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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Civil War: Events of May 1862

On May 1st, Union troops under Benjamin Butler began entering the strategically vital city of New Orleans.

On May 3rd, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston suddenly withdrew from the Warwick Line in the Battle of Yorktown.  The sudden retreat ceded the battle to Union forces under McClellan.

The Battle of Williamsburg was fought on May 5th.  This was the first major clash of the Peninsula Campaign, involving around 41,000 Federals and some 32,000 Confederates.  Joseph Hooker's Union division encountered the rear guard of Joseph Johnston's Rebel troops fleeing the Battle of Yorktown.  This rear guard, Jeb Stuart's cavalry, skirmished with Stoneman's Union horse troopers who had been sent by McClellan after their unexpected withdrawal from Yorktown.   Johnston, trying to buy time for his retreat, detached troops to man a large earthen fortification called Fort Magruder, straddling the Yorktown-Williamsburg road.  Hooker assaulted the fort, but was repulsed by counterattacks by Confederate General James Longstreet.  Hooker was expecting help from William "Baldy" Smith, but Smith, fearing a Confederate attack on his position, held up a little over a mile away.  Longstreet's attacks pushed Hooker's troops back.  A Union brass band playing "Yankee Doodle" managed to slow the retreat until General Phil Kearny came up with his division.  Kearny displayed characteristic dash and daring, riding out in front of the line and urging the Union troops to the attack with a wave of his sword.  The Union troops pushed the Confederates back.  Winfield Hancock's Union division began an artillery bombardment of Longstreet's left flank, disobeying orders to fall back.  After a failed attack by Jubal Early, Hancock's men executed a superb bayonet charge, rolling up the Confederate line.  The battle was trumpeted as a major victory by the Northern press, but in reality, Johnston's fight proved to be a delaying action which allowed the bulk of the Confederate army to retreat to Richmond.

On May 7th, they clashed again in the Battle of Eltham's Landing.  This time Union troops under William Franklin tried to attack the Barhamsville Road, attempting to disrupt the Confederate retreate from Williamsburg.  The Rebels successfully resisted the attack and continued their retreat.

May 8th saw the Battle of McDowell in the Shenandoah.  Stonewall Jackson pushed Union troops under Schenk and Milroy off of a strategic ridge after a fierce and bloody fight, setting the stage for Jackson's successful Valley Campaign.

Union General David Hunter freed the slaves in South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia on May 9th.  On that same day, Confederate troops destroyed military facilities at Norfolk before continuing their retreat down the peninsula.

On May 10th, Confederate ships clashed with a Union squadron consisting of several ironclads and mortar boats.  The Confederate ships defeated the Union force, actually sinking two of the ironclads, but were unable to prevent the Union navy from proceeding down river towards Memphis, Tennessee.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The New Allstate Motorcycle Insurance Ad

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
In the process of relocating, one can expect some disruptions to the even tenor of our lives, the mail being one of them.  As a result, I just recently received my June RoadRunner magazine.  For me, this has been the perfect motorcycle periodical.  I am a “go-far” rider, more content with long rides, the chief characteristic being a Zen-like communion with the world around. RR’s presentation of road trips allow me to live those journeys vicariously through the vivid photography and expressive prose.  There are bike reviews, but they are almost exclusively the kind of machines that are built for doing three states per day, rather than three-digit speeds down the local freeways.  

The issue was great, as usual. But it was the ad on the back cover that really got my attention and my dander all aflutter.

Since the day I threw a leg over my first bike, I’ve been very focused on riding safe and sane, a philosophy reinforced by three accidents over the last 20 years.  I took the Beginning Riders Course back in 1992, and to this day I can remember the instructors steady pounding of the mantra, “Use the FRONT brake!”  It was hard at first to remember.  After all, that’s how I brought my trusty Schwin 1-speed to a halt.  But as they repeatedly pointed out, there are physical forces involved in stopping a 600-plus-pound motorcycle that just don’t apply to their non-motored kin.  For example, when a rider executes an emergency stop, the weight shifts to the front wheel.  The rear tire now has far less weight, causing a corresponding reduction in frictional coefficient. Since the rear tire now has less grip on the pavement, it's going to take a lot more distance to bring the bike to a safe halt.  In addition, a likely outcome of a rear-wheel skid is a catastrophic loss of control as the the rear of the bike slides out from underneath the rider. 

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) maintains that the front brake provides, according to recent testing, 90% of a motorcycle’s stopping capability.  With the weight shifted forward, the frictional coefficient of the front tire is increased dramatically.  This means that, properly done, a front wheel emergency stop does not have to end up as a long skid.  The increased grip can slow the bike much quicker, while still keeping the bike under control. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey

As I write this, the University of Kansas men’s basketball team is poised to begin their participation in the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s National Basketball Tournament.  As a native Midwesterner, I am delighted.  As a Big Twelve supporter, I am happy.  As a Missouri fan, I am haunted by the dream of what might have been.

Missouri had a great season, one for the books.  Under the inspired leadership of a new coach, Frank Haith, the Tigers learned the meaning of “team”; the importance of playing together with one shared vision, the prize at the end of the road. 

Mizzou wasn’t on anybody’s poll as the season began.  Having lost their “big man” before the season even started, they were forced into a guard-oriented offense that only promised difficulty against taller teams.  However, the Tigers surprised everyone,  except perhaps themselves.  As the victories mounted, Missouri crept into the top 25, then the top 10, and against all possible odds, finished in the top 5 in all the polls.  Although they lost the conference championship to the Jayhawks, Missouri roared back in the Big 12 Tournament and took home the trophy with a big win over Baylor in the final.

Fate (and Baylor) robbed the Tigers and Jayhawks of one last brawl in the conference tournament.  But thanks to an unknown scheduler, the NCAA brackets were set up so that if both teams survived, they would meet in the final game, the one for all the marbles, the NCAA final.

But fate intervened once more.  In the first round, Missouri ran into a Norfolk State team that played simply the best game of their entire lives, snuffing out the Tiger’s candle, and ending their season.

It was a heartbreaking loss, especially since Norfolk State was crushed in their next game.  I’m sure I was not the only Mizzou fan who watched those ensuing games, convinced that the Tigers could have taken both Florida and Marquette.  Louisville would have been the toughest opponent, but with luck and that inimitable will that marked their play, Missouri would have had a good chance at them as well.

That would have set up an NCAA Final for the ages.

Rebirth

Copyright 2012 © by Ralph Couey

Spring, like all the seasons, comes upon us gradually.  Wrapped in the cloak of our busy lives, we scarcely notice the change.  But on that one day that we stop and take time to actually look around, we discover the miracle.  On that day we exit our home to find that, instead of being assaulted by the cold, we are welcomed by the gentle warmth of the sun.  The brown bare limbs of the trees have exploded with life and leaves.  Flowers have begun to bloom adding their bright and cheery colors to earth’s palette.  The breeze now blows gently across the skin that was for too long hidden under protective layers. 

In the spring, earth touches us in a personal way with an intimacy found at no other time of the year.  We are eager to leave the confining walls of winter behind to embrace, and be embraced by the rebirth that is spring.

What I welcome the most is the chorus of birdsong.  Winter is a silent time, disturbed only by the raucous cry of the crow.  Now, however, the orchestra has returned and all those small voices join together in a symphony of joyous sound that fills the soul.

It’s Saturday and people are out and about.  Strolling down the sidewalk, a couple of teenage girls eat ice cream.  Bicycles and skate boards glide past.  The comforting smell of fresh-cut grass is in the air and everywhere, men dressed in their Saturday worst are mowing, edging, trimming, and planting, turning a simple lawn into a living work of art.  Others are busy with paint and tools, repairing the damage that the ravages of winter visited upon their homes.  Windows are open, freshly washed curtains swaying gently in the breeze.  The fresh, new air of spring is spreading through those rooms, taking away the last stagnant air of winter.