Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Queen of Southern Cooking

by Dee Newman

There’s an old Phil Harris song written by Andy Razaf that comes to mind every time I hear Paula Deen open her mouth from the South. Here are a few of the lyrics:
Won't you come with me to Alabamy
Let's go see my dear old mammy
She's frying eggs and broilin' hammy
That's what I like about the South

She's got big ribs and candied yams
Oh, sugar cured Virginia hams
Basements full of those berry jams
And that's what I like about the South

Hot cornbread and black-eyed peas
You can eat as much as you please
'Cause it's never out of season
That's what I like about the South

Ah, don't take one, have two
They're bark brown and chocolate too
Suits me they must suit you
'Cause that's what I like about the South

It's a way, way down where the cane grows tall
Down where they say "you all"
Walk on in with that southern drawl
'Cause that's what I like about the South . . .

I didn't come here to criticize
I'm not here to sympathize
But don't call me those no good lies
Cause a lying gal I do despise . . .

She's got back bones and buttered beans
Ham hocks and turnip greens
You and me in New Orleans
And that's what I like about the South . . .

It goes without saying, Paula Deen has built a multi-million dollar empire as the Queen and televangelist of Southern Cooking, as well as, a caricature of a so-called bygone era that is, unfortunately, still (though not well) alive.

As an ethical vegetarian (vegan) I have never been partial to the cuisine and cultural lifestyle that Paula Deen promotes. I find them both wantonly decadent and morally corrupt.

Accordingly, I must admit, I have received some perverse pleasure from the reality that her way of life, particularly her food choices, are contributing ironically to her and her followers’ early demise (given the fact that nutritional epidemiologists have found that people who eat Southern cooking at least six times per week have nearly a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease and stroke than folks who just eat it once per month). 

As for her revealing in a court deposition that she had used a racially degrading term to describe African-Americans, I was no more surprised than her supporters. Like me, she came of age in the South during a time when our country was just beginning to institute the equality we had been boasting about for nearly two centuries. With that said, that is no excuse for uttering a racial slur.

Like many of her followers, she was raised in an environment where the n-word was socially acceptable. Once the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed Southern whites (many of my relatives) found themselves struggling to publicly restrain their vocabulary, trying to use certain words only among family and friends who had similar attitudes and feelings. The truth is that in certain cultural groups in the United States, blatant racism still endures.

Apologists for Paula Deen appear awkward as they try to articulate a defense. Although they wish others to be compassionate and understanding toward Paula, they seem incapable of understanding that a person of color whose race continues to be victimized in a nation that espouses equality can be justifiably thin-skinned.

Her recent admission of using the n-word in the past and that she once envisioned putting on a “plantation-style” wedding party (using black waiters dressed in a manner reminiscent of slavery) has been dismissed by her defenders with – “what’s the big deal – it's just a word”, “who cares what someone may have said or done 25 or 30 years ago?”, and my favorite rationalization of them all “if Chris Rock can use the n-word, why can’t Paula?” – as if one perceived wrong could ever justify another.

Despite the fact that many of her fans have expressed remarkable and irrational support for her, and that Deen, herself, has apologized in a teary appearance on the Today Show, biblically challenging those without sin to throw the first stone, the backlash has been severe. A number of Deen’s major sources of income, including the Food Network, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Smithfield Foods, have all cut ties with her empire and condemned her use of the racial slur. Their actions are not creditable, nor commendable. I do not believe for one moment that they are motivated by anything but the “bottom-line” – profit. Their actions will not convince me to spend one dime at their establishments.

Look, I do not know if Paula Deen is a racist or not – that she considers her race better than any other race. But, I do know this. I lost a considerable amount of respect for her character back 2012 when she finally revealed that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years earlier. All that time she continued to aggressively promote an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. It was not until she received a lucrative endorsement deal from a drug company that she came clean.

What Paula Deen needs is what all of us need – a little introspective analysis of our characters – a self-examination of our feelings, thoughts, and motives. We need to stop defending the indefensible and rationalizing the irrational.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Politics, Belief is Iffy

by Jack Reeves

What explains today's extreme sociopolitical beliefs, e.g., a Kenyan communist Muslim is our illegal president, global warming is a hoax, the federal government intends to take away our guns and Second Amendment rights?

Fanned fear can cause the fear-prone to align with political parties that represent their beliefs. Because party hyper-ideology is advantageous, "false" and "irrational" lose relevance. 

Belief that a comprehensive immigration bill will increase 'takers' has an ideological core. Consequently, the Congressional Budget Office's judgment that immigration reform would increase revenue and reduce the deficit can be unabashedly ignored or denied.

For many of this population, government is enemy; its role is disparaged – even in the American Dream.

Political belief that disregards fact is problematic. Unfortunately, ideologues have difficulty recognizing this as fact.

"Ay, there's the rub."

The above "letter to the editor" was published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.  Early this morning Jack received a phone call.

A male voice said, "Jack?" Jack said, "yes." The guy continued – "really? really? Is this Jack Reeves?"

At first, Jack thought it might be someone from Chattanooga who had contacted him by email about a class reunion. That is, until the guy began his rant about how he couldn't believe anyone could think the way Jack does. Ultimately, the guy's attack ended with him hanging up.

The guy had called Jack from his wife's cell phone from an area south of where Jack lives in Florida.

Ironically, the guy's tirade only proves Jack's point – facts are inconvenient truths for ideologues and when they are confronted with them, it makes them even more irrational.

Update: Jack has a crazy in his life. The guy called again, hanging-up after a dozen rings or more. Jack is refusing to answer the phone.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Few Photos from the Week of My 50th High School Reunion

Norris Dam and Lake

Doug and I on a bike ride in Oak Ridge

Mary and I aboard Betsy's boat

Mary, Ruth, Jim and Doug

Jim and Ruth, Doug and Mary, and Dee at Norris Dam boat dock.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Son," My Daddy Used to Say

“Son,” my daddy used to say
in a sort of soft spoken,
but knowing kind of way,
“If you keep your eyes and ears open
each and every day,
you’ll learn the skills for copin’
with whatever comes your way.
And, if you’re ever at your rope’s end
and things look dark and gray,
remember, there’s no time for mopin’,
no time to plead or pray,
no time for wishin’ and hopin’,
when the rope begins to fray.
So, fight your fright and keep on gropin’,
son," my daddy used to say.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

From Discover Magazine

Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes

Your ancestors' lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.

By Dan Hurley|Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Alison Mackey/DISCOVER
[This article originally appeared in print as "Trait vs. Fate"]

Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son — sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles.

The mother mouse looks up and says, “Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state.”

“Bad inheritance,” says Darwin.

“Bad mothering,” says Freud.

For over a hundred years, those two views — nature or nurture, biology or psychology — offered opposing explanations for how behaviors develop and persist, not only within a single individual but across generations.

And then, in 1992, two young scientists following in Freud’s and Darwin’s footsteps actually did walk into a bar. And by the time they walked out, a few beers later, they had begun to forge a revolutionary new synthesis of how life experiences could directly affect your genes — and not only your own life experiences, but those of your mother’s, grandmother’s and beyond.

The bar was in Madrid, where the Cajal Institute, Spain’s oldest academic center for the study of neurobiology, was holding an international meeting. Moshe Szyf, a molecular biologist and geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, had never studied psychology or neurology, but he had been talked into attending by a colleague who thought his work might have some application. Likewise, Michael Meaney, a McGill neurobiologist, had been talked into attending by the same colleague, who thought Meaney’s research into animal models of maternal neglect might benefit from Szyf’s perspective.

Michael Meaney, neurobiologist.
Owen Egan/McGill University
“I can still visualize the place — it was a corner bar that specialized in pizza,” Meaney says. “Moshe, being kosher, was interested in kosher calories. Beer is kosher. Moshe can drink beer anywhere. And I’m Irish. So it was perfect.”

The two engaged in animated conversation about a hot new line of research in genetics. Since the 1970s, researchers had known that the tightly wound spools of DNA inside each cell’s nucleus require something extra to tell them exactly which genes to transcribe, whether for a heart cell, a liver cell or a brain cell. 

One such extra element is the methyl group, a common structural component of organic molecules. The methyl group works like a placeholder in a cookbook, attaching to the DNA within each cell to select only those recipes — er, genes — necessary for that particular cell’s proteins. Because methyl groups are attached to the genes, residing beside but separate from the double-helix DNA code, the field was dubbed epigenetics, from the prefix epi (Greek for over, outer, above).

Originally these epigenetic changes were believed to occur only during fetal development. But pioneering studies showed that molecular bric-a-brac could be added to DNA in adulthood, setting off a cascade of cellular changes resulting in cancer. Sometimes methyl groups attached to DNA thanks to changes in diet; other times, exposure to certain chemicals appeared to be the cause. Szyf showed that correcting epigenetic changes with drugs could cure certain cancers in animals. 

Geneticists were especially surprised to find that epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next. A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Without any change to DNA at all, methyl groups could be added or subtracted, and the changes were inherited much like a mutation in a gene.

Moshe Szyf, molecular biologist and genticist.
McGill University
Now, at the bar in Madrid, Szyf and Meaney considered a hypothesis as improbable as it was profound: If diet and chemicals can cause epigenetic changes, could certain experiences — child neglect, drug abuse or other severe stresses — also set off epigenetic changes to the DNA inside the neurons of a person’s brain? That question turned out to be the basis of a new field, behavioral epigenetics, now so vibrant it has spawned dozens of studies and suggested profound new treatments to heal the brain.

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; Chinese whose grandparents lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution; young immigrants from Africa whose parents survived massacres; adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories. 

Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. The DNA remains the same, but psychological and behavioral tendencies are inherited. You might have inherited not just your grandmother’s knobby knees, but also her predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn. 

Or not. If your grandmother was adopted by nurturing parents, you might be enjoying the boost she received thanks to their love and support. The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too. And for those unlucky enough to descend from miserable or withholding grandparents, emerging drug treatments could reset not just mood, but the epigenetic changes themselves. Like grandmother’s vintage dress, you could wear it or have it altered. The genome has long been known as the blueprint of life, but the epigenome is life’s Etch A Sketch: Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse.

To read the entire article click here.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's Not About the Nail

Free Bradley Manning

A hero is someone who is willing to give up their own interests for the interests of others.

The President is required under the U.S. Constitution to enforce the law. President Obama has refused to allow any Bush administration official who sanctioned and directed the use of torture (a war crime under the Geneva Convention) to be held legally accountable. Apparently, the president finds it more offensive to expose war crimes than to commit them. Otherwise, Dick Cheney would be facing life in prison rather than Bradley Manning.