Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seasoning the Well-Seasoned Traveller…To Taste

As a foodie I am totally aware that sometimes even the most experienced cooks screw up. Maybe it is a missed ingredient; where you look over the counter to a pile of chopped leeks that was supposed to be sautéed back in step one. Or maybe the new mixer you got overbeat the eggs, or cream or puree. Well I believe the same thing happens to even the most experienced travellers.

I recently departed for a flight to the East Coast. My wife had a meeting so we scheduled a mid-morning departure from Southern California, and being the productive husband that I try to be, I spent some time cleaning out boxes, which tend to collect in our loft. I broke down several before Mary returned and I threw our bags in the car and off we went. As I went through Security, emptying my pockets, I found there was one item left, which seemed unfamiliar.

Yes, there was the box-cutter, looking eerily similar to the ones used by the terrorists on 9/11. “I suppose I have to surrender this?” I asked the TSA attendant. “Only unless you would prefer to return to your car with it.” She answered. So I surrendered my $7 box-cutter and went sheepishly on my way. I should have known better. Even before 9/11 we had restrictions. At the time I used to routinely commute from Orange County to the Bay area, going up on Monday or Tuesday and returning on Thursday or Friday. I liked the schedule, partly because it gave me a chance to visit my sister in Marin County.

On one of those visits we divided some of my Mother’s possessions and Joan wanted me to have the silver knife used to cut my parent’s wedding cake. Okay! Okay, until I got to Security. “Too long”, they said. On that occasion I was lucky. A sympathetic supervisor said, “Do you fly out of here often?” When advised that I did, she said, “I’ll put it in the top drawer of the desk in my office, and you can pick it up next time.” She did, I did, and I mailed it home the next week. Who says Security doesn’t have a heart?

My last trip (just got back last night) was to the Bay area with my son. He likes to visit there because we lived close to where my meeting was during his formative years. As a matter of fact we went to church around the corner from where he went to Second Grade. When we checked into the Marriott I went through, what has become my check-in ritual. I look at the clock-radio and try to figure out how either or both of those elements work.

I have found that increasingly the pre-set buttons are for XM radio; the ports are for iPod or some similar device, and figuring out how to set the clock, the alarm, or find a normal FM station is harder than a search for the Holy Grail. Imagine my pleasure when I found all the buttons with familiar “hour” and “minute” “forward and backward” settings and even antique circles, which could be used to tune and control volume. As our Muslim friends are fond of saying, “God is indeed good.”

I never told my son my problem, choosing instead to let him believe that because I have an iPhone, I am technologically savvy. When we landed, and I turned on that iPhone, a mother behind me was saying to her three year-old son, “Stop whining. You know if you whine you get nothing.” To which he remonstrated that he wasn’t whining. I offered to help, commenting that my iPhone had an app that measured degrees of whine. “We could check it out and see where he hits.”

“That’s good!” she laughed, and my son was impressed.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Totally Coupless

The news is full of Middle-East countries where long-standing despots are being edged out by the populace whose interests they have failed to respect. In almost every case: Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, including Libya, elements of the army have either supported the rebels or stood by while events developed.

That got me thinking, that in the 30+ years I was affiliated with the U.S. Navy, I never was taught anything about how to support a coup. I was, and remain, totally coupless.

Mary and I recently returned from a Leadership Conference, held in Richmond, Virginia. The trip afforded an opportunity to not only learn valuable personal improvement skills, but also to visit friends of long-standing and discover much of the southern richness surrounding the Civil War. Two facts stand out. One was given when we visited the Tredegar Iron Works. Tredegar made almost all of the canons used by the South in the war. They were well suited to do this because they had made all the canons used by the Union in the early years of the war. And that was the interesting fact: canons for both sides were exactly alike! They used the same ammunition, fired with the same firing procedures, and were often captured and used by the opposing side, since the soldiers were trained exactly alike in their operation.

The second fact was that Robert E. Lee was offered the command of the Union Army. He was, after all, a leader in his class at West Point. One can only imagine that meeting. How he must have agonized, weighing the tremendous honor and expression of respect against a sense of loyalty to his birthplace and the causes about which his family and friends felt so keenly. As a matter of fact, all the Confederate generals graduated from West Point and served with distinction in what remained the Union army. Their choice, to fight for the South, tells much about the complexity of the issues that caused the war: far more than slavery, and much to do about the distinction between North and South as to where the wealth of the Nation came from.

It tells even more about why the United States is unlikely to ever have a coup. Each re-enlistment of my Navy career required taking an oath, on a Bible, to support the Constitution, the Republic for which it stands, and the President of that Republic, my commander-in-chief. Although it was assumed that I would follow the orders of my superior officers, there was no oath to do so.

In many countries the officer class is separated from the rest of the military by education. In fact that was true in this country at the time of the Civil War. But today, we have a very educated rank and file, who are not likely to change allegiance merely because of military leadership. Hence, no coups. We also have free elections, and in many cases, term limits, that preclude festering, popular unrest.

And that is probably a good thing, because on one occasion when the Weapons Officer on a carrier I was attached to, was desirous of using up outdated ammunition, he took me, along with the rest of the officer’s mess, to the firing range. After several minutes, firing my .45, he approached me and advised, “If we are ever attacked by pirates or something, wait until they are very close and throw the gun at them. It’ll likely do more damage.” Now that we are actually at some risk of pirate attack, the country is probably safer with me in retirement.

As I write this I am preparing to leave, later today, to attend a two-day seminar by the Naval War College staff. Last year they talked about the Somalia pirates and what we were doing to handle that problem. This year I am taking my grown son who, although he never joined a service, has a long-standing interest in things military. I expect the focus of attention will be the Middle-East. Maybe I’ll learn more about what makes a coup.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oil and Water...and Politics

The classic adage that oil and water don’t mix took on new meaning the other day when I read a WSJ article on front-load washing machines. The subject was especially relative because last year I purchased a new washer and dryer, mostly because of age. I was surprised when I looked at the market that it was almost impossible to find a top-load washer, like the Maytag that had served me so well.

The reason? America has become too dependent on foreign oil.

Energy efficiency in the washing machine industry began in the early 1990’s and rapidly gained momentum so that by 2007 it was almost impossible to find a top-loader. Also, it was almost impossible to find a washing machine that worked as well as a top-loader. Oh, and what you found as a front-loader cost almost twice as much. But you were supposed to make that up in savings from less electricity and water usage.

Of course, water saving was supposed to be the reason for low-flow toilets, a fact blurred by the multiple flushes needed to get rid of stubborn residue.

Water saving wasn’t behind the moratorium on incandescent light bulbs, but the unintended consequences are strikingly similar. Compact fluorescent lamps are not only irritatingly slow to glow, rendering you ugly in the mirror (and presumably to anyone who sees you); they are toxic to dispose of when they finally burn out. Gone are the days when you could throw a bulb into trash with your only worry being that someone might cut themselves. Now disposal requires a drive to the hazardous waste dump and often stockpiling in some room until there are enough bulbs to justify the trip. And what a calamity if one breaks in a room! As a dentist for half a century I know the drill if there is a mercury spill in the office. That’s why we took carpet out of the dental operatory.

What I’m setting up here is that maybe we were better off before Congress began meddling in our everyday lives. Technology advances are bad enough in their own right without mucking around with the regulations required to use new devices. My mother-in-law used to say that for every labor-saving devise introduced there was an increase in labor. For instance before there were washing machines, people washed once a week, and hung the wash out to dry on a clothesline. After the introduction of washers and dryers, children stopped changing clothes (from school clothes to play clothes), wearing the same sets for a week, and changed clothes every day. Washing had to increase in frequency.

Don’t even get me started on cell phones and work expectations of 24/7!

Today’s news indicated that the California legislature is considering changing the age when a child can ride in the front seat of an automobile. Presently, although encouraged to sit in back, children over the age of six can sit in front if properly restrained by a seat belt. They are considering changing the age to 13. I reflected that it may be that the first time a child could sit in front was when they get their license to drive.

Back to my washer story. I finally settled on a washer and dryer that cost more than double what they replaced, and I have been relatively happy with how well they clean. This, in spite of the fact that Consumer Reports in 2007 could find no washer they could call a “Best Buy”. Off-setting the higher cost was a rebate program offered in California that was designed to be an incentive to move to more energy-efficient appliances. After three re-submissions of the paperwork, I have yet to get the final $50 of three rebates.

And these are the bureaucrats who are trying to balance our $26 billion budget shortfall. I think we’d have a better chance of getting oil and water to mix.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Doesn’t Bode Well

It seems to me that most of the month of March the news has centered on the Legislative issues of Wisconsin. This, on certainly not "slow news" days. We have a major calamity in Japan, with more than 10,000 expected dead and nuclear reactor rods glowing hotter by the minute. We have Moammar Gadhafi resisting the will of Libyan people clamoring for change. We have the rest of the Arab world being more successful in having their demands met.

And we have thousands of protestors in Madison Wisconsin.

I have two sisters-in-law who teach school in Wisconsin, one whose husband recently ran for a Republican state Senate seat. They both have at least moderate support for Scott Walker, the new Governor of the state. They are essentially ostracized at work. At issue, in case you have been in a cave for the last month, is a long-standing union affiliation of Wisconsin teachers. Union dues are collected by the state and the unions consequently have significant monies to support politicians who support the unions. Long-standing collective bargaining agreements mean that not only salaries are issues of employment, so is tenure, and health benefits, and retirement.

Over time this has led to significant budget issues that Governor Walker believes need to change so he can balance the state budget. The unions and the Democratic Senate members say “no”. The Senate, as a political tactic had 14 Democratic members leave the state so there would be no quorum to vote on a law that would strip the unions of their collective bargaining powers. The Republicans took the fiscal elements out of the law and voted it in.

The Democratic Attorney-general filed suit because 24-hour public notice of the fiscal element change was not given. Republicans said they only needed two hours’ notice. A Democratic judge agreed with that legal position but said the 2 hour notice wasn’t honored. She stayed the law and went on a week’s vacation before reviewing the legal brief.

It seems to me that eventually the budget will have to be balanced, with concessions or taxes. We are faced with the same issue in California, as are many other states.

I am in healthcare, and there are lots of changes in the wind about health entitlements. Hard choices are going to be made and no one will be completely satisfied with the results. The inevitability of this seems so obvious to me that I would think we could all work together.

But I’m not seeing it. Not in the budgets, not in the NFL negotiations, not in the Arab world.

I would like to see some indication of collaboration, but what I see does not bode well for success.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Do You Give the Man Who Has Everything?

Three weeks ago, at the U.S. Navy Memorial Monument in Washington D.C. Bill Cosby was given a singular honor: He was named an honorary Chief Hospital Corpsman.

As someone who spent a total of 31 years in the Navy, I can vouch for the fact that this was a big deal, even for someone who has been honored as often and in as many diverse ways as Mr. Cosby. I first saw the comedian when he was a relative unknown doing his standup routines in nightclubs. I was struck by the fact that his material drew on experiences he had that were shared by his audience rather than on the shock value of strong language and rebellion. One of my favorite memories is his recollection of being placed on the rotating platform in the park and spun till he threw up.

I had been on that spinning platform and spun by my older, malicious sister, may her soul rest in peace.

Through the years, tens of thousands have been entertained by Cosby’s television shows, multiple personal appearances and lately, inspirational emails that may or may not all be directly attributable to him. Fact is certain that he holds high the American opportunity that abounds for those who would improve their life in the United States.

I was unaware of why this message seems to resonate so easily from him. And then, when I read the news article about his honor, it became clearer. “Thank you all”, he said. “(I treasure) the years I spent in the Navy and so many moments remembering that the Navy gave me a wake-up call. The Navy showed me obedience and that’s the thing that pushed me to realize the mistakes I had made in my young life at 19 years-old and that I could do something with my life and be somebody.”

During his four years in the Navy, now Dr. Cosby, served at Quantico, National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Naval Hospital Argentia, Newfoundland, USS Fort Mandan and Philadelphia Naval Hospital. He was discharged in 1960 as a Hospital Corpsman Third Class.

The Chief induction is a ceremony most Naval Officers do not experience. Even those who rise in the enlisted ranks rarely achieve that level before making the transition to officer. I had occasion only once in my career to be invited to an initiation. Earning the “hard hat” that distinguishes the Chief from other Petty Officers is sometimes celebrated a little on the wild and wooly side. Looking at the official Navy photograph of Bill Cosby in his full uniform and hat, I believe his induction was a little more reserved than the one I attended.

Reserved perhaps, but certainly was richly deserved.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Codes of Honor

I’d like to weigh in on the Brandon Davies Thing. That’s Thing with a capital “T”…because it’s a big deal, not only in the press that it is getting, but in the way it differs from other unacceptable conduct, most notable recently, Charlie Sheen. For those of you who may not be aware, Brandon Davies was a notable basketball player for the BYU Cougars, and a major reason (along with Jimmer Fredette) that the Cougars are in the heat for the NCAA Basketball title.

Sadly, Brandon will not be playing in the tournament because it was leaked (and he did not deny) that he had premarital sex with his girlfriend. And he attends BYU. And he signed the Honor Code that all BYU students sign, which includes a morals clause. But that’s not the point I want to make. The point I want to make is that his fellow players, along with his fellow students, did not cry for him to leave school. After all he has expressed remorse and asked forgiveness, but he could no longer be a participant in the team, at least for this year. He had willingly made a choice that placed him outside the common group.

That’s what makes a Code of Honor different from a community law. When you break the law, you might have consequences, especially if your infringement placed others at risk, but you might not, for instance, going through a stop sign on a deserted country road. When you break an element of an Honor Code, you weaken the collective group, tarnish their image. Bring shame on them. Weaken the trust element of their strength.

In my career in the Navy I learned there was a difference in the Navy and Marine Officers who attended the Naval Academy and those who gained their commission through other avenues. Not that Annapolis graduates knew more, or were brighter and cleverer, nor that they had a stronger sense of honor. They did have a bond with other “ring-knockers” that was impossible to describe, because they knew something about their fellow officers, just by knowing what they had committed to when at the Academy.

Without ever having attended BYU, I can appreciate the student commitment to the Mormon principles taught there, as did Amar’e Stoudemire, the very wealthy and talented player, presently with the New York Knicks. Stoudemire, who never went to college, was asked what he thought of the BYU coach’s decision to allow Davies, in civilian coat and tie, to get a piece of the net following the game that clinched their Division championship. He said, “The school has the right to administer punishment, but I hope Davies will have another season to prove himself.” Stoudemire attended Mount Zion Christian Academy in Florida during a time when his father had died and his mother was in prison. He credits a faith in God for getting him through that period. Tim Tebow, who did attend BYU, agrees. “Everyone messes up, almost every day. We deserve second chances.”

My son teaches at a parochial elementary school, where the students and their parents sign an Honor Code. Recently the entire Eighth Grade was suspected of some suspicious activity during their taking a test, a test on Religion. When confronted, they admitted the irregularity and accepted group punishment: detention, a zero score on the test, with a chance to redeem themselves in the future.

Someone smarter than me is quoted as saying, “Honor is doing the right thing when no one knows you are doing it.” I think this is a nice differential from breaking laws to ponder. What do you think?