This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Good Guy With A Gun

Joseph Robert Wilcox had a permit to legally carry a concealed handgun when he attempted to stop what he thought was a lone shooter in a Las Vegas Walmart.  He was unaware that the shooter was one of a pair who had just assassinated two police officers in a nearby pizza restaurant. The NRA is often heard repeating the mantra, “If only someone with a gun would have been there to stop them.” Well, Mr. Wilcox was the “good guy with a gun” and it got him killed by the unseen second shooter.
I have no intention of being disrespectful or judgmental towards Mr. Wilcox, but PERHAPS he should not have attempted to intervene. Sometimes it is best to quietly retreat unless you have an overwhelming advantage. Had Mr. Wilcox chosen to do so he would probably be alive today and we would never have heard of him.
Was Mr. Wilcox prepared for the situation in which he found himself? I don’t know what firearms training he may have had, but it obviously either inadequate or not enough to prepare him for confronting a “bad guy with a gun."
In Texas, where I live, it is relatively easy to obtain a concealed handgun license (CHL). The required firearms training consists of only 4 to 6 hours of classroom training and must cover the following subjects:
  • Use of Force
  • Non-Violent Dispute Resolution
  • Handgun Use
  • Safe and Proper Storage of Handguns and Ammunition
A written exam and a proficiency demonstration are also required. Once a CHL is obtained there are no further training or continuing education requirements.

I would venture to guess that most CHL holders, including Mr. Wilcox, have had little or no training beyond the state’s minimum requirement. The police and military are the only groups of which I am aware that undergo intensive training in these skills.Anyone making the decision to carry a firearm should not settle for the minimum required training. Carrying a weapon requires more knowledge and skill than a brief class is capable of imparting. Consider the amount of firearms training required of law enforcement officers and the military before they are sent out with a lethal weapon. Shooting is a learned skill, which requires regular practice to prevent the skill from degrading over time.
A person who carries a concealed weapon must know when and when not to draw their weapon and should be prepared to shoot if the decision is to draw. As a matter of fact, unless prepared to kill someone, you shouldn’t be carrying a weapon. If you do draw your weapon you must know when to shoot, where to shoot, and whom to shoot. Acquiring these skills requires effective training in threat assessment, situational awareness, area scanning, and cover and concealment. These are not skills that can be learned in a few hours. These skills require intensive initial training plus continued training to safely carry, and if necessary, use a weapon. If you are not prepared to make the training commitment then you are not prepared to carry a weapon. If you are not prepared to carry a weapon then you should not be allowed to carry one.
One tired excuse for carrying a weapon is, “I sometimes go places where I might need it.” In that case my advice would be, “don’t go to those kinds of places.” If you feel you must go to such places perhaps you should consider carrying a shotgun rather than a pistol.
I am not against the right to bear arms. Hundreds of thousands of poorly trained people do it every day. I enjoy target shooting, yet I do not carry a weapon. I really fail to see the need to do so, I don’t believe the benefit would outweigh the risk, nor do I wish to add to the rapidly growing list of shooting victims.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fracking Oil Wells

Don’t get me started on “fracking,” - hydraulic fracturing – where an average of 5.6 million gallons of fresh water (while Texas is in the fourth year of an extreme drought) is removed from local streams, lakes, and aquifers. This is then used to inject an average of 4 million pounds of toxic and hazardous chemicals under pressure into an older oil or gas well that has ceased to be productive. This “loosens” up the shale and allows access to previously unavailable oil and gas.

The fracking fluid formulas are proprietary trademarks and kept secret. Even OSHA doesn’t know their composition, except that it could contain any of around 700 different chemicals, many of these are listed OSHA as “Hazardous” and “Carcinogenic” (cancer causing). The amount of fracking fluid required for a typical 7-well site requires 13,000 round-trip tanker truck trips on local highways. The drivers can work up to 20 hours per shift because they are exempt from the labor laws regulating work hours. It should come as no surprise that the most common way for workers in the fracking industry to be injured on the job is by being involved in a motor vehicle accident. According to OSHA, these drivers are killed in accidents at a rate eight times higher than the general population. I don’t know how many innocent lives they take with them. Then there are the 3,600 gallons of poison that might spill from a truck involved in an accident.

As of February of this year there were 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the US, more than 300,000 of them in Texas alone. How many Texas wells are actually being fracked is unknown because Texas is the only state that charges a fee for researchers to obtain location data for its wells. Even when the fee is paid, Texas does not allow the data to be redistributed (trying to keep it a secret?).

One of the fracking pollutants is methane gas. It can seep from the fracked wells and dissolve in the groundwater. This causes a very interesting phenomenon. Water from many rural water wells in fracking areas will burn when a flame is introduced. That’s right. The water is flammable. Although they deny that fracking has anything to do with it, the frackers have recommended that folks install vents on their water wells to help lower the methane concentration in the water.

In addition to the flammable water there is now an earthquake problem in Texas and Oklahoma. By injecting the fracking fluids so deep into the earth, the fluid lubricates the continent’s tectonic plates and causes them to slip and slide more easily over one another. Of course, the end result has been a rash of earthquakes in the fracking areas. Although this explanation is supported by evidence from scientific studies the energy companies deny that fracking has anything to do with the earthquakes. There are billions, maybe trillions, of dollars to be made and money – or enough of it – trumps scientific proof any day.

One industry that obviously believes fracking pollutes and leads to accidents is the insurance industry. Insurers are now writing homeowner’s policies that do not cover harm from fracking. Nationwide announced that it would not cover fracking risks because they “are too great to ignore.” They are not going to accept the liability.

How do the frackers get away with all of this? Because they are exempt from many of the EPA and Clean Water Act regulations. That’s what an enormous amount of lobbying money can buy. A license to pollute.

Fracking is also used in Canada to access the shale oil, or ” tar sands.” This type of oil is more difficult to refine than “regular” oil and Canada doesn’t have the refining capacity to handle it. The Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline is being built from Canada to refineries in Texas and Louisiana to solve this problem. In planning the route for the pipeline, the Canadian company, TransCanada, hasn’t been letting private property get in their way. They have been using the law of eminent domain and the threat of exorbitant litigation costs to bully landowners into accepting TransCanada’s “fair” offer. The property owner can take it or leave it. This could change as it is now being challenged in the courts.

Once (or if) the pipeline is finished it will take the oil straight to the Gulf coast refineries, which just happen to be America’s leading export refineries. It seems that after all of the damage that could be done by the pipeline we won’t even get to use the end product. It will be for export.

So what’s one more pipeline? It will only add about a thousand miles to the 2.6 million miles of propane, gas, and oil pipelines already crisscrossing the US – of which only about twenty per cent have been inspected by federal or state regulators (too few inspectors for too many miles of pipeline). There are about 250 significant pipeline “incidents” (the pipeline companies don’t call them “accidents”) a year that cause explosions, pollution, property damage, injury, and death in the US. These are the reported incidents.

In September of last year a North Dakota farmer discovered what turned out to be the largest onshore oil spill in US history. The six-inch diameter pipeline owned by the Tesaro pipeline company had been leaking from a quarter-inch hole for eleven days when found by the farmer. An area the size of seven football fields had been inundated with 865,000 gallons of fracked oil.

The Keystone XL pipeline will be thirty-six inches in diameter. What will happen when (not if) it springs a leak? The company has been accused of shoddy work in Oklahoma as evidenced by the high number of weld rejection rates and the shocking number of excavations/repairs needed to fix the many dents, sags, and damaged pipe coating. This has stimulated federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to add two new special safety requirements to the 57 agreed to by TransCanada 3 years ago. The 2 new ones involve a stricter Quality Management system and the hiring of an independent third party inspection company to monitor the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Many “oil field incidents” go unreported each year. An Associated Press investigation into the Tesaro pipeline disaster in ND found that nearly 300 oil spills and 750 “oil field incidents” had gone unreported from January 2012 until September 2013 in that one state alone. EnergyWire reported last month that the US oil and gas industry was responsible for at least 7,662 spills, blowouts, and leaks in 2013 – or about twenty a day.

I’ve already ranted far too long and have only scratched the surface of fracking. I haven’t gotten to Wall Street and the “distribution of wealth,” which is turning this country into an oligarchy ruled by the wealthiest of the wealthy. Then there is texting while driving, global warming, immigration, gun violence, and gun control. In the coming weeks and months I hope to individually address each of these issues along with others that strike my fancy. It is truly amazing the amount of information we now have at our disposal.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Is it Just Me, Or....

Two armed Texas organizations are protesting, demonstrating, marching, or whatever you want to call it because they believe it is their God-given (or Constitution-given) right to carry whatever weapon they wish to wherever and whenever they want to. They are Open Carry Texas and Come and Take It.

Many people think that open carry is actually legal in Texas but that is not true. The General Firearms Laws of the State of Texas say that it is generally illegal to carry a handgun outside of a person's own premises. However, a person may legally carry a shotgun or rifle, either open or concealed, in a non-threatening or alarming manner. A Concealed Handgun License is required for a person to carry a handgun and it must be concealed at all times (so it doesn't frighten people I suppose). Private property owners are allowed to prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns on their property if they provide proper legal notice, which may be given verbally or in writing. A person who carries a concealed handgun onto private property after being given proper notice is guilty of tresspass.

The law also includes a number of places where concealed handguns may not be carried, even when legally licensed. They include amusement parks, places of worship, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, any court of court offices, any polling place on Election Day, any meeting of a government body, at any high school, collegiate, or professional sporting event, any interscholastic event, at any racetrack, inside any public or private school building or school transportation vehicle, in bars or restaurants which derive 51% or more of its income from the sale of alcoholic beverages, and inside the secured area of any airport.

Open Carry Texas (OCT) is described on its website as “an organization dedicated to the safe and legal carry of firearms openly in the State of Texas...” The first part of their four-part mission statement is “To educate all Texans about their right to openly carry rifles and shotguns in a safe manner.” The second part is “To condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry them.” The remaining half of the statement expresses the organization's desire for less restrictive open carry laws and their interest in a cooperative relationship with local law enforcement in an effort to prevent “negative encounters” (aka accidental shootings).

On their Facebook page, Come and Take It (CATI) says they "want the right to defend ourselves and loved ones as we see fit." They believe that the Constitution not only gives them the right to bear arms but also to choose how they carry their firearms. They also believe that the presence of guns does not cause violence, and that citizens who choose to carry guns are not a threat to the public (tell that to the more than 12,000 people killed by gun violence in America during the year 2013!). They, like OCT, only mention shotguns and rifles in their mission statement even though many of them openly carry handguns and assault rifles. They recommend that their members use a sling to promote a nonaggressive manner of carry, that members not wear body armor or military gear, and that proper muzzle etiquette be observed at all times. You can look at the attached photos and judge for yourself whether or not they abide by their own guidelines.

What these people are actually doing is flaunting their Second Amendment right by snubbing their noses and sticking their tongues out at the more sensible Texans. They do this by walking around in public, armed to the teeth, appearing ready to engage any bad guy with a gun in a firefight. This begs the question, "How do you tell the bad guys with guns from the good guys with guns?" They all look the same to me.

I can see how such an insecure group of people would wish to work with law enforcement to prevent any “negative encounters." The best thing they could do to prevent a “negative encounter” and to help Texans feel safe, however, would be by not walking around with AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles slung over their shoulders and holstered pistols on their hips. Although not specifically mentioned, apparently the reference to “rifles and shotguns” in their mission statement is meant to include assault rifles and handguns, which are much cooler and more manly than hunting rifles and shotguns.

These gun nuts have been strutting around armed to the teeth and frightening families at Texas restaurants for the past several weeks. They have been refused service and asked to leave almost every  restaurant they have visited. The one or two which welcomed them wouldn't make it on my list of favorite places to eat anyway.

On Friday, May 30, 2014, due to a wave of public outcry, the corporate offices of Sonic and Chili’s followed the lead of Starbucks, Chipotle, and Jack in The Box by updating their firearms policies to prohibit guns inside their restaurants or on their patios and I applaud their action. The stated reasons for banning the open carry of firearms in these restaurants included the creation of an uncomfortable atmosphere and an uninviting environment for customers and employees and because it is illegal under many local liquor laws.

The day after the Sonic and Chili's announcement was made approximately 150 supporters of open carry showed up for a rally in the parking lot of a Dallas-area Home Depot. When interviewed by a local TV reporter, one of the armed men said, “I understand people get nervous when they see people walking around with guns, but they should understand they don’t have a Constitutional right to feel warm and fuzzy, but we do have a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.” Well, that lack of consideration for their fellow man pisses me off. What about OUR Constitutional right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness?

Take a look at the pictures of these "responsible" gun owners as they don't carry their "rifles and shotguns" in a "threatening or alarming manner."

Waiting to ambush someone?
Questionable mental stability.

"Attention Walmart shoppers.  Maniac in aisle 12!"

A special forces "wannabe?"

Check out her legs.  She uses the gun to fight the men off.

Finger on the trigger.  Very responsible.

What if you walked around the corner and into this group?  Would you not be "alarmed?"

Is this the same girl we saw shopping in a previous picture? Could there be two with legs like that?

I believe this guy is carrying some type of antitank weapon!  Is that legal?

This intelligent looking young man appears to be giving some kind of secret hand wave or salute.

Great. Start your kids out at a young age.

I think these young ladies get whatever they want.

Are they practicing close order drill?  I believe she has a little run in her hose.

I don't know which he will lose first.  His pants or his assault rifle.

Macho, Macho, Man!

If I were the pharmacist I might shoot first and ask questions later.  Robbery is no joke in a pharmacy.

Speaking of jokes....

Another bevy of gun beauties. "Nothing like a big long rifle.  Huh, girls?"

"J'all see last nite's Duck Dynasty?"

The kid looks frightened.  I wonder why.

"Is that a terrorist out there?" he said as the prepared to fire.

Lunatics love guns too.

Looks like the guy on the right has already been shot in the neck.  Is the other guy pledging allegiance to the Stars and Bars?

You can have it!

Why are they wearing sleeveless outfits?  Because they have the right to "bear arms."  Ha.  Ha.

Check out the deer head mounted on the wall. 

I don't know if this was taken before or after he had his prescription filled.

Is she holding a kid with and extra long left leg and arm?

Hmmmm........  Interesting.

John Wayne! (Is that an extra long bullet in the pistol belt or is that where he keeps his cigarillo?)

The latest in Texas business attire.

Let me shoot my kids foot off! (His weapon seems to be a bit rusty)

Where's Curly?

"Yall see that deer run in the mall?"

Whoa. Same girl? Couldn't be, could it?