Thoughts from inside the noise maker

Yesterday I took that long, noisy trip inside the MRI machine at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. The best I can recall it was the seventh MRI I have had. All but two of those tests were for my problematic cervical spine. I was just reviewing my 60 pages of radiological reports on the “premium” VA website. Not all those pages deal with MRI reports. There are a ton of X-rays of knees, chest and feet. These results did give notice of previous bilateral C-spine problems that were treated by different surgeons on two different occasions and who worked from the back and front of the neck. The latter MRI picture exhibited:

 “Evidence of status post ACDF with bone graft and anterior fusion with endplate and screws from C5 through C7.”

That is to say the results of my last surgery was seen by the radiologist and it showed what is known as a “Anterior Cervical Diskectomy with Fusion (ACDF). That procedure was accomplished by removing a sliver of hip bone and using it to fuse with a titanium strip fastened with an endplate and screws from the fifth to the seventh cervical vertebrae.

The test is pretty simple. You are stuck inside a tube as an electromagnetic machine presents its cacophony of loud, erratic-sounding noises while it slowly pictures different levels of your inner-workings.

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A word of warning: If you experience a mental flameout while listening to all 33 minutes of this video, don’t blame me.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I imagine most others do as well at some point in time, just why this damn machine is so loud. Never mind that one might picture the different noises, which can sound like anything from a washing machine about to spin out of control to an alarm warning a nuclear meltdown. Rather than try to explain, I found an excellent article from Caltech than lays out the MRI mechanics as well as the why of the loud noises. This column from the American TInnitus Association goes more into the noise aspect and how there are some not-so-loud MRIs out there.

This trip into the tube is to look for possible reasons why I have developed a subset of new pain from my ol’ C-spine. Hopefully,  the radiology report might explain why I also suffer occasional tingling in my right bicep. I also hope that whatever it is causing the problems isn’t something too terribly dramatic. These days I would rather look for drama in a novel or on TV.

Go ahead. Shoot!

Long, long ago, when I was a child, we had communicable diseases. Diseases like mumps, red measles, German or 3-day measles, and chickenpox were like a rite of passage for those of us in grade school. The rite it might have been was certainly no favor given by your neighbor or school mates who sneezed on us. The good news was that once you had these diseases you would likely never have them again. Of course, since ancient-aged people only got shingles, we had no idea that chickenpox would come back to haunt you when you got older in the form of shingles. And this time, you thought chickenpox was uncomfortable? Why shingles hurt like someone put a flaming shingle up your butt. Not that I know that. I have heard that though not particularly in such an analogy. I have seen a flaming shingle however. Many to be quite factual. I was a firefighter you might remember. Or not.

Thankfully, the Department Veterans Affairs decided that once a patient reaches 55 they are eligible for the shingles vaccination. How good are the shots at preventing shingles? About 51 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Can you say, close enough for government work?

Fortunately, I don’t remember the details of all these diseases. I do know that when I was young it seemed that every time I turned around I would have hypodermic needles stuck in my ass or my arm. Vaccinations. Good! I didn’t know what vaccines were until I joined the Navy. I thought at one time the service to my nation would be to take shots. Shots with needles. Shots with with a jet gun. The latter’s use fell out of favor by the World Health Organization because of the potential to transmit disease from one shot with the jet to another. Counting surgeries and yearly vaccinations for flu and pneumonia, I think I can say, I been shot all to s**t!

jet injector

Shoot me! That’s an order, Doc!


So, dating back to the times when I had all the childhood diseases, why weren’t there shots for measles, chickenpox, German measles and mumps? Well, naturally these vaccines came, but they were after my turn in the affliction box. Oh, I did receive the smallpox vaccines with very small, sewing-like, needles as well as the polio vaccine on a sugar cube.

The development of measles vaccinations came in the mid-1960s after scientists came upon flocks of leukemia-free chickens. No, I am not making this up. Millions were vaccinated into the mid-1970s, the time I joined the Navy.

Though I have a cervical spine like a 100-year-old man, I never had the measles (rubeola), mumps, German measles (Rubella) or chickenpox again. I never developed autism either. I did feel puny after a few shots in boot camp and had a fairly upsetting reaction to a yellow fever shot.

But neither am I affluent. Perhaps were I well-off and had a child of vaccination age l would be in that category that is fueling the worst measles epidemic since the CDC declared the disease “eliminated” almost 15 years ago. The “Anti-Vaxxers,” as those who refuse to have their kids immunized have been called, have caught the half-truths and no-truths about fake studies. This includes discredited studies linking immunizations with autism in children. Perhaps the Anti-Vaxxers are also painted with too broad a brush dunked in too much paint. This article in The Daily Beast, for example, charge those who do not vax as “raging narcissists.”

Can’t we all just get along?

No, of course not. We must be polarized to the point of threatening our communities. Just remember there is no “us” in “me.” Say what the fudd? Look, the Anti-Vaxxers are most likely doing what they do for their children. You cannot blame them for that. But these childhood diseases are in some cases lethal. I don’t know how people who care so much for their kids cannot see their kids and their kids’ friends and your friends’ kids and whomever becoming targets for diseases that might just kill someone, including your own children.

There are all kinds of problems out there in this world that you can or cannot believe. Pollution, hydraulic fracturing, global warming, dog fighting, newscasters lying about being shot at, being shot at, and on and on and on. If I change just one mind, perhaps one kid somewhere won’t have to worry about scratching those itchy rashes, running a fever, developing pink eye, and a condition known as “hot dog finger.” Just joking about that last one.

Sleep tight and don’t let the measles bite!


A note or two

It is barbaric to be restricted to a set number of gigs of data. I have to find something better than Verizon. That’s what I have said for years, but hell’s bells. So I am restricted and close to running over and hopefully no more than $15 in overage. Thus, I probably will write little this week. It’s always something …

Speaking of barbaric, I hate to even compare Verizon to ISIS. That is, at least until the day Verizon burns an overdue customer to death. What ISIS did to the Jordanian fighter pilot is something beyond beyond barbaric. Whatever it might be called. One wonders what revenge would even come close for those ignorant s**theads. Perhaps have them continually watch porn movies. They will be surrounded by the alleged “72 virgins” but the perps will only watch, and watch and watch until they completely lose their minds.  Hey King H old buddy, if you read this and think it a viable punishment, perhaps you could give me a $30,000 weekend like your old rotund one friend Gov. Christie.

On second thought maybe madmen of ISIS may spend the rest of their lives on the phone dealing companies like Verizon.

Some thoughts on feet n’ football

Welcome back. I suppose that is a correct expression. I welcome myself back. I am trying very hard to stay off my left foot. That is where I have a toe wound and it is linked to diabetes. The wound became infected and my podiatrist was like “Holy shit!” He didn’t say that. But his expression said it for him.

I have the inclination to ask him why he wanted to study podiatry. One immediately thinks — at least those of us with somewhat perverted minds — “foot fetish.” But feet stank. Yes I know that isn’t the right word but to get a little OG into it. I’m talking “Original Gangster” but some of you, perhaps it is just I, probably think I was recalling that dirty little short ditty sang by Dr. Hook called “Monterrey Jack.” You know:

“You mean OD/No OG/That’s when you OD and you say Oh gee … ”

I tell you what, for the acclaimed writer of children’s books and poems that Shel Silverstein was, he sure wrote some bawdy songs full of sex and drugs and rock and roll, such as this song. The guy was a f***ing genius.

Where was I any way? Oh yeah, my cousin just emailed me about a Facebook post where I explained a little of what’s going on with my left, second toe. You see, it has a wound partially started via diabetes and the adjacent hammer toes I have. Fortunately, X-rays found no infection in the bone. So if I stay off the foot for awhile in order to heal, perhaps I want have to worry about amputation. As it is, I say a better than even chances. I hate thinking about it. Best not to think about it. So keep it clean, unlike what Shelly did when he wasn’t writing enchanting literature like “I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor, a boa constrictor, a boa constrictor … ” And even PG tunes such as “A Boy Named Sue.” Yes, yes, I know Johnny Cash sang it, or whatever he did with it, but he didn’t write it. Neither did Cash write Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Johnny made other folks’ songs breathe more feeling.

You know something, people tend to overlook the poetry with music of people like Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie Nelson and others of their ilk. They are all Texans, of course. Kristofferson was a Texan by virtue of Army bratdom. I’m just saying.

And also I’m just saying, what’s up with that Marshawn Lynch? These pro football players, some of them, are just trying to be cute. Of course, that wouldn’t be how they would describe it.

Some folks will chalk it up to disadvantaged youths with no father figure at home and 24/7 rap music and drugs and so forth. Do that if you will. But there are people who turn out just fine. I know a couple of former pro football players these days. Then I also was acquainted with a couple of other former pros, both Dallas Cowboys from the early 60s, but I didn’t hold that against them. One was an Episcopal priest and the other married to a Methodist minister. Both nice guys.

Really, if there is blame to go around for people like Lynch acting like buttholes then a share goes to you and me. Well, the literal me not the figurative me. We make these young men big heroes and like to watch them dance in the end zone and make fools of themselves. We buy their crap and like to see them stick it to the man. That’d be the rich ol’ white man.

Over the last few years the Super Bowl has been pretty uninteresting to me. Even the commercials I usually value more than the game itself. So it is likely to be this year. I don’t give a damn who wins. If there was some way both teams could lose, that would be a great outcome in my mind.

Cheating bastards versus arrogant a**holes. Katie Perry “Roars” in between. Come one, come all!

Damn the computers, full something something

Sometimes it pays — not well mind you — to have a backup computer of some short. That is precisely what is in use here. A tablet plucked with a finger or two. My laptop is on its way back to HP for repair. They did promise an extra year on the warranty. I don’t know if that is good or bad. The half-assed keyboard is charging right now, so until it is up end at ‘em it is a one-finger boogie. Want to guess which finger?

I got a walking boot yesterday @ the VA in Houston. It is to take pressure off my infected toe jam football. I mean toe. The infection seems as if it’s healing. That’s good. Infected ulcers on diabetic toes aren’t good. Luckily, the bone is not infected, according to a X-ray. That seems to be a good sign that amputation isn’t on the horizon. Don’t want that. No sir.

So I might churn out a post even less frequently than normal. What ever one might consider normal, other than a city in Illinois.

Peace mi amigo!

Go out to the parking and get in your car and drive real far … it all makes sense

In my research of commercial spots for the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX — which of this weekend will be Seattle Seahawks facing the New England Patriots — did I find no mention of the hilarious Acura RDX commercial. I won’t give much away except it features an attractive woman who goes on speaker phone in her car without knowing, or apparently caring, that her bosses are listening. The woman is rocking out and singing along to, especially the rap portion, of the 1980 Blondie hit “Rapture.”

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The sing-a-long may not be one of the $4.5 million spots seen on the Super football game but surely it will make it at least once in the hours-long hype leading up to the 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time game on Sunday, Feb. 1.

Of course, we all know the Super Bowl is all about the TV commercials. Well, mostly. I am not a big fan of the Seahawks although a local boy, Earl Thomas, the ‘Hawks Pro Bowl defensive back, from nearby Orange, Texas, is about the biggest thing in Southeast Texas right now since the Valero Refinery. Fellow Seattle DB and Pro Bowler Richard Sherman and Thomas were both injured in their come-from-behind win against Green Bay yesterday for the NFC Championship. Sherman sprained an elbow yesterday though continued playing despite that even I could see him wincing on TV and not using that left hand. Thomas had a dislocated shoulder. Both are expected to play in the world championship in two weeks.

Thomas is, understandably a hometown hero, he apparently spends a lot of time back home in Orange during the off season, doing good works for the community. So, if even half of what I hear about Thomas is true, it certainly speaks well of the young man. Sherman, obviously loves his mother and Campbell Soup. That, and being one of the best cornerbacks in the game, doesn’t prevent his generally being regarded as one who regularly engages in dirty play.

I didn’t intend to spend so much time writing about the upcoming Super Bowl. I just found the Acura ad amusing and liked that it used what is probably the only “rap” song I like even though it isn’t totally rap. I just have not liked rap or hip hop all that much. I suppose the major difference between “Rapture” and the rest of rap is Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry’s sexy voice — now 30-something years later —  as well as the rock and funk that underlies the tune. A couple of hip-hop pioneers, Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, are also name-dropped in the song.

All I’m saying is that it’s a cool song though saddled as both rap and disco tunes. “Rapture” is pretty fly, my man. I gotta figure, that’s a good thing.


The sound and smell of Facebook and free speech

Many reasons exist as to why one should avoid Facebook at all costs. Probably just as many reasons are out there why Facebook is a valuable communications platform.

“I don’t use Facebook,” said someone, I don’t know who, during a holiday gathering recently. I remarked that I use it to keep up with my family. I usually check it a couple of times a day.

I disagree with much that I see on Facebook. I see just as much with which I do agree. I take the good, with the bad, relatively speaking.

A friend in Alaska is discovering or perhaps rediscovering her eye for art in the digital photos she takes. Most are of outdoors with her dog. Her dog photographs well. Many of her nature shots are otherworldly. Those I mention are true art.

One of my brothers moderates a group devoted to our hometown. These are thoughts shared about all of our past days in the small East Texas town or within the school district in which many, if not most, shared.

A former student, brother of a classmate of mine and whose mother worked with my mother, hit a Facebook homer over the last couple of days sharing and asking the group to share little giblets of memory. These involved remembrances of sounds and smells. It is so incredibly mind-blowing to me as a journalist to take in all these moments in time. And that is what they are — moments. Add them up in actual time and you might get a couple of hours.

Shared are sounds of screen doors noisily but reassuringly closing. The sound of horse hooves and tack are recalled as the young boys and girls rode in their Texas tradition. Then there is the call of the bird I always thought was the whipoorwill. Turns out, it was a different bird.

The smells included fresh hay in the hot summer sun that teenaged boys sweated while loading up bales on trucks and trailers for the local farmers and ranchers, and rewarding the kids with a little spare change. The honeysuckle that any East Texan must surely smells in the brilliant green of spring.

That particular sense, that of smell, became expanded for me. Certain times that sense will take me to my younger days though not necessarily in my hometown. Instead I remember my young adult days.

The smell of diesel in the morning hits me with a memory of Central Fire Station where I mainly worked at the beginning of my five intense and memorable years as a firefighter. With each snootfull of diesel comes a vision of the wall where helmets and bunker gear were lined up for all the shifts. It is simple enough why it is such a stunning memory. It was where we were gassed with diesel fumes from Engine 310. Here I was a 22-year-old man, making my own way in the world, and where I feared only that which was knowable. That’d mostly be another daunting smell, one of the homes we would encounter fully engulfed in fire, “burners” as we called them.

It was said that the scent of flesh and bones from the “toast” — what we privately called with a macabre sense of humor those unfortunates who were burned up. Perhaps it was an insensitive description but it was one of those mechanisms to prevent our dwelling upon that misfortune.

The sea had its own distinctive smell, or should I say smells. The scent of the Gulf of Mexico beaches and those of Southern California were different. Places such as “the OC’s” Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach in LA County or San Diego’s Pacific Beach sometimes was as much sun screen than marine. But after spending a year on a ship in the Western and Southern Pacific you would sometime forget you were floating out there. Oh, and how could I forget the 2 1/2 years I was only a mile from the man-made beaches of the Mississippi Sound?’

Finally, there is the scent of reefer, so pervasive in the 70s and 80s that it was difficult not to inhale, as a president said he didn’t.

One has to use Facebook wisely. Don’t show those pictures of you passed out in the yard with “dead soldiers” littered all around. Trophies which were exhibited from those days of “partying till you puke.” Some thought should be given how such a powerful platform as Facebook should be used.

Those words written by Ol’ Justice Oliver W. Holmes’ from Schneck v. United States in 1919 are probably a good enough reason to watch one’s P’s and Q’s regardless whether one believes in self-censorship.

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic … “

Oh well, I don’t go to theaters much these days anyway.


Stupid is as stupid does. Right Rep. Weber?

Someone said: “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over expecting the same results.” Or something to that effect. It’s been mostly attributed to Albert Einstein but a largely useless argument as to who originally said it has made the rounds on the internet for years. I say it the argument is useless because the statement is wrong. One who does the same thing over and over expecting the same results is not insane. The person is stupid. Or at least acts as much.

Take for instance my representative in Congress, Randy Weber. Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, Texas, has become emboldened upon election to his second term in the House. I say he is my representative. He is not. Weber was elected to represent the 14th Congressional District of Texas but instead he represents the Tea Party nut wing — as opposed to the regular Tea Party — portion of that district. And I am not a party to that party although I’ve been known to party.

Weber became known as of late for opposing the election of House Speaker John Boehner. Instead, he supported the candidacy of his neighbor to the north, the uber nut job Rep. Louie Gohmert, R, Tyler, Texas. Gohmert lost as expected and not unexpectedly was cast out of the circle of Boehner’s GOP supporters. Don’t mess with the man when you are just a little boy.

Maybe Weber was feeling a bit chastised as well when he committed his most recent political faux pas. He sent this Tweet:

 “Even Adolph Hitler thought it more important than Obama to get to Paris. (For all the wrong reasons.) Obama couldn’t do it for right reasons.”

Weber was speaking on the decision made by the president not to go himself, or to not send a high-ranking delegate, to the Paris rally showing support for France in the wake of recent terror attacks. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama did regret not sending some higher-ranking official to the demonstration.

While an apology is considered noble in society — as per Mr. Obama — it can also amplify the stupidity of what one did. Thus, Mr. Weber and his apology:

 “It was not my intention to trivialize the Holocaust nor to compare the President to Adolf Hitler,” Weber said in a press release dated today. “The mention of Hitler was meant to represent the face of evil that still exists in the world today. I now realize that the use of Hitler invokes pain and emotional trauma for those affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust and victims of anti-Semitism and hate.

 “The terrorist attacks in Paris should remind us of the evil that still exists. Hitler was the face of evil, perpetrating genocide against six million Jews and millions of other victims. Today, we are facing the evil of Islamic extremists who are attempting to instill fear and murdering the lives of innocent people from Paris to Nigeria to Jerusalem and all over the world. The President’s actions or lack thereof is my point of contention. Islamic extremists have shown they are not going away, and instead are hungry for more blood.”

I hope Weber’s PR flack gets a raise.

Weber showed himself mainly to be a piece of furniture in his first term, just as any self-respecting frosh representative would do. He is certainly getting off to a hell of a start to his second term, and not in a good way. The last thing I would want in a congressman would be that person out-Gohmerting Louie Gohmert. East Texas already takes its hits for having no short supply of racist goobers. Even though the majority of people from my birthplace of Jasper are mostly good folks there is clearly a perception problem that exists from the olden days of slavery to the end of the 20th century when James Byrd was dragged down that dark road to his death.

I hope Weber will just keep his mouth shut and serve out his term, or quit, which might be even better, life being like a box of, well, you know. Maybe I will get a bumper sticker made for my pickup truck to show my fervent hope:


Thinking of clothing fit for males, chickens and dogs

The near constant drizzle that we have had for the last week, or so, it seems, has ended. It is still colder than a well-digger’s … pocket warmers. I must always qualify that remark. I am up at the top of the northern Texas coast. The temperature is 49 F with a stiff 15-mph North wind making the windchill seem about six degrees cooler. The relative humidity is 86 percent. I’m sure that adds something to the misery.

Normally, I’m a rainy-day type of guy. But sometimes enough is enough. More so especially when it is chilly.

With six pockets full of even more qualifications I fully realize I have friends across the U.S. where it is even colder. It is 33 F with a 40 percent chance of snow tonight for my friend Sally in western Massachusetts. It’s in the 20s and 30s all week with a chance of snow toward the end of the week in Anchorage, Alaska, residence of my friend Elizabeth. Still, while friends from the cold places in the states like to kid us about what we believe to be “cold” weather here in Texas, most would prefer their own cold hometowns to ours.

One plus about down South juking is you don’t have to buy a lot of different clothes. I say you don’t have to. That doesn’t mean you won’t. I find myself shopping in clothing stores for fairly inexpensive coats though I don’t know if such a creature exists during the winter months. I have a windbreaker that is acceptable for about 60 percent of cold weather. For about 20 percent I have a coat I bought back in 2005 while I was out on a reporting assignment and a big chill quickly arrived. It is a very warm coat, nothing fancy. It has a hood. When I used to walk every day no matter what, I would wear the coat and a warmup suit underneath on very cold mornings. I wore a knit cap covering my head and my ears and my hood was tied close. I used to laugh because I reminded myself of Kenny McCormick, the often-killed, insensible sounding kid from the adult cartoon “South Park.” As for the remaining cool weather wear I have a brown tan Gary Player front zip jacket. It goes with about 3/4 of my “bidness casual wear.”

But just as women seem never to have enough shoes so do I never seem to have enough clothes and especially jackets. That is ridiculous of course, I see no reason to spend tons of money on something I may only wear once or twice a year. This is not a “layers” kind of place where I live. Most of my shirts are short sleeve Polo-style shirts.

Until I began my present “part-time (32-hour/week) job” almost eight years ago, most of my pants were shorts.

I have always thought that if I won millions in the lottery that I would buy bunches of clothes. I feel it would be practical because I would definitely go on a successful diet and need to buy different sizes until I got to the “just right” size. Plus, I would travel here and there and would need different kinds of wear because of varied climates.

In reality, I need to buy a couple of pair of pants for bidness wear soon because my keys have taken a toll on the sloppy sewing from the pockets to the outside seam I always seem to encounter. Either that, or it will be me sewing them by hand.

So I am and have long been a fairly functional, low-maintenance creature, as far as clothes are concerned. Emotionally low-maintenance is another matter, or so I have been told. Oh well. Most of the time “there is no one in here except us chickens,” as the old saying goes. If I really had chickens, again, I might buy them some diapers or some Depends. Why? Why not? This is the same man who once gave his half-Doberman half-Great Dane a dickie to wear.

In other words, it don’t (sic) mean nothing.

Appreciate your law officers (and firefighters and EMTs)

It was only a little while ago that I read today was “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.” I didn’t know that it was or that there was even such a day. There is a good reason why I didn’t know though. Today is the inaugural day.

Recent incidents in which law enforcement officers used deadly force and likewise force was used against law officers prompted the day to appreciate police. Well, maybe not so much because of officers using deadly force although that is an underlying reason because deaths of young black men that were allegedly without provocation seems to be one reason police supporters feel such a day is needed.

Despite what some believe it is difficult to think there is plot out there in which cops want to shoot young black people. Some young cops need a dose of what regular folks think and a need to drop the macho macho man act. But most are just young people in their 20s and 30s. They were just like me when I was a paid firefighter and was their age. It isn’t a feeling of being bulletproof (or fireproof.) It’s just a feeling among some of the younger folk that they are among the right and the righteous.

Once they are literally and figuratively kicked in the nuts a few times in their lives most will get over whatever it is that makes them assholes. Either that or they move on and become supervisors working in offices with cubicle farms.

But yes, cops do what the rest of us don’t do. These are the people who usually are first on the scene to see what the rest of us don’t want to see. These are the young and older folks who have to cuff some crazed jerkoff, or perhaps even have to resort to a fatal encounter.

We need a law enforcement day and a firefighter day and an EMT day of appreciation. I know people on Facebook who see cops as only deserving this special day. But that is only until an incident in which 10 or 15 firefighters and Paramedics, or even 300 firefighters as in FDNY on 9/11, make an ultimate sacrifice.

Perhaps we should broaden this to Public Safety Personnel Day? Or use some other name. We need to appreciate all the folks who put their lives on the line every day and every night. Don’t you think?