Film Review “1917” (2020)

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“1917” is an unusual film, somewhat like “Dunkirk” (2017), a vision of war through the eyes of individuals. Two men have to trek across a dangerous terrain in order to save the lives of 1,600 others, and time is a factor. It’s said to be the opposite of “Saving Private Ryan (1998), one soldier on a mission to save 1600 rather that a group trying to save one. There are two really interesting sides to this film.

1. The filming. The cinematography by Roger Deakins (nominated for an Academy Award) is simply phenomenal. This is the same guy that thrilled audiences with “Sicario”, “Skyfall”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Blade Runner 2049”. Seemingly filmed with one camera in real time with no apparent cutting, making the film apparently seamless. One long shot. The color and set is magnificent, I would imagine as accurate as how it actually appeared in 1917. Director Sam Mendes takes the audience along for the ride through the carnage rather than just as observers, and it’s a sad, deadly journey that seems to go on with no end.

2. The film depicts the death and brutality of the First World War (WW I) in very graphic terms, sparing little. The enormity of WW I is not fully appreciated today if for no other reason than the participants who would remember it are all dead and the incredible senselessness of the whole affair (which was thought by Great Britain would be over in a few weeks). In the previous 40 years before 1914, Great Britain had been involved in the minor leagues of conflict. In 40 war skirmishes Britain lost less than 40,000 men. However, in the Somme Offensive in France (1916), 58,000 Allied soldiers were dead in one day’s fighting, the bloodiest single day of face-to-face (non-atomic) ground warfare in the history of the English speaking world. For perspective, in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, France suffered an estimated 270,000 battlefield casualties. France surpassed that number in the first three weeks of WW I. In a two-year span, the life expectancy of a French male dropped to 27 years of age.

Roughly ten million soldiers and 6 million civilians died in WW I, mostly as a result of incredibly absurd battle tactics designed to kill huge masses but resulting in extended stalemates. All this for what amounted to an extended royal family feud acting out old grievances. The sheer incompetence of strategy and tactics was exceeded only by their callousness toward those dying for them. The two survivors, Britain and France would be so shattered as to never fully recover.

Warning- not for children, very vivid slaughter and devastation scenes.

Some interesting asides- Over 5,200 feet of trenches were dug for the film (just under one mile). The verse that Schofield recites to the French baby is part of the poem “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear. In the scene where a soldier bleeds to death, his face gets paler and paler until it’s paper-white. This is a medical reality that many films overlook when someone bleeds out.

I give this film 4 of 5 Lee-Enfield .303 bolt-action rifles. Recommended by me. (Best Picture nomination for 2020)

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Critical Care Medicine (ret)

A treatise on aging and dementia

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I read with great interest Mike Darwin’s essay on aging and potential dementia. I decided to add some to that, including a perspective of my own experience- how it applies to me as I age. (76 years of age this month).

The issue of dementia has become more prevalent for a very interesting reason. In my research for my 60s music appreciation class at Pitt I ran across a very interesting statistic. Because of the huge birth rate during and following WW II, all those kids landed in the same place at the same time.  Do the math.  Born 1945, in 1965 half the population of the USA was under 21 years old. This formed the platform for the 60s cultural and musical era that never would have happened otherwise. Then all the 21 year-olds continued along the line until now ~2015, add 50 years and they’re all in their early 70s.  50% of the 2015 population is over 65 years of age.

That age group is responsible for at least two discrete population dynamics: a much larger population getting sick and a much larger population living longer and suffering from various degrees of dementia.  In the early 1960s, the average life expectancy in the United States was 70.2 years. In 2013, the average life expectancy was 78.8 years. However, the quality of life of aging Americans has not increased commensurately. In the 1960s, the incidence of dementia among people approaching death was less than 1%. Currently, the incidence of dementia in Americans is between 5% and 7% for adults’ age 60 or older. Starting at age 65, the risk of developing some form of dementia doubles every 5 years. By age 85 years, between 25% and 50% of people will exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s disease or some degree of nonspecific dementia.

The issue of subtle, age-related deterioration of brain function is difficult to sort out. The “heart too good to die” concept as espoused by Peter Safar does not apply to the brain. The heart is usually amenable to restart by traditional resuscitation. The brain has proven to be dramatically less so. The brain is a rather frail organ, rapidly damaged during hemodynamic or metabolic disasters and difficult to resuscitate.

Cerebral atrophy occurs naturally in aging and is accelerated between the ages of 70 and 90. But the process actually begins sub-clinically in gray matter of the cerebral cortex at a much earlier age. It’s unclear whether “normal” cerebral atrophy during aging affects each brain the same way or how each cognitive area is affected. Cognitive abilities such as verbal fluency increase until the mid-50s but start to deteriorate in the sixth decade, after which most of the neo-cortex continues to degenerate until death. Many people in their fifth and sixth decades experience “word searching” and a transient inability to recall previously known names. This variety of cognitive deterioration is associated with hippocampal inadequacy.

Interestingly, aging people have a propensity to trade cognitive decline for enhanced judgment. As processing speed slows in late life, logic, reasoning, and spatial abilities remain generally well preserved. Older individuals’ life experience, their long accumulation of knowledge, and their maturity and wisdom offset some of the losses during processing decline. For instance, an adult tells a child to play in their safe yard and not in traffic. The child has the knowledge and enhanced ability to play with great vigor but lacks the wisdom to refrain from dangerous behavior.  This, of course, proceeds into the teen years.

Now, I’m 76 years of age and much like Linda Ronstadt, I can feel the onset of something wrong before it actually happens. Poor Linda. In her time, one of the most beautiful voices in the universe. In the movie of her life she said one day she instantly knew something was wrong because she could feel the prodrome no one else could hear. She went on to get Parkinson’s so severe she was too frail to travel to Cleveland to get her award at the Rock & Roll Museum.

If I could name one deficit that started about age 65 and continues to encroach on my life much like Darwin’s slope of deterioration, it would be the extremely irritating and debilitating issue of “word-searching”. It’s reached the point where holding a conversation with friends is punctuated by instant inability to remember the formal name of persons, places or things. “Yeah, I went to the ……….(blank) concert and it was great! I knew what I wanted to say. It was safely ensconced in my memory bank, but I couldn’t recall it in the time available. I meant to say “I went to the Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynn concert…..”, but when asked to recall it instantly, I just look blank and offered “I’m blocking”. I watch “Jeopardy” on TV and I actually know the names of many of the questions but I can’t produce them in time to hit the button before any of the contestants.

My general physical condition began to deteriorate at about age 70 and unrelentingly progresses yearly, as does my word-searching. When writing something, I frequently use Google to pull up the name I’m trying to remember. I’m a victim of a phenomenon of the 1940s (baby boom) that silently followed me for two generations until we’re all the majority of the population now, collectively consuming huge amounts of medical care to keep us alive longer, but our quality of life has not necessarily followed increased with our viability. Not what we anticipated in the 60s.

So I’ll leave you with the masterful philosophy-of-life according to Pete Townshend of “The Who” (currently age 75):

“People try to put us d-down

Just because we get around

Things they do look awful c-c-cold

I hope I die before I get old”

                 

                          The Who, “My Generation,” 1965

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some interesting 1960s stuff

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While researching some things for the Pitt class I teach on 60s music appreciation, I picked out a bunch of dead vintage musicians over the past ten years or so. Never mind those that expired in the 1970s. I split them into suicides for those that couldn’t make the transition into the new millennium and, of course the inevitable drug deaths, some accidental using the spectacularly dangerous drug (in amateur hands) Fentanyl.

Then comes a very interesting category, those 60s and 70s rockers that died of “old man diseases”. Now, recall that statistics show that something like 38% of the American population was less than 21 years of age in 1965. This, of course, greatly contributed to how the culture evolved through the 60s, including the psychedelic years. Now, assuming most of these guys were around 21 years old in 1965, do the math. Add (rounded off) 55 years to these guys to the present and most of them exceed the 70 years old range. The range where many of the “old man” diseases start occurring, heart disease, cancers, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and trauma.

To me, if you were a world class rocker in or around 1965, as most of these guys were, 70 is an independent marker of “natural” death once drugs and suicide is ruled out.

Suicide

Butch Trucks (Allman Bros)

Keith Emerson (ELP)

Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)

Brad Delp (Boston)

Richard Manuel (The Band

 

Drugs

Prince

Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)

Tom Petty Heartbreakers)

Bobby Hatfield (Righteous Bros)

Ike Turner (Ike & Tina)

John Entwistle (The Who)

Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)

Owsley

 

Old age/Old man disease (and their age at death)

Alvin Lee (68)

Ritchie Havens (72)

Lou Reed (72)

Jimi Jamison (72)

Jack Bruce (71)

Dallas Taylor (66)

Percy Sledge (73)

BB King (89)

Cory Wells (74)

David Bowie (69)

Glen Frye (67)

Paul Kantner (74)

Scott McKenzie (73)

Ray Thomas (67)

Danny Kirwan (68)

Marty Balin (76)

Otis Rush (84)

Gregg Allman (69)

Daryl Dragon (76)

Peter Tork (77)

Eddie Money (70)

Rik Ocasek (75)

I have excluded all the 60s rockers that expired in the 70s. On Oct. 4 in 1970, singer Janis Joplin was found dead of a heroin overdose on the floor of a motel room at the age of 27. Janis was the second of a triumvirate of exceptionally talented people that pushed the envelope of a “no rules” life and paid the price of admission they didn’t anticipate.  Jimi Hendrix, age 28 (Sept 1970) and Jim Morrison, age 28 (July 1971). A large number of very talented people found out those consequences the hard way in the late 60s.  Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Forty years later, Jim remains an example of the fate that awaits those who reach too far for answers unobtainable.

Dave Grohl believes that all music can eventually be traced to a central origin that nurtures and modulates it and he’s working very hard to explore that path. The best way to explain the concept is to postulate the repository of music as an unstable star in the universe of existence, undulating and straining but not ready to explode just yet, waiting for the right stimulus. Back in the 40s, big band music was simple and staid, feeding upon itself. In the 50s, a fundamental instability began with skiffle in England that created the Beatles In the USA, be-bop and rhythm & blues, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis. All of this boiled to the surface to bring the star to an explosive point in the early 60s, setting the stage for the cataclysm that occurred in the second half of the 60s when it all literally and metaphorically went electric. A musical revolution never before dreamed of and will probably never be seen again.

The star erupted sending chunks of musical expression out into the abyss. Lets make a quick & dirty list of just a few the blinding chunks flying forth to change the fundamental nature of music. Hendrix, The Animals, the Zombies, The Kinks, Cream, the Doors, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Otis Redding, Creedence Clearwater, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkle, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Miles Davis, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Buffalo Springfield, Procol Harum, Paul Revere & Raiders, Hollies, Dave Clark Five, Neil Young, Steve Miller Band, The Guess Who, Roy Orbison, Them, Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, the Temptations, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Kaye, Jefferson Airplane all at once.

Each of these chunks shone brightly and independently, eclipsing other nuggets in similar situations. But in the end, like real stars, gravity rules and all the chunks were slowly drawn back into the mass of the star by gravitational pull, stabilizing it into a huge mass of encyclopedic, heterogeneous, eclectic sound and tone. There is no more critical mass. The star allows a solar wind to emit from its surface, a temporary swell of unfiltered music that waxes & wanes in time.  Disco, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, “American Idol”,‘The Voice. They’re all out there wafting around at the whims of the desultory solar mini-eruptions. That’s maybe the new music of the new millennium. Unknown if or when the next big eruption will occur.

Peter Fonda (1949 – 2019). Last of his kind

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Peter Fonda, maybe the last living icon of the 60s idealism he never let go of, is dead at 79. Lung cancer. The 60s officially died with the Manson murders in August, 1969 but the ideal of free spirits taking the cathartic road to find and immerse in the unknown remained in the background with Peter. He is best known for his paean to “On the road” (Jack Kerouac, 1957) riding custom motorcycles instead of cars. It’s said that vision from motorcycle riding is the closest thing to flying.

“Easy Rider (1969).  Two hippies riding custom bikes accumulate a cash stash from a drug deal (Phil Spector) in Southern California, then ride cross-country searching for spiritual truth. On their journey, they experience unexpected bigotry from small-town America and also meet with other travelers, all seeking alternative lifestyles. After a “bad trip” in New Orleans, the two counterculture bikers discover there is no peace and love anywhere in America.

The custom bike Peter rode was a highly modified 1942 Harley-Davidson Police Special. There were actually two made. One for the progress of the film and another to be trashed at the end. The trashed bike was restored and is now on display somewhere in California. The street version disappeared, presumed stolen and now resides in someone’s living room somewhere. It has never been found and probably never will be.

Watching “Easy Rider” is not much of a fun experience anymore. It’s so horribly dated. Virtually all of it ceased to exist many years ago, the film remaining as a hallmark in vintage memorabilia museums somewhere. I have a full size poster, signed by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson hanging on my den wall. I also have an original “Captain America” leather bike jacket with the full size American flag on the back. You can get the jacket still but not the one with the flag. I wear it out on the road now and then. It always generates remarks. (I have included stock photos of both, as I don’t have actual photos of mine at the moment).

“Easy Rider” was not Fonda’s first reach into filmdom (Generated by the family name). He had somewhat limited success starring in other similar films, most notably “The Wild Angels” (1966) directed by Roger Corman. Wild Angels began the biker forum that persisted into the 70s and introduced the “Hell’s Angels” to film. Wild Angels was a pretty crummy second or third-rate film full of gratuitous sex, violence and notably Harley-Davidson motorcycles (ridden by real Hell’s Angels). The Angels were pointed out as authentically “free spirits”, ignoring convention; riding around all day enjoying whatever came. In fact, dealing with the Angels was a risky proposition as they impossible to control, had virtually no respect for anything or anyone and would start fights for virtually no reason.

There have been books written and documentary films produced about the Angels and they are an interesting culture. Perhaps the best was written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1967:  Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Here is a representative clip from that volume:

They were a bunch of overgrown adolescents,

stuck in their religious mind-set as a way of life. 

They defined themselves by their opposition to

any and everything.  The strength of their

antagonism was the source of their faith, and

like all holy wars, their greatest enemies and

their greatest source of bloodshed was from

within, battles against rival competing for

bottom of the barrel status.”

 The Angels are still around, still wearing their “colors” but not much noticed any more than any other drug dealing gang in Southern California.  Peter Fonda never lost his interest in immersing into what remained of the counterculture, even far after it passed into obsolescence. Peter is maybe the last of the true 60s riders into the unknown, never finding more than appearing for a few minutes on a Harley as a guest star in “Wild Hogs” (2007):

“Why do you think I don’t wear the colors, Jack?

Why do you think I ride alone? ‘Cause you don’t

know about it anymore. I think you all oughta get

back on your bikes and go out and ride the highway

until you remember what riding’s all about”.

 I suppose his indomitable spirit is out there somewhere doing exactly that.

Peter Henry Fonda (1940 – 2019)

 

 

 

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with Jeff Lynn and Dahni Harrison (August 1, Pittsburgh)

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elo_660x360-b7cf1f0f60Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) In Pittsburgh, Thursday evening, Aug 1 with Jeff Lynn and surprise (to me) Dahni Harrison Band opener (yes, George’s son).  ELO started in England in 1970 by songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeff Lynn. Their music has from the beginning been Beatlesque rock interfused with classical arrangements and a monster light show. Through its recording and touring career, ELO sold over 50 million records worldwide and collected 19 CRIA, 21 RIAA, and 38 BPI awards. ELO was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.  They are an authentic supergroup.

They played Thursday night, August 1 here in Pittsburgh and I went out of my way to get good seats through StubHub. A fact of life. If you want regular ticket price, you get regular seats a half mile from the stage. You get what you pay for and I did. I did notice that there were a few seats open in the front rows for US$1600. A little rich for my blood.

Normally, I pay little attention to “opening acts” as most are local and not very good. However, this time I didn’t want to get stuck in a parking dilemma so I arrived pretty early. Hordes of people were descending on the PPG Paints arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins- 20,000 seats. At some point in the concert they turned the house lights on for the musicians and every single seat was filled. The acoustics in the arena were world class.

As we were seated, I started picking up on the opening band. I didn’t know who they were but I was increasingly impressed with every number. They played different instruments, electronic keyboards and they were really, really good. World class musicians. The lead singer came up focused on huge TV screens we could see easily and I didn’t recognize him. I checked my phone to see if I could find the band and it turns out it was the “Dhani Harrison” Band. Yes, that Harrison. Jeff had chosen him to open for the entire twenty city tour, of which Pittsburgh was the last. It was an excellent start.

I first saw ELO in the opening year of MTV which would have been 1981. The MTV concert began with a huge flying saucer on stage, pulled up slowly by cables revealing the band that started their set with the saucer hanging over them. This time, there was no saucer, the show started with a huge light show complete with multiple modalities and lasers. It was just about the right number of decibels. Loud enough to push out anything else in your soul but not to do serious hearing damage. Loudness is important to Rock.

That said, there’s something really existential about a real “live” concert as opposed to listening to a record or something off a portable device. I’ve had the dumb luck to play rock music with a great band in front of hundreds of people in venues like “The House of Blues” around the country. I could see what was happening in the crowd from my vantage on the stage and this was the microscopic minor leagues. If you are the proper connection, the vibration of the music from a  20,000-seat auditorium simply fills your soul to the brim. The music grabs you so tightly there is no competition from anything else.

ELO blew the audience away when they hit:

“In this life I’ve seen everything I can see, woman
I’ve seen lovers flying through the air hand in hand
I’ve seen babies dancing in the midnight sun…….”

BUT I…I….I….I NEVER SEEN NOTHING LIKE YOU!”

at full volume with blinding multicolored lights. The aisles were full of dancing people, many my age. The old guy to my right was in tears. Everything  from our youths in the 70s came back in a flood. Unclear how that connection was made but it was absolutely there.

“Twilight” blew me away:

“Twilight, I only meant to stay awhile
Twilight, I gave you time to steal my mind
Away from me”.

At this point, old memories previously forgotten rushed back into me.

Then Jeff introduced his acolyte Dhani Harrison to do a duet of the first song the Travelling Wilburys sang as a group. “Handle With Care”, written in 1988 by George Harrison with specific intent for Roy Orbison to sing a specific section. As the song was being fleshed out in the acoustics of Bob Dylan’s garage, it had no title. Harrison looked around and noticed a label “Handle With Care” on a shelf box and that’s what he named it. The song “Handle With Care” is beautiful and meaningful music.

“I’m so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won’t you show me that you really care
?”

 “I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess
Oh, the sweet smell of success
Handle me with care”

This music has intense meaning to a lot of people. A lot of people. When Dhani came out and ELO began this song, I was immediately in tears. Again, no one has explained the emotional connection but it is intense. I think I can die now. I’ve heard ELO and Dhani Harrison speak to me.

And so it goes, the entire concert was an intense emotional experience, and accordingly, I have provided for you some of the intensity in the form of YouTube clips that will show you some of it.  First is the original Wilburys singing “Handle With Care” back in 1990-I think. Since then Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison have passed, leaving Jeff Lynn and Bob Dylan. I think one of the most musically beautiful songs that can be sung by humans. After than, I found a clip of Jeff Lynn and Dhani Harrison reprising the song from this year’s concert. It spoke to me.

After that, I have given you some classic ELO songs that you should all hear and I hope you will as a favor to me.  First is “Roll over Beethoven” from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2017, tribute to Chuck Berry, featuring ELOs magnificent string section. Then “Twilight” and “Do Ya” (The song that made the Pittsburgh crowd absolutely delirious, including my wife who cares nothing about any of this-slapping her knee), both masterpieces of performance art. Please give them a look. You can’t possibly be disappointed.

 

“Handle With Care” (Travelling Wilburys)

 

“Handle With Care” (ELO with Dhani Harrison)

 

“Roll over Beethoven” (ELO)

 

“Do Ya” (ELO)

 

“Twilight” (ELO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some notes on Cuban trip December 3-7, 2018

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Only 90 miles or so from Miami but much more a foreign flavor. Only recently opened for foreign visitors by Obama who reversed the Bush embargo in 2009. Embassies appeared in 2015. Any US citizen can attend any professional meeting in Cuba but a visa must be obtained. Unclear what hoops must be jumped through to just be a tourist.

On December 3 – 7, the International symposium on altered consciousness and brain death was held. The very gracious Dr. Calixto Machado hosted us.  We stayed at the Habana Librae, the enormous hotel where the meeting was held. The hotel advertised Internet access but it never became available.

The meeting was interesting. It was mostly about the Jahi McMath situation and brain death. I’ll pass on comments regarding that as Michael Kuiper has summarized the daily activities for CCM-L.

My interest really lay in the awesome collection of vintage automobiles that filled the streets of Havana. Mostly 50s and 60s cars, many converted as taxis to show tourists the city. We did an hour and a half tour in a 1955 Chevy convertible.  It was fascinating (see photos later).

Our aim was to see “old Havana” and we did. Old Havana was named a notable historic city centers by UNESCO in 1982. Restored areas of Old Havana features styles from Baroque and neoclassical to art deco. It reminded me of parts of New Orleans a bit was very scary in some respects. Not terribly safe to walk about. Over 28,000 people currently live in unstable dwellings that could collapse without warning. USA Today recently reported almost 4000 building collapses from 2000 to 2013.  In 2016, Havana has a shortage of over 200,000 dwellings. Havana officials are using mostly tourist revenue to solve these problems.

The people of Havana are exceedingly friendly and helpful to foreigners, including Americans. The food in restaurants is always excellent and there is virtually no violent crime. It’s safe to walk anywhere. There are no guns. Interestingly there are also no McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys or any other fast food place.

However, Americans are discriminated against within the economic system, No one in Cuba accepts any credit or debit card from any American bank. It’s cash and carry. American dollars are subject to a 10% tax when converted to Cuban Pesos, plus a 3% service fee. So converting an American dollar will get you 87 cents. However, one Euro will get you 1.14 Cuban Convertible Pesos, but when you go to convert dollars to Euros, the exchange rate at the airport is awful. I changed 700 dollars and got 550 Euros. So you get stiffed coming and going, exchanging anything.

You know me; I’m always on the lookout for interesting knick-knacks.  One of my wife’s friends begged her to bring back some Cuban cigars for her husband. I could have cared less. All cigars smell like dead cats, but I tagged along to the cigar shop just to see them. On arrival, I noticed a decorative (empty) humidor box with Che Guevara’s likeness (smoking a cigar of course) on it in high-resolution porcelain (see photo below). I looked at it for a long time while my wife purchased a box of ten cigars for what amounted to US$100.  Yes, ten bucks per cigar, and there were much more expensive ones available.

By the time I got back to our room, I was obsessed with it and had to have it. I went back and paid a bundle for it. It now graces my mantle. Note in the video also some female (very female) stick figure single cigar holders. I would have bought the entire collection but I ran out of money and had no way to get any more.

Che’s likeness is everywhere in Cuba, many next to Fidel. Che isn’t really a very high-end role model, but I kept my mouth shut about both him and Fidel.

Now for some interesting history about both Fidel and Che. After it became apparent that Castro was a bull blown “Communist” and was quickly aligning his new society after that of Soviet Russia. After the disastrous “Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961, Castro’s paranoia became exponential and he became convinced the Kennedy would follow this attack up with much heavier weapons, including nuclear arms. Castro begged Khrushchev to send arms for the protection of Cuba. Khrushchev saw this as an opportunity to place nuclear weapons in the Western hemisphere, under the nose of Kennedy who he considered a weak sister following the poorly planned and executed Bay of Pigs and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy was decisive enough to do anything about it. So off they went, as the Cubans worked to build bases where these weapons could be housed, all quickly spotted by U2 planes. The rest of this is history.

But what isn’t so clear is the nature of Castro’s fervor to revolutionize the world by violent means. Following the Cuban Revolution of 26 July 1959, Che became Castro’s right hand man for the spreading of the gospel of revolution to other Latin countries. Che was actually a physician but never did anything medical after becoming radicalized by witnessing the sorry plight of Latin America at the time. Che trained the Cuban military forces that repelled the Bay of Pigs attack and was central to the negotiations that would have brought nuclear weapons to Cuba. He wrote a seminal manual of guerrilla warfare. Che became convinced that most of the woes of the world were a direct result of Imperialism and capitalism (Americanism) that required a violent world revolution to counter it.

Che left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution initially (and unsuccessfully) in the Congo but ending up in Bolivia where American CIA quickly captured him assisted Bolivian troops and summarily shot without fanfare.  Following his death, Che rose to the position of a revered and reviled historical world figure and his likeness with the star beret was cited by the Maryland Institute of Art and “the most famous photograph in the world” (pretty doubtful But it’s up there in the top 20 maybe). Time Magazine named him as one of the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

However, Che was also an advocate of brutal violence to create a utopian world that would quash any dissent, an anti-imperialist Marxist and outspoken anti-capitalist whose image has been made an idealistic commodity not unlike that of Robin Hood and Don Quixote. Che was involved in hundreds, maybe thousands of executions of those opposing the Revolution in several South American countries. Che openly despised the United States and everything about capitalism and a Republic governing system. He was very interested in starting a nuclear war with the Imperialists (us) and probably would have worked it out had the missiles from the USSR had actually been delivered to Cuba (diverted by Kennedy). The whole point of those missiles were to be used against “enemies”. He was a brutal Communist agitator and all of his history is filled with death.

So for what it’s worth, I have a really interesting portrait of him that continues to fascinate me. I also acquired a pastel painting I’ll frame this week. You’ll see it in the film.

Interesting trip that will become clearer as you watch the video below. A collection of some of the photos I took.

 

Enjoy if you have an interest.

D. Crippen, MD

The unfortunate death of Sears & Co

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Sad to chronicle the demise of Sears. Many of you aren’t old enough to remember the Sears glory days, that peaked in the late 1800s leading into the 50s and early 60s. Sears was the 50s equivalent of Amazon.com. They sold absolutely everything except it was through a mail order catalog as thick as the (former) New York City phone book. You just filled out the coupon, sent it in with a check and your purchase arrived later by mail. There were no credit card

Amazon.com also sells absolutely everything but through it’s connections to other companies. Sears had everything in its warehouses. Sears sold kids baseball gloves signed by Ted Williams. Ultimately cars made by the Lincoln car company of Chicago in the early 1900s (No relation to the Ford line). But my current point is that Sears produced a line of motor scooters, branded as “Allstate” in the 50s and my dad had one.

They were a knockoff of the Vespa line made by Piaggio In Italy (Photo 1). They had a two-cycle engine and produced ~ 4.9 horsepower as I recall.  So, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 13-year-old adolescents could get licensed to own and ride motor scooters powered by less than 5 horsepower. I lived in Albuquerque at the time and I was barely 13 but my father refused to even discuss my acquiring one. However, he decided that his personal use of one was downright practical.

He was the Chief Resident in surgical training at what was technically an off campus site of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Two hospitals in Albuquerque involved, the VA and the Bernalillo County Indian Hospital. This was a very early training program. The County Indian Hospital was a “residents Hospital”, much like Bellevue, Charity and Cook County. None of the surrounding Indians, mostly Navaho and Pueblo, had any monetary resources and much health care at the time was financed by cash. Those unfortunates were relegated to tax based indigent care and the taxpayers weren’t much interested in financing it so they opted for as cheap a care as could be had. Resident physicians were cheap and they got a lot of experience there.

It was 1957. Our family had only one car and my mother mostly needed use of it. So my dad decided that a motor scooter would be a cheap, practical vehicle to get back and forth to the two hospitals, both near where we lived. The big VA hospital was right next to the Randy Lovelace Clinic where the Mercury astronauts were examined for the first flight into space. This freed up the car for my mother to shop and do housekeeping chores. She also traded with the local Indians for just about everything, which doesn’t happen anymore, especially since the tribes discovered gambling dens.

When my father rounded at the County Indian Hospital on Saturday mornings, I begged and wheedled until he agreed to take me, perched on the tiny rear seating area. So off we went, powered by 4.9 horsepower and a three-speed transmission. Seemed at the time plenty of power. I sat on the scooter for a couple of hours while he rounded, then when he finally came out, he let me ride the scooter by myself around the back parking lot of the hospital, an experience burned into my memory.

The County Indian Hospital was an incredible training experience for housestaff. Indians at the time had lousy living conditions on reservations managed by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on a federal shoestring and they had lots of health problems. Many had COPD from inhaling smoke from their teepees or mud dwellings. Indians at the time had very little resistance to ethanol and many had severe liver disease and were the victims of vehicular trauma on Saturday nights when the bars closed. To this day, a car trip out north of Albuquerque will show you billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers specializing in defending ethanol abuse and drunk driving.

But the really big cultural deal for me was licensure for 4.9 hp scooters, ideal for home to middle school commuting (but not for me- I got the school bus which made me a third-class citizen). The across-the-street mesa from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School was literally filled with scooters owned by kids that could afford them and whose parents acceded. Each cost about US$200 and there were three classifications:

1. Vespas (and Allstates). The working class scooter. Not fancy, no amenities, rather plain in appearance. No class. Riders were pretty much ignored. They wore plain clothes (Photo 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Cushman Eagle (Photo 3). The roughneck’s ride. These were these guys that beat you up and took your lunch money. 4 cycle, suicide clutch putt-putts that sounded as mean as their owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Lambretta (Photo 4). The Italian scooter equivalent of a Ferrari. Lots of curves and a back seat where your girlfriend could sit side saddle and cross her legs. Riders wore striped shirts and scarves. As you might imagine, I was a Lambretta guy. They were all a strong enough influence that I rode two wheels the rest of my adult life.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
Department of Critical Care
UPMC

Pittsburgh Regatta this weekend

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Pittsburgh Regatta this weekend

Every year, we host the Formula One Powerboat racing series on the intersection of where the three rivers meet to form the Ohio River, a direct conduit to the Mississippi. The highest class of inshore powerboat racing in the world, similar to Formula Onecar racing. Each race lasts approximately 45 minutes following a circuit marked out in a selected stretch of water, usually a lake, river, dock, or sheltered bay.

The boats are actually shallow catamarans weighing about 860 pounds. They’re 20 feet long and 7 feet wide. The boats are all powered by Mercury V6 two-stroke engines generating over 400 horsepower.  Zero to 60 miles-per-hour in less than two seconds and a maximum speed of 155 miles-per-hour. Sanctioned races occur all over the world with multi-national drivers.

 

 

These boats remind me of my youth when similar powerboats raced on the lake in the center of my town. This would have been about 1960. The light wooden boats were of two varieties, longer “Runabouts” and flat “Hydroplanes”.  They were all powered by smaller 10 or 15 horsepower Mercury engines, modified for more RPM with “Quicksilver Lower Units) and racing propellers. There were probably other modifications. They were pretty fast for the time. The throttle controlled by a “dead man” lever that must be held together by the driver. If he was flipped out of the boat, the lever relaxed and the engine stopped.

Pre-race warm-up was accomplished by two guys holding the back of the boat up out of the water just high enough that the spinning prop would get some water into the cooling vanes. When warm, the boat was simply dropped with the driver leaning forward to maintain balance as the boat took off. The boats were loud and fast and flipped often; rarely an injury. It was “real” racing. If Satan had dropped by with a bargain to put me into one of those boats, I’d have to think about it.

 

Antarctica, February 2018. Crippens.

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They made it clear from the beginning; “This is not your father’s cruise”. This was an exploration, not a cruise. The plan was to traverse the usual peri-Antarctica islands and peninsulas to make our way through the Antarctic Circle to actually set foot on the continent. A rare event due to quirky weather and shifting ice masses.

The good ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov is a high tech wonder, outfitted with two fully functional engines, each with all redundant outfitting. Powered by a high efficiency fuel that if spilled, would float on top of the sea to be broken down by ultraviolet rays. 117 meters long, top speed 14.5 knots and strengthened for dealing with ice. She holds 97 souls and ten “Zodiacs” (outboard powered rubber boats each seating up to ten people and all their camera gear). The ship can go where most ships can’t and the Zodiacs can and do go anywhere.

Getting to the jump-off point, Punta Arenas, Chile was a very long and stressful series of airplanes and airports. For the trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, we flew in what appears to be the standard for crossing the infamous Drake Passage (more about that later). A curved wing, four engine plane built in England I suspect set up for short take-off and landing. We landed at the Chilean Air force Base on one of the peri-Antarctic peninsulas, basically a strip carved into the rock covered with permafrost.

We were really not prepared for the shock of our introduction to Antarctica. The aircraft landed on it’s left wheels down, right wheels up to assuage against the 30 knot 90 degree cross wind. It took three hops to get on all the wheels. The landing strip was build of rock and sand. On departing the plane we were greeted by intense cold, wind and snow. A barren landscape that could have been the moon. Then a one-mile walk from the landing strip the moored ship about a mile offshore, all the participants transported by Zodiac. Once on board the ship we were made very comfortable. Bunks and a shared bathroom.

The ship is of Russian registry and staffed by an all Russian crew and staff. When not touring in season, it goes back with Russian scientists to study the Antarctic area. The exploration was exceptionally well organized and operated by a Canadian group, “One Ocean”. They were magnificent and we felt very well cared for along this highly stressful trip. The food was excellent.

https://www.oneoceanexpeditions.com/antarctica

60% of the participants signed up through Cheeseman Ecology Tours but those guys were pretty much passive observers, having little if anything to do with running the ship and tour. They were available to discuss the ecology of the area and they did an excellent job. Ted Cheeseman is doing a PhD in Whale studies through an Australian university.

On the first day into the trip it all began. Up for breakfast at 7 am, donning heavy layers of dress and boots for cold conditions, out exploring in the Zodiacs till noon-ish, back for lunch, then out again in the afternoon till supper around 7 pm. Three or four layers of clothing takes about 30 minutes to get on, including heavy clunky rubber boots. Waterproof backpack to hold camera gear adds weight. Walking with all this stuff was like walking in a spacesuit.

Then climbing down a gangway from the ship deck to the Zodiac, gauging the bounce from waves to step in, hopefully not falling. Seats are along the sides of the rubber boat, I think a real risk for falling in the 2 degrees C water if the boat zigs and you zag. There were near misses. The Zodiac, armed with an experienced pilot and a 60 horsepower outboard, went on its way to search for things of interest and no-where was off limits. All of us on board were experienced photographers. Weather variable. Sometimes bright, sometimes wind, snow and freezing rain. Camera gear protected by waterproof sleeves. It got cold and miserable out there. Trying to get out of the Zodiac by swinging legs over to slippery rocks, then climbing varying distances was extremely difficult for me. Many times no place to sit.

At this point the best way to show you the trip is to show you the photos. I will introduce you to the Youtube videos I made from this trip.

The Youtube presentation photos were all taken with my Sony and high resolution. Watch it in full screen. I sorted through about 1000 photos to get what’s in these presentations, so they might be a little long but I could have easily put 500 photos into a collection.

https://youtu.be/gCWJ6uN51-I

This was a ten-day, high-energy expenditure, high stress endeavor, not counting getting to the ship from Pittsburgh. My aging physiology hit the wall about day 6. I learned that my physiology’s response to high-energy expenditure and high stress was to set limits on what it was prepared to mount to meet it. My body simply de-tuned and refused to meet any challenges. So I began to function at a de-tuned level. My appetite went completely, and the food aboard was great. I developed increasing weakness in my left leg, then all over and required assistance on the rolling decks. Urinary incontinence at night. My thinking processes slowed down. I became listless and apathetic, having to force myself to move.

So I learned I had to lower my energy expenditure, beginning day 6 limiting myself to one Zodiac excursion a day instead of two, sleeping in- skipping breakfast and taking my time dressing. I thought clinically about what I really needed to do to get through the day and worked to cut out any excess for the last four days. I may have missed some things but I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much.

Then the coup-de-grace, crossing the brutal Drake Crossing from Antarctica to Ushuaia, Argentina (considered a necessary part of the Antarctic experience). The Passage divides the cool, sub-polar conditions of southernmost South America from the frigid, Polar Regions of Antarctica. 600 miles and two days of reliably bad weather, high waves and rolling, bouncing decks. Passengers were lined up in front of the ship’s doctor’s door. Mercifully, I did not get seasick but it was pretty uncomfortable trying to eat and sleep when you’re chasing food across the table and holding on to avoid being tossed out of my bunk.

It was a hard trip from stem to stern and when I finally got home after two days in airports and airplanes, I just collapsed for a day. But it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event not many get to experience.

Addendum: a word about Whales.

99.9% of the entire whale population was decimated before the year 2000. It became obvious that something had to be done so an International consortium was formed to regulate the issue and harass scofflaws (Japan). Most of the blubber rendered in Norway is used to make margarine. Today, the hunting and killing of whales is no longer the main cause of their population decline. It’s now them getting snagged in lobster and shrimp traps and getting hit by fast moving ships in shipping lanes. Strategy for “saving whales” is ongoing by very hard working scientists and populations are increasing.

Whales have to “think-to-breathe” because they must coordinate a deep breath every time they dive. They can dive to very deep regions and stay down a long time. They collapse their lungs when they dive. They can regulate their heart rate (slow it) so blood flow to blubber is minimized and flow maximized to internal organs. Their hemoglobin is specialized to allow a much longer period of time for absorption of oxygen to the tissues.

Besides humans, their only natural enemy is the Orca, (Killer Whale- not a whale, a dolphin). Orcas are the “wolves of the sea”. An Orca will place itself on top of a whale not allowing it to surface to breathe. They can tag team a whale, another team Orca taking over when one gets tired. The whale eventually drowns and is made a hearty meal for every Orca in the vicinity.

Interested in such a trio? Be sure you’re ready for a LOT of stress and energy expenditure. There is nowhere to go if you get sick or hurt. Contact me if you are considering such a trip.

A passing: Charlie Manson (1934- 2017)

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Books have been written and movies made about Charlie over the past 50 years. It’s a little surprising that he lasted in what amounted to a cloister for this period of time.

A lot is said today about Charlie’s personality, but I think he’s at least as important as a signpost for the era in time he was a part of. An era in which none of the Pitt students enrolled in my “America in the 60s” class were alive. At some point, the professor asked how many in a class of 50 students had seen “Dr. Strangelove”. No hands went up. Earlier, she asked how many were watching “Vietnam”, the groundbreaking documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. One person.

The 60s came and went with a lot of notice at the time but quickly forgotten by Generation Z. But it’s important for little other reason that because Charlie and his girls probably could not have prospered in any other era. A world with no limits. A world of “Easy Rider” and “Groupies”, a universe of unlimited expansion of the individual and rejection of conformity.

A spontaneous pilgrimage of the faithful, Woodstock (August, ’69) symbolized 60s idealism, but it only hinted at the final demise of the decade of love. The Vietnam War continued, the subservient role of women in the counterculture continued, LSD use diminished and most of the illustrious musical groups of the age died or broke up.

The real end came almost simultaneously with Manson and Altamont, both in the fall of 1969. Manson et al “expanding” their consciousness to forge conflict in a country of “peace & Love” based on rock lyrics eventually leaving the “Family” on top. Altamont, a “free concert” where everything possible to go wrong did, including violence and death.

One of the fundamental myths that the sixties articulated was that some benefit accrued from testing the bounds of human capability and expansion of the mind. It was an era in search of the lost chord. Dissonant notes from political, spiritual, chemical, historical and media influences that come together to form a homogenous chord. The object of total freedom was to find Nirvana, but with little guidance, free-living tribes of the late 60s could just as easily evolve to their lowest denominator. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Jim Morrison searched for his soul by bolting through the “Doors of Perception”, immersing his persona in cathartic rock music masquerading as social profundity. In the end, Jim never found the values of freedom and self-expression his performance stood for, reaching too far for answers unobtainable. Janis Joplin made love to thousands of adoring zealots at the Fillmore, then ultimately died alone and lonely.

The Manson Family remains a vision of the “dark side” of the 60s era, the line no one knew was there till they crossed it. If there is an afterlife, one might rightly think that Charley will meet the same people going down that he met coming up.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)