Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beating Type II Diabetes - An Update

In April of 2014, when I got my blood chemistry numbers back into a normal range, I chose not to go back to my pre-Diabetes ways and, instead, stayed with the successful lifestyle that I adopted to rid myself of the disease in the first place.  That meant continuing to ban all foods containing added sugar, not eat grains and starches, limit portion sizes of what I did eat and get some exercise daily.

This worked so well that this month (December 2014), when I went back to my doctor for a check-up, my blood chemistry numbers were not only still in a normal range, all the important levels had improved.  My Hemoglobin A1C was lower, so was my bad cholesterol, while my good cholesterol was up.  Blood pressure was in a low normal range.  All the weight that I lost to accomplish this has stayed off.  When my doctor called me to give me the test results, he was not only impressed, but admitted that my cholesterol numbers were better than his.  He is quite a bit younger than I. 

What lesson can you learn from my experience?  Well, for one thing, you can beat Type II Diabetes.  For another, you can lose weight and keep from gaining it back.  For still another, with a diet and exercise program that you commit to for the rest of your life, you can regain your health and make yourself independent of prescription medications.  At this moment, I need no prescription medications to maintain my current level of health.  I take a minimum amount of vitamin supplements, 500 mg. of non-flush niacin a day, and one of those multi-pill “daily” supplement packs each week.  You know the type I’m referring to.  They come in a box of 30 daily packs, each pack containing five or six vitamin tablets.  I take one of those little packs once a week.  That’s it.

So, what is my plan for next year?  The same as for last year.  Eat the way I've been eating and get more exercise for my body.  For my mind, I will learn as much as I can about those things which I consider important: emergency preparedness, spiritual awareness, human relations, arid climate gardening, urban survival, and cats.  I will be doing lots more writing in 2015 as well and I will keep you updated about that here, along with whatever else I discover about how to get and stay healthy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beating Type II Diabetes

Late in September of 2005, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  The summer before that official diagnosis, I experienced symptoms that worsened to a point where, in desperation, I made myself a doctor’s appointment to see if I could find out what was going on.

The symptoms began with some numbness to my feet which I attributed to my two-hour a day commute in a car with a manual transmission.  Part of the damage to the nerves in my feet was indeed caused by the pressure I needed to exert on the brake and clutch pedals of the car, but some of the damage was related to neuropathy caused by my high blood-sugar levels.  What happens, so medical science purports, is that high blood-sugar levels cause the nerves in the extremities to have difficulty communicating with each other, so the signals that normally travel along those channels are dimmed down and will eventually cease altogether if untreated.  My feet started to tingle.  As it got worse, there were sharp, shooting pains in my feet almost all the time.

The next symptom that manifested was the frequent urination urge, accompanied by an unquenchable thirst.  My body was trying to rid itself of the unusable sugars by the process of urination.  The higher my blood-sugar levels got, the more frequent my body insisted that it needed to get rid of the sugars via urination.  It was a viscous, downward spiral.  I was insatiably thirsty.  I hadn’t ever been much of a water drinker, so my solution to this constant thirst was fruit juice and soda.  Of course, the sugary drinks didn’t satisfy my thirst, instead they actually made the problem worse, since the body immediately rejected the sugar and insisted on purging more liquid from itself.  Eventually, I was losing more fluids that I could drink and started to lose weight from dehydration.  It got so bad that I had to plan my life around how far away I was from a rest room.  My commute became a nightmare.  I stopped drinking anything at all midafternoon, so that I could make it home without having to find a bathroom between my office and my house.  Once I got home, I drank whatever I could get my hands on, and in quantity, pop, juice, water, anything liquid.  At this point, I was getting very little sleep because I had to get up every hour or less to urinate.

To top off the symptoms, my vision started to fail.  I bought higher and higher magnification reading glass from the local drug store, but they couldn’t completely correct my increasingly blurred vision.  That was the trigger for me.  I could live with the pain and the constant trips to the bathroom.  I could live with the dry mouth.  But losing my vision was not an option. This was unacceptable.  The time had come to find out what was going on with my body.

I got on the internet and started researching the symptoms I had.  None of the websites that I searched could seem to match my set of symptoms with any specific diagnosis.  The closest I could get was diabetes; but that didn’t seem quite right either.  How could I have diabetes?  You get diabetes as a kid, not as an adult.  Nothing I found offered me a way to solve my problem by myself.  I was desperate for a solution.  Going blind was not something I was willing to accept.  I made a doctor’s appointment.  I called my HMO, described my symptoms to the person who answered the phone and made the appointment.  Since I hadn’t ever had a complete physical examination while a member of this HMO, that is what they told me I would get as a first step.  I needed help figuring out what was wrong with me.  I needed information and I needed to know what I should do to fix the problem.

The symptoms continued to get worse as the days passed.  The day of my appointment finally arrived.  I checked in at the reception desk, filled out the forms I was given, and waited to be called.  When it was my turn, the nurse weighed me, took my temperature and blood pressure and led me to the examination room.  The doctor came in and did the usual poking and prodding that constitutes a physical exam.  I explained to him what I was experiencing.  He was unwilling, at that point, to make a diagnosis.  He told me that my symptoms could indicate a variety of conditions.  Instead, he had me get dressed and then sent me to the lab where I left some blood and urine for analysis.  The diagnosis would come after the bodily fluids had been analyzed.  I was given no indication of how soon I might get that diagnosis, only that one would be forthcoming at some point.  I think I was close to despair at that point.  I really dislike waiting, but there didn’t seem to be anything else to do at that point, but wait until the lab technicians and the doctor figured out what was wrong with me.

The next morning, while I was still sleeping, the phone rang.  My wife answered it and came into the bedroom to hand me the phone and tell me that my doctor needed to talk to me.


“This is Doctor Z****.  Obviously, you have diabetes.  I need to see you.  Now.”

Okay.  Well, at least I know what it is now.  I was somewhat relieved.  “I have to go to work this morning.  Can we meet this afternoon?”

We set an appointment for that afternoon.  At that meeting I was given some information about Type II Diabetes and what I could do about it.  I was also given three prescriptions for drugs that were supposed to help get my condition under control.  One drug was to control high, blood pressure; one was to lower my cholesterol and one was to help my body process insulin.  There was another prescription for a meter that I could use to test my blood sugar levels.  I had a meeting with a nurse who showed me how to use that meter.  I was expected to test my blood sugar levels in the morning and evening and to keep a record of the readings I was getting from the meter.  I was asked to check in with the nurse at regular intervals and bring the test results along so we could keep track of my progress.  At that point, I was willing to do almost anything to get my body back under my control.  I headed home with my drugs, my testing equipment and the information.  I was ready to get started.

At home, I read the information I was given.  It wasn’t really very helpful.  I found better information on the internet.  There were dietary things I could do that would help get things under control; things I could start on immediately.  From the information I was able to find, it seemed that sugar was the key; or rather that sugar was the problem and no sugar was the solution.  Some years before, I had read the book Sugar Blues and ignored it.  I realized that I should have paid more attention then.  The first thing I should do, I thought, is to stop eating sugar.  Surely, that will help.

It helped.  It helped a lot.  I started walking for 30 minutes a day, Almost immediately, my vision started to come back, my trips to the bathroom got further and further apart, I was able to get more sleep and, best of all, I felt that I was back in control of my body.  As evidenced by my blood tests, my blood sugar levels dropped down into a much lower range, not normal, but substantially better than they had been.  I could do this.  It wasn’t even very difficult.  All I needed to do, I thought, was read labels, keep my sugar intake down to a minimum and exercise a bit.  I had received a sort of a diet plan from the HMO and I used it guide my eating habits.  They had offered a consultation with a dietician, but, from what I was seeing from the information I found, I figured I could take charge of my own diet.

I started reading labels.  Those items that were full of added sugars, I didn’t buy.  I did a lot more cooking at home, made things from scratch.  We ate a lot of soups and stews and salads.  I learned how to eat at restaurants to minimize my sugar intake.  I really worked at eating as little sugar as possible.  I removed from my diet, fruit, soda (of course), fruit juice, white rice, white bread, most canned foods, most prepared foods and desserts.  I ate what I considered a healthy diet.  I treated myself, occasionally to a fast-food burger and fries.  I allowed myself snacks with very low sugar content.  And I exercised at least 30 minutes a day.  I did this for eight years, all the while monitoring my blood sugar levels and seeing my doctor regularly for blood and urine tests to keep track of how I was doing.

For those eight years, I had my Type II Diabetes somewhat under control.  I was comfortable with my new way of eating; my blood chemistry numbers stayed right on the edge of normal for someone with Type II Diabetes.  Good enough, I thought.  If this is what it takes, I can live like this.  There was one little factor I hadn’t taken into consideration: my body weight.  Oh, yeah, just a little minor detail I had overlooked.  Yes, I was eating a minimum of processed sugar, but I was still eating lots of things that turned into sugar after I ate them; things like pretzels, chips, brown rice, potatoes, and whole grain breads.  At the end of eight years, I weighed about 260 lbs. and my blood chemistry numbers began to get worse.

We had lost our health insurance coverage along the way due to my wife being downsized out of a job, so I was back on my own as far as managing my healthcare was concerned.  I made an arrangement with a private physician so that I could still get the blood work done and continue keeping an eye on things.  When the blood chemistry numbers crashed, I knew I needed to do something more to keep my condition under control.  My next appointment with the doctor’s office was with my regular doctor’s partner.  I’d never met him before and so I had no idea what to expect when I went in to talk to him about my latest round of blood test results.

This doctor is a rare gem in the medical profession.  He is in the business of helping people learn to take control of their own health and well-being, rather than the usual pill pushing and scolding that most doctors do.  With his help and guidance, I got the information I needed to begin my effort to not just control my Type II Diabetes, but to, perhaps, cure myself of this condition.  He didn’t just scold me and tell me I needed to lose weight.  He gave me a comprehensible diet plan that made it possible to do that.  I told him that my goal was to get off the medications entirely.  Together we began to work on doing just that.  The first step was to lose weight; lots and lots of it.  Doing that was the key to everything else.

I took the barely readable copy of the diet home with me, found the website where it came from, and printed myself a more readable copy.  It was, essentially, an “Atkins” style diet, or “paleo” diet.  To lose weight, according to my doctor, I would need to alter this diet and eliminate the starches and grains from it.  All that left for me to eat was meat and vegetables.  Even the amount of meat was limited.  The vegetables, though, were unlimited.  The doctor had suggested that I should have something to eat in the morning just to get my metabolism rolling at the beginning of the day.  He told me that I could have two snacks a day, one mid-afternoon and one an hour before bedtime, but that they should be no more than 250 calories.  Finally, he recommended at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, more, if I really wanted to drop weight quickly.  Armed with this data, I began my campaign to rid myself of Type II Diabetes and get off all prescription medications.

It worked.  In the first three months, I had knocked my blood sugar numbers down lower that they had been in years.  In six months, I had lost 50 lbs. and the blood numbers were even better.  At the end of a year, I had lost 80 lbs. and officially beat Type II Diabetes.  Since then, I’ve lost another 5 lbs. and am working on keeping my weight stable at about 175.  I’m off the cholesterol meds and the blood pressure meds and am tapering off the diabetes meds.

I did it.  It was not easy.  It required all the discipline I could muster to stick with it.  I had to come to terms with being hungry all the time.  All the time.  I still am.  It’s okay.  I consider it normal now, and I don’t mind.  I had to learn how to eat at parties, at restaurants, with friends and not stray from the diet.  I had to learn portion control.  That meant that when I would hit plateaus as my weight dropped, I would have to eat less, fewer calories, to drop more weight, or exercise more to burn more calories, or both.  I learned to control the panic I felt as I cut down my daily food intake.  I had to tell myself that I wasn’t going to starve to death if I just ate a little less; while my body was telling me that it was indeed starving.  It wasn’t.  I wasn’t.  Instead, I was winning the battle.  I had to let my friends know that it was okay if they served dessert at our parties together and that they were not to feel bad because I wasn’t eating that sort of thing anymore.  Lucky for me, my wife loves the way we eat now and has been completely supportive of me through the entire ordeal.  With her help, I succeeded.

It’s interesting, being thin again.  People who haven’t seen me for a while, don’t recognize me.  I have to re-introduce myself to them. I don’t mind.  I have more energy, more flexibility, more visible bone-structure and no dependence upon medication.  I like it.  The only down side to it is that most of my clothes are now too large for me.  I’m gradually cleaning out closets and drawers and donating all my XL clothes to the thrift store.  Even my shoes were too large and had to be replaced.

Finally, the most interesting thing I discovered in this process is that there is no word in the English language that encompasses the concept of growing too small for one’s clothes.  If you grow too large for them, you “outgrow” them.  “Ingrown” is used to describe another phenomenon. Ungrown? Lessgrown? Grown down? Thinisized? Someone should create a word for getting too thin for your clothes.  Any suggestions will be gratefully considered.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Burning Bridges: The final chapter in my Neighborhood Council candidacy story.

Prime Time Viewing

 The final candidates' forum that I had to attend in the run for my local Neighborhood Council was put together by another of my team mates who got the Community Police Advisory Board to sponsor and moderate the event.  Just the fact that the police or anything associated with law enforcement had anything at all to do with the forum was very annoying to several of the other candidates who were running.  They called their slate, “Yours, Not Ours,” but it seemed more like “Us vs. Them” to me, and I began referring to them by that name.  There were some members of that slate who were decidedly anti-police.  I won’t speculate upon the reasons that they felt that way, but you are free to do so, if you wish.  The forum was held just a week before the election.  It was to have a different format than the previous one with the candidates given one minute for an introduction, one minute to answer the question “What do you feel are the three most important issues facing Silver Lake residents?”, and thirty seconds for a final comment.  After my research, study and previous experience, I felt ready for this meeting.

When I arrived at the elementary school auditorium where the forum was being held, I signed in and found a seat at the front of the room with the other candidates in attendance.  I was able to sit next near a couple of my fellow team members, so there was less of that “venturing into hostile territory” feeling that I get when I find myself among the hard-core leftists.  As the forum began, the first thing we learned was that the format had changed.  Instead of what I had anticipated from the information I had received, the forum would now consist of a very short introduction, two questions gleaned from the audience, and a short final comment.  It didn’t matter.  A scan of the audience revealed to me that it was comprised for the most part of “Us vs. Them” partisans.

Given the make-up of the audience, I knew that the questions the candidates would be asked to address would have nothing to do with issues, but, instead, would be intended to give the hard-left-slate candidates a platform from which to espouse their message.  To that end, one of the questions to which we were asked to respond was “How do you plan to reach out to the community?”  In other words, how would I determine what the greatest “needs” in the community were as envisioned by the lowest common denominator of the “stakeholders.”  Stakeholder is defined as anyone with vague interest in the community, which could include people who shop there, work there, drive through, exercise there, receive services there, live there, rent there, or, in other words, anyone who claims to have a stake in the community.  I answered that one with the idea that through a Neighborhood Watch program people could learn to communicate with each other and solve their own problems, rather than stand around with their hand out waiting for their Neighborhood Council representative or other city or federal employee to help them.  My idea was met with overt derision.  I expected nothing more.  My final comments were spent restating my belief that the last thing in the world anyone needed was another layer of useless, parasitic city government.  I was hoping to plant the thought in the audience that it might be possible to succeed in life without the aid or reliance upon any sort of government assistance.  I don’t believe I found any fertile soil for such a seditious seedling.  I was glad that this was the last time I would have to sit among what I consider enemies of freedom and self-reliance.

At this point, I had seen and experienced, at the most local of levels, the inner workings of left-wing politics.  It was not an appealing sight.  In my view, both sides of this race had essentially the same core values, none of which I agreed with.  I liken them to two groups of arsonists debating which brand and what quantity of gasoline they each want to add to the fire which is burning America to the ground.  The only chance I had of being elected was if I was carried in by my association with the higher-quality, less quantity of gasoline crowd who had recruited me.

Election day arrived and even that was a complete fiasco.  One of the issues that came up during the run-up to the election was the number and location of the polling places.  Some of the people on my end of the neighborhood thought there ought to be two polling places, one on the north end and one on the south end.  The people on the south end of Silver Lake assumed a full-on victim stance and claimed that the people on the north side were all rich, white people who would all turn out to vote and deprive the alleged poor people on the south side of any representation on the council and so the only polling place ought to be on the south side.  Given the nature of Los Angeles politics, the city bureaucracy that runs the neighborhood council system decided that there would be only one polling place and that it would be on the south side of the neighborhood.  Add to the mix the fact that the person in charge of administering the election was a very vocal “Us vs. Them” partisan and the result is that the group I was involved with never had a chance.  This particular election administrator had to be removed from the polling place on election day for electioneering for her friends.  Finally, the parking lot, which was supposed to be open and available that day was, instead, in use for some unrelated event.  There was an alternate parking lot across the street, but that information was known to only the election administrators and not to the voters.  To sum it up, there was only one polling place at the south end of the neighborhood, there was evidently no parking available at that location, and the Us vs. Them partisans were shilling for their candidates right inside the polling place.  As you might suspect, the Us Vs. Them folks won the day.

Surprisingly, I got 299 votes.  I have no idea how that happened.  I’m quite sure I didn’t talk to anywhere near that many people.  I was just carried along on the wings of the group I was associated with.  When I got the results of the vote, I was relieved at the thought of not having to spend time or energy dealing with the madness that ensues at the Neighborhood Council meetings.  I don’t enjoy arguing politics with people who have no fundamental knowledge of how government works and who have no idea what actually motivates people.  There was one last loose end, though.  I was still an official co-chairperson of the Public Safety Committee.  That meant that I was still associated with the Neighborhood Council.  I needed to find a way to either come to terms with that association, or gracefully bow out of it.

After the election, I got an e-mail from my Public Safety Committee co-chairperson asking for my thoughts on what we should do with the committee in the coming months.  I sent along the following:

Proposed Public Safety/CERT Program

Rotating Emergency Preparedness meetings.
1. South Silver Lake – location(s)?
2. North Silver Lake – location(s)?
3. Year-long Agenda along CERT training/awareness lines.
a. Push people into CERT classes
b. Get people thinking about emergency preparedness
i. Series of different instructional meetings
4. Attendance at community events
a. Need booth furniture
b. Need preparedness handouts
c. Need CERT literature
5. Publicize Meetings
a. Echo Park-Silver Lake Patch
i. Contact: echopark.patch.com
ii. Deadline: none
iii. Monthly events can be added to their calendar through my account.
b. The Eastsider
i. Contact: www.theeastsiderla.com
ii. Deadline: none
iii. Monthly events can be added to their calendar seemingly free
c. The Laist
i. Contact: Doesn’t have a calendar section.
d. Los Feliz Ledger
i. Contact: Allison Ferraro – e-mail sent – no response.
ii. Deadline: unknown
e. South Silver Lake paper?
i. Contact
ii. Deadline
f. Community Bulletin Boards
i. Locations:  SL Library,
g. Laundro-Mat Bulletin Boards
i. Locations:
i. Other places

Neighborhood Watch Groups
1. Presentations to local community groups
2. Help with formation and organization of new groups
3. Alliance meetings of key group leaders
4. Work with Paul
5. Promote National Night Out for each area
Lecture Series for Emergency Preparedness Meetings

Notes:   Each should stand alone, but taken together form a body of knowledge on the subject.

Lecture 1:   What is a disaster?  Cover everything from broken cars to earthquakes to civil unrest.  Get a discussion going on what might happen in each case.  How bad could it get?  Where might you be?  Home, office, school, freeway?  What would you need to be prepared? Supplies? Hazards?  Discussion.  Hand out personal supplies list, family supplies list.

Lecture 2: Personal preparedness and community preparedness.  We’re all in this together.  Disaster scenario.  Neighbors can help each other survive.  Each person has something to contribute.  Everyone needs to be prepared so that resources can be shared.  How would you talk to your neighbors about this?

Lecture 3: Getting your home ready for an earthquake or other disaster.  Fire suppression, escape routes, rally points, hazardous materials, securing heavy objects, safety, shutting off gas and electricity, evacuation.  Bug out bag for evacuation.  Discussion.

Lecture 4: What will you do if the city resources are overwhelmed and you are on your own in a disaster?  What skills do you need to have?  What can you do to prepare?  What will you need to survive?  Food, water, sanitation, security, light, communications. Discussion.

Lecture 5: Talking to your neighbors about Emergency Preparedness.  How to approach them.  Talk earthquakes and what happens thereafter.  Share information with them.  Discussion. Drill with each other on what you might say.

Lecture 6: If you have to evacuate, what will you need to survive?  Go Bags.  Get home bags. Daily items you carry on your person. The skills you have will influence what you pack for survival.  Discussion.

I received what I considered to be a rather tepid response to my proposal.  My co-chair only wanted to work on getting a Neighborhood Watch group started at a senior center on the south end of the neighborhood.  I thought that, perhaps, my proposal seemed a bit too ambitious to my co-chair.  I agreed that we should get that Neighborhood Watch group going and pressed for a date for the next meeting.  As the days went by and no date was set for the Neighborhood Watch meeting, I offered a proposal for a presentation I might give for the upcoming committee meeting.  That also received a tepid response and was followed with my co-chair deciding to cancel the next committee meeting.  There was no communication between my co-chair and the Neighborhood Council to let them know that the meeting would be cancelled.  Finally at the last minute, they were informed and the cancellation notice was published.  I continued to follow up with my co-chair on what we might do going forward, but got no commitment on an agenda or even on a future meeting.  I received a couple of e-mails from my co-chair informing me that he/she was quitting.  My response was to lament that fact that several of his/her proposed projects and events would not happen and to ask if that was what he/she really wanted to do.  I got no response.

I was left hanging in the breeze, as they say.  With my co-chair’s resignation, I was in charge of the committee, a position I had never sought or desired.  I felt I had no choice but to make my position known to the Neighborhood Council so that they could find new people to take over the committee.  I sent them an e-mail and laid out my position on the matter.  As it turned out, my co-chair had never informed them of his/her resignation.  I ended up being made the “bad guy” for being honest about the situation.  And so, I burned that final bridge in my brief foray into local politics.

The mistake that I made at the beginning was that I neglected to do my research so that I had some idea of what I was getting into by declaring myself a candidate in the first place.  Had I done that by attending some meetings, I would never have submitted my name as a candidate.  On the other hand, during the course of the campaign, I did meet some good people who genuinely care about Silver Lake.  I have no regrets about that aspect of the experience.

I still would like to help my neighbors achieve a better level of preparedness, situational awareness, and communication.  I am doing that by taking a more active role in organizing my area of operations for the Neighborhood Watch.  It’s a good program, since its purpose aligns very well with my own as far as building community spirit and awareness is concerned.  The best part is that there doesn’t have to be any partisan politics involved to create an effective Neighborhood Watch group.  I have skills and knowledge I can share with the group and I’m finding that there are things I can learn from my neighbors, too.  I can do everything I thought the Neighborhood Council ought to be doing through a Neighborhood Watch program, so that’s what I’ll be doing.  I’ve already begun the process and am finding it quite rewarding and interesting.  I like helping my neighbors.  I like encouraging them to help themselves, to be self-reliant and to be prepared for whatever might happen in our neighborhood.  The more my neighbors can take responsibility for their own survival and not depend upon the government for help, the better off we all with be.  I consider that a goal worth working toward.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Situational Awareness - An Article I Wrote


Situational Awareness
By Brett A. Fernau ©2014 All Rights Reserved

What is “situational awareness?”  Very simply, it is knowing what is going on around you.  You may well believe that you already have this.  Of course you know what’s going on around you.  Do you really?  And more importantly, do you always know?

When you go out for a walk, do you take your smart-phone with you and catch up on your texts, listen to messages, return calls?  How is your situational awareness while you do that?  Do you plug in your headphones and listen to music while you walk?  The music inspires you to walk a little faster and it relieves some of that stress that has built up in you during the course of the day.  It makes you happy.  But how does it affect your situational awareness?

When you walk out your front door in the morning to get in your car and go to work, do you pause at the threshold and look around before locking the door and proceeding down the sidewalk?  As you walk toward your car do you focus on just going from point A to point B, or do you look around you to see what’s going on?  Of course you look in your mirrors and check for other cars before you pull out into the street.  Do you change stations on the radio, set the GPS, make or take phone calls while you drive?  How does that affect your ability to react to what other drivers are doing around you?  Does situational awareness apply to driving a motor vehicle?

You make it safely to your office and park your car.  As you exit your vehicle are you aware of what is going on in the parking garage, or on the street where you parked?  Or are you running late and just need to concentrate on getting to where you need to be?  During your work day, how much attention do you have on your surroundings?  Would you notice if an angry customer showed up looking for trouble, or a disgruntled, recently terminated, fellow employee came in seeking revenge?  You’ve survived the workday and it is time to go home.  Are you aware of who is in the elevator with you, who is in the lobby of the building as you walk toward the exit?  Is someone following you as you walk down the street toward your car?  Who is in the area around where your car is parked?  If you parked in the building’s parking garage, was there someone hanging around the entrance who is now following you toward your car?  You get into your car and drive out onto the street toward home.  Has that car that pulled out behind you been following you for quite some time?  As you approach your house, is that same car still following you?

Situational awareness is knowing what is going on around you at all times and in all situations.  To know that, you must look.  If you are preoccupied with work, or a personal problem; if you are distracted by a phone call, or a text message; then you have put yourself in some degree of danger.  How much danger you may be in depends upon the situation.  At home, in your backyard the danger may be negligible.  In a parking garage, at the local shopping mall, at 11:00 p.m. the danger may be significantly greater.  In your car, driving in traffic at 60 m.p.h., the danger could be quite extreme.  Awareness of where you are, of who and what surrounds you, and of the time of day are all elements which define the situation in which you find yourself.

We are admonished, these days, not to be judgmental.  In terms of situational awareness, you must constantly use your very best judgment to evaluate your surroundings in order to stay safe.  Judgment requires you to ask:

What are the intentions of that person following me, or that group of people loitering on the sidewalk in front of me?

Is there enough time for me to cross that street without being struck by an oncoming vehicle?

Do I open my front door to that stranger who just rang the bell?

I just heard a loud noise outside, do I go investigate it?

Is this a safe place to park my car while I’m away for a couple of hours?

I’m just going into that store for a minute.  Do I leave my GPS in its dashboard mount or put it away out of sight?

Is this offer I just received too good to be true?

Someone just bumped the rear of my car on this dark street.  Should I get out and deal with it?  Should I call the police?

You need to use judgment to make a decision.  Is the situation you are in dangerous?  How do you know?  What is there about the situation which could cause you harm?  You assess all of the elements that you see, you add that to what you know, you consider what skills you have that might mitigate the danger in some way and then you use your judgment to make a decision about how to handle it.  Do you attack, retreat, hide, avoid, or ignore it?  How do you decide?  You weigh all the factors and you make a judgment as to the danger level.  You make a judgment on the safest way to proceed and then you do something, all based upon your own best judgment.  If you don’t make a decision, the environment will make it for you.  If you take the non-judgmental route, the outcome will rarely be in your best interests.

A high degree of situational awareness gives you knowledge about your surroundings so that you can make sound judgments about how to proceed.  A low degree of situational awareness can get you into serious trouble.  Most people take for granted the idea that they know what is going on around them, but if you were to stop, at random, someone on the street and ask them questions about their surroundings, you would find that their situation awareness was quite minimal.

It is an inherent human ability.  A baby has some awareness of what is going on around him, he may not know exactly what activity is going on nearby, but he knows that something is happening.  He recognizes his mother’s voice, perhaps, and turns his head in that direction.  That baby has some situational awareness, it almost seems instinctual, but in reality it is a learned, survival behavior reinforced by positive and negative feedback.  His mother’s voice means food, warmth and love and so, of course, he reacts positively to her voice.  If he hears a loud noise, he is startled.  He wonders what it is, he is confused and defenseless and cries out.  He is aware of his surroundings.  As you grow older, you gain experience; you know what many sounds mean, you learn what things are dangerous to you, what odors indicate toxic substances; you use your senses and your knowledge to attempt to navigate safely through your environment.  When you are seeking information about your surroundings, your level of situational awareness goes up.  When you are tired, bored, complacent, or distracted, your level of situational awareness goes down.

As with any skill you have, be it running, jumping, singing, playing piano, or anything you do consciously, situational awareness can be drilled and practiced so you get better and better at it.  It is something that you do, not an instinct and not a stimulus-response mechanism.  With just a little regular practice you can get quite good at it.  Here’s how you would go about raising your level of situational awareness.  Locate a safe area in daylight hours and go for a walk.  If you have a partner or a friend with you, all the better, but you can do this by yourself as well.  Have your partner give you this command: “Look around you and find something.”  Perform the action and tell your partner what you found.  Your partner would acknowledge your answer with: “Good,” and give you the same command newly.  Continue in this way until your partner feels more aware of his surroundings and then switch roles where you give the command and your partner does the looking and answering.  Do this exercise as you walk around your neighborhood, or through the park, anywhere you might be.  You can even do it by yourself as you walk around, or even as you sit in your chair at home.  Train yourself to look around and really see what is there, not what you expect to find, but what is actually there.  You may be surprised by how much of what is around you that you were not really noticing.  Do the drill everywhere you go.  Your situational awareness will get better and better.  Expand the drill by not just looking, but, instead, use your other senses, hearing, smell, taste, touch.  What do you hear around you?  What else do you hear?  What made the sound?  What do you smell in your environment?  Can you taste anything on the wind?  How does the wind feel on your skin?  You can be more aware of your environment than you ever imagined and that awareness can save your life.

Get outside, move around, extend your senses, know what is going on around you, in your yard, on your block, in your neighborhood, in your city, in your country and in your world.  Get as much information as you can about your environment, seek truth, look beneath the surface, behind the scenes, under the rocks, evaluate the data you receive, verify the sources, question motives, and keep your own counsel.  Situational awareness extends beyond your immediate surroundings.  Find out what is going on, ask questions, communicate, look for yourself, read, write, listen, observe and when it becomes necessary to act to insure your own survival and that of your loved ones, you will have all the information you need to make decisions about just what you need to do.

Situational awareness is only the first of the fundamental skills you need to survive in the world as it is today.  But your situational awareness may well help you avoid needing any but the most rudimentary self-defense skills.  Your best defense against any hazardous situation is to avoid it.  You aren’t expendable.  If are aware of what you are getting yourself into, you can choose not to get yourself into it.  If you can’t avoid it, then you will need offensive and defensive skills and the willingness to use them.  As you become more aware of the world around you, you will soon see for yourself what kinds of skills you need to survive the worst that can happen to you and your loved ones.  Figure out which of those skills best suit your abilities and begin learning them.  Get yourself in good physical condition, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and you might just have a chance in whatever happens next on this troubled planet of ours.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Candidates Meet-and-Greet

Perched on the Hill

Since the location was only mile or so away, I decided to walk to it.  I felt as ready for whatever this was going to be as could anyone who hadn’t ever attended a candidates meet-and-greet event.  I had studied the issues, knew the gentleman who was hosting it, and knew something of the other candidates who would be there.  I could foresee only one problem – I don’t do “cold calls.”

If you don’t know what a “cold call” is, let me explain to you the way I view one.  You walk up to someone you’ve never met, or even seen before, introduce yourself, tell them what you are doing (or selling), talk to them with the intention of winning their support (or getting them to buy whatever it is you are selling), and, finally, make the sale.  You are selling yourself, always, as a salesperson or a candidate.  Only one problem with that, I don’t really like sales.  More than that, I have this unreasoning fear of “cold calling.”  I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve had it for a very long time.

My first memory of being terrified of talking to someone is in the neighborhood where I lived in Chicago when I was very young.  There had been an incident in the front yard of the apartment building where we lived.  I had my bicycle turned upside down and was turning the pedals with my hand to see how fast I could get the back wheel spinning.  The little girl from next door was watching me do this and, for some reason, got curious and reached out a finger to touch the moving bicycle chain.  Apparently, she lost the tip of that finger.  I didn’t see it.  All I remember is the crying and the commotion.  I guess I am to some extent responsible for that little girl getting hurt, perhaps entirely responsible.  Just by being where I was, doing what I was doing, and not warning her to keep her finger out of a moving machine made it my fault that she got injured.  Or so it seems.  It was never really explained to me.  All I know is that I was warned not talk to the people next door because they were suing my parents for the girl’s medical bills.  I didn’t really know what any of that meant; except that there was now a place that I had to avoid so that I didn’t inadvertently cause any more damage.  As I recall, the next door neighbor’s kids were the only friends I had on the block.  Now I had none.  I was afraid to ride past their house on my bike.  Ahhh, those happy childhood memories.

After that, I really had no interest in meeting new people or making new friends.  A few years, and three changes in location later (we moved first to Morton Grove and then to Peoria and then to East Peoria), my parents decided that I needed to go to summer camp.  I don’t recall them asking me if I wanted to go.  I certainly don’t recall dreaming fondly of heading off to somewhere out of state to spend a couple of weeks with strangers.  I’m sure it would never have occurred to me.  I was given no choice in the matter.  Part of the summer camp deal was that I could earn some of the money it cost to go there by selling cookies door-to-door.  Did I mention that my father was a salesman?

My father was/is a salesman.  From the day I was born until the day he retired, my father sold things.  Up until about 1975, he sold industrial fluorescent lighting fixtures – lots of them.  He worked for a company based in St. Louis as a route salesman.  That meant that he would travel all over southern Illinois calling on customers, finding new customers and making deals on lighting fixtures.  He was very good at it, apparently.  He loved cold calls.  He loved meeting strangers.  Strangers were potential customers to him.  He stopped selling lighting fixtures in about 1975, after moving to Denver, Colorado to sell them for a company located there.  The market for that sort of product had changed.  He moved up to the mountains of Colorado and started selling cars.  That was only a passing fancy, though, to pay his bills.  Where he was headed next was real estate.  He got a real estate license and then a real estate broker’s license and from then on until he retired, he sold real estate.  I had moved away from home by then so I wasn’t a witness to very much of the real estate sales period of his life, though I did visit him at a number of the places where he sold everything from raw land to time-shares.  Salesmanship ought to be in my blood.  It is not.

Resuming our tale of my door-to-door cookie sales experience, my parents informed me that I would need to sell these cookies to earn my way to camp.  Earning, I believe, means receiving something you desire in exchange for effort.  I had no desire to go to camp and so I had no reason to expend any effort selling cookies.  And I certainly had no interest in knocking on some stranger’s door, introducing myself, etc., etc.  I was terrified.  There was a standard spiel that I was supposed to memorize and recite as I met each new potential customer.  It went something like this: “Hi, my name is Brett Fernau and I am earning my way to camp by selling these delicious Chocolate Drop Cookies.”  There was probably more to the sales pitch, but that is all I remember.  I’d usually get that much of it spoken before I got the usual “No thanks” followed by the occupant of the house closing the door.  My parents took me out selling cookies whenever we had a mutually free moment.  I knocked on a lot of doors, I received a lot of rejections and I didn’t sell too many cookies.  You’d think that I’d have gotten over my fear of cold calls by just getting out there and making some.  I did not.  Each new closed door, behind which lived someone who I had never met, held just as much terror for me as the last one I had reluctantly approached.  It never got better.  My parents made me go to camp, too.  Selling cookies was neither fun, nor successful.  Camp was horrible for the most part.

I was going to say that I’ve never been comfortable meeting new people, but that isn’t quite true.  What I’m uncomfortable with is selling something to a stranger.  An oddly specific fear, I suppose, with no psychobabble buzzword to label it.  It’s a fear akin to stage fright and, thus, is a fear of ridicule and rejection.  I don’t mind meeting new people at a party, though I don’t seek them out.  I can have long conversations with someone I just met about subjects of mutual interest and thoroughly enjoy myself.  I can walk the streets of downtown Los Angeles at night taking photographs and not feel that I am in very much danger.  But, put me in a position where I have to sell something, especially myself, and I just want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but preferably a place where salesmanship is not required.  This is unreasonable, of course.  I know that.  I ought to be able to overcome it easily.  I haven’t yet.  And now I had a meet-and-greet to attend.

I had promised to see this candidacy through to the end.  The meet-and-greet was part of that effort, so I walked up to the house, knocked on the door and was met by the host.  I help him set up chairs and carried a tray or two of snacks for the neighbors we anticipated would be attending.  Some of the other candidates arrived.  Since I had already met them, I could talk to them.  And then the neighbors began to arrive.  The more experienced of the candidates set the standard.  They greeted people, shook hands, talked about the issues, asked the neighbors about their concerns; they had all the right moves and knew their lines well.  I sat down at a table and watched them all interact.  I could not generate any interest in selling myself to these people.  It was cookie selling all over again.  I didn’t really want to be on the Neighborhood Council and so I didn’t care if these people voted for me or not.  No, that wasn’t it.  I just couldn’t beat my fear of meeting new people.  Finally, I stood up and walked over to where one of the other candidates was speaking to a group of neighbors.  I listened to him tell them about his views of the issues and respond to their questions and concerns.  He was kind enough to include me in the conversation and I did manage to express some of my opinions.  It wasn’t much, but it was better than sitting alone at the table.  I survived the candidate meet-and-greet.  I don’t suppose I gained any supporters, but at least I was there.  I did what I said I would do, even if I didn’t do it very well.

The candidacy process was almost over.  There was one more forum to attend.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The First Forum

Reflecting on the Reservoir
Armed with my newly gained knowledge about the issues I thought were pertinent to the community, I was not completely terrified of the approaching candidate forum.  The time allotted for each candidate to speak was so small that I didn’t expect to get into too much trouble.

Where I arrived at the auditorium where the forum was taking place, I immediately saw that there were more candidates attending than people from the neighborhood.  I wasn’t surprised.  I’d seen the attendance at the Neighborhood Council meetings.  These were the same people I’d seen there.  We were given 30 seconds to introduce ourselves.  I told them who I was and how long I’d lived in the neighborhood and a brief summary of what I do.  I then told them that the entire concept of the Neighborhood Council ought to be re-envisioned to create a resource for communication and volunteerism, rather than the added layer of city government which it currently was.

There were to be two questions asked of all the candidates.  Each of us was given forty seconds to answer each question.  As the first question, we were asked what we thought was the single most important issue facing the community.  Fortunately, I was not the first to be called on to answer the question, so I was able to get an idea by what the other candidates said as to what I wanted to tell the people in the room.  I decided to spend my forty seconds talking about communication.  It wasn’t bad for an adlibbed speech.  I told them I thought our biggest problem was that we didn’t really talk to our neighbors very much anymore and that the way to build a community was through communication.  Forty seconds is a very small amount of time to say anything very meaningful, but I did the best I could.  Some of the other candidates were very good at articulating their favorite issue; others just rambled and quickly ran out of time before they said anything meaningful.  I was beginning to be grateful for the forty second limit on speechifying.

The second thing the moderator wanted us to address was what we thought the best way to reach out to the community might be.  Again, I was not the first to be called, so I had some time to decide what to talk about.  I chose the Neighborhood Watch program as an effective way to get people talking and working together for a common goal.  With the right group of people, a Neighborhood Watch can really be a great community builder, so I talked about that.  I thought I did well.  I again emphasized that people needed to look to each other for solutions to problems and not wait around for some government agency to figure it out.  I don’t suppose it was what anyone wanted to hear, but I do believe it to be true.  Government is really only good at stopping things or trying to stop things.  Actions are performed by individuals.  Ideas come from individuals.  Of course, it can be good to have lots of help putting those ideas into practice, but somebody has to be in charge.  Decisions are best made by individuals.  Groups generally arrive at lowest common denominator type solutions which are rarely, if ever, as effective as those solutions decided by well-informed individuals.

I survived the first forum with my dignity mostly intact.  The handful of people attending now had some idea where I stood on some basic issues.  Whether that made them more inclined to vote for me, I knew not.  Probably not, I guessed, since there seem to be a lot of people in California who thing government at all levels has the answers to all of their problems.  The next event was a candidate meet-and-greet that was taking place at a private residence in two days.  I had no idea what to expect, having never been to a meet-and-greet.  I suspected that I would not enjoy it, but that’s another story.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Political Reality Appears in all its Horror

The Fence Around the Cloud Preserve

The more I became involved in the Neighborhood Council, the more I was horrified by how far astray it was from what I believe to be the proper scope and function of government.  At one point, I was so appalled that I decided I couldn’t go forward.  It was not the right thing for me to do or be involved in.  I sent the following letter to the leader of our little coalition.

Dear ____________,

     I had an interesting realization today.  The process began when I received a Facebook notification that the agenda for a special meeting of the Governing Board of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council had been posted to the SLNC website.  Interesting, I thought, the last I checked the next meeting was in April.  I opened up the SLNC page and navigated over to the special meeting agenda.  After reading it through, I realized that there were almost no items there that I agreed with or would support.  In fact, there are several items that I oppose, other items that are empty gestures and none that I could support.  I thought back to the first SLNC meeting which I attended, the March Governing Board meeting, and realized that this is what the SLNC does.  These are the issues in which its members and the community are interested. 
     At our candidate meeting the other night, when I said I believe that I was the most conservative member of the group, I believe I understated my position.  I realize now that I was the only conservative member of the group that evening.  In fact, one of the few ideas I have in common with the group is the concept of civil debate.  That may well be the only thing we have in common politically.  The SLNC is nothing if it is not a political organization.  It is by design a tool of the City of Los Angeles to engage citizen support and input into local government.  Like most, if not all, government bodies in this city the SLNC operates on the left of the political spectrum; that much is obvious just from reading the latest Governing Board Agenda.  As I tried to say in that first meeting, I am on the right side of the political spectrum. 
     The SLNC reflects the political views and philosophy of the community.  I am at odds with those views and that philosophy.  There is no point in my spending time campaigning for election to a government body where the majority of members will always directly and often vehemently oppose my beliefs.  I’m not interested in being the lone dissenting voice, or the guy who opposes everything the council proposes.  That wouldn’t be fun, or useful for anyone.  My time would be better spent supporting a group that is working toward those goals and purposes which I consider vital and important.  The SLNC is not that group. 
     I should have done my homework before I ever submitted my name as a candidate.  I regret not doing that.  Until this evening, I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Don’t get me wrong, though, I don’t dislike anyone on the “team.”  As a matter of fact, I believe that the team is made up of good, caring people who really do want what they think is best for the community.  We just don’t agree upon what is “best.”  That doesn’t make any of us bad people, just people who disagree. 
     I believe that my best course of action at this point is to withdraw my candidacy for the SLNC.  I hope this is not a great inconvenience to the team.  As I said, I should have done more research before I sent my name in to the city clerk.  I do want to continue to work with Nadine as a volunteer on the Public Safety Committee.  I think I can do some good there.  I’ll also, of course, continue to be active in my Neighborhood Watch.

Respectfully submitted,

I immediately received a return e-mail telling me that it would be unfair to the rest of the coalition for me to withdraw at that point since flyers had already been printed and the website created, all of which included my name.  I saw her point and the error of my ways.  I agreed to see the campaign through to the end.  The worst that could happen was that I might be elected, as unlikely as that seemed.  I made plans to speak at the candidate forums.