About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Epidemic of Anger

Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters
 
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph F. Couey
 Written content only
 
It has already been a worrisome year, a maelstrom of events, economic, political, and meteorological.  For some, it has become a question of survival.  A dark welcome mat has certainly been laid before the doorway leading to an appropriately-numbered 2013.

We were worried about jobs, about money, about war.

Then on Friday morning, all that became irrelevant.

The news flashed across our consciousness that yet another school shooting had occurred. There were probably many like me who saw the headline, sighed and whispered, "Not again."

But in a time when these kind of violent episodes occur far too often, we perhaps have become inured to such news. Then we heard about the death toll.

26 were dead. 20 of them were small children.

All of a sudden, everything changed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stolen December Ride

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
 
Tuesday is one of my regular days off, one I try to reserve for chores, appointments, and riding, weather permitting. Today was chilly (mid-40s), but sunny so I decided to take the bike out for a spin. I plotted an 80-mile course on some roads I hadn’t been on yet, which according to Google Maps should take about three hours. Yes, it is the second week of December, but as long as it was above freezing and not snowing, that’s a reasonably good motorcycle day.
 
In deference to the chill, I dressed carefully, starting with a base layer then jeans and sweatshirt, a pair of heavy sweatpants over the jeans, then my jacket with all the liners in and chaps. Under the helmet I donned a balaclava. The final addition was a pair of heavy lined leather gloves.
 
Even with all those layers, it didn’t take long for the cold to penetrate. Still, the sun felt warm. I went west on US50 to Aldie, VAwhere I picked up the Snickersville Turnpike.
 
This historic route was the first toll road in the United States, opening in 1786. It was part of a longer route that connected Alexandria, VA with Winchester. The section between Aldie and Bluemont (originally Snickersville) is 15 miles of narrow, windy blacktop that passes through both rural farms (all carrying sophisticated names) and dense Virginia forest. At one point it crosses Hibbs Bridge, a short 180-year-old arched span of stone and mortar that roofs Beaverdam Creek. The road terminates at Virginia Route 7, which continues on to Winchester.
 
I took my time, as I always do on new roads. Traffic was pretty much nonexistent, which was good because the scenery was eye-catching. This is part of what is called “Hunt Country, home to large farm estates owned by wealthy families, some of whom have been on the land for two centuries. It is here in the fall when fox hunts are organized and attended by those on magnificent horses, wearing the traditional red coats, cream pants, and tall boots. Tradition is a vital part of this part of Virginia, and the road is lined by those incredible stone fences, the design of which date back to the very beginnings of settlements.
 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Real Hero



Credit: Facebook/Maria Santos Gorrostieta)

 
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 
Written content only.

In these days of trial and adversity, we seek heroes, but few step up.  If you’re in need of a hero, I offer one to you.
 
Dr. Maria Santos Gorrostieta Salazar.
 
For several decades, a war has been going on just across our southwest border.  In Mexico, rival drug cartels have been shooting up towns, villages, and each other in a desperate and violent effort to dominate the drug trade.  Some 60,000 people have been slaughtered in this war, and not all of them cartel members.  They have been the number one priority of three Mexican presidential administrations, but endemic corruption and the sheer economic power of the criminals has made the fight an uphill battle. 
 
To the north, the 21 million of America’s citizens who use and abuse drugs have funded the violence, apparently too high to see the bloodstains on their hands.
 
The Mexican state of Michoac├ín has been one of the eyes of this storm, being home turf to several of the more violent groups.  Politicians and police, outgunned, outmanned, and out-financed, have pursued the path of least resistance, rather than risk the wrath of the drug lords.  Until 2008.
 
Maria Salazar was a physician.  Angered by what was happening to her country, she became involved in politics, winning the election that put her in the Mayor’s chair of the town of Tiquicheo.  She ran on a platform characterized by defiance of the cartels.  She won the election, and less than three months after taking office, she was sent a message.
 
She and her first husband were traveling near a rural community when their car was cut off by another vehicle.  The occupants sprang out, fired guns in the air, and warned her to resign.  Undaunted, she soldiered on.  About a year later, in January 2009, they were attacked, suffering injuries that did not prevent them from carrying on their public lives.  In October of that same year, they were ambushed.  Her husband was killed, and Dr. Salazar was wounded, but feigned death enough to fool their attackers.
 

Using Stats Like a Gumby Doll

On a New Hampshire Jaunt.

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 

For reasons that still astound me, the admission that I ride a motorcycle nearly always sparks the same response.  The other person dives into a terrible and tragic story of someone they knew who was seriously injured or killed in a motorcycle accident.  I get that there may be an on-going macabre fascination with violent death.  But there are, at last accounting, 10.4 million motorcycles in the United States, a number that increased 58 percent since 1998.  Statistics show that the average rider is a responsible adult who rides straight and sober, has insurance, and rides responsibly.  Yes, I know about the squids.  Despite their high visibility however, riders who actually engage in riding stupid are well in the minority.
 
But that doesn’t stop people from taking pot shots.
 
Fox News Latino published on November 28, an article which reported on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that tallied up the costs of death and injuries from motorcycle accidents.  Deftly weaving numbers in and through what was a thinly-veiled hit piece on the motorcycling community, the fair and balanced journalists (who went nameless in the byline) painted a grim picture.  82,000 injuries.  4,502 deaths.  $16.2 billion in direct costs.  
 
The tone and tenor of the writing implicated the motorcyclists themselves as being the sole cause of the entire tragedy.
 
But in this journalistic dance, the authors completely side-stepped what continues to be the most important source of motorcycle accidents.
 
Other drivers.
 
I looked through reports authored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Insurance Institute of America, and some state-centric statistical studies.  They all point the finger at the operators of cars, trucks, busses, even riding lawn mowers.  Numbers vary from report to report, but between 66% and 75% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by vehicle operators who either failed to yield the right of way (turning left across the bike’s path, pulling out of parking lots and driveways), or who blew by traffic control signals (stop signs and traffic lights) bursting into intersections.
 
This is not news to anyone who rides.  Every day of our commute, or joyriding in the country contains at least one, if not more tales of motorcyclists narrowly avoiding disaster.  The problem has gotten worse in recent years, due to the explosion of cell phones.  People who used to focus solely on the road now find their attentions divided by talking, texting, checking email, or any of the plethora of tasks now performed by even budget-priced cell phones.
 
The article went on to preach about helmet laws, which I suspect was the real reason for this production.
 
Just so you know, I’ve been riding for over 20 years and I’ve always worn a helmet.  That is my choice.  I respect the rights of others to not wear a helmet, even though I know that they’d be safer.  The old arguments that the weight of a helmet would make cervical injuries more likely were blown up last year when Johns Hopkins published a study which proved that modern helmets with their lighter and stronger materials actually prevent broken necks.

Besides, no helmet ever made is going to protect you at 60 miles per hour when T-boning the bonehead who pulls out from the country lane without looking.

But there are those among us who insist on being our mothers forever.  Oddly, they same demographic that supports Pro Choice in women’s issues is Anti-Choice where helmet laws are concerned.  Some other day we’ll talk about how abortion has killed almost 40 million African-Americans since Roe v. Wade.
 
As far as costs are concerned, $16 billion dollars is a chunk of change.  What the article didn’t point out was that nearly all of that was covered by insurance.  What is also being ignored continually is that 2 million times a year people show up at emergency rooms across the country suffering from “unintended drug overdoses.”  The direct cost associated with the treatment of those patients is $193 billion per year. 
 
And how many stoners do you think have health insurance?
 
There are risks to life inherent in living.  As Al Pacino once said, “You can get killed walkin’ your doggie!”  But hand-wringing never changed a dad-blamed thing.  If people are seriously interested in reducing the incidence of motorcycle death on the streets and highways, do two things:
 
1. Hang up the phone.
 
2. Pay attention.
 
After all, whether on two wheels or four, we’re all travelers just trying to get home.