Thursday, February 28, 2008


Passed the exam this evening. Some quotes of the night:

VE1: He is doing this the hard way, he keeps getting deployed so he doesn't get his ticket punched (take the exams)

VE1: Do you want to try the Extra exam? You already paid the fee and you are already here.


VE2: He is taking this just for giggles.

VE2: You know what this means, know you know what you have to study.
Me: Yes, everything.

VE2: Is this a guy thing to look at each other's knives? (the other volunteer examiners had taken out their pocket knives and were looking at them on the table)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Coco's Cupcakes

The first time I went to Coco's Cupcakes was not long after it opened last winter.

The CoCo's spirit

A cute little place on Ellsworth, sparse, friendly, and inviting. Oh, they have good cupcakes.

Cupcakes on a table

Anyway, not very long ago was Valentine's Day. And, well, my fiancee and I have not ever done anything on Valentine's day. Which is not something either of us is in a particular hurry to change. Neither of us is particular focused on particular days of the calendar, whether it comes pre-printed or of our own doing. Which does occasionally result in some comment, like when my fiancee's department secretary asks her on February 14 what plans she has (none) and does seem to be slightly disappointed.

So, Saturday, February 16, I come up to her office with a box.

A nice long box with a ribbon

And a bunch of her co-workers were there (a bit of a project that weekend). And I believe they were looking on approvingly. So today, Monday my fiancee gets asked

'Did the roses help?' (she was complaining about being worn out from the weekend)

Umm, roses? Now why would I give my fiancee roses?

Stuff inside long box with ribbon

And yes, the answer was in the affirmative, the cupcakes helped.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Movie review: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback mountain follows two men, who worked on a job in the Wyoming mountains together, fall in love, go their separate ways, and the complications in their lives. And, it is a story of an affair, that causes trouble.

Most of the movie follows Ellis Del Mar, who is engaged to his sweatheart Alma at the beginning of the movie. After Ellis and Jack Twist finish their summer job herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain, he gets married. And the movie skips through the next four years, as Ellis has two daughters, and Jack goes back to rodeoing in Texas. But, with two daughters, and not much money, Ellis' life and marriage become hard, and he never quite gets the hang of having a life that goes beyond being a ranch hand. And when Jack Twist comes by for a visit after four years, Ellis remembers that time on Brokeback mountain, and takes leave of his wife and kids for a few days. They end up doing this on and off for the next 15+ years. And along the way, Alma divorces Ellis, Jack's marriage becomes more distant and angry, and eventually, Jack is killed, and we are led to believe it was a hate crime.

Brokeback Mountain is a story of an affair. Ellis sees in Jack a relationship that is all happiness, in contrast to his marriage to Alma with all its responsibilities and troubles. And I think he realizes to a certain extant the mess he has gotten himself into. He repeatedly refuses Jack's entreaties to take the easy way out an run off with Jack, but the stress of dealing with Jack also seems to lead to him cutting of Alma and his kids emotionally. And the result is he with neither and both relationships are filled with conflict because he neither fully opens up to either, but defends each (Alma and Jack) against the other. Both Alma and Jack desire Ellis, but each only sees Ellis being loyal to the other. And Ellis either is angry, or completely passive, unable to resolve his conflict. And in the end, Ellis has nothing, all lost because he would not choose. Jack is dead, presumably killed when his homosexual side was seen by the wrong people. Alma has remarried, to someone what it seems that neither her or the daughters seem to have much respect for. Cassie (girlfriend) has left, and is confused and hurt because she has no idea why Ellis is so withdrawn despite her efforts. And all Ellis has is an unending series of small time ranch jobs, and no future ahead, or any desire for such.

What this does well is to show the costs of an affair. While Ellis is loyal in a way to the marriage, refusing to go run away with Jack even after the divorce, the affair resulted in Jack never being really there when he was with those who cared for him (wife, daughters, girlfriend). And his distractions with trying to manage them all don't work. And he knows his life is messed up.

Does the homosexual aspect of the story line matter? Actually, it works out well here. It creates another level of tension in a story about an affair, where there is that much more resistance to following your feelings and running away from responsibility. More reason for Ellis to stay in town with wife and daughters, that even the 'follow your heart' types can recognize. Having the other principle, Jack, who embodies the more 'act on your feelings' answer get violently killed was almost a distraction.

How is this as a movie? It somewhat suffers since its main character (Ellis) has as a personality quality the unwillingness to communicate (whether just his personality or also because he is hiding from everyone). Very intentionally, you do not know what he is thinking, only how everyone else responds to it and is affected by it. It requires the audience to fill in the holes (I believe the author of the short story this was based on did this intentionally) as I have. So it does turn into a 'it is whatever you make of it' movie. Compared to the Oscar winner of its year, Crash, it suffers from its unwillingness to say anything. Crash had lots to say, and much of it people dealing with contradictory messages about race. Brokeback Mountain is a story of an affair. A well done one. But not one that strikes me as one to remember down the ages.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Wilderness First Aid: Arlington County, VA Feb 2-3, 2008

I took a Wilderness First Aid class over the weekend. Why? Well, it has been a long time since I did outdoors activities with people who knew more than I did, and I like to make a practice of learning from others. And there were times in Afghanistan where I was designated medic, because I was the most highly trained and I was judged as having the attitude that the convoy commander figured I would act appropriately if needed. My 10-year expired EMT certificate and Red Cross first-aid really were not the things I would have thought as being quite the right set of qualifications. But these are folks who are quite serious when the judge people, and are generally good at it.

Wilderness First Aid is very different than standard first aid taught around the country. The big difference is the level of self-reliance. The expectation in most of suburban and urban United States is professional emergency response is available within 10 minutes, and hospital transport is within 15 minutes (or so). In wilderness, these times are measured in hours, so the medical protocol reflects that. So this is something that is more on par with first responder training then first aid training. Many organizations that work in the backcountry require this as a safety measure, because their activities can be hours away from outside help. Some organizations use this as a proxy for trained personnel that is lower then EMT, but higher then first aid, because they need personnel of a certain competence. And some organizations that operate in the third world like it, because they also are hours away from medical assistance.

It is a different attitude than most people in the U.S. The focus here is on leadership that can watches the people around them, and teaches them to avoid disaster. I've been in organizations that resist people watching after each others safety (or anything else). The students here were mostly people who would go on to lead Boy Scouts outings, or camp counselors in outdoor settings, teaching self-reliance and the ability to watch for each other and survive to others. Which a contrast to people who have told me that we don't do anything, just trust authority. (which is not very fun if authority is far away and someone would be dead before authority could do anything.)

Things we learn (1) do not create a second victim (2) always think, "what will kill the patient first. Lots of thinking about priorities. And especially, leadership in prevention of problem situations. How to look at a group, identify the signs of problems build, and take precautions before there is a problem. How to demonstrate leadership, in many different forms and switch as needed. Medical folks will appreciate this one: how to ignore a patient. Realizing that you did not get this great training so the patient can self-diagnose a problem. That is your job. And how to communicate, to communicate problems in a way that many hours later, someone can hear the message, and respond in a way that helps in a place where resources and carrying capacity is limited.

It is an honest class. A couple of other students and I were joking that we hoped all the real outdoors people in the class did not mind us amateurs taking up space. We talked about the issues we faced in the places we worked and volunteered in. And the challenges of working with the populations that we do this with. And we talked in a straightforward way, what can kill a person. And how to overcome the psychological and social barriers that would prevent us from giving care that makes the difference between someone living and dying that day.

The goal is to live. And live well. It was a great group of people, and I would put my life in any of their hands. I have known people that probably would not want anything to do any of us out of principle. That is their loss.

What is this for? Yes, some of it is because if I am expected to be the group medic, it helps if I have competent and recent training. But also, I have a philosophy that I should be involved with things that I am not good at. And with people who are good. This was one of those places.