Dear Diary, Nov. 24

November 24th, 2004  |  Published in Uncategorized

Yesterday:

  • The Volvo passed its DEQ inspection, so it’s no longer an environmental menace, the salmon are safe, and I can drive it around without fear of reprisal from the government. Ben’s car seat has been officially transferred from the Saturn since I’m the official Ben Chauffeur to and from daycare each day.

  • I discovered that the iTrip, which struggles to be heard without interference in the Saturn, can broadcast from my breast pocket when I’m in the Volvo as long as I have the little switch that makes the FM antenna go down flipped.

  • The Wisconsin Deer Hunting Massacre exposes why we need reporters who can make sense out of their own clever research when they discover the shooter was an “Army sharpshooter” (more on that at the bottom).

A few words about the Volvo:

It’s a 1987 240GL four door sedan. I bought it during what Al and I remember as “The Carless Summer,” the year her Toyota wagon almost literally dropped its transmission on the street. We got around on bikes the rest of the summer.

We came across the Volvo as we were walking back from a trip to the UVa library and I wanted it instantly. I’d just gotten one of my first checks from a freelance editorial gig and the car was for sale for exactly half of that check. 1987 wasn’t too long ago, but a car that old still required some caution. We took it out for a test drive and prodded around under the hood and it looked… you know… like it ran.

1987 being as recent as it was, it’s sort of surprising the things that stick out about the car. I know from dad’s brutal experience with a much older pair of 240s (a ’67 and a ’72 he tried to wed) that there’s more electronic stuff than you might suspect, but the car’s overwhelming essence is analog… analog dials, incandescent warning lights that don’t mind looking incandescent… you can see the filaments shining through the plastic covers, big control knobs with few choices spread far apart, a sun roof with a crank that’s geared such that large & swooping arm motions are needed to make it work. The seats are worn leather, and the padded vinyl that covers the dash surfaces has a rough surface.

Getting in and out of the Saturn involves a lunging, unfolding motion… like climbing in and out of a jet fighter might feel. It sits low to the ground and creates a sense of claustrophobic blindspots with its small rear window and severely sloped windshield. The Volvo has big doors it’s easy to step in and out of as easily as walking in and out of a house. It rides high above the street, too, with a much more panoramic view. And it has seat warmers. Driving it isn’t exactly “fun,” but it’s a smooth ride and it’s a lot more comfortable than the Saturn. It’s good to have it back in operation. And I’d rather have Ben riding around in it than the Saturn.

Having a second car didn’t make a ton of sense over the past year, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the Volvo. Now that Al’s getting ready to start a new job with a more rigid office schedule, it’ll help to have two cars again. And that means the siren call of finally getting all that suspension work done is back. New shocks and struts would do a ton for its overall sense of smoothness. It has 217,000 miles on it, and I suspect it’s been 100k miles since anyone bothered with the suspension.

Shooting

Media coverage of the Wisconsin hunter massacre is maybe a little funny. Some reporters have been making a lot out of the fact that the Hmong hunter who shot up the locals was a US Army veteran with a “sharpshooter” medal.

Sharpshooter, which has lately been used as a euphemism for “sniper” in Iraq doesn’t really mean, uh, “sharpshooter” the way you might think. It’s the middle rating in Army qualifications. It means that on a target range with 40 exposures, the shooter managed to put down more than 32 and less than 39 targets during qualification. In other words, “better than poor, but not that great.” The “sharpshooters” you read about in Iraq are in a different league altogether.

The Army’s standards aren’t particularly rigorous: Prior to enlisting, I put less than two dozen live rounds through a .22 the summer after 8th grade and hadn’t fired anything other than a BB/pellet gun prior to that, and didn’t fire a weapon again until 12 years later. It took a week in basic training to learn how to fire up to Army standards, and I can only take it as a matter of luck and a complete absence of habits good or bad that I managed to set the platoon-high shooting score during rifle qualification (39 out of 40… I put a round over the head of a 250 meter target because it followed right after a 300 meter and I forgot to adjust down a hair, but I hit 6 out of 6 on the 300 meter exposures). My roommate in Korea was a lot more fearsome: He was a competitive pistol shooter in the real world and I remember him firing sharpshooter only once, and he immediately requalified for the expert badge that afternoon he was so ashamed of his performance.

I turned in pretty consistent sharpshooter qualifications (36’s and 37’s) after basic training, mostly because I refused to quit smoking and drinking coffee the day of a qualifying range, and nicotine plays all sorts of hell with your shooting, especially first thing in the morning.

Point being that an “Army sharpshooter” is a lot of things, but “Terminator-like killing machine” isn’t one of them. And the Marines put Army marksmanship to shame. I’d guess even a poor Marine could tear up an Army course.

As for the rest of that tragic story, I lived a few years among gun/hunting people and I know how they get in the woods. I don’t believe the whole “We asked him politely to leave and he went bananas and lit us up” story. We’ll never know the truth though, will we? There are a lot of dead people, the shooter seems to have gone well beyond the minimum needed to defend himself and get out of the area, and there are enough survivors that there are plenty of words against his. Hope they move the venue for him.

Six dead people. And if I had to bet on why, I’d guess a terrible collision of swaggering machismo and fear.

Note the article I linked to, btw. Appleton, WI. Where Florian Kardoskee was from. I wonder what he had to say about it. “Could be worse” is roughly true, to the extent there are two or three survivors out of a group of eight or nine friends.

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