Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Red Light Camera…Action!

Los Angeles was in the news this week for questioning the value of renewing a contract with the company that installed more than 1,000 “red-light” cameras in the city. The final decision, which is likely to make LA the 15th major city to reverse an unmanned camera policy to police red-light violators, is worthy of some investigation.

Investigation which was aired tonight on ABC World News. The story made two significant points: Accidents have actually INCREASED instead of going down. Proponents of the effectiveness of the red-light cameras counter by saying that the type of accident has changed, from the more serious and oftentimes fatal “T-bone” collision to the side of the vehicle, to the less dangerous rear-end collision. The second point that I found particularly interesting is that only about half the offenders pay the fine, the rest walk away with literally no consequences: no action against their license, no insurance repercussions, and no serious attempt by city or state to collect the fine.

I found this second point particularly interesting because of my one and only experience with the red-light camera.

Going south from my home on Interstate 5, there is an almost unique exit into San Juan Capistrano called the Ortega Highway exit. There are four factors of concern when one takes this exit. All are exacerbated by unfamiliarity with the exit. First, exiting, one has about 400 feet to adjust from highway speed (about 65 mph) to ramp exit speed (posted as 45 mph), and less than 200 feet to adjust to street traffic speed (25 mph). Second, one has to read two street signs (normal signs rather than large freeway exit signs) while braking to that street traffic speed. One sign directs one to the San Juan Mission, a very popular choice. The other directs one to downtown SJC and, as it turns out, to the business I was travelling.

Third, if one is attempting to visit a business, which I was, one has to negotiate through four lanes of traffic in less than 200 feet to make the turn. One has to do this while looking 180 degrees away from those street signs to check on oncoming traffic that is travelling at least 25 mph, many going to the Mission and making the choice of moving to the right lane, across which one is travelling.

Finally, one has to check the status of the caution light (set at 15 seconds, commiserate with adjusting to traffic travelling at 25 mph) which is in the opposite direction to checking the oncoming traffic. The red light camera is on top of the caution light.

When I checked the caution light it was changing to red and I felt it safer to continue at 25 mph rather than quickly stop and risk being rear-ended by the oncoming car behind me. Perhaps a safer choice, but I saw the dreaded flash and the dozens of emails flashed simultaneously in my mind,

“So I asked the court, since the picture was so good, could I use it for my headshot?” “So, I sent them a picture of my check for the fine and they responded with a picture of their handcuffs.” “So I told them the picture wasn’t of me, no matter what the license plate said, and they replied they really could care less.”

I didn’t actually do any of those things. What I did was appear, along with about 30 other people in a mandatory settlement appearance. Twenty-eight of the thirty accepted the court’s suggestion to plead guilty, avoid the fine, and attend traffic school for $250 or so. One other person and I chose to appear in court at a later date and I posted $237 bond for that privilege.

The first part of the court appearance consisted of a presentation by the sheriff with a 6’x8’ white board with locations of all the items listed above and a 10-minute Power Point presentation about calibration, safety statistics, and explanations of the caution light interval and the speed limit reasonableness. Any questions? One. “Were you there when my picture was taken?” Answer, “No.”

My turn. I made all the points listed above and then suggested that if there had been an authority at the scene I would have, at the most, been given a warning ticket, an option unavailable to the camera.

The judge found my argument lacking sufficient reason and found me guilty. The fine was $125 and the remaining $117 of my bond was returned to me in about seven business days.

I never reported this infraction to my insurance company, nor did the sheriff. Consequently I had nothing on my insurance record. Three years (and more) have passed and I have nothing on my driving record. SJC may believe they have fewer accidents, but ABC news may believe otherwise.

Have any of you experience with the red-light cameras?

Next Saturday I think I will share my reflections on an entertainer, recently passed: Glen Campbell. See you then.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The National Pastime

Every day seems to bring new news about the LA Dodgers, and most of it lies somewhere between tawdry and sleazy. Lost among the divorce settlement, lavish life styles of the rich and famous, push-and-shove of Texas billionaire versus now-broke California millionaire and both against a Commissioner looking to make a statement, was a true baseball story.

A story of a dream come true, a call to leave the AAA farm team and make it to the big leagues. The story of Dee Gordon.

The Dodgers have not had a good year to date. Struggling from the cellar of the National League West, their fortunes were not helped by the untimely injury of Rafael Furcal, their highly paid shortstop, early in the season. Furcal had been sidelined for five weeks with an injured thumb and his recent injury to his side may have concerned Don Mattingly because veteran ballplayers don’t always bounce back quickly.

So the call went out to Albuquerque, to have the young Gordon join the team in Philadelphia. From the get-go he generated the kind of interest that makes an All-Star. He is faster than greased lightning and to date has stolen four bases. He covers the field like a ranging Gazelle, and shows a sense of the game beyond his young years. And, surprisingly he was maintaining his AAA batting average against veteran pitching.

Of course he comes from good stock. His father Tom “Flash” Gordon is a living legend. He pitched for eight different teams before retiring in 2009 at the age of 41. He is the only pitcher in MLB history to compile 100 wins, saves and holds. This in spite of playing two seasons with my favorite team, the hapless Cubs.

For me, Tom Gordon’s bigger claim to fame is that he was part of the inspiration for Stephen King to write my most favorite book for young adults, “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”.

I’m unsure why this book is so memorable. There could be several reasons. For one thing, both my wife and I listened to it rather than read it. Some books lend themselves to that medium and the reading, by Anne Heche is phenomenal http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Loved-Gordon-LOVED-GORDON/dp/B002E9NP66/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1309025951&sr=8-5 .

Then there is the construction of the book itself. King tells the story of a young girl, separated from her mother and brother while walking the Appalachian Trail and wandering for more than a week, subsisting off the land and possibly at serious risk of being followed by a hungry bear, by dividing the Chapters into innings “Top of the First”, etc. This unique tool allows a suspenseful buildup much as we experience in a close ballgame. It also allows for the relief pitcher, more accurately a Closer, to figure prominently in the story.

We follow the Girl, who maintains contact with the outside world by listening to the Boston Red Sox games on her transistor radio, as she maintains strength and sanity in her perilous adventure. The book also is such an off-the-wall departure from King’s stories of suspense and horror as to be insightful of the complexity of a great writer, who happens to love baseball.

So there are lessons to be learned, about independence and resourcefulness, about courage and growing up, that make this a great book for young adults. I may be wrong, but I like to imagine that Tom would have exposed Dee to this story when it came out in 1999. Dee would have been about 8 at the time, a perfect age to learn the lessons captured by Stephen King.

So, that’s the Dodger story I am dwelling on this week. Of course the fact that Dee Gordon and I share the same first name makes it a special story too, in spite of the fact that he has recently gone 1 for 13 and has dropped his batting average below .300. Rumor has it that when Furcal comes back, they may shift him to Second Base to allow Dee Gordon to remain in the Shortstop position and on the roster. I hope so.

Los Angeles recently visited whether they would extend their contract on “red light cameras”. It just so happens I have a story about those cameras. Tuesday, I think I’ll share it with you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

School Daze

Recent features in all media seem to have focus on one or another aspect of education. In California we don’t have money for our schools. In Wisconsin the state government is attacking collective bargaining. In Detroit, Washington D.C., and New Jersey the systems themselves are being reconstructed. And at the Federal level, President Obama says he wants to train students to be of value to the workforce so more people can get jobs.

What a concept!

As Americans we should be justifiably proud of our educational system. Our literacy rates are among the highest in the world, and that takes into account the many immigrants who do not read and write English because they cannot read and write in their native language.

Although I can’t recollect where in the Constitution it might be, it has certainly been the intent of our country to provide education through grade 12 to anyone who needs it and who has skills to achieve a meaningful graduation. Moreover, opportunities for advanced education have been bedrock since before we were a country.

So what is new news? And why?

In California our Community College system has morphed from education to prepare for life in the real world to a cost-effective alternative for one of our many private and state-supported universities, or at the very least a “feeder” to the universities where education can be completed with fewer years of $20,000 tuition, fewer impacted classes, and lower living costs. This fact is borne out by the dismal number of students receiving an AA degree.

An unintended (I hope) consequence of this is that tuition at the Community Colleges has jumped (when my son attended it was $1/unit, now it is $26). You need to pay more for instructors who are preparing one for transfer than for an instructor teaching a trade. There are exceptions. My grand-daughter is taking a two year course that will give her an AA and will prepare her to be a courtroom stenographer. The program costs her less than one semester at USC or UCLA.

William McGurn believes part of the problem is that government is too entangled in the system. In an April 19, 2011 WSJ article “When Big Government Goes to College”: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704004004576271253244143890.html?
He makes the point that the more government tries to assist in the tuition process, the higher go the costs.

The same son mentioned above eventually finished his education and teaching credential at a private school. Mary and I filled out the Tuition Assistance forms and literally borrowed the money until he completed school, so I am not saying government intervention isn’t helpful. (Parenthetically, we still joke that if you can fill out the forms, you have too much education yourself to need the money).

My father paid for my sister’s and my college education including post-graduate work. It was really, our only legacy, but it provided both of us an opportunity to start our wage-earning life free of debt. Today, most students graduate with at least $40,000 debt, and a need to pay off the 7.5% loan at a time when they are least able to do so.

When we visited Ireland a few years ago, we were amazed at the prosperity and asked for an explanation. The answer was surprising: a decision was made to invest in education. Schooling through graduate programs was free and restricted only by skill level and performance. The country has since fallen on hard times, mostly because of the same housing problem we have, but the investment seemed to have been a wise one.

Why can we not figure out a way to graduate our students free of debt and trained for occupations that will fulfill their needs?

Baseball is big news in LA right now. There ought to be something of interest for me to write about next Saturday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Homesick Blues

I don’t know who goes to camp in the summer anymore, but I found myself waxing nostalgic about when I did…and the pain of homesickness.

I might also have been influenced by all the hype about Bob Dylan’s 70th anniversary and his first Top 40 hit “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which it turns out had nothing to do with homesickness and more to do with Jack Kerouac. Whatever…I found myself reminiscing about homesickness and why, it may have been eradicated like Polio and Smallpox in parts of the world.

I first went to camp when my family, sans dad, who was in New Guinea with the Seabees, was living in Northern California, specifically Vallejo. I’m sure my mother felt it would be a good experience for me, an opportunity to express my independence, meet new friends and (although she would not have known it at the time) discover the utility of making a Lanyard. ( http://www.billy-collins.com/2005/06/the_lanyard.html ). I was eight or nine at the time and was dropped off at the camp with a reassurance to my mother that I would write a letter that night (or get no supper) telling her of my adjustment.

I did in fact write a letter, postcard really, the first night, and several other times in the two weeks I was at camp. The first letter asked my mother to return immediately and rescue me from various camp bullies, heartless counselors, unfamiliar foods, and probably various wild animals I had yet to discover. I was homesick. I missed my mother, my bed, and all the familiar accoutrements of daily living. I even missed my sister, who not that long before had tried to kill me with a croquet mallet.

Eventually I adjusted and actually enjoyed the experience, but those first few days were a living hell.

My second experience with homesickness came when I was in undergraduate school at the University of Iowa and had to fulfill a three week basic training regime at Great Lakes Naval Center. Actually, I was not homesick. Leaving home for college and the immediate immersion into the hazing of Fraternity life steeled me for whatever the Navy had in mind for me. Not that it was easy, mind you, but homesickness was the least of my emotions.

However, I have in mind a boy, bedded next to my bed, who didn’t stop crying for two days, even while taking cold showers. Not surprising, in that they do everything they can to strip a recruit from home attachments. They literally shave your hair (his had been quite long for 1950’s styles), in contrast to my camp experience, they won’t LET you write home for a week, and they take away every personalized item of clothing and toiletry, issuing you standard fare.

It turns out that the two most common instances of homesickness are “going to camp” and “going to the service”.

Back to my original premise as to whether anyone goes to camp anymore, I don’t think many do, and maybe I was one of a few when I went. Other than organizational camps, like the Scouts, or the Y’s, most of the camps I found on Google were day-camps, designed for Title-1 school children, a group unlikely to have a firm enough home structure to cause homesickness by its absence.

I asked my wife and several friends if they had been homesick. Those who even recognized the condition usually said, “No.”

I asked my son, who has taken his Eighth-grade students on a one-week tour of the East Coast for the last six years if any exhibited signs of homesickness and he explained that, even though for many it was the first time away from home for an extended period, that in this day of social networking, they all had a very short leash to home familiarity by phone, text, or email.

So, perhaps the malady has been eradicated after all. Which is not all bad. I remember at one time in my life when I was spurned by some young love, uncertain as to where I would go to college or what I would do the rest of my life, and visibly depressed, my mother said, “People will tell you these are the best years of your life…They are wrong.”

And she was right! Today and every day when I wake up I realize the best day of my life is about to happen.

Tuesday I think I am going to tackle in my Blog what has happened to the school system in our country. And then, later, maybe I’ll tackle peace in the Middle East.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mission Viejo Infinity, Me and the DMV (or Bobby McGee)

Last December I bought a new car. Not just any new car. It was a 2011 M-37 Infinity. And it was my third Infinity, the first two having pleased me so much that I passed them on to family members instead of trading them in. So all’s right with the world, right?

Wrong!

It is now six months later and I have finally come full circle on three significant problems; four if you count the accident.

Problem number 1: My last car had a feature that I kind of liked. It gave a warning beep if I strayed outside a traffic lane (or, as it turns out if it thought I strayed outside a traffic lane that had been changed somehow). It also had a feature on the cruise control that would automatically slow you if you were getting too close to the car in front of you. In the almost six years I drove the car the feature probably didn’t save my life, but it gave me peace of mind and I wanted to repeat all the features on my 2006 M-35.

The 2006 packed that feature with the Navigation system and the 2011 broke it out into what they called “The Intelligent Electronic” package or something like that. It included an extra camera from the Navigation system, more speakers, some Wi-Fi computer connections and other things that were not important to me when the salesman explained them. He did not explain that I would lose what they now called “Advanced Cruise-control” or something like that.

The first day I picked up my car, I demonstrated to my grandson the beep feature, but was unable to make it beep. I called the dealer and was told that since many people found that annoying there was a way to switch it off and they would switch it back on for me. Good. But I was leaving town for a few days…flying not driving, so no miles on the car, right?

While I was gone I received a call from the dealer notifying me that the second set of keys they gave me didn’t belong to my car, and asked that I swap them out when I returned. Will do! And did! And while there asked about the lack of beep. Salesman test rode with me and seemed concerned that he couldn’t switch it on. Took my VIN number and let me go. Car had less than 100 miles on it.

Since I heard nothing I thought I would wait until the 3750 oil change and let them have another go at it.

At about 300 miles a Little Old Lady from Laguna Woods backed into me at the Home Depot parking lot resulting in a 1” long, ¼” deep dent and about 5” of paint damage. No longer a "new" car.

At 3750 miles someone in the Service Department realized that I had not purchased the beep feature and it could not be added.

Problem 2: I have had the same personalized license plates on all of my three infinities: DRDEKAY, it is my Hash name, and was one of those keeps-on-costing presents your kids give you on Father’s Day.

Unfortunately there was a disconnect in the sales closure where I was charged for numbered plates that would be delivered to me, instead of for my personalized plates, which I would have transferred from my 2006 to my 2011 after notifying the DMV of my payment.

I never got the numbered plates.

In fact the first I knew they existed was when I received a notice from Toll Roads that they had been photographed on two occasions going through a toll. I have a Toll Road transponder…on my unlicensed 2011. The license for that car on Toll Road records is DRDEKAY. I have gone through the toll a dozen times (without plates).

The plates on the photo are in fact on my registration (who looks at a registration?) and the model and VIN number match my car. The picture, which I finally receive, shows a black 2004 M-45, but the Toll Roads won’t let me off the hook.

Mission Viejo Infinity is marginally helpful. The thing about the plates is essentially my problem with the DMV, they say, since their paperwork was all in order. They don’t seem to feel it was their place to know how to advise me (this time) about transferring my personalized plates, but they do go through their records to see if they have any history of selling or servicing a 2004 M-45. They don’t.

Best guess? DMV delivered the plates to someone else.

Problem 3: The Rodney Dangerfield/Franz Kafka feeling.

Throughout this whole development I had the feeling that things were outside my control, but no one else seemed involved, not the Toll Roads, not Mission Viejo Infinity, not the DMV (except for the initial telephone calls I was working through AAA, otherwise I would have gone mad), not even the Little Old Lady from Laguna Woods.

Some “Retired People” claim they have no reason for life, but things like this certainly get my juices moving in the morning. So, I worked my way through five trips to AAA, several trips, more emails, and lots of telephone with Mission Viejo Infinity, and several calls and emails with Toll Roads.

With the exception of Toll Roads, there are no longer loose ends. Mission Viejo Infinity has offered to install my personalized plates at my convenience tomorrow. They have already made good on their offer of free service for what will be the first year of ownership, and they have expressed concern, if total amazement about my ordeal. The car has been repainted and looks great. The license change only cost me $67, which is probably half of what it would have cost if done at the beginning. I am confident the Toll Roads will waive the $131 they say I owe, and all is right with the world.

This has been an extremely long and heavy blog. Saturday I’ll lighten it up, probably with something about summer camps, or how I learned my eight year-old was gambling.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Neat and Mr. QC

Look up “neat” in my Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and the first definition is “clean”. I couldn’t disagree more!

Perhaps part of my resistance comes from the fact that I am not neat, but my training as a dentist and my love of food preparation makes me extremely conscious of being clean. Perhaps the problem is not so much a disagreement with Mr. Webster as it has to do with the fact that the dictionary was a wedding present and has been in continual use for fifty years, and the general lexicon has dramatically changed, moving through, “You have a neat desk” and “That is a neat car” to just “Neat!” I always liked the joke about his response when, on his death bed, Webster was asked, “Do you have a last word?” To which he reportedly respond, “Zygote.”

I do not have a neat desk.

In fact at times my wife claims it was the inspiration for James A. Michener’s book “The Source” You may remember that Michener used a devise where an archeological dig turns up artifacts in an ancient mound composed of the remains of successive settlements in Makor. He traces the history of Israel from ancient times to the then present though analyzing various strata of the digs. At times my desk has such strata.

I claim it is not a question of neatness, but can better be explained as maintaining items conveniently so they are readily accessible for use in whatever creative project is on my mind at the time. Mary says, “Horse-hockey” or some such phrase. She cleans her desk every week before the cleaning ladies come to dust. The ladies don’t touch my desk.

What brings this subject to mind is that I have the pleasure of living across the street from my grandchildren and less than a mile from the other of my two sons. The other day my six year-old grandson, Ethan, was visiting and in the course of our activities he treated me to all sorts of childhood curiosities. He builds things with a set of blocks his father used when he was Ethan's age. That day he built a ferry boat and placed it near a mooring he called “The Bay”. A few weeks ago I had taken him on our little Balboa Island Ferry and told him that one day we might go to the Back Bay, which I think he would enjoy. His memory and creativity were the most thanks I could ask for.

Of course there was also a Pirate Ship.

Later he wanted to water the pants on our deck. Questions rolled out faster than the water from the hose: “Why do some plants have those pipes in the ground?” “To get the water down to the roots better.” “Why not have pipes in all the plants?” “Because they cost $9.” “What is that plant? (Mint). “Why don’t you smell it and guess? (Don’t know). “Taste it? (Still don’t know). Mint.” (Next time he’ll know).

When we went inside he watched my write my blog and asked what an empty container was doing on my desk. “It’s for a photo memory card.” “Where is the card?” When we found it, he placed it in its container and seemed satisfied.

Ethan’s Uncle Tim is a teacher in a K-8 parochial school, lives in a condo where his friends believe he has a daily cleaning service and has the nickname at school as “Mr. QC (Quality Control). That used to bother me because he would point out things that were not quite right but would never fix them. He has matured and now he is a great handyman asset to Mary and me. We may have contributed to his attitude because we used to play a game when the boys were growing up. It was called “Take away from the table”. We would take turns removing an item from the table while the family had their eyes closed. Then we would have to guess what was missing. Great memory game!

Tim’s brother is detail oriented but like his father is not neat. I wonder how Ethan will turn out.

Tuesday’s blog will finally get to the DMV-Toll Road story. Don’t miss it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pushing Pills

I take fourteen pills a day, only four of which are prescription. Mary, my wife takes three, two of which are the same kind. She would actually take five except she doesn’t take pills very easily. Consequently one of her medications uses a nasal delivery system.
Most articles on pills deal with the need to take them, or the cost of them, or where R&D fits in. But today I am going to talk about HOW to take them and why, at an advanced age and with nine years of post-graduate education, I learned something from my son.
I was trying to think of when and why I started taking pills. My mother was a good pill-taker. She used to chew Aspirin and more than once helped a pill to her stomach by chasing it there with Scotch Whiskey. She also was interested in the health of her children: didn’t allow coffee until high school, fed me cod-liver oil until I was strong enough to take the spoon away, and taught me to put wheat-germ on my cereal. Of course we sopped up the grease in the broiler with lightly toasted bread when she grilled well-marbled Iowa beef steaks and wolfed the toast down, chasing it to our young arteries with express train speed.
I started taking more pills early in or marriage when I contracted cold sores, probably from Mary, although she would probably deny that. I attended a lecture at the Chicago Mid-winter dental meeting on treating Herpes Simplex, and even preventing reoccurrence by taking Bioflavonoid and Lysine. This was designed mostly just to prevent reoccurrence. If I had an active lesion, there was other treatment. In that case I would apply some medication (I think it may have been in the Iodine family) and subject the lip to fluorescent light. Thinking back on that it sounds like a recipe for cancer, but I didn’t follow that regime very long. I do, however continue to take the Lysine and Bioflavonoid and believe it works.
Around the same time I started taking another pill that I still take. Mary had an Uncle Mike, also a dentist. At one time in my life I found myself going through a reception line and congratulating him on one thing or another. At the time he must have been in his mid-seventies and looked about fifty. I commented on this and with a spark in his eye he said, “The secret is Vitamin E.” I probably have read thirty articles that disclaim that theory, but I still take my daily dose of “E”. Perhaps coincidently, I still see mostly brown through the thinning grey hair.
Somewhere around my fiftieth birthday I started taking a multivitamin, probably enticed by the “Centrum Silver” label, and sometime five years or so later I faced the inevitable medication control of my cholesterol and blood pressure: two pills each. And then I had to add enough Calcium and iron to counter the effects of age and the medications I was taking.
Not that long ago I found myself at a meeting in Chicago with a group of peers and discussion revealed that I was the only one not taking something for my aching joints. Enter Glucosamine. Now I take something else that is popular at Costco. Two very big pills a day. Even a good pill taker has limits.
Watching me gag one evening while taking my ration of nine evening pills, Mary must have felt sympathy, because she shared with me what our son, Tim imparts to his grade school students. The lesson is to open the throat rather than tossing the pills down. So, now I tip my chin down after I have a mouthful of water and gently place the pill on my tongue. It’s almost relaxing to swallow a pill.
So, that’s the secret. Fill your mouth with a swallow of water, slip a pill in, tuck your chin to your chest and swallow. I find it helpful to start with the largest pill first. If I have two of the same size the uncoated one goes first. I bought a pill-cutter for Mary but it never worked out too well and even coated pills become uncoated when divided.
Most people my age get techy tips from kids or grandkids. I’m fortunate to get more practical advice, something I can use every day. Thanks, Tim!
I was going to tell my DMV story today, but it is still playing out, so probably will be a week from now. Stay with me, the story is worth the wait.