Which way to the Cooks?

Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, or HLHS is a congenital heart condition that has no known cause. The left ventricle, which pumps blood to the body from the heart, does not develop. The condition is usually accompanied by aorta issues as well. The result is a heart that can pump blood to and from the lungs but not out to the body. In infants the problem is sometimes not caught right away because the ductus arteriosis remains open for a little time after birth. This ductus thingy is a tube that runs from the pulmonary artery (blood going to the lungs from the heart) to the arteries going out to the body. It means that at birth, and before birth, blood is supplied to the body via this duct, cause you know…the lungs aren’t being used in the womb. So once this ductus starts to close, the infant gets blood starved in his body. This causes the body’s organs, which want the oxygen transported by the blood, to go through alternate metabolic processes in an attempt to stay alive. These processes produce acid: hence why his blood acid was high (later we would discover that it was very very very high, not quite lethal but on the edge).

Without intervention such as surgery or a heart transplant the condition is 100% fatal. However since the 70s a series of surgeries have been developed that children get over the years. The first is done very soon after birth, the next one after several months, and the one after that in 1 to 3 years. Currently the outlook for patients making it to adulthood is 85%.

And now you know what I did after I did a Google search and an article reading or two. My wife had gone to get ready at this point. We wanted to be able to go when he did.

Right after the news from the doctor my wife and I held each other. I didn’t cry. I can’t tell you why I don’t cry in general, but I usually don’t. Typically when I do they are happy tears, and when they are sad it’s typically at a funeral. But not all the time. I do know that the more people that are around me the less likely I will cry. It’s not a macho thing. It’s not a strength of will thing. I don’t fight back tears when other people are around. I just don’t have the inclination to cry. Maybe inclination is the wrong word, I’m not sure what word is, but tears don’t come on by knocking on the door and asking if they are okay to come inside. Tears explode through the wall and announce their presence, like the Cool-Aid Man. I had no Cool-Aid Man at that moment. So I sat there and held my wife. That was a strength thing. I know she needed me to hold her and the God’s honest truth is I needed to hold her. After a little while a nurse came in, she said they had started to get the ball rolling on transport and had notified Cooks. They had been trying to get ahold of my wife’s doctor for discharge but had so far had no success. They were sure there would be no problem since they had been willing to discharge us the day before but we had opted to stay, thank God for that.

If we hadn’t stayed, the nurse wouldn’t have noticed his color getting a little blue and we wouldn’t have been in as good position to make the move to Cook’s. A lot of that 15% mortality rate I mentioned earlier is due to children that went home and who only made it to the hospital days after their ductus arteriosus closed. If you are a parent at home you might not notice the problem quickly, they turn a little blue, get lethargic, and start grunting. You take him or her to the ER, they aren’t baby doctors, maybe they have a NICU, maybe it takes many hours for people to figure out what is going on and to get your baby where he or she needs to go. I am not confident that Micah would have lived had we gone home the day before. That thought threatens to overcome me with fright occasionally. I am glad we stayed the extra day.

So the wife went to change from her hospital gown to real clothes. I got busy texting, facebooking, and googling. I wanted to know what we were up against here. Then I needed to let everyone else know. Again, needed. Letting other people know what was going on was important to me. I’ve seen the power of prayer at work first hand, I know what it can do, it was important for me to reach out to get that power on Micah’s side. It was also important to me to get everyone up to date. I knew from the comments I had seen that other people were worried.  Better to know what to be worried about than to be in the dark. I called my dad, he was almost there. I posted an update on Facebook. I waited to text my coworkers, some of them were on days and some were on nights so I didn’t want to wake anyone up, I waited till 6pm to text them.

Soon after that Janel was ready, but we had no word on what was going on. It had been forever, or 45 minutes, which at the time might as well have been forever, since we had had word about Micah’s condition. I went in search of a NICU nurse. It didn’t take much and I actually got the doctor as she was going by the NICU doors. She told me the transport was on the way, it would take 15 minutes or so to go from HEB to Cooks and the transport team would stop by our room with Micah before leaving.

Dad showed up. There were a series of hugs exchanged. I sort of explained what was going on to him, more focusing on the “what we are doing now” and less on “what the medical issue was.” Then the nurse came and said the transport was ready. They came to the room, we walked outside, I thought it was going to be a, see him on the way past kind of thing. They told me, “No, no, let’s go in the room.” We all retreated back into our hospital room. He was in a glass box, five people wearing professional looking blue jumpsuits wheeled the gurney holding the glass box into our room. Teddy Bear transport. He was passed out, or knocked out more likely. He was intubated as well. It was a little scary. No wait…it was intensely terrifying. Numbing though, so instead of freaking out we held his hand for a second and then he was off.

We stood around looking at each other for a minute or two. I was about to hug my wife and say goodbye and drive to the hospital alone, because she hadn’t been discharged yet. Luckily at that moment the nurse walked in and discharged my wife. It took a minute, there were a number of instructions she was obligated to read out loud to my wife. And then we were off.

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The first 5 hours

My wife had gone to sleep. I was holding my son, Micah, now a day and a half old, in my arms, while sitting in a chair in our room at the hospital, reading things on my phone. He had drifted off to sleep, something he was very good at, and did quiet a bit even while eating. I started to drift off too, and decided it was time to put him down in his mobile crib. I placed him in the crib and bundled him up and rolled him over to the couch/bed that I was sleeping on so I could watch him as I laid on my bed. He was a little above eye level laying there, but I could see him enough to tell the most important thing, whether or not he was breathing. Because that is what you do with babies who are sleeping, you watch to make sure they are breathing. Every once in a while, even when sleeping. You just wake up and look and you look and you look, because it is dark and they breath so fast and shallow that it is hard to see the movement. And you pray and you look and then you see the rhythm, you catch it, and you sign and close your eyes again and fall asleep for a little while. At least that is what I did with Maria, our firstborn, and what I did with Micah too, you know, before he had a breathing machine.

Two hours later we were awake again, Micah was feeding a little with mama. As had been the case several times the night before, he got tired while eating and fell asleep. We put him back in his crib. He made some whimpering noises but besides that wasn’t really fussy or crying. He’d been making the same whimpering noises the night before as well. It was a vast difference in comparison to our daughter. She did not like being put down, she would last a short while in her crib but then, sometimes only moments later, would burst out crying and demand to be held. Micah wasn’t like that, he was cool with being in the crib by himself. It was okay with him. The nurse came in shortly after that and took him to do his morning tests and review.

He was gone for a little while. I went back to sleep. My wife did as well, or she got up for a little bit…I honestly don’t remember. I was tired. Shortly after that, say 8am or so, the nurse came back in, but not with Micah. Micah had looked a little blue to her and his blood sugar had been low so she had run a blood acid test to check the level of his blood acid. This test came back with a low pH, which is not good for infants. So not good that he was immediately admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the hospital. They were checking him there to see what was wrong and would be back shortly to tell us what was going on.

As you would naturally suspect nervousness set in, and worry, and a tiny bit of panic. Luckily the lack of sleep and caffeine does wonders to suppress the urge to go crazy with worry, and coupled with my usual calmness I took a step back and looked at the situation as best I could. So I prayed. In all reality it was what I could do given the situation, which was in the hands of highly trained medical professionals and God. Not mine. Therefore I prayed. I also called my dad and told him the situation, which prompted him to start driving our way from his hotel, about 30 minutes away in traffic. I also got on facebook and told people he had been admitted to the NICU.

This last step was very important to me. I don’t live in a vacuum, and I don’t want to. I know my friends would want to know. I know they would want to help. I know like me they couldn’t do anything physical at that moment, right then all they could do was what I could do: pray. I wanted to let them know that we needed prayers. This was important to me.

Some time went by, my wife got up to go to the rest room. I checked my phone. Someone came in who I hadn’t met before. She was the NICU doctor. She introduced herself and asked where my wife was and I told her she was in the bathroom. She took a seat in the chair I had vacated when she came in and I sat down next to her. She wasn’t telling me anything. She looked anxious and worried. I could feel the anxiousness and worry coming off of her. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was one of the following:

“Good news or bad news?” , “Is it good news?”

She shook her head from side to side. I signed.

“Is he alive?” I asked.

“Yes, but there is something I need to talk to you both about.” she said.

I signed again, in relief this time. My wife came and sat next to me. The doctor had been holding something in her hand, a piece of paper.

“Okay, I wanted to let you know that Micah has a heart condition. It is called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.” Here she gave us the paper, it was a picture of a heart with the words hypoplastic left heart syndrome written across the top of the page. “His condition is a congenital heart defect with no known cause. It affects the left ventricle of the heart, see,” here she pointed at the picture of the heart on the piece of paper, “this part of his heart should be as large as the other side. His did not grow, sometimes the doctor will catch it on the sonograms but just as often they won’t.”

We looked at the picture. It indeed showed a heart, except the left ventricle was shrunken.I honestly had no idea what that meant. I have always had a bad time with the circulatory system. Not from an understanding perspective, but from a staying-standing-while-people-talk-about-it perspective. In biology class in high school, the teacher said I turned as white as a sheet when we started talking about the circulatory system and was surprised that I took as long as I did to raise my hand to be allowed to go to the bathroom. I don’t have this response to the sight of blood or anything like that. Just the medical explanation of the heart and its system. So I knew basically nothing about the heart. And I only was able to grasp what she was telling me directly.

“Up till now he had an artery, the ductus arteriosus that was open which was keeping blood flowing to his body. It is open while we are in the womb and then a few days after birth it closes, since by then we are using our lungs.”

We nodded. I still really didn’t understand. But the why was not important to me yet. In the moment I don’t like to ask the why question unless it will inform a decision I am going to make. I knew at this point we weren’t there, we were at “This is what is going to happen” and that’s what I wanted to know.

“We have him on a drug now, progesterone, that works to keep that artery open. However, it is not a long term solution. He will need surgery for his heart, several actually, and that is where we are headed now. We are going to move him to Cooks Children’s in Fort Worth for the surgery. You can of course tell us to move him somewhere else, that is your right, but Cooks is closest and honestly the doctors that will be looking after him there and the surgeons are the ones I would want if it was my baby.”

We nodded. The thought, ‘Chicks dig scars’ flashed across my mind, knowing that Micah would have a pretty massive chest scar from this. Seriously, that was my gut reaction.

“Do you have any questions? Is the transport to Cooks okay? If so we will get all the paperwork going and get the transport team notified.”

I don’t remember asking anything beyond wanting to know when we would hear about the timing of the transport. My wife hadn’t been discharged yet, we needed to know if we were gonna need to split up or drive together. We gave them the okay for the transport.

The doctor had been good about the news, she looked us in the eye, she was sympathetic, she held our hands at the end.

“This is going to be a long road, but you are in good hands.” She said, and then she left us to go back to our son.

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I think I’m past anger and depression and all the other typical rounds of things you feel when something traumatic happens and now I’ve reached acceptance. It’s over. The experiment is more or less over. It was a good democratic experiment and it had some really grand moments it its time, but ultimately it is over. The democratic process eventually ran itself aground in order that the people who are a part of the democracy could feel good about something instead of worrying about deciding something for themselves. Democracy has proved itself to be too hard, take too long, and in general is too burdensome for the people who had to be ruled by it.

So you’re asking “What kind of terrible bigot are you, that you think that giving gay people the right to marriage has destroyed America?” My first response is that I don’t think giving gay people the right to marry destroyed America. I think the Supreme Court giving gay people the right to marriage has put a final nail in the coffin of what little democracy we had left in the United States. Two very different statements. You see gay marriage rights really isn’t the key here. The important part is that the Supreme Court made the decision. As you may or may not know, the Supreme Court is made up of nine judges appointed for life by the President. In the beginning, as in from the get go of the Constitution, their power was actually quiet limited. As time moved forward this changed, sometimes rapidly, like when Marshall declared that they had the power to review laws for Constitutionality. But in general, as time has moved forward the Supreme Court’s power has always increased in comparison to the Legislature’s and President’s.

Ultimately the fault for this comes from two directions. The first is the format of the judicial system. Judicial systems run on precedent. Precedent works to make the system easier and more fair. When presented with a similar problem, or near similar problem, it is more fair and easier for a deciding judge to copy the decision of the judge that came before them. This does have the result, however, that every decision a judge makes is in fact not just a judgement on the case before him, but on all cases of similar nature that will come in the future. This also works up and down the scale, as high courts make decisions it sets the precedent for all the courts under them. Because the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, any decision they make sets the precedent for all courts everywhere in the United States. So as the Supreme Court makes decisions over time, they become more powerful, because every decision they make is the precedent, so every decision becomes theirs.

The second way the court has gained power is squarely our fault, and is tied invariable to the nature of cases we as citizens decide to bring to the Supreme Court. The one real check or hold on the court’s power is that they can’t make decisions for something that isn’t brought before them as a case. The unfortunate truth is that we bring everything before them as a case, even when it shouldn’t be. If we all read and stuck to the portions of the Constitution that talk about the kind of cases the Supreme Court is supposed to be reviewing and judging on, then almost none of the cases that actually get brought to them would get brought to them. They are supposed to make judgments on whether cases meet or don’t meet statutes as written by law. What we bring them are “We don’t like this law, and the democratic process didn’t work in our favor, so we want you to invalidate or castrate the law.” cases. We bring cases to circumvent the democratic process, to specifically get around the fact that most people don’t agree with our position, but maybe five out of nine un-elected judges might. We use the Supreme Court when we feel democracy has failed, because someone’s feelings are being hurt. And so we bring them everything. So the Supreme Court gets to pick and choose from every conceivable kind of case in order to make whatever rule they want to make in whatever way they want to make it, because we’ve given them the ability to pick and choose and the nature of their office lets them make those decisions for the rest of time.

We live in an America where all rules and all laws, no matter what level of government they are crafted by, are manipulated at whim by a group of nine un-elected people. Who will manipulate the rules and laws at whim, regardless of what the Constitution or the laws say. Here, both to us who have given them this power and to them who have taken it, feelings are ultimately far more important than law and order and that is the government we are now under. Nine un-elected people hold the ultimate power. All voting power I have can and has been swept away by them. My decisions do not matter. No other branch of government has a point to assail them from. They are our Constitutionally and self-appointed dictators.

I hope in the future they like the same things I like and feel the same way about things that I feel, because that is the only way I will fit in America. Anyone divergent from their views and their feelings will be, in general and possibly by law, un-American.

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SRO License Class

I am roughly two years into my SRO License Class. For those of you who have no idea what that means, SRO stands for Senior Reactor Operator. You see in order for a person to be allowed to operate a nuclear reactor to make power they first have to obtain a license to do so from the NRC, which stands for Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a.k.a. the Federal Government. And unlike most of the non law enforcement divisions of the federal government, the NRC actually has a decent amount of power, so companies generally do what the NRC tells them to do. Anyways, to obtain the license, the company puts you through a roughly 18 month to 2 year program in order to give you the knowledge and ability necessary to operate the power plant. In general this is a good thing. We don’t want any shlub off the street just being able to walk up and operate a nuclear reactor. If you need me to explain why then you do not have a healthy respect for science or technology.

Anyways, we’re coming down to the end of the program. Thus far I would have to say that I have done above average in the program. The program is split into a number of different parts and each part imbuing the potential operator with the abilities necessary to pass the NRC license exam. The first part was GFES, or General Fundamentals…I forget what the ES is for, but I don’t care right now, anyways I did not do spectacular is GFES. There were three reasons for this: 1) I know too much about nuclear reactors and how they actually work and GFES is so basic that I did poorly in the Reactor Theory section because of this, 2) Janel had not moved to Vicksburg yet and so I was spending my weekends driving back and forth from Louisiana to Mississippi, which wasted a good deal of time, and 3) a good friend of mine passed away in the middle of the training and his funeral was the weekend before one of the exams. That being said, I passed, and in fact on the final GFES exam I was tied for the highest score in the class. This has been typical of my performance. I don’t do great in the leadup to final exams, but I ace the fucking shit out of the finals. This was the case with the Systems portion of the training program, which is a little  slice of hell during which you basically earn an engineering degree in 5 months. No joke this was by far the hardest 5 months of school I’ve ever had and I am in fact both a rocket scientist and a nuclear physicist. Again, I did poorly on several of the intermittent tests, even failed the one following the Cepheid Reunion that year. This caused untold problems for me, but again, like I said, I did very well on the last System’s exam. I was tied for second place on the System’s comprehensive test.

Now we are in the Simulator portion of our training. We spend our days in a mock-up of the control room, with all the nobs and buttons and alarms (holy shit the alarms) and everything else in working order. We try our best to muddle our way through the various scenarios they put us through where terrible things happen to the plant and you have to respond in just the right way or you get yelled at. I’ve been doing okay in simulator. I would say I’m middle of the pack or so. I did screw up during our first evaluation, taking an automatic controller to manual when I shouldn’t have which caused us to scram on a transient we shouldn’t have. But again, our actual eval is next week, so we’ll see how that goes.

However, I’m not really here to talk about my performance. I’m here to talk about how we are motivated. What has been constant for me during this program is the complete and total doubt in my abilities that I have received from our head instructor and others in the training program. But it’s not just doubt. It’s the expression of that doubt in telling us constantly that we are not good enough and are going to fail. Because you see it’s not just me that gets this treatment. We all do, everyone in the program get’s told on a regular basis that we will fail. That we will have wasted 2 years of our lives in this program. Now granted, some of us get this treatment more often than others, but I get it a lot.

I understand what it is. It is a motivational tool. The people telling me this stuff don’t actually think I will fail. They may not be completely sure that I will pass with flying colors, but I’m pretty sure they think I’ll make it. But, it is a bad motivational tool. No wait, I’m sorry, it is a shitty, terrible, bad, horrible motivational tool that sucks from here to china. But it’s the one being employed. And I don’t think it’s just this one instructor. I don’t think it’s just our class. I don’t think it’s just our site. I think the whole damn nuclear industry is like this. And I think I have the Navy to thank for it.

You see, former members of the US Navy make up roughly 80-90% of nuclear operators. Go figure, the US Navy operates a shit-ton of reactors and trains a load of people to operate those reactors. Companies like to hire people with experience, hence companies hire ex-Navy folks to run their commercial nuclear reactors. In fact, the other 12 members of my class are former Navy. And I think this is how the Navy trains and motivates people. They beat down on them in hopes that they will get angry and fight back and become better for it. This can be a valid motivational tool if utilized correctly. It’s used on sports teams all the time. But here’s the trick, you have to follow the beat down with a build up. You have to build the people up after you crush them. That is not what I am undergoing. I am undergoing a continual crush.

Today I took an OTEC board. I don’t remember what OTEC stands for, but basically three people, a couple trainers and an operations management person, sit down with you and ask you questions. In the past they have told us quiet clearly that you should take your time with the questions and not stray away from the answers too much. So that is what I did, when asked a direct question, I made the direct answer and I made sure of the answer before I said it. I passed. But they were very disappointed in me. They expected me to do better, whatever that means. They didn’t think I should have taken so much time with my answers or forced them to drag things out of me. I realized that the crush isn’t going to stop. No matter how well or not so well I do, I will get crushed. Even if I get my license it won’t stop. Every day, every hour I will be subject to the crush. Because it’s not just the training program that is run by former Navy people. It’s the whole damn industry. This is how the industry motivates people, by crushing them. Outside of Operations the crush isn’t so bad, it’s almost survivable given that you don’t have any other options. But inside Operations it isn’t. Unless of course, you happened to have been in the Navy before, and well I wasn’t. And I wasn’t for good reasons.

Call it what you want, but I would not function well in the military. Physically I would have been fine. But mentally I would not have done well. I would have gotten out as fast as I possibly could. Which is what I am going to do now. This class has taught me a very important lesson, which is that I don’t want to be a nuclear operator. Oh I’m gonna get my license and I’m gonna tell all the people who have been crushing me for the last 2 years to suck it long and suck it hard, but I don’t plan of ever using it.

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The 2nd Amendment

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

That’s the amendment as written in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. Right beneath the First Amendment. You might say that it was thought to be so damn important that it was put second, right after the freedom of speech and religion stuff. And it is damn important, and it exists for a reason, and you probably don’t know that reason or you don’t want to know that reason, or you don’t care about that reason. Well too freaking bad. Until you understand what the amendment means and what you’d be throwing away by getting rid of it, or by infringing upon it, then I’m sorry but you’re being an idiot. Sorry, not pulling punches on this one, this is Constitutional Law, a.k.a. the basis of all law in this country. Plus it’s not like anyone reads this thing anyways.

So we’ll start with the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is in the Constitution because some of our founding fathers had the foresight to understand that not everyone was going to be a strict constitutionalist. That some people would assume that any power not strictly forbidden the government in the Constitution would be in the government’s power. Read the Constitution sans the amendments. If you were to interpret the Constitution as laying down only the things that the government must do, but not including everything the government could do, then damn, the American people could be totally rogered from here to sundown. The Constitution does little to protect the people it governs. Enter the Bill of Rights. You ever hear anyone say “Hey man, you’re treading on my Article 3, Section II rights here!” No, no you haven’t, because Article 3, Section II has to do with the powers of the Judicial Branch of government. What you do hear people say is “Hey man, you’re treading on my first amendment rights!” That’s because pretty much all our rights stem from the Bill of Rights. It is our only protection from a government that has left strict constitutionality in the dust long ago.

During it’s drafting and debate, the right of the states to have militias and the right’s of the people to bear arms was not something hotly debated. It was seen as the best damn protection the people of the United States had to avoid becoming a kingdom. The majority of back and fourth that occurred in the House and Senate was of specific wording to insure that the government wouldn’t be able to rules lawyer their way into stripping the people of their weapons. The purpose of the amendment wasn’t to ensure people would be able to hunt, or protect themselves from criminals, or to protect themselves from foreign invaders. The purpose was to allow people to protect themselves from the government, specifically a government which had a standing army and controlled the State’s abilities to keep their own munitions and armament. (Read Federalist Paper No. 46 if you’re not convinced about this one). Ultimately the purpose was to allow the people to protect all those other rights they were given in the Bill of Rights from a tyrannical government. Cause let’s face it, if a tyrannical government is good at anything, it’s good at wiping it’s butt with pieces of paper that declare citizen’s rights. So in order to ensure that the Bill of Rights would stand, the people were given the right to arm themselves so they could protect these rights if the government became tyrannical.

The individual’s right to keep and bear arms (and not just a militia’s right to do such) was reinforced in a Kentucky case in 1822, which struck down a state law saying you couldn’t conceal your weapon, claiming it as an infringement of the individual’s right to bear arms (Guy was being fined $100 for having a sword cane). Then in 1856, as part of the Dred Scott V. Sanford Supreme Court case it was written that slaves who were afforded the full rights of the U.S. Constitution would include the right to keep and carry arms where ever they went.

Infringement of our rights didn’t start until the 1930’s, when congress passed a series of laws aiming to take guns away from organized criminals, which had sprouted up after prohibition had passed. The event that got the ball rolling was the Valentine’s Day massacres. (begin sarcasm) The acts that passed really did a good job of stopping mob violence (end sarcasm). What they did do, was create another avenue of revenue for organized crime syndicates. “You mean we can sell booze and guns at massively inflated prices! Heck yes!” 1938 saw the passing of the law that required logging names and addresses of gun sellers and buyers, and excluded some people from owning guns (namely criminals convicted of a select number of crimes). 1968, post Kennedy assassination, increased the list of people who couldn’t buy guns. It now included all convicted felons, the mentally unstable, and drug users. 2004 saw the Brady Act, which set up the national database used to ensure that only people who can legally buy a gun are able to buy a gun without the black market surcharge (Cause lets face it, it’s been illegal for criminals to have guns for a loooooooong time, but they still seem to have them).

Luckily in 2008 and 2010 two Supreme Court cases basically ruled that, and I’m paraphrasing here, “No really, individual people have the right to bear arms”.

So that’s where we are right now. Criminals, drug users, and the mentally unfit can’t buy guns from legal arm’s sellers who also have to be registered with the ATF. Everyone who buys a gun has to be checked into a database before they buy a gun. Everyone who buys a gun’s name and address is kept on file at the federal level. So the question remains, are we still able to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government and can we do so if we make more laws?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m cool with convicted felons and the mentally ill not being able to own firearms, and the Supreme Court did uphold the ability of congress and the states to make it illegal for convicted felons and the mentally ill to own firearms (in those 2008 and 2010 cases mentioned earlier).

But the question now is? What other restrictions can we add to “make things safer.” And my counter question is: If we give up more ground on this right, on our only right to defend the other rights we have against an unjust government. If we make more areas “No gun zones” a.k.a. “Easy targets for nut jobs with guns”. If we make more databases and licenses which make it easy for the government to disarm you. If we make it more expensive to own the weapons we need to keep the government in check (And if you’re of the opinion that the government would never, ever, ever, in a million years try and stomp on your rights then you need to read some f*&king history books my friend. History has done a good job of showing us that the only thing that keeps people in power from trying to take your rights away wholesale is the threat of force).  If we expand “gun control” are we more or less safe from the government. If the answer is less safe, then we’ve infringed on the 2nd Amendment and we’ve made it easy for a tyrannical government to strip our Constitutionally provided rights. Because that’s what the 2nd Amendment protects.

It’s not there for hunting. It’s not their for protecting yourself from attack or home invasion. It’s there so you can protect your Constitutionally given rights. And I don’t know about you, but I think those rights are pretty damn important.

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Something’s not right here…

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Why I’m voting for Romney and not Obama.

I think everyone knows I’m fairly opinionated and I do indeed have an opinion on the coming election and this is it. I’m going to vote for Romney and not Obama and I have reasons for both.

Firstly I will start with why I am not voting for Obama, because that will set up why I am voting for Romney a little better.

But even before that: I will explain something about the President. The President make two kinds of choices: Hard ones and really hard ones. Where the options are: Terrible Thing A and Terrible Thing B , or Unsure Thing A or Unsure Thing B. This is simply because if a solution to whatever crazy problem has hit their desk was easy then someone would have solved it before it hit their desk so they could take credit for it. So the President makes bad decisions simply because he cannot make good ones. However, HOWEVER, the President does get to make some moves on his own and make his own direction in some ways. Typically these initiatives are few and far between and depend highly on the makeup of Congress at the time. In summation, in my opinion, I judge the President on those things where he champions “doing something” before what-ever-it-is-he’s-doing-something-about brings down the walls, and then on the decisions he makes when presented with two bad options.

For Obama it comes down to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and then the Tax Deficit. In most other things he’s basically continued on down the path that was set for him. The wars continued and pull out plans were followed, pretty much how it had been planned (considering he kept Gates as his Secretary of Defense this should not be shocking). Remember folks, we’re still in Afghanistan. The bailout was started at the very end of the Bush administration and continued unabated during Obama’s administration. The Patriot Act is still in full effect, getting re-approved every year by Congress. Guantanamo Bay is still open and prisoners are still tried there. Change is indeed not something Obama really pulled off, except for that one thing: The health care law. And here’s my problem with the health care law: it did nothing to alleviate the cost of healthcare and instead entrenched the insurance industry making it a mandated part of everyone’s lives. It in fact has done the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do, which was to make healthcare affordable for everyone. Instead, it has just made it so everyone must have insurance or they pay a tax penalty. It ensured the existence of the Insurance Companies as middlemen between you and your healthcare provider for the rest of time, or until the law is repealed or replaced. That to me is stupid. I’m sorry, but it is stupid. I think a much better solution could have been found which was centered around you and your healthcare provider but that was the horse Obama backed. And not only did he back it, but he pretty much blew all of his, and the other Democrat’s in Congress’, political clout and favors to pass it into law. Again, blowing all your political leverage on that law looks pretty stupid from both a “the law is bad” perspective and a “it’s a bad political move”, simply because it resulted in the loss of the House to the Republicans. So again, we come back to stupid. Now I’m not saying Obama is a stupid man, but he made a stupid call and it was too stupid of a call.

The other thing was the Tax Deficit. That blindsided Obama. I’m sorry, but it did. His original budget for that year, the year where the government almost shut down like 10 times cause they kept almost not raising the debt ceiling, was basically the same budget from the year before. The man, or more likely his advisers  for some reason, seemed to have no clue that the massive number of new Republicans in the house were going to push for lowering the deficit. So yeah, again, stupid.

So that’s why I’m not going to vote for Obama.

Now to Romney. Romney is a politician. As a couple people have pointed out his policies during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts were fairly liberal. He flip-flopped on pretty much all of those policies during his current campaign for the Presidency. He’s also lied while talking, sometimes on camera or in front of a microphone. Well duh. I’m sorry if you don’t understand how Primaries work and if you don’t understand what a candidate has to do to win the Presidency against an incumbent after winning his party’s primary. If you don’t, mainly what you have to do is lie a whole lot. To be honest, Romney hasn’t lied as much as most politicians that have been in his position in the past, simply because he always has a camera on him…always. So yeah, I don’t really care about all that because it’s the same crap from every candidate ever in that position. What I do care about is his performance as governor of Massachusetts. His performance as governor was basically what the people of Massachusetts wanted, which for an elected politician, is a check mark in the good box. Not only that, but he was a Governor for many years, and not a 1 term Senator who never ran anything from an Executive perspective.

So for me the option comes down to this. Obama, who will have to claw and fight with the Republican House to get anything done, and he has already proved that he will blow his political clout on stupid laws and will likely abuse his lame duck status…because all presidents abuse their lame duck status (Clinton was particularly bad about it in my opinion). Or Romney, who will actually be able to work with both side of the aisle, simply because of what he did while he was Governor, which was interestingly similar to the things Obama did while he has been President. His term will likely have vastly more success in passing legislation and in fixing problems than Obama’s last term was or next term would be. And on top of that Romney has proven that he will do what his electorate wants him to do.

And just to be clear, I’m not a huge Romney fan, but when your options are incompetence and marginal ability, you have to take the marginal ability. Just my opinion, but to me the choice is pretty easy to see.

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So as you may or may not know there is an excellent web comic out there that I am convinced that my friend Trip writes, although I know in reality he doesn’t, Randal Munroe does, called xkcd. It is a comic about a lot of things and since becoming popular the writer/artist has branched out into a lot of things that are also neat and interesting. One of the things he’s started doing recently is a series answering fan-supplied questions about ridiculous or interesting or ridiculously interesting topics. They have been very good so far and in my realm of expertise they all seem to be spot on. All that is except the first one he did. In this one he successfully did something that only a few other people have done in the history of the world and that is that he touched on my particular area of expertise, which is the combined area of aerospace and nuclear science/engineering. I’m more of a space guy as per the aerospace side of things, which is important for the proceeding argument because I am not disputing his interpretation of events as they would play out in the aerodynamic sense.

So here is the question: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball thrown at roughly 90% the speed of light?

Randal’s answer is very good, from a purely Newtonian physics combined with Quantum Mechanics, which takes care of the small stuff, point of view, but I think it falls short in two distinct areas. The first is in his treatment of material solid structures and the composition of the ball as it hurtles through the air going 90% c (c is the typical letter used as shorthand to denote the speed of light. 0.9c is shorthand for 90% the speed of light). I’m not a structures guy for the most part, but I have a feeling that the ball’s solid structure wouldn’t last past the first few impacts with the air molecules. Either the ball would rip itself asunder due to wave propagation through the lattice of the leather and rubber or the chunks of the ball would explode out of the back of the ball as individual pieces of the ball were de-accelerated by the molecules they interact with and ripped from their lattice, taking anything behind them with them. Either way, the ball would never reach the batter as a ball, but it might reach him has a de-accelerated mass of plasma, which is basically what Randal suggests will happen…which means that this is basically a nitpicky kind of thing.

The second shortfall I think has more wide-ranging consequences and that is the explanation of the effects inside of Newtonian Mechanics. Unfortunately at 0.9c the ball, and anything in relation to the ball (a.k.a. the pitcher, batter, audience, the earth, and the guy overlooking the game from a hill a block away) have to be considered in the realm of General Relativity. Without getting too into it, because honestly I’m more of a Special Relativity kind of guy, an object traveling at 0.9c which has mass can have a tremendous impact on the local curvature of spacetime (a.k.a. gravity), hence distorting both how everything is related to each other in space and how events will transpire in time. Since general relativity depends on matter that has momentum and energy our baseball scenario needs to be considered in terms of how the baseball will affect local gravity. Usually we only concern ourselves with matter that has lots of energy and how they affect gravity, stuff like stars and planets. But here we have something that has matter and an extra-ordinary amount of momentum (which is just mass times velocity). Theoretically these objects would have an effect on gravity similar to high energy matter.  Now I don’t have any evidence to give you as to what effects it will have since we don’t typically see things with the mass of your average baseball coming anywhere near 0.9c in speed. Our Galaxy for instance is only flying through space at roughly 600 km/s, roughly .002c. The sun is going something near 220 km/s around the center of the milky way. The earth is going around the sun at roughly 107,300 km/h, and is rotating at 1674.4 k/h if you are standing at the equator. Now let’s say that everything is aligned such that all those velocity vectors add together, which it would every once in a while (give or take a few millennium), you’re still only moving at 850 km/s, which is still only 0.0028c. Sure you could also be on a rocket moving as fast as we can move things, but you’re not going to get much faster than 0.0028c. So we just don’t have any real hard data about what happens to large solids at speeds of 0.9c, or what they do to space-time in their general area.

But this is what I think would happen, given what we do know about general relativity. As the baseball is moving from the pitcher’s mound to the plate, disintegrating into a fast moving ball of plasma, it will also curve spacetime around it created a local gravitational pull. This will in turn cause everything close to the ball to pull toward the ball. The pitcher would literally be dragged behind the ball after he let it go. The batter, umpire, other players, people in the stadium, the ground, and everything else nearby gets pulled toward the ball as well, while the ball is moving. It would be like the ball was a really strong electro-magnet and everything around it was metal. As the ball moved through space everything would move toward it…and because it’s plasma, everything would be slowly disintegrated and then fused…which would in effect release more energy to fuse more things. As the ball progresses through space the only hope that the fusion reaction does not become self sustaining is that it sucks in enough iron, and similarly high binding energy elements, that the plasma ball burns more energy breaking apart matter (breaking molecular bonds and fissioning atoms) than it makes putting it back together (fusion). In the event that it drowns itself (Not literally, water is actually a terrible idea in this circumstance…although it might work given the hydrogen bonds…hmmmmm) then you will indeed get the explosion as Randal states, although I imagine it would be larger…likely taking out a larger chunk of the surrounding city. Luckily due to the structure of most matter laying around a baseball field it is highly likely that the fusion reaction will not become self-sustaining. In the event that it did become self-sustaining, congratulations someone just “pitched a star”.

There is another element to consider here as well and that is the effect on time. Anything close to the plasma ball will feel the effects of gravitational time dilation. This means that anything close to the ball will experience time at a different rate. So for the pitcher, batter, and everyone in the stadium everything happens before they know what happened. But for the observer on a hill, everything that happens near the plasma ball is in a kind of weird slow motion, not really that slow mind you, but slow enough to see the ball of pure light streak from the pitcher to the batter, while starting to implode, and then of course the resulting explosion.    


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On Authority

Everything you know is very little. Let me stress that by stating it again but less Yoda like. You know very little. And I’m not saying that as an attack on you, the reader. It is true of everyone. The things you know are the things you have seen and experienced for yourself. The rest of everything in your head are things you believe. That collection of things you believe is the vast majority of what is in your head. Therefore what you know, what you’ve seen and experienced for sure, are only a small portion of what is in your brain. Everything else you have taken on authority.

Now in our modern society with its modern sensibilities about things (which I’m certain will seem silly to the next few centuries of people and absolutely ridiculous to the people further on) we’ve come to find the word authority and the idea of taking something on authority as a bad thing. And why not, is it not better to know things for yourself? Well sure, who can argue with that. Except that there are many, many things which are difficult to know for ourselves and even more that are impossible. For instance, I know how a nuclear reactor works, or at least I believe I do. I’ve read about how a nuclear reactor works. I’ve studied nuclear science. I’ve learned and memorized a variety of equations dealing with the subject. I’ve watched nuclear fuel being put into a reactor, and I’ve watched electricity come out of the turbine to power an electrical grid…well not really that last one, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve seen all these things but I’ve never seen a nuclear chain reaction, and I never will, because it happens at the atomic level. I can see plenty of indications of nuclear reactions, but those are just inferences. Things that tell me that something is indeed happening and it seems to follow along with all the things I know should be happening.

The same is true of History. None of us witnessed the American Revolution or the Civil War. We have war memorials, battlefield guides, documents, books, and historians that all tell us that those things happened, but in reality all we are doing is trusting someone else’s story. In the end that is what the vast majority of our knowledge is, information given to us via sources, more often than not sources we don’t know and have never met. And we trust these sources. We trust our parents when they tell us stories about ourselves as children that we don’t remember. We trusted our teachers in elementary and middle school, and then lost that trust because we trusted our high school teachers more and they said things that disagreed with our earlier teachers, and so on through college as our trusted professors told us stories that conflicted with our earlier teachers and even our parents. We trust the author’s of books to tell stories truthfully (at least non-fiction books) and to present us with fact based, well-reasoned arguments when they tell us these stories. All this trusting in what is ultimately Authority, of one variety or another, and we have the audacity to say that taking things on authority is bad.

The reality is that taking things on Authority is only bad if you do so blindly. And now I’m going to make a statement that you aren’t going to agree with. All of us are blind, including you. We blindly accept the majority of the information we are told. We have done so our whole lives. Some of us have experimented with the world quite a bit and yet as much as we may have peaked from under our blindfolds in some ways, it gets tucked around our eyes in others. I have no solution to offer you concerning your blindfold and how to get it off, nor do I claim to be a man who can see. I only claim to be someone who recognizes that they are wearing a blindfold. That I enjoy reading articles in print and on the web that agree with my opinions and will readily accept any “fact” they throw my way. That I get angry reading articles I don’t agree with and will point out the logical and factual errors in the writer’s work as readily as I can. That I accept history on an almost face value, and that while I have studied some of it heavily, I will never know for any certainty what really happened. That I accept scientific articles based on opinion as much as good rigor on the part of the scientists, although with how politicized science is, it is difficult to find real scientific rigor. That I think that reading many different articles about a given topic, from disagreeing viewpoints, makes me feel like I know something about that topic when really all I’m doing is parroting someone else story…who is likely parroting someone else. That is what I do, because that is what we all do. Some of us are better than others, but we all have our blindfolds on.

So the question then is, how blind is it okay to be? None if you can get to it, but like so many goals it remains unachievable. But it is the goal. The idea here is to know as much as you can, which is to say if you want to know something you have to see it and experience it. Like I said, an impossible goal, given history and other subjects are beyond our senses, but you do the best you can. You try to find Authorities you can trust and who you can believe, because in the end that is what you are doing, you are believing them.

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Logic and Science

I’d like to start by stating something that I find rather obvious but which seems not to be anymore. Logic, which is to say a person’s ability to use their knowledge and experience to form reasoned chains of expressions about something, and Science, the study of something using the scientific method, are not the same thing. I think part of the issue that has arisen whereby people equate the two of them stems from Logic becoming a branch of study in major universities. Instead of just using logic, we now study the process of logical argument and reasoning, and this study is often refereed to as a science. Hence many people assume that Logic and Science are the same thing, or even worse that Logic is merely a small branch of science and somehow developed after science.

This is of course not the case at all. Science is a rather new invention and springs from the development of the scientific method. But more than the use of that method science involves the testing and retesting of hypothesis, by the proponent of the hypothesis, and more importantly to the modern-day, by the scientific community at large. The scientific method is of course when studied just a complicated form of guess and check, but Science is the collection of the guess and checks of scientists in order that each man and woman no longer has to guess and check about the same things. It is an attempt to expand human knowledge in such a way that we no longer have to individually guess and check at things. It is a tool we use to examine the universe around us and then test that universe and then to retest it and then to provide those results so that everyone may look at them. Science is about determining how things happen, and as a tool it is good at doing that insofar as we can supply it with the right technology to do that. But science isn’t so good at answering all the questions we encounter in our lives.

For instance, there are those questions for which we do not poses the technology to explore. Like “How did the dinosaurs die?” Taken at face value the only way this question is answerable via science is to re-create the dinosaurs and then attempt several ways of wiping them out and then finding the closest match to what we have. That, or going back in time and watching. The first one still is not entirely scientifically accurate and the second involves time travel. But any other method would not be entirely scientific, it will in fact have to rely on logic to fill in the gaps. Any hypothesis we develop, no matter how well we test it, will require reasoned steps in its explanation of how X or Y killed the dinosaurs. You just can’t get there without Logic.

And in the modern world that is much of what Logic is used for. Because we have Science in the modern world, Logic is what we use to fill in the gaps left by those questions that science can’t answer, or can’t answer fully. The more I learn about the world the more I realize that Science answers very few questions about the world completely. Evolution for instance is only supported scientifically in the natural selection arena, whereby some species thrive in some environments and other species don’t. To date we haven’t seen the rest of the theory played out though the scientific method. The rest of the theory is held up by logic, and I didn’t necessarily say it was correct logic, but just that it was logic and in fact not science. To do the whole theory of Evolution through science you would have to create your own ecosystem on the scale of the Earth and watch it evolve over several millions, if not billions, of years. These problems of scale and technology would of course disappear when you had the right technology, that is true, but that doesn’t mean people won’t want to think about them in the time being.

Then there are those problems that science either cannot answer or has little to say about. Economics and psychology are two areas where science often finds itself floundering and experts are constantly baffled. How things happen in an economy are not always straightforward or easy to document. The same is even more true for how people make decisions. Oh for sure those two fields generate fistfuls of statistical evidence, but this as we know is again not science, it is merely distilled observation. With a statistic we can only say what was true, percentage wise, in the past, but we cannot use it to make scientifically accurate predictions about the future. I think I will have to leave that bit here now and bring it up later, for science and statistics get confused for one another quiet a bit these days as well.

Then there are of course the why questions, on which science is silent, simply because the why questions aren’t what science is for. Science is for the how. And what I mean by why questions is something like this “Why is the sky blue?”. Taken by science you get an explanation about the atmosphere’s refraction of certain colors of light and blue being the leftover one that makes it through to our eyes. But that’s not why is it, that’s how? Why the sky is blue depends on why the visible spectrum is the way it is, and that depends on both why our eyes are the way they are and why light behaves the way it does, and back and back the whys stack up until you hit more universal questions like “Why does the universe exist?” or “Why does the universe exist the way it does?”. Science doesn’t have an answer to those questions. For those questions it’s just us and logic out in the cold. And it’s not so bad, since logic has been with us a lot longer than science. But many people decide not to ask those questions anymore simply because they don’t have the warm blanket of science to get them through those questions. They say things like “Those questions don’t matter and aren’t worth bothering about.” They think that logic and science are equal and because science has nothing to say to answer those questions that logic will be equally quiet about the matter. I disagree. I think logic has quite a bit to say about those kinds of questions. Logic has indeed quite a bit to say about a lot of things, but as long as you think logic is science then logic will be more silent than it ought to be.

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