Monthly Archives: April 2015

Fixing our Motorhome, My Thoughts on GermanWings…Language and Birds

Motorhomes are Miniature houses. They have all the attendant repair problems and maintenance requirements of a real house. This week, we had a local company come in to give it a wash and wax. Last year in California, we had another company take all the giant swooping decals off the sides and the back (what I call clip art). It looks almost new. We replaced the awning at about the same time. We put in a new chassis battery and new house batteries a little while back. The cable that connects the motorhome to our tow car failed and I had that fixed. The automatic steps that come in and out had to be fixed. I installed a water filter on the incoming water hose. (The water in south Texas is not too bad but it has lots of minerals in it, including little rocks that make it all the way to our kitchen faucet after coming down from the headwaters of the Rio Grande River in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado). I have to clear these little guys out every week or so. We had another guy fix our toilet, which was leaking. Last year, in New Mexico, yet another guy came out to fix the hot water system. An (unknown to us) little check valve on the water tank had failed. We just decided to change the carpet in our bedroom. A really old guy has been doing this kind work for a really long time here in South Texas.

Changing the kitchen faucet. A small, flexible teenager or child could probably do this kind of thing but it’s harder for me. Had to pull three kitchen drawers out, lie on a pillow, use a flashlight, a pitching wedge, an assistant and a special question mark-shaped tool to get the old one out. I then put in the new faucet using all the same tools but I still had to invent a little adapter to make it fit. Not bad, except for a few early leaks. But now it looks and works fine. Most people in motorhomes or 5th wheel RVs dread working on plumbing. Even 45 foot motorhomes have valves and stuff you need to fix that are way back behind other stuff.

Not to mention the rat traps, mouse traps, wire mesh, dryer sheets, moth balls and noxious chemicals we use most of the time to keep low level wildlife at bay. I nearly forgot (because I wanted to) that in New Mexico we had pack rat damage that had to be diagnosed and fixed. The rat ate part of the windshield washer hose and the air conditioner vacuum hose. Check out a previous blog where I talked about a blowout and subsequent replacement of all our tires. Whew!! Real houses don’t have tires and axles and motors and clutches and you don’t have to change the oil. But enough about our “house.”

A Couple of Local Texas Stories. We talked to another volunteer couple who told us a story that I have to pass on. On their day off, he and his wife went to Laguna Atascosa NWR, located about 60 miles from here to do some birding. They didn’t see any special birds but the volunteers at Laguna Atascosa said they couldn’t get their motorhome started. They had called a local auto repair shop that sent a guy out to fix the problem. As it happens, the mechanic was caught speeding on the way to the refuge. When he was pulled over, the officer found out he was illegal and took him in. When the volunteers called the shop, the owner told them what had happened and said he wasn’t going to send any of his men out anymore. We got a kick out of that.

Then, I got a call at the Visitor Center from Dispatch. They said a visitor’s car had its lights on and the door open.   I had a suspicion who they were and ran out toward the trailhead to catch them. As I did, I nearly ran into four young guys. I stopped briefly and said “Uh…hello.” As we crossed each other’s path, I thought to myself “Now those are illegals for sure.” Five minutes later, I caught up with the visitors and brought them back to the VC. As they walked out toward the parking lot, I saw a border patrol vehicle with three guys sitting on the ground next to it. I told the officer that I had seen four guys. She said, “No, there are five of them, including a woman.” Pretty quick a BP helicopter started flying overhead, sometimes very low to the ground. They rounded up eight.

three visitorsVolunteer Appreciation Dinner. The Refuge gathered all the volunteers together and catered a big dinner that included awards and pins. Arlyne and I aren’t really pin collectors but we have put in over 635 volunteer hours at National Wildlife Refuges. In volunteer circles, this isn’t a big deal but there are a few folks here that have less.

Hawk Watch Report. Every year during April and May, a set of volunteers comes to Santa Ana NWR to watch the skies and report the number of migrating raptors that fly north. Many of us have seen kettles of hawks flying overhead once in a while in the spring, but these men and women don’t just roughly estimate the number of birds high in the sky. They actually count them and determine, through experience, which raptor species they are and nearly exactly how many cross the levee that marks the northern boundary of the Refuge. If you are looking up and see one raptor cross directly overhead, you count it. It was amazing that just today the Hawk Watch team counted 12,652 broad-winged hawks and 4835 turkey vultures that crossed over the line. As I was standing on the levee for ten minutes, I saw between 35 and 40 turkey vultures circling as they made their way north. With binoculars, however, I could see that there were four Swainson’s hawks flying with them. So I revised my count down to 36 vultures and four hawks. Best I could do.

My Comments on the GermanWings Tragedy. We’ve all now heard about the German co-pilot who flew his airplane into the French Alps, killing everyone on board. There will be more information forthcoming about this guy but here are some of my thoughts. A lot of talking heads are delivering their remarks about the situation but I am missing something so far. Everyone is sad and attempting to analyze the event. I’m not sad. I’m angry. Of course, I’m angry at the co-pilot, really angry. But I’m also angry at GermanWings, the company that apparently knew this guy was troubled. They knew. I’m very, very angry at the doctors who treated him. They knew of his various conditions and did nothing, knowing that he was continuing to fly with passengers at his mercy. They wrote him a note, advising him not to fly. They wrote HIM a note? I’ve watched enough Law and Order episodes. Privacy and confidentiality laws are nice except when 150 people are dangerously susceptible to a deranged pilot. Any physician, of any kind, should immediately release information that indicates a dangerous situation is looming, even to the point of violating confidentiality laws. They could even have misdiagnosed him as antisocial, psychotic, suicidal or something else, but in any case, they could have prevented what happened. These “doctors” failed him and failed the passengers. Live with that Dr. Mengele, et al. I’m especially angry at the girlfriend, who knew he was very troubled and did nothing except break up with him, making matters far worse. He told her stuff that a child could have interpreted as critically important. One phone call from her, even anonymously, could have potentially prevented this awful incident. I’m very angry at his fellow pilots, who probably said “He’s a little whacky but he’ll be fine.” I’m angry at other flight crewmembers as well, who probably also knew he was troubled. “Maybe it’ll be OK.” I’m also really very angry at the “moments of silence” for the victims. “Moment of Silence?” How about a riot? That’s what I would do. Let’s have some anger for his parents and friends and neighbors. Surely, they knew he was on the verge of a breakdown of some kind. Finally, I’m angry at the lack of imagination of all the world’s best minds and aviation experts leading, like 9/11, to a tragedy that no one saw coming. Not too long before 9/11, a U.S. Government report (which I read later) about possible terrorist actions with airplanes never envisioned bad people using commercial aircraft to actually fly into buildings on purpose. They postulated lots of ways terrorists could cause destruction, but missed the one thing that the terrorists actually did. The same thing happened over the Alps. No one ever thought this could happen, even though it had happened before. They didn’t think of it. That makes me angry too. Wait a year, and THEN have a moment of silence. If my children or my wife or my friends had been on that plane, I’d be angrier than I am now and I wouldn’t be able to get by with a moment of silence.

My Comments on the Continuous Dumbing Down of our Language.  I’m not picking on any one person but perhaps particular parts of our country. First, think about this: The average American has a total vocabulary of 4000-5000 words (Google). This number, however, takes into account words such as drive, drives, driven, and drove to reach that total. These numbers don’t represent just spoken words, but include words that are recognized but aren’t used in speech. People over 50, according to test results, have similar vocabularies that range from 20,000 to nearly 50,000 words, depending on how much they have read.   Many people in this country manage with a spoken vocabulary of only 200-600 words. Note: William F. Buckley used over 30,000 words spoken regularly. Studies have shown (now there’s a tired phrase) that reading a lot (especially fiction) before age 15 establishes a significantly larger vocabulary than someone who doesn’t read very much at an early age. Get going all you grandchildren out there.

Even if people have a limited vocabulary, I continue to be disappointed when I hear such phrases as: “We was on our porch when…..” or “Your battery cables are wore out, my friend..” or “We looked over there but we didn’t see nobody…” or “I see him over at the store.” Other phrases include generally unnoticed errors such as “I’m going to bring my car to the shop” instead of “I’m going to take my car to the shop” or “I boughten my car from Johnny.” This type of English grates on my nerves. Did these speakers drop out of school halfway through the 1st grade? Even if this type of speech is quite regional and local, how is it propagated over generations? Further, of course, does anyone care, since we can (reluctantly) understand what is meant?

Growing up in a semi-rural area, I heard such phrases as “seminizer” instead of semi-truck/trailer or “dumper truck” instead of dump truck but I accept these as colorful terms that are often used by uneducated people as part of their humor. I realize most people learn English from their parents and probably, unconsciously, limit their vocabulary to what is traditionally spoken in the home and among their friends. Of course, if you run a neighborhood business and your entire customer base speaks disappointingly poor English, you had better talk just like them.

Further, we all know (at least some of us) that a common trait in this country now is to avoid showing a semblance of education or knowledge for fear of not fitting in; “Showoff”. “Think you’re better than us?” “Smart ass.”

Now, that too is disappointing. Discussing this subject with my brother Bill, he reminded me that most people’s grandparents took language very seriously. It was important to them. They aspired to be accepted into what I call “polite society” even if they were not otherwise well educated. In these modern times, almost everybody in the U.S. is certainly encouraged and usually required to finish high school.   English is taught there. Why doesn’t it stick?

I think the current era of YouTube, streaming movies, video in all news broadcasts and a hard requirement for fine print in TV commercials (disclaimers, exceptions, time limits, etc.) to be very, very small and only shown for 2-3 seconds, is a reflection of declining importance of the written word to many Americans. Can we all say “soundbite?” Political speeches (the new TV commercials) are fraught with words that are written by someone other the speaker. Words do matter, at least behind the scenes, but it’s the one-way speech delivered to large audiences using simple, powerful, loaded words that really has an impact. This is what the average American understands.

NEXT.  Maybe I’ll investigate “math” in America next. I don’t like the phrase “You do the math” when the problem is 4th grade arithmetic. No, YOU do the math, I’ve already done it.  But enough of my ranting.  Lets have some birds, including our NEW one from South Padre Island.

Birds……and Thanks for Listening

Bob and Arlyne Draper

yellow-throated vireo black-crested titmouse-2-blog

American bittern-1

Northern parula

Northern parula

sphinx moth altamira oriole-1-blog

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Posted by on April 4, 2015 in Bird Lover