Monthly Archives: June 2016

By Tom Demerly for


As shown in these conflicting headlines, journalists have failed to use accurate language when describing guns in reporting and editorial adding confusion to the gun debate.

Two rifles, very different capabilities. Lots of confusion.

One of many reasons the continuing national gun debate is so difficult to moderate.

There is widespread misunderstanding of what an “assault rifle” actually is. This misunderstanding makes effective debate over proposed reexamination of gun laws nearly impossible. It is one reason the debate feels so circular and divisive.


This is an assault rifle.

An assault rifle is an automatic rifle: You pull the trigger one time and bullets are fired repeatedly at a high rate of fire.

A sporting rifle is a semi-automatic rifle: You pull the trigger one time and one bullet is fired. To fire any additional bullets you must pull the trigger again.


This is a sporting rifle.

That seems straightforward. It is defined in only three sentences. What makes these distinctions difficult for people is that the two classes of weapons look nearly identical.

I served in the U.S. Army and the Michigan National Guard as a member of an Airborne Long Range Reconnaissance Team, Co. “F”, 425th INF, LRSU (AIRBORNE). I was a Scout/Observer in a five-man reconnaissance team. We were a combat unit, trained to employ a wide range of weapons from handguns to missile systems and even airstrikes with lethal effect. We had to know weapons, how they worked and what they were for. I also come from a family that grew up with guns. To me, guns are no different than power tools. They are both dangerous if misused, useful when the user is proficient and competent. And finally, I am a victim of gun violence. That gives me the perspective of a person who has been threatened by a firearm.

In most states in the U.S. a person cannot buy an assault rifle. But gun laws vary widely from state to state.

Somewhat interestingly, in California it is illegal to buy a .50 caliber long-range rifle, often incorrectly called a “sniper rifle”. This is despite the fact that one has never been used in a sensational crime there. Part of the reason they may be illegal in California is their large size, long range and intimidating physical appearance.

It is also illegal to have a rifle with a bayonet mount in California, even though a bayonet has never been used in a mass shooting anywhere in the U.S.

By contrast, in nearby Arizona, gun laws are likely the most liberal in the United States, with most firearms easily available without any or much documentation.

Journalists and lawmakers have played fast and lose with the vernacular and nomenclature that defines firearms technology. That is one reason some gun owners are wary of new legislation. Legal gun owners are rightfully concerned they’ll be somehow “over regulated”. With inaccurate characterizations of firearms common among politicians and journalists, it seems like this is a valid concern. With spurious legislation of bizarre and irrelevant weapons specifications in states like California the concern over erroneous but well-intentioned regulation seems even more valid.

Why does the understanding of what makes one gun an “assault rifle” and another gun a “sporting rifle” matter? It is one of many distinctions that draw the fine line between reasonable regulation in the interest of public safety and overregulation that some people suggest is a threat to civil liberty.


By Tom Demerly for


It took three days for me to write this, because writing this makes it real and I didn’t want that.

Robert F. Dorr is dead.

Dorr was “an author and retired senior American diplomat who published over 70 books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous contemporary non-fiction articles on international affairs, military issues and the Vietnam War. Most recently, he headed the weekly “Back Talk” opinion column for the Military Times newspaper and the monthly “Washington Watch” feature of Aerospace America. He is also on the Masthead as the technical editor of Air Power History, [1] the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, and was Washington correspondent for the discontinued Jane’s World Air Power Journal.[2] He has appeared as an expert on numerous CNN, History News Network, C-SPAN and other local and cable television programs.”

That is from his Wikipedia page. I was too upset to write out my own accounting of his work so I just copied those words. That is what he was.

But this is who he was:

Robert F. Dorr was a humble and quiet man who became vast through the written word. The funnel of his imagination brought knowledge, inspiration, entertainment, education and excitement to readers around the world. He truly opened up new worlds from his pages.

Dorr combined the lessons of history with the most novel aspects of literature and entertainment. His lens focused the stories of an entire world experiencing an entire era. He told them like no other.

I worked briefly with Dorr as a beta-reader on his first fiction novel, Hitler’s Time Machine. Dorr was a non-fiction guy, but Time Machine was masterful work. It felt odd to exchange e-mails with him trying to make recommendations for changes.


Dorr leaves behind a family to whom he was a fine father, husband and friends to whom he was a very fine companion around the world.

And we lose something priceless and rare.

I read excerpts from one of Robert’s books to my 93-year old mother. She lived through WWII in Seattle when my dad worked on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress, bombers used in the air war against Japan and Germany.

My mom lives in an assisted living home for seniors. I read to her in the pleasant downstairs lobby of her home. As I read Robert F. Dorr’s stories from Mission to Berlin other seniors sat down, listening to Dorr’s narrative of B-17 crews struggling for their lives in the thin, freezing air over Berlin:

“In another bomber of Lyle’s 379th group, 1st Lt. Carl L. “Kayo” Cook was minding his bombardier’s position in the nose and possibly feeling some temporary relief that his Fortress had not yet been hit. Cook had just written to his wife, the former Helen Kraft, in Pender, Nebraska, cheerfully reporting that he’d be home soon because he had just six missions left to fly. He was the father of two daughters, including one born just three weeks before on January 12, whom he’d never seen. Cook’s mother-in-law had recently remarried. The family was planning a big homecoming for him.

A fragment of metal, apparently from a flak explosion, punctured the Fortress’s glass nose, continued into the cramped narrow tube of the fuselage, and killed Cook instantly.

No one else in his plane was touched. Cook’s crew would make it home without him.”

One by one more old people sat down. Some looked at me as I read Dorr’s accounting, others looked at the floor. One man wearing a blue ball cap with “ARMY” scrolled on its ample crown stared out the window as I read. More sat down to listen.

“I remember that” my mom told me. “We didn’t hear about it at the time, but the telegrams came and later the stories”

The crowd of geriatrics, now about eight of them, was transported back through decades and miles and lives by Robert F. Dorr’s narrative. His words restored their youth, their fears, their heroics.

For a few minutes I saw the incredible worth and power of Dorr’s amazing work.

Dorr lived a life I idolize, envy, and aspire to. He was a diplomat, flew in fighter jets, and wrote stories and interviewed heroes and adventurers.

If I could have picked my father it would have been Robert F. Dorr.

I have a couple of his books inscribed to me by him. They seem to glow, feel warm.

I do not believe we die all at once, but a little at a time. And while Robert F. Dorr has passed away he is very much living for us through his amazing narratives. But I know that I have died a little too losing Robert F. Dorr, and I fell heavy under the knowledge that there will be no more stories from him, and no one will ever tell them like he did.


By Tom Demerly for



The Kalamazoo crash has gutted us, frightened us, saddened us. It’s horror stabs our idyllic vision of springtime riding like shattered glass to an inner tube.

Collectively, we bleed.

But I will not stop riding my bike on the road. Ever. Here’s why:

  1. Riding a bike is freedom.

Unfettered, human powered, wind in your face freedom. It was our first freedom as a child and it remains the purest human powered freedom. Freedom isn’t free. The cost is risk. I know if I stay at home in a false cocoon of synthetic safety I will still die one day, having never truly lived.

So I will keep riding.

  1. I am fit, even though I am old. 

What do you call a 50-year-old marathon runner? A cyclist. Riding a bike is easy on my old body. And the wind that blows over my skin is the wind of a younger man’s life. I will never give that up.

Hospitals are crowded with the obese, the decrepit, the infirm and the physically disadvantaged, either by bad luck, neglect or age. But for now, I am not one of them. One day I will be, it is inevitable.

Until then, I will keep riding.

  1. Cycling is a beautiful sport. 

Bright colors from flashing leaves and green grass, sleek fabrics and delicate looking bikes sailing on pavement in wind-whisper silence. Sun-splashed glimpses with blurred peripheries. Riding a road bike is an opulent aesthetic feast for the senses.

When I ride I am fully engaged in a bubble of exuberance and vitality. My problems in the world fade. There is only speed and toil.


Cycling has given us heroes and villains, big and brave; the dashing and arrogant Jacques Anquetil, first man to win 5 Tours de France, the simple and hardened Eddy Merckx, the abrasive and rugged Bernard Hinault, the affable and tragic Greg LeMond and the hate-able and controversial Lance Armstrong.

I will forever be both a fan and a practitioner, and I will never give that up.

  1. Riding a bike is one of life’s only fair exchanges.

You put in; you get out in roughly equal measure. Few things in life are that equitable, that fair, that rewarding. Toil your entire life at a career only to have it negotiated away. Raise a child who becomes a criminal. Fight a war that is revealed as a ruse. That’s life.

But this is the bike, and every time you push the pedal down the bike goes forward. Every hill is hard but if you do not stop you will reach the top. If you keep riding with the devotion of a religious zealot you will be rewarded with fitness and strength and vitality. Heaven is just a promise. Riding is real.

I do not know if I will go to heaven or hell, but I know if I keep pedaling I’ll get somewhere.

  1. I want to belong.

We have our own language, our own uniform, our own conventions and quarks. My legs have not had hair since I was 18. I never wear shorts unless I am on a bike. I only use sunscreen on my arms and back of my neck.

These are the marks of club membership, the universal club of the bike rider, the devotee’, the enthusiast, the disciple.

The great cycling writer Maynard Hershon once wrote about “drawing the snug blanket of cycling around us”. It is a blanket that contains only my closest friends. Only they have seen me at my weakest, my strongest. Only they understand.

I belong to them, they belong to me, and cycling holds us as common to each other.


6. I want to be alone.

If you are an introvert who lives mostly between your ears then the bike is precious solace. In ten pedal strokes I am free. I ride my own pace, choose my own route. My only masters are fitness and fatigue, gravity and inertia. They are fair but ruthless arbiters. And I enjoy their quiet and stern company.

A quiet and urgent narrative instructs me on the bike. Things are simple. Go as fast as you can, never give up, come back in one piece.

The rest of life is not so straightforward. So I ride.

I’ve worked in the bicycle industry for 39 years. It was my first job. My lifelong best friend died on a bike. I’ve earned and lost a fortune from bikes. My second avocation, airplanes, was invented by a couple brothers from a bike shop in Ohio.

Riding a bike has given me a decent living, decent health, a decent outlook and a better than decent life.

That is why I’ll never stop.

silhouette door



By Tom Demerly for


In the aftermath of the tragic bike collision on Tuesday, June 7 near Markin Glen Park outside Kalamazoo, Michigan that claimed 5 lives with several other cyclists hospitalized it is worth reviewing safety strategies for road cyclists.

Here are 10 ideas to make your road cycling safer today.

  1. Choose Ride Routes Wisely.

This does not mean you should avoid riding on the road or confine your cycling to parks and indoor trainers.

You should ride routes frequented by other cyclists. Sites like Garmin Connect, Strava, Map My Ride and others provide valuable insights on where you can ride and be relatively safe.


Advanced online utilities like Garmin Connect and Strava show commonly used cycling routes as contributed by other cyclists. Some applications even show dangerous areas on ride routes.

  1. Acknowledge Risk.

Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault said, “In cycling, you make your own luck, until the rider in front of you falls, then you inherit their bad luck.”

Hinault acknowledged the risks and the control we have over accidents in that single quote. Cycling, as with SCUBA diving, motorcycling, open water swimming, jet skiing, wilderness hiking and other outdoor activities has inherent risk.

When you acknowledge and accept risk instead of trying to avoid it you have taken the first mental step toward proactively managing your exposure to it.


You may choose to avoid risk entirely and limit yourself to indoor cycling. Those riding experiences do not reflect conditions on the days of events like tours, triathlons and other events held on public roads. In short, you won’t be adequately prepared for them. You will have no practical experience in real-world riding environments. As a result you are a less competent cyclist on event day and may even pose a risk to other cyclists.

If you acknowledge the risks inherent in road cycling and proactively seek to moderate them you are accepting responsibility and modifying your behavior with good decision-making. That is one step toward becoming a competent road cyclist.

  1. Learn To Ride With Responsible, Established Cycling Groups.

In Michigan the Wolverine Sports Club, Dearborn Cycling Saddlemen and many other cycling clubs have group rides that are well established and administered by a code of conduct, sometimes subtly unwritten but still in place, that makes them safe and controlled.

Established cycling clubs often have senior members with extensive experience and formal training from USA Cycling in administering group rides. Seek these rides out.


When you are a member of a USA Cycling affiliated cycling club and participate in one of their scheduled group rides you may also be eligible for USA Cycling supplemental insurance in the event of an injury accident. Join these organizations.

In much the same way as PADI for SCUBA diving and the NRA for shooting sports have moderated risk, indemnified members and provided formal and informal training governing bodies like USA Cycling and USA Triathlon and their affiliated clubs are a clearing house for information about cycling techniques, ride routes and a resource for finding people to ride with.

  1. Check Your Helmet Expiration and Chin Strap Adjustment. 

According to, “Most manufacturers recommend that helmets be replaced after five years, Bell now recommends every three years.”

In the current Giro Helmets owner’s manual on page 1 it says, “…it is recommended that helmets be replaced three years after date of purchase or if the helmet does not fit you anymore.”

Most cyclists on a group do not have their helmets adjusted correctly. Your helmet owners’ manual and numerous online resources including video along with your bike dealer can offer assistance in adjusting your helmet correctly and instructing you on how to wear it safely.

  1. Let Others Know When and Where You Ride.

This seems obvious in the age of connectivity but letting a responsible party know when you are leaving, where you are riding and when you will return can save hours of fear and anguish for friends and family and may assist in finding you if you do have an accident.

While there are a number of emerging technologies that can track you live on the bike so others can monitor your progress it is as simple as sending a text when you leave and arrive, sticking to established patterns and being accountable for your own safety.

  1. Be Seen: Lights and Bright Colors. 

You can’t be too visible on a bike. New, brighter helmet and cycling clothing colors have a high “excitation factor” for drivers.

In research conducted by Philippe Lacherez, a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, “We found that crashes disproportionately occurred during low-light conditions such as at dawn, dusk or at night. Only 34 per cent of cyclists in these low-light crashes were wearing reflective clothing and 19 per cent of them said they weren’t using bicycle lights at the time of the crash.”


Lacherez went on to say, “We’re concerned that this means cyclists are making themselves more vulnerable by not being adequately visible to an oncoming driver.”

These findings were originally published on the website in 2012 and are confirmed by additional studies and even anecdotal evidence.

Flashing LED lights are now so small and unobtrusive they look at home even on lightweight racing bikes. Helmets, jerseys and even accessories like gloves are commonly available in high visibility colors. Especially when riding alone, chose high visibility colors and use a light, especially at dawn and dusk.

  1. Wear Identification.

I lost my lifetime best friend to a collision with a drunk driver at night. He remained a “John Doe” for nearly 24 hours until his body could be identified. I spent most of the previous night searching for him on the ride route he commonly used. I learned about his death on a local news broadcast the next morning when news helicopter video showed the accident scene and I recognized his bike.

That is absolute worse case.

Wearing identification makes first responders’ job easier and can speed treatment if you do fall off your bike.


Keep emergency identification simple and easy to read. An EMT I spoke to told me they only want emergency contact information. That is all. No blood type, no drug allergies, no motivational slogans. “We can’t be sure the information on the bracelet is right, so we can’t act on it. We have to test for things like drug allergies and blood types anyway, and that isn’t usually a part of lifesaving for a first responder.”

Companies like Road ID and others offer simple, inexpensive and easy to order ID bracelets that every athlete should wear.

  1. Inspect Your Equipment for Safety.

 Seven years ago a cyclist’s plastic pedal cleat failed during a ride on Hines Drive here in Michigan resulting in a serious fall. The pedal cleat had become worn from the routine practice of repeatedly putting the same foot on the ground at stoplights. Eventually it broke.


Failure of a weight-bearing component on your bike can contribute to or cause a serious accident. Inspect your equipment frequently. Take responsibility on your own. Don’t buy into the narrative, “I’m not a mechanic, I don’t know anything about bikes.” Basic maintenance safety protocols are available online at YouTube and through a Google search.

Take responsibility for making sure your equipment is in safe running condition. Maintain it before it becomes unsafe.

  1. Develop an Effective Risk-Management Mindset.

I’m still alive. Despite an airplane accident, parachuting accident, heart surgery, a stroke while running, numerous surgeries from accidents and being hit by cars three times while cycling. But I am still alive.


In the military I learned an effective risk management mindset. If something feels dangerous and the downside risk seems unacceptable, I don’t do it. I also always “maintain a high degree of situational awareness”. A psychologist once told me I’m alive because I am “hyper-vigilant”.

Your decision making loop should constantly be evaluating environmental risk, formulating a “plan B” and making decisions about risk acceptance and downside exposure.


Will that car turn in front of you? Are those cracks in the pavement wide enough for your tire to get stuck in? Will a car run a red light in an intersection you are crossing? Is a driver coming toward you texting requiring you to give them extra room to avoid an accident? Is there gravel in a corner that could cause my tires to slip? Is a sewer lid wet causing poor traction?

At every given moment on your bike you should be monitoring your environment for exposure to risk and making small decisions to moderate it.

Keep your head in the game. Don’t zone out. Take responsibility and proactively manage decisions related to risk.

  1. Eliminate Distractions While Riding.

Earbuds, cell phone, GPS, cyclocomputer, heart monitor, power meter, GoPro camera- if these distract you from monitoring the safety of your riding environment, leave them home.


Keep your eyes and your head up when riding and avoid unnecessary conversations with other riders that may distract you or cause a lapse in concentration.

Your first priority on every ride is to return intact. That requires your active attention and decision-making. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by technology. Learn to use your devices at home, in a safe setting, before taking them out on the road.







By Tom Demerly for


Nine adult cyclists, both male and female, were struck by a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck at approximately 6:36 PM on Tuesday, June 7 near Markin Glen Park outside Kalamazoo, Michigan. Five of the victims were declared dead at the scene according to reports from WOOD TV 8 Live.

In a press conference held at 11:00 PM Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Gedding told reporters the cyclists were “All adults, both male and female, and were riding together in a group”. According to witnesses the cyclists were riding north bound on the right side of the road and were struck from the rear. An unidentified witness told a news reporter “We didn’t see anybody walk away”.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Gedding delivers press conference at 11:00 PM on Tuesday, June 7 about the accident.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Gedding delivers press conference at 11:00 PM on Tuesday, June 7 about the crash.

Prosecutor Gedding also told reporters that in the minutes leading up to the collision with cyclists there were at least three calls made to local law enforcement agencies to report erratic or dangerous driving from the blue Chevrolet pick-up truck involved in the crash.

At 6:08 PM the area public safety agency received a phone call about the blue pick-up truck driving erratically, followed by a call at 6:13 to the local sheriff’s department and a third call to township police at 6:21 prior to the accident report at 6:36 PM. There was no on-going pursuit of the suspect vehicle at the time of the accident according to police.

accident bikes

Photos shared on Wednesday, June 8 show bikes of the crash victims.

The blue pick-up truck was recovered by police at the scene after the driver had abandoned it. The driver/suspect was apprehended by police near the accident scene and remains in custody.


Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Gedding told reporters there was very little information he could provide about the accident pending a review of the official report as early as Thursday. Gedding said the Michigan State Police would conduct “A reconstruction of the accident” based on the report.

Names of the victims and of the driver involved will not be released by police until deemed appropriate by law enforcement.

Heather Walker of News 8 contributed to this Report.

By Tom Demerly for


Brianna Tellez, 18, of Detroit, Michigan graduates from high school today.

Miss Tellez joins 3.3 million students who will graduate from high school this year according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

What makes Tellez’s story unique and hopeful is that she is the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Her 2 brothers, 2 sisters, her mother and her father did not graduate from high school. Her great grandmother immigrated to the United States from Mexico.

Tellez broke the mold through quiet determination and tireless devotion. She works part time at Maple Heights Retirement Community, sometimes in the kitchen and dining area serving senior citizens who live in the assisted care facility, sometimes working behind the desk in the reception area.

Often times Tellez stayed well after her shift at Maple Heights, long after the geriatric residents had gone to bed, when she plodded with some frustration through homework in order to graduate. Her coworkers at Maple Heights lent a hand when they could between cleaning and taking care of residents.

But Tellez never gave up.

“I did it for my Mom. She told me I was her last hope.”

And Brianna Tellez’s mother is more right than she may realize. People like Briana Telez are the last hope and next promise for our nation to be great again.

In the past five decades the U.S. has decelerated in educational standards and achievement relative to other nations, sliding down the cross-national testing battery known as the Program for International Student Assessment or “PISA” to 35th place out of 64 countries in math and 27th in science.

The deceleration of academic achievement in the United States is the single largest opportunity our nation has to improve its economy, recover its environment, develop new technology and moderate threats to its national security.

In fact, every major campaign issue, from social issues to trade, diplomacy and the economy sag under the weight of an educational deficit that has lead to a trade deficit that has led to a host of domestic problems and a degraded ability to participate in solving international problems.

More than anything else, education must be our first priority.

Journalist George Packer wrote in The Guardian, “In or around 1978, America’s character changed. For almost half a century, the United States had been a relatively egalitarian, secure, middle-class democracy, with structures in place that supported the aspirations of ordinary people.”

But since the 1970’s something has slipped about the United States. There isn’t any one thing that has contributed to the decline of the United States. It is myopic to attribute one grand problem to one grand causation. The issues that have weighed down the United States relative to other nations over the last 30 years are vast. And the solution must be equally vast, but they eminate from one primary agenda: better education.

As we head into the final months of a pivotal and sensational U.S. Presidential campaign it is worth reflecting on how we got here and how we can do better, not just during the next four years but over the next four decades.

Brianna Tellez will be 58 in four decades. What will her United States be like then? It will arrive with dizzying speed, as the inevitability of history does.

What will her individual choices be going forward, and how will they shape our national choices and trajectory? So far Tellez has rejected the prominent narrative of her family leaving school. She has gone against the grain for a greater good, a better hope, a more promising future.

Will our nation have the collective wisdom to show the same courage as Brianna Tellez?