Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bloody Ice

Hockey season is upon us. Both of my boys have been skating for the past six weeks or so, trying out, scrimmaging, getting sweaty and wet. Good for them I say, since they otherwise wouldn't get any exercise, except thumb on game controller. James at least balances hockey with music. He missed last week's tournament in Mankato (his team earned first place) because of a band retreat. I could finally attend a game tonight. Dropping him off the requisite half hour before the game left me with some time to take a stroll with smelly Mellie and even throw the newly acquired light-up ball a few times. We headed West from Ken Yackel Westside Arena along the foot of the bluff, first on Wabesha Ave and then, at he HealthPartners Clinic, behind some commercial buildings into the brush-covered ravine. I like that ravine, it hugs the bluff, a path meanders, sometimes ill defined, up and down, quite steep in places. Just at the steepest passage my mobile rang: “Paps, my coach thinks I need stitches,” the voice at the other end said. OK, slide down ravine, keep throwing ball while walking back to arena. Of cause it wasn't James who needed attention, but Colin, James' older brother.

I organized a ride for James and headed home. On the way, I checked out a nifty new feature HealthPartners recently implemented: you can call in and a recording gives the approximate wait time for each clinic. It turned out that the clinic I just walked past with the dog had no wait. I got home, convinced Colin to join me (the cut did not look all that bad) and headed back to the Westside.
Indeed no wait. I commented to the receptionist who checked us in, “pretty quiet here.” She replied, “psst, we don't use that word here!” Apparently she was afraid that I would jinx the evening and bring on hordes of diseased and injured St. Paulites. We were seen practically immediately. I sent Colin by himself but after about 5 minutes, the nurse came to see me. They wanted my presence, not to grant my permission to go ahead with the stitches, which is after all (minor) surgery, but rather because the good doctor needed someone to entertain him through the tedium of patching up the Collster. I helped, by telling some of my dad's stories from WWII. He liked that. Maybe that's why he managed to squeeze 10 stitches into a 2 cm cut. Or else because he was paid by the stitch. Colin did not stir, except when asked to contribute to or corroborate his father's yarn.

The visit to this clinic brought back some memories of one 3-4 years ago, when James had had a similar accident. I recall that his cut was a bit longer, and closer to his throat. Like Colin, James had found the incident more amusing (because of all the blood and the scared look on his mom's face) or annoying (because he had to interrupt a perfectly good game of hockey). It had started with a melee on the ice with several players down and sticks, be-skated limbs and hands flying ever which way in th struggle to get up again. As the players vacated the area, they or rather one of them left behind a puddle of blood. Blood was also apparent on that player's jersey. Lynn asked “who is injured?” and one of the moms next to her replied “I think it's James.” Needless to say that paps had to make a trip to urgent care. An older (as in “called back from retirement”) was the doc on duty. He patched up the wound with 4-5 stitches and James' only concern was whether he could continue to play in the tournament. Doc thought that would be fine and said to make sure to be back in a week or so to have the stitches taken out.

Somehow there was never time to go back to the clinic to have stitches taken out, and when they got too itchy, I took them out where we have a solid table and good light: on the dining room table. No, I did not use a carving knife. A pair of tweezers and a baby nail clipper were quite sufficient. Just in case, I head my Leatherman tool at hand, but I did not need to resort to using it. Pictures were taken, but the small operation was quickly forgotten.

Hockey season and winter were nearing their end. When I volunteered to chaperon for the Capitol Hill ski outing we had a rare February thaw. The parking lot at Afton Alps was covered with Ice made slick by the thaw. It was so warm that I did not even put my gloves on. I should quickly find out that gloves do not only protect skiers from the cold, but also from injury. While trying to negotiate the best route between deep mud puddles and slippery ice, I went down, not too hard, but the keen edge of one of the pair of skis I was holding in my left managed to inflict a deep gash in the flap of skin between thumb and index. Dang it, I thought, eying the damage, this probably needs stitches. The cut was about 2-3 cm long and when I spread my thumb and index, I could make the edges gape in a most spectacular way. It did not hurt at all and the bleeding wasn't too bad either. I decided that stitches would need to wait till later since I could not possibly abandon my car-load full of kids, or deprive them of the day on the slopes. Bravely, I stood in line waiting our turn for the equipment rental. Once we were being served, I asked if they had a first-aid kit. All they could muster was a roll of masking tape. That ought to do. I taped thumb and index together, wrapped a few tissues around the outside to mop up any bleeding and stuffed the pair of conjoined appendages into the index finger of my glove. The only inconvenience was to hold my left pole without the aid of an opposable thumb. I am not an aggressive skier, so I barely noticed. I was just glad that I had not planned to spend part of the day x-country skiing.

After returning home, I headed to the clinic to have them take a look. I was amazed to find myself facing the same grizzled doctor who had given James his sutures just a couple of weeks ago and I was even more amazed when he recognized me and inquired about the outcome of James' injury. He was puzzled that he could not find a write-up declaring the injury as healed in James' file. I confessed to practicing medicine without a license and was duly scolded by man on whose monopoly I had so rudely and carelessly infringed. He made me swear by the US Constitution, Allah and the Blessed Virgin Mary that I would turn my self over to my health provider for removal of stitches. Since I am not an American, Muslim and/or Christian, I did not feel bound by the strictures of the oath and removed the sutures myself about a week later. After all, to quote the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “'tis but a flesh wound.”

Returning where this story began: Colin suffered the same fate as his brother and father. Stitches were removed while he bedded on our dining room table, surrounded by his brethren from Central High School. Cell phone cameras were at hand so I am fairly certain that images of the procedure are gracing various Facebook pages. I just hope that Colin's pediatrician won't sic the surgeon-general on me, and that Colin's friends won't be shy away from performing simple medical procedures such as auto-appendectomies and removing sutures from the little sisters' chins.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Response to Anna Weggle of American Public Media ...

... thanking me for my response to MPR's Question of the Day: How safe do you feel as a pedestrian in the Twin Cities?

Dear Anna,

I do like the Today's Question Feature, this was my first response and also the first time I took a look at the answers posted online. I appreciate having this opportunity to contribute to a public forum.

However, after contributing, reading many of the responses and listening to the responses broadcast I am starting to doubt your editorial objectivity in choosing which responses to air. The question related to how safe pedestrians feel in the Twin Cities, in response to the high rank our metropolitan area received in a nationwide study on pedestrian safety. My sense from looking at the posted responses was that negative replies outweighed those of pedestrians who do feel safe by about ten to one. Many who answered the question did so because they had harrowing experiences on Twin Cities streets. On your broadcast (I do listen almost non-stop), the reverse seemed to be the case. At one point the host of ATC suggested to look online to see some of the negative replies.

I would suggest a more balanced approach to treating listener responses. While I am not asking that you maintain the same ratio of opinions on two sides of an issue, during your broadcast you should at least point out how people differ in their opinions and in what approximate proportions. The way at least this question was treated smacks of boosterism for the Twin Cities, throwing all journalistic objectivity to the wind. Let's leave that job to the politicians and interest groups. Very disappointing, I am not sure whether I will make the effort to contribute again.

Thank you,


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Birthday Party

My younger son, James, has been invited to a birthday party. Two girls from his circle of friends pooled their resources and are throwing a party together. A banal event, one might think, every thirteen-year old, every kid of any age is invited to many birthday parties every year, one could say there is a birthday party circuit.

What caught my eye was the invitation itself. One would think that in this electronic age, where the majority of children connect via text messaging and Facebook and where invitations can be composed using fancy fonds and digital imaging and broadcast via the world-wide web, a means more fitting our time would have been used. Not so, not even a box of store-bought invitation cards, the hosts used multi-colored markers, craft paper and glue, even a little glitter, though the latter may have been contamination from an earlier project.

An ecru inset on a blue half sheet with a cheerful (I hate that I can't use the word 'gay') mix of colorful lines spelling out the who, what, when and where of the event, and most striking of all, the back of the invitation bearing the name of the lucky invitee in big, bold, fat-marker print on a backdrop of alternating columns and rows of the graceful hostesses' names, in neat handwriting, reminiscent of the old school punishment of “fill this page with 'I cannot talk in class'.” I don't know what to say: touching, old-fashioned, crafty, unique and self-expressive in a way the most elaborate Photoshop production could never be. I think it says a lot about what kind of girls the hostesses are and about the adults they will become.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bad Car-Ma?

Yes, I am starting to think I have bad car karma (or car-ma?): four cars wrecked in a time span of about ten years. I don't know if it should be a consolation that none of the wrecks were caused by me except by the fact that my car was on the road: two red light runners broadsiding me, once rear-ended by a semi and once, my parked car was totaled by a hit-and-run driver in front of my house.

Driving out in the country at dawn or dusk during this time of the year is like playing the lottery, except that the odds are much better to hit a deer than to win the powerball jackpot. I have a colleague who hit a fawn while riding his bike in the dark (he did have a bike light turned on). He did not even see it, just noticed that he hit something just before he kissed the asphalt. He went back and found Bambi, with mama deer still trying to administer CPR ...

Though it's not only the deer, young drivers are almost as dangerous (ours looked more like 70, though). Strib this morning had this terrible accident where an 18-year old crossing the I35 median in Forest Lake, hitting an oncoming vehicle. Makes me want to avoid driving altoghether ... Canoeing is way safer, even considering the occasional hang-up on a rock.

Coincidentally, Minnesota Public Radio had the following as their "Question of the Day:" Do you feel safe as a pedestrian in the Twin Cities? in response to our metropolitan area being selected as one of the safest for pedestrians. Click the link to see the answers to that question, including my own. Guess which way the answers are leaning ... I would dread to live in one of the cities at the bottom of that list.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Belgians still ahead of Americans in Life Expectancy

The UN published its Human Development Report this week. It confirms that Belgians (21st overall in life expectancy) live longer than their US counterparts (26th), in spite of having a diet based on cigarettes, fried potatoes, beer and chocolate. Somehow, the bad effects of the first two must be overcome by the two others, plus perhaps the addition of Belgian endives and Brussels sprouts.

Human Development Index--Belgium (life expectancy in Table 1, column 2)

Human Development Index--United States

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Response to MinnPost Article on Men's Book Groups

See MinnPost Where are the men? Part 2 by Audra Otto, Oct 2 2009 7:46 am

I belong to a book group and have to say that all arguments made in favor of why men should be no less likely to join book groups than women apply to me. I go because I like to read. I go to socialize, drink a beer or a glass of wine and talk politics, literature and what else is going on in our lives with some friends that I mostly see only for book group. It does remove me from everyday routine of life, it's certainly something I look forward to. But I disagree with some of Audra's points, too. I am not big into watching sports and the athletic activities I partake in are rather solitary in nature, so no socializing. But other guys in my book group do watch the games and are active in team sports. Reading and non-reading activities are not mutually exclusive. You could just as easily make the arguments that women do not join book groups because they watch soaps and sitcoms. Potentially, any non-reading activity infringes on reading time.

Another way to ask this question would be to wonder whether one gender may be more disciplined in finishing the task of finishing a book group assignment than the other. My wife belongs to a book group that was formed when a group of women deserted from a club that was run in such a dictatorial way that members would be chastised if they did not finish the reading. Now, reading is rather optional and socializing with and without the focus of a book is more important. Our own men's book group has several members that refuse to continue reading a book that does not "speak" to them. They say that they have time only for a finite number of books to read and they want every one to count. Both of these observations seem to indicate that reading as such may not that important in convening a group centered on that activity.

Also, how would you factor in informal discussion about a recently read book? I know, discussing game scores or the going-ons in current block-buster TV-shows are more likely fodder for conversations at the water cooler. I do get together with a couple of colleagues for lunch every other week. We do not specifically get together to discuss books, but somehow about one half of our conversations tend to be centered on our current readings, despite having rather divergent tastes (one reads almost exclusively non-fiction, another reads a mix and I read almost exclusively fiction). Is this a book group? Based on the amount of talk about books, it should be. And it's guys talking about books, and it meets much more frequently than my regular book group. By the way, I am the only one who is a member of a bona fide book group.

In the end, it's most likely culture that causes men to convene around the big screen TV for the game and women to join a book group. It's what we experience while growing up that dictates what gender-typical behavior we display. I haven't looked at any peer-reviewed studies on how much and how men and women read and how they discuss their readings with their peers. Representing book group membership, I would not be surprised to see two bell-shaped curves with slightly offset peaks, one a little larger than the other, the smaller one representing males. A similar graph could likely be drawn for folks who congregate to follow the NFL or any other sports franchise. Here, the smaller hump would belong to the females. When I can't find anything good to read, I may do some looking around to see if some scholar has looked into this. But that is not very likely to happen. So many books, and so little time...

Monday, August 10, 2009

You are part of the problem

The following is a fictional e-mail exchange between two colleagues working for ACME, a large multinational corporation. P is the proud owner of a corn stove. He constantly annoys his colleagues with stories of the warmth and coziness of his home, all allegedly due to the virtues of his renewable-energy-burning corn stove, all at a fraction of the cost and carbon footprint of natural gas, LPG or oil. I is an environmentally concerned person who has his doubts about the viability of King Corn as an inexhaustible source of clean, carbon-neutral energy. I has been trying to convince P for some time to use his critical faculties when considering corn as an energy source. Finally I has found what he thinks may convince P of the error of his ways: an article in The Economist.

From: I
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 2:52 PM
To: P
Subject: You are part of the problem


From: P
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 2:55 PM
To: I
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

Carbon neutral living…….you should try it sometime. I can’t wait to get a second corn burner on the main floor of our house….

No lectures until you country gets a government.

[I is from a small, insignificant country in Europe that was, for some time, stuck in a governmental crisis but nevertheless managed to maintain a carbon footprint (per capita) smaller than that of the large and hegemonic nation of which P is a proud citizen]


From: I
Monday, August 10, 2009 2:58 PM
RE: You are part of the problem

It may smell good when you burn it, but I still smell a rat. You are in denial, just like the RFA (Renewable Fuel Association). If you are serious you need to get these solar panels and wind mills and you should put those dogs on a treadmill so they can work for their food.


From: P
Mon 8/10/2009 3:01 PM
To: I
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

I am not burning rats, I am burning corn. Good clean renewable corn from Minnesota. You keep working hard and someday you too may have a corn burner. But until that days arrives, keep sending your money to the evil doers in the middle east who own all of the oil.


From: I
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 3:01 PM
To: P
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

[The thought of dogs gives I an idea] We should try to figure out how to pelletize dog-do. Then we’d be celebrated as men who can make money out of shit.


Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 3:05 PM
To: I
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

Actually, that is no a bad idea, now that I think of it. I will bring you a bag of it tomorrow and you can play around with it and roll it up into little balls and dry them out in your oven. Then we can light a match and see if they burn.


From: I
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 3:11 PM
To: P
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

How about we meet at the microwave ovens in the cafeteria and start our project there. If we are not using your oven or my oven we are already half-way carbon-neutral. Plus, if we are doing this on company time we might get the ACME Innovation Award. And no more pesky lines in front of the microwave ovens! This is win-win-win!


Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 3:13 PM
To: I
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

I might have some on the bottom of my shoe we could start with……………I will send it to you via intra-office mail and mark it Urgent Delivery


From: I
Sent: Monday, August 10, 2009 3:14 PM
To: P
Subject: RE: You are part of the problem

Somehow I scent or rather sense that you are not altogether serious about lowering your carbon foot-print. Otherwise you would scrape it from both of your shoes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some thoughts and recommendations on Akumal vacations

From my wilderness blog, scroll down to the bottom half of the month of April'09:

If you are adventure-minded, you may want to try to find Laguna Legartos, in the bush, on the land side of the beach road. The map enclosed in this (unpublished) post should help you find the start of the trail: The trail starts next to a lamp post and a couple of larger trees, quite hard to see, but well worth it to get off the beaten track. Birding here is quite amazing, there are colorful tropical fish just below the surface of the lagoon and it is really off the beaten track. Coming from Akumal Village, this is more or less 100 yards past the little police post along the road.

I don't recall names of restaurants, but anything in the area just to the left of the gate when driving in was quite good. We did not like the Lol Ha beach restaurant part of Hotel Akumal as much, because it is large and more oriented to serve the tourist masses. Their food is not bad though and you can sit there having a pina colada or a negra modelo while your kids are playing in the water. That's also the location of the beach cam:

The little breakfast/lunch counter outside of the gate, nearest to the big parking lot is cheap and good!

The bay outside of Lol Ha Restaurant is great for snorkeling: swim out from there, past the fishing boats and look for the reef below: tons of fish. And where it's sandy, with sea grass, you'll likely see some turtles!

I would not recommend trying to walk from Akumal to Yal-Ku Laguna to snorkel, too far in the heat, with swim gear and everything.

Gran Cenote outside of Tulum was very cool, you can swim into the cave (see write up on my blog, link above). If you have (or want to invest in) a waterproof flashlight, you get to point your beam into black nothingness. And you can use it for some night snorkeling and see fish in the dark!

We also liked Cenote Manatee, again, written up in blog. Very cool snorkeling where the water comes up from cave in ocean, just steps from the beach. Nice restaurant, too.

At the entry of Tulum, there is a large super market, you may want to do a grocery run there early on to avoid paying premium at the small ones in Akumal.

Ruins at Tulum. Get an early start for either one, to avoid heat and tourist hordes. That means at entrance at 9:00 AM. Pay the extra buck for the trolley at Tulum, there is nothing to see along the stretch between where you pay to get in and the archeological site proper.You can swim on the beach at the Tulum ruins, but I don't think they have showers. Personally, I do not like walking around salt-encrusted but some people don't seem to mind.

Ruins at Coba, about 2 hrs drive from Akumal. Rent bikes (cheap!) at Coba, the site is very spread out. Climb up to the top of some of the pyramids. If you go to Coba, splurge for a good meal and a dip in a gorgeous pool (you get to use it if you eat there. good to wash off the dust after visiting the ruins) at the local Club Med. It's not a big resort, just a small out-lier they use for tours from their main locations, very luxurious.