25 June 2012

You Didn’t Know Them - But They Knew You; My Brothers and Sisters Who Answered The Last Alarm

For the last few months, I have spent a bit of time planning a reunion for the members, past and present, of the Marion County Rescue Squad.  This is the ambulance and rescue company which serves Marion County, West Virginia, and a population of about 60,000.

We celebrated the 40th Reunion Saturday night.  160 of my very closest friends were there.

MCRS was founded in 1972. That story will be told at a different time and in a different forum.  Since 1972, MCRS rigs have responded to 150,000 emergency calls. For the first 15 years, it was staffed 100%, 24/7 by volunteers. Until a year ago, MCRS remained a mixed company, both career and volunteer staff. Now, it has become a career department with 70 full and part-time members.

I doubt if I have the skill adequately to explain the commitment in the Fellowship which exists in all of the emergency services. When you work with people in times of stress and in dangerous environments, they are your brothers and your sisters. That is neither exaggeration nor oversimplification.

A part of our reunions is and has been remembering those of the Fellowship who have answered the Last Alarm.

That is a time of remembrance and reflection. It is a time of sadness. Most of all, to me, it is a time of reassurance and hope.

Within every beginning lives the ending. Everyone there had the experience of answering a first alarm. I doubt if anyone ever forgets pulling out of the station on their first emergency call.  When they did so, they dedicated a part of their lives and in many instances the whole of their lives to service. And when one answers that first alarm in the service of others, necessarily one eventually will answer the Last Alarm.

Draw what conclusion you will from the service of the Last Alarm.

Presiding always is the member with greatest seniority, active or retired. In our case, we had two members far ahead of everyone else in seniority, Bill Stanley (39 years) and Paul Phillips (37 years).

Right, 39 years and 37 years doing volunteer work the United States Department of Labor classifies as skilled and very heavy.

Also by tradition, the roll was read by the member present with the least seniority. This is not to pass off some onerous task, but carries with it important symbolism. This Fellowship is One. No one is more of a brother and sister than another.

And as the roll was read, since those who have answered that Last Alarm are not present, the brothers and sisters who knew them, who worked with them and who loved them may answer for them.

Make of it what you will.

These people rode anonymously. When the public needed them, it was in time of great need and great stress. Civilians didn’t see them as Joe or Mary or Bob or Heather, they saw flashing lights and uniforms and bags and boxes of equipment and professionals quickly doing unfamiliar things.

Usually, the EMTs and medics, the firefighters/first responders, the police who came because they happened to be in the neighborhood are all wearing some sort of nametags, but nobody ever looked at those. They were just “the medics,” or “the firemen,” or “the police officers.” After they delivered the patient to the hospital, they didn’t hang around. They grabbed new supplies to replace what they had used so that they could hurry out and notify the dispatcher that they were available for another call.

You never got to know them.

But they knew you.

They knew the 60-year-old couple in the suburbs where mom called at 3 AM because dad was feeling bad and suddenly couldn’t move one side and could not speak. They knew the sudden terror which struck that house. They knew the bleary-eyed children or grandchildren who stumbled in because they heard the commotion. They knew the occasional well-meaning neighbor who came over to offer sincere but really dumb advice. And they knew that they have no time for explanations, they had to get on the road now.

They knew the driver who never saw the other driver coming, and who passed from tooling along to waking up under a collapsed steering column.  They knew how loud the rescue tools are which dismantle the car around the patient, and that’s why they crawled inside with her and covered her with their own coat and offered reassurance and sometimes even little jokes.

They knew the parents of the sudden infant death syndrome baby.

They knew knew the family of the cancer patient who had just breathed her last and who could not face it alone - so the family called the ambulance.

They sang to little children on the long transports to children’s hospitals or burn centers. They talked to older patients about their families and their work even when both patient and medic knew that the end was very near.

And they knew more than most that they would be answering their Last Alarm in the Fullness of Time.   They even looked forward to their opportunity to serve the Lord.

These were my brothers and sisters.  These are my brothers and sisters.

If they can say, “He was one of us,” I will ask for no other epitaph.


16 June 2012

There's no such thing as "Mind Candy."

I had a short conversation this week with my good friend Pastor Josh Patty. He was making some sort of comment that he had been reading serious things for a while but was going to turn to some “mind candy,” meaning some sort of less serious fiction.

I replied that there is no such thing as mind candy, and we agreed to disagree.

I’ve been ruminating on it for several days.

I have to take a somewhat circuitous route. I think it’s a mistake to “rank” what is “most important” about just about anything. Not everything in life has to be a competition. In the development of and human society, I can’t say what is most important, but I can certainly say that the development of language is really significant.

Jean Auel postulates in her Earth’s Children series (mind candy?) that Neanderthal man (homo neanderthalensis) communicated as much with gestures as with words.  That would require exchange of information and communication to occur primarily in person and would greatly diminish the amount of information that could be stored in any way.

And so the conversion of communication to primarily verbal was necessary to permit the development of anything other than real-time exchange. That was kindling which awaited the spark of writing.

Over some millennia, various standard protocols were developed where information and even complex ideas could be stored and therefore transmitted over time and distance.

Those were the fundamental innovations. Others certainly improved concept. Writing media became more convenient.  Man passed from stone to clay to animal skins to sheets of vegetable fibers which were refined into various kinds of paper. Stone tools gave way to metal tools, feathers gave way to pencils and pens, and crushed berries and minerals yielded to inks and dyes.

With printing came the ability to reproduce many copies of the same writing which vastly increased availability and reduced cost.

With the computer and net came open access publishing. (To be sure, that is a mixed bag.)

So with all that technology over all those millennia, who actually reads?

We have lots of different lists of the 100 greatest books. You want recommendations? You can get them all over the place. You can even look to the writings of this poor scribe for the year-end canon of what I found interesting the previous year.

With all of the distractions, with television, with those damnable video games, reading anything is better than not reading. I resist casting any reading in less than an admirable light, even privately.
So what if children are reading about sports or entertainment figures? We not may not admire their choices – but they are reading.

Self-improvement author Anthony Robbins is the first one I heard say that if you get one good idea from a book, it was worth reading. I’ve heard lots of people repeat that over the years. Let me add that if you get one bit of good language from what you read, that also makes it worthwhile.

I keep a file called “Good Words and Phrases.” This is where I put memorable little things I run across, phrases, words, whatever. I present the following to you excerpted from that file.  Everything offered comes from a source that would be considered “mind candy:”:

  • 100% Substance Free
  • 1000 Year Reich of Mediocrity
  • Gene pool needs chlorine
  • get sideways with [someone]
  • You are remembered for the rules you break.  MacArthur
  • Ideologically constipated
  • [treat something like] Kryptonite -
  • We can deny reality, but we cannot deny the consequences of denying reality
  • “Paranoia is one of the leading signs of having secret, all-powerful enemies.”  John Barnes, Directive 51
  • repeal the Plan of Salvation
  • Slit your wrist music
  • Sunlight bottled up in the wood  - Seton
  • Vujà dé - The feeling that nothing like this has ever happened before - En Route: A Paramedic’s Stories, by Steven “Kelly” Grayson
  • Failed the Turing test
  • he can Hide his own Easter eggs
  • Washed the Shroud of Turin with a red sock
  • Spherical bastard - A bastard any way you look at them.  Zwicky
  • Worship Satan or just admire his no-nonsense approach to [       ]?  - Dilbert
  • So rough he wears his clothes out from the inside - L’Amour
  • We’ve traded our country for shitty plastic toys.    (Griffin, When the Shit Goes Down ...)
  • Rare as a white raven
  • For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been.”  John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Miller”

Mind candy?

14 June 2012

Honor and Dishonor: How We Deal With Molesters

We are going to a dark place. Why? Because, children, the dark places are there.

Certainly one of the most heinous crimes is child molestation. No descriptions here – if you need them, get out and ask the people in your community who deal with them.

Certainly the first reaction I see among “civilians” when child molestation is mentioned is that it is a terribly “weird and ‘icky’” sort of crime.  That’s quite subjective but generally accepted as true.

There are other aspects of molestation which give us more objective reasons to react strongly:

  • The power disparity between offender and victim is anywhere from large to unimaginable. The offenders pick out the most vulnerable victims.  If a society does not protect those persons, it is not a society, it’s a bunch of dirt bags wearing clothes.

  • One of the little hush-hush secrets is that molestation frequently is permanently physically damaging.

  • That it is psychologically damaging is a no-brainer.

  • That molestation isolates and socially damages the victims commonly is denied. Which, of course, is about 50% crap, owing to the endless supply of idiots in our society.

  • The offense is irrational in that there is no logical gain.  Recidivism is through the roof because the preference for children is as strong as the normal preference for one gender or another. That’s rather difficult to alter.

The case going on right now in the headlines is that of Jerry Sandusky, a former coach at Penn State.

I’m not going to comment on what the verdict should be or anything of the sort. I’m not on the jury, it’s not my job, and I’m only reading accounts of the evidence, not hearing the evidence itself. The possibility exists that is all a lie. I have my opinion about the improbability of that, but the jury and only the jury has the right to make the call.

The title of this post includes the words “honor and dishonor.” Two other stories are in the news which lead me there.

The first comes from the Sandusky trial. One witness for the prosecution was a former assistant coach, one McQueary.  His testimony was that he heard the “slapping of flesh” consistent with sexual activity coming from the showers.  He testified that he looked in and saw Sandusky sodomizing a 10 to 12-year-old boy.  McQueary went back to his locker and slammed the door loudly so that Sandusky would know that he was there. He left.  The next day told supervisors.

Perhaps it’s good that McQueary came forward and is testifying now. But his actions covered him in dishonor.  If he were a member of either of two different organizations with which I am affiliated (the Boy Scouts and the Masons), he would be expelled permanently. I have shopped this one around and have yet to find any guy who is other than appalled that this adult did not intervene while a child was being molested. Shocked? Sure. Shocked to the point of turning his back? What the hell was he thinking? 

Would intervention have included physical violence? Quite possibly. That would have been the offender’s choice.

McQueary made himself a comtemptible character.

The other news came out of Texas.  A family was having a well attended barbecue. Dad went into the house where he discovered an acquaintance beginning to molest his four-year-old daughter. He attacked the acquaintance bare-handed and beat him to death. Later, he said that he did not specifically intended to kill the man.

The usual call-the-police-blog-nation is expressing the usual concerns that dad should be prosecuted.

Dad defended his child. The offender voluntarily put himself in a position of risk of great harm or death. If dad’s account is true, dad did not have sufficient time to reflect upon or plan an effective yet guaranteed non-lethal response. The offender denied dad that time.  You play, you pay.

This one, too, I have shopped around, including with current and past prosecutors. Uniformly, the opinion is to check out dad’s story and unless it appears that the whole thing was some sort of set up to a planned murder, close the case.  The police in Texas said they are referring the case to the grand jury. That really means they are referring it to the prosecuting attorney who will have the choice of closing the case or sending it to a grand jury.

Occasionally, prosecutors use a grand jury as the excuse to terminate a prosecution. If the prosecutor does not want an indictment (they want the grand jury to return a “not true bill”) they present the case in such a way that the grand jurors will have no doubt of the prosecutor’s opinion. The prosecutor with guts, however, will not go through that rigmarole. In the case of clear justifiable homicide, they will simply close the case.

When presented with an intolerable event requiring action, this Texas dad did the necessary and honorable thing. Had he not intervened, he would be unworthy to be in the company of honest citizens.

I continue to agree with my friend Justice Richard Neely that Americans have gotten too lazy and too scared to do anything about crime and criminals other than call the police. As long as the criminals are not that lazy and that scared, they are going to keep winning.

Someone must be willing to go into the dark places.  There are nowhere near enough police and besides, they are not our mommies and daddies.

09 June 2012

Climate Change, the Rising Water and the Comedians of the North Carolina Senate

The very exclusive readership of these Dispatches (meaning there’s not a hell of a lot of you) knows how much I value really, really top level humor - particularly satire - particularly satire so subtle that some people take it seriously.

Those imps at the North Carolina State Senate have pulled off the best spoof of the year to date.

Some senators got together and concocted a bill which - get ready for this - legislates what data scientists may consider in estimating future rises in sea-level. 

Legislating science.

And some people have applauded the idea because it’s such a great idea to hog-tie that darn myth of global climate change.

Legislating science, get it?

Back in the private caucuses, the Senate bosses are sipping their bourbon and branch water and choking on their guffaws.  I have the image in mind of Bugs Bunny laughing and mocking Elmer Fudd when he falls victim to one of that Wascally Wabbit’s zany tricks.

In order to pull off a successful subtle satire gag, it has to be done with a straight face. 

One of the truly great satirical hoaxes of science occurred in 1998 when the story went around that conservatives proposed a law in Arkansas that would make the value of π conform to the “Biblical” value set out in I Kings 7:23, exactly 3.0.  Of course, that was a total hoax, and no one in Arkansas had los huevos actually to introduce such a bill.

The Tarheels went one better: That actually put the bill in the hopper.  The original version “required” that the science be performed such that future sea-levels would be forecast only by linearly extrapolating historical data.

Some environmental groups and liberals (the dumber ones) went apeshit - They took it seriously.

A problem, though, was that the whole notion was so colossally idiotic that nobody with a high school education and a month’s sobriety believed it.  OK, maybe some very literal Biblical scholars believed that Moses would return and command the oceans to move like he commanded the Red Sea to part, but they were a really small minority.

And so, the science sprites in Raleigh modified the bill.  They made it sound serious:

  •  [Rates of sea-level rise] shall be determined using statistically significant, peer-reviewed historical data generated using generally accepted scientific and statistical techniques. Historic rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends.

There still are some nitwits who are taking this seriously.  Then think that Americans would elect to public office someone who would legislate science, not to say repeal the First Amendment when opinions might run contrary to their preconceptions.

Nothing I can say can improve on this one.  These guys in NC, it’s Belushi & Bill Murray all over again.

Sala'am, Senators.  You're the wildest.

06 June 2012

Drugs & Crimes: The Night Before It Totally Went to Hell

Today was another criminal docket day in the 19th Judicial Circuit in West Virginia. The 19th Circuit covers two small counties. On docket days, 10 or 15 cases are brought in for pleas, sentencings, status conferences, scheduling conferences and the like.

An advantage of this kind of mass docket is that in one session, you see a reasonable random sample of the kinds of cases pending before a particular Court.

Over the past year, I have reduced my criminal practice in Marion County (the 16th Circuit) and expanded greatly into the 19th Circuit. I have written in past months about the overwhelming pressure that illegal drugs and prescription pain pills used illegally are placing on the criminal justice system. The public pays lip service to it, but that’s about it.

The truth is, drugs are now all directly causing a great majority of serious crimes. It is to the point that individual decision-making hardly counts as an independent intervening cause anymore.

The Judge in the Circuit carefully questions criminal defendants at the time of pleas and sentencings about their drug use and about the effects of what drugs they used. This questioning goes beyond what is the strictly necessary to make a record in the criminal case.  The Judge does it to continue to develop an accurate picture of what’s going on in this sordid and dynamic drug culture.

There is a relatively new creature in the slime pit, “bath salts.” This is an informal trade name for various sorts of synthetic speed cooked up by jackleg chemists who don’t wash their hands after they use the toilet and don’t wear gloves.

You think I’m joking? I’m not.

Bath salts are sold in head shops where all the unemployed beautiful people go to show how far they can advance our culture of crass dependence upon honest work.

Presumably, someone came up with the term “bath salts” to conceal the nature of the product, which may have worked for the first 10 minutes it was on the market. Now, of course, the term is used with a cute little nod and wink so that the retailer can say, “Oh my goodness, someone smoking this? Heavenly days!”

These head shops are owned and operated by adult businesspeople who are too smart to use that shit, yet who are so totally lacking in any moral compass that they are willing to sell it to make money. They know that it causes unpredictable effects sometimes indistinguishable from psychosis. But the bucks count, not the people.

By the way, these people have the same lack of morality as the businesses who sell “glass tobacco pipes,” which is a cute little name for drug paraphernalia.

(Message to the business chain which sold the most of those "glass pipes" in North-Central WV over the past couple of years - Hey, Assholes, I'm the one who raised all the hell with the drug guys to raid your places and bust you.  Thought you'd like to know.  Have a nice day.)

This morning, the general criminal docket was running about an hour later than normal. A sentencing was set at 9 AM in an embezzlement case. I had not heard that the embezzlement case was pending, but the lawyer representing the embezzler is a good lawyer and a good friend.. There was lots of public interest and lots of the public attended the sentencing because it was a quarter million dollar embezzlement from the public library in a small town.

By the way, with that size embezzlement and that kind of victim, as a practical matter the Judge had no real choice but to send the embezzler to the penitentiary.

I was glad to see lots of community interest in this case. It’s about damn time that the community shows an interest in the welfare of the body politic.

And then the sentencing hearing ended. And everybody left. Only then did the general criminal docket start.

Several cases were heard before my cases came up. After the last of my cases was concluded, the judge asked, “Mr. Curry, do you have anything further?”

Response: “You had the ask, didn’t you? A comment. Until community starts caring about these damn drugs as much as they care about money, it’s not going to continue to be a decent place to live.”

And that’s a problem. My friend Justice Richard Neely wrote a controversial book some years ago, Take Back Your Neighborhood: A Case for Modern-Day “Vigilantism”. It was heavily reviewed because he was saying that the citizens are too ill-informed, too lazy and too scared to get off their asses and take responsibility for the health of the community.

We depend on the police because we are afraid, but the police can’t handle it. There are not enough of them, and they can’t be everywhere at once. Justice Neely created something of a stir when he suggested it was time for ordinary folks to be picking up their baseball bats.

If the prospect of violence in the defense of our culture offends you, no problem – I can live with that.

In this epidemic of drugs, the date is 10 September 2001.

Sleep well tonight.

02 June 2012

Nutrition in the People's Republic of New York; or, Mayor Bloomberg and the New Cola Wars

Mayor Bloomberg of New York has announced his latest bold new initiative this week. If he has his way, the supersize Coke, the Big Gulp and all the other large sugar-sweetened drinks will be banned.

Basically, the mayor’s proposal would prevent retailers from selling cups of cola, etc., greater than 16 ounces which are sweetened by sugar.  (It’s a little more complicated than that - for example, chocolate milk is okay.)

The reason? These drinks contribute to the epidemic of obesity in America.

Let me tell you what this column is not – This is not an apologia for (us) fat people nor even a disagreement with many of the Mayor’s underlying assumptions.

  • Buying a 64 ounce cola/orange drink/whatever is not a good idea.
  • Obesity is in fact epidemic in America. That is costly for healthcare and costly for business.
  • A large proportion of military age youth use cannot pass the minimum physical standards to enter the military.
  • The average calorie consumption by Americans has increased significantly in the past few decades.
  • Being obese is very unpleasant. Getting there almost invariably involves some addiction behavior.  (No, we’re not going into addiction as disease or any of that right now. It is, it isn’t, how the hell do I know?)
So what’s the buzz?

I’m just amazed that Government proposes this step.  I see at least three areas of terminal concern.

This kind of regulation represents an entirely new level of five government intrusion into private lives. Government has been involved in the food chain since at least the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. That Act mandated producers to put only sanitary products into the commerce stream.

For good or for ill, the content of an individual’s diet has never been regulated by the Government.

This is not say that substances for consumption have never been banned. Our current drug policy is a fiasco, but we do have one. We took a gallant stab at banning ethanol in the early 20th Century, and still regulate to some extent the sale of alcohol and the effects of overconsumption.  And yet the Government still hasn’t turned it’s power to consumables based upon their long-term consequences.

Remember tobacco?

Another matter is that the big cola ban simply is not enforceable. Or at least the ban is not enforceable without committing already overcommitted resources to enforce it.

A law which is not enforced is worse than no law at all. By definition, that creates a lawless atmosphere. Perhaps that is a good reason that lawmakers should be a bit conservative before they willy-nilly proscribe common conduct. 

Finally, and most importantly in my view, the whole soda pop flap is political gimmickry and tokenism of the worst sort.

We do have a genuine issue – obesity. We also have an easy target group – fat people  – easy because nobody wants to be one, people who are marginally there deny that they are one, and as a group they are totally unorganized.

This is a recipe for a political touchdown. The unrighteous are vanquished.  Kindly Father Government is protecting us by his warm embrace.  And nobody who matters is going to be pissed off.

And it shows action. It shows initiative. It shows that We the Servants of the People CARE.

Screw drug addiction.  We don’t have time to provide for missing basic medical care.  And drunks are drunks are drunks and nobody will ever get them off the booze.

Maybe Bloomberg and the rest of the Politburo are running a scam showing massive disrespect – assuming they CAN fool all the people all the time.

Or maybe we have a billionaire sugar daddy who is catching the totalitarian bug.

Neither option is very attractive.