Sunday, March 24, 2013

On bike dealerships and mechanics...

In October of 1996, I sat in a classroom at the American Motorcycle Institute, as my formal mc mechanic training began in earnest. One of the very first pearls of wisdom which was dropped our way, was in the form of a question. "Can any of you tell me", our instructor Mike Geraghty asked, "what is the lowliest and least important job in a service area?" A few answers came back, sweeping out the shop and changing tires were mentioned a couple of times. I held my tongue...
"The truth is", Mike continued, "there is no job which is either lowly or not important". Sweeping out the shop contributes to the overall cleanliness of the shop and therefore the safety aspect as well. Safety in the workplace is paramount. "When it comes to tire changes", he stated, "there are few jobs which are in fact as important".
The logic behind this rapidly became abundantly clear to all of us. Properly mounted and balanced wheels are essential to a bike's good handling characteristics and stability. It is a safety factor. With this being said, there are far too many shops and wrenches who believe that this is a menial task, best suited for the 'shop nigger'. The FNG... the low man on the totem pole. An apprentice will usually be assigned this job, as it is dirty and considered beneath more advanced mechanics. This is a mindset which has to stop. It is prevalent mostly in dealerships, I find.
Balancing tires is, like many other aspects of motorcycle repair and maintenance, an art form. To be done properly, the shop hand has to know about tires, their construction and most importantly, where to find either the heavy or light spot on the carcass of the tire. This is marked differently by every tire manufacturer. Many do not mark their tires at all, so it is up to the wrench to know to look inside the tire carcass to find the seam, which would constitute the heavy spot. Wheels also have a light and a heavy spot. Again, some wheels are marked by the manufacturer, some are not.
A good rule of thumb for laced (spoked) wheels, is that the point on the rim which holds the valve stem, can generally be considered the heavy spot. Find the heavy spot on the tire and mount it 180 degrees from the valve stem. When done properly and accurately, it is possible to balance a wheel to 0 without the use of weights. The same method holds true for some cast wheels, but not all. Research and due dilligence is required for a competent mechanic to acquire knowledge of such things. I would pride myself on my ability to do this for our customers. By the same token, I was also able to lace and true wheels very well. For those of us who ride, it doesn't take much to make us understand that those two wheels are the only things that separate us from the road and which enable our steeds to perform as they should. They are of primary importance...
I have of late witnessed half-hearted attempts at balancing wheels. Many 'shade-tree mechanics' (as well as those who actually get paid for this), fail to grasp the importance of such basic motorcycle knowledge and rely on the addition of weights to make up for their lack of skill or expertise. Handing a wheel to a customer which has a half-pound of lead hanging off it and asking to believe that it is in fact 'balanced', is a bit of an insult to their intellect. What it DOES reflect, is a lack of knowledge and a poor work ethic. It also leads me to believe that the other senior mechanics and service manager, have the same lacksadaisical approach to their work. In other words, it does not inspire confidence and would certainly dissuade a rider from any further visits to said 'service department'.
Motorcycle dealerships are there for one thing: to move their product. To get as many units out the door as they possibly can. Yes, we've all heard the radio adverts from these companies, flogging their wares and assuring us at the same time, of how their service department is staffed by such competent and professional individuals. But this is only smoke and mirrors. Sure, many shops will also hope to cash in on the sale of custom parts so their customers can 'create a bike that is truly theirs', but you can't believe that they are all that interested in parts sales. Not when their staff lack the wherewithall to do a decent job of it. Expensive mass advertising campaigns sell their motorcycles, not the shop's reputation.
In good aftermarket shops (small independently-owned and operated motorcycle shops), it is another world entirely. And that is where I went to work upon graduating AMI in March of 1997. I went there because I wanted to be the best I could be. Not as a corporate cog, but as a competent and trusted wrench. I picked the shop I wanted to work in, based upon what I knew of the owner and his reputation as a stellar mechanic. I wanted a mentor who could teach me to apply the knowledge I had gained in Daytona Beach. I was not disappointed. He was every bit as demanding and uncompromising as my tutors at AMI had been. The shop's reputation was it's life blood. I never saw Garnett advertise but we never had a drought of customers. The shop's reputation was based solely on word of mouth. They came from across Canada, the US and even Europe. The quality of work that shop turns out, your attention to detail, your knowledge and understanding of your customer base, will make you or break you.
Garnett was into building ground-up customs way before any of these effete, 'me too' TV shows hit the airwaves. Tailoring a bike for a customer is like tailoring a suit. Every piece if selected based on the physical requirements of the rider him or herself and what type of riding they wanted to do. A bike first and foremost has to fit. Starting with the frame. Ergonomics is the key word here. Frame, engine, tranny, wheels, forks, oil takn, gas tank, suspension, seat. From the rolling stock, you could then concentrate on the myriad of specifics, such as handlebars, risers, controls, grips, foot pegs, lights, signals, fenders...
Selecting the wheels alone could take weeks, owing to the dizzying array of types and models available. Countless hours would be spent poring over parts catalogs, finding each individual part that would meet the customer's requirements for form and function. As parts came in and the project began to take shape, the excitement in the shop was often palpable. The day which marked the arrival of the painted parts (frame, fenders, tanks) was always a big moment. That was when the visualizing started.
All this to say that those who find themselves in the employ of the big corporations, are often not at the top of their game. But if they work on our steeds and take our lives in their hands, they really, really ought to be. This is not simply one man's opinion. It is the opinion of someone who has actually worked in the industry and knows, sees the difference between the two camps on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong, not every aftermarket shop is manned by such stellar individuals. There are many such shops who's only goal is to emulate their TV-based pretenders, building improbable, non-functional 'choppers', which they then sell to the uninitiated for insane amounts of money. There is a huge difference between a custom-built motorcycle, and a wannabe chopper that will be pretty but spend most of it's time in the back of a pickup truck, or sitting on the side of the road.
Do your homework.
Caveat emptor.

Friday, March 15, 2013

On being 'drug' free...

So for the last week and a bit now, I have been totally off any type of medication. Drug free, some might say. Since having been weaned off the heavy pain killing medications following the accident of July 2010, I have regularly, without fail, taken two 500mg acetaminophen tablets, one 500mg ibuprofen tablet and one 400mg glucosamine & condroitin tablet, three times a day. 

Though 'extra strength', these are still very much the lightweights of any pain killing medication sold over the counter. They have nonetheless served so far to attenuate my litany of aches and pains, which are now a part of my everyday life. 

I have been developing a concern of late, about what harm such constant usage of these medications might be doing to my liver and other organs. So as an experiment, I have decided to simply stop taking them.

Has there been any noticeable difference? To be honest, yes there has. My levels of discomfort have been elevated of late, when actively involved doing anything like walking, chores around the house, even sleeping. But even so, it's not like I am totally incapacitated by the pain. I can generally manage to push through. I am interested in seeing how far I can go with this and if I will eventually reach a point where the pain will lessen or at least be felt less intensely.

I will monitor my body's response to this new regimen and report back here periodically. We'll see how it all goes.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

On the death of Paul Rose...

So Paul Rose died today at the age of 69. No photos of this waste-of-skin will appear on this blog.

As a Canadian veteran, it pleases me to announce that another of my country's enemies is no more. When he was pardonned for his part in the October Crisis by the Quebec government in 1982, it came really as no surprise. What with Quebec being such a lawless state and a festering breeding ground for all types anarchist and of late, Islamist plots and intrigue. He should have expired at the point of a bayonet the moment he left prison.

Well... better late than never. As he quipped about the death of Quebec minister Pierre Laporte: "We did this because we believed in an advancement of society".

I might allow myself to say the same about his own much belated demise.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to make US gun laws work...

The very short version of this post might be: "Simply enforce them, you idiots...!!!!"

This article from the CNN news site explains with startling clarity why ‘gun control laws’ in the USA are still a long, long way from being effective. It is predictably not the laws themselves, of which there are plenty, but rather the lacsidaisical manner in which they are applied and enforced.

Background checks should be mandatory. No question about it. Yet these background checks are worthless if the database they are meant to draw is lacking information on the most dangerous citizens. And no, we’re not talking about ‘hardened criminals’ here, but a segment of the population which has proven far more deadly of late.

Reporting and cataloging of potentially violent mentally ill people in the US is virtually non-existent. In many cases they are able to walk into any given store and buy a weapon. A background check is conducted in most instances, but because their mental health records have never been sent by their State government to a federal database, there is no red flag. No warning or caution. They slip under the radar undetected.

While American politicians of all stripes and levels of government (and the largely uneducated public) are quick to point fingers at the Gun Lobby and their supporters when chaos strikes yet another small town, they would do very well to look in their own back yard when it comes to finding a solution to the rampant gun violence in America. I do not recall very many instances IF ANY, where the perpetrators were normal, healthy, mentally stable and well-adjusted individuals.

How widespread is this pattern of State government apathy…? Read on. You won’t believe your eyes…

How the violent mentally ill can buy guns

By Jen Christensen, CNN
updated 10:51 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013


• Critics say loopholes in the federal gun background check system put guns in killers' hands

• A federal investigation found states' reporting of mental health records to feds flawed

• As of October 2011, four states hadn't reported a single case to the federal system

  (CNN) -- Last November, Oklahoma City police officers went to check on an elderly woman after relatives reported they hadn't heard from her in a while.

At 77, Janet Hume was living with her adult son, Gerald, who the family said was schizophrenic. Since she typically kept in close contact with relatives, police decided to investigate.

They visited the Hume home on three occasions. Each time, her son refused to let them inside, insisting "everything was OK," according to a police affidavit.

But it was far from it.

What police eventually discovered instead was a horrendous case that underscores how little the country's current gun laws can do to stop a mentally ill person from buying a gun -- even if, like Gerald Hume, they have a documented history of violence.

Before their third visit, detectives talked with one of Janet Hume's friends, who gave them troubling news.

"Janet Hume told her that Gerald has recently bought several guns," according to the police affidavit, which was seeking a search warrant for the Hume home.

That third time police went to check on Janet Hume, all hell broke loose.

Gerald Hume held police at bay for 11 hours, barricading himself inside the home as a police helicopter flew overhead. During negotiations, police records show Hume admitted shooting his mother in the chest.

At 4:30 a.m. on November 14, an Oklahoma City Police tactical unit finally forced its way into the home. Hume pointed his 9mm Glock at them. An officer used a stun gun on him; another fired a beanbag rifle at him. But police still had to rush him, pushing him down with their shields.

Police then quickly searched Hume's home, finding Janet Hume's body in a bedroom, the affidavit said.

While Hume's lawyer declined to be interviewed, the inventory of items seized from the home in relation to the case tells a gruesome story.

In addition to the handgun and three rifles, police also removed a Whirlpool freezer, a reciprocating saw and a serrated kitchen knife, according to the inventory, filed with the search warrant. They also seized a pair of blood-splattered safety glasses and a white plastic trash bag containing women's clothing that was "cut up/stained," the document said.

Authorities found parts of Janet Hume's body inside the freezer, along with the body of a house cat, the district attorney told the Oklahoman newspaper.

Gerald Hume was described in the affidavit as a "known schizophrenic (who) hears voices, and requires treatment" and who has had "several mental health interventions with OCPD" and a history of violent behavior.

He didn't steal his guns or borrow them. He bought them.

"He bought them like any normal person would -- he got them at Walmart," said Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dexter Nelson.

Hume bought the rifles at the Walmart in Moore, Oklahoma, on September 25. The next day he bought the Glock at Gun World in the nearby town of Dell City, according to Nelson. Both are federally licensed gun dealers that conduct background checks. The checks, in theory, are supposed to stop certain people -- including the mentally ill with a history of violence -- from buying them.

Repeated system failure

"Even after you have a brief conversation with (Gerald Hume), you can tell something is not right," Nelson said. "Visibly, he even looks 'off.'"

Many law enforcement and gun merchants are frustrated with the system, he said. But "what could (the retailers) do if a person passes a background check? They don't have the authority to check if he's lying. We as law enforcement don't even have that ability, because mental health records are kept in each separate jurisdiction in Oklahoma. Those files aren't transferred to a central state or federal system we can check.

"It's far too easy to pass a federal background check."

Federal law makes it illegal to sell or give a firearm to anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution."

Federally licensed gun shops must use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Private sellers and gun shows have no background check requirement.

But information in the NICS is incomplete, particularly where mental health records are concerned, investigations found. That's because of what some of the system's critics call a huge legal loophole in the background check laws that put "guns in the hands of killers," according to a study conducted by a group of mayors.

The system is only as good as the data. And "the data is the real problem," said Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization whose recent in-depth study found millions of mental health records were missing from the federal background check system.

"It's an unsatisfying answer, since people always want to blame the soft federal laws or blame the gun lobby," he said. "But if you have ever worked around a state legislature, they'll tell you there is no money and no time to improve this kind of reporting.

"It's sad, but sometimes it takes a national crisis to get people to notice."

It was in the wake of a national crisis -- the shootings at Virginia Tech -- that President George W. Bush signed the bipartisan-backed "NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007." The National Rifle Association-supported piece of legislation was aimed at strengthening state reporting of vital information about mental illness to the federal database used for gun background checks. The NRA did not respond to an interview request.

Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech using guns he bought at a federally licensed dealer. He had passed the federal background check, even though a judge had declared Cho mentally ill the year before. Virginia failed to send that information to the federal system so his name would have been flagged.

'Lack of political will'

Generally, background checks have kept more than 1.5 million guns out of the wrong hands, according to federal records.

This law has now been in place for about five years, but a federal investigation last July, in addition to the in-depth study from the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, found the vast majority of states fail to pass on mental health records to the federal system. That means the mentally ill may still easily buy guns.

As of October 2011, 23 states and the District of Columbia had submitted fewer than 100 mental health care records. Seventeen submitted fewer than 10 records, and four states hadn't reported a single record to the federal background check system, according to the federal investigation, conducted by the Government Accountability Office.

As of October 2012, Oklahoma had submitted only three mental health records to the NICS Index, according to the mayors' group.

When study researchers wanted to find out why, they spoke with an unnamed Oklahoma official who said there were no state privacy laws or logistical hurdles blocking record submission in Oklahoma, as there are in other states. Rather, a "lack of political will appears to be the only barrier to submission," according to the unnamed official cited in the study.

Under current state law, the only cases Oklahoma sends to the federal system are people who have been forcibly committed. Hume did not meet that criteria, according to police.

Under the 10th Amendment, the federal government cannot legally make states submit these records, regardless of importance. "Instead they've got to beg, shame or really hang a lantern on the problem to get the states to comply with this federal law," Glaze said.

To do that, the 2007 law provides financial incentives and punishments to get states to send records. The states can use the money to pay someone to clean up data or submit it to federal agencies. Some grants are large enough to help states build new record-keeping systems.

Penalties can be doled out to states that don't send records in, but no one seems to know of any that have actually been handed out.

"The law has never acted the way it was designed to," said Shams Tarek, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat who initiated the bill. "The problem is the bill relies on congressional appropriations for its funding, and it's never had even close to the full amount it should get."

That's true even under the Obama administration, which has recently proposed its own solutions to help keep guns away from the violent and mentally ill in the wake of the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

The Obama administration asked for $5 million in fiscal year 2013, according to Tarek, who describes that as "a pittance." Republicans in Congress -- notably two from Virginia, added Glaze -- more than doubled that request, but even that was about a quarter of the money needed, according to Tarek.

Federal investigators found that while more mental health records are going into the system than ever, 12 states are responsible for the bulk of those records.

"Most states made little to no progress with their reporting," said Carol Cha, co-author of the GAO investigation. "The rewards and penalties put in place are not sufficiently effective."

Other barriers

The investigation, which came out in July, found three other main barriers to states' reporting.

First, there were technical limitations. Some states still rely on paper records. Only a small number keep a central database that would be easy to transfer, according to Cha.

The second barrier relates to states' privacy laws. "Many of the states we spoke to felt they may need explicit state statutory reasons to share the data," Cha said. "They erroneously felt there were privacy issues."

In the 20 states that do have laws mandating reporting, the rates are higher. Texas passed a law in 2009 increasing the number of records it sends to the system by 200,000, according to Cha.

That makes gun-friendly Texas -- the state next to Oklahoma, which has only reported three records -- one of the best record-reporters to the federal background check system in the nation, according to the analysis by the mayors' group.

The final barrier is a lack of communication between state agencies. Mental health records are kept in a variety of offices that don't all talk to each other.

In Illinois, for instance, the state auditor general told Cha there are some 114,000 mental health records kept in private hospitals. In 2010, only 5,000 were reported to the federal system. "There is no formal mechanism in place to share these records, and that's got to change," Cha said.

Some states told Cha they weren't aware of the incentives to report. She's encouraged the states that are effectively reporting this information to help those that aren't.

Glaze and the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group hopes McCarthy's new Fix the Gun Checks Act of 2013 will increase funding to put some real teeth into the law. Glaze is also hopeful about the president's latest moves to urge universal background checks and to improve this reporting system.

Obama has been a consistent critic of the law, writing in an op-ed piece last year that "We must do better."

Nelson, the Oklahoma City police captain and 26-year law enforcement veteran, would agree. Like the president, he thinks the problem goes far beyond just this poor reporting system.

"We used to have good mental health services here, but like with everything, when cities and states started to run out of money, we started to see more people who clearly need help on the streets," he said.

"When they took the money out of mental health, especially in a state where we like our guns, these people became our problem. I'd love to see that change, too."


So for those who thought they had all this figured out, I.E.: “Ban guns and the problem will go away”, it should now be easy enough to see that those who would perpetrate senseless violence against others, are not simply gun owners. To be truthful, the knowledge that you live amongst a sea of such ticking human time-bombs, should make you drop to your knees and thank whatever diety you happen to believe in, that you DO in fact have to right to keep and bear arms, for the defense of yourself and your country.

Instead of bitching to the President or oher federal government authorities to ‘fix the problem’, residents would be better served if they took their voices to the street and demanded that their State authorities do the right thing, to ensure that the existing gun laws can be enforced and keep weapons from the hands of those who most certainly should not have them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Me and the Army 5K Run...

Last Tuesday morning, I am laying on a massage table as my RMT begins her work. I know, it sounds like a glamorous way to begin a Tuesday and in some ways, I guess it is. But these are not your 'relaxing-day-at-the-spa' massages. They are fairly intense and often painful sessions designed to loosen a bumper crop of knots which have taken up permanent residence in my trapezoids, shoulder and neck. We have even named them. These weekly sessions are basically what keep me mobile and able to function.

There are other areas of my body which still suffer from the accident of 2010, such as my legs, knees, ankles and hips. These sessions last 45 minutes and it is scarcely time to attend to any one area of my body, so we rotate areas which are treated on a weekly basis, all depending on which one is in worse shape. For as uncomfortable as these sessions might be at the time, the relief which they provide over the following days is well worth the time and effort.

Christine my RMT, though fairly young, is very adept. Gifted, even. Her hands move skillfully, knowingly. She can detect any trace of angry musculature, ligaments or tendons. We will often joke that she is a master of inflicting short-term pain, for long-term gain. She is in many ways a godsend.

During these sessions, I will often drone on about 'the social condition' these days or things which I think she might find humorous. I have recently got into my head that I would want to participate in this year's ARMY 5K Run. It's for a very worthy cause and I want to challenge myself. One of my cohorts at work asked me why I would want to do that. I replied: "Because it's hard...". I have decided that rather than take the easy road and simply give in to this feeling of being 'less capable' than I was, that I am going to push myself at every occasion that I get. It has worked so far, so why not continue?

So I am chatting about how if I were a betting man, I would bet a bunch on me finishing the race dead last. I started painting this mental picture for her. It showed me arriving near the end of the course, with traffic already resuming, drivers angrily honking and swearing at me as I chugged along the street, trying to finish. I told her of me arriving at where the finish line used to be, only to discover that there were no tents, no staff, no crowds, no water bottles... no finish line. Everything had been stripped down, cleaned up, even the discarded water cups, the line hosed off the street... everyone had long since gone home. I carried the idea even further, describing that with no finishing line in sight and not knowing where to stop, I carried on to the very outskirts of Pembroke, limping and wheezing: "I'm in a race, goddammit!! Get outta my way...!!!" and: 'Where the Hell is the finish line...??? This is the longest 5K in bloody history...!!!".

By the time I had done my mini-rant, she was in tears and had to take a brief pause before she could continue her treatment. I was very glad for the humour and pleased that I was able to share it with her. She is a single Mom and works very hard. She is also a very decent, funny and caring human being. For all she does, for me as well as others, it felt nice to be able to lighten her day with a laugh.

But I am going to participate in the ARMY 5K Run this year and my wife has volunteered to be be right there with me, supporting me as she has always done through all of this. I have no doubt that we will finish easily, though not with any 'winning times'. Ready Aye Ready...