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Kalikiano Kalei

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· U S Chemical and Biological Defense Respirators

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· Saddam's Toilet, Part 3

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· Zipping Flies with Papa Hemingway

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· Farewell to Sherlockville

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· First Class, or Guaranteed Delivery?

· The Fruitcake King of Riyadh

· Maile and the Little Green Menehune

· The First (Near) Ascent of Heartbreak Hill

· German Wartime Ejection Seat Developments

· Luftwaffe Air-Evacuation in WW2

· Creating an authentic 2WK Luftwaffe Aircrewman Impression

· The Luftwaffe 2WK Aviation Watches

· German aviator breathing systems in the 2WK

· Ritter der Lüfte: Chivalry in 2WK aerial combat

· War From the German Perspective: A Matter of Differential History

· Recreating Luftwaffe WW2 History

· Film Review: Final Approach (1991)

· Cafe Racing of the 60s: Rockers, Ton-up Boys and the 59 Club

· If women had udders...!

· Five Up, One Down...

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'Lawn Order' in the Land of Oz
3/13/2012 11:50:46 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

The adventures of Officer Dumbhead, bicycle cop, as he encounters the forces of good and evil in the land of OZ.

‘Lawn order’ in the Land of Oz

Yesterday morning (a Monday) was cold and dark as I started off for the office on my favorite old Peugeot PX-10 bicycle. After several months of patient waiting for the early AM to gradually become brighter, my pleasure in being able to finally pedal off to work in daylight was once again dampened by the mindlessly dumb daylight-savings time adjustment we continue to endure in California. Plunged back into darkness and forced once more to hope my expensive, professional quality cycle lighting system will keep me ‘viewable’ by the idiot motorists using the street my commute route bike lane runs along, I was in anything but a pleasant, happy mood on this particular Monday.

The temperature was a cool 38 degrees and of course there was a stiff headwind complicating things, since in Sacramento the prevailing wind at dawn is southerly and in the late PM it reverses to a northerly flow (due to natural heating and cooling characteristics of the Sacramento valley). While this means nothing at all to someone comfortably ensconced in a late model, climate-controlled automobile, it means everything to someone struggling along on a bicycle, since if you commute on a bicycle in Sacramento on a North/South line (as I do), you always have a headwind to fight. Bad enough in clear, warm weather, in the winter months and after adding all the other usual bicycle commuting hazards to the formula (cold, rain, negligent motorists, debris on the bike lane, et al), a headwind can frequently be just a complete pain in the nether extremity to contend with and make an otherwise ‘doable’ commute into a nasty annoyance.

The route I take is normally pretty straight, running about 5 miles north from the residential area I reside in to the State Capitol complex downtown and the adjacent Treasury Building where I work. Along the way there are a few stoplights and a number of intersections regulated only by 4-way stops. Only one or two of them are traffic-light controlled major intersections frequented by regular and somewhat heavy traffic.

Since I leave the house at 0630 every morning, and given the infuriating regularity of the twice-yearly daylight savings time adjustment, I most often travel to work in the pre-dawn darkness. Given the fact that I am (and have always been) a ‘safety nerd’, with many decades of experience both on bicycles and on motorcycles, and also a safety consultant in aviation and aerospace affairs, no one needs to remind me of the risks attendant to those of us who attempt to live the philosophy of hewing to alternate means of transportation (to the automobile) whenever possible. Consequently, I operate my two-wheeled vehicles (and my four-wheeled ones as well) in an extremely responsible and constrained manner. In my car, I’m one of the rare drivers who always stays in the right (slower) lane whenever able, obeys speed limits (posted limit + 5 mph, more or less), unfailingly yields to pedestrians and is consistently mindful of the fact that I am driving a 4000 pound beast that can kill in a heartbeat, if not carefully operated. I expect the same level of applied responsibility from others, although it’s admittedly unrealistic to expect others to conform even minimally to my high personal standards of responsibility on the streets and roads.

When I’m on a two-wheeled, human powered machine, however, I am acutely mindful of the fact that it’s equally unrealistic to consider bicycles and automobiles as equals and therefore subject to exactly the same standards of operation on streets and roads. After all, the difference in power, speed and weight alone between the two transportation modes is extraordinary. A bicycle weighs about 20-25 pounds and its fragile, exposed rider weighs between 100 and 150 pounds for a total mass weighing generally less than 200 pounds. Compare that to an automobile, weighing on average between 3 and 6 thousand pounds that protectively arrays a cushioning cocoon of metal and plastics around its driver and/or passengers. It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist’s brain to figure out that any collision between a car and a cyclist is going to put the cyclist in a world of hurt and any cyclist who doesn’t understand that is simply road-kill waiting to happen. Of course, given the chronic state of situationally distracted awareness that typifies so many younger electronic gizmo-obsessed individuals these days (whether on foot or in vehicles), one sees a large number of cyclists who drive in a manner perfectly reflecting that detached reality they exist in.

Every day I pass other cyclists who exhibit absolutely no evidence of concern for the many dangers cyclists face on the street. One can see these innocent souls wandering and weaving all over the roadways in downtown Sacramento as if completely unaware that there are others in the vicinity (either on foot or in vehicles). I’m personally convinced, from my frequent observations of them, that in the alternate universes they seem to inhabit they are that universe’s sole inhabitant. To say it scares me to see this sort of obliviousness is understating things, but as I said, I am the trained and disciplined ‘safety nerd’ for which nothing passes unnoticed. Blowing through stop-sign regulated intersections (and even red light controlled junctures) seems to be nothing but a lark to many of these blithe spirits, and in fact sometimes it almost seems as if it’s a challenging game for them to barely squeak past the safe limits of the possible in doing so (with other vehicles present).

Given the fact that in addition to the effects of immaturity and ‘adolescence’ that these people manifest there’s often also a notable element of anarchic resistance to authority implicit, I generally agree that they pose a risk not only to themselves but to everyone else near them on streets. Getting the message across to these souls to drive safely and responsibly on bicycles is admittedly a major challenge with substantial ramifications for both general public safety and for law enforcement agencies.

In an attempt to try to understand partly the rationale whereby irresponsible cyclists operate the way they do, I have an advantage non-bicycle riding motorists do not: I can understand (at least to some extent) why they make violation of stop-signs and lights almost a ritual. Immaturity and anarchic tendencies aside, it has to do with the basic laws of physics. That is, energy, weight, mass, speed, momentum and all the rest of the interactive physical laws so many of us hated to be forced, as students, to learn about in school.

Lacking a handy-dandy 200+ horsepower engine and stop-on-a-dime disc brakes, a cyclist has only his muscles and metabolism to rely on. Muscles, without religiously strict training and conditioning, are notorious for being inefficient, if overtaxed or overused. On a bicycle, given that most cyclists are anything but trained triathletes, physical acts of stopping, starting, gaining speed, fighting headwinds & cross-drafts, and the whole range of dynamics cyclists contend with can quickly become overwhelming and exhausting. To a cyclist, therefore, the primary name of the game is ‘maintaining momentum’. That translates to conserving as much physical energy as possible. If he can obviate the need to stop (loss of energy, speed and momentum) at a stop-sign and thereby avoid having to regain what has been lost (through renewed, increased application of physical exertion), the cyclist also avoids (at least to some significant degree) a substantial burden of fatigue. Artful management of approaches to these stops and departures from them is one way of dealing with this problem and it helps to partly explain why so many cyclists do not comply with what are undeniably statutory ‘laws’ that require (at least in California) cyclists to observe the vehicle codes exactly as do motorists. That is, if there is no observable traffic in the immediate vicinity, although it may be ‘illegal’ to go through a stop-sign without stopping, it may not be extraordinarily unsafe to do so. If there is traffic present, on the other hand, common sense, ordinary prudence and applied analysis all demand that a stop is the wisest choice to avail. Distilled to its essence, ‘risk management’ is what it’s all about, but that supposes that everyone operates their bicycle with due diligence and deference to common sense and basic situational awareness. Unfortunately, as we all know, individual bicycle riders are anything but uniform in their reflexive capabilities, motor skills, coordination, levels of alertness and general awareness. In other words, it’s a ‘great idea’ in the best of all possible worlds; here on chaotic, quirky, eclectic earth, it may not so easy to accomplish!

I think it’s worth noting that despite the fact that cyclists persist in ‘breaking the law’ in terms of strictly abiding by traffic regulations (like stop signs) due to immaturity, personal anarchisms and/or other causative factors, it isn’t often recognised that by refusing to stop religiously at stop signs, cyclists are unconsciously also expressing their contempt for the absolutely wrong-headed notion that bicycles and automobiles are equals (as codified in the California Motor Vehicle Code) on the roadway.

Looked at from a comparative viewpoint, some laws are just unenforceable and should never have been passed and codified to begin with. ‘Lane-splitting’ by motorcycles is one of them: entirely legal in California, but unquestionably incredibly dangerous and risky beyond reason. Prohibition of cell phone use and/or texting is an equally unenforceable law, since given the law enforcement resources available to control that behavior it’s absolutely impossible to alter existing cell phone abuses under the existing laws. Citizens are, mindful of that limitation, ultimately the arbiters who dictate realities…not legislators who have felt the heat too often from constituents vehemently urging that ‘there outta be a law!’  Then too, just because something is legally codified by a legislative act doesn’t mean that it is automatically right or correct. In fact, a law may even be illogical and completely devoid of reason, but not if a majority of people elect to decide otherwise.

The foregoing mindset produced the hilariously unrealistic (perhaps even insane) philosophy that states ‘cars and bicycles must share the road equally’ and it is dangerously deluded thinking like that which has resulted in automobiles and bicycles mixing it up so catastrophically in today’s modern metropolitan areas. Of course, as I have pointed out many times previously (in other venues), the primary reason why this bizarre ‘equality’ has been foisted off on the public is because legislators do not want to spend any more money than they absolutely must in response to pleas from cyclists to establish safe alternatives to motor vehicle transportation in the United States. America has been constructed in the model of an economy focused on and supported by vehicular transportation ever since the introduction of the automobile and today there’s too much power and money behind perpetuating that status quo for interest groups like cyclists to fight effectively. Motor vehicle industries and their related collaterals, along with the petroleum industries, are today simply too broad-based and well established to effectively resist. You may recall that it was General Motors that essentially sounded the death knell of the existing rail systems in the 20th century, eliminating light regional rail transit in cities along with much of the established national rail infrastructure so that the trucking industry could take over as the primary cargo carrying enablers in the US. Today, aside from being almost the sole provider of interstate cargo carrying services across the country, it is trucks that are progressively destroying our costly road systems with their extraordinary weight (and further contributing disproportionately to our regional air quality due to pollution exemptions for diesel powered vehicles). How cozy is that, eh?

My point is that given the monumental economic power vested in today’s motor vehicle and truck-transport dominated economy, what chance do poor recreational cyclists have to pit themselves and the relatively healthful ‘clean energy’ of human muscle power against these behemoths? Virtually none.

Given also that modern American politicians are, as a general lot, among the most snivelingly spineless and morally craven elements of our entire civic social structure, it would be unrealistic to believe even for a second that any one of them would risk alienating their constituents by taking a stand against nasty old mainstream ‘corporatism’ in favor of exploring human powered alternate transportation options (such as constructing physically SEPARATE bike lanes and trails, removed from existing roadways and streets…or at least separated to a safe degree from vehicular traffic, rather than by a simple painted white line that motorists ignore whenever it suits their needs).

Given the above circumstances, and well mindful of the fact that in the larger scheme of things bicyclists will ever be the losers and motorists are always the ultimate winners, I should say that I personally operate my bicycle in a manner that I feel best protects me, insures my safety, and helps to ‘equalise’ the gross disparities that exist between cars and bikes. That personal philosophy prompts me to ride through stop signs whenever it is safe to do so (i.e. no visible traffic in the immediate vicinity) and to ride briefly on stretches of (prohibited) city sidewalks when risking a ride in the street would be akin to elective suicide (given large numbers of speeding vehicles in close proximity). The dictates of prudent risk management demand exercising a high level of situational awareness at all times on a bicycle and analyzing conditions constantly, so as to be able to make timely correct decisions and act accordingly. After all, the ultimate aim of any cyclist is to avoid having a 4 to 6 thousand pound motorised killing machine occupy the same space he is in at any particular moment while moving. This usually translates to ‘avoidance’ and ‘physical separation’ (i.e. distance), in a functional context.

Granted, these skills don’t come to all with equal ease. In many cases they are the result of decades of experience and familiarity with a wide range of possible situations. As General Chuck Yeager once famously observed (in part), when someone asked him whether or not he thought he had ‘The Right Stuff’ (alluding to author Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book of the same name, about the US space program): “…the main reason why I’m a better pilot than most is because I have excellent eyesight and a lot more flight hours than most other pilots. If there’s any such thing as ‘the right stuff’, it’s purely experience.”

Naturally one can’t institutionalize or regulate something like experience. Most new drivers have none at all when it comes to sitting behind the wheel of a car and it is just as true for bicyclists and motorcyclists. Aside from the basic (and critical) recognition that exposure to a motor vehicle on a bicycle is always an implicitly dangerous and risky undertaking, there’s no effective way of instilling experience in motorists and cyclists other than by virtue of endless hours of applied vehicle operation.

That said, and fully mindful of all the range of factors facing cyclists (both motorcyclists and bicyclists) on todays crowded and cramped public thoroughfares, I justify my own personal bicycle riding philosophy on the basis that it ‘works for me’ to protect me as well as can be hoped for. When obeying something like a very minor traffic law (such as coming to a full stop at a stop sign, with no other traffic in sight) is either nonsensical or actually puts me at risk, there’s no guesswork involved in how I will operate my cycle. Although it may sound ironic or even paradoxical, as a thinking, analyzing, rational and discriminating individual, I will take whatever steps staying safe require. And when the risk is so minimal as to be statistically irrelevant, I will deliberately ignore a law from time to time on my bicycle without so much as a second thought.

Clearly and obviously, I am speaking strictly to the issue of staying safe on a fragile bicycle on a road engineered and built for motor vehicles that outweigh me 35 to 1. I do not advocate ‘bending’ or ‘tweaking’ existing vehicle laws while operating motorcycles and automobiles, and anyone who thinks it is ‘safe’ to do so is, in my opinion, seriously deluded, given the distractedness and sheer incompetence that characterise most individual’s motor vehicles driving abilities these days. Machine against machine is at least more equal, but machine against human organism? Never.

Mindful of the above, I am sure that the average motorist views this sort of selective behavior as dangerously deviant, given the fact that the public have been so completely conned into actually believing in the statistical equality of bicycles and cars. The old “Well, if he can do it, why can’t I?” attitude quickly surfaces (a product of our naïve interpretation of exactly what a workable definition of ‘equality’ in American democracy actually is) in a motorist’s frontal lobe when he sees a bicyclist ‘violating’ the laws he has been told he absolutely MUST obey without fail, not realizing that the Army tank he’s driving is the reason. I can empathise with such simple-minded earnestness of course, since the average guy, in addition to being largely controlled by his cojones, is just not quite up there in the Einstein category of analytical thinker; my violating a ‘law’ in this manner will definitely have an adverse effect on this simpleton, who will likely simply store this away in his cache of grudges against ‘them damn bicyclists’ to use the next time he needs to yield to one or to accord a cyclist his legitimate roadway rights. That’s unfortunate, but I simply can’t live my life for others in that regard. I retain the right to operate my bicycle in a manner that will keep me safe, not the several hundred thousand other cyclists who may subsequently run into this easily irritated, overly reactive pick-up driving citizen.

OK, I’ve gone on about this subject for several pages. It’s probably way past time to explain why. The answer involves a certain Sacramento ‘bicycle cop’ named Officer Dumbhead (not his real name) whom I encountered about a half block from my office on the dark, cold and gloomy Monday morning I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

I had just finished navigating my usual route and was making the final 1000 yard dash up a one-way street that is during the day a perilous street to be caught on riding a bicycle. Situated between my Treasury Building and the west steps of the State capitol, it has a posted 25 mph speed limit and is crossed by pedestrian crosswalks that allow access from the Capitol to our offices on the other side. Known as a venue for reckless disregard of the speed limit here by motorists on this stretch of street, I usually try to spend as little time on it as possible and maintain a pretty good clip (since speed is your friend, when surrounded by fast vehicles; slow objects are more like sitting duck targets than co-equals to motorists).

I was cold, irritated, and looking forward to getting into the warmth of our building when I heard “bike rider!”  Otherwise all alone on the street (it was, of course, still dark in the early morning), I glanced about quickly and there was Officer Dumbhead, 220 pounds of pure Jimmy Dean sausage on a police mountain bike, frantically trying to keep up with me and motioning for me to stop. OK.

Pulling over to contend with this idiot minion of the law, I tactfully ignored the fact that he was red in the face and sweating as he glared back at me, and said “Good morning officer,”
mentally bracing for the obligatory ‘lecture’ that would surely follow. Despite the fact I’m 66 years old (but in the physical condition of 30 year old), he obviously thought I was just another young punk, since it’s hard to make things out clearly in the pre-dawn dark under a bicycle helmet and ear-warmer.

Exactly on cue and fully to expectations, Officer Dumbhead spent a good minute reciting all the infractions he had observed me committing over the past several blocks along my route. They included ‘running’ three stop signs, crossing against a red light (although there were no cars anywhere in evidence on the streets), and traveling 50 yards on a section of forbidden sidewalk (heavens!). “Laws are laws”, quoth the good Dumbhead in all earnestness. “You must obey them like anyone else or you WILL be issued a ticket!”

I know the drill, of course. I’ve encountered this particular oaf a time or two before, although he clearly didn’t recognise me. Trying my best to appear obsequious and apologetically compliant (not easy in the near total darkness) under my shadowed helmet, I nodded and acknowledged. “Yessir, Officer. I didn’t realize that. Thanks very much for that…um…information. I’ll try to be more careful. Yessir, sir!”

So saying, Dumbhead reattached his beefy haunches to the seat of his mountain bike and veered off with the virtuous earnestness of an RCMP Dudley Do-right, doubtless searching for other bicycle miscreants on the all-but-deserted streets to harangue and threaten about their ‘unlawful behavior’. While all this had taken place, not a single solitary other (motor) vehicle was to be seen, although there were a few other bicycle commuters about, and the horizon was still dark. One got the distinct impression that in the quiet early morning hours the rapists, meth addicts, purse snatchers, homeless and schizos who occasionally habituate this area during the day (and constitute a GENUINE threat to public safety) were not yet in evidence, providing Dumbhead with a certain leisurely time-frame within which to work out all his accumulated irritations, gripes and biases against cycle riding anarchists (his impression, not mine), since there was apparently nothing else for him to do, yet.

Needless to say, that encounter with Officer Dumbhead did not start my day off favorably and the more I mulled this all over, the more pissed off I got, since in these extremely difficult economic times there are without question far more important things to allocate scarce law enforcement budget resources on (such as gang violence, drive-by shootings, murders, home break-ins, car thefts, high-speed car chases, and violent crimes in general) than on harassing bicycle commuters who are just trying to get themselves safely to work on the mean (and completely empty) pre-dawn streets of Suckatomato.

Sadly, this sort of misdirected emphasis by law enforcement all too well characterises the sort of misconceived black and white ‘lawn order’ that we have in America today. Instead of sweating the small and unimportant stuff (of which this serves as an excellent example), we need to redirect our LEOs’ activities back to the really serious issues facing our communities. Bicycle cops are a great idea for certain occasions and in certain places, of course, and when the idea first caught on of using bicycles for police work, I felt it was positive step forward. After all, these are fellow cyclistas, aren’t they? Instead of colorful jerseys and Spandex, they just wear blue uniforms. Ha-ha! Wrong! Make no mistake about the fact that the same sort of narrow-minded, rigidly moralistic value system you find in the heads of regular police officers also occupies the small craniums of the bicycle cops. Sadly, Officer Dumbhead’s redundant admonishments have merely further contributed to a long-lingering distaste of mine for the law enforcement community that began back in Berkeley, in the late 60s.

It will take me a while to work off the feeling of righteous irritation that this encounter has left me with, made all the more frustrating because transportation is a very sore issue in this capitol of one of America’s largest states, and vehicular parking in the downtown area has been an near impossibility for almost a decade now. Bicycle commuting, in contrast to the far worse and extremely vexing hassles of trying to drive a vehicle to the office, at least confers health benefits and regular exercise…even if it carries a far higher risk of personal injury and accident. To reflect that those positive benefits now have a sort of aesthetic gloom cast on them by Dumbhead and his bicycle patrol buddies is vaguely discouraging and somewhat depressing, since the overall impression left by this sort of niggling pettiness on most bicyclists is that society seems to be doing as much as it can to discourage what is otherwise a liberating and very beneficial undertaking: using human powered transportation to help address the obsessive fixation on auto culture that we Americans have been socialized since birth to exist within.

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