Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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I Just Solved All Our Problems


In response to the blog post of a friend who is understandably bemoaning the state of the nation, I got a wee bit windy.

I know, I know – it’s hard for anyone to believe that I - moi - would spew opinions unrestrained against the drums of ears attached to mouths that were asking rhetoricals, not practicals. Nevertheless, I have the answer, and if the president would only sit down and pay attention to me, all the country’s problems – yea, even all the world’s! – would be solved.

The economy is not going to be fixed overnight, and right now Obama is listening to the experts who advise throwing more money at the economy in all the wrong places – at least IMHO. But, in response to those who are nodding sagely, saying “We told you that Obama would bring socialism and liberalism to the country, but did you listen?  Nooooo,” I say that (ahem) this started on the Republican watch. Obama inherited this disaster; he did not create it. And since no one has ever dealt with such a staggering world-wide economic crisis before, that means he is inventing this wheel as he goes along.  Will he get it all right?  Of course not.  But he won’t be likely to get it all wrong, either.

From what I hear and read, the economy isn’t going to start upward on any consistent basis until at least next year, and maybe not until 2011. Whenever in history the economy has tanked as suddenly and as severely as it did last summer and fall, the recovery has always been slow. That’s why they call them “depressions.”

Consumer confidence is badly shaken, and as more and more jobs are lost and more and more foreclosure notices are mailed, it’s not as if Dick and Jane are suddenly going to decide to splurge on that vacation home, lavish gifts for their status-conscious kids, or a pricey new automobile. Their businesses aren’t going to be hell-bent to hire new employees, either, because if sales are down, and no one is getting the services they offer, the employers simply can’t justify it.

The economy is, believe it or not, depressed.  And Economic Abilify has not yet been invented.

My opinion (and one or two of you might possibly be aware that I have one or two opinions, even though I rarely mention them in polite company) is that Obama would be better off to give stimulus money to the people and entities that are best in a position to turn this thing around, i.e., all of us, but in different ways.

Money should go to the homeowners trying to stave off foreclosure as a condition of and part of the debt renegotiation with the lenders – that way the lenders get paid directly by the government on behalf of the homeowners, the homeowners and their children aren’t sleeping on the streets, and the banks don’t own homes they can’t sell.

If a home is undervalued for the debt the homeowner has against it, the government should pay the difference as soon as new terms for the remainder are worked out between the borrower and the lender. If the borrower can’t afford to continue making the original payments – not the juiced-up interest payments – then there can be a second tier of incentives for the lenders to extend the debts to a 40 year amortization as opposed to the customary 30 year schedule.

And NO MORE INTEREST-ONLY long term debt!  Whose idiotic notion was that, anyway?  “Here, Joe Bob and Sally Sue, take this money that you never have to pay back. Just pay us interest and we’ll all be happy.”  The hell, they say! Morons.

Next, apply stimulus funds to the remaking of the American infrastructure, especially rural and smaller urban areas without reasonable public transit. Make light rail, high speed rail, and buses reach more places and serve more people on better schedules. One of the worst things we ever did was allow our railroads to be dismantled in favor of three cars in every driveway and five lanes on every freeway. Refurbishing and improving our infrastructure will employ hundreds of thousands of people in various positions throughout the country. From engineers to draftsmen to laborers to porters, we can get this country moving at a much more economical rate, and faster, if we’ll commit the funds to do it. And those jobs won’t go away when the projects are complete – they will need to be maintained, too.

Simultaneously, pour money into scientific research and development of alternative energy as well as into to cleaning up and maintain the environment. I’m not talking about just reducing greenhouse gases, although that is certainly a big concern, but (for example) about making reasonable accommodations for heavy metals that are the by-product of mining and drilling. A rocket laden with nuclear waste, arsenic, mercury and lead headed for the dark side of the moon might not be a bad use of NASA’s funding.

Put people to work cleaning up the environmental damage we’ve done to the planet, and making sure we’ve still got a planet to leave to our great-grandchildren. Clean water, clean air, and fewer chemicals artificially enhancing the soil and crops will go a long way toward making us all healthier – not to mention the possibility that our grandchildren might be able to play with frogs in their back yards some day.

And while we’re at it, quit giving chickens and cows all those damn hormones!  I have yet to meet a teenage girl whose double-D’s don’t put my paltry gifts to shame.  Why are their adolescent mammaries the size of a Holstein’s udders? Hormones!

Reduce the employer’s share of employment taxes. With the matching amounts that employers pay for health insurance, medicaid, unemployment, and social security, the cost of hiring an employee is a lot more than just what the employee sees in his check. This would be a real, dollar amount of savings for employers and would probably allow businesses to hire more workers across the board and at all levels.

Nationalized health care? Bring it on. Insurance companies will always provide coverage to people who choose to pay more for less care.  Those of us who have survived cancer (twice, thankyouverymuch) or who are on certain costly medications can’t get health insurance without staggering pre-existing conditions clauses that make our health insurance worthless and excruciatingly expensive – if we can get it at all.

When health insurance benefits dictate whether a parent can open a business of his or her own or must stay with an employer who provides health coverage the family can’t get elsewhere, entrepreneurialism is stifled. This country is dependent on small business and entrepreneurs. We absolutely must break down the barriers that prevent people from making an attempt to achieve their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I work a lot harder for myself than I do for someone else. I don’t think failed businesses should be propped up by the government (Detroit, are you listening?), but when something like paying for childbirth determines whether a family can start a small business, there’s something desperately wrong.

Where, O Where will the money come from to do all this?

(clearing my throat)

The same place the last two trillion dollars came from.  And the next trillion will actually make a difference. It will put people to work, shore up the foundation of the country, and stabilize the economy. It will also have the added benefit of making the world a better place.  And if any of you out there are thinking there won’t be more stimulus money forthcoming, you just hide and watch. It’ll come, I promise, whether the president takes my incontrovertible advice or not.

Now that I have solved the problems of the environment, the economy, health care, and reliance on fossil fuels, are there any other problems you’d like me to take a look at?  My rates are reasonable, and I’m in a spewing mood.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Domestic, Economy, Environment, Foreign Relations, Health, News, Politics, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breast Cancer Awareness


Breast cancer has taken the lives of women we knew and loved, and has made the lived of other women we know and love very difficult. Has anyone’s life been unaffected by it?  Don’t we all know someone who has had breast cancer?

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the beneficiary of a Three-Day Walk for a cure for breast cancer. The walk is a National Philanthropic Trust project, aimed at nationwide and even worldwide participation.

With money for cancer research, more women diagnosed with breast cancer can be like my friend Ellen, who miraculously survived with a spontaneous remission despite being given a death sentence by her doctor, and my aunt Jackie, who survived with successful treatment.  I can name others who have recovered and others who, sadly, have not.  My cousin Margaret, my neighbor Sassy, my old friend Faye…. all have been the unlucky victims of this insidious disease.

As many of you reading this blog know, I’ve had cancer twice. I’ve not had breast cancer, but my nightmares tell me to I expect to. None of us are safe.

Please donate to this worthy cause.

My friend Kathi, who happens to be my former husband’s girlfriend, is participating in the three day walk in October. If you don’t participate yourself, please donate to her effort to raise money for a cure.

Is it weird that I ask you to support Kathi?  She’s dating my ex-husband, after all.  If you don’t already know, Skip and I have a wonderful relationship – much better than when we were married – and it all revolves around a certain boy who is closing in on adulthood.  Our son Jack is sixteen, personable, creative, and reasonably well-adjusted despite  his parents’ divorce.  Skip and I have worked hard to make sure we work together for Jack’s sake.  He is the single most important thing in our lives.  Skip and I encourage each other constantly, talk almost daily, and support each other’s goals, hopes and dreams.  We call each other for support and to vent. We still like each other.  Thank the gods we divorced before we could develop hatred for one another!

I support Kathi not only because she is my friend and Jack’s possible future stepmom, but because she is actually doing something for a cause I believe in strongly.  If you don’t participate in the walk yourself, support someone who is.  Support Kathi!

The link will get you to the page where you can donate money to the cause.  Five dollars, ten, any amount you can contribute will help.  Please help!

Here is the message Kathi is sending out to her friends:

I just wanted to send an update on the Breast Cancer 3Day Walk that I am doing in October.

We are asked to raise $2200 per participant and I have already raised $400 toward my goal! How exciting! Some of those donations are from people forwarding my email to their friends and I want you to know how much I truly appreciate your support. I joined a team called the “Buttercups” and our team has already raised $5,672! We are all training and getting ready for the 60 mile journey.

If you have already donated I can’t thank you enough! If you are still interested in donating here is the link to my site. You can donate online or print a donation form and mail it in. Nothing is too small and it is all tax deductible.

http://08.the3day.org/goto/kathianne

Thank you again!

Kathi

May 21, 2008 Posted by | Children, Death, Health, News, Personal, Science | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dolphin Saves the Whales


Despite Geraldine’s Ferraro’s possible claims to the contrary, there is no racism among cetaceans.

There’s a bottlenose dolphin called Moko who frequently splashes and plays with swimmers at Mahia Beach on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, in a region known as Hawke’s Bay.

Hawke’s Bay is sort of the Napa Valley of New Zealand. The region is famous for its wines and fine accommodations. The peninsula is a scenic reserve, complete with hiking trails and camping.

Moko the dolphin is a real-life “Flipper.” She plays with swimmers, pushes kayaks through the water, and comes close to boats so the people in them can pet her. Although dolphins don’t normally seem to be afraid of humans, interactions between humans and dolphins in the wild is fairly rare. Conservation Department workers speculate that Moko is isolated from her pod and gets her social contact through her interactions with the bathers and boaters off Mahia Beach.

Moko the dolphin does more than just play with the bipeds in Hawke’s Bay, though. She’s a true hero, and Monday she proved it.

On Monday, a 12-foot mother pygmy sperm whale and her 4-foot calf became stranded in a shallow area frequented by swimmers at Mahia Beach. Conservation Department workers did their best, but could not get the whales pointed in the right direction. They got a sling under the mother and the baby, pulled them off the sand bar, and pointed them to deeper water. The whales were frightened, though, and kept getting beached. They were apparently afraid of the shallow waters near the beach and could not find their way amid the many sand bars back to open water.

The animals kept getting beached on the shallow sand bars that surround the swimming area. The Conservation Department workers freed them four times, but each time the whales to become grounded again, unable to swim to deep water and safety.

Malcolm Smith, who had been in the chilly water trying to free the whales for well over an hour, described the rescue by Moko as “amazing.” “I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was at the stage where I was thinking it was about time to give up – I’d done as much as I could.”

Giving up mean euthanasia. If stranded whales cannot be freed and sent back into open water, the Conservation Department spares them the long, agonizing death that results from the whales being impossibly stuck on a beach or on a sand bar.

Suddenly, though, apparently in answer to the whales’ distress calls, Moko the friendly dolphin showed up. Juanita Symes, a Conservation Department worker and rescuer, told The Associated Press that “Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales.”

The dolphin and the whales communicated. The rescue workers saw Moko’s actions and heard her whistles, and heard the audible response of the pygmy sperm whales. Moko then led them about 200 yards along the beach, through a narrow channel, and out to the open sea.

London’s Daily Mail quoted Smith as saying, “Moko is a real heroine because there is absolutely no doubt she learned of the whales’ plight through some kind of telepathy and then got them out of trouble.” Moko led the whales about 200 yards parallel to the beach, then turned into a narrow channel the whales had not been able to find on their own. The whales followed Moko to open sea and have not been seen since in the Mahia Beach area.

The mother and calf were extremely lucky. Most of the whale strandings at Mahia Beach end up with the whales having to be euthanized. Perhaps when other whales become disoriented and stranded in the shallow waters, Moko will again come to the rescue.

Sources:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080313-dolphin-video-ap.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=531748&in_page_id=1811
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/13/2188375.htm
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/03/12/wdolphin112.xml
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iOgpiCHSYJUoSEg7wI72MoQmuBNg

March 13, 2008 Posted by | Environment, News, Science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eye Cancer


One morning in 1999 I went to my optometrist for a routine eye exam. It was time to check the strength of my glasses and contacts. With my pupils uncomfortably dilated, Dr. Randall Teague peered into the depths of my right eye. He looked into my left eye for a quick moment, then looked into the right again. He looked for what seemed like a very long time, since he was shining a light directly through the pupil onto the retina.

“Has anyone ever told you that you have a freckle in your eye?” he asked.

I was a little startled. In fact, my neurologist had asked the same question when I was last in his office for a visit for my migraines. I told Dr. Teague this.

“You need to see a good ophthalmologist,” Dr. Teague said. He turned and reached for a phone book. “I’m going to call to make you an appointment.”

This was certainly an unusual thing to happen during an eye exam, I thought. As I sat in the darkened room, in the exam chair, I watched as Dr. Teague called the office of Bill Mabrey, a very respected Little Rock ophthalmologist, and asked to set an appointment. “She needs to be seen this afternoon,” he told the person on the other end of the conversation. I began to worry.

“Why this afternoon?” I asked. I had other plans for the day, but Dr. Teague exuded a sense of urgency.

That afternoon I went to see Dr. Mabrey, who, coincidentally, was the son of my in-laws’ neighbor and close friend. Over the past ten years I had heard of Bill Mabrey’s professional progress from his mother, who loved to talk about how well he was doing and the awards and recognition he received as an extraordinarily accomplished ophthalmologist. I knew that he was the best in Little Rock.

“You have a choroidal melanoma,” he told me that afternoon. He explained that the “freckle” in my eye was similar to a mole on the skin. It was essentially a growth of pigmented cells in the part of my eye just behind the retina. Some people have small “freckles” in their eyes, just like they have freckles on their skin, and there is no problem. When the freckle grows, though, it is considered to be a malignant tumor that has to be removed surgically.

Only 5 in a million people have choroidal melanoma. That means about 1200 people in the United States have this condition. It is rare. And it is scary as hell.

The choroidal melanoma can metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body, usually to the liver or the lungs. Aggressive action to eradicate the tumor is necessary to prevent the spread of the melanoma. Usually this means the patient loses the affected eye. It is removed to prevent the melanoma from spreading. “You will most likely have to have your eye removed,” Bill Mabrey told me. My world rocked.

I have always had a fear of blindness. When I was first given glasses at the age of 9 I was told that my eyesight would continue to decline. “How bad will it get?” I had asked the eye doctor. He replied, “Oh, eventually you’ll go blind.” He thought I understood he was kidding. I didn’t, and it wasn’t until several years later that I came to understand his remark to be flippant. But in the meantime, I was sure my eyes would soon fail me completely and I would be in a world without books, without sewing, without the fine details that I loved to give to things.

More than anything else, I use my eyes. I read. I write. I sew. I make miniatures. I cannot possibly imagine life without eyes. I can lose my hearing and be okay. Yes, I love music and movies, but losing hearing would only handicap me. Losing my sight would make life much less worth living.

The fear of blindness that had permeated my childhood and adolescence came roaring back into my life. It arrived with a powerful blow and knocked me senseless. I didn’t hear the rest of what Dr. Mabrey said, but as I left I was told to make an appointment to have an MRI done on my eye.

The only place in the state that had the equipment to do an MRI on my eye to determine the size of the tumor was the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), which is located in Little Rock. Pursuant to instructions from Dr. Mabrey’s office, I called for an appointment. It would be six weeks before they could fit me in. I made the appointment.

The next few weeks were hell. This was the second time I had been diagnosed with a cancerous condition. Jack was three years old the first time. Now he was eight. The notion of this cancer metastasizing terrified me, not so much for me but for my son. My dad had lost his mother to leukemia when he was a teenager and never recovered from the blow. I didn’t want this to happen to Jack. I was 36 years old. My grandmother died at the age of 39.

I walked around in a daze. Depression hit me hard. I spent a lot of time just going through the motions of life. Going to my law office, going home, making dinner, sitting in a daze waiting for the next blow to fall. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I spent a lot of time just staring into space. Blindness, a cancer metastasizing, the possibility of my child growing up without his mother. I couldn’t even cry. I was numb.

It’s hard for me to write about those months of my life. Even now, nearly a decade later, I can’t think of them without tears. That time was easily the lowest I have ever been, and I’ve had plenty of lows.

My sister, Susan, recognized the fact that I couldn’t function. My husband didn’t – I think maybe he was too close to the situation himself to take action. My sister, though, didn’t hesitate.

Susan researched the diagnosis. She started making phone calls. She found that there were five clinics in the US that treated choroidal melanoma. One of them was at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, just a two hour drive away. When she told me she had found the clinic, she joked that she had hoped we’d have to go to New York, where the shopping was better. I managed a smile. I was so numb I really didn’t care.

Susan got me an appointment at the clinic in Memphis for two weeks later. She cancelled the appointment at UAMS and got the records from Dr. Mabrey’s office. She was ready to drive me to Memphis when a few days before the appointment my husband said he would take me.

Ophthalmic oncology is a tiny subspecialty within ophthalmology. There are approximately 147 ophthalmic oncologists in the world. Getting a second opinion would be virtually impossible, and would most likely be done at my own expense. It wasn’t practical. If the ophthalmic oncologists at the University of Tennessee, which was also associated with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis couldn’t save my eye, it wouldn’t be saved. (Remember the plugs actor Danny Thomas used to make for St. Jude’s on television? He founded the hospital.)

That day I waited in the crowded reception room with about 40 other patients. Not everyone had the same problem I did. There were some who were blind, some who were obviously frail and feeble, and others who appeared just as healthy as I did. After what felt like a lifetime my name was called and I began a series of tests.

After an ultrasound of my eye, photographs of my retina, and two doctors peering through the enlarged pupil of my right eye, Dr. Barrett Haik told me that the spot was most likely malignant and that there were just a couple of options for treatment. One was that my eye would be removed and I would get a glass replacement. If the second option didn’t work, that’s what would ultimately happen anyway.

The second option was a radical new procedure. A tiny laser beam would be aimed through the clear pupil of my paralyzed eye and the melanoma would be burned to a pile of ash. The blood vessels feeding it and helping it to grow would be cauterized by the laser, too. The procedure had rarely been done before, and never by Dr. Haik. However, Dr. Matthew Wilson, his associate, had seen it done. It was experimental. If I did it, I might still need to have radiation treatments on the eye. Despite the laser and radiation, I might still lose my eye. Was I willing to try it? I shrugged. Sure.

It could not be done that day. The doctors would have to get the necessary equipment from St. Jude’s. I should come back in a month. New measurements could be taken by ultrasound and by photograph at that time to confirm that the spot was malignantly growing inside my eye.

I was still numb. When Skip and I explained the options to our families, the consensus was to go for the laser surgery. I was still in such a state of shock and denial that I couldn’t pick up the phone to call for the appointment. My sister came to my rescue again. She called the office in Memphis. I had an appointment to have the surgery.

This time the reception area at Dr. Haik’s office wasn’t as crowded and I was ushered in almost immediately. The pupil of my right eye was dilated with drops. Measurements were again taken with the ultrasound and the photographs. I was seated in an examination chair and given a painkiller.

The team knew what they were about to do to me would hurt and they warned me it would be uncomfortable. Still, I was unprepared for the excruciating agony of a paralytic agent being administered to the muscles around my eye by a hypodermic needle. The shot and the searing agony seemed to go on forever. When it was finally over I asked if it was a boy or a girl. I hoped, for that much pain, I had a baby girl to show for it. Jack was, alas, still sibling-less.

While they waited for the paralytic drug to take effect, Doctors Wilson and Haik talked and joked with me. I have never met a doctor whose bedside manner was better than Dr. Haik’s. He was constantly patting my hand and arm in a fatherly manner, soothing me with his soft voice, and putting me at ease with every word. He explained each step thoroughly.

He was also honest about the fact that he had never attempted the procedure he was about to perform on me. Dr. Wilson had done it, and would be supervising him. The two medical men readied the laser and talked with me and each other about what was happening. Dr. Haik bent over me and aimed the light through my pupil onto the part of the retina where the melanoma was bulging through the choroidal layer of my eye. As soon as he was confident of his aim, he activated the laser. I felt nothing.

For several minutes he directed the laser into my eye. He explained that he was burning not only the melanoma itself, but the blood vessels that were feeding it. Cauterizing those vessels was paramount: if they could still deliver nourishment to that tumor, the spot would continue to grow. All the cancerous cells had to be eradicated.

At last he was finished. He moved aside and Dr. Wilson took a look. He readied the laser and burned a little more of the area. Still, I felt nothing. Dr. Wilson backed away and removed his mask. “I think we got it all,” he grinned. I smiled with relief. It was probably the first time I had smiled in over two months.

Four weeks later I returned to the clinic for a checkup. The tumor wasn’t growing. There was just a mountain of ash where it used to be. I had a blind spot in my vision where the laser had seared the retina and damaged it permanently. A small black spot in one corner of my vision is such a small price to pay to keep my eye. Nine years later, I don’t even see it. In fact, even when I look for the blind spot I can’t find it. (I guess I’m blind to it – right?) My brain has compensated for the small gap in my vision.

I now go to Memphis once a year for a follow up exam. Last year Dr. Haik was on sabbatical and I really missed seeing him. Dr. Wilson was there, though. I adore these two men who saved my eye.

When I came across a story of a small boy who had eye cancer, and who has a gift for something else special, I decided to share this story with you. I hope you find inspiration in it. I did. I found the courage to tell you about one of the darkest periods of my life.


February 29, 2008 Posted by | Death, Health, Personal, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Putting the War for Oil in Perspective


Graphic shamelessly ripped off from Robin Nixon’s blog, “It’s the Only One We Have.”

November 5, 2007 Posted by | Environment, Iraq, News, Science, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iditarod Trail 1925: The Serum Run (Conclusion)


A Team of Dogs Pulling a Sled

The serum arrived, frozen, on Gunnar Kaasen’s sled at 5:00 a.m. February 2, 1925, two weeks after the first diphtheria death in Nome. Five people had died waiting for the serum to arrive. With 28 confirmed cases of diphtheria and as many as 80 people in Nome known to have been exposed, the 300,00 units of serum were gone long before the second shipment of 1.1million units arrived.

Dr. Welch later said that there were 70 confirmed cases of diphtheria in and around Nome that winter. Although the official death toll was five, Dr. Welch believed that the actual number was much higher since the Eskimo population may have buried children without reporting the illness. Without that first heroic run by 20 men and their hardy dogs, the death toll would have been much higher. And although the initial delivery of 300,000 units of diphtheria antitoxin serum is the one that made the headlines, without the same heroic effort made two weeks later by many of the same men and dogs, the casualties of the epidemic would have been much worse.

Ed Rohn, the man who had been sleeping at Port Safety when Gunnar Kaasen passed him by at 3:00 a.m. delivered the package containing 1.1 million units of serum February 15, 1925. Once again the teams braved howling winds and blizzard conditions to get the serum to Nome. The quarantine was lifted Saturday, February 21, 1925, a month after diphtheria killed little Billy Barnett and nearly three weeks after the first doses of serum arrived in Gunnar Kaasen’s sled.

The serum made it from Nulato to Nome in five and a half days, traveling along a mail route that normally took 25 days. Not only had the serum made it to nome in record time, it had done so in the dead of winter during a major winter storms in the Alaskan Interior as well as around Norton Sound.

Norton Sound

A Dog Sled Crossing Norton Sound

Wild Bill Shannon, the Irishman who was the first driver in the relay, returned from the initial serum run to Nenana with four dogs riding and five dogs pulling his sled. Three of the four riders, the same three he had left in Minto because of the pulmonary hemorrhaging, died a few days later. Shannon told a newspaper reporter, “What those dogs did on the run to Nome is above valuation. I claim no credit for it myself. The real heroes of that run …were the dogs of the teams that did the pulling, dogs … that gave their lives on an errand of mercy.”

His dogs weren’t the only ones sacrificed in the race to keep children alive at the top of the world in the dead of winter. Charlie Evans had borrowed two lead dogs for his run between Bishop Mountain and Nulato, both of whom died of frozen groins. Because dogs not specifically bred for the Arctic tend not to have thick fur in their groin area, mushers often wrapped the dogs in additional furs to prevent this problem. When Charlie Olson’s dogs began to suffer from frozen groins, he stopped and put blankets on each dog to keep them from freezing. Two of his dogs ended up badly groin-frozen. Ed Rohn’s lead dog, Star, was seriously injured in a fall into a fissure crossing Golovin Bay during the second serum run. Togo and one of his teammates didn’t make it back to Nome with the rest, either. They saw a reindeer and tore out of their harnesses to chase it, much like Henry Ivanoff’s dogs had done just outside Shaktoolik, about the time Leonhard Seppala happened by. Togo found his way home several days later, much to Seppala’s relief.

Leonhard Seppala

Leonhard Seppala and a Team of His Sled Dogs

Seppala always maintained that it was categorically unfair that Togo, the leader of the dog team which covered the most miles in the desperate race to save to the children, never got the recognition Balto received. Indeed, Togo is actually made a villain in Balto, that children’s movie I mentioned back in the first segment of this series. Should we blame producer Steven Spielberg and his ilk for making a truly exciting story intentionally wrong? Frankly, in this case, I do. The serum run is a story that is exciting and dramatic without having to resort to exaggeration, distortion of facts, or outright fabrication.

Leonhard Seppala

Leonhard Seppala

Togo and the man who drove his team, Leonhard Seppala, are names known mostly to hardcore followers of the Iditarod race. Seppala made the decision to cross frozen Norton Sound with the serum despite the danger of breaking pack ice that might have cost the team and the children of Nome their lives. Had he not crossed the frozen expanse of sea, though, more children would have died because of the delay in getting the serum to them. Seppala was already widely regarded as the territory’s best musher, and his part of the serum run was certainly the hardest of any of the 20 mushers who participated. Togo worked so hard on the Serum Run he injured himself and never raced again.

During the 625 miles the dogs and men ran from Anchorage to Nome, many Americans were transfixed by the story as it unfolded almost in real time in their homes via the marvelous invention called “radio.” The story gripped the imagination of the entire nation, and once the children of Nome were saved the team led by Balto began touring the country.

Within a couple of years, though, the dogs ended up a permanent attraction in one of the many vaudeville shows that were so popular at the time. The animals were apparently mistreated and not well cared for. George Kimball of Cleveland, Ohio, saw the team in Los Angeles and was appalled at their condition. With the help of Cleveland’s schoolchildren, $2,000.00 was raised and Balto and the rest of the team were purchased from the vaudeville show. The dogs lived in Cleveland for the rest of their lives. After Balto’s death in 1933 he was stuffed, mounted, and placed on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where I believe he is still a very popular attraction.

Balto’s Stuffed Carcass

Balto, at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Togo is also preserved for posterity. His stuffed and mounted form is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Gift Shop and Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

Togo, Stuffed and Mounted, at the Head of the Iditarod Trail in Wasilla, Alaska

Togo, at the Iditarod Trail Museum

The Seppala Siberian Huskies continue to be a much coveted bloodline. Leonhard Seppala imported his dogs from Siberia. They were dogs intended to work hard, pull loads, and last in the harsh Alaskan cold. Most of today’s Siberian Huskies tend to have characteristics more suited to racing, with shorter coats, longer legs, finer bones, and a narrower head. Seppala’s Huskies had wider heads with larger sinus cavities for warming the Arctic air; today’s Siberian Huskies need to be more concerned with heat than with cold.

Leonhard Seppala Mushing

The news reports of the Nome epidemic and the publicity afforded by the touring dogs inspired a drive to immunize children against diphtheria. The first successful diphtheria vaccine had been tested in 1924, less than a year before the Nome epidemic. Now, of course, diphtheria vaccines are part of all early childhood immunization programs. If there is any doubt as to whether it might be preferable to allow a child to have the disease rather than inoculate him against it, parents should read a description of the progression of the illness and be informed of the nearly 100% mortality rate prior to the discovery of the antitoxin serum.

In 1966-67 Dorothy Page and Joe Redington Sr. organized the first Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race to commemorate the original serum relay. In 1973 the race was expanded to its present course. The entire course of the relay from Nenana to Nome has never been covered as quickly as it was between January 28 – February 2, 1925.

Resources for this series of blogs include:

Salisbury, Gay & Laney Salisbury, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic (New York: Norton 2003)
Nome Convention & Visitors Bureau (http://www.nomealaska.org/vc/cam-page.htm)
The Official Site of the Iditarod (http://www.iditarod.com)
Kent A. Kantowski’s Serum Run Web Pages (http://www.angelfire.com/ak4/kakphoto/SerumRun/serum_run.htm)
Mike Coppock’s Serum Run Web Page (http://www.dountoothers.org/serumrun.html)
Race To Nome: The Story of the Iditarod Trail Dog Race (http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/iditarod.html)
Balto’s True Story (http://www.baltostruestory.net/)
Norman Vaughan Serum 1925 Run (http://www.serumrun.org/index.html)
The Seppala Siberian Sled Dog Project (http://www.seppalasleddogs.com)

August 7, 2007 Posted by | Children, Death, Health, History, Science | 20 Comments

Ishmael, Part II


Ishmael, Part II magnify

I appreciate the comments on the first installment of my blog on Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. The second installment on this book is the more interesting, in my opinion. Why? Because it explains part of the mythology of our culture by retelling two important stories we all know. Both are stories from the Book of Genesis.

Although I may draw the ire of Bible literalists when I say this, I think the explanations Quinn gives of the Fall of Man (Adam’s banishment from Eden) and of the story of Cain and Abel make supreme allegorical sense. The explanations opened doors in my mind.

All of us are familiar with the story of the Fall. God tells Adam that he can eat from any tree in Eden except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam eats from it so God banishes him from the Garden. (I am deliberately leaving out Eve and her role because the word “Adam” means “mankind, ” and mankind is what Ishmael is concerned with.) Most of us are taught that this act of disobedience was something God could not tolerate. When Adam ate the fruit of the tree he realized he was naked and was ashamed. Hello, instantaneous cultural mores!

Ishmael explains the story from a slightly different perspective: that of the gods. The fruit of the tree gave knowledge of good and evil, but it did not impart the wisdom of how to use that knowledge in the long term. Knowing that something is good in the moment does not mean that that same thing will be good in the future. Also, what is good for one may be evil for another. Mankind is too selfish to make that distinction: if something is good for Man now, then that is Man’s choice. If it results in later harm, well, Man will choose to deal with the consequences later. Just like someone commented on yesterday’s blog, humans want instant gratification.

The example Ishmael gives is of predator and prey. If the lion kills the gazelle, it is good for the lion and the lion lives to hunt another day but it is bad for the gazelle, which dies. If the lion misses the kill, it is bad for the lion because the lion starves to death, but it is good for the gazelle which lives for another day. By controlling his ecology and his world, Man has assumed the mantle of choosing which lives and which dies in this scenario. Although man has the gods’ knowledge of good and evil, Man does not have the gods’ wisdom to choose correctly every time. Man’s poor choices result in an ecological imbalance.

The knowledge of good and evil is therefore something entirely situational for Man. Man only chooses what is good for him at the time. Man does not choose what is good for the world at all times. He cannot. Man’s arrogance and his mistaken belief that he has both the power and the wisdom of the gods is his own undoing. It will cause his own destruction.

The second Genesis tale Ishmael relates is what we know as the First Murder. The sons of Adam, Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a herder, both make sacrifices to their god. Cain is jealous because the god prefers Abel’s sacrifice, and kills him. Cain is banished from society as a result and carries a mark that identifies him as evil.

Ishmael tells the man that although the Hebrews preserved the story of the brothers, it was a Semite story to begin with. The Semites were a culture that predated the Hebrews and the Arabs. The Semites lived on the Arabian peninsula and in the fertile crescent of the Tigris-Euphrates valley. As Leavers, they took only what they needed and left the rest alone. The were hunter-gatherers and later nomadic herders. In years of plenty, humans and other animal and plant species flourished. In years of famine, the numbers of all species diminished. They would flourish again when food became plentiful.

Agriculture is believed to have begun in the Fertile Crescent. When Man began farming, animals were no longer allowed to graze on farmland. The farmers produced much more food than they needed, and times of famine became less frequent. The species that had lived where the farmers were cultivating land moved elsewhere. As more land was put under cultivation, the farmers, now a Taker society reshaping the world to suit themselves, pushed the nomadic Leavers from their lands. The story of Cain murdering Abel is the story of the northern Taker Semitic tribes murdering the southern nomadic Semitic Leaver tribes to make room for more agriculture. It is a story of war.

The gods prefer Abel’s way of life, which allows all living things to flourish in good times and which means all living things suffer equally during lean times. Cain is banished from living in the hands of the gods because he has assumed the mantle of the gods by reforming the world to his own purposes. The mark that identifies him as evil is his arrogance and continuing destruction of the very planet he needs to maintain in order to survive.

Basically, Ishmael explains, Takers believe that the world belongs to Man, whereas Leavers believe that Man belongs to the world. Takers see themselves as running the world. Leavers allow the gods to run the world. The gods, of course, prefer Leavers, and Leavers are sustainable. Takers are not, and will eventually destroy themselves along with their world in contradiction to the gods’ intentions.

In his final lesson with Ishmael, the man asks for a program to save the world. Ishmael tells him,

“The story of Genesis must be undone. First, Cain must stop murdering Abel. This is essential if you’re to survive. The Leavers are the endangered species most critical to the world- not because they’re humans but because they alone can show the destroyers of the world that there is no one right way to live. And then, of course, you must spit out the fruit of the forbidden tree. You must absolutely and forever relinquish the idea that you know who should live and who should die on this planet.”

“Yes, I see all that, but that’s a program for mankind to follow, that’s not a program for me. What do I do?”

“What you do is to teach a hundred what I’ve taught you, and inspire each of them to teach a hundred. That’s how it’s always done.”

“Yes, but . . . is it enough?”

Ishmael frowned. “Of course it’s not enough. But if you begin anywhere else, there’s no hope at all. You can’t say, ‘We’re going to change the way people behave toward the world, but we’re not going to change the way they think about the world or the way they think about divine intentions in the world or the was they think about the destiny of man.’ As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost – something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”

I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”

“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”

I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”

“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”
The above quotation is taken from Daniel Quinn: Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Bantam, NY (1992)), pp 248-249.

April 24, 2007 Posted by | Book Reviews, Environment, History, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science | Leave a comment

Earth Day 2007


Since April 22 falls on Sunday this year, and all good Bible Belters are in church even if they subsist on wheat germ and granola, they had the big First Annual Earth Day Extravaganza down at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library a day early this year.

Bill wasn’t going to be there so I saw no need to attend. It wasn’t a command performance for us former interns. Anyway, Hillary seems to be wearing the pants in the family these days. Oh, who am I kidding? She always did. Bill couldn’t keep his up.

There. The requisite Bill-and-Hill-bashing is done and out of the way. Whose thunder did I steal?

Let me just say that the festivities at the Inconvenient-Truth-Al-Gore-Was-My-Veep Presidential Library were remarkable. In fact, they were so remarkable I’m about to embark upon remarking on them right here in my very own blog, for all the world to behold. According to the Clinton Foundation, it was a “carbon-neutral event,” whatever that means. I guess they ate their hot dogs raw, since cooking them over an open flame meant releasing CO2 into the air, and even microwaving them would use energy derived from some polluting source.

About noon yesterday I was getting my pearl necklace (from the jewelry store – get your sick minds out of the gutter – I’m a Virgin, dammit) when another customer mentioned that she was heading downtown for the event. Not because she believed in global warming or anything, she assured us. “I just like to watch those hippies dance around. They just look so funny.” She giggled in that cute, helium-brained way certain women of melanin-challenged hair have.

I stood there in my socially conscious and politically correct hand-batiked cotton sun dress made by some woman in an unpronounceable third world village and sold to the rich (all things are relative) American for about ten times her annual income. Wait a minute, I thought. I used to be one of those hippies!

After my freshman year in college I lived in a co-op called Peace House. We operated a soup kitchen once a week for all two of the homeless people in Hamilton, New York. (They were students who were crashing in someone else’s dorm room for the semester.) We knew people in the Peace Corps and people who played sitars; we wore organic skirts and were interested in other organic things that I won’t discuss in detail in a public forum, even if the statute of limitations has run.

We had no knowledge of AIDS or global warming back then, but we wanted the CIA out of Nicaragua and we were utterly appalled that an actor was in the White House. I finally managed to get a bit jaded on the whole shtick when the student who led the soup kitchen’s weekly bread-baking marathon said, in my hearing, “I love minorities. They’re such colorful people.” She was dead serious. And she was a brunette. GAH!

Social and political issues were important to me when I was 19. They still are. And there few things more important, socially or politically, than our continued social and political existence.

Yes, that statement has to do with Earth Day.

Before anyone reminds me that earth’s climate has changed in the past and will change in the future, let me go ahead and say it myself: the average temperature on our planet has been both much colder and much warmer than it is now.

But something different is happening. Something the scientific community is screaming about. While there are those in the scientific community who disagree, the overwhelming majority are in accord: Global warming is real, and it is caused in considerable part by us, and it is happening at a rate faster than climate change has ever occurred in the history of our planet.

The cataclysms thought to have caused the mass extinctions in the past – at the end of the Devonian Period, when most species on the planet disappeared, and the end of the Cretaceous (the K-T extinction), when the non-avian dinosaurs died – caused massive climate change. Yes, climate change caused by an event of apocalyptic proportions is believed to have been instrumental in those mass extinctions.

In 1998 the American Museum of Natural History issued a press release regarding the results of a survey of biologists pertaining to global climate change and the continuation of life as we know it. It stated in part:

The survey reveals that seven out of ten biologists believe that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of living things, and that this loss of species will pose a major threat to human existence in the next century.

According to these scientists’ estimates, this mass extinction is the fastest in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. Unlike prior extinctions, this so-called ‘sixth extinction’ is mainly the result of human activity and not natural phenomena.

The American Museum of Natural History is not prone to histrionics. When 70% of the people who study life say that it is disappearing at such a phenomenally rapid rate, and that human abuse of the planet is the main reason, it seems to me to be a wake-up call.

Climate change and extinctions go hand in hand.

What is causing the climate change? It’s not just fossil fuels. It’s deforestation, both of temperate and of rain forest. It’s water pollution. It’s surface mining. It’s planting crops and digging them up and wiping the dirt clear of brush and planting a crop again. It’s the way we abuse our planet.

Two weeks ago the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that was unequivocal: human activity is a significant contributor to global climate change, and it may well kill us all. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world participated in the studies on which the IPCC report was based. I strongly encourage anyone who cares about this issue one way or another to read the report.

The IPCC report wasn’t released when it was supposed to be. There was political maneuvering as to how to word the report. Who was doing this political games playing? Not the scientists who composed the report. The scientists were outraged that some of the the governments involved were “watering down their warnings.” Specifically, diplomats from China and Saudi Arabia demanded that the authors reduce the confidence level they said they had in the report’s conclusions. In other words, these two countries did not want the warnings to be as dire as the scientists believed they should be.

What a travesty for politicians to dictate scientific conclusions.

The report says that if things continue at their current levels, by 2020 global temperatures will rise one degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That doesn’t seem like much until we understand that one-sixth of the world’s population will be affected by widespread famine and lack of water.That’s a billion or more people. By 2050, fully a third of the population of the planet will be in these famine conditions, and fresh water will be even scarcer. Twenty to thirty percent of the species on the planet will become extinct. According to the report, the estimates of one degree Celsius over the incremental periods of time are conservative estimates. The third world human populations will be hit hardest by the temperature increase. Equatorial countries will see their fresh water supplies dry up even as more temperate countries reap the benefits of longer growing seasons.

We can’t stop global warming. It is a crisis, and we as a species will have to adapt. It won’t be pretty.

The Bush administration has steadfastly maintained its ostrich-like response to this crisis, as it has to other scientific matters. Perhaps when ostriches and bushes of all varieties become extinct, whomever among us is left will pull our heads from the sand to see a vast desert not unlike Mars. At least at the equator. The populations of coastal cities in temperate zones, which will be flooded much like New Orleans was after Katrina, will have to cope, too.

I just hope when that coastal flooding happens, FEMA doesn’t commandeer back the trailers we’re using for dorm rooms at the Virgin Training School. Now that would be a catastrophe.

April 22, 2007 Posted by | Environment, FEMA, News, Politics, Science | Leave a comment

Pluto Reinstated! Bravo, New Mexico!


 

Memorial text for HJM054

Y’all aren’t gonna believe this.

New Mexico is in the process of passing a resolution that makes Pluto a planet again as long as it is viewable from an observatory in New Mexico. That’s right. If it can be seen with a really powerful telescope in New Mexico’s skies, and it does take a REALLY powerful telescope, Pluto can be a planet again, at least as long as it lingers over New Mexico.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, Tuesday will be “Pluto Planet Day” at the New Mexico State Legislature.

It seems that the person who discovered Pluto 75 years ago, Clyde Tombaugh, was a resident of New Mexico. Well, it took the high-powered telescopes and clear skies over the state to see something that small, so naturally, in order to discover the planet/planetoid/asteroid he would come to name Pluto, Tombaugh pretty much had to hang out in New Mexico. That obviously meant setting up housekeeping there. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the feats of our native sons.

So “as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico’s excellent night skies, it [shall] be declared a planet” for the duration of its pass.

I’m glad the New Mexico legislature has time to address this thorny issue of the demotion of Pluto’s planetary status and to rectify it.

Bravo, New Mexico!

Better to deal with Pluto than the immigration disaster overflowing your borders. In the great scheme of things, bucking the scientific community to declare Pluto a planet again is a terribly important thing to do.

I’m just glad Arkansas isn’t jumping on this bandwagon.

March 11, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, News, Science | Leave a comment

100 Years Ago Today


Christmas Eve 1906 marked the demonstration of a device that changed the world forever. It has impacted each and every one of us. The invention continues to be a part of our every day lives because we choose to use it every day. It would be difficult to imagine life without it. Its invention paved the way for similar and more complex inventions, one of which I am using to create this weblog entry. Every time I get in my car, I use this phenomenal invention. Probably most of us do.

Some scientists even believe that if we are contacted by another species from another world, this device will be the medium they employ. SETI believes it so strongly that millions of dollars are spent on it annually.

Have you not guessed yet what this fantastic device is?

It’s the radio.

Sure, radio was a concept that was employed before Christmas Eve 1906, but it had been used only to broadcast Morse code. The concept that understandable sounds could be broadcast wirelessly was so novel that radio operators at sea were startled to hear a voice and music coming over their receivers.

Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian physicist and inventor, conceived the idea of the voice transmission and was able to put receivers on ships throughout the North and South Atlantic Oceans. On Christmas Eve, in a marvelous bit of holiday showmanship, he broadcast a reading from the Bible and a violin solo of “O Holy Night.” I guess this means that a Christmas carol was the first big AM hit.

With this broadcast, radio took off as the communication medium for the masses.

Radio wasn’t the only great invention of 1906.

1906 was a great year and paved the way for our modern culture. The muffuletta was invented in New Orleans, Louisiana, that year, and ham sandwiches have never looked back.

Pass the olive tray, please? And turn up the Christmas music on the radio!

December 24, 2006 Posted by | History, Science | Leave a comment

   

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