Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.
Subjects this month: Media/Politician perfidy, Quote, Medicaid fraud in Texas, The movie Contagion and my book, The melanin Apocalypse, Special price for The Melanin Apocalypse, Book reports, Progress report, Continuing series, The State of America: Teachers, Schools and Education, Free short story from Oops!: Cure For An Ailing Alien.
Has anyone else noticed how the politicians have begun to talk about budget cuts in terms of “over ten years” or “over a decade” and the media is letting them get away with it? For instance that so-called 1.2 trillion in budget cuts Congress recently passed amounts to only 120 billion dollars a year, which is a drop in the bucket compared to our 1.4 trillion yearly deficit. And just to compound the deceit, when the politicians say money will be saved over ten years, it doesn’t mention that congress will certainly change over that period of time and future congresses have no obligation whatsoever to keep promises made ten years in the past, and seldom do! So write your paper and your congress critters and tell them to cut out the bullstuff and give us honest figures, at least. Damn, there’s no end to their dishonesty and evasions.
“America invents it. The rest of the world builds it.”
Darrell Bain - Or someone else may have said it first. Whatever, it is becoming more and more true. Nixon made a tremendous error opening up China to trade and not only getting no concessions from them in return, but giving them the store! We know what happened and our Congress won’t even force them into at least letting their currency float against others the way the rest of the world does. Cowards!
Medicaid fraud in Texas?
It was recently discovered that in 2010 Texas spend 184 million dollars for orthodontic work on Medicaid recipients. That’s more than all the other states put together! And this is when hardly any normal working families can afford braces for their kids! Hmm. Do you think there might be a bit of fraud going on there?
Movie Contagion and The Melanin Apocalypse
The move Contagion describes the Center for Disease Control fighting to find a vaccine or a cure for a lethal epidemic, just as I wrote about in my book, The Melanin Apocalypse. I took a lot of criticism for postulating a man-made virus causing a pandemic that centered on skin color. The virus caused death and illness. The darker the skin, the more lethal the virus. But what I wrote about is nothing more than what is possible within a very few years, and when a thing is possible you can trust some scum to use it for their own ends. In my book The Melanin Apocalypse I had white supremacists using that virus and also another group in Israel specifically targeting Arabs. I even figured out a method that would be scientifically possible with each and based all my research on a published articles. I sincerely hope such a thing never happens, but forewarned is forearmed, so the old adage goes. I can’t imagine a more horrible type of conflict than genetic warfare but it is now possible.
Special price for The Melanin Apocalypse at ebook stores for limited time: Only $2.99!
James D. Hornfischer is a noted military historian, but as much military history as I’ve read I think Neptune’s Inferno is the first book by him I’ve run across. It covers Naval actions during the Guadalcanal campaign in WWII. I’ve read a lot about the battles on and in the waters off Guadalcanal but this is the first really detailed history of the surface action of both Navies at Guadalcanal I’ve gotten my teeth into. It is an excellent book, covering both the Japanese and American sides. Had we not finally prevailed at Guadalcanal we wouldn’t have lost the war but it would have gone in a much different direction. Recommended for anyone interested in the military and military history. In fact, this book is so good you can read it just as an action story and enjoy the hell out of it.
Michael Connelly is a great mystery author. Echo Park is up to his usual standards, with Harry Bosch out of retirement and trying to solve a 13 year old cold case. It turns out that there is something very wrong about the suspect and the circumstances of a killer who confesses to the crime--and to other murders. With his partner wounded and two cops dead, Harry is on the trail and it is leading to a source he wouldn’t have believed!
David Weber continues his Safehold series with How Firm A Foundation. It is every bit as good as its predecessors, but then Weber almost always produces eminently readable science fiction. I’d like to see this series continue for as long as his Honor Harrington series has!
Series: State of America: Teachers, Schools and Education
Over the last forty or fifty years the federal government has poured untold billions of dollars into our public schools. Every election year there’s a lament about how poorly our students are doing in relation to the rest of the world and you hear a cry that if only the schools had more money all ills would be solved. Money from the federal government, of course. And one time the cries got so loud that they resulted in a cabinet level Department of Education so some real experts could tackle the problem. Yeah, right.
The fact is that despite all those jillions of dollars and all the federal rules and mandates issued by the Department of Education (that local schools must follow after they accept federal money) test scores haven’t improved a bit over the last forty years. Not even a little bit, unless you allow statisticians to jiggle the figures so they come out right. You’ve heard of the old adage, I‘m sure: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. All that means is that statistical information can be manipulated to prove dern near anything if you try hard enough. For instance, in the Houston, Texas School district test scores were manipulated into indicating that a great percentage of schools had improved their status from unacceptable to acceptable or from acceptable to great by the simple accounting method of using a bit of improvement in some students and projecting that into future years so that the schools now were graded higher. Another way some schools used to improve their standings was not including the scores of handicapped or special education students. That’s akin to not counting dropped passes by poor receivers into a quarterback’s percentage of completions. See? You can just about prove anything with enough numbers manipulated the right way--and it’s done all the time.
Moving on, we find that test scores have not improved under the federal rules and testing programs but worse, that schools are preparing kids for college so poorly that nearly half of them are required to take remedial courses in English and Math once they embark upon higher education. Now isn’t that sad, and doesn’t it speak poorly for the performance of our public schools? Especially after all that money spent that came directly out of our pockets.
You hear about teachers having too many pupils, although the ratio of teachers to pupils has gone from about 25-1 in the 1960s to about 15-1 or at most 20-1 now. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that part of this statistic includes many people counted as “teachers“ that are actually doing nothing but administrative work to satisfy the mandates but nevertheless, the ratio of teacher to students has gone down. Sorry, but it didn’t work. No improvement in test scores despite fewer pupils per teacher. Ah, but give us more money and by golly, they say, you’ll see some results. Oops, didn’t work. Money spent per pupil has increased by well over a hundred percent in today’s money. No improvement in test scores at all. So money alone sure isn’t the answer. How about paying school teachers more money? I fully agree that teacher’s salaries aren’t enough to justify the hours they spend on school affairs away from schools and at home. Hell, the pure stress of teaching ought to deserve higher salaries. Nevertheless, they aren’t too bad right now. The average teacher’s salary is already over $50,000 dollars per year. Lots of us would love to be making that much despite the stress and extra hours spent at home. But salary aside, kids still score the same as they did in the 60s. Well, shoot! Won’t anything work?
How about making teachers more effective? Right! Fire the bad teachers, then we’ll see some progress. Sorry. Average years of teaching until they have tenure is only three years. After that the two big teachers’ unions don’t allow teachers to be fired. A teacher practically has to get caught robbing a bank or shooting up heroin in front of the classroom or diddling with one of their students before they can be kicked out. Okay, if we can’t fire the bad ones, how about we improve them? You know, more inservice classes, more education courses. Well, that sounds great and teaching is a hard job, no doubt about it, but it seems that college graduates with no education courses at all can take a couple of months of learning teaching techniques and they do about as well as the graduates of teachers’ colleges or universities which award degrees in teaching with all kinds of courses in teaching technique. So that’s not the answer. Okay, let’s try one last thing. Let’s test the hell out of students with standardized tests, find out what they know and don’t know then teach it to them. Know what happens? The kids get taught to take the tests but still fail to improve their scores on other tests. Why? The teachers are teaching by questions that might be asked on those tests because if students score low it’s a reflection on them. They spend an ungodly amount of time preparing the students to take tests when they should be teaching them to think and to learn about their regular subjects like reading, writing, science and math. Can’t have that. In the words of one teacher I talked to, “We spend so much time preparing students for assessment tests that we have no time to teach hardly anything else. No wonder everything but the assessment tests show low scores!”
So crap and kitty mess! What the hell will work? How can we get better schools? And better teachers? What can we do to improve our schools so that once again we’re at the top of the heap in student performance among advanced nations. Or non-advanced for that matter. Some third world countries students score better than ours.
That massive “No child left behind” federal program sounded good on paper, but like so many socially mandated solutions to problems it didn’t stop to think about the details. The fact is, moving every single student into the mainstream classes no doubt helps a very small minority of students, but it does a massive disservice to regular students for the simple reason that when you mainstream every single student into regular classrooms the teachers spend an inordinate amount of time on those few handicapped (either mentally or physically) students and don’t have time to teach the subject matter or pay enough attention to the regular students. And the handicapped students frequently disrupt classes for everyone. The net result is dumbing down of education. And yeah, a lot of people reading this will call me a cruel, uncaring old man who hates anyone but normal kids. Call me cruel if you like but it’s a fact that the No Child Left Behind doesn‘t work like the social theorists said it would. It is a massive fraud. I have no quarrel with mainstreaming students into regular classes despite handicaps so long as it doesn’t disrupt the classes or take up all the teacher’s time! The whole concept was flawed to begin with. Not to mention it involved another round of “assessment” tests when the kids were already being assessed to death.
All this isn’t saying kids shouldn’t be tested. They should. But Jesus Christ and Barney Jones, test them on what they have been taught in regular subjects! And let the teachers do the assessments where needed.
The solution to our less than laudatory school systems seems pretty damn obvious to me. If all this money from and all this supervision by our federal government hasn’t done anything to improve our schools, then maybe we should abolish the Department of Education and turn the matter back over to the state and local governments, particularly the local. And let teachers go back to teaching!
I might add that our public schools seem to have pretty well done away with trade schools, as if every kid in America is cut out for college. That’s stupid. We need machinists, welders, plumbers and all kinds of craftsmen but have no training system for them. And lacking much of an apprentice system in the trades we wind up with no real formal instruction for the craftspersons, the electricians, bricklayers, etc. and wind up trying to send kids to college that don’t belong there. What a shame. Having to teach remedial classes to freshman college students proves it’s gotten worse, not better, with all this federal help and supervision from “experts”.
Now this brings up a subject I’ve wondered about since I was in Middle school (7th and 8th grades) and in what little bit of High School I attended. Why in holy hell, since schools are supposed to be for the purpose of educating our kids, are sports and jocks given such prominent places in the schools instead of learning and scholars? It should be the other way around! Here’s a simple enough way to emphasize that point. Why not give letters for academic achievement and have letter jackets for the kids who excel in scholarship? It would go a long way toward recognizing merit in learning, such as how to do calculus instead of how to throw a football. I’ll bet you’d see more kids buckle down and study, knowing they’d be recognized for their effort. I think I might have studied more in school if things had been that way. As it was, the jocks, the football and basketball players got the girls and the steaks before games and the cheers and all that crap when most of it should have been going to kids who were quietly organizing science or language clubs and encouraging their fellow students to study and learn. Now that is simple enough for even a teacher’s union to catch on to instead of worrying about how many teacher’s aides they’ll have to help grade papers.
Maybe here would be a good place to relate how the government got so involved in education to begin with. There were two factors. The first was the advent of the space age.
I remember when I was in elementary school. We had between 20 and 30 pupils in each class. We had a principal but she also taught sixth grade. She may have had a secretary but I don’t think so. There was no such thing as teacher’s aides or an office full of clerks filing voluminous reports to the feds that must be sent in because if not, all that federal money will be lost. The teachers by golly taught us, we were tested on what we’d learned and if we didn’t pass, we were held back for a grade or sent to summer school. We had the best educational system in the world…except in the southern tier of states where black segregated schools were inferior, no doubt about it, and despite what all the segregationists said to the contrary. But we’ll cover that later. Anyway, we had good schools, right on up until the sixties. And then the Soviets launched Sputnik and began the space age.
Immediately, their was a nationwide clamor about how inferior our education was compared to Soviet Union’s and how we had to pour money into the school systems. And that began the era of federal intervention. The fact is, we already had the best schools of any country anywhere. The Russians launched the first satellite because they were investing so much money into rocket science and we weren’t. Same for them getting the first man into space.
At that time, we already had the best engineers and scientists in the world. And we proved it when we geared up and put the first man on the moon, leaving the Russians in our dust, and that was before all that federal money and control could have possibly affected the results! It was simply a national clamor by our politicians making excuses because Russia beat us into space which caused the uproar. We didn’t need any help for our schools. The only thing wrong with our schools was that they had been cheering the football team instead of the chess or the science clubs.
The second factor that put the feds in control of our schools was desegregation. Southern politicians wouldn’t desegregate schools on their own after the Supreme Court decision and tried to conceal the fact that black schools and colleges in the South were plainly inferior, and not by a small margin, either. That left the door open for the feds to desegregate the schools because the states there wouldn’t do it themselves. Remember Bussing? With a capital B? I guess it doesn’t do any good to go back and tell how it should have been done but the end result was massive federal intervention, which in turn caused white flight to the suburbs or whites sending their kids to private schools. Today we have the inner city schools in the North that are just as segregated as they ever were in the south and don’t we have a hard time getting quality teachers into those schools? You bet we do! I can see no point in going back over all that old ground any further, though. Whatever the factors that got the federal government so involved in K through 12 education, the fact remains that they have not done a thing to improve our schools despite all the money spent.
There are two more things I’d like to list that would help improve academic achievement in schools. I recently read an article that covered a study over a three year period, I think. What the school systems did was send ten to twenty books home with the primary school kids. They weren’t told they had to read the books. They weren’t told they had to make reports on them. They were just given the books to take home for the summer. Guess what? Not only did their reading scores improve but their performance in other subjects did, too. Why? A survey turned up the reason: before that program, kids in the poverty level homes, especially the lowest levels, had no reading material at all in their homes! Give them books and they’ll read! And their scores in other subjects will increase, too. It is a cheap and easy method of helping kids in school and could easily be done all over the country. Result of this study? Nothing, that I can find out. Sad, isn’t it?
The other thing, and this has been proven, is that kids will learn more and retain more if the school year is longer. There doesn’t have to be more teaching days, but long summer vacations should be eliminated and the vacation time split up into one or two week breaks all during the school year. Ask teachers what they think of the idea and most of them will tell you they hate it. But pin them down and they will admit that it would be far better for the pupils.
So, besides throwing the feds out of the school systems, just those two little ideas there would help a whole lot. Bunches! Another good idea would be to let the local districts take care of hiring and firing teachers. They are the ones who know the schools and teachers best so why not?
I would also like to see the two huge teachers’ unions back off from the hiring and firing. And back off from the idea of tenure.
And one last thing: I would like for parents to sign a waiver before the beginning of each school year to allow a certain amount of discipline in their classes and fix up some way to keep the lawyers out of it. Teachers need to be able to control their classes. Shucks, I got a paddling in the sixth grade for something I didn’t even do and I don’t think it hurt me.
Before moving on I would like to say that everything I wrote above pertains to education at the K-12 levels. However, I believe there needs to be a few things mentioned about higher education while we’re on the subject.
We have a university system that is the envy of the world. Unfortunately, our universities have gradually become a place where tenure is avidly sought. Once tenure is attained it takes practically an act of God to get rid of profs who can’t teach, don’t teach and do very little research. Another unpleasant situation is where university professors have begun passing on their political views to their students. I personally feel this has no place in teaching. And then there is sports, where college jocks are given easy courses and undeserved passing grades when they need to stay on the teams. An inordinate amount of money is spent on sports and training for sports when the system has become little more than a training ground for professional athletes. If the universities want to maintain sports teams that consist of professionals in training they could at least give degrees in, for instance, football studies or soccer or baseball and so on. It would be a hell of lot more honest, wouldn’t it?
Footnote: I wrote a short story that is included in my latest collection, Oops! titled “A Simple Idea”. The story was how an idea that has been around for hundreds of years could be used to make a great principle for governing. It is part and parcel of education, too. If you like science fiction you might want to read that little story. Oops!, my latest collection, is available in both print and ebook editions. The story, A Simple Idea, can be also be found at most ebook stores sold individually for a dollar or two.
I’m letting you read a story from Oops! for free in Bainstorming this month as an introduction to the type of stories to be found in my latest collection, Oops! It’s title is Cure For An Ailing Alien at the end of this issue of Bainstorming. Enjoy.
I finished the last book of my Apertures Trilogy, Apertures Three: A World Lost, A World Gained. It is now in the hands of an editor and should be out in the ebook edition by the end of October or sometime in November. A print edition will follow.
I’m not sure what I will start next. Right now I’m just relaxing. I don’t think I’ll do a trilogy again, not intentionally anyway. But come to think about it, I didn’t write the first Apertures book with the idea of a trilogy in mind. That came when I knew I couldn’t do justice to the idea in one book.
Free short story
Even though Cure For An Ailing Alien is a serious short story, my editor told me that everyone who has read it has laughed. The story is one of many in my newest Collection, Oops!, available in both print and ebook editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most ebook stores. I am offering it free here as a sample of the kind of stories you will find in this collection. It is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
By the Way, right now the complete Oops! is available at Amazon in ebook form for only 99 cents!
CURE FOR AN AILING ALIEN
"Are you serious?"
Joanne Levy sat in her favorite chair in the living room of her cozy little home in the Arlington, Virginia suburbs. The place was really too expensive for her income level but a trust left by her grandfather allowed her live there and also to pick and choose her cases. Intensive Care nurses like her, who worked in homes, were scarce and much sought after by the elite of Washington who were ill but despised hospitals. She stared at her visitor and wondered if he was really who he said he was. If so, this case would certainly be the highlight of her career!
"Yes, we're perfectly serious, Ms. Levy. We need a nurse for an alien and you fit our selection criteria. You're single, you're very knowledgeable in your field and you already have a secret clearance." Terrell Jenson, the man sitting across from her spoke in a level tone of voice, but his face bore tension lines from continuous worry.
"But…I don't know anything about aliens! Good Lord, I didn't even know we were in contact with any until you came here. How could I even start caring for it without the least idea of its bodily functions, its vital signs, its…oh hell, there's a dozen reasons why not." She felt her pulse rate increase even as she denied having the expertise needed for such a case. An alien! She had dreamed of going into space as a young woman. In fact, lately she had been seriously considering spending the money for an orbital trip on one of the privately owned spaceships that were available now, but she was still hesitant. The cost would take a significant bite out of her trust fund .
Jenson eyed her classically pretty profile and long blond hair, picturing her attending the alien with it tied in a bundle behind her neck. The aliens were furry creatures and the one saying it needed medical attention had coloring not far removed from her hair.
"You'd be perfect for the job, Ms. Levy, so please don't worry. I don't think it will ask you to perform surgery or anything really drastic."
"No? Then what would I be doing?"
He shrugged and spread his hands. "I don't know."
"Then I'm sorry. It's an intriguing offer and God knows I've thought and read enough about aliens to want the job, but I'd feel like I was operating under false pretenses. Don't you even have a clue?" Joanne felt horrible about not being able to take the case. She wondered where the alien was now. On earth? In orbit about the planet in its spaceship? He hadn't said.
Jenson considered the situation before he released a bit of knowledge. "Ms. Levy, there is one thing I can tell you. The alien asked specifically for a nurse even after we offered to bring in the most renowned and knowledgeable physicians on earth, of whatever specialty it chose."
"Why? I mean why a nurse but not a doctor."
Jenson granted her a thin smile. "We asked him—it's a he, by the way—the same question. The best we were able to interpret its answer is that he refused to subject such learned men or women to failure in case they couldn't help."
Joanne frowned. "Now isn't that strange? But he wouldn't mind a lowly nurse failing. That's not very complimentary."
"No, I suppose it isn't, but… Ms. Levy, may I trouble you for something to drink while we're talking?"
"Oh! Certainly. And please call me Joanne; I don't like formality that much. Forgive me for not offering you anything before now. When you rang my doorbell and said you were from DARPA, and wanted to talk to me about aliens, my mind went off on a tangent. What would you like?"
Jenson had done his research. He already knew his host favored scotch, so that's what he asked for. And there was method to his request. He hoped she would join him in a couple of drinks herself and perhaps that would loosen her judgment enough to take the job. It certainly couldn't hurt and he really wanted a drink himself.
"I'd like some scotch over ice if you have it, please," he said.
"No problem. I'll be right back."
Jenson watched her leave for the kitchen. The gentle sway of her hips and her slim figure presented an attractive picture. He knew he would have to be careful if he talked her into taking the job. She was single, just as he was, and had no significant other at the moment, also just like him. A romance while undertaking a mission this important risked blurring his concentration while attempting to establish a working relationship with the alien. As yet, he had no idea if it could even be accomplished. In fact, it might very well hinge on the very issue being discussed with Ms—with Joanne right now. Some of his superiors at DARPA wanted to bring in the state department but he was adamant. He'd dealt with them before. If anyone could foul up the first contact with an alien species it would be either State or the politicians. So far he was able to call the shots. For some unknown reason the alien had picked him as his liaison and refused to talk with anyone else after the initial contact.
"Here you are," Joanne said.
He took the drink from her. This time she sat down on the couch with him. He took it as a sign she was wavering. Perhaps she would relent.
She sipped at her scotch with furrowed brow, then looked at Jenson.
"You do know how wild this sounds, don't you? I still can't help but feel I'm the butt of some elaborate practical joke."
"I know the feeling, Joanne. It was the same way with me when we were first contacted. And by the way, my first name is Terrell."
"How did they contact us? And you keep saying 'alien'. Don't they have a name?"
"Not as a species, apparently. They do have individual designations. The one who wants a nurse is called Shuft. As for how we were contacted…I'm sorry, but there are some things I can't divulge. I can tell you that this alien is presently on earth."
"Too bad. A space trip might have convinced me."
"Really? Then suppose I guarantee you a three day orbital trip into space as part of your pay?"
She realized her mouth was hanging open and quickly closed it. "Are you serious? I seem to keep saying that, don't I, Terrell?"
He laughed. "No reason why you shouldn't, especially since the public isn't aware of our contact with them. I'm rather surprised you believed me so easily."
"I guess you've been so serious it's hard not to believe you. And your credentials looked authentic. Besides, no one I know would use DARPA in a joke. Most of them have no idea of what it is or that it even exists."
"All too true. Sad, isn't it?"
"Yes. Tell me one more time now: why me and not someone else?"
"We've talked to other nurses. You're the one we want."
"Perhaps because you admit up front you have no idea how to treat an alien. A couple of others jumped at the chance just to meet an alien and never worried about anything else. Some didn’t believe. We wanted a single nurse, and female since that's how our linguist presented the term originally. You're also extremely competent. Not that we think it will make much difference in what you do, but we do want to give the alien our best shot. And who knows? Maybe you'll spot what's wrong with him immediately."
"Not much chance of that. Another drink?"
Jenson was correct in his reasoning. By the time Joanne finished her second scotch rocks she found herself saying the hell with it. Why not? It wasn't as if she hadn't told Terrell she had less idea of how to treat an alien than she did of how to cure halitosis in a walrus.
"I guess if you want me that bad, I'll do my best. But I still can't imagine why they're insisting on a nurse instead of a doctor."
Jenson shrugged. "Just chalk it up to them being alien. That's all we can do. We hardly understand them at all, but it appears they've been studying us pretty thoroughly for quite a while."
"Have they said why they don't have the equivalent of a doctor with them?"
"I asked. The answer didn't make a bit of sense to me but I could tell they didn't want to be pushed on the subject any longer so I let it drop."
Joanne sighed. "All right. When do you want me?"
"How about tomorrow morning at eight?'
"Okay. When do I see the alien?"
"About an hour later."
Joanne fidgeted as the time approached for Jenson to pick her up. She had checked and re-checked her medical kit until she knew its contents by heart. She went over everything he'd told her again and again until she realized she was beating a dead horse. Jenson didn't know and she didn't know what her function would be, but she was almost certain of one thing: her medical kit and the drugs and instruments it included would be useless. She wouldn't dare give it a pill or a shot without knowing how it might affect its metabolism. She had never felt so helpless in her life, and yet…she was more than anxious to get on with it. An alien! The dream of a lifetime! What would it look like? How would it act? Would…the doorbell rang. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. She picked up her bag and went to the door. Just before she opened it, an outrageous thought occurred to her. It took all her will power not to burst out laughing in Jenson's face as she considered it.
"Good morning, Joanne. You look well, and very nice in your nurse's outfit, too."
"Thank you, Terrell. You didn't tell me how to dress so I took it upon myself to wear the traditional white uniform. She reached up and touched the unfamiliar garment on her head. "They've gone out of style but I even wore my cap."
"I think you did well. If you're ready, we'll be on our way."
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," she said, even though butterflies were fluttering inside her. She made an effort and stilled her nervousness as she walked with Jenson to his car.
The nervousness returned, along with more butterflies than ever once they arrived at the DARPA building in the trendy Clarendon neighborhood. Inside, Jenson led her through the lobby and on past the security checkpoint and down a long hall with hardly a pause. Apparently arrangements had already been made. She was expected. The thought made her more jumpy than ever. Eventually they stopped of an unmarked door.
"This is where I leave you, Joanne. Shuft is waiting inside."
He smiled at her and Joanne suddenly realized he was fully as nervous as her. Somehow, the thought that Jenson was uneasy helped to bring her own attitude to a professional level.
"I'm ready." She turned the knob, opened the door and stepped inside.
The last of her residual anxiety evaporated at the sight of the alien. He was humanoid in form and sported long silky hair the color of butterscotch, but what drew her were the eyes. The large orange ovals looked at her in a manner that emanated trust as he rose to his feet.
"Greetings," he said.
"Hello," Joanne responded, then before she could stop, an exclamation burst out of her. "Why you're beautiful!" Unfortunately, as soon as she realized what she'd said, embarrassment suffused her features. What an unprofessional way to begin an examination!
The creature seemed not to mind. "I am Shuft," he said. "I presume you are the nurse I requested?"
"Yes, Mr. Shuft. My name is Joanne Levy, but please call me Joanne. And please sit down"
"Thank you, I shall."
After Shuft was seated again, Joanne said "You requested a nurse so I presume you're feeling unwell. Is that right?"
"Since I don't know the vital signs of your species, I believe the best way to begin is simply to ask you some questions. First, are you in pain?"
"Is it localized? Can you show me where you hurt?"
"No, it is a general feeling of unease."
"All right then, on a scale of…wait. Do you understand our numerical system?"
"Very well, then. On a scale of one to ten, can you tell me how bad the pain is?"
"It would be about a three or possibly four, depending on the time of day."
"Is it worse at certain times?"
She continued with a stream of questions, asked in her quiet but forceful manner as she tried to get a handle on what was bothering her patient. When the questions ran out, she asked "Do you mind if I examine you?"
"No, not at all."
"Good. Will you stretch out on your bed then, on your back?"
Joanne had no idea of what she was looking for. She was merely going through the motions, knowing that sometimes the simple laying on of hands was part of the treatment, and sometimes even the cure, of human patients. The high point of the exam came when she touched his head. As she looked into his big trusting eyes she found herself stroking his brow, sleek with the butterscotch hair that covered its body although it wasn't as long on his face as elsewhere. And as she stroked the being, the same outrageous thought she'd had at the doorway of her home came back to her. Somehow it began to seem not quite so extreme.
She had to almost force herself to remove her hand from Shuft's brow. "You may sit up again," she said.
"Thank You. Have you reached any conclusions?"
"Not yet. I notice that you seem to have no problems breathing our atmosphere. How about…no, let me rephrase that. Do you have any idea whether the microorganisms of our planet can cause you illness?"
"There is no chance of that. Although our bodies can assimilate your food and drink, the infective organisms of earth have no effect on us at all."
"How about our medicines? Our analgesics, the pain relievers. Would they work on your metabolism?"
"I'm afraid not. Our bodies simply neutralize drugs they have not been attuned to."
Again that silly thought. She couldn't get it out of her head. Did she dare? Well, she certainly knew of nothing else that might work.
"Mr. Shuft, would it be possible for me to consult with a colleague, then return to see you?"
"Certainly. Whatever you can do to make me feel better would be greatly appreciated."
"Then I think I may have just the thing for you, but I need to talk to someone first. Unfortunately, I don't have it with me, but I can return with it in a few hours."
"That would be fine."
'Thank you Mr. Shuft. It's been a pleasure meeting you and it will give me even more pleasure when I'm able to help you. I'll return shortly."
"So how did it go?" Terrell asked immediately after Joanne closed the door to the alien's room."
"It went okay, but I'm not finished."
"What else do you need?"
"I'll tell you when we get outside."
She checked her watch once they were back in front of the DARPA building. Amazingly, she found that she had been with the alien for less than an hour. It had seemed like much longer than that. She stopped and turned to Jenson. "Terrell, I need a little privacy while I make a phone call. Okay?"
He shrugged. "Sure." He walked far enough away so that he was out of hearing.
Joanne quickly dialed a number. She spoke for a couple of minutes, then put her phone away and motioned to Jenson.
"Terrell, I need you to drive me somewhere, then bring me back here."
His countenance grew a puzzled expression. "What is it? Where? What—"
She held up her hand. "It's part of the treatment of Shuft."
"Okay, let's go."
They got into his car and she gave him directions. A half hour later they pulled into the driveway of a snug little home in a residential neighborhood.
"Wait here. I won't be but a minute."
"Okay, but you've sure got me intrigued."
She smiled but said nothing. She went to the door and rang the bell. When it opened she stepped inside. She stayed for a few moments then came back out. She was carrying something in a brown paper bag.
Once they were on the way back to DARPA, he asked "What's in the bag?"
"Something for Shuft. Hopefully, a cure."
"Really? What is it?"
"Later. Let's see how it works." She was afraid if she told him what she had, he would refuse to proceed. Probably he would howl with laughter then go find another nurse.
Joanne delivered her package and stayed to visit for a while with Shuft, assuring him all the while that if he followed her advice, he would certainly begin feeling better soon. She smoothed his brow one more time before she left.
Outside again, Jenson said "I see you left your package with Shuft. Can you tell me now what it was?"
"Not yet. If Shuft cares to inform you, I have no objections, but I believe he will feel better if left alone for a while. That's the last thing I told him."
"I'm dying of curiosity."
She laughed. "You'll just have to die. Or would a drink perhaps keep you breathing?"
"Come on in when you get me home. I'll have one, too. This has been a trying day."
"I'm sure it has!"
Joanne answered the doorbell the next day. Terrell had called and said he wanted to come over.
"Hi! Come on in," she said when she opened the door and saw that it was indeed him.
Now it was her turn to be unbearably curious, not him. She had heard nothing about Shuft since she left his presence the previous day and it was getting on toward evening now.
Terrell was on a mission. Before he even sat down, he glared at her. "All right, I give up. You cured Shuft. Completely. Now will you tell me what you used? What you had in that package?"
"He's really cured? No fooling?"
"No fooling. In fact he sends his regards and thanks and wanted me to tell you how appreciative he is of your efforts on his behalf. He says he feels better now than he has in a long while. So what did you use? What was in that damned bag?"
"You're sure you want to know?"
"Yes, I want to know! Desperately!"
"Maybe you'd better sit down first."
Terrell screwed up his face in frustration but did so, then gazed at her imploringly.
"My last name didn't give it away?" Joanne asked.
"Your last name? What has that to do with it?"
"Levy. It's a Jewish name."
Joanne giggled. She couldn't help it. "You know where we went yesterday? That was my mother's house."
"I guess I'm dumb. I still don't get it."
"What do Jewish mothers always prescribe for sick people?"
Terrell thought for a moment then his mouth dropped open. "You didn't!"
"Yes I did."
"I don't believe it."
"You may as well because that's exactly what I did. I gave him a bowl of my mother's chicken soup and a little reassurance."
"Chicken soup? Oh my God! Chicken soup…" His mouth quivered as the words trailed off. His body shook but finally he could hold it in no longer. Laughter exploded from him like a twenty gun salvo from a battleship.
"Chicken soup! Oh my! Chicken soup! Just wait until the folks hear about this one! Chicken soup to cure an alien!"
"Well it worked, didn't it?"
"Yes, but…never mind. When do you want that trip into space?"
Joanne smiled. "Just as soon as you can go with me."
And they lived happily ever afterwards.