Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cubans and Countefeits

     A few years ago I was given a sampler of good cigars.  I enjoyed the occasional cigar but I had no idea how to keep them fresh.  In fact, I knew very little about cigars.  I was quick to learn that cigar snobs are very prone to writing articles, so I did my research.  Several years later, I have my own humidor and a separately vented smoking room.  It’s the perfect place to meet with friends, talk about how awesome we are and burn some good smoke sticks.
      The lore of the infamous Cuban cigar is the next thing a cigar fan wonders about.  Are they really that good?  Why are they illegal?  It was on a beach in Manzanillo, Mexico where I learned the hard truth about the “Cubans” I’d bought.  They were fake.  I was disappointed, but it also explained why they tasted like lawn mower scrapings and cost so little.  I thought everything was cheaper in Mexico and maybe I hadn’t yet developed a taste for the good stuff.
     I went back to the “dot com machine” to figure out what’s going on with Cuba.  The reason they are illegal is that the U.S. has a trade embargo against Cuba.  Apparently we still have the red-ass over the missile crisis and it is illegal for a U.S. citizen to drop any bucks in Cuba.  They’re sold all over the world, especially in Europe and Canada.    Some countries, such as Switzerland, sell them online.  It’s still unlawful for us to purchase them even through another country.  After more study, I was saddened to learn that the vast majority of Cuban cigars in Mexico are fake.  Some are very good fakes where they use premium Dominican cigars.  The best explanation I’ve read is that it’s all a matter of economics.
     Cuban cigars are produced in state-run factories and sold through state stores.  This makes for a tightly controlled market where the price doesn’t vary due to competition.  This fixes the bottom-line price worldwide.  This means that if a Cohiba Siglio VI is being sold for $6, it’s fake.  The real thing is at least three times that much, so it’s impossible that a distributor bought it from a Cuban state store, shipped it to Mexico and put it in the Puerto Vallarta shop for one-third the market price.  It’s more likely he bought a mule-load of San Andreas rolled corn silk wrapped in a band that just came out of his laser printer. 
     Making matters worse, there are fake Cubans from Cuba.  Remember the state stores?  Sometimes people manage to grow tobacco outside of the state farms and somehow get them to market with fake bands.  They’re still from Cuba, but the brand is misrepresented.  I’ve heard that they’re not as good.  I do understand that the seed and processes used in producing the big brands are all closely guarded secrets.  I doubt small counterfeiters could produce equivalent products.
     Cigars are an interesting study in economics.  After the embargo, many growers fled to the U.S. with their seeds and secrets.  That’s why there are legal, high-quality cigars on our shelves that bear the same names as the Cuban bands.  There were some trademark infringement claims, but our government decided that our laws didn’t apply because of the trade embargo.  It sounds a little like twisting the knife.  This led to a competition driven market that produces great cigars at modest price.  Products of Nicaragua, The Dominican Republic, Brazil, and similar countries rival Cuba in craftsmanship and flavor.  Unlike a state cigar mill, these companies have competitiors and strive for a better product than the other guy. 
     To make matters worse, Cuban cigars are very easy to fake.  They're not remarkable in appearance.  While they're well-made, they don't stand out from their premium legal versions.  If the buyer is uninformed, as I was, a good box and band will pass.  One clever trick I picked up was to ask the store if you can keep the box if you buy the remaining cigars inside.  Reputable cigar shops sell sealed boxes and individual cigars from an open box.  They're happy to give you the box so they don't have to throw it away or store it.  If they're selling fakes, the boxes may be real and they won't part with them.  Learning the labels is fairly easy, and it's pretty easy to spot a printer job.  Now I have fun going to fake shops asking for boxes.  So far, 100% are not willing to part with their boxes.  Some simple checking would have saved me the trouble.  They'll often try to pass the same cigar off with different bands in the same store.  They'll all be the same size and color.  Mexican stores, airports and seemingly high-end shops offer gift package tubos and other products that Cuban makers have never produced.  Also, the display boxes are often odd-sized compared to the cigars. 
     Now for the big question: Do the Cuban labels live up to the hype?  For me, the cheaper, less-known names were the more impressive than the big brands with the exception of Montecristo.  There is a distinct natural flavor in all of them.  It's similar to how a Pecos cantaloupe compares to the others.  Reviews are best left to another article by someone with more knowledge than me.  Remember, they're illegal to purchase, not to smoke.  Enjoy one if you get a legal chance. 
     So what’s a cigar fan to do?  My best advice would be to enjoy in moderation the good, legal cigars that a free market economy has produced.  Go to your local cigar pub and light one off.  Pub prices are double the internet box price, but it’s a chance to sample before taking the plunge.  Beware any “Cuban” someone picked up on a cruise ship stop.  It may be good, it may even be Cuban, but the chances that it’s a real Cuban are dismal.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Personal Facebook Policy

               The rumors vary, but someone at work did something stupid on Facebook.  I have no idea what it was, but the popular story involved a stripper pole and a uniform shirt.  This led to a very broad policy that prevents us from discussing any connection to work on a social networking site. 
                My day job supplies a full day’s supply of frustration and anger.  FaceBook, in general, is a positive experience.  Since I’m not a super-social butterfly, it’s nice to keep up with friends and family and take on some good vibes.  I have a strong tendency toward being an arrogant prick, so this is an effort to keep that off my page unless it’s in good humor.  With a 500+ friend list, there’s a downer in the bunch every once in a while.  I decided to take measures to NOT be the downer.
I began researching other agencies’ policies and those of the private sector.  It occurred to me that these policies all serve a purpose:  Keep the entity from looking stupid.  I do plenty of stupid things, so maybe a few guidelines are in order to help me along.  This is also a simple step of emulating the people who do it right. 
Remember, employers often use social networking sites to make decisions on hiring, and often they are used by competition and opposition to monitor the “other side.”
                These are a collection of things I picked up along the way.  Unfortunately, some are lessons learned from my own social networking blunders.  Most of it is an extension of what my parents taught me:   If you can’t say anything nice…

1.       Keep all Facebook contact positive.   

2.        No politics or religion.  Yep, Grandma was right.  I have my own opinions based on 41 years of walking on this rock.  As I said in the first post on this blog, I find politics extremely frustrating and negative.  I’ve found ways to exercise my freedoms in the political arena and it’s not on FB.  Political posts tend to be erroneous, emotional and often maddening.  Religious postings are so voluminous and repetitive that they are read very little. 

3.       Never “unfriend” anyone.  If someone is a FB friend, we’ve had some positive contact.  We’ve shaken hands, shared something or maybe have some common ground but never met.  Whatever the case, we’ve chosen to align.  The “unfriend” option seems pretty childish to me.  When a “friend” posts negative, stupid nonsense on their page, I choose to “unsubscribe.”  This has recently (I think) become available on band pages.  When a “liked” band toured or released an album it would bombard you with comments.  You can now turn it down a bit.

4.       No Facebook Suicide.  Take a break instead of cancelling an account.  I recommend unplugging from the grid completely for days at a time.

5.       Remove negative comments made to your posts.   

6.       Use the family and friends groupings that allow posts to be visible only in certain groups.  The less you post, the more you’re read.  If you’re like me and sometimes use your page for advertising, this is a plus.

7.       Use a blog for venting unless it’s funny venting.  Friends will laugh at the story of the lady with back cleavage and a tube top but hearing about how “some people should mind their own business” violates rule #1.  Never make a passive-aggressive attack against anyone on your friend list. 

8.       No cries for attention.  This means not posting, “OMG, this is terrible!  It’s the end of the world, the worst news I’ve ever gotten” which is followed by twenty posts from readers asking what happened with no reply from the poster.

9.       If there is any possibility that a post may be pushing the limit, don’t post it.  It’s only Facebook.

10.   Feel free to violate any rule if it will be seriously funny.

So there it is.  May your FaceBook experience be regret-free. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do You Need a Concealed Handgun License?

I taught the Texas concealed handgun class for over 10 years.  In that time, the laws and administrative rules relaxed.  This reduced the amount of work for the DPS, instructors and CHL holders.  More recently the laws for carrying a gun have relaxed to the point that the vast majority of Texans don’t need a CHL.
I always opened my CHL classes with the participants introducing themselves and explaining why they are there.  The most popular answer was “I want to legally carry a gun when I travel.”  Carrying a handgun while travelling has been legal in our state for some time, but it was often clouded by circumstances that placed the burden on a citizen to prove they are traveling.  Once they established residence in another county by renting a hotel room they were no longer a traveler. 
Throughout my career as a firearm instructor I have always preached that a firearm should be carried on the body in a quality strong-side holster.  This is the safest, most secure means of carrying a weapon.  It is the fastest to draw, easiest to conceal and most comfortable to wear.  There are a few other circumstances where this may not be the case, but for the average cop or armed citizen there is no better option.  Guns should NEVER be carried in a purse, briefcase or stored in a vehicle.  These are all things that are frequently stolen.  One of the reasons we arm ourselves is to protect against robbery.  While handing the guy your property, why not hand him your weapon at the same time?
My point about the holster is to illustrate that many concealed handgun licensees don’t carry a weapon on their person.  Citizen’s guns most frequently live in glove compartments, consoles, between seats and in door pockets.  They’re often in a holster that hasn’t been strapped to a belt since their last trip to the range six months ago to fire the proficiency course.  Don’t laugh, most cops shoot about that often.  For lack of comfort or confidence, most don’t carry the weapon on their person.
The most recent changes to our gun laws implemented what is popularly called the “Castle Doctrine.”  This means that a person may carry a firearm in their home, vehicle, and places under their control.   The weapon has to be concealed and they can’t be criminals or do criminal things in the mean time.  Check out Section 46.02 of the Texas Penal Code.
So what does this mean?  Unless you intend to strap the weapon on your body, cover it with a jacket, outer shirt or conceal it in a “fanny pack” holster and carry it in public places, there’s no point in getting a concealed handgun license.  Depending on your age and other conditions, you’ll be out over $300 to get the license, and then on the hook to renew every 4-5 years at $70.  This may be well worth it to someone in the right circumstance, but experience says that most will rarely if ever use the privileges given by the CHL except for the shortened wait time in purchasing a handgun. 
When the Midland Shooter’s Association became a bad place to take customers I stopped teaching public CHL classes because it didn’t make enough money to rent or buy my own range.  I visited MSA this summer to qualify the Midland College Police and found that it hadn’t changed at all.  If you’re one of the few who could really use a concealed handgun license, I recommend Dennis Morris or Tom Vannaman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The History of La Belle Fencing Club

The first thing most people say when they hear about our fencing club is, “I didn’t know we had that in Midland.”  While fencing isn’t the most common sport in these parts, the Permian Basin is surrounded by it.  There are clubs in El Paso, Amarillo, Lubbock , Austin, DFW, San Antonio, etc.  It’s a sport enjoyed by people of all ages, from kids to the 70+ crowd.  It’s often misunderstood and confused with reenactment swordplay.  Olympic  fencing is a sport.  So how did it wind up in Midland?
An article appeared in the January 10, 1983 Midland Reporter-Telegram that first announced La Belle Fencing Club’s existence.  Robert Walter, Gilbert Garcia, Mike Husband and Orlando Temple were the first members.  Robert was an import to Midland.  He had fenced in college and joined Gilbert’s fencing class at Midland College.  Mike was  the Plains Division President at the time.  Orlando, who worked for the City of Midland, had fenced for his home country of Panama in the Olympics.  The article also announced their first beginner’s class which took place in the old Parks and Recreation building behind Dennis the Menace Park.  It also explained that the club's name referred to a situation in a fencing bout where both fencers are tied at a score one touch short of winning the bout and the next touch decides the winner.
My mom showed me the article and I was immediately interested.  I was 12 years old at the time and found a book my Michel Alaux (which I still have) and started studying.  I took the class and stuck with the club for a couple of years.  The club moved around, meeting at the MAF National Guard Armory, the old Alamo YMCA, and even a few times in a day care.  A West Texas bust blew through and the membership dwindled to the point that insurance through the U. S. Fencing Association couldn’t be met and the club stopped meeting.
The club existed in pockets for a few years.  I began my career in law enforcement and didn’t fence for a long time.  I lost touch with everyone in the club.  One day I was talking about fencing and heard the name Lan Powers.  Lan became involved in the club in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I wasn’t in the picture.  He attended the USFA Coaches College around 1989.  I looked up Lan’s number and called him around 1991 but the hours of our jobs made it impossible for us to establish a regular workout together.  The club continued to exist in small pockets and eventually stopped meeting.
Sometime around 1996 I bumped into Robert Walter.  He had become a minister and I started attending his church.  Again, work schedules prevented any serious fencing but we did manage to work out a time or two.  In 2005 I was accepted into an investigator slot at work which meant I was to work banker’s hours for the first time in my life.  I called Robert and Lan and the club was up and running.
I went to the USFA Coaches College in 2006.  We already had a beginner’s class scheduled when I got back.  We were having a blast.  We started competing again and, although it wasn’t pretty, we were hip-deep in modern fencing.  Oh my, how it had changed.  The sport was faster, more competitive and popular.
By 2008, Robert had taken a job in Virginia. Lan’s successful family business (Scully Stone) and Aikido study pressed him out of coaching but he managed to come cross blades once in a while.  He is currently a Sandan (Third Dan.)
Jim Geitgey called me one day and asked about our club.  He was new to Midland and had studied under Coach Andrey Geva in Houston.  Jim is an outstanding epeeist and once brought Andrey to Midland for a clinic.  I still use notes from that clinic!  Jim started a fund for the club’s coaching development which pays tuitions for us to attend clinics and coach schools.  An unfortunate joint injury put fencing aside for Jim but his help with the club has ensured the club a long life.
We’ve experimented with various beginner’s courses from once-weekly classes to weekend clinics.  Members come and go but the club maintains a roster of about 20 members with a core group of about six who can be found at most practices.  The club met at the Martin Luther King Center until we were offered space at the Cole Theater's basement.  We were thrilled to have air conditioning and wood floors! 
We've been going strong for five years without hiatus.  The skill level and enthusiasm is still high.  We'll be announcing more beginner's classes soon!
Visit our website at and friend us on FaceBook!
Please comment if you have any additions or corrections to the club history.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

J Street Radio 1610: How to Take a Simple Project Completely Over the Top

This is how to take a simple project completely over the top.
As mentioned in my last post, I built an AM transmitter that allowed me to play music on the old Zenith from an audio source like an mp3, CD, etc.  After some research I picked the SSTRAN 3000.  It took an evening to build the kit.  I’m very impressed with the audio.  It sounded like the commercial broadcast stations.  In all the research I did on transmitters I learned about FCC Part 15 regulations.   Part 15 allows anyone, without a broadcast license, to transmit on the AM or FM broadcast bands under certain restrictions.  It’s the same type of system used by drive-in theaters, road information stations and people who play Christmas music from their house to accompany their lights.  It turns out that there are a lot of “microbroadcasters” out there.  The transmitter instructions included a modification for a base-loaded antenna which gives the maximum amount of coverage while staying within the regulations.  I had most of the materials in my shop already, so what the hell.
Shannon White of BJ electric in Midland was kind enough to provide me with some 16ga magnet wire which was the most difficult part to find.  Everything else came from local hardware stores or my scrap pile.  I followed the instructions for the modified antenna shown on SSTRAN’s website and followed some hints I found from various other sites.  The result was a strong signal for about a half mile and some satisfactory signals as far as 1.25 miles. 
I put together some music with some station ID in between and called it “J Street Radio 1610.”  Tune in if you’re in the “Old Midland” area.  The best reception is between Garfield, Cuthbert, Neely and C Street.  Power lines seem to randomly help and harm the signal and I’m sure all the trees in the area aren’t helping.  I've heard the signal as far as Midland College and the hospital
I’ve read about other low-power stations and some in big cities have quite a cult following and run a mix of live and automated formats.  I really don’t want to invest too much time in this, but it’s an interesting pursuit.  It takes about 30 minutes at the computer to put together a loop of interesting materials and mix in an ID message here and there.
I don’t expect much to come of this but if nothing else I have a nice strong signal around my house where we can hear anything we want from an AM radio!  
I got a lot of good tips from other people’s blogs, so here are some notes for anyone looking into a radio project who finds this page on a search engine:
1.       My antenna was built from SSTRAN’s modified in-line coil plans.  The main antenna section is ¾” and the base is 1” copper pipe.  This is said to increase bandwith and it will certainly stand up to the west Texas wind better than the smaller stock.  I recommend cutting the clamping notches as wide as 1/8” with an abrasive wheel.  This made a much more solid connection than a hacksaw kerf.

2.       I used 13 random length radials to 15’.  I used scrap Romex and didn’t remove the insulation.  I did encounter a buzz when connected to the ground.  I’m eventually going to add ground rods for my ham radio antenna.  That may solve the problem.  The antenna base is about 10’ off the ground on top of my shop.

3.       When I adjusted the gain, modulation and compression EXACTLY as the manual says, my range increased.

4.       There’s little data about the voltages across T1 and T2.  All the manual says is to keep it under 13v.  With the wire antenna and even the base-loaded antenna UNGRONDED the voltage was 6v max.  When connected to a good ground, voltage went to 13 and the range shot out to what I described above.  Ground is everything! 
5.       Instead of soldering connectors to the audio and power, I soldered lead-outs for them.  It saved money and gives a better connection anyway.  Since I had plenty of lamp cord and 4-conductor telephone wire, all I was out was a 1.8” audio plug.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Old Zenith

A few years ago my wife came home from visiting her mother’s house and brought back a pile of faded wood and wires that was once a console radio.  It was currently a high-rise wasp apartment building.  I have some electronic experience and quite a bit of woodworking under my belt.  I thought that the innards were probably shot and I might end up using it as a retro-looking MP3 player.
A little research of the model number indicated that it was a 1937 Zenith Farm Radio.  It was originally sold with a wind charger and ran on a battery.  It made the large burn on the bottom shelf make sense.  The battery must have leaked.  The radio belonged to my wife’s great-grandparents and has remained in the family.  
One evening I started taking it apart.  The first thing that caught my attention was the workmanship.  It was built by hand.  There were no circuit boards.  The components were hand soldered.  The knobs are made of wood with set-screws holding them in place.  The tuning belt was leather.  I couldn’t imagine something built today looking that good after 70 years in a living room and four generations of kids.
I had no concerns about taking on the wood work myself.  All of the major parts were there.  As for the inside, I wasn’t too sure.  The old capacitors were shot and much of the cloth-insulated wiring needed to be replaced.  After more research, it appears that the radio didn’t originally run on regular house current.  It was battery only and the AC power feature was added later.  I decided it best to farm out the electrical work so I called Retro Audio Lab in Midland.  I can’t say enough about them.  They did amazing work on the radio and have a passion for restoring old gear.  They ran a build log here listed under “6B164.”  It was playing Craig Anderson’s radio show when I came in to pick it up.  The old grill cloth was a memory at this point.  I was able to find a small patch of the original cloth inside the frame.  I taped it to my computer monitor and surfed the catalog of some antique grille cloth manufacturers.  The rest was some basic stripping, cleaning, sanding and lacquer.  Car pin-striping did the trick in replacing the gold inlay.  I tossed a long-wire antenna out the back door and fired her up.  It works like it did in 1937.
We found a place in our living room for the old Zenith and fire it up from time to time.  It’s amazing to think of all the history that sounded from that speaker.  There is nothing like vacuum tube warmth and the glow of incandescent bulbs on an old dial face!  One of my next projects is an AM transmitter that will allow us to play anything over an unused frequency on the Zenith; mp3, satellite, etc.  We’ve already planned to listen to the original “War of the Worlds” when the transmitter is up and running.
This was one of my favorite shop projects.  It led to my interest in amateur radio and I understand what Rick Dale of American Restoration says about craftsmanship.  I’ve also come to appreciate the “boutique” electronics industry that is keeping this sort of thing alive.  There are guitar amps, amateur radio, stereo and do-it-yourself kits out there for the googling.    Sometimes it’s nice to turn all of the mass-produced Chinese digital stuff off and listen to the 70 year old analog tubes.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Want to Lose Weight?

                I’m still being asked how I lost weight.  Some people have wondered if I had gotten sick or divorced.  Months after reading Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Body and following the program, I’m maintaining my target weight.  Not only has it been successful for me but several friends have had excellent results.  I’ve made notes throughout the process that will hopefully be of benefit to others.
                The first thing to understand is that most “diets” are intended to make one drop excess weight and are not designed for long-term sustenance.  Tim Ferriss’ program is no different, but it does make after-care simpler by helping understand where your excess pounds came from.  Nothing in his program is new.  It is simply a combination of other systems that worked perfectly for me.  It involved cutting things from my diet rather than adding new foods.  It fit my life perfectly.  It may not be for everyone but it has worked for me and several people around me. 
                Next, make the decision to drop the weight now.  Don’t look for excuses, wait until after your trip or until your spouse is ready to go on the same program.  DO IT NOW!  It’s possible to maintain this program anytime, anywhere.  I’ve stuck to it while hiking in the back country, on motorcycle trips, vacation in foreign countries, a week in Vegas, etc.  I’ve stuck to it while my wife is on an entirely different regimen.  There is no reason to not get started NOW!
                BUY THE BOOK!  Yes, part with some actual U.S. currency and buy the book.  Trust me on this.  You’ll spend more on your next trip to the movies and this will pay off.  Don’t try to shortcut and find the highlights of the diet online.  You won’t have to read the entire book.  There are some minute details and explanations that you won’t find anywhere else.  I bought it on Kindle and would flip through it in my spare time in order to keep fresh on the details.  It will explain the expected results, tips and tricks you won’t find on blogs.  It’s an easy, common-sense system but you still need all the information.
                Understand that you are changing habits.  You may be breaking some addictions.  I had to give up sugar in my coffee.  I mainline the stuff every morning but the additives had to go.  I still get my morning caffeine shock but it’s black these days.  If you’re not willing to take these measures, you’ll have no success.  If you can’t live without pasta, you’re screwed.  The first thing I learned was that our lust for carbs in the form of pasta, bread, beer and tortillas is the biggest source of love handles.  Get ready to miss your starch fix.  The good news is that you can pound all you want on your cheat days.   I re-introduced reasonable carbs after I hit my target weight to boost energy before endurance training.  We take in an enormous amount of calories in liquids.  You’ll be down to water, unsweet tea or coffee, one Diet Coke per day and a couple of glasses of red wine for a nightcap. 
                While the diet claims do drop 30 pounds in 30 days with no exercise, I still worked out.  Others did no exercise and still dropped.  I have severe exercise ADD.  Fencing is the only exercise I do with regularity.  Everything else comes and goes.  I hate running or cycling year-round and I won’t keep a strength regimen for more than a couple of months.  I have to rotate training to keep interest.  I’d suggest some sort of light exercise along the way.  My main purpose was to get as light as possible for fencing.  It was exciting to see my athletic abilities climb as I dropped about 20 pounds.  Even with a reasonable diet and high exercise before, I was still able to lean out that much on this plan.   There are several strength programs mentioned in the book.  Try the abdominal and kettlebell workouts.   I also added some medicine ball drills that worked pretty well.  They’re quick and beneficial.  I’m prone to back problems and found these exercises to be perfect for keeping the back in line. 
                When I hit my target weight of 195#, I stayed close to the diet for about another month.   Afterward I managed to maintain as mentioned earlier.  I drift within a few pounds of my target weight but will lean out quickly before a tournament, long hike, SWAT PT test day, etc.  I still don’t eat out much and keep the program in mind when I do.  I learned that white carbs are my biggest enemy and I’m very mindful of my intake. 
                You will drop weight if you stick to this program.  Your greatest chance of success will be had if you read the book.  Don’t be cheap and don’t be half-assed.  Read and follow the program and you’ll get there.  Remember that your current diet and exercise regimen dictates your current weight.  Once your target weight is reached, you’ll have to create a program to maintain.  Good luck!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Malorie's Law, HB 2470

Thanks to Tim Kreitz for bringing this to my attention this morning.  I have a deep respect for the laws I'm sworn to enforce.  This letter does not express all of the problems I see with this potential law.  Please contact your representatives to make sure this is handled correctly.  While Malorie's death was a preventable tragedy, the bill needs major trimming if it is to be effective in preventing more loss.

Here's where you'll find the text of the bill:

Here's the letter I sent to my elected officials:

                This letter is to request your support in keeping HB 2470 (Mallorie’s Law) from being passed as-is.
                I write this letter as a citizen, peace officer and motorcycle owner.  This bill concerns me because there are many elements of it that simply do not make sense and would be a waste of the government’s time to pass and enforce.
                The singling out of “sport bikes” is the most disturbing part of this bill.  Any motorcycle, regardless of type, is deadly when used improperly.  The purpose of this bill appears to address passenger safety and should apply equally to all motorcycles.  The singling out of sport bikes appears as an emotional discrimination against the type of motorcycle involved in Mallorie’s death.  My state should seek to protect all passengers of motorcycles regardless of their style.
                Requiring a person to be a licensed operator to ride as passenger has no benefit to safety.  A licensed motorcycle passenger, regardless of experience level, has no ability to control the vehicle that a non-licensed passenger has.  If a person is not capable of responsibly carrying passengers, they should not be allowed to operate a motorcycle.
                I would support the provision that passengers could be carried only on motorcycles equipped with the features as described in the bill: permanent seat, footpegs and handholds.
                Thank you for reading this letter and please do your part to keep our traffic code practical and useful.  Our state has become very motorcycle friendly and I ask that it remain so. 


Matt Vann

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Roswell for David

It’s no wonder that government employees are a tough sell for conspiracy theories.  I’ve traveled on military orders where I faced 50/50 odds that my hotel reservations were hopelessly screwed up.  I was in the Coast Guard for three months before I convinced them I was in the Coast Guard and not being paid.  As my back pay trickled in, another error docked me $2500 in travel claims and I was back to $23 paychecks.
Secrets are never kept.  Like the helicopter that was left in Bin Laden’s yard, even the biggest secrets eventually leave a trail.  I love the social phenomenon that Roswell has created.  It’s become a pop culture icon.  Every school I went to had UFO books written in the 50’s and 60’s and my name was on every card.
Around 1984 I stumbled upon The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz.  The book was four years old and laid the entire story out much as it is heard today.  Evidence has gone and witnesses disappeared.  Why wasn’t this all over the news?  They even had sketches of the alien bodies and descriptions of the wreckage.
I first saw the Project Mogul explanation at the Roswell museum.  This is where the story comes from that it was a weather balloon.  Mogul wasn’t a weather balloon.  It was an array of weather balloons hoisting Mylar reflectors secured with tape marked with symbols.  It was composed of a number of balloons (dozens or more) and would certainly make a mess when it hit the deck.  Mogul was abandoned because it was expensive although it was somewhat successful in monitoring Soviet nuclear testing.  I believe that this would be a very strange find even today.  There would be no writing, marks or anything else that would leave a trail to the maker.  After all, it was a spy balloon that could easily come down in Red Square. 
The military, according to the press, said that a “flying saucer” had crashed.  I firmly believe the military made the statement, but flying saucers were quite a novel thing at the time and there were a number of unusual aircraft being developed.  It wasn’t necessarily associated with extra-terrestrial visitors.  A friend who grew up in the 50’s told me how fascinated he was the first time he saw a piece of Mylar.  That’s what the foil-like balloons in the mall are made of.
Here’s the rundown of the whole Roswell story as I see it:  A Project Mogul array drops out of the sky and crashes on a Rancher’s plot.  What goes up must come down.  Being a patriot, the rancher calls the nearby army base and lets them know.  They find a pile of unusual junk in the field.  They start making calls.  It’s a small town, so word eventually gets out that the army is scurrying like ants in a cold-war fury trying to figure out what’s going on.   At some point the Mogul crew makes the connection.  They call the Roswell base and find out that the Mogul’s toy is in Roswell’s yard.  “The paper is asking what it is.  What should we tell them?” asks Marcel.  Mogul responds, “Tell them it’s a flying saucer for all we care.  Don’t tell them it’s a spy balloon!”  62 years later some nobody is posting on his blog about it.
The rest is folklore dismissed as conspiracy.  I’ve never heard a credible witness statement.  First, I don’t believe for a second that the army would call a local undertaker for caskets.  The army deals with more dead people than any organization in the world.  They know the drill.  As for the others, I seriously question any story where somebody just happens by a roomful of dead bleepin’ aliens.
The disappearing witnesses are icing on a conspiracy cake.  It’s the oldest trick in the book.  Create someone who knows everything and proves the conspiracy true, then remove him from the face of the earth.  What are the chances that no one on an army base would remember a red-headed nurse in a time when there were very few women on base?  That’s the alleged witness who sketched the likenesses on a cocktail napkin.  Even if you wiped a person’s digital existence, they’re in every high school album, memory and church roster that the conspirators would never find.
If you're my vintage and spent some time breathing in the 70's and 80's, you remember what it was like living in the cold war.  We feared the slightest spark between us and Ivan.  There's no doubt that every molecule of Mogul was ground up and incenerated to avoid fightin' words. 
I have a great time with the Roswell story.  We have a collection of alien artifacts in our home from an alien fetus in a jar to the skull of a gray.  I saw the same skull half-unearthed on the cover of a checkstand magazine. 
Cheers to one of the greatest stories of our times.  I just hope that somewhere on Zeta Reticuli there’s some little bug-eyed dude having a cigar next to a model of my skull on his shelf.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trust Your Spidey Senses

I believe the “sixth sense” is the ability to suppress social and political correctness and make judgments based on all the information at hand.  It’s not all that complicated.
While drinking coffee with a herd of experienced detectives, it was remarked that friends and family often comment on our skills in spotting crooks, smooth talkers, liars, thieves, psychos and flakes and then culling them from those who are worth knowing.  While much of it is learned, the vast majority of observation skills are very natural but we suppress them because we’re taught that judging others is sinful and we are to give the benefit of the doubt to everyone who crosses our path.  Cops are lied to more than dentists.  It’s all about attention to detail and there are a few “red flags” I’ve learned to watch for:
“Religion on a sleeve” is where someone drops religion on you very quickly.  “We’re good Christian people” is the battle cry.  Misquoted or generalized scripture follows.  This is usually an attempt to make you believe they have high standards of ethics (without any proof) and can therefore be trusted.  The most genuinely devout people I’ve known are very respectful to their faith and don’t speak about it in that manner.  Actual religious people see their God as a deity, not an imaginary friend who agrees with them all the time.
Beware the instant crier.   The better ones can produce some tears on occasion, but the crying can filp on and off like a switch.  Most people can learn to produce visible tears but getting the snot to flow is an art form.
Do you have a “Close personal friend?”  This is never said unless a person is attempting to align themselves with some positive figure.  “Yeah, the police chief is a close personal friend.”  The actual friend will say something like, “The chief and I play golf a few times a year” or maybe “I’ve known him since high school.”  The next time someone drops a close personal friend’s name, tell him you really need to call the friend but your phone was stolen and ask for the number.  I'll buy you a beer if they can produce it.
Is the person listening to you or pausing to formulate the next thing they’re going  to say about himself?  This one is important because you’re not having a conversation if the latter is happening.  This one’s tougher to articulate, but you all know someone who does this frequently.  We all do it on occasion but the black-belt flake will live by it.
These are all signs that something may be amiss.  Judging others is a matter of observing actions and responding accordingly.  The judgement we're taught about in the bible is about unjustified condemnation.  Trust your Spidey senses.  They really work and can save you time and money. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Food, Inc.

I like a good conspiracy theory.  One day I needed some background sound while cleaning my office so I streamed “Food Inc.” from Netflix.  It's a documentary that was to tell me how big food companies are taking over the world.  The last news I heard was that the oil companies were in the world domination market so I thought it would be nice to hear someone other than oil producers get it for a while.
Most disturbing to me was a segment about a family of four consisting of a mom, dad, son and daughter.  The kids looked 10 or 12 if I remember right.  They were all overweight.  They seemed to be a normal middle-class family.  They leave the house at 6:00am and return home after 9:00pm.  This doesn’t leave them time for home cooked meals so they pack in 2000 calories each of fast food from drive-through windows at each meal.  They further claimed that they could eat fast food for $3 per person at a burger dive and it was impossible to find a meal for $3 in a grocery store.  To prove the point, each person was given their $3 and sent to a grocery store.  Sure enough, they couldn’t find a meal for that amount of money.  They failed to mention that grocery stores sell meal components, not meals.  It’s like going to Lowes to buy a bedroom.
The film never explained what the people were doing from 6:00am to 9:00pm every day.  They didn’t seem to be poor.  Maybe a responsible parent would make time for decent meals?  That would include planning meals, packing lunches and all the other horrors that come with it.  I’m sure these kids would faint if they had to eat a ham sandwich instead of a Big Mac. 
This conspiracy was DOA for me.  It slid right in the same file as Roswell and Kennedy.  If you really dig fast food, hate cooking and spending any meaningful time with your family, there’s now a convenient avenue of blame for you.  Burger King and Uncle Sam are keeping you down!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Immersion Training for Fun

               One thing law enforcement got right is the ability to present an incredible amount of study into a 40 or 50 training course.  I can honestly say that I’ve been to week-long schools that were more challenging and rewarding than a semester-long college course.  After a few years of absorbing materials in short courses I really got into the swing of absorbing and processing information like a sponge.  That came in handy a a few years ago I had the opportunity to jump into the deep end and attend the U.S. Fencing Association’s Coaches College.
                I’ve been involved with fencing since I was 12.  La Belle Fencing Club, Midland’s only fencing group, was reformed a few years ago and in need of coaches.  The USFA offered coach training for a pretty modest price at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.  I was all over it.  I’ve since gone again to elevate my coach rating and will continue to go back as often as I can.  Our club received a generous donation for coach development and I looked forward to seeing some mountains.  It’s not an easy course.  There are three sessions per day and down time is spent with your nose in a book or “pencil fencing” where coach students visualize blade work with each other in slow-motion battle with a pair of #2’s.  Walking onto the grounds of the USOTC is an impressive experience by itself, but the honor of actually training there really inspires.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had guided tours make a stop to watch me train.
                I’ve since found week long courses for auto racing, music, shooting, fitness, religion, motorcycles, and just about anything else someone is willing to teach for money.  Why leave all the summer camp fun for kids?  Many of these events are reasonable in cost and held in really nice places.  Fire up Google and see what it might be like to ride a cattle drive, knee-drag on a superbike, shoot 1000 yards or shred a guitar like Slash.   

Monday, March 21, 2011

Politics, Words, Action and... meh...

There was a time when I was really into politics.  I knew the names, listened to the talk shows, watched the news and loved being in the loop.  I’m proud to say I’ve been a caller on several radio shows including Michael Reagan.  I’m conservative for the most part with a few pet issues.  My career has made it possible for me to articulate my points from a unique stance.
Facebook was the beginning of the end of that experience for me.  I realized one day that there is a common thread for anyone passionate about their political stance: anger and frustration.  Whether driven by their religion, experience or social exposure, they’re in a constant state of being enraged and frustrated.
You’d think conservatives would have been happy when Bush was in office.  Obama fans danced in the streets when power swapped to their side.  Both were up in arms when the other side started trashing their man or launching political moves to get their way.  I saw Facebook status pleas telling the world to leave Obama alone, while a click at the bottom of their page takes me to an old post about how Satan (Bush) is the cause of everything from hangnails to deforestation.  No matter which party is at the tiller, my political feeds were a constant stream of anger, frustration and hatred.
Next comes criticism for the political inactivity of what I call the “meh” party.  One day I took a quick mental  survey of the most politically vocal people I know and what they actually do to support their stance.  A very small few actually take any action.  Those who do are passionate, powerful and often positive.  I’ll assume that everyone votes.  I do, and it’s one of the most powerful rights we have.  What’s next?  I became a life member of the NRA because I’m a second amendment guy.  It appears that my $1000 was spent to hire my personal  envelope stuffer and telemarketer to hit me up for more money to be spent on preaching to the choir.
Remember May 1, 2006?  That was the Hispanic walk-out day.  It was a protest against anti-immigration action.  Many local businesses closed and there was a rally at MLK park.  One of the restaurants in Midland that closed its doors that day now has a parking lot packed with the conservative stronghold at every meal.  It seems that anti-illegal immigration folks have a craving for tacos that’s stronger than their core beliefs.   I’ve spoken to some who remember who won  the 2006 super bowl but can’t remember the walk-out.  I don’t know one person, my Hispanic friends included, who were in favor of walking out. 
Life is short.  Pick your battles wisely and do so based on where you have the most impact.  Every moment you spend grinding your teeth over the news is time lost on this planet.  You can’t find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Obama’s birth certificate or an answer to national debt.  The next time you contemplate slugging your TV, radio or computer when your favorite personality delivers the news of the recent heinous attack from the other side, think about the value in your time.  Bring something positive into the picture instead. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Four Hour Body - My Experience

     My buddy, Clif, sends me the coolest links, pictures, random facts and ideas.  One night over a pint of Guinness he told me about Tim Ferriss' book, The Four Hour Body.  I had no idea what a profound impact it would have on my training.  The book covers weight loss, muscle gain, better sex, faster running, flatter abs, roudner butt and plenty of other topics.  Ferriss has tried it all and explains the innerworkings, chemistry and physics of each.  I was amazed.  You don't have to care about the complexities to benefit from the book.  Follow the basics and you're in.

     I've been overweight.  I was a chubby kid but leaned out some around high school but once tipped the scale at almost 250 in my twenties.  After I became a SWAT officer I managed to keep my weight at bay to the point I could pass a PT test at any time.  I was able to maintain my required military standards in the 220's, even running a few 10Ks.  In the last three years or so I've stayed in the 213-218 range.

     I'm into fencing.  Save the jokes about chain link or stolen property, I'm talking about the olympic sport with swords.  I turned 40 last year which bumps me to the "Vet 40" class.  I want to fence in the USFA Nationals and was looking into training goals to help give an edge to the young vet class newcomer.  After a little research I had already decided that being lighter would make me faster.  Competitive fencers who are the same height (6'4") are seldom over 200 pounds.  Clif's book report came at the right time.

    On January 28 I started logging weights, diet and exercise notes on my Blackberry.  To date I'm at 200 pounds (18 lost) and have noted a significant increase in strength and flexibility.  I didn't do a body mass index beforehand, but all the victory signs are there.  Pants size down, increase in muscular definition and vascularity, etc.  I'm using some exercises from the book (kettlebell swings, squats, myotatic crunches) but I've incorporated others for fencing and my severe case of exercise ADD.  Following Tim's directives, I actually exercise LESS than I used to.  My goal of better speed on the fencing strip was met.

     The diet is pretty simple; lean meats, lots of beans, green vegetables and no white starches, fruit or dairy.  With three to four meals a day there's no schedule shocker, and there's one carb-blasting cheat day per week.  Sure, no bread, crackers, pasta, cheese or whatever sucks but it's not about fun, it's about results.  Ask me on Saturday while I'm eating a half-gallon of Rocky Road and I'll tell you how it is fun 1 out of 7 days.

     That's my story thus far, and it's still a work in progress.  If you're interested in fitness, this is a must-read.