Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Luck Of The Draw - Where Poker Begins

Texas Hold'em poker tournaments are like a reflecting pool on life. I mean you don't choose anything about your start in life. Parents, race, location are all the luck of the draw right? A poker tournaments begins the same way. You don't choose your seat.

You walk up to the registration window and you are handed a random card from the person there.  The card tells you what table and what seat you are beginning the tournament with.  As the tournament progresses you may be moved around as part of a process the director uses to keep player numbers balanced at the tables.  Typically, this happens as other contestants are knocked out and there are fewer tables needed.

So your seat and table draw is where Lady Luck first enters the scene.  As the tournament progresses with "cards in the air" certain seats end up luckier than others.  Most often, momentum shifts among seats and the luck moves around.  This is most always the case but every once in while, the Lady hovers over one seat for a long, long time.  When this happens, even an average player can run up a big stack of chips just going with the flow of cards.  In poker parlance, this is called a "heater" or a "run" and maybe some other names I am not familiar with.

On a recent Saturday at my local favorite casino, I witnessed a rare, extended run on a seat at a table near mine.  In my seven years of getting poker lessons (Yes Vern, each one is a lesson) I have seen maybe one other like it.

From what I could tell, the player was hitting everything he went for.  The proof was a huge stack of chips in comparison with the average stack among the rest of us.  I am guessing he had over 200,000 compared to an average of 20,000.

But there was one thing I didn't notice as his action was going on behind me - I would just turn and look occasionally when the other players at his table would make a "holy crap he hit again" type noise like "OOOOOoooohhhhh!"  The thing I didn't notice, but heard about some time after, was that the player was so excited about his run of luck, he was ordering himself beers two at a time. (I should probably point out here that most serious tournament poker players don't drink at all during a tournament.)

Then, it was fairly late in the tournament, only two tables left out of seven that started, maybe 20 players left out of seventy.  I noticed movement, looked up and saw our tournament director gently sliding the lucky player, who was passed out in his chair, away from our tables and into a corner of the casino.  I swear there was a smile on the player's face as he and his chair slid by.  The director then parked him in a corner where he slumped over his arms on a small table and appeared to be sleeping.

A few minutes later, he barfed all over the table and floor in front of him.  The director and pit boss then slid him and his chair out of the casino to the sidewalk and two security guards were assigned to watch over him.  The casino staff quickly cleaned up the mess and things sort of returned to normal.  What wasn't normal was the large stack of chips the player left in his original seat position.  This meant that he would be dealt hands that would be automatically folded by the dealer and that his chip stack would draw down as his turn for blinds and antes came around.

It wasn't long after that I was knocked out of the tournament and left.  A couple days later I asked the director how it all ended.  He told me the player remained passed out for about two and a half hours then recovered somewhat.  After some discussion, the director determined the player was capable of returning to the game so he did...with chips left of course.  The last three players, including the two-beer man with the lucky seat ended up chopping for a couple thousand dollars each.

There is a moral here somewhere I guess - sometimes Lady Luck will hang around and crown you even when you don't necessarily deserve it.

And yes Vern, the casino was practicing some seriously good customer service that day...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Quasimotor II - Butt Ugly

In the evolution of auto design "different" often seems the only goal...not so much "sleek" or "classic" or even at a minimum, "decent looking." It's like the folks in charge are saying; "Just make it different you pitiful designers. The new generation of buyers doesn't want anything that resembles the old...get it?!"

Recent cases in point include the cat-eye look of Lincolns, the high butt look of certain new model Jeeps and similar others, the patch job of odd mismatched geometric forms that is the Prius, the Lexus big-mouth (gulp!) look and the fast growing transformer look.

Examples?  Yup, there are plenty to choose from:

  • Lincoln MarkX - cat eyes.  I know, I know some like them... Makes me feel like should set out a litter box or there's gonna' be a big mess.

  • Jeep Trailhawk - Looks like they just didn't finish the design.  "Say...Aren't the tail lights a little high?!"

  • Prius - Busy...way too busy.  Looks like someone fell in love with boomerangs plus several other weird forms.  A crazy plastic template with lots of odd curves was let loose on this one.  Note: this is what started it all - see "Quasimodo or Quasimotor."

  • Lexus - "Allright, let's just slap a huge mouth on the front end of that puppy!  That's different right?!"  Looks like it could suck up an entire family...no need for doors.
  • Transformers - Lexus again plus many others (the new Corvette).  Again, way too busy.  Plus, my main fear is that drivers have an optional button that when pushed, will cause these things to stand up on their rear tires, unfold into 20 foot tall metal warriors and blast all oncoming vehicles out of their way.

  • Tesla - The butt (again).  "Hey, I got an idea, lets blow up the butt on our beautiful sedan design and call the whale a crossover!"  Hopefully this person is one of the hundreds who was recently fired. 

I know there are many who find beauty in these designs but frankly Scarlett, I don't. Just gimme an Audi Q5 or A6 coupe, or a new Mustang, or a Jaguar or....well, you get my drift. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Air Intelligence Airman Goes to War - sort of

Viet Nam Air Campaigns

Barrel Roll
June-December 1964
In the spring of 1964, Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese troops drove Laotian forces from the Plain of Jars. On 9 June 1964, President Johnson ordered an F-100 strike against the enemy in retaliation for the loss of a U.S. airplane. These Plain of Jars operations, expanded by December 1964, were named BARREL ROLL and were under the control of the U.S. ambassador to Laos who approved all targets before they were attacked.

Arc Light
18 June 1965 - December 1972
(In 1969, I was working in Air Intelligence at U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Force Base Thailand.  I was building high and low level strike charts and drawing radar predictions for B52s - most of the missions were Arc Light)

Arc Light was the name given to the SAC B-52 conventional bombing missions in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The first Arc Light mission was flown 18 June 1965 when Guam-based B-52s were used to attack a Viet Cong jungle stronghold with conventional 750-pound and 1,000-pound bombs. B-52s were used primarily in saturation bombing of Viet Cong base areas, but also were used in direct tactical support of operations such as the Marine Corps’ Operation Harvest Moon and the First Cavalry Division’s fight in the Ia Drang Valley. In 1966, operations were mostly against targets in S. Vietnam, but expanded to include approaches to the Mu Gia Pass in North Vietnam on 12 and 26 April 1966, to interdict the northern Ho Chi Minh Trail. Bombing activity increased tremendously in 1967, almost doubling the number of sorties flown in 1966, supporting ground troops and attacking enemy troop concentrations and supply lines in the A Shau Valley.

The 1968 defense of Khe Sanh was the largest and most significant air campaign to date in Southeast Asia, helping to break the siege on Khe Sanh and force the North Vietnamese to withdraw. In 1969, the B-52 conventional bombing operations in Southeast Asia continued at a steady pace with greater emphasis on harassment and disruption of enemy operations than in previous years, particularly around Saigon. SAC bombers also continued to hit enemy supply dumps, base areas, troop concentrations, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The number of sorties flown in support of Arc Light bombing operations declined from November 1969 until ceasing temporarily in August 1970.

Guam-based B-52s resumed flying in February 1972, in a surge of Arc Light activity named Bullet Shot, reaching a peak by mid-1972 exceeding all previous records of Arc Light performance as the U.S. pushed the Communist forces hard to force peace negotiations. After the Paris Peace Accords ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam in January 1973, Arc Light operations continued in Laos and Cambodia, until the end of U.S. combat operations on 15 August 1973.

The Arc Light Memorial at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, is dedicated to the 75 men who lost their lives flying Arc Light B-52 missions.

Iron Hand
North Vietnam’s air defense system was an integrated combination of AAA, SA-2 SAMs, and MiG aircraft, considered at the time to be the world’s most formidable air defense environment. The tactics employed on the Iron Hand missions were primarily designed to suppress the SA-2 and gun-laying radar defenses of North Vietnam during the ingress, attack and egress of the main strike force. An Iron Hand flight consisted of one F-100 or, later, F-105 Wild Weasel to seek out SAM radar emissions and three other F-105s carrying bombs or rockets to attack the site. Iron Hand operations reduced SAM accuracy, but did not succeed in stopping the barrage firing. Radar bombing of SAM sites was also ineffective.

Rolling Thunder
24 February 1965 - October 1968
USAF and Navy aircraft engaged in the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign designed to force Ho Chi Minh to abandon his ambition to take over South Vietnam. The operation began primarily as a diplomatic signal to impress Hanoi with America’s determination, essentially a warning that the violence would escalate until Ho Chi Minh "blinked," and secondly it was intended to bolster the sagging morale of the South Vietnamese.
The Johnson administration also imposed strict limits on the targets that could be attacked, for China and the Soviet Union were seen as defenders of communism who might intervene if the North Vietnamese faced defeat. Consequently, the administration tried to punish the North without provoking the two nations believed to be its protectors. In the view of the Air Force leadership, the campaign had no clear-cut objective nor did its authors have any real estimate of the cost of lives and aircraft. General LeMay and others argued that military targets, rather than the enemy’s resolve, should be attacked and that the blows should be rapid and sharp, with the impact felt immediately on the battlefield as well as by the political leadership in Hanoi.

When Rolling Thunder failed to weaken the enemy’s will after the first several weeks, the purpose of the campaign began to change. By the end of 1965, the Johnson administration still used air power as an attempt to change North Vietnamese policy, but bombing tended to be directed against the flow of men and supplies from the North, thus damaging the enemy militarily while warning him of the danger of greater destruction if he maintained the present aggressive course.

To persuade the North Vietnamese to negotiate, President Johnson restricted the bombing of North Vietnam to the southern part of the country on 31 March 1968, in effect, bringing Operation Rolling Thunder to an end. Preliminary discussions began in Paris in May but bogged down over trivial issues. In November, Johnson made another concession, ending the bombing throughout the north, and serious negotiations began in January 1969.
Mu Gia Pass on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Commando Hunt
1968 - 1972
(In 1972, I was still in Intelligence, working as a photo Interpreter at Udorn, Thailand.  Most of the film we looked at was from F4 Reconnaissance aircraft.  We were doing bomb damage reports, much of it on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and hunting targets including AAA and SAM sites, trucks, tanks, people and even cattle. Commando Hunt bombing missions made Mu Gia Pass on the trail look like craters on the moon but the North Vietnamese just kept driving around them)

USAF carried out the Commando Hunt series of aerial interdiction campaigns against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos, trying, in conjunction with ground actions, to use air power and electronics to impede the movement of soldiers and supplies from North Vietnam to the battlefields of South Vietnam. There were seven successive Commando Hunt operations, beginning in the fall of 1968 and lasting until the spring of 1972, when the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive invasion of South Vietnam changed the nature of the war.

18 March 1969 - 26 May 1970
(Worked on these in Utapao.  We would “plot” the targets exactly at the Cambodian border but we knew the crews were being secretly ordered to continue on the same axis into Cambodia before dropping their bombs.) 

Menu was directed at Cambodian base areas and logistics networks supporting Communist operations in South Vietnam. Pres. Nixon ordered these raids to punish Hanoi for their continued fomenting of fighting in S. Vietnam while they simultaneously avoided serious peace negotiations and to gain time for Vietnamization to prepare S. Vietnam's forces. Anti-war protests in the U.S. limited Pres. Nixon's options since further bombing of North Vietnam would be politically unacceptable, so the Cambodian sanctuaries were targeted.

During the Menu series of raids, B-52s flew 3,630 sorties and dropped 100,000 tons of bombs. Individual missions in the Menu series were named Breakfast, Supper, Lunch, Dessert, and Snack, thus the name Menu bombing. Menu raids continued until 26 May 1970, when the bombing campaign was exposed by the New York Times after the start of the Cambodian Incursion by ground troops.

While the Arc Light raids were open and authorized through channels, Menu missions were not. The classified missions were directed by the White House and personnel involved had to deceive USAF officials and falsify official records. Knowledge of the operations was highly compartmentalized; even the Air Force Chief of Staff and the SEC-AF were not informed. Arc Light raids were used to cover the Menu raids. Formations were sent together, sometimes in the same groups, sometimes at the same time. While Arc Light groups hit southern targets, Menu groups crossed the border into Cambodian air-space. Menu pilots later falsified reports, stating they had bombed South Vietnam.

6 April - 23 October 1972
(We worked on targeting and bomb damage assessment for these out of Udorn)

The aerial interdiction campaign against North Vietnam's Easter Offensive began on 6 April 1972 with attacks in the southern part of the country, then expanded rapidly. On 16 April, B-52s, escorted by fighter and aircraft specializing in electronic countermeasures and suppression of surface-to-air missiles, bombed the fuel storage tanks at Haiphong, setting fires that, reflected from cloud and smoke, were visible from 110 miles away. Shortly afterward, carrier aircraft joined Air Force fighter-bombers in battering a tank farm and a warehouse complex on the outskirts of Hanoi. When these attacks failed to slow the offensive, naval aircraft began mining the harbors on 8 May, and two days later the administration extended the aerial interdiction campaign, formerly known as Freedom Train but now designated Linebacker, throughout all of North Vietnam. When Linebacker drove the N. Vietnamese back to the peace talks in October, the bombing was halted. After several months, the N. Vietnamese again left the peace talks.

Linebacker II 
(18-29 December 1972
This was the last campaign I was involved in…headed home in the middle of it. I was again pinpointing targets and doing bomb damage assessments. Our pilots hit hard anti-aircraft emplacements, surface to air missile sites and bridges with precision. A US magazine cover photo of a Hanoi AAA site manned by a young Vietnamese woman remains stuck in my memory.)

The primary objective of Linebacker II was to once again coerce North Vietnam to re-enter into the peace negotiations to end the war in Vietnam. The operation employed almost unrestricted strategic and tactical air power, night and day, against major strategic targets in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas. In the eleven days of the campaign, U.S. planes dropped over 49,000 tons of bombs, devastating North Vietnam. They returned to the talks at the end of December and the Peace Agreement was signed in January 1973, bringing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War to a close.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"MoFo" weekend in LA

Ty Campbell & Stick Figure
(A weekend in LA- 2003)

Instead of heading straight home to Sacramento from a job in Louisville, I flew to Los Angeles. I was pretty pumped as I was heading for a date to see son, Tyler and his group perform at a concert on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. His band; “Stick Figure”, later known as “Sixteen Switch.” 
Stick Figure/Sixteen Switch circa '03

Much, much earlier I went to my first, and I thought my last, rock concert in LA in 1970. I was in the Air Force, stationed at March Air Force Base so Julieann and I were in Riverside, California. My brother David was visiting. He was a teenager and we were still pretty young ourselves so we decided to take him to see Iron Butterfly and Canned Heat in action. It was held at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

We liked all that music but didn’t usually go to concerts so I decided to mark the occasion by trying to get us some of the best tickets in the house. Our seats were right on the floor of the Forum where the Lakers played basketball at the time. We were around 50 feet from the stage and the sound engineers were behind us dialing in the noise.  

It was a fine concert but the sound was so loud my ears were ringing when we left and they still are today, over 45 years later. So, I wasn’t thinking I would ever go to another concert. However, there was another I had to attend that weekend  in '03 so I got my trusty earplugs packed in Louisville and flew straight to Los Angeles.  

The Key Club show would be one concert TC (very senior) just had to see but before I lay it out, a little on how TC Jr. got there. About a year earlier Tyler had auditioned with a local Sacramento band that had lost their lead singer. The band’s name; “Stick Figure” and their type of music; sort of “Metal-reggae rap” and yes, the lyrics are pretty explicit. 

They picked him so he added “band practice” to his college and work schedule. After a couple of months or so of practice, they began playing local clubs. Mom, Dad and Sister would go occasionally. The band did a good job and kept improving.

A couple month’s ago, their agent who was an engineer by day and promoter/agent by night got them set up to open for Ice-T’s group, “Bodycount” at the Key Club in LA. You may know Ice-T as an actor who plays a cop on the TV series, Law and Order and also as a rapper who stirred a lot of controversy in the early rap music days for a song titled “Cop Killer."

So, everybody got fired up and we checked out the Key Club on the web. We found out it is right on Sunset Strip, in a group of music clubs and just a few blocks down from the Whiskey a Go-Go that Johnny Rivers made famous a couple of million years ago.

The Key Club was named “Club of the Year” in LA the year before and had hosted, among others, Santana and Sarah McLaughlin so it sure looked respectable enough for Julieann, daughter Samantha and her best pal, Ashley to attend.

Of course, we didn’t expect reverent chamber music so we weren’t surprised to see that this particular booking was limited to those age 16 and over. But, I knew Samantha, having an eight year older brother, was quite educated on things scatological and Ashley couldn’t be too far behind. These were two very bright, athletic girls who excelled in everything and knew more about life than I did when I was thirty.

So I, being the ultra-conservative, over protecting father I was (yeah right), called the club to see it there was any way I could get one of their performer’s underage sister and “cousin” in that night. They were very kind and suggested I fax an explanatory note to their manager. I heard right back from them. It was “fine”; they would hold our seats for us and sit us on the restaurant level of the club. It overlooked the stage and main floor of the club and sounded pretty good to me.

Then, a couple of weeks earlier, TC and his group played a couple of shows in Fresno. “Ernie C”, Bodycount’s lead guitar player watched them and told Tyler he thought they would do fine in their LA performance. That is when I started believing it might really happen. I was a little suspicious before.

I had a couple of free nights from all my road warrior duty as a traveling consultant so we booked a room a few miles from the Strip at the Los Angeles Marriott and we were ready to roll!

Somehow, we all ended up there on Friday night. Julieann, Samantha and Ashley had driven from Sacramento after school. I flew in from Louisville and Tyler and his group arrived in a couple of other vehicles. 

The concert wasn’t until Saturday night so we had a good day of goofing around in anticipation. We dropped the girls off for a day at the Universal Studios theme park while Julie and I went out for a little run around the area to rehash the old days when we used to live not far away. Ty hung out with his group as they collectively recovered from partying Friday night on the Strip.

Julie and I ended up having breakfast at the famous Farmer’s Market, cruising Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and hiking the Santa Monica pier so we had a pretty full day. We ran into TC and his group while walking on the pier, a damn fine surprise. TC made fun of my surfer shirt and I made fun of his outfit: situation normal.

The ladies and I hit the Key Club at 8pm, right when I was advised they would let us in. We noticed there was a line outside all the clubs we saw there on the Strip and ours was no exception. Even though it was sold out, we had to wait while they did something to get the inside ready.

While we were standing there, we noticed this fairly large, electronic marquee in front. Right there, underneath Bodycount, was the name of one other group and…Stick Figure! In Hollywood no less! We were definitely dazzled.

Then, a guy in line behind us asked Samantha where she got this backward baseball cap she was wearing. She said, “at the Mall” as the guy was wondering if he could buy one there at the Club. TC had it made as a present for his sister. On the front it was embroidered with “Stick Figure”.  On the back, “Campbell”.

We finally got in after Julieann waited patiently (yeah, right) for fifteen minutes or so with us. Security was fair as they were patting down the younger guys. Don’t know why they didn’t check me as I was thinking I was pretty tough looking? We were then shown to the second, restaurant level. It looked like all the seats there were reserved.  The place was pretty new inside and the restaurant level was nicely appointed. We sat at a booth immediately above the stage and had a great, eagle eye view.

Ty’s group played second and there were five bands total that night. I would say the place was around half full when they came on and the crowd was pretty responsive to them. They had a good-sized stage so Ty and the others could move around well.

When they were setting up, Ty looked up at us and we exchanged waves. Samantha attempted to show me the proper way to do it but it was too late.  Then I yelled the old classic showbiz line down to Ty, “Break a leg!” Sam then attempted to educate me that the current line is “F___ up!” but that advice was also too late. 

Tyler and bass man Joel - Key Club '03
There were two sound engineers facing the stage on our level to guide things and the show was terrific to watch. They had about 30 minutes on stage and the second song they did was one Ty wrote.  Mom told me she was very proud. Ty looked like he was having a terrific time, the crowd enjoyed them and lots of Stick Figure demo cd’s were tossed out to them afterward.

It turned out they had a couple of radio stations interview them afterward and Ty had to come up and borrow a pen for autographs! I asked him if he had a good time during one of his visits to us upstairs and he said, “There was nothing I didn’t like about it”.

After a couple of other bands, Bodycount came on and Ice-T “MF’d” just about everyone and everything in the whole world.  Of course, all the preceding bands did their best to support him by doing pretty much the same thing. And I was thinking, they are cheapening the use of the word. Now, how will it have any shock impact when I use it?!

About that time, the head banger crowd on the floor downstairs was “moshing” fairly out of control. I had read about this before but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t have full effect without being witnessed. Arms flailing, stumbling around in circles, shoving the folks nearby, generally looking frenzied. One of Ty’s long time pals, “PB”had made the trip with the band. He is a big man and when he stepped on the mosh floor he was tossing bodies all over the place. It was serious mayhem and PB was totally in charge. It looked a little like a final review of a written contract proposal when I am trying to manage my client’s crowd of very reluctant participants.  

But that’s what it is all about. Most everyone was smiling and, when someone would fall down, someone else would reach to help them get up. It was fascinating stuff to watch and very good to watch from a safe distance.

Ice-T and his entourage drove the show very hard. It was tough assed, in your face music and there was a little kid, 5 or 6 maybe, on the side of the stage with them (someone told us it was Ice-T’s son). What was that all about?  And what kind of environment was that for a little kid? The music for the final act was really loud though my earplugs were doing the job. I was thinking, by the time that he is 9 years old, he will be “MFing” all over the place and deaf to boot.

A couple of funny things happened while Bodycount was on.  Once, a guy was lifted to “surf” the top of the mosh crowd and they slid him right onto the front of the stage. He got up and started having ‘mosh pit spasms’ right there.  Then, this huge bodyguard swept the little fella’ right up in his arms and he was carried, arms and legs flailing all the while, right off stage left. I never saw him again.

A little while after that, another mosher suddenly appeared stage left, ran past Ice-T to the front of the stage and threw himself out to body surf the crowd. He went down pretty quick and I am not sure if I heard a “clunk” as he hit the floor or not.

Now, I am wondering if that stuff was real, or whether it was staged. If it was staged, it was very cleverly orchestrated and either way, it was a gas.

We left before Bodycount was finished because they were much louder than the other groups and we also wanted to be well clear of the Club when the moshers were ready to close it up.

So, we got in the Jeep and my sainted wife of almost 34 years was all fired up. She couldn’t get over all the “MF’in” that was going on.  She was trying it out for herself for affect, that is, the word itself and different abbreviations. I am busy telling them all that the word has been overused now and has no value. Then, Sam pipes in and reminds her Mom the current, correct abbreviated reference is “MoFo”, pronounced with a couple of  hard ”o’s”.  

So, what did I think about all this? I may have regained some innocence (or maybe the correct term is ignorance) over the years.  I was also wondering why my daughter had to spend her formative years learning vocabulary from her brother. Furthermore, what would I do with this wife who was busy trying out different ways to turn the sky blue.  As the old saying goes, “nothing is sacred.” The Campbell’s sure did their collective part to contribute to that expression over the weekend.  

Sixteen Switch - '04
Epilogue 2017: Some time later, Tyler left Sixteen Switch and formed his own band, Arden Park Roots. Four albums and years later, that story is all over Google.  Julieann, Samantha and I are still attending concerts and I remain among the world’s oldest groupies.

Monday, August 7, 2017

TC and JC’s Invasion of Italy

First, to set the record straight I had a chaperone; Julieann Marie Campbell.  This is good because the outcome could have otherwise been worse.  Much, much worse.  Let’s get right to the record though.  

Top Ten Things I Learned in Italy
  1. Scooter’s rule the inner cities. They bob and weave through traffic like little Muhammad Ali’s of the motorbike world. Almost half are fearless women. All wear helmets and keep their pipes muffled (Italian laws). In smaller towns, where the new (less than 600 year old) roads are smoother, bicycles rule.
  2. Gelato is a health food. This is a lucky thing because I was forced to consume several (don’t ask who made me… it was an inner calling).
  3. “House Red” is a high end wine order…and it’s ten times better than a US “house red”. Unless you order the watered down version at a self service restaurant – there the house red is actually a watered down faint pink that is the most tasteless drink ever invented by man. 
  4. Italian sculptors knew anatomy and proportion much better than “Bo knows football”. Michaelangelo was definitely the best. He began studying when he was barely a teen and completed the Piata before he was 24! He completed the David (yes, of David and Goliath fame) before he was 30! In contrast, I completed college before I was 30… duh.  
  5. Italian artists, especially those from 500 or so years ago were absolute masters of light and shadow. It was they who invented 3-D and you don’t even need glasses to see it. If you doubt this, just check out some of the frescoes in the ceilings of their cathedrals.
  6. Ninety percent of the tiles laid in the world reside inside Italian churches.  
  7. A “million dollar view” in Italy costs just that. More or less. Most likely more.  It’s not just the Euro either… it’s good old real estate speculation as well.
  8. Twelve dollars (8 euros) for a Bitburger tall draft beer is a good deal… at least in comparison to a small Bud light purchased in the Sacramento Kings basketball arena.
  9. The expression “beautiful people” originated from external observations of Italian women and men, especially Italian women. At least until the age of forty when the high carbohydrate diet effect tends to kick in.
  10. The expression, “Holy S___!!!” was first heard when an American visitor entered Saint Peter’s Basilica over 200 years ago. It is not in fact, “overwhelming” as many people claim. It is rather, much more than that and words don’t cover “much more”. 
  11. What…You think I would stop at ten?  C’mon!
  12. Piazzas rank among the top rubbernecking spots in the world. These are large squares typically ringed by multistory apartment buildings, street level cafes and vendors…people and pigeons (yes, both types) wandering all over.  The best we were in was the Piazza del Campo in Sienna where a great silent comic worked the passing crowd in front of us as we sipped the world’s best cappuccinos’ at an outdoor cafĂ©. There is a brief YouTube video on him that is pretty good but it does not capture his facial expressions and they are priceless… http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3124026964050580997    
  13. When I go to heaven (yeah right), I want to grab a few bottles of “House Red” and sit down to shoot the bull with Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Berlinni and Raphael.  
  14. I also want to meet some of the day laborers who set millions of nail-head size marble chips in the floor and wall mosaics of Italy’s churches. As Jack Sender and I were speculating, some of those guys must have spent their entire lives working on them for what… maybe a meal or two a day? They must have had calluses on their knees the thickness of a baseball mitt. Many of these are in intricate mosaics that must have taken generations to complete. Picture this:  “Tom, we will give you a meal a day and a rock to sleep on if you will simply inlay tiny fingernail size pieces of marble in our mosaics from now until you die”. Sounds like an offer I wouldn’t be able to refuse!
  15. Ninety-three point four percent of the world’s bricks are imbedded in the floors, ceilings and walls of Italian buildings. Just like fingerprints, no two are absolutely alike.
  16. Contrary to popular opinion, 90% of Italian men have taken to wearing jeans… the other 10% wear custom made suits that cost 1,000 euros ($3,000,000 US).
  17. If you have a pair of Docker slacks cleaned twice in Italy, you will have equaled the U.S. cost of a replacement pair.
  18. In Rome, the recommended “safe distance” to maintain from the car or scooter in front of you is 1.5 inches. If you open this gap any further a darting scooter will immediately fill it.
  19. The Hertz “Never Lost” device contains a nice little lady who will always softly correct your dumb mistakes and make sure you don’t die of frustration before your time. This especially true in Italy, where streets follow no pattern and a name can change 5 times within 5 fairly straight blocks. 
  20. You cannot master a small, passing Italian vocabulary without also learning the “masculine and feminine” form. I have been trying to learn the feminine form (youknowwhatimeanVern) all my life and have been unsuccessful so I will never know Italian.
  21. Sometimes they charge you for the little appetizers or bread they serve with your drink order and sometimes they don’t. You get to guess.
  22. Euros are composed of tiny little hungry nano devices that gobble up American currency at roughly a rate of two to one. Yes, even though the pitiful exchange rate is currently 1.65 US to 1Euro you will still end up paying two to three times as much for an item. (See #8, the $12 Bitberger beer)
  23. Millions of footsteps occurring over hundreds of years will eventually wear a path in marble. If you visit, you will get to help.
  24. Little bitty autos named “Smart” are taking over the streets of Italy. They are so short you can often find them parked perpendicular to the sidewalk in a parallel parking area… honest! They also sell them right here in the US so get ready!
  25. The difference between an ancient painting that has been cleaned and one that has not is remarkable. It makes you go from thinking the artists made poor choices in color to being convinced they were perfect.
  26. Famous last words… “We just got in line because we wanted to see what all the other people were lined up for.” The sign said, “Entrance to the Duomo”. We had already been in the Florence cathedral but this sign was on the side and I thought it was just another floor view. Wrong. While in line, Julieann said, “Tom, I think I heard someone say this is the line for the climb to the top.” I thought that might be interesting…414 steps later we were there. Along the way we worked through one-way shoulder width, dark, stone corridors that included gradual winding ways, compressed corkscrew turns and low ceiling, slanted walkways with iron side rails you had to use to work your way through. We emerged twice at interior levels and could see the cupola all the way to the tiny people on the floor near the altars. At the top there was a short climb where you had to wait for those going down to clear the stairs before you could go up. They then proceeded down through a completely separate corridor. Also at the top, there was probably room for forty or fifty people. After a couple of high-fives congratulating ourselves for making the climb alive, Julie and I had a beautiful, three hundred and sixty degree view of the city and countryside. It is a great, double-walled dome.
  27. 150kmh is roughly 88mph. I like the way Italians drive on the Autostradas (toll roads). They generally move to the inside lane if they aren’t passing someone and they drop the hammer when they are in the hammer lane. Hertz had kindly upgraded us to a BMW for our trip so I spent a fair amount of time at 150kmh. Even at that, I was often passed by folks going much faster.
  28. Tour groups in the very narrow streets of Italy are much like a tsunami… you must immediately take shelter and wait until they pass, otherwise you may get swept up and follow an unopened orange umbrella raised high in the air. 
  29. Walk.  
  30. Walk.
  31. Walk.
  32. Ok that’s it.  I am going to quit here because you are probably getting tuckered.  I know I am. 


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Down in New Orleans

I held a day and half workshop for some terrific clients in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The workshop was to review the block and tackle fundamentals of proposal development...specifically for a Mississippi Medicaid quality assurance contract that was coming up for renewal. We had helped them take the contract from the incumbent earlier and they hired us back to help them keep it.

It wasn't that good and nobody particularly liked it but then again, nobody actually likes writing contract proposals and that is why I am occasionally employed to assist with it. 

I had arranged the trip to go through New Orleans so I could continue as a passenger in good standing with United. United doesn’t fly to Baton Rouge and if you let your exalted frequent flyer status lapse, they regress to treating you in common cattle fashion. So, they have me trained right! On my return home, I decided to spend Friday night in New Orleans and come back late Saturday afternoon - a little ‘tourista stuff to go with the business.

Enter Paul Murrell, friend, mentor, confidante and man in whose debt I continue to get...deeper and deeper. I called him to discuss the project (he helped us with many over the years) and he quickly gave me the drill on "what to do in New Orleans with less than 24 hours". Paul was born and raised around Baton Rouge and the area so he knows it like his backyard, maybe better...He told me what restaurant to hit in the French Quarter Friday night, what areas to avoid walking in (I am sure he was remembering my ability to go places I shouldn't), and where to go Saturday.

Armed with this information, I hit the city like I sorta’ knew what I was doing. Except for the streets down town...I had a hell of a time getting to the downtown Marriott parking garage, and I knew where it was. If you haven't there, the streets have a fan pattern like Richmond Virginia and lot of other river towns I guess. The trouble is, they have inconsistent block size and lots of one way streets. Block size probably came from early days when you only needed room for horse and wagon and you didn't need surveyors…you just built right "over there" or wherever you wanted too.

The one-way streets are another surprise. They don't alternate so you might have two in a row going the same way! The founding fathers (I can think of other names) must have thought, "Let's really complicate this area!  Mess up them Yankee visitors who think they can figure this place out. Thanks for visiting and toss your maps. They won't do you any good.” Of course, after a few loops, you remember not to take anything for granted.

Initial impressions...flat...hot...and wet all over...and they have tons of trees that don't seem to have tops surrounding the city. Striking...you wonder if the freeway might sink at some point. Dirty... (I don't want to ask where tax dollars are going).

Checked in downtown New Orleans late Friday afternoon, grabbed a little map from the desk and looked up the addresses of my "gotta go there" stops. Then hit the road in sandals (If you want to solve the one way street problem..Walk!). First stop, the Hard Rock on North Peters street near the French Quarter. I had to hit this place to pick up additions to Samantha's guitar pin and Tyler's shooter collections - it has been my die hard, "I am thinking of you" move for years now.

Then, my eye was caught by a cigar shop across the street. I thought it would be a good evening to light one up and walk through the Quarter working up an appetite for dinner. It was impressive, smelled great and they were rolling them on the spot. So, I bought a box of ten Coronas and hit the streets (Bourbon, Royal and others) with a fresh-lit one (delicious!). Most of the remainder would go home with me.

It was fun walking through there...I recall thinking if I would have hit the place when I was 20 I might never have left! Bars...If you can find two businesses side by side on Bourbon Street and one of them isn't a bar, I will buy you a beer. And everybody is drinking in the street...guess that doesn't stop when Mardi Gras is over. And when dusk sets in, there are automatic drunks wandering around...guess they start in their rooms in anticipation of the evening. Great variety in music, jazz, funk..and lots of people dancing (you guessed it, in the streets).

Then, I hit Mr. B's on Royal Street for dinner, and this is where Paul Murrell started taking on saintly status in my lowly eyes. I was just in time for instant seating. The waiter, when asked, recommended a gin and tonic to help me study the menu - they are damn fine tasting in that kind of weather. The menu looked just great, all kinds of wonderful sounding stuff on it! I picked an onion torte for an appetizer and Mr B's specialty barbecued “whole!" jumbo shrimp with French bread "for dipping".

The waiter, Fernando, helped me with a wine selection and I was on my way! The onion torte had vidalias, cheese and tomatoes in a light pastry shell and was one of the finest dishes I have ever had. The shrimp entree came and I knew I had an adventure going when he tied a bib around my neck. I asked Fernando how to eat the damn things and he set me straight with a two-handed motion that looked like opening up a hot dog bun (no, Paul, I did not suck the juices out of the heads though I was thinking there are probably many locals who would). The service was terrific, everyone friendly there and really, everywhere I went in the city.

I gotta tell you, It was as good a meal as I have had in my life. After dinner, headed back to the hotel and stopped at a bar for a local Amitas amber ale and another stogie...Yup, might have been my first ever two-stogie evening. Good crowd dancing in the street. How do they do that and not sweat profusely?!

Saturday morning, I got up early, threw on jogging/shuffle gear and was on the St. Charles trolley around six. I rode out past the crusty part of downtown, then the stately mansions and finally arrived at Audubon Park. There I joined others jogging on the trail that circles the park. It was beautiful, about two miles around with ponds, great oaks and other trees I couldn't identify, a golf course and lots of herons, geese, swans and ducks. I jogged back toward downtown a couple more miles on the grassy St. Charles median and finally stopped to get back on the trolley.

Back to the room for a quick shower and on to the major objective, another of Paul's recommendations, the Cafe Du Monde. The menu is pretty simple there so I figured I better order the Cafe au lait with Beignets (doughnuts) and some orange juice. Doughnuts were fresh, warm, loaded with powdered sugar and delicious. Coffee has a little chicory and was also great. So, I kinda caught on to why there were long lines waiting to get in and get a seat for some. I was by myself so I just walked in and parked like I belonged there. Then, back to the hotel for a short "yup, I am getting old" snooze followed by a trip to the New Orleans Harley dealer to see what there was to see and on to the airport.

It was a hellofa trip, Paul steered me to perfect spots and I am, once again, eternally grateful. I think, when I pass (notice I didn’t say, “enter”) the gates to Heaven I will drop off a Harley there for Paul that is guaranteed to stay upright.  Now, I gotta take Julieann to New Orleans...to Mr. B's, the Cafe Du Monde and the French Quarter - I have a mission - and if she wants to share a plate of beignets with me well, that's OK too!!!

Dear Paul,

Merci Beau Coups!


PS - We worked that Mississippi contract renewal and others a few more times thereafter. Once Julie flew in to meet me for a long weekend and I was able to share the finer things Paul had graciously pointed out about the city. The food remained delicious and the people and sights…great!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Desk From Hell

This today...just down the street from us.
Free to anyone who cares to  pick it up.  Unloaded from a recently departed hoarder's house that is busy filling its fifth large dumpster...a small, simple desk popular in the 70's.

I went through grad school on one of these...along with way too many cigarettes and a candle.

Back then, we picked up one of these pathetic little objects for around a hundred hard-earned bucks. We stuck it in an upstairs room of our rented Richmond, Virginia townhouse and went to work.  Me studying and Julieann carrying the entire rest of the family load as she has for most of our 48 years while I messed with various schools and jobs.

If my old desk could speak, it would go on about moans and groans that came with memorization of health care management trivia.  It would also boast of a comprehensive knowledge of each and every form of swearing.  It would have a chronic smoker's cough.  But it can't speak and we are all the better for that.

Meanwhile I still have scars from it all and seeing it today pissed me off a little.  It would give me some satisfaction to put it in my backyard and take a sledgehammer to it or perhaps just run it over where it sits.  But I won't - Julie and that desk helped me make it after all.

There is more of course...there is always more:  "Grad School Kicked His Ass."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Aces...In Places

The last Sunday in May began poorly. I was at Sacramento's Capital Casino weekly Texas hold'em poker tournament and we were about 30 minutes in when I made my first mistake of the day.

I had a marginal hand, a pocket ace and an off-suit nine and made it to the flop without anyone else tossing in a significant raise. Otherwise I would have folded. The flop came and showed another ace giving me top pair with a questionable kicker. The player before me quickly tossed a fair amount of chips in the pot and I read his actions lightly, like he was playing loose aggressive. I figured he also had an ace and was wondering who might have the better kicker so I called with a quarter of my stack.

Early on in these tournaments it's a little easier to call in this position because you also have a "pink" chip in your stack that allows you one re-buy at the same price as the initial entry. This lets you get another stack of chips if you bust out on a bad beat or bad read.

The turn and river came and with that, my opponent quickly tossed in what basically amounted to the remainder of  my chip stack. I tanked for a while thinking it over and eventually called. He turned over a king and ten for two pair and I was reaching for that pink chip to re-buy. It was just a crappy read on my part and once gain shows my tendency to overplay top pair. It wasn't too bad a move to call his first big bet but I definitely screwed up calling his last one. Of course, keep in mind if he would have turned up another ace with a weaker kicker I would have been patting myself on the back for picking him off - another mistake when actually I would have been just plain lucky but "there lies the rub" as the dude from Hamlet says right?!

Note: Here I was also violating another solid hold'em rule of thumb which is to generally avoid big pots early in a tournament,  I though of that too when I was tanking and ignored it. Wrong again.

So there I was, very early in the tournament and down an entire stack of chips - not a good prospect. Toward the end of the first series of four 20 minute intervals and not long before the first break, I caught pocket Aces. I played them gently and they doubled me up on an all-in bet. This made up for my earlier mistake and took me close to my original position.

The chances of being dealt pocket Aces back-to-back are 1 in 48,841 and that is exactly what happened next. I didn't get as much action that time but added a few chips bringing me up to about even with the buy-in amount.

Things slowed until well into the next series. Between the blinds, antes and drawing dead hands, I found myself down to less than an initial stack again. For the second time in the tournament, it wasn't looking good.

Then things again took a turn. I am not sure anyone has calculated the odds of getting pocket aces five times in a single 5 hour tournament but that is what ended up happening to me on that fateful last Sunday. I caught solid action along the way and ended up hitting the final table with a healthy stack. I also caught a full house along the way and the last five of 62 of us ended up chopping (splitting) the pot five ways.

In another odds defying development, my aces were not cracked (beaten) a single time that day and, according to the pundits, a little under 20% of the time that is exactly what happens.

Equal parts of Luck, Patience, Luck and Skill - that is what it takes to win in these tournaments (yeah, yeah that equals 50% luck). Some days luck takes up more like 75%+ and as for last Sunday...well, you know.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Three Lives - Count'em...Three of Them 'Puppies

I couldn't figure whether to blog this stuff or post it as an email to those willing to tolerate my rants.  So, I will do both; that is, I will write it here and then email it to my victims.

Dr. Harvey Matlof
Dear Physician
I had a recurring appointment this morning with my cardiologist of 25 years, the good Dr. Harvey Matlof. Harvey was the one who, at my request, pulled the tubes out of my chest way back in the early 90's after I  had a quadruple bypass. His response at my bedside at the time was something like this; "Well, you look a little fresh but...okay." That was on the fourth day post surgery. ***

It was early, with great temperatures and poor parking availability at Harvey's new downtown Sacramento offices so I decided to take the HOG in.  I hit the lights green at two of our most notorious bad/crowded intersections and slid into town like a hot knife through butter.

As I approached the multi-story offices of Sutter Medical Group I saw a Porsche Cayenne right smack in front. It was taking up just 3/4 of a rather large parking space. So, we shared.

While on the way for that follow-up visit this morning, I was thinking I have had 3 lives in some respects. I made it to the CABG operation in my first life and once again mentally thanked everyone for giving me that first. Then I asked Harvey if he was thinking the procedure would give me another 20 years. That request marked the start of my second life and I got the "20 years." Now, I am beyond that point and, using my twisted logic, I am on my third run. It's all gravy and I am most fortunate.

Today, somewhere near the 25th anniversary of our meeting I got another warning from Harvey. There is work to do, but not bad work, and I am up for it.

***Note: I went home the next day and the spine tingling (heart-wrenching is probably a more fitting term) details are here: http://tclifecycles.blogspot.com/2010/01/cabbage-or-cabg-whatever.html

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Evolution of the US Air Force Medical Service Corps - A call to proverbial arms

In early 1980, United States Air Force Strategic Air Command Surgeon General, William Greendyke (RIP)  wrote a memorable first letter* to his boss on the status of the medical staff and facilities under his purview. The most controversial part of his report was submitted under the topic "MSC Commander Issue."

His report was an attempt to solidify physicians as solely suitable to command medical facilities and permanently relegate officers trained as hospital administrators to subordinate positions. It included references to physicians as the top of the "pecking order" and therefore the biggest "peckers." It also referred to Medical Service Corps officers as "young...Turks."

If anything, Brigadier General Greendyke's letter galvanized the determination of Medical Service Corps officers to lead. Previously, there were three main reasons they were focused on command:
  • They had been commissioned as Air Force officers based on leadership potential
  • They were trained in Air Force leadership programs such as Squadron Officer's School, Air Command and Staff college and Air War College
  • They were prepared for health care leadership positions in Air Force sponsored civilian graduate programs in the country's top-ranked schools.
General Greendykes' letter provided a substantial fourth reason; it pissed people off.

In any event, MSCs subsequently gained more and more command positions and, as line officers and others recognized their success, leadership positions became accessible to medical service officers from all corps. The criteria for selection moved from; "Is he a physician?" to "Is he or she capable of succeeding in a command position."  Much better eh?!  

Today, it is possible for a non-physician to even serve in a surgeon general position similar to or greater than the one the good General Greendyke once held. And that, from  my perspective is justice...of the poetic kind.

 *Note...the infamous letter could not be found on the internet.  Until now that is...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Your Lucky Stars

"And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all.  The white race believes-believes with all its heart-that is is their right to take the land.  To kill Indians.  Make war.  Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty.  Yet here we are." - The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead. - Sometime in the 1850's.

So, if you are not discriminated against because of your race, color, creed, gender, politics, appearance, class, disability (and the list goes on), count your lucky stars.

Everyone has something, even the so-called, well bred, well-to-dos often thought of as "silver spoons."  But then again, it also a matter of degree is it not?

This is not to suggest there isn't some good in all of us, even among the worst.  It's just that it is so hard to find in this day and age of instant, thoughtless communication tools most notably including cell phones, Facebook and that rapidly emerging leader, Twitter. These can arouse the emotions of an entire nation in hours, if not minutes.

You can't write sociology textbooks fast enough to stay on top of this phenomenon. The only way might be to publish an electronic version that is updated at least twice daily...and someone is probably already doing this.

Count'em!  Count them lucky stars of yours and do it quick because it is at best a fleeting thing.

Burma mf'n Shave.

And if you are interested in an entire book full of them, lucky stars that is, click here: