The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Friday, August 31, 2007

Western Tribune Column

I am on the road this weekend. And have a great Labor Day Weekend, and be safe!!!

Here's the Western Tribune column from earlier this week. One can never be too prepared.

The first advisory from the National Hurricane Center was released on Monday six days before Hurricane Dean was to pound Jamaica with category 4 winds. We followed the progress of the storm each day and by Friday we knew for sure that we could not get off the island and would have to endure the rain and high winds that one U. S. news outlet predicted no building in Kingston could withstand.

But we did not feel threatened by the storm. Sure, we were disappointed that Dean was interfering with the fun part of our trip: a day at Ocho Rios and Dunston Falls. The public health portion of our course had been completed and we were scheduled to enjoy the beach but that was not to be.

To some degree, we are all trained in emergency preparedness, and some of the staff from this country and our host country were professionals who deal with these issues on a routine basis.

A few months ago I promoted emergency preparedness on my blog, and practicing what I preach, collected enough non-perishable food items and bottled water to last each family member 3 days, along with flashlights, battery operated radio, extra batteries and more in a waterproof container that I keep on hand in case a tornado, hurricane or other disaster cuts off our community’s power and our roads are blocked by fallen trees.

Emergency water supplies for personal use came in handy last summer when numerous water mains broke in Bessemer and we were without city water for a couple of days.

So in Jamaica, we knew precisely what we needed to buy to prepare and quickly took care of that. We could not have been more prepared or felt more secure than we did in the campus apartments we were housed in.

The winds began on Sunday afternoon and peaked about 5 hours later, and the rain was relentless. The noise was unsettling, and wind gusts of 120 miles per hour, though weakened considerably by metal shutters, still found their way into our rooms and blew things around and slammed doors. We could see trees blowing and coconuts flying and quite a bit of water found its way into several of the buildings, but we all fared well and do not feel that we were cheated out of anything by the storm.

In contrast, this experience put our training to the test and reinforced the value of preparation, both at home and when traveling.

To be sure you are prepared in the event of any emergency, visit the Alabama Department of Public Health site at to find the information you need. We are not always forewarned as I was in Jamaica. I was not a Boy Scout, but their motto “Be Prepared” is good advice for us all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Random topics and Jamaican Flowers

This should be posted under "Things I should have posted earlier in the week."

On August 30, 2007 at 6:30 P.M., the Bessemer Downtown Redevelopment Authority in cooperation with the Auburn University School of Architecture’s Urban Studio will sponsor a public forum at the city hall auditorium to solicit public input for a revitalization plan for downtown Bessemer.

I hope this effort is more successful than the TVA Strategic Initiative meetings that were held a few years ago, which produced wonderful, doable recommendations for downtown, and were then immediately ignored by the leaders of the city. Then there was B3, which had a few meetings and brought in highly respected consultants to help plan and implement improvements in several areas including downtown, but their offers were completely ignored by the leaders of the city.

At any rate, there are those of us who still believe that Bessemer's downtown can be revived. But people have to realize that it can not be what it was 40 years ago. And it probably can't be like downtown Hartselle, with its numerous antique shops and Willieburgers. But it can be something special and inviting, with a few antique and trendy shops, an art gallery and studio or two, and some little restaurants and a coffee shop.


Birmingham City Council member Joel Montgomery's pubic intoxication charges have been reinstated because he failed to show proof he sought counseling, part of the deal that resulted in the charges being dropped. In fact, Montgomery's statement that he has "never been to alcohol rehabilitation and have no reason to enroll in any alcohol rehabilitation" was what led prosecutors to reopen the case.

Imagine tripping and falling off a curb. You instinctively extend your arms to break your fall and/or use your hands to protect your face. Now imagine falling like that when drunk, and if you did, your reflexes would be slowed and maybe you wouldn't break your fall or protect your face. Now look at this picture. Drunk or sober?

The Western Tribune reported last week that a suit has been filed against the pastor of Broken Vessel Full Gospel Church regarding breach of contract from a business deal in Homewood in 2006. I would not report this had it not already been published, but you remember how pleased I was that the church was being restored and I am certainly glad to see the historic building being put to use. In fact we use the church for our Bessemer Neighborhood Association meetings and several of their members and staff are active in that group.

So here is the message that appeared on the church sign after the story was published. Hmmm.

Here are a few pictures from Jamaica.

This last picture was taken after the hurricane.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Carol Duncan and Larry Craig

The both have the honor of Quote of the Day.

Quote of the day...local:

Birmingham City Council person Carol Duncan and Mayor Bernard Kincaid got into it yesterday at the council meeting. She had planted one of his campaign signs in the chimney of a burned out house to bring attention to the lack of action in clearing the lot. She called the mayor a liar. But the quote worth repeating is "I could have had a rat gnaw it (the abandoned house) apart by now."

Carol we feel your pain. Although we recently celebrated the demolition of the building on 19th street (Video ),it took years to get it done. And we look forward to the Jones Carpet building in Jonesboro suffering the same fate. Soon. But, during the time we waited, chunks of the 19th Street building did fall in. Rats? Maybe they were working on it.

Quote of the day...national:

has to go to Senator Larry Craig (Republican - Idaho) who entered a guilty plea (usually indicating guilt) regarding his attempted hook up in the men's room of a Minnesota airport. "I am not gay and never have been gay." What is worth remembering, however is the most likely quote from his thoughts following that statement. "I am not gay and have never been gay. I just like d**k. "

I mean really Senator. Here is what I think happened. When the incident occured, he had a flash of brilliance and integrity, and decided to be honest with himself and those around him, admit to what he did and come out of the closet. Thus the guilty plea. Then republicanism took over, and he realized that out republicans don't stand a chance (notwithstanding Jim Kolbe) and that the republican way of lying and deceitfulness was more honorable (in his mind) than being honest about himself.

Just my take on the whole thing.

There is lots to read in the Idaho Statesman. Of course, this is not the first time for him.

Here is what I want to know. As far as I know, it is perfectly legal to go into a bar or club, and cruise for sex, whether gay or straight, and approach someone and strike up a conversation and leave together and do it. You can do the same thing at Books-A-Million (I only know about this from hearsay) or Brunos (at Wildwood) or at your church covered dish supper. Or on Planet Out, myspace, facebook, aol, yahoo, etc. But if you are in a rest room or at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge you get arrested. I mean, I understand arrest if you are actually publicly engaged in the act, but Craig wasn't actually exposing himself or anything(yet)...what is wrong with indicating that you want to have sex with someone...for all we know he would have asked the man to go to a room or something. Granted, indicating that in a men's room might get you knocked in the head or something, but I still don't see what should be illegal about it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stuff From All Over the Place

If you are here looking for Jamaica info…you will have to scroll way down, because below this post I have posted the last two Western Trib columns. And yesterday, if the cold/allergies/whatever didn't have me down, the Dayquil/other meds I was taking for relief really messed me up. Feeling better today, but I will still use "medication" as an excuse for any weird thoughts that end up in this post.

You all must think I have lost it…Karl Rove resigns and I don’t comment…

Alberto Gonzales resigns and I don’t comment... Circumstances prevented me from doing that, but believe me, when Dick Cheney resigns I will make a beeline to a computer to comment .

Maria sent me this info I want to share. If you go to google and do a search on your phone number with area code and dashes (555-555-1212), you might be surprised at what comes up. In most cases, unless you have an unlisted number, or it’s a cell phone number, your name, and address and even a map will come up.

Now what if somebody gets the phone number from your kid. Then they have an address and a map to the house.

You can block your number from this service by clicking on the number and choosing to have your number removed from the service.

The Birmingham News reports that Michael Vick “found Jesus” during his recent ordeal. (Sorry, no link because is so hard to navigate and I'm not going to spend 30 minutes trying to find a story that has a headline on the print edition sports page but does not garner a mention on the online sports page). He expects redemption in part because of that, and I can just hear Saturday Night Live’s church lady now, “How convenient.” I personally think he is getting off easy. Now if dog fighters in Bessemer suffer the same fate, I will be pleased. Bessemer has been deemed the worst city in the state for dogs while the mayor says we don’t have a dog problem. Hmmm.

Ok here’s one. This guy in LA claims he was fired from an AIDS fundraising job for being straight. Article .

I have long wished that I had the money to open a business, like a restaurant, that catered to gays and then I could refuse to serve straight people, or even people who “appeared to be straight,” and maybe even a fire a straight waiter (is there such a thing?) or two. Like at IHOP, if a straight couple kissed, I could ask them to leave, saying we don’t want “their kind of people” in there. Just to show how ridiculous discrimination based on sexual orientation is. Straight people would then learn that like gay people, they have no recourse from this type of discrimination.

To those who might be concerned about my investments…don’t worry, I’m not really gonna do that. But it would be an interesting experiment.

Word is that this site is being blocked by UAB. If anyone accesses it from a UAB server, please let me know.

Jamaican Elections - Western Tribune column

Here is the column from The Western Tribune for August 22. The elections I wrote about have been delayed due to Hurricane Dean.

The presidential election will be here before we know it. In fact, the way state political parties are jostling their primaries around, people in some states might be voting in their primaries before the year is out. In Jamaica, the elections are this month, and the locals here say this is the first really divisive election they can recall. The University of the West Indies has a partnership with UAB’s Sparkman Center for Global Health that allows me to be down here participating in public health work.

In our country, the political process is spirited, to say the least. Candidates make accusations about their opponents, staff members resign amid allegations of improprieties and the media blows up every little story in an effort to create controversy between the red and the blue.

But our red and blue colors are nothing like the green and the orange colors that represent the two parties in Jamaica. In fact, things are so tense here that we were told not to wear shirts of either color when we are in the communities. And just the mention of the upcoming elections can start a fight. A question about mosquito control on a survey I was conducting led one respondent to blame the mosquito problem (and by association, the threat of vector borne diseases) on the current party in power and he let me know in no uncertain terms that a change was needed.

While my brief analysis of the two parties (and the opinion of a local newspaper) suggests that there is not much more than a sliver of difference between the two in their philosophies, one would think that they are as different as night and day.

But the main difference between their political process and ours is the violence and threat of violence associated with the upcoming elections in Jamaica. So much so that leaders are suggesting that the elections might be delayed if something is not done to make the process more peaceful.

In addition gangs are very influential here, and their influence spills over in to the political arena. Young people especially are growing weary of living in garrisoned communities and not having control over their own lives and votes. They must submit to the will of the leaders and vote as they are told. To do otherwise, is a mortal sin and one young man described his portion of Jamaica as “talibanised.” He said if someone asks to see his ballot before he turns it in and he refuses, he is dead.

That kind of intimidation would not be tolerated in our country. Barring a delay the Jamaican elections will be over in a few days. Let’s hope they pass peacefully.

Smoking Ban in Bessemer...Western Tribune Column

I've gotten behind in posting my Western Tribune columns.

Here is the column from August 15. Let's hope the council follows through.

The Bessemer City Council is poised to do something really progressive for our city. The public safety committee has endorsed a ban on smoking in most public places including restaurants. Under the proposal, smoking in bars would still be permitted.

While I know that news of this ordinance will not be welcomed by some, the facts are that second hand smoke is estimated to be responsible for 3400 lung cancer deaths and between 22,700 and 69,600 heart disease deaths in this country annually. In addition, each year second hand smoke causes 150,000 to 300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in infants less than 18 months old, resulting in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

As the surgeon general’s recent report on smoking said, there is no risk free level of exposure to second hand smoke. In fact, as far as human behavior goes, tobacco use is the number one behavior (as opposed to specific causes) responsible for death in America (followed by poor diet and lack of exercise).

While smoking may be considered a right by those who choose to engage in the habit, we must put the health of the public above individual rights in some instances. Childhood vaccination requirements for entry into public school and motorcycle helmet laws are examples where this has been done in the past. And in each case, the result was a positive one.

Some states have enacted legislation banning smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars throughout their states, and several municipalities in Alabama have done the same. Other cities have partial bans like the one proposed for Bessemer.

Regulations like this continue the progress toward a healthier Alabama. Formaldehyde, vinyl chloride and benzene are among the hundreds of toxic chemicals found in second hand smoke and do not need to find their way into anyone’s body. The lungs are one of the most common points of entry into the body for harmful substances, and when just going outdoors exposes us to harmful particulate pollution as has been case recently, we do not need to add to the injury by being exposed indoors as well.

This ordinance will move Bessemer up in regards to environmental sensitivity. Rather than looking at the inconvenience that a partial ban on smoking places on a few, let’s be thankful that our city will be sending a positive message to our children.

Friday, August 24, 2007

More of the Storm

I said the other day that Red Stripe and Appleton helped us cope with the storm, but really it was the thoughts and prayers of our friends and families, and our limited contact that gave us reassurance.

We lost internet access Saturday, and for some of us our cell phones would not work to call the states. But we discovered we could send and recieve text messages, so updates like these let us know where the storm was and what was being reported at home. Until we lost that ability at the height of the storm as well.

Thanks Bobby and Ted. Ted reported the National Hurricane Center updates, Bobby reported off the Weather Channel. Your updates kept us informed and just being in contact, even electronically was conforting.

I want someone who understands these things to tell me why my verizon phone (which does not have international capability) was able to transmit text but not voice.

Of course we did have battery powered radio and good information was available there also, but we liked getting information from our families.

Jamaican hospitality and concern are top notch. On the day after the storm, when public transportation was cut off and everyone was dealing with their own problems, the kitchen staff showed up and prepared us lunch. One woman told me they were concerned about us and thought we needed a hot meal. Jamaicans who were involved with our course returned to check on us. Here is Dr. Brendan Bain of Kingston who lectured us on HIV and AIDS checking on us after the storm.

And we were able to make our presentations and have a celebration on Monday night, thanks to a generator and a gas stove. Here is Mr. Henroy Scarlett of UWI receiving an award from Madhav Bhatta of the Sparkman Center for Global Health while Dr. Stephanie Brodine of San Diego State University looks on.

My group was the mosquito group and here we are (minus Stephanie and Maung, two Jamaican students who are also public health officers in their parishes) with our instructor Mr. Trevor Castle, a retired entomologist from UWI who knows literally everything there is to know about the mosquito vectors of Jamaica.

On the night before the storm, several locals came by to make sure the Americans felt secure for the next day before going to their homes or shelters to endure the storm.

That will probably end my hurricane coverage for this blog, unless I come across pictures that I can't resist sharing. But I will post next week some information about Jamaica and the communities we worked in.

And thanks to all of you who sent emails, texts, calls, thoughts and prayers before, during and after the storm. Your well wishes are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Jamaica: After Dean

We did not venture out Sunday night after the storm because gusts were still occuring and things could still be falling and flying. Also, there was debris and nails and power lines down and even with flashlights (torchlights they say) it didn't seem safe.

So Monday morning we ventured out. Palm trees are made for hurricanes, because few were down. Their leaves were shredded and some of the leaves broken or stripped off, but the trunks were standing, and they will survive. This is outside our room. Deciduous trees seemed to suffer more.

Wooden manmade structures are not made for hurricanes, as this arbor did not make it.

It takes a strong wind to blow a chain link fence over...seems like the wind could just go through it.

These chunks of wood almost made it through the fence

We use chain saws...they use machetes. The guy on the bike is security.

The streets of Kingston were littered with debris and downed power lines. but the Kingston residents are right back in business, as this fruit stand has reopened and has a customer. People have to eat.

Small shrubs and flowers did not fare well. Before and after. I think this one will be blooming again before summer ends.

But the day we left the sun rose on beautiful tropical Jamaica tempting us to find a a way to stay. But that temptation didn't last, and soon we were on our way to the airport. Once there, power outages (don't you think a generator at an airport would be a good idea?) caused delays and frustation among the hundreds of passengers. But the airline employees had the upper hand,and held their composure even though they had to process each passport and write out each ticket by hand.

The air was still and hot and the waiting areas were dark and we sat for a couple of hours with ipods and cameras. We sweated and we waited with the masses.

Finally our flight number was announced and we made our way to the plane, confident that within a few hours we would be home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No Prob, Mon

We arrived in Birmingham around 10:30 last night from Kingston, Jamaica, all safe and accounted for. The local media has picked up this story, and today (the first day of classes for us at UAB's School of Public Health) we held a press conference for them. You will hear students interviewed (and read in the paper), and see some pictures tonight (Wednesday) on TV. But only here will you get the true inside story on how we survived hurricane Dean. The satellite view was from NOAA and the graphics were from AccuWeather.

Really, all the interviews are truthful, and we never felt that our lives were threatened by the storm because our hosts from UWI Mona were trained in hurricane preparedness as were many of the students. The higher ups were aware of the storm as it was approaching, and did try to make arrangements for us to leave, but counting the San Diego State students there were about 30 people to move, and it couldn't be done.

We were glad to stay and complete our work in Kingston. We will benefit from the experience of the field work, and we will benefit from experiencing a category 4 hurricane together. So I think our group will benefit from this course more than any group in the past.

I will post stories about the storm and our work over the next few days. People seem to be most interested in the storm, so I will start there.

I said we never felt threatened, but in truth, Red Stripe and Appleton Estates helped ease the anxiety as the storm approached and pounded down on us.

Customary it seems in the United States is to spray paint plywood or sheets with messages for the approaching storm. We were low on sheets and used no plywood, but I sacrificed a shirt for the cause. It must have worked, because something made Dean slightly change his course and stay off the coast, if only for a few miles.

The winds at UWI were estimated to be 100-120 mph. The noise was bothersome, and came in with unpredictable frequency, from winds building in intensity over about 4 or 5 hours, then maintaining high intensity for a couple of hours, followed by several hours of decreasing intensity with unexpected strong bursts. There was lots and lots of rain, I'm not sure how much, I haven't seen the reports.

The day after the storm we assisted a little in cleaning up the area around our part of the campus, and in the afternoon a group went out to Mona Commons, a community they had done some previous work in and assisted them with recovery. They also delivered several hundred dollars of school supplies that we had brought for that community. I will put some "after" pictures on here tomorrow.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jamaica Part 3

Well here we go. It's Saturday August 18 and Dean will be here in about 28 hours. Our fun stuff has been cancelled, we were to go to Ocho Rios today for a day at the beach and waterfalls. No No.

We are hunkered down at UWI and have plenty of supplies and water. Our buildings are concrete and have withstood powerful storms before.

We have notified the U S. embassy of our presence, and have made contact plans for getting in touch with our loved ones in the states.

We are 28 Americans, from UAB and San Diego State University.The Jamaicans in our group are mostly public health workers from across the nation, so almost all have been called back to their parishes to prepare and assist in recovery.

Here is information about the storm: Maybe it will be current.

We are not sure of when the airport will reopen. Our tickets are for Tuesday, but there is a good chance there will be flooding at the airport and that building I wrote about earlier may just get blown away.

There is a lot I wouild like to write about regarding the good work we have done over the last few days, but that will just have to wait. Maybe we will be able to do some good work after the storm passes. When I get home I can write about the good stuff.

In the meantime read some of our journals at

See ya back in the states.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jamaica Part2

We are aware of Tropical Storm Dean, and are keeping an eye on him. We are not near the coast, so a storm surge will not affect us. We are in secure concrete block buildings with hurricane shutters so we are not worried. For those who don't know, as of this morning Dean was a Tropical Storm in the Atlantic, barreling toward Jamaica, and the National Weather Service has it centered over Jamaica on Monday as a hurricane.

Here are some pics. First the flowers.

These trees are all over the place.

And so are these with the yellow flowers

And this orange flowered tree.

Here is a mosquito larvae picture I took

Here is part of our mosquito group in the lab

This is the whole UAB Group, including me.

This pretty dragonfly was near a sugar cane field where we were collecting larvae.

Who knows when I will be back on here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In Kingston

I have been here in Kingston for 48 hours and still can not call out. This is my second opportunity to use the computer, so here are some pictures.

This is the part of the compound on campus that I am staying in. There are several of these and we are spread out among them.

Here is the entrance to my corner. I have a little room downstairs, not the whole thing.

This is Stephanie Fletcher, and she can sing. She is also a pubic health officer here in Jamaica, and is part of our mosquito control group. Here she is entertaining us at dinner Saturday night with a little Jamaican music.

I know you would be bored with the public health that we are learning, but we did visit a water treatment plant and here are some of us sitting on the edge of the reservoir listening to Mr. Bean tell us about the plant.

And here is the reservoir itself, surrounded by the Jamaican mountains, it is beautiful.

The lady in pink here lives nearby and jogs around the reservoir a few days a week. What a great place to jog.

At the Wastewater treatment plant we visited we ran across this guy who climbed a tree and tossed fruit down to us to eat. When I find out the name of it I will let you know.

More in a day or two I hope.