Wednesday, September 28, 2016

#IAM911



I blog pretty regularly and a general rule of thumb, I like to keep my day job separate from what I do on here. Discretion and confidentiality are a must in a job like this, so I've done my best to keep it out of my public writing sphere. That's not say that I don't talk about what I do or write about it. I just haven't- at least not until recently- put any of my thoughts out there for general consumption. So pull up a chair, because this is going to be one of the few times I talk about my day job.

For anyone happening by who doesn't know, I'm a 911 Dispatcher. And right now, APCO International (The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials- basically, the broad industry wide advocacy group for 911 Dispatchers) is making a push to get Dispatchers reclassified in the Federal Government's Standard Occupational Classification system. It's a little bureaucratic and somewhat involved, but basically, the Federal Government currently classifies 911 Dispatchers as 'Administrative Support Occupations.'  APCO wants 911 Dispatchers reclassified as 'Protective Services' the same as police officers, firefighters, lifeguards, crossing guards and TSA Screeners. The currently definition places the job in the same category as clerks and secretaries.

This might seem excessively nit-picky, but it's not. While it's true that 911 Dispatchers do perform a lot of administrative tasks for the Departments they serve, the job is changing rapidly, which is why I think a APCO's push for reclassification makes more sense than many people might realize. The biggest change? The increasingly widespread use of Emergency Medical Dispatching. 911 Dispatchers in many places now have the ability to start medical assistance for a person in need right away instead of waiting for other first responders to arrive. And if you think that's just basic CPR and the like, you might be surprised. I am trained to provide pre-arrival instructions and aid for anything ranging from abdominal pain to delivering a baby. (That last one pretty rare, but if I gotta do it, I'm trained on how.) Dispatchers do more than just answer the phone and work a radio these days.

But the level of coordination required for the job also raises this job higher than just an 'Administrative Support' position. Larger 911 Centers than mine have to dispatch for Police, Fire and EMS, each of which is Dispatched in a slightly different way. They've got to do that while handling incoming phone calls and monitoring the radio.

There's also legitimate life and death situations that 911 Dispatchers deal with every day.

We're more than just Administrative Support. Plenty of people call us 'the first First Responders' because the whole chain of response starts with a 911 Dispatcher and this isn't a job that just anyone can walk in, sit down and do. Somewhere between 2 and 10% of the general population have the multi-tasking skills necessary to be successful at this job. It takes organization, it takes skill and it's not your average every day job.

I have a love-hate relationship with this job. I think it's made me more cynical. I think it's made me dislike people more than I should. I've taken calls and heard things that I would have preferred not to hear and deal with. But I've also helped people. I've had problems dumped on me out of the blue that I've had to figure out how to solve. I like the variety. Every day is different. I don't know what's on the other end of the phone when it rings. Could be someone locked out of their car. Could be someone having a medical emergency.

I picked the cartoon above because I think it summarizes both the best and the worst of the job. Some days, everything is on fire and you just have to deal with it. Some days, everything is on fire and it really is fine, because you can handle everything that it throws at you.

I don't know if I'll do this forever. I hope not. I hope there's something after this that's a little less hectic and a little more chill- and given the fact I dispatch for a Campus Police Department, it's not like I see what thousands of other Dispatchers deal with on an every day basis. No, we have our brand of crazy- it's a little different, but I know that this effort at reclassification is the right thing to do- it would, at minimum be a more accurate way to describe what I do every day. But really it would make what we all know to be true, official. Dispatchers are the first link in the chain of First Response. Recognizing that would be an amazing step forward for the profession as a whole.

So I'm going to be doing some homework on this over the next month or so to find out where my elected officials stand and urge them to get behind this. We'll see what I find out.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Boozehound Unfiltered: Drinks By The Dram

This bad boy represents my first foray into the world of Japanese whiskey and- my first time sampling one of the awesome products of Drinks By The Dram. Exactly what it sounds like, these mini dudes arrive in this compact, waxed sealed little containers (this one came from across the Pond from my Uncle after a recent Parental visit) and live up to their name perfectly. It was the perfect dram of whiskey- not too much, not too little, pretty much the perfect amount to get a good sense of what the whiskey is about and what it tastes like.

This particular dram is the Yoichi 10 Year Old Single Malt, which Master of Malt hails as "the jewel in Nikka's crown," The company dates back to 1934- but the founder Masataka Taketsuru went to Scotland all the way back in 1918 to learn the craft for a couple of years before returning to Japan to join Kotobukiya, which is now Suntory. (Yes, that Suntory.) The company is headquartered in Tokyo, but the Yoichi Distillery is located in Yoichi, Hokkaido, which is the northernmost island of Japan.

Master of Malt loved this stuff...  it's got a solid five stars- though it only has 14 reviews to it's name so far. (And honestly, I need to do some exploration of this website...  my experience is that if you like a whiskey enough to bang out a review of it on your blog, you probably like it quite a bit. Be interesting to see if there are any bad reviews buried on this website somewhere.) Here's what I thought:

Color: Pale yellow/golden. It's not dark at all, but it took a pretty decent examination on my part to land on a color. From the side of the glass, it looked darker than it was when I held it up to the light and looked through the bottom of the glass. 

Aroma: It's very light. Lots of vanilla- there's an underlying note of fruit here as well, but I'm not sure what. I want to say figs, but it feels a little too crisp for that. Possibly melon?

Body: Nicely balanced- it's not too syrupy and not too watery- the MoM review uses the descriptor 'oily' which is probably more accurate. There's some smoke in the taste- as well as hints of something harsh that seems like it could be citrus peel. No spice, which is surprising, given the notes of vanilla in the aroma.

Finish: Hits the back of the throat first- it's harsh, but not unpleasantly so.

Overall: I'm a little hesitant at pronouncing a verdict- I did this tasting on the back half of a cold, so I might have to revisit this at some point in the future to see if my impressions were correct or not. I do want to dip into Japanese whiskey more and there's a lot to like about this whiskey. The aroma was light, the texture perfectly balanced, but the finish left something to be desired. I did like the touch of smoke in the taste- it's subtle and not overwhelming in the way a lot of the Islays can be. My Grade, a solid B+ but with an asterix. I need to find more Japanese whiskey and revisit this in the future.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

This Week In Vexilollogy #183

Quick! Name the only two flags in the world to feature a building!

If you guessed Afghanistan for one, you'd be half right, but the other is our flag for This Week In Vexillology- that's right, we're continuing our grand old meander around Southeast Asia with the flag of Cambodia:
The building in question is, of course, the Angkor Wat, which has been on the flag of Cambodia in one form or another since 1850 or so. This particular flag was first adopted in 1948 and then readopted in 1993 after the restoration of the Monarchy. The first run of this flag last from 1948-1970, when the Khmer Republic was established. Their flag looked like this:
The Khmer Republic lasted from 1970-1975 when the forces of the Khmer Republic were overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, who used this flag- and changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea.
But wait, there's MORE...  Vietnam invaded and overthrew Pol Pot in 1979 and then they adopted this flag and changed the name of the country yet again! This time to the People's Republic of Kampuchea.
Then in 1989, the transition back to a politically unified Cambodia began, with the People's Republic changing the name of the country yet again! To the State of Cambodia while pursuing a peace deal with all Cambodian factions- to help facilitate the transition, they changed the flag yet again- to this:
And that gets us back to the flag being readopted in 1993. So between 1970 and 1993, Cambodia went through four different flags before ending right back up where they began in 1948. Weirdly, the flag adopted by the Khmer Rouge regime (officially called Democratic Kampuchea) was also used from 1982-1993 by the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea which was an internationally recognized government-in-exile consisting of the three main Cambodia factions.

In terms of the overall design of the current flag, it's pretty simple. The Angkor Wat is an important national symbol of Cambodia and red and blue have long been considered traditional colors of the country. What's even more impressive is that despite decades of political instability, war and genocide, the overall design of the flag didn't shift all that much- hell, apart from the Khmer Republic, the color scheme hasn't shifted all that much either.

That's the flag of Cambodia! Remember, until next time, keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bookshot #92: King Charles II

Why do I do this to myself? I seem to have collected a large amount of historical biographies over the years all of which could double as doorstops and they are long and somewhat arduous to read- happily, Antonia Fraser does her best to ease the pain and dullness and makes her biography of King Charles II a fairly engrossing read.

Why King Charles II? Well, I've had this long-standing desire to wrap my head around the English Civil War (or wars, in this case) as I've got a decent grasp of it's American counterpart but couldn't for the life of me figure out the complexities of Cromwell, Charles I and Charles II and how they all figured into the whole ball of wax that was the English Civil War.* I've got a biography of Cromwell waiting in the bullpen (also by Ms. Fraser) but wanted to start here to see if I could get a grasp of the guy who not only survived the overthrow of the monarchy, but came back to England to restore it.

So, clocking in at 612 pages this is an astonishingly complete portrait of the monarch and it's revealing in the fact that you see how the experiences of his youth before and during the Civil War helped shaped Charles into the monarch that he became after the Restoration. Loved by his father (Charles I), Charles proved to be a doting and loving father to his children (all of the illegitimate, as he and his wife, Catherine of Braganza were unable to bear children of their own)- but the experience of his father left him with something of a lifelong dislike of Parliaments. After the Restoration, he recognized the political necessity of working with Parliaments, but wasn't about to let them eat into his prerogatives too much either.

I also think the prolonged exile Charles experienced after the final Royalist defeat at Worcester helped mold him into a monarch that was markedly more aware of the struggles that everyday people faced than most of his predecessors. Charles spent nine miserable years wandering around Europe and he was poor. Not like 'out of a job monarch poor' but like, 'depending on the kindness of strangers and loans' poor. Real people poor, in other words.

The Civil War- or, more precisely, the Three Civil Wars was the crucible of Charles II's life. (TL;DR: Civil War 1: Charles I v Parliament, Parliament wins. Charles I cuts a deal with the Scots who invade and start Civil War 2. Charles gets beheaded and Charles II flees to the continent before signing his own deal with the Scots and starting, you guessed it- Civil War 3, that ended at the Battle of Worcester.) His escape from England to the Continent is the stuff of legend- yes, he really did have to hide in the Oak Tree, but it made him into the monarch that England needed after the Restoration.

After years of war and chaos, the Restoration felt like a relief to many and Charles II, if he did anything, stabilized things- at least for a little while. The inability to produce an heir laid the seeds for the Glorious Revolution of 1688- as the issue of his brother, James' Catholicism became politically controversial (he too, converted- but on his deathbed.) Charles may have accepted the need for the continued existence of a Parliament, but it wouldn't be until William and Mary take over after 1688 that the idea of the absolute monarchy ended once and for all.

As a biography, this is dense stuff (again, it's 612 pages) but Antonia Fraser's writing style is elegant, poetic in parts and very accessible. It's not a chore to read this- at least for the first two thirds or so. Toward the end of the book when Charles was fending off attempts to pass the Exclusion, I sort of got lost in an avalanche of names- Buckinghams, Sutherlands, Monmouths and the like. But as biographies go, it was informative and readable and you can't ask for much more than that.

Overall: If you're looking for a good door stop or just to get your knowledge about the English Civil Wars on, this is a good biography to read. *** out of ****

*I stumbled across the Revolutions Podcast awhile back and have been devouring episodes at a fairly brisk clip, their run on the English Civil War/Revolution was an incredibly helpful enhancement to this book and (as I'm sure I'll discover with Fraser's biography of Cromwell) showed that this Revolution laid some interesting groundwork for the American Revolution of the next century. Plus, it's just an excellent podcast.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Albums2010 #82: Horses

I sort of tripped and fell and discovered Patti Smith accidentally at one point- I'm not sure exactly when, but I know the song that did it: Because The Night. The Natalie Merchant version spent a good summer or two in my youth chewing up the pop charts and I kind of dug the song. But then I found out that Patti Smith had done what I thought at the time was the original (turns out none other than the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen wrote the song originally) so I ran down a compilation of Patti Smith's greatest hits, snagged it and gave it a listen.

It was awesome. (Along with 'Gloria', 'Summer Cannibal', 'Dancing Barefoot' and a great cover of 'When Doves Cry'.) But the album that everyone seems to talk about when you're they talk about Patti Smith is her debut album, Horses, so I jumped on my Spotify, did some searching and gave it a whirl.

The album opens with 'Gloria' which I had heard before and continues to rock. It starts nice and slow, almost like a dirge in many way and builds to a rockin' climax.

The second track, 'Rendondo Beach' is reggae infused simplicity, but it's the third track, 'Birdland' that really grabbed my attention. Beat poetry, jazz infused, it slowly builds to a beautiful crescendo. It's probably my favorite track on the whole album. It's got a friend in 'Land:' which has a lot of the same elements of spoken word/Beat poetry going on, but turns left when you don't expect it to and suddenly ends up in 'Land of A Thousand Dances'. Which needless to say, I wasn't expecting at all.

'Kimberly' has just a touch of the reggae feel that 'Redondo Beach' has but is also one of the more accessible tracks on the album- I could see 'Redondo Beach' and 'Kimberly' getting radio airtime easily, but at 8-9 minutes a pop, 'Birdland' and 'Land:' probably not so much- maybe back in the day, but highly doubtful today. (But then again, what the hell do I know about radio, right?)

'Break It Up' and 'Free Money' also seem to fit well together on the album. The former is a big, mournful, majestic ballad (a tribute to Jim Morrison of The Doors) and I couldn't quite figure out the latter- it seemed to have, weirdly, a Jefferson Airplane vibe to it. Which worked for me, because, well, I like Jefferson Airplane.

'Elegie' is a beautiful ballad that reminded me a lot of Smith's take on 'Because The Night'. It's spare, mournful- pretty much just her voice and the piano until it culminates in a tribute to her idols- in this case, deceased rock God, Jimi Hendrix.

(I guess I must have stumbled across the 30th Anniversary edition of this album, but there was a nice bonus track: an excellent punk cover of  The Who's 'My Generation', that's so full of angry punk rage that it's almost transcendent. It got me excited for a second, because she name checks a John Cale on the song- and I think she was talking about J.J. Cale, but she wasn't. She was talking about this guy- who's got an equally cool resume in my opinion.)

Overall: Short, compact, beautiful, poetic...  I loved every minute of this album. Whatever lead me to find the music of Patti Smith in the first place, all those years ago turned out to be a piece of serendipity and this album only confirmed that. My Grade: A+

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Pre-Endorsements: Confronting The Inevitable

If I could go to sleep and wake up sometime after Election Day, I probably would. It's awful, it's unbearable and while actual news is happening (you remember, the shit that actually matters) the media fixates on Hillary's hacking, wheezing coughing and hangs on every piece of verbal poo that flies out of The Donald's mouth. I honestly don't want to think about this train wreck of an election, but it's creeping up on me, so it's time to dip my toe into this kiddie pool of shit and see what I'm thinking about...  yes, it's time for The Pre-Endorsements...

For President:
I have no earthly idea who I'm going to vote for.  I can't stand Trump. I'm not a fan of Hillary. Jill Stein, despite being a candidate worth voting for in 2012, seems to have gone slightly off the deep end. (Though props for getting an arrest warrant- might be the only Presidential Candidate in history to get arrested in consecutive elections while running for President, with the possible exception of Eugene Debs.) Gary Johnson, despite needing to consult an atlas for the location of Aleppo,Syria, remains the most well-rounded and experienced candidate in the race. His wobbly on foreign affairs though is sort of worrying.

This is an incredibly frustrating choice to be contemplating and the two major candidates aren't helping matters any. Trump's little Tweet about sexual assault in the military was so disgusting that for the first time in the campaign, I seriously felt like I could potentially hold my nose and vote for Hillary. But now there's a question mark about her health* and she had to go take a shit on half the country and that doesn't exactly make me want to run out to the voting booth and cast a vote for her.**

But, looking at this handy-dandy list of candidates I found on the Auditor's Site, I've got some homework today. There's more than four options, that's for sure.

For Senate:
This might be the year I break with Senator Grassley and vote for his Democratic opponent, Patty Judge. To be honest though, I can't remember if I voted for him in 2010 or not. I feel like I probably went 3rd Party that cycle, because, well, it was a boring race and really I didn't care. But this time...  hmmmm...  it's a balance between the potential of losing a lot of influence for Iowa (Grassley is the Chair of The Senate Judiciary Committee) and Senator Grassley's stance on the reclassification of 911 Dispatchers from Administrative to Protective Services annoys me***. The whole Supreme Court dust-up doesn't really bother me all that much, because if you switch the parties on both sides of that argument around, you'd still have the same exact arguments. There are some 3rd Party Options out there- I see that the New Independent Party Iowa is still around and fielding candidates, so I'll have to do some homework here.

For Congress:
Honestly, this one is probably the closest to a no-brainer that I've ever seen. I've got no particular objection to Congressman Loebsack and therefore, I've got no particular reason not to vote for the guy. Is voting for someone the same as endorsing them? That I don't know. My overall reaction to the dude is a sort of 'meh.' He's doing his job competently from what I know- which admittedly, isn't much, but you have to figure if he's not in the news for fucking something up, he can't be that bad, right?

Everything Else:
No State Senators on the ballot this cycle, but there's a state representative seat- Mary Mascher is, of course, running unopposed in District 86.

Board of Supervisors? Three candidates, three to be selected. Gee, I wonder who's going to get selected in this race.

Auditor, unopposed.

Sheriff, unopposed.

LIFE GOAL for the non-partisan offices: figure out what the hell the Agricultural Extension Council and the Soil and Water Conservation Commission actually do.

Judicial Retention? I'd vote to retain. (After the whole dust-up with outside money after the Varnum Decision, I've tended to vote to retain across the board just because I don't want my state's judicial system used as a play thing in the national culture wars. I see no reason to change that practice this time around.)

Iowa City Ballot Measure? Hell yes I'm supporting this... if for no other reason than to bring our City Charter in line with the Iowa Code. But in general, streamlining and making the petition requirements simpler- if not necessarily easier has got to be good for our local democracy and anything that's good for our local democracy I'm in favor of.

We'll see what the next month shakes looks, but for now, it's time to get to it, roll up my sleeves and start doing my homework.

*She's working a schedule that would kill a normal person in a sprint to the finish of a very nasty election. Of course she's gonna get sick- that's not the problem, the problem is the video that legitimized every tinfoil hat whack-a-doo conspiracy theorist out there and it's not the facts that matter with stuff like this, it's the perception. Maybe it won't matter by Election Day, but on the other hand...  maybe it will.

**Look, she's not wrong. But again, it's a perception thing. I don't know how many undecideds are out there but any soft Trump supporters or any 3rd Party types that might be considering a tactical vote against Trump as we get to the finish line won't take it well. It's like Mittens and his 47% remark. It wasn't wrong, per say- but people thought he was talking about them. And they'll think the same wit this. I saw a great quote yesterday: "You can't spit on people and then tell them it's raining." I think that applies. Again, might not matter by Election Day. But then again, maybe it will.

***I'm planning a future blog post on this issue. So stay tuned.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

This Week In Vexillology #182

This Week In Vexillology, we're still running around Southeast Asia, slipping just over the border from Laos to take a look at the flag of it's next door neighbor, Thailand:
The interesting thing about the flag of Thailand is the evolution it's had over the centuries. The first flag of Thailand (then called Siam) was a plain red one that made it's debut around the middle of the 17th Century. A white chakra was added around the end of 18th Century and then an elephant was placed inside in during the early parts of the 19th Century. From the middle of the 19th Century until the flag assumed it's present form in 1917, Thailand doubled down on the elephant, going for a large white one, facing the hoist of the flag, once again on the field of red- first without any regalia and then for awhile with some regalia on board for the ride.

Then 1917 rolled around and King Rama VI entered World War I on the side of the Allies and this flag emerged not long after. The colors are said to represent the unofficial motto of Thailand: 'nation-religion-king.' The red stands for the land and the people, the white for religion and the blue for the Monarchy. The fact that they entered the war for the Allies was also noted as red, white and blue were all the colors in the flags of the main Allied powers as well.

Per Wikipedia, the impetus for change came from a flood, where the King at the time saw the old flag hanging upside down. Wanting to prevent that from happening again, he changed to a symmetrical flag. The middle color was originally a lighter shade of blue, but was changed to dark blue/indigo which was seen as an auspicious color for Saturdays which was the day the King was born.

And that's the flag of Thailand! Remember, until next time keep your flags flying- FREAK or otherwise!