The Razor’s Edge of Now

So I’m home with most of a bottle of Bonny Doon Mourvedre in me.

It’s been a day that I’ll be digesting for a while.

I had meetings up in LA, so rode my motorcycle up for a morning meeting and a lunch. Meetings were great, and I was heading home from Beverly Hills after lunch, riding west on Olympic Blvd. when traffic stopped just past Century City.

I filtered through traffic to the front, where there was a pretty horrific two-vehicle accident. One was an Escalade or other big GM SUV with a smashed front end. The other was a Nissan Altima smashed on the passenger door.

There was no one in the SUV, but several people standing around the Altima; I rode up and asked if everyone was OK. A bystander said “No.”

So I parked, pulled off my gloves and helmet and went to the driver’s door where a woman was crying but seemed OK. Her passenger was sitting still.

I went around to the passenger window, and cut away the side airbag. The passenger was still in his seat, his head to the side in a way that made me pause. I grabbed the back of his head and chin to hold his head steady, and he gasped twice, then was silent. The driver was tugging on his shoulder, calling his name and I pushed her away and told her to sit back and be still.

I held his head with my left hand and felt for a pulse in his throat with my right and got nothing. Wrist, nothing. hand on his chest, nothing.

I took a breath and told myself I was just anxious and tried again. Nothing. hand on his chest, no rise or fall. Eyes half open and rolled back, a line of spittle from the corner of his mouth. I checked my watch, opened my pocket and took out the gloves and CPR shield and opened them and put them on the car roof.

The smashed door wouldn’t open, and I couldn’t get myself far enough into the window to reach him. My motorcycle suit shielded me from the broken glass in the door, but I couldn’t get to him.

I turned to a bystander and asked if they would come hold him while I went in the driver’s door. They came over to help and as we were trying to position ourselves to make the transition, the firetruck pulled up.

I love first responders, but it sure seemed to me that they were taking a long time to get out of the truck, pulling on jackets and picking up gear. I started screaming. “No pulse! No respiration! No pulse! Hustle!” and one fireman heard me and jogged to the car. He opened the driver’s door quickly checked the driver, pulled her from the car, and moved into the driver’s area.

He checked for a pulse and suddenly got much more focused. He turned and yelled for a c-collar, then when no one responded immediately, yelled louder. Someone came over and handed him one and we velcroed it around the passenger’s still neck. I helped lower him as the firemen took him and pulled him out to lay him on the ground.

I had nothing to do to help him, so I walked around the car to the driver, who standing crying while watching them get a respirator bag and defibrillator equipment ready. I pulled her away and sat her down, facing away from the car and the scene on the sidewalk.

“What’s your name, miss?”

She told me.

“What’s your friend’s name?”

She told me. Her boyfriend. He hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt.

I did a 30-second assessment, and other than an airbag burn on her forehead, mild pain in her stomach, and tears she seemed OK. I checked her nails and they pinked up, so if she had internal bleeding, I was guessing it wasn’t urgent enough to interrupt the work on the sidewalk.

We sat and I asked if she needed to call anyone. She gave me her father’s cell number, and I called him, told him his daughter had been in an accident, was upset, but seemed OK. I gave her the phone and she melted down into a torrent of Spanish too fast and too teary for me to follow. She handed me back the phone and said her dad would be right there.

I looked up and saw one fireman doing chest compressions while the others stood by.

Finally, another ambulance showed up and two new EMT came over to help her. I told then what I knew and stepped back. They turned her to get better access to her back and – dammit – faced her back toward her boyfriend, his clothes spread open while another fireman gave him chest compressions and one worked the bag.

I knelt between them, facing her, watching her cry as she talked to the kindly firefighter who was asking her about her pain.

A police officer came up and took her wallet, pulling out her ID and starting to write on his clipboard. He looked at me and I told him I’d stay there, blocking her view, until they lifted him or her onto a gurney. He patted my shoulder and said it was a good idea.

Suddenly I had nothing to do, and all I could do was replay the first moments in my mind. I kept seeing his half-open eyes and hearing his gasps. I kept playing it over and over, trying to think of what I could have done differently. I could have moved the driver and started CPR sooner. I could have put someone in the back seat to hold his head, pulled myself halfway through the window and given him CPR as he sat. A million implausible possibilities.

I held her hand.

And then her dad was there, pushing through the police and firefighters to his daughter’s side, and they were moving her onto a backboard and tying her down with strips of gauze.

As I stepped away, they were still doing chest compressions, but the lack of intensity in the crowd of yellow turnout coats standing around the prone figure told me the news wasn’t good.

I walked back to the car and took my stuff off the roof. The unused CPR shield and nitrile gloves. My helmet and motorcycle gloves. I’d thrown my earplugs onto the ground, and left them there.

My gear went onto my bike, and I walked over to the police officer who was writing on his clipboard. “Do you need me for anything? I didn’t see the accident, just tried to gave aid.” “No,” he said. “Thank you for helping.”

‘Tried to give aid’ sounded exactly right. I didn’t feel like I’d done much, or done the right thing. I kept cycling through possibilities. There must have been something else to do. I tried this, I tried that, all in my imagination.

Put my helmet on and started my bike and rode away; the loud Ducati exhaust sounding somehow offensive as it echoed off the parked ambulances and fire trucks.

I kept thinking about the razor’s edge of now; one moment they were in their car talking and laughing together, and then suddenly on the other side of the now they were apart forever.

I was two blocks away when I started crying inside my helmet. My fingers on the brake lever remembered the touch of his still, warm, skin. while the sound of the bike drowned out the sounds of his last breath. I stopped at the closest Starbucks and called for help.

Crossposted From My Work Blog – Me on Media

As I was coming back from my bone-liquefying cold (defined as one that leaves you draped over the sofa like a boneless chicken), I got a last-minute request to stand in for Andrew Nystrom of the LA Times on a LA Press Club panel discussing trends in the news industry in the face of all this customer-generated content.

They just sent over some pictures….

Here’s the lineup. From the right, Mickey Kaus of Slate, Erin Broadley of Village Voice newspapers, Thomas Kelley of Yahoo, me, Jill Stewart of the LA Weekly.


Here’s Jill laughing at my ineffable smugness (I’m putting this picture here to try and train myself not to ever, ever use that facial expression in public again).


I had three basic points, which I’ll cover here briefly:

One. Mainstream media as we know it is toast.

…the rest is over at my work blog, Charmed Particles.

Valour-IT – Go Team Army!!


Once again, it’s time for ‘Operation Valour-IT’ in which Soldiers’ Angels works to raise money for laptops and other technology to assist the recovery of wounded soldiers. This blog has supported Valour-IT every year, and this year will do so with a much greater intensity…shocking, I know. We have once again joined Blackfive’s Team Army, and encourage bloggers reading this to sign on and support the project as well, and each of you reading this site to donate whatever you can.

I’m in for $100 – who will come along with me?

I’ve heard Chuck Ziegenfuss speak about this, and seen how overcome with emotion he is when he tries to explain what it meant to him – wounded, with injured hands that kept him from dialing a phone or typing on a computer keyboard – when he got his voice-operated laptop. Here’s the backstory:

Project Valour-IT began when Captain Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss was wounded by an IED while serving as commander of a tank company in Iraq in June 2005.

During his deployment he kept a blog (an online personal diary, opinion forum, or news analysis site-called a milblog or military weblog when written by a servicemember or about military subjects). Captivating writing, insightful stories of his experiences, and his self-deprecating humor won him many loyal readers. After he was wounded, his wife continued his blog, keeping his readers informed of his condition.

As he began to recover, CPT Ziegenfuss wanted to return to writing his blog, but serious hand injuries hampered his typing. When a loyal and generous reader gave him a copy of the Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred software, other readers began to realize how important such software could be to CPT Ziegenfuss' fellow wounded soldiers and started cast about for a way to get it to them.

A fellow blogger (blog author) who writes under the pseudonym FbL contacted Captain Ziegenfuss and the two realized they shared a vision of providing laptops with voice-controlled software to wounded soldiers whose injuries prevented them from operating a standard computer. FbL contacted Soldiers Angels, who offered to help develop the project, and Project Valour-IT was born.

In sharing their thoughts, CPT Ziegenfuss (now a Major) and FbL found that memories of their respective fathers were a motivating factor in their work with the project. Both continue their association with this project in memory of the great men in their lives whose fine examples taught them lasting lessons of courage and generosity.

In the years since its founding in 2005, the project has acted to meet emerging needs and its mission of supporting the severely wounded has expanded.  In addition to voice-controlled laptops, Valour-IT now helps provide active and whole-body video games such as Wii Sports, which is used to great effect in physical therapy,  and personal GPS systems that help compensate for short-term memory loss and organizational/spatial challenges common in those with brain injuries.

Radios for Helmland

So it’s been a long time since I’ve worked with Spirit of America. Recent personal events have – let’s say rekindled – my interest in doing what I can in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the reality is that SoA has settled in to steadily meet the needs of local civilians and of our military who are trying desperately to build positive relationships with them.

I just noticed something that I liked a lot in my inbox – a challenge grant, from someone who’s given SoA $10K, to raise another $10K and help buy solar powered radios for villagers in the Helmland, where Micheal Yon most recently was with the Two Rifles, and where the US Marines are working so hard today.

$18.00 buys a radio, or lunch for 2 at Burger King. Which is more important?

OK, Daddy Warbucks, This IS A Problem

Here’s a report from Citicorp on income inequality and the likely long-term economic patterns that may result from it.

The latest Survey of Consumer Finances, for 2004, has been released by the Federal Reserve. It shows the rich continue to account for a disproportionately large share of income and wealth in the US economy: the richest 10% of Americans account for 43% of income, and 57% of net worth. The net worth to income ratio for the richest 10% of Americans increased from 7.4x in 2001, to 8.4x in the 2004 survey. The rich are in great shape, financially.

We think this income and wealth inequality (plutonomy) helps explain many of the conundrums that vex equity investors, such as why high oil prices haven’t seriously dented growth, or why “global imbalances” are growing along with the equity bull market. Implication1: Worry less about these conundrums.

We think the rich are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Implication2: we like companies that sell to or service the rich -luxury goods, private banks etc. Favored names include LVMH and Richemont.

I’m always suspicious of “it’s different now” analysis like this. But I also think that suspicious, or not, you have to take these views seriously.

There are, in our opinion, two issues for equity investors to consider. Firstly, if we are right, that plutonomy is to blame for many of the apparent conundrums that exist around the world, such as negative savings, current account deficits, no consumer recession despite high oil prices or weak consumer sentiment, then so long as the rich continue to get richer, the likelihood of these conundrums resolving themselves through traditionally disruptive means (currency collapses, consumer recessions etc) looks low. The first consequence for equity investors who worry about these issues, is that the risk premia they ascribe to equities to reflect these conundrums/worries, may be too high.

I’ve talked about this stuff a lot – and the fear at root has always been that we’ll wind up with a vastly wealthy transnational monied class, and a large group of interchangeable workers – which may be great for much of the world, but will put the US well into Neil Stevenson’s model where “once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would call prosperity” America falls apart.

Five Million Dollars??

I was shocked this morning to find that Bloomberg has purchased Business Week magazine. Not shocked that they had bought it – it makes good sense and allows Bloomberg to leverage their reporting and data into a consumer market – but shocked that a brand like Business Week, one of the major magazines in America, would sell for only five million dollars.

If you want to think about how fast and far the media marketplace has shifted, think about that.

The Last Good ‘Downfall’ Hack…

As I’ve commented, we don’t have a TV (although, thanks to the miracle of Netflix, we’ve seen almost all of the Sopranos, the Unit and Dexter, and the Wire is rising in our queue). But I’m not unaware of TV culture – here in LA, the bus shelters are billboards and many (most?) of the ads are for TV shows. Note that I personally decided a few years ago that as long as the City is giving away the store to rich corporations (like Cirque de Soleil) they should just give the bus stop billboards to women’s clothing line Bebe and improve the mood of half of the City’s commuters. Their billboards are, um, deeply aesthetic and enriching in a kind of rich puchritudinous Carvaggio way.

If you know what I mean.

Back to my point…the current crop of non-Bebe billboards are all for either Dexter as a dad or a show called ‘Trauma’, which you know is about selfless EMT because they all the beautiful actors are out in the field with coveralls selfless looks and blue nitrile gloves.

Now I’ve never seen Trauma, and if I play my cards in life right, I never will.

But…it has triggered what may be the last funny Downfall hack, after which one hopes we can put the genre to bed. hat tip to the Ambulance Driver blog…

I’m a trained First Responder, and have nothing but respect for the folks who drive the ambulances that show up when things go all pear-shaped. I’d like to remind them that this, too shall pass. And that maybe the TV show will lead to some of the Bebe models applying for jobs driving…


Back in the 16th Century, the Catholic Church got in trouble because – among other things – it allowed the wealthy to buy grace. They could pay the Church and be forgiven their sins – presumably freeing them to go right on sinning.

I’ve remarked in the past (can’t find the posts, and I’m in a hurry to go do chores) that one thing that’s made me uncomfortable with modern liberalism is my observation that the staunch liberals that I know are often pretty bad people; their personal behavior is often worse than the staunch conservatives I know. And that troubles me a lot.

While we like to believe we live our lives flying high in the rarified air of ideas and policies and grand dreams, the reality is that we live it sandwiched between our neighbors. And to me, any value system that privileges the ethereal while ignoring the concrete is suspect. What is, is.

I’ve taken some shots for this from progressives who have challenged my notions for a lot of reasons; the plural of anecdote is definitely not fact, etc.

But now, someone’s gone and done a study. Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto (pdf – h/t Register UK):

Consumer choices not only reflect price and quality preferences but also social and moral values as witnessed in the remarkable growth of the global market for organic and environmentally friendly products. Building on recent research on behavioral priming and moral regulation, we find that mere exposure to green products and the purchase of them lead to markedly different behavioral consequences. In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products.

Their study suggests that thinking about environmentally conscious products leads to more altruism and honesty; buying environmentally sound products, however leads to selfishness and dishonest behavior.

That’s consistent with some of my personal experience, as well as studies which have shown (for example) that conservatives are more charitable than liberals.

And this bothers the hell out of me.

I was discussing Michael Moore’s latest with a friend and I explained that I was troubled by his technique, and by his personal hypocrisy. I explained that I have two friends who do low-income housing with nonprofits in New York and here in Los Angeles. Each of them created, early in their careers, a limited-equity coop that they chose to live in. Each of their personal residences could be sold (even in today’s climate) for nearly a million dollars on the open market – but they will never see that because they made the moral choice to live the values they espouse. That’s the kind of liberalism I support.

It appears, sadly, to be almost too rare to mention.

Some Mornings You Just Don’t Know Whether To Laugh Or Just Slip The Restraints Back On

Obama has won the freaking Nobel Peace Prize??

On one hand, the prize itself has been badly devalued by some of it’s recent winners – El Baredi? Arafat the kleptocrat terrorist? Jimmy Carter the dupe, Al Gore, carbon profiteer?

And I have to say that this award – to Obama before he’s actually, you know, accomplished anything – devalues it further. It becomes one of those MTV awards bands with a hot single get before they develop substance abuse problems, enter rehab, go broke, and wind up working at Jamba Juice.

Chait and Kaus both agree that the savvy thing for Obama to do would be to turn it down. It becomes a twofer then – he’s won it and he’s shown some humility and a sense of proportion.

I actually think it’s going to be interesting this morning to see if he does.