Shots In The Dark, or, How I Became A Sharpshooter

One of the idiot memes arising in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting comes from the wanne-be Rambos who think that if other theatergoers had been carrying concealed weapons, they could have taken out the body-armored fellow who was spraying the audience with semi-automatic gunfire.

When I was in the Army I qualified for a Sharpshooter badge during our weapons training in Basic.  Before the Army, I'd fired a gun, a .22 plinker, only a few times.  But I did... okay... with the M-16 during our first training sessions.  Not great, but enough to pass and to look like I'd earn a Marksman badge by the end of Basic.  (Marksman was the lowest level of proficiency, followed by Sharpshooter and Expert.)

And then came the Night Firing training....

Among the other guys in my training company, one was really good with a gun.  I mean Good.  As in Really Good.  As in, Holy Shit, I Can't Believe You Hit That Little Tiny Target So Far, Far Away.  He was clearly in the running for an Expert badge.

At the Night Firing range, the targets are small boards that flip up at intervals.  The only illumination coms from a tiny bulb with an even tinier wattage that flashes (barely) for a fraction of a second.  All this in the dark, and a long way from where you're laying in a cold damp hole with your M-16, trying to see those faint, almost imaginary flashes of light onto the targets.

Several ammo clips later, I and the other trainees have finished the Night Firing exercise and gather around to get our scores.

I get a high score.  I get a surprisingly high score.  I get an astonishingly high score, far above the type of scores I'd gotten during daytime firing exercises.  I get a score so high that suddenly I've moved up into Sharpshooter-level numbers.

That Holy Shit guy?  He skunked it.  Didn't hit a single target.

Well, let's revise that statement, because it doesn't take much time or brains to figure out what happened.  In the dark, with everyone firing around him, with multiple targets and multiple dim flashes, he'd gotten his orientation just slightly off and had been shooting at the wrong target.  The target of the guy next to him.  At my target.

Both of us ask the Drill Instructors if this can be corrected.  I didn't want credit for targets I didn't hit myself, and the Holy Shit guy didn't want to see his expertise-level-of-record suddenly dropped. To which the Drill Instructors say, "Tough shit."

So I ended up with a Sharpshooter badge that was more than I deserved, and the Holy Shit guy also ended up with a Sharpshooter badge, less than he deserved.

But in the dark, even under strongly controlled, relatively ideal, conditions, with advance notice of what to expect, it's difficult to hit your target, even when you're a crack shot.  (Almost all of the trainees had single-digit scores, mostly low single-digits, for the Night Firing exercise.)

Under less controlled conditions?  When there's a crazy guy in full body-armor firing, and firing, and firing into you and the other theatergoers?  With nearly everyone screaming and trying to get out of those rows of seats?  (Think about how much trouble it can be to get in and out of a row of seats just on a normal night.  Think about that for a moment.)  With smoke and tear gas rising around you?

You have a concealed weapon.  Let's assume you get it out of your pants without being hit by gunfire.  Let's assume you get the safety off without getting hit by gunfire.  (Because you're not dumb enough to carry a gun with the safety off, right?)  Let's assume you even manage to chamber a round without getting hit by a bullet.  (Because you're not dumb enough to carry a gun with a chambered round, right?)

You lift the gun up, take careful aim, and... oh, fuck that, you're getting shot at!  Get that gun pointed in the general direction of the shooter, and pull the trigger, and pull the trigger, and pull the trigger... and God help any other moviegoers between you and him.

But you hit him!  You hit him!  You hit him in the body armor, and he staggers back for a second, and then he turns towards you and now he's shooting at you, he's shooting at you.

But you still have bullets of your own!  So you pull the trigger again, and again, and again...

...and anyone still alive between you and the shooter is now caught in a crossfire.  Their life expectancy, already not too fucking great in this situation, takes an exponential nosedive.  Thanks, asshole.

The particular idiot who inspired this rant is Arizona's very own Russell Pearce, author of the SB1070 "Show Us Your Papers!" law.  (Who's not a racist, mind you.  He just likes to cozy up to and hang around with self-declared white supremacists and Nazis.)  In several Facebook posts (since deleted) he not only blamed the Aurora victims for not defending themselves, , but had the audacity to compare them to the passengers of Flight 93 on 9/11, who died trying to re-take their plane from the hijackers.

The Aurora shootings lasted 90 seconds, 90 seconds of utter chaos.  On Flight 93, the passengers had time to learn the other hijacked planes had been used as suicide missiles.  Their only chance of survival was to try and re-take the plane.  Not a difficult decision in those circumstances.  That Mr. Pearce would even try to compare the two incidents is deplorable and disgusting.

Russell Pearce wins the Walking Bag of Filth award for today, hands down.


Folk Music For Massacres

In the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, earlier today, this song from long-time folksinger Tom Paxton (written in response to last year's shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson) seems appropriate:

(Pragmatically, I know "What If, No Matter" is a wish-fulfillment song, but... goddamn, I wish I could clone Tom Paxton.  We could  use more like him.)

That's Finally Over

For nearly the past three years, I've been acting as the Personal Representative (i.e., executor) for the estate of our friend Anne Braude, who died in August 2009   Yesterday morning morning I went to the estate attorney's office and wrote out the checks for the final distribution to all of Anne's heirs, the final piece of paperwork that will close the estate.

It's a relief.  I knew it would be a big job, and that it would be hard to find enough time to get it done in a timely manner.  Which I didn't; I thought it would take about a year.  Turned out bigger, more complicated, more difficult than I expected.

I initially thought Anne's only heirs were an aunt in California and an uncle in New York.  Whoops!  Turned out the cousins I thought were the children of the uncle in NY were actually the children of a different, deceased, uncle.  So those two cousins were heirs, too.  Whoops!  Turned out there were still other cousins, by other aunts and uncles, that Anne had never mentioned.  Whoops!  Turned out there was still another uncle who had either abandoned or been disowned by the family in the 1930's -- accounts varied -- so I had to hire a genealogical researcher to see if he or his children could be tracked down.  No, as it turned out.

(That part of dealing with the estate would have been simpler if Anne had written a will to express her specific wishes for distributing her assets and belongings.  I've said this before, but it bears repeating: Write a will, people!)

It also wouldn't be too unfair to say of Anne that she never met a piece of paper she didn't want to keep.  Very little of which was organized, filed or stored neatly.  Everything had to be gone through to sort out any papers that might pertain to the estate's assets.  I still have boxes of Anne's personal papers and correspondence that will need further sorting and organizing, but the financial documents are done with now.  (I'm planning to eventually set up a blog or webpage to showcase some of her writing and interests.  There's some pretty cool stuff among those personal papers.)

If I had a time machine to do it over, I'd try to take several months leave of absence from work to get a running full-time start at everything, rather than trying to eke out a few hours here and a few hours there.  As it is, I pretty much give myself a "C' grade in dealing with it.  (If I ever have to represent another estate, I'd do a lot better.  I hope to hell I never have to represent another estate.)

Of course, if I had a time machine, what I'd go back to when Anne first started feeling ill and drag her to the ER right then, when she still had a good chance of a full recovery.  She spent three months in hospital, most of it in ICU, most of it in a coma or a non-lucid state, before she died.  The only reason there was any financial estate left to distribute at all was because the hospital wrote off over a half-million dollars of her bill, several days before she died.

Anne with other members of the DePauw University team
on the television show GE COLLEGE BOWL in 1962.
(The show's host Allen Ludden is at center.)
They were undefeated in five (the maximum) appearances.


Lobster Ice Cream

I don't know about you, but when I see a sign like this...

...I've just got to check it out. 

The ice cream is based in a sweet-cream butter-flavor ice cream, with chunks of Maine lobster mixed in.  The butter ice cream is very nice, sweet and smooth, but I don't know that the lobster adds that much to the experience.  The lobster is mild, slightly sweet itself, and a bit crunchy.  (Not frozen rockhard, which would have been unpleasant.)  But it's an undertaste to the ice cream, not a dominant flavor.  I think once was probably enough for the lobster ice cream, but I'd definitely like to have the butter ice cream regularly.

The shop that features the lobster is The Pink Spot, on Thomas Road in Phoenix.  A very nice ice cream, coffee, and sandwich shop; now that we've tried it, we'll be stopping in regularly when we're in that area.  They feature the lobster ice cream as a seasonal selection each July.  (While most of their ice creams are made locally, the lobster version is actually shipped in from Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine, where it was originally developed.)  Hilde and I tried samples of various other flavors before making our order; I had a full scoop of the lobster (though I was tempted by the peach habanero), but Hilde had the grasshopper ice cream instead.

Ummm.... that was "grasshopper" as in this:

Not as in this:

Just thought I should make that clear.

If you're not in Phoenix or Bar Harbor, and still want to try lobster ice cream, there's a recipe for making your own here.

Ka-*Ching* In, Ka-*Ching* Out

One of the problems with trying to keep to a budget is that the theoretical cash flow on your spreadsheet doesn't always match the actual cash flow in your life.  Some income ebbs and flows, and some expenses do likewise.  (Although, as a general rule, you can usually figure on expenses rising to exceed income.)

One of the positive changes recently was that one of the medications I take regularly has become available in generic form.  If we didn't have good insurance, the monthly cost for those pills would have been over $500; because we do have good insurance, I've only had to pay about $80 a month.  Still, that's been a stiff chunk of change every month.  (Especially when you add in all the other pills we take; between Hilde and me, we usually figure prescription drugs will run $400 to $500 a month.)  Now that I can get a generic version, the cost drops to $5 a month. A $75 a month saving... that's nearly a thousand dollars a year.  That's a welcome bit of news.

On the other hand, my work boots are starting to wear out, with stitching starting to come loose in multiple spots, so I went online earlier tonight to see about getting a new pair.  I paid about $120 three years ago for the current pair.  (If I didn't have ridiculous EEEE-width feet, I could have paid less for other brands, but having your feet not hurt when you're wearing shoes is a pretty good motivation for paying for shoes that actually fit.)  Same online merchant, same manufacturer and model... and the price had jumped to $210 in those three years.  *gasp* *splutter* *choke*  What the hell caused that big a price jump?

Overall, though, the economic news in our household has been more positive than negative lately.  My new job has been a significant player in that.  I get a higher base pay than the last job, plus a 10% bonus for working the late shifts, plus I'm back to a 40-hour work week.  (I'd been doing 32 hours at the previous job.)  Because the commute is less than half what I'd been doing, I save about a tank of gasoline each month, plus the shorter commute saves me an extra $5 a month for my auto insurance.  It all adds up, and our financial comfort zone (depending on the vagaries of the Unexpected Expense of the Month Club) feels a lot more comfortable since getting the new job.

(I don't remember signing up for the Unexpected Expense of the Month Club, but they keep sending the selections regardless -- sometimes the selctions are small, and sometimes they're knock-you-on-your-ass-whoppers -- and there doesn't seem to be any way to cancel a membership.)


Boom! Day In America

photo by Hyungwon Kang for Reuters, via the Baltimore Sun

Yesterday, the 4th of July, Hilde and I watched several of the television specials showing fireworks celebrations.  These included shows in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC.

The most impressive one was in Washington, DC, broadcast by PBS.  I haven't seen such a massive display of pyrotechnics since the US bombed Baghdad in 2003.  Musical presentations during the show were well done and seemed more or less appropriate to the occasion.

The Boston show, broadcast by NBC, however... my god, what a train wreck.

Hilde liked the Boston fireworks.  Otherwise...

The first thing the NBC showed was the host Michael Chiklis, with a decorated bus behind him.  That was the NBC "Buzz Bus", painted with pictures of actors for the forthcoming new season shows for NBC.   So you start out a 4th of July specdial with an obvious piece of product placement for NBC.  Which Chiklis then amplifies by saying, "That's our NBC Buzz Bus behind me."  (Chiklis is starring in one of those new shows, "Vegas".)

I've liked Michael Chiklis in almost everything I've seen him in, even the less-than-stellar projects.  (*koff* Fantastic Four *koff*).   But he looked really uncomfortable hosting this special, and he didn't so much "host" the show as shout his way thru it.  He was just not the best choice for the job, and I think he knew it.

The "Special Guest" for NBC's show was Jennifer Hudson, who sang... you know, I can't remember what she performed.  Something from "Dreamgirls" and... something else.  What I do remember is that neither piece seemed to have any connection to 4th of July or celebrating America.  It was more like she was performing for a Jennifer Hudson special, instead of a 4th of July special.

What the hell was NBC thinking?  Who wrote that crap?  Who gave it the thumbs up?  I ended up being annoyed and pissed, instead of feeling upbeat and patriotic.

Hey, NBC, maybe this sort of decision-making is why your share of viewers has been going down the toilet?