Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Life Lesson 2

My father played cards very well at bridge, skat (a game of German origin), and poker tables. He won a lot more than he lost. Dad seldom gave me advice, but he did caution me about poker several times:

"If you walk into a strange place and are invited to join the poker game, don't. At least two people at the table are smarter than you."

These people are not interested in your financial health

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sandy, Get My Gun!

No need to be a red-necked Texan to join the fun available by signing on with one of the groups of obnoxious exhibitionists toting weapons around to prove they have a right to terrorize the general public.

Here near our peaceful neighborhood, we have remnants of the infamous "Michigan Militia" and any number of misguided Rambos who think the nation's constitution made them exempt from sensible gun control when it provided a right to bear arms linked to a well-regulated militia. "Well regulated" is about as far from describing members of the Michigan Militia and their clones as a term can get.

Lately, the loonies have made the news big time in these parts. They haven't appeared on our doorstep yet, but they've shown up twice recently in nearby Kalamazoo.

In the first incident, concerned citizens called police because a man who appeared to be intoxicated was walking down the city street near a laundromat shifting a rifle from shoulder to shoulder. When officers approached him with guns drawn, the man yelled profanities at them while "acting irrationally," according to a police lieutenant at the scene.

The police talked the man into surrendering the weapon. He was not charged with a crime and the rifle was returned to him the next day, because the police could not determine precisely that he was "brandishing" the weapon, a term used, but not defined, in the state's open carry law.

The rifle bearer was not an African-American nor a Muslim. Had he been, he'd probably still be gracing a cell in one of our more inhospitable institutions while the legal technicalities were being debated.

Several days ago, the Kalamazoo Public Library presented a special reading program for little children in the library parking lot. A man showed up with a pistol in a holster attached to his belt. Members of the library staff called police as they had been told to do. The gunslinger stated he had
Something our libraries don't need
a right to carry his pistol and was there to protect his three-year-old daughter. The library people did not challenge his right, but an administrator several times asked him to depart.

When the man's wife asked him to leave, he finally agreed to go. He was across the street when the police arrived, and he returned to convince them of his right to open carry. The police didn't need any convincing. They knew the law allowed him to carry. So did Gail Madzier, head of the Michigan Library Association. Madzier made one of the more sensible statements regarding the incident: "But just because something is legal doesn't mean it's the best idea."

Rob Harris, spokesman for Michigan Open Carry, Inc., made one of the least sensible statements. When told the gunman's presence made the children and library staff people uncomfortable, he said, "Unfortunately for them, nothing in the law says they have the right to be comfortable."

The police told library staffers to continue to call them whenever anyone with a firearm showed up. What other advice could they give? No one has yet devised a way to tell a "good guy" civilian carrying a weapon from a "bad guy" civilian carrying one.

We taxpayers, while endorsing the "call the cops" policy to err on the side of safety, wonder a bit if the exhibitionists care at all about the added policing expense they are creating, or even how forcing public safety officers to respond to what often will be false alarms weakens their ability to protect us from serious criminals.

Our son is on the board of trustees of Ransom District Library, which serves patrons in several communities in our area. The trustees were forced to cancel their "no guns in the library" policy when anti-control advocates threatened legal action while pointing out that the ban violated Michigan laws allowing concealed and open carrying of weapons in many places.

The law also establishes gun-free zones, which include day care centers, school buildings (without a concealed carry permit), sports arenas, taverns, casinos, and most buildings operated by religious organizations. Somehow, libraries were left off the list. That concerns library staff and policy makers across Michigan.

There is a movement afoot to pressure legislators into defining public libraries as gun-free places. With the conservative nature of Michigan government, however, it may be a long time before that sort of legislation passes, if ever.

Our son says his sense is that there is no sentiment among the library trustees or staff members to allow firearms in the building, although some express sensible gun rights beliefs. Despite the general feeling that guns and the library are not a good mix, there is no legal way to ban weapon carriers.

But hold on, pardners--the strange law that allows guns in Michigan libraries may be balanced by another strange law that could scare weapons carriers away, just as anti-control people claim they frighten criminals by carrying guns indiscriminately.

Michigan has a "hold your ground" law similar to the Florida statute applied to exonerate an adult who killed a teenager by claiming the kid posed a threat to the shooter. Our law says you do not have to attempt to flee if you or those you are caring for feel seriously threatened by another person or persons. You can confront interlopers and shoot to kill in your defense if you believe it is justified.

Therefore, nothing appears to prevent geezers like me who have working knowledge of how weapons operate from becoming defenders of the library. We could get concealed carry permits and share shifts at Ransom with our pistols close at hand but hidden. If anyone frightened us or any library patron by approaching with a firearm in plain sight, we could feel free to respond with a few bullets placed to do them maximum damage.

It should be easy to recruit geezers with reputations as solid citizens to spend a little time protecting children and other patrons of public libraries. What court would convict them of anything after they merely were standing their ground when they gunned down a younger armed malcontent who had little standing in the community?

Of course, I would never encourage anyone to resort to such violent activity. But, some concerned geezers may also have looked into the pertinent laws and already formed  "library anti-militias." Think about that, open carry exhibitionists. Does the prospect of being greeted by a barrage of bullets make you shake a little in your jackboots? Well, good. Stay out of our libraries, they should be peaceful places.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Starting Anew

After observing life for about three-quarters of a century, the geezer has decided that well-reasoned and thoroughly explained observations about the passing scene are a thing of the past. Sound bites are the in thing. With that, this blog will feature frequent infusions of brief statements summarizing lessons learned. The first of these is:

Be careful about bending over if you are an altar boy.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

There WAS an Elephant in the Room

Conventional wisdom tells us "everyone has a story." And if we dig deeply enough into the history of any community, we are likely to find "every place has a story," a wondrous tale unique to that locale.

People who have lived long in Plainwell, Michigan (pop. about 3,800), the closest city to our country home, know well the tale of the day a rogue elephant showed up downtown. As a relative newcomer, I hadn't heard about it until recently when the shoppers guide that circulates in our area described the event in a brief article.  It's quite a bizarre tale.
The Spencer-Woodard building has stood for 98 years at the intersection of Bridge and Main Streets in Plainwell, Michigan. No elephants have dropped in since 1916.
I was skeptical, as old journalists usually are of bizarre tales. A puter search said I could buy a history, which would include an account of the elephant's visit, at Campbell's Drug Store. "We did sell the histories for quite a while, but we don't have them anymore," a clerk said.

I said I was interested in the elephant story. A pharmacist looked up from his work and advised me to visit the local library. He also told me to go out the side door and look at the historic plaque attached to the building. Somehow, I'd missed the plaque in five years of frequent visits to downtown Plainwell. The elephant story was there.

At the library I found two treasures. One was a pictorial history of Plainwell and sister city Otsego, and in it was a brief version of the elephant story. The other valuable find was Sandy Stamm, area historian who co-authored the book. Sandy, a volunteer archivist at the library, also wrote the plaque description at Campbell's Drug, which is the principal business in the Spencer-Woodard building. She gave me copies of two published articles she had written on the topic.

Here's what happened, and it is well documented:

In 1916 a circus arrived by train at the depot on East Bridge Street. To get to the fairgrounds on the west side of the village where the show would be held, the circus entourage had to traverse the old Anderson Bridge across the Kalamazoo River. The bridge was made of iron, and for some reason it spooked the elephants.

The elephants refused to get on the bridge. The circus manager decided to try to get them to swim across the river. This was working fairly well until, suddenly, two elephants got out of control in the water and escaped. One headed north, the other went downtown.

The northbound elephant traveled out Sherwood Road to a farm. The farmer, Ed Morgan, was raking hay and must have been amazed to look back to see an elephant following his hay rake. Morgan apparently stayed calm. He remembered it was the day the circus was due in town, and simply turned his rig around and led the elephant back to the circus manager.

The second elephant, when it reached the center of the village, was lured by the smell of fresh baked goods to the bakery on Main Street. The elephant tried to nose its way into the establishment, but anxious customers scared it away.

The Spencer-Woodard building next to the bakery (a three-story structure when completed) was in the early stages of construction, with only the subflooring in place. The elephant headed there and its weight caused it to crash through the subfloor into the basement.

The circus manager had a new problem--how to get a very big elephant (it weighed more than 1,000 pounds) out of a basement room. After much deliberation, workmen brought railroad ties to the site and built a ramp. The elephant walked up the ramp and was reunited with the circus troop.

The concluding sentence in Sandy Stamm's most detailed account is: "The circus then proceeded to the Fair Grounds. Nothing at the circus performance that night could top the loose elephant escapade."

What's your community's best story? Can it top the day elephants were on the loose in Plainwell?