Friday, December 18, 2009
-348 days ago I almost died. No exaggeration. Right there, in the middle of this parking lot in the mountains.
--As you look at this photo, picture the parking lot as being empty, with only one car: a 1995 Jeep with a Hungarian flag sticker and an American Birding Association sticker in the back window. My death would have been the product of my stupidity and recklessness.
---I went hiking in the mountains.
-----In the winter.
------Here’s what happened: I was too tired to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count held by the local Audubon Society chapter on the previous weekend, so I went birding on the same trail, a week later. Some good birds had been reported, and I wanted to see them. Trouble was that previous weekend was before the big storm that dumped rain & snow all over Southern California, including the place in this picture, Ice House Canyon. The canyon has a hiking trail that goes from 5,120 feet up to Icehouse Saddle, at 7580 feet. From the saddle, you can hike up higher to places like Telegraph Peak which is a dozen feet short of 9,000 feet in altitude.
------Allow me to state the obvious: it’s no accident that the place is named Ice House Canyon. Its steepness and orientation keep it cold and dark to the point that while the snow and ice have melted elsewhere at higher altitudes, Ice House Canyon is icy and slippery. The trail runs along a year-round stream, and one of the target birds for any hike along the trail is American Dipper , a thrush whose idea of a good time is to swim in cold, icy streams to hunt for its favorite prey: insects and other invertebrates that live underwater. The bird literally flies underwater in-between bouts of sitting on a rock, pumping its tail up and down, and bouncing around like a heroin addict who needs a fix.
-------The problem with this bird is that it doesn’t like people, so you need to get there early in the morning, to be the first hiker along the trail, so that you can see Dippers before they hide from all of the loud Boy Scouts and other hikers. This is where things went terribly wrong.
--------I drove the Jeep up to the Ice House Canyon parking lot, and parked in the spot where you see the Lexus in the photo. It was a weekday, and the day before New Year’s Eve. My car was the only one there. I stayed inside the car, and looked around. Hm…looks kind of snowy and icy. Maybe I shouldn’t do this, today. The problem, of course, was that I was on my annual 10 day vacation from USC, when they close down the University. Imagine that: forced to go on vacation! So, I felt the urgency of needing to get in my fabulous birding hike while I had free days off from work. The rest of the year is too hectic, with my schedule of working the weekends in a local hospital, and weekdays at SC.
---------Okay, so I lived in Hungary for years, and have traveled all over Europe in the winter. I have negotiated icy sidewalks in various European capitals, and crunched snow underfoot in the countryside. I’m an old pro. I am experienced. I know what I am doing.
-----------I decide that I will get out of the car, and walk to the edge of the parking lot, where I will decide whether or not it’s safe. I have firmly decided that if the trail appears icy or slippery, I’m not going to risk it. Uh, uh. Not worth it. After all, I have a wife and kids. I open the Jeep door, and climb out. I put on a thick hat, and warm gloves. I extract my mountain-climbing poles, and grip them firmly. Good. I now have four legs. I am safe. I start walking across the clean, dry parking lot.
------------I woke up, and realized that I couldn’t breathe. Words cannot describe the horror. Imagine being awake, and aware of the fact that you are unable to push air in and out of your lungs. As I lied there, I realized that I could not move my arms and legs. I had gone deaf, and could only hear the rush of blood circulating in my ears. I am paralyzed, and I will lie here, awake, while I die from the lack of oxygen. The one thing that I can feel is the back of my head, and it hurts like a mother. Imagine somebody that you really don’t like. This somebody has big arm muscles, and he smacks you in the back of the head with a cast iron frying pan. This might bring you close to what I felt. Maybe.
-------------After 20 seconds of this living hell, my lungs started working. I still couldn’t move, but at least I wasn’t going to die. My arms and legs were still functionless decorations. I realize that I will lie here in the freezing cold for hours, until someone discovers me. I will most likely be taken by ambulance to a hospital, and I will live the rest of my life depending on strangers who will change my diapers and Foley catheter on a regular basis. Oh, wait, that’s not going to happen: a bear or coyotes will find me first, and tear me from limb to limb. Oh My God.
--------------I suck in some air, ready to shout “HELP” at the top of my lungs. A feeble, timid ‘help’ hisses from my lips. Fuck. Nobody can hear me. After a couple of minutes—it may have been less time than that, but it felt like forever—my arms and legs came back to life. I sat up, and the headache just about blinded me. I wanted to stand up and return to my car, but I feared falling—and re-injuring my head—again. I played it safe, and crawled on my hands and knees to the Jeep, where I held on to it while standing up. I sat in the car, and assessed myself. I stared at my own face in the rear-view mirror for asymmetry of facial expression. I looked at my pupils. I ruminated over whether or not I was nauseous or dizzy (a bad sign that would mean it was unsafe to drive down into Baldy Village for help). The answer to all of these was ‘no’. But the headache, oh the headache. That couldn’t be good. I decided “fuck it” I need to be among other people, in case I lose consciousness. I need to tell another human being that I have fallen, hit my head hard, lost consciousness, and need to go to the hospital. I am flashing back to the 14 year old knucklehead who crashed his skateboard (no helmet) and literally couldn’t tell me what I had just shown him, if I hid it behind me. I had just done his head CT, and he had a subdural bleed. He couldn’t tell me if that was a pen, or a coin that I had just shown him. This could become me, and I need to get to a hospital as soon as possible.
--------------So, like all stupid men, I drove the Jeep down into Baldy Village, and realizing that I still wasn’t nauseous or dizzy, drove all the way down to my house in Claremont, where I parked in my driveway. I walked inside, and told the wife what had happened, but of course I downplayed it, with instructions that I start acting weird, or saying strange things, haul my ass to the hospital. I mean—what the hell—if I made it this far, it’s probably just a minor concussion, right?
---------------So what did I do next? I called up my friends who work as x-ray techs in hospitals, and discussed my head injury. Did I call up my doctor? No. Did I go to an urgent care? No. Well, going to an urgent care would have been pointless: they would have sent me to a hospital to get a head CT. Well, after 24 hours of interminable pain, I finally went to the hospital where I work part-time, and turned myself in to the proper authorities. They were nice about it. The ER doc said that the temporary paralysis concerned him more than the headache, and he ordered one CT of my head (my brain) and one of my c-spine (my neck bones). No brain bleed, no broken neck.
----------------I got lucky. It could have turned out very differently. There were consequences, though: I became very fearful of going to the mountains, especially Mount Baldy and Ice House Canyon. Now that, my friends, is a problem, because tomorrow is the Christmas Bird Count. I got a phone call a week ago from N.G. asking me to count birds on Ice House Canyon Trail with L.S. I didn’t tell N.G. about what happened a year ago; I just said yes. Since saying ‘yes’ a week ago, I have been freaking out. I can’t describe the fear. When I leave my house for the train station each morning, I see all of that snow up in the mountains, and I picture a repeat of last year’s head injury. I have been beating myself up for the fact that I am thinking of canceling out, and letting L.S., a retired school teacher, hike it alone. Why is it okay to expose him to danger? I can’t do that.
-----------------I devise a plan: I will go to a sporting goods store, and buy a skateboarding helmet. It will be green. With the helmet and the hiking poles, people will think that I am a professional mountaineer. A really fat, breathless professional mountaineer. Okay, Okay: I got it: I will wear a backpack, and if it is dry and safe, I will hide the helmet in the backpack, to avoid embarrassment. After all, with that helmet on, a 43 year old fat guy will be assumed to be epileptic or to have cerebral palsy. They’ll think I ride the special bus. We can’t have that.
------------------Because of the hectic Christmas shopping season, among other things, I can’t get out of the house to buy a skateboard helmet without my wife finding out (I don’t want to embarrass myself by letting her know how afraid I am of falling, and getting hurt). Last night, I called up Big 5, and they told me that they were closing at 10:00 p.m. The wife went out grocery shopping, and it was too late for me to sneak off. Okay, I decided that I’ll go this morning, and get to work late. The guy in the skateboard section of Big 5 told me last night that they were opening at 8:00 a.m. You gotta love Christmas shopping hours. I left the house this morning, and realized that as warm as it has been this last week—combined with the fact that the last two storms dropped a lot of warm water—in the mountains, Ice House Canyon might be very different from last year. Instead of driving to Upland, I drove straight up the mountain, and didn’t stop until I got to the Ice House Canyon parking lot. It looked very dry everywhere. The nearest snow appeared to be thousands of feet higher up the mountain. Still, I cannot describe the fear that I felt when I climbed out of the Jeep. I was terrified. There were a bunch of cars in the parking lot: the ones you see in the photo; and their owners must have beeen up, hiking the trail. Hence, it must be safe. I made myself do it. I stood outside the Jeep, and walked around. A sudden feeling of calm washed over me. I drove down to Claremont, parked at the train station, and went to work. I just got off the phone with L.S. I look forward to meeting him in the parking lot at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
USC is full of Hungarian researchers. It even has the pre-requisite Hungarian Nobel-prize winner. I saw this bike on campus, and said, "Ennek a biciklinek a tulajdonosa csak magyar lehet."
Two obvious clues give away the nationality of the owner. The first is the half-assed headlight. The second...oh, come on! You know what the second clue is.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
^^I posted the following at AmericanThinker, Jack Cashill's right-wing blog. Let's see if he allows it to appear on his website:
-As a writer, I certainly enjoy reading Mr Cashill's pseudoscientific musings and speculations. He almost gets away with it, until he shoots himself in the foot with the following statement: "But I did notice something else. The book was much too well written. I had seen enough of Obama's interviews to know that he did not speak with anywhere near the verbal sophistication on display in Dreams."
-- A patently ridiculous statement, if I ever heard one. Mr. Obama is articulate and highly intelligent, with a clear vision. It is precisely these attributes after 8 years of the Madness of King George that energizes unfortunate souls like Mr. Cashill to sail off in search of El Dorado, unaware that there is only pyrite waiting for them on the distant shore. We are asked to believe that somebody was able to graduate from Harvard Law, pass a state bar exam, become president of the law review, and yet he is actually an unsophisticated, incoherent speaker? This, interspersed with complaints that he's not really an oppressed minority, because he grew up among financially secure white folks? Well, which is he: an inarticulate ghetto dude, or the scion of privelage? You can't have it both ways, Mr. Cashill. I don't believe in conspiracy theories--be they of the leftist or right wing variety. Trying to organize a large number of people to carry out some misdeed without some of them spilling the beans is like trying to herd cats (how's that for a mixed metaphor?).
---Having Ayers ghost write Obama's book(s) requires collusion from a good number of people. All of these grand machinations had to be accomplished to publish a book about a guy who is president of the Harvard Law Review? Given the choice between believing in such a conspiracy of this required level complexity, or believing that maybe the guy is really smart, the less complex answer is far more plausible.
----A few comments on the "discovery" of all of the (allegedly) suspicous parallels between Ayers' book and Obama's: It it is plausible (and acceptable) that Obama may have gotten input & advice from Ayers (or anybody else) while writing the book. This is normal practice. Usually, the writer gives credit to all of those who contributed, proof-read, critqued, etc. I just returned "Dreams" to the library, so I can't check.
-----The real point of Mr. Cashill's multiple essays on this topic is that he wants to prove that Obama is some sort of a dangerous commie lunatic imbecile whose strings are being pulled by people who hate America. Please.
------As far as parallels and in-depth analysis, I giggled with glee recently while watching a 'documentary' on the History Channel (or maybe it was the Discovery Channel: either way, it was one of those cable TV channels that used to be good 20 years ago) about The Bible Code. An orthodox rabbi nodded solemnly while explaining all of the hidden mathematical codes that predicted events in our times. When confronted with the results of a mathematics professor's work in which using the rabbi's methodology he found references to Tom Sawyer, the rabbi rolled his eyes, and explained it away with wishful thinking.
-------I guess that Mark Twain was right about Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
---I have a friend who is christian, who would be deeply offended by these t-shirts. The first thing he would do is point out that the anti-Obama quote is from the Old Testament, when the whole idea of christianity is that Jesus brought a new gospel. In case you're wondering, he is a well-to-do whiteboy who lives in a big house in a nice neighborhood. Thanks for asking.
----Has anybody complained about this to the Secret Service? This doesn't look like protected free speech to me; it looks like a clear threat against the President of the United States.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Forbes Magazine--of all people--has an interesting essay by Bruce Bartlett titled "The Europeanization of America". It's so well-written, that I'll just suggest you click on the link, and read it, yourself .
Monday, November 16, 2009
George Clooney, Renee Zellweger in a screwball comedy set in the Midwest in 1925. Ostensibly the story is about the birth of professional football, but it's really a romantic love triangle comedy. Plus benefit is that despite the themes, the archaic 1920s era language hides references to naughty behavior, so you can watch it in front of kids. No nudity or foul language.
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are sheriffs for hire, and they are fast draws. The blow into a dusty cowboy town, clean it up, and discover Renee Zellweger (the fact that the last 2 movies I got from Netflix have Renee Zellweger is random coincidence). In this film, Zellweger plays the complete opposite of her Leatherheads character. I don't want to say more. Tight dialogue. Mortensen is especially strong as the assistant sheriff--a man of few words, but when he talks, it's serious. Even if westerns (cowboy movies) are not your thing, rent this movie, anyway. It's that good.
Oh, and parts of it were filmed in those mountains in southeast Arizona where I go birding.
Somebody--actually, I think 2 different people--said that they can't stand Rene Zellweger. I don't have strong opinion about her either way, but she was the right choice for both of these movies.
AND NOW A MOVIE THAT I CANNOT RECOMMEND: "A Serious Man", the Cohen Brothers' latest, has its moments, I get it, but I would only recommend it to bipolar patients currently in their manic phase, to help bring them back down. Way down.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Now, other than Ruby-crowned Kinglet, what the bloody hell could I confuse a Golden-crowned Kinglet with? Silly children. They must be Republicans, like the idiot I saw driving a pickup truck in Newport Beach, with a bumper sticker that said When Will You Admit That Electing Obama Was a Mistake? In order to write that many letters on one bumper sticker, you have to use a small font i.e. tiny letters. Little ones, like the undersized cognitive organ of the guy driving the pickup truck.
But I digress.
Of far more interest was Off-Road Corvette Dude. I have forgotten his name. I met him in Claremont, one night, during a Corvette rally in The Village. He turned a regular Corvette into an off-road monster. I saw him on the 57 Freeway while driving to Reagan Country (the next idiot who tells me that Ronald Reagan caused the Soviet Union to collapse is going to get a knuckle sandwhich from me: Harry Truman declared the policy, and set the course for constraining Soviet expansion when Ronald Reagan was sleeping with a chimpanzee), so I whipped out the Blackberry and took his picture. He waved, but I have no idea if he recognized me, or just smiled at another of his legion admirers.
Long story short: got to Upper Newport Bay, chased Steve Sosensky and Jim Abernathy up and down the street while limping and coughing. Well, okay, my toe feels better, as long as my 3 year-old doesn't step on it: she has stepped on my pinky toe (and no other toes!) with shoes on four times in the last two weeks, since I broke it. We got great looks at the bird. My 35mm camera is acting weird, so I only digiscoped the godwit. Her rump looked white, but I didn't see the underwings. But then again, she was around the same size as the Marbled Godwits. I mention all of this because the Bar-tailed Godwits in Europe of the race lapponicus have a white rump, but they are a lot smaller than the Siberan/Alaskan baueri birds. Interesting.
Limped back to the car, coughed, hacked and wheezed while turning the key in the ignition (I have not slept through the night in a week, because of this stupid cough), and got home in time to wash the car, load the wife and kids, and meet the Pink Mafia. My 3 year-old is a member of the Gang of Pink. Without any prior training or experience, she slipped on a pair of high heels in her size last year, and took off running. If we stay in the house, she changes clothes every two hours. Complete wardrobe change. Shoes, dress, tiara or whatever she's going to put into her hair. Where did this kid come from? I am going to ask the wife to get a DNA test, to prove that she is the mother. The very reason that the wife and I met was because we were both Sierra Club types out hiking in the mountains during the weekends. How did we produce this child who wears lipstick, wants her nails done, and wants all of her clothes, shoes, and accessories to be pink?
Does anyone know where I can get a bumper sticker that says "Have You Slept with Your Republican Congressman Today?" ?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
For starters, I violated my sacred oath to never again work on my birthday. This oath came about after years of working in hospitals, and routinely having the worst shift of the year occur on my birthday, October 15th. This was quite often the shift where the nuclear medicine scanner would break down, after I had injected the patient with the radiopharmaceutical. If it was an x-ray job, the guy on the next shift would invariably call in sick, and I would get stuck at work until they found someone to let me go home.
At first, things looked like they were looking up last week, when local TV news crews showed up to videotape my department during the Great Shakeout—the annual earthquake disaster drill. Cameramen were in my face, recording as I helped the HazMat guys suit up, and made sure there were no leaks in their spacesuits, before they entered the building. Look ma, I’m on TV.
The wife called, and we talked about going to Csardas Hungarian Restaurant, on Melrose. She would bring the kids, pick me up at work, and off we would go. I called up the Csardas, and a guy with an accent answered the phone. Naïve guy that I am, I asked him in Hungarian what time the restaurant was opening. He answered me in Spanish , first demanding to know who I was, then telling me to “Chinga tu madre-la puta, pinchi perro.”
So I answered in Spanish, explaining that I am trying to call a Hungarian restaurant, and I start dictating the restaurant’s phone number to him. I’m guessing that the restaurant has changed phone numbers, or perhaps even gone out of business. He huffs, “Wait.” and walks away from the phone. A woman answers, and we talk in Hungarian. I ask her if the restaurant is open, and she says “yes” and then I very politely relate the previous conversation with the Spanish-speaking gentleman who told me to fuck my mother. With the verve of your standard-issue Eastern European customer service personage, she says angrily “That’s not possible!” (Ez nem lehetseges)
Doesn’t apologize for the butthead’s behavior, doesn’t ask me further questions; just informs me that I’m wrong.
I tell her, “Well, I speak fluent Spanish, and I know what I heard.”
She says, “Well, I can’t do anything about it!” (Errol nem tehetek semmit)
At this point I have decided that I am not spending my hard-earned money from my multiple jobs at their fine establishment. I will be perfectly happy to eat Thai food at the place down the street from my house.
The wife calls up, and says that the boy has a fever.
Oh my god. No. Not now. Screw my birthday: I hear the word fever, and I’m thinking “swine flu”. That stupid H1N1 swine flu virus has been doing what it did to my father’s mother in 1919: killing the young and healthy. He was 5 years old when his mother died, and 17 when his father died. He went on to graduate from law school in 1937. What a guy.
Well, okay, that strain of the influenza virus was the Spanish flu, also H1N1, but I must confess my ignorance of the difference between the two. It can’t be much, though.
So, now I’m frantic. In my mind I see the images that have been on TV so much, lately, of children in hospitals on life support. Respiratory failure. Renal Failure. Ventilators. Dialysis.
I get home, eventually, and find the boy lying on my bed, alert, talkative, and on fire. The wife has run off to the Baskin Robins to get an ice-cream birthday cake. He asks me for a cup of ice water. I go get it, and on the way back into the bedroom, my left foot catches the door frame. Ouch! God &^$%#@6 that &%^$# hurts. The whole foot hurts, but the pinky toe really hurts. Ice only helps so much.
The amazing thing during the next 3 days that he had that fever was that he was alert, talkative, and wanted to watch TV.
Back to Thursday night: we sat around the dining room table, and ate Thai food out of Styrofoam containers. My gift, a bottle of 18 year old single malt Glenlivet, sat on the counter. I refused to open it, stating that as long as the boy is sick, I won't consume alcohol, because I need to be able to suddenly drop everything and drive him to the hospital, should the need arise. Truth be told, had I opened the bottle, I would have slowly worked my way through a very small glass, while sniffing and swirling it. Probably outside, with a Maduro in my other hand. Doesn’t matter. If that kid is sick, I need to be 100% ready.
Everybody went to bed, and I stayed up, watching The Mentalist. After the show I watched the local news. Nothing about the disaster drill at work. I switched channels. Nothing. I looked at their web sites. Nope. I got pre-empted by the 6-year old who didn’t float off in the UFO-shaped balloon, and a 7 year old Poodle named Snoopy, who found his way home after being lost for years.
Speaking of dogs, we went to the humane society, Saturday. A week ago, I had seen a Pug/Chihuahua mix who looked docile. We wound up adopting a Bassett Hound. The boy’s fever was gone by Saturday afternoon, so we went to the dog pound to look around. (See, L.A. Times, how I didn’t use a bad pun like “We went to the dog pound, and sniffed around”??? You can do it, too. Give up the puns!). The dog pound had several good choices of dogs that you would pay a fortune for, if you wanted to buy one, like the calm Yellow Lab, and the big black, friendly Great Dane. Papers were filled out, fees were paid, and we were instructed to return on Monday during the daytime, to pick her up, after she would get spayed. Poor dog is a year and half old, and they think she’s already had two litters.
She (the dog) is a cutie pie. All she wants is someone to love. If you walk up to her, she rolls over, and sticks her feet into the air, inviting you to rub her belly. The first day, she was quiet and mellow, under the influence of the anesthesia from her surgery. Now she’s a typical puppy. We can see that she has figured out this is her new home. I wonder where she comes from, and why her owners didn’t find her at the shelter. She’s housebroken, much to my relief. Whew. Of course, she wants to sleep and rest on the sofa, and other beds, which we are trying to discourage. I definitely don’t want a dog on our bed, or the kids’. I’d be happy to concede the sofa, but dumb dogs don’t realize that just because you’re allowed to do that here, doesn’t mean you can do it in that room, over there.
We didn’t really want to get a dog, right now. Taking care of two small children is enough work—thank you very much—but we did it because of what happened to the boy last summer. While visiting relatives, their sheep dog decided to shepherd the boy by knocking him over, and biting him in the leg. The wife called from the desert, while I was working the night shift in the ER, and she told me about what had happened. I told her to bring him to my job, where the wait would be hours less than the county hospital. The ER doc closed the wound, and sent us packing, but the boy became terrified of dogs after that. It’s been a long year. Every time I take him and his sister to the park, I have to scan constantly for dogs. if he sees a dog, he screams in terror, and I have to pick him up. needless to say, I have developed an intense dislike of young guys who let their big dogs run around, off leash. Self-centered, selfish idiots.
He adapted to her presence fairly quickly, and has become friends with her. He constantly reports to us where Gina the dog is, and what she’s doing. It’s like having Howard Cosell follow your dog around the house.
Okay, a confession: I’m glad we got Gina Bina. I love dogs, especially dogs that have puppy-like features as an adult: round heads, floppy ears, and sad eyes. I think the thing I love about dogs is that the relationship is so simple and honest. Hey, if you feed me, and give me hugs, I’ll be your best friend. Dogs and humans have been friends for a couple hundred thousand years. Bernd Heinrich’s book “Mind of the Raven” is ostensibly a book about how smart ravens are, but it turns into a book about the relationship between prehistoric man, the wolf, and the raven. Heinrich’s thesis is that ravens developed a mutualistic relationship with wolves, in which the wolves would open up a carcass, after the ravens helped them find it. Along came humans, who decided that baby wolves—with their smooth round heads and floppy ears—were cute, and we elbowed the ravens out of the way. I don’t think the ravens have ever forgiven us. If they really want to get even, they should get a job at a Hungarian restaurant.
Monday, October 19, 2009
"MR. ELIASBERG: Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.
MR. ELIASBERG: So it is the most common symbol to honor Christians.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion."
What Scalia is claiming is that the cross of the war memorial represents all war dead.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Oh god, this is a touchy subject. I am both a victim and perpetrator of a crime called "No you didn't see that species of bird: you're wrong." As a matter of fact, I have been on the opposite side of such an argument, in these last couple of weeks. A bird called a Great Knot showed up in San Diego--the first time one has been seen in California. I am on the side of those who say it is a Great Knot, while others are vehemently arguing that it is some other species--say, a Surfbird.
I got annoyed at the logic of those claiming that it's not a Great Knot (a sandpiper that breeds in Siberia, and winters in Australia), so I wrote an email off-list (sent in private to certain individuals, and not to all of the subscribed members of the California birding email list) describing my problem with the anti-Great Knot arguments. Boy, did I get my head handed back to me, on a platter! The problems are multifold.
First, getting back to Stephen, and his Swallow-tailed Kite. Here's my impression of his situation: He appears to be a casual birder from a part of the country where the only kind of kite that he sees is Swallow-tailed Kite, so when he saw a White-tailed Kite, he (un)safely assumed that it was a Swallow-tailed Kite.
Okay, but now I am going to point out my own errors:
1) I have never met Stephen. I don't know anything about him. Therefore, I have no actual data in terms of his birding skills.
2) I don't know the origin of the Swallow-tailed Kite photo on his blog. Did he take that phot in California? In his home state? Did he lift it off of someone else's web site?
3) This is the one that pisses me off the most: when other birders write me a letter in which they say, "No, Tom. You did not see a Arctic Loon/American Oystercatcher/Common Blackhawk/Crissal Thrasher/Yellow-billed Loon/insert-species name-here." These emails always come from someone who was sitting on his ass at home, while I was out somewhere, looking at the bird that I claim to have seen. They don't understand the idea that they can't tell someone what they didn't see, unless they were standing right next to them, and looking at the same bird/frog/lizard/butterfly/dragonfly, etc. at that same moment in time.
My favorite variation of #3 is the time I saw a juvenile Common Blackhawk near my house, and some guy went out the next day, saw a Red-tailed hawk, and then declared to everybody, that obviously I had mis-identified a juvenile Red-tailed hawk as a Common Blackhawk.
Time for a Confession: Someone else reported what I am sure was the same juvenile Common Blackhawk on the local birding email list 5 days earlier, at a location 15 miles from my house, and I thought to myself, "Well, she's a beginning birder, I'm not so sure she..." Boy, did I feel like a jerk when I re-found her bird a mile from my house, 5 days later (as rare as Common Blackhawk is in California, I feel safe assuming it was the same bird--but even that is unknowable).
Now we're going to go back to point #1: it actually does not matter what Stephen's birding skills are. Yeah, maybe he is the world's crappiest birder. That still does not prove that he did not see a Swallow-tailed Kite on that particular occasion. The two are unrelated. It happens in California once in a while: some novice birder finds a really good bird--say, a Roseate Spoonbill--and all of the experts pooh-pooh it, until one of them says, "Uh, actually...there really is a Roseate Spoonbill in the pond."
Oh, I get it. Now it's legit!
So, here it is, in plain English: Personally, I don't think Stephen saw a Swallow-tailed Kite, but that is my unverifiable, untestable, subjective opinion, despite the fact that I am an experienced California birder.
So my biggest complaint was that people who had not taken the trouble to drive to San Diego to look at the Great Knot declared it to be a Surfbird, based only on photographs (taken by others). There were two kinds of answers to that:
1) I don't need to go see the San Diego bird, because I have seen thousands of Great Knots in the Eastern Hemisphere.
2) I have ten thousand photographs of birds, that I have taken over the years.
I haven't taken the time to explain to these two types of birders that points #1 and 2 don't matter one iota. The point of their statement(s) is that they are experts, who should not be questioned. These arguments are the flip-side of the "Stephen is a crappy birder, so that proves that he didn't see a Swallow-tailed Kite in California" argument. The two phenomena are unrelated. The other problem with arguments #1 and 2 is that they are stating that as experts, their opinion must be accepted. In my college sociology class I learned about how TV and newsaper adds use what are called testimonials where a guy in a white lab coat tells you how great some product is. In tiny letters on the bottom of the TV screen they flash the words "actor portraying a doctor" for a short time, and you can't actually read it i.e. most people will never notice the disclaimer.
Well, to be perfectly blunt, a lot of birders who I respect or like (or--at least--did, up until now) have tried to invoke the "I'm an expert--don't argue with me" card, and don't realize that they're trying it with a guy who really does wear a white lab coat for a living.
Had they made the same arguments while standing next to me on the beach in San Diego, I would never have written this post. For the record, while I stood there on the beach, a very well-respected & knowledgeable birder stood there next to me, and said, "It's a good [as in, it's correctly identified] Great Knot."
They say that "You can be right, or you can have friends, but you can't do both." Right now, I'm so annoyed, that I'm actually willing to not have friends, if that's what it takes. They don't get it. Yeah, I think that the San Diego bird is a Great Knot, but that's not something I would want to lose friendships over. I am willing, however to lose friends if they're going to use faulty logic, and then react to my pointing it out by being arrogant and rude.
The thing that really pisses me off is the level of certainty with which my detractors have criticized me. Boy, I wish I could be that self-confident. Oh, wait. I think that's exactly the problem: their need for rock-solid certainty. I'm lucky. I took a bunch of biology courses with a lady professor named Cathy Jacobs who tells her students, "Biology is messy." Birding is dominated by men, and a lot of them are pushy type-A macho guys, and uncertainty freaks them out. I am comfortable with undertainty, and they grossly misinterpret my comfort with uncertainty as a sign of low testosterone levels.
Speaking of biology professors, that's the other thing about this Great Knot Affair that annoys me to no end: the testosterone-induced posing as if we birders were a bunch of scientists i.e. biologists who are using standardized, precisely measureable data. We're not. We're just a bunch of birders arguing about a bird that we are staring at from 100 yards distance, because we don't want to scare it away. I'm sure that I pissed off a bunch of people when I said exactly that this weekend, when I answered their tirades. Too bad. Deal with it. Suck it up.
Of course, there's one last problem: had someone shot the bird (like in the old days) or merely captured it with a net, and extracted DNA from it, and it turned out that it is in fact a Surfbird, the anti-Great Knot crowd would have howled in triumph: their logic was better than my logic. Nope. They would be blind to the fact that their baseless claims had nothing to do with the fact that they got lucky. They would be too busy making connections that aren't there.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I decided a while ago that no matter what, I need to live until my daughter—the youngest of the two—graduates from college, with a masters degree, or higher. That means that I need to live another 25 years. The federal government already decided that I’m going to live that long: they’re going to make 70 the retirement age for people of my generation. They’re guessing that as people live longer, there will be too many of us who refuse to die of old age & disease while collecting Social Security, so they need to make us work 5 years longer than the current generation of no-good, lazy Baby Boomers, to keep the government from going bankrupt.
Well, I’m glad the government thinks I’m gonna live a long time, because like Woody Allen, I’m a hypochondriac who is disappointed every time a doctor tells me, “All of your tests are normal.”
Back to my alleged heart attack. It happened again two days later, while I was working in my part-time, weekend job. Some idiot decided that the weekend crew were overdue for a fire drill. Can you believe that? It’s Sunday night, 10:00 p.m., and the fire alarms go off in the hospital. Strobe lights are flashing, all of the doors automatically close, and the hospital operator (a girl who is very cute, and far too in love with herself) announces a fire in a patient’s room literally at the far end of the hospital. Hey, it’s Sunday night. The last thing I expect is that this is a drill. Taking it seriously, I grab a fire extinguisher of the wall bracket, and run down the long, main hall to the other end of the building. Huffing and puffing, I find Olga, the Russian midget who owns the security guard contracting company (if the hospital ever gets attacked by a marauding mob of Chihuahuas, we’ll be safe), in street clothes, with a clipboard in her hands, and a stern look on her face.
I realize that:
1) There is no fire, and
2) I am having chest pain, again, and it’s worse than Friday morning.
With all of my years in emergency medicine, I find something suspicious in all of this:
1) I only get this chest pain when I eat, and then exert myself,
2) I think I only get the chest pain when carrying something heavy (tripods, spotting scopes, fire extinguishers), and
3) Other times when I exert myself, I don’t get the chest pain
4) I am still alive.
So Monday morning, I get off the train at Cal State LA, and run up the 4 flights of stairs to the street, wearing my backpack full of stuff (laptop, bird book, binoculars, thermos, lunch, two cell phones, etc). When I get to the bus stop, I am huffing and puffing, as usual, but there is no chest pain.
Well, I should still go to a doctor.
Monday night, the chest pain is so intense, that I’m thinking about calling 911, or going to the hospital (hey, if I’m having a heart attack, I don’t wanna play around with this). So I finally went to the local urgent care on Tuesday, where I met a nice young doctor who never made eye contact with me the whole time: they are so obsessed with electronic records keeping now, that while talking with me, he kept typing on his laptop that generated a report of my visit. It was like going to confessional, with the priest on the other side of the curtain.
So he says, “I don’t think it’s your heart.” I also had my doubts, too, but other than the EKG, he never ordered a blood draw for cardiac enzymes (if you have a heart attack, the dead heart muscle cells release enzymes into your bloodstream that are used as proof that you’ve recently had a heart attack). He also didn’t order a chest x-ray, which I thought was weird, because I was suspecting that maybe I’ve got a hiatal hernia (your stomach pokes up through the diaphragm, partially occupying your chest cavity, instead of staying in your abdomen, where it’s supposed to), and that usually shows up nicely on a chest x-ray.
So he tells me, “I can’t give you a referral to a cardiologist; your own doctor has to do that.” Great. (By the way, I already tried to see my doctor before going to urgent care, but she was out of town).
So now I went to my own doctor a few days later, and got a referral to a cardiologist. On the phone with the cardiologist’s office I am told that my first visit will be only a consult, and I will not be allowed to do a stress treadmill test. Great. How much time am I going to miss from work?
On the morning of the cardiology appointment, I notice on the referral that my doctor filled out, that she has written “cardiac enzymes normal” EXCUSE ME???? They never did a blood draw at the urgent care, so how could the test that I never (but should have!) had be normal? Unbelievable. You need to stay on top of your doctor, and what goes into your medical records.
So I get to the cardiologist’s office, where they do another resting EKG (I hate getting EKGs: I have a hairy chest, and it hurts like a mother-effer when they rip the tabs off my body). That’s normal, and he comes in, and asks me a bunch of questions, and pokes, prods, and listens all over. Then he says, “Would you like to just go ahead, and do the treadmill test, today?”
A man after my own heart (no pun intended—I think)
I kicked ass on the treadmill test. He was amazed that a fat guy like me went one minute past the maximum for my age, height, weight, etc.
By the way, my cholesterol is totally normal. Eat your heart out, Robb Myrtle.
So, whatever the hell is causing this chest pain (I had it again this past weekend, while in the forest, Sunday night, setting up our camp site, and it kept me awake, while Lisa and the kids snored next to me, inside the tent), it’s not my heart. Maybe it was that soup she cooked next to the campfire. Maybe it was the process of hauling all of our stuff out of the car, over to the tent.
I don’t appreciate this heart attack scare. Both of my parents are dead. I don’t even remember my father, since I was less than 2 years old when he died of a brain tumor. My mom had a massive stroke when she was 65, and spent the next 7 years slowly dying, in slow increments. Her brother has had several heart attacks (according to the cardiologist, the fact that he had them in his 70s, and not his 40s or 50s is a great sign). I’m really obsessed with living long enough to provide my two children with the opportunity to establish themselves in life, where they can buy their own houses, and not have to worry about money all the time, like we do.
I should have lunch with the guy who had a heart attack at USC last May. He had the good taste to drop unconscious in front of me—Mr Works in the E.R. and Has a CPR Card. Of all the people in USC that could have been near him when he had a heart attack, he chose me. Good man. Maybe he’ll slap some sense into me.
Friday, August 21, 2009
In Life List, Olivia Gentile presents what seems to be the straightforward biography of a Missouri woman, Phoebe Snetsinger, who maniacally pursued her goal of becoming the world’s most accomplished birder, or birdwatcher. Accomplishment in this sense consists of having seen more species of birds than any other birder. This sounds easy enough. How hard could that be? There are—what—a couple of hundred species of species of birds out there, starting with those little brown birds in your back yard? Try 10,000. But wait, it gets worse: the reason that there are ten thousand species (of anything) is that they have adapted to, and evolved in various ecological niches all across the planet, so seeing them involves a lot of traveling. A lot.
One thing that the world’s highest-ranking birders have in common is money. Snetsinger was the daughter of a wealthy Chicago advertising executive, and after catching a bad case of birding fever, she was able to pursue it at a pace that the rest of us with jobs and mortgages can only dream about.
Having unlimited financial resources to pursue an avocation is helpful, but Snetsinger did in fact have to sacrifice something to pursue her goals: her family. Snetsinger graduated from casual birdwatcher to hard core birder when her sons and daughters were in high school, and college; and she essentially abandoned her family before they abandoned her. The first part of Life List details Snetsinger’s childhood, and dwells on her absentee father, who was too busy building up his advertising agency. The next section deals with her coming of age during the post-war, conservative Eisenhower years, when women were told to leave the workplace, have babies, and cook good food for their husbands. Snetsinger did all of these things, and her conversion into a hard core birder who essentially abandoned her family is presented as her late-term rebellion against society’s McCarthy era constraints upon women. While detailing her extensive—if not exhausting—travels to distant forests, jungles, and rivers in search of the planet’s rarest feathered inhabitants, the book reveals that her relentless schedule of four overseas trips a year into the wilderness left her husband at home, longing for companionship.
The theme of Life List is Snetsinger’s addiction to birding i.e. to building up her life list of how many birds she has seen—an addiction so strong that she is willing to—and does—lose her family in the process. In The Hurt Locker Jeremy Renner plays Sergeant James, a loner who arrives in Baghdad, where he begins his new assignment in an army bomb disposal unit. His job is to walk up to roadside bombs that haven’t gone off, yet, and deactivate them. The guy that he has arrived to displace got blown up. Sergeant James doesn’t talk much about himself; he just does his job. Problems arise when he repeatedly ignores his team leader, and does not collaborate with his team members, who feel that he is endangering them. Alcohol is consumed, and manly men in fatigues get into fistfights.
During the course of the film, we discover that Sergeant James has a family. He has a reason to live—to survive the war, so why does he endanger himself, and others? Wouldn’t he rather make it home, safely, to be with the wife and kid? This is the same question I kept asking myself while reading Life List. Lots of birders fantasize about traveling to Australia, Japan, or Kenya to see fascinating birds in their native habitats. Once in a lifetime, sure, but four times a year? Was Snetsinger running towards her goal of 8,000 bird species, or was she running away from being a soccer mom? Why does Sergeant James make the decision he does at the end of The Hurt Locker? Are people like them, who are willing to risk life, limb, and family on some higher plane, or are they selfish?
While reading Life List, I felt a little guilt. I felt bad for my wife, who is “stuck” at home with the kids. The big difference, though, is that unlike Snetsinger in the Ozzie and Harriet era, my wife is not condemned to a lifetime of waiting for me at the end of the day, with a martini* in her hand. Within the next year or two, the kids will be in school, and she will be back at work.
Somebody at work collected money for tonight’s lotto drawing (some obscene amount over $200 million, I think). Besides the obvious fantasy of paying off the house, quitting my job, and buying a new car, the thing that makes me salivate is the idea of being able to travel anywhere in the world. The thing is, though, that I wouldn’t—no, I couldn’t—run off without the wife and kids. I would talk her into going, and do it in a way that is low stress, say for example, stay at a lodge on the Serengeti for a month, and only go on bird walks every other morning, and get her to go out on the alternate mornings (someone has to stay with the kids—I don’t want a lion eating my son). Australia? I would do it slowly, over the course of a year. Besides traveling, I would want that little house in the suburbs. Okay, we already have that, but the new house would be a little bigger, with an enclosed yard. And a Bassett Hound.
*I must confess: I can’t stand martinis. They taste like nail polish remover.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I just posted this on: http://romanticpoet.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/part-of-obama-healthcare-plan-mandatory-counseling-for-seniors-over-65-regarding-end-of-life-issues/ where the blog owner repeats the idiotic assertion that Obama (you know, that socialist African guy born in Nairobi) wants to kill your grandparents. There are only two choices here:
1) They don't know how to read, or
2) They know it's not true, and they're lying:
My Dear Friends,
I am saddened by your mis-reading of pages 425-430 in the proposed legislation. You are having an understandable visceral reaction to a very touchy subject: end-of-life issues, but in your emotional state you have COMPLETELY misinterpreted what it says. The legislation talks about EMPOWERING people by letting them make decisions about their own health care.
Currently, each time you enter a hospital (by "you" I mean people who have health insurance)you already receive the same type of counseling from a front-desk clerk who has you fill out a form in which you make decisions about DNRs, and identify a friend or family member who can make decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated.
My degree is in health science (CSU Dominguez Hills class of 2000), so I am comfortable reading this type of language, which makes it difficult for me to see how others who read this (mistakenly) believe it to be legislation requiring doctors and nurses to talk you into euthanasia. Now I understand how my college professor step-father felt, when he tried to tutor me in math, when I was in junior high school.
Now that I have clarified for you that neither the language nor the intent of such legisation is to "Soylent green" your grandma, perhaps you will come to realize how you are being manipulated by Rush Limbaugh, Faux News Channel, and a bunch of other rich people--who all have really great health insurance.
I wish they had this type of legislation BEFORE my mother had her devastating stroke on June 12th 1995. Because I didn't know what she want(ed), I played it safe and told the doctors to do "everything they can", and she spent 6 horrifying years paralyzed, unable to speak, with strangers flipping her over, and wiping her ass 4 times a day, before she died of sepsis in 2001. You want to think about these things, and make your choices ahead of time. My mother was awake, and a prisoner in her own body, unable to say "leave me alone", because she had no advanced directive.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
The attack on former vice president Gore detracts from the gravity of Mike's award.
The British court's ruling contains its own factual errors e.g. more polars have been seen lost at sea, and their numbers have only increased in one small region where they are raiding garbage dumps (and endangering humans), while the overall population trend is in a steep decline.
Here's my problem with all of this: I absolutely respect and appreciate the sacrfice of Marcus Luttrell and the rest of his SEAL team, but Marcus shoots himself in the foot when he regales the reader with vague claims about WMD in Iraq in his previous missions in the Gulf. There were no WMD, and the whole Iraq war was started for bogus reasons. The U.S. Army's CALL said as much in its own official history--and that was written by active duty military men, not by some liberal in the suburbs. Luttrell should have stuck to the facts in "Sole Survivor" instead of jumping on the "Let me cash in on being a neocon" bandwagon. Had he left out the right-wing mythology that his own (former) bosses in the Pentagon never believed (since they're both retired, I suggest Marcus go have lunch with his former boss, Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, who'll calmly look him in the eye, and tell him how wrong he is i.e. there never were WMD) , and said as much before March 2003, "Lone Survivor" would have stood on its own merits.
I started the book twice, and couldn't go on, because all of the GWB ass-kissing was making me nauseous. An ex-submariner convinced me to try again, the third time. Once I finally got past all of the "George Bush walks on water, and loves his country" (my quotes) chapters, the book finally got interesting.
If you guys want to beat up on a vice president, start with Cheney, who along with his friends Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz got a lot of your friends killed in Iraq for no good reason, when they should have been in Afghanistan, hunting down Bin Laden.
The depressing part is that some of you guys out there are going to get mad, and write me emails calling me a commie traitor, or some other nonsense, but 20 years from now some of you will be shaving one morning, while getting ready to go to work, and you're gonna say "Oh man, we got screwed." You're not ready for that yet. It'll happen when your ready for it to happen.
Tom Miko(former) SPC4 back in the day when you had to spitshine your boots
I know what you’re thinking. Hey, it’s still summer! It’s so hot, that you have to run the air conditioner at night. That may be true, but I know what’s down the road. I see the signs. If you live in L.A., the only two seasons are hot sunny summer, and the warm, sunny winter, with the occasional cold rain storm that visits for a week, before giving back the sun. During the winter, even though the sun shines so much, it’s low in the sky. The tired December sun doesn’t have the energy to get that high above the horizon, before he abandons us to long nights of dark streets with car headlights that blind us while we stand on the sidewalk. It’s dark when we leave the house in the morning, and dark when we get home.
Every summer around June 21st, I hike down Santa Anita Canyon, to look for Black Swifts. I deliberately hike into this forest on the longest day of the year. Each year the same thing happens as I sit on a rock at the base of Sturdevant Falls, waiting for the Black Swifts to return to their nest that they have built under the raging torrent crashing down the solid rock hillside. As I sit there, I realize that since this is the longest day of the year, from now on all the days will shorter, and I get depressed.
I was the school kid who got depressed every year, because I knew that September 1st was coming up, and it was back into the frying pan of cruel teenagers. I wasn’t a jock, a surfer, or a rocker. I was one of the nerds, who didn’t have a girlfriend until the 11th grade. For me, the glass was perpetually half empty.
As an adult, I’ve realized that the glass isn’t half empty, or half full. Life is dynamic, in constant motion, always changing. You take an empty glass, fill it up with water, and work your way to the bottom. When you’re done, you start over. The seasons and the years of our lives are like that two. Sure, each year brings all of us closer to that ultimate winter when the sun goes down one night, and never comes back up for us; but that’s okay, because our kids and grandchildren will be there in the morning to watch it rise.
Monday, August 3, 2009
If the Times takes it down, the author--a Canadian doctor and health policy analyst--should post it on his blog at http://www.michaelrachlis.com/ .
Where do I come in (besides caring about this subject)? Both my BS and masters studies at Cal State Dominguez Hills were in a nebulous topic called Health Science. I've got neocon friends who want to argue health care policy with me, when they've never taken a class in this field. I've had ER docs argue with me, but they also have never studied in this field: they (mistakenly) think that by virtue of their M.D. that they are qualified to debate the subject.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Jeff Cowell, John Small, and I left Claremont on Friday morning at 05:35 a.m., for a Southeast Arizona birding trip that was planned over a month ago. After we had already planned the trip, one (possibly two!) Brown-backed Solitaire(s) showed up in the Huachucas at Miller Canyon, then at Ramsey Canyon.
We were supposed to bird Madera Canyon Friday afternoon, which we did, but we were robbed of 3 hours of daylight by the fatality truck accident on the 10 near Tucson (the truck driver died, and her load of toxic chemicals shut down the highway). We saw Black-throated Sparrows, Bell's Vireo, Hermit Thrushes, a Bridled Titmouse, and a Wild Turkey. We heard-only Whip-poorwill, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and Whiskered Screech Owls. We also saw a unique desert hare called an Antelope Jackrabbit. It has white sides, like a two-toned car.
Saturday morning we birded Patagonia Roadside Rest, the Paton's backyard, and the Preserve. We only heard the Sinaloa Wren, but saw Black Vultures, Gray Hawks, Cardinals, White-winged Doves, Gambel's Quail, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Thick-billed Kingbird, Canyon Towhees, Curve-billed Thrashers, and a female Varied Bunting.
On the way to the Huachuca Mountains (the site of Miller, Carr, and Ramsey Canyons) Saturday afternoon we had Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Botteri's & Cassin's Sparrows.
At Miller Canyon we sat at the hummingbird feeders at Beatty's Orchard, where we saw White-eared, Blue-throated, Magnificent, Anna's, Berylline, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. John Small and I hiked up the canyon, where we encountered the Black-tailed Rattlesnake in the photo. He held his ground, but never lunged at us. As a matter of fact, he only rattled once. We kept our distance, and that was good enough for him. He must be eating the local Rock Squirrels, which look just like the California Ground Squirrel.
Monday, July 20, 2009
NOTE: TO MAKE IT EASY FOR THE READER, THE NUCLEAR PARTS ARE WRITTEN IN ITALICS, AND THE OUTDOORSY NATURE STUFF IS WRITTEN IN NORMAL FONT.
I needed to attend the Society of Nuclear Medicine's annual "Viva Las Vegas" meeting. For some ungodly reason, they hold it in July, when the temperatures are always over 110 degrees F (43 C). It was 114 degrees (45.5 C) Saturday and Sunday. How can we convince them to hold it in October?
All day Saturday and Sunday, my old friend Juan Mas and I sat in uncomfortable restaurant chairs with 350 other nuclear med techs, in a cavernous dark room. Like a real cave, it was bitter cold. While people out on Las Vegas Blvd were passing out from the heat, we were freezing our rear ends off, shivering from the ultra air-conditioned air. Saturday was spent listening to eight--count 'em, eight--boring lectures about basic nuclear medicine that any working nuclear medicine technologist should know. They saved all of the good presentations for Sunday.
Sunday we had one presentation about the supply chain of where 99m Technetium comes from. If you have ever been a patient in a hospital, or have any relatives or friends who have ever had cancer, you should care about this topic. Technetium is a radioactive element that is used to make a whole shelf full of radioactive drugs that are used for diagnostic scans. You show up at a hospital, they're not sure what's wrong with you, but they have a good idea (your CAT scan or Ultrasound was inconclusive, or you can't have an MRI for some reason), so they send you to nuclear medicine. In the nuclear medicine department, they inject you with a drug that is specific to the disease they are looking for. The drug is called the carrier molecule, and it carries the 99m Technetium to the target organ. Doctors look at the pictures on a computer screen, to see what your target organ (your liver, kidneys, heart, etc) did with the drug. There are nuclear medicine scans that are very sensitive and specific for different types of heart disease, liver disease, gallbladder problems, renal failure, blood clots in the lung (called a pulmonary embolism), breast and prostate cancer. The radioactive component of all of these drugs is 99m Tc, which has been either unavailable, or in limited supply for months, now, because of the heavy water leak in Canada at the Chalk River Research Reactor. They don't make this stuff in the U.S.
THAT'S RIGHT, THEY DON'T MAKE YOUR RADIOACTIVE DRUG'S MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT IN THE U.S.
Why not? Well...Technetium 99 is a daughter product of Molybdenum 99, which is a daughter product of Uranium 235, the stuff they make atomic bombs out of. We have treaties with the Soviets--I mean the Russians--where we both promise to not make lots of atomic bombs. THIS IS A GOOD THING. Like the bumper sticker says, "One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day". Unfortunately, the side effect of this peace is that we have less Molybdenum (we call it "Moly") available for medical purposes.
The only place that makes Moly/Tc is the Chalk River research reactor, which is 54 years old. The few other research reactors in the world that make Molybdenum/Technetium are in Argentina, Australia, Holland, Belgium, and South Africa. All of these facilities are also somewhere between 45 and 55 years old. Currently, a percentage of the U235 used to produce Moly/Tc is from salvaged Russian atomic bombs that we bought from them. THAT'S RIGHT: YOUR MOM'S BREAST CANCER SCAN WAS DONE WITH LEFTOVER RUSSIAN ATOMIC BOMB PARTS
There are ways to produce Moly/Tc in LEU (Low Enriched Uranium) reactors. This is important, because it means that we could i.e. we need to build a couple of nuclear reactors in the U.S. that would not be useful for weapons production (for that you need a HEU [Highly Enriched Uranium] reactor, which is what the Argentines did in their own country, and also, when they designed and built the Australian OPAL facility). HOW EMBARASSING: THE COUNTRY OF EVITA PERON, THE TANGO, AND EATING DINNER AT MIDNIGHT IS BEATING US IN THE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF SAFE, PEACEFUL, USEFUL REACTORS FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES.
The other interesting presentation on Sunday was about great improvements in nuclear scans of the breasts for cancer, using a new type of gamma camera (this is a scanner that "sees" radiation i.e. where the radiopharmaceutical is in your body) that is built like a mammogram x-ray unit, so it takes images in the same positions as the mammogram x-ray machine, for direct one-to-one comparisons of anatomy (on the x-ray) vs. physiology (where the radioactive drug concentrated in the breast). Awsome detail, allowing us to catch ever smaller tumors.
A few comments about the meeting, itself:
1) The average age of the nuclear medicine technologists at this meeting was somewhere well above 50. Juan and I were the two young, sexy guys in the room, and we're in our 40s. Right now, the job market for nuclear medicine technologists is in one of its cyclical nose-dives (every 10 years, there are too many of us, and it's hard to find a job). Ten years from now, the typical boom-bust cycle is going to rupture, when all of the AARP-eligible people at the Vegas meeting retire, or drop dead. It'll be worse than 2002, when people were calling me up at the hospital where I worked, trying to hire me away.
2) As someone who teaches radiation safety, and other safety classes at a university, I was appalled by the PowerPoint slides. Many of the slides had too much text on them. A single slide would have 150 words on it, in a tiny, unreadable font, and the presenter would have it on the screen for less than 10 seconds. As a trainer, I want to make these doctors and pharmacists sit down with me, so that I can show them how to break up that one slide's worth of material into 3 or 4 slides, in a large, legible font. In a perverse case of inverse proportionality, the more important or interesting the material was, the less time that overstuffed slide was on the screen.
On the way to and from Las Vegas, I made several stops in the desert, to look for birds. After the first 200 miles from L.A. I arrived at Hole in the Wall Campground, in the deserts of San Bernardino County, California.
I drove my wife's pickup truck, which was unnecessary: I could have made it there in the Celica. You could get there in a Porsche Targa, even the dirt roads are that smooth.
Hole in the Wall campground is fantastic. If you could care less about birds, dragonflies, or mammals, you would still love its bizarre rock formations. Imagine a gigantic rock wall that looks like Swiss cheese. The photographs on the official Mojave National Preserve website don't do it justice. While it was over 110 F on Highway 40, when I drove up into the mountains to Hole in the Wall, it must have been below 90. Around 90 miles east of Barstow, I got off Hwy 40 on Essex Road, and drove north, arriving at Hole in the Wall Campground, where I saw numerous Desert Cottontail Rabbits, and Black-tailed Jackrabbits. Both species have oversized ears, like African Elephants, so that they can radiate heat. It's like having your own external radiator. There were numerous all-black dragonflies, which I could not get a good look at, or photograph. I was surrounded by Rock, Canyon, and Cactus Wrens. I saw one Scott's Oriole before the campground, two Pinyon Jays, and a Crissal Thrasher 1/10th of a mile north of the campground. Lesser Nighthawks flew overhead, easy to separate from Common Nighthawks, as their white wingpatches were noticeably distal. The White-tailed Antelope Squirrels refused to pose for photographs.
From Hole in the Wall, I drove the short distance higher up into pinyon/juniper territory, to get Juniper Titmouse on my California list. No such luck. I think it was too late in the day. There were several small passerines that kept flying away from me, but I'll never know what they were. The only bird that cooperated here was a Gray Flycatcher.
I fully intend to return to this beautiful area to camp, and get Juniper Titmouse in the state, but at a time of the year when the temperatures are much nicer.
In Las Vegas, constant thunderstorms that provded no relief from the heat prevented me from visiting Mount Charlston, an alpine mountain area an hour from Las Vegas, that has pine trees, Virgina's Warbler, Juniper Titmouse, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds that visit the feeders. Instead, I spent Saturday evening walking around Wetlands Park, http://www.accessclarkcounty.com/depts/parks/locations/pages/Wetlands.aspx , in southeastern Las Vegas, until well after 8:30 p.m.
I liked this place a lot. Apparently, the local birders have yet to find any good vagrants, but the basic desert bird there were cool. There were a lot of Yellow-breasted Chats, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Gambel's Quail, and Lesser Nighthawks. More Desert Cottontails, and Black-tailed Jackrabbits. The Song Sparrows here are very strange looking: small, and a pale rufous in color. Very different from the blackish ones in California. I never saw a single coyote anywhere in Vegas (or in Mojave National Preserve, for that matter), which might explain the ridiculous numbers of tasty mammals running around. Hm...
Sunday morning I birded Sunset Park, across the street, and southeast of Las Vegas' big Mc Carran Airport, from 06:30 to 07:30 a.m. Apparently, the Vegas locals take their dogs to the park at 6:00 in the morning, before it gets hot enough to kill them (dogs tolerate heat even less than we do). You will not see a dog outside on Las Vegas between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Sunset Park had the same birds as Wetlands Park, and I finally found a pair of Lucy's Warblers. Park in the main parking lot, and walk south, into the mesquite desert dirt lots in the back. The Lucy's Warbler were only in the very dry, pale Russian Thistle, known from cowboy films as "tumbleweed". One bird I expected here was Crissal Thrasher, but since I saw one in the mountains of California, I didn't worry about it.
I had to sift through a lot of all-gray, juvenile Verdins, before I found those Lucy's Warblers.
On the way home Sunday afternoon, I got off the 15, and rove up the Cima Road to try again for Gilded Flciker (I also need this for my California list). The heat was so bad, that I feared passing out, and being found dead (I am serious.). I ran into Dany Sloan (that's "Dany" with one "n"). We agreed that the heat was disgusting, and left. We arranged to drive to the Baker Sewage Ponds, to look for migrating shorebirds. It was 112 degrees, and the sewage ponds were dry. we got in our cars, and headed for home.
Back on the 15, I realized that Zzzyzx was next, and remembered being there last fall with Steve Sosensky et al.
Zzyzx was founded by a con artist who was neither an ordained minister nor a doctor, but he claimed to be both. He built the place up around the natural springs, and transmitted his religious radio program from here for years, until the U.S. Marshals hauled him away. Apparently, he never owned the place, and after he had been there for decades, someone in the government figured that one out.
WOW! There were several hundred Western Kingbirds. They were EVERYWHERE. On the ground, in the trees, and even out on the dry lake bed, standing around like shorebirds. The dry lakebed isn't truly dry, like other desert lake beds: it is moist from the local natural spring, which feeds the pools that attract shorebirds, dragonflies, and anybody else who likes water, like the two Desert Bighorn Sheep that I photographed.
There were also over 30 adult male Bullock's Orioles (far too many for this tiny oasis to support as local breeders), 20 adult male Brown-headed Cowbirds in a flock, a Spotted Sandpiper, a male Wilson's Phalarope, Western & Least Sandpipers in breeding plumage, a Killdeer, Cliff, Barn, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, a pale juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, and two White-faced Ibis.