Archive for November, 2006

Further type 1 diabetes research

/. has this story about type 1 diabetes research. I blogged about it a while back. The head researcher is an alumna of my program. She has championed a very different approach to the terrible disease. Her basic idea seems to be that the T lymphocytes that are killing pancreatic beta cells in type 1 diabetics can be stimulated enough to die. If the bad T cells can be stopped or killed, the beta cells will regrow. The new beta cells seem to come from the spleen, which at least initially seems like a strange source for pancreatic cells. I think there are still parts of her hypothetical framework to confirm, but it is too far outside my knowledge to tell. I do not know whether her approach will pan out as a treatment for humans, nor do I know how long it will take. In the meantime, it is an exciting step.

Update December 2: I asked friends in immunology last night about this story. It took a big step backwards when research from Emil Unanue‘s laboratory contradicted the spleen hypothesis. I found this article about it. This new story covered at /. adds another wrinkle I a highly contentious arena.

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Michael M. on November 26th 2006 in General

Stagger Lee, the graphic novel

I did go to the previously blogged event at the Schlafly Branch of the library although I arrived after the main presentation and only got there for the question and answer session. It was fun anyway. I bought a copy through Left Bank Books and spent the next few nights after reading it.

I got my copy signed by the author and the illustrator after the talk. Author Derek McCulloch left me a comment, and I replied on his blog. He made entries about the trip to Saint Louis here, here, here, here and here. The last one has photographs. I also found this article in PLAYBACK:stl.

I enjoyed Stagger Lee. It was the first graphic novel I had ever read. The book weaves in a few other local tales while adding fiction to connect them and to fill in gaps the in scant historical record. It is done well. The book also focuses on the diversity of musical versions. The various songs have been an interest of mine for a while, so I really appreciated the little additions to the main story line. I also learned about what happened to Lee after the trial, something I had never read about before. Overall, it is a good read. I recommend checking it out, and friends are welcome to have a look at my copy.

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Michael M. on November 19th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Controversial science

A friend pointed me to this article in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year about the controversial work of biologist Bruce Lahn. I found his faculty page and laboratory site at the University of Chicago. He is a Howard Hughes investigator and a former recipient of a grant from the Searle Scholars Program. His research career has been highly successful. He has flirted more with the controversial topics of race and intelligence.

And he thinks that “society will have to grapple with some very difficult facts” as scientific data accumulate.

Yes, we will. I remember bull sessions about this topic in college. The Bell Curve came out then, and it was a hot topic. My college hosted a symposium that I did not attend. Now the same questions are again growing in the public discussion.

I tend to have some of the same thoughts now as then. If we did find that trends exist, what would the consequences be? It seems that we are obligated to treat one another fairly as individuals, both on personal and legal levels, no matter what population trends do or do not exist. Might different populations have different gene frequencies that impact intelligence? I do not know. It could be that way for all I know, but maybe it is not. While I do not consider it a pressing scientific question, I do have trouble with its being taboo. The future does hold possibilities that may trouble us, but shying away cannot be our answer.


Michael M. on November 19th 2006 in General

Jerry Lee Lewis back again

Sitting in a waiting room last week, I picked up a copy of Rolling Stone. While I love music and I sometimes enjoy reading about it, the magazine has never seemed worth the time. “The Killer Reloaded” was a good read, though. “Weathered but Scrappy, Jerry Lee Lewis Rocks On” in The New York Times is another article along the same lines. Even in old age, Jerry Lee Lewis is a wild man.

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Michael M. on November 19th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Musical brushes

Saturday was a big music day for me. It began with a Folk School jam session. I showed up a little late because I had forgotten about its happening until after 11. It was supposed to begin at noon. When I got there, I became the second fiddler in the group in both senses. The other fiddler was an older unfamiliar gentleman. I thought that maybe he was knew to the Folk School. He seemed to know a lot of tunes, though.

The man was Tom Paley. He founded the New Lost City Ramblers, the famous folk revival group, with Mike Seeger and John Cohen. He was sitting in before giving a fingerstyle guitar workshop Sunday afternoon at the Folk School. I fiddled with a legend. I had wanted to attend his workshop, but Sunday afternoon is work time. After the jam session, he was kind enough to show me a few things about what he planned to cover. Then he hung out with Folk School people at the Schlafly Bottleworks after although I ended up at the opposite end of the table where I could not hear him, much less participate in any conversations.

After a trip to Eddie’s Guitars to buy strings and some supplies and a little rest at home, I headed back to Maplewood for occasionally blogged Tom Hall‘s concert at the Focal Point. He is a local fingerstyle guitarist with a lot of talent and skill. His Folk School class earlier this year got me over a hump in learning to play fingerstyle. He put on a great show with tunes from favorites Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson and more along with a sprinkling of other influences including a tune from Madagascar, a medley of “Skip to My Lou” and play-party songs and one of his compositions.

To facilitate his skill, Tom Hall has some great instruments. He mostly plays a National Reso-Phonic guitar from the 1920s. I noticed another old guitar on stage, and I asked him about it at intermission. It was a Stella, also from the 1920s. A friend of his found it in the garbage. He keeps it tuned to open G for playing slide. I got to try “Frankie and Albert” and “Spanish Fandango” on it during the break. It was hard to play. The fret spacing was different than I am used to, and the neck is thick in a difficult way. Tom commented that he has trouble getting along with it before he played “Dust My Broom” in the second half.

The highlight was “Buck Dancer’s Choice.” Many pickers have their own versions of this tune, and Tom’s is very melodic and bouncy. It is on his album Right Down There on Lee Street. He capos up to F while playing a C chord progression, giving it a high clear tone. Seeing what he did unlocked how to play it, and I have been working on it since.

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Michael M. on November 19th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Rangel Mississippi

“Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?” Mr. Rangel said.

I somehow missed the quote in this New York Times article following the midterm elections. Mississippi and New York are two of my favorite places. The paper has this story following the subsequent outcry. Then I found the referenced entry in the blog of Clarion-Ledger editorial director David Hampton.

Charles B. Rangel evidently has a habit of statements that overboard. In this interview on NPR‘s Morning Edition, he said, “You know, modesty is not really best trait.”

There is some irony the the stated Democratic mission to aid the less fortunate because Mississippi has more than its share of disadvantaged people. Katrina was an additional setback. Rangel recognizes it. On Morning Edition, he said, “And I’m going to die believing that we have an obligation, whether people are in Mississippi or whether they’re in Las Vegas, to help people.”

Another irony is the solidity of Mississippi as Republican for quite a while.

As for who wants to live where, I wonder which way the population flows. Are more people moving from Mississippi to Rangel’s district or from Rangel’s district to Mississippi? I found this article that partially addresses the question. Both have significant numbers of people moving away, and the New York rate is higher. The topic of reverse migration has come up two times, and I would predict that the flow is from his district to Mississippi.

Congressman Chip Pickering demanded an apology. I instantly wondered why he stepped to the fore. Was he just grabbing attention while he could get it? Charles W. Pickering, Sr., his father, went through controversy as a judicial nominee. Was the son’s outcry payback? I only found one old reference to any statements by Rangel about Pickering’s nomination, and there was not much to it. I think Congressman Pickering was only trying to score a few points while he could.

Finally, this post on Gothamist drew a fair amount of discussion. It does not amount to much, but I am glad I read it.

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Michael M. on November 18th 2006 in General

Six buildings in Forest Park

Following up my election entry, I saw this post today from the Arch City Chronicle about the efforts of Citizens to Protect Forest Park. The group is nearing the necessary number of signatures for the petition. According to the post, Barnes-Jewish Hospital plans at least six buildings on the park land.

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Michael M. on November 16th 2006 in General

Than then

This article in The New York Times Magazine includes a common error.

He was 47. Four years earlier, he had gastric bypass surgery. It worked, and he lost more then 100 pounds. Before the surgery, he had diabetes, high cholesterol and sleep apnea, but those diseases melted away along with the excess pounds.

I do not know who introduced the error, but I was surprised to see it make its way into the magazine.

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Michael M. on November 12th 2006 in General

Mississippi and Memphis

I took a little trip last weekend. One goal was to see Ole Miss football win a game after seeing them lose one earlier this year. It took playing Northwestern State, but I got my wish. Along with the game, I had a nice time looking around Oxford and parts surrounding, including a tasty trip to Taylor.

On my way back, I stopped at the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum. While the tour is rated at 60 to 90 minutes, I had trouble getting out. The basic audio tour is good. The jukebox stops are what really slowed me down. There were even little connections, some pointed out and some not, between the different sections. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and Memphis Minnie versions of blogged “What’s the Matter With the Mill?” were featured in different rooms without comment. Others were explicitly covered such as Elvis‘ “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” the first rockabilly tune, coming from the older waltz by Bill Monroe. This NPR All Things Considered story also covered the connection and Monroe’s recording of a second version after Elvis’ one.

Mud Boy and the Neutrons‘s “On the Road Again” near the end of the museum also caught my ear. I had heard it before played by the North Mississippi Allstars on Thacker Mountain Radio at Off Square Books. Two-thirds of the band are sons of Mud Boy James LutherJimDickinson. Here are lyrics with a brief explanation tying it to the old Furry Lewis song.

As part of my soundtrack, I listened to the blogged From Where I Stand: The Black Experience In Country Music box set I checked out of the library. It seemed appropriate, especially since I stayed two nights in Batesville just 20 or 30 miles from Charley Pride‘s hometown of Sledge. The set includes a terrific version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” by the Staple Singers. Another part of my soundtrack was the CD 50,000 Watts of Good Will, a reference to historic Memphis radio station WDIA, made by a friend. I wish the museum gift shop sold a CD of all the songs on the audio tour.

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

Comedy advice

Recently blogged John Hodgman has a compilation of comedy advice in The New York Times Magazine. The first is from Paul Feig who created the excellent, yet doomed series Freaks and Geeks that I blogged a while back. My favorite came from Patton Oswalt, previously unknown to me.

The only people who get asked to do punchup are people who have already written some very decent original scripts of their own. The kind of scripts where you racked your brain coming up with an original concept, ground your teeth making sure the characters and their dialogue were alive and funny and, finally, drank a lot of Red Bull to finish the thing on the last night of the eight-week period you had to write it. These scripts then make the rounds of the studios, where studio people read them, roll them into a tube, put the tube in a rocket and then shoot it into the ocean.

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Michael M. on November 12th 2006 in General

Eakins for sale

The Gross Clinic,” painted by Thomas Eakins is for sale. This article in The New York Times covers the upcoming sale. Thomas Jefferson University, a medical school in Philadelphia, currently owns the painting. It issues this press release. Eakins is one of my favorite painters. He taught anatomy at Jefferson, and his paintings reflect his great understanding of the human body.

I have mentioned Eakins before as a favorite. I even got this comment from someone who works in the living room of his former studio. When I went back to college to complete courses prerequisite for medical school, I presented on “The Gross Clinic” and “The Agnew Clinic” in my art history class. Both show surgical theaters, but the details reflect the advances in surgery in the decade and a half between them. The page compares the two. Then I had several opportunities to view other paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I lived about 25 miles outside the city. It holds “The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)” and others.

While moving the painting to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and Crystal Bridges in Arkansas would make it easier for me to see, I hope the painting stays in Philadelphia at the school where Eakins and Gross both taught. It will be very hard for the school to pass up the chance at $56 million, though. Another offer could keep it in its historical place, but I do not imagine that one is likely.

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Michael M. on November 12th 2006 in General

Stagger Lee at Schlafly Thursday

I saw an eye-catching poster when I walked into Saint Louis Public Library‘s Schlafly Branch earlier this week. It advertised an upcoming visit by the author and the artist behind the recent graphic novel Stagger Lee. This post on their blog covers the upcoming signing. It will happen this Thursday evening at the Schlafly Branch. Star Clipper Comics will host them Saturday. This announcement from Left Bank Books, another sponsor, has more information. I also found the library announcement.

Authors @ Your Library presents Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix

7:00PM – 8:30PM The St. Louis Public Library is pleased to host Image Comics author Derek McCulloch and artist Shepherd Hendrix for a special presentation and book signing of their new graphic novel Stagger Lee. This event is free and open to the public. Left Bank Books will provide books for purchase. Wear a Stetson hat and win a prize! Stagger Lee tells a forgotten story from St. Louis’ history: how a small-time criminal became the hero of a hundred songs by everyone from blues pioneers like Mississippi John Hurt and Furry Lewis to contemporary rock icons like Nick Cave and Beck. Stagger Lee is a character of American folklore whose story evolved through oral transmission, a transformation of the news of the day into larger than life myth. On Christmas night, 1895, “Stag” Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyons dead in the midst of a heated argument over a Stetson hat, and inadvertently created a story that continues to evolve to this day.

The Post-Dispatch reviewed it earlier this year. It was metioned favorably by Greil Marcus, the man who should mention you if you wrote or sang about Stagger Lee. (I still need to read Mystery Train.)

While I am mostly unfamiliar with graphic novels, I like murder ballads, and Stagger Lee is a favorite legend. Thursday is shaping up fairly well, and I am hopeful that I will make it to see yet another metamorphosis of this legend born in Saint Louis.

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Michael M. on November 8th 2006 in General

Murder ballads

Digg has this discussion of this article from the AP in the Seattle Times about murder ballads. Before I read the article, I was thinking about “Banks of the Ohio.” It is on the list. The wonderful “Stagger Lee” is there, too.

Murder ballads have grown on me over time. A folklore class in college was my first big exposure, and I did not enjoy many of them at the time. “Oh the Wind and Rain,” not on the list, has probably risen the most. We learned about it as Child 10. It is also known as “The Twa Sisters.” The bones of a murdered woman are used to make a musical instrument, and the song the instrument plays tells the story of her death. It is a creepy idea, and I cannot understand how someone ever thought of it.

I should have posted this story before Halloween. The article was the day before it. These songs never get too old, though, so a little tardiness should not matter.

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Michael M. on November 7th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

2006 general election

I voted earlier this morning. It was easy enough although there were a few annoyances. After entering, I saw a line that looked about 20 people long. I knew what to do because I have voted there several times. I found the other line. My polling place serves two precincts. One often has lines, but I never have encountered a long line for mine. I do not understand why the distribution of poll workers is so far out of proportion. I waited behind four people. Two of them belonged in the line for the other precinct. The poll worker was unable to find my name on the rolls. She asked whether my first name was my last name. Having been through this problem before, I know that using more than the first two letters of the last name to alphabetize stumps many people. I told her to turn the page. I signed and then got a card for the electronic voting machine. Although the machines concern me, nothing clearly abnormal happened with mine. Quite a few people were chosing the paper ballot that is then read by a scanner.

In a related issue, why are sample ballots so hard to find? The St. Louis City Board of Election has this PDF of a sample ballot, but it includes all races in the city. With computers and the web, it would be easy to generate sample ballots based on address. At the least, a sample ballot for each precinct should be available. I have not been able to find them at any voter education organization, either. I used the Voters Guide at It helped me make my choices, but its organization is based on the government hierarchy, not on what voters actually encounter. I emailed Kimberly Mathis, chair of the board of election, and Nicholas Pistor of to request that their respective websites be reorganized. I do not see the other members of the board listed on the board’s site, but I found them listed here. It seems fundamental to democracy to provide a simple list of the available choices to any given voter prior to the election. The lack of sample ballots is unfathomably stupid.

I encountered two people with petitions outside after voting. A girl approached me with the Unity Petition to stop partisan political fighting. It sounded harebrained. A woman representing Protect Forest Park asked me to sign a petition regarding voter approval for park land transactions. The reference to real estate “transactions” made me decide not to sign. The city should be able to acquire land for parks without voter approval. The text on the web site looks better, but still not good. Maybe I misread the petition. I generally do not like ballot measures. Forest Park is wonderful, and I enjoy it. Barnes-Jewish Hospital is important to me personally and professionally, and it is a terrific asset to Saint Louis. However, I do not want land taken from Forest Park for the hospital. Protect Forest Park has a good mission, but the petition and the changes it would implement look bad to me. I dislike the idea of having park land deals as ballot measures. Representative government is a good idea, and I prefer it to direct democracy in many cases.

I got to vote earlier than I planned because I was turned away from donating blood for the first time ever. I am not worried, though. I probably just need to wait a few more weeks. I will go back. The t-shirt I received anyway is nice although the Red Cross never seems to have any large t-shirts. Extra-large is too big, and medium is too small, especially after a few washings.

Today is a big day. The senate race and the stem cell amendment are especially hot issues here in Missouri. I have heard and seen as much coverage of the election here through national media as local media in the past few days. If you have not yet, go out and vote.

Update: Via this post on, I found Smart Voter. It has a tool for generating a sample ballot given an address, but it fails with my address. I tried it for the past addresses of mine that I could remember. To different extents, it failed for all of them, too.


Michael M. on November 7th 2006 in General

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