By Tom Demerly

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I stepped out the door on the way to work two weeks ago. It had snowed. Nothing remarkable about that. It’s Michigan, it’s January.

What was remarkable is that my sidewalks, walkway and driveway were cleared of snow. I did not do it, it was done for me.

I live in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Three blocks north of me is Dearborn. Dearborn Heights is considered less affluent than Dearborn. It’s like “Dearborn on a budget”. We have lower home values- by a lot. There is less government, fewer services, fewer building codes, fewer police and emergency services. A girl I dated a long time ago is on city council and has run for Mayor a few times. She hasn’t won yet, but I’d vote for her. She’s a smart politician and good administrator.

I can look three blocks north into Dearborn from my house in Dearborn Heights. I live in Dearborn Heights now because it is cheaper. A three-bedroom house on a big lot in Dearborn Heights is about $800 a month. Same house in Dearborn; maybe $1200, on a smaller lot.

Part of the reason Dearborn is more expensive is city services and government.

And that brings us back to the snow.

Like I said, my snow was cleared completely. Quite nicely too. Since I had allowed an extra 15 minutes to shovel my own snow I now had 15 extra minutes of discretionary time before I left for work.

Discretionary time: think about that. It is our most precious non-renewable resource.

So I had a choice about what to do with this valuable 15 minutes.

I was in the Army. And the National Guard. A key thing we learned was to be a team player, act without direction congruent with a key set of values. Work together selflessly. Strive to do more than is expected and never settle.

So I picked up my snow shovel and shoveled the snow of the neighbor one house down from me. Mine was done. His was not.

Meanwhile, three blocks north in Dearborn the city plows had been out (higher taxes there, more expensive housing) but the sidewalks were still snow covered. It takes a while for the sidewalk plows to come after the streets have been cleared. The city can only afford so many sidewalk plows and people to drive them, and sometimes they have damaged people’s private walkways to their house creating lawsuits to get the city to repair them. So it takes extra time for the sidewalks to get cleared in Dearborn. It’s also expensive. The sidewalk sweepers have to be bid on and bought, someone is paid to administer that project, and they must have a college degree in a related field since they are controlling a lot of public money. Then they have to hire people to drive the plows, and the process of hiring those people must be administered fairly and without discrimination or nepotism, so there needs to be some oversight there as well. The sidewalk sweepers also need gas and maintenance and storage during the summer, and that costs money too.

In Dearborn Heights, we just use snow shovels. A guy down the street has a snowblower, so he clears the sidewalks and walkways of his house and the neighbor on each side. Then the guy three doors down, also with a snowblower, does the same. I shovel the rest to the corner. I don’t have a snowblower.

Another guy, one block over, owns a snow removal service. He runs his plow up and down the street. Then we’re done.

Three blocks north in Dearborn, the sidewalk sweeper still hasn’t come.

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

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I view Facebook as a place to socialize, connect, share similarities and expand understanding. Not a place to draw lines or open wounds.

It’s rare for me to “unfriend” someone, but last week I did that and it made me sad.

I was sad because I sense that I actually like the person, even though there are some things I disagree with them about. That is fine.

But at which point a person begins to use a public and social platform to spread more than just their beliefs- to spread hurt and ridicule and even hate, then I must exclude them from the stream of consciousness that is my Facebook feed.

Here’s why:

Social media isn’t reality. We portray ourselves the way we want other people to see (and not see) us. We paint a picture, based more or less, on some version of who we really are. That is good because it is, well, “social” and it gives us a very controllable 600 X 800 persona. It is bad because what we envision in the virtual does have a tendency to manifest itself in reality.

I subscribe to a few axioms of life; one of them is that “We each create our own reality”. The reality I wish to create is one of friendship, unity, understanding, tolerance and kindness. I am not about drawing lines or about cruelty or ridicule.

You may disagree with me if you’d like, and I may disagree with you, but we can still find common interests on social media. And I welcome your ideas.

I am interested in making new connections, especially with people in places I either have never been or do not understand. In the words of great author Steven Covey I try, as best I can, to “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

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Over 4,000 people tolerate my incessant and tedious litany of Facebook posts about my cats, strange animals real and imagined, airplanes, triathlons, bicycles, scantily clad girls and videos of strange happenings. Every once in a while a few people get fed up with it and “unfriend” me, and every few days I pick up a few new “friends”, almost always people I have never have never met, nor will I ever meet.

A big part of my involvement in Facebook is commercial- to promote the work I do for a few different outlets in three different and unrelated industries. People get understandably bored with that too. Fair enough. There’s an “unfriend” button for that.

But the quickest and really the only way to get “unfriend-ed” by me is for someone to threaten violence, or advocate ridicule or insult in what should be a peaceful space. This is a gray area, and I support some institutions that do violence; the military is an example. But I am judicious (at least I think so) in my advocacy of these causes and interests, and I acknowledge you may have no interest in them. I respect that. You may even take exception to them. I accept that.

There are vast areas of gray in social media use; what is obscene or profane to some of my friends is acceptable, desirable even, to others. There is a point where gray becomes black and that isn’t always the same all the time, with every topic and every person, but I know when I see it. And I won’t let it in my Facebook feed.

By Tom Demerly.

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If you were waiting for the release of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper you have probably seen it by now. If you haven’t, and have no interest in movies of this genre, then you need to see it.

American Sniper is three distinct things: Firstly and most profoundly, it is an unflinching commentary on the American experience in the Global War On Terror. Secondly, it is a brilliantly crafted film in every way that uses contrast and plot to slam home a message of ongoing relevance. And lastly, it is a call to action to adapt our doctrine in the never-ending conflict with barbarism and cruelty.

Modern American Heroes are Tragic Figures.

American culture has a habit of moderating the horrors of war by deifying the sacrifice of those lost to it. We build heroes. And then we aspire to be heroes. This has a dreadful self-perpetuating tendency to use war as our primary tool in the darkest corners of international conflict. American Sniper challenges that national notion.

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Our heroes are often tragic figures, wracked with conflict and fear, who meet sad and untimely endings. The main figure in American Sniper, Naval Special Warfare Operator Chris Kyle, is just such a character. His valor, patriotism and loyalty were unswerving. This film celebrates that. But he mounted a quest to slay an un-slayable dragon, and was tragically consumed by it. This film mourns that.

This is a notice to American culture in a new age: maintain our current doctrine and continue to produce tragic heroes like Chris Kyle, or advance our thinking in conflict resolution and find a less costly method that produces more tangible results.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the tragic theme of American Sniper is that U.S. troops still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will see this movie there instead of being at home. And the region is still locked in conflict.

Flawless and Authentic Filmmaking.

American Sniper is marble-hard filmmaking perfection. Director Clint Eastwood employs every trick of drama, suspense, tragedy and action with expertise. Casting is also superb down to the minor characters. There is not a single weak spot or feature to American Sniper. The film is so effective and hard-hitting that when it ends the theatre is left in stunned and exhausted silence. If you calibrate this film against the standards of Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down or any other conflict film it exceeds them all. This is the new standard in conflict commentary film.

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A National Call to Action in an Unresolved War.

Finally, American Sniper holds a vivid mirror up to our military doctrine in the ongoing Global War on Terror. The inescapable verdict is that, while we have succeeded in thwarting any major terrorist actions on U.S. soil, we have fallen short of providing functional reform and security to much of the region where the GWOT is waged. The significance of both of these points is more relevant now than ever, after two weeks of new terror attacks in France and months of escalated terrorist activity by ISIL in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve kept the (Middle Eastern) terrorists off U.S. soil since 9/11, but we are far from anything resembling a “victory”.

American Sniper is made with sensitivity and care, expertise and authenticity. It is also a relevant movie for the times. Eastwood’s film rises to the very top of the GWOT film genre’ and challenges all of our thinking about the past and the direction of our future role in this seemingly never-ending conflict.


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It’s Saturday morning, September 15, 2012. Washington Township, Michigan. An idyllic late summer day, 73 degrees. Wind out of the NNW at a calm 4 M.P.H. A perfect training day for the Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii a few weeks away in October.

Local heartthrob triathlete Amy Gluck is out training for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2- mile run that is the most famous triathlon in the world.

Gluck is putting the final touches on her preparation for Kona. Blonde and beautiful, the (then) 40-year old Amy Gluck could grace the cover of any fitness or fashion magazine. In person she is warm and unassuming about her athletic accomplishments. By day she works as a clinical nutrition manager. The rest of the time she inspires the local triathlon community with her drive and humble athleticism while she prepares for another great Ironman.

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Amy Gluck at the finish line and on the podium at the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii before her accident.

Amy is up early, as usual, inflating her bike tires and texting training partners. She meets another athlete for their long ride inside one of the local Metroparks where the smooth, tree-shaded winding roads are perfect for cycling. Toward the end of her ride she leaves the park and rides out onto local roads.

Where she is hit broadside by a gravel-hauling semi truck.

Gluck’s bones are crushed, snapped and mangled. Bone fragments, now lethal internal shrapnel, ricochet inside her body. Even though she is wearing a bicycle helmet her brain accelerates inside her skull to smash into the bone, beginning deadly inflammation almost immediately. Her left eye is internally detached. Connective tissues are creased beyond any normal range of motion. But mostly, it is the fatal force of the impact. Based on the reports of the accident the combined forward speed of Gluck’s bicycle and the speed of the semi-truck are equivalent to riding into a concrete wall at about 45 M.P.H. A BBC report on bicycle helmets states that, “If you crash at 15 miles per hour in a normal helmet, your head will be subjected to around 220G [G-force].” But Wikipedia says that, “Very short duration shocks of 100 g have been survivable in racing car crashes.” Gluck’s impact may have occurred at nearly two times those forces.

The next hours are a blur of emergency medical trauma decisions; any one of which made differently- even slightly- will kill Gluck if she manages to live to the next one. Which, in her condition, is unlikely. She is eventually medevaced by helicopter to a more advanced trauma unit, but only after a large section of skull is removed to reduce brain damage from swelling. The skull section becomes contaminated and cannot be replaced inside her head if she lives. Nothing about her condition is hopeful, and the situation is deteriorating. She slips into a deep coma, hovering barely outside the margins of death.

It is a nightmare scenario, every cyclist’s worst fear. The injuries from the shattering impact with the grille of the giant semi-truck are so extensive no one person I spoke to could list them all.

News of Gluck’s accident travels fast in the tight-knit Michigan triathlon community. It’s a community of athletes across all skill levels from Ironman finishers to athletes in their first year of triathlons. And it is a community used to tragedy and loss. There was the death of popular local Ironman age grouper Jon Logan to cancer. A life-threatening accident for triathlete Mike Orris. The sudden death of athlete Sean Tyrrell, the death of Gary Plank, the earlier death of local cycling coach and rider Michael R. Rabe to a drunk driver. Even local running entrepreneur Randy Step suffered congestive heart failure and had heart surgery then came back to be a signpost for not just surviving, but truly living. But Gluck’s accident resonates somehow deeper. In a tragic epilogue another cyclist, 38-yeart old Emily Sands of Dryden, Michigan, is hit and killed seven months after Gluck’s accident on the same roads.

Triathletes- the people who do Ironmans- are a funny breed. They consider themselves somehow exempt from mortality. They are fitter, leaner, healthier. Aside from bouts with shins splints, swimmer’s elbow and road rash from minor bike falls most triathletes believe they are living a healthy lifestyle that contributes to their quality of life and longevity. Amy Gluck’s lethal accident seemed like a morbid alarm clock that woke up the community to their own mortality.

Two things could have happened in the wake of Amy Gluck’s accident, and they would likely happen in the hours while she hovered on the thinnest of lines between life and death. The athlete community could look at Gluck’s horrifying accident and withdraw, becoming individuals living in fear and retreating to a sedentary lifestyle that seems safer. Or, they could rally together and live, even when they were unsure if Gluck would live, and make an unswerving commitment to support Amy Gluck and each other- and not give in to the fear of mortality.

The community chose to rally together and live.

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The WXYZ television coverage of Amy Gluck’s prayer vigil on September 21, 2012.

On September 21, 2012, six days after Gluck’s crushing accident and at the low point of her descent into a coma, while she hovers between life and death, athletes who know Amy have a prayer vigil at Henry Ford Hospital. Local ABC News affiliate WXYZ reports the story.

It is an unusual video report to watch. Awkward almost. But one senses there is a transition that takes place right before your eyes- in that video. It is the beginning of the collective decision of the community to band together, to rise above, to somehow turn this tragedy into a rallying point. And to pull Amy Gluck back from the brink.

Against all odds, Gluck does not die. She is, however, far from living. Especially by her standards.

Weeks pass. Amy’s sister Kendi Gluck, a physician herself, told the ABC News affiliate, “It’s like a nightmare and I just want to wake up from it.” Friends take turns at Amy’s bedside. Uncertainty about Amy’s survival remains but the tight bonds within the athlete community only strengthen. These are people used to tough going in the late hours of an Ironman, when it seems like the race will never end and the finish will never come. There is a saying among Ironman triathletes, “If you don’t like how you feel, wait a few minutes, it will change.” The community applies that same mental resolve to endure Amy’s tedious grip on life. It is a community uniquely prepared to handle the wild swing of ups and downs. Outsiders would ask, “What will happen to Amy?” the answer was oddly unanimous. “Don’t count Amy Gluck out.” And they didn’t.

The weeks turn into months. One day- different people suggest different dates, Amy Gluck wakes up. And a new race starts. A race harder than any Ironman Gluck had competed in, and a race with an undefined finish line. Now that Gluck has survived the accident, no one knows where her recovery will take her. But Amy Gluck is back in the race, and her multiple Ironmans were merely a warm-up for the race to get back to who she was before her accident.

Gluck before the start of the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon.

Gluck before the start of the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon.

There are surgeries. Many, many surgeries. Most sound more like carpentry than medicine. There is an endless procession of setbacks and low points. At times Gluck seems out of touch with reality, talking about getting ready for an upcoming race that doesn’t exist as though the accident never happened. But the nature of brain injuries is that, as they heal the person who suffered them gradually reintegrates into collective reality. Gluck has begun that long mental process along with the grating and painful physical recovery, a recovery that may never end.

On May 14, 2014 I visited Amy at the recovery facility she lived in at the time. It was a comfortable, nicely appointed single story community building that felt like an apartment. I had no idea what I was walking into. Would she be… somehow not in touch with reality? How do you ask a person who has been through a terrible accident and barely lived if they are “OK” now? Would she know?

Amy answered the door and gave me a hug. Unusual since, quite frankly, I never knew her well prior to learning about her accident. I only knew of her. She was wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants and big, floppy socks. Her hair was a messy heap of blonde.

There was something oddly…naked about her eyes. Like she had seen something very bad. They were, however, fully open, as if to suggest an incredible awareness to the unlikely circumstances of her survival. And, to take in all the challenges and possibilities that lie before her.

It was a year and six months since Gluck’s accident.

“Do you remember the accident?”

“I don’t even remember how I ended up where I was riding. I don’t remember anything about the accident. Maybe that’s better.” She speaks quietly between gentle pauses. Each comment from her, whether she is recounting her injuries, recovery or talking about her future, is articulate and well conceived. She is all there. Nothing is missing.

I ask her about being in the hospital and when she woke up.

“I don’t really remember when I woke up. It seemed like a long time. I was kind of in and out.” She says. She seems to diminish the brutality of her ordeal. She says waking from a coma was not like they show it on TV, it does not happen suddenly and all at once.

It occurs to me that blocking out much of what she has been through is not only a physical result of her injuries, but an emotional necessity. Amy had a huge section of her life torn out. She’ll never get it back.

Over the next few months I spoke to many people about Amy Gluck’s accident and miraculous survival, and prospects for more than survival.

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Amy Gluck with friend Amy Christena at a triathlon swim start before Gluck’s accident.

 

Amy Christena, a longtime friend of Amy Gluck told me, “She’s challenging herself every day. To get back to the girl she was. She is something more than a survivor. She never lost her drive. That is why, inside at least, she is still the same person.” Christena is also an experienced triathlete who shared in many of Amy Gluck’s races and successes prior to the accident. “I honestly thought she was going to die. I’m really amazed she lived.” Amy Christena was one of the people who visited and supported Amy Gluck from day one since the accident, and she participated in the dreadful rollercoaster of her difficult and ongoing recovery ordeal.

During one visit Amy Christena asked Gluck how she was doing. Gluck told her she was getting ready for [Ironman] Louisville. “She was very confused. She took all the conversations in the room and merged them into one. I was devastated”. But Amy Christena never counted out the possibility of Gluck somehow getting better.

Through endless suffering and staggering setbacks Amy Gluck did continue to improve. Her ambition and drive to get back outstripped the pace of her physical recovery sometimes, and that was frustrating. Gluck held exactly the same high standards for her recovery as she did for an Ironman performance in Kona. Just recovering was not enough. Gluck wanted back in the race.

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On Sunday, January 4, 2015, 2 years, 3 months and 21 days after her accident, Amy Gluck did a triathlon. She participated in the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Triathlon in Commerce Township, Michigan. The race is part of a national series of indoor triathlons sponsored by Lifetime Fitness. And while a short indoor triathlon at a health club is an incredible measure from competing in the Ironman World Championships, it is also a long way from lying in a coma trapped between life and death.

Michael Wilker, General Manager of Lifetime Fitness in Commerce said, “It’s incredible, one of the greatest stories we’ve ever heard, and we’re excited Lifetime could be a small part of it.”

Many of the same people who were seen in the WXYZ news story back in 2012 were at Lifetime Fitness for the event- over two years later “Amy’s Army” was stronger than ever.

College friend Colleen Churchill, a bubbly, adorable physical education teacher chauffeured Gluck to the event from Livonia, Michigan. Churchill’s devotion to Amy’s comeback has been strong. She is one of many foot soldiers of Amy’s Army who never gave up on Gluck’s long run at a comeback. During the event Churchill shared a swim lane with Gluck and rode an indoor bike next to her for the bike leg then ran on the treadmill next to her to the virtual finish line.

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Along with many other friends of Amy Gluck, Colleen Churchill was there when Amy was in the hospital hanging onto life and then over two years later as she celebrates her miraculous survival.

Amy Gluck still needs help, and plenty of it. While her story has an inspirational ring to it, her recovery is very far from complete. She can’t drive, she does not live independently, her balance issues from the accident mean she may not be able to ride a bicycle outdoors and even if she could, the trauma to her family and friends from the accident and ordeal of wondering if Gluck would even survive are unbearable. The depth of Amy’s loss is immeasurable, from Ironman competitor to being dependent on friends and family for basic transportation and assistance with day-to-day life. Her loss, despite her survival, is staggering. The trip from Ironman podium to life support is about the widest swing of life experience anyone can imagine. While Amy Gluck is soft spoken about her ordeal, everyone else stands in awe of what she has lost, and her brave, never-ending struggle to try to get some version of it back, even if it is only an indoor triathlon her friends have to drive her to.

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When I asked Colleen Churchill what it was like to share the experience with Amy she told me, “Amy’s struggle reminds me not to take anything for granted, to live your life out loud. Amy’s accident changed my life forever too.”

Talk to anyone about Amy Gluck’s story. They all say the same things. “She is incredible.” “She is stronger than I would be.” “She is an inspiration.” “She makes me value what I have even more.” “She has shown us that participating in the sport is a gift and we can lose it at any time.” “When I reach a tough spot in a race I think of her and it makes it easier.” Every athlete I talked to about Amy is inspired by her.

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Any other group connected by a common interest would have been shattered by Amy’s tragedy. People would have drifted away in fear, taken up golf or tennis. Something safer. But the opposite happened with Amy Gluck’s friends and the Michigan multisport community. They rallied to Amy’s support. And in doing so, athlete bonds were strengthened. New athletes were inspired and mentored. And athletes looked to Amy’s survival as an inspiration. It is as if the entire community looked to Gluck’s incredible example of trying to go beyond survival and asked themselves, “What Would Amy Do?” The answer is clear; Amy Gluck does more than survive. Amy Gluck gets back in the race.

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By  Tom Demerly.

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Top: The semi-automatic sporting rifle possessed by Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook Shooting. Bottom: An automatic M4 assault rifle used by the U.S. military and heavily regulated for public sale.

Nine families who lost children in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have filed a lawsuit against Bushmaster Firearms, the company that manufactured one of the weapons in possession of shooter Adam Lanza.

It is likely the lawsuits will fail to increase restrictions on the distribution and ownership laws of firearms in the U.S. Instead, the suit will continue to divert attention away from the central threat of firearms crime; conduct with a firearm, not the technical specifications of the firearm itself.

The primary reason the suit will fail to achieve meaningful reform of firearms legislation is a common misunderstanding of firearms nomenclature: The difference between an automatic assault rifle and a semi-automatic sporting rifle.

An automatic assault rifle has a mode of operation that enables the user to fire multiple shots with a single depression of the trigger: Pull the trigger back one time and hold it, bullets continue to fire. This is an “automatic weapon”. The sales and distribution of these weapons is restricted in most states to persons holding a specific permit that requires more documentation than other weapons.

A semi-automatic sporting rifle has a mode of operation that fires one bullet for one pull of the trigger: Each time the user fires a bullet they must pull the trigger. The sales and distribution of semi-automatic weapons is less restricted than automatic weapons.

This distinction should be straightforward. What has created confusion is the appearance of semi-automatic sporting rifles is sometimes nearly identical to fully automatic assault weapons.

We have already seen confusion between “semi-automatic” (one trigger pull, one shot) and “fully automatic” (one trigger pull, many shots) among lawmakers. There has been more than one press conference when a lawmaker has brandished a semi-automatic sporting rifle and characterized it as capable of firing “hundreds of bullets” inferring that the semi-automatic rifle they are displaying has fully-automatic capability. It doesn’t. And therein lies the reason why attempts to improve firearms legislation have failed.

Confusion may be understandable, although not excusable. Especially among legislators.

Semi-automatic sporting rifles like the ones manufactured by Bushmaster look like fully automatic weapons. The irony is they actually store less ammunition internally than more benign looking semi-automatic hunting rifles. Some models of hunting rifles, including semi-automatic and even bolt-action hunting rifles with a less military appearance house their bullets in an internal magazine that is a part of the rifle itself. The Bushmaster semi-automatic sporting rifle (remember, it wasn’t an automatic “assault rifle”) possessed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook holds its ammunition in a separate external “magazine” or metal box that is attached to the rifle when loaded. The magazines for these rifles have assorted capacities that can vary with design. In California, the number of bullets these magazines can hold is restricted to a maximum of 10 bullets. The idea is that, a person is forced to reload their rifle after firing a maximum of 11 bullets (remember, the rifle can chamber or contain 1 bullet ready to fire and the 10 in the magazine a maximum of 11, 10+1=11). Presumably this is intended to limit the damage they can do.

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While many firearms owners and manufacturers argue against firearms legislation reform, their adherence to outdated legislation has continued to polarize their position. Proactive reform of legislation with advocacy from the firearms ownership and manufacturing lobby is a more constructive approach.

If the contention of the complaint against Bushmaster is that the rifle Lanza used at Sandy Hook was a combat weapon with automatic capability, then the complaint does not have merit. If the contention is that the Bushmaster rifle used by Lanza is styled after a fully automatic assault weapon, that argument is factually correct. However, it is a difficult argument to prove the styling and appearance of the weapon somehow augment its lethality compared to other semi-automatic sporting weapons.

The problem with the Sandy Hook lawsuits is they do not focus on a central problem in mass shootings; management of potentially violent persons who may have a history of behavior that could lead to violence. This suit also fails to address another critical aspect of all gun violence; the responsibility of the owner of the firearm (any firearm) to secure it from use by other parties. This includes the distribution of firearms through negligence by failing to adequately secure them from theft. Interestingly, in the U.S. Army, failure to secure a weapon- any weapon- from theft or loss is one of the most serious offences, comparable to a felony in civilian terms and sometimes cause for less than honorable discharge, tantamount to a felony conviction.

Firearms owners argue their rights under legislation drafted well before modern firearms were engineered. The capabilities of firearms have changed significantly since the basis of our current federal firearms laws were drafted. It makes sense that legislation governing the ownership of firearms evolves as the firearms technology does. In nearly every other area of law, legislation has evolved with technology and society, often trailing it, but eventually adapting. Firearms law in the U.S. has somehow been largely excused from this evolution. That is remiss.

Furthermore, legislating firearms specifications is an ineffective approach to moderating firearms crime. Instead, improving legislation of firearms ownership liability is a more effective approach. Legislation that would compel firearms owners to secure their weapons or face stiff felony charges, even through their unintentional distribution through theft, need to be imposing enough so that every firearm owner understands the gravity and social responsibility associated with owning a firearm.

By Tom Demerly.

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The beautiful new Boeing 787-8 arriving at Detroit Metro for the first time ever on December 1, 2014 as Royal Jordanian flight 267.

The first ever Boeing 787 Dreamliner to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport arrived this morning, December 1, 2014, Monday. Catching a rare first arrival is a big trophy for aircraft spotters.

A month before the arrival of the aircraft, a beautiful, brand new Royal Jordanian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, the Facebook page Detroit Metro Airport Spotting posted an announcement of the first-ever arrival and invited people who “Like” their page to the event. Aircraft spotting is a worldwide hobby among aircraft enthusiasts and bagging a first-ever flight is a rare trophy.

Trying to be in the right place at the right time to catch an arriving flight is a little tricky, but much easier now with the help of flight tracking websites like FlightAware.com and networks of people with like interests on social media.

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The Dreamliner’s route from Amman, Jordan over the Atlantic to Montreal, Quebec, Canada before flying here to Detroit.

The Dreamliner arrival originated in Amman, Jordan almost two days earlier and flew in a northern arc across the Atlantic, descending down over northern Canada and into Toronto. It originated as Royal Jordanian Flight 267 out of Amman, continuing from Toronto to Detroit with the same flight number.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a milestone in aviation because of its incredible fuel efficiency, over 20% more fuel efficient than similarly sized passenger aircraft. The 787 competes directly with the mostly French-built Airbus A350, and the A350 is said to be even more fuel efficient. From the start the Dreamliner was meant to be revolutionary. Most of the aircraft’s wings are made of carbon fiber, not aluminum. This makes them lighter and stronger, contributing to fuel efficiency. It also gives the Dreamliner its unique upward bowing of the wings in flight, like a giant, gliding bird.

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The carbon fiber wings of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner form a graceful curve in flight. Here is the Royal Jordanian flight on final into Detroit on its first-ever arrival here.

The windows on the Dreamliner use a unique passenger controlled auto-tint feature as opposed to conventional pull-down blinds. Early Dreamliner prototypes had unusual, triangular shaped windows, reminiscent of the DeHavilland Comet. The production versions settled on a squarish, advanced passenger window that is about 30 percent larger than other aircraft in its class. Probably better that Boeing went to the more conventional square windows since the triangular windows that originated with the Comet airliner in 1949 were blamed for several crashes and later changed.

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The Dreamliner’s advanced cockpit features full glass display integration, conventional wheel-style flight control column, Heads Up Displays in front of the windscreen unique communications system interfaces.

To get photos of the Dreamliner’s arrival I went to the south end of Metro Airport. After driving around the airport and watching flight arrival and departure patterns it was easy to predict which runway the aircraft would likely be arriving on. Early traffic of “heavies”, Bowing 747’s, were arriving on the western runway at Metro, runway 4L as approached from the south. The Dreamliner arrived on runway 3L. Usually the very large aircraft like 747’s are routed onto their own runway while the smaller aircraft use a different runway on busy arrival days.

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A big Delta Boeing 747 arrives at Metro before the Dreamliner. This aircraft used the farthest west runway, runway 4L as approached from the south.

Security around all airports has to be tight. One Tom Clancy novel featured an attack on an airliner using a shoulder-fired surface to air missile at Tucson International airport. In Clancy’s story, the weapon was smuggled across the Mexican border by Middle Eastern terrorists. When I showed up to the south end of Metro Airport wearing a backpack and walking toward the airport fence, three security vehicles and one Wayne County Sheriff converged to stop me. After a quick and courteous ID check by these excellent security officers they let me wait a few moments for the aircraft’s arrival while they stayed with me.

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A. Where I was located to shoot photos between the approaches for runways 4L and 4R. B. The arrival path of the Dreamliner.

The ideal location to shoot photos of the Dreamliner would have been with the sun behind me. It was an overcast day so the lighting would be marginal. As luck had it, the aircraft was between the sun and me, backlit. Combined with the overcast skies conditions for photography were poor. But plane spotting is a lot like fishing. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, sometimes conditions are just OK. Today was a “just OK” day for photography.

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The Dreamliner on final with flaps in the landing position and gear down. The crummy light conditions didn’t do the nice paint scheme any favors.

About three hours later the Dreamliner was set for departure and I went back hoping for better light. At the north end of Metro Airport I waited in the hotel/rental car parking lot across I-94 for it to take off. About an hour later than we had thought the aircraft was back in the air, this time with a little better lighting.

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By Tom Demerly.

NOTE: This story is fiction based on news accounts. It does not contain factual depictions of any events from official sources.

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10:17 Local (15:17 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

Bob Davis felt a chill race up his spine and down his arms. He saw his hands tremble on the desk in front of him. His ironic sense of humor kicked in when he thought, “Well, Bob, that’s why they call it terror-ism.” He looked at the two men sitting across from him, their mouths moving, but he didn’t hear the words for a second. He forced himself to tune back in to their meeting despite a feeling that this couldn’t be real. It was like walking onto the pages of a Clancy novel.

“…Possibly V-IED’s in the parking lots, ah, that means vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, a car or truck bomb, like Timothy McVeigh used on the Federal Building, if you recall… There could be some form of crude, locally produced chemical weapon; chlorine gas, something like that. Those have big shock value with the media. There definitely will be explosives and assault weapons used. They can source that equipment locally and may already have from gun shows around the Midwest. We have agents from the Bureau and the ATF at those shows. Even the NRA people have been helping us, but we can’t catch everything.”

Davis manages operations for the Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minnesota. Over the past eight years he has seen women give birth there, the most elaborate shoplifting schemes every devised (and busted), a ring of prostitutes operating in the mall and a coyote that somehow made its way inside the giant shopping center on a busy Saturday night. This was the first time he sat across his desk from two FBI agents getting briefed on plans for a possible Al Qaeda style suicide attack on his mall during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the busiest mall in the United States.

Davis was being briefed by the FBI about possible terrorist attacks at the Mall of the Americas two days after a pair of U.S. special operations raids, one in Libya, and one in Somalia. Sixteen days earlier Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westlake Mall, a U.S. style shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya. The FBI men told Davis it was a miracle only 67 people were killed in the Africa mall attack. Based on the damage to the mall, they felt the toll would have been higher. “Westlake was a test run for Al Shabaab. It was training for them, a field exercise. They won’t make the same mistakes twice.”

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The two FBI agents pulled up a file on their tablet computer. “Our estimates of casualties here at Mall of the America in a Black Friday attack are between 400 and 800 killed.” Davis felt the grip of what an attack would mean. The country, the economy, Minnesota, his community, his tenants, his family, his job. He remembered the economic impact from the 9/11 attacks. He was 40 years old then, working for the Taubman Centers back in Michigan. They managed a large number of shopping malls around the U.S. The 9/11 terror attacks had gutted the company’s occupancy in the next five years when the economy tanked. And that hadn’t been a direct attack on a U.S. shopping center. What the FBI agents were describing to Davis now could sink the shopping mall industry in the United States.

“The real damage, though,” Continued the larger agent with the iPad, “will be the broader economic impact on U.S. business. Retail for the holiday season would be destroyed. Even the e-commerce guys, like Amazon.com, would take a hit since people would not only be afraid to shop at a mall, they would be afraid to shop, period, because of concern over another economic crash. This is the new 9/11. It really would be Black Friday”

Bill Davis had one question for the two FBI men, “So, what do we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?”

“Well,” The smaller of the two FBI men said, “We think we may have reduced the capabilities of the attackers to execute their previous plans, but we still need your cooperation here at Mall of the Americas, Mr. Davis.”

“I’m all ears guys.”

02:45 Local (23:45, 2 October UTC), Thursday, 3 October 2013, Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, Headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

Nine men were arrested in Africa following the Kenyan mall attack. It took a few days for… the authorities… to extract information from those nine men. Taken one at a time none of them provided anything that seemed of much use. But each minor detail they provided, from how they paid for their meals to how they learned to use their weapons, began to congeal into a pattern. When that pattern was fit against the sides of other patterns, now electronically in a basement in Langley, Virginia, there was a horrific conclusion: The U.S. was next.

Once that conclusion was reached the Director of National Intelligence was briefed. He briefed the President, a man deeply embroiled with a domestic political battle when Congress refused to approve economic changes forcing a shutdown of some government offices. The President and his staff were busy with, among other things, trying to manage the first ever White House online flaming campaign via e-mail and social media. Their target was Congress and their intent was to depict them as uncompromising and unreasonable. To his credit as Commander in Chief, when the briefing materials on the Nairobi attacks reached his desk, the President did not delay. He set the wheels in motion via Admiral William H. McRaven at MacDill AFB. McRaven is the ninth man to command the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill, a unified command that coordinates the training, equipment, doctrine and employment of all U.S. special operations units.

McRaven’s units include some of the most sophisticated military intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities in the world. These operate organically to the special operations community, from the field around the world back to MacDill, largely for the purposes of mission planning. The strategic intelligence may flow upward from McRaven’s units, or downward from Langley, but flow it did, in both directions. When the intelligence McRaven’s units had collected was collated with the information garnered from the West Lake Mall attack in Kenya the picture was crystal clear.

A big part of that picture pointed back to a beach house in the Somali coastal city of Barawa.

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Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had been training local indigenous forces in the region. They also collected intelligence from them during training. Both special operations and CIA operatives joined the activities related to Somalia at Camp Lemonnier to help with data collection and facilitate better, more context-based interpretation of intel. SPMAGTF Recon Marines had even conducted beach reconnaissance of some areas of the Barawa, Somalia coastline. That hydrographic survey data, combined with signals intelligence, some limited HUMINT (human intelligence from operatives on the ground in the target area), satellite and drone images merged with data from the West Lake Mall detainee interviews.

Back at Camp Lemonnier, at MacDill AFB in Florida, on a ship off the coast of East Africa and in Langley, Virginia, planners held a web conference to review the final plans for a direct action mission to interdict the capability of Al Shabaab to carry out their planned U.S. mall attack.

It was Thursday night. The raid on Barawa was a “go”.

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03:50 Local (12:50 UTC), Saturday, 5 October 2013, 473 meters off the coast of Baraawe, Somalia.

High tide hit the rocky beach off Baraawe, Somalia at 04:38 hours under a dim, waxing crescent moon. Just before high tide the incoming tidal current urged the twelve combat swimmers of the Naval Special Warfare Combat Interdiction Group (formerly “SEAL Team 6 or “DEVGRU”) toward the rocky outcrops that lay just off the Somali coast. Swimming along the surface was easy; the black African waters were warm. High clouds filtered what little moonlight there was.

The assault team had left their F470 CRRC boats almost 2 miles off shore to prevent visual detection of the assault boats from land. The boats used sound suppressed motors that were extremely quiet. After dropping off the combat swimmers the rigid inflatable boats immediately turned back out to sea for recovery on a U.S. Navy ship that was even now steaming back toward the coast after the insertion.

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The first element of the combat swimmer/assault team would hit the beach, remove their swim fins and floatation vests then cross inland on foot less than a kilometer south of their target, a large beachfront villa on the southern edge of Baraawe. They would turn immediately north toward the objective. This first six-man element of the team moved inland approximately 400 meters toward the concealment of low scrub. The other six-man element lay prone in the gently lapping waves of shallow water just off the beach until the flanking assault element was in place. A series of clicks on their updated, secure AN/PRC-126 radios would signal the first assault team was in place. Then the two teams would move toward the target, a two-story villa where the objective, a high value personnel target named Ahmed Abdi Godane, was supposed to be located.

The two elements of the assault team were in place. The wind was gentle coming just barely off the ocean, it was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun would not rise for another hour and forty minutes. Each member of the second assault element heard the clicks in their headset when the first element got into position. They responded with a single click of the mic button. Then each team member checked right, then left, clearing his field of fire and began a low, quick advance across the beach, trending right or north to the target.

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The building was surrounded by low walls on three sides and a high wall at the back. It made sense to go over the lower sections of the walls, enter the courtyard section, assault any threats that were providing security and then conduct the entry. Once the entry began, speed and violence of action was their primary tactic. They had to overwhelm what security may be in place quickly, assault the target building and secure the objective, detain Ahmed Abdi Godane or neutralize him, then exfil the target area. The primary extract route was by helo extraction near a defensible LZ south of the target area. The secondary extract was back out to sea.

Overhead surveillance by an RQ-170 Sentinel drone would provide a live video feed to the command center back at MacDill and help give the Naval Special Warfare operators on the beach a high degree of situational awareness via radio. What the Sentinel video showed now was troubling. There were more personnel between the insertion point and the objective than normal. Within the walled compound itself, no less than eight hot targets could be seen, some of them milling around from target to target as if they were spreading information. Outside, there were more than ten hot spots between the insertion point at the beach and the objective. The insertion would almost certainly involve contact earlier than they planned.

A common feature of operations in this region is that its difficult to tell who is a combatant and who is not from overhead surveillance. The hot spot on the drone feed may be a fisherman rigging his boat to go out at first light, or an insurgent walking a security perimeter armed with an automatic weapon and grenades. Until the assault team got eyes on they would not know from the drone feed. They didn’t have to wait to see to find out.

The insurgents initiated contact with one man firing a single round at one of the SEALs as he moved to a concealed position across the beach to establish the flanking position. The single round alerted every other sentry. The SEAL’s weapons were suppressed. When another assault team member put two rounds into the insurgent it didn’t make enough noise to be heard back at the compound a couple hundred meters away. Nonetheless everyone in the compound was alerted by the single shot, then the silence. Now they were coming outside the wall.

The assault team worked an “L” shaped hasty ambush on the objective, both teams directing controlled fire toward targets they could see. When the volume of returning fire began to increase the SEAL assault team leader radioed for a pair of Viper gunships from an assault ship orbiting off the coast to swing inland for fire support.

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The Viper gunships, an upgraded version of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, overflew the target from the ocean. They banked hard and attacked facing back out to sea to avoid collateral damage from their guns. When the rounds from the AH-1Z Viper ‘s 20 mm cannon hit the compound the result was like cracking open a hornet’s nest. The pilot and gunner could see personnel and vehicles scatter through their Thales Top Owl helmet imagery system. White streaks showed the path of gunfire reaching into the dark to find the assaulters.

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Special operations is a fragile craft with a courageous heritage. But the reality is lightly armed men are flung against sometimes heavily fortified targets in inferior numbers. Their primary advantage is speed and violence of action. If their objective is compromised before it can be overwhelmed their chances of success evaporate by the split second. The SEAL assault force commander on the beach knew this well, having operated on both sides of this double-edged sword for a decade. He knew he had men inland a few hundred meters who risked being cut off from the sea extraction route and that securing a landing zone for extraction was, at best, an iffy proposition now.

The assault was compromised before it began. He signaled for mission abort and emergency extraction.

This contingency was well drilled. The beach fire team put 40 mm grenade fire on the target while the inland team broke contact, peeling back toward the sand and the sea. Each man covered the next in a modified version of the classic peel maneuver to break contact. The Vipers overflew the target at high speed and low altitude, this time flying inland and banking left or south, the opposite direction as before, then paralleling the beach on a gun run to cover the SEALs.

Only twenty-five minutes after the first assault element crossed the beach the team was back in the water as their assault boats raced back inland to recover them. After a twenty-minute swim to the east and south the recovery boats spotted the infrared strobes of the assault teams and the recovery was completed. The Vipers left their orbit along the beach just before the SEALs were picked up off shore and the assault force collapsed back out to sea as the sun lit the horizon an angry orange. It would be hours or even days until U.S. assets would know if the target had been compromised in the raid.

The raid on Baraawe to capture Ahmed Abdi Godane did not go as planned. It also was not a failure. While the primary objective was not achieved it may have killed or wounded Godane. If not, it sent a clear message to Godane and his men: The U.S. will cross the beach to get you before you can get us. Regardless of the results on the beach that night in Baraawe that message was sent and received loud and clear.

10:58 Local (15:58 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

“We’ll have teams of agents operating undercover all the way from the parking lots to the inside of the mall itself.” The FBI agent told Bob Davis. “We need to put some of our people under cover as store employees and mall workers over the weekend too. Prior to the weekend we’ll be installing some additional surveillance equipment outside and inside the mall. We’re pretty sure we know what we’re looking for and this surveillance should prevent any operatives from gaining access to the mall.”

Davis thought he should be reassured. The thought of installing security checkpoints at the entrance and exit to the mall was unthinkable. It would ruin business and attract the wrong kind of media. This softer approach seemed much less… obtrusive. He hoped it was enough. He noticed his hand shake again.

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