Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Trolley Dilemma-- My View


Here's the situation, you are on a nature trail walking next a trolley track minding you own business. Out of what seems nowhere, you see the local dastardly villain running off and disappearing into the nearby woods. You hear the villain laughing and see him twirling his heavily waxed mustache as he runs off and instantly know he was up to his usual evil schemes.

So you run ahead to find five people tied to the main trolley track and one person tied to a secondary track that branched off a little further down and then runs parallel to it. All six of these people are tied down to the tracks with strong chains and heavy padlocks. Alone and without any tools, you simply have no way to set them free.

Things immediately get worse when you see a speeding, unmanned trolley heading down the tracks about a minute away from running over the five individuals tied down on the main track. There is simply no way around it, five people will die horrible deaths when the trolley runs over them.

But wait, there is a lever where the secondary track branches off that would send the trolley down that alternate track. You can save the five people tied together but condemn the one person on the secondary track to death.

Feeling the weight of the decision you have to make bearing down on your shoulders you run up to the lever. Do you save five people by sending the trolley down the secondary track but assure the death of one innocent victim? Are do you let the trolley continue and have it kill the five allowing the lone person on the other track to live?

Which is the more ethical choice?

This moral philosophy problem was reintroduced to me recently by one of the podcasts I listen to while on the way to work and going home from. Even though it is an unrealistic problem I, of course, was drawn back into the workings of this dilemma.

Just from the information I've given of six random individuals tied down to trolley tracks my instincts tell me to throw the lever and save the five at the expense of the one. On the outset that makes my moral philosophy Utilitarian in nature in that I want to maximize happiness and well-being for the most people. So in this case I'm a hero to the five people tied together because I condemned one innocent person to death.

It's insanely easy even for me to see how this way of thinking could lead to monstrous crimes against humanity if taken to an extreme level. For example let's say cops in a city start playing a kinder, gentler versions of Gestapo tactics in a black neighborhood to prevent the people living there from going into a nearby white subdivision.

I have no doubt that many of the white subdivision residents could happily justify such actions because it would, in their minds, lessen the crime rate. To hell with the ideas of being a free country of individual rights and human dignity, the average paranoid white resident would think. He doesn't want any strange looking, undesirable types walking through his subdivision. He and his neighbors have families and property values to protect.

Getting back to the Trolley Dilemma, I can see, but not agree, with the viewpoint that making any life or death decision on the part of the people tied to the tracks makes the person at the lever morally culpable. The person at the lever has been forced into a nightmare scenario where there is no real moral choice. Given the situation, someone will die it's just the degree of death that's in question. No, the person at the lever would not save anyone by throwing themselves on the track ahead of the unmanned trolley.

From what little research I've done, the variations on the Trolley Dilemma run straight into the absurd. A good number revolve around the group of five being strangers while the person tied to the secondary track being the free individual's child or spouse.

You might be surprised to know one of my biggest issues with the Trolley Dilemma is that our society makes similar decisions constantly. Oh, we cover them up in deep, detached layers of responsibility but we're always making decisions that affect the lives of others.

The easiest one off the top of my head is how Americans love bargains. We flock in mass to places like Walmart because of the low prices allowing the customer to save money. The connection to the Trolley Dilemma is that Walmart and others buys most of their products overseas. This practice destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs in America degrading the living standards of the workers. Walmart loving Joe and and Janet Blow may have a great large screen television for an insanely cheap price. But the factory where their parents may have worked building Magnavox televisions decades ago is now a decaying, empty ruin.

So whats my answer to the Trolley Dilemma? For the five people tied to the track, I'd have to save them at the expense of the one. But for the other, more abstract versions that occur, I don't have a clue.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Cardiac Status Update- Cardioversion Fun


Two weeks ago the messaging service for my cardiologist left a voice mail on my phone saying they needed to talk with me. That at my earliest convenience they would like to setup a video chat between me and their boss. This messenger had a cheery voice that did not convey any urgency nor the reason my cardiologist might need to talk with me. In fact, it was heavily implied that the purposed of the video chat with just a routine followup concerning my chronic heart condition.

The best description for the messenger tone of voice would be something akin to the pleasant, laid back way a commercial airline pilot gently tells passenger and crew to return to their seats and buckle up during mid-flight. That the air ahead is going to get a little choppy and that an ounce or prevention is worth a pound or cure.

I've never been scared of flying, but I've sat next people on planes who heard the captain utter those same words and instantly turned a bleached white filled with existential dread.

Got to admit, I can relate to that sense of impending doom.

As I reported in my last post, I have a chronic heart condition that is genetically based. One little gene in my genome mutated essentially making my heart a biological time bomb. Long complicated story short, this mutation prevents my heart cells from properly making a protein which for me means my ticker can develop an electrical short circuit sending it racing uncontrollably. It that wasn't bad enough, it also means that in the long-term I have to deal with it wearing out due to cardiomyopathy.

Now in many ways I am lucky, my ailment, the LMNA mutation, was only identified in the late 1990s. At least now I can receive treatment in the form of medicine and my Cardiac Resynchronization Device which acts as both a defibrillator if I get in trouble and a pacemaker. Side note, having my CRT does officially make me a cyborg and when you throw in my mutation, I'm over halfway to being a comic book hero or villain. All I need now is some exposure to a metaphysical or mystical energy to push me over the edge.

Honestly, dealing with question of being either a hero or villain I'm leaning towards the latter these days.

Getting back to that video chat, when my doctor and I finally got around to it I was informed that my heart had slipped into an atrial fibrillation rhythm. And that he wanted to do a cardioversion to try and get it back into rhythm.

He played the pleasant, laid back doctor saying it was no big deal but I should still get it done relatively soon. This is where the existential dread enters my head and makes itself comfortable like some rich bastard taking up residence in a Manhattan luxury condo. Nothing concerning my condition has ever been easy nor normal. I would have loved for my heart issues to have been a “simple” heart attack where I get my pipes cleared out, been forced into a mandatory super-healthy diet, along with stern talks about losing weight.

But no, I got a mutation that can literally cause individuals anywhere between their late-teens and forty to suddenly drop dead. Yes, if you make it past your forties a person moves into the territory I now reside.

So with no other option in the matter my doc and I scheduled the cardioversion for last Thursday.

Thursday morning comes and my wife and I drive to the hospital for my procedure. I report to one of the administrative desk jockeys who quickly ushers me up to cardiac holding. I am told to strip down to my birthday suit, put on the gown, and to lay down on a stretcher and cover up. Luckily, the desk jockey remembered to pull the exam curtain closed around me before leaving.

This is when the waiting begins. Due to covid, my wife was escorted to the family waiting area where she had access to the morning snack bar. Even with the pandemic raging the family waiting snack bar was a borderline breakfast buffet. The two compromises with Covid-19 being that everything is prepackaged and the closure of the self-serve waffle maker.

I in turn wouldn't be allowed to eat until after the procedure. And with my wife required to drive after we leave the hospital, we were sure to hit one of her favorite eateries that served English teas and finger sandwiches. So in frustration I laid on the stretcher and played with my phone listening to everyone passing by. Just for shits and giggles I cued up Highway to Hell by AC/DC on my phone and let it play at full volume.

I work at that particular hospital so I wasn't really worried about any possible bad reaction to my music. Several people passing by did stick their heads into my area with one being a truly gorgeous blonde nurse who shook her booty at me for a couple of seconds before leaving. No, I had never seen the woman before and I regularly go through that area during my normal duties.

Within an hour my stretcher and me were wheeled into a nearby procedure room. It was there that I learned a different cardiologist would perform the cardioversion. My usual heart doctor was in another area turning another patient into a cardio-cyborg. The one disturbing feature of this new doc was his age, or lack of it. This guy looked so young shaving to him would be a semi-annual event.

The new doc informed me that before we could begin all the hair on my chest had to be shaved. No problem, but I would be lying if I didn't say I had a sudden fantasy of that beautiful blonde nurse returning to take care of that chore.

No luck, it was an old male nurse with a stern, Germanic disposition who seemed immune to the idea of smiling. The last step before we got down to the shocking business of giving my heart an attitude adjustment was them placing two huge conducting pads on me. One went on the front of my chest and the other on the back, trailing from both were cables that connected to the medical version of “Old Sparky.”

With cables connected and everyone in the procedure room getting ready to begin I suddenly got nervous about one crucial element.

“You guys going to knock me out right.” I said looking around at them suddenly wondering if this might be the reason my usual doctor was busy. Let the young, new doctor deal with the patient flopping around like a caught fish.

It was then that the Germanic dude actually smiled and began hooking up my IV which would supply the sleepy juice. Must admit I didn't appreciate their attempt at humor.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cardiac Status Update


Back on the first of August in 2018 I began a nightmarish journey with my heart. No, not some bullshit romance but the flesh and blood organ occupying the center of my chest. In the ungodly late hours of that hot and humid night my heart decided to go into ventricular tachycardia.

Stupid me didn't realize I was in deep poo-poo trouble and it took a nurse working the night shift as well to discover why I felt like crap. By that time my heart rate was pushing way over 250 beats per minute.

After this nurse pushed me down on a stretcher she and her crew rushed me to the Emergency Department where a team of scared doctors and nurses worked to prevent me from slipping in ventricular fibrillation. That's pretty much when the heart says, “fuck it, I'm done.”

Some drug whose name I have forgotten got my irate ticker back under control, for that moment. But that was just the first of several close calls with ventricular tachycardia (VT).

 The surgical treatment for that condition is called cardiac ablation where truly talented doctors insert a catheter into my groin and feed it up to my heart. At the end of the catheter is either an electrical probe which burns short circuiting heart cells or a device that can freeze them dead.

All told I had four ablations with the last one performed down at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston. See, I had a particularly nasty set of short circuiting heart cells with a couple in extremely difficult spots to reach. The doctor at MUSC was going to crack open my chest to a certain degree to reach those troubling buggers but unforeseen difficulties forced him to try another approach.

Well, he nailed those bastards and with the help of a cardiac resynchronization device (CRT) implanted in my chest, I'm almost completely normal. My heart behaves, mostly, but I have to be watched and monitored on a regular basis.

Well, last Friday I got a call from one of my cardiologists and I have a nifty new issue. My CRT started detecting my heart going into atrial fibrillation, which brings its own set of problems for my continued existence on this pale blue dot.

So this Thursday I've got to report to the hospital up here in Columbia for a session of cardioconversion. Electrodes will be placed on my chest and, after they knock my ass out, I will receive shocks to my heart to restore proper operation.

Supposedly, it should take more than twenty minutes where they will then wake my ass up and send me home. There is a possibility of an overnight stay for observation and I truly hope I can avoid that bullshit.

So if you were wondering why I didn't get anything posted Sunday, that's pretty much the reason. I still did a few must-do chores like using my new John Deere riding lawnmower to cut the weeds in my yard. So I'm not a complete bed-ridden loser.

Mostly, I feel fine but I do sweat like a nervous pig when I do most any activity. I will be taking Friday off from work and being totally lazy over the weekend so I should have something to post during that time. If I wanted to get stupid I could do a review of the Snyder cut of Justice League. A four-hour long remake of the absolute worst film I ever paid money to see.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

MIddle Weekend Adventures


There was once a time when the serving in the Army National Guard was fun. But that was largely before my first enlistment in 1984 when the “old timers” would tell stories about massive weekends barbecues deep in the woods of Fort Jackson. Those parties were only topped by the ones that supposedly occurred during the two-week summer camps. Raging poker games in the barracks and quite illegal beer and food runs off post in army vehicles had become only whispered legends by the time I was a private (E-1) fresh out of basic training.

By 1984 the entire Army National Guard was entering another stage of its evolution. During the Vietnam era the National Guard was more of a joke being a much desired refuge for rich and well connected kids wanting to avoid the dangers of those distant jungles. After Vietnam the National Guard languished in a benign, apathetic limbo where the only thing worse than the insufficient training and discipline among the soldiers was the broken and out of date equipment they were issued.

When I finally joined in 1984, Ronny Raygun had already set in motion the changes that would totally remake the National Guard into the professional force it is today.

I stayed a weekend warrior for two years before going active duty in 1986 and during that time I caught an echo of the easy going style of the Old Guard. By that time weekend drills in the local armory were well organized with the required maintenance on equipment being performed as well as professional training classes being held. But still, there was an underlying understanding that we were not active duty troops and that at the end of the day our family and civilian jobs took first priority.

It was during the two-week annual training where the most hints of the Old Guard could be found during that time. Those two summer camps before I went active duty the first week would be spent in the field sleeping in leaky tents and vehicles along with playing at our various military occupational specialties. The second week had us in the barracks still largely playing soldier during the day but sleeping in hot and miserable barracks at night. Yeah, the hot and miserable barracks were an improvement from sleeping in the field. That is if you could sleep during the raging poker games that went on most the night and breathe the thick secondhand smoke from all the burning cigarettes.

Concerning those poker games, I have to mention that many of the wives of these guys had apparently been told that their husbands did not receive that much in pay for those two weeks. This was cover for many returning home almost broke after having lost it gambling. Now between the first week in the field and the second week in the barracks was the middle weekend. I remember it as a time when all discipline evaporated and the troops did what they wanted. Some just drank themselves into a weekend stupor with what money they had on hand. We're literally talking about whole mountains of empty beer cans at the start of the second week.

Not wanting to deal with clouds of cigarette smoke and Olympic-level drinking, I got in my car and hauled ass to a friends' house or went back home. Understand, I'm not passing judgment on those guys staying in the barracks. By the mid-1980s when I joined, all the rich and well connected Vietnam draft dodgers had returned to full civilian life. That just left the lower-middle class guys who worked rotating shifts during the rest of the year at Georgetown County's two major employers, the steel mill and the paper mill. The middle weekend of summer camp was in many ways their only vacation away from the demands of their jobs and families. I just didn't want to endure the smell of stale beer and breathe their second-hand smoke.

Of course, I went active duty army in 1986 and didn't have to deal with annual summer camps again until I returned to the National Guard in 1990.

When I returned to the National Guard in 1990 a great deal had changed. The Old Guard with its laid back attitude along with its lack of discipline was a bad memory. Even the more responsible but reasonable National Guard that existed when I joined in 1986 had evolved into an excessively gung-ho organization that was beginning to look upon its members civilian jobs as impediments to the mission. This was a situation that would only get worse over time.

What had also changed was the middle weekend. My first couple of summer camps back after leaving active duty had me traveling to some interesting posts with small groups, so I couldn't complain too much. The training was actually fun and I was still single and interested in having a good time. By the time of my first summer camp with the rest of my unit though, the whole basis of how things went had changed.

Not only did my unit still spend the first week out in the field playing soldier, but the second week as well. We would return to the rear area to stay in the barracks for the middle weekend. But even then the officers and NCO's weren't going to allow anything like the freewheeling antics that were once normal occurrences.

As a former active duty soldier I completely agreed with those changes. My problem came when the senior NCO's started making noises that they were going to no longer allow us to leave the post during the middle weekend. I'll put it to you frankly, there isn't any army base my National Guard unit frequented for summer camp that I would want to be stuck at for a weekend.

By 1996 I was married and had a son and as you might expect, the idea of being forced to hang around at the barracks during the middle weekend was supreme bullshit. That year my unit was doing summer camp at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Now understand, Stewart is amazingly close to beaches but as a new dad I wanted to be with my son.

It took a little persuasion, but my first sergeant decided to let me go leave Fort Stewart and go see my son. It was going to be an easy trip for me since all I had to do was hit I-95 and drive up to Manning, South Carolina where I would meet my son and wife at her parents' house. So that Friday afternoon at the beginning of the middle weekend, I got in my 1988 Ford Escort and hauled ass heading north.

I love my wife and kid by one of the sacrifices I had to make for them was selling my 1984 Chevrolet Camaro and getting the Escort. My Camaro had class and style, and been the reason I had scored as well as I did with the ladies back at Fort Carson. But as a family man, my Camaro pretty much sucked for driving your kid and wife around.

So we got a used four-door escort hatchback with four-cylinder engine and a crappy radio. It was dependable, it had cargo space, and I could fit a baby seat in the back. Surprisingly enough my Camaro turned out to have better gas mileage that the Escort but my wife didn't find that interesting.

About about two hours later I'm driving north on I-95 with the pedal to the floor doing about sixty miles and hour. The radio has lost all reception so I'm listening to the one cassette tape the player had destroyed and getting pretty tired Kenny Rodgers crone about his damn card game. Yes, I had a Kenny Rodgers tape in my car, it's a long story in its own right but understand I'm not a fan. The cassette player seemed to have its own idea of good music so I went along with its choices.

At some point after I passed the I-26 interchange the terrain around me opens up enough to allow me to see some sky. To the west I see clouds, some dark and heavy but nothing unusual for South Carolina. The weather that day for the entire state was sickeningly hot and soul-sucking humid but at least the AC on the Escort was a real winner.

The drone of the road and Kenny's whining about some woman leaving her family with a crop in the field caused me to zone out for a few minutes. What suddenly pulled me back to consciousness was a totally unexpected flash of lightning and the corresponding boom of thunder after that. Once I gathered my meager wits and wiggled my butt in the seat a little to make sure I hadn't shit my pants I looked over to my left and saw what was happening.

In the space of a few minutes that party cloudy day had completely changed. To the west of me a huge chunk of the sky had gone completely black, with the lightning flashing it looked like someone had opened the gates of Hell. Instinctively, I switched over to the radio and almost immediately heard the blaring noise of a weather alert.

At first all I heard was the Weather Service's robotic voice saying that a tornado warning was in effect for numerous counties along I-95. Yeah, no shit I thought to myself as the wind began trying to push my car off the road.

Mr. Robot was soon replaced with a panicked human voice saying this storm was throwing softball-sized hail and that if you were between certain mile markers on I-95 that you should seek shelter absolutely right now. Now I've never been good with math but right after I heard his words I saw a mile marker sign and realized I was smack in the middle of where he said all shit was about to fly.

Low and behold that was when the funnel cloud became visible on the left side of I-95. After a momentary scan of surroundings, I realized I was the only car on the road. Yeah, all the other smart people had probably heard the weather report on their dependable car radios and found shelter. I had somehow hit the one bleak and undeveloped section of I-95 in the whole damn state.

So, I said fuck it, gripped the steering wheel harder and ignored the funnel cloud and the growing sound of a train. No, I didn't look back on the funnel cloud so I don't know for certain if it had touched down and became a full tornado.

The rain went from a few drops to torrential and the booming of thunder made me feel like I was driving through an artillery barrage. Luckily, I somehow stayed on the road and didn't hit any fool who decided to stop in the middle of the interstate.

The sound of the train faded away but the rain never really letup. I did find the exit for Manning and successfully navigated the county roads to my in-laws house. These roads are seriously in the boonies to the point visitors traveling in that area might want to stay alert for any banjo playing.

Much to the chagrin of my dad-in-law, I pulled into his driveway before nightfall and was greeted by my smiling wife and young son. Weather reports did say that a tornado had touched down near that area but it was impossible for me to know for sure if the funnel cloud I saw was it.

The rest of the weekend was great with me having lots of time with my family. When I returned to Fort Stewart Sunday evening I found out that commanding officer had restricted everyone to the barracks just minutes after I left. His stated reasoning was to keep accountability and prevent needless accidents during annual training.

This decision by the CO pissed off the first sergeant and with me walking around with a huge shit-eating grin because I got laid and saw my kid over the weekend didn't help with his disposition. So much that I caught a bunch of crappy duties during that second week in the field.

I didn't care, outrunning a tornado was probably one of the funnest things I ever did during summer camp.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Nomad Feet: Brookgreen Gardens

My daughter is currently on spring break and needed to get out of the house. So, we hit Brookgreen Gardens down on the the coast near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. This sculpture is at the entrance of the gardens on Highway 17 and they do not make it easy to photograph. There is a sign at the front saying no parking and no stopping. Which makes sense because traffic is always heavy in that area. My daughter had to scramble around cars to get this shot.  
This is "Narcissus" by Adolph Alexander Weinman 1870-1952

We picked a near perfect day for our road trip. The temperature was around 70 degrees and the humidity was non-existent. The only slight problem was that Spring had only just begun to pop. Not much was in bloom and the staff was still getting things ready for summer. If you go to Brookgreen Gardens during the summer months drink a lot of water!

One of the biggest scams ever perpetrated by Disney films was to portray Zeus here as a loving family man happily married to his wife Hera. In the Disney animated movie Heracles they do just that and it's a laugh riot for anyone with a vague notion of his extramarital proclivities.  

A nice relaxing pathway.

One of the few flowers I saw in bloom. Sorry I don't know the species

I believe this sculpture is of Artemis.

Wise words.

A beautiful setting.

No trip down to the coast would be complete if I didn't stop and visit Pawleys Island. Got to admit, I was disappointed because there wasn't any breeze on the beach.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Life of Gebelein Man


One of my enduring curiosities is trying to relate to the people who lived and died in the distant past. There's no limit to my fascination having read books and articles along with viewing numerous documentaries on human development. The only problem I have with this interest is that I have to sort through a near unlimited supply of pseudo-scientific crap about ancient civilization like Atlantis. Or the misnamed History Channel's pushing of the idea “ancient aliens” hanging out with the Egyptians or Sumerians or any other culture that built great structures or pushed the bounds of human creativity.

Luckily, I stumbled upon a podcast that is now in the middle of a series detailing the development of humanity from the deepest parts of prehistory to the collapse of the the Bronze Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. That podcast is called Tides of History and it is hosted my a guy named Patrick Wyman. The most recent episode dealt with predynastic Egypt and the rise of the Pharaohs.

My post isn't about how incredibly more complicated the unification of Egypt appears to have been. In that episode Wyman details how unification of that ancient land wasn't a given. That even after the traditional history of Narmer ( or Menes) conquering Lower Egypt things were still in flux. Truthfully, I won't relate anymore of the overall episode because I need to listen to it again.

What I want to concentrate on is the discovery of the six Gebelein predynastic mummies. And one in particular who carried the nickname of “Ginger” until recently.

Dated to around 3400 BC, the hot sands and heat of Egypt naturally mummified these six individuals. Excavated at the end of the ninetieth century by Wallis Budge, these bodies were the first complete predynastic bodies to be discovered. These bodies were found in foetal positions lying on their left sides along with a few grave goods like pots, the remains of wicker baskets, along with pieces of linen.

Two were identified as male, one female, with the other two undetermined genders. But it is the one nicknamed “Ginger” because of his red hair that fascinated me. Because of 3D medical imaging, Ginger, now just called Gebelein Man was between 18 and 20 and in good health when he died. His cause of death was from a copper or stone blade penetrating his left shoulder blade that shattered the rib beneath sending bone fragments into the surrounding muscle and lung. It is generally believed Gebelein Man was taken by surprise because there is no evidence of defensive wounds.

There are many situational possibilities concerning the reasons for his death. Gebelein Man could have been a foot soldier of some petty king or warlord that made up predynastic Egypt. Or Gebelein Man could have been the victim of his own ambitions involved in criminal activity that ran afoul of the local authorities or another, bigger crime lord.

Here is where my fascination ramps up to high gear. From what little we're certain of the circumstances of Gebelein Man's death isn't all that different the untold number of souls that ave died all through history, even up to present. It is all too common for an unnamed soldier to die for the glory of some transient leader or political entity that itself will disappear far sooner than later. And how many millions have died through the ages working every legal and illegal angle to make a buck?

While the possible commonalities of Gebelein Man's death are all too familiar, his world, life, beliefs were as alien to us as they come. There is no way Gebelein Man had any true concept of the world beyond his small village on just a section of the Nile River. While in excellent health, his life was always libel to be cut short from any number of diseases that could sudden strike. As for his beliefs, time has wiped away his culture and the society that fostered it. Remember, he lived long before the pyramids were built and Egypt was united.

So it's the juxtaposition of those two differing elements of Gebelein Man's existence that fill me with wonder. The fact that we have his well preserved remains makes him more than some abstract idea floating in the sea of time. He was completely as human as anyone alive today. Ultimately, his life should remind all of us that our own existence is tenuous at best.

Sunday, February 28, 2021



Got hit with a toothache this morning and I've given up on trying to post anything this weekend. Going to take a long nap and hope my dentist doesn't find anything really bad tomorrow.

 Adding to my misery, my wife has control of the the television and has been watching the Hallmark Channel all day. This could be Hell.