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Standing ankle deep in black, slimy swamp muck, Sgt. William “Billy” Franks paused to catch his breath and to look over his shoulder, for the umpteenth time.

Nothing moving, not even a leaf. Good.

The humid jungle was also silent. Even better.

They were still a ways behind him, he hoped. But they were coming. He knew so because every hair on the back of his neck stoodt attention, and the neck-hair test had never been wrong before. Not ever.

Unfortunately, he was confident it wouldn’t be wrong this time, either.

Sgt. Franks was parched. His lips and throat as dry as desert sand, a reminder of the last time he’d been in a serious battle, fighting to survive. Hard to believe that conflict beneath a blazing Iraqi sun had been only a week ago.

He just couldn’t seem to steer clear of trouble, no matter how hard he tried.

No time to think about it, though.

Not now.

The setting sun had already begun to paint the surrounding landscape in various shades of gray and black. Giant shadows crept slowly across the forest floor, feeding on splotches of light along the way.

Night was coming as fast as they were.

Finding clean water to drink would have to wait.

It was time to move on.

He’d fought the enemy—the entire outfit—all afternoon, before finally escaping into the jungle where he’d been running for hours.

The sergeant’s hair was caked with mud and his camouflaged BDU’s were wet and filthy. His rifle, thankfully, was dry. He was exhausted and unsure how much longer he could continue.

They were relentless in their pursuit, and he was sure they were closing in.

He had to find the strength to keep moving.

Suddenly he heard a voice from beyond the vines and thick, lush plants to his left. He dove for cover behind a moss-covered log. Something large and long slithered away through the undergrowth covering the forest floor.

He heard it again. This time the voice seemed closer.

The sergeant, knowing his options were now few, took a quick peek over the rotting tree. He saw someone standing in a clearing just beyond the treeline.

They called out again.

“Billy, it’s time to wash up for dinner!”

Sgt. Billy Franks, knowing it would not be in his best interest to dilly-dally, stood and used his hands to brush the dirt from his knees. Then he stepped from the small patch of woods into his backyard where his mother stood waiting. He whispered to himself, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be a cowboy.”

Glancing back over his shoulder he saw a Native American standing in the shadows—his next adversary appeared ready for battle.

The warrior locked eyes with Billy for a second and then faded into the forest. A drumbeat began to thump from a place deep in the woods.

“Tomorrow, Chief, right after I’ve had my Fruit Loops and orange juice, it’s you and me. Because those woods aren’t big enough for both of us.”

Shouldering the stick he used as a pretend rifle, Billy marched toward his mother, wishing he were five again because being six was really hard work.

 

Blue Mountain School District Superintendent David Helsel said they’d placed buckets filled with river stones in all classrooms. Their purpose? To allow students a chance to defend themselves in the event of a school shooting.

The Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania official said the idea to arm kids with rocks came to him when he pictured river stones as a comfortable size for the hands of children. The theory was to have the rock bucket on standby in case an armed shooter burst in the classroom while firing a semi-automatic AR-15 or similar rifle. Or even a pistol or two (far more people are killed with handguns than long guns).

Shooter Seung-Hui Cho killed 25 students and five faculty members at Virginia Tech. Cho fired 174 rounds from two handguns.

So let’s picture this for a moment. The alarm sounds (this is not the actual message) … “Emergency! There is an active shooter inside the building. No time to evacuate. Lock all doors and shelter in place. The police are on the way!”

Teachers and children hustle to a rear section of the classroom and use whatever they can find to use as barricades. The gunfire is intense. People are screaming. The shooter is yelling. Police sirens are wailing outside in the distance. Some of the kids are crying and sobbing. Others are using cell phones to call their parents. The teacher is trembling, but trying to be brave. More gunfire and the sound of glass breaking.

Front and center of the group is a plastic bucket filled with lemon-size, smooth and pretty river stones. Everyone grabs three or four. They’re ready to clobber the guy who’s coming down the hallway. Then …

The classroom door bursts open and the barrel of an AR-15 pokes through the opening. Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets begin to spew from the muzzle at a speed of somewhere around at 3,350 fps, and they’re peppering the walls, desks, ceiling, windows, barricades, teachers, children, and the rock bucket, as fast as the killer can pull the trigger.

An AR-15 style rifle is a lightweight semi-automatic rifle.

During the blast of intense gunfire, there is simply no way on this earth that children would have the time to grab a rock and throw it with enough accuracy to stop a crazed killer who’s intent on carrying out the act. Typically, these guys are not afraid of dying and may kill themselves at the end of the shooting. So someone tossing river stones at a gun-toting madman? No way.

This would be more realistic …

Fortunately, officials came to their senses and are now stepping up school security by hiring security armed with guns. I think the rocks still remain, but …

Kevlar Blankets

By the way, why not equip classrooms with large “blankets” made of Kevlar? Kids and teachers could hide behind them and, who knows, the shields could give them the chance to survive an attack.

#neverbringarocktoagunfight

#kevlarblankets

#kevlarbuckets


I’d love to hear your thoughts on adding a bucket of rocks in classrooms as a means of defense against an armed shooter. Also, who knows what the “AR” in AR-15 stands for? Hint. It’s not Assault Rifle.

*As always, please, no comments about politics, gun control, race, religion, or any of the other hot button whatever-no-one-can-discuss-rationally topics. Thanks!

 

It’s no secret that many children of incarcerated parents are practically pre-destined to follow those same paths to a life of crime, followed by time spent in prisons and jails.

If memory serves, these kids are five or six times more likely to commit crimes than other kids their own age.

What’s it like to live as a member of one of those families? Well, let’s take a peek into the life of the Atwood family—Vernon and Vernon, Jr. Carly Atwater, Vernon’s wife and mother of Vernon, Jr., left many years ago. Couldn’t take the drinking and abuse.

So …

It had been nearly three years since Vernon Atwater had last seen his oldest son, Vernon, Jr.

December 14th, a day he would never forget, started when the judge, the Honorable James T. Williams, found Junior guilty of murder and sentenced him to twenty-five years in the penitentiary. Sheriffs’ deputies immediately handcuffed the newly convicted man and led him from the courtroom through a set of heavy wooden doors at the rear of the room.

Two hours later, Vernon stood outside on the sidewalk, pulling a few drags on a Lucky Strike, watching as two burly deputies helped his boy into an unmarked car to take him to the state prison in Rocky Creek.

Vernon spent the rest of the day in his grassless backyard, sitting in an old rickety kitchen chair drinking cheap beer and wondering what he’d done that caused Junior to do the things he did.

Vernon felt guilty for not driving to “The Creek” to see Junior, but something had always come up—overtime at the mill, the truck needed new brakes, the roof needed replacing. Those things took time and before he knew it weeks had turned into months and months into years.

Needless to say, Vernon was more than a little nervous about seeing Junior. Three years was a long time. His heart pounded and thumped against the inside of his chest as the car turned from the main highway onto the narrow blacktop leading to the penitentiary.

The sight of the gleaming razor wire atop the double fences caused his throat to tighten. He hoped his boy was all right. He’d heard every horrible prison story there was to tell. But Junior was tough. He’d never allow anyone to do him harm. Of that he was firmly convinced. Still …

Hundreds of men behind the fences were engaged in all sorts of activities. They paused from their weight-lifting, jogging, handball, bocce ball, and basketball, trying to get a glimpse inside the passing vehicle.

He wondered how his son was going to react to seeing him today. He wondered if anyone had even told him he was coming.

At least this visit would be a long one.

Two six packs of beer. An argument over a stupid football game. One thing led to another and out came the hunting knife. A few months later Vernon found himself standing in the same upstairs courtroom, in the very spot where Vernon, Jr. once stood, facing Judge James. T. Williams.

Judge Williams, by the way, remembered Vernon, Jr’s case and made a point to mention it during the tongue-lashing he delivered to the elder Vernon during a lengthly and fiery pre-sentencing statement.

Vernon tried to be strong but his knees nearly buckled when he heard the judge hand down his sentence—twenty-five years to life.

It’s really true, Vernon thought as the unmarked sheriff’s car pulled into the prison sally port, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The apple doesn’t fall far

My Friend Cayla is not the typical secret agent. Not even close. In fact, her identity is out there for the world to see and she doesn’t care who knows her capabilities. She’s that good.

Standing at a towering 18 inches and powered by 3AA batteries, Cayla is able to carry on conversations with your children. She can also ramble on and on about herself—likes, dislikes, and even her possible career choices as she grows older.

Yes, Cayla is a doll, a child’s toy labeled as a “mole” and recently banned by the German government because of her ability to spy on the people around her. The country considers the doll to be so harmful that the FNC, Germany’s telecommunications network, issued an order to the public, instructing them to destroy every single Cayla doll in their possession.

My Friend Cayla is NOT Your Friend. She’s a Spy!

The order further instructed parents/Cayla doll owners to fill out a certificate of destruction and have it signed by a legitimate waste-management company official. The signed documents are then to be sent back to the FNA as proof the dolls were indeed destroyed. German law provides for aa potential fine of $26,500 and two years in prison as a general punishment for not following the FNA orders.

Cayla, you see, can be easily hacked by anyone within 30 feet of the dolls transmitting device. And, the Cayla dolls (also included are the i-Q Intelligence Robot) were found to be transmitting audio recordings to a third party specializing in voice recognition for police and military forces.

Ask Cayla if she can be trusted and she responds, “I don’t know.” A future politician, perhaps?

 

Banned in Germany, Cayla dolls are capable of spying on your kids, and you!

The dolls, designed as playmates for children, ask kids for their personal information—name, address, phone number, parent’s names, hometown, names of schools attended, and much more. All this without obtaining parents’ permission to collect the personal data.

The company producing the dolls says there’s nothing shady about the practice of collecting the data, which, they say, is used to enhance the experience of playing with an interactive doll.

Nuance – Dragon Naturally Speaking

Nuance, the company best-known  for Dragon, the speech-to-text dictation software (I used it from time-to-time when writing my book on police procedure and investigation), is also a defense contractor that sells “voice biometric solutions” to the military and to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Nuance makes the interactive voice recognition system used in these toys (Cayla dolls, etc.).

Nuance’s privacy policy states “We may use the information that we collect for our internal purposes to develop, tune, enhance, and improve our products and services, and for advertising and marketing consistent with this Privacy Policy.”

It continues, “If you are under 18 or otherwise would be required to have parent or guardian consent to share information with Nuance, you should not send any information about yourself to us.”

How many 6-year-olds will keep that directive in mind when her best friend, Cayla, asks for her mommy’s name and where she works? You’re right – Zero. And, who’s watching for the person who’s truly directing Cayla to ask the questions spouting from her plastic mouth?

After all, it could be the kidnapper/rapist sitting inside the ice cream truck parked at the curb—the creepy guy who just learned from your 9-year-daughter that her mommy will out for a couple of hours, but her 12-year-old sister is babysitting, and sure, they both like ice cream. And, of course she promised her friend Cayla that would not tell mom or dad.

So … as soon as you’re out the door and out of sight, Mr. Stranger arrives at the front door with ice cream, balloons, and candy in hand …

Hackers gain access to these dolls via Bluetooth connection

The dolls are connected to an app (typically a parent sets it up on their phone(s). Once accessed, the dolls are in the control the hacker, and the information received is theirs to do with as they wish.

Voiceprints

Data received and recorded can also be “voiceprint” for future access to “locations” without having to be physically present.

*Source – Consumerist, NPR, Washington Post… and me.

 

A weed eater that refuses to start no matter how many times I pull its cardiac-event-inducing rope. A leaf blower cut from the same cloth. An asthmatic air compressor. Pliers that no longer … ply (is that even a word?). And, well, you get the idea. My tools are broken.

It seems like just yesterday when I could sound the alarm, calling all my tools to be ready at a moment’s notice. And there they’d stand, handle to handle with looks of determination on their gleaming metal surfaces. Together, we could build or fix anything.

Recently, however, when I called my tools to action their response was lackluster at best. Why, it nearly took an act of congress (well, a congress that will actually do something) to get them out of their drawers and off the garage shelves.

When I finally managed to assemble my once faithful tools … well, I could hardly believe my eyes. What had happened to my rugged and sturdy friends? The screwdrivers, for example, were nervous and barely able to stop trembling long enough to connect with the slots on the screws needed to secure pictures and other do-dads to our freshly painted walls. Other hand tools were equally as shaky. It was a true puzzle. After all, they were all perfectly fine when I put them away after our last team venture.

#brokentools

Nuts, bolts, nails, and other fasteners were also in on the mysterious rebellion. The boxes of screws that line my workshop shelves quickly stepped forward to mess with me as well. That’s right, sometime between the last project and the new one, my assortment of sneaky drywall screws had reduced the size of the text on their containers. I couldn’t read the labels! I think it’s an attempt to prevent me from using any, keeping their twisted family members together.

There’s more—worn out wrenches, dead drill batteries, and to top it all off, my hammers are heavier than they used to be. What, I wondered, could they have possibly consumed that caused them to add all that extra weight? Was it due to a lack of exercise? Adding insult to injury, some prick glued my sledgehammer to the floor. Can’t budge it.

So, standing in the center of my workshop I slowly examined each item on each of the shelves. I was a visitor to an old-tools retirement home. Then it hit me, and my mind took me back to when I was a kid staying with my grandparents, something I did every summer.

Grandfathers Can Do Anything!

My grandfather was extremely handy. He could build, fix, paint, hammer with the best of them. In fact, he may very well have been the best fixer-upper man on the planet. In my eyes, he was the king of all things hammer and nails. I watched him work and, in turn, I learned his secrets. AND, I recalled that he performed his DIY miracles using…broken tools. Yes, his tools, too, were in a shoddy state—hints of decay, worn pull-ropes, dents, nicks, scratches, and so on.

Broken tools – life is short.
#brokentools

My fingers in those days, small and stubby, were not of sufficient length to fully close around the handle of my grandfather’s rusty-red pipe wrench. Nor were my young muscles strong enough to heft the blasted thing from its spot in my grandfather’s homemade wooden toolbox, a box filled with damaged goods. While digging through the vast assortment of antiquities, I remember thinking that when I grew up I’d never let my tools get in such a state.

My Grandfather’s Toolbox

Well, it’s been fifty years since I first dug my paws around in my grandfather’s toolbox. It took me that entire half-century to realize that broken tools are THE sign that someone has reached the threshold that divides the uphill climb of youth to the point where it all goes downhill. And there, my friends, is the place where I am today, in the midst of broken tools. I have become my grandfather.

Now, I could sit around the house and pout and whine about my advancing years and the dismembered and rusty work implements in my garage. But that’s not me. I’m not yet ready to totally succumb to the dreaded “broken tool syndrome.”

In fact, I did what all adult men should do at the first sign of the dreaded disease. I drove straight to a local home improvement store where I purchased a new, battery-powered weed eater and a battery-powered leaf blower. Why battery power? Because I’m too freakin’ old to pull those ropes! That’s why. Besides, the city doesn’t allow large livestock (grazing animals) in our yards. They do, however, allow residents to own a few chickens, but they only eat bugs, not grass and weeds.

Yes, my tools are broken, but I’m not stupid. I know I’ve grown older and arthritis doesn’t permit me to do many of things I used to enjoy. Yard work falls directly into this category. Sadly, I’ve had to hire a professional to assist me with my outdoor chores. Fortunately, we get along just fine. He’s a bit stubborn at times, but gets the job done.

By the way, the hammer pictured above (with the broken mirror) belonged to my grandfather. Prior to his ownership, it belonged to his father. I still use it.

Grandfathers and Grandkids: Broken Tools

I plan to pass on all of my grandfather’s tools to our grandson, Tyler. Actually, he first used a couple of them when he helped me with a project several years ago. His hands were small, too small to hold them properly, but he tried. We even used some of those tools to cobble together a few wooden toys—police tools. And then we played cops and robbers, for hours.

Several years have passed since those days. Tyler is now in high school. He’s a champion wrestler and martial artist with a room filled with trophies and numerous other awards.

It was an important moment for me, the day I first placed one of my grandfather’s tools into the hands of my grandson. Silly, I know. I also know the sentiment surrounding these tools will most likely fade with time, possibly as soon as the day I’m no longer here.

Still, I will rest easy knowing they’re in Tyler’s hands.

#ThankGodforkids #Grandkidstoo

#WilliamLeeGolden #OakRidgeBoys