Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recent Bad News

One of the 11 riders that died apparently suffered a heart attack while riding. I think you can throw that one out as just plain weird. But the article goes on to say that all but two of these accidents were the fault of the motorcyclist. The paper went on to say that this is in sharp contrast to national statistics that indicate that 77% of fatal motorcycle accidents are the fault of automobile drivers.
Excessive speed was an issue in some of the accidents. Alcohol may have been a factor in some accidents as well as mistakes by automobile drivers. But, oddly enough, it appears that the rider's ability to safely negotiate a turn or a curve was the problem in some of these accidents and in many cases, no other vehicle was involved.
The reporter interviewed a local safety instructor, Joe Gattenby, that runs a company that offers training courses for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Joe is a great guy. I have spoken with him before and even had his wife in one of my accounting classes that I teach at a local college. It is hard to get in one of his classes as his courses are booked up well in advance.
Joe's analysis or explanation is that inexperience and lack of training may have played significant roles in a lot of these accidents. He stated that a lot of riders get their motorcycle licenses without taking a training course and that maybe some of those people are more interested in the fun aspect of riding and are not aware of, or ignore, the dangers involved. He went on to suggest that training should maybe be mandatory for getting a license.
Joe said you can't be just paying attention to what's immediately in front of you. You have to be driving a couple of blocks ahead and anticipating the worst of what could happen.
Joe had 3 suggestions that all motorcyclists should follow and be aware of:
1) Proper Gear and Clothing
2) Understand how to safely execute corners and curves
3) Understand and be proficient at various emergency maneuver techniques.
Ride Safe Out There!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

I seem to get called up to report for jury duty every few years or so, but have never had to actually serve on a jury. Until this year. Now I am not at all opposed to performing a civic duty, but I suppose, like a lot of people, I'd rather not do it just because of the hassle and the time spent. Then again, I sort of wanted to serve on a jury just so I could say I had done it. On a Monday morning I reported to the jury assembly area along with about 200 other good citizens. Must be a busy week at the Sedgwick County courthouse. In past years I would report and maybe go through the process of jury selection, but not be selected. One time, I was excused because I was personally acquainted with the defendant. And no, he wasn't the kind of person I normally hang out with.
The first group of jurors was called and I was in a group of 45 people or so. We went to one of the courtrooms and began the process of jury selection. At this point I was feeling good about it because the numbers game of picking 12 jurors out of 45 people made the odds of yours truly not getting selected look pretty good. I wondered why this was such a large group, though. I remembered that the group of potential jurors was only about 25 the last time I did this. I would soon find out why.
We were quickly informed that the case involved the sexual assault of a 12 year old girl. The alleged incident was not a rape, but also not a pleasant subject. The attorneys asked many questions of the potential jurors such as "have you personally, or do you know anybody that has ever been involved in any kind of sexual assault?" I was a bit surprised that a significant number of people answered yes.
After spending almost all day on Monday enduring the jury selection process, I found out just before 5:00 pm that I was to be juror #4. Wow! Lucky Me!
The trial started the next morning. I'll not describe all of the circumstances but there was some very unusual details and confusing testimony for us jurors to consider. For one thing, the purported offense had occurred 4 years ago. Huh? Why that length of time? Secondly, the testimony of the various witnesses for the prosecution was somewhat inconsistent. Both the prosecution and the defense had DNA experts testifying on their behalf. We had to listen as each expert witness tried to substantiate their own separate test results. Of course, the purpose of the defendant's expert DNA witness was to raise some doubt as to the guilt of the defendant.
We, as jurors, had been cautioned numerous times that we were to assume the innocence of the defendant until the attorneys had rested their cases. We were not to speak about the case with each other, nor with anyone else for that matter. If we were to convict the defendant, we had to be sure that there was "no reasonable doubt" as to the guilt of the defendant.
The prosecutors called a number of witnesses. The defendant did not take the stand in his own defense and the defendant's only witness was their DNA expert. Again, we all were wondering why. ???
The jury finally went for deliberation at mid Thursday morning. We talked for a bit with each other, but quickly decided to take a quick vote, just to see where we stood. The initial vote was 11 to 1 in favor of conviction. After that, I suppose that a lot of us, like me, had thoughts about the old movie starring Henry Fonda, "12 Angry Men". I wondered if the deliberation would take a long time. I actually was a bit surprised at the results of the initial vote given the inconsistencies in the testimony and somewhat confusing nature of the DNA evidence. I thought the initial vote would be different.
The initial vote was by ballot and we didn't initially know which one if us had voted for acquittal, but that person (not me), quickly identified himself to the rest of us. And many of his concerns were valid in my opinion. I think we all had questions. None of us were absolutely sure what had exactly happened that night.
But in the minds of most of us, one fact was irrefutable. A fluid substance belonging to the defendant was found in a place where it shouldn't have been. The DNA evidence provided by the prosecution indicated that. In addition, the defendants own DNA expert confirmed the same result, but offered up some additional test result possibilities and a somewhat critical review of the prosecution's DNA testing procedures. That was the primary source of the defendant's argument for potential reasonable doubt.
We went around the table, each of us with an opportunity to express our thoughts and opinions. We discussed our many questions and misgivings about the case, but eventually we started to focus on the evidence that we felt was particularly important. In about an hour, the person that had originally voted for acquittal changed his mind and we became unanimous in our decision. It was just before noon. The bailiff said they were going to order in pizza for us for lunch. We decided not to tell the bailiff that we had reached a decision until after we had a chance for pizza. We were all sort of anxious to "get out of there" but we also knew that the court would not resume until after lunch anyway. Judges and attorneys always seem to be very conscious about proper lunch and break times.
The court reconvened not long after we told the bailiff that we had reached a decision. The final process went quickly and we were released from duty shortly thereafter.
After we had retired back to the jury room, the judge and both attorneys joined us and we had an opportunity to exchange questions back and forth with them. This was extremely valuable for us because we had a chance to get some of our little questions answered. For instance, we found out that the case was actually a re-trial. The defendant had already been convicted once and was granted a new trial based upon the newer DNA evidence. He had other possible counts against him, but this case was the one where the prosecution thought they had the best chance for conviction. A lot of this information was withheld from us for the reason that it might be prejudicial.
He was a bad dude! We went away very sure we had done the right thing. Because of a relatively recent new sentencing law, he will be in prison for a very long time, a minimum of 25 years. I guess I feel a bit sorry about that, but just a bit.
I learned a lot about the legal processes involved. Would I want to do it again? Well, probably not. Mainly just because it interrupted my life for 4 days and was a somewhat mentally draining and emotional process.
Ten men and two women came together to weigh the evidence. We went away knowing we had fulfilled our civic duty in a responsible manner. You could argue that the procedures are not very efficient, but we all should feel lucky that we live in a country where this kind of process is followed. In other countries, the process might not be as careful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Earthquake in Kansas?

Well not exactly, the epicenter was near Oklahoma City about 160 miles away from Wichita. But there I was, on October 13th, innocently staring at my computer screen about 9:00 am, and the building started to feel like it was moving around a bit. Not a lot, but noticeable and it lasted for about 15 seconds. At the time, I didn't even know it was actually an earthquake. I had no clue what it was. I was very busy working on a tax return and didn't really care what it was.
Darn taxes get harder to do every day.
It was a couple of hours later when another person in the building asked me if I felt it and told me there was an actual earthquake in Oklahoma. They determined it to be 4.3 on the Richter scale. I have never in my life felt an earthquake like that. They are extremely rare here in Kansas even though there are a couple of small fault lines in southeast Kansas. You would think that you might recognize an earthquake when it happens, but I didn't. No damage here that I know of. It's remarkable that we even felt it, but apparently it was felt in parts of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri also. It seems that the actual event was only about 3 miles underground and because of that the potential for feeling it further away is increased. Hell, I don't know anything about that. You folks that live in more earthquake prone areas would probably know much more about that stuff than me. I just know it as a bit eerie, and I didn't like it. I wonder what it might have felt like if I was riding at the time. Hmmmm...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Great Riding Weather and A Record Hailstone

Oh, the farmers are starting to bitch. And I suppose we could use a little rain even though our rainfall has been about normal for this year. Farmers never seem to be real happy with the weather. It is either too hot (or cold), or not enough rain, or maybe there has been some hail. It's that winter wheat they worry about, planted in the Fall, harvested in Spring. Whatever! (To coin a popular phrase) But Damn It, the weather for riding has been spectacular! Low temperatures in the 50's, highs in the 70's or low 80's. I have only missed one day of commuting in the last 3 weeks and the next week looks real good. You might ask what was the deal on that one day I missed. Well, I have to admit to being a bit of a chickensh#*. The forecast called for a 40% chance of rain that day, probably to occur late afternoon or evening. It was a day that I teach an accounting class at a local college at night. I needed the laptop and I don't have a waterproof case for it. I don't personally mind getting a little wet at times, but I prefer not to and the security of the laptop was important. And then, of course, it didn't rain. Oh well, there are always other days.
About a month ago we had a pretty severe storm hit the area. It is a bit unusual for a violent thunderstorm to happen in Autumn, but it does happen. We weren't directly hit where we live, but the storm was close by.

The proud partents of a pretty gnarly looking hailstone. She looks proud, he looks bored.

There was a record setting hailstone from that storm, supposedly the largest hailstone ever to hit in Kansas. Glad I wasn't out on Max at the time. Can you imagine being hit by something like this while riding? Oh well, this is Kansas and we are used to dodging storms on occasion. There was a fair amount of damage to roofs in the area and a golf course just west of town took a bit of a beating.
This golf course was closed for a couple of days to repair the greens.
'Bout time for those homeowners insurance rates to go up. Don't you think?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Golda, The Amazing Dog

The local animal shelter may only keep animals for 3 days and after that they can be subjected to euthanasia. This particular dog was given a couple of days reprieve from that fate because the people at the shelter liked her so much. Jayna had looked at her one day and took me there the next day to see if I would like her as well. We got to walk her around the yard for a bit and, yes, I was immediately sold on her. We named her Golda. We were never real sure exactly what breed she was. The people at the shelter thought she was at least part Australian Shepherd, but not sure what else. Others thought that there was some Brittany Spaniel in her. It didn't really matter. She turned out to be a great dog. She was about a year old when we got her and she lived to attain the ripe old age of 15 years.
Here's Golda (on the right) with her other two cohorts in crime getting ready for a ride in the famous Canadian Subaru. Madeline, in the background, is a 14 year old german shepherd/husky mix. We found her (or should I say she found us) one very cold winter night many years ago. Sophie, the chow, with a slightly confused look on her face, is on the left. She seems to always look a bit confused and we found her (she found us) on Christmas night almost 2 years ago
The night we got her, we got on the internet and tried to find out more information about Australian Shepherds because neither of us knew much about the breed. We read some interesting "stuff" but one story we read captured our fancy. It seems that one couple that owned an "Aussie" had an outdoor party at their home with food and drinks in their back yard. At one point in time during the evening they noticed that all the people at the party were sort of centrally located in the middle of the yard with the dog walking in a circle around them. The damn dog had gently, but firmly and effectively herded everybody into a circle so that he could keep an eye on everyone.
Golda always seemed to have a grin on her face, especially at snack time after a walk.
I still laugh about reading that story even though Golda didn't always display traits like that. But she was such a friendly and social dog. She always wanted to be near you, at your side. She always wanted to help with whatever you were doing especially if barbecue was being cooked. She would always protect our kids who were aged 11 and 16 when we got her. She would always greet you with a smile and a friendly wag of her tail.
Here she is supervising the barbecue. The coffee can catches drippings from the cooking process and she is always and forever interested in that.
And she loved to run!
And what a runner she was! She never seemed to tire and if she did, she'd never let you know it. Our son at the time was running a lot of cross country and track. Golda loved to run with him. It was not unusual for her to run 2 or 3 miles with him. She even ran with the team a few times and everybody thought that was "pretty cool". It was the members of the cross country team that invented the phrase that became the title of this post. They actually turned it into a little song. She also loved to go for a walk with us in the evenings. We did this almost every night. After dinner, when we maybe had settled down to relax and watch a little television, she would nuzzle up against one of our legs, or look up at us with those smiling eyes of hers, as if to say, "Come on, let's go for a walk". We were hard pressed to resist.
Oh, such a sleepy dog!
It was not unusual for a neighbor to see Jayna or I walking with her and say something like "Who is taking who for a walk?". She always wanted to be in front, leading the way. There were always things she wanted to check out like that little rabbit hole down by the creek or that funny smell next to the fire hydrant. She occasionally caught rabbits and possums and was always proud when she protected us from something that she might have considered a threat to us.
At the same time she always had a sense about her to know what our mood and feelings were. There was one time that I had been suffering from some serious back pain. I wanted to take her for a short walk, thinking that the exercise would be therapeutic. I was a little concerned that she might pull too hard and I would end up hurting myself. But somehow, she sensed my feelings and knew I was hurt. She was incredibly patient with me as I hobbled along at a pace much slower than what she was used to.
As her life progressed she developed many little symptoms of what happens to everybody as they get older. Arthritis and other little problems started to take a toll on her physical capabilities. She became unable to really run like she used to, and we knew that frustrated her. But even with these difficulties, when the evening walk might be ready to start, she would try to be the first dog out the door and ready to go. Eventually even the walks became more and more difficult for her and sometimes were only a short jaunt to the end of the block and back. But it was always special for her, no matter the distance.
Jayna and I like to imagine that she is now running in some kind of afterlife with a lot of her old friends and some cross country runners.
We know that is really what she loved to do. .
Golda, We love You! We miss you! .
Go have a good run!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Morning Sun

I could be considered a bit overly cautious at times, but here is something that all motorcyclists should maybe consider. Again, I may be preaching to the choir, but........ Right now the sun is getting to be very low in the sky when I leave for work in the morning. I live on the east side of Wichita and work downtown. My commute is almost straight west in the morning, straight east in the evening. As a commuter, if you happen to live west of where you are employed, then sometimes you get to battle the sun on your way to work in the morning, and possibly again later in the day when you ride home. I don't have to face that situation because the sun is usually behind me on my normal commute. But I do sometimes have to deal with the fact that my mirrors will be glared up with the sun behind me. At times the use of the mirrors has been rendered almost useless.
Now I always try to be careful as I ride. I frequently make use of the mirrors and, when changing lanes, I will always turn my head briefly to double check and make sure a cage is not in my blind spot. But when the sun is low in the sky, the resource of using the mirrors becomes ineffective.
One thing I have thought about as I ride west in the morning is that drivers (and riders) traveling east will have the sun in their eyes.
Can they see me?
Particularly if they want to make a left turn?
I have been trying to take that into account as I ride west in the morning.
With the sun low in the sky, shadows become very long. Can make for an interesting picture, even if taken with the Blackberry.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Should I Break out The Winter Gloves Yet?

I am thinking about it, but have resisted it so far. Our summer here was a little hotter than normal (whatever normal is). The Aerostich Hot Weather Vegan gloves continue to serve me well. They are probably my favorite riding accessory. My mesh Tourmaster jacket and pants have also performed well this past summer. I have however, switched jackets and have been wearing the denim jacket I bought last spring. The denim jacket is not as cool in summer weather even with lots of zippered vents. Part of the reason, though, for changing jackets is that the weather isn't as hot now, plus I just look so damn cool in denim! LOL I suppose I should keep both pairs of gloves on Max, wear one set for the morning ride to work, the other in the afternoon. The cold weather gloves are safely being stored in the garage, but I may have to break them out soon. It was 46 degrees Monday morning when I left the house. My fingers were a bit cold by the time I got to the office, but I had those summer gloves on so I have only myself to blame. Then I will eventually reach a point in time when I will need to break out the glove liners as well, but that may be a few weeks away. I have some silk glove liners and some fleece liners, and sometimes I will wear them all at the same time. I have considered heated grips and other means to ward off the cold on the old fingers, but it only takes me about 15 minutes to get to and from work. I figure I can stand some cold fingers for that length of time. The weather this week has been very conducive for riding. Lows in the 50's and highs in the 70's to low 80's. The famous Canadian Suburu has stayed in the garage for well over a week now. Nice!