Love In The Time of Coronavirus

It had to happen. Everyone else is talking about COVID-19, as the novel coronavirus has been designated. So I might as well join the crowd.

First, I’m writing because this slate has been blank for a while, and it needed updating. Second, because I went on vacation, which meant that I was supposed to self-quarantine upon my return. Which is what I’ve been doing. For the most part.

So, to rewind a bit…

Every first Saturday in March is the annual Salvador Dalí Museum dinner. I’ve written about it before, so no point in re-hashing that part. Since I was making the trip, I booked a Caribbean cruise to extend my vacation time, and thus, off I sailed. Two of the ports of call I’d visited before, so I had no desire to go on any excursions there. Two others were new to me: Mahogany Bay (Roatán) and Belize. I booked a visit to the Mayan ruins in Xunantunich in Belize.

Belize is the former British Honduras, and as such the official language is English. Given that all of the neighboring countries are Spanish-speaking, the majority of Belizeans speak Spanish. The signs are all in English, however. The ruins at Xunantunich (the “X” is pronounced “SH”) are spectacular! I was glad I made the trip. Getting there meant driving the full width of the country (about 68 miles!), since the ruins are near the Guatemalan border.

Xunantunich Pyramid

Two days out from Tampa I learned that due to the spread of the Coronavirus (I still don’t know if it’s supposed to be capitalized or not), the major cruise lines had suspended operations for 30-60 days. I had no doubt I was going to be allowed to disembark, and as I did, it was strange to note there were no passengers waiting to come on board for the next sailing!

The flight home — on a full flight! — gave me no reason to think things had changed, but once I arrived home and went to the grocery store to re-provision, that’s when I noticed the empty shelves! Since I’d been overseas, the CDC recommendation was to self-quarantine for 14 days. I had no problem with that, because I had planned to spend the next two weeks at home conducting online training, so it was a nice synchronicity.

Here I sit, on the eve of my fourteenth day. I have taken the opportunity of being home to spend more time playing guitar and adding songs to my repertoire. While on the cruise (I took my KLŌS travel guitar), I started going back to my “roots” and learning or re-learning songs from one of my favorite bands of the 1960s: Love.

Love was kind of a hipster band. They had only one minor Top 40 hit (which I believe made it to #37), they refused to tour, and their leader, Arthur Lee, was quite idiosyncratic. But I loved the music they made, and their third and final album, “Forever Changes” has been ranked as number 40 on Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Love – Forever Changes (1966)

Thus, there is rhyme to my reason. Or method to my madness, if you will. The title of this post is a play on “Love in the Time of Cholera,” a 1985 book by Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez

Let’s Talk AR

Whether intentionally or not, the initials “AR” are believed by many to be simply an abbreviation for “assault rifle.” This is not the case. Armalite is a small arms manufacturing company. The original company was founded in 1954 in California. It produced the original “Armalite Rifle,” a lightweight survival rifle designed for downed American aviators. The AR-15 (the AR stands for “Armalite Rifle”) became the military’s M16 standard. The history of the AR-15 can be read on Wikipedia as well as elsewhere.

For people not keeping up with technology, the term “rifle” brings to mind the Old West, with scenes of John Wayne brandishing a Winchester level-action, wooden stock long gun.

John Wayne, in The Searchers (1956)

Lever-action rifles are still being made. The Henry Repeating Arms company makes some very highly-regarded “traditional” rifles.

Henry Rifles, Made In America

But this article is about modern rifles. This is what today’s “ordinary” rifle looks like.

A “Typical” AR-15 (source: CNN)

Believe it or not, the two are more similar than they are different. In fact, I’d posit that the Henry-style rifle is more difficult to build than the AR. That’s because parts for an AR abound, and the ability to mix-and-match parts is one of the reasons it’s the most popular rifle in America today!

One of the reasons it’s so popular is that it’s customizable, and the entry-level cost is relatively inexpensive. By the way, both rifles shown above are SEMI-AUTOMATICS. Put another way, 1 trigger pull = 1 bullet fired. When the military had them made, their version was FULL AUTOMATIC, or more accurately, SELECT FIRE (full or semi). Fully automatic firearms have not been legal in the USA for decades! So, once again, the lever action rifle, and the AR-15 are FUNCTIONALLY EQUAL.

Because the AR-15 has become so popular, it’s not surprising that gun-grabbers want to ban it, as it has shown up in some of the mass shootings that have sadly made the news. But the fact of the matter is, and while it’s a common “slogan,” guns don’t kill. People kill! According to Statista, in 2018, rifles accounted for only 297 of the total murders committed. Blunt objects (443) and personal weapons (fists, hands, feet, etc.) 672, each accounted for more. Yet politicians don’t seem to want to ban clubs, hammers, fists or such.

So why the continued focus on banning “assault rifles?” Dana Loesch in her book “Hand Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America” (Loesch, D. (2015), Center Street, Reprint Edition) claims that ignorance of the technology makes “black rifles” scarier and “shootier.” There is also an underlying belief that anti-Americanism drives the desire to disarm and subjugate the American populace.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been researching the technology that makes up an Armalite Rifle. Technology fascinates me, and I find myself amazed at how all the little pieces add up to make a rough, tough, instrument of destruction. The number of grains in a bullet can dictate the proper twist rate of a rifle barrel (don’t worry if that sentence makes no sense to you; trust me). Stainless steel, chrome lined, nitride… there are so many possible variables and pieces. A fully custom-made AR can cost thousands of dollars, and the components that make it up can be as intricate as the pieces of a watch (the old style, not the digital kind).

The purpose of this post is to outline some of the thought processes that I’ve been going through, as I consider getting my first AR.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of the sweeter ARs I’ve looked at:

Marblemouthed Metro

Sometimes I have a need or want to ride public transportation. My recent trip to Vienna, Austria found me traveling all over the city aboard Vienna’s fine subway system, for example.

Yesterday, I had need to use the (Washington) D. C. Metro system to go into the city to attend the annual Auto Show. Side note: I remember when the D. C. subway system was built, and when it first opened, it was the model of a modern, efficient, clean transportation system.

No longer.

Besides the delays caused by single-tracking (an effect of much-needed repairs being performed) one thing that I found both sad and humorous at the same time: The inability of train operators to clearly enunciate over the train’s P.A. system. Not only were the stop names unintelligible, but even the delay announcements. A short lesson in how to speak clearly over a public address system should be mandatory for drivers.

To be fair, some of the newer trains have automated voice-overs, which seems to be the standard in places like Vienna, Toronto and other subway systems I’ve ridden, as do the commuter buses I need to take twice a year. But my point is that if I were a tourist and didn’t know the stops, I”d be looking at signs out the window and worrying about how quickly I would need to exit the car at my station. Fortunately, I’m familiar enough with D. C.’s Metro to simply find this humorous.

The Lost Art of Automobile Design

Lately as I’ve been driving it’s occurred to me that most vehicles on the road today are indistinguishable from one another. This is particularly true in the “sport utility vehicle” (SUV) class. If this were a super-popular blog site, I suspect many would accuse me of either posting “click bait,” or of having lost my sense of taste, if not my mind.

But honestly, I have noticed in traffic the outline of a vehicle and thought to myself, “I wonder what make that is?” I suppose the need often influences the design, so when a multi-passenger vehicle with lots of storage room is needed, things like lift gates and such are automatic. Yet, it seems to me that often the only distinguishing feature on a vehicle is its grill or front-end look.

Some brands have iconic grills. BMW, for example, has the “double-kidney” grill.

BMW’s iconic grill design

Mercedes-Benz is recognizable by its three-pointed star, which sometimes makes it to the grill, but is almost always present on the hood of the car.

The Mercedes-Benz star

But the rest of the automotive world is an ever-changing jumble of looks and frills, most of which are forgettable the moment they’re introduced.

Some makers provoke in me a “what were they thinking?” response. Audi, for example, went the way of what I’ve referred to as an “Ox Collar” look.

Audi’s now familiar, but ungainly grill

In personal disclaimer mode, I will confess that nearly every car I’ve purchased has had some type of “distinctive” look to it. My two present cars straddle that line a bit. My yellow smart fortwo electric drive is easy to pick out in any parking lot. My Mercedes-Benz coupe not so much.

My 2015 smart fortwo electric drive (ED)

Sure, it’s opinionated. But this is my blog, where the subtitle is, “Everybody’s entitled to my opinion!” 🙂

Political Activism

I received my Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in the study of Political Science, with a focus on International Affairs (in fact, my major was International Relations until that field of study was folded into the general GVPT curriculum). I credit my interest in affaires politiques to having grown up in a family where Dad was a diplomat.

During my late high school years, the Vietnam War was raging, and I, being of draft age, became more and more disillusioned with the U.S.A.’s lack of commitment to winning that conflict. The media focused on body counts, and the horror of the Mỹ Lai massacre continued to erode my faith in how the U. S. was pursuing that war, seemingly to add to the pockets of industrialists at the expense of American lives. I walked in the Moratorium March on Washington on November 15, 1969. I had graduated high school just months before.

Vietnam faded into memory, as I did not serve in the armed forces, and did not have direct experience with the war. I matriculated college while in Europe, and began my study of International Relations. I saw, first-hand, how communism turned countries into soul-less, grey landscapes, and how the free enterprise system allowed people to succeed. Even though I was no longer marching in protest, my political education continued. I even ran for student body president, and was defeated by less than a half dozen votes.

Then came marriage, a career, and family. I still read, watched and listened to political items; when you live within spitting distance of the nation’s capitol, it’s hard not to. But other than vote in elections, I stayed away from getting involved.

That all changed recently. Virginia, my adopted home, has been becoming more and more tyrannical, in large part supported by anti-American or control-freak types, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and others. One of the most successful states in the union one day, seemingly overnight, became another bastion of “progressivism” (I purposely do not capitalize the word). Following the 2019 elections (Virginia holds off-year elections) the entire General Assembly became Democrat-controlled. No sooner had they danced their victory dance, they began putting legislation on the table to reduce the “birthplace of presidents” to the “burial place of human rights.” I won’t go into the numerous bills proposed that will overturn Virginia’s history, increase taxes, and infringe on God-given liberties, but I will say that I’ve awakened to a movement I do not see being beneficial to Virginians.

On Monday, January 20, the official celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I attended a rally in Virginia’s capital city, Richmond. The rally was a demonstration against the stated proposals that in many peoples’ opinion (mine included) were anti-Constitutional. I was taken back to that day 51 years ago. I wasn’t being rebellious, I wasn’t being threatening, I was being present. I stood up for what I believe.

Maybe this is a turning point. I think it’s too early to tell. What I believe is that if people like me just sit and expect other people to march, demonstrate and attempt to make a point, I will have surrendered my privilege as an American citizen.

The Sometimes Pleasure of Having a Snit

“Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America

I’m not sure why it set me off, but on one run I twice saw the American flag being disrespected. I confess to posting on NextDoor.com last year much of my same agitation over a display of this sort, but here I was (am?) in a location far away from home.

Realizing there is precious little I can do about this, I still felt compelled to do something. Knowing nothing about building ownership and/or management, or the companies (yes both of these were business sites) involved, I reached out to the local media with a letter to the editor. I was polite, and mentioned that as an out-of-town visitor, I was disheartened to see blatant disrespect for the flag being shown in public.

Wait a minute. What disrespect? Having flown the flag at home, I learned about the proper etiquette for displaying the flag, and since I didn’t have 24 hour lighting, I would raise and lower the flag each day, fly it at half staff when appropriate, and would replace it when it got worn. There are laws on the books (4 USC § 1, 36 USC §173-174) that specify how and when the flag should be treated, and even though these laws are mostly pro forma, I use them as my guidelines (as well as to stay legal, in case another busybody like me gets in a snit).

Applying a little research, I found the contact information for the companies I identified as the likely “perpetrators,” and sent them very polite emails. I mentioned I was an out-of-town traveler, and that the display of flags in serious disrepair was likely an oversight, but that I felt it sent a poor impression to travelers like me.

I did receive one reply, thanking me, and saying they would locate the building management and pass on my message. From the appearance of their web page, they seem to be socially conscientious, so their response was in line with that impression. I have not heard from the second.

So, I will likely never see the results of my very modest (but polite) snit. But I feel good about acting upon it rather than just shrug my shoulders, as apparently so many have.

Pew – Pew, Redux

I tend to switch gears among my interests, so it shouldn’t come to me as a surprise that I’ve come back to the issue of firearms.

Currently, the Commonwealth of Virginia is changing hands in its political leadership. The Democrats will control every component of the legislature for the next couple of years, and they have made no secret of the fact that they intend to impose some drastic new measures on the citizenry.

This does not please me, as I have seen the results of this in other areas of the country, and they do not sit well with me. For starters, I believe there is a lot of unconstitutional action being contemplated, and I am well aware of the “law of unintended consequences.” One thing of which I am sure is that a lot of lawyers are going to be making a lot of money.

So, I’m using this as the excuse for my last two purchases, although if I want to be honest, I bought them because I wanted to!

Almost two weeks before Christmas, 2019, I bought a Ruger LCP II pistol. I have a carry permit, and it occurred to me that I might want a smaller handgun than that which I normally carry. The LCP II is chambered in .380 ACP (short for Automatic Colt Pistol, or “Auto”), a caliber which I have not used or owned before. In Europe, this load is also known as a “9mm kurz,” or 9mm short, given that it’s just a bit smaller than a 9mm round. I did a lot of research before settling on the LCP II, and deciding between the different versions was tough. Until I spotted the “Chattanooga Shooters Supply Distributor Exclusive” model. I knew that was the one I wanted!

Ruger LCP II in flag finish

Of course, the next challenge was finding a seller who resells from CSS, as one can’t buy from them directly. After a bit of searching and inquiring, I found one on the Sportsman’s Outdoor Superstore. Followed the usual procedure: order, have the gun sent to my local FFL (Federal Firearms License holder), go and fill out the Form 4473, and bring it home. Done.

But why stop there? Somehow, I came across the name Seecamp. Once again, using Google-fu, I learned a lot of history, and found that this company, founded in 1973, produced what many refer to as the “Rolex” of pocket guns. There’s a lot of interesting (to me) history behind the gun and its company, but I leave it to you to read on their web site.

These are not easy guns to find, even though the company still produces them. Many gun shops don’t carry them, some don’t know about them, and I had one fellow tell me he thought they’d gone out of business.

Well, I know their web site is active, but one can’t buy from them directly, so I started searching online again. I found a few on places like GunBroker, ARMSLIST and GunsAmerica. Some of them older models, which many people deem collectors’ items, but I finally decided I wanted a brand new one. Since they are known to be very finicky guns, I wanted a warranty to cover any first year problems, should they arise.

As fate would have it, I stumbled across a web forum owned by the Seecamp company, and registered to learn more. I found a terrific group of very helpful, knowledgeable people. One of them, Doug Childers, owner of Bear Creek Holsters was extremely helpful in steering me in the right direction, and to make a long story short, I was able to get my local gun shop (Herndon Arms) to obtain one from Seecamp. At a good price, too!

So, as I type this, I’m in California on business. But thanks to the Internet, I was able to get the order in, and my new Seecamp LWS32 should be waiting at Herndon Arms for me when I return. This isn’t the actual gun, but some stock photos to show the size.

Tiny Gun: The Seecamp LWS32

Now THAT is a pocket gun!

A New Decade Beckons

2020, a new decade

2020 will usher in the seventh decade I’ve existed on this earth. Wonder of wonders, I never thought I’d get to this point. And 2019 showed me that it won’t last forever, so I have a renewed appreciation for God, life, liberty and family.

Despite some of the tougher issues facing me this year, overall I have to say 2019 was a darn good year! The economy has been gangbusters, and this has benefited me in every way: salary, investment, retirement saving! I had some great travels, took some nifty photographs, acquired new guitars and guns, and enjoyed spending time with my family. My daughter blessed me with a new grandchild, and now I have two I can watch grow!

I will start the new year by traveling to California for the annual company meeting. This is not one of my favorite trips, as California doesn’t appeal to me (heresy, I know!), but it’s unavoidable. In March, I plan to once again attend the annual Dalí Museum dinner. After that, we’ll have to see. No long-term plans at this time.

So, that wraps up my end-of-year offering. I discovered earlier this year that there are actually some people who have come across this site, and have read some of the posts. If you’re one of them, I wish you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I’m Losing Confidence In Apple

It pains me to write this. Really.

I bought my first Mac in 1984. It was one of the original 128K, 9-inch black-and-white screen computers that had the names of all the designers and programmers etched inside the cover.

Apple Macintosh, circa 1984

Boxy mouse, chunky keyboard, power button on the back, it was then, a marvel of technology. Today, it’s a bit anachronistic, and what was Apple Computer is now Apple Inc. and the Macintosh is now simply a “Mac.”

Before I got my first Mac, I had already been familiar with Apple computers (lowercase “C”). I had a //e and a //c. The //c was a very sleek computer then, and I think would still be considered so today. But the Mac, with its graphics and advanced technology was for me, the game changer!

Over the years I’ve owned more Macs than I can possibly list. “Fat” Macs, Performas, Duos, PowerMacs, PowerBooks, iBooks, MacBooks and so on. Currently, I have FIVE Macbooks running at home, serving a variety of purposes.

To add to the list, I have three iPads and two iPhones. I have multiple iPods of every generation, a set of AirPods (and another, newer set on the way) and TWO Apple TVs!

But somewhere along the line, and only recently to my consciousness, I’ve become unhappy with Apple. It’s difficult even now to pinpoint the source of unhappiness.

Let’s start with Siri, Apple’s voice-enabled “assistant.” This is technology that is supposed to respond to voice queries, providing quick searches, calculate math formulae, find locations and offer directions.

Siri may work for others, but I’d say my measure of success using Siri is around 10%. In fact, I get so frustrated with Siri responding to my entries with absolutely nothing related to them, that I have disabled it (her?) on my iPads.

Now comes Touch ID. Two years ago, I bought a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. One of the features with the Touch Bar is Touch ID: register your fingerprint and instead of using a password, let the computer recognize you by your fingerprint.

More and more, this feature doesn’t work. When new, it was a fabulous experience: sitting in an airport boarding area, just press my finger on the Touch Bar pad, and presto! Except now, the screen just shudders, and after repeated attempts, tells me I need to input my password. But that’s what Touch ID is meant to bypass! I have reset (deleted and added) my fingerprints, to no avail. What gives?

Similarly, I had a problem with my keyboard. This turned out to be a known problem that Apple would repair at no cost to the consumer. Dutifully, I took it to an Apple Store, and the Genius there said Apple would have to repair it. I left it, and when I received it back, the entire hard disk had been erased. WHAT??!? How in the world does repairing or replacing a keyboard require wiping a hard disk?

No company is perfect, not even Apple. Maybe it’s me, but I think maybe Apple has let some cracks develop in its product design, development and testing processes. That disheartens me, but I still consider Apple’s products superior to the competing products out there. For now.

If Six Was Four

Jimi Hendrix once sang, “If Six Was Nine.” But this is neither a post about Hendrix, nor about his songs. This is about instruments.

And, before you jump to conclusions (which may make sense, given that I’ve written about bass guitars before), this is about ukuleles and not bass guitars!

Kala KA-15 Concert Ukulele

Let me give a little background: Every time my six year-old granddaughter comes to my house, she gets enraptured by my KLŌS travel guitar. I don’t mind, as it’s made of carbon fiber, so there’s little chance she can damage it, even if she were to drop it or sling it about.

KLŌS Travel Guitar

So, I was walking through a newly-opened Lidl, when I saw they had beginner guitar sets for sale. I stopped to think. This might be a nice Christmas present for her, if she really wants to plunk away. Then, right next to the guitars, were some boxes of Ukuleles. Right size, right price, so I bought one.

Okay, so it’s a cheapie. I figured that if she lost interest quickly, no great loss. On the other hand, it’s my hope that she’ll get interested in it enough to attempt to learn some basic tunes (the bundle I bought includes a beginner songbook and online tutorials). Then it struck me: What if she liked playing ukulele, but was disappointed in the cheap one she received?

That’s when I thought perhaps I’d get a better instrument. And my plan was hatched: I’d give her the Lidl uke, and in seven months, when her birthday came around, I’d gift her with an “upgrade.”

I found a bundle on Sweetwater and ordered it. The bundle includes the Kala KA-15c Mahogany Concert Ukulele, strap, clip-on tuner, and gig bag. A concert ukulele is slightly larger than a soprano, but given the diminutive nature of a ukulele, I don’t think the size will be a detriment for my granddaugher.

And, of course, I get to play with it for the next seven months!