About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

We Can Stop the Madness

Image from Dr. Seuss

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey

There was a time when I was passionate about politics.  I lived it, I breathed it.  I drank deep from the cup of partisanship.  The world, in my mind, was divvied up into two factions:  Us and Them. 
Anything said by “my” side had to be the unvarnished truth.  Conversely, every word rendered by the “other” side was assumed to be skewed and distorted, if not an outright lie.
It was about this time that I attended a course entitled “Critical Thinking.”  Critical thinking is actually a process; a learned and practiced skill.  And a vital element of any deliberative research endeavor.
Critical thinkers probe patiently and deeply for the truth, challenging equally the “facts” of both sides.    The real revelation comes when those methods are applied to the wares of the political marketplace.  What shocked me was the sheer amount of deliberate deception.  Leaders venerated as honest were in truth world-class manipulators.
It’s easy to be critical of those with whom we disagree.  It’s hard, however, to demand of someone we do agree with, and even respect and admire, “cite your evidence,” and then to follow up with research.  Most people are reluctant to do that because it risks popping that delusional bubble that surrounds our comfort zone.  For still others, seeking the truth is simply too much work.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Birthday

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey

I awoke on Wednesday morning, and my mind, as it usually does, was accessing the list of “have-to-dos” for that particular day when my wife rolled over and said sweetly, “Happy Birthday, Honey!”

A birthday can be many things.  A day of celebration, a day of reflection, or just another day.  It is a magical thing in a way, for it’s the one day of the year when a person celebrates…themselves.  We are free to be self-indulgent and our family, friends, and loved ones are free to spoil us, even just a little.  We look around and realize that no one can pass through this life without leaving some traces of evidence of our time here on this planet.  It could be something as substantial as a granite monument, or something as ephemeral as a fading memory.  Our family loves us, our friends cherish us, even acquaintances will carry a piece of us inside.  We have touched, and been touched along this journey we call “life.”

For me, this was number 57.  An incipient collection of aches and pains reminded me that this was a number that will only increase.  But in that reflective moment between sleep and full wakefulness, a curious sense of happiness enveloped me.  It was a warm kind of feeling, different from the burning desire for wild celebration of other years.  Maybe the 6-month-long hullabaloo of relocating has left me needing a normal kind of day.

I like this shift I work.  I go in around noontime and return home around midnight.  I get a break from the big-city traffic going both ways, and the ride home in the protective cloak of darkness gives me time to think and ponder.  And every writer worth their salt needs time and space to think and ponder. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Splitting Hairs Over Splitting Lanes


Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey

Several years ago, California enacted a law that legalized the motorcycle practice called “lane splitting.”  This involves the rider easing through heavy traffic by utilizing the space between the lanes, riding along the painted lane divider.  There are several very good reasons for this.  First off, it’s a way to get at least some of the traffic moving during those legendary Southern California traffic jams.  Secondly, the stop and go ooze is hard enough on a car.  A motorcycle is far more prone to things like overheating engines and burned-out clutches.  And nobody needs yet another disabled vehicle on the roadway.  It’s safer for the rider, avoiding the very real possibility of becoming the meat in a tractor-trailer sandwich.  It thins out the traffic herd and is better on the environment since there are fewer things dirtier than an idling engine.

But Southern Californians, normally a pretty laid-back group, decidedly don’t like lane splitting.

A recent survey conducted by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) turned up some disturbing results. 

Though lane splitting has been legal for some time, that’s news to some 53% of California drivers who thought the practice against the law.  But even among drivers who do know the law, it’s still highly unpopular. Motorcyclists, though, thoroughly love it.

But buried in the statistics was a disturbing number.  7% of drivers admit to cutting off riders and even opening their doors to try to block them.  This isn’t news to the two-wheeled set, all of whom have their private stock of horror stories to relate.

Now, 7% doesn’t sound like much until you consider the larger picture.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Motorcycling Month of May


Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey

“While riding down the street one day
In the motorcycle month of May
I was taken by surprise
By a minivan of size
And a soccer mom who ruined my day”

--Lyrics twisted by Ralph Couey
With abject apologies to Edward Haley



May has been proclaimed National Motorcycle Safety Month, and across the country states are launching public information campaigns urging the driving public to increase their awareness of motorcycles with which they share our national roadways.  But it’s not only to remind motorists, it’s also for reminding the riders themselves to learn and employ safe riding habits.
Motorcycle accident deaths have been trending downward for the last few years.  That’s really good news, even though in the context of human tragedy, a single death is one death too many.  The issue is still being studied, so nobody has yet pinpointed the reasons for the reduction.  But like many others, I have my opinion.

1.      Better training.  In nearly all states a prospective rider can avail themselves of rider training courses offered through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).  In most cases, passing the course earns you that coveted “M” endorsement on your license.  The course is dynamic, updated every year to reflect the growing body of knowledge.  As a result, new riders hit the street much better prepared than in decades past. 

2.      Better riding habits.  Though squids still abound, most riders are, in my observation, riding much safer and more defensively of late.  Much of that may have to do with the increasing mean age of riders, which has changed from the mid-20’s to the mid-40’s, a much more mature, responsible age group, well aware of the limits of mortality.  Although as comedienne Caroline Rhea is fond of pointing out, “Men don’t mature.  They just get old.”

3.      Better machines.  Technology is racing forward at breakneck speed.  Today’s bikes are engineered far better, and are therefore easier to handle than those sold even 10 years ago.  In addition, handling improvements like ABS and linked braking systems are far more common.  Tires get better each year as well.  Even the technology of road building has improved.  Any highway worker will tell you that it’s not just the same old asphalt.

4.      Better drivers.  I’m admittedly on shaky ground here, since the advent of cell phones has added a whole new level of hazard to the roads.  All I have to support my point is my own experience.  I’ve been riding for 20 years (anniversary last month, thank you very much).  When I first began, I knew how to properly execute an emergency evasion and a panic stop.  Why?  Because I had to do them both several times each month.  But in the last several years, I’ve noticed that I haven’t had to do that nearly as often.  In fact, I find I have to take time in a parking lot to practice those maneuvers in order to keep sharp.  Of course, I’ve learned several things, like don’t hang out in the other car’s blind spot, looking ahead and planning my way around hazards before they become hazards.  My instincts are far more acute.  Now when I ride towards someone waiting to turn onto, or across my traffic lane, I can look in their eyes and “know” when they aren’t actually seeing me, even though looking in my direction.  Mostly, I’ve learned to leave them room to be stupid, because they will rarely disappoint the expectation.