Friday, November 29, 2013

Gray Thursday

“Gray Thursday?”

Stores open Thanksgiving Day? Or being cute, Thanksgiving evening?

No. No “Gray Thursday” for me, thank you.

And if you succumbed to the blandishments of retailers and left your family to shop Thanksgiving day, shame on you. I know the prices were good, and yes, there is Christmas shopping to do.

But, for pity's sake, Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays of the year that only requires you to eat (yes, I know someone has to prepare the meal) and make nice with Cousin Loser between football games. And surely there is something that happened in the previous 365 days you are thankful for. Is it too much to ask that we take a minute and just appreciate what we do have?

Instead, retailers and Madison Avenue want you to leave the table, raid the ATM or whip out a credit card, and make the bells of their cash registers ring.

Those bells don't give angels wings.

Why? I know that the holiday frenzy is the time most retailers go into the black, that it provides work for millions, and yes, you do want to give your loved ones what they want.

But guess what? What your loved ones want is you, not the latest and greatest gadget or gizmo. When you are gone what they will talk about is your dance when your team won the game, the food you cooked, or your favorite sayings. The bauble will be long in the wastebasket.

And please, don't forget the person who helped you find that thingie, or rang up your purchases. He or she had to give up their holiday so you could voluntarily trash yours.

For some “Black Friday” is a tradition, and for some it is fun to get up at 0-dark-thirty and be part of the crowd. That at least is fun (if you like that) and does not trample on one of our few unique traditions.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

No sense of dencency

I haven't commented on the situation du jour, the “Shutdown” of the U.S. Government.

Until now.

While truly vital stuff is going on as usual, the House, Senate, and President had to do some fast shuffling to keep the troops paid.

That is a good thing.

Social Security payments to me (I have a disability) and my mother (she's 80) have come with slight delays, I understand that they might not happen next month. Mom is not certain about the pension she receives from Dad's 20+ year Navy service.

That's not so good. At least for two ladies who need their income. Still, we are used to sacrificing for our country (See Dad's military service, and Mom is part of the “Greatest” generation.)

That is not going to do anything for the pharmacy, electric company or the food store. (The military Commissary is closed.) Understandibly they want their money.

We can cope for a while, but if you see one old lady and one middle-aged lady on the side of the road, please give if you can.

But I have remained quiet. Until now.

What really has my ire is that I just saw that the Shutdown has cancelled the death benefit paid to the families of fallen servicemembers. This means families can't get to see their loved ones' return, don't get help with the myriad of details that accompany unexpected death.

Yes Republican staffers (hey, they are getting paid) say they will have a bill to correct that, but still . . .

Come on Congress! I know there is a vocal and politically powerful minority in the House that will call down fire and brimstone on anyone who “compromises.”

Uh, Congress? This country was founded on compromise. That one group of people does not have the way, truth and light, and that all need to be respected.

Is there no one member of Congress who has any shame? Have you no sense of decency?

The McCarthy-era quote from Joseph Welch seems appropriate now.

The politicos in Washington have lost their sense of decency.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Test or not to test

OK, so some men are crying and many women are going “so what.” As you have read, actress Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. She has the BRCA gene that makes it likely that she will get breast or ovarian cancer. Her mother died of breast cancer at an early age. The mastectomy was one step Jolie could take to prevent illness. I don't know, but I imagine since this was planned in advance, the cosmetic result should be good. Her film career is going to go on.

I have read that a Slate a commentator decided not to get the BRCA test despite her doctor urging her to because believe it or not, the BRCA gene is “owned” by Myriad Genetics. The only legal way to get a test for this, the most common mutation that causes cancer, is through Myriad. If you don't have the right risk factors, the test is not covered by insurance and women have to pony up $3,000 or so.

This is a shame (I am thinking worse) and I urge all lawmakers to change this state of affairs.

People just want to know if they carry the gene, not create a cure. Why do people have to suffer with uncertainty if there wallets are not fat? Men, if there is a history of breast cancer in your family, your doctor is going to watch your prostate carefully. There seems to be a link between the cancers. And men do get breast cancer. This is not just a pink-fringed women's issue.

Yes, Myriad should get credit and payment for coming up with the test, but $3000 a shot?

I type this wearing a special bra with a “breast form.” Yes, I have breast cancer. Fortunately, it was caught at an early stage, on my first mammogram. While the markers in the tumor are “HER+” (means recurrence is likely) everything is OK.

Now, my surgeon offered lumpectomy or breast-sparing surgery, but I decided to go with a modified radical mastectomy. The reason? Insurance. The “lighter” options require months of follow-up care with radiation and other treatments. I would be sick at work, take a lot of time off, and that could not happen.

You see, I have been seriously ill before, and have found that employers will look for someone who does not raise their insurance premiums rather than keep a sick employee. I could just imagine losing my at-work coverage in the middle of treatment.

Talk about up the river with no paddle.

Events proved me right, and I now am “cured” my surgeon said, but I have to go back for more frequent testing. Now when I get a mammogram I have to wait in that cold, exposing johnnie until a radiologist reads the “film.” It is always the longest half-hour.

Oh, and I did get BRCA tested. My grandmother and other female relatives died of breast cancer, and male relatives had prostate cancer. My cancer showed up at an “early” age. So the test was covered.

I would have found some way of coming up with the money as I have children, and knowing if the gene is in my line is vital to them. I will do almost anything to protect them.

But why at that time did I have to worry about money and comb through my family tree to “prove” that I was worthy of coverage?

Myriad, lawmakers, we are all looking at you.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

He's dead, Jim

Forgive the flippant title. I could not resist.

Suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was buried recently in a Virginia cemetery. This is the end (?) of one of the nastier aftereffects of the Marathon bombing.

In a move that made this writer recall Joseph of Arimathea, Martha Mullen made arrangements to have the body buried properly.

Now Tsarnev is NOT Jesus Christ. Christ would have vehemently denounced Tsarnev's actions. The murder of innocents is not Christian, Islamic or in the tenets of any other major belief system.

Cambridge and Massachusetts officials feared that their graveyards would be the site of vandalism and demonstrations. This is understandable. While there are variations, Islamic law and custom prefers that the body be buried as soon as possible in the earth. Apparently there was no family money to return to body to Russia and Russian authorities stated the body could not be brought back.

But, the ugly scenes that played out concerning Tsarnev's burial played into terrorists' hands. People around the world saw how we reacted to the idea of his final resting place being on American soil. I am sure that right now, Tsarnev's story is being used to “show” that Americans are not God-fearing and respectful of others.

Yes, they are wrong. But I do thank Mullen and the people she reached out to have done this country a great service.

Now we can put the issue to rest. We can forget him, better still.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Boston (Beantown to natives) for a while. My parents grew up about 10 miles from the city in Lynn, Mass. and for them; it was the acme of all that was civilized.

The city is also called the “Hub” by locals, but no one else. Hub is for the phrase “Hub of the Universe,” by the way.

So a city with that much pride and pretension is easy to dislike. There are a lot of great things about Boston, and I love them all. But pretense is not one of them.

Yesterday changed some of that. Some idiot or deranged group decided to set off a pair of bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.


Why did you decide to kill people who were doing nothing more than enjoying a sporting event? Who were cheering on relatives and friends? Or who were applauding those who were not running for laurels, but just to complete the 26.2 mile course? One of your victims, an eight-year-old boy, was at the finish line to cheer on his father. He died. The boy’s mother and another relative are hospitalized. Two others are dead, and more than 100 people are injured.

What did these people do to you? Anything?

By the way, one of the reasons the death count is so “low” is because you picked on the wrong city. While there are fantastic doctors and hospitals the world over, Boston has a concentration of some of the best. And there was a medical tent for injured marathoners nearby so those who you hurt could get care at once. No, it was not a fully-stocked ED, but I am sure it helped

If you thought you were attacking the United States, look at the pictures again. There were flags from dozens of countries there; representing the countries the runners were from. All were welcome at the race. All were competing in a friendly manner.

Why haven’t you claimed “credit?” I would think someone big and brave and as bad as you are would want the world to know who is responsible for bringing a great city to a standstill. What’s the matter? Willing to make “war” on innocent spectators and runners but too scared to let yourself be known?

There is one word for you: coward.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dog day

Dog day ladies’ meeting

I’m a military brat. That means that while growing up, we would pull stakes up every couple of years (or months) and have a “PCS” (Permanent Change of Station) and move somewhere else.

While seeing new places and meeting new people was a plus, having to reestablish yourself all the time was not.

That’s the kid’s perspective. Imaging being the “dependent” (term military uses for service member’s family) wife.

The trouble is double when you are not living on a military base. No one understands why you are so . . . transient. Back in the 60s, Mom and Dad bought their first home. It was miles from the base, and Mom was having a party for some group of ladies or another. It was all terribly important that it go well, because Mom was out To Make An Impression. She was about to be inspected, by civilians no less, and she was determined to pass.

Mom made all the foods that wowed the other military wives, including her “color cloud” angel food cake. This was a from-scratch angel food cake that Mom would poke holes into and drop in food coloring, creating clouds of color in the cake.

Hey, it was the 60s!

Anyway, all was just about in readiness, laid out of the table, when Mom discovered that she was missing something. This meant that she packed me and my sister into the car for a hurried trip to the store.

When we returned, our fox terrier puppy, Pugs, had cake crumbs all over his muzzle. Sure enough, he had hopped up and taken a bite of the cake.

Mom went white. The ladies were due in minutes.

“Go outside,” she told me and my sister. One look at her face and we knew to hurry.

Mt sister and I played outside while the ladies arrived in a cloud of perfume. We came back in when they left.

Mom was humming to herself as she cleaned up. It must have gone well. No word about the cake.

Finally, I screwed up my courage to ask.


“Yes,” she replied

“Wha-wha-what about the cake? The one Pugs ate?”

“Oh that,” she replied, “I trimmed the edges and told the ladies I had give you girls a piece.”

Mom always has an answer for everything.

Friday, February 15, 2013



OK, I just went through four days of bad food, no power, smelly cabins and human waste all over the place. Now I have to stand in another line to tell some so-and-such that I want a clean bed, a meal, and a hot shower? I don’t want a two-to-six hour bus ride wearing a bathrobe.

That was the fate of the poor passengers of Carnival’s Triumph.

Let’s not forget medical care. After four days at sea without proper food and dodgy (at best) sanitation, it seems likely that passengers and crew might be ill. From a public health standpoint, should they all have gotten a check-up?

I am glad to read that the passengers and crew of the Carnival Triumph got off the ship in one piece and (hopefully) healthy. It must have been a wretched experience.

In the interests of fairness, I and most of my family was aboard Triumph in December of 2010. We had a wonderful time and if I had the money, I would consider taking another cruise. Engine trouble can happen to any mechanical conveyance.

That having been said, I don’t think that cruise would be with Carnival. It’s not because any of the Triumph crew was bad, but rather the decisions made by Carnival management during the 2013 crisis.

I live near Mobile, so take what I say with that in mind.

First, Carnival brings the ship to Mobile. Good move. If Triumph tried to go to Mexico, there would have been passport trouble for about 900 aboard, and returning to Galveston would have been dicey.

(Dumb question: why were people allowed to board without proper passports? My family had to have all their papers in order when we sailed.)

Mobile offers a state-of-the-art repair facility, and the damaged ship will not have to be towed far to reach it.

But what about the people? Instead of being offered a hotel room (with working bathroom and chance to clean up) when they arrived the night of Feb. 14, most of the passengers where whisked away via bus to New Orleans or Galveston. Those who wanted to stay the night in Mobile had to talk to a Carnival representative when they got off the ship.

Right. A bus trip to New Orleans or Galveston. Or talk to some flunky. With no clear idea of what would happen next. I would hate to be on the bus. Worse, I feel for the folks who have to deodorize those buses.

So, what is wrong with Mobile, Carnival? We have hotels, a cruise terminal (that Carnival deserted in 2011) doctors, hospitals, restaurants and hordes of caring people who were eager to assist people in distress. We even have two airports that could be used to fly the passengers to their starting point.

In short, Mobile was ready, willing, and able to offer the passengers assistance. But somehow, we were not good enough.

A final insult: NBC News reported that one of those buses taking people out of Mobile broke down. I can just imagine the comments from the passengers.

Cruise on Carnival? I don’t think so.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Brazil Fire

Brazil fire

My sympathy to the victims and families of the Brazil fire.

That’s all I have to give. May grief lessen with time and may wounds heal.

I am taken back to Feb. 21, 2003. I woke up to my clock radio playing the news. The lead story was the Station nightclub fire that happened the night before. People had been killed and injured, and much was caught on camera, due to a news crew being there. Here’s a video of the tragedy:

I almost levitated out of bed.

I was supposed to be at the Station that night. A female friend of mine, more interested in hard rock than I am, had tickets to the show. It would be a fun night out for a newly single me and my head-banging friend.

I don’t recall what, but something came up and I could not go. My friend could not either. The tickets went unused. Thank God.

Reading news accounts, it may be that some sort of sound-proofing foam was used in the Brazil nightclub. Fireworks used by the band set the foam on fire. The foam gives off toxic gas when it burns. So it was with the Station, and I am amazed that the lesson was not learned.

Take a smoky, choking atmosphere, fire, panic, too few exits, and you have disaster.

Will we never learn?

My family has been (lightly) touched by this sort of disaster before. My father told the story of how my grandfather was supposed to be at the Cocoanut Grove Nov. 28, 1942 for a Boston College football victory party. BC lost to Holy Cross that year and the party was cancelled.

The nightclub caught fire, probably from a light setting decorations alight, and 492 were killed. Access to emergency exits, and the club’s confusing layout contributed to the carnage.

My father said that he knew his dad was supposed to be going to the nightclub, and was glued to the radio as word of the disaster came in. He and his brothers were relieved when their dad walked in.

Please, we all go places with lots of other people. That is human nature. Just do as most of my family does now: scan for the nearest exit. Look to make sure the doors are not chained. If they are leave, and contact the fire authorities.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Who is laughing now


Ok, sometimes, life hands you a steaming plate of delicious food.

Time to pig out!

No, in this case I want to eat slowly, enjoying each morsel to the fullest. I want every nuance of flavor. Besides, this dish has to cool a bit.

You have heard the one about revenge being served cold, right?

In this case I am enjoying the Boeing 787 mess. Big time.

Another course? Sure! Just let it cool a bit.

For those of you who do not live in southern Alabama, the city of Mobile, along with Airbus, was vying for an Air Force tanker contract a few years ago. Yes, Airbus is a European firm, but we are friends with Europe (at least we were last time I looked) and the planes would be built in Mobile. It would have been a boon to the entire area. And the last time I checked, Mobile is in the United States.

Boeing, after a long set of political moves got the tanker.

Part of what opponents of the Mobile bid spread was the thought that southerners, esp. the ones in Mobile are, well, deficient. There were comments about not trusting us to build trikes.

Well, Mercedes-Benz builds cars in Alabama, and so does Hyundai. I am not saying that every Alabamian is a Harvard professor, but most of us can learn, and do what is needed in a factory. If we need engineers, Auburn serves up some good ones. Just ask Tim Cook (CEO of Apple, and an Auburn grad). We can import them from LSU, if needed. My nephew graduated from there with an engineering degree and his company has no complaints. I guess we can make room for grads from MIT if we have to.

Airbus decided later to build airplanes in Mobile after all. Civilian craft will be assembled here after the plant is built. Work on that is coming now.

Yes, we in southern Alabama did not give up. And we impressed the people of Airbus so that they decided to build a civilian plant here in the Port City.

It’s not the Air Force contract, but I think the area won after all.

Now, if we could trust the Boeing people to build those tricycles. Those are my tax dollars at work!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Money for officers

This was sparked by:

My concern is the money. NOT that children’s safety is not worth it, but $3+ million buys a lot of schoolbooks and other educational needs.

Perhaps this is something that municipalities not school boards should be picking up? Public safety is their responsibility. Why is it suddenly a school problem? Let’s work together, folks.

Better mental health access is a good idea, but not laws that will make MH professionals report just suspicions of danger. There are codes in place now that MH professionals use, and they work pretty well. Nothing is perfect, but this is something the profession has been wrestling with for a while.

My fear is that if laws being proposed right now go into effect, patients/clients will be motivated to lie to their therapists. That is not productive, and could be deadly. It violates the trust a client/patient has with the therapist.

School Resource Officers can be a great thing. I like the idea of an armed, trained officer in the building a lot better than armed teachers. While not perfect, it is better than teachers with guns in the classroom.

A good SRO is a role model, showing ALL students that police are human beings, not just bullies with badges. I have seen SROs intervene subtly with kids, giving them a way to let off steam without hurting anyone, steering them to more productive activities.

Would they be any good if there was an (God forbid) active shooter in the building? Possibly. Or a student might be in the way of a stray bullet and a tragedy will happen. The voices for removing the SROs will be as vociferous as the ones looking for them now.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cop to Corpse

Cop to Corpse

Peter Diamond

Three sniper victims in a relatively small city in a relatively short period of time.

All are police officers.

To say that the local and national police are going a little nuts is an understatement. Career-minded officers see this as a way to promotion. Others just want to see this wrapped up as quickly as possible. The chaos is bad for order

For Peter Diamond, it’s a matter of getting it right.

This is my first exposure to the Diamond series, and I plan to raid my local library for the rest. You see the detective going up and down some blind alleys to tease out the thread that will catch the real culprit.

I like that Diamond is a real person, who gets hurt and a little nervous. He makes mistakes, and his staff gets upset with him.

Read for good characters and a good story.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Brain on Fire

By Susannah Cahalan

You are 24, working at a New York newspaper. You have a nice boyfriend, a devoted family, and while life is hectic, it is also good.

Now you get sick. The kind of sick that takes your mind away. You wake up with memories of what you were, but being able to be that person isn’t an option right now. Most of what happened for the past month is lost.

For a journalist, that is the worst nightmare. Journalists need memories that are, well, sharp.

That’s what Susannah Cahalan faced. Her story of illness and recovery is inspiring. She writes about her illness, using the journals her parents kept and interviewing her doctors, family and caregivers to piece together what happened.

Memoir is not my favorite genre, but Cahalan make the memoir a gripping mystery story. This should be required reading for all medical students and all physicians. The story about Cahalan’s father tossing a full-of-himself doctor who was telling a gaggle of doctors-in-training things the patient did not know in front of the patient is priceless.