Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dose of Cuteness

Jabba the Cat says "You can't touch this."

Freudian Slip - Mother In Law Style

So, I'm in the kitchen fixing The Queen her morning/mid afternoon porridge when the mother in law comes in to make coffee. As housemates go, the MIL is about as easy going as they come. Slightly insane but not overbearingly so.

Anyway, she mentioned that she was developing one of my headaches (I get the occasional skull crusher). Here is how the conversation developed from there:

MIL: I just want one cup of coffee because I'm getting one of your headaches.

Me: Well, your aspirin is right there (while pointing at the aspirin bottle on the kitchen counter next to the sink).

MIL: Did you say drink some beer?

Me: [blink, blink] What?

I have absolutely no idea how her brain translated "aspirin" to "beer", but it did. Then again, my MIL is notorious for "hearing" something totally off subject because her brain works somewhat off of normal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick...Call The News

It's seems that Al Qaeda has infiltrated a terrorist cell into the sleepy bedroom community that is the Dallas suburb in which Castle Erickson is located. I think they must have given up wholesale terrorism in favor of the retail variety. That, or suicide bombings and airliner hijackings are so passe'.

How do I know that Castle Erickson has been infiltrated you ask? Well, at first it was just little things like the DSL connection inexplicably going down for no reason. Perhaps it was their way of communicating by hijacking my signal. That was annoying, but decidedly not terrifying. Next was the demolition of the shower...wait a minute, scratch that. I demolished the shower at The Queen's behest. Perhaps she thought Al Qaeda had seeded the walls with mold or something.

Now, however, there is no denying the existence of an Al Qaeda cell in the castle following the discovery of a dead body. In the back yard no less.

The horror this poor soul must have experienced must have been unimaginable. No responsibility for this travesty was claimed; however, the beheading and body placement are classic Al Qaeda signatures.

The main suspect in the investigation has been under suspicion for some time. Here is a recent photo to be used for wanted posters.

Note the attempt to avert the eyes away from prying cameras. Note the complete and total disrespect for authority by sticking out the tongue. Investigators believe this subject to be the master mind behind to plot to depose The Queen; however, the actual perpetrator of this crime is believed to be a long time accomplice who can be recognized from this undated file photo.

If you should spot either of these two suspected terrorists, don't attempt to detain them without a Holy Hand Grenade. Call authorities immediately.

Daily Dose of Cuteness

Okay, so looking back through the last month or so of postings it appears that, with some exceptions, I am turning into some kind of rabid gun nut. Which is not a bad thing. Unless you're pathologically afraid of guns. In which case, I can't help you. 

However, my interests are very much more diverse than that. Really. I promise. In an effort to prove it to you, my faithful readers, please allow me to share with you my interest in photography and animals that resulted in some unparalleled cuteness for your viewing pleasure. 

Behold Numbnutts, the 1/2 dog, in all his glorious cuteness. I promise this dog was not posed nor was he bribed with biscuits. This is just him being him.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This Thing I Do…

…Or An Insider’s Guide For Outsider’s to the World of Claims Adjusting

From time to time, I’ve mentioned briefly a little bit about what I do for a living. It’s not exactly glamorous or exciting, and it’s got more than its fair share of tedium and stress. On the flip side, it IS a necessary function that needs to be performed, and it’s a fairly stable industry to be in which counts for a lot in a down economy with a sick wife to support. So, as a public service (or a warning), I think it’s high time I gave you all a little more of an insight into what I do to keep myself off the streets and earn an honest day’s pay.

According to the license issued to me by the state of Texas, I’ve been an Adjuster – P&C (P&C stands for Property & Casualty) for the last 15 plus years. Over the years, I’ve had several job titles including claims examiner, litigation consultant, account claim manager and litigation center manager among others. None of those titles changes what I do for a living: I handle insurance claims.

It used to be back 20 or 30 years ago that an adjuster was an adjuster was an adjuster. Companies had what were known as full service claim centers. An adjuster could expect to handle a workers compensation claim, a property loss such as a building fire and/or a personal or commercial liability claim all in the same day. For better or worse, the days of the full service claim centers are long gone. Today, an adjuster can expect to specialize in handling claims for just one of the three main lines of business: workers compensation, property and liability. True to human nature, people handling claims for one line of business think those handling claims in the other two are insane. I’ve chosen to specialize in the liability line of business.

Even within lines of business there are sub specialties. Workers compensation claims are exclusively commercial in nature; however, within the work comp line of business, there are medical only claims and employer liability claims in addition to the standard statutory work comp claims. In the property and liability lines of business, some companies combine personal lines and commercial lines. The company I work for splits those lines. I work commercial liability claims.

Within in my world of commercial liability claims, there is further specialization still. Some companies allow adjusters to handles all aspects of the claim “from cradle to grave”. Other companies, like the one I work for, do things a little differently. There is a team of adjuster who handle nothing but physical damage claims to cars. If there is a bodily injury claimed for the same accident, that part of the claim gets sent to another team of adjusters for handling. Liability claims involving physical damage to real property go to another team. Any claims involving litigation, claims with an exposure above $100,000.00 and/or severe injuries like fatalities or burns go to another team. Those are the types of claims that I handle. I’ve done the “cradle to grave” style of claims handling, too. Both approaches have their pluses and minuses, and I can’t say one approach is better than the other. Personally, I happen to prefer working solely on the litigation and high exposure claims.

So, what does it take to be an insurance claims adjuster? For starters, a pulse and a deep seated sense of nosiness and curiosity. I’m only partially joking here. No one really goes to school to be an adjuster. In my entire career, I’ve known one person who actually got a business degree specializing in insurance. More seriously, to get your foot in the door with an insurance company, you need to have at least a high school diploma or GED; however, as a practical matter in this economy, most companies won’t even call you unless you have a college degree or scads of experience. Organizational, interpersonal, presentation and negotiating skills are a big plus, but you will live and die by your written and verbal communication skills. If you can’t put an intelligent sentence together and put it together at 75 words per minute or better, this is probably not the right career path for you. If the state where you handle claims has a licensing requirement, you get the privilege of taking a test, paying the government a modest fee in order to be allowed to ply your trade and be required to take continuing education courses to “maintain your jurisdictional knowledge”. The reality is that anyone who does not maintain their jurisdictional knowledge finds themselves without a job real quick. Finally, most of the major companies offer training programs to teach you the finer points of how to investigate and settle insurance claims.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the benefit of one of the training programs at the major companies. I got the sink or swim treatment more commonly known as “on the job training”. When I came into the business, I worked for a small, family owned, non-standard personal auto managing general agency. A managing general agency, or MGA, is a company that sells and services policies via independent agents on behalf of a writing company that sells the right to use the writing company’s name in exchange for a small percentage of the written premium while leaving the day to day management of the book of business including underwriting, policy maintenance, billing, premium collection, claims handling, etc. to the MGA. Non-standard personal auto is a line of business usually involving month to month policies for drivers who can’t qualify for insurance through a major insurance carrier due to their driving records.

My boss at the MGA was the owner of the company. He handled most of the claims once they went into the litigation himself. He was getting older and wanted someone to learn the ropes and take over that part of the business. I had been working for the company in college in a variety of general office jobs; and, when I graduated, the timing was serendipitous as I was looking for a full time career at the same time he was looking for a protégé. So, I was sent off to a class to obtain my Texas adjuster’s license which I passed very comfortably. The very next week, I was attending my first mediation. I’ve been knee deep in litigation and high exposure claims ever since.

That first boss was a character though. The claims business attracts its fair share of strange and unusual people, but this boss is STILL notorious 12 years after his death. One of several notable incidents involving him occurred when he was subpoenaed for deposition in a bad faith case. My boss was not known for his restraint, and his long time attorney counseled him on the plane flight to El Paso to be polite, not take it personally and only give the minimal answer necessary to respond to the question. Opposing counsel started the deposition by simply asking for my boss’ name to which he replied “My name is Robert W. Cooper* you son of a bitch.” (*not his real name). Things went downhill from there. You can get away with that sort of behavior when you own the company I suppose.

He was also a very shrewd business man. He taught me quite a bit in his own way. One of the main things I remember him teaching me was to treat the money I was entrusted with as if it were my own. Not his. Not “the company’s”. Mine.

So, what does an adjuster do really? The short answer is that we are responsible for investigating the who, what, where, when, how and how much relating to an accident or injury covered by a policy of insurance. The long answer is a bit more involved.

For starters, the first thing an adjuster has to do is figure out if the claim that has been brought against the policy is even covered by the policy. There are two basic ways to evaluate coverage depending on how the courts in a particular state have decided it should be done. Here in Texas, the courts follow the complaint/allegation rule which is also known as the “eight corners” rule. In other words, you compare the facts alleged in a claim or lawsuit with the coverage provided within the policy without regard for the veracity or accuracy of the facts alleged. If the facts alleged fall within the scope of coverage, there is a duty to investigate and defend. In other states such as California, the “extrinsic evidence” rule is followed. In this type of analysis, an insurer is obligated, to a lesser or greater extent, to consider facts known or easily discoverable outside the facts alleged in the claim or lawsuit in its coverage analysis. There are subtle differences in the application of these two rules as you move from state to state, but that’s the basics.

Insurance policies are, at best, dry reading and sometimes can be very confusing and convoluted. The average policy I deal with runs about 20 pages or so of double columned, 10 point, single spaced type written by lawyers. For example, the insuring agreement in the standard commercial general liability policy I deal with daily reads more or less as follows:

We will pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay resulting from “bodily injury” or “property damage” arising from an “occurrence” or a “personal and advertising” offense to which this insurance applies
Each one of those terms in quotation marks is defined by the policy. Most of the other terms not in quotation marks have been endlessly dissected and argued in court cases which form the basis of a body of law that forms the rules by which we decide whether or not your claim is covered by the policy. We won’t even get into exclusions and conditions. It’s no wonder I am applying to law school. It’s self defense.

Next up, an adjuster has to figure out who is involved and what happened. You’ve heard the saying “there’s two sides to every story”. We should be so lucky. There are at least three sides to the story if there are only two people involved: each person has their story then there is what actually happened. If you add witnesses or other interested parties, suddenly you have a very hard time separating fact from fiction.

The main tools and adjuster has for figuring out what happened are police reports and witness statements. A lot of TV and phone book personal injury lawyers will try and tell you not to give a statement to an adjuster. Their basic theory seems to be that an adjuster is going to use everything you say against you. Personally, I think not giving a statement is the quickest way to shoot your claim in the foot as most adjusters aren’t able to make a fair evaluation of the facts without getting your version of what happened. Besides, the truth of the matter is that adjusters are amateurs at using what you say against when you compared with attorneys. If you’ve never had to give a deposition or testified at a hearing or in trial, it’s the mental equivalent of having your pocket picked. A word of advice: when someone asks increasingly specific questions about a certain topic, they already know the answers. They just want to see if you will tell the truth.

Police reports are helpful but not as definitive as some people might think. More often than not, the officer was not an eye witness to the accident and has to figure out what happened based on the statements of people who may or may not be coherent. Sometimes, the officer doesn’t even get the benefit of statements from involved parties due to injuries or hit and runs and has to go with whatever limited physical evidence is available. If someone involved in the accident doesn’t speak English and the officer doesn’t speak their language, it’s a good bet the officer won’t be able to make an informed decision about what happened.

So, assuming the adjuster has a handle on what happened and who’s at fault, the adjuster has to figure out what the injuries or damages are and how much the claim is worth. Truthfully, this is where the adjuster’s job can get really interesting. We see stuff normal people would not believe reported in the medical records.

Once upon a time, I received an autopsy report for a gentleman that had the misfortune to die in an auto accident with one of my insureds. Under the description of genitalia, the coroner described that the man’s penis had been tattooed to look like a candy cane. To this day, I am convinced he was a child molester.

Part and parcel with getting interesting autopsy and medical records are the photos we get. If you ever want to know why adjuster’s are a jaded, callous bunch of folks, it’s the photos. Invariably, we get the most gruesome photos in our inbox right after lunch. After a while, you become immune to the gruesome. Eventually, you reach the point where you HAVE to share the gruesome with others. It’s not uncommon in a claims office to here “Hey, come here. You’ve got to see this.” I’ve seen photos of decapitations, amputations, crushed skulls, crispy critters, and one MRI machine that sucked up a floor buffer machine.

Another reason adjusters can be a tad “off” from normal is the people we have to deal with. We get cranky claimants, idiot insureds, looney lawyers and jackass judges. Then there are the seagulls in upper management. I’ve been accused of being a racist when I didn’t offer a claimant of a certain ethnic background what she thought she was owed for her claim. I once saw a letter sent a work comp adjuster from a claimant that said “send me $10 million in small bills or you will hear from my wife.” When I worked for the MGA, our first two questions were 1) was the insured drunk and 2) do they speak English? I saw a driving record for one insured who had six DWIs on his record, two of which were on the same day. When asked, the insured said he was arrested early in the morning, bailed out mid morning, went home, got roaring drunk again and was arrested again before midnight.

There is more that I could talk about. I haven’t even gotten into lawyers and judges yet. One of these days, I’ll have to get around to my civil contempt of court experience. But this post is getting too long, and I’ve bored you to death enough already. I will leave you with this little thought. Stupidity is compensable, and never underestimate the power of stupid.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Okay...So I Was Wrong

I'm man enough to admit it. My prognostication that the one of a kind Colt 1911 being auctioned off on Gunbroker was off. It only sold for a measly $83,025.00. So what if it didn't break $100K like I though it would. I blame Obama and the economy. There. I feel better. A little. It's still WAY too much freaking money for a pistol that will likely never fire a single round (I really hope I am wrong about that, but I don't think I am).

Of Rights and Responsibilities

If you take a peek at the ever expanding blogroll to your right, you will find a link to a blog called "Comments For Dispatches From TJICistan". I found this blog via my normal, everyday blog stalking and reading a month or two ago and decided to follow his postings as he is quirky with a diverse body of interests similar to my own. You may have come across a news article about a blogger in Massachusetts who had his firearms license temporarily suspended after authoring a post in the wake of the Tucson shooting. TJIC is that guy.

Setting aside for the time being the issue of a state requiring a person to have a firearms license to possess firearms (we might get around to that, we might not), I want to discuss the issue that led to this person arousing the ire of the authorities. Simply put, it boils down to the right to free speech. 

Shortly after the Tucson shooting, TJIC posting something to the effect of "1 down, 534 to go" apparently in reference to the remaining members of Congress who were not involved in the Tucson shooting incident. The authorities in TJIC's neck of the woods seem to feel this is potentially a threat against our elected horse thieves, and they are investigating the "suitability" of TJIC to possess firearms.

There is now a string of "I am TJIC" posts circulating the blogosphere based on the ending of the movie Spartacus. I first came across this on one of the blogs in the blogroll which linked back to the apparent originator, Borepatch. The basic idea is that, if the rights of one blogger (right, left, liberal, conservative, non-blogger, etc., etc.) are violated, then the rights of all us have been violated. We stand together or hang separately. Etc. Etc. Borepatch and others do a much better job of stating their position themselves than I will do paraphrasing it, and it's not my intent to merely do a "me too" post.

While I do agree with the sentiment in principle, but I feel the need to temper my agreement with some thoughts on the concept of rights AND responsibilities. 

We as Americans talk a lot about rights. We seem to think every action, no matter how ridiculous, is a God given right. Much less frequently do we consider the responsibility that comes with those rights. For all the chest beating about "Congress shall make no law" or "shall not be infringed", there is a well developed line of legal thinking that says that there are certain limitations on those basic rights. For instance, the right to freedom of speech is limited in that you do not have a right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater when none exists or to incite a riot. In other words, we have a responsibility to exercise our rights with a certain level of care for the rights of others. 

Now, back to the issue at hand. Regardless of the limitations on free speech that exist, there is no limitation imposed on free speech for offensiveness of which I am aware. Just go to a Klan rally or a Rev. Jeremiah Wright sermon if you need clarification on that point. You do not have a right to be free from offensive speech any more than you have a right to life when you are drowning. TJIC made what I feel was intended as a joke. A poorly timed joke made in poor taste, but a joke nonetheless. He did not say "1 down, 534 to go and Congressman [fill in the blank] is next 'cause I'm comin' for ya." That would have been a threat. How is what TJIC wrote any different than the film made about George W. Bush being assassinated? Were the makers of the film investigated for a threat against the president? Not that I recall.

Despite the tastelessness of the joke, I can understand the sentiment behind it. There is a lot of pent up anger and frustration with our elected officials in this country right now especially in the wake of the midterm elections that showed very clearly that the American people are not happy with a large portion of Congress.  However, just like an individual has a responsibility to not yell fire, I think there is an individual responsibility for a person to exercise some level of wisdom and discretion in what he or she posts and when. 

I must get back to work now. In short, there, but for the grace of God, go I. It was a stupid, tasteless joke.  I've made more than a few myself including the one about dead hookers and live boys...in church no less. You are free to disagree with TJIC and even be offended by him, but you'd better be willing to defend TJIC's right to make a stupid joke whether you agree with it or not lest you find your own rights taken away. 

I am TJIC.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Didn't I Think of This?

Let's see here...combine the games of pool and bowling...call it "Knokkers". I foresee many jokes forthcoming from drunk people. Also, is it considered a scratch if you fall on your ass while "shooting".

Monday, January 17, 2011

It Followed Me Home...

...Can I keep it?

On Sunday, I went to yet another gun show. This time in Dallas.

The original intent was to go with the oldest nephew's roommate to a show since he missed out on the last show with the younger nephew, and he had mentioned an interest in getting a rifle. Unfortunately, the roomie missed out on this one as well due to being called into work for an all nighter due to a server crash. No worries. There will be another one.

I went ahead and went to this show since another friend of mine wanted to go as he had never been to a show either. This friend was born in Romania, and has lived here in the U.S. for about the last 20 or 25 years. He has never owned a gun, and I don't think he's ever shot anything larger than a BB gun. This friend brought along his cousin and the cousin's wife who just recently came over from Romania with the hopes of living here in the states permanently.

My friend is in the process of thinking about his first firearms purchase. He's leaning towards a 9mm semi auto and expressed an interest in the Browning Hi Power. At least he has good taste. I urged him to go to a range, get some instruction and rent a variety of guns to see what he is comfortable with. I also offered to take him and his wife out for a new shooter introduction. Hopefully, I'll be able to give a new shooter report before summer rolls around.

His cousin, however, WOW. I think we created a monster. I don't think I've ever seen someone quite so intensely enthusiastic about guns. Especially when you consider he grew up and was living until recently in a socialist country where firearms are heavily restricted. He was asking lots of questions and WANTING to learn about guns. Awesome. He and his wife will be getting a new shooter intro too as soon as we can arrange a suitable time.

Anyway, I had come into possession of a Taurus 24/7 OSS .45 with an M6 laser and compact flashlight as partial trade for an item I had for sale. As my faithful readers will recall, the Taurus is not on my wish list of guns. I took it as partial trade with the understanding that it had been purchased new with the laser for a little over $400 and was probably worth $250 or so on the used market. I briefly considered keeping it because it does have some nice features for a striker fired pistol, but I didn't like the trigger after dry firing it and wouldn't want to put money into it to get a trigger job done.

So, the Taurus went with me to the gun show as trade/sale fodder for something that IS on my wish list. After a couple of aborted attempts to make a trade for the Ruger SR40 that I've had my eye on lately, I was passing a table minding my own business when a gentlemen behind the table asked me those little five words: "Whatcha got in the box?" I handed it over for him to take a look, and he asked me what I was looking to get out of it. I threw out $350 to $400 as an opening salvo, and he broke out the Blue Book of Gun Values. It showed that the Taurus in 95% condition was worth about $365 (not including the laser). He offered $300 which I accepted since: 1) it was more than the notional trade value considered in the original deal that brought it into my possession, 2) it was $100 more than I had been offered on it in the previous two attempts to trade it away, 3) I wasn't likely to beat that by much, if any, trying to private sell it based on the Blue Book value, and 4) it put cash in hand to go purchase the key component to what will become the EBR zombie annihilator.  

It's a Spike's Tactical multi cal stripped lower receiver. The build plan is still in development; however, here are some of the ideas firmed up so far. I definitely want it to have a stainless, fluted barrel threaded to accept a sound suppressor (eventually), compensator or flash suppressor. I am leaning towards a 20" barrel length. I don't want anything longer than that and not shorter than 16". I want it to be a flat top to accept flip up iron sights, scope or holo sight. I'm still debating the stock. Since this will primarily be for target shooting/fun at the range and not serious competition or home defense, I'm thinking the A2 fixed stock will be fine. But, part of me wants the 6 position adjustable stock with the cheek piece. I still need to research triggers and twist rates and bolt carrier groups and gas vs. piston and all that. The important thing is that I have purchased the only part that the ATF considers to be a firearm. So, even if Congress is stupid enough to ban "assault weapons" again, I can still get parts.

More updates as events warrant.

Take a Moment...

A little over a week ago, I took a short road trip south to Waco, Texas to check out the law school at Baylor. On the way back, I stopped off at my mom's place for a quick visit. Since mom is not much of a cook these days since she lives by herself, we decided the better part of valor to feed the inner people was to depart the 51 acres of scenic Hill County paradise known to the family as Annabelle Acres (named after my late grandmother) and head north to the bustling metrpolis of Cleburne where there is a restaurant or two to be had for weary and hungry travelers.

We took separate cars as I would be departing from Cleburne to continue my travels to Castle Erickson while Mimi would be back tracking in the opposite direction. Our travels were well timed with the setting sun, and we were blessed with a stunning sunset off our left shoulders. I took advantage of the camera that I had brought just in case of something photo worthy coming into view.

Take a moment to enjoy the sunset...

Mom called me on the cell while I was taking these pictures to ask me if I was seeing this.

Yep. Think so.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reflections on Tucson

Given the events of last Saturday in Tucson, Arizona and all the noise in the news and blogosphere good and bad on all sides of the fence, it’s hard not to take a moment to reflect on those events and what they mean to any sane, thinking person. I think most of us would agree that no amount of reflection by insane people upon the events which have unfolded are likely to yield any useful insights. It might be amusing to hear what they have to say, though. You never know, one of those loons might hit upon something truly profound from the confines of their padded rooms and straightjackets, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The first thing that occurs to me arising from the tragedy in Tucson is, I think, self evident: despite the fact that we are supposedly living in a “civilized” society, no one is “safe” anywhere or anytime. This is not a new observation by any means, but I think it bears repeating. According to Wikipedia, Tucson is the 32ND largest city in the U.S. with a population of just a little over 1 million as of 2009. A quick perusal of Tucson’s crime statistics reveal a city with above average criminal activity both in comparison to the state of Arizona and the U.S. as a whole. According to one website, it’s the number 18 most dangerous metropolitan area in America.

Even taking that into consideration, I think we can all agree that it is abnormal for an incident such as what occurred last Saturday to occur as evidenced by the fact that these types of mass shootings immediately make the national media and stay in the public eye for long periods of time. Several years later, we still remember and talk about what happened at Columbine High School. Several decades later, people still remember what Charles Whitman did on the campus of the University of Texas. Both of those incidents occurred in cities considered “safer” than Tucson, and yet they still occurred.

Broad daylight or dark of night, suburb or metropolitan city. It makes no difference to the criminal. Those people intent upon doing harm to others will find a time, a place and a way to commit mayhem. A prime example of this is an incident that occurred here in the Dallas area suburb of Garland, TX in 2008. James Broadnax and Demarius Cummings took the DART Blue Line train from South Dallas to the last stop in downtown Garland where they murdered two unarmed men, Matthew Butler and Stephen Swan, who were standing outside a Christian recording studio. The murders were part of a robbery that netted Broadnax and Cummings $2.00 and one of the victims’ car. Their stated reason for going to Garland: that was where all “the rich white people were.” Anyone who knows the Dallas area will know that Garland is not where all “the rich white people” are.

That brings me to the second thing I want to talk about which I’ve already partially addressed in the preceding paragraph: criminals, by their very nature, disobey the laws instituted by well intentioned legislators to keep us “safe” from each other. The sad truth is that you cannot legislate morality and human decency. Human nature is such that good and evil reside in all of us. Some people lean more heavily to one predisposition or the other. Some people are law abiding citizens who understand that a lock means keep out. Some people are not so law abiding for which no amount of locks will keep them out. Some people are intent upon committing violence against others and will find the means to do so regardless of what laws are on the books. A fist is a rock, is a knife, is a gun as far as some people are concerned: all just a means to commit the evil in their hearts. More laws and more restrictions won’t change that. Laws only apply to those who are willing to obey them.

The next observation I’d like to discuss is the sheer miraculousness that unfolded amid the tragedy in Tucson. There is no denying that the death of six people for no other reason than the insanity of a deranged mind is a tragedy. My heart truly goes out to the families of those who were killed or injured. No one should have to go through that. But…but, 14 people survived their wounds where they very easily could have died. Had the shooter been less deranged or more skilled or something, the outcome could have been very different. One of the 14 wounded, Representative Giffords, took a 9mm bullet to the head which went through the left side of the brain and not only lived but will possibly even fully recover. Think about that for a moment. She was shot from what most people consider point blank range with a not insubstantial round and will survive. I haven’t been able to find out what kind of ammunition the shooter was using or what path the bullet took through Ms. Giffords’ brain, but how can you describe that by any other word than “miracle”?

Lastly, I want to comment on some of the chest beating going on in the interwebs about self defense. I’ve seen more than one post or comment to the effect of: “Had I been there, I’d have put two in the chest and one the head.” or “I’d have charged the SOB, taken his gun from him, and beat him senseless with it.” I don’t know much, but this I know: there’s not a man or woman alive that knows what he or she is capable of until after it’s all said and done.

I know that the events of Tucson have reawakened me to examining my beliefs and feelings about self defense. I have spent the past week thinking about what self defense means. To those who think they can be Joe Rambo when the stuffing hits the fan, I submit that, for me, self defense means the defense (not offense) of one’s self and not everyone else or physical property. That may seem a little callous, selfish and self centered, but stop for a moment and think about the ramifications of taking direct action against another person especially if you have not been directly involved in the situation from the very beginning. At best, you are going to be arrested, booked, charged, post bail and eventually be “no billed” by a grand jury incurring significant legal expenses and other consequences in the process. At worst, you could face serious jail time for an unjustified shooting and the complete ruining of your life and the lives of others.

Until you’ve been through a stressful situation, you do not know how you will react or how well you will be able to focus and analyze what’s happening. You may know your own intents and purposes; and, to a lesser extent, those of people close to you (family and friends). However, you cannot know the thoughts or intentions of complete strangers. Under stress, you may not have the same level of judgment and discernment that you normally rely upon. In my opinion, the best thing you can do in the event that you are confronted with someone threatening you is to call 911 and move you and yours away from the area of danger as quickly as possible. If evading the threat is not possible, find the best cover or concealment you can and be prepared to take action necessary to protect yourself.

Despite what the castle doctrine of several states says, that applies to events occurring in your own home as well. So what if someone is trying to break into your home to steal your stuff? If you can leave, leave. Is there any amount of physical property worth a human life? I don’t think there is. So why would we shoot someone trying to steal something that can be replaced?

What will you do when faced with a situation outside the bounds of common decency and law? Have you thought about it? Have you taken the time to look inside yourself and decide what you believe in and what you are willing to do to another human being when everything turns upside down? Have you taken the personal responsibility to prepare yourself physically, emotionally and mentally for when very bad things happen, or are you blindly stumbling through life with no plan and no awareness?

At one time, I studied the martial arts and attained the rank of brown belt in one of the disciplines. There was a time when my martial arts class was asked to be the “attackers” for the women’s “self defense” class taught at the college I attended. We were there so that the “self defense” class, populated almost entirely by sorority girls looking for an easy A, could practice the “techniques” they had been taught. When I grabbed the arm of one of the girls, she actually asked me, her “attacker”, what she was supposed to do. I told her that I couldn’t help her because I was busy taking her purse, her jewelry, etc. She had no clue. She was the proverbial sheep waiting to be slaughtered. She had been told what was coming but was unprepared. In a way, I felt sorry for her.

Balance that with the view of my martial arts instructor. He taught us the three Ds of martial response in a self defense situation: Disarm, Disable, Destroy (also known as Hurt, Maim, Kill). Of course, that philosophy only applied once you got into a situation where you needed to use some level of force.

The thing that has stuck with me most about my martial arts training was that self defense involves more than just the physical act of using force to stop or divert an attack. You have to be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. You have to know your abilities and limitations. You have to know the consequences of your actions. Most importantly, you have to be willing to live with those consequences, good or bad.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

Do you ever have one of those days where you start wondering about some esoteric little problem and can’t let go of it until you find the answer? It can be anything. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How many chips are in a bag of Fritos? You know…stupid stuff that won’t matter in the immediate future much less a year or a decade from now. I had one of those days last Sunday.

I had to make a quick trip down to Centerville, Texas to meet a guy who was coming up from Houston for a little business we had to conduct together face to face. It’s a 2 hour drive from Castle Erickson to Woody’s Smokehouse in Centerville. I was a little tired from staying up too late on Saturday night, and I needed a distraction to keep my mind active while on the drive.

So, what little esoteric nugget do I come up with? Something profound? No. Something amusing? Well, that depends on whether or not simple math and basic physics are your idea of a knee slapper.

It all started with a MythBusters episode I saw a little while back where Adam and Jamie were trying to determine whether a bullet fired straight up (90 degrees perpendicular to the ground) could cause a fatal injury when falling back to earth. Now the MythBusters conclusively proved that a bullet fired straight up at 90 degrees would fly straight up and fall back down at a terminal velocity of something like 100 miles per hour. Since the atmosphere is not a perfect, frictionless environment, the projectile would eventually stop spinning allowing the bullet to destabilize and start stumbling.

Add to that little memory nugget the fact that I’ve been trying to educate myself about all aspects of the shooting sports…including ballistics. So, I decided to see if I could figure out how high a 230 grain bullet fired straight up at 1000 feet per second would theoretically travel before coming back home to papa.

Now, before I go on, allow me to say that I haven’t had a math or physics class in about 18 or 19 years after getting a C in Calculus I on the second try and an A in Analytical Geometry on the third try (yeah, I’m stubborn that way sometimes). That right there pretty much killed any desire or hopes I had for pursuing a degree in engineering.

Anyway, the math necessary to figure out the answer to my problem is deceptively simple once you understand the physics part of the equation. Some people might think that there is not enough information provided above to figure out the answer, and they would be partially correct. You do have to know what the force of gravity is to get the answer. Other than that, it boils down to straight forward multiplication, division, addition and subtraction.

I’ll help you out here and clue you in that the force of gravity is roughly 32 feet per second squared (32.163 ft/sec sq. to be exact…remember that figure…it’s necessary if you want to figure out muzzle energy on your own without a ballistics table).

So, we point our theoretical pistol straight up so the barrel is 90 degrees relative to the ground and pull the trigger. Our theoretical 230 grain bullet leaves the muzzle at an initial velocity of 1000 feet per second. As a quick aside here, there are 7000 grains in a pound making a 230 grain bullet 0.5257 ounces or 0.03285714 pounds. Not considering friction (since I didn’t have a reliable source handy from which to obtain figures), the only force acting on the bullet once it leaves the barrel is gravity. Gravity is Decelerating the bullet at a constant rate of 32 feet per second squared. In other words, every second the bullet is in flight, it slows down by 32 feet per second.

Now, with this bit of information, we can arrive at the first interim step along the way to answering our original question: how much time will the bullet be in flight before running out of steam. Basic long division is our friend here. 1000 feet per second divided by 32 feet per second squared leaves us with 31.25 seconds of travel time.

That answer allows us to take the next step in answering the problem. We now know that we need to knock 32 feet per second off the initial velocity and each subsequent velocity 31.25 times. Each of those 31.25 speeds represents the distance that the bullet would have traveled in each of those 31.25 seconds. This is where we break out elementary addition and subtraction. 1000 feet per second minus 32 feet per second equals 968 feet per second. 968 minus 32 equals 936. And so on and so forth. Eventually, 31.25 times later we get to the last quarter second of the bullet’s flight where it expends the last 8 feet per second of its velocity (notice the symmetry that 8 is ¼ of 32) to ever so momentarily hover in midair at a relative speed of exactly zero feet per second just before starting its return trip to terra firma. If you add up each of those recorded velocities, you come up with a total distance traveled in 31.25 seconds of 16,128 feet. Dividing that figure by 5280 feet per mile, we learn that the maximum potential altitude for a 230 grain bullet (any weight bullet for that matter) fired at 1000 feet per second is 3.05454… miles.

I know that some more seriously minded math and science types might quibble that there are “simpler” and more precise ways to calculate the answer to that question. Possibly. A quick Google search from the comfort of home using my DSL connected laptop instead of my 3G iPhone while traveling 70 miles per hour on I-45 suggest that I use the formula “distance = initial velocity plus ½ the rate of acceleration times the square of the amount of time involved.” That would look like “d = 1000 ft/sec + (1/2 * 32 ft/sec * 31.25 sec * 31.25 sec)” or 16,625 feet (3.148674 miles).

So, all things considered, I don’t think I did too badly for a tired guy driving a car and fiddling with a phone and a pad of paper. A difference of 500 feet (or just a touch less than 1/10 of a mile) is a pretty good swag if I do say so myself.

Now, for the bonus question: if the theoretical 230 grain bullet reached its maximum altitude and is struck by a Boeing 737 traveling at an airspeed of 500 miles per hour at the very instant that the bullet’s velocity reached zero, how much kinetic energy imparted to the airplane by the impact with the bullet?

I’ll let you all noodle that one for a bit. If you’re nice, I might even post the answer.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Career Choices

On Friday, I trotted down to the sleepy burg of Waco, Texas to the law school at Baylor University and participate in their preview day for prospective students. As part of the scheduled activities, us prospective students were afforded the opportunity to sit in on a class. I chose to sit in on a Constitutional Law class taught by a professor who appeared to be in his 70s. He was very cordial and greeted us potential victims with a very interesting observation. He said:

"It's not to late to be a TV evangelist. You get paid a whole lot more, you don't pay taxes and you get more sex."

Blink, blink.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Wait Is Over

As some of you may recall, I took the LSAT back in mid December. When it was much colder than it is now for some reason. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign. Anyway, the organization that runs the testing for the LSAT had promised to email the LSAT scores by next Monday. I was checking my email earlier whilst conducting some bidness; and, lo and behold, what greeted my wandering eyes with glee? An email from LSAC telling me my score pretty as you please. 

I didn't even have a chance to get all worked up about waiting for the score. It's almost enough to make me feel cheated. Almost, but not quite. 

The best score you can get is a 180 which pretty much means you're a genius or an idiot savant. Either way, it's pretty much a guaranteed free pass into law school. They also give you a percentile ranking. That 180 score means you are in the top 1% of all test takers (and probably human beings).

My score was a 151 putting me in the top 48% of test takers. So, I guess that means I'm slightly above average or at least not completely retarded. 

As I discussed with The Queen, it wasn't quite what I was hoping for but not altogether disappointing either. It remains to be seen whether or not the score is good enough to keep my track record of once and done admissions testing. I had hoped to have a score of 160 or better which, from my research, is the score that most law schools look for in wet behind the ears college grads. I'm hoping my resume and recommendation letters give me the extra 9 points on credit.

La La La...Ruger Can't Hear Me

So, the other day, I posted a brief rant about Ruger's BIG announcement about the LC9. Wooo! I was so thrilled I could hardly contain myself. Well, complaining about their underwhelming product launch was unlikely to get anyone's attention at Ruger. So,....I posted the following question on their website's customer service link:

I've received your emails regarding today's LC9 announcement. I have to say I was disappointed that the announcement did not involve Ruger releasing a 1911 style pistol in 2011 to accompany the 100TH anniversary of the design's acceptance by the US Military. Is there any chance that Ruger will offer a 1911 style pistol in .45 in the near future?
It took a few days, but I finally received the following response from Ruger earlier today:

I am not aware of any plans at this time for any new products / calibers.  I will pass on your request though for consideration. We do appreciate your interest and your input.
Is it just me, or did Ruger just give me the finger?  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Well, That Was Disappointing

For the last several days, I've been getting emails from Sturm, Ruger & Company telling me to watch out for a big announcement about a new product offering. The emails told me to keep watching their website for the announcement to be made at 2:00PM today. 

Since this is 2011, the 100TH anniversary of the U.S. Military's acceptance of John Browning 1911 pistol, I had hopes that Ruger might finally be joining the fray and offering a 1911 style pistol.

Well, I just checked their website. No such luck. The big announcement is that they are releasing a 9mm version of their .380 LCP called the LC9. 

I am so disappointed. 

To the folks at Ruger, don't tease me that way. Ever. Poking the preacher bear is liable to get you bitten or smitten by bolts of lightning.

And while we're on the subject, would it be too much to offer a 1911 style pistol. Everyone else seems to be able to do it. Why not you?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm Gettin' Too Old For This...

Welcome, loyal readers, to the time frame arbitrarily known as the year 2011 A.D. If anyone ever figures out when the universe was actually made and time began, then we can talk about what year it actually is versus what year some long dead pope says it is or what the calendar chiseled in stone of a long gone society indicates it should be.

But, I digress...and I'm not even hung over.

I am cranky due to being sleep deprived though. Saturday night, The Queen and I traveled into the frozen wastelands north of Castle Erickson known as Frisco to visit some long time friends whom we had not been able to visit with much in recent times due to The Queen's health and their recent addition of a bundle of joy. We had a lovely dinner with them, drank some wine, and had a good conversation. For the most part. That lasted until 4:00 AM. On top of that, The Queen had a hard time getting to sleep which means we were up for another hour or two trying to get her to relax and nod off. I think my head finally hit the pillow sometime around 6:00 AM only to be repeatedly nudged and poked by The Queen for committing the unpardonable sin of snoring. My body clock woke me up at 8:57 AM, and I haven't seen the back side of my eyelids since. Fortunately, we had planned ahead that we would be spending the night at their house. Unfortunately, we didn't count on being awake the whole time.

To add insult to injury, we had a full day planned today. I had planned to meet Number 1 Follower and friends at the gun show in Ft. Worth with a trip to the range to follow. The Queen's aunt (her father's brother's wife) was in town and had indicated she would be stopping by at a time to be determined. After dragging tail back and arriving home at about noon, The Queen puttered about the castle for a few minutes making calls to her brother and her nephews regarding the anticipated arrival of the aunt before trying to go back to sleep. I, however, plodded off like a zombie to pick up the youngest nephew and head off to the gun show. This was his first gun show at the ripe old age of 15.

The nephew was a last minute, but welcome, addition to the plan. For some reason, he had been left at his brother's condo in Arlington last night after attending a going away party for a friend from church. Since his older brother and brother's roommate were going to be gone for work and other tasks, the younger nephew would have been left alone in a condo with no food (which I didn't find out until after we had walked around the gun show for three hours) and very little to do. Rather than see the boy bored out of his skull, The Queen asked him if he wanted to go with me to the show. The boy (I need to figure out a good nickname for him. He's got several...none of which I can print) gave a thumbs up, and I departed the castle to pick him up on the way to Fort Worth for the gun show.

On the way, he and I chatted about proper gun show etiquette: 1) Be polite, 2) Watch out for your surroundings/people around you (I watched one guy snag his leather jacket on an $1800 rifle and almost put it on the floor...only the quick reaction of someone else nearby saved it from hitting the ground),  3) Ask permission before handling weapons, 4) If you break/bleed on it, you bought it. He's a good, if goofy, kid. So, I wasn't worried about his behavior. I was just trying to give him some idea of what to expect.

There was one thing that I thought was kind of serendipitous. The boy indicated that he has an interest in World War II German Lugers, and he asked if there might be some at the show to see. I advised him that there was usually at least one dealer present who specialied in WWII weapons and might have a Luger or two for his drooling pleasure. It turns out that said dealer had the table right inside the front door of the show and had at least a dozen Lugers on display. I thought that was cool.

I tried to check on him from time to time without pestering him to make sure he was enjoying himself. I needn't have worried. The boy is smitten with weapons much like his uncle. I did ask him if he had added any guns to his wish list to which he replied in the affirmative. One in particular he liked was the Smith & Wesson .500 revolver. He also got to fondle and drool over his ultimate dream gun: The Thompson Submachine Gun (semi auto version, of course, since you don't see many full auto guns at these shows).

My intent for the day was not to purchase but to peruse and narrow my 1911 choice down from three to one. Unfortunately, I didn't see either of my top two contenders at the show. The closest I got was the Para GI Expert which is the next step down from the GI Expert ESP I'm considering. I only saw one STI pistol out of the entire show, and it was a 2011 VIP which didn't give me a good basis for an apples to apples comparison. Oh, well. There's another show coming up in two weeks.

I did, finally, get an up close and personal touch and squeeze with another pistol I've been interested in for a few weeks now: the Ruger SR40. Once upon a time, I owned a Glock 23 (.40 S&W). Glocks are good combat pistols. Unfortunately, I was never really satisfied with my particular Glock. Part of my disaffection for the Glock is it's overall aesthetic. Another part is the frame and grip angle was never really a good fit for my hand. Bottom line, the Glock just wasn't the right gun for me. Don't get me wrong, if the stuffing ever does hit the fan, I wouldn't hesitate to trust my life with another Glock. It just wouldn't be my first choice. The Ruger is getting good reviews in print and in the forums. I really like the feel and look of it. It fits my hand and points very naturally. I'm really happy with my Ruger 22/45, and I really like the fact that Ruger is American made. I'd like to see if I can find a local range that has one for rental; or, in the alternative, find a friendly shooter that has one who is willing to let me give theirs a test run. If I'm happy with it, I may just have to squeeze one into the budget (they're not that expensive) and use it to get into some local competition shooting.

I've posted my gunnie wish list here on a couple of other occassions. I've tweaked it here and there just a little since, but its more or less the same basic list. Recognizing that I don't have the luxury of abundant wealth or tons of free time to indulge my desire to turn money into smoke and noise, I've come to the conclusion that I need to focus in on my "must have" guns and gun related items.

First and foremost above all else is the 1911 .45. I've wanted one for 30 years. It's 2011, the 100TH Anniversary of the United States Military's acceptance of Saint JMB's Authorized Version, and I can't think of a better time to fulfill my life long desire for one of Saint JMB's finest. It's a proven, time honored design. There is no shortage of parts for it. The majority parts from any one manufacturer are interchangeable with those of another. You can go from a bone stock Rock Island Armory mil spec GI version starting at just under $500 all the way up to a full on, "speed is only a question of how much money you want to spend", race ready, tack driving custom from any one of a dozen top name companies. I can't afford a tricked out custom or even a mid range production 1911, but I am going to bring home a good "entry" level 1911 before my birthday in March.

The next item on my must have list is an AR-15. This may take a little more time than the 1911. At the very least, I plan on getting a stripped lower receiver before the end of the year so that I can get started building an AR suited to my tastes. Or several ARs given the fact that you can go from a medium to long range varmint sniping platform to a CQB capable carbine in seconds by swapping uppers. Also, I've been rethinking the whole "end of the world as we know it"/zombie outbreak three gun scenario. The AR platform may be a better choice than the Ruger 10/22. Supposedly, you can quickly convert a 5.56mm AR to shoot .22lr by swapping magazines and the bolt and bolt carrier group. That gives you the option to run milsurp 5.56mm, civilian .223 or .22lr (when you can't find anything else) in a package that can be used at any distance from up close and personal out to about 500 yards. It also comes with a handy, threaded barrel which accepts sound suppressors as easily as it accepts flash suppressors and compensators. I'm liking this idea more and more. Besides, a .223 in the nose will ruin anyone's day.

The last of the must haves is the .308/7.62 x 51mm rifle. The .308 round will take down anything in North America with extreme prejudice. At least, anything I'm likely to run into. It will serve as a combination introduction to long range shooting gun, hunting rifle and "just 'cause I want it". This is another "which would you prefer?" contestant. For the longest time, I've invisioned this rifle being a Remington 700 bolt action. Lots of good pluses, very few minuses. Lately, however, I've been toying with the idea of an AR-10 semi-auto rifle in this slot. I'm thinking the bolt action is the better choice for a long range gun especially when the mid range is covered with the AR-15, but there is something to be said for quicker follow up shots without having to manipulate a bolt. Decisions, decisions.

As I told The Queen the other night, I could be satisfied if I were to be restricted to those three must have guns for the rest of my life. If I can afford to indulge any of the other weapons on my midlife crisis list, that's just a bonus.

It's late my friends, and I am tired. I am off to bed to dream of cold steel. Be safe. Have fun. Let me hear from you.