Friday, January 19, 2007

New Fire Dept Training Center in Baton Rouge

By Alan Burkhart

I had the dubious pleasure of being stuck in Ft Worth, TX during the ice storm in early January. When I finally got to load up and leave, it was at least something interesting. I picked up a load of "caged" ladders at Cotterman Company in Arlington, TX and delivered them to the new Fire Department Training Center being built by "Roco Rescue" in Baton Rouge, LA.

A caged ladder is the sort you might see hanging off the side of a refinery storage tank, or a fire escape ladder in an industrial area. Aside from the regular stuff ladders are made of (ya know, like rungs), there is also a series of steel bands around the ladder to add a degree of safety. Sort of like climbing through a bunch of Hula Hoops.

The training center is built from a bunch of old 40-ft cargo containers like you've all seen stacked "piggy back" on rail flat cars, sitting in ports or being hauled on a container chassis by truck. They're stacked five-high, and inter-connected with walkways, ladders, etc.

The structure is designed to allow fire fighters to train for various emergency scenarios. There is even a mock-up of an elevator shaft inside. Trainees and veterans will be able to practice rescue operations inside, rappel down the sides, etc.

The whole thing looks like a giant-sized version of a stack of boxes I duct-taped together for kittens many years ago. Probably just as much fun, too. Maybe I should sign up for a course? Then again... as fat as I am, maybe not. ;-)

There are more pics of the new facility below.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

More on Ramos and Compean...

Read this article at FoxNews.

I am rapidly losing what little faith I still had in the Bush Administration. Why the blue Hell hasn't George W. Bush pardoned these two Border Patrol agents? I am aware they stepped outside of the rules during their attempt to arrest Osvaldo Aldrete Davila. That does not alter the following sad facts...

  • Davila was smuggling illegal drugs into the US.

  • US authorities went to Mexico and found Davila, not to prosecute him, but to offer him immunity from prosecution if he'd testify against our Border Patrol agents.

  • Davila, is suing the Federal government for five million dollars. Yes, you read that correctly. A man who is actively involved in poisoning your children has been given immunity from prosecution, American medical care for his well-deserved gunshot wound, and now is suing the American Taxpayer.

The US government has given a pass to a known drug smuggler and imprisoned the men who tried to bring him to justice. Mister Bush, you should be ashamed.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Snakes on the Brain

By Alan Burkhart

Last night my son, Chris and I watched "Snakes on a Plane." I'm usually the last one in the family to see the current "hot" DVD release, but this one had my curiosity aroused. I love a good creepy movie. S.O.A.P. delivers big time in terms of creepiness, scares, thrills, gross-outs, and a ton of raucous humor. We had a great time with it.

After my boy and I had gone our separate ways and I had retired for the evening, I found myself thinking back over some of the “creepy critter” moments I’ve had whilst traveling about the country. I’d never really thought about the totality of my life experience in this vein, and was a bit surprised at just how many times I’ve had encounters with critters that bite, sting or devour human beings. Here are the highlights for your reading pleasure...

Snakes in the Leaves...
In early Spring of 1980, my ex-wife-to-be and I were heavily engaged in cleaning up the back yard. We had a thick stand of bamboo that grew along one side of our yard next to the fence. I was down on my hands and knees with one of those 3-pronged rake gadgets dragging the bamboo leaves out so my wife could gather and bag them.

I’ve no clue as to how I didn’t see the snake. I heard my wife gasp rather loudly and looked up to see her holding a double arm-load of leaves and engaged in a staring contest with a small Copperhead that had evidently just come out of hibernation. That’s the only reason I can think of for it being slow and sluggish.

She dropped the leaves and gave me room to hammer the thing with the rake gadget (what do you call those?). We found about a dozen more Copperheads before the day was done. Scary, when I dwell upon the fact that my aforementioned son (he was a toddler back then) had roamed freely about the “safe” fenced-in yard through all of the previous Summer.

Scorpions in the Bed...
In 1984, I was in Sweetwater, Texas at the (now defunct) Union 76 truck stop. The place had a trucker’s motel upstairs and I was looking forward to sleeping somewhere besides the truck for a change. I was bone-tired.

I spent a full half-hour in the shower, and dragged my now-relaxed body to the bed. I don’t know to this day what made me look down as I was pulling the covers up over my head. Perhaps Providence. Maybe just blind luck. Whatever it was, when I looked down towards my feet I saw a scorpion scuttling along the mattress. It was almost up to my knees and traveling north.

As you might imagine, I just about wrecked the building getting out of bed. I grabbed my big old Buck pocketknife and staked the thing to the bed, then carefully shook out my clothes before getting dressed. Sleep? After that? Not hardly. I was angry enough that I kept the little monster on my knife and went downstairs to present him to the motel clerk. The folks there were quite happy to refund my money if I‘d just shut up and not tell any other paying customers. It was about 3 years before I even entered that building again, and I never again stayed in the motel after that little encounter.

Gators in a Jar...
In 1987 I had just loaded a trailer full of bulk peat moss in South Florida bound for Texas. The peat moss farm was near the Everglades and a number of small creeks flowed through the area. There was never a shortage of alligators at this farm. The gators generally kept to the creeks, lying along the banks and just doing whatever large reptiles do.

I was traveling up the dirt road that led out of the farm when a baby alligator scurried out into the road. I had an empty big-mouth Gatorade jar sitting in the floor of the truck. No, I don’t know why I decided I needed a baby alligator. I stopped the truck and hopped out with jar in hand. The little guy took off for the creek that ran alongside the road. I caught up to him just as he reached the bank. I went down on one knee and brought the jar around with the idea of the gator running inside it (yes, I’m a genius).

In my haste I had failed to notice the pair of eyes watching me from the water. I’ll never know if this was Baby Gator’s momma or not. All I knew was that I was suddenly running in the opposite direction with a 10-ft alligator roaring out of the water to give chase. I jumped back in the truck and left in a cloud of dust. Nowadays if I want to watch the alligators, I visit the zoo.

The Mystery Critter...
In about 1996 I was traveling through South Texas between Houston and San Antonio. It was about three in the morning. This area is the beginning of the Southwest. The deserts of West Texas and New Mexico are to the West, and the famous Texas Hill Country lies to the North. I had stopped in a primitive rest area (no restrooms) and walked out to the back fence to answer nature’s call. This, by the way, is something I only do at night. It’s uncivilized to do it in broad daylight right in front of God and 10,000 motorists.

I was still outside a few moments later, walking around and stretching my tired muscles when I heard something moving in the scrub brush farther away from the road. It was a brilliant night with lots of stars and nearly a full moon so visibility was good.

I looked around and spotted a dark shape running through the scrub. Toward me. Really fast. I couldn’t see the critter itself except for a vague shadowy shape, but I could see the scrub bouncing around in its wake. I didn’t wait around to see if the critter was friendly. The passenger door was locked, so I had to run around to the other side of the truck to the driver’s door.

BOO!!!My skin was absolutely crawling. All of my instincts were screaming at me to get to safety. I grabbed at the door handle and missed, then caught it the second time and gained the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind me. Shivering. Cold sweat. Stuttering. I whirled around to see if I was being pursued by a mountain lion, or maybe a bear, or perhaps one of those hideous sidewinder rattlesnakes.

And there it was, lumbering out of the darkness. It was sniffing around outside the truck and obviously hungry.

It was an armadillo. Go ahead and laugh at me. I did.

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Image Credits...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Ashley Treatment

By Alan Burkhart

Ashley in 1998
Ashley in 1998
America is plagued by irresponsible adults who seem either incapable or unwilling to care for their children. Not a day passes without a story of a young girl being molested by a family member, or an infant "forgotten" and left in the car on a hot sunny day.

On the last day of 2006, a 3 year-old boy was found wandering along I-465 in Indianapolis wearing only a diaper and t-shirt. His mother was asleep in their squalid apartment. When police reached the boy’s home, his mother was still asleep, and his sister, also quite young, was eating cold spaghetti off the floor.

Also this past December, an infant girl endured four of her toes being chewed off by a family pet while her parents slept on a mattress in the living room floor. The baby was in the floor by her parents when this happened. As of this writing, there is still some debate as to whether the poor kid's toes were gnawed off by the ferret or the pit bull terrier. Both were in the room with the child as the parents slept.

With all the abuse and neglect of children in this country, it is a rare pleasure to hear of someone who truly goes above and beyond the call to care for a child. Such is the case of "Ashley X" (her parents are attempting to remain anonymous).

Ashley was born with static encephalopathy, and has no use of her arms and legs. She can't hold her head up on her own. She cannot eat normally and requires a feeding tube. Ashley can't even roll over in bed by herself. And Ashley's mind has not and will never develop beyond that of a newborn. She will remain in a newborn's tiny world all of her life.

Ashley’s parents were determined to care for their daughter at home rather than send her off to an institution. As Ashley grew, the physical burden of moving her around their home and transporting her from place to place grew as well. Still, her parents continued to care for their daughter.

At age six, Ashley began showing signs of an early puberty. This caused Ashley’s parents to seriously consider what the future might hold for her as she grew into an adult in the physical sense, but with none of an adult’s mental capabilities. How would someone with the mind of a newborn deal with the pain of menstrual cramps? With both of Ashley’s parents being fairly tall – her father is 6’ 1” and her mother 5’ 9” – how much more difficult would it be to move her as she reached adulthood? To adjust her position (she can’t move by herself) in bed or in her chair? To include her in family activities? To bathe her?

Equally distressing to her parents was the prospect of a young, attractive and fertile woman with no ability to speak for herself, much less defend herself should she be attacked. Abuse of the disabled is unfortunately yet another perversion that has increased in frequency in America over the years.

Ashley’s mother came upon the idea of further accelerating her early puberty to minimize her adult height and weight. The family discussed their options with Dr. Daniel F. Gunther, Associate Professor of Pediatrics in Endocrinology at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It was here that they learned of a high-dose estrogen therapy that could lessen Ashley’s adult height and weight by a significant amount with no long-term side effects.

As the discussions expanded to deal with the totality of Ashley’s situation, a strategy was developed that would employ time-tested and safe procedures to prevent Ashley from developing into an adult. In effect, she would remain a child all of her life.

Because of the nature of the procedure and the condition of the patient, it was first necessary to gain the approval of the ethics committee of Seattle Children’s Hospital. On May Fifth of 2004, the family, aided by Doctor Gunther, presented their case to a panel of forty medical professionals. The procedure was approved, and surgery followed in July.

What has become known as “The Ashley Treatment” included a hysterectomy, appendectomy, and removal of Ashley’s breast buds. The surgery went smoothly and there have been no complications. This was followed by the high-dose estrogen therapy to control her growth, which lasted two and half years and ended recently.

The treatment has been successful. It was estimated that without treatment Ashley would have reached an adult height of 5’ 6” and weighed approximately 125 pounds. As a result of the estrogen, her growth topped out at 4’ 5” and 65 pounds.

In October of 2006, Ashley’s doctors published an article on the use of estrogen to inhibit physical growth in developmentally challenged children. The article brought national attention to Ashley and her family, and the predictable storm of harsh judgment from those who had no real knowledge of the situation outside of what was seen in the media. Thankfully, there has also been a goodly amount of positive response.

Ashley’s family was overwhelmed by interview requests, phone calls and e-mails. As a result, on December 19, 2006 the family posted a huge and comprehensive blog post to explain their reasoning and dispel the myth that Ashley had been “mutilated” for her parents’ convenience. I for one am in complete agreement with her parents. They have done a great service for their daughter by giving her a body far more suitable to her mental capabilities. Ashley will spend her life with the mind of a small child. Now she is guaranteed the body of a child as well.

With her small stature, her parents will be able to care for her as they grow older and their own physical strength begins to wane. They will be able to better include her in family activities because transporting her will be far easier. Ashley’s low body weight will make her less prone to bed sores, and the lack of breasts will allow her much more comfort while lying down. That’s important, since she is incapable of sitting or standing on her own. Ashley will never endure menstrual cramps. She will never be a victim of uterine cancer or breast cancer. She will never suffer an attack of appendicitis.

With all of the challenges facing Ashley and her family, they have somehow managed to create the possibility of Ashley having as near to a normal life as is possible for someone with her condition. She will live her life with her family, rather than being in the company of strangers in an institution. She will travel, and will experience the world in whatever capacity she is able.

In a world where monsters like Michael Schiavo are free to murder for convenience, where child abuse and neglect are rampant and abortion is considered a viable option to condom use, these loving people have sought the higher ground. Mr. and Mrs. X, I salute you.
(Images used with permission)

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