Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Who needs a department of health?

30 September 2009 Who needs a department of health?

I correspond with people who fill much of the political spectra. Many of the people I fish with are Republicans or Libertarians. Others favor the mob becoming known as “tea baggers”

All of these folks will occasionally proclaim that some agency of the national government is illegal because it is not described in the 10th amendment to the Constitution. That’s the one the states’ rights and anti-tax mobs line up behind.

During the last several years, when we were watching the number of food-borne illnesses roll upward like an altimeter, one of my correspondents decided that the media was inflating the importance of the outbreaks. He chose to express the number of reported cases of salmonella as a percentage of the entire national population rather than focusing on the absolute number of reported cases. This correspondent is a salesman by trade and has no medical education. He’s capable of looking at statistical analysis of health related problems without necessarily understanding the nature of how the problem affects individuals and how such diseases spread.

For instance, where he sees an absolute number which represents a very small percent sample, I see an epidemiologic trail, often growing exponentially. I know that not all such infections are diagnosed and even fewer reported to epidemiologists.

My acquaintance believes that the free market will deal effectively with food-borne infections. I have no faith in the agri-business and food industry to take any action to provide safe, pathogen free food to the consumer that they are not required to take.

I have helped with epidemiologic tracking of two Hepatitis A outbreaks in S.W. MO. Both were spread by fast food employees.

One source case was a truck driver who acquired the disease at a “Rainbow Family” gathering. He infected a friend who infected several workers at the fast food shop where she worked. One co-worker carried the disease up the nearest US highway to another fast food shop in the next small town. The trucker spread it along another highway. Within a week of the 1st cross infection, the disease had spread to 200+ adults and was present in two school systems. The state health department had notified CDC and the tracking then became their responsibility. What I recall as crucial was the reluctance of the local fast food shops to help in tracking employees who were infected and the difficulty in obtaining the names of students and their parents from local doctors who were seeing the suspect and new patients. I eventually convinced the chief of medical staff to request that all hepatitis testing be directed to the hospital lab rather than drawn in the local clinic and sent to a commercial lab for analysis.

The second outbreak was centered in another small town. The source was the well in a religious compound/church. All the young women in the compound were required to work as fast food workers in surrounding towns. The church leader refused to allow any members/residents to be tested or to be given prophylactic gamma globulin.

These were both small outbreaks and I don’t recall any deaths related to them.

The most recent food-born outbreaks to make headlines involved spinach, peanuts, jalapenos, and recurrently, E. coli contaminated beef.

When I was young most counties required food service workers be tested for enteric pathogens before being allowed to work. Shrinking public health budgets, high turn-over among food workers, and lack of public concern have ended nearly all such programs. Now we test reactively.

My acquaintance and many like him feel that if CDC were eliminated, the states would somehow find the extra dollars to take over CDC functions. I might have a winning lottery ticket tomorrow, too. I never buy lottery tickets but there is a better chance I’ll go to bed a millionaire than that the states could fiscally and technically replace CDC.

I suggest that you make sure your immunizations are up to date before eating in a restaurant or fast food shop. Take the admonition to wash fresh produce seriously. The challenge of delivering safe food is becoming more difficult every day.

Also of concern is the growing reluctance to immunize children for childhood diseases among people who should know better.

The rush to blame immunizations for the increase in autism flies in the face of reason. Numerous studies have failed to find any connection between immunizations and autism.

I suspect that there is an effect of aging similar to that which causes an increase in the frequency of Down syndrome infants among older mothers. With social and cultural patterns tending toward more women giving birth later in life, and with better diagnostic markers and awareness of such disorders; it is likely that both factors lead to more children being diagnosed.

There is also reluctance to provide the vaccine for human papilloma virus to many young women. The vaccine may prevent death by cancer but parents allow such low risk side effects as fainting – not uncommon in young women receiving injections for other purposes- and pain to prevent protecting their daughters. My daughters are adults. But were they not, they’d have been vaccinated for HPV. They were vaccinated for all the usual childhood diseases. I had light cases of most of them. I was lucky.

Gloria and I were both in the early groups to receive the Salk polio vaccine. My mother volunteered at my grade school, showed up in her starched RN’s cap and white uniform to help immunize that batch of children. The last iron lung patient just died. Polio has been greatly reduced in frequency. But we are now faced with religious leaders who oppose polio immunization for one stupid reason or another.

So many brilliant researchers work so diligently to help mankind; only to have their gifts to humanity ignored or rejected for no valid reason.

They even reject such services because they are not defined in the 10th amendment by founders who were fully aware that the documents of government would need to be changed, carefully and thoughtfully in order to maintain a viable nation. The founders did not envision many things, telephones, satellite communication, germ theory, blood transfusion, and a thousand other things we take for granted. But they were flexible men, scholars of the enlightenment. Just as they knew a state religion was wrong, so would they, today, know that the time for states’ rights as perceived, even as late as 1865 had passed.

We are a single nation and we should behave as one. We have national passports. The time is now for national drivers’ licenses, national education standards, and a host of other changes that will be needed to keep this nation on track through the 21st century.

My fishing acquaintance, well he doesn’t know it, will never realize it; but he’s wrong.

Who needs a department of health, who needs CDC? We do, now more than ever.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time to thin the herd?

Time to thin the herd?

Some of you may recognize this, others will not

It may be:

A. X-ray image of the early universe taken by the Chandra telescope from near-earth space orbit

B. Bio-luminescent plankton released in one of the major spawning events of the Great Barrier Reef

C. A never-before-seen special effect from Barbarella.

D. The destroyer of cities, spoiler of civilizations

Herds of animals, if left alone by man, will suffer modification of herd size in order to allow the population to live in the habitat left available. We’ve all seen images of deer and elk dying in deep snow, unable to find enough food to make it through the winter. Diseases routinely sweep through animal populations and wipe out large numbers of fowl or fish. As habitat decreases, so does the number of each particular animal that can exist in the physical space, competing for food and shelter.

Trout, major U.S. game fish, are at risk of “Whirling Disease.” The disease was originally described in Germany and now impacts salmonid species of fish. It is sometimes described as the “AIDS of trout.”

Deer are subject to Chronic Wasting Disease, suggestive of BSE in cattle and CJ Disease in humans.

Darwinian selections aid some species in surviving disease or famine while it dead ends other offshoot, leaving them behind as unsuccessful genetic experiments. Some species adapt to eat a broader selection of food and survive famine. Others, unable to adapt, become extinct.

We don’t know how many genetic dead ends human kind has left fallen in the millennia since we collectively learned language, farming, hunting, and warfare. We don’t know if Neanderthal man was removed from the family tree by disease, by starvation, by exclusion due to physiognomy, or killed by competitors. We only know that, despite television ads telling us otherwise, they vanished.

For animals, habitat loss is critical. For humans habitat loss is less immediately critical than is habitat change. Rats, placed into an inadequately sized habitat will exhibit aggression, infanticide, and infant neglect. Other animals will exhibit like behavior when confined to shrinking habitat. Diseases become rampant, conflict for food increases. In the worst cases animals transfer all manner of deadly infections and infestations to humans.

The Black Death reached Europe around 1340 and killed ca. 25,000,000 people. The city dwellers were more heavily affected than the rural dwellers. Even then, cities, with their closely confined and poorly maintained habitat were sources of infection. Population density mattered greatly until there was suddenly no population density to worry about.

Thomas Malthus postulated that unchecked breeding among humans would eventually be controlled by famine, disease, and warfare. Quite a few science fiction novels have been written based upon Malthusian selection. Malthus failed to account for increased capability to produce food by humans. He was a strong proponent of “Moral Restraint”, which translates into the language of both then and now as practice celibacy until married, have no children outside wedlock, have no children on can’t afford. One of 8 children, he married a cousin and fathered three children. Apparently, he took his own teachings to heart.

Also frequently cited as ever-ready to eliminate over-population are Conquest, crowned on a white horse; War, wielding a sword astride a red horse; Famine, carrying scales, riding a black horse; and Death, swinging a scythe from his pale horse. These images stem most recently from the possible ergot-driven images described in Revelation

By this time the industrialization of society was changing the nature of work for many and pulling population from the farm field into the cities. Human habitat was being altered again after having rebounded from the Black Death.

Wars were a major factor in limiting population growth. Never as swift as disease, never as slow as famine, war plays a role in controlling population. From hundreds/day at Agincourt, to tens of thousands/day at Waterloo, at Gettysburg, to entire cities vanishing into the mechanized hell of WWII; war plays it role in thinning the herd. Warfare, in some aspects, is contra-Darwinian. Even the strongest and best able to adapt are helpless before modern weaponry.

Flash forward to present day America.

We are deluged with instance after instance of gang violence in our cities causing the deaths of innocent men, women, and children. The violence is not limited to any one racial or cultural group. The toll is staggering and looks to only become higher with each week.

Have we reached the limits in our cities where the rats begin to kill each other? We’ve already noted an immense increase in failure to protect or nurture children. We’ve noted aggression in our city-born children at surprisingly young ages now. We’ve seen eight year olds plan and carry out murder of younger children. We’ve seen rapes committed by pre-pubescent males!

“There’s an anger in the land!”

No amount of good intention, no free breakfast and free lunch program, no “mentoring” program, no prayer, no community concern is going to reverse that degree of anger in those children. But for the socialization of the streets, they have no veneer of civilization about them and they will never develop one. They will learn to use the phones and other tools and toys that define status but will never understand how to build them. They will never read for pleasure, maybe never read at all. They are essentially feral children.

Years ago, I was attacked by a young woman who appeared to be 12 or perhaps 14. She was doing her best to impale me on a bayonet because the rifle it was attached to jammed, saving me from being shot. I managed to avoid being gutted by her. When we took her prisoner the hatred in her face was so great that it was tactile. But along with the hatred that blazed from her eyes was commonality of humanity. She and I both knew why she wanted to kill me. We both understood that it was very personal, her wanting to kill me and me wanting to stop her.

Yesterday, I saw the faces of three young men 16-19 years old, arrested for beating a 16 year old to death as he left school. They killed him because he was caught in conflict between two rival groups arguing for turf and street power. They probably didn’t know him, most likely didn’t care that he was killed in what amounted to a cross fire. Unlike the face of the young girl with the bayonet, these people were absolutely unconcerned that they had killed another human. Their faces and eyes were flat and empty. There was no common humanity to see or to find. We’ve produced offspring who are no longer children, but spawn. We’ve created our own demons, our own monsters who are quite willing to thin the herd but have no criteria other than accident and chance to apply. We’ve produced such inhumane children that they must be a genetic variant, one of those instances where the species can take either of two paths and which path is taken determines whether civilization continues or crumbles. Those young men I saw are capable of taking advantage of all that civilization is, of using it for their own greed and ego. But they are not capable of furthering civilization or adding anything of merit to it. If they control the future, civilization will likely be imploded just as certainly as it was by the Black Death in the 14th century. No matter how fit or strong they are, they are a genetic dead end, very contra-survival.

The herd is in dire need of thinning. But we’ve reached a point where we can thin by decreasing the number of births wisely. We no longer need huge families to ensure the next generation’s existence. We can deal with disease and famine if we work at it intelligently. We can’t avoid war, yet; probably won’t ever be able to. But we can thin part of the hood. We only have to lock such murderers away and resist the hope that they will somehow become rehabilitated. Cage them, for life, never let them reproduce. Sounds harsh, is harsh. Has to be.

The answer is “D” The destroyer of cities, spoiler of civilizations

Immuno- fluorescent antibody stain Yersinia pestis, the gram negative bacillus which causes plague. Born by fleas, which left dying rats for not-yet-dead humans, it subsequently made the jump with the fleas and infected its final host. Plague is not wiped out. It kills people all over the world every year. We have a resident pool in the desert SW United States. Don’t play with ground squirrels, chipmunks or other cute fuzzy things.

Dinner tonight will be pizza and salad.

Oatmeal tomorrow morning.  Joshua, want the recipe?

Monday, September 28, 2009

How much? To see who? You’ve got to be kidding me?

28 September 2009 How much? To see who? You’ve got to be kidding me?

Many nights I have joined a line at a 24 hour USPS facility with a white #10 envelope in hand. In the envelope were a second, a stamped self-addressed envelope, a 3x5 index card, and a U.S. Postal money order. The index card had my name, address, and phone numbers printed carefully in the upper left corner. In the center, on one line, was printed a location, a date, and the number of tickets requested for that show. If I wanted tickets for other venues, those were requested on lines beneath the first request. Also in the envelope was a money order in the amount of the total cost for the requested tickets and additional money to pay for the tickets to be returned by registered mail. Everything was double checked, before being put in the mail slot as soon after midnight as possible.

If everything worked as planned, if fortune gazed upon me, after an interminable, seemingly endless wait, the self-addressed envelope would arrive in my mailbox, containing tickets to a Grateful Dead show. Grateful Dead Ticket Service filled hundreds of thousands of requests for tickets over the years T The Grateful Dead toured. The most I ever paid for a ticket to see The Grateful Dead was $35.00 in 1995. That price bought a stadium floor seat, beside the sound booth, 19 rows behind the taper section. We had folding chairs to sit on. The band played what was a great show by 1995 standards and I’m happy we went through the ritual and were there at what was the last Grateful Dead show Gloria and I attended.

A friend of ours taped the show and within two weeks I had an astoundingly clear pair of audience tapes, decorated and personalized by the taper. Those tapes cost me $4.00 and another $4.00 in postage paid for getting my blank tapes to him and his filled tapes back to me.

We just paid for the most expensive concert tickets we’ve ever purchased. We’re going to see Leonard Cohen in Asheville NC in November. Each of us will be listening to a week's worth of groceries. The really unsettling thing about this is we will be occupying cheap seats, orchestra seats off to the right. The center seats were never made available for the average fan to buy.

Ticket Master has distribution privileges rather than the performer or the venue. Ticket Master has reserved its own block of seats to scalp to those fans that are eager to give them more money for a few trinkets. These are the elite fan packages for the Leonard Cohen world tour 2009. Please note that I have no idea what P1 & P2 location refers to. We’ll be seeing him in a small, ca 2400 seat venue.

The Emerald ticket package is $299 per person

Emerald VIP Package Includes:

- One Excellent P2 Location!

** Please note in New York the Emerald Package is based on a P1 Location

- One Exclusive Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Tour Journal

- One Limited Edition Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Embroidered Tote Bag

- One Premium Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Embroidered Fleece Blanket

- One Custom Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Key Chain & Gift Box

- One Souvenir Leonard Cohen Tour Program

The Diamond ticket package is: $589 per person

Diamond VIP Package Includes:

- One Amazing Ticket in the First Ten Rows!

- One Exclusive Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Tour Journal

- One Limited Edition Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Embroidered Tote Bag

- One Premium Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Embroidered Fleece Blanket

- One Custom Leonard Cohen Unified Heart Key Chain & Gift Box

- One Souvenir Leonard Cohen Tour Program

According to TicketMaster, All Diamond & Emerald packages are to be sold in pairs. Package Ticket Limits: 6 Ticket Limit for presale & public on-sale

In searching for tickets I’ve already seen tickets for some of Cohen’s concerts being offered on EBay and other web sites for up to $1000. I hope no one is that desperate? I really dislike scalping. The Grateful Dead used to smack down parking lot scalpers- anyone asking more than face price for tickets. The only time I sold unused tickets to a Grateful Dead Show, I sold them at face price. It was an unwritten agreement between the band and fans to keep scalping from taking place.

“The Dead,” the remnants of The Grateful Dead toured last year and offered their own set of elite packages which included hotel rooms, parking, bus transportation to the venue, special seating, backstage access and food backstage ( no band access). Some of these packages went for nearly $1000. Far too rich for my blood. And the fact that they, the band, were complicit in this high end scalping deleted any desire I had to see the band at any price.

Music has begun pricing itself out of affordability. Aging rock bands go on tour once a year or once a decade and ask fans to pay outrageous ticket prices before scalping begins. And fans pay it. It amuses me no end that fans will pay $1000 or more per seat to see the band play exactly the same notes with the same vocals that are on the CD or DVD they will buy after the concert for $40 or more. At least, The Grateful Dead provided a different show every night. Today’s fans could stay home and watch the DVD and avoid having beer spilled on them. Or, for the right reimbursement, I’ll be happy to go a fan’s house, hand him a beer, block his view of the television and start his DVD playing, then spill beer on him before leaving.

So we children of the 50s and 60s have reached the point where we not only have to choose between food and medication but also between food and music.

It’s not just music.

We flew to Vancouver in June to attend my older son’s wedding to a very nice young woman named Amy Lee. I’d met Amy only once, Gloria had never met her. Nor had we met her parents or sister, whom we found to be very nice people. It was a beach wedding that went off well, particularly when one considers that Amy had probably suffered hairline fractures of some ribs prior to the wedding.

Picture by Gloria Lenon, 10 June 2009  Kitselano Beach, Vancouver BC

We had a great time in Vancouver, met my cousin Danny Gelmon, and would have enjoyed more time in

a wonderful city.

 Picture by Gloria Lenon, 11 June 2009

But the flight to Vancouver, the leg from Denver to Vancouver was miserable. Packed plane and the cabin crew kept the cabin temperature near 80F because someone in first class was cold. There was insufficient room for me to put my feet into the foot well. Yes, I have big feet, wear an 11 ½ - 13, depending on the shoe or boor. On that flight, if I had needed to exit quickly, I would have been trapped by the seat hardware. Dangerous? Unsafe for passengers? I certainly think so.

The airlines are charging for every bit of service they can name. $20 per checked bag. And because I wanted to have foot room on the flight back to Knoxville, we each wound up paying an additional $50.00 above our ticket price. Something really wrong about charging a passenger to fly, then charging them more for a relatively safer seat. Charge for food? OK, I can live with that and carry my own food aboard. But charging for safety? I’ve got some thoughts about people who think up ways to screw the public like that. You probably do., too. Please join me in reciting them.

Dinner, tonight, is left overs.

It’s windy and partly cloudy today. I think the wind on highway 107 was about 25 knots. Down in our valley, we’ve recorded only a 9.4 gust. The house is sheltered by the valley walls and the trees around us.

We can hear the gusts spilling over the ridge crest and funneling down the valley. Really impressive to hear and to watch the trees bend as the gust roll by. We can’t see the pockets of air that we are hearing but we understand the science behind them. Nice to sit and watch it go by.

Unlike health care, gasoline, music, travel, or food, no one has yet found a way to raise the price of a sunset on your own front porch.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oh! I misread that label

27 September 2009 Oh, I misread that label!

The top sirloin I removed from the freezer for yesterday’s dinner turned out to be bottom round. Same animal but a lot more chewing for the same flavor. So the plan for broiled steaks with a baked potato fell by the wayside, floated down stream with the 1.45 inches of rain we received yesterday.

When I took the dog out at 2200 to drain and empty her, the rain that had been falling nearly all day had stopped. It was 62, heading to a lower number and foggy. A few bright stars were visible overhead.

Yesterday was a good day. It was filled with music, with laughter, and fun. There are many good ways to spend a rainy afternoon.

The steak was still mostly frozen when I discovered my error. Gloria suggested I make some sort of stir fry. We had rice last night with dinner’s curry. I opted for a Chinese hot pot type meal. A good Sabatier knife and some concentration resulted in very thin slices of steak. VietNamese Hanoi style Pho base gave me the primary broth flavor. Onions, bok choy, sugar snap peas, carrots, and various seasonings rounded out the broth. We both had two bowls of contents and broth, picked at it with chopsticks until only remnants of bok choy were left. Easy clean up, I tend to clean as I go. Like any other skill, cooking is much easier if the tools are good and well cared for. I am lucky to have good knives and pans. Once in a while they pay off and something edible leaves the kitchen.

I will confess to enjoying an occasional box of Kraft Mac & cheese. Having no taste for milk, most mac and cheese that people fix from scratch leaves me cold. The puddle of milk that remains in the bottom of that brought to most of the pot lucks I’ve ever attended warns me off that offering. The same applies to au gratin potatoes. I love the dish, dislike the milk. Cook it until the milk is absorbed or use less milk.

1.65 inches of rainfall makes some difference.

The creek is a bit higher, the pools fuller than yesterday. More evident in the left-hand, upstream image.

Left: This is the lower portion of the creek as it flows north, off our property. The channel is about 20 feet deep at the point on the left bank where I shot this image, 10 or so at the strainer tree downstream That is a fully grown tree lying across the creek bed. We’ve seen water up to the tree. Not a place to wade in high water. During low water the low end of the tree is about 5 feet over the creek bed.

Right: This is the portion of Cassi Creek directly behind our house, about 50 feet from the deck. It contains two pools which shelter rainbow trout approaching one foot in length and many smaller, younger, brook trout that are part of what we hope remains a native breeding population. The rocks which separate the two pools are where we believe the bear made its exit with our trash bag. It apparently hunkered down in the knotweed and dined on garbage. It left the refuse, which Gloria spotted and which I cleaned up. Note the knotweed along the right bank which helps maintain the cooler water temperature which trout require. The long tree on the left bank is 45 foot long pine which appeared there on morning last January during the high water period.

I’m defrosting ground bison for tonight’s dinner. I’ll season it up a bit, add some grated cheese and something to moisten the meat a bit, then pan sear some burgers/ground bison steak from the result. Bison has a great flavor and doesn’t need much added to it. I’ll sauté some mushrooms and deglaze with red wine and chili to provide a good pan sauce.

We talked with my mother and sister this morning. My mother will be 83 Tuesday. She drove from Jefferson City MO to Kansas City to spend her birthday with my sister Suzanne and her family. Suzie’s husband, Ernie, has two children from his first marriage. They’re both grown now but Suzie pretty much raised them from childhood.

Her stepson, Jeff, was just diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage 3. He’s a mechanic, married with a child of his own. He will be treated at the Truman hospital in Kansas City as he has no real income and no insurance. The hospital will deeply discount his care but that is hardly enough. He started chemotherapy Friday. He’s a good kid, wants to carry his own weight, and just got hammered by something that threatens to grind him up. He shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for treatment that may save his life.

This is a good example of the need for health care reform in this nation. No insurance company doing business in this nation will adequately cover someone like Jeff for a disease like Hodgkin’s. And, if he’s strong enough and lucky enough to survive it, no insurance company will ever insure him for anything again. We desperately need a national health insurance along the model of France or Switzerland for our citizens. I’m willing to pay for health insurance just as we do homeowners and auto insurance. But if I do, I expect the carrier to honor its side of the deal and not renege when someone becomes ill or injured. I have no reason to trust any insurer that pays its executives exorbitant salaries and multi-million dollar bonuses while rejecting claims filed in good faith by customers/patients. That works out to a complete distrust of every health insurance company doing business in the U.S.

My mother, who has twice been treated for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, has tried to impress upon Jeff how he will need to avoid family and friends who are sick while undergoing chemo. But that’s going to be difficult. His wife has a large family that likes to get together frequently. It is probably going to require Jeff catching something otherwise innocuous from one of her nieces or nephews before the real risk of being around people begins to sink in.

Yom Kippur begins at sunset. Gloria has Kol Nidre ready to play; both of us have Aveinu Malkeinu standing by. We aren’t attending services this year but we’ll take part in the larger cultural gestalt. Observant this year, or not, we are Jews and we have neither desire nor ability to change that.

I’ve been listening to “Who By Fire,” Leonard Cohen’s version of the U’Netaneh Tokef prayer

“And who by fire, who by water,

Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,

Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,

Who in your merry merry month of May,

Who by very slow decay,

And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,

Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,

And who by avalanche, who by powder,

Who for his greed, who for his hunger,

And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,

Who in solitude, who in this mirror,

Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,

Who in mortal chains, who in power,

And who shall I say is calling”

The appropriate end to this entry is to wish those of you fasting, an easy fast.

Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place – our task, and yours for the coming year.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Leaves that are green turn to brown

26 September 2009 “Leaves that are green turn to brown.”

Simon and Garfunkle.

There is a sharp seasonal change taking place here.

Thursday's’s high was 87.6 Fahrenheit. We spent about an hour in the pool. Yesterday's’s high was 82.4 F. We spent about an hour in the pool. Today, we expect to the high to be 74, 79 on Sunday, and then a steady cool down for a week with lows reaching down to the mid 40s. Tonight, when we put the solar blanket back on the pool, I turned off the gas heater. We’ve arranged to have the pool closed up for the winter next week.

Mornings this week have been very pleasant. It has been cool enough to walk down valley and back without being sweat soaked when I get back. We’ve had a lot of rain in the area but most of it has gone around us. The cloud bases have been around 300-400 feet, providing a lovely view of the valley walls with gray clouds covering the higher peaks and ridges and spilling into the smaller feeder creek valleys.

The mulberry tree in the front yard has lost most of its leaves already. They’ve turned yellow, grown brown-spotted, and then brown before falling off. Loki, our Norwegian Elkhound/German Shepherd mix rescue, has just chased a squirrel from the mulberry litter up another tree and is looking for the next furry thing to chase. She never catches them but enjoys the opportunity to be a dog.

The hickory trees out by the road have begun to yellow; the higher valley walls show some reds and orange patches. Another three weeks should bring us to the peak for color this year. We’ll get to see the higher peaks all colored out, too. We’ve made plans to go to a dance in Asheville in Mid October and to a concert there in November. That might even mean some snow at elevation. First snow for us was in late October last year and I drove my mother to Charlotte to catch her plane over snow-covered passes. Of course, Charlotte was hot and sticky when we got there and I was happy to leave Charlotte behind.

We awakened to low, heavy clouds this morning. The forecast, 100% chance of rain, is already proven accurate. We’ve had .08 inches of rain since midnight. Although the last week was rainy, we’ve missed the entrained storms that caused so much flooding to our south. The creek is still clear, not swollen, pleasant to hear.

Images taken this morning, 26 September 2009

The image on the left is looking east up Cassi Creek, the shortest leg, ca. 150 meters that bisects our property flowing east to west. The view on the right is of the same segment, looking west just before the creek bends back to the north. Note the heavy overgrowth of knotweed on the banks in the left view. This Japanese plant is an aggressive invader, hard to kill, grows up to ten feet tall and spreads like bamboo. The overgrowth seen here provides some shade to the creek and harbors terrestrial insects that fall and are consumed by the trout., so it is not entirely without benefit. However, the dense nature of the growth makes it difficult to get to the banks of the creek and impossible to wield a fly rod without losing flies and leader to the weeds.

The view to the right shows the rock reinforcement put along the banks by the county after a stalled hurricane dumped several days of rain on the Appalachians. The resulting floods washed out the road in several places. The creek, which once had its E>W segment above the south end of our house was re-routed to its present position. The old channel still exists there The county and the Forest Service did a good job with the channel relocation. Even during the floods in January of this year the old bed was empty. The upper end of our property has a 50-60 foot high hillside entirely covered with similar rocks to protect that portion of the road which runs atop the hillside. Some of the rocks are arm-chair size. Others merely suitcase size. Navigating the banks is tricky when carrying nothing. Add a 6-9 foot fly rod and the difficulty increases. The creek bends to the right and flows northward at the bottom of this stretch. The whole valley is carved by Cassi Creek and its three main forks.

Today, tomorrow and Monday are the last days of “Days of Awe,” Yamim Noraim (Hebrew: נוראים‎ ימים ). The New year, 5770 began on Rosh HaShanah and all over the world Jews will begin fasting Sunday evening at sundown, Erev Yom Kippur. That the day begins at sundown always amuses me. What better way to begin a normal day than to dine, enjoy the evening, and go to bed. It also amuses me that Rosh HaShanah occurs in the middle of the calendar year. The civil new year happens in the spring. Judaism is a wonderful faith for the obsessive compulsives who thrive on rituals, lists, and tradition.

We live about 90 minutes to 2 hours from the nearest synagogue, B'nai Shalom, located in between Johnson City and Bristol. About 55 families support the synagogue, founded 105 years ago. There are no other Jewish congregations between Roanoke VA and Knoxville TN. Because of the distance and time involved, because of the price of gasoline and other factors, we’ve downgraded our level of religious observance. We were heavily involved in a synagogue in Florida, a congregation of about the same size. We wound up as lay leaders when there was no Rabbi. Considering the need to take part in two days of services a week, the necessity of language and theology classes, we spent four days a week in or around the synagogue. We, and the other lay leaders were rapidly approaching burnout. We miss the sense of community that we had there but don’t want to wind up in a similar time crunch here. A synagogue is one of those institutions that demands volunteers and consumes them while demanding ever more of those who give anything. So are other programs such as folk festivals, organizations like Boy Scouting. Both of us have been up to our necks, more than once, in helping such institutions chew us up and ask for more.

Seasonal changes warn us to prepare for the next set of demands.

Next week I need to call a chimney sweep and set up an appointment to have the chimney and wood stove inspected and maintained. I need to find a source of wood, free or otherwise to start splitting and stacking. We expect the pool service company to winterize the pool next week.

I need to call, again, about flood insurance. The federal program has three or four providers in the region. All of them are busy.

I have an appointment at VA with my new primary care provider and Gloria has to take her car into Johnson City for routine service and to have the dealer look for mice nests that we can’t find. We need to end the mouse infestation of her car before the mice actually do serious damage. My Pathfinder can be driven another 1000 miles before it needs an oil change so that will likely take place in late October.

Gloria wants to look at thrift stores for Halloween costume items to wear to the dance in Jonesborough on Halloween. We may get to meet for lunch in Johnson City next week.

We’ve begun to shift into the fall and winter menu patterns. We had a Masaman shrimp curry last night. Large shrimp, extra-firm tofu, sweet potato, baby peas, scallions, onion, coconut milk served over brown Basmani rice.

This morning I pulled two top sirloin steaks from the freezer to use for dinner tonight, I could braise them in wine and treat them like Steak Diane, or some similar means of making select beef, bought from the mark down shelves a bit easier to chew and swallow. On the other hand, it is better for us than the more marbled choice cuts and stretches my skills in the kitchen to make it more enjoyable.
We’ve now had .25 inches of rain since midnight. The eastern part of TN is covered by a solid yellow radar display with 28 storms being tracked by Doppler from Morristown TN. It appears as if the afternoon is a good one for indoor activities. I enjoy being able to pull the radar feeds to my notebook without having to deal with the annoying quasi music that is background for all the television radar feeds. I feed real time data from my personal weather station to Weather Underground and good storm tracking, weather alerts, and predictions as well as real time data from all over the U.S, and Canada. Did I say something about obsessive-compulsive behavior above? I actually have weather data files for this location from the November 2006 to the present. From Florida, I have files saved from hurricane passes showing wind, rain, and barometric pressure for all the hurricanes we were close to. Some came within 10 miles of our house. I was tracking barometric pressure every 15 minutes during those storms. The graphs of pressure vs time and distance were interesting.

Here’s the end of this commentary.

The moose hanger came from BoothBay Harbor ME. The begonias have bloomed there all summer. This is the view from our front deck, looking west

Friday, September 25, 2009

lessons learned, lessons not learned

24 September 2009 Lessons learned, lessons not learned

Some lessons come easily; others arrive with at sizeable portion of pain. Some we learn rapidly, the first time we meet the challenge. Others are so divorced from logic and reality that we refuse to ever accept them and are forced to learn them over and over.

“And now as I lie here, my body all holes

I think of those traitors who bargained in souls

And I wish that my rifle had given the same

To those Quislings who sold out the patriot game” - Patriot Game Dominic Behan

Quisling: according to Wikipedia:

Quisling, after Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling, who assisted Nazi Germany to conquer his own country and ruled the collaborationist Norwegian government, is a term used to describe traitors and collaborators

One of those terms preserved in a song lyric that lives past its time in history. Outside Norwegian and Irish history texts, I doubt anyone will recall the man or his contribution to invective after the WWII generation is gone. I learned the term first by reading about Quisling in a book on WWII that I read some time before junior high school. When I ran across it in Behan’s lyric, it was instantly recalled. The gray matter drive was somewhat faster in those days. I’ve learned a lot of history and a lot of trivia by chasing down terms or phrases encountered in song lyrics. For me, a painless and fun means of learning. It is far better to understand what you are singing, or trying to sing, about. It helps in interpreting the song, knowing how to emphasize or down play a word or a line, what tone of voice to use.

I learned that a line drive hitting your forehead can pick you up and flatten you out, nearly instantly, in Rolla, MO, in a pickup neighborhood baseball practice session. A neighborhood father was hitting practice balls to several of us, neighborhood children I failed to get a glove on the ball he hit to me. I’ve tried to avoid relearning that lesson.

Also learned in Rolla, MO – don’t kick over a kerosene bomb on the approach to an old, creosote-soaked wooden bridge. Watching the black orb roll down hill, spilling a trail of fire suitable for movie special effects was a lesson in anticipation of pain and grief. Flames did reach the bridge but the structure did not burst into an instant inferno. I’ve not needed to relearn that lesson.

In 1968 I learned that the “snap” heard just overhead is indicative of the need to flatten out, instantly, and then move laterally. It may hurt to fall onto rocks, logs, broken glass or anything else beneath you. It will hurt far more if you wait to hear the second “snap,” which you may never hear it but either way, you will have no need to learn the lesson again.

I should have learned by now that it does no good to discuss religion with someone intent upon converting or saving the world. It seems only logical that eventually reason and science will triumph over blind faith. It “seems” logical. It seems “logical.”

However, There remain, despite the steady expansion of scientific knowledge and the ever greater access to that knowledge via print , broadcast media, and the internet, millions of “faithful”, believing the words of those who tell them they, and they alone, are saved; often believing in a corporeal afterlife. In many cases they impose the same harsh limitations to physical and emotional joy that they eschew while alive onto what overlay they have been given of “the afterlife.” Some views of that sound intolerably dull and boring, even before expanding that afterlife into a never changing eternity. I’ll pass.

There is absolutely no agreement between religions and between sects as to what one must do to be faithful. The major Abrahamic faiths have been continually at war with each other for at least 2000 years. And they have been at war within their sects for nearly as long.

Islamic fundamentalists are intent on replacing all other religion with Islam and with eliminating those infidels who prefer science over faith. Young Mormons spend months of their lives after high school going around in pairs, knocking on doors, offering to bring whomever opens the door into their particular view of an afterlife. Other Christian sects send “missionaries” out into the third world. Some of them staff hospitals, providing care first and prayer as an adjunct; others open parochial schools as their inroad. In the centuries of Westward expansion, European Christians were notable for claiming new lands for King and Church, bringing the loot back to King – with their percentage determined by more or less generous monarchs – and bringing the natives to Jesus or to death. Even today, their linear descendants serving the poor of the U.S. will sometimes demand participation in prayer before doling out food and shelter. Spain, France, and Portugal were more driven to Christianize the New World than were England and Holland, which were content to import riches and export religious malcontents without desire to save the natives.

My friend, David Gans, expressed this very well:

“There are many here among us

Who believe this world is theirs

When it's beaten and depleted

They will rise into the air

And the ones who don't believe them

Face a dark, eternal grave

No one knows, but you are certain

Who will save us from the saved?”

David Gans ©2005 Whispering Hellalujah Music (BMI)

In March, 1993, I learned that a very friendly dog that gets tangled in a bed spread may bite. I have the scars on my left arm to remind me of that. The same dog later developed diabetes and required daily insulin injections. I would call her to me every morning and she would faithfully submit to be injected. But as her vision worsened due to cataracts she sometimes snapped at motion. One morning she snapped at my leg and opened up a 2 cm, avulsion. I cleaned the bite, packed it with antibiotic ointment and allowed it to heal by secondary intention. After two weeks it had almost healed but there was some residual pain and swelling, and other signs of infection. I decided it was time to open the wound and debride it. I got my surgical kit, cleaned the skin with soap & water, and then prepped it with betadine.

I propped the leg up on the bathroom sink and opened the wound with a scalpel. A small amount of purulent material lay just beneath the dermis. I went to work with forceps, gauze, & peroxide, using the forceps to push peroxide-soaked gauze into the infected tissue. It was repetitive work, explore the wound, debride with peroxide-soaked gauze, dry with sterile gauze, flood with peroxide and look for evidence of remaining infection. It was an awkward position to hold, painful due to the position and due to the repeated insult to living flesh. I was shaking as I tried to hold my leg still. I was standing there with tools in hand when Gloria walked in. Sweat was dripping down my face, pouring from my chest and down my arms. I was trying very hard to keep the open wound dry. She looked at me, looked at what I was doing, and in all innocence asked, “Doesn’t that hurt?”

I looked at her and said, “Well, yes!” Those two lines of conversation have become one of our rituals of reminding each other how much we love each other. We joke about it, and always have since that day. There’s a lot of laughter in our marriage.

My leg healed without further incident. I have a scar to remind me of a dog that accepted me eagerly into her pack when Gloria and I first met. I learned with some pain that even the most friendly of dogs will bite in fear or pain. Of course, I already knew that. But I also learned that those scars were worth being part of the pack. Some admission prices are higher than others.

What I haven’t learned is how to convince people that we need to strictly separate religion from the political workings of our nation. We were handed foundation documents that specifically forbade a state religion. Some part of our population has been trying to overturn that gift since the Constitution and Bill of Rights were accepted as law and ratified by the then states.

The GOP has allied itself with the American version of the Taliban. That sub-populace of fundamentalist Christians is vectored toward a theocracy to replace our republic. They are not content with being allowed to follow their perceived guide book for eternity, they are insistent that everyone else be required to follow the same guide book. And, incredibly frightening, the front-runner GOP candidate for that group of voters is a fundamentalist preacher who has publically stated that he wants to change the Constitution to bring it in line with his Bible, his guide book to that boring, joyless eternity I mentioned earlier.

There are many Christians in this nation who practice their faith happily, who help those less fortunate without thought of recompense or of forced participation. They are good people who have no desire to make others dance to their tune. We need more of them to counter our own Taliban, to guide the GOP back toward a moderate platform, one not based upon blind faith but upon reality, common purpose, and a desire to return to the sense of unity that is this nation in the best of times.

That lesson comes painfully, and more and more frequently these days as the nation polarizes behind the fringes on the far left and the Taliban on the far right. I wonder, if we collectively, will ever learn this lesson. If we do, it will be after great pain. If we don’t, the pain will be unimaginable.

David seems to have expressed it as well as anyone, Pennsylvanian colonist, prisoner of the Inquisition, Victims of many expulsions, slaves in the mines of Mexico, natives of Polynesia, women suffragettes, anti-slavery abolitionists, could have expressed the lesson we need to learn:

“Give me freedom from religion

Who will save us from the saved?”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beate Leibowitz, ora pro me

24 September 2009 Blessed St. Leibowitz, pray for us.
I once put the tool box list for “bagels and pastrami for Emma” followed by “Blessed St. Leibowitz, pray for us.” Up as the scrolling screen saver on a work computer in an open lab. At least 20 people stopped and looked at it without recognition. Only once of my friends at that lab recognized the source.

There are lines from books and lines from songs that simply bore into your brain and stick for ever. Some are good, recall pleasant events, great happenings in our lives. Others, called “earworms” are treacly, annoying, mawkish, saccharine, and when they surface refuse to be buried again until something drastic comes along to wipe the slate.

I don’t like music videos. I don’t watch, have never watched, MTV, VH1 or any other network founded upon a bed of music videos. I prefer to form my own associations to music. I like music to be personal, not defined by what some producer or director feels it should be in order to attract and sell to an ever-younger demographic.

One of my earlier music related memories is of me standing in the back seat of the family car on a graveled road in south east Missouri. It is dark, hot and sticky, there’s a long plume of dust and corn pollen trailing the car and the remnants of another from the car ahead make the air thick, coating the short napped fabric of the seat backs and back seat cushion. I’m hanging onto the long strap that is attached to the front seat. The windows are fully open, dust caking the outside, sliding down in sheets. Teresa Brewer is spilling from the tinny speaker, “Put another nickel in, in that nickelodeon.” She slides behind with the dust to be replaced by Eddy Arnold, “Any time you’re feeling lonely, any time you’re feeling blue…” Outside there is just enough moon light to see the corn rows flash by like the legs of a giant something running alongside us, keeping pace with the car. I can smell the dust, taste the air, feel the sticky-dusty seat cushions, hear the staticy AM broadcast from an era when DJ’s programmed more of their own music, when small stations were sundowners and rural communities depended on skip transmissions after dark. Country music was still not that distant from blue grass and old-timey Appalachian music.

I’ve written previously about the memories associated with Mary Travers.

I once saw the beginning of a television series based upon the VietNam War. The producer, the director, someone decided to use “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones as the theme. There’s no similar association for me. I don’t recall ever hearing that while in VietNam. If you asked me to come up with songs that I associate with VietNam the Stones would be represented by “Sympathy For The Devil.” The Beatles would be singing “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” and everyone listening would be displaying a tightly twisted grin that conveys absolutely no amusement.

The same box that those associations swam up from would contain Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die Rag,” Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” Shoved down in the mire, hopefully forever, Glen Campbell’s “Galveston,” Barry Sadler’s “Ballad Of The Green Beret.” Impossible to be there and not hear it as the official AFVN (Armed Forces VietNam Network) played mostly country music at the time I was within earshot. The demographic was largely enlisted from southern states and inducted from the urban and inner cities. Token programming for the inductees. They came and went without making much mark on the non-combat support services that provided such things as radio from home.

The music industry was changing rapidly. FM stations played entire album sides to those lucky enough to live within range. The British Invasion replaced the Philadelphia dance party music, Mo Town really took off, The San Francisco groups took rock into other spaces, whether the tightly engineered highly successful Jefferson Airplane albums, the wonder of Canned Heat, volcanic sounds of Janis Joplin and whichever group she had backing her, or the often-times amazing improvisations of the Grateful Dead. As always, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco were the entry points for the sounds and performers that gradually filtered into the middle states.

Country and Rock had a fusion period in the early 1970’s. Groups like The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band swam to the top. Garcia and friends laid down Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty for everyone to sing along with. And then the two styles went their separate ways. Disco captured the top forty markets and I quit listening to much popular music.

From the mid 70’s to the 1990’s, with one brief exception the towns I lived in had only sundowner stations and played to a mostly country market. The cable television providers didn’t carry MTV or its spawn. To this day I can’t tell you when MTV debuted. And I don’t need to know.

When I hear “Sympathy For The Devil” I don’t just hear the song. I see a world where all clothing is green, with red laterite dust or mud permanently ground into the rip-stop fabric. I feel that dust on my face, that mud under my fingernails. I smell the tropical decay, the nauseating smell of jet fuel blowing in my face, hot and unpleasant to breathe as I walk up the ramp into a Chinook, feel the rotor blast tearing at my clothing, pack tearing at my shoulder already. I smell diesel fuel and feces, the smells of explosives and gunpowder, gun oil cigarette smoke, I smell fetid socks soaked repeatedly in rice paddy water or monsoon-swollen streams, feet so badly damaged by continued use in wet, bacteria-laden socks that the skin comes off with the socks. I smell blood, spilled intestinal contents. I smell the charcoal cooking fires of the villagers and the napalm fueled fires we called down from above, changing some nameless hamlet or some isolated point on a highly inaccurate map into the latest reproduction of biblical extermination. Somehow I doubt any music video made for popular play can trigger that sort of flashback, recall those associations. And if it could, why would I want it to?

Other veterans from VietNam and from other wars will have their own set of musical association with their own set of tactile, aural, visual, and olfactory tie ins. Helicopters in flight, jet war plane landing, launching, flying overhead are reminders. Smell tends to be an extremely powerful agent for tripping memory cascades. Watch a VietNam vet in a rain forest exhibit at a zoological garden.

My point is not to paint myself as unique but to begin to communicate how powerful association with music can and should be. We should be able to hear a song and recall who we were dancing with, where, and how good it felt; rather than to see images of silicone enhanced dancers gyrating or of men using women as toys for reasons of status. Violence to women, to men, to anyone is nothing to glorify. Yet, MTV and the music video industry excel at selling violence, arrogance racism, and lifestyles that lead to incarceration and early deaths. The various genre of music publishers have all done equally poorly at taking something as wonderful as music and making it little more than background noise in the videos that every song must have to be considered for popular play.

Music genre are so splintered and fragmented today that it is possible to have some sort of music award every night. At least two of the genres are notorious for generating performers who excel at being rude and violent. We have patriotic – read GOP friendly – country, corner bar/lost pickup/lost dog country; soft rock, indie rock, grunge rock, punk, jam band, oldie, rock and everyone wants an award show or at least to be a major category in some award show. According to a recent CNN poll, only 17% of respondents watch awards shows of any kind. Why the hell are they being televised? I truly have no idea who watches them. But then, I don’t watch athletic competitions, religious channels, shopping channels, or most of the channels I’m forced to pay for in contracting with a cable/satellite television provider. There are enough news, history, science, sci-fi, BBC and other programming that offers genuine amusement or a chance to learn that I don’t need those channels. I write the cable company about every 6 months to insist they allow me to pick and choose what I have to pay for and to not pay for what I never watch. That generates a BS response in another 3 months telling me it would cost them too much to treat me honorably.

But just so you know, just because you may think I’ve forgotten what I began writing earlier today, have lost the train of thought; the flags are hoisted for storm warnings. “There’s anger in the land.” (another bit of lyric that surfaced yesterday) Anarchists are gathering in Pittsburgh, a city without brotherly love in mind. Anti-globalization is the battle cry of the week thee, along with nearly every other fringe cause you can imagine. Too much Jesus, too little Jesus, good coffee, bad coffee, big government, too little government, end this war, end that war, continue some war, pro-nuke, anti-nuke, the signs condemn or praise it all. We’re heading into cultural and food wars, religious wars already abound. The demand is ringing loudly to stop the spread of nuclear weapons – at least those nations that have them mostly want to stop their spread. Who do we have left demanding their turn to sit with a finger on the button? Other than North Korea, ready to invade the world to advertise Kim’s masculinity, the major drive to acquire nuclear arms is found in Islamic nations and among Islamic fundamentalist terror groups.

Bin Laden would like nothing better than to deliver one or more nuclear weapons to sites in the U.S. Other than fostering Islamic national pride he doesn’t care where the fissile material, the technical expertise, or the martyrs who make the delivery come from. If Iran doesn’t win the race to nuke Tel Aviv, bin Laden would just as happily use Pakistani weaponry; or Korean, or stolen Russian, tools to accomplish his goal.

I have no doubt that bin Laden and all the Islamic fundamentalists are quite willing to use nuclear fire, their own flame deluge, to purify the planet of infidels. Blow away enough people, destroy enough infrastructures, bring about a nuclear winter or two and watch the crops fail. Education, technology, higher learning may just become as feared and hated as all the movies and books predict. We already have one political party and one political movement that rail against education and those who pursue it. If the majority of the survivors are from third world nations, already reduced to being a poorly educated populace ruled by dictators and mullahs, it isn’t hard to postulate that world Miller saw so clearly in his novel. I’d like to think that science and reason would triumph, this time, over superstition, bigotry, and tribalism. But when has it ever? Can we guarantee that the European Enlightenment that gave rise to the educated and wise men who founded the United States was not just an anomaly? Can we guarantee that The Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, the colonization of the New World and Africa, the near extermination of the native Americans in the entire Western hemisphere, are not the normal patterns of human behavior?

I can’t bring myself to believe it. Neither, apparently could Miller. Heinlein had no faith in most of mankind.

I’ll prepare, I think. A booklegger or two is just what we need around here. I’ve got a water proof container ready to fit into a hole in the ground that I’ve lined with a plastic tarp. I think I’ll begin with “Trout Streams of Northern New England” “Scout Field Book” from 1948, Davidsohn and Henry’s “Clinical Laboratory Diagnosis” and, of course, Miller’s “Canticle….”

Beate Leibowitz, ora pro me!" "Blessed Leibowitz, pray for me!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"I'm sorry, what did you say?

Today, up at 0 Dark-thirty. That’s military jargon for any ungodly hour when the last thing you want is to pull your body out of bed and start any kind of purposeful activity. Some concepts simply can’t be expressed any more succinctly or accurately than when they are conveyed as an acronym or jargon.

I’m up at this hour because I have an 0800 appointment at the VA hospital in Johnson City. The audiology department, the nice folks who catalog and try to help me deal with my hearing loss are running some research programs. Today, my hearing deficit profile, how it graphs out as hearing ability vs. Hertz, fits the pattern they are interested in studying. Hopefully the time I spend listening for sounds that I won’t be able to hear &/or for words that I won’t be able to pick out from background clutter will allow them to help another vet with less profound hearing loss.

I know when the damage really started.

When I reported to my unit in Quon Loi they assigned me a bunk space and handed me an M-16 to care for.

My BCT rifle training had been done using the M-14. My M-16 training consisted of boarding an un-air-conditioned bus in August for a trip to a training area in the Texas desert. We incipient medics were allowed to fire the qualification ritual for rifles but not allowed time to battle sight the weapons we were to use for that 90 minutes of qual time. We were also handed the opportunity to fire on magazine in automatic fire mode – “rock & Roll. Note that at no time did we wear hearing protection while training with rifles. When I was offered a chance, the next morning, to battle sight the weapon that might be needed I reported to the NCO in charge of the detail. We walked out to the perimeter, yelled to the tower guards that we would be shooting in the general direction of some much perforated, rusted out 55 gallon drums, and before any orders were given to organize the detail, someone began firing from behind and slightly to the side of the line formed by the rest of us. The repeated rapid shots left several of us holding our ears, unable to hear speech, wondering if the ringing in our ears would ever go away.

I’d been told that standing to the front of an M-16 discharge could perforate ear drums. I don’t think any of us received that amount of damage but I believe that it can happen.

During the rest of my time saving democracy from Asia, I was often too close to rifle and shotgun fire, as well as mortar, rocket, artillery shell, grenade, mine, and bomb detonations. I spent a lot of time waiting for the ringing in my ears to stop. Some of the time it did.

When I was discharged from active duty I did something that was not difficult but incredibly fortuitous. I had noticed that I could no longer tune my guitar by ear nearly as well as when I entered service. I complained about it during the exit physical and someone in the fairy godmother department actually ordered a full-scale hearing test that remained in my military health records.

Having been exposed to the hearing-unfriendly noises of combat, I then wound up in the equally, perhaps even more hearing-unfriendly clinical lab of the 1970’s -2001. I spent 8-16; even 24 hours/day working surrounded by the nearly constant sounds vacuum pumps and high speed centrifuges, many of which emitted over 120 Decibel of noise. At some point in my career, the ringing noise became a constant annoyance. The damage became even more apparent when I discovered that I could not hear the alarm indicators on many lab instruments. It was the subject of jokes in several labs I managed. But it was annoying for my work colleagues and frustrating for me.

By the time I met Gloria I needed an electronic tuner to tune my guitar. I could no longer hear the subtle differences that good tuning requires.

I honestly saw no chance of improvement. I continued to work in a hearing destroying profession. No one in my profession has ever really looked at using hearing protection. We protect our eyes and our skin, our mucosa. But not our hearing. The doctors who treated me simply said the loss was profound and not something they could fix. Hearing aids are incredibly expensive and I never had health insurance that covered them.

Over the years Gloria has put up with my decreasing ability to hear her as she speaks. We need the television at different levels. Surprisingly, she wants it louder than I do. Background noise, clutter, makes it extremely hard for me to hear conversation in restaurants, in theaters; and to dialogue on TV. Hence the volume differences for she and I. Keeping it lower lessens the clutter and gives me chance to harvest the dialogue from the signal noise. That clutter doesn’t affect her nearly as much. She knows I’m not kidding when I say, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” She understands when I turn to her during a conversation and look for her input, when I won’t answer her because I’m in a different room and want to be sure what I’m responding to. And, very importantly, she understands how exhausting it is to be in a room full of talking people and other noise generating things, to spend so much energy and concentration upon hearing the central and important thing taking place at that moment. Hearing the calls for a dance before the music begins is a prime example.

When I was admitted as a VA patient I mentioned my hearing loss. That long ago exit physical popped up in a file and the VA feels that at least part of my tinnitus and my hearing loss, profound in both ears, is service connected. Remember all those noisy tools and toys in Asia? So do I. VA provides me with hearing aids. Not just cheap basic analog models but custom-fitted, custom tuned, digital models. When I wear them I hear sounds I can’t even recall ever hearing. Putting them in for the first time was similar to putting on my first pair of glasses and becoming able to see leaves on trees and stars in the sky.

When I wear them the lack of ability to screen out the clutter and the constant ringing that lets me know I’m awake, doesn’t change. The important points are amplified, but the clutter is higher too. I pick and choose when to wear them. I can’t get them wet. So I often don’t put them until I’ve showered. I can’t wear them when I split wood, use a chainsaw, a string trimmer, the push mower, and especially when I practice shooting. It’s still as difficult to hear the call for a dance. People aren’t going to change their conversation patterns. But once the dance starts I’ve a greater ability to hear the music and key on it. Last Saturday I turned them on for the dance, turned them down after each dance. Each aid can be turned up or down, off or on separately. That’s a feature my first set lacked. Better living through electronics!

Gloria knows that if I don’t answer her it is really because I don’t hear her. She realizes that without electronics I simply don’t hear the bird and insect sounds she enjoys so much.

Me, I’m grateful for her patience, her empathy and her help. I’m grateful to VA for know how much we Veterans need to be helped to hear. And there are times I’m very glad for the volume control and the on/off switch. It’s easier to ignore bad television and bad music if you can’t hear it.

Breakfast today was steel cut oatmeal seasoned with cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, and cardamom. It was put on to cook last night in a slow cooker at low temp. By the time I got up this morning it had become a very tasty hot cereal with wonderful texture. We eat this every Wednesday morning for breakfast. Gloria has a stained glass class and it keeps her going during the morning. I eat it with honey, with maple syrup, or with a bit of jam rather than using sugar in it. Since I have no taste at all for milk, I add a bit of butter to the cooker and another bit when I eat the oatmeal. Sometimes I add raisins, dried, chopped dried figs.

Tomorrow, I think I will have fresh figs, slice open and placed atop toast. I’ll add some sheep milk cheese, drizzle some honey over the cheese, and broil it just long enough to melt and caramelize the cheese.

The drive into town was pleasant this morning, once I was awake enough to function. The sunrise was beautiful, driving east on Highway 107. The clouds were coral, sky fading to blue, and the northern end of the Great Smokies stayed in dark green shadow, marking the border where Tennessee becomes North Carolina. There was no parking lot dance for me today. Arriving at 0730 usually means there will be a space somewhere.

The research project may someday help patients who are having trouble distinguishing speech. They were looking for the smallest gap between two sounds that I could distinguish at various tone levels, frequencies, and with varying background levels. I spent two hours pushing one of three buttons to correspond to which tone sequence had a gap. They had temporal lobe monitor leads in place. The second two hours consisted of watching a movie with English subtitles while the researchers piped tone patterns into one ear. They wanted to know if my brain could distinguish gaps while otherwise distracted with the movie and background noise. I guess I passed the criteria as they asked if I would be interested in taking part in further studies.

After we spent some time in the pool took the trash out, reset the mouse traps for Gloria’s car, we went back out to cover the pool after adding water. Gloria asked what I was writing about today. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” She’s so used to hearing those words that it took three repetitions of the query and answer before she realized I was not joking.

New followers, thanks for reading along. Hope you find this interesting enough to stay.

Gloria, me, and Tova Photograph taken by our friend, David Gans.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I want my America back

22 September 2009

“Give me back my America!”

That cry has echoed all summer as the tea party mobs demonstrated outside and inside Congressional town hall meetings.

There are other slogans, other anthems concerning the America I would like to have returned to me.

1969 – Between Lai Khe and Dau Tieng. I really was that young, the rifle was loaded.

Guess the slogan or anthem running through my mind and win the prize.  Guess, but I'm not going to tell you.  It wasn't, “ I want my America back!”

Woody Guthrie had a vision of America. It included all sorts of people from all walks of life. He sang about it whenever he could.

“This land is your land, this land is my land,

From California to the New York island.

From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters,

This land is made for you and me.”

Early colonists had their own vision of America.

Pennsylvania was creaed for Quakers, not welcome in other colonies. Massachusets was founded for Puritans, willing to exclude all other denominations and willing to kill anyone accused of witch craft.

Maryland was for Catholics who were not welcome in protestant colonies and not that welcome in Great Britain.

Do we want to return to an America which is noted for such a degree of religious intolerance that the different Christian sects can’t comfortably share a state? I don’t.

“ I want my America back!”

Of course you do.

Which America would that be? You’ve neglected to study the real history of the nation so you foucus in on bits and pieces that someone or something causes you to remember

You’ve neglected to truly study the Constitution except for those parts that agree with your personal bias and belief. You can cite the 2nd amendment, the 10th amendment, and that part of the 1st which you’ve come to believe allows you to shove your brand of proseletyzing  Christianity in the face of your neighbors who believe differently. You know about the 2nd because the NRA sends you requests for money every week, telling you that “It doesn’t matter whether you own a shotgun used for waterfowl hunting or a AK-47 clone; you should be able to buy as many of either as you like and carry them openly to the theater, to church, or to the corner bar. And you know about the 2nd Amendment because there has been a constant stream of untrue rumors claiming that Obama is going to come for your guns next week.” He’s not, but the gun and ammo sellers are really cashing in on your fear.

You know about the 10th because you believe it gives you the right to not pay taxes for anything not defined as a federal power or right in that amendment.

So the America you think you want back, a heavily armed mob belonging to a theocracy, poorly financed; will be a collapsing nation of unemployed, sweat shop workers, illiterate, continually sufferering from water and food-borne diseases, with no national parks, no national forests, and no infrastructure. All those things are not defined as federal powers in the 10th and we all know how well the “free market” has done in making certain that food, drugs, and toys are safe before they are sold. We all know how well the “free market” has provided for its workers with safe places to work, vacation, sick pay, minimum wages, and health insurance.

“I want my America Back!”

Is that the America that the “States Rights” people still thunder about? Honestly, we settled the “states rights” matter in 1865. We just haven’t finalized the paperwork yet.

We no longer have separate water fountains, toilets, schools, and sections of public transportation for our black citizens. We never should have. But there are a lot of people out there who want to go back to that way of doing things. They rarely come out and state what they mean, but both “state’s rights,” and “I want my America back!” have a strong portion of racial and other hatred powering the cry.

We no longer need a hodge-podge school system that allows some localities to teach creationism and not teach confirmed science. We shouldn’t be dealing with small towns that refuse to allow the American Red Cross to sponsor and show a video about HIV/AIDS prevention to high school students because it might offend some fundamentalists who don’t want anyone, including their selves teaching their kids about sex.

We now need a national drivers license, national ID card, national educational curriculum. Other industrialized nations have come to grips with the fact that their smaller components should not secede from the nation. Well, Great Britain may have some smouldering discontent along those lines but most industrialized nations are striving for greater cohesiveness, not less.

Some people may want that America back, that America that rolled over and delivered to the GOP’s “Southern Policy, that America that elected Nixon, Reagan, and Bush II.

I don’t.

“I want my America back”

I want the America of Teddy Roosevelt, of newly minted national parks, of anti-trust legislation, of hope for universal health care, of the FDA.

I want the America of FDR, of regulations controlling some of the greed and corruption of financial houses and banks, the America of Rosie the Riveter, of the WPA, PWA, Social Security, The TVA, of the Manhattan Project, of VE day, of VJ day

I want the America of Harry Truman, of the Berlin Airlift, of the Marshall Plan, the America that recognized the state of Israel before any other nation, the America that desegregated its armed forces, that wanted universal health care for all citizens.

I want the America of Eisenhower, who built the Interstate system and gave us Project Mercury.

I want the America of JFK who took project Mercury and sent it to the Moon.

I want the Great Society and Civil Rights acts of LBJ

But I’m afraid that America, the one I want, the one that cares more about its citizens than it does corporations, no longer exists and can’t be resurrected. Fragments of it remain in the minds of my generation and some of our children. But the next generation grew up with the actor, Reagan, telling them how greed was good, government regulation bad. They should have noticed the lie of that whenthe S&L crisis hit and millions of people who had trusted financial houses learned, again, the lesson of 1929.

Still, the cry,”greed is good!” drove the mob, the housing bubble, the dotcom bubble, the “you name it” bubble while fewer and fewer earned more and more and more and more lost more and more jobs to outsourcing, offshoring, and the other tools of greed.

“I want my America back!” I want the one Woody sang about in this verse of his great anthem to America.

“As I went walking, I saw a sign,

On the sign was written, “NO Trespassing.

But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing.

That side was made for you and me.!”

Our home backs up directly to the Cherokee National Forest, not that far from the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We have a wonderful view of mountains, trees, wildlife of all sorts in any direction we choose to look. A small creek bisects our property and has a population of native trout to look at and to fish for.

We’ve got “our America”, we were very lucky to find it.

But “our America,” for the most part, ends where our driveway hits the public road. There are some people who vote and believe as we do in the region. For the most part, we are a minority and I doubt that will change. That’s who we are, that’s who they are, and most likely, if you’re reading this, you fall somewhere in between.

Please hang on to those bits of “your America” that you treasure. If I’ve reached the right audience, you won’t be trying to force “your America” on anyone else. So it is yours and ours that is most at risk. Not necessarily because we are outnumbered nation wide; but because we, collectively, have forgotten that we still need to put our bodies on the line for what we believe in. There’s no party this time. No girls wear suggestive t-shirts to entice the young men to join the cause. But there are still some newspapers to write letters to. It’s incredibly easy to annoy your elected officials if they appear to be in the other camp.

In fact, I’m going to end this and write another annoying letter to our local Congessman, Phil Roe, now.

Tonight’s dinner entre: oven baked gefilte salmon croquettes, fresh green vegetables in dilled yougurt.

(yes, I bought the gefilte salmon already prepared except for breading it.)

That young kid in the truck with an M-16 is me, paying for the privilege of voting and saying what I believe to be true without the government stopping me. That’s the part of the 1st amendment that lets me speak freely but does not give me the right to demand anyone else follow the tenents of my religious faith. The two principles are strongly entertwined and we need to remember that every time someone pushes a national, state, city, or local prayer for us all to take part in. It will always be their deity and never yours they want to appease or beg for favors.

MB, welcome to the circus. Hope you enjoy the side show!

Monday, September 21, 2009

We can't bomb them up to the stone age

21 September 2009 We can't bomb them up from the Stone Age

During the VietNam War, General Curtis LeMay remarked that, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy had sufficient power and capability to return North VietNam to the Stone Age. LeMay Was responsible for building the moribund remnants of a WWII B-29 group into the Strategic Air Command, SAC, which flew nuclear-armed flights – around the clock at one time – as the Air Force’s manned aircraft component in the MAD triad of the cold war. Land based ICBM’s and the Navy’s Polaris and Trident missile subs were the other two components.

Half a century and two major wars later we are using our aircraft, manned and un-manned to attempt to bomb a nation out of a cultural stone age. We are engaged in an attempt to defeat an extremist Islamic cult that controlled Afghanistan at the time bin Laden used it as a sanctuary to plan and execute attacks upon U.S. ships, embassies, and upon our shores.

The Taliban came to power after a long invasion by the USSR which resulted in U.S. funding of any force which would attempt to defeat the Soviets. We propped up war lords, religious fanatics, and then let them prevent the establishment of a modern and secular nation in Afghanistan. The Taliban made every effort to drag the parts of Afghanistan that had made an attempt at joining the industrial world back to the 8th century. They banned music, banned education for girls, and instituted an extreme version of Sharia law that essentially reduced women to the status of property. They went so far in declaring their religious fanaticism as to announce that they would destroy the very ancient statues known as the Bamyan Valley Buddhas. They announced their intent to destroy these works of historical significance to the world.

Bamyan Buddha 1976

Then they did the unthinkable. They spent several days attempting to remove what they considered idols but what the rest of the world considered historic treasures using anti-aircraft and field artillery guns. Anti-tank mines were placed at the bases of the statues to further the damage. Having no great success they used dynamite to destroy them.

According to Wikipedia:

“The Taliban government decreed that the statues, which had survived for over 1,500 years, were idolatrous and un-Islamic. During the destruction, Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented that, "this work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can't knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain."[15] The two largest Buddhas faced dynamite and tank barrages and were demolished after almost a month of intensive bombardment.”

Then-President G.W. Bush made the decision to invade Afghanistan after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, 11 September 2001. Most of the nation’s population and many of the world’s nations supported the incursion. I did. The stated aim was to either capture and bring to trial, or kill Osama bin Laden. The Taliban could have avoided the invasion by surrendering bin Laden to the U.S. They refused and the U.S. invaded. According to CBS News “60 Minutes”, there was an excellent opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden during the battle of Tora Bora. A U.S. special ops unit was in position to carry out the mission. They were held back by extremely high command authority, the task was assigned to an Afghan army unit also on site, which refused to make the assault and held the U.S. unit at gun point for several hours to prevent it moving up to carry out the mission. According to an officer assigned to that U.S. unit it is believed that bin Laden escaped into Pakistan that night.

The war in Afghanistan was back-burnered when Bush and buddies decided to invade Iraq in 2003. We’ve been losing men and equipment there slowly but steadily. We’re fighting a war against tribal members who are commanded by religious fanatics and are essentially a pre-industrialized society with modern weaponry.

The official reason for our continued presence has changed as the Bush administration found reason to change it. From a quick in and out capture or kill mission it has now become a nation-building occupancy. We ostensibly wish to leave the Afghanis with a democratic government, with modern infrastructure, with schools for all children and equal rights for Afghani women. Noble thoughts, all.

We can’t repair and maintain our own infrastructure and schools. If the Afghanis want schools, infrastructure, and a modern industrialized nation, they will have to build it. We can show them pictures but we can’t make them value women and girls. We can’t import a U.S. style government to Afghanistan. And truth be why should we? They already understand about corruption and religious intolerance. They will never agree to a secular state. The Taliban would destroy the population one person at a time before allowing a secular and functional government. Our men and women continue to die as they are cycled back through multiple combat tours. We drop ordnance on Taliban fighters who make it a point to hide among the civilian population, insuring that we also harm non-combatants.

It is time to let the Afghanis stand or fall on their own. Our original mission, to kill or capture bin Laden has long become incapable of execution. The Afghanis literally helped him escape. So will the Pakistani Taliban. . No U.S. presence can protect women from the tribal and religious traditions that exist in that part of the world. No U.S. presence can found a stable secular democratic government when the populace is willing to allow a cult like the Taliban to murder and destroy a society to bring about the return of a religious legal system that is essentially Stone Age in character.

Starting tomorrow we should begin withdrawing all troops and equipment. Our only task in that region should be preventing access by any Islamic nation or organization to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Of course, the GOP and the tea party mob will try to crucify Obama for bringing an end to our involvement in Afghanistan. But until the GOP and the tea baggers are willing to bring back the draft, with no exemptions, and raise taxes to pay for the wars their team started, they have absolutely no moral authority to attack anyone for ending those wars.

Remains of the Bamyan Buddhas. 2001

We can’t bomb them into the industrialized world.
We can’t bomb them back to the Stone Age if they’re already living there.
But when it comes to the Taliban ,even the part of me that carried an aid-bag can’t help feeling we should have dropped a few more when it would have mattered.

Dinner tonight will be venison medallions in a chocolate, chili, red wine reduction served with sautéed Brussel's sprouts, leeks, apple, and smoked bacon.

At some time during the evening, waltzes will be played.

MB, welcome to the circus.