If you were a Star Trek fan you knew one thing, the security guys always ended up as toast. The monster/alien/Klingon/whatever got to him and then Dr. McCoy would sigh, and stare sadly saying "He's dead Jim". Then he's shut is tricorder and sigh, certain nothing more could be done.

Last week 13 miners were trapped after an underground explosion in a West Virginia mine. Mine work is difficult and dangerous, and the highest standards have to be maintained if people are to survive. Only the price of energy is up and suddenly coal is making a comeback. The mines are expected to deliver more than ever. On this one day in a troubled mine (recently repurchased, so the troubles may NOT be the fault of the current owner) something went badly wrong. Originally we'd heard there had been a miracle. Twelve were reported alive.

My friend Jude grew up in that country. She watched as the news came out, only the high fives seemed to be only among the family. Nobody had confirmation. No details. Worse, an hour passed and the men hadn't gotten out of the mine. Jude told me that when they get to a miner who's alive they get them out right away. That didn't happen. It turned out the early report was wrong, only one man got out alive.

If you can call it alive. Randal McCloy was said to be improving in both brain and organ function as I write this. But every one of the doctors expects that if Randal McCloy survives he will suffer permanent and severe brain damage.

If that's the case, perhaps he didn't survive after all. Life is a verb. What makes us human isn't heartbeat or respiration but consciousness, our individuality, the humor and personality we bring to this life.

From what I hear that's all gone now. McCloy may live as Terri Schiavo lived, bedridden, rolling his eyes and being fed through a tube. Is that really living?

We define death as the moment when a person's heart stops beating. It's a good measure in many ways. It's clear and if a heart starts beating the rest of organs cannot be far behind. Or we have a thing we call 'brain death' defined by a flat EEG. But those clear measures aren't adequate in an age when hearts can be stimulated electronically and breathing replaced by machines. Death in today's society has a lot more to do with the condition of their brain than anything else. If the brain stem is operating you have an eeg, but nothing resembling consciousness. The little electronic squiggles mean something, but they are not the measure of a man.

The difficulty is that a more dynamic definition of death is by it's very nature ambiguous and debatable. If Bill Frist can (for partisan political reasons) diagnose Terri Schiavo by film as having hope, then how shall we deal with cases like Randal McCloy's, particularly in an age where most of us are completely unwilling to face death.

I'm not sure where to draw the line. I'm not a doctor or philosopher. Perhaps doctors themselves like the traditional definitions because it spares them from having to make a terrible decision. I'm not sure it can be made quickly, as in the case of a person whose eeg is flat-lined. But the definition needs to be changed.

If my mind is gone, if I cannot converse and exchange ideas, If I cannot watch an auto race without feeling the thrill of competition, if I do not feel a bit like weeping when i hear Aaron Copland's "Saturday Night Waltz" then I am dead, the person I am destroyed. I don't want to see my property mortgaged so well-meaning people can pour fluids into a tube in my stomach and roll me over every hour. At that point I'm just taking space, sucking resources in a world where I can never again contribute. I will be dead.

It is too early to know if Randal McCloy is dead by my standards. I'm not even sure how long the waiting period must be. But his survival was not a miracle. That would have come if he had walked out and kissed his wife. Today it seems unlikely he will do either again.

My eye lid feels odd.

It has been sort of twitching a bit.

I am not sure why.

It kinda freaks me out...

My friends tell me not to worry.

But I'm just not so sure.

Ruminations on the transfer

Jumping from one job to the next should be relatively simple when you've secured the new job and have a relocation package in hand, right? That's what I thought, too. It would seem that my current employer, however, insists on bending the rules since although I'm technically changing companies, I'm staying within the corporation (I'm transferring from Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company to Lockheed Martin Technical Operations).

Let's examine why it's exciting for me to get this job: better money (due to reduced cost of living, but I'll take what I can get), new challenges, a promotion, working with computers that don't rival me in age, living within driving distance of my family (Illinois), living within driving distance of my in-laws (Montana), and leaving my least favorite responsibility (every job has one) behind for some other poor schmuck to get stuck with.

It's that last one that my boss won't allow. See, internal transfers have to be agreed upon by both the hiring and the releasing manager, and my current boss insists that I continue to support a terrible piece of software called MOST. This thing is C++ written by a C programmer. It relies heavily on MFC (Microsoft Foundation classes) which I neither claim nor want to know, and to top it all off, nobody seems to care about this damned program at all.

I tried to see this from my boss's perspective. I'm the only one in my group that programs for Windows, and I'm the only one that really knows C++. I offered to support it for six months at ten hours per week. Since I'm not leaving until the beginning of March, this gives my boss eight months to find a replacement or farm some hours from an employee in another group. More than fair. Generous even, I think.

Of course it's not enough. I was told (in less blunt terms) that if I don't continue to support this horrible bloated program that my transfer would be halted. Halting my transfer fucks up a mortgage application and my wife's desire to work in anthropology (you know, what she went to college for four years to study). The way I understand it, when you leave a job, you leave the fucking job. No "support this for us until we don't need it anymore." No "we're asking you a favor." I'm a lost asset, and I should be treated as such. I have no desire to work the 50 hour weeks that this will require, and I'm tempted to pull the plug on it as soon as I get to Colorado.


Adventures in Hiking

This past weekend I went to South Mountains State Park for a little solitary camping and hiking. Embarking at 7 AM with a cup of strong Columbian coffee and a pack of Backwood's cigars, I arrived at the park a little after 9 AM and proceeded to set up camp, and by around 15 til' 10 was ready to hit the trails.

The day started on a bit of a downnote when, after hiking about three-quarter's of a mile from the campground to the main park offices, I discovered that the bridge crossing from my side of the river to the park office side was completely destroyed. No mention of this was evident at the trailhead. Unwilling to hike all the way back to the campground and then back up the main road, I decided that I'd simply cross the river by hopping from stone to stone. Making my way up the riverbank, I came to a section that had stones within jumping distance spaced pretty evenly across the entire breadth of the river. Unfortunately, halfway across, I made a misstep and slipped my right foot down into about a foot of water. I was lucky not to go completely in, but receiving a boot full of water was not the best way to start the day, especially in 28° F weather.

With my soggy right foot, I slogged my way up to the first stop of the day, the Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook, hoping to enjoy a peaceful view and smoke. Instead, I found a Boy Scout troop led by Mr. and Mrs. Boy Scout Parents. Obviously it was their first time taking the boys out, as they only knew 2 or 3 of their names, and had to refer to the rest as "Hey you, stop that." And they had ample opportunity to yell at them, as eight 6 to 10 year old boys were behaving exactly as eight 6 to 10 year old boys are apt to behave without appropriate supervision. So instead of a smoke (I was disinclined to light up in front of impressionable young minds) and a peaceful view, I had to try and tune out screeching pre-pubescent voices asking if they could have another piece of beef jerky or that it was their turn to use the binoculars. On top of this, Mr. Boy Scout Parent decided he was going to be sociable and proceeded to tell me about every camping deal in a fifty mile area. I learned that:

  • Walmart has collapsible walking sticks for only $9.99! Compared to the "$30 or $40" one his cousin had just bought!
  • If I drove to Newton-Conover, turned left at the stoplight, then made another left past the Broyhill watertower, I could get factory-direct socks for as little as $1 per pair!

Finally, they took off, and I was able to relax a little and take in the view, which is an impressive one, spanning the valley and centering on the High Shoals Waterfall opposite. I hung out and enjoyed a cigar for 15 or 20 minutes, letting the troop get far ahead of me, I hoped. On setting out however, it was only 20 minutes or so before I happened upon them taking another break on the side of the road. I waved, gave a quick smile and moved on as quickly as I could. One of the boys had spotted my still lit cigar and thus I quickly became a moral lesson to the troop, overheard by yours truly as Mrs. Boy Scout Parent was either unaware of how far your voice will carry in the dead of winter among leafless trees or simply didn't care that I heard.

Moral #1:
Boy Scout: "He was smoking something."
Mrs. Boy Scout Parent: "You should never, ever smoke! You'll get cancer. And you especially shouldn't smoke in the woods, because you could set the woods on fire!"

It was almost noon by the time I arrived at the Chestnut Knob Overlook, and I settled down on a comfortable rock to eat a granola bar and read a little. The sun had broken through the overcast sky, warming the air by a few degrees and making it quite comfortable to lie there. It was not long before the troop showed up, this time to settle in for lunch (despite having had two snack breaks in the past two hours). The lunch excercise devolved into Mr. Boy Scout Parent cooking up something nasty smelling on a portable stove while the troop ignored their instructions to remain "where we can see you." Their solution to this was to yell every few minutes for the boys to "come back where we can see you," which was responded to with "we're just right over here" while not actually coming back into sight. This continued ad nauseum, interspersed by the whinging reports delivered by the resident tattle-tale of the group.

Once lunch was over, Mrs. Boy Scout Parent used me again as her model of what not to do as a hiker.

Moral #2:
Mrs. Boy Scout Parent: "Now boys, what is that man down there missing that you should always have with you when hiking?"
Scouts: "Backpack?" (I had one), "Water?" (in backpack), a few other guesses I couldn't make out.
Mrs. Boy Scout Parent: "No. He doesn't have a buddy! You should never go hiking without a buddy, because if you fall and hurt yourself, you won't have anyone that can go for help for you!"

So now I'm a cancer-ridden, forest fire setting, friendless hiker who's going to die when he falls. I have become Doofus from Boys' Life.

Finally, the troop takes off, and I wait as long as possible before following despite the clouds returning and the temperature rapidly dropping. Soon though, I've caught up to the troop yet again taking a break at a fork in the trail. I can see that they are heading up the right fork, so I decide to take the left fork despite not knowing exactly where it goes (always a bad idea when hiking). It turns out to be part of the extensive equestrian trails that wend through the park. Being as they are for four-legged beasts of burden, these trails are significantly less well-maintained then the hiker-only ones, dotted with patches of mud and horseshit, as well as containing significantly steeper grades. They're also longer. About 4 miles longer in this case. And the trailhead is at the equestrian parking lot, about a mile down the road from my camping site. All this means that I don't get back to camp until 4:30, tired and hungry.

I get a fire started and cook a juicy inch-thick ribeye, which is delicious. 6 o'clock rolls around (park closing time) and I'm the only camper in the park. Things are looking up. The sky has cleared, the stars are visible, the moon is bright, the chill air is offset by the roaring fire, and a stream gurgles merrily along 50 feet from my tent. It is peaceful. I am serene. Hell, I just may be a Zen Master.

At 6:31, Mr. and Mrs. RV roll in. How they got in, I do not know, they must have bribed the rangers to re-open the gates. They are an older couple, with a RV that's far too big for them to be driving, evidenced by the fact that it takes them 45 minutes to successfully back the monstrosity into one of the camping spots, 3 sites over from mine. And then the diesel generator starts. Because lord knows, it wouldn't be camping without hot water, TV and a microwave. And so the peaceful night calm is shattered and the fresh air laced with noxious diesel fumes. I'm no longer serene. I'm dreaming of slashing their tires, syphoning off their fuel and/or framing a bear for their murders. I head to bed a little after 9 to the putt-putt-putt of an engine.

I'm woken the next morning to the sound of a camper door repeatedly slamming shut as Mr. and Mrs. RV attend to breaking camp. Pissed and cold, I break camp after they've left. Driving out the wending roads, I hope around every corner that I'll see the flaming wreck of an RV surrounded by long-faced EMT's sadly shaking their heads as two sheet covered gurneys are loaded into the ambulance. So much for the peace of the outdoors.

Sometimes I bloody hate people.

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