often result in the flight staff accusing the passenger of being “disruptive.”

March in the muscle, and beat the hell out of the person who paid for their seat and wanted to stay there.

United Airlines has cultivated a culture of viciousness against its own flyers.

So much for flying the friendly skies!

Two weeks ago United Airlines booted a just-married couple headed to South America for their honeymoon. The facts are all on the side of the couple. They encountered an especially crabby stewardess who was having a bad day, could not control herself, and who picked a fight with the couple. Even when the couple retreated to their seats and cowered, the stewardess was unrelenting. She was on a power trip.

Other airlines have the same kinds of problems, though not nearly as violent as United Airlines, and thus has the demand begun for a flyer’s bill of rights.

Here is a try:

Declaration One: If a passenger buys a seat on a plane, and arrives there during the seating period, then the passenger is entitled to stay in that seat the duration of the flight.

There can be no bait-and-switch by airlines. If they sell you a seat, then that is your seat.

Declaration Two: Airlines cannot compel passengers to leave their seats for “overbooking.”

Overbooking is gross incompetence, or criminal theft, where the airline tries to hedge its potential losses by taking on more passengers than it has seats for on a plane, and then blames the paying passengers for having bought a seat. The airline then engages in all kinds of bribery and threats. This is where the sad Dr. Dao got tripped up and professionally beaten to a pulp.

Declaration Three: Airline staff who falsely accuse passengers shall be charged with felony assault and shall pay treble damages to said passenger.

One of the classic tricks these evil airline staff do is start a dispute with a passenger, and then blame the passenger. They accuse them of being “disruptive.” A flight passenger is in a precarious and especially vulnerable position. When flight staff exploit that weakness and falsely accuse the passenger, a bright line separating civilization from barbarism has been crossed. The right kinds of disincentives have to be created to dissuade flight staff from acting like petty tyrants, and to behave professionally.

These declarations might sound simple and obvious, but apparently the law of the jungle is not working on our airplanes right now, and we have to start somewhere to reintroduce basic human rights and civility.

And to think that when I was a kid I looked forward to getting on a plane!

UPDATE April 22: Now American Airlines has new video and still photos of a flight attendant gone wild, a burly man who hit a passenger, a mother carrying twin babies. He hit her on her head with the metal stroller her kids had been in, and then he challenged other passengers who objected to fight him, and then threatened to have them thrown off the plane. Folks, what we are seeing is the result of too much leeway, responsibility, and decision making being given to people with no background, experience, or training to handle it. As a result, the powertripping opportunities and ego rushes take over, and these flight attendants go bananas on people who are literally flying from one end of the earth to the other. We deserve a Passenger Bill of Rights.

Book Review: Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook 4th Edition, Data Rifle Handgun Calibers Molds

My apologies up front to the authors, but this is a disappointing book, sorry to say. The good news is there is an obvious need for a fifth edition that addresses the deficiencies.

Despite its title, this is not a handbook about cast bullets.

It is first and foremost a handbook about Lyman reloading products.

Second, it is a long listing of popular pistol and rifle round dimensions, as cast in an undefined lead alloy (probably linotype alloy, judging by that alloy’s popularity in the book).

Beyond that this book is a random assortment of poorly structured and brief, incomplete descriptions of elements of lead bullet casting. I hate to do this, but here are some specific criticisms:

1) It has few European cartridges and no (British, German, Swedish, Austrian, French) Black Powder Express calibers. This is a gaping hole in any case, but especially in light of the tremendous upsurge in interest in BPE rifles.

2) Nothing about paper patching, which has seen a resurgence because it works very well, and a lot of, if not most 1870s-1890s black powder guns in America and Europe shot paper patch cast lead bullets.

3) Unbelievably lame and incomplete lead alloy list, missing critical and most practical field-use characteristics for each alloy. When I purchased this book new, I was expecting some discussion of the relative merits of pure lead, 50:1, 40:1, 30:1, 20:1, 16:1, and 12:1 lead alloys, and perhaps a discussion of their different purposes i.e. thin skinned or thick skinned game, at what ranges, their hardness and weight out of the same mould relative to one another, plain base vs. gas check, etc. There are some lead alloys that are predominant or most popular (40:1, 20:1, 16:1) among reloaders, because they are very practical, cheap, easy to make, easy to cast. There is zero recognition of this simple fact here. Instead the authors treat us to their own narrow interest in very hard Linotype alloy, which of course has its use on the toughest big game, but my gosh, gentlemen, there is a whole world out there of LEAD.

4) Lots of wasted pages and space on scientific nonsense about melting lead. I have a graduate degree in statistics and economics, which indicates I can think hard and well when I have to, and I have a lot of interest in the subject of casting lead bullets (and sinkers, and jigs). And yet, I still fell asleep after the first paragraph about the physics of melting lead. This section is unreadable, as well as pointless and useless for practical lead casters.

5) Very little is written about mould types or materials i.e. relative merits of bronze vs. brass vs. iron vs. steel, or should we use the antique moulds or have new ones made, or how to care for moulds, single block vs. split block, etc. This is a huge subject as more and more mould makers have come on line all over America and Canada to meet the strong demand for custom bullet moulds, each offering their own preference of mould material.

6) Nothing about the Ideal tool, which is also becoming popular again, i.e. how do you properly store and travel with your paper patched bullets, so you can load them on-site?

7) It is pre-Internet, although an Appendix is roughly tacked on promoting certain Lyman wares and suppliers available on the Web.

8) Finally, adding insult to injury, the cover contradicts the text. The primary author describes how he ladle – pours with the spout right in the mould pour-hole. Yet the cover shows a dramatic looking stream of molten lead leaving the ladle and landing in the mould some distance below. And that right there summed it up for me: The cover shows one thing, the text describes another. I am frustrated and disappointed by this book, and so I rank it at the very bottom of reloading books.  And yes, I have been shooting black powder since I was a kid, so I know of which I speak. Frankly, you can get much better, more useful, more accurate, more up-to-date information from the guys at various web pages (castboolits, nitro etc.) than you will get from this book.

How sad this is. But as noted, if the authors address these concerns, the next edition should be truly a bible on cast bullets.

 

Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land

For a long time, former NRA president Charlton Heston was still my president.

During the Clinton presidency for sure, and even plenty of times in the George W. Bush presidency, I felt like the person in the White House did not understand or represent my views.  So, frequently I would say “Charlton Heston is still my president.”

Even though he was no longer NRA president, he still best captured my views on being an American.

Charlton Heston may have been president of the NRA, a big deal, but even more important, he played the role of Moses in the movie The Ten Commandments.

Heston played that part with intense passion, because as a man of faith, it meant a lot to him. He believed in the words he said as an actor, because the words he said on screen had the power to suggest in millions of homes across America.

His suggestion was  that America follow the Bible.

Why not? America is based on the Bible.

Heston ends his role on the east side of the Red Sea, proclaiming liberty throughout the land.

Here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Liberty Bell sits, with the Biblical words “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land,” taken from the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The Passover story tells the details of that experience, an inspiring lesson that has come to symbolize freedom for oppressed people all over the world.

Tonight is the beginning of Passover, and this coming weekend is Easter. Together the two holidays capture the Judeo-Christian foundation of America. One is a more physical release from bondage, while the other is more of a spiritual release, a resurrection of the indomitable human spirit.

You need both to be totally free, to totally know liberty. And to be an American you absolutely must know liberty, and reject big government, nanny state policies, and government overreach.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

The bigger the individual liberty, the happier the American, the more spirited he is.

So this special week in particular, let each of us proclaim liberty throughout the land of America, my fellow citizens.

Rejoice in our religious liberties, our political liberties, our free speech liberties, our freedoms, and cherish them, cherish them all.

Remain dedicated to liberty, for it is always unpopular with the many people who would enslave us all, and we do not have to look far at all to find those people, as power corrupts.

 

Ooh-ooh, that smell

Dedicated readers of this site might wonder why we are not commenting about the lameness of a political party that filibusters everything in the US Senate, used “the nuclear option” themselves to advance the most radical and extreme federal judges and political appointees from 2010 to 2015, but which now is screaming bloody murder that the other political party followed their lead, did exactly what they did with the Senate rules, and allowed a simple majority vote to confirm the next US Supreme Court justice (Gorsuch) yesterday.

Why would a normal, healthy person spend time on that issue? It is obviously quite insane. One political party is dominated by people with an agenda that does not fit in with America’s political model. Would you normal people please stop supporting the Democrat Party, until its leadership is replaced with normal, mainstream Americans?

Instead, this essay here takes a line from a Lynyrd Skynyrd song about drug abuse, “Oooh-ooh that smell.”

This is about a daily personal health issue that seems to be unknown and unaddressed, despite having a real effect on Americans across the country. If you care about your health, read on.

We Americans are so addicted to cheap Chinese junk (tools, food, clothing, furniture, shoes, tires) that we shop ever more in big box stores filled to the brim with that cheap Chinese junk.  Or buy from Amazon, which imports from China by the shipful.

And when you enter the doorway of these big box stores, you are confronted with an odd, sickly sweet smell associated with the vast majority of Chinese manufacturing: Formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is used to pickle human remains for wakes and open casket funerals. It is used to stash scientific specimens in glass containers, so they will not rot, so they can be viewed and studied.

Formaldehyde is dangerous, toxic, and both acutely and chronically dangerous. And yet Americans work around hugely elevated amounts of formaldehyde in these ubiquitous big box stores, and Americans shop daily in these same places, all blissfully unaware that they are inhaling a significant amount of nasty chemical.

The formaldehyde you smell in the store is off-gassing from the consumer items sitting in cardboard boxes on the store shelves. This chemical permeates everything made in China, and there is so much of it that for years it keeps leaking out of the plastics, fabrics, and woods sent here, which we then put in our homes and garages as furniture and tools.

You are worried about ambient cigarette smoke? Cut us a break! Exposure to air-borne formaldehyde in these amounts is far worse for the human body, far riskier than the occasional cigarette, as is standing on a street corner in down town Manhattan, waiting for a street light to change, for that matter, because of all the ozone, particulates, and sulfur/ carbon dioxide/monoxide smog.

But nothing is being done about ambient formaldehyde risk, because it is associated with too much money and economic activity. And it is invisible, except to the nose.

There are no sexy prohibitionist crusades about ambient formaldehyde like there is with tobacco use (an upcoming subject here).  And yet take a good whiff the next time you go to a big box store. That weird sickly sweet smell is formaldehyde. Your lungs are getting a free embalming when you enter.

Note: If we bought American products, made in USA facilities where formaldehyde is not allowed to be used, then we would not be exposed to it when we went shopping. But we are like drug addicts, addicted to cheap Chinese junk, to our own detriment.

Perception

My perception of many people around me is changing, and I don’t like it.

Many people are partisan enough to do everything they can to downplay the scandal unfolding around Susan Rice and her former boss, Obama.

When someone’s partisan commitment is greater than their commitment to the health of our republic, then the ties that bound no longer exist. We are on totally different sides of a line.

Note that Nixon was forced to resign by a bipartisan effort to bring credibility back to the presidency. We wouldn’t see that today.

Man, that scares me. It means Americans no longer share the values and identity that were the glue that made us one nation. One people.

It’s hard to take seriously a lawyer friend who can find no fault with Susan Rice or Obama, and who can find nothing right with Trump. If an officer of the court can’t be trusted to be objective, then the whole premise of America falls.

Drugs are destroying the next generation

Over the past weeks, the stories in the press and among friends and family about destructive drug use are overwhelming. Overwhelming in number and in sadness, these reports spell a problem for the next generation.

Young people in their teens, twenties, dying from drug overdoses. These are otherwise together and with-it young people, who looked forward to fulfilling careers and family life. Or going to jail, as did one young man I have known since he was born.

My own two older kids report back on their brushes with “casual” drug use, describing to their mother and I with some hilarity the carefree antics of their fellows using hard drugs and “recreational” drugs, like marijuana.

But nothing is funny about this. It is terrifying.

Yesterday I read that 33,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015. This is not your grandfather’s “pot”; rather, it is an unknown witches’ brew of various toxins and addictive drugs all mixed together. Usually these mixes are designed by drug dealers to get people hooked, so they come and buy more drugs. But these mixes are killing a lot of people, or destroying their careers and their families.

At the Middle Paxton Township building this morning, I saw a flyer for an upcoming community meeting about opioid abuse. So many regular families have it.

Yesterday I sent two emails to my two daughters:

“Girls, I love you both so so so much. All your lives I’ve stayed up late comforting you when you were sick, or when you were anxious about social situations, or about school. Doing that is what fathers do, and I wish I could do it again now, because I am scared.

Now you are young adults and independent, living out of our home, and free to make even fatal decisions. Your mother and I are not near you to warn you, watch you, or stop you from making bad decisions. When your mother and I  were young, very few bad decisions we could have made carried serious risk. Smoking marijuana was smoking a dried up leaf, and it either made you feel sick, or stupid.

Today, the risks from bad decisions are huge because the outcomes are so fast and are irreversible. Someone offers you marijuana and you think “what the heck, it’s just one puff,” but you don’t know what’s in it.
You know what is in so many marijuana cigarettes today? HEROIN.

HEROIN is bad by itself, but today not even heroin is heroin. Now it’s laced with other drugs.
You can’t only “try” heroin ONCE, because that ONE TIME leaves you an addict. Your life is over after you become an addict. There is no recovery.

Everything you do after “trying” heroin and cocaine is to try to get more drugs to satisfy the craving.
Your life goes downhill immediately after you try heroin. And cocaine.
I’m writing to you right now because story after story after story is coming in from news reports and from family and from friends about how the “little” drugs led to more powerful drugs, which led to the end of someone’s life. People we know, kids like you.

Kids who felt indestructible.
Bulletproof.
Indomitable.
Healthy.

On Friday I spoke with an old friend of mine. She’s a lawyer. She’s now a drug addict, getting divorced, losing her home, losing the man who loved her, losing her profession.

She said “Josh, I am so so scared. I have nowhere to go.”

The result of trying cocaine and heroin is either death, or drug addiction so powerful that the young person can no longer function at a professional or self-sustaining level.

Life is about making wise choices, smart choices. Drug use, illegal behavior, risky behavior like driving fast or walking alone, and sexual behavior have never before carried so much potential to destroy everything you and I have worked for, for your own success, so quickly.

DO NOT EVEN TRY DRUGS. There is no benefit to them at all.

NO DRUG IS COOL.

NO DRUG IS SAFE.

LEAVE THE COMPANY OF PEOPLE WHO USE DRUGS.

These people will pressure you to join them in their stupidity and misery, and your life will forever be over in the one second it takes for you to “just try” it.

MAKE SMART DECISIONS.

I love you both so very very much.
-Dad”

 

Coach Joe Paterno Vindicated

While there is a lot to learn from the Penn State – Jerry Sandusky debacle, such as adults should do common sense things, and adults should not rush to judgment, etc., there is one thing that has emerged from the recent trials involving former PSU president Graham Spanier and former assistant football coach Mike McQueary (who just hours ago won yet more millions of dollars from Penn State): Coach Joe Paterno was totally innocent.

Recall that legendary head football coach Joe Paterno was wrongly blamed for the actions and then results of past assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s mass child molesting ways. The whole thing was correctly a shock, but everyone who was around Sandusky was blamed. Hell, I think the board of trustees even tried to blame a janitor, no lie. The infamous Louis Freeh report was issued, one of the great works of bad fiction, and Joe Paterno was summarily fired.

The man had devoted himself to Penn State, to the improvement of college sports, to the improvement of college athaletics, to the novel idea that a gifted college athlete could also receive a quality education and go on to have a meaningful and successful career after college football, including (gasp) those athletes who did not make it into the NFL.

This is novel, because 99.8% of college football teams are like puppy mills, where young men are used up in a short term quest for wonderful ratings and glamour. It’s a pile of crap and it is wrong. Only Coach Joe Paterno and a couple others (Coach Lou from Notre Dame, of course) stood against that sick tide.

And that is why Coach Joe Paterno was pilloried in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

Not because Paterno had done anything wrong, by act or by omission, but because he stood so far above everyone else around him. As college sports standards sank lower and lower, Joe stood for old fashioned values like hard work, earning your way, mentorship, patriotism, community, and all the other quaint values and ideas that are passe when so much money and fame are to be made.

So Paterno was fired early into the Sandusky scandal, by a spineless PSU board of trustees scared of its own shadow and lacking in the bravery and honesty that had marked Joe’s entire life, when he answered his front door on a weekend morning.

The results of this week’s trials are a kind of trial of Joe Paterno in absentia. Had Spanier been found guilty of certain charges, then one might have been able to ascribe the same guilt to Joe. And had PSU prevailed against Coach McQueary, and not lost for the umpteenth time, each time costing PSU millions of dollars, then one might have been able to say that PSU was right in firing Joe because he had failed to act when learning that Sandusky was a monster.

But none of that happened. Yes, this week Spanier was found guilty of the misdemeanor of child endangerment. Given that everyone on Planet Earth now knows the facts surrounding this, this makes sense.

What does not make sense is how Paterno’s great name has not been cleared.

Fact: Paterno called Spanier on a Sunday morning, having heard from McQueary the night before that Sandusky was seen raping a little boy in the football locker room.

Fact: Spanier then went on to hush it all up because of his fear of bad press. Fact: Spanier is a slime; hell, we could tell that just by his appearance and demeanor. But it is now official.

And it is also official that McQueary was a good guy and did what he was supposed to do.

What has not yet been made official is that Coach Joe Paterno remains one of the best human beings to have ever played a role in American sports, and he was wrongly accused, wrongly persecuted, wrongly terminated, and wrongly maligned even after his death.

This week’s court results vindicate Coach Joe Paterno’s good name and reputation.

Now put his damned statue back up and name Old Main after him.