25 November 2012

I Think I'm a Dumbass...

Why? Why, you may ask, am I referring to myself in such a deprecating manner? Well, it appears that after nearly 38 years of driving (with only a few traffic citations, and a couple of less or more  tragic accidents), I have lost all ability to drive on America's Interstate Highway System. And this tragedy occurred between the time I left Richmond on Wednesday the last to drive to Ohio to visit family for Thanksgiving, and the time I left Ohio this morning to drive back. Apparently tryptophan causes people (read: me, though in this case I think it applies to everyone-bloody-else!) to forget the rules of the road, how to drive safely, and why and when you should slow down to 20MPH on a 70MPH speed limit highway.

"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything."
-- Charles Kuralt

I left Huntington after a late (long) breakfast with a friend, and headed east on I-64. Traffic on the first section, from Huntington to Charleston, was reasonably light, something I hoped would continue. But alas, it was not to be. I-64E merges with I-77S at Charleston, and to make it more complicated, it isn't really an Interstate since it is officially the West Virginia Turnpike, a very expensive tollroad with horrible curves and ridiculously steep mountains. The traffic levels picked up when I got past Charleston and the driving began to get crazy. I remember that when I took Drivers Education way back in 1977, one thing we learned was that signs like this...
...were REGULATORY, statutory signs, showing rules that were to be OBEYED. But in 2012, Speed Limits have become Speed Suggestions. I prefer to NOT drive 70 miles per hour, it eats gas (about 10% more per 5MPH over 60MPH), but with the LIMIT set that high (at a time when we bitch about $3+ per gallon gas prices - not a peep out of you Brits, please, this is highway robbery over here), you don't have much of a choice, since using good common sense says that the safest speed is the speed everyone else is moving at. But no one drives 70, they all want to do at least 75. So I cheat and set my cruise control at 73-74. Most of the time, I am OK to go in the right lane. But not today. I don't like people running up my exhaust pipe. However, it seems that the way most other drivers think you will get out of their way is to ZOOM up on your rear bumper and ride so close that I can't see their headlights. OK, you want to be an idiot? Watch this! As I leave my foot on the gas, and tap the brake pedal to flash the brake lights! WOOHOO! They practically swerve off the road to avoid hitting me, except that I didn't slow down! HAHAHAHAHAHA The ones that don't get the message get to watch me gradually slow down with no brakes, until they finally figure it out and go around me.

The other followers are the idjits are the ones who zoom up on my rear bumper when I'm in the LEFT lane, passing other cars in the right lane. I'm not getting out of their way. I'm moving with left lane traffic, passing cars on the right. So they pick a slight opening and zip into the right lane, and then cram themselves back in the left lane right in front of me. So whatever safe space I had is now gone. And what exactly have they gained? ZIPPO!

All of this is tailgating, and not the kind you do at the football game (or NASCAR race). It's fricking dangerous! I saw clumps of 2 dozen cars (I counted once) all less than a few feet apart! It's NOT NASCAR! These people do not understand that "crumple zones" and "Antilock Brakes" and "Airbags" do not make up for a SAFE STOPPING DISTANCE! While these safety "brake-throughs" might keep you alive, they do not prevent the crumple factor that means hours of delay on your trip, and all the inconvenience involved when your car is smashed up, not to mention the citation from a Virginia State Trooper that will probably cost you $200 or more. Back in the day, a safe stopping distance was one car length per 10MPH of speed. But that's hard to judge. So sometime later on, I learned that a better way to judge is to put TWO SECONDS between you and the car in front of you. That's easy to figure almost exactly. Pick a spot...a line on the pavement, a signpost, and when the rear bumper of the car in front of you passes that point, start counting one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, and if your front bumper passes that point before you hit -two, back off. No one else seems to get this. If you are too close to me, you will see me slow down (see above). But I can always get more room.

I actually think that some of these clowns think they are drafting the other cars by following so closely. It's pretty humorous. That is because drafting only works with vehicles that are designed for it.
In the diagram above, the turbulence disappears as Δx gets smaller. Otherwise, it's no help. So all this "near bumper kissing" is stupid, and unsafe. I learned this is high school physics! Then I relearned it in University Physics nearly 20 years later using calculus. It's not rocket science. I am convinced that only the lowest common denominator drives these days. And it doesn't matter whether it's old folks or youngsters (provide your own definitions for these age ranges), they all

OK, final chapter of this rant. The stretch of I-64E between Beckley, WV and Lexington, VA (about 120 miles) is pretty desolate. On a holiday weekend like today, a few more cars are out there, but even with multiple state troopers sitting in the median strips, speed limits are mostly speed suggestions. But that's OK since the road is empty enough for me to drive my cruise controlled 73MPH. 

View Larger Map

Until I get to Exit 55. Exit 55 is the split for I-64 to head east on I-81 North, or to head south on I-81 South (makes sense, right?). Lots of times, I get off on Exit 55 and take US Rt. 11 North. US 11 is a beautiful scenic route up through the Shenandoah Valley that passes through a few neat old towns. The speed limit is 55MPH, though in the towns it is 35. I love it. While it is a four lane road, it is leisurely, laid back, and a lovely drive with NO STRESS!!! I intended for today to be no different. And I was glad I'd made that decision. Because, when I hit the split to I-81N, I instantly realized (about 1/2 mile too late) that I-81N was impersonating a parking lot. I rolled out of the access ramp at 55MPH, and laid on the brakes since nothing else was moving above 20. The merge was effortless since I just crowded out some clown in a Ford Exploder who refused to give me an extra inch. Yeah, I know, I've been railing against the "force their way in" crowd up until this point, but sometimes survival is important. I guess it didn't matter much, both lanes were moving at no more than 20. This is normal, and the only reason I decided to take this route, rather than get off back at Exit 55 onto Rt. 11 there was the fact that I'd passed up $3.399 gas in Covington in hopes of getting $3.149 gas at Raphine. 25¢/gallon is a lot when you need to save money and you need more than 10 gallons of petrol. So I am now stuck on I-81N/I-64E until I get to Exit 195. I can't wait. We inch along. I get space between me and the car in front because that way I don't have to ride my brakes to move at 10-15-20MPH. But that just means that the fucktards in the right lane take up that space, only to NOT move any faster. ARGH!!!!! GET ME TO EXIT 195!!!!!!

I see the Camping/Lodging sign, then the Food sign, then the Gas sign (all signs on American Interstates that show you the services that are available at the next exit). I see a truck-length space and dart into it! I am behind a gas tanker truck. I can't see anything in front of me. I prefer to be able to see MILES of roadway in front of me, so I can anticipate traffic movements, and now I am 100% blind. As I inch along, I see a sign I have NEVER seen before on the Interstate. This sign is PINK! I thought I was going to see an emergency mastectomy!!! (NO, I am NOT making fun of breast cancer!)
Who ever thought up THIS thing???? What this absolutely guarantees is that you will be held up by RUBBERNECKERS!!!! Those LOOKIE-LOOS who just have to slow down at the "scene"...if  you ever get there. So, the fricking sign that declares "Emergency Scene Ahead" implies that in a few miles or more, I will get to see a scene on the highway I am actually traveling on. 

Oh! Lo and Behold, There is the Exit! Dotted white lines to the right! I move into the Exit Lane! The OFFICIAL EXIT LANE!!!! But Holy CRAP!!!  There are VDOT trucks and orange cones and flashing amber lights blocking my ONLY way out of this. I have to duck back into a barely truck-length space in {gulp} 20 mile an hour traffic (HAHAHAHA). As I inch past the exit, I look over my right shoulder, and it is apparent that an accident has occurred on the exit ramp. A fire truck is blocking the exit ramp. An ambulance is visible facing up the exit ramp. A red tent has been erected in the middle of the road. That means it's a fatal accident. I am very unhappy about this. But I am also pissed that everyone on this damn interstate highway has to slow down to look at this spectacle where NOTHING IS VISIBLE! Let's get on with it, drivers!!!!

A few miles further up the highway, we finally regain Interstate speeds. But now I have to get off (no, not that way, but yeah, it's been several days, so yeah) and I see the exit I want, and fuel is only $3.1889. I can deal with that. I gas up, and the rest of the trip is uneventful. I manage to arrive home about 1030UTC. 

Sorry about this ridiculously long rant about drivers on the Interstate Highways. Needless to say, the trip from Raphine (my fuel stop) and my exit onto Rt. 288 (Veterans Memorial Highway) was more of the same, though I chilled out and didn't point my bazooka at any more drivers. I made it home in one piece. Thanks for riding along!!!

11 November 2012



Today is Veterans Day in the US, and Remembrance Day in the UK. I'd like to say THANK YOU in the biggest way possible to all of our veterans today! Your service has made and kept this country great, and I thank you for your sacrifice, because whether or not you ever saw "action", I know, after 15 years employment with the US Army, that serving in the military is a sacrifice of epic proportions. I have so much respect for the men and women I worked alongside while I was at Ft. Lee, Virginia. I know currently Active Duty and Reserve Soldiers and Marines. And every other veteran (Active Duty or Reserve) Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman deserve our utter and profound respect and pride.

My father was drafted soon after his eighteenth birthday in 1944. He served in the US Army in the Philippines during the occupation, I think. He never really talked much about his military service. I think part of that was that he was denied leave to come home for his father's funeral after a very unexpected death from a heart attack. In his words, he was guarding "empty warehouses" and nothing would change if he were sent home for a few days. Even intervention by the Red Cross would not sway the army's decision. Thus he was rather bitter about his service until much later in his life when he discovered his service entitled him to Veterans Affairs health care, which nicely supplemented his Medicare from the time he retired until his passing.

The picture to the left is Dad, in his official portrait, right after his induction.

He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge while serving. I have one of his medals for this award. You weren't just handed this badge for being "in theater", you had to see action. So I guess at some point, he had someone shooting at him, and hopefully, he was shooting back!

What no one in the family knew, until we received the bronze plaque for his grave from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC, was that he was also apparently awarded a Bronze Star. This is what I found about the awarding of the Bronze Star:
Authorization. Executive Order (E.O.) 9419 of 4 February 1944 as modified by E.O. 11046 of 24 August 1962 and the Defense Authorization Act of 2001, Section 1133.
Eligibility Requirements
Awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distin­guishes himself/herself on or after 7 December 1941 by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight.
(a) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
(b) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
(c) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
To justify this decoration, accomplishment or performance of duty above that normally expected, and sufficient to distinguish the individual among those performing comparable duties is required, although less than the requirements for the Silver Star or Legion of Merit. Minor acts of heroism in combat or single acts of merit or meritorious service in connection with military or naval operations may justify this award.
The recipient must be in receipt of Imminent Danger Pay during the qualifying period.
We had no idea. There was no ribbon amongst his personal effects, like the Combat Infantry Badge, but it could simply have been lost over time. Further research shows that you had to be recommended for this award by a commanding officer (not sure what level of rank this would require, but I'm guessing at least company level if not brigade or division). I am in the process of gathering the necessary information to apply to the National Archives to try to get a copy of the Citation that accompanies each award. {edit: My brother found dad's Service Record, and it lists the Bronze Star, so the VA should be able to supply the citation!}

I wish I'd had some inkling of this before dad passed away. I would have loved to know the circumstances of this award. But I guess some things just get lost in time. Anyway, again I say THANK YOU to all of our VETERANS on this special day of remembrance for them!
This is my dad with his two sisters, on leave between Basic Training and returning to his unit to be deployed to Japan, sometime around 1944-1945.

10 November 2012

A Final Election Commentary

For years, I've been bemoaning the fact that objective journalism seems to have been replaced, particularly in the television news media, by what can only be described as obvious and overt partisanship. I took some journalism classes in high school and college, and worked for several news agencies such as the university's newspaper (The Parthenon), the city newspaper (Huntington Herald-Dispatch), and did some freelancing for the Associated Press and United Press International (the wire services - what passed for the "Internet" of the news world in the 20th Century). Had I ever displayed the one-sided reporting like today's news reporting, I'd have been fired. The big TV networks do it, the newspapers do it (though mostly on the Op-ed pages where it is clear that it is opinion being offered). It's the primary reason that I quit watching TV news many years ago. It's sensationalized, very one-sided, and typically, if the subject is politics or other "controversial" subject, they are also very, very biased. As has been obvious (at least to me) during this election cycle, different networks tend to lean to the right or left, and they don't do a good job of indicating what is fact, and what is opinion and commentary. Thus the rise of such groups as PolitFact.com and FactCheck.org. "Back in the day," groups like this really weren't needed because the news media said "This side says this and we checked and this is the reality" which ever way it went.

On to the point. On Tuesday night, a friend, C, came over to watch the returns with me. I don't remember agreeing to this, because I intended to vote in the morning, then ignore the whole damn thing until Wednesday, and read it online. But I must have said "c'mon over". We watched ABC most of the evening, but close to 11:00PM, C says "let's have some laughs and switch over to FoxNews".  You can see where this is going, I'm sure. We're both pretty far left when it comes to social issues, but both of us are far more moderate when it comes to fiscal issues (though we do NOT totally agree with Mitt Romney's proposals). Anyway, FoxNews is known as a conservative - far right, actually - "news organization". So we are more or less laughing at the obviously biased reporting, and just after 11, when my Twitter feed, Facebook, and three news websites blew up with the announcement that Obama was now officially projected to win, since he'd just been officially projected to win Ohio, which was THE STATE you had to win to get your 270 Electoral Votes to become the president. Then this:

C and I were first trying to figure out if we'd missed something! Every network, every news feed, the newspapers, all were now 99.5% sure that Obama had won. Now to be honest, I was hoping they'd all declare Romney the winner, then we could have another "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment, and I'd get to laugh, Laugh, LAUGH!!!! But then today, while perusing my usual news feeds, trying to find balance, I saw this op-ed piece (clearly disclosed) about the whole Rove deal on FoxNews Tuesday night. (If you're dedicated and read through this, I'll tell you about C's trip to my house Tuesday, so you'll get another laugh before you leave.)

Karl Rove rejects reality

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 2:57 PM EST, Fri November 9, 2012
Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- As televised theater, it was hard to beat. As political prognostication, it was a head-scratching moment. As partisan warfare, it was nothing short of audacious.

But Karl Rove's insistence that Barack Obama had not carried Ohio -- despite the call by his own network, Fox News, that the president had done just that -- represented something larger. It captured, for some long and awkward moments, the refusal of some in the media-and-politics game to accept reality.

And that has been a recurring pattern this year.

We're not talking here about a bad judgment call by a pundit. Everyone in the commentary business, including yours truly, has made those. If failed predictions were a felony, the jails would be filled with media folks.

Rove, to be sure, is a smart guy. He wasn't called George W. Bush's architect for nothing. He helped his guy win two presidential elections. He knows polls inside out.

But Rove occupies a rather unique perch at Fox, and not just because he jumped from the Bush White House to the role of conservative cable commentator.

Rove, who also has a Wall Street Journal column, helped create two political action committees, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies, that raised and spent about $175 million in this campaign, most of it on television ads promoting Mitt Romney or attacking Obama. He was, in every sense of the word, a full-fledged political player.

But he was also Fox's most visible contributor, appearing far more often than Sarah Palin, delivering his political insights on shows from morning to night.

Fox isn't the only news channel to employ active partisans -- CNN has a few, too -- and media organizations long ago decided to blur the line between journalism and politics.

I know the ties are generally disclosed, but personally, I wouldn't allow anyone who raises money or holds a party position to be on a news organization's payroll. Why should viewers think they're getting anything but one-sided spin?

Still, Rove undoubtedly wants to preserve his reputation as a political seer, which is why it was so stunning when he went rogue on Tuesday night.

It was a moment of high drama.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC {my note: and ABC and the Associated Press} were each in the process of calling Ohio -- and thus the presidential race -- for Obama. But Rove began arguing with his Fox colleagues.

"I don't know what the outcome is gonna be, but you shouldn't, you gotta be careful about calling things when you've got something like 991 votes separating the two candidates and a quarter of the vote left to count," he said. "Even if they had made it on the basis of select precincts, I'd be very cautious about intruding in this process."

Rove was, of course, wrong; Obama won Ohio, and a second term. But what is striking is that he was challenging the decision-desk professionals at his network in a way that looked like he refused to accept the country's judgment.

This, unfortunately, has been a recurring theme all year. When Romney was down in the polls, some conservatives complained that media organizations were putting out biased surveys (which led to such sites as unskewedpolls.com). When unemployment dropped in September, even critics as prominent as Jack Welch accused the Obama administration of cooking the books without a scintilla of evidence.

And when Nate Silver, The New York Times' number-crunching blogger, predicted Obama had a 90% chance of winning, conservatives accused him of bias. Turns out he called the outcome correctly in every state.

Donald Trump, who hardly distinguished himself in this campaign by pushing the birther nonsense, ranted on Twitter on Election Night that Obama's victory was a "disgusting injustice." So he not only doesn't accept that the president was born in Hawaii, he doesn't accept that Obama won the election fair and square.

I wouldn't suggest that Rove believes in any of this conspiracy stuff, though he doubled down on Thursday by saying the president won by having "suppressed the vote," which flies in the face of Obama's efforts to boost turnout. But for a brief moment on Election Night, we got a glimpse of pure partisanship in the guise of journalism.

 Still with me? Now I get to make fun of a very dear friend. I can't remember if C knows about my blog, so if you do, and you read this, it's all in fun! As mentioned, I forgot that I'd agreed to this evening. But since I said "OK", I try my best not to renege, and C is a long time friend (over 30 years, one of the first people I met when I moved to Virginia back in 1980). We had agreed on 7PM, with pizza from me, snacks from him. I sent C directions to my house from HIS house, about 40 road miles south of me. But at about 4:30PM he calls me and says "I am in Richmond already" - where he had lived for 20+ years. I said "OK, where are you?" and gave  him what I considered very simple directions to get to my house from where he was:
Get on P-e South ("I know where that is")
Follow it to C-house Road
Bear right on C-house Road
Go through the stoplight, and turn right on C-ann Drive
Follow C-ann Road until it ends, and turn left
Go through the stop sign and make the first left onto {my street}
I am at the end of the street, house number is on big green sign on the mailbox post (highway style, engineering grade Scotchlite, visible from 300 yards away)
At 7:40PM, he hasn't arrived. Then the phone rings. It's C. He's on Midlothian Tnpk. He just passed a mall ("It was on my left" indicating to me that he was headed WEST, the correct direction) about 3 miles from where to turn to get to my house from this spot. I tell him that and he hangs up. Twenty minutes later he calls back. He's on another road altogether, and going the WRONG WAY! It takes another 40 minutes to get him turned around, talk him through two more wrong turns, and get him to my house. In the meantime, I have discovered that the pizza that had been delivered 40 minutes earlier and that I was keeping warm, was all wrong. So at least we had fresh pizza since I called Pizza Hut and bitched them out. I have to admit I was more than a little put out. I mean, I gave two sets of clear, concise directions to my house. And C simply could not follow them. He told me he'd put his location in Richmond in Mapquest, and didn't understand the directions. Thus my 7 step directions, which he didn't follow. Nor does he know what a fricking SatNav (GPS) is. ARGH!!!! I mean, I put a street address into my Garmin Nuvi 350 and I get where I'm going. He finally arrived at about 8:20PM, and we had a good time laughing at the Republicans and the biased news media reporting that they seemed to just keep adding to. He did finally admit that in his "I need help" call, he'd told me that the mall was on his left, when in fact it was on his right. If I'd known that then, I could have turned him around and saved an hour of grief. Anyone else not know their left from their right?!?!?!?!

OK, long post is over. Part rant, part rave! HAHAHA! Unusual for me!