Monday, May 26, 2014

They're different…yet the same


Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. I like to publicly thank every veteran, as well as current military personnel for their service to our country. Without it, this country would never have grown to be what it has become, nor would we be enjoying the rights that many take for granted.

Recently a Facebook friend posted a photo which lambasted the media because

"…Memorial Day is not about Veterans. Memorial Day is about those that did not come home to become veterans."

The very first comment said, "Same Dif…semantics!" suggesting they were the same; which was followed by back and forth dialog on whether there was a difference between the two holidays.

After doing some reading on the subject, it's become obvious that it's not as crystal clear as that photo suggested.

* * *

Unofficially Memorial Day is the older of the two holidays. The exact origin of Memorial Day is somewhat clouded, with groups of people both north AND south of the Mason-Dixon Line, claiming to have been the first.

In those days it was known as Decoration Day because loved ones would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers who gave their all during that family squabble known as the American Civil War.

It wasn't until 1971 that Congress declared Memorial Day an official national holiday.

The day is generally filled with parades brimming with soldiers and floats, as well as air shows commemorating past conflicts, and the soldiers who took part. Unofficially it's also filled with BBQs marking the start of Summer.

California doesn't have the same fervor as the East Coast. That's probably because we have been lucky enough to have escaped military conflict on our soil, and invasion by foreign powers.

One of the most spectacular events takes place at America's National Cemeteries. But, it's a simple thing that probably escapes most people's thoughts today.

For several days beforehand thousands of volunteers go gravestone to gravestone making sure a small American flag graces the front of the marker.

If you have never visited Golden Gate National Cemetery on Memorial Day, you should. The utter silence with 140,000 tiny flags flapping in the breeze is awe inspiring.

Frankly, its more serene sight with quiet contemplation does more to commemorate our nation's sacrifice than any parade.

* * *

In 1919, WWI was fresh in the minds of many Americans. It's generally considered the first modern war due to many technological advances of the time such as tanks, airplanes and mustard gas.

On the one year anniversary of the end of WWI, President Calvin Coolidge declared every November 11th  a day to commemorate the end of hostilities.

(The official armistice went into effect 11-11-18, and because someone somewhere had a macabre sense of humor it took place, not at Midnight, but, at 11pm)

However, it wasn't until 1938 when Congress officially named it a Federal holiday.

Much to people's horror, WWI turned out not to be the War to End All Wars, to be joined in people's consciousness by the first true global war, WWII, and not to go unmentioned the Korean War.

Congress changed the holiday's name in 1954 to Veterans Day, to be inclusive of all veterans from all conflicts past and present.

What's forgotten by most, myself included until I was doing research for this post, was that Coolidge's original proclamation was not to celebrate those that returned live from the front, but to remember those that did not.

"To us in America, the reflections of armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

Arguably, Veterans Day is not observed nearly as much as Memorial Day. Probably, in part because of it falling two months after school has started, during the tail end of the Fall harvest and when BBQ weather has left much of the country.

Besides that, it's not part of a three day weekend, despite it originally becoming one under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Only four years after moving five holidays to Mondays; to create long weekends; Congress chose to move Veterans Day back to it's original date.

It should be noted that while Memorial Day is truly an American national holiday, "Veterans" Day is commemorated around the world in multiple nations, albeit under different names.

* * *

Today, I turned on the History Channel while having breakfast After all, it's Memorial Day. Surely they're going to have lots of historical goodness I could lose myself in today. Just ending was some program on WWII, only to be followed by episode after episode of Pawn Stars.

God bless Big Rick, Corey, Chumlee and the Old Man. But, little historical blurbs about items being pawned or sold just shouldn't cut it on Memorial Day.

I found a blog Tech Crunch editorial  frustrated by this as well, only to realize it was from 2011.

At least H2 (formerly known as History International), is running four episodes of Patton 360, a 2009 series on Gen. George S. Patton.

But, that's not even the full series.  They aired 3 episodes; then stuck an odd-ball episode of Target Earth about climate change, before repeating the same episodes! Thing is it's a 10 part series. Would it have killed them to have aired the whole thing today?

Thankfully, if a person has HBO or Amazon Prime Video, they have access to Band of Brothers and The Pacific; with NO commercial interruptions.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I am Cyborg


cy·borg [sahy-bawrg] noun
a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.

Origin: 1960–65; cyb(ernetic) org(anism)

* * *

For a long long time I've had bad vision. I had always chalked it up to simply being my eyes, which had an horrendous amount of astigmatism.

About 14 years ago, I looked into the option of LASIK vision correction, and while I was apparently a candidate at the time, the doctor refused to preform it because, in his words, I would not be "20/20 happy." (I supplied him with a laundry list of questions about the procedure, and that must've scared him off).

In retrospect, that was a blessing in disguise because a few years later I heard a dreaded "C" word…cataract.

By definition, a cataract is the condition where the lens of your eye starts to turn cloudy, thereby blurring your vision. In extremely circumstances it can go completely opaque, effectively rendering a person blind in that eye.

While I wasn't completely blind, my vision was pretty bad. Uncorrected, it was something like 20/500+, and even with my coke bottle glasses it had devolved to a point where it could someday become a hindrance to driving.

As I haven't had vision care for a long time, surgery was out of the question. Out of pocket could be upwards of $7000, or more, per eye.

However, thanks to Obamacare, I was able to finally get my eyes taken care of. I cannot stress enough that had the president not pushed for his changes in health care, I would not have been able to do this.

(And on a side note, I find the earlier comments by opponents that there would be less choice in health care ludicrous as I see more and more advertisements on TV for health care options I've never heard of until recently.)

* * *

I arrived at my appointment mid-morning last Friday. People asked me whether I was nervous? (How could I NOT be?!?). I said, "No." But, the truth came out when they took my blood pressure as it was all over the place. Not enough to abort the surgery. But, enough to make me take pause.

After copious amounts of eye drops, including some type of "cane" drug to numb the eye, as well as a mild sedative, it was time to wheel me into the operating room.

I was bummed that it wasn't equipped with a recording system, as my grandmother's surgery center had been. But, then I would be "the main event" so it didn't really matter.

The overhead light was all a blur. But, it kept moving all over the place and  so I eventually asked, "Have you started yet?"

Turns out he was already several minutes into the operation already when I asked.

Basically, they make a couple of small incisions in the surface of the eye and then use an ultrasonic wave to liquefy the natural lens of the eye. It's then sucked out and debris cleaned up, before the artificial lens is inserted; unfurling similarly to the solar wings on the International Space Station.

After a bit of tweaking to get the lens properly placed, they covered the eye with a shield (what you see in the photo above), and wheeled me back to the recovery room.

All told, I think I was in the operating room for 20-25 minutes. In fact, I was easily on my way home under two hours from when I first got there. Probably closer to 90 minutes!!

I had my first follow-up appointment the next morning and was shocked! I nearly aced the eye chart; missing only one letter on the 20/20 line. Granted, it wasn't crystal clear. But, it was pretty discernable.

Now, at today's second follow-up appointment, I basically slammed the 20/15 line with no problems, and my astigmatism is completely gone! Plus, I got the great comment that I healed a lot quicker than the doctor expected (which accounts for the ultra-high distance vision).

Perhaps the only downer is that I have to wait until June 13th to get my right eye fixed, and so watching TV and using the computer can be a chore at times.

I can either use my old glasses, which render my new eye a total blur, or I can use a cheap pair of reading glasses, which then totally blur out the right eye due to its astigmatism.

It's kind of strange to think that I will have a small piece of plastic in my eye for the rest of my life. But, in this day and age, where it's commonplace for people to get knees and hips replaced, why should my eye lenses be any different?

Plus, I now have the advantage that these lenses are better than the best sunglasses when it comes to blocking out harmful UV light.

About the only negative thing I will come away with is they are not multi-focal, like the natural human eye so I will be doomed to reading glasses for the rest of my life. But, that's certainly better than not being able to see.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What was Old is New again


A couple of days ago I found out that my childhood home is up on the market again. This is the one we sold last August.

At the time our real estate agent thought the buyers were getting it because it was so close to the Pacific East Mall, in Richmond. But, it turns out they must've been nothing but a couple of flippers.

I guess it was providence that I Googled the address on Friday as the first Open House took place today. Considering the brisk seller's market, It was likely now or never to see the transformation.

* * *

I use transformation akin to a transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

They'd basically restuccoed the entire outside, because they had a whole bunch of wood rot to deal with, and all the windows were replaced, with all but two being moved from their original location.

Mind you this was a house built in 1949, yet they chose to use that rough stucco outside, which has been the trend on many buildings in the last couple of decades.

I was surprised they didn't put up the faux shutters around the windows, and the scalloped main living room window was replaced with a somewhat smaller cookie cutter square window, with no sill. Honestly, it looked unfinished.

On the bright side, the front yard was landscaped with fresh tanbark, and most of the foliage was gone, making it look a lot cleaner and bigger.

As we entered the house, the first thing we were greeted with was brand new flooring and NO wall between the living room and kitchen.

Truthfully, this is one of the things I'd pondered when I had visions of remodeling the house to live in. But, it was fascinating to see. I was a little surprised at the size of the kitchen window. With the great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I would have went one size wider myself.

As we went room by room, there were newly sheet rocked walls, freshly painted a stark white, which brightened up the place considerably. Cabinets were supposedly all custom made. But, the ones in the bedrooms looked like standard laminated shelving, which could have just as easily came from Home Depot.

Downstairs finally got its bathroom; something that had been sorely lacking. I always hated having to make the trek from the very bottom of the house to the upper level every time I needed to use the bathroom or take a shower!

The lower "family room" had been turned into another bedroom, with the closet being exchanged for a slightly raised small alcove large enough for a full-sized bed. You still had the double-glass patio doors, which surprised me a bit.

The deck was downsized to half of what it was. But, the new one doesn't shake like the 1970s era one did, and has proper pier restraints to the ground.

Oddly, they only landscaped half the backyard, leaving the lower section by the freeway sound wall a small weed patch. I had to laugh as one of the grape vines I'd planted had poked through the fresh tanbark in back and was now a couple feet tall.

I scratched my head on why they didn't spend the extra money to install a solar electrical system, given there's such a large roof with unfettered access to the Sun, and they put a brand new roof on anyways?

Adding to all these changes mentioned were a sewer lateral and electrical wiring; basically meaning this was a "new" house compared to what stood there only eight months ago.

* * *

Leaving I said a silent "good-bye" to Tigger and the house in general. Unlike last August there was no crying and depression. OK so maybe a very little smidge of depression which was gone as soon as I walked out the front door. Perhaps it was more catharsis, than anything else.

It was good to see the transformation, even though I might not have done everything that was done. But, I think my sister and I left with a good feeling that whomever buys the house will have years of enjoyment before the next remodeling, 30 years hence.

(I was EXTREMELEY happy that they didn't chop it into two units, which was the fate for the houses to our immediate left and right.)

Click on the photo below to see the current RedFin listing: