The Shame in Where We’re Headed

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Shelby Foote

Today I finished the three volume Shelby Foote classic “The Civil War: A Narrative“, a years in the making goal developed from my mid-life interest in the American nation’s biggest challenge to defining its character and identity.  If one period can be recognized as the foundation for all the United States accomplished in the decades to follow, through two World Wars; a global depression; its period of international leadership following WWII; and the social upheavals still occurring to this day, it would be the sense of Nation that resulted through the challenges of The Civil War.

The reasons why the Civil War was necessary are readily apparent.  The men, who created the country from a collection of separate colonies and wrote our Constitution, were inherently human.  Which is to say, they were imperfect and eminently fallible.  Yes, they made mistakes … huge mistakes.  They made a terrible compromise in the name of creating a constitutional republic.

They allowed the possession of other human beings as property to hold the Southern states of the post-Revolution, pre-Constitution confederation.  And that was just their biggest mistake.  Early American politics were complicated, tenuous, and riddled with figurative minefields.  When examined through the lenses of history, humanity, and modern social consciousness, a lot of modern, current day Americans fail to grasp what the expression “grand experiment” means.

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It’s important to appreciate the extent to which these early American leaders knew they were imperfect and eminently fallible.  For that reason, they recognized that The People needed to be protected from the vagaries of Government, which in all practical matters is motivated and directed by imperfect and eminently fallible men.  The U.S. Constitution protected the States from the power and the potential for abuse from the National Government.

The Grand Experiment – as described by non-slave holder Alexander Hamilton (pre-Broadway version) – was hardly intended to be THE perfect solution to the many problems and challenges those early American leaders faced in creating a new nation.  The necessity of amending The Constitution almost immediately (i.e. two years after USC ratification) in 10 ways – The Bill of Rights – was proof that blind spots had existed when the US Constitution was written.  The Rights of the Individual – only the white male ones at the time – had to be protected as well from infringements by all levels of Government.

The Civil War was the inevitable solution for the most egregious shortcoming of those Founding Fathers.  Though not all were slaveholders, and an argument could be made that many who did opposed it as an acceptable practice, they were an insufficient number inadequately strong – in influence and political power – to exclude it.

All out war in the end was the only remedy.  And yet, slavery was not the ONLY reason the Civil War was fought.  It was however the BIGGEST reason and the impenetrable barrier to a peaceful solution to several issues!

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Foote’s “The Civil War: Epilogue” totaled the casualties of setting right the biggest mistake of The Founders:  640,000 Union, 450,000 Confederate casualties.  200,000 total killed in battle; 365,000 total dead for the Union; 256,000 dead Confederates when you include those who died from disease, unrelated crimes, drowning, suicide, etc.  That’s 620,000 military dead from all causes.  Add in another 470,000 wounded (total both sides) to almost reach 1.1 million total war-related casualties.  And that does not include civilian losses.

I would normally write a good bit more about the book in a blog, but my reading of the third and last volume coincided with the egregious death of George Floyd and the latest rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) to such events.  The Floyd death and calls for justice were traumatic enough and certainly understandable.

But then the movement morphed.

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It morphed first into violence and vandalism.  Then avowed anarchist usurped a theretofore justifiable outrage.  It became more about hatred for and retaliation against law enforcement officers; disdain for modern social constructs and government; and a desire to gut American society in favor of certain not-so-grand experiments that have NEVER proved successful in past attempts (e.g. socialism, anarchy, elimination of law enforcement, the overthrow of systems of justice).

As one who admires our history with all its faults, mistakes, and injustices, it’s maddening to see the destruction of monuments to it.  Yes, you can understand the desire of many who want to tear down statues to slave holders; their sympathizers; and their military protectors … as much as I might disagree.  Such reactions are an insult to the our history, warts and all.

If humans cannot achieve perfection, what they create can never be perfect.  Change will ultimately be necessary; and some of that change will be bloody, violent, destructive. How does one learn from history, and prevent the reoccurrence of destructive change, by removing all monuments and remembrances?  How does that help to prevent history’s repetitive inclinations?

Foote’s epilogue contains a quote that appears surprisingly pertinent to recent events. Anaximander, an ancient Greek philosopher, once stated:

“It is necessary that things should pass away into that from which they are born.  For things must pay one another the penalty and compensation for the injustice according to the ordinance of time.”

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U.S. Grant helped end the Confederacy threat

No stretch of consciousness should dismiss such a concept.  At some point all our acts will be subject to human judgment through the prism of time and the evolution of Man’s thinking as expressed through social mores and their behavioral expression.  Certainly slavery would fit that suggestion.  Judgment of it as one of the bleakest points in the American Experiment is undisputed.  Those that fought to preserve it as tradition, economic essential, or evolutionary dictate paid the physical price 160 years ago.  But we cannot ignore that the emotional scars and even some social behaviors (i.e. racism) remain to this day.

So I can see why removing Confederate statuary would be a comfort to some … or even a political/social imperative.  But there should be a process resulting from consensus and protected by local government for their removal, relocation, or destruction, providing no lesson for history continues to exist.

“… Providing no lesson for history continues to exist” is the crucial thought.  Can we honestly say American society is beyond its racist past?  Are there not still lessons to be learned about what transpired 160 years ago?  How would current and future generations learn from invisible legacy, if all reminders are swept from view?

There’s a difference in suggesting the statue of Bedford Forest, who was a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan, should be removed for its obvious racist symbolism; but quite another to suggest the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or James Longstreet offer nothing of value in the way of historical or military lessons.  What do we learn from the past, if we erase all physical evidence of its existence?

In this the anarchist, anti-American factions betrayed themselves.  They went far beyond righting the wrongs of racial suppression.  When you cannot tell the difference – or more accurately don’t care – between Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant or Abraham Lincoln, you allow us to glimpse the true purpose of your “protest”.

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Freedman’s Memorial:  On Lincoln’s first visit to Richmond after its fall in the Civil War, he told former slaves, who bent knees to pay homage to him, to stand up; to kneel before no man; and to kneel only before God.  It was paid for entirely by former slaves!

It’s easier to understand the visceral reaction of the black community to the death of Floyd.  But in essence that movement was usurped by those with broader motivations as we have seen before.  There is no interest there in making America a better example to the world at large.  They simply want America to die with no regard for all the good the country has accomplished since 1776.

This happens not because they cannot grasp the inherent fallibility of 18th century man or credit the foresight they displayed by even attempting such a Grand Experiment!  They simply hate the fact that the system created 230 years ago requires they appeal to The People to make a difference.  Not just some people, but all The People.  They hate that they have to work hard to convince us that their insight is superior, let alone whether such insight offers a better world.

They don’t want to work for it.  They want to convince you to destroy it.  They want to be able to convince you without offering even the remotest idea of what those changes would look like.

For those reasons alone, you know their ideas are bankrupt!

 

 

 

 

U.S. Navy Fleet Readiness Center Southwest

One of the more fascinating aspects of my employment within the largest military organization on Earth is the occasional opportunity to peak behind the scenes at the infrastructure that maintains the US Navy and Marine Corp capabilities. Due to a recent assignment to attend a training event held at the Navy’s Coronado, California, I had the chance to learn about a limited facet of Fleet support … The aircraft repair and refurbishment facilities at Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Southwest (commonly referred to as FRC San Diego or North Island).

Note: Nothing discussed here would be considered clearance-required information. The only access granted was perhaps a step above common base access permitted for normal, non-clearance business operations. No photographs were allowed or taken.

Our visit was arranged by my supervisors (NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support) through comparable supervision at the FRC for six visitors, including myself. Our focus was the maintenance of aircraft repairable assemblies, although our organization also deals heavily with shipboard systems.

As we drove to our pre-tour meet ‘n greet, we caught glimpses of the work going on. The most interesting was a hanger area full of older version F/A-18s going through tear downs we learned would lead to de-militarization of the aircraft and disposal through approved de-mil processes. One aircraft – which I think I saw – was a fanciful aircraft in unique painting purportedly used in the remake of Top Gun (i.e. Top Gun 2), serving as Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) ride!

Pretty sure I saw a glimpse of this aircraft in a teardown hanger.

Since the DoD frowns on old components finding their way onto Amazon and e-Bay. Most components are scrapped following the harvest of any special metals used in their original manufacture.

What strikes even the most experienced civilian desk jockey is the lengths in maintenance management, repair and refurbishment, quality artisanship, and exacting process the military services expend in maximizing the service longevity of its aircraft fleet! No small order when one gets the opportunity to see it first hand and dwells on the infinite amount of detail required to make those exacting processes flow.

Of course with operations so involved, so broad in scope, conducted both CONUS (contiguous U.S.) and OCONUS (outside CONUS), across large complex military facilities, not everything is perfect. Flaws develop in handling and processes; material get waylaid, mismanaged, lost; and facilities become disorganized and unimaginably cluttered.

But again, the Services (in my experience The Navy) have adapted to become more reactive and corrective in ensuring the most efficient and effective industrial facilities are available to support the War Fighter. FRC Southwest, for example, recently endured a reorganization and reinvention of its industrial facilities after an audit by a private consultant found much lacking in the efficacy of its operations.

I had been to several commercial defense facilities in my Navy aircraft support experience (e.g. McDonnell-Douglas, Sikorsky). But I had never seen a facility as clean, well-defined, exacting, and organized as the repair and refurbishment operations at FRC Southwest! Even the floors were clean enough to eat off.

Not that I would recommend that …

My own duties at NAVSUP WSS involve Contracting Officer Representative (COR) duties for a program elegantly titled Technical Assistance for Repairable Processing (TARP). This program manages the flow of retrograde material (i.e. used repairables which can be refurbished to like-new condition) from ships and aircraft units scattered all over the globe. These items can be as small as circuit cards to helicopter rotor heads and aircraft engines shipped to and fro in immense protective cans (many designed in part or in whole by coworkers, who labor only feet from my desk).

The point in all of this is to stress the Herculean effort the Services – at least The Navy – undertake to manage – as best as is possible – the service life and availability of crucial components needed by the War Fighter to conduct operations in an increasingly complex, technological world.

Meanwhile, back at FRC Southwest, we viewed F/A-18 wing panels awaiting either refurbishment and reassembly or demilitarization scattered about a huge warehouse/hanger bay in varying states of disrepair and dressing. In an enormous industrial space, you could see a spotless areas dedicated to various intake, evaluation, repair, and testing of components from Navy fighters, helicopters, aircraft and even ship engines all benefitting from a collection of artisans, trained and developed in exacting capabilities.

On a drive and park tour, we also viewed covered, open-sided building were four H-53 type helicopters were shown in the varying stages of refurbishment. From right to left, you could see one aircraft in the evaluation stage, then one in electronic and component removal, a third in complete strip-down/rebuild, and the fourth in completed/testing awaiting its first test flight before being released back into the fleet. From right to left, you saw old and fatigued evolving to almost new, ready-to-go condition. It was quite the impressive migration as each aircraft would be moved down the line to eventual service life extension.

All this benefits not just the War Fighter, but also the Taxpayer, who – in the end – receives more bang for the tax dollar in terms of the original investment in major military equipment!

The Fleet Readiness Centers in concert with a well-integrated supply and distribution network perform what many a civilian taxpayer would consider practical miracles in the capabilities demonstrated in maximizing the service life, performance, and availability of American military equipment. The sad truth is not many of my fellow civilian Navy employees get the opportunity to witness and thereby appreciate the fruit of their individual labors where the proverbial rubber meets the road!

As an NAVSUP employee with over 39 years of experience, even I am immensely impressed by the quality of the Navy’s industrial capability. And I have not seen more than a tiny sliver of total Navy effort. It is – quite frankly – an experience that every single NAVSUP employee who directly or indirectly affects the Navy’s repairable management, procurement, and support operations should be required to enjoy!

Free Speech, the NFL, … and what about Security Clearances

To be honest, my nose was never out-of-joint over the protests by NFL players during img_0042-1the  National Anthem.  But in the interest of honesty, I will admit I have been a fan of the NFL (Fly, Eagles fly!) since the 1960s.

It’s not that I agree or enjoy watching million-dollar athletes taking a knee or raising a fist in protest of a Country that enables their lucrative careers. There are quite simply expressions that madden me much, much more, such as the burning of U.S. flags.  However, I do reserve a special level of rage for the sickly Westboro Baptist clowns, who are fond of expressing their Rights in the most insensitive ways at the most inappropriate times.

Maybe I prefer reserving my wrath for the greatest threats to Free Speech. The rage and discomfort we endure is the price one must pay for belief in our Constitution and for faith in the world’s most successful free and open republic.

Amendment I, United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Free Speech requires an appreciation for Advanced Citizenship in the U.S. of A.  The more centered and focused you remain on the guiding principle of Free Speech, the more likely you will recognize that such citizenship sometimes requires herculean self-control when someone expresses thoughts and ideas in ways that infuriate.

It’s a concept a lot of people have a difficult time accepting, whether the issue involves a student opting to sit for the Pledge of Allegiance or a couple of knuckleheads burning an American flag.  And sometimes – maybe at when it’s needed most – a remarkable moment unfolds in a way that’s unexpected and ultimately memorable!

And yes, when Rick Monday swooped to the rescue of the national standard, he too was expressing his Right to Free Speech as well!  He spoke with his actions.

Advanced Citizenship – a level of patriotism fewer Americans seem to achieve of late – demands the ability to grit our teeth and chalk your outrage up to a higher national calling. Not that such a thing makes the demonstration any easier to accept. Consider these challenges a test … an opportunity to exercise your appreciation for the ability of those with whom you disagree to exercise their Free Speech, not matter how infuriating.

And no … the excuse that “They do it!” is insufficient.  Let their actions define their character and Patriotism. Don’t let your reactions negatively define yours.

Keep in mind, it’s the lesser of us who choose to shout down or violently suppress Free Speech. It’s a tactic favored by those who would rather tell us what to think or how to vote at the point of whatever weapon might be handy. White supremacists and elements of the Far Left, such as Antifa, have much in common in that regard.

In the case of the National Football League, their recent misguided attempts to rein in the pre-game protests in the face of withering public opinion (more free speech about Free Speech) actually exacerbated the problem. My opinion is that the Players would likely have allowed the protests to die had they not been confronted in such a direct and public way.

But even as I encourage a daunting level of civic sainthood, I cannot give those Westboro Baptist idiots a sliver of accommodation. They are vile, mean-spirited, and unworthy – in my estimation – of even being called Americans.

Yes, if nothing else, I am a flawed American. But I can live with that …

There are nuanced limitations to this Freedom of Speech thing.

  1. You cannot scream “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded theatre.
  2. You cannot express thoughts or opinions under the name of your employer, especially if they serve to somehow conflict with business or embarrass them among consumers of their products.
  3. You cannot defame an individual or organization with false statements. A student’s free speech rights are limited somewhat while in school.
  4. You cannot openly exhort people to violence.
  5. At events deemed to be National Special Security Events (e.g. political conventions, inaugurations, Super Bowl), your Speech can be restricted to specified protest zones.
John Brennan

former CIA Director John O. Brennan

The recent hullabaloo over the National Security clearance of John Brennan, former head of the CIA, appears to fall into several of the above exceptions. Brennan’s security clearance was revoked by the Trump Administration, likely at the direction of President Trump, for – among other things – making wild, unsupported accusations of Treason on the part of The President.

My rationale for accepting the Trump Administration’s action against Brennan comes from the following:

  1. Although precedent has set the standard that former National Security officials keep their clearances in order to assist succeeding officials in consultation during sensitive events, the same precedent forms a link (in my mind anyway) between the former officials and the current Administration. In some ways, the relationship mimics the employee-employer relationship ,,, in a quasi kind of way. If the former official becomes an embarrassment to the Government, the Government should exercise their authority to withdraw the privilege of access to sensitive information.
  2. Brennan was spouting a lot of unsubstantiated viewpoints that in essence defamed the Government and The President. It would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that Brennan – or anyone else – deserves to retain such access as they openly and continuously cause embarrassment and suggest treason unencumbered by any attempt to factually document the accusation.
  3. Yes, rescinding such access is a bit retaliatory in that it can affect Brennan’s ability to benefit monetarily. Yet that very sentiment underscores in a way that quasi-employer-employee exception to Free Speech. Ask yourself if any Administration (the quasi-employer) should allow a pointed and factually unreliable critic the ability to earn money using the very information managed, controlled, and heavily relied upon by the current Government? Seems like a slam dunk …
  4. Removing his security clearance does nothing to restrict Brennan’s Free Speech. He can still appear in forums, on cable TV, in print media. Brennan can say anything he wants, subject to the restrictions the rest of us are expected to observe. He might not make as much money doing it as he did before (in theory), but nothing about removing his clearance affects his ability to express his views.

And there you have the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a beautiful Freedom instilled upon a Free People to ensure their freedom prospers and perhaps spreads to freedom lovers the World over!

Sequestration: The President’s ugly Child

obamaHow many people realize sequestration, which The White House continually warns will be a “disaster” for the country and its citizens from Arizona to Connecticut, was actually The White House’s brain-child???

Don’t listen to the hype … or the lies.  The sky, if it falls, will not be the sole responsibility of Congress.  Heck, it wasn’t even their idea.

The Public is a pawn in this chess game.  The political pressure being applied by The White House, in the form of Dire Economic Impacts on individual states and even the victims of Superstorm Sandy, is intended to force Congress (i.e. Republicans) – by portraying them as the troublemakers – to cave in so they can pass to the American people an even bigger financial federal budget burden without cutting a single one of the Democrats’ Sacred Cows.

Sequestration was the gamble suggested by then White House Chief-of-Staff Jack Lew (Secretary of the Treasury nominee) and White House Congressional liaison Rob Nabors.  It was endorsed by President Obama before being presented to the Senate Finance Committee, and proposed as a negotiating strategy to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) during the 2011 negotiations to raise the National Debt Ceiling.

Certainly House Republicans accepted the sequestration as part of those negotiations, but it wasn’t their idea; it wasn’t their gamble.

It was the President’s idea of “leadership” in difficult political times.  Push it off; deal with it later.  Maybe, just maybe it will go away on its own.

Keep that in mind as you continue to hear about how Sequestration will damage your benefits; your income; your local economy!

Remember it when The President shows up on C-Span or the nightly news speaking about the dangers of sequestration and surrounding himself with Emergency Responders, teachers, healthcare workers, and seniors warning about all the damage the sequestration cuts will entail.

Sequestration:  The President’s ugly child!

A Sunday morning at the National Institutes of Health

Dealing with rare health issues is never much fun.  And when the possibilities are shadowy and evasive, it is not only difficult to diagnose, the uncertainty itself becomes a source of anxiety.  With this as a backdrop, we found ourselves spending a Sunday morning in Bethesda, Maryland as guests of the National Institutes of Health.

Yep, not a misprint … a Sunday morning in the monolith to American medical innovation and research just north of D.C., that black hole of Government bureaucracy.

Naturally, on a Sunday morning this huge facility was as quiet as a catacomb with barely a smattering of staff on hand for The Institute’s routine of Sunday sample processing.  Why Sundays are preferred was not clear to us before our trip; but – to be honest – the off hours arrangement reduced our anxiety level by several orders of magnitude.

We were there for only a few hours, performing a rather simple step that could lead to either a much more complex round of testing and probing, or – hopefully – the answer we really want to hear, “No worries.  It’s not THAT.  The indicators were false.”  Not that The Answer would belay all our concerns; but at least we could move on to other less threatening possibilities.

We ended up at the NIH because local specialists could not nail down the existence of a condition indicated by routine tests, yet elusive to medical imagery technology.  A nationally renown expert was the next logical step; and referral to the NIH was suggested.  As is the norm for bureaucratic networks, it took us six months to get to the point where patient-specific variables were addressed to the satisfaction of both patient and specialist.  Once the arrangements for our visit were finalized, our family physicians were so impressed with our pending NIH visit, you could tell they almost asked if they could go along with us!

And so we found ourselves making a Saturday trip to my sister’s house in Bowie, Maryland for our 8:00 AM NIH appointment for the simple task of drawing blood samples.  One would think such a routine medical procedure could have been done locally, as so many of us do for a variety of health-related issues.  Not so for the purposes of the NIH … Controls in process and technique are understandably crucial when participating in a diagnostic study.

Our experience at the National Institutes of Health, aside from the necessity of travel, was nowhere near as inconvenient or irritating as we had feared.  Part of that was undoubtedly the result of visiting this sprawling facility on a quiet, unobtrusive Sunday morning.  But by far, the experience was made relatively painless by the helpful administrative and professional employees we encountered there.

To say I was pleasantly surprised with our NIH visit would be an understatement!  From the guards responsible for the physical security of the NIH facility; through the painstakingly thorough, well-organized registration process; to the nurses who administered the sample collection, we were impressed with the professionalism and friendliness exhibited throughout our visit.  (I even had the opportunity to argue the merits – and shortcomings – of NFL QBs RG3, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo with both a Redskins fan and a Cowboys fan just hours before Vick played the Steelers as though the football itself had contracted an infectious disease!)  In roughly three hours time we completed the entire exercise and were on our way out.

Our biggest problem?  Trying to solve the cheese-at-the-end-of-the-maze challenge of finding an open exit from which to escape the monstrous facility.  We were convinced it was part of the evaluation process … some form of intelligence assessment.  How long would it take these rubes to find their way out?  All that was missing from making the test a viable reality show concept was a back seat full of over-dressed, pruning dance moms or elimination challenges at each inaccessible gate!

As a moderate political conservative, who eschews the huge footprint of Big Government, most would expect me to look at an organization like the National Institute of Health as a monumental example of bureaucratic excess.  I like to think I’m more pragmatic than that.

There are several valid arguments for the benefit of federally funded footprints on basic social functions.  Some are glaringly obvious … National Security, Emergency Management, Social Safety Nets, Interstate Commerce, Transportation Safety.  Others may not be so obvious, yet are just as important to a well-functioning society that is  responsible for maintaining and improving the health and welfare of its citizens.

The National Institutes of Health’s mission statement reads as follows:

NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

The goals of the agency are:

  • to foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications as a basis for ultimately protecting and improving health;
  • to develop, maintain, and renew scientific human and physical resources that will ensure the Nation’s capability to prevent disease;
  • to expand the knowledge base in medical and associated sciences in order to enhance the Nation’s economic well-being and ensure a continued high return on the public investment in research; and
  • to exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science.

In realizing these goals, the NIH provides leadership and direction to programs designed to improve the health of the Nation by conducting and supporting research:

  • in the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and cure of human diseases;
  • in the processes of human growth and development;
  • in the biological effects of environmental contaminants;
  • in the understanding of mental, addictive and physical disorders; and
  • in directing programs for the collection, dissemination, and exchange of information in medicine and health, including the development and support of medical libraries and the training of medical librarians and other health information specialists.

The NIH performs research in a number of fields including obvious ones, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, aging, and infectious disease, and less familiar studies in human genome, bioengineering, and environmental health sciences.

Health and medical research are vital contributions to the advancement of societies.  It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where social development can be successful if the overall health of its members are left to the vagaries of commercial research and the lure of The Almighty Dollar.  Having a nationally recognized hub for research that ensures growth in knowledge, better health, and healthier behaviors is a benefit to everyone.

Now, from my scant exposure to the NIH, I can’t claim to be in a position to know everything the NIH does or to judge the merits of all they do. But from the point-of-view of a citizen seeking the relief of knowing what’s on the horizon, it’s comforting to know that medical frontiers are being explored.