Speed-painting figures for train layouts in five easy steps

Painting figures for train layouts is a task that few toy train hobbyists relish, but we can borrow techniques from other hobbies to solve that problem. The model railroading and toy train hobbies have solved a lot of problems for hobbyists in other fields, and I don’t think we borrow from those other hobbies as much as we could.

One problem the miniature wargaming hobby has solved is painting large quantities of figures rapidly while getting acceptable results.

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The Ferguson race riots: An outsider’s perspective from not far outside

A Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, on August 9, 2014. The night after, riots broke out.

Ferguson is an inner-ring suburb in north St. Louis County. As such, Ferguson is now approximately 67% African-American, although the power structure remains mostly white.

I am a native of Kansas City who has lived in suburban St. Louis for a little more than 20 years. As a quasi-outsider, St. Louis has some quirks that I recognize and understand. It helps to understand that St. Louis is very divided, both along the lines of race but also along the lines of class. One of the first questions many St. Louisans will ask you is what high school you went to. This conveniently tells people how much money you grew up with. If you went to a private school, you’re good. If you went to a public school in an affluent area, you’re good. If you went to a public school in a poor area, I hope you’re living in a more affluent area now because there are people who will look down on you.

Sometimes the lines are fuzzy but sometimes they’re very stark. In north St. Louis, there’s an east-west street called Delmar. On the south side of the street are expensive houses. I won’t say they’re all millionaires on that side of the street, but many undoubtedly are. On the north side of the street, the houses that aren’t vacant are occupied by people who have minimum-wage jobs. The haves and have-nots can stare at each other from their windows, separated by five lanes of traffic. This oddity has even caught the attention of the BBC.

Ferguson is a step up from the wrong side of Delmar, but many St. Louisans would have jumped to conclusions about Michael Brown and his Normandy High School diploma for the rest of his life, regardless of how long that might have been. Read more

I am not in jail.

The bank vice president apologized for calling the police on me.

That’s neither the beginning nor the end of the story, but it seems to me that police involvement of any kind is a sign that your real estate deal isn’t going as well as it could.

It all began with a Citibank loan officer named Aaron who promised me a smooth closing. In my view, being questioned by a uniformed police officer has no place in a smooth closing. And that wasn’t even the worst part of it, which troubles me.  Read more

It’s time to strike down the red-light cameras

I saw some abuses of the red-light cameras on the news at noon. In one case, the car next to the one that ran the light got the ticket. In another, the owner wasn’t driving the car. The reporter asked the mayor of Florissant, Thomas Schneider, if that was fair.

“It’s safe,” he said. And he said the same thing to every other question the reporter asked.

That’s debatable. But guess what? Josef Stalin’s regime was very safe. Do what Stalin said, and you were safe. That doesn’t make Stalin fair, right, or ethical. It doesn’t make Schneider fair, right, or ethical either.

It’s not safe, either.

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There goes the neighborhood

“Dave, you need to look at this.”

Those aren’t my favorite words to hear first thing Monday morning. I went outside to see, and there, I found a lot of debris scattered on the ground. At first, it looked like some animal had torn open a garbage bag. But then I got closer and saw it wasn’t garbage and trash. I saw coupons, credit cards, some change, and other personal effects.

Around that time, one of our next-door neighbors came out to let her dogs do their morning ritual. She and my wife waited while I went inside to call the police.
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What’s wrong with Kirkwood?

Tonight at 7 PM, a Kirkwood area contractor named Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton walked in to a city council meeting. On his way in he shot two police officers, then opened fire and shot five others, including the mayor, his intended target. He fired on the city attorney and missed; the attorney fought back by throwing chairs at Thornton until more police officers ran in and shot Thornton dead.

Five of Thornton’s victims are dead.Kirkwood is the place where Kevin Johnson hunted down, shot and killed police officer William McEntee after the Kirkwood Police were unable to save his half brother in 2005.

A little over a year ago, kidnapping victims Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby were found in a Kirkwood apartment.

Thornton and Johnson lived about three blocks apart, in Kirkwood’s Meacham Park neighborhood.

What’s wrong with Kirkwood?

Well, mostly Meacham Park, which is what was wrong with Kirkwood 20 years ago.

Kirkwood is largely an upper middle-class suburb today, although there are working-class pockets. At one time it was a railroad town, and it shows in some of the neighborhoods. But by and large, it’s the kind of place a doctor, lawyer, or executive wouldn’t be ashamed to call home, and a potential client wouldn’t think any less of a professional who hailed from there.

I know the area well and like it. In high school, I worked in a restaurant in Kirkwood. I worked in Kirkwood off and on from 1998 to 2005. I don’t live there mostly because I can’t afford to.

When I was a teenager, Meacham Park was mostly a nuisance. People from Meacham Park would come into the restaurant and cause trouble, making a mess or stealing things, whether it would be food off the salad bar or stupid stuff like napkins or straws. When a shift supervisor disappeared mysteriously one night and left the safe empty except for a single $5 bill and some singles, he hid out in Meacham Park. Another coworker who lived in Meacham Park found him–alive.

When parts of Meacham Park were leveled to make way for an enormous strip mall, I didn’t shed any tears for it.

How you fix the Meacham Park problem is pretty clear–provide opportunities. Thornton, by the accounts I’m hearing, did some things right. He had a bachelor’s degree and ran a small business. Unfortunately he racked up more than $18,500 worth of fines, which has been cited as a motive in the shootings. Thornton used to show up at city council meetings and cause trouble. I guess he couldn’t come up with a more constructive way to protest the fines.

It would have been better if he just would have gotten the permits he was supposed to get in order to conduct his business legally.

Thornton claimed discrimination, and others have said he would get ticketed for minor violations. I knew plenty of Kirkwood police officers from my time working in the restaurant. This goes back several years of course, but the Kirkwood police weren’t prejudiced against people because of the color of their skin. They were prejudiced against people who caused problems.

Many of my coworkers were African-American, and the only one who had problems with the Kirkwood police was involved in criminal activity, so it was justifiable.

So I believe they may have targeted Thornton, but I believe the motivation was the past violations.

I don’t know many details of what’s happening, but if you’re a praying person, please pray for the city of Kirkwood and the families of the six deceased and two wounded.

St. George story seems all too believable

I’m sure almost everyone has heard the story about a 20-year-old getting harrassed by a police officer in a commuter lot and being told he could be arrested and he could just make up any old story as an excuse. The story’s been all over Digg and even hit some national news sites, such as USA Today.

It happened in St. George, Missouri. It’s the next town over from me, an obstacle on my way to my favorite hobby shop, pizza place, and batting cage.In high school, teachers actually warned us about that town, since the shortest route to the nearest Interstate takes you right through there. When I was 17, I did some computer work for someone who lived in St. George, and she provided me with a map indicating the precise location of each stop sign and gave me a stern warning to stop for a full five seconds at each sign. She told me a cop would be watching me with a stopwatch.

I did what she said and didn’t have problems.

Usually when someone has a flat tire or other car trouble, if a police officer is nearby and sees it, the officer will pull up behind them, angle the car and flip the lights on to keep passing drivers away from the scene. And it’s not uncommon to see the officer actually help the driver change the tire.

Not in St. George. In St. George the cop just keeps zapping motorists with the radar gun. I’ve seen it more than once.

I’ve been pulled over four times in my life. The first was a combination of factors: I made a U-turn, it was late at night, and my skin was the wrong color to be turning into that particular neighborhood. I was driving a coworker home. The officer let me go with a verbal warning.

The second time I was pulled over, it was by a cop who was notorious for harrassing kids. I know he was lying about the speed I was going because I knew the area and I didn’t like driving it much faster than 35 miles per hour (the posted limit). He said I’d been doing 47, which would have been suicide on that stretch of road. That stretch of road doesn’t even exist anymore, and for good reason. After he ran my record and found absolutely nothing, he let me go, but he said he’d go tell my mother what I’d been doing. I might have been a bit worried, if I’d been doing something wrong.

The third time I was pulled over was near the Lake of the Ozarks. The speed limit is 55 most of the way, but a lot of towns drop it down to ridiculous lows. I didn’t slow down enough, and I got pulled over. I didn’t get a ticket but I got a written warning.

The fourth and last time I’ve been pulled over was in St. George. It was late on a Friday, I was coming home from a Bible study (yes, really), and I was watching my speed carefully because I knew exactly where I was. When I saw the flashing lights behind me, I had no idea why. I pulled over, half expecting him to zoom past me, but he pulled over too. He told me right away why: The light over my license plate was burned out.

Up until then it had never occurred to me that there was a light over your license plate, let alone that it was illegal to drive without one. I’d been rear-ended a couple of weeks before, and that probably was the reason the light was out. He took my license, went back to the car and ran my record (as far as I know, still two words long: “No record”), strolled back to my car, and gave me a second lecture about the light over my plate. I told him I didn’t know the light was out.

“Well you do now,” he bellowed, and threw my license back at me.

So I drove my menace-to-society car out of St. George and back home, wondering all the way how many people have managed to get pulled over there and not get a ticket. Probably not many.

In this local account, the St. George police chief denies being a speed trap. “It’s not true. My officers are told to enforce the law. I want quality, not quantity. I want the drugs, the impaired drivers. Those’re the things that make a difference.”

I’ll believe it when I see it. If there’s any drug trafficking going on, it’s along I-55, just outside the city limits. There’s a small bar a mile or two away at the corner of Mackenzie and Gravois, but it’s not very big. I don’t think it produces many drunk drivers since there’s only room for about five cars in its parking lot.

I think they’re more worried about burned-out headlights, people stopping for less than three seconds at stop signs, and people who look like they might be under 18 violating curfew. I think the latter is the reason Brett Darrow was pulled over and harrassed.

If St. George is indeed cleaning up its act, it’s going to take a long time for the reputation to change. Twenty years ago it had a reputation for being a place where they’d pull you over if you didn’t shave that morning, and reputations like that don’t develop overnight.

Maybe a little national attention will give the cleanup a little more sincerity.

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