Friday, August 25, 2006

rules and obedience

Note the new quote in "Words I Like" by Beppe Severgnini...

This struck me so because I've been having a running conversation with a friend of mine about my strict adherence to the rules. Superficially, she is the one who adheres strictly to order, rules, schedules, and other similar structures. I'm the one who flits about like a fairy, changing my mind at a whim and always trying to keep my surroundings and schedule flexible. That said, I come from a lightly regimented background in which there were few rules, but those which existed were STONE SOLID. So, in spite of my wayward appearance, I have a deeply-rooted appreciation for a few good rules. I also hold that people are always more important than principles, and if doing the "right" thing hurts people, then a more flexible definition of "right" and "wrong" is in order. Yes, these two views occasionally come in conflict with each other. When in conflict, however, I put people before principles, and that usually resolves the problem. The only time I've seen that philosophy challenged was a case in which untreated mental illnes/addiction were involved. In that case, although I didn't seem to be valuing the (other) person over the principles, I had to choose between myself and another person and self-preservation won the day.

So, when I see a valuable outcome to following the rules in strict fashion, I do it. I base my decision on an evaluation of the situation in the moment, bearing in mind the long-term good. This includes stuff like: taking all of my antibiotics on schedule even if they upset my stomach, wearing all my safety gear on the bike even when it makes me sweat like a horse (a horse? of course! pigs don't sweat!), and using my turn signals in traffic. Of course, if I see no short- or long-term good to come of following a particular "rule" then I'm happy to disregard it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

possession of cash is a crime, apparently...

Found on the web here

Court rules 2003 money seizure correct despite no drugs found

OMAHA (AP) -- Authorities were correct to assume nearly $125,000 they seized from a man's car during a traffic stop may have been connected to narcotics trafficking, despite finding no drugs in the vehicle, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The ruling from the three-judge panel overturned an earlier decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Thalken in Nebraska in the case of Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez. A state trooper stopped Gonzolez for speeding on Interstate 80 on May 28, 2003.

Gonzolez was driving a car that he told officers had been rented by a man named "Luis." Gonzolez also said he had never been arrested and that he was not carrying drugs, guns or large amounts of money.

After Gonzolez consented, the car was searched and $124,700 in cash was found in a cooler in the back seat. Authorities also learned that Gonzolez had once been arrested for driving while intoxicated and that the person registered as having rented the car was not named "Luis."

A drug dog later detected the scent of narcotics on the money and seat where the money was found.

Gonzolez testified that he lied about having the money because he believed that carrying large sums of money might be illegal. He said he secreted it inside the cooler because he feared it could be stolen while he was on the road.

He planned on using the money to buy a refrigerated truck in Chicago, Gonzolez said, but after arriving there by airplane from California he learned the truck had been sold. He decided to rent a car and drive back to California but needed someone else to rent the car because he had no credit card, he said.

Gonzolez also said he didn't tell officers about his previous arrest because he didn't think driving while intoxicated was a crime.

A federal judge in Nebraska said the evidence was not strong enough to link the money to drug trafficking, but the 8th Circuit Court on Thursday disagreed.

"We believe that the evidence as a whole demonstrates ... that there was a substantial connection between the currency and a drug trafficking offense," the court wrote. "We have adopted the commonsense view that bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with other suspicious circumstances, supports a connection between money and drug trafficking."

In dissent, Judge Donald Lay said the evidence provided was not enough to conclude the money was used in drug trafficking.

"At most, the evidence presented suggests the money seized may have been involved in some illegal activity -- activity that is incapable of being ascertained on the record before us," Lay wrote. "Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the presence of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens, perhaps scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled with the fact that the alert came from the same location where the currency was discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled substance offense."

Two things bother me here. First, a man with no criminal history and no evidence linking him to any crime has had his cash confiscated by police who refuse to return it. Second, the article leads off with the phrase "Authorities were correct to assume nearly $125,000 ... may have been connected to narcotics trafficking..." when the correctness of that assumption is still in question and a matter of appeal.

The point of the article (to me) is that a man's cash was seized when he was arrested for speeding. He was never charged with a crime related to the cash or the stop, no narcotics or paraphernalia were ever found on him or the vehicle he drove, he had a totally plausible explanation for the cash and his whereabouts, and inconsistencies in his story are equally likely to have been caused by language barrier as by intent to deceive.

Now, I really am glad the police searched the man's car. He was speeding in a rental car which wasn't in his name and he had a big whack o'cash hidden inside a cooler in the back seat and a drug sniffing dog "alerted" on the vehicle. That's a little suspicious, to me, and grounds for search. It's not a crime, however, and there was no evidence that any crime was in progress or had been committed. Sure, it's possible, but it's also possible the guy really was trying to buy a refrigerator truck.

How much cash does it take to be "suspicious"? If I'm carrying a $20,000 cashier's check because I'm on my way to buy a new motorcycle (hey! a girl can dream...) is that suspicious? If I'm carrying $5,000 in cash because I'm going to be on a long trip and I'm not sure I'll be able to get to an ATM, is that suspicious? The implications of this ruling for people who prefer to do their business with paper money are frightening. Now, personally, I'm too absent-minded to carry large sums of cash with me. I far prefer to carry a bank card and take my chances with the ATM. However, when I'm traveling, I always make sure I've got cash hidden somewhere on my person in case of emergency. As can confirm a large amount of the money in circulation these days has cocaine on it. That means that anyone carrying cash could find a drug-sniffing dog "alerting" on their money clip, depending on how recently any of their bills have been in contact with someone's used straw.

This article is also covered here and here in more bloggy style. I chose the link I did for it's AP credentials, even though I take issue with the writing, as noted above.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Two Rides, Two Myriad Feelings.

So, this weekend I'm off in godson-visiting land for birthday parties. Courteously enough, the second one arrived much earlier than he was expected, but only a week (and some years) after the first. So that means I can knock out both of their parties in one visit, at least for as long as their parents are willing to host two parties in one weekend. This makes my life a little easier, and I hope they continue the 6-year tradition. This is the first year that I recall the parties being here and not up in grandparent-land, so it's a change in the routine, but none too worrisome.

That said, one thing it means is that I'm not on the bike this weekend. I could've probably gotten down here with all the gifts (I'm a sucker for these boys) stuffed in my saddlebags or tied onto the luggage racks, except for one item. I'm delivering a 9000-lb towing capacity winch to my cousin, who happens to live in godson-land. The winch and its accessories and all the birthday gifts and my stuff would've been hard to fit on the bike. The winch probably weighs 70 pounds by itself. Lest you accuse me of making stuff up, I judge this because it's got more heft than the oldest godson, who proudly informed me this evening when I hoisted him for a hug that he weighs "about 64 pounds". If he's 64, the winch is more, and so as not to be found guilty of exaggeration, I'll say it's 70. That, and the bike is in the shop getting a 24k mile maintenance done. It only has 13k miles, but the 24k is basically a "replace everything, check everything else" sort of service. Since I bought the bike used and am uncertain of her maintenance history, I'm buying the peace of mind and hopefully averting any looming mechanical disasters.

Now last weekend, my girlfriend and I went on two good rides. The two rides were very different and each left me with different feelings and maybe different lessons. I'm nothing but typical when it comes to taking my own sweet lesbian time to "process" things, so it took me a week to wax philosophical about my riding. Sue me.

Saturday we spent the whole day painting. I'm about to move in, and before we add furniture to the house, we thought we'd get the remodeling finished. It's much easier to motivate yourself to a home-improvement task when that does NOT entail moving furniture. So Saturday evening, we sat back and looked at the gorgeous, freshly-painted walls and patted ourselves on the back. In so doing, we espied our watches and realized that if we showered and dressed in a low-maintenance way, we could still make the evening ride of the VRCC out to Sanger for good catfish. Yea, I don't have to cook! So, we showered up, geared up, gassed up, and rode to the meeting place. There we stood alone, looking at thunderclouds, for about 10 minutes. The ride leader got there just on time, and we waited just a few to see if anyone else would turn up. They didn't, so we had a group of 3 riding out.

I wish I had a camera. I wish I'd had the mental clarity to use my phone camera. I wish I had enough miles on me to feel comfortable snapping a photo from the saddle. Lots of wishes, none of which produce the pixels for you. Sorry. I'll just have to try to explain how wonderful the sky looked. We were riding west through the farm- and ranch-lands between north Dallas and Sanger. The isolated thundershowers that had rolled in over the course of the afternoon had dropped the temperature 20 degrees, at least, so it was hovering around a heaven-sent 80 degrees. With the wind of our passage, that was perfectly comfortable riding weather. The sky before us and to our left was still threatening rain, and all along the horizon there were smudges of black clouds. In places, you could see the horizon and the yellowing sky beyond, in places the clouds were sporting the slanted tails that obscured the horizon and signalled rain. There was even some jaunty lightning spread around, lest we take this for a gentle spring shower. Parts of Dallas and Tarrant county were having glorious, turbulent, summer thunderboomers. Ahead and to our right, the sun was setting. It was dipping down and tucking in among the spent rainclouds that were off to their retirement in Oklahoma, like lifelong Texans who believe those ridiculous stories of mythical lands with 4 distinct seasons. "We're off to see SNOW!" they said, and moved north, never to be seen again.

The road was plenty twisty, there were some hair-raising 30-mph "twisties" and some more gentle and well-banked "sweepers" to take on. It was my first group ride and my first ride on anything that could be called "twisties". I was a little nervous in places, but I think I managed to keep up alright. In any case, I had a delightful time. We rode on, enjoying the cool, the scenery, the lightshow, and the fresh scent of rangeland after a rain, until we got to the restaurant. By then it was just coming on full dark, so our timing was perfect. We ate good fried catfish, and I introduced my girlfriend to her first Fried Green Tomatoes. She liked 'em, by the way, so I can keep her. She also recently passed her first "pickled okra" experience, so I'm working on ferretting out of her which other Southern Classics she's missed out on so that I can get her fully immersed in the folk experience of the South before she gets too old to teach her any new tricks. *Wink* We came home by the highway, and it was pleasant, but not as memorable as the ride out had been. We made it home late and exhausted, but full and happy.

The second ride was totally different, although it traversed some of the same country and even started and ended on the same highway. We woke up at the crack of noon on Sunday and decided that we were hungry and wanted to ride to breakfast. Since one pancake house is as good as another and we were going to ride anyway, we picked one as far away as we could envision wanting to go. Oklahoma. Okay, not exactly in Oklahoma, but close. Unfortunately, dire pangs of hunger gripped us about an hour or so out of the metroplex, and being the flexible people we are, we decided to cut east toward our planned route and just scare up some food along the way. Well, it took us a couple of small towns before we finally found one that had any open food options on a Sunday afternoon. We ended up at a family-run grocery in Van Alstyne (after quizzing a local) as it was basically the only thing open that didn't involve turning around and riding up to Denison. There, a very kindly older woman made us sandwiches from her deli counter, served on WonderBread, and delivered in those little sandwich baggies with the fold-over top that I haven't seen since grade school. She even taped them shut with scotch tape and tagged them with her price-tag gun. It was precious! I assume her grandson was working the cash register, based on a little family resemblance and some age-based math. Anyway, there had been no rainstorms that day to drop the temperature, so by the time we made it into the grocery (serving Van Alstyne for 50 years!) I was ready to kiss the first person with their hands on a cold drink. And lo, in the door of the store was taped a hand-lettered sign which read "Cold GatorAde". It probably would've shocked the register kid even more than it would've shocked my girlfriend, so I refrained from actually kissing him. I did, however, down a quart of gatorade in record time. And polished off my sandwich.

At the store, we had a rather odd encounter with a bearded biker on a Yamaha V-Star who was wearing the largest silver Harley-Davidson ring I've ever seen in my life. He was an engaging character, and if anyone has a chance to participate in the Blue Ridge Poker Run, benefitting underprivileged kids in Blue Ridge who want to play team sports, I think you oughta join. The guy seemed to know his business, and I bet the ride would be great. After Van Alstyne, we bumped on through Princeton and across what's left of Lake Lavon (reduce your water use! it's not a hoax!) and after wrangling with a slightly misleading map we managed to get headed on home. Again, the day was full of good twisty roads and good company. I did a MUCH better job of maintaining something that looked like "formation" than I had the night before. Still, toward the end, when I got tired, I lagged. I lagged enough that some trollop in a Cavalier was able to pull between me and my girlfriend on 75 as we rode south back into Dallas. I was incensed! I realized quickly, though, that we were exiting in 1/2 mi. and that it was my own dumb fault for lagging enough to let someone squeeze in.

Anyway, the feeling after the first ride was relief that I'd not been overconfident. I've done a bit of reading about "first rides" particularly by women riders and the authors seemed to be a lot more scared than I was. Strike that. The authors seemed to be petrified with terror by comparison. It got so I was wondering if I was overconfident. I think I wasn't. I tend naturally not to be afraid of anything, and I logically knew that even if I had a worst-case scenario and went off the road that there would be folks there to help me out. Aside from that, if I were to get lost from the group, I know enough about maps and FM roads to get msyelf back to the highway and home. Nothing could have gone wrong that I couldn't handle, so there was nothing to fear. With that attitude, it was merely a technical matter of mastering throttle control and lean angle in the twisties.

The feeling after the second ride was much harder to identify. I think that's because it's a mixed bag of feelings and that no one feeling predominates. I was relieved to get back home. We were out for about 5 hours, most of that hungry and thirsty, and all of it hot. There was also some rueful "trust your route leader" mixed in there. We had a mishap with a poorly-marked map and then a couple of moments where we weren't certain which way to go. By then, my flexibility was low and I just wanted home, and I muttered a bit about stopping to check the map and not flying by the seats of our collective pants. Of course, the irony that the map had led us astray the first time did not occur until my brain was air conditioned in the aftermath of the ride. Naturally, the ride leader got us home by the safest and fastest route from the point at which we decided that that's what we wanted. I need to have a little more faith my girlfriend's ability to get the job done her way instead of mine. There was also some bubbling confidence in my ability to keep up with the pace of the ride. My girlfriend is quite an experienced rider, and I'm ... well ... NOT. She complimented me on how I handled my bike and that just made me glow from top to bottom. Finally, there was a desire to get back out there and DO IT AGAIN. I rolled over the 1000 mile mark while we were out there in the boonies, and I want to experience that feeling over and over again for miles and miles to come. So I hope to see you out there in the wind somewhere. I'll be the one grinning. beaming like a loon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Panic attack at 35,000 feet

I was just perusing this article at Reuters today, and a thought struck me. Dangerous, I know. But I was still wearing my motorcycle helmet, so the damage was minimal.

The quotes that bothered me were these:

The woman was carrying hand cream and matches but was not a terrorist threat, said Christopher White, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman. Those items are not banned on commercial flights, he said.

which was followed by this statement:

"Her carry-on bags subsequently were searched and matches were found in the bag as well as a gelatin-like substance but those items were not deemed to have any terrorist connection or pose a threat to the aircraft," Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a news conference.

Now, is it just me or is it absolutely NUTS that the governor of the state of Massachusetts had to give a press conference to confirm that there was no terrorist threat posed by the hand cream a claustrophobic woman happened to have with her on an airplane? What's up with the world that we can't accept that a bottle labeled "hand lotion" actually contains hand lotion? Thanks to the rumor-mill that feeds the press these days and their exuberance to get us up-to-the-split-second news just a moment ahead of the competition, the following FALSE statements were made regarding this woman's carryons:

One media report carried on CNN and major TV networks, and later denied, said the woman had Vaseline, a screwdriver, matches and a note on the Islamic militant group al Qaeda.

This reminds me of a passage from a novel I particularly like in which one of the characters explains that he's a terrific Questioner of Prisoners, although he's never actually employed any sort of torture techniques. He explains that his success is due to two things. First, he's just got a very good poker face and can look utterly like the sort of person who would commit torture. Second, after the prisoner refuses to answer the first round of questions, he asks one of his subordinates to fetch him a list of totally random items (like salt, oil, and a basket of mice) and doesn't specify what they're for. The prisoner gets so worked up in their own mind imagining all the awful things that could be done to them with salt, oil and a basket of mice that they start spilling whatever information they have before he ever has to carry out his unspoken threat to use the stuff.

Are we so dad-gum scared of al Qaeda that we're jumping at salt, oil, and a basket of mice, or the equally innocuous contents of some grandmother's handbag? If that's the case, then they have won the "War On Terror", because we're terrified beyond reason. How is someone going to bring down an airplane with Vaseline, a screwdriver, matches and a note on Al Qaeda? How dangerous can a "note on Al Qaeda" be, anyway? If I had a pamphlet/flyer on air travel safety that mentioned Al Qaeda, would that count as a "note on Al Qaeda"? Unless the note is from Al Qaeda and is titled "Awful Things You Can Do To An Airplane with Vaseline and Matches (Matches optional)", I don't think we ought to worry so much.

The really grim irony in all this mess is that the woman was probably scared to death of being confined on an airplane because she's been told repeatedly that all sorts of extraordinary screening procedures, such as pouring out her bottled water, are necessary to make it safe. She either had claustrophobia or a panic attack on the plane, and $10 will get you $20 that she was envisioning fiery death!!! at the hands of Dasani-wielding terrorists when she started to freak out.

And, as something of an aside to the whole rant above, is it SO HARD for someone on board the plane to radio ahead and say "Oh, we've got a passenger having a panic attack. We'd like to divert and get her calmed down." Does every single episode of passenger freak-out have to trigger a major terrorist threat response? I'm reminded of Jonathan Burton, the Las Vegas 20-something who was beaten to death by his fellow passengers about a year ago when he had a similar freak-out on board a Southwest Airlines flight. Nobody ever figured out what caused his panic attack; although initial suspicions of drug use were floated, those were eventually ruled out. Still, does it have to be about terrorists every time someone on an airplane has a mental health episode?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

a little more info...

okay, here's a little followup on the "sensitive subject" post. This article from a gay-targetted publication in the UK points out the following facts regarding the Arabic linguist recently dismissed under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

In August 2005, an anonymous individual emailed Copas’s unit, alleging there was an online profile of a unit member identifying them as gay.

Despite clear instructions that investigations into sexual orientation are only to be commenced when a service member’s command has “credible evidence” indicating the service member is gay, Copas’s command nonetheless asked him about his sexual orientation and went on to launch a full investigation into allegations about him.

The command-appointed investigating officer interviewing Copas asked such questions as, “Do you work off duty with the local community theatre?” and “Do you know or are you aware of anyone who believes you are a homosexual?”

He also recommended conducting “an inquiry…into the possibility of further homosexual conduct by member(s) of the (unit).”

Despite never learning who made the original allegations against him, Sergeant Copas was dismissed from the Army in January.

So, it's nothing really new, just a little more information on the rules regarding investigation of allegedly gay service members. I didn't know from CNN that the original accusation was merely that one of the members of the unit might have a profile up online that showed he was gay. I know that according to DADT they're not allowed to be "out" but unless the profile said something like "Hi, my name's Sargeant Joe and I'm a member of the 82nd Airborne, and I'm gay," the guy hasn't really outed himself. After all, in order to know that the guy had a gay profile, you had to be looking for gay profiles. That said, if he really outed himself under his full name and photo on the internet, I have little sympathy for him regarding his dismissal. Small as the odds are that he'd be caught by his command chain, he's not supposed to out himself at all, anywhere. Here's the thought from this article that really pegged me:
The SLDN* labelled the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell as (sic) “ineffective and convenient, weapon of vengeance in our armed forces.”

Sharra Greer, director for law and policy said: “Anyone with an axe to grind, a former partner or roommate, or an angry relative, for example, can end an otherwise promising career simply by employing rumour and hearsay. "

*SLDN - Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

And what Ms. Greer has said is what really bothers me most about the policy, on a personal level. As an American, desirous of safety, and protective of my civil liberties, I am bothered by the fact that an Arabic linguist with a clean record of service to the military was dismissed while we're supposedly fighting a "War On Terror". The fact that he was dismissed as the result of an anonymous tip by someone with an axe to grind only makes it worse. The liberal in me is incensed that 200-odd years after psychologists developed the terminology to discuss homosexuality, an orientation that insofar as we know dates back as far as heterosexuality, our society is still so freaked out by what we don't understand that we can't tolerate its presence in our midst.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Perplexing Case of the Vexing 3 A.M. Dog Alarm - CLOSED

I have a great dog named Molly. She's a black lab, but on the smallish side, and she's ... ummmm ... energetic. She has been described as the sort of thing you'd get if you shoved three or four Jack Russel Terriers into a sack and gave them just enough Ritalin that they could accomplish "fetch", but not so much that it would dull their frenetic edge. Ordinarily, however, when it's just us hanging out at home, she sleeps like normal dogs do. She just follows me to the kitchen, begs for scraps, drinks from the toilet, licks my elbow, and sleeps. At night, she's the same. On walks, she's an all-go-no-stop-ball-of-spazz, but at night she sleeps quietly. She hops up in the bed with me and curls up behind my knees (i'm a side-sleeper) and sleeps all night long. In the summer, sometimes she'll get hot and move to the tile floor in the bathroom, but that's about the extent of the variation.

When I started spending significant amounts of time at my girlfriend's house late this spring, she invited me to bring Molly along. She's a dog person and her dog now lives with her parents because it got attached to their dog and the two couldn't bear to be separated. (Say it with me now: "Awwwwwwwwwww!") Right, so Molly comes along to the girlfriend's house. We get food and water set up, Molly figures out where the back door is so she can ask to be let out, and all is well. Until 3 AM.

It was one of our first nights staying over, Molly and I, and somewhere in the wee small hours of the morning, she woke me up. She woke me up quite insistently. This is NOT in her nature, but the only time she had ever insistently awoken me was once when she was inflicted with explosive diarrhea. I am not one to argue or take chances with explosive diarrhea. So, I woke up convinced that she was again inflicted with dire gastric distress, and muzzily stumbled downstairs in the dark to let her out. She trotted off to a corner of the yard and peed, but that was it. She didn't poop at all! She came back to me, tail a-waggin' and wanted to go back in and go to sleep well before I had time to analyze the backup tapes and try to decide what she'd eaten that might make her ill. *WEIRD*

That weekend, I vowed we would not repeat that experience, so I took her out for a good "Potty Break" right before bed and she did the whole deal. Despite my efforts, she again insistently woke me in the wee hours. This time she did a full potty-stop when I took her out, but she didn't seem urgent about it at all. *WEIRDER*

Well, this has been ongoing since the spring. Sometimes my girlfriend would get up with her, and sometimes I would, but after discussing it a bit, we agreed that it was NOT an urgent need to vacate that was causing her to wake us. Stymied, we simply began telling her to go back to sleep and quit getting up ourselves. But she kept on waking us, night after night, and she would act rather frantic and neurotic when she did it. My dog is fully neurotic in the presence of an Implement of Fetch such as a stick of wood, tennis ball, squeeky toy, football, rugby ball, cat, or fireplace log; however, she's never been neurotic without direct cause, as far as I know.

Eventually, someone had the presence of mind to look at the clock on one of these occasions. Then, the other one did it. Then, one or both of us had the presence of mind to REMEMBER the clock reading and thus we were able to discover that all of our neurotic wakeups were coming right at 3 AM, give or take a few minutes. With that, we had a pattern. She NEVER did this at my apartment, even when my girlfriend was staying over, so it wasn't some weird "jealousy" thing. (I'm not at all convinced that dogs are capable of acting out punitively in response to jealousy, anyway, but that's another story.)

So, to sum up the evidence: only at 3 AM, and only at my girlfriend's house. This, to me, indicated that something on a timer somewhere was going on or off at 3 AM and whatever thing it was, it was waking Molly. So the next time it happened, I paid attention. I was rewarded. I heard a *beep*! I was also quite nearly stone dead and couldn't be buggered to get up and investigate. That's the problem with investigating mysteries at 3 AM. You have to be awake to apply your investigative skills, and really, if you work a day job, 3 AM is not the time to be indulging your hobbies. Eventually, enough of these *beep*s at 3-ish in the morning, and we were able to determine that it was coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the office. Well, the office has a lot of computer stuff in it, including a UPS with battery backup. I figured it was one of the computers or the UPS itself, although why it would beep at 3 AM every day, i couldn't determine. So, one night, feeling very proud of ourselves and our deductive skills (which you don't have to be awake to apply) we shut down all the electronics in the office before going to bed. We even disconnected the UPS from the wall and made sure that everything was completely dead and un-*beep*-able. And at 3 AM, the dog woke us again. We didn't hear the *beep* this time, so we concluded that the *beep* theory was off-track. *WEIRDEST*

More of the same: Vexing 3 AM Dog Alarm for weeks on end. Never happens at my house. Two nights ago, however, we had a breakthrough in the case! I was afflicted with insomnia! Yea, insomnia! Okay, not really "yea!", but it turned out for the good. I was awake and blogging at 2:30 AM, and I decided that since I was up already, I might as well stay awake for a few more minutes and figure out what the 3 AM noise was. Immediately, I was overcome by a tidal-wave of heavy-lidded, wide-yawning exhaustion. Ooops. Cardinal rule of insomnia: if you try to stay awake, you'll fall asleep, unless you're trying to stay awake as a way of "reverse psychology"ing yourself into going to sleep. You're too smart to fall for that old trick!

So I went back to bed and resolved to handle the mystery another night. But at 3 AM, I was still just barely awake and saw that the time ticked by on the clock with nary a huff, puff, or pant from the Vexing 3 AM Dog Alarm. *HUH. WEIRDERER*

A few minutes later, however, I was awakened by a sharp *beep* followed by a huffling sound from Molly, who came to me and insistently tried to wake me up! I was already awake, so I got up an followed her out into the hall, where she stood and looked at me, seemingly saying, "I did my part. What are you going to do now, Mom?" None of that "Lassie, take me to Timmy! Show me what's wrong, girl!" business for my dog. Nope. So I wandered down to the office and stood in the doorway, hoping the beep would repeat. After all, I traditionally heard it AFTER Molly woke me and this time I'd heard it before, so there must be another *beep* coming. Sure enough, there was. And a couple more after that, even. I managed to isolate it to a bookshelf, and then it went quiet. I didn't have the vaguest idea what the contents of the bookshelf were, and the *beep*ing had stopped, so I decided to DELEGATE the remainder of the detective work to my girlfriend. It's her damn bookshelf, after all! Next day, we discussed the perplexing mystery and my girlfriend said that she had a couple of electronic items tucked into the shelf that were capable of *beep*ing and that she'd take a look at it.

I (from somewhere in my subconscious) remembered on waking that the *beep* sounded familiar. In a previous version of my life, I owned a large home on a large piece of land and installed an electronic fence to discourage Molly from digging out. It had, for a time, become her favorite hobby. She was very easy to train on the fence and I loved the fact that her collar made a *beep* to remind her that she was nearing the fence before it would actually deliver a mild electric shock. She was absolutely unwilling to go anywhere in the yard that caused the *beep* on her collar, even if there was a tennis ball just over the line. She did figure out that the other dogs could approach the fence with impunity and somehow managed to manipulate one of them into fetching things for her when they'd gotten too close to the fence. Clever dog, that. I'm assuming that this particular *beep* was causing Molly to behave so neurotically at 3 AM because she thought she was being rousted from her sleep to be told she was too close to the fence. When that happened, her training said she should turn around and walk away from the fence, which is hard to do when you're asleep in the upstairs bedroom. No wonder she was confused!

So, the conclusion is that my girlfriend poked around on her bookshelf and discovered that she's got one of those automatically updating atomic clocks. I think it phones home to the US Navy Time Service and gets itself updated. Why this must happen at 3 AM and why it must go *beep* when it does so, I can't answer. Those may be configurable options, but we solved it by removing the thing's batteries.

Anybody want a self-updating atomic clock, free? We'll even throw in the batteries, but you've gotta install 'em yourself.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bike Maintenance Adventure #1

I <3 the internet. i just bought myself a brand new motorcycle. well, new to me. it's 6 years old, and had a battery from 1999. so when i had trouble starting it last wednesday, i thought... heck, the battery's really old. i'll just replace it and that should fix 'er right up. i consoled myself when this failed to pan out by telling myself that replacing a 6-year old battery could never be a Bad Thing (tm, pat pend) and that i had at least bought peace of mind. i think that's true. however, it got me no closer to figuring out why my bike wasn't starting on command.

as my friend mike says, "You put in the key, you turn it, the vehicle starts. This is the agreement."

my bike was very new and already failing to fulfill its end of the deal.


well, in my enthusiasm for the most glorious cruiser ever built (the Honda Valkyrie, of course!) i went out and found lots of websites on the subject during my research phase before buying the bike. after i bought it, i went and joined the VRCC and got all enthused about browsing their website and their forums and such. i was just about to post a question related to my predicament when i noticed in the handy page-header link-farm that there was a standing "Tech Board" for discussion of such issues. so i browsed. the tech board had one post that pertained, and with a little clueful followup, i found the standing "Tech Talk" that amounts to a FAQ of Valkyrie maintenance. yea!

so, armed with dangerous knowledge from the FAQ, i waited impatiently to have some free time so i could work on the bike. i'd already passed up some great riding opportunities for fear that i wouldn't be able to start the bike and get home from whence i'd ridden, so i was chomping at the bit to start Fixing The Bike!

i took apart the appropriate control device, disassembled the starter switch, cleaned the electrical contacts with a pink rubber eraser, put it back together and... NADA. nothing happened. i could tell the starter switch was working because when the button is out the headlights work. when the button is depressed, the headlights go off to make that much more current available to the starter. when i'd mash the button, the headlights would go off. when i'd release it, they'd come back on. clearly, we're getting electrical contact in there, or the headlights wouldn't work. right? of course right!

two days of battery-charging, button mashing, agonizing, and heavy thinking ensue. i'll skip the boring bits.

today, it occurred to me that i was PRESUMING that because i had current flowing when the button was out, i also had current flowing when the button was in. this had NOT, however, been validated. so, after about the 500th fruitless button-mashing session, i took the switch apart again. this time, i took out the little piece that had the Crucial Bit of Copper in it. i held the Crucial Bit of Copper up to the switch, where it should have been making contact with the Other Crucial Bit of Copper while the button was mashed in, and the bike started up like she was brand new. yea!

HappyBikeStarterIgnitionButtonWorkingElectricityYippieKiYiYayHolyInternalCombustionThatEnginesGettingHotNow Dance!

so, i had to take the part of the switch that contained the Crucial Bit of Copper inside the house and tinker with it a bit in the air conditioned comfort of the office. it turned out there was a very tiny spring in it that had been compressed and kinda gotten stuck and so was not mashing the Crucial Bit of Copper against the Other Crucial Bit of Copper quite hard enough to make a good circuit. it was enough to weakly power the headlamp, but not enough to kick the starter. apparently, all my fruitless button-mashing had served merely to compress this spring even further, preventing it from making more than the barest of contacts between the Crucial Bit and the Other Crucial Bit.

anyway, this concludes Bike Maintenance Adventure #1, wherein we learn that when you PRESUME, you make a PRE out of SU and ME*. or something to that effect.

*my apologies to the woman who said that first. should she ever read this, she can take it out of my hide in the form of an adult beverage on our next meeting.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Thoughts on a sensitive subject...

So, another case of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has made it into the mainstream news. This time, the valuable point was raised by the media that this particular soldier had some very valuable skills and we really can't afford to be kicking guys like this out of the force right now. See the full article here. The short of it is that an Arabic linguist was reported anonymously to his superiors, who investigated him under the pressure of threats from the accuser. At some point in the process, he was offered an honorable discharge, which he accepted much as one would accept a plea bargain in a criminal case. Trying to find work with a dishonorable discharge is a lot like trying to find work with a felony conviction on your record. Employers are loathe to hire someone who has a "dirty past". As I understand the policies, if the accused follows the investigation to a finding of guilt, s/he is given a dishonorable discharge. The soldier has since admitted that he is gay, and knew going into the military that he would have to live a closeted life. He knew it would be difficult, but was willing to accept the terms of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in order to fulfill the duty he felt. Unfortunately, someone else decided to end his career for him.

Now, as a former student at the US Air Force Academy who took the oath and wore the uniform, I have some thoughts on this subject. Furthermore, as a gay person, I have some other thoughts on it. Finally, as a citizen who is protected by the men and women in the military today, I've got some thoughts. So, I'll share them. Yea, blogs! I don't have to wait for you to ask...

So, here's the part that might surprise some of you: I understand the reluctance to admit "out" homosexuals to the forces. Some of it probably is rooted in homophobia and discrimination and our association of "gay" with "sissie" and "effeminate" and all that the stereotypical gung-ho military persona is opposed to. But some of it comes from a reasonable place. This is the same reasonable place that at least part of the objection to women in front-line combat forces comes from. In tense, deployed situations where service members are isolated from their real lives, intense emotions are the norm. People who think they're about to die together and literally could at any minute form relationships that are forged out of the extremity of their conditions. If you add to those already-abnormally-intense bonds the element of romantic love, either straight or gay, you create a potentially very dangerous situation.

How many of you who've ever been intensely involved with someone would deny that you felt that person and/or your relationship was more important than anything else in the world? That person became more important than supposedly critical and permanent things like your family ties, your job, paying your bills, keeping up with your friends and your activities. Usually, you get over that infatuated phase, and get back to your integrated life with all its facets, but you go through it so you can understand this exercise: Imagine that you're out there, fighting the bad guys every day. You hear the mortars crashing around your camp all night, every night. And then you're out on patrol one day, and a bomb goes off, and you look over and realize your buddy is missing half his parts. You scream for help, and you start doing the stuff you've trained to do in this situation. You make it as secure as possible for your team, get medical en route, and do first aid. What if, instead of your buddy, that was your girlfriend? What if it was your boyfriend? What if it was your husband, or wife, or lover? What if it was the person you thought you couldn't live without? Would you be able to shut off your grief, do your job, and hold it together in a combat zone while you watched the heart of your heart bleed out on the floor of a humvee? I'm not willing to bet on it, and neither are most of the folks in the command structure. That is why defenders of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the "No women in combat roles" policies say that it's contrary to good discipline to reverse the policies.

Now, I'm not saying the scenario above is the only reason those policies are in place, but it's one of them. And it's a good one. American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines train very hard to be very good at what they do and to do it under extreme duress. They learn to get the job done even when they're tired, or hot, or cold, or wet, or hungry or any of the other things civilians can and do give as an excuse when we don't perform at our best. Even so, they are human and subject to human foibles. People do EXCEEDINGLY STUPID THINGS and foul up the job at hand over love. I don't want those EXCEEDINGLY STUPID THINGS to take place when the job at hand involves the national defense.

Now, that said, I don't think gays or women should be excluded from the military. If they want to serve, they should be able to. I, unfortunately, don't have a solution to offer as to how to avoid the pitfalls I've mentioned. Maybe we should ask the Israeli army? Men and women are drafted for compulsory service there, so they've obviously got something worked out. I know that a chief reason for which women have clamored after combat roles here is that they are de facto essentials in the promotion game. Without combat experience, the career ceiling is much lower. Women who want the same opportunities as their male colleagues need combat postings. The only way to foster promotion equality without putting women in combat is to create a separate set of promotion criteria for them, and I think that idea sucks. Setting different standards for men and women creates resentment and makes for a pervasive hostile environment that is bad for morale all over. So the apparent route to promotion equality then is women in combat. With that, the issue of handling sexual interactions in combat zones resurfaces, and if you're doing that for the heterosexual set, you might as well apply the same treatment to the homosexual set. I don't know how to do it, although I have a few ideas. None of that is well enough formed for me to be willing to post it out there on the internet yet, so you'll just have to hold your breath.

That's my general commentary on the policies as they relate to exclusion, equality, morale, and discipline. Specifically, I'd like to comment on the fact that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a terrible weapon in the hands of a spurned romantic interest. Think back to how many of your relationships have ended awkwardly if not outright BADLY. Now, imagine that the psycho ex who called you at work and played love songs into your voice mail and turned up at your house at all hours of the night could, with a single anonymous e-mail, end your entire career. They'd have done it, wouldn't they? Gays in the military face that threat. I think that some fences need to be put around the "Don't Tell" portion of the policy. I'm neither a lawyer nor a policy writer, so I don't have specifics or wording for this, but something that protects men and women who are abiding by the "Don't Tell" portion of the policy from being ratted out by a bitter ex-lover would be ideal.

Go ahead and sound off, readers. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Look what I bought on Sunday!!!

She's a 2000 Honda Valkyrie Tourer (thus the hard saddlebags and windshield). They discontinued this bike around 2003, and the Tourer trim level discontinued in 2000, so she's as new as possible. With only 12k miles and a new paint job, she really is like new. The original (stock) paint on these was two-tone red and black, so this is a custom job in Honda Red. I love it! I was very disheartened when I was looking at bikes and it seemed I could get a Valkyrie in any color I wanted, so long as I wanted black.

I very nearly bought a black one in College Station on Saturday. I went out and looked at it, and it was sweet. It was newer and had fewer miles, but it didn't have bags and the windshield on it wasn't in great shape. I would've had to do some work on the windshield and accessories, and I still would've wanted to paint it. I didn't commit to buying it, though. So I went "home" to my friends' house in College Station and hit the website one more time... and discovered that this beauty had been posted since the last time I'd checked. Upon looking into it a little more, I found that it was in Livingston, TX -- which is a lot closer to College Station than it is to DFW. So I waited (impatiently) until a respectable hour on Sunday morning to call the number listed in the ad. I called and there was no answer, so I went to lunch and sat on pins and needles until I got back to the house and could call again! This time, there was an answer, and a very sweet lady gave me directions and said to come on out and take a look.

So, my girlfriend and I loaded up Molly and the cousin-dog into the truck and headed on out to Livingston. Long story short, I bought the bike. My girlfriend rode it the first mile away from the house because it was a dirt road. I'm still a novice rider, and a mixed sand/gravel road is NOT the place for a novice rider on a 700 lb bike. When we got to the pavement, we switched and I rode into my first gas stop/tire pressure check/burned arm on the pipes experience. Note to self: pay attention when removing and replacing valve stem covers! Gassed up and ready to go, we headed home...

Getting home was relatively low on the "Adventure Meter". There were some interesting moments, like at the second gas stop when I couldn't get the bike into neutral. Luckily, my girlfriend was there to show me how to rock the bike a little until the transmission loosens up and can shift into neutral. I didn't really intend to ride it all the way into Dallas myself, as I was nervous about the freeways. Somehow I managed, and I think I did it in a safe and responsible manner. Nobody tried to run me off the road and I never saw any Texas One-Finger Salutes, so I think I must've done alright.

Oh... What's that you ask? Is it fun? Well, I'll answer that in two ways. First, I'll tell you that I've put 400 miles on it in the last three days. Second, I'll let the picture speak for itself: