Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gunnery Overkill

I’m not an anti-gun guy.  I’m an anti-stupidity guy.

With some refresher work, the geezer probably could hold his own as a shooter, at least among other fully mature adults.  In the distant past, the U.S. Army declared me qualified with standard infantry rifles, carbine “grease guns,” and .45-caliber pistols.  Once upon a time, I competed (didn’t win) in a skeet tourney using 12 different Browning shotgun models at the company’s testing range near Morgan, Utah.

Much earlier, my air rifle shots knocked icicles off the eaves of numerous northern Wisconsin roofs.  Many other somewhat strange targets came into my sights.  A bit later, I learned how to fire the family shotgun and deer rifle.

Fortunately, no one has been killed or seriously hurt by my gun play.  The only injury was a purplish welt caused by a well-aimed BB shot to the buttocks of one of my childhood pals.  He shot first, I claimed at the time.  His father abruptly stopped the mini-war between us, and confiscated our weapons for a while as punishment for stupidity.

From my experience with guns and acquaintances with many people who own and use them, I’ve reached three conclusions:

1.  Responsible use of standard rifles and shotguns during hunting seasons not only provides enjoyable outdoor recreation but is useful to society.  Because we have removed most large predators from the environment and it probably never will be practical to restore them completely, hunting is necessary to maintain healthy wildlife populations, and hunting with firearms is the best way to do that.

2.  Some people in some places feel a compelling need to own a handgun to protect their homes or themselves from real or imagined serious threats, and they should be allowed to do so after careful screening and licensing. Screening should be rigorous. Needs should be firmly established before any carries outside the home are permitted.

3.  AR 15 assault rifles, .50-caliber guns effective at a thousand yards, and other high-powered weapons intended for military use are absolutely unnecessary in the hands of civilians and should be banned.  That’s banned as in everywhere.  Gun collectors shouldn’t have them.  Hobbyists shouldn’t have them.  Target shooters shouldn’t have them.  No civilians should be allowed to possess them.

Smith and Wesson is a NRA favorite
Yikes!  Parts of my conclusions sound like stricter gun control, and we can’t have any of that in the U.S., according to the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun organizations.  Students of American history know we always  had gun controls in this country.

Members of the first militias in the 1700s were required by their leaders to own and use only certain types of muskets.  Those western sheriffs depicted in movies demanding that cowboys surrender their guns when they came to town really did that.  Similar requirements were in effect in other places to promote law and order. At one time, the National Rifle Association was among the leading advocates of gun controls.  Many controls were installed by major cities in the 1960s following riots and protests. The intent was to get weapons out of the hands of the Black Panthers and other militant groups

Gun control is nothing new in the U.S. Decontrol is. Decontrol was encouraged by Supreme Court rulings in 2008 and 2010 (both by 5-4 votes) that liberally interpreted the constitutional provision allowing citizens to keep and bear arms so the country would have “a well-regulated militia.”  The National Guard might be considered today’s equivalent of our 18th century militias. The Guard keeps its weapons controlled by locking them up when they are not needed for training or active duty purposes.  The Guard is well-regulated, and civilian help in that area seems unnecessary.

Despite flying in the face of common sense, deregulation is sweeping the land.  Chicago’s ordinance controlling handguns was repealed.  Several states now permit “open carries,” taking us back to Wild West days.  Macho Men and Wonder Women once again are seen packing pistols in public.  At least we know who these gunnies are.  The latest compilation shows 319,900 men and women (one in 22 adults) in Michigan have permits to carry concealed weapons, and the number is growing weekly. That’s scary.

Who has those permits to secretly pack heat?  They are people at least 21 years of age who are not known to have mental illnesses and do not have serious criminal histories.  They must complete a certified pistol course before applying for a permit from a county concealed-weapon licensing board.  If approved, they pay a $105 fee.  The permit is good for four years, and then may be renewed.

The pistol courses vary by state.  In Wisconsin, a concealed-carry safety course takes four hours and can cost as little as $40.  Retired law enforcement officers can get permits without the training in some states, including Michigan.

Michigan’s law lists “gun free zones” where permitted carriers are not allowed to bring their weapons.  That seems reasonable and sensible.

What is unreasonable is a measure being considered by the Michigan Legislature to drop all the gun-free area provisions.  People with permits would be allowed to carry their weapons in churches, bars, schools, sports arenas, and hospitals. This goes way too far.  The legislation deserves a bipartisan speedy death. While it is being killed, the legislature should add public libraries to the gun-free list.

Would sensible people condone allowing guns into bars where liquid courage is known to frequently provoke shouting, shoving, and punching over even minor disagreements? This is ridiculous. Wyatt Earp would be aghast.

There is no test of intelligence in Michigan’s concealed weapons licensing process. Some such control seems justified. A recent Detroit Free Press story indicates that at least one concealed carrier wasn’t too bright.

A 45-year-old man working in a Detroit suburb on an air conditioning installation was carrying a .40-caliber Glock pistol in his pants pocket.  He moved the pistol.  It went off.  The man shot himself in the penis.

One reader commented, “At least he won’t be producing any offspring who might want to carry a concealed weapon.”  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

In Grateful Memory

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Lilly (U.S. Army), 25, Flint, Michigan.  Killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, June 14, 2012.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Welcome, Tourists

This week has special significance every year, more in some places than others.  We all welcome summer with the longest day.  For people in tourist towns in northern Wisconsin and Michigan the schools are out in the big cities and many welcome dollars are on the way to be spent, often somewhat carelessly, by vacationers.

As a lad, the geezer worked for two summers in the meat department of a National Tea Store, the biggest food market at the time in my north woods hometown.  About 30 resorts of various sizes were in our trading area.

The store increased the staff in the middle of June to be ready for a big increase in business. The resort owners required large amounts of supplies for their kitchens, and many people owned summer homes in the area that needed provisions.  Thousands of “summer people,” most from Chicago or Milwaukee metro areas, shopped in our store.

In mid-June, the store manager appeared in our department with revised price lists.  Just about every item magically required a 10 percent increase almost on the day the first tourist appeared in town.  At the end of August the manager again handed out revised price sheets.  Would you believe the prices were lowered by about 10 per cent nearly across the board?

We took one slogan of the day seriously: “Keep Northern Wisconsin Green, Bring Money.”

My credit card company this week offered to double, from one to two percent, the usual cash-back bonus for all purchases made in London from now until August 31.  Do you suppose those UK purveyors of chintzy souvenirs are going to hold their Olympic Games price increases to two percent?

It sounds to me like a big net loss for tourists.  The card company ad features a handsome color photo of the Big Ben clock tower. We’ll stay home and be awed by the chimes via television.

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Early, Early Bird

I’ve lost track of how many garage sales we’ve held.  Beautiful wife Sandy presided over one each time we moved, so there have been at least eight.  Our new community has one every year.  We’ve been here three years, so we’re near or past the dozen mark.

Sandy has earned her informal title: Queen of the Garage Sales.  She doesn’t just toss a lot of junk out there.  She organizes displays of like merchandise, prices everything clearly and fairly, and maintains a level of cleanliness that might make Macy’s envious.

One reason we’ve had many successful sales is that Sandy for years ran a crafts production business, and as a result she always had many nifty new items to mix in with stuff we wanted to get rid of.  The "SandyCrafts" business now has been wound down, but moving to our southwest Michigan home provided a new opportunity.

Our new community, about 400 families, is famous in these parts for its annual one-day garage sale.  Lookers and buyers come from far and wide to the June event.  On the Saturday sales day, the whole area takes on some of the attributes of a big traffic jam.

This year’s sale is tomorrow.  Sandy has been getting ready for about two weeks. She was out very early (before 5 a.m.) Thursday in the cool of the morning getting items organized in the garage. 

When I made my appearance (about 8 a.m.), Sandy announced her first sale.  “A lady drove up and begged me to let her in.  She said someone told her our neighborhood sale was last Saturday.  Big mistake! She got that day off work, and can’t get another one. She said she stops at our place first every year. She bought two baskets for $1.50.”

Knowing some sellers refuse to allow early birds into garage sales, I thought two days ahead of the opening bell might be intolerable, whether the excuse sounded legit or not.  “That was nice of you,” I said.

“Nice” is the other reason Sandy always does well hosting merchandising events.  No unpleasant or unhelpful salespeople are allowed around here. Some of the stores we visit might do well to adopt the same rule.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Where're You From, Mac?

Nobody likes being an outsider.  But if you’ve relocated a time or two, you’ve had no choice but to be “the new kid on the block.”  In some places, acceptance of newcomers is a lengthy process. You could be a new kid for a very long time, especially in a small town.

During a dinner conversation at our home in northern Wisconsin when I was a teenager, my mother several times referred to “that man from Illinois” in a discussion of a happening across the street from our house.  We weren’t sure who she was talking about. A clarification revealed that the “man from Illinois” had owned his home in our neighborhood for 26 years!

I’ve only been an outsider in one place where a native enjoyed identifying and embarrassing newcomers. My first job outside Wisconsin (except for Army duty) was an assignment as the Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest.  One of the duties was participating in team teaching at environmental education workshops. The Idaho Fish and Game Department always had one or two representatives on the team.

It was obvious that one of the F&G men, a native Idahoan, was not overly fond of U.S. Forest Service personnel, nor was he delighted to be working with National Park Service people who sometimes were team members.  At that time, pay for the federal natural resource people was considerably better than that of state personnel. The federal agencies didn’t employ many wildlife biologists, so state wildlife specialists had a difficult time moving to the Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or Fish and Wildlife Service as a way of gaining a heftier paycheck. 

In addition to resentment about pay disparities, there sometimes was an undercurrent of native-newcomer tension.  The majority of Idaho Fish and Game employees at all levels were born and raised in the state, or at least were long-time residents.  Most professional federal agency people had transferred to Idaho from other locations. 

The state man liked to make it clear he was a native son.  He did that at least once during every environmental education workshop by suggesting we all stand and sing the state song: “Here We Have Idaho.”  He, of course, rendered every word loudly and correctly.  Most of the rest of us muttered along as many have while trying to mouth an unfamiliar hymn in church.  The F&G man made a point of staring at me a time or two as I stood there pretending to sing the state song.

I actually tried to learn “Here We Have Idaho” just to thwart him.  The tune consists of two short verses and a chorus. It should have been easy, but I never got the hang of it.  That wasn’t surprising.  How many Americans know the words to any state song?

“On Wisconsin!” should be a snap for me.  The tune doubles as the university’s football fight song and the state anthem.  After years of hearing both, I can negotiate the football version pretty well, but can’t get past the first line of the lyrics honoring the state.

Apparently destined to forever flunk the Idaho anthem test, I strongly suggested to the song leader that he drop the whole hidden-agenda affair.  “You know damn well there aren’t two of every ten people you con into this who know the words, whether they spent their whole lives here or not,” I said. “You’re just embarrassing everybody.”

He finally agreed to suspend the musical salutes to the Gem State. “I know how to show you flatlanders up, anyway,” he said.  “I just get you talking about the Idaho Panhandle.  As soon as you say you like that big lake near Sandpoint, ‘Lake Pend Orioles,’ I gotcha.”

Hard to bluff your way through that test.  Any worthy Idahoan knows Pend Oreille, the state’s largest lake, is pronounced “pond-o-ray.” Seldom does a newcomer get that one right, perhaps with the exception of a French immigrant.

Other states we’ve spent some time in have place names designed to baffle a neophyte. On the way from our long-time home in Ogden, Utah, for a little recreation in the nearest Nevada gambling houses, we drove through Tooele County.  Telling locals you had traversed “Toolee County” brought big guffaws every time.  After several years as Utah residents, we became experts at announcing we had just returned from a trip through “Twilla County.”  We had become old settlers.

Indian names can be especially tricky.  Many acres in far northern Wisconsin are included in the Chequamegan National Forest.  “Shewameegun” rolls right off the tongues of people from my hometown and environs.  How would you say it?

The "Big Mac" truly is AWEsome.
Here in our adopted State of Michigan, a designation based on Indian words probably holds the record among U.S. geographic names mispronounced most frequently. Much of the fun started in 1957 with completion of the Mackinac Bridge linking the state’s upper and lower peninsulas.  At the time, the bridge was the longest two-tower suspension span in the world, so it got lots of attention.

Many tourists said they’d crossed the “Straits of Mackinack” on the “Mackinack Bridge,” and they still do. Actually, the newcomers traversed a bridge over waters whose name ends in “awe,” not “ack.”

The endings of most names in the area that look like "ack" are pronounced "awe." That holds for the bridge, the straits, and Mackinac Island, plus Fort Michilimackinac.  But just to confuse things, Mackinaw City sounds just like it looks.  And, to add more fun, some Michiganders refer to the famous “awe” bridge as “Big Mac.”

A little off the point is the fact that many long-suffering winter residents of both northern Wisconsin and Michigan wear sturdy overcoats known as “mackinaws.”  But that can be a help.  Think of big coats and you have a key to remembering the proper name of the big bridge and associated heart-warming stuff.

Much more could be written on this topic, but beautiful wife Sandy is telling me it’s time to start on our day trip to Dowagiac.  Folks, I haven’t a clue about how to say that.  Some local surely will be delighted to tell me after a guffaw following my feeble attempt to say I’m enjoying my first visit to D…..something or other.

Don’t look it up.  I did it for you.  Dowagiac (Doe-WAH-jack) is an Indian name meaning foraging ground.  Don’t damn those Indians; a legacy of unpronounceable names is just a reasonable bit of revenge for past war crimes against the tribes.