Extra reason to give thanks

On the morning of Thanksgiving, at about 10:00, I got a phone call.

It was not a surprise: the extended family is in town. All my siblings are here, with a couple of nieces and nephews. I was expecting to need to iron out last-minute details for rides, or something, when I answered the phone.

Instead, I learned that the youngest nephew was going to the hospital.

He's only 2. Apparently, he had mis-judged the distance from the small trampoline to a nearby mattress, and landed badly on his arm. It looked like a broken bone, but no one was sure.

Three hours later, we all got confirmation that he'd broken an arm and had received a splint.

Everyone in the family is thankful that Emergency Room at the local hospital was fully staffed and able to help.



Many years ago, the first European settlers in New England celebrated a religious holiday.

They had set out to begin a new life on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean from their homeland. They had suffered terribly in the voyage, and during the first hard winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That first year, they had attempted to run their farm communally, and had a very poor harvest.

The following year, the leaders of the community let each family farm their own land, and give each family the profit from their land.

(The colony had depended on investors for startup money. The charter gave the investors the profits from excess grain sent back across the Atlantic. The original communal farm had been an attempt to collectively grow grain for that purpose. Except that they'd barely grown enough for starvation rations for themselves, that first year.)

This second year, the colony found a plentiful harvest.

They had also had, during those two years, good relations with the local Natives. So when the men of Plymouth had their celebration, they inviting the local Native to join.

The feast had wild turkey, venison, sea-food, beans, cranberries, pumpkin, as well as corn and grain. It also featured much conviviality.

The day was also a religious celebration: the men gave thanks to God, and rejoiced in the abundance of their harvest and in Divine generosity.

This mixture--the fruit of harvest, a ritual of thanks to God, and a gathering with family and friends--is the American holiday known as Thanksgiving.


Statistics: death at the hands of Police

The entire nation seems obsessed about a single death in Missouri this past summer.

Somehow, the death of a single man of a minority race at the hands of a Police officer of a majority race has turned into an excuse for a violent mob to break windows, take things, and blame Other People for problems that are likely caused by a complex mix of social forces. (This mix of social forces includes, but is not limited to, attitudes like 'I have a problem with Society, and I can express that problem by destroying/stealing property that belongs to others.')

In all of this, I stopped to think about the general subject of death-at-the-hands-of-Police-officers, as compared to violent death in general.

That's cold

Not just the weather over the past week.

The earliest sighting of ice on the Great Lakes in the past 40 years of record-keeping.

Not sure what that portends about the weather. But I was hoping for a milder winter, after the combination of snow and cold last year.


A day at the range

On Saturday, I spent some time at the pistol range.

It was somewhat relaxing. Though partway through, I noticed that my hands shook slightly as I took aim. Not tension or worry: it's a kind of physical exertion that I don't do very often.

I set the target at 21 feet. Then I began shooting. I tried to hit a pace that wasn't too fast, but didn't dawdle: fire, breathe, aim; fire, breathe, aim.

Even with that, I felt like I was rushing. I had a scattering of shots to the lower-right on my target.

Something like 40% of my shots (even with slightly-shaky hands) ended up within the 10-ring on on the target. Another 30% or so were inside the 9-ring.

This feels low to me. Not dangerously low: all of the 70% would be considered good shots in a self-defense situation. (Assuming the assailant stood still long enough for me to shoot more than once...)

A distance of 21 feet is dangerously close in one regard. However, it is a challenging range to shoot a pistol at. Most of the other people at the range were working at 15 feet or less.

One man, a much more patient shooter than I, taped a playing-card to his target at a distance of 15 feet. Then he tried to shoot out the "Ace of hearts". One carefully-aimed shot at a time.

I took away two lessons. One: I need more time practicing hold-and-pull-trigger on my carry pistol. Two: I need to aim carefully. Speed can be accomplished after accuracy.


Opening Day

This past weekend was Opening Day.

That is, the first day of deer hunting in Michigan. (I know, first day of firearms-deer season. Bow hunters have been hunting since the beginning of October.)

I didn't go this year.

I've gone many years. Only once did I draw and fire on a deer. Missed that time (with a compound-bow). Mostly because I didn't read the distance correctly.

This year, I spent some time practicing my marksmanship. (Both bow and rifle.) But I didn't go hunting.

I guess I like marksmanship more than hunting.


Missed it...

Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, is past.

The Armistice took place in 1918, at the 11th hour of the morning on the 11th day of November. It was an end to the fighting of the Great War.

As Tam mentioned a year ago:, it is hard to grasp how many young men marched to death on a daily basis during the Great War. A mix of old tactics and new technology contributed to a four-year-long war with little military progress. The count of soldiers killed or wounded runs into the millions for Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. It runs into the hundreds of thousands for most other countries listed.

The horror of that industrial-scale bloodletting is hard to grasp. While it is now beyond the edge of living memory, the marks it has left on Europe are long and deep.

The Armistice was an end to the deadly struggle, and the beginning of a new global order.

While Veterans day is supposed to be about the living, it is also a reminder of the scars that the Great War left on the world.


On this day in history...

Actually, yesterday.

The Berlin Wall was opened on the 9th of November, 1989.

That summer, a large number of people left East Germany via Hungary. Later, they went through Czeckoslovakia. Demonstrations and a Peaceful Revolution culminated in the government of East Germany deciding to allow refugees to cross the border freely.

A combination of events--TV broadcasts of the announcement, poor communication between leadership of the German Democratic Republic and the soldiers at the gates, a crowd of people wanting to leave, and no one willing to issue orders to kill protesters at the Wall--led to the guards at the gate letting people through.

The Wall was opened that November. It was not torn down for some time after.

It was the beginning of the end of the Warsaw Pact. And it was the foreshadowing of the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union.



I recently thought a lot about cars, repair, and diagnosis.

On a more prosaic front, I didn't ride my motorcycle as often this year as I did last year.

Last year, my four-wheeled vehicle was a Jeep. She had many nice features (height in traffic, towing power, ground clearance). However, I rarely had need of those features.

This year is my first full year of driving a Subaru sedan with a manual transmission. It's much more fun to drive.

Not just the manual transmission: the all-wheel-drive, the steering, and acceleration profile are all more enjoyable.

Of course, weather this past summer may not have been as friendly to riding as in years previous. And I spend less time thinking about the cost of fuel. (For the motorcycle, I spent between $0.10 and $0.11 per mile. In my Subaru, I've been paying nearly $0.15 per mile. The Jeep cost me above $0.20 per mile last year.)

Next year, I may ride more--or less--as opportunity arises. I may even purchase a motorcycle that is less than three decades old.

However, I think I'll keep the Subaru for some time.


Death with dignity?

Jane the Actuary asks, "what is death with dignity?", and "what is dignity?"

For some reason, I am reminded of the poem "The Last Hero", by G.K. Chesterton.

The poem is in four stanzas. They describe powerful enemies, a ruined castle, a kidnapped bride, a final battle, and death.

The last two stanzas are especially striking.
The wind blew out from Bergen to the dawning of the day,
They ride and run with fifty spears to break and bar my way,
I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers,
As merry as the ancient sun and fighting like the flowers.
How white their steel, how bright their eyes! I love each laughing knave,
Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave.
Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,
When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.
The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose, --
You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes. 
Know you what earth shall lose to-night, what rich uncounted loans,
What heavy gold of tales untold you bury with my bones?
My loves in deep dim meadows, my ships that rode at ease,
Ruffling the purple plumage of strange and secret seas.
To see this fair earth as it is to me alone was given,
The blow that breaks my brow to-night shall break the dome of heaven.
The skies I saw, the trees I saw after no eyes shall see,
To-night I die the death of God; the stars shall die with me;
One sound shall sunder all the spears and break the trumpet's breath:
You never laughed in all your life as I shall laugh in death.
It feels like a tale from a distant past. The main character is a man accustomed to war and violence; he is on his final battlefield.

The man's choices had something to do with his death. But his choices were not alone; they intertwined with the choices of other men. The path that resulted doesn't look like a death with dignity: angering powerful foes, losing a castle (and whatever army he led), outnumbered in his last struggle, and death at the hands of his enemies.

Yet the story seems magnificent. The man is defiant, not despondent.

The discussion of death-with-dignity seems to hinge on the assumption that dignity can be found in the time and manner of death. And that personal autonomy is incredibly valuable.

I find this to be odd. Isn't dignity to be found in the life that precedes death, rather than in the ability to choose time and manner of death?

How much autonomy do I have, if the decisions of many others (living and dead) affect the situation I live in?

I can choose things that increase (or decrease) the risks of medical trouble. Similarly, I can choose things that can increase (or decrease) the odds that other people might attempt to harm me.

But I can not insulate myself from outside forces. The chances of life are too varied; the world is too wide for that.