Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!

My mom me sent one of those emails stating, "Pass this on to ten friends and save lives." I have a personal policy to never pass on anything no matter what it is and I never vary from it. This one seemed pretty good though. It’s about how to identify the symptoms of a stroke. I didn't pass it on but I decided to investigate nonetheless.

Up until about ten years ago I rarely thought much about strokes or any medical problems. Most people in the military take care of themselves, especially in these rabidly health conscience times; and part of the job requirement anyway is staying in shape, so death by disease is rare for people on active duty.

Not only that, but most of us are forced out by "high year of tenure" rules before most of us are anywhere near old enough to get sick and die of conditions like heart attacks and strokes. When one does get sick like that to the point of no longer being qualified to be "a war-fighter," it's medical retirement time, whereupon it's time to go home as a civilian to either die or recover.

The email’s subject line was: New Signs of a stroke - Not a joke

The body of the email continued on thusly, about a woman named Ingrid at a BBQ who tripped and fell, seemed fine, ate her BBQ, had a good time, went home, and soon thereafter died in a hospital:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx x**************************

STROKE: Remember The 1st Three Letters... S.T.R.




During a BBQ, a friend stumbled and took a little fall - she assured everyone that she was fine (they offered to call paramedics) and just tripped over a brick because of her new shoes They got her cleaned up and got her a new plate of food - while she appeared a bit shaken up, Ingrid went about enjoying herself the rest of the evening. Ingrid's husband called later telling everyone that his wife had been taken to the hospital - (at 6:00 pm, Ingrid passed away.) She had suffered a stroke at the BBQ. Had they known how to identify the signs of a stroke, perhaps Ingrid would be with us today. Some don't die. They end up in a helpless, hopeless condition instead.

It only takes a minute to read this.

A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke...totally. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours, which is tough.


Thank God for the sense to remember the '3' steps, STR. Read and Learn!
Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke.

Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

S *
Ask the individual to SMILE.

T *
Ask the person to TALK to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (I.e. It is sunny out today)

R *
Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

NOTE: Another 'sign' of a storke is this: Ask the person to 'stick' out their tongue. If its crooked, if it goes to one side or the other, that is also an indication of a stroke. If he or she has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call 911 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.


So that was the "stroke email." Before taking such a thing as gospel I thought I’d check it out on Snopes and send it to a doctor buddy of mine to scope out. Snopes addressed the exact email that my mom sent and it basically says that yes, its mostly good stuff. Read it here.

Snopes also addressed another BS "pass it on" email about strokes that instructs people to prick and bleed a stroke victim’s fingertips as well as to pull on their earlobes, all according to some ancient Chinese remedy. Snopes claims the supposed "Chinese stroke cure" is complete malarkey. No surprise there.

After checking out the above email, my doctor pal gave me a critique of the stroke email that I had received as well as a pretty good rundown on strokes, and even provided some great insights into heart attacks. All of it is good stuff, and combined with the excellent info from Snopes you’ve got everything you need to know about the whole range of cardio vascular episodes.

Check out what Doc Dick had to say:

Yes some of it is indeed true. Some of it is baloney.

If a person has a stroke, their smile is going to be different. The affected side of the face will generally droop downward to one side, something that would be abnormal for that person.

Getting them to talk and say a simple sentence will tell you a lot because usually the speech might be a little slurred or the person might have aphasia which is difficulty talking at all.

Asking them to raise their hands above their heads will tell you which side is affected. Generally speaking the person won't be able to raise the affected side as high.

I don't believe this lady had the stroke at the BBQ though. Once a stroke starts, it generally gets worse by the minute. She probably had a pre-stroke at the BBQ, which medically is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). That's a warning. Sometimes people have TIA's and recover as if nothing happened. Sometimes the TIA is a warning that the big one is coming shortly - could be within hours or a few days.

Other tips:

If a person is having a stroke - he or she will normally have a very strong bounding pulse that is slower than normal.

There may be projectile vomiting.

The pupils will generally be uneven one dilated and one constricted if it is actually a stroke. This is not always the case in a TIA.

Have the person squeeze your fingers with both hands. The squeeze on the affected side will be much weaker.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is usually mild and may only last a minute or two but sometimes it might last a few days. However a transient ischemic attack (pre-stroke) will improve and the person may resume normal activities very soon. Not so long ago, a guy I knew here had a TIA. He dropped like a sack of potatoes in Garfield’s. He insisted on going to his doctor’s office instead of the hospital. I went with him and told the doctor I thought he had a TIA. The doctor gave him something sweet to drink saying it was just his blood sugar (which he did not check).

Two days later the guy died of a stroke.

What is baloney below is this. If it is a pre-stroke or transient ischemic attack, yes, usually within two or three hours a good neurologist can have the person out of danger and possibly even have the problem identified. If it is a thrombosis (blood clot) causing the TIA, then there are drugs to dissipate the blood clot. If it is a bleed, i.e. a burst blood vessel in the brain, then surgery at this point may take care of the problem IF it is in an area of the brain that is operable. Only about 25% of the brain is operable.

If it is a full blown stroke, not a TIA, even with a good ambulance service, the chances of saving the person's life are not so good. The reason is that the blood clot if that is what it is, has already damaged a large portion of the brain or if it is a bleed, then the intercranial pressure has already turned the brain into Jell-O. If the person lives, more than likely he or she is going to be severely debilitated due to brain damage and require quite a bit of rehab to be functional again - if being functional is possible.

Statistics for heart attacks and strokes are basically the same, since they are basically the same thing - except one is happening in the brain and the other is happening in the heart. About 50% of the people who have a first time stroke die from it within two hours. Most of them never get medical help until it is too late.

50% of the people who have heart attacks die with the first heart attack because most fatal heart attacks have NO symptoms at all. The person feels fine one minute and drops over dead the next minute. It's called "sudden cardiac death". When I was an ER doc, we used to tell people the fact that they are having chest pain is a good indicator that they are going to survive the heart attack.

And now you have had your medical class on strokes and heart attacks for the day. Regards bro.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Poor Laurnen Caitlin, Poor Us

For some, poor Lauren Caitlin Upton has become the poster child for our allegedly "poor" American education system, and I’m not talking about “Special Ed.” (No pun intended Ed Abbey.)

Jokes aside (for now), when I first saw this doe-eyed "deer in the headlights" beauty from South Carolina trying to answer her simple beauty contest question, I honestly thought she might be "challenged" in some way, other than being a pageant participant that is.

I shouldn’t say that. In fact, I take it back. One of the smartest gals I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging out with was Miss Arkansas 1992, Shannon Boy. That girl was sharp, and so nice and down to earth that I didn't hold it against her that she was studying to become a lawyer. By now, I'm sure she is one and probably very successful. Oh, and she has some very interesting "Bill Clinton is a horny dog" stories.

Anyway, back to poor Lauren Caitlin. I know I'm not being fair to her, or to our much maligned education system. After all, it seems pretty obvious that the question in question was really just a way to prompt commentary on the poor state of education in the United States, wasn't it? And being unable to speak well—or in Lauren's case, to speak intelligibly—in front of several million people does not necessarily reflect one way or another on her erudition or on the system that made her that way.

I must say though, whenever I try to watch that beautiful, yet in THAT moment, pitiful, creature trying to answer the simple question: "Why can't twenty percent of Americans find America on a map?" I find myself as uncomfortable as when I watch the "rumbling, bumbling, mumbling, stumbling" President Bush speak to an audience, and I like the guy. Some people just do not express themselves well in public.

For Lauren, her mind was trying to work, but all it managed to do was spit out bits of disjointed half thoughts and fragments of nonsense. Plain and simple, she became tongue-tied. As a childhood stutterer myself, I know exactly how that feels. Time slows down to an excruciating crawl and no matter how much you try to unlock the words they won't come.

In fact, the harder I tried, sometimes, the worse it got. You figure that saying something, ANYTHING, is better than the deathly silence. Just fill up the dead space with words—never mind that none of them make any sense.

I don't think Lauren is a stutterer. She sort of knew what she wanted to say, maybe, but couldn't quite get it out; but I don't think it was her tongue that got tied—it was her brain. In the vernacular of sports, she choked.

Getting past the poor girl’s inability to express herself, she attempted to respond to a question that only had one or two obvious answers anyway. As a bullheaded contrarian, and due to natural orneriness, I tend to answer questions exactly the opposite of what is probably expected. I like to call it "thinking out of the box," or being “original.” Others might just call me a smartass—all three metaphors are accurate.

Looking deeper, the pageant writers of Caitlin's rather leading question probably weren’t looking for the obvious answer that would probably be something like, “It apparently shows that Americans didn’t study their geography in grammar school.” What they were REALLY looking for was some kind of social commentary—like they do for every beauty pageant. Surprise, surprise!

If it had been smart-aleck me, I would have said, “Well, it seems to show what I’ve suspected for years—that a lot of Americans aren't smart enough to find their OWN butt with BOTH hands!”

All right, that’s too earthy for a Teen USA pageant, but if you could read my pretend beauty contest thought cloud that’s exactly what it would say.

Getting back to Miss Upton—she’s supposed to have graduated from high school not long ago with a 3.5 average. Given that, and her public speaking aside, she's probably a fairly intelligent girl. But, some will use her ramblingly incoherent answer to make a point, which might be that Americans are morons and our schools suck. Well, according to the study used in crafting Caitlin's question, apparently, many of us are! And, our schools do! Personally, I've known both for decades.

Continuing to look at the question itself makes me wonder a thing or two about the people running the Miss Teen USA pageant. Why in the world would they want to embarrass their own nation by using a question that disparages us? Who are these people? It seems more and more lately that certain persons in positions able to do so LOVE to take cheap shots at their own. I don't get it.

I’ve watched a couple of “post pathetic answer” interviews with the beautiful blond, like on the Today Show, and honestly, in those venues she STILL came off as being a cross between a ditzy valley girl and a southern “Dukes of Hazard” babe. I wonder what courses she took in high school that she was able to pull off those straight A's? Oops, there I go again. It’s just hard not to bash her—she makes it too darn easy, especially when she says something.

Enough already. Why spend so much time talking about and obsessing over an inarticulate 18-year-old pageant winner wannabe who came off sounding like a complete idiot on national TV? Good question. Primarily, because she put herself out there and then MADE the very point that her over-simple pageant question was begging to make in the first place. To paraphrase, “Why are so many Americans so ignorant?”

Her response was perfectly ironic—it was the pot answering why the kettle is SOOO darned black, and with southern valley girl inflection.

So this whole silly affair has nothing at all to do with our education system. It’s about Americans finding someone really beautiful; certainly tons better looking than they are, but coming across as a complete imbecile.

Since uttering her blooper from hell, well over a million people have accessed it on the Internet. Why would they do that? It’s obvious—because now 60,542,005 Americans (1/5th of us) who can’t find the United States on a map, suddenly have someone who makes THEM look smart.

Poor Lauren Caitlin. But she DOES have her uses.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The REAL Boys of Summer

The 2007 Little League World Series just finished up this weekend at South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I watched as many of the games as ESPN would show over here.

I won’t make it a secret—I rooted—and did so strongly—for the eventual American round-robin winner from Warner Robins, Georgia in their quest to vanquish the little leaguers from Japan, who were the winners of their own tournament against the rest of the little league-playing world. Basically, the way the series tournament works, it’s the USA against the world.

For baseball, it’s more of a true “world” series than the supposed world series that Major League Baseball claims to have. But truthfully, at this point, when it comes to major league baseball and its spoiled players and blundering owners, I have nothing but contempt. In fact, the Detroit Tigers, my “old team,” and the New York Yankees, the team I used to “love to hate,” are playing each other this very second on ESPN, and I could NOT care less.

There are more than a few reasons I developed this total disdain for MLB, and for that matter, for pretty much ALL professional sports. It started in 1990 when “my Tigers” decided not to wear an armband for “the troops” during the 1st Gulf War, unlike the rest of the major league teams, which did. The Tigers were the ONLY team that didn't. Lou Whittaker wouldn’t wear it, so the rest of the team deferred to him.

I was one of the “those troops” the Tigers decided NOT to support, so, I decided in turn to end my own 30 odd years of support for them. When they lost their shot at a world championship last year I felt smug satisfaction. My brother tells me I should get over it, but I guess the old phrase "Hell has no fury like a woman scorned" applies to me as well, especially when it comes to being scorned by my erstwhile favorite team.

The more money these nimrods have made over the years the bigger jerks they’ve become, and that goes for the jerks playing in the NBA, in the NFL and even in the NHL. The more millions they’ve made, the more they’ve wanted, and the more they lost sight of what’s important—namely, the game itself, and the fans of the games.

Remember the baseball strike in 1994 and 1995? Well, I do, and I’ve NEVER forgotten it. When they, the players and owners, put their already bloated paychecks and revenues ahead of the game and the fans, I put THEM out of my mind. Screw ‘em. Hell, they didn’t even play a world series that year. The jerks!

In spite of myself, in 1998, with great excitement I watched Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa duel it out over who would end up breaking Roger Maris’ single season homerun record. I was even in the St. Louis stands that September when McGwire hit a frozen rope over the left field fence for number 63.

Then, I found out that both McGwire and Sosa, and MOST of the rest of MLB, took and probably are STILL taking steroidal type strength enhancement drugs—and to think I actually believed them when they all used to claim that their huge muscle-bound bodies were the simple result of protein supplements and weightlifting. Was I an Idiot or what? Don’t answer that…

Speaking of steroids, it’s an open secret that Barry Bonds has taken them for years as well. In case you haven’t heard, he just surpassed Hank Aaron’s career homerun record. As far as I’m concerned I now feel betrayed by ALL of these charlatans. NONE of the records of the last 25 years should count—they should be discounted—including Bond’s, McGwire’s and Sosa’s.

Actually, Bonds has already beaten McGwire’s, so McGwire doesn’t even matter anymore. Just the same, strike them ALL from the books. No wait; I don’t CARE what they do, because I don’t watch ANY of them—ANY more—ANY way!

My pent up disgust for all things MLB came on unexpectedly yet again and boiled over as I watched and listened yesterday to one of the little league world series TV announcers--I'm pretty sure it was Dusty Baker. He was one of three announcers of the semi-final game between Georgia and Texas. I erupted angrily when he made an asinine comment that really brought home just why I despise the professional level these days. Baker is a retired major league outfielder and manager and he made his ridiculous remark after a Texas little league player hit a "dinger" against the Georgia team.

As the hitter began his circuit of the bases, the first baseman of the opposing team congratulated him, as did most of the rest of the Georgia infielders as the hitter passed them--they all touched hands with the passing hitter as a sign of sportsmanship — the kind of sportsmanship that ideally SHOULD, but DOESN’T exist in the majors. I believe it was Brent Musburger who remarked glowingly about that small exchange of esteem between the young players, while instead, the cynical Baker reproached, “…I’m not sure I like that. It’s a little too much to show that kind of respect for the other team.

How outrageous was that! At the moment he said it, all the loathing I’ve developed for the major league game over the years came spilling out of me in a small storm of rage. His outrageous comment did nothing but bolster exactly why I DON’T care about HIS game. I’d rather watch T‑ball between 8 year olds than ANY MLB game.

Here’s another bit of mean spirited MLB idiocy for you. When the major leaguers complete a game the winning team gets in a line and congratulates EACH OTHER while the losing team stalks off the field, seemingly in a pique of childish displeasure. At least in the NFL you’ll see the opposing players walk off the field together, and usually they will be talking to each other like adults and even shaking hands.

What’s wrong with that small manifestation of open friendliness and respect between opponents? I enjoy observing these days even a trace of graciousness between players, mostly because its so rare anymore. Coach Baker be damned, there’s nothing wrong with two teams shaking each other’s hands after a game and telling their competitors they played a good game, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, showing it to the crowd as a shining example to the young and impressionable.

And there’s certainly NOTHING wrong with opposing players remarking “good hit,” or “nice catch.” It’s still done in professional golf, with its omnipresent “nice shot,” and “good putt.” That’s why golf is the ONLY pro sport I still follow, BECAUSE of its continued stress on good sportsmanship and courteous play.

For me, that miniscule level of regard between players is a sign of hope that even a small speck of civility STILL exists in our ever increasingly uncivil society.

Heck, if you want to see acted out barbarism and savagery, watch professional wrestling, another so-called professional sport, which is really nothing but a joke on ourselves, since it seems to be a telling indicator of what many of us truly think are admirable American male traits--big, loud-mouthed, angry, steroidally-muscled maniacs. Oh wait, was I talking about WWE-styled wrestlers OR MLB baseball players? Anymore, what's the difference?

Speaking of telltale examples of brutishness in our society, every time I see a brawl on an NBA basketball court, or on an NHL hockey rink, or on an MLB baseball infield, I feel as if there is no hope for any of us. It tells me that people can’t even play a simple game without trying to ram each other’s teeth down throats.

And WHO sees that insane violent out-of-control garbage? Why, little leaguers of course, the boys and girls who follow every steroidal move that those crazed big leaguers make.

It’s been popular in the past couple of decades for professional players of all the sports to claim that they don’t consider themselves to be roll models. Well guess what? They are absolutely right. The REAL role models are those little leaguers I watched over the past week. I watched them play their hearts out for no money, and I saw them congratulate and respect each other without a trace of rancor for their rivals. Now THOSE are the REAL boys of summer!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Part 6 of "Broken and in Pieces, the Story of Mike"

More than a month has passed since my buddy’s lower leg was shattered in an “accident.” For him, it’s been sheer hell. He’s normally a very active fellow; in fact he’s hyperactive, so this forced inactivity is driving him nuts.

(To see how this mess started, here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

His orthopedist has been a godsend. By chance, we had found the good doctor just a few weeks before the mishap in our continuous search for local physicians wily enough to help us out as we assist veterans looking for decent medical consultations.

Most of the doctors hereabouts don’t write well, at least not in English, so finding this guy was great. The fact that he writes brilliantly AND he’s a brilliant orthopedic surgeon is pure bonus.

For my friend and his shattered leg the first three weeks or so was all hospital time. He had to wait for the battered tissue to reduce swelling enough for the first operation, which was devoted to pushing and pulling all the bone splinters and fragments back into the semblance of what was once a straight and intact tibia.

Two surgeons spent 5 hours getting that done using a heavy stainless steel cage called a fixator and a whole lot of X-rays to make sure the pins were going in correctly. I hear that the latest fixators are made of lightweight materials, but not so over here. Currently, my friend has about 25 pounds of metal dragging down his right leg. Or at least it drags on it when he tries to get up, which is not very often, just when he goes to the head or takes a few minutes to check his email on his PC.

He’s had to return to the hospital twice now, in fact, he’s there now, this last time because of a serious infection. The way I see it, around here, all infections are serious. In this tropical climate with the environment so laden with bacteria, those lurking nasties await the smallest chink in our bodily defenses to attack us.

In my friend’s case, he has more than a half-dozen metal pins pushed through the flesh of his leg into the bone, all designed to “fixate” the lower leg to allow proper alignment during the healing process.

Every couple of days, using a brush and a solution of hydrogen peroxide, the doctor scrubs away the clotted material from around the pins penetrating his leg. I guess it’s a form of débridement. The holes have to be kept open until its time to remove them. As far as my friend is concerned, that day can NOT come too soon. He tells me he’s been dreaming of the day a normal cast will replace the current cage-like monstrosity.

Last week, a few days before he reentered the hospital for his current round of IV administered antibiotics, I was deeply concerned because his leg was throbbing from the inside in an area that had not hurt all that much before. I also noticed his foot seemed a bit discolored and extra swollen. Right away, I knew it was probably the onset of a serious infection. The doctor thought so too, and a laboratory analysis proved us right.

I don’t know how he doesn’t have infections ALL the time considering he’s got those pins providing an out-and-out super hi-way right into the depths of his leg.

Infections scare me because they remind me of Mike, a fellow American veteran whom I once “assisted” with VA claims advice at least once or twice a week. To get my broke-legged buddy to listen carefully to his doctor’s instructions to get into a hospital for another round of heavy-duty antibiotics, and better yet, to do so IMMEDIATELY, I told him the story of Mike.

Up until his death about two years ago Mike was a fixture on Fields Avenue, which should be called “Party Avenue.” Usually from the early afternoon on you could catch him tooling about in his battery powered wheelchair scooter, and almost always he was skunk drunk by 2 p.m.

Once he had his daily buzz going he’d find a spot to park along the street and just sit there like an inebriated Buddha in the sun. He’d talk, mostly in an incoherent mumble, to anyone and everyone he happened to know or thought he knew.

Indeed, he looked like a suntanned Buddha-bum with his completely shaven baldhead and round, deeply browned tummy poking out prominently from his wide-open unbuttoned cotton shirt.

Mike didn’t sit on his chair so much as he perched up there, mostly because he had no legs, since not even the stumps of them were left. The good thing about Mike was it didn’t take much drinking to get him drunk since he was missing most of the bulk of his body.

When Mike first came to see me for help with his VA and Social Security claims I had assumed that he’d lost his legs to diabetes or to some grievous war wound, but in time I learned that his leglessness had not happened due to disease at all.

Mike had only nominal service with the navy back in the late 50s between wars, so he didn’t qualify for any veterans benefits. His only income was a small amount from social security. If not for the help he received with filling out applications from the veterans groups here in town he probably would not have received even that. In fact, that powered scooter of his was a donation from those same groups.

He had come to the Philippines for the same reasons many have come here over the years—for the low cost of living and the wonderful women. In the end, the Philippines killed him; or more like it, he offed himself, using the Philippines as the means.

The beginnings of his woes started off ordinary enough—one day he was a passenger in a trike when another vehicle struck it. Mike’s legs were injured; I’m not sure how badly, maybe some broken bones and lacerations. If he’d been anywhere back home it would have been no big deal. He would have been taken to an emergency room where they would have patched him up, indigent or not, but that’s not what happens here.

Here, if you get hurt and you can’t pay for antibiotics, or surgery, well, you don’t get them. Mike lay with in his bloody bandages in a bed in a public hospital in a large room with a bunch of other people who could not afford quality care, and his legs slowly rotted off his body. Gangrene set in and he lost them.

Luckily he didn’t die, although it’s a miracle he didn’t. I’m not sure, but I think some local Americans finally learned of his situation and chipped in to help him survive the amputations. Once out of the hospital he lived under some cardboard in someone’s carport for months, when once again, some of his fellow expats stepped in and got him some help from social security. After that, he could afford to pay a small rent and still had money enough for utilities, and more importantly to him, enough to keep him drunk for most of the day.

When I met him he was already dying. His heart was barely pumping enough blood to keep him alive and his internals were already so damaged from the drinking that it was just a matter of time before he croaked. He had a number of serious conditions that he should have been taking at least a half-dozen medications to control, but he spent all of his small income on his drug of choice—his booze.

The local embassy warden tried to convince him to let the United States fly him home to some kind of sanatorium in the States, but Mike knew he’d never be able to have his “fun” there and refused to go. In time, I learned that he had finally died.

So, okay, it wasn’t JUST infections that ended Mike’s life, but if left unchecked, those microscopic flesh-destroying bacterium WILL do a number on you. The good thing is once I told my little yarn about Mike to my friend it seemed to get him off the pot and he was back in the hospital the next morning.

Mission accomplished…

Friday, August 24, 2007

Me, My Mom and Nixon

It was only a few weeks before the presidential election of 1972. My mom drove us up Davenport Street on the western side of Saginaw, Michigan. I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember why the two of us would have been in that neck of the woods at that particular time and place, but for the life of me I cannot remember.

Nevertheless, we heard on the car radio that President Nixon would be making a quick campaign stop at the Tri-city airport. We were only a few minutes from there so we convinced ourselves that it would be a great idea to go and get a glimpse of a real live president. So, on a whim, off we went.

We parked in a large grassy field already half filled with cars. There was no longer any room left in the actual airport parking lot; or, perhaps the airport authorities decided it would be better to have “the presidential rubber neckers” park away from the main building.

We joined a straggling line of other pedestrians like ourselves, most of whom just wanted to see a president. Walking toward the terminal we saw signs directing us around the side of the building. We entered a gate and passed through a chain link fence. A man stood there and directed us towards a long shorter fence separating the airport parking apron from the terminal facilities, and that was where we were supposed to wait for the impending “presidential whistle stop.”

We got there a little over an hour before President Nixon was due to land in Air Force One. At first, it was all quite peaceable. People spoke to each other quietly about the nippy weather or craned their heads around searching the sky for any sign of the president’s plane. Not much was being said concerning politics; most of us either liked the president or didn’t dislike him. Well, that’s how it was at first anyway.

It was there and then for the very first time in my life that I saw the word “Watergate.” Towards the back of the quickly gathering crowd I saw a small group of scruffy “hippy looking” characters wearing washed out field jackets and faded bell-bottoms. They carried crudely written signs on sticks and in magic marker they had written things like, “What about Watergate?” and “Tell us the truth about Watergate.”

I asked my mom what that Watergate stuff was all about, but she had no idea either. It’s funny, by the following summer we were going to be virtually inundated with TV coverage about the Watergate break-ins. I’ve always wondered how those guys found out about it so much earlier than the rest of us?

A half hour before the scheduled presidential arrival things began to get alarming. I was 15, my mom was 38, and both of us were pretty small. The crowd had grown exponentially during the minutes we’d already been there and as people continued to pack in around us it was starting to become scary. We were shorties in a dense sea of giants.

The waist high chain link fence to our front and the brick wall of the terminal building behind us prevented any chance of retreat. Even if we wanted to change our mind and leave the throng, the sardine-packed crowd prevented any possibility of that.

At its worst, just as we saw Air Force One circling overhead, I became extremely anxious because of the tightness of the pressing bodies. I had never experienced anything like it. I felt like I could actually pick up my feet and not fall to the ground.

I looked over to my mother and searched her face. She looked tense and concerned, and occasionally she made protesting remarks to somebody pressing perhaps where they shouldn’t, but I could see for the most part she was merely feeling apprehension for me as I was for her. I just wanted to protect her like any son would, but I realized there was nothing I could do.

Anyway, my feet ached, so to rest them I experimented by just picking them up. The continuous push of the bodies held me snugly up in the air. So it was true—I actually COULD pick them up. Yes, it was that jam-packed.

At last, Nixon’s blue and white Boeing 707 taxied to a stop and for some reason the pressure of the people around us decreased a little. What a relief that was.

The big beautiful bird’s engines wound down and shortly thereafter the unmistakable face of Richard Nixon appeared at the top of the steps. It was exciting, but for me, some of the grandeur of the moment was reduced because of the hours-long wait, the cold, the crowd, and my tired feet.

After he came down the steps we couldn’t see the president again for quite some time. Try as we might, the taller people blocked any view. He passed quite near shaking hands with the hordes of people to our front where they were jammed up against the short fence, but getting a good clear view of him was not to be. I got tired of trying to catch a glimpse and just gave up.

But then my mom cried out excitedly, “Oh! There he is!”

And there he was, only 10 feet or so away. He must have been wearing makeup because his pallor was a rich dark brown. No one else around him had a complexion anywhere near his “Hollywood shade” of tan and it made him stand out from everyone around him. I remember seeing him in profile and that sloping Bob Hope-like nose of his was instantly recognizable.

I saw him fairly up close like that for perhaps a full 2 or 3 seconds and that was it, other than from afar once more as he made his way back to the plane standing up in a convertible. He continually waved at the screaming crowd. He almost seemed like caricature of himself with that fake tan, and the big smiling teeth. He was definitely a politician, and he proved it that November when he blew McGovern out of the water in a landslide win.

And speaking of the election, it was all but impossible for Nixon to lose it since the democrats put a near imbecile up against him. And after all, Nixon was the man who got us out of Vietnam with honor and the same man who, with Kissinger’s help, convinced China to start playing ping-pong with us.

What a shame that he allowed some overzealous idiots pull the totally unnecessary break-in at the Watergate Hotel. That foolish venture caused the ignominious end of what would have been a magnificent presidency.

Even more importantly, South Vietnam would not have been allowed to go down in flames to the bloodthirsty communists. The democrats in congress used their newfound post-Watergate power to end all aid to Vietnam and the rest is inglorious history. I blame Ted Kennedy and crew for that bit of national disgrace, but Nixon’s Watergate fall was the domino that set it all in motion, and for that, I have to blame Nixon.

We didn’t wait for his plane to take off before heading back with great relief to the car. If we’d known about three hours earlier what we knew then, there’s no way we ever would have made the spontaneous decision to go see the president.

Still, I’m glad we did.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bicycle Memories Part 2, “Going for a Spin”

In my last bicycle memories post I mentioned my old bike “Blacky." I had bought it at Sears early in 1971. It was a 3-speed with 26-inch wheels. I installed a speedometer/odometer, a light, and saddle baskets.

I needed those heavy-duty baskets to carry my newspapers every afternoon on weekdays and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I could pack a good 80+ pounds of papers at a time in those two baskets with a few across the middle for good measure. Doing that, it would only take me three back-and-forth trips to deliver all my papers. Fridays was my favorite; I could make the whole round trip without coming back even once.

I did that job continuously from the summer of 1971 all the way through the spring of 1975. I started when I was just about 14 years old and continued until a couple months before going into the marines. There was never a day off, never a vacation. Even if I was sick or hurt, I still delivered my papers. I don’t know how I managed that. It helped that I always had partners. First, there was my best friend, Kevin Courtney, followed by my younger brother, Kevin. How about that? —Two Kevin’s as partners.

Normally, I left Blacky at my grandmother’s house in town where The Saginaw News van dropped my papers off everyday. I’d take the bus to school in the morning, walk the ¾ of a mile to my grandma’s place, and after delivering papers on Blacky I’d walk the 1.5 miles cross-country back home. In the dead of winter, or in sweltering summer that meant hiking through muddy or frozen fields and woods in the evening darkness, many times in miserable cold or sweat soaking heat while being pelted with snow or drenched with rain. It might sound like I'm complaining, but I LOVED that part of my day the most.

I had to dress appropriately for that daily regimen, so “the cool people” at school considered me deplorably unfashionable with my grimy boots, K-Mart jeans and flannel shirt—not that I gave a hoot what they thought.

During the summers and on Saturday mornings during school I’d go ahead and ride the bicycle home. It was a nice break from the long trudge across the numerous farm ditches and furrowed fields. But this story is supposed to be about a bicycle memory—and so, here it is.

One especially frigid Saturday morning I was happy to finish my route without too much frostbite to toes and fingers, and struck out on Blacky up Main Street toward I-75 where we lived about ½ mile off the hi-way, south, down Beyer Road.

I rode that bicycle in virtually every extreme—through blizzards and driving rain, AND on that day, over slippery ice.

Two days before that one, a snowstorm had put down a fair amount of the white stuff, over 6 inches. That comparatively measly amount had little affect on me; I got good at riding on packed snow, or any kind of snow, without falling.

Of course I took a few spills before I figured out how to do that. When crossing slick ice I made sure that I kept front and rear tires lined up, no turning, no speeding up, and no application of breaks. Steady and ready was the way to go. By ready, I’m talking about my two natural training wheels—my feet—because along with my legs they made great steadying struts when I felt the bike starting to “lose it.”

It was still fairly early, not even 7 a.m. The sun was low and not yet at full bright. It was cold, very cold, somewhere in the mid-teens.

By keeping to the shoulder where the snow was untrammeled by car tires, and therefore not so treacherous, I was able to pedal along at a pretty good clip, between 15 and 20 mph. I kept my head low and hunched down so my nose was out of the blast of arctic air. Doing my best to breathe the relatively warm exhaled air still lingering inside the top of my parka, I tried never to take in air directly through my nostrils. I learned to breathe slowly through my mouth, which warmed the air a little. Try breathing frigid winter air directly into your lungs and soon you'll learn NOT to do it. Experience is definitely the best teacher when it comes to this kind of stuff.

On that morning I could see that wherever the traffic had packed smooth the snow that it had turned in some places into black ice, the most dangerous kind on which to drive. After the snowfall the temperature had risen enough to slightly melt the packed snow, but once night had fallen so had the temperature. If you’ve lived in cold climes then you know that that means black ice.

I had managed to avoid all the patches of black ice and I was making good time on old Blacky. I was so cold though, that all I could think about was getting my frozen butt back home under a warm quilt. Thoughts of hot chocolate drove my legs to pedal even faster.

Back then; the town of Birch Run had not yet sold its soul to the outlet malls. The place where all those hundreds of stores are now, at that time it was just a quiet road skirting around the now nonexistent Buster Brown Memorial Park and the Cardinal Inn Motel. I made it all the way to the I-75 junction where Beyer Road intersected Main Street just past the Sunoco Station. I was extremely careful in that area because of the traffic, but at that time of the morning it was still pretty quiet. Soon, I made the right turn onto Beyer and felt good knowing that I was less than 10 minutes from hearth and home.

I started down the fairly steep sweeping curve off the side of the I-75 overpass hill and really cranked on the pedals. I had Blacky easily going over 30 mph when I realized half way down the sloping road that I had perhaps made a deadly mistake.

Black ICE!

A whole stretch of it was now under my spinning tires and there was nothing I could do about it. I knew I was probably going to go down in a flying scraping heap, but hoping against hope I put both booted feet down to give myself four-points of touch on the slick iciness. I had no idea what was next, but I was sure it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

My dragging feet had virtually no effect on my speed; I continued to fly over the frictionless surface. Then, incredibly, to my horror, my front tire was pointing left and continued to move leftward until I was sideways to the direction of my uncontrollable slide. My heart pounded crazily as I realized that I was in a slow counterclockwise spin going over 30 mph downhill on a bicycle over glare ice.

Could it get any worse? YES it COULD!

I had the presence of mind to look forward, down the road, one more time before losing sight of it from my spin. Aghast, I saw that at the bottom of the hill the black ice ended and dry pavement began. I knew that once I hit that iceless pebbly asphalt that I was going to go down in a painful tumbling pile of metal and parka.

The spin continued and I lost sight of the place where I might soon be horribly injured. Impossibly, I was now sliding directly backward. I was amazed to see that my front tire was no longer turning. Isn't it funny the things you notice?

‘How is this possible?’ I thought.

I didn’t understand why I hadn’t already capsized. My velocity was amazing; it felt eerie to be going that fast while so completely out of control. The spin put me sideways again--I had just completed 270 degrees.

At that point I saw that I was imminently about to fall because the pavement was now only a few feet away and coming on fast. I accepted my fate, knowing that I'd be lucky not to break something, like one or more of my precious bones.

Then, just as I hit the ice-free pavement, I completed the last of the 360 degrees of my inconceivable rotation. I merely picked up my dragging feet, regained the pedals and continued on as if what just happened had NEVER happened. In fact, that’s exactly what I thought.

‘No WAY, did THAT just happen!’

I completed the trip home still astounded at what I had just done. To this day the whole episode seems like a dream, but it happened sure enough.

Do I believe in guardian angels? Well, on that day, for those 5 or 6 seconds, I SURE did then!

Whenever I hear someone say "let’s go out for a spin," I always think of the time I actually did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Part 2 of "QA, A Touchy Feely Experience"

A clear demarcation exists between the tasks I did in QA before and those after the 7 months I spent away in the 1st Gulf War. My first year as an inspector had been devoted to assessing standards and keeping the avionics technicians honest with plenty of inspections. (read part 1 for more on those experiences.) I had been the bogeyman, the maintenance cop, the guy to watch out for.

Once the war ended however, and I returned to my old home in the Quality Assurance shop, I was shocked at how much had changed. As far as many of the other inspectors were concerned—me included—a terrible wind had roared through Little Rock AFB and had swept away much of what HAD previously made maintenance so effective there.

Two transformations had taken place, both of which had a huge impact on me as a QA inspector.

First, there was no longer a wing DCM. The Deputy Commander for Maintenance, usually a full bird colonel, and usually a pilot but sometimes not, was the “maintenance king.” He “owned” all the planes in the wing and was responsible for their upkeep. We in QA were his “people,” his eyes and ears, and kept him informed on all the doings “out there,” on the flightline and in the shops.

The DCM “went away” under a new-fangled organizational concept called decentralized maintenance. Under that new “foolish” brainchild the planes were distributed out to 4 new Aircraft Generation Squadrons. Each squadron commander of those AGS’s then became responsible for HIS planes. So, there was no more DCM to control ALL the 80 or so C‑130s, and believe me, maintenance suffered horribly because of it--and I'll tell you why I think so as this continues.

The second sweeping change that "enveloped" the entire Air Force during my absence had an even bigger impact on us QA guys than even the onset of decentralization. It was called TQM, which stands for Total Quality Management.

When TQM was first explained to me I recoiled in horror that anyone would be silly enough to try to implement such an idiotic thing for aircraft maintainers. The basic concept of TQM, at least as far as it was interpreted for use on Air Force flightlines, was that quality inspectors were no longer required, and THAT was all I had to hear to know that some moron had finally become the boss of the United States Air Force!

The rationale for the demise of inspections (and inspectors) was simple—under the principles of “total quality,” ALL members of the wing were going to have a new “quality oriented” mindset—with proper training and indoctrination of course—and would no longer require any oversight, because magically it seems, they would take responsibility for always doing the right thing, for doing it absolutely correct and by the book.

So, in 1990 and 1991, during a phase-in time of just over 6 months, the Air Force had made two very major cultural and organizational changes, and from what I could see as an inspector, doing so was a huge error on several levels.

For one thing, a major misjudgment was that "they" hurriedly put into effect TWO incredibly earthshaking institutional revolutions at THE SAME TIME! Now, I understand that there are times when its best to just actuate quickly instead of gradually, but this was not one of those times. It was simply too much too fast.

In one crucial way the quick changes destroyed the very fabric of what makes a unit good at what it does--the level of experience available to it. By decentralizing, virtually overnight, they practically wiped out almost every bit of corporate knowledge among the specialist trades. Where there HAD been a shop all filled with people with THE SAME specialty credentials, now, these troops (and their experience and varying backgrounds) was spread out between four different squadrons.

The idea behind this "misguided" action was that these specialists were “under-utilized” and “spoiled” and so could now be “cross-utilized” for OTHER “more important” "general" tasks, such as towing, refueling, tire changing, and panel pulling. Those had all been jobs strictly done by APGs, or the general mechanics, most of which had the view that ALL specialists were lazy, while all the “real work” was done by the APGs. (By now you might be picking up on the undercurrent of resentment that many APGs had for specialists, especially for avionics specialists!)

Unfortunately, the APGs under the newly decentralized schema were now running the maintenance show and “the abuse,” I mean the "cross-utilization" of the specialists began in earnest. Specialist training suffered horribly; usually, there was no one supervising the young apprentices anymore, at least not anyone with much experience on their systems. Before, there has been a specialist shift leader, a specialist shop chief, and a branch chief, all of whom took particular care to make sure THEIR new people were trained, and trained well. Compared to that, the new system was nothing less than a training fiasco.

Before, when the specialists were centralized in shops, there were always on-call a large population of experienced men and women from which to call upon for the tougher system malfunctions. Suddenly, these people were scattered to the wind and were no longer available for advice, guidance and training.

Now, instead of a 3-level having the advantage of being exposed in training to several 5 and 7-levels, once assigned to an AGS they usually trained under a single 5-level who had also been trained similarly. After a year of that nonsense the damage was done. What the heck were "they" thinking!

And speaking of training, previous to the formation of AGS’s, there had been almost 80 aircraft upon which to train at LRAFB. With so many airplanes it had been relatively easy for a supervisor to find the infrequent jobs for apprentice technicians to train and learn on. Suddenly, not only were there fewer experienced trainers, now there were less than 20 aircraft to use for that training. The result is that a new troop might NEVER get a chance to see and learn many of the infrequently seen tasks and malfunctions. Now THAT wasn't very smart, was it?

All together, I can’t imagine anyone coming up with a more efficient way to destroy the abilities of what had been a very fine set of avionics experience. I can't speak for all the other specialists, like the electricians, and the hydraulic and engine troops, but for me, it was a sad thing to see, especially considering how amazing the specialists had just performed during the 1990-91 war.

This new situation—the dispersing of planes and specialists—really began to limit the abilities of the newly qualified troops. It sickened me to watch it because once the core set of veteran technicians began to either leave or get promoted off the flightline, their lost expertise was virtually impossible to regenerate.

Luckily for me, and luckily for the 314th TAW, the decision was made NOT to disband the QA shop and therefore my life in “quality” continued, albeit in a metamorphosed state. As it turned out, it was one of the best periods of my life in the Air Force. I’ll get into exactly why in part 3 of QA, A Touch Feely Experience.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Part 1 of Bicycle Memories "My Flying Father"

Running hasn’t been the only way I kept in shape over the years. Since before high school, the bicycle was a common mode of transport for me, and of course I also reaped the secondary benefits of extra aerobic fitness.

I bought my first "very own" 3-speed from Sears not long after I started my new life as a post-military brat. I say very own because I paid for it out of my allowance savings. It was the first "major purchase" of my life. I needed it after having just gotten my first job ever delivering The Saginaw News house-to-house.

It was less than a year since my dad had retired to his home state of Michigan and we were still living with my grandma Haley and Uncle Bill in Birch Run while a contractor built my parents' "dream house." It was during my 13th summer, the June-July-August period just before I started the 9th grade.

I nicknamed that bicycle “Blacky.” I’ll give you one guess what color it was.

I can’t remember for sure if I had my own bicycle before that one, but I’m pretty sure my parents had bought me one that I quickly outgrew. I’m dimly aware of having a little red boy’s bike when we lived in Turkey for the second time from the autumn of 1969 until late 1970. In fact, now that I think of it, I’m sure I did, because even as I write this that little red bicycle is prompting memories of another red bicycle—my father’s.

During that second tour at Karamursel Air Station, my dad bought a used direct drive bicycle, the kind with no gear shifting. The chain simply went from the pedal hub sprocket to the rear wheel sprocket. To stop while riding it, the rider stood on the pedals in the reverse direction exactly like BMX bikes still work today. When it was new that bike had been painted red, but when my dad brought it home you couldn’t tell where the rust started and the paint ended.

He took that clunker apart, sanded off all the rust, fixed its mechanical problems, and painted it a bright candy apple crimson. He had that thing in pretty good shape too—it looked brand new when he was done. That’s my dad—always has to have a “project” going, and fixing up that crappy bike and making it new was just one in a countless series of his undertakings over the decades.

One early afternoon, he didn’t see me, but I saw him on that shiny red bike of his. He was coming home during a break from where he worked in the “elephant cage,” which was a gigantic peculiar looking Cold War eavesdropping antenna that the American Air Force used to “listen in on” the Soviets.

I can see him now as he was then, wearing starched and creased olive drab fatigues with sharply contrasting bright white and blue master sergeant stripes on his short sleeves; a day-glo orange squadron cap is pushed down low over his eyes to keep it from blowing off as he rides.

I watched him from my vantage point on one of the deserted little league fields. I was hanging out in the 1st base dugout behind a chain link fence. It felt like I was spying on him, since he didn’t notice me watching him. It seems strange to think about, but at 42 he was eight years younger than I am now.

Riding that bike back and forth to work everyday must have gotten him into pretty good shape because he was really zooming along. I thought about calling out to him as he passed by only about 20 yards away, but I was enjoying seeing him like that, tooling along down the long straight road from his radio maintenance shop. I knew he was heading back towards base housing where we lived for a quick lunch break and I didn’t want to hold him up from that.

I was 12 years old, so that was 38 years ago, but I can still envisage his legs pumping like pistons. His head low over the handlebars, he stood on the pedals straining for speed. As he approached I could hear him breathing strong and rhythmically, almost panting. Boy oh boy, was he ever flying!

I had been lying lazily on the scarred wooden dugout bench having just ridden there on that little red boy's bike I described at the beginning of this post. It was leaned up against the chain link just a few feet away from where I had been idly reposing; but then, excited to see him so unexpectedly, I stood up, pressing my nose against the links of the fence for a better view of my “flying father.” I remember feeling a surge of love for him and being so proud that he was my dad.

Good memories those…

If you get the time, come back later for more “bicycle memories” in some future posts…

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tiger’s Lucky 13

The last time I wrote about Tiger Woods' golf play in a “Major” was when he lost to Angel Cabrera in the 2007 U.S. Open a couple months back. I’m afraid I didn’t cut him a whole lot of slack after that loss, and I suppose I should have considering his baby daughter was about to make her entrance into the world.

In that post I also questioned Tiger’s continuing loyalty to his caddy, Steve Williams; I disparaged the robust New Zealander, perhaps unfairly, saying that his greens reading ability seemed to be wanting.

It’s funny how a win can suddenly change attitudes and outlooks. As far as I’m concerned, all is forgiven. Steve Williams, Tiger’s faultless Kiwi caddy, is the man; and Steve’s unbeatable boss man, El Tigre, is EL SEÑOR!

Am I a fair weather fan or what!

How wonderful is it to be retired and not have to worry about staying up for three or four straight days from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. to watch Tiger play live in all the annual major championships? Well, its VERY wonderful! I do it four times a year, once for each of the four majors; but I almost didn’t continue to stay up all night after Tiger’s ho-hum score of 71 on Thursday. I hung in there though, and after Tiger’s 63 on Friday I wasn’t about to miss even a moment of the rest of this year’s so-called PGA of America.

He almost set a new record in that second round when he came oh so close to shooting the first 62 ever in a major. With Tiger, you EXPECT the man to break records every time he plays, and that record 62 was SO tantalizingly close! On the final putt the ball was half way into the cup when it lipped out instead, very nearly doing a 180. Still, his 63 ultimately provided him the cushion he needed to win the tournament two days later.

As I said, I had missed most of Thursday’s first 18, and after seeing that Tiger was 6 shots back and apparently nearly out of contention I almost blew off doing the rest of the 3 sleepless nights in a row thing. I decided to go ahead though, when I saw that “rip it & grip it” John Daly had the lead. I figured, ‘What the heck, might be interesting,’ and as it turns out, I stayed up instead to see El Tigre roar to the front of the pack in one fell swoop because of that magnificent 63.

Poor John Daly did his usual “thing” for the crowd, which is to “swing for the fences,” and quickly fell away on the leader board when he continued to hit “foul balls” instead of homeruns; but he did get plenty of “oohs and ahhhs” though, so all was not lost for the chunky blonde Arkansan.

Watching it on TV from here in the Philippines, the Tulsa Southern Hills golf course used for this year’s PGA didn’t look all that hard, but from the generally low scores, it must have been a real doozy. The fairways looked exceptionally narrow and virtually hemmed in by tall trees, while the greens looked similarly well-guarded by lots of sand and water; but the real killer were the roughs.

In the hot dry summer climate of Oklahoma, the grass of choice for most golf courses is the hardy Bermuda variety; but it’s wiry and tough, and can almost pull the club out of a golfer’s hands when trying to swing through it. Again and again I’d see shots barely roll out off the second fairway cut and literally disappear into the Bermuda rough; or just the opposite, the ball would come to a rest high on top of the thatch of thick tendrils so that a swung clubhead passed almost completely under it and cause an embarrassing whiff. That tricky rough was the real culprit for all the low scoring. They should have put signs up on the edges of each fairway: “All ye who enter, BEWARE!”

Watching him play to his 13th Major win I thought back on Tiger’s career. A few years after he first hit the professional circuit more than a decade ago, his incredible distance off the tee was the talk of the town and that unmatched ability to hit the long drive began to get under people's skins--the guy just wasn't human. Not so much anymore, but back then, off the tee, he could pop a ball easily 30 or 40 yards past most of his competition. Now, the other players all have learned to hit almost as long, so the "long ball" isn't quite the advantage it once was for "The Tig." But at the time, the chatter was that it wasn’t fair and that perhaps “something” should be done to “Tiger proof” the courses.

Simply lengthening the fairways wouldn’t work; that would just play into Tiger’s strong suit. Even though no one in the PGA has admitted it, I’m sure they started trying to “equalize” the play by “adjusting” course designs in ways to make accuracy as important, or more important, than distance. The problem is that virtually everything they’ve tried, whether making the greens more “slippery,” narrowing the fairways, or adding sand traps, water hazards, and trees, NOTHING has worked to stop Tiger’s domination.

The problem, if there really is one, is that Tiger’s game isn’t just about hitting the ball far, although that’s always been one of his talents. The man is accurate too. I’ve seen him on TV do demonstrations of that accuracy. He’d hit a tiny target with an iron from progressively further away, as far as 50 or more yards, something that seems almost impossible to the average player.

During one of his British Open wins, I first remember Tiger using his ability to use long irons with great precision to hit his famous “stinger.” A stinger shot is where he uses a two or three iron to strike the ball so that while traveling a long way, it never gets more than 10 feet off the ground. The winds were so strong during that tournament that any shot over 15 feet high was at the whim of the swirling gusts and could end up anywhere, usually at the bottom of a deep pot bunker. Because of his ability to hit that stinger, Tiger won that one running away; and you know it wasn’t an easy shot, or everyone else would have been doing it too.

The irony is that in trying to reel him back to the “mortal players,” what they throw at him, of course they throw at the other players as well. It never works—Tiger usually adjusts better than most anyone else out there, so it just doesn’t matter what they do. When he beats the course he usually wins the tournaments as well. The only way to bring Tiger Woods back to the field is to either make him play blindfolded or to just handicap him—make him start out with 5 or 6 strokes. I’m joking, but its true. Supposedly in jest, his fellow players, all exasperated, say this exact same thing all the time.

The “problem” with Woods is that he doesn’t really have a single strong suit; his entire game is solid. When one facet fails him, the rest of his shots are still available to carry him to victory. It’s no wonder then that he ALWAYS seems to be at or near the top of the leader board. The amazing thing is that he’s in contention EVERY time he plays. None of the other world’s top ten players can say that. In fact, no one is even half as consistent as Tiger Woods.

A few years back I made a remark to my brother that Woods must be some kind of natural phenomenon, as if God sprinkled Jack Nicklaus dust on him when he was born.

He disavowed me of that notion very quickly when he remarked, “Nah, no way. The guy is good because he’s practiced since he was 2 years old. He worked hard to get that way and you diminish his skills by saying it all just came naturally, as if he didn’t have to try.”

My brother is right. Tiger Woods is an athlete that has perfected every portion of himself that makes him successful at golf. His body is sculpted muscle and trained sinew designed in his workouts for golf and golf only. He has a complete handle on the mental side of the game, which is perhaps THE most important part. I’ve heard say that his Buddhism helps keep him unruffled and focused. His dad instilled a work ethic that drives him to hit thousands of practice shots in ALL conditions. He practices in the rain, cold, heat, and wind; because he knows he might just have to compete in those circumstances. Somehow, I just don’t think that other players like the overweight Darren Clark or the similarly paunchy and cigarette smoking Angel Cabrera takes their training as athlete-golfers nearly as seriously as Woods does.

The best way to play Tiger competitively is to NOT play WITH him, because if he can see you across the tee, or across the fairway or on the green, he WILL beat you. In fact, the best thing that could have happened to Angel Cabrera during this year’s US Open that he went on to win was that he was NOT paired with Tiger during that last round. If he had been, it’s almost a certainty that he would have gotten spanked. Tiger’s very presence seems to cause unforced shotmaking errors and mistakes in judgment in players attempting to tee off with him. It’s almost funny.

So what is it about Woods that causes other players to breakdown out on the course once they “earn” the dubious privilege of pairing with him? I chuckle every time I hear the brave words quoted from these luckless fellows during their pre-match interviews. They'll say things like, "he's beatable," "I'm just going to keep playing MY game," or "...its a thrill," or "I'm looking forward to it." Yeah right! They don't mean a word of any of it.

As soon as they start play these "big talkers" wilt like day-old cut lettuce. During this year’s PGA he did it to Tway on Friday, to Verplank on Saturday, and on Sunday to Ames.

He ALWAYS does it, and I love it that he does. He’s like history on legs. Who was it that broke Hank Aaron’s homerun record, Bonds was it? I forget, because that cheater doesn’t come close to the legacy being made by Tiger Woods.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater...

As soon as I heard about the “Baghdad Diarist” and then read of his “first hand” descriptions of “scandalous” troop actions in Iraq, I was skeptical.

Why? Because of my own experiences in today’s all-volunteer professional armed forces. I’ve only been retired for 5 years; I still know people who serve and I think things have not changed so much since I got out.

The “USA haters” that seem to predominate the media are infected with the mindset that people who serve in uniform MUST have something “wrong” with them; after all, they think, ‘Why would “these people” join up and continue in a military that pursues such an “evil and misguided policy?” ’

Speaking for myself and others like me, if I were serving in-theater and saw that our policies were truly immoral—I WOULD "quit" (not reenlist); or, desiring to continue my career, I’d find some other way. I’d probably blow the whistle to my congressman and senators; I’d tell everyone I knew about the wrongs I was seeing, and I would DEMAND that they get us the heck out.

But, isn't that what Beauchamp did? ...or was it?

I can tell you that that way of thinking is the mindset of most military folks, people who are extremely honorable. Thing is, that’s NOT what is happening. By and large, the troops serving in the war are not squawking about being a cog in some nefarious endeavor. In fact, statistically, most are reenlisting; and by all accounts the morale is not low.

The best way for the antiwar crowd to explain this phenomena is to discredit those directly involved in the war, and what better way to do that than by finding one of the troops “willing” to actually describe how truly awful the whole thing is. When they found Scott Beauchamp they must have thought they had hit the journalistic lotto; that they had found their next little John Kerry. They must have been so excited by the prospect that the concept of checking the veracity of the storyteller (and his story) must have flown right out the window. Kind of like when “Baghdad Pete” didn’t bother to prove that US forces had actually used nerve gas in Laos in 1970 before publishing it as fact. (To this day Peter Arnett STILL believes this fabrication).

Putting myself in Beauchamp's shoes, maybe I too would “make some stuff up” to make my whole outfit look bad. Perhaps I would do this if I was some low-ranking Sad Sack with a chip on my shoulder and an emotional screw loose, maybe with a beef against an “overbearing” sergeant or arrogant officer. Malcontents have been in the military since before the days of Alexander, but his aggrieved rank-and-file did not have internet access. In Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp's case, he found out exactly how easy it was to make some horrible stuff up so that the Bush-hating lose-the-war-at-all-costs-crowd would EAT it up. He told them what they wanted to hear and they were off to the races.

As it turns out, this private, although technically in-theater, is by no means near any of the battle zones of Iraq. His experiences can only describe truthfully what he’s seen in the safety of the rear areas of Kuwait, but that’s NOT what he claimed in his anecdotes. That the anti-war media latched onto the falsehoods written by this obviously peeved and probably troubled individual says a lot about their agenda of getting us out of Iraq no matter what it takes, even if it means publishing “made-up stuff.”

In a phrase, I find what Beauchamp did to be very “John Kerryesque.” Remember him? He did the same thing when he came back from Vietnam in the early 70s. He also appealed to an antiwar crowd by confabulating his former mates into war criminals, all in the interest of establishing a liberal political career. Just like Beauchamp, he did this by smearing his own comrades. In my book it makes both of these fellows similarly despicable, although I’d rate Kerry far higher on my “contempt scale.” Beauchamp is a lying “no body” turned into a “some body” by some defective “alleged” journalists.

Let me tell you something. THE most idealistic and professional military EVER is the American one. It is made up of THE most freethinking bunch of individuals that have ever served in ANY significant military force.

It is THE most educated group, military or not, of its size per capita ANYWHERE in the world. Not only that, it is the best trained, not only in what they do, but also in how to do it ethically. Every year, for the last ten or so years that I served, I took mandatory classes on such subjects as the Law of Armed Conflict, The US Military Code of Conduct, The Code of Ethics in Government, and Human Relations. The troops in the battle zones are continually bombarded with Rules of Engagement and how to properly conduct themselves in virtually every conceivable situation. Believe me, our people KNOW right from wrong; if not from what they learned at home BEFORE they enlist, then by what they are immersed in AFTER they are sworn in.

Today’s army is not the one that served in Vietnam, which was made up by and large of non-careerist draftees. Even so, those citizen soldiers mostly served with distinction, bravery and attention to duty; but you’d never think so if you watch the films about that war that have come from the skewed minds of the other batch of USA haters that run Hollywood. Both batches of America haters, the Hollywood and media ones, simply feed off each other’s regurgitated hatred. What isn’t accurate, in the interest of furthering their agenda, they’ll simply dramatize into existence. Their message: “See how bad WE are!”

Some of the things Beauchamp claims to have witnessed are really not all that terrible—lowdown for sure, but not criminal. Making fun of a disfigured woman, running down dogs with their vehicles, and wearing bones on their helmets are all undoubtedly screwed up things to do, but by no means do they rise above mere awful behavior. Even so, I have no doubt that any NCO or officer witnessing any of those things would immediately step in and correct them. Beauchamp himself should have turned in anyone doing such actions. By not doing so, under military code, he also was complicit.

This is not to say that some individuals do not do dreadful things. I’ve witnessed idiots in uniform do plenty of stupid things. Every time I saw it I stepped in and corrected it. It’s the beauty of the military system because every NCO and officer is REQUIRED to do it. I miss the days when I could go up to some young E-3 or O-1 in the base exchange, identify myself by my name and rank and remind them that they should watch their language in a public place. Try that in a Wal-Mart and you’ll more than likely receive a healthy dose of “F**k you!”

In fact, we are much better at institutional self-correction than most any other organization, including religious ones. I wonder how many priests, cardinals and bishops knew that one of their own was messing around with altar boys and did nothing about it? (Obviously a rhetorical question.) We know what happened at Abu Ghraib because a troop seeing wrong being done turned it in. The Army was already investigating when the press got wind of it. The same thing goes with the Marines and Soldiers who were recently tried and convicted of rape and murder. It wasn’t some reporter who exposed those crimes—it came from people within the service, and that’s exactly how it was designed to work.

Regardless of how the war ends, whether we leave with the terrorists in charge or with a valid Iraqi government in place, I am positive that for the most part our troops will have conducted themselves honorably. We will always have aberrant behavior from a few individuals, but the system is set up to put them right. The one thing we should never do is throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially THIS baby! Historically, there has NEVER been a more upright baby than this one.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Rainy Season "Dodong" Blues

It’s just past 9 p.m. Tropical Storm Dodong passed over us all last night, all day today, and has been dumping rain in big buckets since the afternoon. It’s coming down so hard right now that I can hardly hear the TV. Looking at it on the Internet on the Pagasa weather site I can see that we are now on the backside of the “eye.” Click on the photo to get a better view of the overlay.

Tropical Storms don’t have the violent winds that typhoons possess, but they certainly can unload a whole lot of precipitation. My first time in the tropics was Western Africa in 1977-1978 and I learned then about the difference between tropical rainstorms and what I was used to up in the northern climes.

The primary distinction between the weather nearer the equator and the northern climes, other than the obvious temperature difference, seems to be the sheer volume of precipitation in the tropics. During rainy season, what passes for a gully washer in the States is just a passing shower here, only here it can last for hours.

Based on the unbelievable quantity of falling rain in these parts, I can see why it would be so important for countries like this to manage the cutting of their forests, especially in the hills and mountains. Lasting for days at a time, this kind of rain will easily super saturate hillside soils that could then potentially collapse under its own waterlogged weight, something that does indeed happen here on occasion with dreadful results.

Last year, during a visit to the northern valley province of Cagayan I saw the indirect negative effects of how this rainy season rain can be extremely destructive when the harvesting of forests goes “unmanaged,” which is one way to put it. I spent several days in the little town of Gatarran on the Cagayan River and I was struck at its wideness. It seemed as wide as the Colorado or the Mississippi.

I spoke to a wonderful 87-year-old woman who had lived there her whole life; she told me that the river is now more than three times the width it was when she was a girl, and it gets wider in some spots by as much as 10 meters a year. The river is literally eating up the valley. She blamed the greedy timber harvesters, land developers, and shameless officials that let it happen. Every year, more houses and property fall into the river, forcing people to rebuild a little further away or to just move on to some other location. What a shame, and totally avoidable.

The rain is slacking off now. These storms are like that. From the satellite I can see that a mini-eye is passing over, but once it moves north with the rest of the storm towards Taiwan I know the hard stuff will continue.

I shouldn’t have gone out today, but the rain didn’t seem so bad at 12 noon when I buzzed away on my Chinese scooter wearing my waterproof camping suit. The rain had been falling steady and not crazy hard like it eventually did. By 6 p.m. when it was time to head home it had been a deluge for at least three hours and the streets could not hold the runoff.

I had been listening and watching it fall like that and feeling an intense dread the longer and harder it fell. The reason for my trepidation is the acute unreliability of my “ride.” My scooter is Chinese, an “American Voyager,” and basically it’s a piece of crap. It didn’t seem too bad when I bought it in February 2004, but its crappiness soon became apparent as it began to average downtime for repairs of at least once a month. For instance, I’ve had to change out my accelerator cable a dozen times, the first time only 5 months after buying it new, and that’s just the start of its shortcomings.

My advice: don’t buy Chinese motor transport of any kind for at least another 15 years; spend the extra money and go for Taiwanese or Japanese wheels. My next motorbike will be a Honda or a Yamaha.

The worst thing about my Chinese piece of crap scooter is that it hates rain, and that’s not good when you live in the Philippines. It doesn’t matter that I’ve replaced or rebuilt virtually every part of the darn thing, it still gives me fits in the rain, and with today’s extreme conditions it did me in once again.

I was half way home and thought hopefully that I might just sputter all the way back into my carport just over a mile away. That is until I chugged slowly off the north end of the Hensonville Bridge and into a foot deep rivulet. That’s where it stalled.

I had to totally wet my shoes and socks to push my POS* scooter to a higher and drier area somewhat out of the way of the splashing traffic. Then, with a prayer and a curse on my lips I pressed the starter button. I don’t know if it was my entreaty to the Lord or my curses at the bike, but it weakly turned over, and happily for me, continued to do so.

I hopped back on and throttled her up hoping to blow out any of the stray water that had killed it to begin with. The engine didn’t sound very convincing to me, it hiccupped and refused to roar back to full gallop, but I figured what the heck—Go for it!

I knew the back road to my subdivision was going to have the deepest water yet, so I determined to keep the throttle going with my right hand while working the brake when necessary with my left. My hope was that keeping the engine well gassed and revved would allow it to fight through the occasional “gulp” of water.

Sure enough, when I made the turn onto the dreaded road that was more river than road, it was worse than I had imagined. I was directly behind a jeepney chock full of miserable looking damp passengers and I watched some of them curiously watching me from their sardine-like positions. We were barely moving, but as long as I WAS moving then I was satisfied with the forward progress. I held my breath listening to the sick sound coming from the engine of the unwilling Chinese two-wheeled fiend under me.

The jeepney pulled over to drop someone off, and with a warning beep, I carefully passed it trying not to splash anyone. At last, a high place in the road and I relaxed a little. Soon, however, I found myself back in the floodwaters and directly behind a pair of trikes moving in tandem as slow as they could without being motionless.

Now, I had a problem. I could NOT go that slow and keep the engine lit. Several times it nearly died as I jockeyed the hell out of the throttle while jamming on the brake at the same time. So, I had no choice but to pass them, even though I did not want to do it. I knew when I eventually went around that I was going to drench them with my wake water, but good.

I sighed, gave them a quick beep, and cranked it up to make my move. I tried to shift as far to the left of them as I could, but my bow wave was necessarily high as I goosed my speed up to pass before an oncoming car reached me.

I cringed hearing the passengers and drivers of the two trikes protest loudly at the dirty road water I was splashing up onto them. “Hey!” one particularly outraged fellow yelled at me.

“Sorry!” I called out, but I was also irritated that they had forced me to it.

Luckily, with only a few more sputters and hesitations in some of the really deep spots, I made it all the way home. I learned my lesson though—next time I’ll just stay put until the storm passes. OR, better yet, until I get me a more dependable scooter. Hopefully soon, my next bike is going to have a stamp that says “Made in Japan.”

*piece of sh*t