Cynical Synapse

Fri, 20 Jul 2007

In the Company of Heroes

Filed under: Heroes, Patriotism, People — cynicalsynapse @ 2:05 pm

I spent last week at the Michigan National Guard Youth Leadership Camp. The program provides a week of activities for military (and supporting civilian employees) kids aged 9-12. This year’s Camp was the 14th annual, so this is an established program.

About 150 kids attend the Camp. It takes probably about that many team and activities coaches and behind-the-scenes people to pull this camp off. Amazingly, the entire staff is volunteer, with only two exceptions. Now, some of these folks, like me, work full-time for the military, but some are traditional Guardsmen, meaning they usually drill one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Those folks have regular civilian jobs and they took time of work to spend with other people’s kids. In many cases, but not all, they have kids (or junior coaches) at Camp. Obviously they care.

Two years ago, I was a team coach, like this year. The team coaches get a group of 9-10 or 11-12 year olds to meals and the various activities. My daughter was a Trailblazer (what the campers are called) my first year and a junior coach this year. The coach’s job is challenging, definitely work, and you’re glad by Thursday that Camp’s only a week long. But it’s rewarding to see the kids having fun and to see the team grow. I was more relaxed this year than my first year—helps to have done it before. Things were much the same this year as that previous time, but it struck me quite differently this year.

Without a doubt, the kids’ favorite activity is the rafting. Now, this ain’t just rafting; it’s an paddle upriver to find the pirates and recapture the booty they’ve stolen. This turns into a watergun fight between the Trailblazers and the pirates and everyone ends up in the water (except those that really don’t want to). What turned simple rafting into such great fun? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s due in large part to one of the pirates, RG. As I write this today, RG is at his Armory and leaves in two days for a year in Iraq with his unit. Everyone would have understood if he stayed home with his family, but he spent last week as a pirate at Youth Camp.

Another team coach, Mrs. H., spent last week at Youth Camp, too. Her husband is in the same unit as RG, but her husband left early as part of the advance party. No one would have faulted her for not coming to camp, but she was there. Likewise, another team coach, AS, was there even though her husband was killed in action earlier this year. It’s been said the Guard is a family. All of the Camp’s volunteer staff demonstrates that, but these three outstanding Americans really brought the point home for me. I’m deeply humbled and honored to have been in their presence last week.

One other thing struck me at Camp. In a dialog session on the Army values the answer to a simple question is more significant than it may seem. When asked who had a parent that had deployed, somewhere between half and two-thirds of the kids raised their hands. These are the unsung heroes. They didn’t volunteer to serve, but they take it in stride.

We have great kids and great citizen-patriots in this country. Most of us tend to think of heroes as being high-profile and people who make some sort of big contribution to the world. Like commentary at USA Today on Parren Mitchell, they can be that and people who make a difference in small ways. Last week I learned it’s the people who only make a difference in small ways that are the true heroes in our midst. I got to spend last week in their company. As we say in the Army, “Hooah!”

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Fri, 06 Jul 2007

Anemic, maybe, but definitely not Sicko

Filed under: Behavior, Medicine, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 1:45 pm

I’m a licensed EMT but I’m no expert on the state of healthcare in the US. Like most everything else, it’s not perfect, as even those who work in the system will attest. But that doesn’t make it a catastrophe on the order of Sicko. RT 101 clearly makes that point.

Both yesterday and today gave me the opportunity to visit the doctor’s office. Now, no one is excited to go to the doctor’s offices (except, maybe, little kids…at least until they get that vaccination :o), so I suspect we’re pre-disposed to a bad time. This office used to be notoriously bad for looong waits, which I particularly despise. Well, they’ve gotten much better. The wait in the waiting room is relatively short—10 or 15 minutes. But, after the nurse is done with weight, BP, and temp, you wait in the exam room for another 10 or 15 minutes to see the doctor.

A couple weeks ago, I stepped on what I think was a piece of glass. I tried to get it out, but your own foot is not easy to work on. Well, I was at Disney last week, so this week was my first opportunity to visit the doctor. My bad, but it wasn’t that serious. It did hurt a couple days at Disney, which is why I made the appointment when I got back. Well, the nurse had to chide me about it. The the doc had to ask if I was sure it was glass. So he sent me for x-rays (just in case it was metal so he might be able to see where it was). That gave the x-ray techs the opportunity to ask how it happened and if was I sure it was glass. Hell, if I had seen it to know, I wouldn’t have stepped on it! Duh!

That’s where the big waits came in. First, waiting to get the x-ray, which took 2 extra tries to get the right views. You have to wonder if the tech knows what she’s doing if she had to go look at the order before each shot and then a couple more times while positioning the foot. I don’t get too many x-rays, so I guess the extra radiation exposure is probably insignificant. After getting the x-ray films to go back to the doctor, then I had to wait at least a half hour in the waiting room. A different nurse (after shift change, I guess) finally put me in another room, while taking the opportunity to ask me how I could have stepped on a piece of glass. The first nurse was fine, the doc was okay, but the x-ray tech and second nurse were not necessary and the second nurse was actually kind of rude about it. I’m already not happy about the long wait, the stupid x-rays (last I knew, glass didn’t show up on x-rays and most people don’t have slivers of metal laying around their living rooms). Oh, and the fact that about half hour into the wait in the second room, someone checked to make sure I hadn’t left yet so they could let me wait another half hour.

Well, the doc dug around in my foot (after numbing it up) for a while and never did find anything. He said he’d prescribe an antibiotic, but I requested an antibiotic ointment instead. So, he prescribed one but said I could use an over-the-counter instead if I wanted. While he was digging around, he let the callous nurse leave the room since she was sniffling like crazy. At least she changed gloves after blowing her nose twice. A much friendlier nurse who seemed to know what she was doing did the dressing.

So, 3-1/2 hours later, I had nothing to show for my experience except extra x-rays and a hole in my foot. It wasn’t quite Keystone Kops but it wasn’t state-of-the-art healthcare, either. Yes, I’ve got health insurance and that gives me better access than some. But I’ve also got a choice of whether to go to the emergency room or the doctor’s office, and which one of either I want to go to. And most hospitals I know of (and there’s at least one in every major city that’s kind of designated for this) accept un- and under-insured patients, at least for critical care. So, yep, it’s not perfect, but US healthcare is better than more than 140 other systems if you believe the statistic that the US is 37th in the world.

And just for the record, today’s visit was for my daughter and we were in and out in about 45 minutes, with no trip to their x-ray department. Imagine that!

Thu, 05 Jul 2007

Merging Shouldn’t Be THAT Complicated!

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 12:00 pm

This one’s been stewing since Monday and I gotta warn ya, it’s one of my top pet peeves.

Unfortunately, I face this issue every workday because I’ve got 2 chokepoints on the way home where everyone in the state who doesn’t know how to merge shows up at the same time as me. The problem is, people either don’t know how to merge or they try to game the system. Mitch Martin’s blog had examples of both types, especially if you include Jerk Store’s comment. He’s the bigger problem, more so than those who are just stupid. Jerk Store’s next action is to start moving as far left as he can so all lanes of traffic have to come to a screeching halt, not just the right and merging lanes. I HATE those guys!

I live 85 miles from where I work and 95% of the trip is on the freeway. I leave early in the morning, so the trip to work is usually uneventful. Even the trip home is okay since I’m heading back to the large city rather than out like most, but there are those 2 problem areas.

The first is where one freeway joins another and both pinch down from two to one lane each, resulting in two lanes again when they’ve joined. This mess is complicated by the addition of an on-ramp. If both highways have merged before joining, how come they have to creep along for the next mile even though they’re done merging? Oh, yeah, it’s because some idiots in the right lane need to move to the left lane as soon as possible to feel important. And let’s not forget the goofballs in the left lane who have to move to the right lane either because that’s where they’re supposed to be or because they want to get off at the next exit. That next exit is a mile and half down the road! You’ve got time! If everyone did their slimming down on their respective highway and then wasn’t so impatient to execute their lane flip-flops, we’d all move through that interchange a lot more quickly. Never mind it could all be helped if the state DOT had designed it better in the first place.

My other problem area is the so-called Mixing Bowl where 3 highways come together. This is the one where all of Mitch’s examples shine in their naked glory! The combination of not knowing how to merge, people wanting to guard “their turf” and not let anyone into their lane, and people like Jerk Store make this an almost daily problem area. I’ve learned to not get upset about it because it’ll never be fixed. There are just too many stupid people with driver licenses. I am, however, pleasantly surprised on the rare occasions when I can sail through there. Doesn’t happen very often between 3 and 7 PM, but when it does, that electronic sign a mile out should warn me ahead of time: “NO STUPID PEOPLE AHEAD TODAY! :)” Of course, those signs are a big waste of taxpayer dollars and almost never have any useful information, but that’s for another post.

Do I have a solution? Yeah, but probably not one that could be implemented. First off, there should be an intelligence and common sense test that people have to pass before they can get or renew their license. Since that’ll never happen, though, that re-design I mentioned for the first problem spot would be a start. For the Mixing Bowl, I’d install those tire shredders to keep people like Jerk Store from crossing the solid lines and maybe a concrete wall to keep the merging and right lanes together for at least a half mile. Since those both cost big money or are a little heavy-handed, how about Gallagher’s approach? The dart makers would be doing a landslide business…and I’d be first in line to buy by the case!

Wed, 04 Jul 2007

Beyond a Day Off Work and Fireworks…

Filed under: holidays, Patriotism — cynicalsynapse @ 1:24 pm

Fourth of July, more than any other holiday, capsulizes the American spirit. It is intended to honor the nation’s founding and there are certainly celebratory events like parades and speeches. And there are the picnics and fireworks while some folks celebrate the holiday taking advantage of all the various Independence Day sales.

Now, when it comes to listing the nation’s top patriots, Alice Cooper might not be one of the first names that comes to mind. I gotta tell you, though, “I Love America” captures what being an American is today, even nearly a quarter century after Alice released it on the Da-Da album in 1983. Reading the lyrics alone doesn’t quite do the song justice, so check out the Hype Machine to listen to it or buy it.

On the Fourth in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was still a secret document. Not everyone agreed with the whole idea of the revolution (heck, one of the 13 original delegations in the Continental Congress abstained). The militia had been fighting British regulars since April the year before; the war would not end for another 8 years—September 3, 1783.

The USA wasn’t perfect then and it’s not perfect now. You may not agree with everything your elected officials decide on your behalf, but you’ve got a say in the nation’s affairs. So, the spirit of the Founding Fathers and the dedication, commitment, and patriotism of the brave revolutionaries in the 13 colonies remains vibrant and alive today. In case you’ve got any doubts about that, consider just one example of the spirit of America in action. That’s what this holiday is all about.

Sun, 01 Jul 2007

Crowds Act, Well, Wierd!

Filed under: Behavior — cynicalsynapse @ 8:23 pm

What is it about large numbers of people that cause them to suffer a degraded awareness of others? Two cases in point: last week’s theme parks and yesterday’s small-town fireworks.Now, these are family venues, so no one gets out of hand. Society is not imploding on itself, mercifully. But, I think the anonymity of the crowd facilitates peoples’ general “me first” approach to things these days. Why do some groups insist on walking 4 and 5 abreast, forcing your group to fall into single file in order for both to continue in their opposite directions? Why do people step off the curb to cross a highway, forcing cars to stop (even though, last time I checked, cars were bigger) just to get to the park for the fireworks? In the middle of the block, no less!

I’m not advocating people should yield to me, but things oughta be equitable. Both groups should slim down to let each other pass. And maybe the police ought to direct traffic at the intersections to let pedestrians cross safely while facilitating the flow of vehicle traffic. The road is a state highway, after all. Hmmm. Novel concept—city officials doing their jobs instead of just going through the motions.

Flying Ain’t Fun…

Filed under: Customer service, Flying, Rants, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 5:40 pm

I just came home from a trip to Orlando to do the theme park thing. Overall, the trip was pretty good (hard to believe coming from a cynic, eh?), but some of my experiences is what got me started on this blog—my first!

Maybe I’m old and the novelty’s just worn off, but flying ain’t fun! Mind you, I don’t travel all that much, but I really kind of dread commercial air these days. The whole experience just kind of leaves me feeling like, well, cattle! Yeah, I know flying is the safest mode of travel. What do you think they tell the cows on the way to the slaughterhouse? “Come on, Bessie! Ya know truckin’ never killed any cows…”

The fun begins with “express check-in.” Queue up, check your bags, get your boarding pass. Moo-ve on over to the snaking line (aren’t cattle afraid of snakes?) for the security check. Forgive me, but I think there’s only been ONE attempted shoe bomber. So why do the rest of us rule-followers have to take off our shoes to go through the bomb-sniffing machine and the metal detector? Was the shoe bomb metallic? Would it have showed up on the x-ray machine? Why are MY shoes suspect? Don’t even get me started on the whole liquids thing. Some are okay, some are not, some have to be in plastic bags, some don’t. What’s up with that? Hmmm. Maybe a plot to get us to buy expensive bottles of water from the airport vendors?

I’ve never flown in first class—always last class. Yeah, I said I’m not a frequent flyer, but I have enough miles for a free round-trip ticket (just not on the flights I needed this last time around…go figure!). I have long legs and used to ask for the exit row. Now they charge for the privilege of being responsible for getting everyone else of the plane in case of disaster. But, you can’t buy that upgrade online until 24-hours in advance of the flight. Who’s got time to log in and do that when you’ve still got all that packing to do? (Did I mention I’m also a procrastinator?) So, I cram myself into a last-class seat, wishing I had brought a snack because I’m not about to pay $2 for a baby can of Pringles ® or $5 for a day-old sandwich and trailmix. And listen to my MP3 player because the jacks in the armrest are silent on this 757 even though Delta sports a variety of music (and complimentary snacks) on its flights, gate-to-gate. I guess the airline I’m on, also fresh from bankruptcy, is so cheap they won’t even spin the hardrive for coach. Is there music in first class to go with their snack?

No complaints on the flights themselves to and from (surprisingly). They left more or less on time and arrived more or less when they were supposed to! Of course, they were full and there was some turbulence on the way down, but no major problems. Amazing for an airline that’s averaging less than 75% on time this year and canceled over a thousand flights in the last week alone. The arrival airports even knew we were coming and had gates ready for us. (Did you ever wonder why, sometimes, the plane lands and has to wait for a gate? Didn’t they know it had taken off an hour or 2 ago?)

About that parking lot shuttle guy who expected—actually demanded—a tip. That’s his job! Go work in a restaurant if you feel entitled to tips. I don’t mind tipping for exceptional service but there’s just not much to picking up people at the terminal and dropping them off by their cars. And, he was a little uppity anyway. Don’t spend that buck all in one place, buddy. How’s that for a bonus tip?

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