Monday, April 30, 2007

Heartaches and heartbreaks

THE BEARDED GIANT of a man glided through the warm November fog in his new Caddy convertible. His arm hung out the window as he and a butner headed for a cattle sale near Kitchener, Ontario.
His muscular physique had, seemingly, been destined for a football career and he even coveted a lengthy time in wrestling.
Following the cattle sale, the smiling Giant and his buddy retired to a pub and cooled off with a half dozen beers.
In the hours that followed, he noticed a sharp pain searing through his left shoulder. The Giant shook it off for he'd had much more severe pain on the playing field. However, overnight, his life changed forever.
The pain intensified. His friends convinced him liquor would soothe the ache that now spread throughout his body. The booze didn't help as he poured quarts down his throat.
With him lapsing into a semi-conscious state, a hospital ambulance was summoned; however, with so much liquor in his body, his doctor was livid and it took an entire weekend for the effects of the liquor to dissipate.
The series of tests followed with biopsies, spinal taps and prodding of his semi-conscious body and suddenly he started dropping weight from 270 to below 200 pounds. His frailness became noticeable to his friends and family in Hamilton General Hospital.
Soon his hands and arms were paralyzed and all muscle tone disappeared. Some thought it was Lou Gehrig's Disease -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- named after the magnificent Yankee teammate of Babe Ruth. The great Iron Horse lost his skills in dramatic fashion in 1939 as old-time New York sportswriter Joe Williams noted: "We could almost hear his bones creak."
However, the Giant's doctor ruled it as "just a virus," even though he had no movement in his hands and depended even on others to assist him in opening a door or turning a TV knob. Over the period of a year, he was able to function again and he returned to his newspaper career, although his athletic career faded. It was years later that I was diagnosed to having Guilliane-Barre' syndrome. Dealing with it has been a struggle; however, it's another disease that seems incurable like Lou Gehrig's Disease that has taken so many lives of young and aspiring athletes.
Such related illnesses are often associated with playing on contaminated surfaces, such as chemical dumps. I know I have.
Take for instance, three players from the 1964 San Francisco Forty-Niners, who were diagnosed as having ALS. Running back Gary Lewis and Matt Hazeltine died in 1987 while quarterback Bob Waters also was felled by it.
Was it drugs? Was it the environment? Was it something sprayed on the practice field that triggered a breakdown in the body's immune system? Was it coincidence?
The questions after all these years still go unanswered.
A skilled linebacker friend of mine, who played on a chemical dump in the Toronto area throughout his career, diagnosed the problem just before he died of ALS. "It was the playing surface," the unidentified athlete, we'll call him Sam, told me. It was tragic as he faded into a frail, old man. Although only in his late 20s, Sam appeared as being in his late 80s.
ALS Canada has sent Dr. Donald McLachlan, a University of Toronto research neurologist, to Guam on several occasions to uncover a clue to the enigmatic killer, for on the U.S. Pacific island the incidences are 100 times greater than the norm. In the late 1980s, the disease struck 3,500 Americans -- two out of every 100,000 Americans -- annually.
Dr. McLachlan also had been probing into the relationship between Alzheimer's Disease and ALS, for he has noticed similarities, particularly in the concentration of aluminum, during autopsies on the brains of the victims of the two diseases.
There's another peculiar aspect to ALS, notably in Canada, in that the incidences are greater in three separate pockets: one in Nova Scotia, one in British Columbia and in the Windsor-Essex areas of Ontario.
However, not only athletes have been struck down, but distinguished actors such as the late David Niven. In the last few years of his life, Niven was a far cry from the dashing and energetic man who graced the movie screens and who was the author of a number of best-selling novels. ALS took an insidious toll of Niven's body, taking the use of his voice box, with Rich Little dubbing in Niven's unmistakable and distinguished speech.
It seems ALS has no cure and its victims are fated to die an early death.
As for Guillaine-Barre', it has no known cure, but its victims usually live productive lives. It has lingering effects, for each morning I wake up with numbness in my hands, arms and legs and my muscles have weakened a once strong man.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's a Blog World after all

THE LATE, GREAT Lewis Grizzard once wrote "these fingertips have never, and will never, touch one key on any sort of computer."
And somehow, the humourous columnist struggled through with the adage of: "Listen, you imbecile, there is only one way anybody should compose and that is upon a manual typewriter."
Some how, after a mountain high pile of scribblings, I sometimes wish I had listened to Lewis' advice. But I didn't. Instead during the past couple of decades, my knowledge has expanded from computers, which always seemed to malfunction, to advanced technology and now, within the past six months, I have "graduated" to the edge of another universe, called blogging.
As I've said before, the question is no longer "what's your sign?" but has sprouted into "what's your blog sign-on?"
And so in order to show my knowledge in this "art," I'm ready to give a few lessons from How Stuff
So what is a blog, Professor?
Well, as the manual says, "a blog is a lot like an online journal or diary. The author can talk about anything and everything. Many blogs are full of interesting links that the author has found. Blogs often contain stories or little snippets of information that are interesting to the author."
However, that doesn't mean I'm about to tell you how I almost landed the "Big One" off Bass River on my blogs.
So, I'll just continue:
"Even though blogs can be completely free-form, many blogs have a focus. For example, if a blogger is interested in technology, the blogger might go to the Computer Electronics Show and post entries of the things he/she sees there. If a blogger is interested in a certain disease, he/she might post every news article and every piece of research he/she finds on the disease."
Say, Corbett, you're typing up all that information from the website, aren't you?
Alright, you caught me, but they are a great boon to a reporter, who's pressed for time and without much effort, he/she can get a new perspective, for as the howstuffworks site said, "there are now millions of them."
For a writer, who now has created at least five blogs, stuffed with columns and other trivia, it's been great, but what would Lewis think?
I think I know the answer, for Grizzard, if he were alive today, he would still be advocating the use of a manual typewriter and even citing the Bible as a reference point.
"Then they ask, "Where in the Bible?" Lewis wrote. "And I say, "The book of Royal," and they say there is no book of Royal in the Bible, and by that time I'm halfway down the street and the conversation is over." Incidentally, Royal was the name of the typewriter brand he always used.
To make another point, the man with the Southern drawl, cited the computer virus as the bane of society with these words: "It's been all over the news that something called Michelangelo, probably an evil spirit, could get into computers and wipe out everything stored in them. Great industries could be brought to their knees. Kingdoms could crumble. Authors could kill themselves in droves."
Then he also offered this bit of wisdom: "Do you think if Margaret Mitchell had done "Gone With the Wind" on a computer, and it had disappeared because of a dog's indiscretion, she would have gone to all the trouble of rewriting GWTW?"
Perhaps, it's fortunate that Lewis Grizzard has passed on to that Great Typewriter Heaven in the sky. After all, he would cringe at a veteran scribbler not only knowing how to blog, but also considering learning about iPods, etc.
CRY ME A RIVER: Although I promised not to haul out The Book of Lists again, a couple of "criers" made me do it. Yes, two hockey players made the List: Todd Bertuzzi and the Great One, no not Sid Crosby, but Wayne Gretzky ... Big Bertuzzi, once with the Vancouver Canucks and now with the Detroit Red Wings, bashed Colorado's Steve Moore with a sucker punch back in March 2004. Two days later, he broke down in tears before the media. As for the Phoenix Coyotes' head coach, who has now lost most of his front-office support staff including GM Mike Barnett, Gretzky has been long remembered for his tearful farewell from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988. Who ever said grown men don't cry?
FINALLY: Who said the Ol' Columnist doesn't get any e-mail? Just in the last 24 hours, I've heard from such suspects and their one-liners as Oscar Vegas: Getting thinner can be enjoyable ... Sidney Maxwell: Become fit and happy ... Gerald Baez: Look in the mirror and enjoy yourself ... Betsy Whitt: Obesity is dangerous, stop it. Incidentally, I didn't open any of this "hazardous" material even though I should lose the weight.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Return of The Exorcist 2007

WAS ANNA NICOLE SMITH demon-possessed?
After Bob Larson, the well-known exorcist, appeared on the Dr. Phil television program Tuesday afternoon, that highly-flammable topic will now be discussed throughout millions of households.
On Larson's website, he stated her death came as no shock. In fact, the energetic red-haired preacher was surprised she'd lived so long.
"The autopsy will only tell what physically killed her, not the spiritual reason behind her death. Anna Nicole was set up by Satan. Generational and family curses were hanging over her head from the day she was born. These curses grew stronger the longer she lived."
Then Rev. Larson reiterated his belief about the former Playboy Playmate with these words: "Although her life seemed to be rich and glamorous, it was not always like that. She hungered for attention.
"In one interview she said, 'I love the paparazzi ... I've always liked attention. I didn't get it very much growing up and I always wanted to be, you know, noticed.'
"Why didn't she get attention growing up? It probably had to do with the fact that her father abandoned her at a very young age. In a 2004 People magazine interview she said, 'I don't have any good memories from Christmas when I was a girl.'
"Her mother raised Anna (known as Vicki Lynn Hogan) as a single parent. This curse of abandonment literally turned her over to the devil. If her mother had known what do do, she could have broken the curse. Anna's life indicates that her mother did not break the curse."
Rev. Bob went on to state that "when she was a child, Ms. Smith declared she wanted to grow up to be like Marilyn Munroe. Well, she succeeded, down to the circumstances of her death. By wanting to be like Marilyn Monroe, Ms. Smith spoke a curse over her life and the devil used it to his evil advantage."
Then Larson went on to claim that besides Anna Nicole being born with a curse, so was her son, the now deceased Daniel, and "so was her new baby daughter that lawyers and ex-lovers are fighting over."
Demon possession would seem to be a fringe subject for late-night movies and even later late, late, late talk shows, but now Dr. Phil has brought it into the daylight.
In exploring the subject with Larson, who has been performing exorcisms for more than 30 years, he outlined on his website a litany of factors from demons and diseases; when is a person ready for an exorcism; to even where a demon goes when he's cast out.
So where do demons go?
This was Rev. Bob's answer: "I have cast out hundreds of demons, commanding every one of them to go to the pit. Every time I have cast demons to the pit, they have pleaded not to be sent there. I've confronted demons that screamed, writhed and begged to avoid the pit. As a practical matter, any place a demon doesn't want to go is where I want to send them."
Larson's expertise in the area of cults, the occult and supernatural phenomena has been sought throughout the world. He's appeared on Oprah, Donahue, Montel, Sally Jessie, Larry King Live, The O'Reilly Factor and, of course, Dr. Phil. Besides the TV talk shows and newspaper features, he's written some 30 books, including four best-selling novels, Dead Air, Abaddon, The Senator's Agenda and Shock Talk and others on such topics as In the Name of Satan and Extreme Evil: Kids Killing Kids.
Of course, Dr. Phil was correct in asking numerous questions, particularly the major one of whether the reverend was just on a witch hunt.
As for this investigative reporter (ID* Investigative Day), the subject of devil worship and exorcism has tweaked my interest in the past, however, it's been dormant for more than 20 years now, and for a valid reason.
In the 1980s, as an assistant to a well-known Canadian evangelist, I encountered something out of "The Exorcist" on at least one occasion.
While an exorcism was being performed, a small woman, about five feet tall and weighing in the neighbourhood of 110 pounds, growled and snarled, and threw three large men aside as if they were toothpicks. Her darting eyes still are ingrained in my memory bank.
Whether she was demon possessed is a matter of conjecture, but it was enough for me to leave the subject on the backburner until now.

Monday, April 23, 2007

There she is ... Miss America 1944

OLD AGE has failed to slow down Venus Ramey.
And at 82 she has managed to thrust herself back in the headlines because of her tenacity.
For certain, there are other more descriptive words, but tenacity will do for now.
At an age when most seniors start to mellow, Venus Ramey, is just beginning to show that the red in her hair means something.
The other day, a guy named Curtis Parrish from Ohio and apparently others decided to "invade" her farm near Waynesburg, Ky. It was a bad idea.
When Miss Venus saw her dog run into a storage building, she knew something was up. And sure enough, apparently the scoundrels were trying to steal some old farm equipment.
They had been caught red-handed and one of them told her they were just leaving.
Well, Miss Venus wasn't having any of that and balancing on her walker she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-calibre handgun and plugged the intruder's tires.
In an AP news story, she was quoted as saying, "I'm trying to live a quiet, peaceful life and stay out of trouble, and all it is, is one thing after another."
And that should be the end of the story, but there's more, for Venus Ramey happens to be Miss America of 1944 and she's been a "fighter," all her life.
In peering into the Miss America scrapbook, it showed Venus had solid roots, for a relative fought in the Revolutionary War, a grandfather was a Kentucky state senator and her father was a Kentucky State Representative in 1934.
Venus showed her passion for politics by becoming a page in the Kentucky House and then she left for Washington, D.C.
She was never one to stay idle and with a flair for dancing, singing and comedy, Venus entered and won the Miss Washington D.C. title and then went on to claim the Miss America 1944 title, and without missing a beat she proceeded to sell war bonds.
According to the Miss America website, her picture was pasted on a B-17 fighter plane and that plane made 68 sorties over war-torn Germany without losing a man.
In 1945 she worked for Senator Kaper of Kansas and Congressman Somner of Missouri on the "suffrage" bill and, in 1947, Warner Brothers tried to sign her up for a Hollywood film, but by that time she was fed up with show biz.
Although Venus Ramey returned to Kentucky and her tobaco farm, where she married and raised two sons, her name never seemed to disappear from the newswires.
She ran for a seat in the Kentucky House on educational issues as well as trying to eradicate the word "illegitimate" from the birth certificates of "innocent children." And she even has had her own radio show and was publisher of a political newspaper.
One of her major achievements was getting the Over-The-Rhine area listed on the U.S. Registry of Historic Places in the 1970s.
And then her name faded; that was until just the other day when she fired her snub-nosed .38 at an intruder's get-away vehicle.
Now, the culprit and the world know of Miss Venus' tenacity.
Alright, since we're introduced you to Miss Venus, it might be interesting to find out who preceded her and who followed her as Miss America.
In 1943, soprano Jean Bartel from Los Angeles took the crown by singing Cole Porter's Night and Day.
While the pageant had been awash with bathing suits, Bartel refused to pose in one after taking the title and then she went on a Bond-selling tour.
Later, Bartel starred in a Broadway musical; worked in radio and TV on such shows as The Red Skelton Show, The Danny Thomas Show, Perry Mason and she even has had her own production called, It's a Woman's World.
Later she would run her own travel agency as well as being active in church work.
On September 17, 1945, a Time Magazine article read: "Atlantic City, once a mecca for giggling cuties in Mack Sennett bathing suits, abandoned itself for five days last week to a ponderous appraisal of the female mind. The occasion: the annual Miss America contest. The prize: a $5,000 college scholarship on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The winner: Miss New York City, a Hunter College graduate named Bess Myerson, who excels at the flute and pianoforte."
Then the last paragraph of the article read: "On the last night of this unique academic process Miss America 1945 was crowned by Miss America of 1944, a typist named Venus Ramey, who seemed more the physical than the intellectual type. It was obvious that the winner deserved her victory. She had been cool and ladylike throughout and had played Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor without a bobble. She also looked good in a bathing suit."
Bess Myerson also made a name for herself, having appearing in various TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s and being involved in controversial New York City politics in the 1970s and 1980s.
In recent years, although ailing, she has been involved in social causes and philanthropy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When evil walked the hallways

Tuesday, April 17/07
WHEN 23-year-old South Korean-born student, Cho Seung-Hui, shot and killed fellow Virginia Tech students and teachers, most at point-blank range, it brought to the forefront the disturbing question of Why?
His identity has been determined, but the reasons for his murderous behaviour on the sprawling Blacksburg, Va. campus, which is home to at least 26,000 students, remains. However, a note uncovered by the Chicago Tribune, may give a clue to the killer's state of mind. That note rails about "rich kids" on campus, "debauchery" and "deceit" by "charlatans." He signed the note "Ismail Ax" in red ink.
Of course, the Virginia Tech massacre follows in an ever-growing list of "killing fields," which has even included Canada. The most notable being the 14 women slaughtered in the corridors of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique by 25-year-old Marc Lepine on Dec. 6, 1989. Lepine, who would kill himself, actually separated the men from the women and then opened fire on the female engineering students while screaming, "I hate feminists."
However, such shootings on a massive scale stretches back to August 1, 1966 when Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the tower at the University of Texas and opened fire. He murdered 15, including his mother and his wife the night before.
And who can forget about the milkman who shot 10 Amish girls in a picture-book Pennsylvania schoolhouse in October 2006?
Or who can forget Columbine?
In April 1999, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wiped out the hopes and dreams of 12 fellow students and a teacher in the Colorado high school.
All these mass killings, including the Virginia Tech madness, had, seemingly, been pre-mediated.
While the previous massacres have been as a result of gunfire, the most savage attack came as a result of three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan on May 18, 1927. In this deadliest mass murder in U.S. school history, farmer Andrew Kehoe slaughtered 45 people and injured 58.
In trying to piece together Kehoe's rampage, it seems as a school board member he was furious over a property tax that had been levied to fund the school building and, in turn, he blamed the additional tax on causing foreclosure on his farm.
Kehoe "snapped" over a period of many months.
After killing his wife on the morning of May 18, he set his farm buildings on fire and as the firefighters arrived at his farm, a devastating explosion occurred at the school building. Kehoe had secretly planted dynamite and hundreds of pounds of pyrotol inside the school and he set it off with a detonator.
However, Kehoe wasn't finished with his deadly rampage. He drove over to the school area; denotated a bomb inside his shrapnel-filled vehicle, killing himself and the school superintendent.
As with most killers, Kehoe had a sordid history.
It seems when he was 14, the family's stove exploded as his stepmother was attempting to light it. According to Wikipedia, the oil fueling the stove soaked her, and the flames set her on fire. Andrew watched his hated stepmother burn for a few minutes before dumping a bucket of water on her. She would later die from the injuries. The stove malfunction was left unresolved, and Kehoe was never charged.
Among Kehoe's attack were children in the second to sixth grades attending the Bath Consolidated School.
Now nearly 80 years later, the Virginia Tech slaughter took 33 lives of the learning and teaching elite and one sullen gunman.
As expected, the "copycats" are starting to come out of their holes as I knew they would.
While writing this column, there were reports of threats and lockdowns and even evacuations at universities in Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and two public schools in Louisiana.
* Bogalusa, Louisiana High School and Middle School and Bowling Green School, Franklinton, La.: Man arrested for threatening mass killing.
* St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas: Threatening note found.
* University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, Tenn.: Telephone bomb threat.
* University of Oklahoma: Man spotted carrying a suspicious object. It was an umbrella, not a weapon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stem-cell therapy for diabetics

Wednesday, April 11, 2007, 4:15 a.m.
SINCE I HAVE been a diabetic since the 1970s, the following report from The (London) Times caught my eye this morning:

Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again.
In a breakthrough trial, 15 young patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were given drugs to suppress their immune systems followed by transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.
The results show that insulin-dependent diabetics can be freed from reliance on needles by an injection of their own stem cells. The therapy could signal a revolution in the treatment of the condition, which affects more than 300,000 Britons.
People with type 1 diabetes have to give themselves regular injections to control blood-sugar levels, as their ability to create the hormone naturally is destroyed by an immune disorder.
All but two of the volunteers in the trial, details of which are published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), do not need daily insulin injections up to three years after stopping their treatment regimes.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Trying to keep up with the Jones Boys (April 8/07)

CONNOR and KELLEN JONES are certainly a pair of "cool" customers, on and off the ice.
While others would expect two 16-year-olds to be a bundle of nerves, they have been far from it, acting with the professionalism of two veterans of the ice wars.
Tonight in Nanaimo's Frank Crane Arena, the spotlight will probably be on the "name" stars from the visiting Vernon Vipers, who will battle the hometown Clippers in the first game of the best-of-seven BCHL championship series, but the Jones Boys, up from the KIJHL's Beaver Valley Nitehawks, along with their "major midget" linemate, David Robinson, from the Kelowna-based Okanagan Rockets, could steal the show.
They have in the past.
In fact, Connor has scored three goals along with five assists for eight points in 10 Vernon playoff games while brother, Kellen, has collected seven points with three goals and four assists in an equal number of games. Linemate Robinson has two goals and four assists in six games.
And while the veterans such as Hunter Bishop, Andrew Coburn, Patrick Cey, Mike Ullrich, Kyle St. Denis and others have been the club's mainstays, during the playoff doldrums it has been the Jones Boys and Robinson, who have shown their savvy in thrusting the Vipers past Trail and Penticton in the Interior playoffs.
Of course, the Jones' twins were "superstars" with the Junior B Nitehawks, coached and managed by their father, Terry, who was on the 1983 Memorial Cup-winning Portland Winter Hawks.
Although they played most of the past season with the Nitehawks, Connor scored one goal and had two assists for three points after being called up for two regular-season games with the Vipers while Kellen picked up an assist in his two games. Robinson, the captain of the Rockets, played four games with Vernon although he didn't record any points.
To illustrate their nerves of steel, the Grade 11 students were being "marked" by their teacher, Bernie Pimm, in the Vernon office while a few halleujahs and amens seeped through the walls from the more than 1,200 attending the Good Friday services in the Vernon Multiplex.
Then the two retired from the tests to the team's dressing room where the veteran teacher turned associate coach Pimm gave some last-minute instructions before the Interior Conference champions headed for Nanaimo.
Then the pair took time out to be interviewed.
Although they've had terrific success during their tenure with the Mark Holick-coached Vipers, it's not known if they will return next season. They'll make that decision over the summer.
As for their linemate Robinson, they said in unison: "He fitted in because he plays like us."
Both have found the BCHL "a little quicker and you have to think a little faster."
As for their next opponent, they had the same answer: "We don't know anything about Nanaimo since we haven't played them this year ... We'll just go out and play."
Of course, the Clippers haven't seen the likes of the line of Connor and Kellen Jones along with David Robinson. With their speed and agility the Coastal Conference champions might not be ready for such a surprise.
THAT'S ICE: The Clippers boast such standouts as rookie Russell Goodman, Cody Danberg, Kyle Ostrow, Max Grassi, Mikael Bedard and Joe Bitz. They reached the BCHL final by eliminating the Cowichan Valley Capitals four games to two. The Vipers, meanwhile, stopped the Penticton Vees 4-1 in the Interior final.