Monday, August 29, 2016

Hubris on the Inland Sea

Behold the beauty of Lake Michigan.  This is the breakwater at Sheboygan Wisconsin on a perfect late summer day.  The sun shines, the water is sparkling blue, sailboats dance past gaily. 

Of course this is the day after we did a fishing charter out on the lake.

In the real world fishing is an unpredictable business.  Rain, winds, cantankerous behaviour on the part of the fish, you know.  So on the day we went out fishing it was on the heels of some hellacious storms.  The lake was choppy with three and four foot waves that came from all directions.  And the lake was a mysterious foggy place.

The Captain and first mate certainly did their best.  I figure they work much harder under adversity than they do on those idyllic charters in which you have several fish on at once and can hardly find time for a cold beer before you have to leap up and haul in another one.

There was not much beer consumed on our voyage.  For one thing it was cold.  For another we were jostled about in all conceivable directions.  All of us felt at least a bit sea sick.

It was a family trip.  I had my lads and their affiliates aboard for one of our increasingly rare family gatherings.  It just gets harder as time goes by to find a weekend when we can get together for something like this.  

Eventually we did land a few.

We gave it our best shot but I am describing it more as a nautical adventure than as a fishing expedition.  My ancestors have not been big on marine travel.  There were the immigrant members of the family in the 1850s who came over in steerage.  None of them had any inclination to go back.  Oh, then I guess there was my father who made a trip over and back in a troop ship.  But when you wear Uncle Sam's uniform its not like you get much choice in the matter.

Preparing for this trip I knew I was taking a risk.  The guide service says that you should bring a large cooler to pack home your catch.  I knew this was tempting Fate.  It is Hubris, the sin of Pride, that so often brings down those with high ambitions.

We didn't need the big cooler.  Our modest catch fit into our on board beer cooler once we took the beer, cheese curds and beef sticks out.  Gosh, what a great menu for slightly green land lubbers being tossed about on the waves!

We all know what success smells like.  It is a heady, intoxicating scent.  Hubris, the falling short of Ambition has a different smell.  You aimed high, you worked hard,  and while you did not fail entirely you fell short.

I am still glad I brought the big cooler.  Even if it came home empty we were well prepared, and it should be noted that Hubris still smells a lot better than spoiled fish!

Friday, August 26, 2016


Well I have gone and done it.  Again.  Retired from medicine that is.

When your 60th birthday looms large you really should take stock of your life, and medicine adds extra dimensions to this introspection.  It is an old, tired story but in my line of work I actually have seen many people work as long as they possibly could....only to have a fatal or life limiting event follow soon thereafter.  

But more than that, in a high stress, high liability profession you really should use common sense.  There is a point at which the experience and wisdom you have added to whatever innate smarts you had initially begin to be counter balanced by other factors.  I don't care how sharp you are or were, staying up all night while making critical decisions gets harder.  Like a once great baseball player you can hang on for quite a while - your batting average gradually declining - but should you?  

In baseball there would eventually come a day when the Manager would take you aside and have a respectful conversation, telling you that you have had a great run but that your contract would not be renewed next season.  In medicine there is no equivalent mechanism, or at least none that is commonly employed.  Doctors just keep soldiering on, maybe decreasing call a little, until something happens.

Too often it is a late career lawsuit.  I saw my dad go through this and for a gentle man who lived to serve his patients it was a lower circle of Hell for him.  

So last December I stopped doing ER work.  After an enjoyable winter and spring that kept me busy with robotics and travel I went back to work the summer, just doing a bit of clinic work. It has been pleasant.

But when it is time, it is......time.  Step to the edge of the cliff, take a deep breath and jump.

And land.

I am now enrolled in Tech College.  I figured if I am going to continue to pretend to have abilities in the field of robotics I had better up my game a bit.  Machining, computer drafting, more to follow.

Registration was interesting.  Hundreds of people in a big room watching a Power Point presentation on financial aid, parking stickers, academic probations and honors.  After a bit those of us who were "first timers" went off separately to get logged into the system.

It was mostly kids.  Some had parents with them.  Even the parents looked younger than me as well they should.  I could be the grandfather of some of these youngsters.  

I sat next to the only age-contemporary new student and we helped each other through the balky computer enrollment system.  At various places there simply was not the proper box to check for a physician-author-archeologist-gadfly to sign up for random classes that he thinks might be interesting.  But there are always work arounds, places where a Picard Directive ("Make it So") can be inserted into cleverly hidden seams in the programming.

When I walked out of the place it was much darker than when I walked in.  The hot, humid morning air was now brooding with malignant storm clouds.  I had parked a couple of blocks away and I could see it was going to be close.

It made for a satisfying metaphor.  I was leaving as warning thunder muttered but before any actual storm had broken out.  And as I made the final sprint to my car a few spatters of rain came down, bringing with them that indescribable smell of freshness and rebirth.

Career advice for the day.  When leaving something always do so before it is too late.  And when starting something, same advice.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Yes, Officer.

I don't think this is the best decal to put on a car that is battered, rusty and quite likely to have a tail light that does not always work.  Perhaps they should pay more attention to the other sticker and Choose more Wisely.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Political Flip Flop

An odd little artifact picked up for two dollars at a yard sale.

One side:

And the other:

It is made of aluminum.  It looks to be a pendant of some sort, perhaps the plain silver hanger had ornamentation on it.  Maybe it was something like a medal that clipped on a lapel?

It is designed to be easily flipped back and forth.  Maybe that would come in handy at parties.


As to date there are no clues.  It is a cheap little thing, probably a locally made novelty product. Since it is rather worn, and the elephant looks happier than the donkey we can assume it is not from the current electoral cycle.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mud Puppy

I had a chance the other day to go along on a fish shocking survey run by the Department of Natural Resource.  Very illuminating.

You slog upstream in waders and use an electrified probe to temporarily stun the aquatic inhabitants of this nice little river.  Some are quite charming.

Others a little less so.

That is a mudpuppy, aka water dog, or more formally Necturus Maculosus.  It is an unlovely but benign amphibian that spends its entire life in lakes and small rivers.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Theology of Rain Outs.

For reasons that frankly even I find puzzling I have been thinking lately about the theological implications of baseball.  

Surprisingly, when you realize that it is a game created by White Christian guys with Muttonchops, baseball has strong themes from Eastern religions.  Buddist mostly, but with a bit of Hindu garnish.

You have the continuous cycle of life, death and re-birth.  Every spring baseball returns, renewed, and with exactly the same life cycle.

You also after a fashion have the concept of re-incarnation, and of going up or down in the karmic universe depending on your actions.  Live an exemplary life as a AAA player and you will ascend to The Show.  But if your ERA soars or your batting average slumps you can expect to be demoted and spend your next phase of existence in a reduced state.

There are a lot of other philosophical and religious questions to ponder in baseball.  It tends for instance to come down heavily in favor of Free Will.  The batter can always decide to either swing at a pitch or let it go past.  But in the pecuilar concept that is the Infield Fly Rule, there can be times when the batter is Predestined to be out no matter what the defending infielders do. They could drop the pop up and start kicking it around like a soccer ball.  No matter. Batter's Out.

But I actually got going on this kick by contemplating another of baseball's unique features: The Rain Out.

For my non-American friends I should explain that while a baseball game should go nine innings there are times when weather conditions do not cooperate.  

If a game cannot go on because of rain (or snow, or in one marvelous instance, bees!) and five innings have been completed, the team that was ahead has won what then becomes an "official game".  But if play cannot continue and it has been less than five innings the head umpire declares "No Game".  It never happened.  All the actions of the players both the good and the bad......never happened.

It is passing strange.

I am - sigh - a Minnesota Twins fan.  We are having a most wretched season.  But for a few weeks they had been playing well, had been winning most of their games.

The other day they were beating the Houston Astros 5-0 in the third inning.  The skies opened and torrential rains poured down for hours on end.  Brian Dozier's magnificent home run? Never happened.  The two Houston errors in one inning?  Never happened.  Statistics revert to where they were before the first pitch was thrown.  The game is stricken from history, the sins and heroics, gone.  

But not entirely.

The laboring pitchers still have sore arms.  I assume that if their contracts have a bonus for attaining a certain number of innngs pitched they or their agents will count these.

Serious misdeeds on the field are not common but do happen.  If a player for instance got caught using a corked bat, or threw a punch at an umpire I am sure they would still face sanctions and suspension, their argument that "none of that every happened" falling flat.

The only comparable situation I can think of is the concept of having a marriage anulled - made as if it never were - that still recognizes the legitimacy of any children who somewhat inexplicably happened.

I guess a Rain Out results in the washing away of Venial Sins but not Mortal ones....

The game was rescheduled for the next day as part of a double header.  The Twins were smitten down in a very Old Testament fashion in both games.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Port Washington Wisconsin

Today Port Washington Wisconsin is a cute, somewhat touristy small town.  But as a Lake Michigan port it was once a very busy place.  With all the immigrants coming through in the pre-Civil War era some thought it might become the next Chicago.  It's probably better off being small and quaint.

Of course it had early breweries.

In a centennial history of Port Washington it is claimed that the first brewer there was an Englishman named Arnet who sold his product for 3 cents a pint.  There is a Henry Arnet (1825-1913) buried in town so there might be some truth behind this.

The first well documented brewery in town was begun in 1847 by a Jacob Moritz.  It had a great location next to a hill side cave and along a small creek that ran into the harbor.  This proved to be a long running enterprise, staying in business a round century before it went out in 1947.  The breweries later offices are extant and make up part of the American Legion Hall at 419 Lake Street.

In 1955 crews digging a sewer pipe near the former Milwaukee Northern interurban train line ran into something unexpected.  

The crashed into a brewery cave that went over 100 feet back into the hillside.  The newspaper article of the day described stone and brick rooms, cyprus aging vats and brick lined vents that went up to the hillside above.

It sounds like quite a sight.  East of the railroad tracks under eight feet of ground was a large brick and stone room with overhead iron cross bars for lifting kegs.  West of the tracks and under 30 feet of heavy clay there was a long aging cellar containing four oval vats each six feet high and fifteen feet long.  In 1955 the brick air vents were still visible and a few old timers could recall sneaking into the brewery in their youth and having a great look out over Lake Michigan from high atop St. Mary's Hill.

The cave complex was sealed up after the utility work was completed and there is no longer any access to it.

So, what's left in 2016?

The brewery office.

The creek is still where it has always been.  Old accounts say it was sometimes dammed up in the winter to make ice for the beer cave. 

My brother is often along on these trips.  He collects bricks.  Creeks, especially creeks near ruined breweries, are a great place to find them. 

Behind the brewery runs a bike path.  Clearly this was the line of the old Interurban Rail Road.  

And next door to the Legion Hall is what must be the sealed off entrance to the cave.  It looks pretty sturdy and the workers back in the 1950s filled in their excavation with dirt and cement blocks.  But most of what was seen then is no doubt still there.  I spent a lot of time clambering up and down the hillside looking for traces of the air vents but they too seem to have been demolished.