Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon: Wear Your Freakin' Bike Helmets

I commute on my bike, and do plenty of longer rides too. So it probably has 3,000 miles or better on it, and I ride all the time -- streets, trails, gnarly mountain-bike singletrack strewn with roots and rocks. I'm no Olympian or trick-cyclist, but I am exceedingly comfortable on a bicycle; for example, when I come to a stop light, I habitually trackstand instead of putting a foot down.

So it's tempting to think It Won't Happen To Me.

Friday afternoon I was pedaling home from work. I was late -- I'd kept on programming and hadn't noticed the time, so I would have to hustle not to get yelled at by my kids. I swooped around the parked cars by the Limnology building to see another bicyclist right in front of me.

Little musical interlude here -- nothing whatsoever going on. La la la...dum da doo...

Hey, what's that metal thing I'm looking up at? A ceiling...of an ambulance? These are definitely EMTs. After decades on Ski Patrol, I know the litany so well I can practically recite it for them. I'm wearing a cervical collar. I'm being backboarded. Which is odd, because there's no reason for this to be going on. Is it even happening to me? Is this a dream? TV?

"This is great", I try to tell them, "we were practicing this just the other night. Did I mention that I'm a Ski Patroller?"

"Yes, you did", they chorus tiredly. Apparently I've told them already. Several times, from their tone. The experience does have the unreal, disconnected quality of a dream. And of course there's no reason for me to be lying in an ambulance. Yet there's far too much detail. Crap. Maybe I really am being backboarded. Am I paralyzed? Can I --

Thank God. Both my toes and my fingers obey my commands. Oddly enough, although I'm exceedingly glad to realize this, I am not afraid, or upset. Nor am I in any pain, really, although I can tell that this body -- cautiously, I stipulate that it's mine -- has taken a whomping. I keep pretty still, just in case. Don't want to be a bad patient. Someone asks the combination of my bike lock. I remember it, which surprises me. Like these events, the four numbers just swim in from nowhere, unconnected to anything else. The EMTs tell me their names -- obviously not for the first time, or the second, or the third, from their attitude. John and John. How hard could that be? I am determined to rehearse those names over and over and impress them with my mnemonic prowess. Sure enough, as we're driving somewhere they ask me what their names are. They seem quite pleased that I remember. Ha!

It really is quite dreamlike. Things just seem to happen, there is no sense of a sequence of events. But as my short-term memory yawns, stretches, scratches, and starts hunting up some coffee, it begins to feel more like a story and less like a series of tachistiscope flashes. I remember my wife's work number, but can't recall whether or not she's working this week. I remember telling the Finn to have a nice weekend, but not getting on the bike.

The doctors in the ER ask me questions, some of which I can answer. Out of nowhere comes an embarrassing recollection of someone just going splat onto pavement, really thumping it. Was that me? Today? That doesn't seem likely, the memory is unconnected to anything else. But it does have a certain explanatory power. Reluctantly I accept that it must be real. Because I am clearly me, this is really happening despite all evidence that it's some kind of dream, and the doctors are telling me that I'm probably suffering from a concussion. Aha! I've worked with those, and know how spooky and weird the patients are. Undoubtedly I've been quite loopy, given the sorts of kindergarten questions I'm getting, and am embarrassed. I resolve to do better, make their jobs easier.

My wife and kids arrive. True to form, Jenny takes one look at the mess and clings to her mother, as if to deny the reality of Dad lying there on the table, naked under the blankets except for a cervical collar, the right side of his lips the size of sausages and his hands bleeding. Equally true to type, my son greets me affectionately and with concern, confirms with the doctors that I'm in no danger, then starts analyzing all the cool stuff in the ER -- I mean, if Dad's going to be all right, there's no reason to waste an opportunity like this! And just to make it three for three, Janet is sweet, supportive, careful to stay out of the way, and manages the three simultaneous tasks of children, doctors, and a husband in La-La Land with apparent effortlessness and outward calm, thinking two or three steps ahead on each track. Not for the first time in my life, or the fiftieth, I wonder "How the heck does she do that?!"

About this time the narrative starts hooking up pretty much in the fashion I'm accustomed to. Things happen one after the other, often for reasons which are apparent, and there's no question now that they are indeed happening to me. They logroll me onto various surfaces (hey, I felt my thoracic spine move, buddy, you need to practice that one!). I get a CT scan. I pee into a bottle a couple of times. I get loaded onto a gurney, and am trundled up to a room on the trauma floor. I get pretty shocky and sick to my stomach; about that time Janet takes the kids out to get them dinner. The feeling passes. The CT scan comes back negative (yaay!) so they can pull the C collar (YAAAAY!) so I can shakily, with help, make it to the toilet (HALELLUJAH JUBILEE!).

My wife comes back sans kids (thanks, Wendy!) and we pass some time laughing so hard it makes my swollen lips hurt. I'm counting how many times I'm apologizing to her, and am up to six before she leaves for the night. I am floored by my good fortune. I am alive, I will apparently recover, and I have her. Talk about bagging life's Lotto Jackpot.

Later I find out my night nurse is Sandy, a good friend from Ski Patrol. We snork it up a bit too. I am in good hands here. She promises that she will reveal nothing, and I know I can trust her, though she could get SERIOUS mileage out of this in the patrol room.

The next morning Janet examines my bagged belongings. We reconstruct some of what happened from what's bloody and what's not. In the afternoon, when I'm released, we retrieve my bike. There's a nice puddle of dried blood on the pavement; I'd hoped looking at the scene would help me remember more, but nothing new comes. Just hurrying, other biker, pratfall -- then nothing until the ambulance. My bike's front wheel is bent like a Pringle's chip -- it must have locked up when I braked and swerved, and folded before I fell (a witness said I'd gone right over the handlebars). My helmet has a nice little crunched patch in the right frontal area. I put it on -- ow! Didn't even notice that contusion before, but there's a sore spot on my forehead that exactly matches it.

Had it not been for the helmet (a Bell Metro -- thanks, guys), that crunched spot would have undoubtedly been in my right frontal bone, instead of in my helmet. And instead of writing this, not 48 hours later, I'd either be dribbling my prunes with an IQ of 26, or comatose, or Janet would be making arrangements to have me cremated.

I've been wearing a helmet for 23 years, and never needed it once. Until Friday. For all the bother, sweat in my eyes, raccoons chewing on the pads in the garage at night, I am miles ahead. Miles. If you ride a bicycle and don't wear a helmet, or only wear it some of the time, please allow me to take you gently aside.

And Stooge-slap you.

You don't get to choose the time the pavement comes up to smack you, OK? You don't have time to get it off the handlebars, or even to clip the straps, or pull them tight. It doesn't necessarily happen on the rides you think are more challenging, or longer, or unfamiliar, or dangerous. It can happen anytime, with no warning whatsoever, whether you're a biker with two weeks' experience or Lance Armstrong.

Wear your helmet. Every last time, you hear me? Thanks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Say It, Brothers and Sisters!

Writing for The Washington Post, 12 former Army captains who all served in Iraq present America with a stark choice: Get out now or fire up the draft and put the resulting millions on the ground there.

Read This If You Write Code

Larry's blog pointed me to this, he got it from Bill de hÓra.

Software is Hard

Oldies but Goodies

Happened to be cruising YouTube last night with the kids, looking for Clio Award commercials. They wanted to see the "Big Ad" again, which led us to other Carlton ads, among them the funniest Flashdance spoof I have ever seen.

First, the Really Big Ad:

Then, in case you've forgotten it, the audition scene from Flashdance (only the first 2:30 are relevant here):

Finally, Carlton's answer to it:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Right On Al!

Dear American People Who (More or Less) Elected the Current Occupant:
  • Your guy called his war on terrorism a crusade, jump-starting the dissipation of worldwide sympathy and support for America five days after the airliners hit the towers. (FYI, the Muslims do in fact remember the last time the West tried one of those. Just in case you thought it had slipped their minds.)
  • Our guy is crusading to, quite literally, save the world. Or at least anyone vulnerable to rising oceans, crop failures, massive refugee migrations, and the resulting wars. He probably isn't going to do much for the gated-estate crowd, as their money insulates them from these little whoopsies. Which is odd, since he has enough geld to shut out the world if he wanted to, instead of busting his ass trying to better it.

  • Your guy did a "heckuva job" letting an American seaside city drown.
  • Our guy has spent years working to keep cities all over the world from drowning.

  • Your guy started a war of aggression and lied about his reasons for it. (Since the Taliban were hiding and abetting Osama, I'm giving him a pass on the initial foray into Afghanistan and attempting to kick their odious butts. I supported it at the time, and I won't pretend now that I didn't.)
  • Our guy warned you in 2002 that invading Iraq would be a complete quagmire. Quelle suprise! It's a complete quagmire.

  • Your guy famously shoves his foot in his mouth every time he opens it.
  • Our guy's documentary won an Academy Award in part because he's charming, witty, erudite, eloquent, and right.

  • Your guy has been busily building a police state based partly on tapping the Internet which
  • Our guy, while never claiming to have invented it, was a key force in making happen (as acknowledged by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, two of its major pioneers, in 2000).

  • Your guy started two wars and appears to be losing both of them, destroying our worldwide credibility and much of our military in the process.
  • Our guy won the Nobel Peace Prize this morning.

  • Your guy's minions and minders slandered, ridiculed, and shamelessly lied about our guy.
  • Our guy, among other stand-up moments, publicly declined to contest the extremely dubious results of the 2000 election, saying in part,
Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.

  • Last time one of your guys won a Nobel Peace Prize, it was (a) over a third of a century ago and (b) awarded for a ceasefire in a war he helped vigorously and viciously prosecute at the cost of some hundreds of thousands of lives at the very least. Tom Lehrer remarked that political satire had died that day. And that was before we knew about Operation Condor.
  • Five years ago, when one of our guys won, it was for "decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." Which effort, by the way, he's still banging away at. I don't think he or Al will really need an institute to keep propagandizing their worth after they've retired from active life. Their work speaks for itself. As does W.'s, really.

Just so we're all clear on that.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Seymour Hersh (der Spiegel interview) on brinksmanship with Iran

Spiegel Online: Where does this feeling of urgency that the US has with Iran come from?

Hersh: Pressure from the White House. That's just their game.

Spiegel Online: What interest does the White House have in moving us to the brink with Tehran?

Hersh: You have to ask yourself what interest we had 40 years ago for going to war in Vietnam. You'd think that in this country with so many smart people, that we can't possibly do the same dumb thing again. I have this theory in life that there is no learning. There is no learning curve. Everything is tabula rasa. Everybody has to discover things for themselves.

Spiegel Online: Even after Iraq? Aren't there strategic reasons for getting so deeply involved in the Middle East?

Hersh: Oh no. We're going to build democracy. The real thing in the mind of this president is he wants to reshape the Middle East and make it a model. He absolutely believes it. I always thought Henry Kissinger was a disaster because he lies like most people breathe and you can't have that in public life. But if it were Kissinger this time around, I'd actually be relieved because I'd know that the madness would be tied to some oil deal. But in this case, what you see is what you get. This guy believes he's doing God's work.

Spiegel Online: So what are the options in Iraq?

Hersh: There are two very clear options: Option A) Get everybody out by midnight tonight. Option B) Get everybody out by midnight tomorrow. The fuel that keeps the war going is us.

Full interview