Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’


March 13, 2018

I stopped going on Facebook during Lent, not that I observe it.  It was sheer coincidence, plus the New York Times.

A day or two prior, I hadn’t even considered such a possibility, but a concatenation of events led to my decision.  I had been having significant insomnia—middle of the night awakenings during the darkest hours of both life and the position of the Earth.  Admittedly, I haven’t slept all that well since medical school, when I was on call every other night, every third, or in my subsequent practice, 581 times, where if I woke up and gave clear advice I wouldn’t easily get back to sleep.  Or, if I hadn’t fully awoken, I would learn the next day what I had said that I had no idea left my lips.  Neither is healthy for a doctor, or his patients, a fact I futilely bemoaned until I finally left medicine for good.

After that, I did sleep better, until the run-up to the 2016 election and subsequently.  I may not be alone in this latter experience, but in any case, I realized I needed to do something about my sleep hygiene.  One issue was clear: between my recent subscription to the online Times and my nine year sojourn on Facebook, I was constantly bombarded by bad news and dozens of daily requests to support causes, sign multiple petitions, read “must reads” (a term I come close to using the word despise) demonstrate for or against issues, and of course donate money to every 4+ emergency on Earth, with the expectation I’d carry the banner for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.  I wasted ample time watching videos I didn’t need to watch, reading conspiracy theories that astounded me, and deleting cookies from sites I went to, after I discovered they increased my spam.

I liked the concept of Facebook, because I could be in better contact with my brother and nieces. But Facebook can be like eating potato chips. It’s easy to take a little bite (log on), and have another one (look at one more post) and eventually eat the whole package (spend a whole hour).  One is a problem of consuming excessive calories; the other a problem with consuming precious minutes.  Neither potato chips nor Facebook is healthy in large doses, junk food and junk news.  When I comment, which isn’t often, my grammar and spelling matter, at least to me, so they take time. And for what?  Getting 100 likes, a rarity, doesn’t change the world, or even a small part of it, compared to spending a day out in the real world trying not to be a jerk.  I’m not Nicholas Kristof, Eugene Robinson, Gail Collins, or Thomas Friedman, whose words provoke thought and change many minds.  I wondered how much of what I read was true. One can get news from Facebook, but the Times, The Washington Post, or Reuters are far better.  It wasn’t just right wing posts that bothered me; many left wing posts had for months spoke about an imminent end to Trump’s presidency.  It wasn’t going to happen.  My comments that the man had been and still was grossly underestimated, were mostly ignored.  (Read: no “likes”.)

Facebook is more than politics and religion, although those are two dominant subjects.  Much on Facebook are highlight reels of people’s lives.  It is almost competitive, I think, regarding who has done the most interesting thing, gotten the most likes, posted the best pictures, received the greatest compliments, or had the most shares.  I didn’t need this.  Competition is toxic. I didn’t think Facebook was improving my life, and I decided to act. I said nothing online about my decision, I just disappeared.

For a couple of days, I occasionally found myself automatically opening the bookmark, quickly closing it, as if seeing the blue border would somehow would be like a blue computer screen at night, adversely affecting my circadian rhythm.  There were comments about me, posts of hikes I went on, conversations showing up temporarily on the banner in the upper right corner of my computer screen, but I didn’t bite.  I didn’t have to know the details about the best snowshoe trip of the year I missed or see pictures of my friends having a great time.  I was freed from reading comments or wanting to argue with those who with online anonymity have helped make the Internet a stew of hateful, ignorant, false, poorly written missives.

There was more.  A picture of me a while back had someone ask why I wasn’t smiling.  A friend of mine—in real life, too—wrote, “Mike never smiles.”  That hurt.  When one has only words to go on, no ability to see body language or hear intonation, words alone are insufficient.  I do smile, of course, but many pictures of me were taken during hikes I led, where I had responsibility for several others and couldn’t be a happy-go-lucky hiker.  No, I may not smile when I am asked to pose for a silly ass picture when I’m concerned about why some people are lagging or wonder why so many seem to be directionally challenged. I had been pilloried on Facebook the year before after leading a difficult 26 mile hike (called by the individual posting a death march) that I said at the outset would be long and hard. The hike was 20 minutes longer–a huge issue in a 9 hour hike–because the individual videoed the first part, solely because of wanting to post it.  We paid dearly later, when it was much hotter and we were more tired.

I hadn’t thought much about the competitive aspect of Facebook until I went off it and suddenly didn’t feel I had to make my hiking posts sound like the greatest thing this side of Eden.  Indeed, when I came home from a hike, I now had free time.  I discovered quickly that I could read more books and magazines.  I had more time in the morning for the New York Times, good, accurate news, opinion, with useful links and still have time left over to do other things.  I even started listening to podcasts again.  My life was simpler, less cluttered.  I could please myself, rather than try to be erudite to those who could care less about my comments, or the small few who might actually read them.

I watched the number of Facebook notifications increase on my phone screen to 10, 20, then 50, 60.  I got two emails from Facebook listing the number of pokes, likes, comments.  I deleted them and in my second week away, went snowshoeing in the Mt. Hood area.  When I got home, a friend posted a bunch of pictures apparently, because my email had links to the post.  My iPhone Facebook app read “99,” which maxes out the number of comments I have waiting for me. Nearly all are a “like”, and it really isn’t important.

Let the posts wait.  I don’t need the constant hounding that I “must” do something for the sake of the world.  No, I’m not going to give my opinion about the President so I can be asked for money, and should I donate it, be asked to give a “tip” to the organization asking.  I won’t be emotionally blackmailed by someone who says “I’ll know who my real friends are because they will share this post.” I don’t fight cancer by sharing a post but by supporting sound science.   I won’t see the requests for donations to some medical charity in somebody’s name.  I won’t read about people’s detailed medical problems or see pictures of “friends” or their elderly parents in some hospital looking absolutely blank.  I’m not seeing any of that.  And you know what?  The world still turns, and while country has indeed become worse, it was going to anyway.  After a fortnight, nobody with my email address has contacted me asking where I am. I’m not surprised.

I’m sleeping better, too, although it is probably bedtime restriction and phototherapy rather than being off Facebook, although the positive changes have been in the last two weeks.

I don’t usually give advice to people because they neither want it nor take it.  I just report on things in my life that I find interesting and if others do, too, great.  I thought it would be difficult to stop logging on.  Nah.  The real world is better.

Will I go back?  Yes.  But I will declutter my news feed, post far less often, and have strict time limits.

I will not return to eating potato chips, however.


February 8, 2018

The other day, I went to REI to buy some rain pants. There was one salesman upstairs helping a 30ish guy, although the two were mostly chatting about other issues, while nearby the customer’s female companion sat on the floor, looking a little bored. For at least 15 minutes, while I was the only other person up there, I went back and forth into the changing room three separate times to try on pants, replacing them each time on the rack, once standing right next to the clerk.  Not once was I asked if I needed help.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even greeted. Neither the selection nor the price appealed to me, and when I remembered that Backcountry Gear was not far away, and I did, after all, have a choice, I decided to leave. I wondered if my age might have been a factor, too.  Hard to say, but I am a grumpy old guy these days, although experiences like this are a cause of grumpiness.  I left REI, drove over to Backcountry Gear, was greeted, waited on by a real person, had three to four rain pants from which to choose, all at a decent price as well. REI’s were double of what I wanted to pay.  I bought something. Yeah, I’m old, but my money’s still good. I now understand what my mother told me years ago how advertisers targeted the young—“your generation”—she said.  They still do, except on the evening news, of course, when they target those few of us old folks who still watch the evening news with ads for laxatives, COPD, DVT and Afib (yep, that’s me) anticoagulants, or chemo.

I don’t shop at Wal-Mart unless it is an absolute emergency.  I did want to get an eclipse shirt when I was in Ontario, Oregon for the eclipse last summer, and Wal-Mart was the only place that had them.  I took pictures of the eclipse; I wish I had taken a few of the display in Wal-Mart, boxes of picked through shirts by the front door.  Still, I get greeted there.  At Safeway, I can’t walk by an employee without his or her asking me if I am finding what I am looking for.  A lot of businesses would do well to station people in critical places who are good at reading body language and aren’t afraid to ask customers “Did you find/Are you finding what you wanted?” look customers in the eye, and discern if the response “yes” really means yes or means “no, but I’m not going to bother anybody.” There is also HappyOrNot, the smiley button survey, like the one posted outside of Sea-Tacs restrooms, where one just pushes a button to grade the experience on a 4 point smiley scale.  It’s quick, easy, non-intrusive, and difficult to game, because businesses usually track the most negative results and the button has a certain lag time between pushes. True, it is not a random sample, and the smilies aren’t exactly defined, but it’s a great survey technique.  Frankly, most surveys would do well by asking simply, “What should we be doing better?” instead of pages of paper or inches of screen asking inanities.  The worst are the ones that force you to answer before you can move on to the next screen.  I then move to the red dot in the upper left corner of my screen and delete the whole thing.  Perfection has its price.

Continuing, REI lost another purchase from me when I couldn’t find a micro-SD card with Washington-Oregon topographical maps on it.  They had Utah, and they had Colorado, but I neither hike there nor plan to.  Most of their Eugene customers probably don’t, either, which is why they had the chip in stock.  I actually did ask a living, breathing being if they had a Washington-Oregon map, but the response was, “No, I guess we don’t,” without telling me whether they could order one from Portland to be there the next day, in which case I might have ordered it.  Instead, I left, and leaning against their outside wall, ordered it online from Amazon.  I want to buy locally, but I’m not going to “bother busy people” in an effort to do so, especially when I can get it delivered quickly, and in this instance $15 cheaper.  At the very least, REI should track what they don’t have, and I could tell them instances of summer hiking gaiters, gloves my size, socks my size, hiking boots, and a Thermarest, none of which they had in stock when I wanted them. When certain items, often containing an “M” on the size, disappear quickly, that should tell someone somewhere that the ordering process needs to change.

It’s not just REI, it was stores during the holiday period that ran out of common sizes of pants, shirts, shoes, and many other articles of clothing.

“Just in time inventory” (JIT) was developed by the Japanese in the 1970s and adopted not only in manufacturing but in sales.  It requires accurate forecasting of demand.  Toyota lost $15 billion in car revenue (70,000 cars) when a supplier of a key part had a fire and production was stopped for two days, because the whole assembly line has to stop until the part is again available.  Dependence upon no failure in the supply chain is a potential flaw in JIT. A quick Google search did not mention the disadvantage that keeping less inventory means it is more likely for the store to be out of stock sooner and lose sales as well as customers, who will go elsewhere where either the inventory is either correctly forecasted or JIT was not adopted.  In my non-statistical experience, which as a statistician is being a bit hypocritical, I agree, JIT inventory is an easy way to save money by not having to store anything and having a smaller “Cost of Inventory” on the balance sheet.  Like so many things nowadays, the customer is a necessary inconvenience, the king (or these days queen, except the latter word has changed meaning) notion long since having been abandoned.

I like my new rain pants.  Now, if it would only rain again.  Maybe next autumn.


February 4, 2018

The recent lunar eclipse made me wonder what has happened to sensibility. I’m all for people learning about the night sky, but the comments I saw on social media were disheartening. Worse, many in the astronomical community were guilty of overhyping what shouldn’t need to be hyped in the first place.

The recent total lunar eclipse was one of eighteen occurring in the 20 year period 2001-20, so while these aren’t common, they aren’t rare, either.  The total minutes of all these eclipses is nearly 1300, so if one happens to see a total eclipse, one will see it for a period of many minutes, sometimes more than an hour, unlike total solar eclipses which last fewer than 7 1/2 minutes, and in all of our lifetimes under six minutes, assuming one is in exactly the right place, and I mean exactly.  For a lunar eclipse, being in the right place is on the night side of the Earth, which has a probability about one half.  For a total solar eclipse, the probability is 0.5% just to be on the track, let alone in the right place.  The Europeans and Asians will see a total lunar eclipse in July, and all of North America next January.

What bothered me was the blue, super, and blood appellation, along with “the first in 150 years.”

Some background: back on June 5, 2012, when there was a transit of Venus across the Sun, I showed it to a small group of people at the Pima County Medical Society’s office in Tucson.  One individual commented that it was not very interesting, seeing the small dot of Venus against the background of the Sun, 30 times the diameter of Venus, viewed from the Earth.  To me, this was an exceptionally rare event, which last occurred in 2004, and before then in 1882. The next will be in 2117.  The rarity,  the history of those who traveled great distances to see one, the fact that I was following in their footsteps were all important to me.  Others don’t see the world (or other worlds) the way I do, however, and I accept that.  The total solar eclipse last summer was a yawner for a few of my friends, although I actually convinced my brother to take the effort to see it, and he was not at all disappointed.  The next solar eclipse to touch Oregon will be October 5, 2108, and barely reaches the Pacific coast. This past lunar eclipse lasted 76 minutes, which was worth mentioning; I’ve spent fewer than fifty minutes under the Moon’s shadow during the 17 total solar eclipses I have seen.

A blue Moon is when a full Moon occurs twice in one month.  It’s a calendar phenomenon only. Between 2001 and 2020, nine occur.  The exact dates differ, because of time zones, where the full Moon may occur a calendar day later in the eastern hemisphere.  We have two blue moons this year, which is unusual, and yes, it is interesting, but it isn’t the stuff of which “I have to see this or I am missing out on something special and not likely to happen again.”

Supermoons are when the full Moon is relatively close to the Earth.  Because of the shape of the Moon’s orbit and the behavior of the Moon, our satellite can be full and be within 360,000 km of us, one definition of a supermoon, at least twice and maybe three times a year.  That’s like giving an gold star for attending class.  The full Moon of New Years’ Day was actually 2500 km closer to us than this one.  “Supermoon” is a recent term, dating only about three decades.  Before then, we just admired full moons and did just fine.  In part, the “horizon effect,” where seeing a full Moon rise against the horizon, something to compare it with, makes the moon appear large.  It actually appears larger six hours later, when highest in the sky, because we are no longer looking at the Moon across the radius of the Earth but directly at it, 6500 km closer, give or take. I have had almost no success, either as an astronomy columnist or as an amateur astronomer, convincing people that rising full Moons are not unusually bright.

Then again, once I failed to convince a couple that the large red object that was a lunar eclipse wasn’t Mars.  And when I was a kid, I called the crescent Moon “Venus,” because I had recently learned Venus can show phases.  But unlike the couple I learned to change my mind in the face of convincing evidence–and appropriate public shaming.

A supermoon is about 0.28 magnitude brighter than a regular full Moon.  Magnitudes are listed where negative means brighter; every 5 magnitudes is 100-fold difference in brightness.  This translates into a supermoon being  a quarter brighter than average, but brightness is relative.  We don’t compare full moons that we see with other full moons unless we use a light meter.  We usually compare them to what we have recently seen, like how the Moon appeared the night or two before full, also bright.

Still, full moons are special, 11 times brighter than a half moon and 10% brighter than the Moon the day before or day after.  The apparent size of the Moon is larger, but again, without comparison to other full moons, such as photographically or in an eyepiece of a telescope in which one can calibrate size, is not appreciably different.  One way to prove this is to look at a rising full Moon through a cardboard tube and then look at it high overhead.  The size is the same to one’s eye.

The blood moon is a reference to the red color of the eclipsed Moon, because the only light that can reach the eclipsed Moon is from the red sunrises and sunsets around the eclipsing Earth.  As Fred Espenak, “Mr. Eclipse,” put it, “people have been calling these lunar eclipses for two thousand years.”  Of the three terms, replacing blood moon with “eclipse” would have been the most helpful.

There are many astronomical events every year.  In my opinion, they don’t need to be hyped.  There are many beautiful things above, on, and below the Earth, and they are there for those who want to look.

Next time around, my self-improvement goal will be to discuss the phenomenon without raising my voice.  THAT would be a rare event.


Total lunar eclipse 27 September 2015, White Bear Lake, MN. The darkest part is the Moon that is deepest in the Earth’s shadow; the lighter is in the outer shadow.


Transit of Venus beginning, 5 June 2012, Tucson, AZ



January 22, 2018

I try not to get into too many arguments online.  It’s not possible to convince some that contrails are just condensate from aircraft exhaust and that yes, we really did land on the Moon.  I stopped arguing online about global climate change a few years ago.  I wasn’t going to change anybody, and I got tired of hitting my head against a wall.  I’m rooting for Mother Nature.

The other day, however, I perhaps influenced two men.  I should probably quit, and I probably will remain silent.  The first was an individual whose arguments were basically contrary to most things I believe in.  He is not stupid, but he certainly is on The Other Side. Yesterday, he and a friend of mine had about as nasty an exchange as I can think of.

I read where he used “whom” following “to,” which is acceptable, if whom is an object, like “To whom it may concern.”  In this instance, however, the “whom” should have been “who,” for the personal pronoun was the subject of an objective prepositional phrase.  Here’s an example: “I will give this to whoever can clearly explain the difference.” The last six words are the object of the preposition to, and it is an independent clause, the whole object.  “Who” is used for the subject.  “I will give this to whomever you recommend.”  Here, it is whomever, because the subject is “you” and the phrase “you recommend whomever” has whomever as an object.  I later deleted the comment, because it wasn’t necessary, but the individual saw it before deleting and agreed with the grammar.  OK, he leaned something, which is good, and so did I, along with the fact that the individual could be wrong.

Being wrong, and admitting the possibility one could be wrong is important to me before I engage in arguments.  Otherwise, I either remain silent or do a monologue. Silence makes me wish I had done something; a monologue makes me wish I hadn’t.   The woman’s march had just occurred, and another individual was in a Facebook Fight with a few women about unequal pay between the sexes.  He didn’t believe in the gap, and demanded evidence.  I went ahead and Googled an article about unequal pay and read it.  That led me to an American Enterprise Institute article, from the conservative think tank, and I read it, too.  While perhaps two or three points were reasonable, they were drowned out to me because of all the pejorative language against liberals and Obama’s statement in the Lilly Ledbetter case. I really expect more professionalism from AEI writers.  Frankly, I write better.  The title, referring to the evidence “as elusive as Bigfoot,” turned me off.  I suggested in my post that I would review the AEI article in detail if he would review another article in support of the claim.  I also mentioned that willingness to admit one might be in error (which I did in the post) leads to a lot more fruitful discussions.  Three hours later, with no comment, I just wrote, “I’m still waiting.”

To his credit, the individual answered, and so I went to the AEI article about unequal pay. It led me to a fact checking site, along with a few others, and in about 30 minutes I had a considerably more information about unequal pay between men and women.  This is the post I put out.

“It’s actually very interesting.  If one controls for the same job title, employer, and location, there is a gap—about 4-6%.  This is considerably less than the 23% (or 21%) often quoted, although over a career, it amounts to maybe a half million dollars both in earnings and benefits.

The AEI article has a point here, although one of their unanswered questions—have you ever heard of a female real estate agent making less than a man?—should have been answered by them, for it is one of the largest discrepancies of all, as is the female personal financial advisor, both cases showing that women make half as much as men or even less.  For cashiers, it is 92%, computer programmers 95%.

“The 21% comes from definitions of full time and comparing across all jobs.  Seniority has typically gone to men, which explains some of the gap.  It’s fair to examine seniority, but not in the context of equal pay for equal work.  This is not appropriate, although it has been used.  On the other hand, it is equally inappropriate to disparage all the data, because here and in all developed countries their is a gap, just not as large as is often stated.  Still, I chastise the latter (My Side) for saying it will be 70 years (or 170 for another measure) for full equality.  Yes, at the current rate, but that is not a sensible extrapolation in my view.

“I think the AEI would have done better to have admitted that equal pay for equal work is not present, what the number is, and dispensed with the statement referring to “Bigfoot sightings,” which given my propensity to hike in the Pac NW wilderness might actually occur (!)

“What I hope comes out of this argument is some learning by both sides as to the scope of the problem.  I certainly learned something from this, how the statistic is calculated, what should be measured, the fact that there is a gap, and in some professions very significant.  I’d like to think that most of us will look at some of the “sacred cows” in society and find the truth.

“Not that I want to discuss the following in detail, but other examples include that most gun deaths are suicides and the number of deaths per 100,000 is flat.  I’m not saying that is good, but it is factual.

“I’m just tired of spending my days arguing and decided it was time to get both sides to look at an example of the other, and find where the grains of truth are.”

With some trepidation, I read the reply:  “That is truly beautiful.  Thank you.”

I tend to delete most of my posts on Facebook.  I try not to read too much, because it’s depressing what my friends post, it’s depressing what some believe, and it’s depressing to spend a day arguing with people who dig in and aren’t going to be swayed.  For some reason, I rightly picked a misplaced personal pronoun written by one who was not only intelligent enough to know what one was but also likely the type who would not want to have his post contain an error, I gently corrected his grammar, leaving the argument alone.  That action may have led me to decide not to assume the equal pay issue was what I had been told until I first fact-checked it, surprising me when I found that some data was misconstrued, even as the argument, if not quite as strong, was still valid.

I still remember a debate in junior high school about paving all dirt roads.  Back then, I was adamantly against it.  I had a wise teacher who made me argue in favor of it.  I hadn’t thought of that in years.



January 13, 2018

I didn’t know there was a “nerd” icon, but I sure recognized it on my post.  I wasn’t surprised.  I’m blessed, really.  Blessed that I can see not only the beauty in nature that others see, but additionally another way, too, that most others don’t. I see it in understanding what is happening and why it is happening.

The post was a picture I had taken from the top of Spencer Butte showing the clouds rising from the valley floor.  A week prior, we had an inversion, where a cold air mass filled the valley floor, and as one ascended, it became warmer, not colder.  The normal pattern is cooling with height, as anybody knows who has traveled into the mountains on a hot summer day.  I took a picture of the scene below, then I googled the Salem weather sounding, which was the closest sounding to me.  It’s easy to find these things online for those who are curious.  I just typed in uwyo sounding, and two taps later, a map of the US appeared, with a bunch of three letters all over the US, airport call signs for various cities.  People know many if they fly regularly.  Salem (SLE) is one of two in Oregon; the other is MFD (Medford).

Salem’s temperature was about 7 C (45 F) at the valley floor, and it became progressively colder up to the freezing level of about 1900 m (6000 feet), a normal pattern, although I didn’t bother to look at the “Lifted Index,” which is a description of how strong the tendency is for warm air to rise.  We can determine that, too.  A week earlier, Salem was 0 C, and at 800 m or 2600 feet, it was 13 C or 55 F.  That’s a classic inversion.  I posted the picture and the weather sounding.


Fog layer in Springfield, Oregon with smoke rising and then reaching warm layer where the temperature of the smoke is less than the temperature of the layer, and it can no longer rise any further. Mt. Jefferson in the distance.

It earned me “nerd of the day,” to which I simply say, “I’m blessed to find things fascinating that are lost on nearly everybody else.”  The individual who placed the icon knows I am a weather junkie but has never expressed any interest in much more detailed forecasts than he gets from his Weather Channel app, which he broadcasts to everybody near him.  It’s taken me a while, but I now just stay silent.  He’s not interested in weather models or much else I say.  Seeing a Rex Block (a high pressure system north of a low pressure system, which blocks normal flow of west to east air) or an Omega Block, and knowing the weather is going to be very unchangeable days before it is announced, is interesting.  It’s also good practice to learn to curb my tongue.

Omega block over SW US. Low pressure systems force upper level winds northward, producing a stable high pressure system in the SW US.  Numbers represent the dekameters above sea level where half the atmosphere is above and half below.  Higher numbers mean higher pressure and more stable, dry, warm air.

Rex Block over the eastern Pacific.  High pressure (notice the barbs moving clockwise) is over Vancouver Island with low pressure (counterclockwise flow) is off the southern California coast.  The upper level winds from the Pacific are directed northward to SE Alaska and then turn southward and enter the US in Montana.  These last for several days and produce often stagnant weather.

I’ve had a lot of these moments.  I understand why solar eclipses occur, and indeed, I think the mathematics of an eclipse is every bit as beautiful as the eclipse itself.  Most would disagree, and I feel a little sorry for them, because I get to appreciate both the natural beauty and the mathematical music of the spheres.  The two interact; they are not mutually exclusive.  Before the Libyan eclipse in 2006, a senior editor at one of the astronomy magazines gave a talk about eclipses, not mentioning a word about the Saros Cycle. I asked him later, alone, why he didn’t bring it up.

“Nobody is going to be interested in that.”  Maybe he needed to make it interesting.  He was the editor, after all, not me.  Maybe nobody knew that such beauty existed.

In 2007, at Big Bend National Park in Texas, I was hiking on the South Rim Trail, when out near the edge of a steep cliff, 2500 feet above the valley floor, I looked ahead to see something that looked like smoke.  I got closer and realized it was water vapor, condensing, right in front of me, as south winds from the North American Monsoon brought moisture-rich air up against the walls, where the air was forced to rise and in doing so cooled and condensed into clouds (for the Lifted Index was negative and hot air was going to rise, not layer out) right in front of me.  This is called orographic lift.  I have seen orographic lift from a distance, watching cloud tops develop on mountains, eventually leading to thunderstorms, but I had never before seen it right in front of me.

I sent a picture to the Weather Channel, but this wasn’t a powerful storm, a great sunset, or any one of a number of non-nerdy things.  I never heard back.


Orographic Lift, Big Bend National Park, June 2007. The moist air is condensing right in front of me.

When I was a first year medical student, I was allowed to see a C-Section in a Denver hospital.  When asked afterwards what my impression was, I said it was interesting, and all I could think of were the enzymatic reactions that were closing the ductus arteriosus, the shunt between the pulmonary artery and the aorta, that needs to close so that de-oxygenated blood can go directly to the lungs for the baby’s initial breaths.  Knowing this stuff to me makes life more interesting.  I am able to appreciate both the sheer beauty of what I am seeing with the knowledge of knowing why it is.  Or, in the case of orographic lift, I find beauty where most would not.  That’s being blessed.

I don’t think too many amateur astronomers saw the Saturn-24 Sgr occultation in 1989. That’s nerdy stuff.  Saturn passed in front of a star (Saturn’s being closer to us, so it is possible), and as it did so, the star appeared to pass through Saturn’s rings.  That was remarkable.  From the Earth, with a moderate size telescope, I was treated to an hour long show of exactly how thick Saturn’s rings were, and believe me, they are very different for each layer.  Finally, the star was visible between the globe of Saturn and the rings, very odd appearing, before it gradually blinked out behind the globe, the gradual loss being proof of Saturn’s atmosphere. (When the Moon occults a star, it happens suddenly, because there is no lunar atmosphere).  This was a top 5 astronomical event for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time observing.

I get made fun off a lot, and when I taught, whether it was my being enthusiastic about the Rule of 72 for doubling time of money or population*, proving why the quadratic formula is what it is*^, understanding the age of a tree by its diameter**, the distance of an object if I know its height, or why the Sun sets earliest in early December rather than on the solstice, where the full Moon is going to rise*** and why or how to tell clock time using the Big Dipper.****

It’s a remarkable world around us, worth exploring, worth understanding, worth finding answers to the many questions we have about it. Nerds are blessed.  So there.

*Rule of 72: The doubling time of money in years is 72/interest rate in per cent.  9% rate doubles in 72/9 or 8 years.  It has to do with P=Poe^rt. P is twice Po so 2=e^rt.  ln both sides is ln 2=rt, so t=ln2/r, and if we use per cent, this is 69.3/r, close enough to 72, which is evenly divisible by 2,3,4,6,8,9,12,18,24, and 36.

*^ax^2+bx+c=0; x^2+(b/a)x=-(c/a); complete the square, x^2+(b/2a)x+b^2/4a^2=-(c/a)+(b^2/4a^2); [x+(b/2a)]^2=(1/2a)(b^2-4ac), and x=(1/2a)(-b+/- sqrt(b^2-4ac)

**For a Douglas fir, about 5 years per inch of diameter at breast height (DBH).

***Directly behind where the Sun set, basically.

****Let the pointer stars be the hour hand and Polaris the center.  Every two hours, the clock moves counterclockwise 1 hour.  Over a month, this changes, but for typical outdoor camping experiences, it works well.  A quarter turn is 6 hours, and American cowboys knew this and when it was time to relieve or be relieved. If one is Down Under, sorry!




KEIN SCHÖNER TOD (Not a good death)

January 11, 2018

A recent op-ed in the New York Times (“This was not the good death we were promised”)  was a poignant piece written by a woman whose father recently died from pancreatic cancer.  Note: I use die and death here, not pass, pass on, pass away, cross to the other side or expire.  There is a reason to use die and death, finality.  Pass on and crossing over have the sense of traveling somewhere; when I die, someone else is going to be moving my lifeless body.  I’d like to believe I will travel to the Rainbow Bridge, but I will cease to exist.

The elderly man developed severe pain the night before, as it would happen, he died.  There was an hour delay reaching a nurse (not the physician) who told the family to give the man an extra oxycodone, the only pain medicine he had received.  The family became desperate and found some lorazepam and morphine from a prior hospitalization of another family member and gave them, too.  When the nurse came at midnight, she had no analgesics with her.  Eventually the morphine wore off and the crisis nurse who was supposed to come by in the morning didn’t because she was ill. The morphine pump that the patient needed, and one of the nurses was surprised that he never had one, came at 4 p.m., 8 hours after it was expected.  By then, the man was comatose and died shortly thereafter.

He died at home, in pain, although realistically, his last few hours were spent comatose. That doesn’t matter.  He became comatose while the family was trying to get help, they didn’t say their good-byes, and from their view, his last hours were spent in pain.  The author I suspect felt guilty that she failed her father, that she didn’t say good-bye, and that his last hours were so difficult.  That I can relate to.  My parents both died quickly and not in pain, but I still felt guilty about what I did and did not do.

This death should have been easier, recognizing that dying is not easy for any loved one.  The man should have had plenty of pain medicine available and the family needed to know how to give it.  We have a major problem with pain in this country: on one hand, we allowed an opioid epidemic to occur based on the idea that pain was a 5th vital sign, which it never should have become.  Chronic pain, especially “failed back syndrome,” should not be treated with narcotics, because they don’t work and risk addiction. I still am astounded the medical community and accrediting companies once felt that no patient should suffer pain.

On the other hand, we often under treat cancer pain, thinking, inappropriately, that patients will become addicted.  They won’t. This sort of pain does not lead to addiction; the patients will soon die. They should receive whatever necessary for their pain, even if it suppresses their breathing so that they may get pneumonia or even die.  I thought we had dealt with this issue forty years ago.  Palliative medicine specialists have told me that it is possible to deal with end of life pain without using Death With (DWD) laws, such as in Oregon and four other states.

I disagree, know of those who saw the deterioration of their body, felt the pain, and did not want to go through the long, difficult natural process of death.  I respect that; much of medicine is determining where nature should and should not take her course.

Nobody from palliative care physician saw this man in his final hours. The author wrote that she was never aware that 24/7 care was based on staffing, not a promise, as she had been led to believe.  Hospices self-evaluate their pain management, and this hospice weighed in at 56 per cent.  The head of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization was quoted as saying that “good hospice experiences ‘far outweigh’ bad ones.”  Their organization should remain silent on DWD until they have their act fully together on the “bad ones.”

End-of-life care is difficult, although there is lack of pressure of finding a cure or healing. The problems here were lack of planning, limited staffing, lack of follow-up, and lack of family education, to name four.  This man was close to death, since with virtually no care, he survived 22 hours after the crisis started.  It wasn’t like he would require many resources.

Am I being too hard on my colleagues?  No.  Do I have a bone to pick with some?  Yes.  Stories like this are likely to increase as more hospices become for profit, for staffing cuts are easier to make than system fixes that can address problems.  I know such, because I bet my latter medical career on helping medical personnel fix bad systems, and I lost. With family education and a morphine pump, this man would likely have had a peaceful death.

Back to DWD:  at their time of choosing, alone or with others, those who have been suitably screened want to be able to say “no more” and take something that puts them into a coma where they will die. This has been vigorously resisted as “assisted suicide,” but such  is pejorative, because the word “suicide” is interpreted to mean an otherwise healthy (but depressed, perhaps) individual ends their life and would not be expected to die soon. Instead of allowing someone to choose their peaceful end surrounded by family, we admit some terminally ill patients to hospitals, pump on their chests, do heroics, ignore Durable Power of Attorney papers, leading some, as the husband of a patient I once consulted upon to commit murder-suicide, dying alone.

I read about the double death weeks after I saw the woman.  She had a metastatic brain tumor, the treatment was minimal, other than radiation, which was going to buy her a short period of time. Her husband challenged me that if I couldn’t do anything, he would take care of the matter. They both survived the concentration camps but not cancer. Yes, we all have to die, but there are good deaths and bad deaths.  Theirs were bad.

DWD is for those who want control over the end of their days and don’t want to take their chances with hospices, whose care has more variability than it should, especially with the rise of for profits.  DWD has many safeguards, with two physicians—one not a treating one—certifying that the patient qualifies, and then having a prescription written for usually a barbiturate.  The patients are followed by volunteers, on call, who will be there if desired if the patient is ready to die.  Since 1997, since the law was passed, 1250 people have died using it.  One-third of the people who get the drug never use it, dying naturally.  The “thousands who would die” took twenty years to reach 1000, and every year in the state, 32,000 natural deaths occur.  Those are the facts.  DWD is fewer than 0.02% of the natural deaths in Oregon.

Richard Rettig, a medical historian, wrote, “the moral cost of failing to provide lifesaving care was deemed to be greater than the financial cost of doing so.”  He was referring to ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease), why dialysis is covered by Medicare.

The moral cost of failing to provide end of life care is greater than the financial cost of doing it.

I’ve looked at the Hospice Data Collection, and I don’t see anywhere how anyone determines the patient died a “good death.”  A German movie I know defined ein Schöner Tod (a good death) as not dying alone. I would add adequate control of pain, patient and family’s questions answered, no system failures in the final week of the patient’s life, and not dying alone.


December 27, 2017

“Experimentation is an act of humility, an acknowledgment that there is simply no way of knowing without trying something different.”  Sendhil Mullainathan

I read this in the New York Times, somewhat surprised by that Mr. Mullainathan had yet to perform the experiment that he said would be an act of humility.  The experiment was whether or not to change the diet soda he was drinking, that’s all.  He did mention an example of a brief tube strike in London; when it ended, about one in 20 riders had found different means to get to work and got there faster.  The others resumed their old ways.  I don’t consider changing diet soda’s being a significant life experiment, but then again, I’ve kept shirts for 25 years.

Experimenting is a life style choice, not necessarily a virtue: my wife has had two major interests, aside from me and our cats.  The first is horses, which has been as close to lifelong as could be possible; the second, radiology, she spent 40 years doing before retiring.  Many of the new things she tried were through me, but horses and films are her world, where she has been content and extremely competent in both.  She is exceedingly good at considering new alternatives when I bring up issues in my life, priorities, or time.  Her father took up hobbies of carpentry, gardening, sailing and golf.  He tried them long enough until he was comfortable with his competence, and then he did something new.

I’m the same way.  I admit it takes me a while to change computers, morning habits, or routes to places I commonly go.  Habits are an efficient way to get things done, and most of my life I have had to be efficient.

When it comes to experimentation, however, I go far beyond what kind of diet soda I drink (none, for I gave it up years ago).  I even go beyond the experimentation with becoming vegetarian, which was a big change in my life 27 years ago, but hardly the biggest.  Or doing without caffeine and even alcohol.

In 1984, I saw three bright planets in the sky, thought others probably saw them as well and might wonder what they were. I wrote the newspaper, asking if they were interested in an astronomy column.  Not hearing back, which didn’t surprise me, I wrote again and finally called, reaching a staff member who asked for 3 different length columns, which I submitted for consideration.  I ended up writing 750 columns, self-illustrated, over a 20 year period.  I had no formal training in astronomy, but I knew how to observe, write, and find answers to questions, even before the Internet.

A few years later, at 43, I decided, not on a whim, that I was going to take a 6 month leave of absence from a busy neurology-neurosurgery group to go volunteer for the US Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.  I was going to be away from home, in a place where I had no reputation, nobody I knew, and a job I wasn’t at all sure I could do but thought I could and would like.  I suspect more than one of my colleagues thought I would be back at the office in a month, but I found I could do the work, loved it, became competent, stronger than ever before in my life, and left somewhat sad, because I knew I had a very special experience, one I would never repeat.

I then did another experiment after I returned when I changed jobs at the peak of my earning power.  I left practice to become medical director of a hospital, a hybrid individual neither physician nor administrator, distrusted by both groups.  I stayed in the role 5 1/2 years, grew, became interested in quality improvement, rising to vice president in both state and local medical societies, respected for the analytical knowledge and approach I brought to my job.

Lest one think that I went from one high powered job to another, without any risk of failure, I then undertook, at 49, one of the biggest “experiments” of all.  I bet my career on being able to become a Masters trained statistician who was also a physician.  To do that, I had to apply and get accepted at an out of state university, review calculus I hadn’t seen for 30 years, and then commute nearly 300 miles one way, every week, to be a graduate student, about as lowly as a medical student, for two years.

Somehow, I got through the first semester of Mathematical Statistics, my happening to know (in class) one day the integral of log (x) dx*, which the professor, later my advisor, told me, “I realized then you were for real.”  School wasn’t easy, and every night I cussed at integrals, matrices, computer programs, at the same time as I was teaching two days a week and caring for my class.

When I got my Masters, alas, I had not taken a course in marketing.  I found minimal work discovering I could understand “no” by the sound of the disinterested voice on the other end.  I failed economically, but by then, despite my bitterness at the medical community, which took me 5 years to get through, I looked for new opportunities and found them in several other fields.

I became interested in medical errors, their similarity to aviation with the exception that aviation had a system where one could learn from them, and back then medicine did not.  I wrote two bills for the Arizona legislature creating a reporting system for medical errors.  The bills died, but from that failure, I was asked to write a monthly column for the medical society.  I became a writer.  I wrote three different monthly columns at one point: astronomy and reasons we make errors being the two others.  I won the Creative Expression Award for Human Values in Neurology in 2003 and my article “Astronomy for Writers and Editors” was a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Competition.

I brought my math to bear in the public schools as a ten year volunteer, before becoming a substitute teacher for four years in one district, my statistical and real world knowledge of math helping me immensely with the students.

In 2008, I became a volunteer at Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, and two years later, after seeing my eleventh total solar eclipse with a German tour group, I decided to learn German. I had no idea I would teach people about cranes, see as many (17) total solar eclipses as I have, all over the world, and could learn, if only to the intermediate level, a foreign language.  I watch German Krimis (crime movies) for relaxation.

Life is to be lived.  I sometimes envy my wife, who is satisfied with a deep knowledge and love of horses. I have never been able to stick with an interest as long.  On the other hand, to any who might envy my interest in so many facets of the world, I say simply to keep your eyes and ears open, for opportunities are common but are not often announced.  Failure is a big, often recognized, opportunity. It is your life to live, and it is your decision—nobody else’s, unless you cede authority—to choose.  Finding yourself truly content is a sign you are probably living properly, regardless of whether you run “experiments.”

*log(x) dx is integrated by parts

u=log x; dv=dx

du=dx/x; v=x

From this, the result is uv-int(v*int(du))=xlog(x)-int(x*dx/x)=xlog(x)-x or x(log(x)-1) (+C).


December 8, 2017

I really should have stayed home that Tuesday evening and not gone to the German Stammtisch at Track Town Pizza.  I go there most Tuesdays to practice my German, to listen, speak, and to talk to people there.  It’s good to get out.  I only stay an hour, because the place has low ceilings, serves alcohol, and gets noisy fast, so that I have difficulty enough understanding English, let alone German.

Last Tuesday, I got into a political argument, first one in a long time.  It was my own fault.  Oh, I can blame the other individual, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait.  Unfortunately, however, a lot of things that have stewed inside me for some time came to the surface.

Normally, I try to steer clear of these arguments, with the exception of climate change, where I immediately put out my four rules: no pejorative attacks, required p-value, confidence intervals or margin of error, what happens if one side is wrong, and verifiable predictions locally, nationally, and globally.  That has always ended the discussion.  I need that approach for politics, although I admit difficulty these days in avoiding pejorative attacks, since my default mode when I get angry is a severe case of sarcasm.  It’s one of my huge flaws.

Anyway, the initial trigger was discussion about an upcoming lecture being given by a German official about immigration.  The individual with whom I was talking—an immigrant himself, I think—was saying how the speaker from Germany was lying.  I had no facts, so I let it go. I’m a grandson of an Irish immigrant, and I believe are that if more countries were problem solvers, rather than problem causers, there would be fewer immigrants. But the fundamental cause of immigration woes is overpopulation,  and unless we control population, immigration, with its attendant problems, will increase.  There are two major realities: one, we can’t grow indefinitely and two, we must control our numbers.  Unfortunately, population control is not on the agenda of The Other Side—or for much of my side, either for that matter.  A lady recently profiled in Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, had three children.  I almost wrote a letter about it then thought better.

We then got into a discussion of weapons, after the individual mentioned a recently deceased friend of his who had several machine guns and a half million rounds of ammunition in his home.  I was shaming myself silently for being secretly glad his friend—63, massively overweight—died suddenly at home. Half a million rounds of ammo and at least one machine gun.  Wow.  Another listening to our conversation asked why the dead man—or anybody else—needed a machine gun.  We got the usual Second Amendment response, and that is where I started getting angry.  I wasn’t going to argue the wording, but I wagged my finger at him—something I inherited from my father—and said “I hope some day you feel the same kind of pain those who have lost people to gun violence feel.”

I’m not a Christian, and while I don’t have to be a jerk, I don’t have to be nice, either.

I’m not honestly sure what else was discussed, but the individual blamed Obama for the drug trade in this country. I was a bit stunned, saying that we have had a war on drugs that began when Mr. Obama was a child, and that he hardly was the person responsible.  I mentioned the Bush years, which seem to have vanished into the murky morass of 21st century history so far, the two wars and one recession have been blamed mostly on his successor, but while the man said he didn’t like Bush, he had absolutely no use for the Democrats.  Social programs, he said.  That was the reason.  So I asked him what sorts of social programs were a problem.  Unlike Mr. Obama, who is a centrist, or Ms. Clinton, who is center-right, I’m a liberal, but I can find wrong with some social programs.  I couldn’t get an answer, and as angrier I became, the quieter my voice was. I kept asking which social programs he was against.  I could have said that Social Security should have means testing.  I certainly would limit the tax deduction for children, in a somewhat feeble attempt to try to decrease population, and limit the mortgage deduction to $500,000.  This man couldn’t come up with anything, despite my quietly asking him “Which social programs?” five times.  All he could come up with was disability: “I see people getting disability who are better off than I am.”  OK.  That’s an issue, but it is hardly budget busting, and are we going to end disability payments because some cheat? The answer to some is yes. The Other Side wants to restrict voting because some cheat, which I believe was fewer than 10 in the last election, the first one’s documented being a Republican.  I am ignoring the almost certainty of one party’s involving the Russians and the definitive asking by the nominee for the Russians to publish every email they had.  That’s illegal and treason.

I didn’t mention my relief that a person with a half million rounds of ammunition was dead. When the individual stated with some outrage that the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) was in the house and planned to destroy the weapons, not give them to the dead man’s heirs, I didn’t know the law, so I kept quiet.  Destroying them sounded like a good idea, like beating swords into plowshares, but I’m no expert on Isaiah.

I remember that during a break in the arguing, the other man said that he wished the conversation hadn’t gone on because “I don’t want you to think badly of me.”

“I already do,” I replied.  And I suddenly got up and left, walking out, not turning back to look.  I cared not a whit for what he thought about me.

Several days later, it’s difficult for me to remember what it really was that pissed me off so much, and I’m ashamed I spent so much anger accomplishing almost nothing.

I should have quietly exited the conversation, rather than getting into a pissing contest with a skunk.  It’s difficult these days to read the news, see the direction of the country, and not be worried, lose sleep at night (unless this is age), and feel powerless to do much about it.  I’m frankly weary of dozens of emails clamoring for money for some candidate, promises to impeach (which doesn’t solve the problem; conviction is then necessary, and I also know who the second, third, and fourth in line people are), and the continuous surprise that things turned out the way they did. I find it stressful that I wish for bad things to happen climatically so I can say “I told you so,” and I hope those who voted for this government get hurt.  That’s petty, considering these people won’t vote Democratic even if their candidate is a pedophile or groped women.  We already know that.

I walked outside into the pouring rain.  Wonderful. I love the rain.


November 13, 2017

I was medical director at a hospital back when medical directors/physicians in management were relatively new.  There were two Catholic hospitals in town, each with a medical director, and at the time there was a loose arrangement of the two hospitals with one overall medical director, my boss.

I went to a meeting one day at the other hospital about the roll out of an integrated medical delivery system, which I assumed wouldn’t involve me too much, but would start integrating practitioners in both hospitals and add a third hospital in a rural city to the network.

That night, I failed to show a major Profile in Courage moment: to stand up for what is right when one has absolutely nothing to gain and a great deal to lose.  My boss, whom I respected and liked, was passed over for the job of medical director, for which she was perfectly qualified, in favor of a family practitioner who was an EEG tech when I was a resident. I didn’t speak up against this outrage.  I can still remember hearing the name of the new network medical director. No, I didn’t stand up to the elderly nun, an institution in the hospital and community, to say, “Sister, this is wrong. Unless you reconsider, I am resigning.”

Yeah, I was making good money, but my wife and I could have swung it had I quit. Maybe I was so stunned that the doctor chosen didn’t have the qualifications. Maybe I was afraid.  But I certainly failed to speak up, that is quite clear, and I should have.  I might not have changed the decision, and I might have been fired had I not resigned, but the chance to do the first and risk the second was a risk I should have taken.  My boss resigned, the family practitioner had a very uncomfortable first meeting with me and was gone from his job within a year.

I subsequently worked under a new senior medical director, part of the executive team (I was never allowed into that sphere) before I had enough and finally left for graduate school, two years later.

My failure to speak up remains a big regret, and I can date it, because there was a total lunar eclipse that night, and I still remember standing outside looking at it and wondering why I hadn’t said something.

Profile in Courage moments may be more minor, but they are clearly speaking out against injustice when staying silent is easier and safer.  At one medical conference, the organizer commented on work that had been done on lymphapheresis for multiple sclerosis.  He quoted a study I happened to know quite well.  Not sure what I was doing, I suddenly found myself standing up.

“I disagree with you, sir.”  That turned everybody’s gaze on the 31 year-old nobody well back in the room.  “I was one of the physicians involved in the study, and while as an academic I want publications on my resume, I asked to be removed from this one, because I thought the study was poorly designed, biased, the data incorrect, and the conclusions unwarranted.”  Shaking, as I do when I speak passionately in public, I sat down amid a lot of murmuring.  The organizer mumbled a few words, and I simply shook my head no.

I can think of another time when I suddenly stood up, which I knew enhanced my words, the shaking, and the passionate comments.  The chief of staff at the hospital had lambasted me in front of the Medical Executive Committee, saying that I was examining patients, and I had no business doing so.

“I was called by the nursing staff because the patient was admitted to cardiology, and no doctor the nurses called wanted to accept the patient.” (Yes, those sorts of things happened.)  “I examined the patient, wrote some covering orders, then called an internist I knew who took over the patient’s care.”  At this point, I was winding up, so I let go with one more.

“I have also taken over the care of a Parkinson’s patient whose family fired the doctor, so he just quit, which is unethical behavior.  It is incumbent upon the physician to transfer the care, and this one just walked away.”

If I remember correctly, I walked out of the room down the hall and outside and cried for a few minutes.  One of the better things I learned—too late in life but better late than not at all—was how to cry.

Like perfect squelches, words one says that are absolutely perfect in time, place, and content, Profiles in Courage are one—two—three—five in a lifetime events. I can date every one of the four perfect squelches in my life. I blew my big Profile in Courage moment.

We need more Profile in Courage moments in Washington.  We need elected representatives to speak out against a president who doesn’t belong in office.  Many are apparently saying this in private.  Mr. Flake did a decent job, but he limited his Profile in Courage moment.  He could have done what few politicians are willing to do: quit his party and caucus with the other, stay in office, and let the voters decide whether he was adequately representing them. Mr. Flake would have rocked the country in doing so. While he would have taken a huge amount of heat, maybe a recall election, he would have earned the respect of millions, including me.

We need someone in the halls of power to speak up and say the emperor has no clothes (the visualization of which is abhorrent), that Congress is co-equal and will act accordingly, with both sides of the aisle having a say in legislation, even if one side is outvoted.  We need someone to say that much as they like the chance to put through a conservative agenda, that to do so without addressing the dysfunction in the Executive Branch is wrong, and Congress can and must do something about it.

The irony to me is that before #metoo many Profile in Courage moments I’ve seen have come from Iranian women who don white every Wednesday to protest the forced hijab.  For years, many have removed the cover altogether and shown videos of themselves walking without it.  These women are very courageous.  Many are insulted. Some have acid thrown in their faces.  Others are beaten, arrested, even killed.  They are putting their lives on the line for something they believe in, and if the running of the United States of America is less important than whether an Iranian woman should cover her hair, then we would do well to open immigration to those women, should any actually want to come here, in hopes they might light a fire under our lawmakers.

We now have American women speaking out against sexual abuse, which has involved my own alma mater, which really hurts.  Many of these women never spoke up, but when the time came, they took their Profile in Courage moment and ran with it. Some won elected office.

In these days of Roy Moore, Michelle Bachmann, clean air is unhealthy, more guns makes us safer, $1000 savings in taxes allows one to buy a car, adding $1.5 trillion to the debt is a good thing, grabbing them by the pussy does not disqualify one from becoming President, taking off the clothes of a 14 year-old girl doesn’t disqualify one for the US Senate, each of us needs to be on the lookout for a Profile in Courage moment.

It’s fine to shake, to sweat, to speak passionately.  Don’t be afraid to pause.  Mr. Obama often paused when he spoke.  He did it for effect, but he also did it to think about what he was going to say next.  We need a lot of thinking these days.


November 2, 2017

“Westerners don’t fear these restrictions (on fishing), even when their right to bear fishing poles isn’t secured for eternity in the Constitution.  But when it comes to the right to bear arms, the reasonable limitations of fishing are swept downstream with sanity.”  

Marty Jones, Writers on the Range,

Every time there is a mass shooting or some other a significant deadly event, I look at the number “critically wounded,” for many of them will not survive.  It won’t make the news when some family member has to give permission to pull the plug to some doctor who doesn’t like pulling it, but needs to do it, in order to allow someone with irreversible brain injury to die, maybe after some organs are taken for transplant, maybe not.

“Saves” out in the field that get much news coverage may not be saves. If the rescue were too late, the individual would be irreversibly brain damaged, and some guy like me eventually would tell the family the person would end up in a persistent vegetative state. At best, the family would agree on removing life support, because “(the victim) wouldn’t want to be like this.”  At worst, the family would be divided, shattered, occasionally because well-meaning people in or out of the medical field would offer up platitudes like “you never know,”(we do), “hearing is the last thing to go,”(proof?) or “someone once woke up after 5 years,” (and was quadriplegic with limited cognition).  I did get news coverage once, in 1983, after recommending discontinuing life support on a woman who failed to wake up after cardiac surgery. The husband agreed, but the sister did not.  It went to court, and my name was in the public eye for a couple of days.  I guess I said some good words, because people didn’t lambaste me (that was before anonymity of online comments), the judge agreed with me, and the woman was allowed to quietly, with dignity, die.

Two years after Roseburg, there was a brief article about a young woman who received a major brain injury and could not speak.  She survived, but the hell she and the family went through, as well as the costs, born by them, those who cared for them, and society in general, were not publicized.  They can’t be.  There are too many—73,000 gunshot wounds a year— and I’m not even discussing auto accidents, falls, and other often preventable tragedies.

I’m not convinced the death toll from Las Vegas will remain at 58; we may not hear about the others. In the New York Times, there was an article about a woman 15 years younger than I who is now quadriplegic.  When I heard “500 wounded,” I wondered how many were going to be like her.  I still don’t know.

The woman probably has a C5-6 injury, got her elbow flexors partially back, but won’t get her hands or her legs back.  Not at this stage.  She ran a company once.  Now she runs a wheelchair courtesy of Go Fund Me.  I’d rather national health insurance pay for national medical costs.  Then, we could see  where our tax dollars are going, and ask why we aren’t trying to control firearms.  I don’t know the size of her medical bills in Nevada or now in California, where she is getting rehab not far from where the San Bernardino mass shooting took place.  These days, it’s not difficult to be close to a past mass shooting.  I am within 10 miles of the Springfield, Oregon high school, where four died 20 years ago, an hour from Roseburg, and two hours from Portland.  I lived 4 miles from where Gabby Giffords was shot, and six people died.  I came within a whisker of being at that Safeway that morning.

It’s ugly.  If the pain, suffering, and destroyed lives doesn’t bother The Other Side, they as taxpayers ought to be outraged as I am at paying for preventable medical and disability costs. Eight died in New York City on Halloween, and that day the president wanted to end the diversity lottery program. Fifty-eight died in Las Vegas a month ago, and he offered no suggestions.  The next night, three died in Thornton, Colorado by a shooter who walked into Wal-Mart, fired, and walked out.  One tragedy gets a snap judgment, and the other is ignored: Americans have a right to as many guns as they want with absolutely no restriction. It is time right now to discuss control of terrorists in our cities. NYPD had already contacted 147 businesses who rented trucks to be on the look out for potential misuse.  It’s also time to discuss some form of gun control, like repealing the second amendment, which would not prevent sane people from owning a firearm. It won’t happen, of course.

The statement that we don’t remember what happened to those who were injured is not new.  Many in World War II had shell shock and were never the same.  After Korea and Vietnam, we changed the name to TBI or PTSD.  After Iraq and Afghanistan we started seeing people with no limbs and more PTSD that couldn’t be treated well, because we don’t have a good treatment for it.  That alone should be enough to think long and hard about going to war, because in war not only do people die but at least ten times as many get PTSD.  We should have more diplomats and fewer tweets, instead of the opposite.

War is so bad that people repress it. My brother never spoke about Vietnam other than a vague memory about being on a helicopter going somewhere.   I hike with a Vietnam combat vet who once made the comment, “after I was blown up….”  which is the most he ever said about his service other than the single word, “Hué,” which told me enough.  When we go to war, we ought to realize that the cost in lives will be far more than we anticipate. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go to war.  Not at all.  But we ought to ask why we are fighting, what we want to achieve, and at what point it’s time to leave—totally leave.   Like PTSD or vegetative states, there are political states that just can’t be fixed, and trying to fix them is like trying to fix a vegetative state by physical therapy.  It accomplishes nothing and costs a lot of heartache and money.

I end with another form of PTSD and abuse, eloquently put in a letter in The New Yorker. The writer was raped, weekly, for four years, beginning at age 10, by one of the elders in her church.  She actually complained and was told she was crazy.  Who, after all, believes a ten year-old? She repressed her feelings for years, because nobody would take the word of a girl over a good Christian man who was a pedophile (something else not treatable, other than mandatory avoidance of children).  The fact that the woman’s own daughter is now ten brought back unpleasant memories.  What stuck with me were her comments, “Others had to have known, but they didn’t think he’d do it to one so young.”

Those who have managed to make a decent life for themselves in spite of horrors they have suffered speaks volumes about the human spirit and to those individuals themselves. It also speaks to the need for each us who is able to try to prevent such harm from occurring in the first place.  While it is reassuring to know that many obstacles may be overcome, it would be a lot better not to have such obstacles at all.