Thursday, September 25, 2014

Univ of Mississippi: What's in a Name?

"Ole Miss" giving a 'clear starching' to her slaves
This 1837 etching by August Hervieu depicts an irate plantation mistress
scolding two household servants. The slaves cower, carefully hiding
whatever anger or resentment they might feel behind a submissive pose.

Ever wonder where The University of Mississippi got its sweet Old South and seemingly innocuous  name, "Ole Miss?" I had no idea at all of its origins until I ran across an Associated Press article today about a  law suit underway by the Sons of Confederate Veterans against The University of Mississippi for daring to make name changes to 'Confederate Drive,' which enters Fraternity Row, being renamed ‘Chapel Lane.’ Seems the SCV way back when had a state law written that prohibits removal or alteration of war memorials on state property.

The short Associated Press article was used in a regional South Mississippi online daily news web site I check every morning. Having lived in Mississippi for almost 35 years I was dumbfounded to read that "Ole Miss" was originally what slaves used to refer to a plantation owner's wife. And that same 19th century slaves' reference continues to be used today with great fondness, innocently or otherwise, by students and proud alumni of "Ole Miss." Checking around I found more detail in the original story published September 24th, 2014 in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Serious progress has been made at the University of Mississippi by forceful movers for change like former Chancellor, Robert Khyat. His steady, patient leadership was effective in distancing the University's image from memories of the Ole Miss campus riots of 1962. This climb up out of a darker past has been recognized across the USA.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans are free to preserve civil war history and to take pride in being descendents of those who fought to continue their percieved right to own slaves and keep them in forced labor from dawn to dusk in the sprawling cotton fields of Mississippi. That pride, however, gives them no right to sue to keep what they deem to be offensive street names, monuments and other symbols from being updated or placed into a modern day context.

I think most of us can still see the black and white film of James Meredith being walked into the university doors of by Federal Agents through a gauntlet of shouting, taunting and threatening students as well as rabid local white segregationists, in the bad old days of Ole Miss. I thought this state had long gotten way past all of that, at least publicly.

But the Good Old Boys, parading under the flutter of a huge Confederate Flag are still living back in the Civil War Days and have a string of their law suits to prove that they and their ilk have not gotten past a damned thing, and don't want to.

Chancellor Khyat, a true Gandhi on the Delta, moved and operated carefully and thoughtfully as he guided the University of Mississippi from its immovable granite rock 19th century attitudes of class and race to an excellence-based school of true learning that hosted the first 2008 presidential debate.

And what about the little Confederate flags that used to fill the stands at Ole Miss football games? The mini Civil War battle flags painted the stadium with the symbolic color pallet of Ole Miss, and its colored past. Khyat removed them from the riotous and pride-filled stadiums not by flatly outlawing the flags. He simply outlawed sticks of any kind from entering the gates . . . even the short ones to which little flags can be stapled. This allowed everyone to look sideways at the dual meanings of the stars and bars ... innocent school spirit or racist banner. And they quickly disappeared from Ole Miss games and eventually from the Ole Miss campus, neither side really wishing to create another nasty uproar.

Robert Khyat was Chancellor from 1995 until his retirement in 2009. He led his University and a steadily growing contingent of forward thinking and fair minded leaders in Mississippi into a new era. He saw the the Confederate Battle Flag, Colonel Reb, the school's mascot, and the old Southern Anthem, "Dixie" all leave the University Campus. But when Khyat retired five years ago, the University was still called "Ole Miss," and it still is. Even Gandhi could effect just so much change.

Poking around a little, I found that this past August 1st, present Ole Miss Chancellor, Dan Jones, unveiled a six-point plan which would include adding a new Vice Chancellor For Diversity. Plaques are to be placed at "racially divisive sites to add modern context to their symbolism." The announcement said that Jones, "... also defined a shift in the common use of the term “Ole Miss” for close identification with athletics and school spirit." So school spirit and "athletics" still will have 19th century slave slang for a plantation owner's wife from which to draw their pride and inspiration. Jones clearly is no Gandhi but he knows a hot potato when he sees one. Too bad potatoes on his campus aren't on sticks.

Ole Miss is not the only Civil War reference alive and well in Mississippi. There are still countless sacred old Mississippi names with painful segregationist roots adorning places public and private across the state. A good example is the large Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg which serves a 17-county area. It is named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general well remembered for being accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow for allowing troops under his command to massacre hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern Unionist prisoners. And, oh, he was also the very first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. But, otherwise it is a very good hospital.

Mississippi's state flag is the sole remaining U.S. state flag with the Confederate battle flag's crossed blue saltire. Even Georgia adopted a new flag in 2001. If there is no political will to do anything about the use of the old reference to a slave owner's wife as the popular sobriquet for The University of Mississippi, then maybe the ESPN and major Network sports announcers can effect some change.

Most all the major NFL announcers now refer to the NFL football team from the state of Washington only as "Washington" never saying "Washington Redskins" because that name has increasingly become offensive to a majority of their American viewers.

So, maybe if the big buck college football networks and their announcers became aware of where the Ole Miss Rebels got their name, even Mississippi's good old boy hands-off politicians and big business titans might finally be pulled into the 21st century by their purse strings. "The University of Mississippi Rebels" would work fine. There are all kinds of rebels, including civil rights workers.

*The 1837 etching above is from the University of Rochester Frederic Douglass Project

Friday, August 15, 2014

WWII: The Fate of "The Buzzer"

[Preface - I have translated for a dear friend's web site in Naples, Italy for many years. NUg or is an internationally popular speleological site in Italian and the English version with which I help out. The NUg group came back with two photos of an impressive WWII memorial with Italian and American flags flying side by side in a tiny village way up in the mountains literally in the middle of nowhere. There also was a photo of a cast bronze plaque with a tribute to 16 American airmen who lost their lives in 1944 . . . my curiosity was aroused and for the next five days and nights I researched this story . . . and wrote the piece below. I hope you find it interesting.   Larry Ray]

  It was a Saturday outing way back up into the Picentine mountain range about 50 miles East of Napoli. The Napoliunderground gang were going in search of some vaguely reported cavern entrances up on a mountain near the small village of Senerchia. Fifty miles as the crow flies from Naples. But the actual distance was much longer over winding switch-backs and narrow roads as their small Suzuki off road jeep made the arduous climb up to the isolated village of 1,036 residents.

   Senerchia sits 2,000 feet above sea level in the high Sele valley at the foot of the steep slopes of Mount Boschetiello. The Sele river skirts the village as it courses through lush forests and rolling hills in the very valley where Romans attacked from the rear, surprising and killing Spartacus in 71 BC, capturing his slave army.

   When the NUg Group arrived, a few villagers were out and about but they had little to say to these strangers from Naples. Nothing about cavern entrances or much else, it seems. The NUg visit to this remote area nonetheless brought surprise after surprise. Their haunting discovery of a mountain top ghost town is beautifully detailed in Fulvio Salvi's account of the trip in the fine translation by NUg friend, Prof. Jeff Matthews at: The Ghost Town on the NUg web site. Their video of exploring the lush valley floor and cascading waterfalls and river rapids must be seen: Trekking Monti Picentini

   The original medieval mountain top village of Senerchia was heavily damaged and abandoned following the powerful Irpinia 1980 earthquake that caused grave destruction across the whole mountainous area. As the NUg visitors from Naples walked around the newly built modern village of Senerchia, located just below the original town which is abandoned, they found a recently built memorial park with both Italian and American flags flying and a cast bronze plaque honoring the sixteen U.S. WWII airmen who perished when their B-24 bomber slammed into a nearby mountain peak on a flight through stormy weather from Grottaglie to Naples on December 9, 1944.

  Why would an elaborate memorial park exist on a hillside in the remote village
of Senerchia? Who would have paid for such an impressive little park and why? It was this tantalizing story that sent me on an amazing search to learn more about that B-24 Liberator fondly named "The Buzzer," and the 16 men who perished in it. The story I have pieced together includes WWII records of “The Buzzer” and its amazing role, surviving seventy-seven harrowing bombing missions all over Europe and accounts of the efforts of locals who aided American officials in the search of the crash site.

   Allied forces took control of the badly damaged Former German and Italian controlled airfield in Grottaglie near Taranto in Southern Italy where they established a strategic base of operations for heavy bombers capable of reaching targets in Germany. A new B-24 Liberator flown from Chatham Army Air Force Base in Savannah, Georgia, arrived at the heavily damaged field at Grottaglie on January 4, 1944. After arrival, the new Liberator bomber underwent flight tests before being put into service.  

   One of those tests included the bomber making a screaming low pass “buzz job”just feet above the runway which the plane’s crew chief, Sgt. Bart Paluso saw and he immediately named the new replacement bomber “The Buzzer.” The name was fondly embraced with artwork and name painted on the front sides of the huge plane which bristled with armament including 50 Caliber machine guns which could shoot 800 rounds a minute.

   And “The Buzzer” also had a ball turret which was lowered behind the bomb bay doors and operated by a gunner of short stature able to fold up inside the cramped rotating ball. The gunner could turn the ball a full 360 degrees, from front to back of the plane with a hand operated joy stick. The ball turret gunner could position the two Browning AN/M2 .50 caliber machine guns using a special aiming sight sending out a wall of hot steel against incoming attacking aircraft.

   Important details are taken from a book I have been able to locate, "Brother men who fly," written by a ball turret gunner, Benedict Yedlin, who flew most of his 50 missions in "The Buzzer" with the 449th Bomb Group out over heavily defended targets like Hitler’s oil refineries in Polesti, Romania and Moosbierbaum, Austria.

   Mr. Yedlin safely completed his fifty missions and returned to the USA for discharge. His old plane, “The Buzzer” would soon also be retired from duty as a bomber. The plane was credited with seventy-seven sorties and had flown 41 consecutive missions without one turn-back because of mechanical problems. The war-weary plane was finally retired from combat duty and its guns were removed. Open areas from gun removal were covered over with sheet metal and the gutted interior had a floor installed with seating for “The Buzzer’s” new duty as a personnel and supply transport airplane.


   Her passenger manifest for that December 9, 1944 flight from Grottaglie to Naples, Italy included the five man flight crew, and eleven passengers, seven of them were on their way to Naples having survived their fifty-mission tours, eager to board a ship back to the States, hoping to spend the Christmas holidays with their families. Of the sixteen crew and passengers on board, fifteen were combat veterans.

Graphic from: "World War II Story" by Robert F. Gallagher
   Because of the predicted bad weather “The Buzzer” was to have not taken the direct route over mountains, in red,  to the allied Pomigliano airfield near Naples. The flight plan for a safer route, in blue, had a dog-leg from Grottaglie out south-southwest to the western Italian coastline then a right turn up to the north-northwest direct to Naples, a distance of 194 miles (312km) about 64 miles longer than the direct route.

   Weather that morning in Grottaglie was rainy and stormy and getting worse. Several flights canceled their flight plans including 1st. Lt. Ray Aldrich who had taken off on a scheduled mission but it was scratched and he returned to base where he reportedly urged “The Buzzer’s” pilot 2nd Lt. Julian Caldwell not to go because of the worsening weather. Caldwell’s co-pilot who was a weather aficionado also urged Caldwell to cancel, but “The Buzzer’s” crew and passengers loaded up and took off at 11:12 AM, with all on board looking forward to the relatively short flight to Naples and a bit of Christmas cheer.

   At 6:22 PM the tower at Pomigliano air base near Naples asked Grottaglie for the plane’s whereabouts. Just after midnight Grottaglie asked Pomigliano if there was any news about “The Buzzer.” There was none. No one knows for sure just what happened, and there is still much speculation. Weather most certainly was a major factor perhaps causing the flight to drift off course. There is mention that the impact happened just yards from the top of the mountain peak. That model of B-24 also lacked a de-icing system, and heavy ice build up on the wings was a known problem.

   But eventually it would become clear that “The Buzzer” upon impact, fully fueled for the flight flew directly into a mountain peak becoming a hellish inferno of bodies and twisted metal which plunged down the steep mountainside some 1,500 feet into a narrow and barely accessible ravine. The scattered debris, most of which was in the deep, steep walled abyss would soon be covered by thick layers of winter snow.
   Search planes from Grottaglie were hampered the following day by the still stormy overcast skies. A search by planes from the Pomigliano air base checked the coastal areas and water off Naples but found nothing. The following day six B-24s from Grottaglie made a wide area search of the scheduled route with two of them searching the direct route. One airman thought he saw the wreckage in a deep crevasse but he could not find it again because of the deep snowfall.

   Finally the names of the 16 aboard had worked their way up through the various military commands to Headquarters of the Army Air Force and on December 30th, telegrams went out to the to the next of kin telling them that their loved one was “missing.”

   The crash site and bodies remained deep within the crevasse completely covered with deep snow making any location almost impossible using aerial searches. A strong rumor that the plane had crashed into the bay of Naples proved false. It was five months later when the snow has started to melt that locals located the crash. In the valley near the crash site in the village of Oliveto Citra, the wife of a town doctor, Mrs. Amelia Clemente, who was born in the USA and had a fair grasp of English, took it upon herself to go to Allied headquarters near Naples and report the crash location. She had been to the site with a group of local alpine climbers who had been able to descend over the slippery rocks down to the bottom of the incredible debris and carnage. They positively identified that there were human remains down there and obtained some personal effects and identification of some of the victims.

   When there was no response to her first visit she returned and finally found someone who admired her persistence and scheduled the Graves Registration Service to come to the site. Her efforts eventually resulted in all sixteen victims being identified and their remains removed and examined for further analysis and identification for eventual burial in both Italy and the USA. Mrs. Clemente received a letter of extreme thanks and commendation, dated 30 August 1945 from the Adjutant General of Allied Force Headquarters, Colonel C.W. Christenberry.

   That ball turret gunner who flew most of his 50 bombing missions in “The Buzzer” attacking essential petroleum storage and refineries to cripple the German air force and limit Hitler's fuel supplies finally returned to the USA for discharge. He joined his father in a major construction firm that built whole subdivisions for single family housing throughout New Jersey. Ben Yedlin, in his 2002 book, “Brother Men Who Fly” recalled his real fear that since was a Jew, if he had to parachute from the plane he would be captured by Germans. But Ben made his 50 missions laying down a deadly screen of 50 caliber shells from his rotating nacelle right behind the bomb bay doors without serious incident.

   He remained active as a member of the 449th Bomb Group Association which honored him with a Humanitarian Service Award in 1998. He became a respected philanthropist for many causes and his goal of creating a true memorial to “The Buzzer” and the 16 men who perished in the crash never wavered. After many trips to Senerchia, Yedlin made many friends in the village and ultimately was able to get the plaque memorial to his comrades constructed and officially recognized by both America and Italy. After ten years of search and travel his plaque memorial was dedicated on a bright morning in Senerchia Village, June 29, 2003.

   Mr. Yedlin had contacted members of Congress and the U.S. Consulate in Naples regarding the planned dedication ceremony and the response was overwhelming. High ranking officers from the U.S.A as well as Italy, dignitaries including the Mayor of Senerchia and the U.S. Navy Band from Naples in summer white uniforms delighted the crowd with both American and Neapolitan favorites.

   And Ben Yedlin, already in failing health nonetheless got to see his Plaque Memorial and the peaceful park which surrounds at that memorial dedication ceremony. He died about a year later, September 10, 2004.

   Below is a link to a PDF from his 449th Bomber Group semi annual newsletter, “Late Pass” which was the radio call sign for the Grottaglie control tower. Go to pages six, seven and eight to see photos and commentary at the Senerchia Plaque Memorial dedicaion and the attendance of Americans and Italians in mutual respect for these fallen airmen.

Click Photos Below to Enlarge and Read Plaque

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A little bombing quiz for you ...

"Still Winning Hearts and Minds"

There are two photos below and both are middle Eastern neighborhoods in different countries where families lived ... husbands, wives, elderly relatives and lots of kids. Both neighborhoods were destroyed in a show of force by political leaders who called up ruthless and incessant shelling and bombing against civilians, all the while denying they were doing so. These were political and tactical  decisions to use deadly force to achieve total control of a populace ... the old 'bombing your way to peace' is still happening with a vengeance.

In the two photos below please identify which bombing was ordered by Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and which one by Benjamin Netanyahu from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Scores were killed or gravely wounded in each country, mostly women and children.  And while you are looking at the photos, let's also go back and remember the USA's ceaseless high altitude carpet bombing of Vietnam in the 60's and 70's. Both Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington determined that of the 3.8 million violent war deaths in Vietnam,  two million were civilian.

We don't want to ask ourselves, but were Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon's ultimate decisions to bomb and shell indiscriminately any less deadly that those of other leaders who decide to aggressively bomb and shell knowing the civilian toll will be terrible?

Can you detect any differences between the two photos below from Syria and Gaza? Which one shows Syria's bombing of it's own civilians and which one shows the results of Israeli bombing and shelling of the tiny densely packed sliver of humanity called the Gaza Strip?
Can you see any difference in the destruction of homes or the slaughter of the innocent? Does one photo look more peace-producing than the other? 
Do the levels of hatred at work here seem about equal in each photo?

Photo One:

Photo Two:

 Put down your pencils, end of quiz.  For now.

 "War remains the decisive human failure."
John Kenneth Galbraith

Friday, March 21, 2014

Real life fiction: The Final Flight

(March 18, 2013) - The whole world has been gripped by the seeming total disappearance of a Malaysian Boeing 777 with 239 souls on board. Its scheduled overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China March 8th, 2014 never arrived at its destination. Air control radar lost all contact with it after it reached its assigned cruising altitude about an hour into its flight. 

After the first ten days of confusion, failure of the Malaysian governmental bureaucrats to cooperate with other nations by providing data in a timely manner made the story drag on and on and imaginations have run wild.

As a private pilot with aircrew experience going back to my U.S. Navy days in the late 1950's and as a retired journalist and writer I decided on the evening of March 18th to use my imagination to sketch out a rough movie plot line with actions set vaguely in Indonesia and to intertwine totally fictional elements with some of the early press reports about a real pilot.

The story is grim, yet it embodies elements that together make a shocking and dark story that could have some basis in truth with what may have actually happened. Here is my completely fictional account of of how a motion picture might  portray "The Final Flight."

The Final Flight
Ⓒ Larry M. Ray   Mar 19, 2014

The experienced and respected captain of Flight 307, Arief Agus Jawardi, had learned three months earlier that he had an inoperable brain tumor. He had gone to Singapore for the MRI, using an assumed name and identity.  He knew as soon as the airline found out about his worsening condition he would no longer be able to fly. Meanwhile he had continued to report to work as scheduled.

With his own flight simulator in his home and being a Certified Flight Instructor qualified to approve pilots for ATR type rating certification in large commercial passenger aircraft, it was clear that his life was singularly devoted to the pinnacle of being captain of a large Boeing 777-300ER with its sleek and powerful improvements and a flight range of 7,930 nautical miles. The tumor was already making his reasoning stranger and stranger and he had spent more time than usual on that home flight simulator in recent weeks.

By March 8, 2014, Captain Jawardi's world had begun to whirl and change. Prior to arriving at the airline’s operations office to conduct the plane's pre-flight inspection and check the routine flight plan for the regular 12:41AM departure of flight 307, he had attended a controversial trial in the city's large courthouse in which his political idol, Irwan Salim, was jailed for five years.

Captain Jawardi had been described by some as a political fanatic because of his devotion to Salim who was sentenced in 1998 to 15 years imprisonment on an ugly, very public trumped up sodomy charge. Salim had served six years of that sentence mostly all in solitary confinement but he was released in 2004. Salim, the key challenger to the the ruling party, was arrested once again on sodomy charges in 2008, and acquitted of those charges in January 2012.  But the ruling powers appealed the decision, and on Friday March 8, 2014 that acquittal was overturned and Salim was again sentenced to prison. Captain Arief Agus Jawardi was known to be an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Salim and was visibly upset over the terrible verdict.

The horrible injustice he had just witnessed sent his unstable mind racing into overdrive with reason and zest for life now replaced with a dark, carefully studied final flight plan not for his Indonesian home base to Beijing Capital International Airport but instead to a tormented destination known only to Captain Jawardi.

Flight 307 had reached cruise altitude and they were flying, or more accurately, the autopilot was flying the way point legs programmed into the plane's navigational computer red eye for the flight to Beijing. As passengers settled into a smooth, soothing long night journey, a young flight attendant entered the flight deck and brought the captain and his first officer, seated in the right seat, some cold drinks and nice box lunches. The captain thanked the attendant, smiling a familiar smile that said all was well and he indicated that they would talk to them before the decent into Beijing. The copilot, in a final radio response to their routine hand off from their local air traffic control center, radioed thanks and a good night to the controllers. In less than forty five minutes they would enter Vietnamese air space and check in with their new controllers.

The captain finished his sandwich and a sweet pastry then loosened his seat belt and walked back to the reinforced flight deck door and bolted it firmly shut from the inside. After quickly pulling the circuit breakers turning off the cockpit flight deck voice recorder he casually walked back toward his unsuspecting co-pilot, approaching him from behind as he uncoiled a length of thin polyester rope. Then, in a dispassionate yet violent move he swept the rope over his co-pilot's  head and yanked him back against the seat, strangling him. The seat belt kept his victim from being able to jump up or swivel, and he died quickly, barely able to utter but a few gurgling sounds.

The captain then calmly switched off the plane's electronic connections to the world outside, rotating switches and knobs on the center console to the off position. In an instant there was no more signal from the radar locating transponder, or the ACARS air to ground communications, and in an hour or so he would again walk to the back of the flight deck and on the large overhead panel would pull out the circuit breakers to the passenger entertainment system which would also disable the in-flight satellite telephones in business class. It is almost certain that he also pulled the circuit breakers to the two flight recorders in the plane's tail commonly referred to as the two "black boxes." With a very long night flight ahead, the plane banked gently into a 20 degree left turn to the West, barely noticeable to passengers. The captain had typed all new five character way points into the nav computer telling the autopilot to fly the plane back over the narrow Indonesian archipelago and on out into to the vast emptiness of the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile passengers had been fed, and most were trying to get some sleep, not noticing that the plane was doing anything other than flying along into the blackness of night. The still operating basic independent interrogatory satellite pings from the Boeing aircraft are said to have indicated to ground stations that the plane flew for a total of seven hours after departing from the initial flight path to Beijing before the signals ceased. By the time passengers and flight crew started to wonder why the plane was not letting down as it approached China, it was too late. That far out over the Indian Ocean no cell phone calls would have been possible, and no one could get into the cockpit at that point.

The captain had thought out every detail out right down to flying on far out over the ocean to the furthest reaches possible until the plane's fuel was depleted so there would be no visible oil slick. This was to be his perfect final flight. Now, in his errant and erratic logic, he was alone in his huge airliner. There were no passengers, no crew, just him making a final bitter comment to world, to his family and especially the crooked and worthless politicians in power back home.

Then with the very last of the fuel remaining, he descended slowly and evenly down to a hundred feet or so above the water. Airspeed was down to the lower end of flyable approach speed and as he was mere feet above the ocean he throttled back the two giant Rolls-Royce Trent engines and pulled up for a nose-high, tail dragging, wheels-up pancake landing doing as little damage as possible to the plane. And then after impact which had thrown him forward in his seat, he loosened his harness, walked back with difficulty as the plane was instantly starting to toss in several directions by the roiling sea and he reached up and pulled the emergency exit light circuit breakers.

The chaos among the 237 passengers and crew after the shocking surprise water landing meant doors would be opened allowing some people to instinctively attempt escape only to most certainly die. And those open doors and exit hatches were an inevitable part of the plan as they would allow the heaving sea to fill the airplane with its near freezing brine.  Many did not have seat belts fastened, having no idea what was about to happen, and were violently slammed and thrown about with a number of them gravely injured.

This adding to the total surreal screaming and panic on board. The darkened cabin with even the emergency exit lights on the aisles disabled created a living nightmare. With no prior notice of a water landing it is probable that few if any would have located the life jackets under the seats and somehow donned them in the madness and total darkness.

The captain had left the circuit breaker panel and returned, fighting to keep his balance, to his Captain’s Seat. He calmly opened his mouth and began to swallow a handful of powerful opiates that would quickly knock him out and if they did not kill him, at least he would not be conscious when the icy water crept into the the cockpit as the basically intact plane lost buoyancy and swirled down into the depths of the frigid melding of the Indian and Southern Oceans. Perhaps he had set a final way point to the West of the Diamantina Deep, a meandering trench which is 26,401 feet below the water's surface.

All the searching for the missing plane that diverted from its assigned flight path on March 8, 2014 was concentrated for the first week on a relatively small area around the point where the plane dropped from radar and all communication with it stopped. The plane had gone down, unobserved, in the early hours of March 9th into the nether reaches of the vast Indian Ocean.

Indonesian bureaucrats and career military generals were totally inept in coordinating an orderly investigation, refusing to share with other countries and agencies all the data they were collecting. As the squabbles and confusion mounted, any realistic hope of rescue died. The passengers who had made it out of the plane before it filled with water and started to sink had no chance against the rapid onset of hypothermia. The distant and extremely frigid waters of the beginning of the Southern Ocean are cruel, with massive, churning waves and they are rarely traversed by commercial shipping. Bodies of those outside the plane would eventually be eaten by any of several of the active varieties of sharks in those waters, including the Great White, another thing for which the Southern Ocean is infamous.

So there were no visible signs of debris from the plane by the time searchers belatedly started to fly random grids ten days later over the huge ocean area. There were no seat cushions, floating plane parts or other familiar crash debris all clustered and waiting to be spotted because the difficult but well executed water landing landing did little structural damage to the huge airplane. If anything had broken off the plane and somehow floated, the howling wind, giant waves and surging currents of the unforgiving Southern Ocean would have displaced debris making calculation of of their origin extremely difficult if not impossible.

Meanwhile the disconnected Black Boxes had long stopped functioning, recording nothing and would yield scant information as to what had happened because they were disabled by the pilot shortly after the plane's early turn from its scheduled flight path.

A giant airliner and all its victims would now reside at 20,000 feet below the difficult sea for a very long time, evading attempts at an easy discovery or retrieval. The grief of loved ones would not easily fade with the uncertainty of how, where and why their friends and family members had mysteriously perished.

The Titanic went down in 1912, and was not definitely located until September 1985 or 93 years after it sank. And those searchers had a good idea about the general area where it sank.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pentecostals, Baptists and "Naked Images"

Here's looking at you, kid!

There ought to be a law! And there might be one shortly to protect Mississippi prison workers from anyone sneaking a peek at their private parts.

Some Mississippi prison guards and other civilian prison workers are now required to stand in front of surplus TSA airport X-ray body scanners installed in the prison as they report for work. It is apparently part of their daily work check-in routine to be scanned for hidden contraband, and this has upset State Rep. Dennis DeBar of Leakesville. Not the contraband checks, but the X-ray machine that can see through workers’ clothes!

Rep. DeBar told The Mississippi Press that he has proposed House Bill 926 because he, "... has constituents who work at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and some believe the scanners invade their privacy. He said many of them are worried that a co-worker could see naked images of their bodies."
Speaking at the State Capitol yesterday, Rep. DeBar said, of his constituents, "We have a lot of religious people -- Pentecostals and Baptists -- who object to that."

Some 250 TSA radiation-emitting backscatter (X-ray) airport scanners were finally dumped last summer and warehoused. The scanners’ flawed Rapiscan software never could be made to satisfactorily blur pubic or breast areas or much of the rest of the image for that matter. So to quieten the clamor from privacy advocates, they removed them from airports to satisfy Congress.

They were ultimately warehoused, then donated to state governments, and the Mississippi surplus property division is where the Department of Corrections latched on to seventeen of them to “look for contraband.”

In classic Mississippi logic, House Bill 926 proposes "that the scanners be used only if there's reason to suspect an employee is carrying contraband." Well, if  there is reason to suspect an employee is sneaking in dope or whatever, it isn’t like prison security folks don’t know how to do a full body cavity strip search.  No need to fire up the old airport X-ray scanner.

Just have the suspected employee step into the office, strip and bend over. But that nuanced logic may be too much to deal with. Maybe civil enough for prisoners but not for Civil Service employees?

The prison folks who grabbed up the X-ray scanners after the TSA dumped them also got the problematic and flawed Rapiscan imaging software that came with them which still bares all of the body, in 50 shades of gray. Well, maybe not fifty, but detailed enough for a potential prurient peek.

However, Rep. DeBar's Pentecostal and Baptist prison guards aren't just left unprotected from surreptitious stealthy spying at their bare imaged bodies, real or imagined. The damaging personal invasion comes from from that scanner's regular daily dose of X-ray ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The TSA and its big buck scanner suppliers all swear that the "amount of radiation is minimal." I have always wondered if that was true why do all European countries ban use of the ionizing radiation X-ray scanners?

Certainly, the occasional chest X-ray or scanner zap of an airline passenger should have a much lower cumulative effect on the body than someone being X-rayed daily. Hospitals and imaging clinics most certainly would forbid such an idea. Technicians and medical staff who monitor CAT scans and even chest X-rays do so from behind lead shields. And TSA workers located near the scanners also are provided shielding.

I would hope when the Mississippi Department of Corrections got their zillion dollar high-power airport passenger scanners for a few bucks they also got the operational manuals with the bright yellow pages that warn about the dangers of radiation exposure.

The TSA’s new “millimeter-wave” machines do not emit potentially cancer causing X-rays and feature privacy software that produces a generic cartoon image of passengers' bodies.

Cartoon images may be more appropriate to the needs of Mississippi. DeBar's bill passed the House Corrections Committee yesterday and now will move to the full House for more debate.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Gluten-Free Grub and Price Gouging

Udi's Gluten Free Bread with expensive "artisan air holes"in their diminutive loaves

Several years ago a new young doctor finally properly diagnosed the reason for my decades of panicked dashes to the loo with stealth attacks of lower GI distress. These relentless urgent attacks were too often visited upon me at times like the final minutes in the 4th quarter of a New Orleans Saints game where a touchdown or field goal could cinch the game for them . . . listening to loud cheering from the bathroom made it even worse because there was no way to tell who was cheering for what.

After the diagnosis I underwent an endoscopic adventure down into my small intestine for several diagnostic snips of its lining and a look around. The velvety villi-coated lining that takes our digested food and sends that nutrition out all over the body had large clotted, dysfunctional patches where the tiny waving villi were bent over, clumped up, and out of order. Most of that nutrition had been going straight south for way too long.

Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating the protein, gluten, and is  commonly called gluten intolerance. Unlike other types of bodily malaise, the cure for Celiac disease requires no expensive medicines or procedures after diagnosis. Simply just quit eating anything at all with wheat, barley or rye. It was that simple and in an amazingly short time the old small intestine banquet for the body starts working again and in my case I felt better than I had in ten or fifteen years.

My widowed neighbor lady across the street got six large grocery bags of food from my fridge and pantry which, I learned, contained wheat, barley or rye. Like soy sauce being 50% wheat ...who knew? Gluten in the form of wheat is in beer and almost all processed food like those great tasty frozen Turkey Tetrazini microwave entrees. After a couple of weeks of learning to eat gluten-free, my digestive system quickly started operating properly and blood tests were now spot on.

But no cheating is allowed like that one little nibble of pie crust because eating even 5 parts per million of gluten can literally get your bowels in an uproar again. So discipline is quickly acquired.

My story of years of misdiagnosis as "irritable bowl syndrome" is told over and over again in publications like the Mayo Clinic newsletter which notes that "Celiac disease was rare, but it's now more common in all age groups. Although the cause is unknown, celiac disease is four times more common now than 60 years ago, and affects about one in 100 people."

After my diagnosis and the good gluten-free gastric vibes, I quickly learned to automatically check package ingredients for wheat, barley or rye. It's much like scanning for land mines now before journeying on into new dietary destinations.

And early on, I noted that the available gluten-free products on store shelves, though usually packaged in regular sized boxes or bags, had a content weight scarcely sufficient to satiate the appetite of a medium sized elf or gnome.

And not only are skimpy portions and product sizes smaller, they can be twice the cost of a similar non gluten-free bag or box of the same thing with lots more food in it. Early on, finding a gluten-free loaf of bread that was not like a hockey puck or that tasted no better than shredded cardboard was a challenge. Companies claim higher cost is from having to have dedicated production lines to prevent wheat contamination. I think they are more dedicated to plain old American price gouging.

Around 2010 more acceptable breads with good flavor started to show up on shelves here in the Gulf South. Notable, with reservations, are products by Udi Baron, who with his wife in Denver in 1994 started out as "Udi the sandwich man" with ready to eat sandwiches. Today, Udi's has expanded into a very large operation in the USA and UK with bakeries, cafes, restaurants and their "Artisan loaves" of gluten free breads, and more recently bagels, cookies, energy bars and more.

Good stuff, but at almost six bucks for a 12 ounce loaf, which is about a third the size of a standard gluten-loaded loaf of white or whole wheat bread I feel genuinely gouged every time I buy one. We Celiac Captives are forced to accept shopping in the "gluten-free sections" which have smaller sizes, and half the product in bags and boxes and double the price, compared to the wheat laden equivalents in the rest of the store.

In addition to the 12 ounce loaf of Udi's bread for six bucks, is their package of four quite good hamburger buns also at $5.60 a bag or a buck forty a bun, and on and on. Udi's bagels are extremely good when toasted . . . four in a bag for six bucks. All I can figure is that with really slim pickings for tasty gluten-free anything for so long, those with Celiac disease and others who have, for whatever reason, decided they like a gluten-free diet will easily pay whatever the price tag says.

I learned early on from my old friends in Italy that the country has had a Celiac Disease Association for more than 40 years. Not only that, but with universal health care in Italy, those diagnosed with Celiac get a generous monthly ration of gluten-free groceries just like a prescription including great pasta of all sorts. Restaurants and stores in Italy routinely have gluten-free menus with breads, pastas, and desserts. Forget trying to take a deduction for the steep prices for gluten-free food here in the USA.

I get a CARE package from Italy every few months full of really great gluten-free pastas that cook and taste like pasta made with classic semolina flour. Stuff labeled gluten-free in most stores here in the South that I have tried includes cookies that crumble and disintegrate, mixes that collapse and are really disappointing including most pasta that is disgusting.

So, the gluten-free beat goes on. Better products are out there if you can find them ... and afford to pay twice as much for half the food. Although the Udi's products are good, it is a real crap shoot each time I buy a frozen loaf of what my friends refer to as "your little chicken shit loaves of bread" as to how many slices will have holes in them.

All too often the lack of quality control of Udi's Artisan bread results in large sections in a loaf being good old gluten-free air. Artisan bubbles in the bread, seen in my photo above, as well as collapsed tops of the loaves, and irregular thicknesses of the little slices do not make Udi's the best thing since sliced bread. Close, but no gluten-free cigar.

We are a captive market for gluten-free products like Udi's offerings, and who knows, there might even a developing market for those lesser bad products from folks who actually love to eat toasted hockey pucks and dine on soggy pasta.

But hey, I can watch a whole football game now so what's a few air-bubble-riddled loaves of gluten-free bread?