War & Peace on Mobile Bay: Springtime for Warships

Posted by – March 13, 2016

Mobile, Alabama. Pronunciation: MOH-BEAL

I found the above photo posted March 3rd on Twitter under #MobileAL, and thought it striking. Uniquely illustrative of the America few actually see. The image of tranquil Mobile Bay, relatively sleepy downtown Mobile, and then atop—probably due to its novel trimaran hull, it sorta appears to levitate ON not *in*—the somber, gray bay waters like some demonic silver monopoly game piece, a behemoth Cylon-lookin’ war machine, warship USS Montgomery (LCS-8).

The LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) program was supposed to make small, maneuverable Navy SEAL-type amphibious strike ships, essentially next gen swift boats with huge firepower relative to their slight profile. Initially the LCS project was promoted as small, easy to churn out quickly, and at roughly 1/6th the eventual $600 million+ cost per Leviathan beastoid the design bloated into.  Instead of light, quick, and responsive, truly littoral (near-shore ops, coastal by definition) ships, it ballooned into a heavy corvette after many re-designs. Great enough a shift to warrant re-classimg the ships from LCS to FF, fast frigate, and permanently so in 2019 as even beefier, heavier-armor bulky versions are laid down and launched.
Jobs for the city of Mobile are a big positive. And it’s not that i don’t want badass navy warships, I just object to design bloat as much as its parent, mission creep. More importantly, effectively switching from swift boats with serious teeth intended to deter international traffickers and beat down Somali pirates, to a plan for behemoth frigates primarily equipped to take on Big Bad warships, hold their own in ship-to-seaside-fort and ship-to-ship battle vs. some formidable heavy metal, i.e. Russia and the PRC’s growing fleets of high-tech vessels… is indicative of a very different kind of world. Geopolitical expectations have significantly shifted.

Back to the image above: a rare and honest juxtaposition. The warm, steamy mellow port city of Mobile in back, cutting-edge deathbringer in front, moving out from the homefires. Open your eyes and most important changes are there in plain sight


1986 Mobile Press-Register Article: on specialness and surviving

Posted by – December 17, 2015

This 1986 Press-Register article about me, Jamie and Mom, especially Jamie, surviving the rare disease, was digitized by my Aunt Nancy in Virginia. Thank you.

Mom gave me permission to post this here. It’s so old the newspaper was still called the PRESS-REGISTER!

Back then the medical knowledge and approach to mitochondrial myopathies was much broader/more vague to say the least, and our carnitine deficiencies resist supplementation. We are certainly even rarier than 28 in the world. Today’s definition of mitochondrial myopathy largely excludes us, and metabolic medicine has de-listed carnitine deficiency as a distinct disease. It is now considered a symptom.

It’s my hope the article could help confirm my story about our unusual diagnosis, exceptionally uncommon for the time to put it mildly. And that the article could also somehow help other weird metabolic children….

Transcription of the article’s text below

Thanks to Alejandra far copying it down.






Her sons are ‘special’

Photo caption: Ruth Dupree and her sons Jamie and Nick.

Press-Register Reporter

Meet two special boys, Nick, 4, and Jamie Dupree, 2 1/2. They have a rare muscle disease. It leaves them too weak to walk and in Jamie’s case, sometimes too weak to breathe.

“I think they are real special,” said their mom, Ruth Belasco Dupree. “A priest said to me, you have to find things to be thankful for. Everyone thinks their kids are special. But I’m absolutely convinced mine are.”

The Dupree brothers have a carnitine deficiency, which leaves them with little muscle control.

Mrs. Dupree noticed Nick at five months old wasn’t attempting to push up on his hands or crawl. After taking him to a series of doctors, one doctor finally acknowledged that something was not right with eight-month old Nick. When Mrs. Dupree and her husband, Michael, moved here from Tallahassee, Fla., she was pregnant again.

“My OB wanted to be more definite about what Nick had,” said the art professor at Spring Hill College. “Nick was then diagnosed as having mitochondrial , a problem in the muscle cells. And that’s true. But there was no known pattern of heredity for it. We thought we had the green light,” as far as their second baby being free of the disease.

But a visiting professor from the University of Iowa, Dr. Hans Zellweger, told them the hard facts. He diagnosed Nick as having a carnitine deficiency and said there was a one in four chance that two-week old Jamie would also have it.

Looking at pictures of her sons, Nick, the active preschooler who doesn’t consider himself handicapped, and Jamie, with his loving smile and shock of red hair, she sighed. “Even if we had a crystal ball and had known,” about the disease, “we probably would have had Jamie.”

A month or so later, it was clear Jamie had the disease. And Zellweger told them that there were only 28 documented cases worldwide of carnitine deficiency.

Nick has gotten better. He can’t walk but he runs nonstop around the house on his scooter. He has a light, compact wheelchair that he uses at the school he attends for gifted children. He goes to gym and dancing classes.

“Nick doesn’t in any way regard himself as handicapped,” she said. “Nick says Jamie’s handicapped. I asked him why we had a handicapped parking sticker on our car. He said so we can park in places and get Jamie’s wheelchair out.

“We’ve gotten some braces for him and we hope they will support him and help him move his legs. I have every confidence that he will walk. He thinks he will.”

Jamie is a miracle. Almost two years ago he got pneumonia and was hospitalized. He was breathing with the help of the ventilator. “The pneumonia made him weaker and weaker. At one point, all he could move was his fingers. When they’d draw blood, he wouldn’t cry. It was too much to cry. He was so weak he couldn’t even smile. There was not a lot of hope for him.

“The ventilator we had went through his nose. Our pediatrician said we should have a tracheotomy done on him. The other case we dug up that was like him, the child died after the tracheotomy.

“Dr. Zellweger told us not to bother because Jamie would not be around long. We thanked him for his directness. And we decided to have it done. We decided it was more important to get him home.”

Mrs. Dupree said a nurse called Elaine Roussos, founder of Helping Hands for the Children, to talk to her. “She gave me a pep talk that I will remember forever. She was so kind and encouraging, she reversed my feeling from utter terror to exhilaration.

After the surgery, Jamie began to pick up again, she said. “In part he was being ventilated more efficiently. And in part, we’d gotten so happy about him coming home, it spilled over onto him.”

In April 1985, Jamie came home. He is still hooked up to a ventilator to help him breathe. He is fed through a tube. He can chew and has a good swallow, but he is still afraid to eat on his own. (He likes to eat Cheetos.) “It scares him because of his breathing problem,” his mother said. “He went for a long period of time when he couldn’t eat.”

“Jamie is not supposed to be able to talk, but he does. He can’t walk. He can’t roll over, but we can cheerlead him into it. We have minor landmarks. He has to be sort of propped up or lying on one side. But he’s gotten to the point that on a good day he can sit up by himself.”

“I think he’s making incredible progress. It’s slow compared to other children, but not for Jamie, who wasn’t supposed to make it out of the hospital.”

Idiosyncratic Interconnections: Little Richard and *Gay on your resume* (Episode 2)

Posted by – September 25, 2015

Idiosyncratic Interconnections

Little Richard on an effeminate manner canceling out racism and workplace dynamics for gay black men today

In this ^^ Sally Jesse Raphael interview with Little Richard, Sally Jesse refers to the “sociological” quirk that activist, web journalist, and hip-hopper Yitz Jordan (Y-LOVE) mentioned—and backed up with studies & statistics—on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, hear that July 2014 segment here…the reality that gay black men or black men perceived as effeminate are seen as less of a threat and more readily accepted for jobs.

In his exhaustively-well-researched Quartz feature, Yitz points out new survey results by “Princeton University sociologist David Pedulla,” “in Social Psychology Quarterly,” that proved for black male applicants, “coming out on your resume,” for example listing gay student organization membership, volunteer history with LGBT nonprofits, etc., “effectively cancelled out” negative stereotypes of black men due to “the feminine stereotype” of gay men. And as Yitz noted in the WNYC interview: these are two ugly and wrong stereotypes colliding, black men who’re gay might not be more effeminate or less of a so-called “threat” even—see Omar in The Wire, or, y’know, look outside and simply observe the staggering infinite diversity around you—and making goofy, ham-fisted blanket assumptions of broad human groups like these will inevitably offend and dis many individuals.
But, it being the second decade of the 21st century notwithstanding, hiring managers change their decisions predictably based on old-ass, hackneyed stereotypes and good ol’ fashioned racism, and their biases are so ingrained and foreseeable, applicants can game them to their advantage (ala “game theory”). Dr. Pedulla’s results quantify the effects in hard numbers and bar graphs; survey responses even suggest “that for black male applicants, coming out may actually result in a higher starting salary.”

Interconnection: Little Richard

What is shocking is that, according to Little Richard, this loophole or “canceling out” of reflexive distrust and anxieties held true even during the ugliest segregation… including in white night clubs in the early 1950s Deep South. The flamboyant costumes were an asset: he noticed rockin’ the full face-cake-makeup, mascara mustache and cape opened doors and allowed him to get gigs no other black man could.
Bull Connor-type night club owners be like COME ON IN… according to L.R., they’d let him in even when making his brothers and bandmates wait outside.

Fascinating loop-hole in the fear…I expanded my writing on the subject as it’s very interesting the way the anthropological imperative to mate so nakedly shapes social norms because of the stereotypes around black men’s virility, especially in the Jim Crow South, the assumption of “unfair competition” vis a vis the below-belt unmentionables…
But closer inspection reveals these phenomena to be more horrible and downright sad than anything else. MOST lynchings in the pre-war South were provoked by allegations of sexual impropriety and/or the social overstepping of color barriers.

Just in the annals of music of the Deep South alone there are far too many such instances.  The infamous manslaughter of legendary Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin especially stands out.  A pivotal forerunner of Zydeco music and a key pillar of Creole music in general, Amédé was the first musician to put the Louisiana Creole sound on vinyl.  But got killed over some nonsense after playing a house dance near Eunice, Louisiana. The most common story says that some white men were angered when a white woman, daughter of the master of the estate, lent her handkerchief to Amédé, creating brief handtouch pale-hand-on-brown that shocked the assembled, though some versions imply he got more hanky-panky than handkerchief from off-limits upper crust women broadly…. and that after Ardoin left the manse for the night, he was run over by a Model A Ford that crushed his head and throat, smashing his voicebox to smithereens.  He never performed again, and though accounts vary wildly on when the attack occurred and how long he survived institutionalized, Ardoin definitely died in the asylum/crippitorium in Pineville, Louisiana.
Amédé’s demise is explored in detail in Chapter 4 of Michael Tisserand’s The Kingdom of Zydeco—© 1998 ISBN: 978-1-61145-615-8—and there are more versions of the story than people reminiscing about it, with even those who knew Amédé offering multiple, differing accounts. But what makes Tisserand’s Amédé chapter so compelling is the character of Amédé; it’s like he existed outside of the timestream of pre-war Louisiana, his preternatural talent out-of-time, like a space alien or weird, accordion-only savant. Knowing that he had otherworldly accordion abilities made him cocky, too, and his attitude and tendency to largely disregard racist backwoods mores and overstep color lines probably got him killed.

Anywho….. Many of Little Richard’s contemporaries were shut out of the active touring in the Deep South he enjoyed, as Jim Crow blocked—and its raw vengeful intent really was more to “cockblock”—many black bluesmen and early rockers seeking a broader audience. Even in the late ’60s, Jimi Hendrix, who actually got his start running away from his Pacific Northwest home and, under a fake name, touring in Little Richard’s band, played on the tele via the BBC but got no airtime on American TV…


Little Richard on Sesame Street, 2010ish

This is the second episode in a new series, “Idiosyncratic Interconnections,” in which I unveil unusual connections betwixt two things that—most likely—only I would notice… realizing a seemingly unrelated thing unexpectedly interconnects with another thing to give insight into the first thing. Each episode connects two things. Let me know if ya’ll would like an Episode 3.


Go back to II: Episode 1

Idiosyncratic Interconnections: Loshon haRa and New Orleans R&B (Episode 1)

Posted by – September 24, 2015

Part of a new series, “Idiosyncratic Interconnections,” in which I unveil oddball connections betwixt two things that—most likely—only I, in my unusual mind, would notice… realizing a seemingly unrelated thing unexpectedly interconnects with another thing to explain, illuminate or give insight into the first thing. Each episode connects two things. Let me know if ya’ll like the series.

Idiosyncratic Interconnections

New Orleans R&B songs illustrating why Loshon HaRa, “tongue o’ evil,” and Rechilus (tale-bearing) is so bad

In September 2013 I last blogged on the subject of Loshon HaRa, complete with original cartoon-painting imagining the demonic forces that can escape your pie-hole via Loshon HaRa

Loshon HaRa is like libel, to willfully defame or dis someone, to talk smack outside of respectful norms. But unlike slander/libel, the truth is not your shield. Telling others “Suzie is a meth-whore” is Loshon HaRa even if she totally is, since you’ll never have the omniscient knowledge necessary to harshly judge another person, and relaying the dis to peers is assuming the role of judge and dropping the hammer / delivering a sentence of lost reputation. Not your place; keep it zipped. Unless telling it to someone (singular) could protect them.

poster from World War II

We all have our share of the yetzer HaRa (innate evil inclination, urge to destroy) and it can be difficult to hold your tongue. Certainly in the foibles and outright fails of your peers there is a ton of comedic value to leave holstered if one is circumspect in talking of others, plus the prospect that you will look cooler in contrast to the latest idiocy wrought by idiots is ever-tempting. Resist.

The biggest component to guarding your tongue is really mindset. A fidgety, itchy, dissatisfied mind is more likely to spread defamatory info than a chilled-out and content one. No one’s perfect, but following ANY rules of speech is next to impossible without a cultivated calmness of approach, deliberative and careful lips and larynx….

The verse “Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people” (Lev. 19:16) bans all forms of Loshon HaRa. However, the term “gossipmonger,” refers specifically to rechilus, “tale-bearing” or gossip that may sow the seeds of ill will or conflict between two or more others. Whereas directly derogatory info can cause others/the community to lose respect for the subject, rechilus can cause damage to relationships between the subject and his fellows, undermining the accord between another and a 3rd party.
“She thinks you’re dishonest, Chaim” being a classic rechilus example. Even if true, relaying the slight harms both the slighted (Chaim) and the slighter (the 3rd party who originated the negativity). It is wrong to help the initial slighter dis Chaim; they can wrong Chaim just fine without your help or complicity. Additionally, once the offense spreads, it can get a life of its own, pinball all over the community, go viral, damaging the social fabric. Like a computer virus or bug—0 where 1 ought to be—messin’ up the Kabbalistic code that animates the spiritual plane and sustains the constant earthy process of Creation™; put another way, “a disturbance in The Force.”     What began as something small can snowball, mutate… 48 hours and several “telephone game” manglings of 3rd-and-4th-party versions later, the FDNY is trying to talk Chaim down from the George Washington Bridge….

Though Sefer Shmiras haLoshon “way of speech/laws of the tongue book” is a Jewish thing, specifically Orthodox Judaism/yeshivah thang, plain from the sources I found, from Daily Sefer Chofetz Chaim and Jewish Heritage Foundation, both which require some knowledge of yeshivish terms to understand, there is nonetheless broader applicability….

People need more structure and discipline when it comes to speech, to minimize damage to the social fabric, so how can I make laws of the tongue more relatable…?
Well, most can relate to music. To wit…

Interconnection: Illustrative New Orleans R&B songs

New Orleans R&B is exemplified by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Snooks Eaglin, Allen Toussaint… I think of it as a close relative of the piano blues and an important forefather of rock, but Fats Domino songs like Be My Guest with prominent walking bass-line on piano and skank on the uptick inadvertently created the ska/reggae sound, as well….

“Big Mouth,” written by Fats Domino & Dave Bartholomew…

News is out all over town
Big mouth
You standing over there
Like you don’t know what it’s all about

I guess you satisfied,
that you made me cry
big mouth…

Allen Toussaint is best known for songs he wrote for other performers, and Gossip Gossip was sung by Diamond Joe.  Now considered a rare soul track, the original Diamond Joe 45 is a mega rarity…

Gossip, gossip
can’t stop us
from gettin’ along
they don’t know we gotta
solid thing goin’ onnnnn

they get a charge
draggin’ other folks down…

Advance to next II: episode 2 | or II: episode 3

Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, as Relevant Now as Ever

Posted by – June 29, 2015

Bringing together strands of recent thoughts … the blues…

Recently I updated the “Got the blues so bad” mix/Nick’s True Blues Playlist – skewing heavily to the first bluesmen recorded vs later interpreters, the Southern backwoods “sundown comin’ & klan caught up to me at the crossroads” blues and that type of bluesman. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker, the genuine article, the real bluesmen and those true to their spirit, like The Animals, or The Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton in their harder blues moments…

Mick Jagger knows the old blues lyrics, somehow Muddy Waters and Harpo Slim and recordings like that made their way across the pond to London, but ol’ Mick doesn’t convey the visceral blues that caused early American bluesmen to shout and stomp it…maybe Mick Jagger could pull off “so many beautiful supermodels (Jerry Hall Blues)” or the “Bad Music Video Dancing Blues” but can’t convey the blues felt down on the plantation, the woes of the dispossessed sharecropper’s son turned-itinerant musician…though, in fairness, the Stones pulled off some authentic blues standards and genuinely bluesy original tunes, and Keith Richards certainly comes from the ugliest corner of the wrong side of the tracks, England, and can definitely firmly grasp the blues, could shout the “1950s dentist got no anesthetic Blues“.

But I’m talking about the Southland that birthed the blues (about the song), the blues that began as slave stomps and chain-gang hollers, then grew increasingly sophisticated with the addition of guitars, harmonicas, piano, and eventually electrified instruments (none have really plumbed the depths of fully electric synthesizer blues, The Animals did lots with the organs and early synth-keyboards available in the ’60s, Steve Winwood had the whole enchilada of synthpop tech but just scratched the surface).

Listening to the electric blues on Florida St. and Imogene by the old freight train junction, Mobile, Alabama, thanks to fellow-Spring Hill College Class of 2004 Mobile kid Daniel Spotswood, I learned something about the blues that isn’t in the books, that the blues isn’t just a musical style, it’s an emotion.  It’s something visceral, intangible, possibly magical or at least existing in the undefined anthropological ether… something that might be non-recordable on tape.

The blues, the Real Blues, came from the systematic oppression, de facto (sharecropping) and actual outright slave economy of the deepest Deep South, songs of hell, songs of humanity persisting within the fieriest of Beelzebub’s trials…

The life of Robert Johnson illustrates what I mean. He was born from Julia Dodd’s re-marriage after Mr. Dodd got run out of town by a literal lynch mob over a woman and the white plantation caste that owned the area probably dispossessed the Dodds of everything.  In the Mississippi Delta counties especially, generational socio-economic gains could be washed away as fast as the Mississip’ risin’ if you were on the wrong side of the vicious legal and police-state-enforced Apartheid system—AKA Jim Crow— in effect in the first half of the 20th century. In Robert Johnson’s times, racism wasn’t just hateful attitudes but enshrined in law, enforced by the state; segregation, oppressive discrimination, denial of economic advancement/freedom in socio-economic space, and sudden death sentences by angry mob… all of this was essentially the law.

One of Johnson’s most covered songs, “Crossroads Blues”—even Cyndi Lauper recorded a rendition, 2010—refers to these Jim Crow laws. The second verse includes “the sun goin’ down now boy, dark gon’ catch me here”: alluding to the “sundown laws” or curfew, that was ubiquitous in the Deep South.  The blues still have a great deal of saliency.

When unrest erupts following the conflicts in Ferguson, MO, for example, and the news is analyzing the sundown curfews, few grasp the painful history. It’s shrugged off as necessary “to maintain order.”
But, when black people hear “sundown curfews imposed in Ferguson,” many probably think of “don’t be found when the sun’s gone down.”

I think of Robert Johnson.


Nick Reviews Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”

Posted by – March 25, 2015

Been getting to the bottom of the bottom getting to me
Holding up the mirror to everything I don’t want to see
But it ain’t all flowers
Sometimes you gotta feel the thorns
And when you play with
The Devil you know you gonna get the horns

That visceral howl WHAH-HOOO-HOOO-HOOO in the grungy, swirling psychedelic track It Ain’t All Flowers closing out Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore album hits a gong deep in the heart. There’s pain & the outlasting/pyrrhic defeat of pain in the howl… a 21st century rebel yell from the wrong side of Appalachia… a wolfman made of used-up ore howling into void… only an ex-coal-country man’s howl could resonate like that. Every time it makes me wince; it’s a cry that stings you.

That authentic texture, something deep and real in the layers of sound … that is what makes Sturgill Simpson’s latest album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music so interesting and special.
It also makes the album needful of hi-def. Without, at bare minimum, good headphones and big-pipe streaming, the music is flattened, sound is removed, you lose layers, the resonances, and that howl doesn’t seem interesting and goes right past you. The album lends itself to hi-fi analog, to vinyl, so it’s no surprise the first pressing of 10,000-vinyl Metamodern Sounds in Country Music records seemed to sell out instantly.

Spotify gets you closer to hi-fidelity sound than most:

It wasn’t until I was 11 or so when I learned that not all country music is awful, woeful crying, guys bemoaning what they’ve lost over sorrowful tunes. Lost mah truck, mah woman and mah dawg. I started to realize there’s more to country than that, that some country is good, with instrument-playing talent high.

An understanding of folk and country is essential to have cultural literacy, common points of reference, etc., as an American; in Stephen King’s novels there are repeated references to Hank Williams Sr. lyrics, to throw up one example. But as a Southerner, understanding country can be crucial, and a healthy appreciation of country can be a social gateway to the South’s biggest musical fandom.

My favorite country nowadays is the more bluegrassy, rockabilly, and folk stuff—throwback folk like Old Crow Medicine Show, indie country like Steve Earle. So Sturgill Simpson is right up my alley.

I rate Metamodern Sounds in Country Music as the must listen country album of 2014 because of the rockabilly country swirled with grunge walls of sound, intricate but never cluttered or overkill-y.  It stays straightforward. And most of all for its originality, that it covers unusual subject matter to put it mildly.

In Voices, Simpson contemplates the useless voices of self-doubt, the vapid voices of junk news media, and more (it’s layered). And in the lead-off track Turtles All The Way Down, he lists some of the mind-expanding psychedelic drugs that went into creating the record, following this gem of a stanza…

Bet you didn’t expect THIS in that Kentucky hills accent:
“There’s a gateway in our minds
That leads somewhere out there, far beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light
Cut you open and pull out all your pain”
Turtles All The Way Down

When the above ^ was played on NPR, I’m sure that listeners worldwide did spit-takes, let the car slip into the wrong lane.

Doubtless the Turtles All The Way Down music video was NOT in the rotation of music videos on CMT. And that Sturgill Simpson detonates country music norms is what makes him so interesting and unique.

Spectrum Pulse music reviews pointed out Simpson’s existence to me last year. Big tip of the hat to Mark of Spectrum Pulse for that. Your review led to mine.

I judge every element of an album with the mix, instrument-playing, musical arrangement, lyrics, etc., all having weight. My music reviews don’t hinge solely or predominantly on vocals, which is mostly how music is judged today in the age of The Voice, X-Factor, American Idol, et al.
Sturgill Simpson’s low, East Kentucky hill-man’s country drawl might be jarringly unfamiliar or off-putting for some, especially for ya dadgum Yankees; for me it’s familiar – very like North Carolina hills or North Alabama accents.  B+ for vocals.

I give Metamodern Sounds in Country Music five out of five rabbits for the sonic tapestries offered, wall of sound-ish but with few instruments, uncomplicated. It Ain’t All Flowers is probably the best example; it closes the album on a front porch-philosopher contemplative note of resignment… psychedelic keyboards—think vaguely funereal Incense & Peppermints—create a dark descending spiral of notes, not as much alt-country on acid as it is acid on country… If you “listen small,” catching the small details and beautiful things, you’ll find a lot to love in Metamodern Sounds.
And, foremost, for its exploration of heretofore-untouched topics. The freshness is super appreciated; hopefully country music will grow some cojones and greenlight more unconventional country albums and offer us fewer cringe-worthy regurgitations of endlessly rehashed country clichés.

You can listen to the album here for free (via Spotify) or above (also via Spotify).


Image: Five out of five rabbits




ND-RRR (Nick Dupree Rabbit Rating Reviews)

Still waiting on dem luminescent lizard surgeons from outer space to descend for my pain-ectomy.


My New Orleans Saints community experience and Superdome trip: December 2000

Posted by – December 30, 2014

When I wrote Saints commentary as the “Swami of the Swamp”

From the Mobile Register, sports section Monday, December the 18th.

Special thanks to Lee ^ for unearthing this article from his archives and taking the time to scan it for me

(Click to embiggen image of newspaper article)

This Superdome trip, my one and only visit inside da dome, really was a peak life experience for me.

Watching a live NFL game from the sideline may have some disadvantages compared to TV; you may not see everything that the quarterback does or every big play, but has major advantages. Being in the Superdome in person allows you to see so much more of what happens away from the ball. For example, I could see how the flying daredevil secondary of the 2000 Saints team—Fred Thomas at corner, Sammy Knight and Darren Perry the safeties, Fred Weary the other corner—covered opposing receivers deep downfield, doing acrobatic no-handed leaping half-climbs off their opponents, hands engaging the sky to potentially disrupt or intercept enemy passes. This is something that the TV coverage usually shows from high and distant angles if at all.

Being there let me soak up a ton of details, especially seeing one of our best defenses ever flying around, helmets gold and gleaming like Roman gladiators.

Other things you can’t get from TV are the cheerleaders, who actually do a great deal to manage the raucous home crowd, actually leading cheers. They signal everyone to get on the same page yelling DEFENSE when the defensive squad needs your support or YAY OFFENSE or whatever when that is proper; they’re always helping the crowd stay engaged and in sync. The “Saintsations” cheerleaders are just as rehearsed and choreographed as the football team: the offense and defense go through their sets and the team’s cheerleaders go through theirs.

And it was really cool seeing the opening ceremonies, the introductions, the jazz band blasting “When the Saints Go Marching In” with the WHODAT cheer tacked on at the end, and the colossal colosseum THE SUPERDOME itself.

I can write a lot about the Saints game, their 10-6 epic 2000 season, the dome, but what I remember most fondly is the respect and support of the guys. They acknowledged my football nerd acumen and writing skills, and didn’t view as impossible the actual doing stuff to help me and Mom get that van the 90 miles to New Orleans.

What I did and created in the community mattered; it wasn’t just another “Tiny Tim inspires, receives charity” human interest story.

I once heard “recognition is the greatest healer.” My Saints-related writing getting front page recognition in the Mobile Register definitely felt great. This experience still means a lot to me.

Freakin’ AOhelL deleted our boards, and most of my Swami of the Swamp posts and predictions were lost.  I miss my Saints community.

Maybe the SWAMI columns can return to the internets in some way in the future…


Thoughts in October 2014: Flu Vaccines, Political Example-Stories, Confederate Ghosts in the Fog, and Mobile, Alabama memories

Posted by – October 29, 2014

“Down in Mobile they’re all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy’s county seat.”—Eugene Walter

So I was in Mobile, AL, a port city as complex as it is old, the Confederacy’s “undefeated” city, and my hometown, and I move from the Fox News in the pulmonologist’s office to the Fox News in the psychologist’s office.
It’s late 2004. George W. Bush already won reelection and both camels of Congress are firmly Republican-controlled. This is a red state epicenter, and the receptionist slowly shakes her head at all the evils of them dadgum liberals in Washington.

The Fox News reporter on screen is in Iraq, sandy winds off the desert dunes whip his polo shirt’s sleeves back, and he tries to keep his pencil-like physique upright as he shoves his big fuzzy Fox News-emblazoned microphone into soldiers’ faces. He was asking almost Colbert-like questions of the desert camo-wearing Army men, like how much have Senate Democrats harmed the war effort? and do you think the recent comments of Senate Democrats constitute treason?

More than one serviceman laughed the guy off.  None of them knew what comments Democrats had made. The questions were totally removed from the Army’s mission in Iraq and mostly seemed the ramblings of another clueless civilian or rear guard patriot.  Really apparent was the complete disconnect from the composition of government: Republicans unified the federal elected bodies and the executive branch under their control from 2002 and gained even biggier majorities in the 2004 elections, but it sounded like the Senate Democrats ran everything on Fox News.  The ever-present librul conspiracy is all-powerful and ALWAYS the problem.

This idea of eternal opposition is easy to understand in the undefeated city, our lady of perpetual defiance. This I understand easily, the rebellion is deeply ingrained in Mobilians’ DNA. Over time, surrounded by Confederate ghosts (some of them your relatives) and architecture, the big bronze Admiral Raphael Semmes statue looking at you, marinating in that culture and place and tripping over its ghosts in the lit beams of fog, you start to understand that the port cities have a different narrative from that of the plantationocracy, that for the urban South it’s more utopian.

Standing figure of Admiral Raphael Semmes. He wears confederate attire, including a long coat which extends to his knees, and a cap on his head. His left arm is bent so that his fist rests on his hip, with sword hanging immediately behind. His right arm is at his side with binoculars in his hand. Erected in 1899, the bronze aged to deep green long ago like the Statue of Liberté in New York. The base features three bronze plaques, including one which depicts the C.S.S. Alabama at sea.

Big bronze statue of Admiral Semmes @ The Loop, intersection of Government and Royal, City of Mobile.

Yes it’s about a slave economy and getting them dadgum liberal Abe Lincolns off your lawn, but it’s also this idea of Alabama knowing how best to build Alabama.  There’s nothing libertarian about the state that they would choose; the vision is more Thomas Paine than Edmund Burke. There’s this idea and utopian dream of all types of creation-energy and creativity and building being unleashed once you get that damnable federal boot off your neck.

It’s mostly a pipe dream—AKA a dream you get after hitting dat pipe o’ opium—and also there’s NOTHING morally justifiable much less utopian about the reasons why the feudal lords of the Southern interior supported secession, that is slavery slavery and slavery. But the port cities that were bustling centers of New World civilization already when George Washington was in diapers really complicate whatever narrative of the Confederacy you have. They resist simplicity. The port cities (Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans) are/were full of madmen and poets and dreamers like Eugene Walter described. And they were not only about wiping out the invaders, but also trying to create a better society that isn’t trying to out-hustle the North but wants to make a nation that is culturally if not economically independent (slavery spreading because of capitalism on steroids, often with northern financing).
As uber lefty cultural historian Morris Berman often says, a Southern victory in The WONA (“War of Northern Aggression”) would not have necessarily “given us a better world–slavery having been the obvious dark aspect of the Southern way of life–but the destruction of a gracious, slow-moving, community-oriented society in favor of a frantic, commercial one is nothing to crow about.”

So I always try to understand the ideas behind the arguments. Wanting to get dem dadgum bluebacks out of your hair I understand.
But if your side never has to shoulder the responsibility of governance, is perpetually in opposition vs. having a share of the credit and consequences of success or failure as part of a ruling coalition, your party can become badly warped.

I think it’s advantageous to understand all sides as much as possible. I got really confused during the federal gov’t shutdown of 2013, especially as to the predominant ideas underpinning it, so I listened to right-wing talk radio for the week and tried, to the best of my ability, to explain Teapublican thinking at the time on this blog.  I think that it is more radical to attempt to get your head around the other side’s ideas than to knee jerk oppose, and more interesting.

GOP uernica – Daryl Cagle’s fascinating and ‪hilarious‬ GOPelephant parody of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Even the SHUT IT DOWN extremism I could eventually understand somewhat, but there are things I seriously can’t grasp at all except as purposefully misleading, disinfo more than misinformation, especially with Fox News. It worries me about our nation’s ability to learn, to adapt to multiple decades of scientific data, move forward and lead the way so humans  don’t end up extinct.

Concerned about Fox Newsification of Medicine and Science

On the medical front, there are obvious policy differences on substantive issues, like the stem cell lines kerfuffle early on in Bush Jr’s presidency, but I mean things like blaming John Edwards and “librul trial lawyers” for the flu shot shortage of 2004. This was a talking point on Fox News repeated again and again, part of the “scandal of the day” format Faux News sticks with throughout its lineup of programs.

Like the disloyal Democrats’ comments brought up over and over again, even by FNC’s Iraq correspondent in lieu of actual reporting, there’s this consistent appeal to some story example that acts as a code word or proof-text of Demonrat perfidy—this time the librul conspiracy has gone too far!!  A good contemporary example is Benghazi, which for several years now is a code word for Barack Obama is a radical Islam and MURDERED that ambassador to cover up his traitorous support for terrorists OMG!!
In a way I understand this as coming from the story-example way of communicating so prevalent in the South, you can look back at 19th century newspapers and see how the openly partisan news media of the South would fixate on whatever meme of “Yankee radical” treason or perceived slight and milk it.

21st century partisan news media fixates on whatever obscure example and rides it for as many news cycles as possible, but an important difference is the whole South understood the example stories of 19th century newspapers, more or less, whereas the example stories of Fox News are little known outside of the conservative media bubble. Few know what Benghazi is or understand why Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being brought home from being a Taliban POW per no man left behind is another traitorous plot of the Obama. Example narratives like these circulate only among the conservative media niche, have no traction outside that narrow audience and even within the alternate reality of the Rightosphere they create a terrible hew and cry but aren’t salient past the few news cycles they’re designated talking points for…

So on this day, Faux News’ librul conspiracy meme of the day was this thing about John Edwards and the dadgum ambulance chasing trial lawyers. The pulmonologist and nurse were discussing the flu shot shortage crisis affecting us and the other patients, and that the lawsuits pursued by John Edwards and his parasitic ilk are the primary cause of vaccine factory closures and the shortage of flu shots. Conservative media was citing this as a proof of lawyers ruin health care and pass legislation to further immunize vaccine makers from lawsuits! 

I’d understand employing this example, if it were true.  But Snopes wholly debunked the claim.  It is 100% false.  John Edwards never sued vaccine manufacturers nor did his firm. Few suits have ever been filed on the flu shot, the controversy is primarily over the early childhood immunization schedule, MMR vaccine, DPT vaccine, the use of thiomersal and so forth. So the ramping down of flu vaccine manufacturing had nothing to do with lawsuits—no one was seeking redress of grievances against the flu shot—the low supply of flu vaccines in 2004, Snopes explained, had to do with flu vaccines losing money, and with vaccine makers transitioning production to the scary “live virusintranasal spray FluMist®.

When story examples are more important than fact and there is ONLY opinion, where does that lead us?



Key link: snopes.com: John Edwards and flu vaccine shortage


Ebola outbreak directly related to our cousin mammals, environmental destruction

Posted by – October 24, 2014

Ebola hemorrhagic fever affects much of the mammalian family tree: its spread should make us remember our intimate connection with other mammals and the environment

All animals sustain themselves on an ecological tightrope of sorts, delicately balancing so many needs, including water, food, space and safety, all tied to the habitat they live in. You kick over habitats, species go into chaos trying to adapt. We, the humans, inextricably interdependent with the environment and other mammals, are ultimately affected. In severely impoverished African countries, the people greatly widen their menu to encompass more animals’ meat than is acceptable in Western cultures. This means “bushmeat.”

This is Franquet’s Epauletted Fruit Bat, one of three fruit bat (megabat) species to recently test positive as Ebola “disease reservoirs” (meaning they are asymptomatic animal carriers of the virus).

In other words, bats, primates and other mammals bitten by bats, apes carrying HIV, and more end up on the dinner table, inevitably bringing new mammalian diseases to the plate at least once, and all an outbreak takes is that one infected meal.

Months before the Ebola epidemic spiraled out of control, there was Patient Zero, a not-quite-two-year-old girl in Guinea. She likely contracted the virus from an infected bat, in an impoverished village where bushmeat is a dietary staple. Because Ebola so often afflicts caregivers, the child’s pregnant mother was soon infected, then other family members, then the midwife who nursed the mother through a miscarriage. Within months, the virus had arrived in the capital, Conakry, and seeded even larger epidemics in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

This is from a recent article on New Security Beat, “The Making of a Tragedy: Inequality, Mistrust, Environmental Change Drive Ebola Epidemic.”
New Security Beat is a project of the Woodrow Wilson Center, which exists to perpetuate President Wilson‘s pro-interventionist views. “Making the world safe for democracy” by pointing mega weapons at anyone deemed a tyrant or an enemy. Your “Team America: World Police“-type approach, basically, or the Freedom Eagle meme school of foreign policy. So stay alert to possible biases in this source (and all sources you may find).

Still, the article makes important points about our environmental and animal interdependencies driving the infectious diseases we’re exposed to….
It continues:

But the origins of the epidemic reach back further still. The virus may have been flushed out of the forest by multinational timber and mining operations that have clear-cut the (now misnamed) Guinea Forest Region, where the child was from. And population growth, partly driven by refugees from the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has driven settlements deeper into the remaining bush.

“As the forests disappeared,” writes Jeffrey Stern in Vanity Fair, “so too did the buffer separating humans from animals – and from the pathogens that animals harbor.” Zoonotic diseases like Ebola are on the rise worldwide, as habitat loss accelerates.

Read the whole thing here: The Making of a Tragedy: Inequality, Mistrust, Environmental Change Drive Ebola Epidemic | New Security Beat

Zoonotic diseases are diseases transmissible from animals to humans or visa versa (“reverse zoonosis”).  In Jared Diamond’s best-selling book Guns, Germs, and Steel, about the non-cultural geographic and ecological reasons Western civilization developed ahead of the “Global South,” zoonosis is cited as a key reason for the Western colonizers’ germs advantage.  Europeans lived with and relied on a diverse stock of domesticated animals, so were packed with zoonotic diseases and immunities. This made early European settlers of the Americas typhoid marys as far as their impact on the indigenous peoples, effectively waging unintended (and sometimes intentional) apocalyptic biowarfare.

In this Mobile Register editorial cartoon by JD Crowe, “Airborne disease,” Ebola takes flight via a sprawling swarm of bats and an airplane.

Africans, unlike Europeans, were known for their hardy resistance to tropical diseases, and therefore were enslaved en masse and deployed especially heavily to die and work plantations in the hot climes few whites would go. But historically having little to no domesticatible animals in the dense jungles of West Africa, Africans didn’t do as well with zoonotic plagues.

Now they’re facing animal-borne infectious diseases like whoa, and it is bad! And environmental destruction in West Africa is a huge factor.

Will humans ever get it through our thick skulls that what harms our mammalian cousins will inevitably affect us??




Recommended resource:

Will My Dog Catch Ebola? | Psychology Today -good solid scientific info here: dogs can become asymptomatic carriers in the period before the disease cycles out of their system, but cats appear to not be susceptible to catching the virus

Public Health Back on the Frontburner with Ebola Panic

Posted by – October 22, 2014

Nick Analysis: Focus on Long-term Policy Choices

This attack ad put out by “The Agenda Project,” an org that apparently exists solely to place anti-GOP TV spots, is aimed at the electorate voting in the upcoming decisive midterm races for House and Senate. And it is unique in several ways.
Most obviously, the ad is almost singularly brutal, tying the Ebola outbreak to the years of budget cutting to NIH that has meant harsh limits on vaccine and related infectious disease research along with rollbacks in all NIH’s areas of research.  The images and sounds expertly scare the crap out of you. The use of medical equipment like a heart monitor, the ominous beat of the machine, or using respiratory aids (here, the sound of an Ambu® bag pumping at the beginning and end of the spot) to invoke the patient on the brink, the tension of the emergency that could go either way, is definitely unsettling. When you yourself, like me, are on a ventilator, you notice these things more, and it is more troubling.

guy in hazmat suit grasping a TV remote & saying to his wife

Political cartoon by Mark Streeter of the Savannah Morning News

But despite the utter shamelessness of this ad, it contributes something important by raising (or suggesting) a key question: do you really want a smaller government in a world where we need a robust response to infectious diseases like Ebola?

Cut cut cut everything has consequences. The end result is that the significant resources you need when diseases spread and shit gets real aren’t there. Our health infrastructure was and is largely unprepared for deadly plagues like this. Look at the awful state of our emergency departments, even at prestigious academic hospitals, to begin to understand HOW unprepared we are.

The ad spins events to fault only the Republicans for the budget slash and burn, when Democrats are deeply complicit: their compromise, “sequestration,” cut deep across the board. As I wrote back in August, some of the same Congresscritters who sequester-hammered the NIH, cutting the crap outta research into ALS and other neuromuscular diseases with everything else, doused themselves with ice buckets for ALS research when the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral.
Abusive boyfriend bringing you flowers, it felt like, except the victim is a vast chunk of the population that is sick and need all the help they can get.

It is more radical to tell the truth on the failings that exist on all sides, the Democrats too. I want the truth, man, and will never be a sycophant.

As for President Obama and his role in all this, he has sometimes prioritized other things in budget battles, sometimes gone to bat for CDC funding. But it would be false not to include the context: all of the budgets this president signed that ended up cutting preparedness-for-public-health-emergencies were compromise budgets. The Congressional Republicans decide on an extreme scorched earth budget, slash and burn to everything across the board except for “essentials” like arming jihadis against Assad in Syria or continuing the notorious non-flying F-35 program, then the president threatens to veto the budget until a compromise is forged.  Instead of making his own budget and selling a real and compelling alternative to austerity, inspiring the country to support his vision, he compromises, signs the scorched earth lite budget and then goes golfing with CEOs.

To simplify: President Obama’s compromise budgets have been nearly as bad for public health funding as the Republicans’ first offer-budgets.

The Republicans are expected to win both camels of our bicameral legislature in DC (Congress) on November 4th. I worry that the scorched earth budgets will get even scorchier.
Hopefully the issue of funding for infectious diseases stays on the frontburner, at the forefront of budget debates at least, after the Ebola panic is out of the news cycle and past its usefulness as campaign ammunition, long-term.

The key questions that affect the America we will live in over the long haul, what gov’t should do and not do, how public monies should be allocated, how we regulate the dumping of toxic waste, civil liberties vs. a police state, these should be what we debate and focus on solving.

The Ebola outbreak is scary, a much more serious pandemic than the swine flu. The H1N1 porcine influenza was initially hyped as super deadly, but the strain that spread in the U.S. was ultimately no deadlier than normal seasonal flu (regular influenza is horrendous—I’ve had it—so don’t get me wrong). But when there was so much unhinged fearmongering over H1N1, New York stopped releasing the numbers of influenza patients amidst the panic, and people were being pressed to wear surgical masks that don’t protect against the microscopic flu virus, I blogged against it.
I would never blog against Ebola over-caution like that. Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever like the BLACK DEATH that wiped out nearly 2/3 of the European population. Ebola hemorrhagic fever isn’t as contagious as that history reshaping bubonic plague, but it’s apparently VERY contagious in the end stages when the victim’s viral load is highest and they are hemorrhaging like crazy. This Ebola outbreak has already proven devastating, killing over 5,000 people in West Africa as of this post’s time of posting.  Not taking Ebola seriously, not taking reasonable precautions isn’t liberal or conservative, it’s just DUMB!

But infectious diseases have a life cycle in the aggregate as well as on the individual level, and all outbreaks end.  Ebola will be long forgotten by this time next year, whereas the policy choices on health care infrastructure, how we fund public health will be just as important and relevant then and always. Remember the long-haul!



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