Archive for February, 2006


I saw Capote at the Chase. I was impressed. The performances are good. I have only seen a clip or two of Truman Capote, and I have only seen Harper Lee in a few photographs. I cannot know whether the portrayals are faithful. As characters moving a story forward, the performances were excellent.

As an aside, the trailer for The Da Vinci Code rolled before the movie. It looks like the book, thrilling tripe.

I looked through the IMDb message board for the movie after watching it. post led me to this website with a historical review of the events surrounding In Cold Blood. I now want to read it. Maybe I will check it out from the library once popular interest has waned sufficiently. Another post led me to a website all about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish I had found it in my previous investigations. This post led me to an article in The Guardian about Harper Lee’s recent public appearance. It reveals that a movie Infamous about the same stuff as Capote is scheduled to come out later this year.

This page about Capote’s aunt Jenny Faulk is creepy. My own great-grandmother also lived south Alabama. She, too, grew up in Missouri, although not Saint Louis. She, too, worked as a milliner. Was there a current of young women traveling from Missouri to south Alabama as milliners?

Marie Rudisill, interviewed for the article about Jenny Faulk, is another of Capote’s aunts. She evidently appears on television as the Fruitcake Lady. I sure hear similarity in the sounds of “Rudesill” and “Dill.”

I have to admit some bewilderment. Truman Capote wrote a book about real murders. Capote is a movie about that process. Infamous is another. What is the next level of meta? Following the progression, will there have to be 3 or 4 works at the next level? is the progression arithmetic or geometric?

Stories about Harper Lee’s dual residences in New York and Monroeville always lead me to reflect. “I find it especially encouraging that a musical weekend in St. Louis can combine Bobby Rush and the SLSO” appeared in the post on the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra blog that linked to my post about seeing both. I like good things. I sometimes feel that I know why Lee splits time between Monroeville and Manhattan. As a Mississippian, I can never be an insider to urbane circles. I am too rustic. I am too curious about the wrong things to be a very good rustic, though. I am left free to wander.


Michael M. on February 22nd 2006 in General, Movies

Googliest doctor

Why Doctors So Often Get It Wrong” in The New York Times reminded me of my plan to be the googliest doctor ever. When I was in classes, I was often the first person to turn to a web search to settle a question. The same approach will not suffice for delivering care. Treating on the basis of web searches alone is obviously unethical unless the information gained is accurate and verifiably so. There are, however, increasing numbers of decision support systems available to doctors and other health professionals. Much like calculators and mathematics, these systems should not substitute for personal expertise. I suspect that many doctors will resist this movement, but they are wrong. The systems offer the opportunity to enhance knowledge and improve care. Isabel, profiled in the article, is one of them. Listening to the mp3, I found out that St. Louis Children’s Hospital subscribes to it.

One reason cited for the problems in improving diagnosis is the decline in autopsies. I asked a pathologist about autopsies in the current medical climate a few years ago. While they are informative and ultimately advance medical care, they are falling out of favor. They cost money, and they provide evidence of errors. While I do not agree with these reasons, I understand them. The benefits of these difficult measures, performing autopsies and increasing computation within medicine, must trump them.

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Michael M. on February 22nd 2006 in General

Inside the mind of a neurobiologist

This post at /. links to this interview with Bill Newsome in the Technology Review. It provides a glimpse into the mind of an accomplished neurobiologist who wishes he could give a much more direct look. Just read the article. Newsome was the student invited speaker here several months ago, and we enjoyed his visit.


Michael M. on February 22nd 2006 in General

Viral Video Lost Hope

Viral Video: Best of 2005 on iFilm includes N. Todd Bullock‘s Star Wars Episode III: A Lost Hope parody trailer. I blogged it last year. I was excited because I knew half the people in it, but other people clearly liked it, too.

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Michael M. on February 22nd 2006 in General, Movies


I had a good time attending the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) downtown at America’s Center. The AAAS is a general science organization, and the range was broad. I enjoyed learning about topics far outside my own. The conference addressed many popular issues including poverty, global warming, electronic privacy and surveillance, evolution and education, and governmental censorship of scientific results.

The first talk I attended changed my ideas about African corruption. Jeffrey Sachs convinced me that I have been wrong about the problems of African hunger and poverty. I had believed that the problems were primarily flawed administration and distribution. While those problems definitely exist, the agricultural production in many regions of Africa is terrible and worsening. Farmers there need fertilizer and other basic assistance to reach reasonably productive crop yields. Instead, they are saddled with a thirty year drought trend and a severe disease burden. Following the lecture, I attended part of the Science Friday broadcast on the same topics.

I saw a funny presentation from the Annals of Improbable Research. It included descriptions of several Ig Nobel Prizes. A few of the laureates were onhand to describe their projects.

Latanya Sweeney, director of the Laboratory for International Data Privacy at Carnegie Mellon, gave one of my favorite talks on privacy. Did you know that 87% of the American population can be identified uniquely by age, ZIP code and gender using public information? Wow. She showed off some software to anonymize video. It was a tour of big ideas and powerful tools. Then at the end, a Google employee who was in the audience joined the discussion after her talk.

I showed brains to families as part of the Young Scientist Program at Family Science Days. It was a lot of fun. We had some inquisitive children visit us. They were impressive. I had a good time talking to them. We in the neuroscience teaching team have some of the best activities for introducing our field.

Ursula Goodenough of WashU spoke about the educational neglect of natural history. She evaluated teaching standards in all the states as part of some committee, and many states looked very bad. How old is the universe? How old is the earth? How old is life? Although we have good estimates for all these quantities, they are not popularly known. They are not well taught. With faculty from other departments, she developed an interdisciplinary course on natural history for undergraduates. It sounded good. I never got a unified introduction to the topic. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is one of the books used by the course. I enjoyed listening to it as an audio book, and I found this presentation about the book. Goodenough advocated moving natural history into public school curricula, and I agree.

Rodney Brooks, head of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, gave a great lecture on robots. I love robots. I know at least one or two regular visitors here have been cornered by me as I went on and on about robots in general and Brooks’ work in particular. Many of his robots have imitated biology. Their functions are distributed. Instead of a central processor telling every component of a leg what to do when, each leg might have its own processor and program that interacts with other systems. As long as they do not turn evil, I am all for robots.

There was so much more. It inspired press coverage. This post on /. and this article in The New York Times came from the conference. I learned about the terrific NextBus system that I wish Metro had, especially after contending with weird construction schedules to attend the conference. I learned about insect flight. I have gone on long enough. It was great.

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Michael M. on February 21st 2006 in General

Andrew Bird Pageant

I am at the Andrew Bird show at the Pageant. His allusions are witty and fun. He started with a song that takes from the Sesame Street song “Capital I.” “Plasticity” is one of his new songs. “Dark Matter” is another. As a neurobiology and physics person, it is great.

This post is an experiment in mobile blogging. I will edit and add more later.


Michael M. on February 15th 2006 in Live, Music

Bogue Chitto Flingding

My search for the music of home that turned up Bobby Lounge also turned up Bogue Chitto Flingding by the Hodges Brothers. It is also available at the iTunes Music Store. They recorded a version of “Carroll County Blues” by previously mentioned Willie Narmour. I had never heard of them, but I am familiar with Bogue Chitto. I am happy to find that string bands, usually associated with the hills, did exist in my home area further south.

I got my Bobby Lounge CD I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down and t-shirt in the mail yesterday. It came from the UCM Museum with more packaging tape than anything I have received in years. The album has great barrelhouse piano playing. I did not know that anybody could play that way anymore. The lyrics are very entertaining although often inappropriate for certain ears.


Michael M. on February 14th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded


I remembered my eagle experience when I saw “Steps Taken to Help Eagle Leave Endangered List” in The New York Times. I drove up to Pere Marquette State Park along the Great River Road in Illinois with a few friends from work last month. Bald eagles are magnificent in person. We also saw a few blue herons and many smaller birds. It was also good simply to spend an afternoon outside among friends. Check out a few pictures from our trip on on Timm’s blog here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

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Michael M. on February 14th 2006 in General


Seeing “Protected From Pertussis? Most Likely, You’re Not” in The New York Times brought back a memory. Although children are routinely vaccinated against pertussis, whooping cough, immunity wanes with time. Because the disease generally is less severe in adolescents and adults than in young children, it often goes unrecognized as pertussis. It can be severe, though, and there is the potential for transmission from adolescents and adults to young children who either did not receive the vaccine or did not develop immunity following vaccination. My first year here, I participated in the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Student Symposiums. In this yearly event, groups of first year medical students are assigned currently relevant questions to research and then to make recommendations. My group was assigned the topic of whether to vaccinate adults for pertussis. The report “Should Adults Be Immunized for Pertussis?” is on the web. My own role in the group was background research on current pertussis vaccination practices, but I was excited to see the same topic addressed in the news.

Pertussis is a difficult disease. Diagnosis is hard, and the horrible coughing fits come rather late in the progression of the infection. Care is primarily supportive, making sure someone with the disease stays nourished, hydrated and able to breathe. Vaccination really is the best way to prevent disease, but vaccination carries its own costs and risks. With the great severity of disease in children and the importance of protecting children, vaccinating them makes sense. The question is much more nebulous for adults.


Michael M. on February 13th 2006 in General

Joy of Hurt

I have been taking a class in fingerstyle blues guitar at the Folk School from Tom Hall. He is a great guitarist, and the lessons have been good fun. Our first two songs were “Creole Belle” and “Shake That Thing,” both by Mississippi John Hurt. I got hooked on on his music not so long ago. It has been absolutely wonderful to learn how to play a little of it. After the class ends, I might tackle the DVD I got for Christmas, The Fingerpicking Blues Of Mississippi John Hurt.

Playing his music inspired more research. I found the Mississippi John Hurt Blues Foundation. I probably found the foundation through the Wikipedia entry. There is a small museum that I hope to visit on one of my Mississippi trips. I have been to nearby Grenada many times. I found a story about visiting the museum. The museum site mentions Steve Cheseborough. We lived around the corner from one another several years ago although we did not really know one another. I remember that he played country blues, but I was not so interested at the time.

Several other good resources came up in my searches. Trail of the Hellhound, a government project on the blues, has this page on Hurt, and I also found this page with many good links. On the sad side, this article in The Memphis Flyer covers the fight over his royalties. The All Music Guide entry has an overview of Hurt’s life and career. In mentions Hurt’s early recordings with OKeh. The company sought Hurt based on the recommendation of white Carroll County fiddler Willie Narmour of Narmour and Smith.

Last August, I undertook the great task of learning to fiddle. My classes at the Folk School have been a lot of fun. I found an interview in KWMU‘s Cityscape archive with Colleen Heine, Folk School director and my fiddle teacher, and Keith Dudding, board member and banjo teacher. She also plays as part of the Grass Pack, a band that includes two school friends of mine. My own first fiddle performance is upcoming. If all goes well, I will play with my fiddle class and possibly my guitar class at the Folk School Student Showcase scheduled for March 16 at the Schlafly Tap Room. I probably will grow more nervous as the date approaches, but right now, I look forward to inflicting my music on the public.

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Michael M. on February 12th 2006 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Medical bribes

I tend to involve myself in electronic discussions about medicine. As a profession, medicine is primarily dedicated to healing sickness and easing suffering. It is also a career. Further up the hierarchy, it is big business. Many discussions turn to how much profit motives, especially from drug companies, influence governing bodies, research institutes and medical education. While these questions should be considered, some glaring problems need greater attention. Some doctors take bribes. “Seducing the Medical Profession” in The New York Times rightly calls for policies that prohibit doctors from accepting gifts from drug companies.

This unethical behavior contribues to the erosion of a good relationship between medical professionals and the public. “When Trust in Doctors Erodes, Other Treatments Fill the Void,” also in The New York Times, covers this phenomenon. That Coretta Scott King, a public icon, died in a Mexican clinic caught my attention. The overwhelming message I see in the article also strikes me. The desire for personal relationships and the failure to find them with doctors run through several of the stories. From one perspective, it is very strange that people will spend their time and money on unestablished treatments just because the people offering them also gave personal attention. From another, it is no wonder that many people reject the advice of someone who does not the spend time indicative of personal care. I hope to remain mindful as I go forward.


Michael M. on February 9th 2006 in General

Stagger Lee shot Billy.

Following up on an established interest in Stagger Lee, I found some new comments at the original post at Trickster! that I linked months ago. One later comment points to the episode John Henry & Stagger Lee of his podcast Down in the Flood. The show includes an enjoyably filthy Stagger Lee toast. Also among the great songs about this pair is “The Day John Henry Died” by Drive-By Truckers, a band I, too, like. The whole show is worth hearing.

A sequence of googling led me to search for Stagger Lee’s lawyer “Nat Dryen”. I found this history that delves into the STL politics of the day. While they might have been gambling, their fight seems rooted in the battle of that time between the Republicans and Democrats for the votes of black Saint Louisans. Stagger Lee belonged to a group of hustlers who were shifting their influence away from the emancipating Republicans. The same search turned up this discussion thread that covers similar issues. This post in it that has the newspaper article “Godfather of Gangsta” from The Guardian by Cecil Brown, author of the previously mentioned and still unread Stagolee Shot Billy, is worth reading. It is actually the same as the history linked above. The great story about the bad man only grows.


Michael M. on February 9th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Bobby Lounge

I have a stated interested in folk music. The Mississippi Delta has received great attention, but my home is further south. I started wondering about my own area. Googling for “McComb blues” turned up a gem. The search led me to this article in the Clarion-Ledger about pianist Bobby Lounge, the stage persona of an artist in my hometown. He is not a folk musician, but it does not matter to me. He garnered considerable praise following his performance at Jazz Fest last year. He also performed several weeks after at the Louisiana Music Factory.

The press likes him. “A Beloved Funk Group Rocks Again, and a Venerable Festival Rolls On” in the The New York Times about the reunion of the Meters has a very favorable paragraph about Bobby Lounge’s performance. “Elusive musician calls Abita home” and “The Bobby Lounge buzz” in The Times-Picayune also sing his praises.

I knew where to look for a little local scoop. Searching around the hometown newspaper, the Enterprise-Journal, I found three articles about him linked here, here and here. The first tells what I already knew. Bobby Lounge comes from an educated musical family, and they love him. His father leads Dr. Jim’s One More Time Band. The second one is about his hometown performance in the wake of Katrina. The last is about his performance last week at the House of Blues. I found a post mentioning it at the blog A Frolic of My Own.

This news is exciting. I never met Bobby Lounge, but I have heard about him my whole life. I probably rode past his house hundreds, maybe thousands, of times in my childhood. I remember it because it stood out so much. He had a high solid fence in the back. It was hard to see much of what was happening in his yard. Judging from the tops of bushes above the fence, he had a jungle. The rumor I recall is that the fence went up as an alternative solution to his neighbors’ complaints about the visibly poor upkeep of his property. He often had big painted sheets and other fun objects hanging from his trees. He had porcelain art in the front. A childhood friend took art lessons from him and liked to talk about how much fun he was. My friend also talked about his lounge act. Some of the articles mention his 20 year absence from performance, and the timing fits. I heard that he had a gold lamé suit and quite a show back then. It seems that the current version is exciting, too. I ordered his CD today, and I am looking forward to listening to it.

For now, I checked out the clips available on his site. I hear mentions of familiar things. Where did Bobby Lounge reemerge after 20 years? The Popeyes Blues Tent. Evidently, Bobby Lounge loves Popeyes like I do. His words tell the same. Listen to the first lyrics in this clip from “I Remember the Night Your Trailer Burned Down.”

And sure enough, he goes hollering and screaming and crying, “I wants me some Popeyes.”

In “I Will” is the line

He won’t take your night shift down at Popeyes Fried Chicken.

Hurry up, postman.

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Michael M. on February 8th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Bobby Rush and SLSO

I experienced two great musical performances this weekend. I had seen promotions for the Bobby Rush show at Blueberry Hill for a few weeks. Having seen him in Martin Scorsese‘s PBS miniseries The Blues, I wanted to see him. My problem was that I also had plans to see the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra perform Mozart’s Requiem the same night. By a turn of serendipity, my symphony plans fell apart just enough. I went to Powell Hall to exchange my ticket for Saturday’s performance, and then it was off to Blueberry Hill.

Bobby Rush puts on a real show. Before it started, he circulated around the Duck Room in a jogging suit talking to people. Only about five minutes before showtime, he disappeared into the dressing room. His band emerged shortly after and played a few up-tempo numbers sung by the drummer to start things. Then Rush came out with two much younger women and went right into it. Not knowing his show, I thought they were backup singers. They were dancers. When Rush sang about his love for women and his particular interests in certain aspects and structures, they demonstrated. Every song or two, the dancers would leave for the dressing room only to reappear in new costumes, ever more revealing.

It was not all about the music. The music was a given. Rush has been working for over 50 years. The singing just flows out. When he picked up a harmonica for a solo, it was just a natural thing. The band was small and tight. They were ready to follow him wherever he led. There was also the show. Rush told jokes. He reached out again and again to shake hands with the audience and even to have a little conversation with one man who had a request. He picked on the men and women in the front row. They fell right into the flow. It was charisma in play. With Rush in the lead, everybody was a part of what was happening.

The people knew it, and they were a show, too. Middle-aged and older black people made most of the crowd. Many were dressed to the nines. It has been a long time since I have seen so many hats. Many lapels were adorned. The women shone. I should have dressed better. On balance, the audience was just slick and clean.

The audience the next night at Powell was less directly involved in the show. Although much stiller in our seats, we were no less moved. My seat was a little too forward on the left. Strangely, Kim Polese or her doppelganger sat a few rows in front of me. I had that feeling of familiarity without full recognition. I had seen that person. Then I realized who she was. Why is she in St. Louis? Why does a famous dotcommer have a worse seat than I do? I might have asked, but she disappeared at intermission.

Not being too distracted by the presence of fame, I was able to enjoy the first two works. The opener was the 500 year old choral piece Nymphes des bois by Josquin des Prez. It was a fantastic tapestry of vocal parts moving around one another. I longed for the times when I sang in school choirs with my own small voice contributing to something sweeping, if amateur. Hearing professionals sing a Renaissance gem was great. The second instrumental piece Stele by György Kurtág was contrastingly harsh and sometimes dissonant, but moving. I took it as another push by maestro David Robertson to season old with new.

Then came the Requiem. I am fortunate to have been there. The performance was terrific. Soprano Christine Brewer was the big draw, and she performed very well. The surprise to me, though, was bass Phillip Ens. I knew nothing about him. He was fantastic with a powerful, full voice. My favorite part, the Lacrimosa, was terrific. Climbing on the earlier experiences of the night, it was a dizzying choral height. Big and overwhelming, Mozart’s Requiem was as it should always be.

Update February 6: Welcome to visiting symphony fans. This post has been linked in this post on the SLSO Blog. It has been on my Bloglines list for a while, and I enjoy reading it regularly. I appreciate the link.


Michael M. on February 5th 2006 in General, Live, Music

John Vaught

My mother forwarded me the report from the Clarion-Ledger that former Ole Miss coach John Vaught died yesterday at age 96. I also heard coverage on NPR‘s All Things Considered. I grew up on Ole Miss football although Vaught coached before my time. He was a legend of the game.

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Michael M. on February 4th 2006 in General

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.