Sunday, May 31, 2020

The ex-Geneticist Speaks about Re-opening America (OT)

Re-opening, America?

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid!

Ditch That Phrase: ‘Open the Economy.’

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

“We’ve got a lot of livin’ to do!” A lot of time to make up for. We’ve been punished long enough.

I am a scientist: therefore, I am conservative, especially with my health. I wear a hat when I go outside, I wear long pants and (usually) I wear a long-sleeved shirt because “The Sun is Not Your Friend.” Especially if you are a cancer survivor.

Yes, I am high-risk, a senior citizen as well, that some might call elderly, but I was also trained as a scientist. Therefore, I am or strive to be objective. I believe in proof, in facts, in truth, in science being self-correcting.

The health experts have gone back on their recommendations during the current crisis. Does this mean they are never to be trusted again, as some would have us believe? Nope, it means that they have found out new things about this new virus who is slowly revealing itself to us. We are slowly honing in, becoming more accurate in our guesses, learning about this new and deadly critter.

Remember, how, at first, only a few weeks ago, we were told that wearing a mask was a waste of good masks and that we should save them for the health professionals? Even I thought they were unnecessary and that it was foolish to wear them since the virus is so small* it could get through the weave of the mask.

Then we found out that the viral particles become aerosolized and are coughed or sneezed or shouted or sung or talked or even exhaled in droplets of saliva (and other liquids) that spread out in 3-D before falling slowly to earth.

So now I think of a mask as a deflector of viral particles – it deflects the virus in droplets down toward the earth first before spreading out and people tend not to breathe on the path my exhaled viruses take on their way down there. There are now fewer particles spread out from my mouth and nose about five feet above the earth.

Words are Powerful

Words are powerful so choose them wisely.

We are not ‘re-opening’ our economy or ‘opening’ our economy as much as opening up our society. Currently much of our society lies ‘hidden’ or should be according to either the law or recommended guidelines.

Two Alternatives

But, as time has gone on, have we actually become safer or did we just get tired of staying home? I think the latter. We are so desperate for that good economy that we so rightly deserve that we are willing to sacrifice a few souls, as long as we don’t know them or they are elderly already. (Oops, that’s me.)

We are desperate to return to normal. Except for the minority of us who are introverts – the quarantine can never last long enough for us to be comfortable!

However, there is a third alternative: we are closing in on the virus, finding out where it really is via testing (identifying) and contact tracing, finding out where it has been or is, lying dormant thereby allowing those areas that are virus-less to return to normal, but slowly because we aren’t quite sure just yet.

Party and Protest!

We don’t want to stay home any longer. It’s boring. No action. No life. We have suffered enough. Let’s party!

To hell with that little bugger of a bug. He won’t get me! I am invincible. (Until the day when I’m not – and it’s all downhill from there. But that’s tomorrow and tomorrow never comes.)

We are young. We will live forever. People are going to beaches, they are playing pick-up football and they may very well be OK doing so. Most of them.

What our society is doing is not so much opening up but focusing the closing and opening to the locations that require closures or openings. We are becoming more focused and accurate in our identification of where the virus is and what is does – and how.

We are opening up rural communities because we are finding they don’t have much COVID-19 out there in the country. We are allowing small groups of healthy people to gather for short periods of time outdoors because we have learned more about our new ‘friend,’ the novel Coronavirus: we have learned that the virus ‘travels’ short distances (most likely less than six feet horizontally) and it takes a lot of it to get sick.

We are told we can open the economy or re-open the economy but there is no word about opening up our society. Is there a difference? You betcha! For me, at least. What about you? Safe or sorry?

*How small is small? Well, we can’t see most of the cells in our body because they are too small. We can’t see bacteria because they are about a tenth the size of a cell. We can’t also see a virus because it is about a tenth the size of a bacterium. That’s how small small really is.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Book Review: Bringing Vincent Home, part 1 (Viet Nam Conflict, Army burn ward, Baltimore family)

Bringing Vincent Home, by Madeleine Mysko* (Plain View Press, 2007, 182 pages, $14.95)

Divided Nations, Divided Families

The Viet Nam Conflict of the 60s and 70s divided the nations of both Viet Nam and the United States as well as dividing many families: the one depicted in Bringing Vincent Home is no exception. The (fictional) Duvalls of Baltimore represent us all: they are a microcosm of our county during that era, superimposed on a highly individualized story of one soldier, wounded in action. The Duvalls represent those who are single mothers in the 50s and 60s, war protestors, writers for the Baltimore Sun, pre-med majors, good Catholics, athletes, nurses and nurses in training, doctors, burn victims, and, of course, soldiers.

Lyrical, Melodic, Comforting and Immensely Likable!

Author Madeleine Mysko’s prose is easy-going with nearly all the characters interconnected in a natural relaxing way. You will not be surprised to learn that she is also a poet (Crucial Blue)
in addition to being a novelist.

Amazingly, the reader learns the backstory of the many major characters that travel tin and out through the novel, amid the heat of San Antonio’s Army base with Brooke Army Medical Center (Bamcee). And yet, the minor stories set the stage, and the soldiers and Army nurses are real and likable, and, of course, inspiring yet human.

Bringing Vincent Home is perhaps the only book I have reviewed in the past eight years online (and longer, in print) without chapter titles, which seemed quite appropriate. I often play the game of creating my own chapter titles if they are not provided but the Vincent book was perfect with chapters being numbered only. Many began with a page or so of reminiscing back to Vincent’s childhood times before focusing on the here and now of 1968 San Antonio, Texas, of a military base, of a hospital. There is so much growing-up to do before “bringing Vincent home,” even by his mother.

The Plot

The reader does not know if Vincent will survive the painful daily burn treatments (debridements) and the surgical grafts he must undergo. The reader does not know if Vincent’s mother will have to return to Baltimore to wait for her son’s transfer to t he VA hospital system or if she will return alone to grieve.

Some will think the story ends rather abruptly but not all readers will agree. Sometimes we each have to finish the story in our own way. However, the author has given us an epilogue, which was not necessary - but neither was it surprising in how the lives of the numerous main characters turned out – the sign of a well-thought out story.

Bringing Vincent Home is a book I will take down from my bookshelf at least once a year to read again.
Caveat: This book was a selection of the Veteran’s Book Group, a program at the Howard County, MD, Public Library.

* Madeleine Mysko also authored two books of poetry: Crucial Blue and In The Margins

as well as the longer 2015 novel Stone Harbor Bound.
A former burn-unit nurse in the Army, Mysko currently teaches writing in the Baltimore area.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Movie Review: Think Like a Dog (science project, nerd, middle school crush, kidnapping, technology, dogs)

Think Like a Dog: A Family Comedy Starring Man’s Best Friend (Lionsgate, 2018 [on DVD and blu-Ray June 9, 2020], Family/Comedy PG, 91 minutes, about $20). Also, Digital and On Demand. Website: 

Parent Trap Redux

Definite chemistry exists between Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox with a screen debut by an incredible young actor, Gabriel Bateman, playing their son, Oliver (with his sidekick and conversational canine Henry).
A Boy and His Dog
Gil Junger’s Think Like a Dog is soon to be available (June 9) to watch over and over again by the whole family. For now, here is the trailer.

What’s a movie without a little romance between budding tech-scientist Oliver and fellow dog-lover Sophie? To make life even more convoluted, Dad is a soccer coach with a job offer from a university three hours away but no 12-year-old kid wants to move and our young hero is no exception, especially since he is hard at work trying to get his parents back together again. 

At the Dog Park

A Boy and His Dog. And a Science Project Gone Awry.

Yay for nerds! And here is a whole middle school full of them, with a few bullies thrown in for teaching life lessons. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Oliver’s science project bombs in front of he tech-hero. He is shown collaborating with a young colleague in China but then comes the kidnapping. . . . and dogs to the rescue, a la Lady and the Tramp  or 101 Dalmatians!

Great House, Great Bedroom!

Personally, I love the indoor dog door that opens when Henry barks. Look for it in Oliver’s really cool room in his really cool house.

Also included in the Blu-Ray, Digital and DVD are the special feature audio commentary with writer and director Gil Junger and  featurette: Anything is Paw-sible: Making Think Like a Dog.”

Caveat: This movie was sent to DogEvals for review.

Although we are waiting for the answers to a couple of questions, we wanted to post this right away.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Book Review: No Easy Day (Navy SEALs, Osama bin Laden)

No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL, The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, by Mark Owen (pen name) with Kevin Maurer (Dutton/Penguin, 2012, 316 pages, $26.95) A USA Today’s number one best-seller.

No Easy Day was reviewed in the immediately preceding blog: this blog continues reviewing the book as read by a group of military veterans in Columbia, Maryland – a Veterans Book Group* (VBG).

The VBG met in a Zoom meeting during COVID-19, which was quite successful. (It seems the country is learning how to communicate by Zoom with fewer and fewer glitches.) In addition, the group came to a consensus on the major points depicted: this is always comforting to the individuals involved.

For example, authors Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer may have mistitled their book in that they lead one to believe the book is primarily about the Osama bin Laden (UBL) raid (white it comprised only the final third of more than 300 pages). The group agreed Owen wrote a memoir of his life, emphasizing his entire Navy SEAL career including his training and previous deployments which merely culminated in the bin Laden take-down. Although we agreed the entire story was simply fascinating, the sub-title of The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden implies that more than just a third would be devoted to that mission.

Of course, this reviewer, being a dog trainer and Afghanistan veteran, knew the entire story of the raid and hoped for more information about Cairo, the dog who took part in the mission and whose photo has appeared everywhere.

Next on my Reading List

As stated in the previous blog review, several military weapons were mentioned with no glossary (but the detailed graphics of the raid were exemplary). One veteran ended up ‘googling’ many of these weapons (that he mistakenly called guns) while others just glossed over them as non-veterans probably did as well.

Who Should Read No Easy Day

The book group leader suggested No Easy Day might be a good candidate for required reading by all military leaders – it follows one enlisted man’s career in a highly-specialized and highly-trained career path and implies modern leadership’s indecisions and micromanagement. This practice was begun during the Vietnam Conflict when commanders flew in helicopters above small battles and gave orders to the lieutenants on the ground: we felt that those on the ground had been well-trained and should be left to do their jobs. After all, they are the pro’s. This group of SEALs had been well-trained for this mission and yet had to wait several days for the go-ahead from the president who then watched the mission unfold as it was happening!

Death on Your Shoulder

As the only combat-zone veteran in the group, I was asked about the concept of ‘death on your shoulder’ which author Owen implies right from the beginning. I remarked on the extensive planning the military provides for deploying soldiers, from having them make out wills to educating them on the event of their being taken prisoner and what will be done behind the scenes to rescue them. Therefore, prior to my deployment, I was aware I might not return but it was not a major concern for me.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Another theme in No Easy Day concerns the “Work Hard, Play Hard” experience of specialized troops. They spend many overtime hours together and must learn to trust each other. They become a family, a unit of one. Perhaps a third of their time is spent training and planning, another third (though a smaller third) is spent carrying out the mission, and the third third on leave with their families. These men have two families and when they are with their actual family, the military is always on their mind. When they are with their military unit, there is no time to think of their actual family – so planning and trust play a major part once again.

The CIA Agent

And finally, one veteran spoke of the emotional CIA agent after the mission was complete. I explained she was an academic, a collage graduate, and had just spent five years trying to locate UBL - this was the cessation of that part of her job. In addition, she was a desk analyst not a soldier so she had not been exposed to military casualties and may not yet have experienced death in her young life.

All in all, our group felt No Easy Day might become a recruitment tool for special forces even for those who, in 10 years, will not know much about the Battle for Bin Laden. Leadership will also gain from reading this book.

And so will you!
Caveat: *This book was a selection of the Veterans Book Group at the Howard County, MD, library, a 6-month program.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Book Review: (OT) No Easy Day (Navy SEALs, UBL)

No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL, The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, by Mark Owen (pen name) with Kevin Maurer (Dutton/Penguin, 2012, 316 pages, $26.95) A USA Today’s number one best-seller.

What’s With The Title?

Why call a book, No Easy Day? Because the book is about Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, and Land tactically proficient) who are trained and deployed to areas needing their skills in unconventional warfare. Their philosophy is “The only easy day was yesterday.”

No Easy Day begins with the selection and training of SEALs, and a few sample deployments of the author, Mark Owen, the son of Alaskan ministers who, at age 13, decided to become a SEAL. His father talked him into one year of college which turned into four: a college degree would have qualified Owen to become an officer, but an officer’s life is less tactical and more dictated not only by subordinates but also by superiors and paperwork.

All kinds of war books and stories have been written over the years: histories, memoirs, personal accounts, strategic and tactical texts. Some are “boy books” full of action and weapons and battles. Some are, at the expense of my being called sexist, “girl books” that document how war affects people and the daily life of civilians affected by war. Some are military books, full of specific terms that veterans understand but, without a glossary, are lost on those who have never been in the military.

No Easy Day, No Easy Read

Because of the sensitive nature of SEAL teamwork, we don’t learn much about the non-SEAL life of the author: don’t know if he is married, e.g. (though I suspect he is not). And the introduction, though necessary, takes up nearly half the book but will be engaging for many readers - not this reviewer, however – I felt it too detailed in some places with not enough detail in others. The writing style was simply neither ‘magic’ nor enthralling. Not an easy read but a fast one.

A Warning (of Sorts)

Do not start the last half of the book late at night if you have to go to work the next day.  You may just stay up all night to finish it!

The authors take you through the intensive planning and training, and subsequent waiting for approval from the President for the mission to get Osama bin Laden (once his location had been identified), then you join the two dozen troops through infiltration, assault and exfiltration with the target. You will hold your breath through the snafu’s that go wrong and come out the other side with the upmost respect for these men, type A’s all (perfectionists), who train almost more than they work and who really live as a brotherhood of men.

The Controversy

Military members in certain job specialties must send their books and resumes through a governmental review process. Mark Owen did not do this, which sparked a legal controversy: the author denied revealing any classified information but the Department of Defense (DoD) refuted that. After Owen ended up suing his attorney, he forfeited millions of dollars, agreed to turn his royalties over to the DoD and lost his security clearance and all future movie rights* - and also suffered damage to his reputation. This story was still in the news five years later. 

Next: Another view of No Easy Day

Caveat: This book was a selection of the Veterans Book Club at the Howard County, MD, library, a 6-month program.

*Discussions with DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg halted

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review: (OT) Pandemic: A Novel (and more books about the same)

Pandemic: A Novel (Dr. Noah Haldane Book 1), by Daniel Kalla (Tom Doherty Associates in 2005/Forge Books in 2007 [paperback], 407/420 pages, $7.99 [now available in Kindle only])

Pandemic, The Book!

Would you believe a book titled Pandemic written way back in 2005? And is it ever a page-turner! But don’t read it at night if you are alone: It’s that good! Why was it not a best-seller? Why has it not been made into a movie?

Yes! There really is a book called Pandemic! Actually, more than one but I am going to concentrate on the pandemic novel by Canadian ER physician-author Daniel Kalla, published in 2005.


Imagine, if you can, the sudden appearance of a deadly respiratory infection of unknown origin that kills quickly and indiscriminately (within four days and with an incubation period of three to five days). Imagine it first showing up in China, then Europe, then North America. A pandemic. This new disease is more deadly than SARS – sound familiar?

The ‘Reality’

I must reiterate that this Pandemic is a novel. However, it is more than just a novel about a disease, “ARCS”, Acute Respiratory Collapse Syndrome. WHO plays a large part in this pandemic in that several of the protagonists are doctors or scientists at WHO; others work at DHS or the CIA. Some are women, including the head of a bioterrorism section. And, of course, there is a bit of romance (but not too much) and even a quarantine. And a race against time – not only against such a tiny enemy but also against a human one.

A frightening disease, killing 25% of those infected, “ARCS” may very likely be spread deliberately (a much worse scenario than the reality of the 2019 coronavirus). However, the incubation period is shorter for “ARCS” (3-5 days) than for the current COVID-19 (1-24 days, usually accepted as 14 days).

Is it conceivable that some bad guys could get their hands on a deadly virus and pass it on to their enemies? Can you imagine us trying figure out the cause and just who the bad guys are?

The Canadian author gets a lot right about Washington, DC, and even places the climax in a town called Jessup, Maryland (the next town over to my town). There is murder and mayhem and a classy US  President who is definitely a good guy, a leader to look up to.
If you want a terse, scientifically correct, medical thriller, Pandemic is it! Then, like me, you will want to read more books by Daniel Kalla and even more books about emerging diseases, epidemiologists, and epidemics like small pox and polio.

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

For fun (?) watch the medical mystery movie, “Outbreak*,” about an airborne virus epidemic with Morgan Freedman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Patrick Dempsey. (* “The 79 Best Pandemic Movies to Binge in Quarantine”)

Websites that merely list good books without telling you why they are recommended are not so helpful after all. I haven’t read the following but am familiar with some of the authors and have scrutinized their contents so I can give you a little information to help you decide which of these books to start with. So, here we go.

Other books on my “To-Read” shelf, in no particular order (let know if you would like to borrow any of these):

The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus,
by Richard Preston (Random House, 1994, 450 pages, $8.99) Also a movie or two. This book is about some fairly local events and I recommend it to my Biology 101 students who are required to read an extra book from a list I provide.

Carriers by Patrick Lynch (Berkeley Books/Random House, 1995, 355 pages, $12.40 hard cover on Amazon) A bio-thriller. A sudden outbreak as deadly as Ebola but a hundred times more contagious.

Ebola: A Documentary Novel of the First Explosion in Zaire by a Doctor who was there, by William Close, MD (Ballantine Books, 1995, 400 pages) It came, it killed, it disappeared. 1976. By the surgeon father of actress Glenn Close who was also related to Marjorie Merriweather Post. Very readable. And scary. The first major outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever in Central Africa. Zaire was crippled for many years afterward, its infrastructure demolished, leaving the country rife to corruption which ultimately contributed to further medical crises. Another book by the same name was written by Garrett, see below - The Coming Plague.

The Secret Life of Germs: What they are, whey we need them, and how we can protect ourselves against them, by Philip Tierno, PhD (Atria, 2003, 301 pages, $19.99). This book is high on my next-to-read list: it is written for the average person and contains helpful information to use around the house as well as explaining all about germs. The author has even been on the Oprah Winfrey Show so you know he is not only knowledgeable but also interesting.

Virus Hunter: Thirty Years of Battling Hot Viruses Around the World, by CJ Peters (Doubleday, 1997, 323 pages, $15.95). I am familiar with both authors and have read one book by one of them – it was riveting. Virus Hunter is a biography of a virologist and the diseases he studied and the worldwide outbreaks he traveled to. It is high on my to-read list.

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance, by Laurie Garrett (Penguin Books, 1995, 750 pages, $22.50) She also wrote a book on Ebola: Eboa, The Story of an Outbreak. The author was interviewed in the recent Frontline documentary Coronavirus Pandemic (21 Apr 2020).

Also by Daniel Kalla:

Blood Lies, about an ER doctor with a twin in Seattle, 2008
Cold Storage, about mad cow disease, BSE, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, 2019
The Last High, about the opiod crisis, 2020

Of Flesh and Blood, about cancer and MS and the Pacific Northwest, 2010
Rage Therapy, the underworld of psychiatry in Seattle, 2007
Resistance, about a super-bug that is resistant to all antibiotics, 2010
We All Fall Down, about a current Black Death, 2019

And another series by Daniel Kalla:

Rising Sun, Falling Shadow: A Novel, (WW2 and the Shanghai Ghetto), 2012

The Far Side of the Sky: A Novel of Love and Survival in War-Torn Shanghai (Chinese, Japanese, Jewish history in 1938, and a doctor, of course), 2012

Nightfall Over Shanghai, (1944-45 Shanghai), 2016

Friday, April 17, 2020

Book Review (OT): A Family Secret (WW2, Holland, childhood friends)

A Family Secret, by Eric Heuvel (Square Fish, 2009, 64 pages, $11.45, grades 5-6, ages 10-14)

Another excellent historical graphic novel, A Family Secret may be considered a sequel to The Search* (see the previous review), and it reveals part of the story that took place but was not included in the first book.. Again we have a young Dutch boy in modern times visiting his grandmother, Helene, searching her attic for something to sell in the annual Queen’s Day flea market.

He finds his grandmother’s scrapbook from 1939 with photos of her best friend, Esther, a Jew. Helene’s father was a policeman who sided with the occupying Nazis to keep his job while her older brother joins the Resistance.

Jewish children are not allowed to attend school or play in parks. They were being rounded up. Esther and Helene were separated.

A wonderful historical that takes the reader to Dutch Indonesia where the Dutch were imprisoned by the Japanese during WW2 – then back again to today in The Netherlands.

I will not reveal the two-part surprise ending but it will remain memorable and very much worth the reading.

With a few fewer characters than The Search, A Family Secret also has a pictorial list of characters to help the reader.

You will remember this story long after reading it and may read it over and over again.

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.