Category Archives: Health Issues

Rocky Flats

Rocky Flats

Rocky Flats

 What is now is the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge once was the Rocky Flats Plant where triggers for nuclear weapons were manufactured.  The main raw ingredient for the triggers was plutonium, one of the most toxic and radioactive substances known, with a half-life of over 4000 years.  During the forty years the plant operated, there were two major fires in glove boxes where plutonium discs were handled.  In this and other incidents, many pounds of plutonium were released.  The Wikipedia article has an excellent summary and bibliography.   

I was talking to a woman recently about Rocky Flats.  Her father worked there for several years when the plant was in full operation.  He had to deal with a glove box where the plutonium had started to burn.  The gloves were so hot he had to wear other gloves before he could put his hands into the glove box gloves to stop the reaction.  He probably saved some lives.  He died of cancer. 

I became more interested in Rocky Flats after reading Full Body Burden, by Kristin Iverson, an English Professor who grew up in the area.  The book is controversial, disagreeing with the environmental assessments by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Given all I have read, I am skeptical of the official lint that the area is safe, and exposure to the public was and is minimal.  Decide for yourself. 

Iverson writes that a large area of contaminated topsoil was covered with more topsoil and pronounced safe.  Rocky Flats is aptly named, as millions of tons of glacial erosion products have covered the area with gravel.  The surface is called ground armor, mostly rock, as the high winds in the area have blown much of the finer material away.  That continues, and rodents burrowing bring buried soil to the surface where it blows into the Denver Metro area..  

The nearby Standley Lake, a large irrigation reservoir that provides water to Westminster and Broomfield, allows boating and water skiing but bans swimming because the lake bottom is contaminated with plutonium.  Many experts have advocated banning development in the area, but houses are going up. 

I got interested again recently because the NOAA National Weather Radar website is my go-to means of weather monitoring.  The TV weather people are either warning the apocalypse is imminent or it is fine, no rain, just before a major hailstorm.  Over a period of months I noticed a nearly constant radar image indicating precipitation over the NWR.  Day or night, weekends or weekdays, the image is there.  If it really is rain, the refuge would be a major swamp at the base of the Rocky Mountains.   

Many years ago I was a radar repairman in the Army.  One of the radars we maintained put out so much radio frequency energy it would kill birds flying in front.  We had quite a bit of training about ionizing radiation.  Radars emit radiation, so does decaying plutonium.  I could not come up with any explanation for the radar image other than radioactive decay.  This would be  disastrous, as much of the Denver metro area is downwind of Rocky Flats.   

I sent a number of emails to the NWS, TV stations, and the CDPHE.  I guess I stirred things up a bit, because I got a long, thoughtful letter from CDPHE outlining the investigation I generated.  The conclusion reached is that the radar image is from dust coming from a gravel mining and crushing operation just adjacent to the refuge.   Here is the letter:

Begin forwarded message:

From: “Spreng, Carl” <carl.spreng@state.co.us>
Date: July 13, 2016 at 3:56:58 PM MDT
To: levanks@me.com
Cc: Phillip Peterson – CDPHE <phillip.peterson@state.co.us>, Surovchak Scott <Scott.Surovchak@lm.doe.gov>, “Moritz, Vera” <Moritz.Vera@epa.gov>, Lindsay Masters – CDPHE <lindsay.masters@state.co.us>, Darr Bob <Bob.Darr@lm.doe.gov>, Rob Beierle – CDPHE <robert.beierle@state.co.us>, Smith Warren <warren.smith@state.co.us>
Subject: Rocky Flats

William Shanks

Mr. Shanks,

Your message sent to Phill Peterson in our Radiation Control Program was forwarded to me for response. I discussed your observations with a representative of NOAA. NOAA scientists apparently notice a fairly consistent dust cloud in the Rocky Flats area. This is consistent with the adjacent gravel operations — current and historic. You can observe the dust that rises off these operations as you drive by the site.
During remediation, the source areas of radiological risk in the Central Operable Unit (managed by the US Dept. of Energy) were excavated and shipped out of state. The human health risks inside the Central Operable Unit and the remainder of the site (managed as a refuge by the US Fish and Wildlife Service) were assessed following remediation and risks were found to be very low. A final decision for the site declared that any conceivable use would be appropriate in the Refuge area. That decision was based on an enormous amount of data (surface soil, subsurface soil, groundwater, surface water, air). After the remediation was completed, an aerial survey was conducted using a low-flying helicopter with detectors.
Offsite areas in the vicinity of Rocky Flats are also safe for any use. Numerous offsite surveys confirm the conclusion that only a few samples just east of Rocky Flats detected plutonium concentrations above background levels. You can read more information about the sampling on and around Rocky Flats on the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) web page at:  http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/rf/index.htm.
 
Please contact us again if you have more questions.

 

Carl Spreng
P 303.692.3358  |  F 303.759.5355  |  C 303-328-7289
4300 Cherry Creek Drive S, Denver, CO  80246-1530
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Carol Leavenworth <levanks@me.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 12:39 PM
Subject: Rocky Flats
To: phillip.peterson@state.co.us

 

Sir,
I notice there is a consistent radar image over the Rocky Flats NWR when viewing the NOAA national weather radar website.  I am no physicist, but ionizing radiation is detectable by radar.  Is this the case at Rocky Flats?  Is there a radiation hazard outside the closed zone?  Is there a public health risk for the nearby residential areas?I was a radar repairman in the Army in the 1960’s and remain interested in the field.  There weren’t many RF energy safeguards back then and there were nuclear weapons stored where I was stationed in Germany.
Thanks.
William Shanks
2032 S. Logan St.
Denver CO 80210
303-830-0599

After Cleanup

After Cleanup

I was skeptical, so I drove out there.  I made a couple of circuits around the area, passing through new subdivisions where grading was going on and decided that was not the source.  I then turned off SH 93, the road from Golden to Boulder into what used to be the west gate to the bomb plant.  I went past lots of no trespassing signs to a big gravel mining and crushing operation.  The crusher was producing a significant dust cloud.  There were lots of big gravel trucks, indicating a major operation.    

I left without getting stopped for trespassing and made another lap around the refuge.  The gravel operation is to the southwest of the refuge, and I could see the dust cloud from north of the refuge.  Mystery solved.  it is not ionizing radiation creating the radar image, it is dust.  

There is no radioactive cloud coming off Rocky Flats.  There is, however, still a lot of radioactive and chemical pollution out there.  I suggest you not buy one of the nice new houses being built in the area..  

Knees and Such

Arthritis

Arthritis

Old age happens if things go as planned.  Inside, I feel like the Bill I always have, but the case is starting to wear out.  I get together with my buddy Dan, and we always devote some time to catching up with our health care issues.  I went to the Orthopod this week, got a cortisone shot in my left knee (the other knee is Titanium).  Didn’t do much good.   

Every time Dan plays pickleball (I know, just look it up.), he limps.  He has a bad ticker, I have a bad brain.  I spend time at the VA audiology clinic dealing with hearing aids.  I saw the ENT specialist there about my balance problem that may be from damage to the vestibular nerve that was damaged from the loud noises responsible for my hearing loss.   

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

I itch.  For most of my life I was allergy free.  No more.  There is always something setting my eczema off along with the stuffy nose.  I have almost no sense of smell left.  Springtime is wonderful except for the pollen.  Fall is wonderful except for the pollen.   

I ache.  The knee, my wrist, both shoulders, and my back.  I think all this is a sign of old age.  Most of the time all these symptoms don’t interfere with my life.  I just soldier along not letting all the stuff get to me.  After all, it is just pain and will change tomorrow.  I can usually let it all go.  Yesterday, however, my knee hurt when it was straight.  It also hurt when it was bent.  Today it just barely hurts. 

The trick for me is to not let the pain go to suffering.  After all, we can’t do much about the pain, but suffering about it is a choice.  All this stuff is a reminder about death.  It’s clear by no that I am in the last third of my life, sitting in a coffee shop full of people in the first third of their lives. 

The good thing about getting older is that I know a lot of stuff.  I like thinking and writing about all that stuff.  For example, I am about to make you yawn as you read about the Golden Fault.  There is something for you to look forward to.  In the meantime, health issues. 

Carol has a chronic illness that limits her life, but the last year has been a bad one.  Late last spring she had cataract surgery that went bad.  The little sac the lens lives in tore, so the new lens had to go between her iris and cornea.  She got a little hole poked in her iris to let fluid move around.  The hole is too big, letting in too much light where it doesn’t belong, leading to lots of vision problems.   

Cataract Surgery

Cataract Surgery

She also had five stitches in her cornea, which meant pain for weeks.  Now, with a new Ophthalmologist, she is wearing a tinted contact lens to confirm the hole in her iris is too large.  The lens works, but she is not a contact lens candidate.  More discomfort.  The next step is a minor surgical! procedure to make the hole smaller. 

In the middle of all this, with all the multiple visits to eye doctors, she had hemorrhoid surgery.  It was her last resort and believe me, it should be a last resort.  Pain, lots of it, and a major restriction on activity.  What a year. 

But, through it all, life is good.  We have fun, cooking, snuggling, reading aloud, gardening, fixing the garage where I drove into it (I am always  on her case about her driving.).  And, we are watching NCIS from the first season on.  There is something about murder mysteries that pulls us, and the character development is as good as it was in Seinfeld.  We still call Mark Harmon Dickie, from a role he had as a detective years ago.  The name seems to fit him. 

Aging, health issues, losing old friends, all this comes when you are in your seventies, but life goes,on, and we are wise and skilled at enjoying life.  In addition, we just found out that Carol’s sister, diagnosed with stage four cancer, is now cancer free after an ordeal with treatment.  She had multiple tumors, and they are gone.

My Meditation Practice

The Buddha

The Buddha

As I mentioned in the last post, for years I was unable to meditate.  I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and as soon as my eyes closed my brain would go into high gear.  The idea of meditation is to let those thoughts go so you can be aware in the moment.  For ADD’s, the moment is often chaos, with thoughts leaping from subject to another, or hyper focus, with the thoughts totally engaged on one topic or task. 

After a diagnosis and treatment, I can meditate.  Now meditation is not spending all one’s time in the moment.  At first and often those thoughts arise and with my addictions, they can be compelling.  So, sit, watch my breath, the thoughts arise, I let them go, and they arise again.  It can be excruciating, dealing with all that meaningless thought.  I find a prayer helps me instead of just focusing on the breath.   

Paradoxically, my prayer is Christian.  At its core, Buddhism is essentially atheistic and in my view a psychology, not a religion,  being 2500 years old from a culture soaked in religion, it adopted all the trappings.  I grew up nominally Christian and became a toung-talking holy roller Christian in my forties.  I don’t do that so much any more, but Jesus is in my life to stay. 

I use the Jesus Prayer, an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer dating back to the desert fathers.  “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The most famous book about the prayer, “The Way of a Pilgrim“, suggests starting with 3000 repetitions per day.  I recite the prayer a lot, but never 3000 times.  I sit, start praying, and time the words with my breath.   When those thoughts rise, as they always will, I return to the prayer.  Those times of being in the moment come, and I drop into watching my breath.  Thoughts arise and I gently return to the prayer. 

I find the moments of stillness are slowly growing.  I also find the poisonous thoughts are diminishing.  When poisonous thoughts about pretty girls arise, I pray for them.  “May she be happy, may she be free, may she be safe”.  Then back to the Jesus Prayer until more thoughts arise. 

The thoughts aren’t just about pretty girls, I find myself planning, plotting, reviewing past mistakes, feeling guilt or shame; being angry, sad, sick, hurting, happy, horny, old, tired, loving, lonely, excited, the entire range of feeling and thought.  All that stuff comes from my past or is about the future.  Thus, they are all meaningless.  The past is gone, and the future is unknown.   

All there really is is the moment.  My brain tends to disagree.  I experience all those thoughts and feelings as real because they are wired neural connections.  The task of meditation is to rewrite those connections so I can spend more time in the moment. 

Now, lots of those connections are important.  I need food, shelter, my long baths, some rags on my back, all the stuff of daily living.  I don’t need Donald Trump or the Kardashians.  I mention those because I was in the  doctor’s office yesterday reading those stupid magazines.  Why didn’t I have my book or just pray? 

I find myself wanting to meditate more.  The toxic thinking is diminishing, although lots of people continue to be prayed for.  I have purged the computers, my library, don’t watch the wrong television or movies, and am able to spend more time in the moment (still not much time, alas). 

Next is some retreats.  Retreats last from one day up.  I have done them in a Christian context and found them useful.  I am looking at attending a four day retreat in the mountains.  There are lots of retreats available, mostly led by Dharma teachers who are therapists or in other helping professions.  Retreats allow intensive meditation with little interruption from the outside world.  I need that.

 

Addiction

addictI have an addictive personality.  My first addiction was to chocolate.  In grade school, Teddy and I found a box of Hershey chocolate bars lying in the street.  Not realizing this was a true case of finders keepers, we hid in some bushes and ate the whole thing.  No, I didn’t get sick. 

I remember sitting in a twelve step meeting when one of the guys said he had to have his “feel good”.  He nailed it for me as well.  I am not sure I have more unrest and pain than others, but I have always sought the “feel good”.  

For the most part I can overcome the addictions.  I quit a three pack a day cigarette habit after five years.  I have quit drinking several times and started again, convincing myself I can control it.  Later I realize I have gradually ramped up into excessive drinking and quit.  I have probably done this seven or eight times, starting in high school.  This time I have been sober for a year.  I’m pretty sure I am done with booze forever.   

I have smoked a haystack of pot.  At one point In the late 1970’s I was buying a quarter pound at a time.  I would go to work, go out on my rounds and light up.  Parties were lots of booze and weed for a lot of years.  One day at work I realized I couldn’t remember things I had done the day before.  I have had about two tokes since.   

Food is another matter.  I am something of a binge eater.  My main weakness is ice cream, chocolate, of course.  My pattern is much the same as with alcohol.  I will eat too much, scare myself, lose some weight, than ramp up again.  I weigh about 215 pounds now.  At one point I was up to 260.  The problem is that I can’t give up eating altogether.  So, I struggle.  And then there is caffeine.  AA meetings always have coffee. 

I think you can see the pattern.  I probably won’t kill myself with my addictions, but they have consumed vast amounts of time and energy I could have used productively.  The addictions are accompanied by a lot of obsessing and compulsive behavior.  I have repetitive thoughts and rituals around the behaviors, from rolling the joint, lighting a cigarette at every change, such as standing up, or sneaking ice cream out of the downstairs freezer.   

I am currently engaged in the spiritual practice of letting go.  This means letting go of everything keeping me from staying in touch with my true self.  This is not an easy process, and I am sure I will be engaged in it for the rest of my life.  “Trapped on the wheel of desire.”  The problem with desire is that it cannot be satisfied.  The new BMW, the Bud Lite, the new clothing style, cool Adidas sneakers, whatever.  The proper number of bicycles to own?  N+1; N being the number of bicycles you currently have.  

Addictions are just the most pathological of this phenomenon.  Our consumer society is driven by desire.  Chasing money, chasing stuff, chasing the latest hit, it all pulls us away from our true selves.  I want to get in touch with my true self, which means letting go.

Caregiving the Hard Way

mental healthCarol and I attend a support group meeting for caregivers of mentally ill loved ones.  It meets at the Mental Health Center of Denver and is sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).Carol attends regularly, but I stopped for a while because the stories are just too heart rending.  One person has been a caregiver for various family members since she was seven.  She did take a break for a while, serving as an Army nurse in Vietnam.   

Many attendees have more than one family member they are caring for.  The hard part for them is there is probably no end.  Most mentally ill people stay that way.  There is no stability.  Sometimes the loved one is doing OK for a long time, working or going to school, and then, bang, a psychotic break and repeated hospitalizations.  There is often financial instability, the loved one experiencing extended periods of unemployment, and being repeatedly denied disability benefits. 

In addition, the mental health system is broken.  Years ago, if a person was severely mentally ill, there was an extensive mental hospital system.  No longer.  The development of psychiatric medications and attempts to treat the mentally ill in the community ended the hospital system.  Today there is a host of agencies, some nonprofit, some for profit, and some governmental.  At least veterans have the VA, which does a fairly good job despite the overload.  There is never enough money, and too many people in need. 

Here in Denver, there are the Mental Health Corporation of Denver, Denver Health, several private agencies, the police, Social Services, halfway houses, Vocational Rehabilitation, detox, and others.  Navigating the system is time consuming, frustrating, confusing, and often a failure.  People have spent many thousands of dollars at private mental health facilities with no discernible effect.  All it has done is get the person out of the house for a while. 

A big one is the uncertainty.  If the loved one is doing well, it’s waiting for the next episode.  The person may just disappear for a while, only making contact when at rock bottom.  Some caregivers are relieved when their person is incarcerated.  At least they are relatively safe.  Safety, how can one insure that with a suicidal person?  There is a crisis system, offering telephone support, referrals, and sending a trained person with the police to the loved one’s home.    Sometimes it works.

There are tragedies.  One person was the high school valedictorian, then Cum Laude in college, then experienced a schizophrenic breakdown, and is gone with a shotgun barrel in her mouth.  I haven’t even touched on the alcohol and drug abuse problems, which are also mental health issues. 

Why do the caregivers do it?  They sacrifice huge chunks of their own lives, living with anxiety and uncertainty, for no financial reward.  They are caregiving for a loved one.  Love carries them through almost unimaginable adversity, and most caregivers still display love not only for their loved one, but also maintain a positive outlook on life.  There are those caregivers who flee, just not able to meet the challenge of a seemingly unending task.   

It is said that love knows no bounds.  For the caregivers in the support group, that is true.  We don’t see those who just lack enough love to stay involved for so long.  There are lots of heroes out there, you just don’t see them, for they are too busy to be visible.  I am able to hang in there for the loved one, but I can’t attend the support group every time; I just can’t deal with all the pain.

 

 

More On Flint Water

Flint Water

Flint Water

The tragedy of Flint, Michigan water continues.  Most people in our country take water for granted.  Turn the handle and clean, safe water comes out.  There is a bill to pay every quarter or month, but it is not very expensive.  If you are having paying, the water provider will work with you. 

When a Flint resident turns the handle, red, turbid water high in lead comes out.  It is not safe to drink and is dangerous for bathing and dishwashing.  When it is water bill time, Flint has the highest water rates in the country.  People are paying a lot of money to damage their brains. 

There was a Legionnaires Disease outbreak which killed nine people and sickened many others.   Legionnaires Disease is waterborne, usually from the aerosol from showers in buildings  using a recirculating warm water system using cooling towers or rooftop storage tanks.  The bacterium is often present in drinking water along with other bacteria and viruses in low numbers.  

Disinfection in water treatment is intended to kill pathogenic organisms in the water.  It does not sterilize the water.  Given proper conditions, those organisms can multiply enough to pose a public health problem.     The big ones are the cooling towers and storage tanks.  Another potential source are the rusty accumulations called tubercles in old cast iron pipes.  This is usually not a big problem because the bacteria are contained in the tubercles.   

Water Main Tubercles

Water Main Tubercles

When the water chemistry changes, making the water more corrosive, the tubercles break down, making red water and releasing the accumulated pathogens.  The water leaving the treatment plant is safe, but corrosive conditions in the distribution system release lead from old lead service lines running to houses that have lost their protective coating;  and pathogens are released from tubercules breaking down in the water mains. 

The potable water industry is highly regulated.  The utility itself is mandated to treat and test the water to insure its safety.  This includes testing water from individual taps in the distribution system.  County health departments also regularly test drinking water.  State Health Departments are also equipped to monitor water quality, although normally they rely on reports from the providers.  All this is overseen by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The Centers For Disease Control also respond when unusual outbreaks occur. 

This is a lot of regulation and a lot of bureaucracy.  Usually the agencies work well together, as they share the same mission, assuring the water is safe.  The system broke down in Michigan when the state government assumed control of local cities facing a budget crisis.  The emphasis shifted from providing safe water to saving money.  The money savers were not water people and tended to ignore those reporting the unsafe water.  Instead of interagency cooperation, distrust arose.   

Flint is a city in crisis.  It once was a General Motors town, with lots of good paying jobs.  Many of those jobs are gone, the people who could afford to moved away.  Those left are poor and mostly black, with little political influence.  A toxic governmental situation created a toxic water situation.   

A main role of government is to protect the health and safety of the people.  It seems the Michigan state government avoided responsibility in order to save money.  There seems to be a large movement in our country to reduce the size of government.  This cost saving often comes at the expense of infrastructure.  As the roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, schools, police and fire departments decay, the quality of life of the citizens also decays.  All this did not seem to matter in Flint or the rest of Michigan, because the citizens affected tended to be poor and black.

Flint Water

Flint Water

Flint Water

After 30 years in the water industry, I thought I should give my take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis.  There is a misconception that the water from the Flint River the state emergency manager switched to is poisonous.  Not true.  Properly treated, the Flint River water is fine, and would meet all safe drinking water standards.   

The problem is that the water was not properly treated.  As it comes from the river, the water is corrosive and attacks metals in the distribution system pipes.  To be safe, it must be treated to make it less corrosive.  There are chemical additives (phosphates) that coat the pipes and prevent lead and copper from leaching into the water.  Here in Denver, lime or soda ash are added to raise the pH  of the water, making it less corrosive.  In addition, over time a thin film of calcium carbonate forms on the inside of the pipes, effectively sequestering the toxic metals. The phosphate chemicals do the same thing. 

How can you tell if your water is safe?  The corrosive water also attacks the rust that forms in an old system, such as in Denver or Flint.  If your water is red, it has rust, but also lead and copper.  The lead and copper come from the pipes, not the river.  The rust won’t hurt you, just stain your fixtures.  The lead comes from lead solder (now outlawed) used to join copper pipes and from lead pipes once used to bring water from the main into the house.  The lead service lines are slowly going away, but many houses have galvanized steel pipes into the house.  These are safe, but that steel pipe won’t bend to attach to the tap on the main, which is high on the pipe to keep sediment out of the service line.  The solution, a flexible lead loop bending from the tap to the service line.   

Corroded Pipe

Corroded Pipe

In Denver some older houses have lead service lines, but the lead loops are more common.  My entire neighborhood in South Denver with houses dating from the Victorian era to the 1940’s has lead loops.  Most of them are replaced when the old galvanized pipes rust out and there is a leak.  Our house has a copper service line now.  Several houses on the block have had their old service lines replaced since we have lived there.  Look where the water line comes into your house.  If it is copper, you are OK.  Flint has the same situation. 

Aggressive water leaches lead and copper out of the pipes and renders the water toxic.  Lead is the most dangerous, as it is a neurotoxin especially dangerous for developing fetuses and young children.  Copper is also toxic, but copper pipes are more resistant to corrosion than lead. 

If you have red water in your house, it is possibly dangerous and needs to be tested.  The Flint water is not just red, it’s red mud.   Before the Safe Drinking Water Act, many small water systems had aggressive water.  As a kid, I watched red water flow into our bathtub, especially in the spring, when the water was mostly runoff.  Maybe that is why I am nuts, as well as the rest of us from Fruita.

How did this happen in Flint?  Flint has a treatment plant, but was using water from Detroit which has good corrosion control.  Flint has plans to switch from the Flint River to Lake Huron  as their water source.  Lake Huron water is higher quality than river water, making it less expensive to treat.  Detroit water is from Lake Huron.  The Michigan emergency manager for Flint ordered the switch to river water to save money.   

Flint is broke.  The demise of much of the U.S. Auto industry hit Flint hard, a General Motors town.  The result, white flight, leaving a population mostly poor and black.  The city couldn’t pay its bills and the state took over with a team appointed by the Governor.  Here is the root of the problem.  The federal Safe Drinking Water Act establishes standards for drinking water.  The law gives the states the option to administer the law, usually by the Health Department or the Environmental Quality Department.   

So, the State government is running the Flint government and water treatment process and is also charged with insuring the water is safe, a clear conflict of interest.  A wild card?  Racism.  Those poor black people did not have much political clout and were essentially ignored and belittled when they complained about their water.  It took a brave pediatrician seeing high lead levels in her patients to finally get action. 

Four governmental entities are involved.  The Flint city government was rendered superfluous when the state assumed control.  The federal EPA was passing the buck to the Michigan Environmental Quality Department and not doing due diligence in making sure the department was doing its job (the EPA administrator lost his job).  The state environmental quality regulators knew there was a problem, but were influenced by the Governor’s emergency management.  The result, a perfect bureaucratic storm, with the people of Flint as victims. 

The cost?  A public health crisis that will cost millions to fix.  It takes a long time for the calcium carbonate or phosphate coating to form in the pipes.  In the meantime the water is unsafe.  The people of Flint will have to be provided with bottled water for some time.  Lots of bureaucratic fingers are being pointed.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Will anyone go to jail?  Probably not, even though there is now a special prosecutor.  If the local Flint city government had been simply subsidized by the state until it got its house in order, the whole thing could probably been avoided.  Instead the emergency managers put money ahead of the public health.     

Many conservatives want to reduce the size of government, and return to the nineteenth century, before there was water treatment and people died of waterborne disease.  Government built a system to protect public health.  If government does not have the money do do its job, the public health will suffer.  Do you want safe water?  Don’t move to Flint.

 

 

Changes

 

I am a slow learner, especially when I don’t want to learn what the universe is trying to get across. For some time now, the message is to slow down and act my age. I don’t want to! I want to be younger, stronger, not forgetful, with no signs of aging (well, I’m resigned to being bald).

broken-ribsWell guess what, I’m old, slow, weak, with a bit of a balance problem. In the last couple months I have fallen twice, fell off the ladder, and fell down the last step and broke two ribs. As I mentioned, I’m a slow learner. It’s shocking, I know, but I am going on seventy three years old. After the first two falls I saw my doctor. She gave me a prescription for physical therapy to help my balance. I didn’t go. I then fell off the ladder and down the stairs. Did you know that broken ribs hurt a lot?

After the ribs broke I went into a blue funk. At that point I had no choice. I hurt and couldn’t do anything but read. I can barely stand to watch TV. Then, horror, my iPad died. No Facebook, no words with friends, no left-wing politics, and no Donald Trump news.

Apple Rules! The Apple Store is in Cherry Creek Mall. The Apple Store is full of people, the rest of the mall is virtually empty except for the mall walkers. After the standard long wait I made it to the Genius Bar. The sheer arrogance of that company! The guy was nice and gave the standard digital solution. Reload the operating system, wiping all my data.   Oops, that didn’t work, hardware problem. I walk out of the store with a new iPad.

Most everything transferred over. But. I can’t get to one of my email accounts, Yahoo is unresponsive, I am starting over with Words With Friends, and two days are gone. Computers teach us how to deal with frustration. To a point. I didn’t use the iPad as a Frisbee. The upside? Apple is a bit richer and the process took me off my aging crisis.

The odd thing about aging is that I still feel like me. The same me. Not a old me, just me. But, the body doesn’t feel the same. Even the mind has changed. I forget stuff. I have never been a good rememberer, but I’m worse now. The me I used to be never fell down the stairs. I fell , but not too often, just more than you do. Now I fall a lot more than you.

I know how to fall. Tuck and roll, keep the head up, pick a good spot to land if you can. The skills have served me well. Only two bad ones, one on the motorcycle that finished off my bad knee, and this stair and rib thing. Well, except for the fall that ended up taking my right little finger. For some reason, the universe has chosen falling to convince me that I am no longer the guy I used to be.

A Facebook Friend asked me if there was more damage than the broken ribs. My response: Yes.   I am forced to accept that I am changed. Older. Slower. Weaker. Unbalanced (Wait, that’s always been true.), just not as physically competent as I used to be. A lot of bad stuff is going on. I am not even going to go into the health issues.

I’ve had good changes in recent years. I got my ADD diagnosed and got the medication and cognitive therapy that has changed my life. Just the diagnosis was a big deal. I am no longer a guy with a fatal flaw. I am a guy with ADD. It’s a brain disorder, not just that I am a fuckup.

The biggest change is that with the ADD treatment I now have the focus to write. Other than falling in love and marrying Carol, that is the most profound change in my life. I have two callings, writing and teaching. ADD kept me from both pursuits. Now, however I can write. I may be an old guy, but after all these years I have enough focus to write. After the rib thing I couldn’t write for a while-pain, both physical and mental.

Both kinds of pain are better now. I guess my old guy crisis is not as bad as I thought. The Buddhists say that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional, a choice. For a couple of weeks I suffered. Now my ribs just hurt, but they are feeling better every day. It is mostly over.  I guess it is time to get on with life.

Motorcycles

Kawasaki KLR 650

Kawasaki KLR 650

I have owned and ridden three motorcycles.  I like motorcycles. They are as close to flying as one can get on land.  There are challenges, such as trying to stay upright on two wheels. I know people who have never been down on their bikes.  I once fell over right by the front door of the biggest motorcycle accessory shop in Denver.  It trapped my leg and some guy had to lift it off me.  I bet he is still telling that story.

I have crashed on city streets, on a paved canyon road (sand), in parking lots, and an uncountable number of times in the dirt.  Two of my motorcycles were what is now called dual sport; they are able to be used on the street and in the dirt.  They aren’t top notch in either role, but some riders do things most people can’t imagine.  80 mph on the highway, and some challenging back country roads and trails.  Lots of good dual sport roads in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming, where I traveled.

One of the best grew up riding on the streets of Mexico City, where you have to be good to survive.  I could keep up with him on the highway because we had the same bikes.  In the dirt, he could go places with that fairly heavy thing that I didn’t even dream of.  He and quite a few others have done 50 mountain passes in Colorado in 50 hours.  I am good for about six in a day, and hurt for two days. He also did a lot of single track trails, something I never attempted.

I liked road trips with some gravel or dirt roads thrown in.  Forest Service roads were about as gnarly as I wanted. On the asphalt, it was curves in canyons.  Fortunately, Colorado’s Front Range has lots of canyons.  There was a geological event that bumped the long bench from Conifer to its Estes Park.  That bench was once at Denver’s elevation, but got pooched up to where it is now.  We call the road the Peak to Peak Highway.

Golden Gate Canyon

Golden Gate Canyon

Go up any of the canyons from Deer Creek to the Big Thompson, ride those fast sweeping curves a ways, then down another canyon.  My favorite was Golden Gate Canyon, where I tore my posterior cruciate ligament when I hit some sand on the road.

It’s the lean, folks.  Go around a curve on two wheels and you lean.  Go faster, lean more.  Go faster, and crash.  I went fairly slow for a motorcyclist.  I still got some lean, and was able to look at the geology.  A low side crash is when the bike slides out from under you and goes off the road ahead of you.

High Side Crash

High Side Crash

A high side crash is the bad one.  The front wheel starts to slide, then gets traction.  You are flipped off and into the air, while the bike bounces along behind until it lands on you.  Both are bad, but you really do not want to high side.  Some riders get flipped into the guardrail.  Ouch.

My knee wrecking crash was a low side.  My knee was bent, the tibia-fibula stopped on the pavement while the femur went a little farther.  It really hurt.  Hurt bad. I picked the bike up and rode on until I couldn’t stand the pain and called for help.

Aside from the crashes, I loved motorcycling.  Yes, it is dangerous.  Other drivers don’t see you and turn in front of you.  You crash all by yourself.  There is a famous twisty road in North Carolina where a biker went into the bushes. Just in front of him was another motorcycle with the remains of the rider.  He went into the bushes and nobody saw a thing.

Yamaha SR 400

Yamaha SR 400

I always wore all the protective gear.  Those Harley riders who won’t wear a helmet because their balls will protect them are nuts.  Mass delusion, those Harley people.

This spring I got the itch again.  Yamaha makes a single cylinder bike that looks a lot like the classic British thumpers from the 1950s.  It isn’t fast, but sure would be a good canyon bike.  Nah.  Too old and slow myself.  I guess I will stick to four wheeling.

 

Decay

Old Mine Building

Old Mine Building

My friend and I have coffee fairly often.  We have many common interests, from DU Lacrosse to politics,spirituality, motorcycles, and bicycles to name a few.  He plays pickleball, I don’t.  I write, he doesn’t.  We have fun.

We do find ourselves discussing our health care issues.  He is coming off his second knee replacement.  I have only had one.  He needs a prostate ream job, I had one.  He has had bypass surgery, I have high blood pressure.  Even though he is fairly nuts, I don’t think he has ADD.  Poor guy.

He is a year younger than I am, but I look better.  We are both getting a bit on in years.  Both retired, we have active, engaged lives.  It’s good to share this time of life with another old dude.  That health care thing does loom.  Things do not work as well as they used to.  The night before last I sustained a sleeping injury.  I rolled over and Ow, Ow.  My bad back did not like that particular motion.

Now what is that about? A stupid sleeping injury!  Hiking, motorcycling, bicycling, home maintenance projects, at work, yes, but sleeping?  Carol had a reading injury (wrist) but at least she was awake doing something.  This is getting serious.  Should I just stay in bed, not get up?  Well, no that’s where I hurt myself.  If I walk I might fall.  If I drive, I might get a ticket.  If I stay in my chair, I’ll get fat.  There is no way out.

How did I get myself in this fix?  I have always been something of a risk taker.  I climbed fourteeners.  I did both dirt and canyons on my motorcycle.  I scrambled around in the slickrock desert alone.  I jeeped over 13000 feet high passes alone.  I bicycled in ten degree temperature weather on the ice to get to work.  Now I hurt myself sleeping.

I am going to leave this coffee shop, drive up to Gilpin county, and go hiking.

Later.  I went to Gilpin County, hiked and jeeped.  I whacked my head on a low door frame in an old mine building, so now I have a scalp laceration.  Some days.

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