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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, October 28, 2013

Drunk Driving: It's Time to Take a Stand

Photo from Missouri State Highway Patrol
 
Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
 
Alcohol, in the form of distilled spirits, has been around almost as long as organized human culture.  It has been used as a celebrant, a relaxant, the lubricant of human interaction.  IT has also been used, and abused, as a way to push aside sorrows, anxiety, and depression.  Used in moderation, alcoholic beverages are accepted and even encouraged.  But their abuse has taken many down the dark tunnel of alcoholism, a path marked by anger, violence, and even death.
 
One of the places where the dangers of booze have been made manifest is on our streets and highways.
 
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that in 2009, an estimated 30.2 million people reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in that year.  Some 900,000 are arrested annually for DUI/DWI, a third of those are repeat offenders.  On average, around 12,000 people in this country die in alcohol-related accidents each year.
 
There is good news in the trends.  Since all states adopted a universal drinking age of 21 in 1981, alcohol-related traffic fatalities have fallen almost 50 percent.  In the 1970’s, half of all traffic deaths were attributable to alcohol.  Today, that figure is about one-third.
 
But that kind of celebration carries a heavy dose of rationalization.  If that figure represented only the intoxicated themselves, there might be found a bit of justice.  However, most of the people who are injured, and who die in alcohol-related accidents are innocents, those who just happened to be on the same road at the same time as the drunk.
 
In the United States, the legal limit is 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC).  In some states, drivers under the age of 21 can be charged if there is any detectable alcohol at all.  In Germany, for example, where the legal drinking age is 16, standards are much stricter.  The allowable BAC levels start at zero for beginning drivers, with less than 2 years' experience, and drivers under the age of 21. The same zero-tolerance standard applies to drivers performing the commercial transportation of passengers.  For all drivers, the legal limit is 0.03% in conjunction with any other traffic offense or accident, and 0.05% without evidence of alcoholic impact.  A BAC level of   0.11% results in the suspension of the person’s driver’s license for about one year.  A BAC level of 0.16% means that the driver will require a successful Medical Psychological Assessment before the license can be reinstated.  These stringent rules, and their unbending enforcement, keeps alcohol-related deaths to around 5% of the total each year.
 
I think there is something we can learn from this.
 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Civil War: Events of November 1863

On November 2nd, President Lincoln, almost as an afterthought, is invited to make "a few appropriate remarks" at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg.

On the 4th, Confederate General Bragg orders Longstreet to Knoxville to take on Union forces under Ambrose Burnside.

November 6th opened the Battle of Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  Confederate forcers under John Echols and a fellow named Patton were driven from their positions to the summit of Droop Mountain.  They were reinforced, but in the afternoon, Union General Averell turned the left flank, and sent dismounted cavalry in a brutal frontal assault against the main Confederate line.  The Rebs gave way, fleeing into the woods.  Echols eventually rallied his troops, but was forced to retreat back to Virginia.  As a result of this battle, Confederate resistance in West Virginia collapsed.

In the afternoon of November 7th, Union forces under John Sedgwick and William French attacked river crossings at Rappahannock Station and Kelly's Ford. After heavy fighting, the Union troops carried the positions.  The loss of these two bridgeheads destroyed Lee's plans for an offensive, forcing him to move his army back south again.

The siege of Charleston Harbor continued, with Fort Sumter falling under heavy shelling between November 7th and the 10th.  After a quiet couple of days, the shelling resumed on the 12th

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Civil War: Events of October 1863

On October 3, President Lincoln called for a national day of thanksgiving at the end of November.

Starting October 2, Confederate cavalry General Joseph "Fightin' Joe" Wheeler began a series of raids in central Tennessee. On the 2nd, he raided a Union supply base at Powell's Crossroads and destroyed more than 700 wagons.  Pursuit was begun, but he managed to raid McMinnville and scooped up the 600 men of that Union garrison.  On the 5th, he cut the railroad between Nashville and Chattanooga at Stones River.  These raids helped tighten the Confederate siege of Chattanooga.

Also on October 5th, the submarine CSS David damaged the USS New Ironsides in Charleston Harbor.  The Union ship, as tough as her name, remained on station.

The next day, Confederate President Jefferson Davis embarked on an inspection tour through South Carolina and North Georgia, speaking in Atlanta on the 8th.

Starting October 9th, Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia across the Rapidan River in an attempt to outflank the Army of the Potomac.  In response, Union General Meade withdrew to the river on the 10th.  On the 11th, heavy skirmishing broke out as the two armies clashed between the Rapidan and the Rappahannock.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shutdowns, Furloughs, Sequesters, and the DC Merry-Go-Round

Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
 
Like many of my fellow federal employees, I viewed the October 1st shutdown with a mixture of eye-rolling exasperation and quiet concern.  Unlike others, however, I still have to go to work, albeit sans paycheck.  But as of today, 12 days in, with no solution is sight, concern has turned to worry.
 
America is deeply divided.  In fact, that only view we all hold in common is a shared resentment for those in DC whose responsibility it is to solve problems like this (and who are still getting paid, by the way) before they become catastrophes.
 
The word "shutdown" is actually less descriptive of the current situation.  Those of us who are considered emergency essential, whose jobs involve the security of the nation, are still going to work.  Remember the pursuit and gunfire involving that woman who tried to drive onto White House grounds?  The cops who pursued her were (and still are) doing what is essentially volunteer work.  Most federal employees remain at home, filling the hours with long-delayed household projects.  Bills have already been passed ensuring that we will receive our backpay when this thing is settled.  In the meantime, we will sharply curtail household expenditures and dread that day when we are forced to dip into that emergency fund that every prudent fed has carefully nurtured.
 
So here we sit, the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of this planet rendered impotent by the poison of dueling extremism.
 
While disturbing and disruptive, the shutdown is not as serious as the debt crisis. If we the people haven't taken notice, the Chinese government, who own about a trillion and a half of our debt, are taking notice.  Last week, they issued a strongly-worded statement warning American that Chinese financial interests are at risk.  Within those words, many heard a thinly-veiled threat.
 
Blame.  Everyone wants to sling it; nobody wants to receive it.  Folks on the left blame the right; folks on the right blame the left.  But blame, however it is generously spread, has never solved a problem, never crafted a solution.  Solutions do not exist on either the right or the left, but in that common ground in the middle, the no-man's land called compromise.  Historically, compromise has been the great healer.  Inherent in that art is the principal that both sides must concede important things before peace can be restored.  For too many, compromise means "my way or the highway."  Pride and reputation erects walls between what is and what is possible.  But if those two sins can be set aside for a time, this thing, and the looming debt crisis, can be solved.