Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A thought before vacation

This year's vacation, by the bye, won't be so grand, but I may make a few remarks.

Meanwhile, I'm actually going to say something nice about a media outlet. It's not remarkable that it's a newspaper, but it is amazing that it's The Salem Evening News. A couple of dog's lives ago, when I was in PR on the North Shore, my relations with that paper were, well, uneven.

One of the dead weights that keeps Internet news from achieving maturity is the anonymous comment column. Done, I suppose, in the name of open access, it has really set journalism back 175 years, to a time when most news was anonymous.

Not long ago, the comments in the Salem News online edition made Fox news comment forums smell like free sample day at the perfume counter. People with something thoughtful to say would sooner dive into an open sewer than post a comment to this private club of garbage-mouthed trolls. In my professional relations with the paper years ago, their ethics had sometimes seemed a bit situational. But now they've put on their white hats and gone riding out with the posse. Posts to the comments column must now have a verifiable name and address attached, just as letters to the editor have done for over a century. Good on you, Salem News: the air already smells cleaner.

Guess what? The comments have all but disappeared. The little club of trash-mouths, none of whom could have spelled or defined byline, suddenly found they had nothing to say that was worth putting their name to.

This intelligent trend, although it reinvents the wheel, is getting some momentum. More and more media have noticed that the trolls set back discourse rather than enhancing it. They've seen that monotonous rants and cliquish behaviour are the common threads of all news comment boards. The rage of such people is both predictable and boring. All but the most incompetent news editors or producers want to avoid both. The solution is reasonably simple. If you want to play in the pool, either sign your name or dig your own pool. (Here, I've preferred the second course.)

Where this reform has happened, the initial silence is astounding. We can hope that those who have both the courage of their convictions, and courage, will begin offering their signed thoughts in public online forums. That, and not the anonymous courage of the mob, is what democracy should offer.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

How I was introduced to broadcast media life

There is no truth to the rumour that, when I was a college freshman, we got our news by telegraph. Teletype yes, telegraph, no. In those long-ago days I edited UPI news feeds (when they were literally fed from the teletype) and read news for the college radio station.

My first exposure to the shortcomings of broadcast media was during the Northeast electrical blackout in November, 1965. During this nearly-forgotten crisis, pretty much all of the northeast media was struck mute. It was barely three years since the Cuban missile crisis, and any amount of speculation about nuclear holocaust was plausible. While we were off the air, our speculations were our own and harmed no one else. Bit by bit, news came through. The college got up some emergency power. Wiser heads at the radio station used (landline) phones to poke around until they found people with information. The situation would have dissipated sooner had the media we contacted not also been giving vent to baseless speculation.

Fast forward to the following May. The featured performer for the spring concert was to be Pete Seeger. The folk movement had been sufficiently homogenised at that time for the administration to consider him a benign elder-statesman folkie. Hence the college's imprimatur.

Seeger, of course, had never been that benign, and by the spring of 1966, the peace movement had grown in proportion to the war in Vietnam. My college was barely ten miles from an Air Force base. The local peace movement scheduled a picket line outside the base the day Seeger was to arrive. They recruited Seeger's participation, and after the demonstration at the base, the whole party walked to our campus. There were about 30 people in the party, most of them local talent.

All this was well-known; we had reported on it ourselves. This was a fairly conservative campus, especially in those remote days before almost everything that defines "the sixties" in popular myth had happened. The frat brothers vowed to give "the commies" a warm welcome. Cynical broadcasters that we were, we gave right and wrong little thought, but concentrated on setting up a live remote to cover the expected confrontation.

The demonstrators arrived in town and walked peaceably up Main Street to the student union, where they planned a brief statement. They were outnumbered about 20 to 1 by the frat boys and other loutish riff-raff of the student body. At the bottom of the hill where the student union still stands, the demonstrators halted and faced the hostile crowd, at least half of them drunk on this Thursday afternoon: nothing wrong with their courage. There were local and state police present, quite impartial but just as outnumbered by the the crowd.

I was stuck guarding the equipment and didn't see clearly what happened next. Someone amongst the demonstrators began to speak (unaided: no wireless mics back then). Rumour later said it was Pete Seeger: I think now it was more likely one of the faculty demonstrators. In response, the crowd surged forward, hurling epithets and rotten eggs, intent on mauling "the commies." We then had a good demonstration of how the mere presence of a couple of dozen police can cool a crowd's jets. The jets were decidedly cooled. The leaders got no closer than 20 feet to the demonstrators; eggs vanished into pockets or fell to the ground ("not mine, Officer"). There were more speeches and, at some point, Seeger did speak. The would-be defenders of American freedom simply got bored and steadily drifted away.

We were not the only news crews there. They began to drift off as well, whilst we stuck around to the rather tedious end. This was a mistake. By the time we got back to the station, in the basement of the student union a few dozen yards away, the teletype was going berserk, carrying stories about the "riot" in Durham. Our senior announcers hit the phones, calling the wire services and all the major news media within 300 miles, offering eyewitness accounts of what actually happened. It was no go: the slinkers had beaten us and the "riot" was established fact. The best we managed was to get one of the wires to modify its lead to "peace has been restored to Durham after a wild night of rioting..." a couple of hours after we started damage control.

It is easy to recall this formative episode today, in the aftermath of Vancouver's sorry riots, which show the opposite: how a few hundred drunks can quickly get the upper hand over law enforcement. It also shows the same, now old, story, of how today's media become enablers, letting the few hundred idiots control the narrative for a city of over 600,000. During morning errands and en route to work, I heard and read breathless narratives about how the natives of Vancouver were burning their city to the ground in inchoate rage. (That is only the thinnest of exaggerations.)*

Fortunately I have other sources. Years ago I worked remotely with a man from Vancouver, a devoted Canucks fan who is also able to keep sport and life separate. We've enjoyed a good-natured repartee about the Bruins and Canucks for most of our association. Even before I had encountered the worst of the post-Game 7 media hysteria, I had read B's courteous email of congratulations.

Later, I saw more from him and his other friends, from Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada. So far from torching the city, they were suggesting dumping the perps into a nearby (shark-infested) creek. There's disappointment in the outcome, of course. The anger is directed at the people who have spoilt the memory of the Canucks' very successful season and again sullied their city's reputation. Other shoes will drop, I'm sure, but that's their business, not mine.

Most people who get their news in the usual ways don't have my good luck. They don't have friends in Vancouver, and their view of the broadcast media wasn't permanently warped at age 19. What will they think?

* The highest comedy of the morning came from Boston online commenters who said (so help me) that we wouldn't have rioted in the streets had the Canucks won Game 6 here; wouldn't have booed as they were presented the Stanley Cup in the Garden; would have all been good little boys and girls and gone home. Umm, what are you smokin', mate?

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Well, sort of

There are those who make a career out of "close enough." Take Harold Camping, for instance. The world didn't end on his schedule (neither did his bank balance, by all accounts) but it appears that his personal rapture has caught up with him. Those who are of a believing sort might consider this stroke a subtle reminder from the deity that second-guessing him is a really bad idea.

Then we have California treasure hunter Bill Warren, out to find bin Laden's body in the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean... to prove he's dead. (Never mind that al Qaida says he is.) This certainly plays very well in Islamabad, and also on Fox, which is oblivious to the former. That is, however, a powerful big piece of water, much of it very deep indeed. It also has an awful lot of marine life that likes to feed on dead bodies. As usual, these are little details that elude boradcast media.

People like Warren don't break wind without a clear profit motive. They also know what the odds of success are for any given venture. Warren probably knows his odds of finding bin Laden's body are about the same as his winning the lottery twice in the same week. If Fox isn't making this worth his while, who is? Donald Trump?

I'd be a fan of Julian Assange if he included con jobs like these in his ministrations.

"Close enough" has caught up with Camping. When will Warren (or his backers) declare "close enough?"

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Running out of limbs

Some debts are paid--gladly--in blood. So, for many years, I have given mine to square accounts. Both subtle hints from Red Cross, and prodding from a former supervisor, finally got me to step up from whole blood to platelet donation.

Given the medical amusements of the rest of the week, it would seem to be an inauspicious time to try platelet donation. However, blood donors insensibly fall into a life cycle of 56 days (the interval between safe donations) and my moment had come. I had an afternoon on my hands and so tried a walk-in platelet donation.

Disclaimer: anyone looking for an excuse not to donate blood has come to the wrong address. I've been deep in this business, and whatever you have heard, synthetic blood is way in the future. Also, whole blood has become a comparatively primitive way of making your donation. Each pint of whole blood, or its equivalent, can be divided and redivided to help more than one person. At the cost of a larger time commitment, depending on what you do, you can extend the benefit of your donation severalfold. There are all too many legitimate (and a couple of dubious) reasons not to accept blood. Here, we don't accept being scared of needles, et al., as legitimate excuses.

That said, platelet donation has a learning curve. For one thing, not everyone qualifies, which makes it that much more important for those who do to step up. There is also, I've learnt, insider knowledge that makes the process go more smoothly. Hard-core whole-blood donors like me can pump out a pint in less than ten minutes: the bulk of the time commitment is the paperwork before, and the recovery after, the donation. Platelet donation takes two hours, plus paperwork and recovery. This works best if one plans ahead, makes an appointment, and otherwise makes ready. OK, lesson learnt.

Another feature is that while whole-blood donation, and some types of apheresis donation, require only one arm like whole blood donation, I was doing the two-arm method. Put crudely, the process pumps blood out of one arm, splits out the platelet cells, and pumps the remaining plasma into the other arm. This requires that a) one keeps one's arms quite still for the whole two hours or b) failing that, one knows when to ask for help with certain activities of daily living, such as rubbing one's nose.

Things went quite well for an hour or so. Then, I felt a twitch in my left (incoming) arm, followed by the chillin' sensation that tells the hard-core donor that all is not well. I was making contact with the techs at the same moment the machine began redlining. Yep, sure, the incoming vein had misbehaved and plasma was merrily pumping into the surrounding tissue. End of donation. I felt rather bad about this until they said first that I had given a usable donation, and second that this shit happens.

It will be late tomorrow before I'm doing any lifting worth mentioning. Since I already have one leg at less than 100 percent, I'm feeling a little short of limbs.
Fifty-six days from now I will be back at this, with my accumulated knowledge. Because I am eligible and because this is one debt that will never be fully paid.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Adventures in defensive medicine

Nearly two weeks ago my right shin began to hurt. I manned up, decided it was only a shin splint, and toughed it out. I chose poorly, for several reasons.

Last Saturday I slipped just a bit on the back stairs and came down hard on my right leg, which objected loudly. After spending the rest of the day on ice and ibuprofen, and not sleeping much at all, I dropped on my PCP Sunday morning.
It was the duty physician--no slouch, one of the founders of the practice--who suggested compartment syndrome. He had me doing more ice, more elevation, and as much Ibuprofen as I could tolerate. If, said he, the leg is still uncomfortable in two days, go directly to the ER.

It was and (reluctantly) I did, not without wondering why we didn't instead try an orthopedist. Emergency Departments always have an element of black comedy about them. In my view they are places to avoid unless one is actually bleeding out, has about six fractures, or both. People with mystery issues should stay away, House notwithstanding.

The sole bit of good luck this visit was that it wasn't very busy when I got there. Dr. S's hint of compartment syndrome was enough to get me through registration and triage fairly quickly. But EDs, like the military, operate on the "hurry up and wait" principle. Having hurried through the first two steps, I waited. I had brief visits with an RN, a PA (who dosed me with Vicodin), and a very young physician, and waited some more. The cubicle TV was set to Dr. Phil, and he was the only doctor over 25 within ten feet of me all day.

The upshot of all this was to send me for ultrasound. Dr. S had already ruled out fracture by palpation, and by the fact that while I could only put weight on the limb with pain, I could put weight on it. I'm not endorsing this Dx, just reporting it. The limb only swelled when I tried to use it. I had been in cold storage for nearly an hour when Doogie Howser saw me, so the swelling was reduced. With all this my position on the triage scale was degrading, and it was some time before the transport person arrived to schlep me to Radiology.

I'm not remarkably tall, but my feet hung over the end of the gurney (cost cutting?). If you've ever made a gurney trip in a hospital, you know that transporters usually open doors by ramming them with the gurney. The prospect didn't appeal, and I tucked my legs up after the first near miss. We did make it to radiology without incident, where I--wait for it--waited some more. I figured by this time that my triage status was worse than that of a dog with a cold nose.

When the rad tech did show up, he was friendly and cooperative, indulging my professional curiosity by angling the ultrasound screen enough for me to watch. We looked, as it happened, he looked in detail everywhere but where the pain centred. Techs aren't supposed to diagnose, but this one said he saw neither clots nor vascular compression. Again, I'm just reporting here. He finished, we shook hands, and he wheeled me to the wait for the return trip.

Through much of this, everybody I encountered was worried that I was cold. Actually, the temperature was very pleasant. What I was was bored...and hungry. Wanting to be ready for anything, I hadn't had breakfast. It was midday by this time, and we had arrived at the ED before 9. This got to be a preoccupation, because medical staff with lunch were strolling past the gurney.

The transporter eventually showed up. I hauled in my feet and he wheeled me back to my cubicle: only to find it wasn't mine anymore. There was a moment of confusion, whereupon the nurse said, "take him to 7 1/2."

Room 7 1/2 is, in that ED, a stretch of corridor wall between Room 7 and the john. I took this as a measure of how far my triage status had fallen. Eventually the RN dropped by to say that I was awaiting the radiologist's interpretation. Note the word "wait."

In a perhaps misguided bit of humanity, the staff went out and fetched my wife. "Room 7 1/2" had no chair. She had had breakfast but not lunch, and so was beginning to share my preoccupation.

Located just inside the trauma entry to the ED, "Room 71/2" made up for its lack of amenities with a considerable amount of traffic. One reader has commented elsewhere about the one thing that modern hospitals lack: peace and quiet. He was in a room: try it in a hallway. Actually, I thought it fairly peaceful as hospitals go. Had I not been obliged to carry on domestic conversation, I would have dozed off.

Eventually, the RN showed up with the radiologist's interpretation. I know a little bit about the nuances of medspeak. I observed that the interpretation carefully avoided anything resembling a declarative statement. After six hours in the toils of emergency medicine, the closest thing we had to a diagnosis was my own. Thank you, Einstein. But I was free to go, clutching my Vicodin scrip.

On my health plan, the co-pay for all this theatre is $50. The Vicodin does what Vicodin does best: blunts pain, rather than relieving it, and adds its side effects to the amusements.

We'll figure it out eventually, right? House always does, after four or five false starts. Heh.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Another Daily Double

Once upon a time I worked--I'm blowing my cover--at the Paul Revere House. This was Bicentennial era, when the employees were mostly earnest young radical historians like me. Some of us arrived with chips on our shoulders set there by debunkers for cash; others were products of the new history that looked not at Great Men but at ordinary people. Some of us were both. Either way, we became fascinated by Revere and we loved to take on the snarky debunkers. Nothing made one's day like letting a wannabe debunker rant, then quietly walking to a drawer, pulling out Revere's own depositions about April 18-19, 1775, and reading them aloud. The wannabes would slink to the exits. Today, as I have heard it, the Revere House has returned to lying for dollars*, so the Grizzly had no opportunity to be exposed to evidence.

I do know where her followers came from. I suppose they were the same people who, as hyperactive snot-nosed brats, employed their time at the Revere House setting off fireworks in the courtyard. Changing history to suit their agenda is bred into their inbred little minds. It is a comfort that so many candidates are going after the same small percentage of psychotics, heedless of the fact that whomsoever wins will have to weasel back to the centre, or at least to sanity.

About the leg. My next opus will reflect on today's adventures in defensive medicine, in which untold thousands and six hours were spent to confirm the patient's own initial diagnosis. I would do that now, but I did get Vicodin as a party favour and I'm about thought out. Peace, dudes.

In those days we were wholly evidence-based. When tourists asked where the barn was or the name of Paul Revere's horse, we told them there was no evidence he even owned a horse until after the war.(Despatch riders didn't need to own horses.) Not long ago, a friend's family was assured that the perennials in the courtyard were planted by the patriot's own hand. Not: I helped the boss plant them myself in 1976...and that courtyard was the adjoining lot until well into the 20th century. If there is a difference between that lie and the lies the Tea Party has tried to throw up on Wikipedia to change history, it eludes me.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Confused, I am

Congressman Weiner's 15 minutes of stupidity is the second time this year I've encountered the idea that the upper male torso is lewd. OK, if it's my torso it's merely gross, but lewd in a general sense? What kind of prigs are we becoming?

But still....There are those among us who first met in, um, another place, where male nudity of another sort appeared with regularity: tiresome regularity. There seems to be nothing that will convince men of a certain mindset that the unclad male body--no matter what part is unclad--is not an automatic turn-on for women. Nay, quite the contrary. I am reliably informed that a shirtless and totally buff male may be interesting eye candy, but falls somewhat short of erotic. (The floor is open for contrary opinions.)

In any case, men named Weiner ought to behave with exceptional discretion.


Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Daily Double, etc.

I am late putting in my oar on a couple of things (reason coming below). One is this tornado in Massachusetts business. It has somewhat more impact in this house than elsewhere in eastern MA, since my spouse's family all hailed from that part of the state. Most are dead or scattered now, but it still "home" in a sense that few people in eastern MA comprehend. We know all those places and feel the loss acutely. That is in addition to the fact that being within 100 miles of a tornado gives me total shit fits.

Moving right along to the main lesson, provided this week by the competing drivers of the GOP clown car. It is hilarious that two people who are most anxious to prove themselves common folks found it necessary to eat pizza with a knife and front of the cameras. Perhaps, as some say, neither is well-acquainted with pizza. The Donald is surely more of a filet mignon guy and the Palin presumably chews jerky she made from her own wildlife kills...but does she eat jerky with a knife and fork?

The tale brought me back to going on a trip with my mother and brother to the Maritimes when we were in high school. The expedition featured many errors (my mother became a more seasoned traveler later in life) but the one that cut the deepest was our lunch at a very haute restaurant in Halifax, NS. My brother and I were 1960s teenagers. We wanted hamburgers. They actually had them on the menu, presumably having run into obstinate American teenagers before. But my mother, clearly intimidated by her surroundings, insisted that we eat them with knife and fork. There were scowls. There were whispered exchanges that descended into threats. We ate with knife and fork. It was many years before either of us forgave my mother for this imposition.*

The point is that my mother's moment of social anxiety may have a lot in common with the Donald and the Grizzly. Common sense says that when you don't know how to eat something in strange surroundings, you either ask or observe those around you. Insecurity dictates that you fall back on the highest social level in your experience. It seems fair to conclude that the Donald and the Grizzly possess more than their allowance of insecurity, and less than the normal allotment of common sense. But we knew that.

I write this from a recliner, with legs propped on pillows. The price of enthusiastic exercise when sun returns is overuse injury. After a week contending with a sore back, sciatica, and shin splints, my physician has me aggressively treating a sore leg, hoping to keep it merely a sore leg. I have two days to set it to rights. Otherwise, this is possibly compartment syndrome. No, I had never heard of it before either. The short news for cyclists is to take it easy on the hills first time out of the barn. It becomes surgical in a miserably short time. At any rate, I'm trying to follow orders without dying first of boredom.

*My wife reminds me of her first encounter, in France, with escargots. A classmate set to with knife and fork, instead of the proper instrument, sending the snail and its trail of butter soaring across the room to hit a faculty member of the head.

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