Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Time Well Spent

I don't know how other people blog, I only know how I do it.

Before anything else, I have to want to say something. Thirteen weeks at bootcamp was probably the longest period of my life to spend most of a day shutting up whether I wanted to or not, and while I've overcome that temporary impediment, I still struggle sometimes to figure out what it is that's wanting to get out. And obviously, some days are better for that than others.

Secondly, for me at least, it has to occupy my attention enough to stay around while I play with it, once when it bubbles up, again when I think about it, and finally when I finally clack it out here for public inspection.

Thirdly, it has to be worth saying, and this is the hardest of all. I want something topical enough not to be a story about Sanskrit archaeology, but timeless enough to spend my finite amount of time on the planet bothering with. I figure if it isn't worth my time, it's not worth yours either. Or vice versa, take your pick.

Today I keep thinking about something I saw a few years back. One of the usual parades of Egyptian artifacts was caravaning around the country, and was visiting a local museum, as was I. There were any number of artifacts and curiosities, but the one that stays with me, and that always will, wasn't Tutankhamun's great golden death mask, or some other richly detailed and bejeweled knick knacks, but was rather just a piece of wood not even a foot tall.

What it was, was quite simply one of the most lifelike representations of a typical Egyptian court beauty I think I've ever seen. She was standing, perfectly straight and proportioned, and appropriately covered with the prototypical pleated cotton skirt/shawl, plainly visible and draped over every bit of the perfect form underneath. It was a wooden carving so finely detailed, you could pick out that much. Each curve and feature from her hair to her feet was entirely the equal of a Michelangelo in marble from 3500 years afterwards.

And what struck me was that 4000 years or more ago, someone, probably a royal slave, on some given day had undertaken to carve, with the most basic hand tools, on a simple piece of mere wood with so much skill and grace, such that 40 centuries later it would not only survive, but end up where I would look at it and marvel at the skill, the detail, the honesty of the representation of a woman who would be dust itself long since, if not for the timeless and priceless representation of her standing now in a glass case a foot in front of me, thousands of miles and years from when she had walked the earth, no doubt gracefully, across smooth limestone floors in Pharoah's court centuries before the time of Moses. And that of all the things from so great and vast a civilization that had once existed, but long since perished in the march of the intervening centuries, such a small wooden statue had survived, and travelled so far from where it was made, to make such an impression, as if it had been done just yesterday.

When you see something like that, something so simple and basic, yet so purely well-executed you could reproduce an actual person from it, and have difficulty determining whether the model was the source of the sculpture, or whether it was the other way around, it changes your perspective on what you do every day, and how you spend your time.

I'm not there yet, with blogging or any number of other pursuits, so I can only keep working at it. But who knows which little thing we do on any given day may become just like that little wooden statue, long after we're gone?

And so I can only conclude that if each of us also keep at it, and just once in our lives, manages to produce something that stands the test of time as well as that small bit of Egyptian wood did from 2000 B.C., we would be doing very well indeed.

Monday, May 27, 2013


me·mo·ri·al (m -môr - l, -m r -). n. 1. Something, such as a monument or holiday, intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or an event.

This weekend, as you go about your life, enjoy your picnics and barbecues, or enjoy the beach, a baseball game, or the spectacle of drivers zooming around in amazing cars, make some nodding effort to celebrate and honor those who died giving you that opportunity.

This is not my day, or my brothers', or my nephew's, or my uncle's, or my father's, nor even my grandfather's.

We all served, in Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, during World War Two, at Chosin, Da Nang, Dong Ha, the Fulda Gap, and the DMZ; but we all returned home, and went about our lives. So did most of the men who ever served. We're glad if any appreciate our service, let alone think to mumble out their thanks, whether kneejerk or heartfelt, but such sentiments, however well-intentioned, are not for us at this moment. This is not our day.

Today belongs to the fallen. For the guy who was felled on a stockade in a colonial watch at Jamestown or Plymouth. For someone, even now, who just drove down an Afghani road and entered a maelstrom of fire and flames and screaming and emerged into Eternity in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, and the beat of a heart, and neither departed on his journey nor arrived from it alone.

And to every one of his brothers and sisters in between the first instance and the latest, across time and space, who joined the most magnificent, most praiseworthy, most truly spectacular Honor Guard ever seen in the history of the world, belongs this day.

All of us didn't serve in the military, and even of those of us who did, most of us didn't give our lives in the effort. But whether we served or not, those who did and who laid that ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of our freedom and continued existence as a people deserve our daily respect, our annual celebration, and our eternal gratitude. They selflessly  paid forward a benefit that we can never repay, and banked deposits on account that we must never withdraw, never deplete, and never wipe from their ledgers, or our own humble reckoning.

We live and move and have our being in a freedom purchased at the price of men unafraid to stand up to tyranny, unashamed to stand up and be counted, unable to let their comrades, their people, and their ideals down, and always willing to carry our flag, our beliefs, our own holy ideals of freedom and justice, a little farther onto the beach, up the hill, and across the field of battle, despite the loss of  those who had fallen to their left and their right.

Those of their brothers in arms who were still standing afterwards spawned the next generation, and remembered the strife and glory the fallen had earned with every footstep onward, every battle won, and every foe conquered, like girders and planks and strands of cable in a bridge that stretches from the dawning of our nation to today.

They were supremely committed to what is best among us, what has made us great, and what will keep us great, as long as we are willing to follow in their footsteps. And to always, always, always remember those who couldn't come to where we are, and can't go to where we're headed, as individuals and as a nation. Because the only reason we are who we are, where we are, is because we were carried here by those who dared to keep evil at bay, march into its lair and destroy it, and even in falling in their quest, handed the flag on to us to carry forward. Just as their predecessors handed it to our brothers, our nephews, our uncles, our fathers, and our grandfathers before us, and exactly as we must pass it on to our sons and daughters.

We aren't a great nation because we have a great land. We aren't even a great nation because we have a great army, navy, or military might, or vast hordes of people dedicated to serving in each. We are a great people because we won't be anything less, and because we were raised by those who wouldn't settle for anything less. And because both we and they remember those who wouldn't give anything less than all they had, to preserve our people, our freedom, and our spirit of liberty, to the last full measure of their devotion.

At Arlington National Cemetery, in the former rose garden of Robert E. Lee, down the road from George Washington's farm, and in sight of our nation's capitol, lie the brethren of the Tomb Of the Unknowns, where rest in honored glory, soldiers known but to God.

The rest of their neighbors for eternity, in those hallowed ranks and files at Arlington and a hundred other cemeteries, and under mud and sand and soil and surf and sea, at ten thousand other places where the vanguard of our forces have fallen, need also to rest in honored glory - known to every last single one of us.

Today, unique of all days each year, is this day we have chosen out from among all the rest, that we should honor their sacrifice, and celebrate their devotion, and ever shall.

For the fallen.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rescue 911

The following is certainly not addressed to every reader, only an unfortunate few. So if the shoe fits...

Whether at work, shooting the breeze with others on these Intarwebz, or looking over the paper, the nightly news, or any combination of all of the above, a certain pattern emerges.

It's what I choose to call the
RESCUE 9-1-1 Theory
which is expressed under the following immutable equation:

Intractable forces of nature + Gross human stupidity = Melodrama & Tragedy

It is, as 12 seconds' notice will document, the entire story arc of every episode of the show, Rescue 9-1-1. And at least 75% of my job at the ER, and maybe 80% of the evening news and the newspaper, and 99.99999% of the Darwin Awards.

Some classic examples, from among hundreds of thousands, are
Cat V hurricane + retard in a small boat = ???
Rattlesnake in the yard + unattended 1 yr. old toddler = ???
And so on.

Being logical, I would thusly undertake the following excursion into examining this problem.
Accidents (all types) account for more deaths than anything but heart attacks, cancer, respiratory diseases like TB, and strokes. They're number 5 on the annual Top Ten, and have been for, well, just about ever. They kill 3 times more people than suicides (which makes the Top Ten), and four times more people than gun violence against others (which doesn't).

So looking at the formula that describes the phenomenon, there's only two things with any bearing on it.

Option One, the Unicorn Option, is to figure out how to undo the forces of physics and nature. Best wishes with that, and keep the Nobel Nominating Committee apprised of your progress.

Option Two, the DUH! Option, is far simpler, even for people who score less than 400 on their SATs.

Don't be a ginormous jackass.

Things like not surfing tsunamis, not hand-feeding sharks and grizzly bears, and other sage advice, come readily to mind.

A famous drill instructor, that everybody ever in the military had, said, "It's easy to be hard, but hard to be smart." By which he meant, stupid grows in humans like leaves do on trees.
Which explains his second pearl of wisdom, "Remember, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people."

So, if you want to avoid being a newspaper item, a TV episode, one of my patients, or a really funny story on the Darwin Awards website, don't be that guy.

I realize that many of us, if not all, are descended from the two members of the Cro-magnon tribe, known as Dances With Retards, and her mate, Runs With Scissors.

But despite the default position of your DNA, you - and all of us - can swim upstream against the tides of our own stupid, by not eating a bowl of stupid, and then doing something monumentally stupid.

So do that.

Unless it's really funny, and I either get a hilarious blog post story, or a kickass YouTube video of it in my queue, and dibs on the rights to write it up for the Darwin Awards.

In which case, I request that to properly honor the spirit of that accolade, you don't breed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Coming To Get Your Guns

First of all, no, they aren't.


And hopefully, not ever, but that has to do with a few things. None of which are "because they'd never do that".

It isn't because the government has too much respect for your rights. Typing which sentence almost ruined a perfectly good keyboard here.

Flashback a few scant years to 1941 here in sunny Califrutopia. Our AG and future governor agitated for "rounding up the Japs", the Army agreed, the president decreed, and in short order hundreds of thousands of loyal American citizens meekly complied with being rounded up like cattle and shoved into tar-paper shacks in remote concentration camps, facing biting winters in nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Nota bene that the government didn't go to their homes, and round up their notebooks, sketchbooks, binoculars, and short-wave radios that the presumed disloyal spies were using to abet the Japanese domination of the world.

They rounded up entire families, including infants, collected them in stables, and shipped them to distant deserts, lied about what they were justified in doing all the way to the Supreme Court, which happily acquiesced in the rape of the Bill of Rights, and only after decades and decades did they finally admit they'd screwed the pooch, the Constitution, and everything else, purely out of twin motives of bigotry and greed.

It isn't because "we are a nation of laws", which statement to me today occasioned this particular rant this morning, too good to waste:

As to living in a nation of laws, I'm not seeing what you are. Last I looked the only amendment to the Bill of Rights that wasn't bleeding from being buttraped was the Third Amendment. There are something like 20 million illegal aliens merrily going about their lives here, including the president's aunt, and the AG has announced he's not going to enforce some laws, at his sole discretion, 535 congressmen and senators, 236 years of history, and his oath of office be damned. It's been years since Heller, and yet DC has yet to issue a single handgun permit, despite two Supreme Court cases. DHS has been wiretapping the AP, the IRS is auditting political enemies, and the president and his followers have given Congress the finger on coming clean about how the only American ambassador, representing bodily the entirety of the nation and people of the United States, who has ever been killed, got that way. I pay approx. 50% of my gross pay in taxes every year, Warren Buffet pays 12%, and GE pays none. The government may seize my house to give it to a developer who'll build a mall on it, and it's legal, but if my daughter in the Brownies opens a lemonade stand in the driveway, she's subject to arrest and draconian maltreatment, and the HOA can have me thrown out of my own house. If I punish her I can lose all my kids forever, go to prison, and be forced to attend mandatory anti-violence re-programming, including if she lies about it, but she can get birth control pills paid for with my taxes, or even get an abortion, and I'm not allowed to even be consulted. PG&E can vent radioactive steam in a neighborhood of 200,000 people, and nothing happens, but if I shoot a squirrel with a lead bullet within an area the size of South Carolina, I can go to prison. I can get the shit kicked out of me in the ER any night of the week, and no one gets even arrested. Under Obamacare, they can then complain about their time there, and the amount the .gov will reimburse my hospital will then be cut, which costs real jobs to real people. But if I speak sharply to a flying cocktail waitress, or take too long in the bathroom, I'm on a terrorist list for life.

Which, frankly, just scratches the tip of the iceberg.
We're not a nation of laws, we're a nation of a crushing, burdensome, explosion of laws, tons of them, yards of them, and most in confict with other laws - usually including one or more clear precepts in the Bill of Rights, at minimum - all of them enforced casually, arbitrarily, and maliciously, with no regard for common sense or justice. Strictly because it pleases the current mandarins in power, or some subset of their cronies and constituents.

If you expect that type of legalism to save you, or your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, let alone the pre-existant natural law right to defend your life, you're not just monumentally stupid or foolish, or even just both.

You're also wholly ignorant of a drumbeat of propaganda that makes "gun owner" the functional equivalent of "Jap" in California in 1942, or "Jew" in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945.

Granted, dictatorships like those make the trains run on time.

But some few of us, who are students of history, recall the barbed wire enclosures that always lie at the ends of those tracks.

So understand, with crystal precision and clarity, that no one who hates you having guns wants to come and get your guns.

They want to come and get YOU.

I hope that wasn't too subtle for anyone.

YOU are the problem, with your antiquated notions of having the right to defend yourself from crazys, crooks, crusaders, and tyrannical governments composed of all of the above.

For decades, the gun lobby has pointed out, correctly, that guns don't kill people, it's other people who're the problem. Not the inanimate objects. So why would anyone be so foolish as to be surprised that the minions of tyranny get that lesson?

When they come to the door, they aren't coming for a list of prohibited toys.
They'll be coming to collect up all the poisoned souls who would ever want to own those toys, and they're going to want to rid humanity of your scourge and corrupting influence, forever, for the common good. For the children.

"One people, one government, one leader" is, and always will be, their motto.
And it means that you're not one of the cool kids.
Suck on that.

You might toy with letting them in your tent, but they have a different idea of what to do with you.

So if you have some mental reservations about becoming a lampshade, waiting until they come to your door to institute a plan is a wee bit late, and thinking they'll only be coming for the toys is short-sighted beyond description.

Getting onto the trains will be far too tragically late to think "If only I'd dug that pistol out of the garden before they came."

And the only reason they aren't coming for you now, is the thought, however nebulous or partially formed in their little reptilian brains, that some of you, or even a lot of you, won't be handing your guns over, or burying them.

They aren't coming, because you'd shoot them getting out of the car at the curb, and keep shooting them until they were all dead, and then go strip their bodies for more guns and ammo.

And to them, that lemon just isn't worth the squeeze.

It's ultimately the only thing that stops that sort of nonsense, and sometimes even that isn't enough to keep it at bay.

Three score of dead white male property owners understood that, in their bones, back in both 1776, and again in 1787.

And 77 guys knew it too, standing on a dewy wet meadow in Lexington one cold April morning, facing down the representatives of the most awesome military power in the world. They didn't blink, they didn't "let George do it", and they knew they could end up in prison or dead, but they still showed up for the party, and ended up winning the day that day, and afterwards.

So you can trust the good intentions of your government, or your own best judgement.
You can be the guys on the lawn, or the people rounded up at the train depot.

The choice is entirely yours.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Celebrity Math

I've never seen Angelina Jolie's boobs in the wild, and unless you're Brad Pitt, neither of us has any personal interest in them either. Those facts aside, today's announcement about how "brave" she was for undergoing unnecessary double mastectomies only points out how people who can't count can still have a lot of impact.

(For instance, Google Al Gore's impact on the global warming debate, despite decades of cooked statistics.)

But the widely quoted witchdoctory quote du jour is that the gene she had gave her "an 87% chance of developing breast cancer". 9 out of 10 is scary, but 87 out of 100, or the 25,000,000 women who won't get breast CA out of 150M women in this country even if they all had this gene is far less so.

To be fair, I haven't seen the literature the quote is drawn from, and hopefully based on. One hopes it's some amount better than the math they used to count attendees at the Million Man March some years back.

But let's consider a few things. The overwhelming number of women tested for the gene have probably been women who already have breast CA. Which kind of screws your sample pool. I'd like to hear how many women out of the entire population have the special gene involved, and then I'd like to know how many of them, untreated, and controlling for all other risk factors (obesity, smoking, use of contraceptives, etc.) got breast CA. And I'd also like to know what risk factors Ms. Jolie's mother had, since her death from ovarian cancer (which supposedly this gene makes a 50/50 split also) was a lot of what Jolie cited for having two perfectly healthy breasts mutilated.

If, for example, 87% of women at large have the gene, and they all get breast CA at exactly normal rates, then there's your "87% chance" turned to nonsense. So without further citations, until I hear of multiple high-sample-number double-blind peer-reveiwed studies, I'm calling shenanigans.

Then there are the risks of surgery, which in this case are tripled, because her situation required multiple procedures.

And finally, while she (or more correctly, her publicists) are cock-a-doodle-dooing about her courage, and try to make her Everywoman by advocating that everyone else consider following her lead, her surgeries, rough guess, are $50-100K worth of medical procedures (which, let's recall, were to remove perfectly healthy tissue from a healthy woman) that would have paid for her to get not annual, but monthly mammograms for 21 years. And a nearly 100% shot at early cancer detection. Granted, the increased radiation dose adds to her risk, but detecting the cancer she assumed was coming is virtually guaranteed, so that's a wash. And factor in that the amount of time she spends in private jets at altitude probably gives her the same increase in radiation (and subsequent cancer risk) as a pack-a-day smoker. So she could have saved her breasts, her wallet, and the planet by taking a limo more often, or just staying home.

In short, what you've got is an under-educated hypochondriac multi-millionaire, who's personal press corps has found a way to spin her middle-aged boob job into a crusade for humanity. And she still gets to keep the teenage-looking boobs.

The only possible good I see coming out of this, is if it leads to similar tests for men, and people like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Michael Moore, and the feministas on The Spew to all have their gonads hacked out before any of them breed.

The only other actual good is to the AMA, particularly to the plastic surgery industry, which is either paying Ms. Jolie for her current publicity blitz, or ought to be.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Catch Me If You Can

So, I told you that last story to tell you this one.

After receiving, at taxpayer expense, surgery to correct the problem that almost cost me a kidney, in their beneficence, I got sent home on a couple of weeks' convalescent leave, to recover at home in sunny California.

Which gave me, at last, the chance to drive my very own Ford Escort clear across the country upon my return, with suitable funds, and a bit of planning.

I worked out the distances, and came up with what I expected the trip to cost, and require, in terms of driving time, meals, gas, lodging, etc.

So on the appointed day, off I went. Living in SoCal, I made a minor detour on the I-10, just to tag up at the terminus at the Santa Monica Pier on PCH. If I was driving coast-to-coast, I wanted full props for the effort.

It being late fall/early winter, I didn't want to risk snow or the associated delays, so I went the southern routes. Midnight found me in Phoenix, and ready to stop for the night, which I did. A 7AM wake-up and drive-thru breakfast, and I was off again.

I was surprised to find that the gentle grade I crested that day was the Rocky Mountains in NM, and on I went. El Paso by sunset.

And then, into the eternal nothingness that is West Texas. Hours and hours of nothing. So much nothing, they could sell you all you'd want, and they'd still have the corner on the market. Nothing like you'd have to watch Lawrence of Arabia in slow motion to appreciate. George Lucas was a fool for going to Tunisia: West Texas is Tatooine, and you can drive to it. Whether you can ever drive out of it was beginning to give me doubts. Somewhere around 1 AM, I elected to take an exit alleging to be Midland. But it was dark, and I couldn't see much beyond the exit lights.

Another early start got me to Dallas by about 3PM. Just in time for rush hour non-moving traffic that would make a native Angeleno proud. Once I got past that nonsense, I hooked up towards Texarkana, and fell in among the big rigs, cruising along blissfully, and happy to see trees again, which I'd missed for most of the previous day.

But trucks are trucks. Whereas I was driving in something that offended the dignity of Texas law enforcement on the highways: not the Ford, but the California plates. So amongst about 200 16-wheelers all merrily driving 20 over the limit, they bypassed them, and singled out my car to pull over.

"License and registration please, sir."

Trooper Dawg evidently ran my plates and particulars, then returned to my window to hand them back. He hadn't pulled out his cite book yet.

"Where are y'all headed?"

"Camp Lejeune, sir. I'm a Marine returning from convalescent leave, and I was bringing my car back so I could have it there on post."

His partner (who I hadn't noticed, but wasn't surprised to find out was back there) played his flashlight, like a luftstalag guard post, sloooolwy  over the big green sea bag in the back seat. My high-and-tight haircut was pretty obvious too, but I handed him my military I.D. and a copy of orders to confirm my story.

He retreated to the rear of the car to confer with his partner, and probably to let me sweat a bit. It worked.

About a minute later, he returned to my window, handed me my papers back, and said to me, "California to North Carolina? That's a loooong way, son. Slow down, y'hear?"

"Yes Sir!" You betcha sir, absolutely, positively sir. Apparently in Texas trooper math, Marine Corps cancels out California. I officially love Texas for that alone. I also drove at precisely 55MPH from that point to the border at Texarkana, despite the headlight flashes and horn honks from more truckers than I could count. Fair is fair, I made my deal, and I'm sticking with it.

I continued across Arkansas, accelerating at the state line, and made it to cross the Mississippi at Memphis, and get a room for the night. Five states in 2 1/2 days, and all the next day to only get across two more.

Tennessee was beautiful country. So was North Carolina. What I had failed to consider, however, was that most of it was posted at 55MPH, or in random stretches, and that I was driving both states the loooong way across. Which amounts to a helluva lot more than it looks in an atlas. And the incomprehensible maze around Raleigh kind of pissed me off. Apparently, to the hillbilly assholes who allegedly planned the routes there, the simple expedient of marking the proper exits has not yet trickled down. But after trying only 9 times to continue on the exact same route I'd started off on, I was finally free of their attempts to misdirect me.

And then, with still half a state to go, it got dark.

For non-military readers, leave is up at midnight, just like Cinderella's party. Now, having been gone for over two weeks, if I'd returned at 1AM or 2AM, or even 530AM, provided i'd been in my PT gear at 6AM for morning PT, no one would have said a word. But they could have, and it was also the principle of the thing, so I knew I needed to make up some time.

Consequently, around 10PM Somewhere In (hopefully western) North Carolina, still heading eastward, but not having made the turn to the north where lay Swamp Lejeune, I was flying along in my 4 cylinder rocket, tank full of gas, doing every bit of 90 MPH.

Folks thereabouts evidently go to bed early, and I hadn't seen a soul on the road going my way for about an hour by that point. I was just slaloming along on a double two-lane interstate, hoping to get to the post before I turned into a pumpkin.

So when I came around a long curve, on a highway with light standards no more than 1 per mile, I was rather quickly cognizant of the headlights, high up on the side of the road facing the other way, across the median and up by the woods, which snapped on out of the pinewoods murky darkness just after I blew by.

Well, maybe the shock wave woke up some couple necking or somesuch, thinks left brain.
Nuh uh, points out right brain, as the headlights describe a slow arc across the highway towards my side, as I zoom out of sight around the next few curves.

Besides noticing that the car is suddenly a good deal warmer, several things occur to me, with an astonishing speed:
I'm military personnel in a state that loves to jerk military personnel around, undoubtedly with some justification after 60 years of knuckleheads.
I'm in a car with California plates in backwoods North Carolina.
I'm doing 90 in a 55 zone.
That was almost certainly a state trooper, whose coffee and doughnuts just got interrupted, if not actually his nap.
He may not have noticed anything but a blur and headlights.
If I stop now, I'm the only thing moving on the road, and I'll be caught, cleaned, and filleted in about a minute.
At 90MPH, I'm covering a mile every 40 seconds. That means I'm already two miles ahead of where he was just over a minute go.
It's going to take him a minute or two to catch me, even with 125MPH on tap.
Since I'm already screwed, don't slow down!!!

So I floored it, in the 3 seconds it took to figure all that out. Still no sign of him in my rear view mirror. Also no sign of anyone else.

So for another minute or two, I'm flying. I didn't know an Escort could do 100MPH without pieces coming off, but so far, so good.

And then, a miracle occurred. The two-lane highway passes through a town, with a no-kidding four-way stoplight. And mine is red.

So after popping the drogue chute, throwing out the speed brakes, downshifting, and everything else but popping the hood up to slow me down, I make the stop without laying rubber or totalling the car. And STILL no sign of Deputy Dawg in my rear view.

As I'm sweating bullets waiting the endless interval (probably 10 seconds) for the light to switch, another miracle. Out of nowhere, three cars pull up to the stop, one going in each of the other directions!

Thank you Jesus!
Light goes green for me, and off I go, now at the posted 55MPH.
Everyone else, I see in my mirror, does likewise.
So now Dawg'll have 4 targets to choose amongst.

And then, a mile or two beyond Podunk, the road turns north (at last!), because somewhere ahead is the Atlantic Ocean, and I'm on the home stretch to Swamp Lejeune. And STILL no state highway patrol cruiser in my mirror.

So about two minutes later, I'm heading north on a two-lane road through the pines of Nowhere. A car appears behind me.  With highbeams on. But since I'm obviously nearer to civilization than I was an hour ago, I think nothing of it.

Until, in about 45 seconds, it makes up the two miles from the curve to me, and flying around me in the opposite direction lane, I see two NC Highway Patrol officers in their cruiser, tail wigwags flashing, going like a bat out of hell at what had to be every bit of 125MPH.



And about another mile or two ahead, the only other car on the road with little old me doing my legal 55MPH, I see the back end of their cruiser pop up, and the brake lights snap on.

And they start shining their spotlights up dirt roads and driveways on both sides of the road.

Now, I'm laughing so hard my sides hurt.

A couple of minutes later I pass two really pissed off officers, doing about 10 MPH along a dirt side road, obviously looking for the sumbitch who interrupted their naptime a few minutes earlier, on the other side of the county, in an unlicensed rocket-powered dragster.

No way was some kid in a 4-cyl. Ford Escort impersonating Richard Petty.

I cruised onto the relative safety of the base at 1135 PM, and checked in with the Duty NCO at 1152PM.

Better luck next time, boys.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Military Intelligence

The title refers not to the specific Intelligence field, but rather generically, to the .mil, from sea to shining sea. It could cover a multitude of sins, but for today's blog purposes, it's in specific reference to my experiences with military medical care, and its practitioners, performing their tender ministrations upon Marines.

For the record, most Navy docs, enlisted and officer, are worth their weight in gold, at 2013 prices. But there's always a couple whom you could melt down to cast fish sinkers.

One fall day, after having an assumed cold for several days, and I was feeling generally miserable, achy, and fevered, and an additional noteworthy symptom was that going pee hurt, stank, and deposited something in the urinal I'd never seen issue from my body before. So I voluntarily went to sick call, for the one and only time in my military career.

I was a medical illiterate in those days, but I had some vague notion the docs might want to perhaps collect a urine specimen and test it, and actually give me some form of medicine to relieve my pains. Instead, upon hearing my complaints, they rapidly issued me a chit, directing me to, IIRC, Building 522. I was at BAS (Battalion Aid Station), so I assumed I was being kicked up the chain to the RAS (Regimental Aid Station).

It was about a block away, so as quickly as my achy body permitted me, I legged it over to Stop #2 on my medical odyssey, and signed in.

Within about 5 minutes, a properly snotty 4'11" black female petty officer (worthy of both halves of that term of rank) came out to the waiting area, shoved a clipboard in my face, and announced to me that in order to be seen, I needed to fill out a complete listing of all my sexual contacts for the last 6 months.

Given that, at that point, I'd only been in the Marines for about 14 months, the first three accounted for in boot camp, followed by a month in division schools, and another three months or more in the field either on base or at Fort Bragg, I was a little amused by the implication.

Apparently my amusement registered on my poker face, because PO Snottybritches took personal umbrage, and informed me "Look, this isn't funny, the health department requires this information, so you're going to follow orders and fill this out, or I'm going to get the doctor out here, who's an officer, and he'll make you tell us!"

I actually laughed out loud and told Snottybritches to go get her champion. She disappeared in a properly self-righteous huff and a cloud of sulphur to the nether regions of Clinic 522.

Which, rather self-evidently, wasn't RAS, but in fact, the Swamp Lejeune Base VD Clinic. I would've chuckled, but it hurt my side.

So now, sick and on report, in a few minutes a boyish-looking j.g. Medical Corps officer sauntered out, and I popped to attention in USMC-approved fashion.

His tone, though he was barely older than I was, was gentle and almost fatherly:
"Look, Marine, we have to get this information, by law and regulation. You're going to have to tell us who you've been with, and it's going to get back to your chain of command."

I mightily fought back a smirk as I mentally composed my reply to tactfully convey the information required without being insubordinate, and replied, "Sir, it's like this. I'm thinking of a six-letter word, that starts with "V", and rhymes with "surgeon"...


He was an NROTC and med school grad, not a product of the Naval Academy, so it only took a second and no chalkboard diagrams for him to grasp the thought I intended to convey, rather shyly. I saw the light bulb go on that fast, and a small smile spread over his face. He looked me up and down, and asked, "Really?"

And apparently for once, the honesty was self-evident, and I said, yes, really, it was like that, despite their undoubted experience with 20,000 Marine corporals before me, I hadn't boinked anything whatsoever, let alone anything recently. Then I went on to explain the signs and symptoms that had led me to, thus far foolishly, entrust my medical well-being to those in the Navy commonly referred to by outsiders to their profession as "chancre mechanics." It was becoming more obvious to me why by the second.

No fool this doc though, who said "Well okay then." and immediately barked out an order for PO Snottybritches to write me a chit referring me immediately to the Base Hospital for further testing and treatment.

I thanked him, took my slip from Snottybritches, and legged it back to my unit, and told the Platoon Sgt. I was referred to the base hospital, then got in my car and drove over.

Where, some 4 hours into my medical odyssey, someone actually had the sense to ask for a urine specimen, while I awaited the results.

Cue a middle-aged Navy Lt. Commander, short, white, female, Medical Corps, to come storming out into the waiting area asking where the guy with the horrible urinalysis test was.
"Great", I thought to myself. I not only flunked my urine test, but Snottybritches has a white big sister, and called ahead to get me properly greeted and dealt with.

Standing to, she identified me as the culprit, and barked out, no nonsense "You. Upstairs. In a hospital bed. Now."

"Um, Cmdr. Ma'am, may I return to my unit and get a razor, change of underwear, robe, etc., ma'am?"

"Look, I don't want any crap. I know how hard-headed you damned Marines are. If you aren't in that room upstairs in 30 minutes, I'm sending the MPs to come get your ass and drag you back here in irons, you understand me?"

Wow, the love and compassion that is Navy medicine...

"Yes, ma'am. Understood. Aye aye, ma'am."

So, I scampered to my car, went back, got my stuff in a small bag, returned, checked in, went to the ward upstairs, and was changing out of cammies and into a hospital gown when, precisely 29 minutes later (I checked my watch), Lt. Cmdr. Brimstone popped into my room.

"Good." Leans out the door "Nurse, you can cancel that call to the MPs, and get this man's antibiotics running."

Whereupon it turned out that I had the mother of all kidney infections, spent a week in the hospital on IV antibiotics, nearly lost the kidney, and needed corrective surgery.

But they cured the infection and they saved the kidney, and I got a decent blog post out of it, so it wasn't a total loss.

And my chain of command was notified - that I had worked myself nearly to death with an infection that should've killed me, which didn't hurt my rep for not being a crybaby pussy sickbay commando, either.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Northridge Earthquake, Pt. IV

After several days of bouncing around, a shelter was opened literally across the street from my apartment. We were both immediately assigned to coordinate medical care there.

At the beginning, the Red Cross had opened all the shelters, but by 3 days in, it was clear they were over their heads, and the Salvation Army was in the on-deck circle.

For reference, in SoCal, unless it's a major brush fire (or a once-in-a-century 7.0 earthquake), the Red Cross mainly only ever has to deal with a few dozen people displaced by an apartment fire, or their house burning down, and a voucher for Motel 6 , along with toothbrushes and shampoo, is usually all that's required.

With tens of thousands of people in unstable buildings, without power or running water, including those motels, that approach wasn't going to cut it.

And BTW, national HQ, FEMA, and anyone else was utterly MIA for more than the first 72 hours. If this had been a noontime quake, and there were 50,000 dead all over town, panic, chaos, and disorder would have reigned unhindered, because no one is ready to be anywhere for that kind of catastrophe, and they never will be.

Lesson Fifteen:
Disasters are come-as-you-are. Being ready to handle things COMPLETELY on your own for the first 72 hours is a minimum. Start thinking in term of "first 30 days", not "first 3 days."

OTOH, the Salvation Army houses millions of people, around the world, 24/7/365, since about 1870.

Consequently, ARC would find an intact HS gym, and set up 200 cots.
In our case, the Salvation Army whistled up 5 circus-sized tents, holding 500 people each, and they were still putting up more every day right up to the day they started to close.

But (and it's an important "but"), they had no more idea of first aid, health, and sanitation, than they did of quantum physics. Which was where I and Co. came in kind of handy.

The shelter mgr.'s first question was "Hey, there's a kid here with active chicken pox. Is that a problem?"

Well, except for the fact that you have 500 adults, kids, and pregnant women living in close proximity every day, no, not at all. Because there's nothing like adding "epidemic" on top of "disaster" to really make things fun, right?

But unlike the ARC, who would most likely simply have thrown the offending family out on the street, the Salvation Army instead whistled them up a small private tent, in a quarantine compound, with their own portajohn, and delivered meals to the family. Crisis averted.

My wife and I weren't the only help we had, and thank heavens for that. We had two RNs who, separately, decided to simply jump in their cars, drive down to us from Portland and Seattle, book their own motel rooms nearby, but outside the affected area, and just pitch in. God bless them. Their motel bills were instantly covered by the powers that were in charge. And two local docs, one retired, one just underutilized, became our on-site clinic docs.

So suddenly I, an EMT and nursing student, had two MDs and two RNs working for me. Which, they happily admitted, made the most sense. I knew the resupply and admin systems, and they concentrated on doing the care. So we set up morning, afternoon, and evening sick call clinics, each doc assisted by a nurse and either my wife or I. The two of us got to walk 1 minute to work daily, sleep in our own beds, and start cleaning up the flotsam and jetsam of our lives while still helping other a lot worse off.

Lesson Sixteen:
Walk-in angels are literally a godsend. I understood why one old school missionary famously said "Don't just pray for miracles, RELY on them." It's impossible to overstate how much they were worth in this and many other instances.

And what a clinic it turned into. We had a cafeteria for our location, so we had tile floors and a clean indoor space with lots of window light. And we had the same parade of folks who'd run barefoot across floors strewn with debris, and the same daily regimen of picking out the fragments, cleaning and dressing the wounds, then repeating things the next day.

Kaiser Hospital, in their quest to get everyone able out of the hospital (which was protocol, for both room for the expected more serious cases, and because they didn't have running water either, or power after Day 3), discharged one woman who'd given birth an hour beforehand, with her newborn. Into darkened streets at 5:30 AM the day of the quake, they handed her husband a bag of diapers, a carton of formula, and fond wishes of best of luck, and rolled her and their newborn out the door in a wheelchair. So we had a 2-day old and post-partum mother to deal with from the get go, among our other 2000 patients.

My wife and I became the 9-1-1 service for our mini-city, making walkie talkie dispatched housecalls to every skinned knee or other mishap, and transporting via wheelchair back to the clinic, the doc, and the nurse, for anything that needed that.

We also had, by this time, the only effective government response I saw during the entire quake: a Marine and Navy reserve unit had set up a GP tent, and begun doing water purification for the whole shelter, for washing and bathing, rigged to drain into the city's giant open rainstorm drains (the executive decision was that Santa Monica Bay could just suck it up and take the hit). They were awesome, squared away, and a great thing to have. One day, a Marine Corps brigadier general came through inspecting how things were working, and being only a couple years' post discharge from active duty, I somehow ended up at attention (I remembered not to salute, but I could feel my arm trying to go there) as he came into view entering our aid station.

We had our own police force too. In this case, the LAPD Metro unit that normally busted druggies at LAX (the airport being shut down by the quake for those first days) was in tactical jumpsuits, and assigned to watch over our little flock. That immediately solved all law enforcement problems, period. They were quietly patrolling everywhere, and what was normally a sketchy HS campus became instead one of the safest communities in the city for a couple of weeks.

We also had the local "bottle drop". Once the news put out the shelter locations, local residents would come by to either get bottled water, or drop it off. You can talk all the smack you want about CA people, or those in L.A., but I'm here to tell you you're talking out your back end. On my first day there, we had water bottles by the ton free for the taking, by the case if necessary, 5' across, 3' high, and stretching along our aid station/cafeteria outside wall for 15'. By three days later, with constant pickups, and drop offs, we had the same thing, except it then extended for 50'. People brought more than we could give away.

People also brought their kids there to help out, and they'd also pull up, ask us or the shelter manager what else we needed, they'd go find or buy it somewhere, god knows how, and bring it back to us within an hour or two. At the time it was unbelievable, and in retrospect it was phenomenal.

Lesson Seventeen:
Local, Local, LOCAL! What you have, right there, is what you WILL have. Learn it, live it, love it, and improve hell out of it before you need it. Because one day, sooner or later, you WILL need it. And probably very badly.

Other than the whole earthquake and people dying thing, the rest of the first week at that shelter was nigh-on idyllic.

The following week, work and schools resumed city-wide. A few days after that, they cold-started the entire LA DWP grid (unsure whether that would work, as it had never been tried) and we had power back on Day 12. Boil Water orders remained in effect for a month, and the tap water smelled like pool water from the chlorination, but it was on, and you could wash and bathe once power came back on.

I had another semester of nursing school to attend, reminded of that fateful morning five times a day, as every clock in every hospital was stopped at 4:31. One hospital rotation found me in a building with three concentric rings around a central tower, five floors tall. A sample of the quake's power was that all the wings had separated from the central core by about 4 inches, and there were sheets of 3/4' plywood over the gaps on every floor, while you could look out sideways through the gaps and see the mountains miles away, and a reinforced tarp kept the rain out overhead at the top floor. They eventually just cast in place some extra wall to seal it up again, months afterwards.

Local malls were closed, the one in Northridge itself for months, because massive amounts of it had given way. Some weeks after the earthquake, the local Red Cross staff supervisor, the same one who regularly gave us a dose of the ass by her incessant undercutting of our activities and whining that First Aid services were optional, and not part of Red Cross' government-mandated missions (which was stupid and short-sighted, but true), fell all over herself to thank us for literally saving hers and the city's bacon on the day, because their disaster planning and preparedness was total horsecrap. That honeymoon lasted about 6 months, and then they promptly forgot all those lessons.

She also had the wit to ask several of us for ideas on where to pre-stage supplies and whatnot in advance for the next time, which we all thought was a sterling idea, since they'd only had 23 years since the Sylmar earthquake to totally ignore such an obvious bit of commonsense planning. Apparently, you can pull people's heads out of their asses, but it's tough to get them to open their eyes even then.

My suggestion, then as now, was to make deals to secure a small fenced compound at some remote corner of every local mall, inclusive, for 2-4 conex boxes minimum of "shelter/supplies in a box", because after the disaster, the malls were all closed, they had acres of hardtop parking for making an instant shelter/disaster HQ/or even heliport if necessary, they all had easy road access built in, were patrolled 24/7 by security, and no mall would miss a small corner for the purpose, esp. since they could call it a charitable donation and write it off. Given the things you can do and put inside a 40' conex box, you could even pre-rig them as hospital/clinics, radio centers, and disaster offices in advance.

Apparently, it was such a genius idea that they have failed to do that, or anything like it, from that day to this, and come the next earthquake, about a month later, they'll once again be looking for new ideas to ignore. As it is, within a few years afterwards, First Aid Services as I had known it, ceased to exist in the entire city. Best of luck next time, because I don't live there now.

Lesson Eighteen:
If there's a disaster, besides having made your own personal/family preparations to survive or evacuate, I highly recommend you know at least EMT-level first aid.
And that you take that expertise over to the Salvation Army, who can run rings around anyone else at sheltering and caring for victims in a disaster, 6 days a week and twice on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Northridge Earthquake Pt. III

At some point the second day after the quake, my relief arrived at the San Fernando shelter, and I went home.

Travelling now in daylight, I could take my time and appreciate the sort of damage suffered. For miles along suburban boulevards, every brick wall was flat on the ground. Call it God's Greatest Falling Domino Trick.

At CalState Northridge, they'd recently put up a multilevel student parking structure. All 3 levels had been pushed over, despite 4'x4' steel reinforced columns, as if Godzilla had just decided it was in the way. And of course, there was no water or power anywhere within 15 miles in any direction, and no one knew whether any of the freeway overpasses were structurally sound. Entire 50' sections at an interchange north of the Valley had simply fallen to earth, in one instance stranding a trucker and his semi, a lady in a Toyota, and a elderly couple in an RV 80' up in the air on an intact section of transition crossover, until a day or two later when they were all helilifted off it. At a nearby mall, the guy cleaning the parking lot at 4AM was buried under rubble for a day or so while the LAFD worked to cut him out of his cocoon of concrete.

Lesson Ten:
If this had hit at noon, the death toll would have been in the thousands, not the dozens.

I don't recall where I slept, or if I did, the first couple of days. Adrenaline and aftershocks were a perpetual motion machine making a decent sleep period more of a theoretical thing than an actual accomplishment. At any rate, I came back to volunteer HQ after managing some kind of rest period. Those trying to keep things organized had set up cots in our office cubbyhole at Red Cross HQ. The biggest issue early on was trying to staff locations, and taking people who were in the midst of dealing with the crisis themselves, and making it work. Eventually, we re-invented the wheel, and went to 12-hour shifts, thus introducing some predictability into the chaos, and helping both the supervisors and the supervised deal with things easier. I highly recommend a similar arrangement for future reference.

Lesson Eleven:
Go to an AM/PM shift system ASAP, at 6, 7, or 8AM/PM. It's worked at hospitals for decades, and it makes it simple to plan, while maximizing your people and minimizing travel and staffing needs. Just do it.

I bounced around over the next few days, mainly becoming a utility person to fill in wherever there were holes.

The second day found me at a newly opened shelter in a local HS gymnasium (classes were cancelled indefinitely with no power and water, so the space was available). Whereupon I watched catastrophe meet miracle in about an hour. The catastrophe was some douchebag elder care facility driving their entire residence roster, some 40 old folks, in a few vans, and basically abandoning them all at the shelter and driving off. And these weren't minimal care people, these were some sick gents and ladies. It was one of the most egregious cases I've ever seen of abandonment of care, and I'm sure only one of many. And then the miracle happened. I had been sent two LOLNs (Little Old Lady Nurses.)  Florence and Clara were quite possibly serving on active nursing duties as far back as the Depression, if not WWI. So while I was on a phone to HQ advising them of the recent patient dump, my two RNs from long before I was born were inside taking care of business. I got back inside wondering how we were going to take over care for 40 really old and sick folks in the midst of a public shelter. Then when I walked inside, I found that in about half an hour, Clara had gotten everyone settled into their new "ward", literally.

She'd put all the men on one side of the gym, in alphabetical order, and done the same with the women on the other side. Like she did this stuff everyday.

Meanwhile Florence had collected the forty patient charts the facility had dumped on us along with the patients, and organized them in her new nursing station. Then she'd taken all the boxes of med bottles for all 40 folks, organized them by patient into brown paper lunch sacks, written names on the outside, and written medication administration times on every sack.

Neither of these ladies was a day under 65, and while my back was turned, they built a (probably) better organized hospital in 30 minutes than the one the patients had come from, while I was outside clucking and flapping on the phone. I called HQ back, and called off the alarm, and reported that these two ladies needed me like a car needed a fifth wheel.

Lesson Twelve:
One competent retiree nurse (or other professional) is worth 50 of anything else.

I went back to HQ, and coordinated divying up supplies for the shelters, pending the next fire we needed to stomp out.

By this point, McDonald's and Taco Bell had dropped mobile restaurant trailers in the parking lot, and besides feeding the staff and radio contingent, we were loading up XXX lunches/dinners to cart off to people at the shelters all over the area. In addition, there was a small mountain of bottled water. Also, the local breweries outside the affected area had suspended alcohol bottling, and transitioned to canning drinking water. Eventually, the local Bud brewery dd the same once they got power and water back. One of my friend's treasured souvenirs is a six pack of Budweiser cans with pure water inside. Eventually, they switched to a paint scheme that clearly identified the contents as drinking water. As it was, I could have taken all I could carry, but instead managed to get by with the simple expedient of always having at least a 1L bottle of water in a cargo pocket at all times. It was my "urban canteen" for the first week. Water and food for people was so not an issue that it really didn't come up at all.

Lesson Thirteen:
Food and water may be as well-handled, or it may not. Make your own provision, and you won't be waiting on a handout (that may or ma not arrive) come the day. A simple bottle of Potable Aqua iodine tablets, or keeping a Katadyn filter in your car, could be the difference between surviving comfortably, or not surviving at all.

The next night, I was assigned to yet another shelter, this one supposedly short-handed. When I arrived, it turned out that they'd acquired several folks, and things were under control. Meanwhile, three days after the earthquake, FEMA made their appearance.

A semi-trailer full of brand new military folding cots backed up to a local park, and they dumped 500 of them in the park. Note that they didn't deliver them, nor attempt to contact anyone anywhere to see if there was actually any shelter nearby that needed them.

They simply followed their idiotic orders, and dumped 500 cots where there was no shelter, in the middle of a park, and then drove away.

Homeless people could be seen with 3 and 4 FEMA cots in their stolen shopping carts for days afterwards, and the pile of federal "aid" was gone in a matter of hours.

Lesson Fourteen:
Follow the teachings of Ronald Reagan: The most feared sentence in the English language is "We're from the government, and we're here to help."
This was the only sighting of anything resembling FEMA for the entire first week after the quake. Thank God. That probably kept casualties down, especially among the government workers.

to be continued...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Walking In Glory

I had intended to resume something more like regular posting this past weekend.
Life had other plans.

I don't generally blabber deeply personal details.

But this weekend, my beloved mother, described by more than one person outside our family as the Katie Elder of my clan, after nearly a 90-year run, and in declining health recently, passed quietly and quickly in her own bed, at home, relatively painlessly, and with family and friends at the bedside.

Rather than being overwhelmed with grief, I am thankful for the easiness of her passing, the ending of her struggle, and the fact that she went exactly as she wished, where she wished, and how she wished, without any fuss or fanfare, and without being a burden on anyone.

I know where she's spending Eternity, and she'd booked those reservations over a lifetime, so the only sadness involved on my part is that the suddenness didn't permit me to be there at the end, and thus the inability to say that final goodbye.

At some point, when things calm down, I may perhaps compose a propper tribute, but if you mixed equal parts June Cleaver, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, and Maureen O'Hara, you'd get Mom. She was tough as nails and fiesty as kittens, and the red hair and Irish ancestry wasn't just for show.

She lived through three sons, long enough to see grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who if they do no more than live a life as well-regarded as she lived hers will be well-off indeed.