Walnut St. Music Academy – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Autumn 2020

This audio clip is from the Sunday November 8, 2020 WSMA jam session. Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is presented here, as the afternoon sun descended on a warm autumn day. This was one of the last outdoor sessions of WSMA in 2020. See link below for more about the Walnut St. Music Academy in Holden, MA.

Audio clip: Walnut St. Music Academy performing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Walnut St. Music Academy

Appalachian Fall: Dispatches from Coal Country on What’s Ailing America by Jeff Young and the Ohio Valley ReSource Team

The Appalachia region of the eastern United States stretches from New York state to the southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. As of 2010, more than 25 million people live in this region. The rich deposits of coal and oil was the foundation of America’s Industrial Revolution. For the past 50 years, poverty has been the main attribute of Appalachia. It also made for a toxic recipe of environmental disasters and corporate and government corruption that exists to this day.

In Jeff Young’s book, he and his team Ohio Valley Resource, explores the Appalachian culture and the many aspects of economic woes are bearing out in other parts of the United States today. “The Ohio Valley ReSource (Young is their managing editor) is a regional journalism collaborative reporting on economic and social change in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven public media outlets across the three states have partnered to form the ReSource in order to strengthen news coverage of the area’s most important issues. As the journalism industry, primarily print media, has been in rapid decline, ReSource fills a critical role in reporting aspects of Appalachia, long discarded by the national news media.”

Source: https://ohiovalleyresource.org/

Canary in a Coal Mine

The premise of Appalachian Fall is a microcosm of the problems facing the entire United States; the underlying poverty was evident for several decades going back to the 1960s, the opioid crisis, and environmental pollution are now widespread in our country. Government and corporate corruption has been in abundance. During the past 40 years, the rich have gotten richer, and the poor left behind to fend for themselves. Forgotten by the common man.

In 2016, the downward spiral of the coal industry continued at a frenetic pace. Candidate Donald J. Trump seized upon the fear and restlessness of those in West Virginia, the heart of coal country. Trump touted the return of coal is a primary source of energy, offering followers a promise of folly, a return of the good ol’ days.. From a 2016 Vanity Fair article by John Saward: “One afternoon at the Bluebird store in Clarksburg (W.VA)—part diner, grocery store, and social club—I meet Shane Shreves, a fourth-generation union coal miner. He wants Trump to be president. In 2015, he says, he lost 262 miners to layoffs at his mine alone, Robinson Run No. 95. “Coal has carried West Virginia on its back for 200 years,” he tells me. “It’s built schools. Communities. It’s not anger [we feel here], really, it’s just very frustrating.” Eric Leaseburg, the owner of the store, sits down at a big round table with us. He has a full plate of food in front of him. Shreves finishes a thought, and then Leaseburg says, as he loads up his fork, “I don’t even know if [West Virginians] want to see Trump president, but they’re just that pissed off.”

Source: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/02/donald-trump-supporters-west-virginia

In 2020, Trump remains highly popular in the state of West Virginia, many are convinced he is the ‘outside-the-beltway businessman, who gets things done’, and unable to detach from this hardened stance. Source: https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president/west-virginia

The Future for Appalachia

American Electric Power (AEP) provides energy services to Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. AEP has been actively transitioning from fossil fuel sources to wind, solar and other sustainable resources. There’s been a major shift transitioning from coal to alternative forms of energy.

Source: https://www.aep.com/about/facts

Energy companies like AEP see the writing on the wall. In 2020, Exxon/Mobile was dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2020, which had been part of the Dow since 1928.

It is a fool’s errand to believe there is future in fossil fuels, and any corporation or politician who says otherwise, is leading you down a primrose lane. The coal industry is dead – and transition to other methods of greenhouse sustainable energy (Wind, Solar) is what is needed for the Appalachia commerce-driven engine, and a primary path forward for this region of America.

Rebecca Shelton is the Coordinator of Policy and Organizing for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg Kentucky. In her article, she writes:

“For years, Kentuckians have advocated for federal investment to diversify and rebuild the economy and address the legacy costs of coal mining. We’ve advocated for investment to clean up abandoned mine lands and revitalize public water infrastructure — investment that can create immediate jobs in spite of an economic recession. This pandemic has also made clear that investment in broadband is critical and that expanded unemployment benefits have value. We wonder what $600 a week in jobless benefits could have meant to the thousands of coal miners affected by coal company lay-offs and bankruptcies. Increased unemployment helps families meet their basic needs and benefits the economy.

We are one among many calling for investment in coal communities. Recently, these issues and more have been lifted up in the National Economic Transition and Reimagine Appalachia platforms and through a letter written to congressional leadership and signed by over 100 organizations. Colorado recently completed a draft plan to support coal industry workers and communities – isn’t it time for Kentucky to write ours?

We need federal aid today to keep our communities safe, to meet basic needs, and to keep our government budgets afloat, but we also need Congressional action to build healthier communities and more resilient economies tomorrow.” Source: https://www.kentucky.com/article245200340.html

“The kind of challenges and conditions that Appalachians have been dealing with are now become the rest of the country’s,” – Jeff Young

The Ohio Valley Resource team
The Cost of Coal: Mountaintop-removal mines in Appalachia have demolished an estimated 1.4 million acres of forested hills, buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams, poisoned drinking water, and wiped whole towns from the map. -Sierra Club

Corruption: The Circle of Lies

Similar to what was described in Rachel Maddow’s book “Blowout”, Oklahoma politicians married with Oil and Gas company executives to reduce taxes for municipal funding in Oklahoma. “Billions of dollars were pocketed by the oil/gas outfits, and a pittance provided to the state of Oklahoma. The back-room, sweetheart deals for the oil/gas fat cats were well greased by the slimy Oklahoma politicians.” (See my previous book review of “Blowout” here.)

“Now that the coal industry is in decline, some companies are trying to offload their obligations to clean up the land and water they have polluted. Without our careful involvement, the financial deals hatched in bankruptcy proceedings could undo all our hard work to secure cleaner streams and forests.” -Appalachian Mountain Advocates (www.appalmad.org). As West Virginia Governor, Jim Justice sits atop a perch of corruption. In July 2020, “A federal judge has ruled a coal company owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is liable for more than 3,000 violations of federal clean water standards stemming from pollution discharged from a coal mine in southern West Virginia.”

Source: https://www.wvpublic.org/post/judge-rules-justice-controlled-coal-company-liable-pollution-violations-wva-mine#stream/0

The people of Appalachia are tired. Tired of the economic disparities and lack of available meaningful jobs to uplift from widespread poverty. Tired of the heartache of losing loved ones due to over-prescribed prescription pain meds enhancing the opioid crisis, purposefully brought on by pharmaceutical companies, while politicians looked the other way. Tired of being made a laughingstock, and constantly ignored by east and west coast media-elites, and of those in power in Washington D.C. Tired of promises made, and then broken, time and time again. Tired of polluted waters and airways, and lack of decent healthcare. It is past time for the United States to provide reparations to all of Appalachia, to a proud and hard-working people, who built this country during the Industrial Revolution.


Venetian Gondola – Felix Mendelssohn arr. B. Podesta

“Italy at last! And every possible delight I imagined, has now started and I enjoy it very much,” composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his family from Venice, Italy on October 11, 1830. 1

This piece begins with a left-hand motive, evoking the sounds of soft and steady water movements. It is in a triple meter (6/8), and the right hand soon opens up and, carried by the floating boat, turns into a beautiful melody like an aria from an Italian opera.

Mendelssohn wrote a total of 5 gondola pieces. Perhaps the three best known are the above mentioned Op. 19b No. 6 in G Minor (October 1830), the Venetian Boatsongs Op. 30 No. 6 in F Sharp Minor (March 1835), and Op. 62 No. 5 in A Minor (January 1841).

Venetian Boatsong Op. 30 No. 6 in F Sharp Minor (March 1835)
F.Mendelssohn arr. B.Podesta



For Their Blood Burns Wild by Silas Barrow

Eugenics – is a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population, historically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior and promoting those judged to be superior.

In Silas Barrow’s ‘For Their Blood Burns Wild’, this fictional account of the use of eugenics is the premise of an altered-reality society in the United States. Those families who are not of a certain class, or have physical/emotional issues, are driven to the underground and forced to live as sub-humans, like rats. With a nod to mirroring today’s society, it’s a battle between the haves and the have nots; rich against poor, healthy versus the un-well. The rich and powerful demonize the have nots; they are forced from society to live underground, and marked as illegitimate.

Dystopia – is defined are characterized as dehumanizing, tyrannical governments, and disaster of the environment. The struggle to find good food, clean water, and avoiding harsh punishment by those who live above ground, are all central to Barrow’s book.
“Being Pretty”, a dystopian animated short film. Created by David James Armsby

This descriptive tale kept me glued throughout each chapter. Silas Barrow’s ‘For Their Blood Burns Wild’ is storytelling at it’s finest.

Source: azquotes.com

Follow this link to purchase a copy of this book:



A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet by Sarah Jaquette Ray

Sarah Jaquette Ray teaches environmental studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. In her book “How to Keep Cool on a Warming Planet”, Ray provides a field guide for practical approaches to address climate change. Weaving layers of insight from psychology, mindfulness and social movements, the importance of staying focused on activities to cultivate resilience are key components to staying positive and healthy. This is not a book about climate change, rather, a self-help instructional resource not just for Gen X and Z’ers most affected by the changing climate, but for all other generations. (Yes, even Baby Boomers).

2018 – A Year of Extreme Weather Events

Ray’s book performs an outstanding service to many who develop powerless feelings to overcome the dire consequences of inaction. Daily news cycles are flooded with death and destruction, with climate change being a negative denominator, intense weather events worldwide capture the gloom and doom reporting of today’s mainstream outlets. (Fear sells: “If It Bleeds, It Leads”, has been the media’s longstanding motto). Ray’s guide book provides a well-founded series of tools for those in dire need of positive reinforcement and direction.

“Because climate change affects people unevenly across racial and economic lines, and because Gen Z is the most diverse generation the U.S. has ever seen, they are better able to draw connections between big oil, the wealth gap, and environmental exploitation.” – Sarah Jaquette Ray https://edgeeffects.net/climate-generation/

Sarah Jaquette Ray on “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet” (16 minutes)

New Climate Change Terminology

Ray’s book provides an array of new terminology as part of the climate change, as well as ongoing social change throughout the world. Here are a few examples:

Eco-guilt: Guilt about how race, class, gender, ability, or zip code can compound suffering.

Solastalgia – Feelings people have when their environments undergo radical change or degradation

Ecological Footprint: A task for people to understand the impacts of their consumption habits (what they eat, what they buy, how often the fly in airplanes, etc).

“A Field To Climate Anxiety: How To Keep Cool On A Warming Planet” is an excellent resource during our challenging times. The tools inherent in Sarah Jaquette Ray’s book provide concrete steps for us to take. As Ray writes: “Let us stop pretending Climate Change is merely a battle between facts and alternative facts.”

Resources for the Environment

Below are a list of resources I use about Climate Change, and to understand the latest news and be informed.

Yes Magazine – Environment:


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Sunrise Movement – Green New Deal

1950-2016: https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/101/video-global-temperature-variation/


Hiding in Plain Sight – The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior

Sarah Kendzior, a journalist and writer from St. Louis Missouri, covers a history of the past forty years of American decline and how Trump and his people in business, politics, and the media enabled and benefited from criminal activities, spanning the globe. Her book is also the story of what it’s like to live in an America dominated by a “transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government”, as Sarah puts it.  Back in August 2013, Foreign Policy named her one of “the 100 people you should be following on Twitter to make sense of global events”. 

If you want to understand where we’re going, you need to know the truth about how we got here.


Sarah Kendzior


Kendzior’s background is well suited for understanding Trump, his administration, many in the Republican party, as well devout media organizations such as Fox, OANN, Brietbart , Infowars, Sinclair Broadcasting, and others, allowing to amplify fear and hate, as well as sow divisions within American citizenry.  She has a PhD in anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis (2012) and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University (2006). Her work focuses on the authoritarian states of the former Soviet Union and how the internet affects political mobilization, self-expression, and trust. Her deep knowledge of authoritarian regimes around the world. provides for a solid understanding of how the United States and other countries adopted authoritarian-style politics.

Yellow Journalism that causes harm.

Yellow, or tabloid, journalism is not new to America. Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspapers presented little or no legitimate well-researched news while instead using eye-catching headlines for increased sales.

Kendzior explains how today’s media outlets are using the same tactics.

Sarah Kendzior addressing Brietbart and their negative impact to society.

“The story of Trump’s rise to power is the story of a buried US history — buried because powerful people liked it that way. It was visible without being seen, influential without being named, ubiquitous without being overt.” Sarah Kendzior, 2020.


Social media has grown exponentially during the 2010’s. So has the ability for anonymity, and the creation of automated bots to propel false and reckless information. I have witnessed some people become sucked into what I call the Trump Vortex. This vortex is a constant cycle of repeating what is fed by the likes of Fox, OANN, Brietbart and others. Critical thinking evaporates. Fear and hate is the primary achievement.

For President Obama’s two terms, tremendous progress had been made to address climate change, such as the transition from fossil fuels to green energy sources, and other advancements increasing solar and wind energy, combat gender-based wage discrimination, navigated the country out of a recession, provided healthcare to 28.6 million people, and considered the most pro-LBGTQ president in history. But what lacked was addressing income equality.

However, the rich continued to get richer during the Obama administration. Trump proclaimed during the 2016 campaign “…there is more than 40% unemployment.” And while the unemployment rate was at 5%, with a degradation of full-time employment, people were forced to work multiple part-time jobs, or work via contract with no slated benefits. (And those who worked part-time jobs less than 32 hours a week received no healthcare benefits).

The America of the past will always stay in the past. As we move onward, we’re faced with a multi-pronged storm of major consequences, and this, at times, is difficult to envision a healthy future. 2020 is turning out to be a combination of three terrible years of U.S. history: 1918 – pandemic, 1933 – depression and record number of people out of work, and 1968 – riots in the streets.

“You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have (chuckles), you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.” – Donald J. Trump, February 2014.


1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

Mann’s book 1491 provides insight into how America was prior to the arrival of Europeans. Traditionally, we learned in school that the ancestors of the people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere at the time of the Christopher Columbus landing had crossed the Bering Strait twelve thousand years ago; existed in nomadic bands; and lived so lightly on the land that the Americas was, for all practical purposes, still a vast wilderness. But as Mann makes clear, archaeologists and anthropologists have spent the last thirty years proving these and many other long-held assumptions wrong.

Charles C. Mann

“It is always easy for those living in the present to feel superior to those who lived in the past. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed.” – Charles C. Mann

Mann explores how European’s migrating to the western world brought with them communicable diseases, namely smallpox. Entire villages up and down the eastern seaboard of the now United States were completely wiped out by disease. Elizabeth Fenn, a historian at George Washington University, writes that the disaster on the northwest coast was but a small part of a continental pandemic that erupted near Boston in 1774 and cut down Indians from Mexico to Alaska.

The virus, an equal-opportunity killer, swept through the Continental Army and stopped the drive into Quebec. The American Revolution would be lost, Washington and other rebel leaders feared, if the contagion did to the colonists what it had done to the Indians. “The small Pox! The small Pox!” John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. “What shall We do with it?” In retrospect, Fenn says, “One of George Washington’s most brilliant moves was to inoculate the army against smallpox during the Valley Forge winter of ’78.” Without inoculation smallpox could easily have given the United States back to the British. (Source: The Atlantic 2002 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/03/1491/302445/ )

Another example of a virus wiping out entire populations in the new world is Spaniard Hernando de Soto. In 1539, he landed in the area of Tampa Bay Florida. Searching for gold, his expedition, with 200 horses, 600 soldiers, and 300 pigs, pillaged Indian villages throughout the southeast. the source of the contagion was very likely not Soto’s army but, his 300 pigs. These pigs were able to transmit their diseases to wildlife in the surrounding forest. When humans and animals live close together, they trade microbes freely. Over time new diseases are created: avian influenza becomes human influenza, bovine becomes measles. 

Excellent book by Charles Mann.


Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold

The Pandemic Influenza of 1918 (January 1918 – December 1920), swept across the entire world. The pandemic was far-reaching, including those living in the Pacific islands and in the Arctic. As U.S. troops fanned out across Europe during World War I, the pandemic affected 500 million globally, and claimed 21 million lives, including over 670,000 Americans (16% of the total U.S. population in 1918). Researchers have studied the pandemic and believe the deadly virus started in the U.S., primarily at military bases such as Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas. Soldiers from France and England visited Fort Funston for training U.S. troops. The spread of the disease ignited other flare-ups, as soldiers departed the U.S. to other bases in Europe.

Here in the U.S., measures to mitigate the spread of the virus to others in some cases were not adhered to. In Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco, planned parades to boost morale during the war effort (and to get people to buy war bonds) were scheduled. Both St. Louis and San Francisco opted not to have the parade, and heeded the advice of healthcare officials to postpone the event. Philadelphia, however, decided to have the parade. The result? More than 250,000 people died in Philadelphia.

1918 Deaths, Philadelphia and St. Louis

In Boston, 202 people died on just one day—October 1. Philadelphia later topped that record, with 700 deaths in one 24-hour period. The disease wasn’t discriminatory. It devastated urban populations like Pittsburgh and New York City but also hit vulnerable rural areas like Arkansas, where the public health infrastructure was essentially nonexistent. the missteps of 1918 seem eerily prescient: A lack of leadership from Washington, with the gaps filled unevenly at the state and local levels. Public officials who either lied, dissembled or made up facts. Hucksters who used popular media to misinform the public and make a quick buck in the process. Public health infrastructure that was inadequate to the challenge. And ordinary citizens who often refused to heed the warning of experts.

CBS News: 1918 Pandemic

As in 1918, the gaps in America’s health care infrastructure are potentially deadly. Every red state governor or legislator who refused the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid reimbursement has burdened its citizens with rural and small-town hospital closures. Their communities are unprepared for this disease. Many of their citizens suffer respiratory or immunodeficiency diseases that went untreated and have rendered them more susceptible to COVID-19. The absence of universal health coverage has contributed to poorer health, generally, and will likely encourage people everywhere, in red and blue states alike, to ration health care in precisely the moment when they should not.


Media Culpability

To maintain high morale, wartime censors purposefully blocked accurate record-keeping and accurate reporting of those afflicted and deaths. The 1918 Pandemic, it is often referred to as the “Spanish Flu” since the the media in Spain were allowed to openly report about the pandemic. Spain was a neutral country in World War I. In the U.S. wartime censors worked with the media, and quickly jumped on calling it the “Spanish Flu”, perpetrating the myth of the pandemic to be race-related. The U.S. media also promoted the disease was fanned by Germany, as an attempt to use as a biological weapon against the U.S., France and England. In 2020, it is disheartening the media-barons use the Coronavirus (instead, calling it the Chinese Flu), and once again race-baiting a global pandemic to scare people. Due to the lack of leadership from the Trump administration, including careless use of the term blaming China for the virus, increases the likliehood of hate-mongering towards Asian Americans.

The biggest lesson from the 1918 pandemic is clearly, to tell the truth. People can deal with the truth, it’s the unknown that is much scarier.” -John Barry

Three Waves of the 1918 Pandemic

The first waves of the pandemic hit during March of 1918. During the following six months, the flu spread sporadically across the globe. During September through November, a second wave hit with ferocity, claiming the most deaths during the pandemic. The final wave hit in 1919, and finally subsided by that summer.

Three Waves of 1918 Pandemic.

Worldwide, countries have focused efforts for pandemic preparedness. These programs include surveillance, diagnostics, screening of passengers traveling from a potential outbreak region, quarantine procedures, stockpiling antibiotics, antivirals, bacterial and viral vaccines and the distribution of medical supplies.

Sadly in the U.S., the Trump administration started cutting funding to the Center for Disease Control in 2018, and has proposed even further cuts for FY2021, yet to be voted on by Congress. https://fortune.com/2020/02/26/coronavirus-covid-19-cdc-budget-cuts-us-trump/

“We have it (Corona virus outbreak) so under control”. – President Donald J. Trump February 26, 2020

Final Thoughts

Catherine Arnold’s book provides deep insight into both the worldview and the U.S. responsiveness to a global pandemic. The stresses on various aspects of normal life, decent healthcare, proactive government planning and preparedness, are all acutely examined. Since the Pandemic of 1918, does the generational loss of history dilute current practices and perceptions?

The current COVID-19 pandemic is scary, and there’s no way around it. Our current generations have never faced this type of pandemic. But, we do have recorded history to learn from. Focus on your health, well-being, and the health and well-being of others. And, wash your hands.

Interview with Bill Gates, Microsoft – May 2015

Successful Aging by Daniel J. Levitin

Daniel J. Levitin is Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) in California, and the James McGill Professor of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal. He is the author of four consecutive New York Times bestselling books: This Is Your Brain On Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, as well as the international bestseller A Field Guide to Lies; his fifth book, Successful Aging was released January 2020.

Before becoming a neuroscientist, Levitin worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer, contributing to records by Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, and Blue Oyster Cult. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Billboard, and Grammy. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Cris Williamson, Victor Wooten, and Rodney Crowell.

Levitin writes psychological stresses caused by life events, such as a loss of a job, divorce, caretaking for family, and deaths of loved ones, all contribute to how this can leave long-standing trauma (and a shorter lifespan) if not not resolved.

The alternative, to be active, socially engaged, and excited about life, mood-enhancing natural hormones (serotonin, dopamine) increase our immune systems and repairs at the cellular level.

Daniel Levitin interviews the Dalai Lama, 2018
Successful Aging – Well-Being Score

Levitin writes happiness has a downward trend as people reach the age of 30, and sharply increases after the age of 54. (The Well-being score). This statistic holds true for every country in the world, from Albania to Zimbabwe.

The brain has an attentional mode called the “mind wandering mode” that was only recently identified. This is when thoughts move seamlessly from one to another, often to unrelated thoughts, without you controlling where they go. This brain state acts as a neural reset button, allowing us to come back to our work with a refreshed perspective. Different people find they enter this mode in different ways: reading, a walk in nature, looking at art, meditating, and napping. A 15-minute nap can produce the equivalent of a 10-point boost in IQ. – Daniel Levitin

As someone who has experienced age-related discrimination in the workplace, I’ve had to re-tool and reset my own personal skills by learning new things, and experiencing new social environments. After years of taking part-time classes, I obtained a degree in Journalism in 2017 and have increased my skill in being a musician. Levitin’s book embraces the notion of not staying stagnant – it is critical to continue to explore new things, and push yourself to do things you want to be doing.

By combining exercise, eating healthy food (not processed, fried, over-salted, over-sugared), and expanding one’s social environment, getting 8 hours of contiguous sleep, aging gracefully is achievable.


Blowout by Rachel Maddow

Corrupted democracy, rogue state Russia, and the richest, most destructive industry on earth. This begins Rachel Maddow’s detailed book Blowout, about the oil and gas industry, and how it has corrupted countries worldwide, all to make profit, and to rule the world. The epicenter of this industry, Russia, has for many years influenced and controlled political, social-economic on their terms.

Rachel Maddow, discussing her book Blowout.

The richest and most destructive industry on earth

Around the globe, many of the key players in our politics of 2020 are also the same people involved with the gas and oil industry. Maddow provides a detailed review of this industry, and how it has evolved into propping up countries, usually in dictatorship/authoritarian form (i.e. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and several others). The one notable exception to this is the country of Norway, who have used oil and gas to further their own democratic prosperity.


Fracking, the technique in which drilling for oil and gas is not only vertically, but horizontally drilling to obtain pockets of the material, impacted beneath tight crevices. Fracking is a fairly recent method to extract fossil fuels, and with it, has released a myriad of environmental problems. Billions of gallons of water (along with sand, thickening agents, and some toxic chemicals like hydrochloric acid to boot) is used to force-out gas and oil from pockets within rock formations. This liquid is then retracted from the fracking drill site, and deposited on the soil, and in some cases, is not easily contained. This toxic mess then invades water sources, affecting livestock and people, resulting in illness and death.

Initial fracking began in the late 1960s in Colorado. The oil and gas industry, along with help of the U.S. government, started exploring areas in Colorado by using atomic energy (yes, nuclear power), to smash solid rock thousands of feet below the surface of the earth. All in an effort to find fossil fuels. One byproduct, potentially harmful levels of radiation (radioiodine) seeped into fresh milk supplies in Utah. (gulp). This effort was abandoned in 1973, after multiple explosions did not yield the expected fossil fuel.


In the late 2000’s, the state of Oklahoma began an interesting phenomenon. Earthquake events, normally non-existent, spiked to overtake the number of earthquakes in the state of California. The west coast of California lies on the Ring of Fire, an active plate shift naturally causing hundreds of earthquakes each year. However, the oil and gas industry literally owned the state’s legislature in Oklahoma, as representatives sided with these industry execs to roll back safety and environmental regulations for fracking. Researchers at Oklahoma University determined fracking to be causing the tremors in Oklahoma. However, OU’s leadership was compromised by oil/gas industry. The dean of OU was paid more than $350K to sit on the company board. (Doubling his salary from OU). Any research confirming fracking to be the cause of earthquakes was suppressed.

They also sucked the revenue coffers dry for Oklahoma. Unlike other oil/gas industry states such as North Dakota, they aligned oil/gas revenue taxes on these companies to fill state buckets. But Oklahoma, taxes for the gas/oil companies were greatly reduced. Billions of dollars were pocketed by the oil/gas outfits, and a pittance provided to the state of Oklahoma. The back-room, sweetheart deals for the oil/gas fat cats were well greased by the slimy Oklahoma politicians.

Funny thing is, the lack of funding to the state of Oklahoma resulted in grave consequences. Lack of money for road and bridge repair, and extreme cuts to public school systems forced citizens to rise up and protest. Schoolteachers took the lead to overturn prior legislation, and tax the oil/gas companies to restore funding. These super-heroes have shown the power in citizen protest to enforce positive change.

“Democracy either wins this one or disappears.” – Rachel Maddow

Environmental Disaster

Maddow covers the major environmental disasters of the Exxon-Mobile oil spill in Alaska in March 1989 and the BP oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Both major environmental disasters shown a spotlight on these companies’ ineffectiveness at containing these catastrophic spills. The most effective containment system once an oil spill occurs is using material found in baby diapers inserted into the boons surrounding the spill. The ineptness of these multi dollar companies to first provide technology to prevent spills, and then have technology and systems in place to contain a spill is an eye-opener. Gas/Oil industry leaders, like Rex Tillerson of Exxon-Mobile belong in jail for their abysmal track record of harming the planet.

The Future

Maddow surmises the only way to confront the assault of oil/gas industries taking over duly elected democracies is to aggressively contain oil/gas companies. Strict regulations for safety and environmental protections are required. Citizens must hold their elected representatives accountable to ensure regulations are upheld, and stiff penalties are applied if such regulations are not adhered to. These companies are massive in their size and wealth. It will take millions of people worldwide, similar to what we are starting to see with the younger generations’ protests for taking action on climate change. As Maddow writes: “Democracy either wins this one or disappears.”


Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD

As a sleep scientist for over 30 years, Matthew Walker’s excellent book Why We Sleep is an in-depth review of the purposefulness of sleep, and the dangers when we do not get adequate sleep. Walker writes, when a person gets less than 7-9 hours of sleep per night, the human body actually breaks down in a variety of ways. The immune system is compromised, enabling colds and viruses to do their thing. Reparations of injuries are also impacted negatively. Simply put, a lack of sleep takes the body longer to recover from illness and injury, and ultimately shortens one’s lifespan.

Sleep deficits cannot be made up, and sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t help. Lack of sleep contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, mental illness, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization categorizes night shift work as a probable carcinogen. Drowsy driving is more common than drunk driving and even more dangerous. We are harming teens by forcing them to wake up and go to high school at an hour so damaging to the circadian rhythm of that age group.

Matthew Walker, PhD

“After thirty years of intensive research, we can now answer many of the questions posed earlier. The recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours. Three full nights of recovery sleep (i.e., more nights than a weekend) are insufficient to restore performance back to normal levels after a week of short sleeping. Finally, the human mind cannot accurately sense how sleep-deprived it is when sleep-deprived.”

― Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Walker believes sleep is the platform on which diet and exercise rest. Getting 7–9 hours of sleep a night is not some luxury to aim for, but an absolute essential for the brain to process new information and prepare for receiving more the next day.

Matthew Walker, PhD

“Humans are not sleeping the way nature intended. The number of sleep bouts, the duration of sleep, and when sleep occurs has all been comprehensively distorted by modernity.” – Matthew Walker


John Candy – Laughing on the Outside by Martin Knelman

The 1997 book from Martin Knelman explores John Candy’s life growing up in Canada, and gaining fame as a comedic actor in both Canada and the U.S. Candy, who struggled with weight his entire life, fought off his demons by diving into the acting realm.

Candy was most generous to people he met along the way, and was adored by his fellow actors. Along with hockey great Wayne Gretzky, he became part-owner of the Toronto Argonauts, a Canadian league football team. They reached the title in 1991, capturing the Grey Cup for the best team in the CFL.  He bounced around Toronto with a group of other up-and-coming comics including Gilda Radner and Dan Ackroyd. In 1976 SCTV, a television comedy series spoofing television networks was born starring Candy, among other comedic stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, and Rick Moranis.

John Candy, age 18, visiting Niagara Falls 1969 Source: 41 strange (Twitter)

During his career, Candy appeared in more than 40 films in Canada and the U.S. His breakthrough U.S . film, 1941 was directed by Stephen Spielberg and released in 1979. The 1980s brought a string of hits for Candy, Stripes, the animated film Heavy Metal (where he voiced two different characters), The Blues Brothers, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Splash, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Uncle Buck.

With Candy’s root comedic talents, he could also pull off dramatic roles, such as the shady lawyer in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK.

“I think I may have become an actor to hide from myself. You can escape into a character.” -John Candy

During the 1990s, Candy’s career suffered through several unfunny box-office flops. He was able to strike gold, in the 1993 Disney film Cool Runnings, loosely based upon the Jamaican bobsled team competing at the 1988 Winter Olympic games in Calgary, Alberta, Candy played coach Irv Blitzer, and was able to direct the Jamaican athletes to qualify for the games.

Cool Runnings – Walt Disney co.

Sadly, John Candy died March 4, 1994 in Durango, Mexico at age 43 from a massive heart attack. He was in process of making the film Wagons East with Richard Lewis. The movie script had to be re-written, a stand-in and special effects were used to complete his remaining scenes. The film was released five months after his death.

Second City cast members outside the Old Firehall theater in Toronto. (Clockwise from bottom-left): Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Dan Aykroyd, Catherine O’Hara, and John Candy. (johncandy.com)

How To Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew

Stage and screen actress Kate Mulgrew grew up in Dubuque, Iowa and has been acting since her breakthrough role starring as Mary Ryan in the 1975 ABC soap opera Ryan’s Hope. Her second autobiography released in 2019. How To Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir, is both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming account of both her parent’s, father Thomas James (T.J.) and mother Joan, their lives and their deaths.

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager, and Galina “Red” Reznikov in the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black

Kate Mulgrew’s large Irish-Catholic family included seven siblings, and with her father’s outgoing personality, the house was constantly filled with friends over for drinks and dancing. She writes about her family experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. She explores in depth taking on a new role, that of caregiver to her parents.

Her father, T.J., died of lung cancer in 2003, and her mother Joan afflicted with the insidious Alzheimer’s disease since 1998, died in 2006 at the age of 78.

Kate Mulgrew explains how her family was impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. (2004)

Caregiving for Parents

For families impacted by having loved one’s with afflicted with terminal illness, it is a challenge that supersedes most other challenges. Work schedules are altered, in some cases jobs are abandoned. Monetary losses can be overwhelming, as our current healthcare system does not fully cover all expenditures. As a caregiver, your life is put on hold, for as long as it takes with seemingly no end in sight.

Kate Mulgrew was performing in the stage play Tea For Five, a one-woman role playing Katherine Hepburn at two stages in here life: during her early career success, and later in life, as an older Hepburn deals with the effects of aging and impact to her acting career. It was during this time when she received word her father was quite ill. She decided to quit the production, almost unheard of for actors to step away from a popular project, and at the risk of negatively impacting her own career aspirations.

Her father T.J. was a very stubborn man, and being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he wanted no part of any treatment – no chemotherapy, no surgery, nothing. He died within three week’s of the initial diagnosis.

With her mother Joan diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years earlier in 1998, the house in Dubuque was accommodated to provide for her mother to be on one floor of their multi-level home. (In fact, this area was setup year’s earlier, when Kate’s younger sister Tess, died from brain cancer at the age of 14). Kate’s nanny for her children, Lucy, had agreed to take on the primary caregiving role for Kate’s mother.

Kate Mulgrew with her mother Joan, for Alzheimer’s awareness. (Lifetime – 2007)


Kate was often away from home working on various stage and screen projects during the years her sons were young. To care for her two sons, she hired a nanny named Lucy Ledezma. When Joan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Lucy graciously offered her services to help Kate and the Mulgrew family through this ordeal.

Lucy, who migrated from Mexico years earlier, was separated from her first true love back in Mexico. Kate saw to it to help Lucy reunite with Javier, and they were properly married at the local establishment at the old Dancer McDonald House in Dubuque.

Kate Mulgrew’s honest recounting about loss, betrayal, hurt and anger will speak to those who have been through similar experiences. Currently, 5.5 million Americans are afflicted. In thirty years, it is estimated more than 16 million American’s will have Alzheimer’s disease.

“Life’s so brief. We’re, at every juncture, staring mortality in the face. It’s the very least we can do if we think it will be of any interest or value, to share the past. And although mine’s been crooked, it’s also been splendid.” -Kate Mulgrew

If you have a family member, or someone you know has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association has resources to obtain help and support for you and your family. https://alz.org/


The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America’s First Black Dynasty by Lawrence Otis Graham

After the Civil War in the 1860’s, the United States government began the era of Reconstruction ending the Confederate secession and slavery, making the newly freed slaves citizens with civil rights guaranteed by three new Constitutional amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, the Fourteenth Amendment addressed citizenship rights and equal protection of all persons in 1868, and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination in voting rights of citizens on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” in 1870. But with the enactment of State and Federal Jim Crow laws in the 1880’s, coupled with Supreme Court decisions (Slaughter-House Cases 1873, Plessy v. Ferguson 1896), rapidly threw civil-rights for all people of color into chaos.

As the Reconstruction Era was short-lived, as some white citizens were appalled at the new freedom (and power) given to African Americans, and their efforts circumvented progress in civil-rights and the ultimate demise of the Reconstruction Era in 1877.

The Republican party (the liberal party of Abraham Lincoln,) favored ending slavery and covering civil-rights to all people. Democrats, who were conservatives, and many were slave-owners, were opposed to civil-rights’ efforts.

Senator Blanche Bruce

In Graham’s 2006 book, The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America’s First Black Dynasty, explores the life of Blanche Bruce, who became the first African-American to serve a full-term Senate seat from Mississippi. Bruce was born a slave in Farmville, Virginia in 1841 to his father Pettus Perkinson, the white owner of the plantation, where his mother Polly was enslaved.

Senator Blanche Bruce from Mississippi

Bruce spent six years in the U.S. Senate (1875-1881), then gained appointments under four presidents (Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and McKinley), culminating with a top Treasury post, which placed his name on all U.S. currency.

U.S. Treasury $100 Bill with Blanche Bruce’s signature

Bruce had acquired an 800-acre plantation, homes in four states, and a fortune that allowed their only son, Roscoe, to attend Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, beginning in 1896.

His accumulated wealth transferred to his family after he died in 1898. His wife Josephine became caretaker their farms in Mississippi. Living in Washington D.C., she had to rely on people in Mississippi to support their properties. As Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan gained momentum, these white caretakers essentially pilfered Josephine much of her savings, and the properties were sold at a mere fraction of what they were worth. Their only son was nowhere to be found to lend a hand to his mother.

Roscoe Conkling Bruce

As anti-immigration, and anti-black baked into the American consciousness during the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, Roscoe adopted the approach of Booker T. Washington, who propelled the notion of blacks to focus on learning trades, and dismiss efforts to learn about the humanities, language and arts in school. Roscoe, as well as his wife Clara, worked for Washington at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama after he graduated from Harvard in 1902. Roscoe Bruce, essentially squandered the family wealth during his lifetime.

Roscoe Conkling Bruce

Clara Bruce was educated at Howard University (1900 – 1901), Radcliffe College (1901 – 1903), and Boston University Law School (1923 – 1926). Clara passed the Massachusetts State Bar Examination, the second African American woman to do so. She was undergraduate Editor of the Boston Law Review (1925 – 1926). 

Many elite African-Americans chose to alter their names to appear more white, in efforts to distance themselves from being black. Descendants of the Bruce family have merged into the shadows since that time. In fact, during a 2002 ceremony at the U.S. Capital Building in Washington D.C., to unveil the portrait of Bruce, only one member of the family appeared.

W.E.B. DuBois

W.E.B DuBois, born in Great Barrington MA, and was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard. He was against Washington’s philosophy of suppressing blacks to white-political rule. DuBois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation for all African-Americans. He was one of the founder’s of the NAACP in 1909. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was an ardent peace activist.

W.E.B. DuBois

End of the 20th Century

Graham’s book offers a unique insight into the politics and social injustice during this time. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan and White Nationalism, accompanied with the installation of monuments to confederate war criminals in the early 1900s, and the segregation of blacks from whites from Universities, restaurants, hotels and playgrounds, culminated into expanded powers to suppress African-Americans from equal standing with whites.

Three landmark events in the 20th century fundamentally ended Jim Crow-era laws. The Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enabled the realization of benefits from the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. August 28, 1963

21st Century

Lawrence Otis Graham – Interview from 2014

Entering the 21st century, the United States is undergoing a major transformation population shift in demographics. By 2050, whites will no longer be the majority of the populace. Since the short-lived period of Reconstruction, African-Americans and other minorities will be able to regain power in government, and implement civil-right solutions to address current problems of desegregation, abusive judicial practices, racism, voting rights, and other methods imposed onto them by longstanding Jim Crow laws and beliefs.

And another group who have been suppressed in our country’s history, women, are poised to gain even more seats in Congress, enough to help implement important civil-rights’ causes for our country’s future. Like Clara Bruce from 100 years ago, women are poised to garner leadership positions in our American culture, and change society for the better.

Senator Blanche Bruce paved the way for African-Americans as a beacon of light to achieve success in business and politics, albeit it took well over a century to do so.

“It’s not just an African-American story, but an American story that bridges so much of our history from the Civil War and Reconstruction to Modern Times that brings together so many great people that he and his family brought together.” – Lawrence Otis Graham


Tetralogy of Fallot

50 years ago, on April 30, 1969, I underwent successful open-heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital to repair a heart birth defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot. For my 50th anniversary, this article provides insight into the history of medical advancements with congenital heart defects, my experiences during the early days of hospitalization, and looking back over the past half-century.

Early Years: 1800s – 1955

Given the wide variety and effectiveness of cardiovascular surgical techniques that are now routinely used, it is remarkable how, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the surgical treatment of heart disease was considered to be outside the limits of propriety and acceptability. The consensus in the medical field at the time was not to even think about touching the heart for repairs. The heart was beyond limits for attempting any type of surgery for reparations.

In 1891, Henry C. Dalton in St. Louis was the first surgeon to repair a pericardial wound in a human being. A similar success was achieved by Daniel Hale Williams in Chicago, in 1893. In 1906, Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt Germany compiled a summary of 124 cases of cardiac-wound repair that had been performed in Europe during the 1890s and thereafter. The survival rate of 40% was remarkable for that period.1

Dr. Etienne-Louis Fallot (1850–1911) from the University of Marseille in France, showed that affected babies had an abnormal heart, meaning that not all of their blood was directed to the lungs for oxygenation. He described the condition in the his paper “l’anatomie pathologique
de la maladie bleue” in 1888. The condition includes four distinct developmental errors, and is known as tetralogy of Fallot. 2

Dr. Fallot

1930’s – Boston Children’s Hospital – Dr. Robert Gross

Dr. Robert Gross founded the cardiology department at Children’s Hospital in Boston MA in the 1930s, and performed the first surgical correction of a congenital malformation that causes abnormal blood flow between two of the major arteries connected to the heart. 7-year old Lorraine Sweeney suffered from “…a congenital heart condition known as patent ductus arteriosus, a passageway between the pulmonary artery and the aorta that’s supposed to close after birth — but doesn’t.” 3

“By today’s standards, Dr. Gross performed a relatively simple type of surgery,” said Dr. Alexander Nadas, former Children’s cardiologist-in-chief, in an interview in 1988 marking the 50th anniversary of Lorraine’s operation. “He didn’t have to go inside the chambers of the heart to do the job; he just tied off a little tube – simple. Yet, this was the clear-cut beginning of modern heart surgery.” 3

Patient Lorraine Sweeney with Dr. Robert Gross

1962 – Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital – Dr. Robert Pontious

Born in New Eagle PA and raised in Monongahela PA south of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, I entered the world born a “Blue Baby”. My skin color was not of normal pink, but of an abnormal blueish tone. Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF) is the reason for the “Blue Baby”, a congenital heart defect, with an array of these conditions:

  • Pulmonary stenosis, narrowing of the exit from the right ventricle
  • A ventricular septal defect, a hole between the two ventricles
  • Right ventricular hypertrophy, thickening of the right ventricular muscle
  • An overriding aorta, which allows blood from both ventricles to enter the aorta
Just prior to the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt surgery January 1963
Post-surgery, showing off my new scar. Notice the color of my lips to the previous picture. With normal blood flow to the heart, my circulation dramatically improved.

At six-months of age, I underwent the first of two heart surgeries to repair ToF. At Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh PA, Dr. Robert Pontius, a Navy veteran of WWII and Korean War, performed the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt in January 1963. At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Pontius trained under his uncle, Dr. Robert Gross of Children’s Hospital in Boston.

“That operation brought Pittsburgh into the era of open-heart surgery, and it took a lot of nerve to do it, a special kind of person. These babies were clearly really sick, and we knew what we should do for them, but the mortality rate was very high.” said Dr. Frederic Sherman, pediatric cardiologist at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital.4

Dr. Robert Pontious

This surgical repair is known as the Blalock – Taussig – Thomas Shunt. At Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Dr. Alfred Blalock (1899-1964) teamed with Dr. Helen Taussig (1898 – 1986), and Dr. Vivien Thomas (1910-1985) in the 1940s to develop a procedure still used today.

“Dr. Taussig came to Dr. Gross, with her idea for the surgical procedure, but he didn’t find it worth pursuing.  So it was up to Dr. Blalock at Johns Hopkins and his assistant Vivien Thomas to give her idea a try.” – Dr. Joan Pontius, daughter of Dr. Robert Pontius.

Blalcok-Taussig-Thomas Shunt

At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD., Dr. Alfred Blalock (1899-1964) teamed with Dr. Helen Taussig (1898 – 1986), and Dr. Vivien Thomas (1910-1985) in the 1940s to develop a procedure still used today. In 2004, HBO produced the movie Something The Lord Made, based upon these events. Starring Mary Stuart Masterson as Dr. Helen Taussig, Mos Def as lab technician Vivien Thomas, and Alan Rickman as Dr. Alfred Blalock, the movie depicts the research methods used for the groundbreaking surgical operation, along the backdrop of deep racial divides of the Jim Crow era during the 1930s and 1940s.

In the 1940s, however, ToF patients did not have a good rate of long-term survival. Over the next decade, further research determined infant’s blood vessels needed to grow in order to fulfill the proper blood circulation in the body. The medical community determined that a more invasive open-heart, second surgery would be required for Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt procedure patients when they grew older, and their arteries were more stable.

HBO Movie Something the Lord Made
Trailer for HBO’s Something the Lord Made 2003

1969 – Boston Children’s Hospital – Dr. Alexander Nadas

In 1969 at Boston Children’s Hospital, my cardiologist was Dr. Alexander Nadas. Born in Hungary, he emigrated to the United States in 1938, just prior to Hitler’s murderous rampage and extermination of over 400,000 Hungarian Jews during WWII. Dr. Nadas was interviewed in 1993 by David Dyer and remarked:

“I credit Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal with raising the level of economics in this country. Rheumatic fever is really a social disease, which is a terminology usually reserved for venereal disease. Nobody had time for the unfortunate babies who were born with deformed hearts. They were lost in this big pool of rheumatic fever, nobody paid any attention to them.

There was nothing you could do for them until Dr. Robert E.Gross started operating on patients in 1938. So, with the disappearance of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, came the emergence of cardiac surgery for children. Not infants — infants came much later. By the time I came to Children’s in 1949 to start the cardiology department we were dealing almost exclusively with congenital disease.” 5

Dr Alexander S. Nadas

In Pittsburgh, doctors told my parents in 1963 when I entered my teenage years, I would need a second and more dramatic, open-heart surgery to close the opening between the two bottom chambers of the heart. It turns out, a second surgery is a requirement for infants with Tetralogy of Fallot.

US Steel, where my Dad worked in the accounting/data processing division, was transferred from the Donora PA plant as it was closing due to major shifts in steel production from the United States to China. The US Steel office in Millbury MA would be his new place of employment. Incidentally, this plant ceased operations a decade later in 1978 – after continued steel manufacturing being transferred overseas forced the closure of many plants in the U.S.

After moving to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania in 1967, I visited Boston Children’s Hospital to be acquainted with cardiologist Dr. Alexander Nadas. In my first meeting with Dr. Nadas, I had trouble understanding his words. Dr. Nadas had a thick Hungarian accent, it took me awhile to adjust, but I was able to get used to his mannerisms and care for me as his patient.

Fun Fact:

Dr. Nadas’ daughter, Betsy Nadas-Seamans, played the role of Mrs. McFeely in the Pittsburgh-based children’s PBS program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. She also was a writer for many of the shows.

Source: mentalfloss.com/article/76158/24-rare-photos-mister-rogers-neighborhood(opens in a new tab)

April 1969 – Boston Children’s Hospital

The late 1960s were massively stressful times in our country. At the end of the decade, the Vietnam War raged, and assassinations of civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, marked a distinct contrast with the triumph of NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to have walked on the moon the following year in July 1969.

My parents and I made another trek to Boston Children’s in January 1969, a checkup with Dr. Nadas, as I had started to have displaying difficulties walking across the room or climbing stairs would leave me short of breath. We also noticed how my fingertips, toenails, and lips, would turn a blueish hue during exertion. More visits to Dr. Nadas were accompanied with more tests. After a visit in early April 1969, a letter came to the house from Children’s Hospital. It was a notice that I was to be scheduled for open-heart surgery on April 30th.

Me and my parents leaving home for Boston Children’s Hospital April 1969

Most things I remember of this experience are not fuzzy. However, I do remember specific things to this day. Once example was when I was told I couldn’t have milk, something about having too much sugar in milk was not good for my condition. For breakfast, I was given a bowl of Frosted Flakes (um, what about that sugar doc?), with not milk, but plain old water. That was an interesting experience!

I was placed in an oxygen tent, and this device covered my hospital bed, creating a pure 100% oxygen environment to aid in oxygenating my blood. Mom was always successful at diverting attention away from the obvious. “This oxygen text was special” my Mom said. Now I could go camping now with my very special tent here in the hospital. Another time, she brought me my regular clothes, to be able to spend some time not wearing the johnny all the time and feel a little sense of normalcy.

Advertisement for Oxygen Tent device. (No, that is not me poking around)
Me in the patient’s break room. The nurses at Boston Children’s were outstanding.
I liked the hospital’s fish tank!
The Archie’s “Sugar Sugar” is playing again?!?!?!
I’m ready to go home and be with my friends now.

I remember my hospital bed was across the way adjacent to the nurse’s break room, and I could see and hear the commotion through the confines of the plastic of the oxygen tent placed as a canopy surrounding my hospital bed. There was a small black-and-white TV that all of the nurse’s were huddled around. The nurses were giddy, “It’s Tom Jones!”, and I remember their excitement over the entertainer. I could faintly see the images of a couple of guys singing. Turns out, it was Tom Jones crooning “It’s Not Unusual” from his ABC TV show. I didn’t know the other singer at that time, but it was Stevie Wonder. This was the performance, airing on the ABC broadcast of the Tom Jones Show May 22, 1969:

Stevie Wonder with Tom Jones, The Tom Jones Show May 22, 1969 ABC

Being in the hospital for a lengthy period in isolation, away from home, family and friends, the radio became my close companion. It was always on during my waking hours. The recreation room for kids had a phonograph record. The hit 45 released that year was ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies, and this was played endlessly by staff. Fortunately, I had my bedside radio tuned to the other top 40 hits of 1969: Tommy James and The Shondell’s Crimson and Clover, Sly and the Family Stone’s Hot Fun in the Summertime, Henry Mancini’s Love Theme from Rome and Juliet, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers Oh Happy Day were often cycled through the AM station on boring days.

One song that I couldn’t give enough of, included a positive, optimistic message, I learned later is two separate songs combined as one. The Fifth Dimension’s Aquarius, has the passage “When You Open Up Your Heart – You Got To Let The Sun Coming In”. The message sent to me fifty years ago resonates to this day.

Aquarius – The 5th Dimension 1969’s Top Ten Hit

I don’t remember meeting the cardiac surgeon, Dr. William Bernhard, who performed my open-heart surgery in Boston. I do remember getting his name mixed up with Dr. Christian Barnard, a cardiac surgeon from South Africa, who pioneered the first human heart transplant operation in 1967. Dr. Bernhard, a WWII veteran from Framingham MA, passed away at age 93 in 2018. He left behind a lasting legacy of innovative cardiac surgery techniques, including the use of the hyperbaric chamber, revolutionary for its time. 6

The first temporary shunt operation (Blalock-Taussig-Thomas) was performed in Pittsburgh in January 1963.

The second complete repair open-heart surgery completed in Boston in April 1969.


Technology Advancements – Heart Catheterization

The fate of babies born with congenital heart disease (CHD) has dramatically changed in the last 4–5 decades, going from a universally
fatal condition in the vast majority of patients in the absence of diagnosis or intervention, to an entity whose outcome, at least in terms
of peri-operative/hospital stay, has improved to an expected survival of about 96%. 7

Technology – Then and Now

The first catheterization performed was in the year 1928. Dr. Warner Forssman of Germany performed the procedure, on himself. He tricked his nurse Gerta Ditzen to assist him, and she brought Forssmann to the X-Ray lab and obtained an X-ray picture of the catheter entering the heart chamber. He put himself under local anesthesia and inserted a catheter into a vein in his arm. Not knowing if the catheter might pierce a vein, he put his life at great risk. Forssmann was nevertheless successful; he safely passed the catheter into his heart.  Dr. Forssman joined the Nazi party, and was later captured by Americans and placed in a prisoner of war camp. After the war ended in 1945, he settled back to his home country of Germany. In 1956, he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this achievement. 8

Dr. Werner Forssman
X-Ray Image of catheter from left arm entering the heart chamber.

My catheterization in 1978 was preventative; a standard procedure to measure oxygen levels in each chamber of the heart to ensure the open-heart surgery repair from 1969 was successful. For the procedure, one is not fully put under local anesthesia. A lighter-dose anesthesia is used, in order to be kept awake. I had to hold my breath at certain times, as well as to be able to converse with the doctor. This allowed the cardiologist to measure oxygen levels and pressures inside the heart chambers. X-Ray cameras are used to visualize the heart, and a dye is injected towards the end of the procedure, to show the blood vessels surrounding the heart. This is to see if there are any blockages or other abnormalities.

When the dye is injected, it is a bit surreal experience. The doctor says “We’re about to inject the dye, you will feel heat coming through.”  This was similar to opening an oven door in the kitchen – a series of waves of heat hit my body. With each heart pump, heat pulsated through my body. First pump, the heat first went to my head. The second beat, the heat hit my torso, and by the third beat, my legs were hot. I recall breaking out in a sweat, thankfully the waves of heat quickly dissipated.

Heart catheterizations continue to be used as an effective to to examine the heart. In addition to examining congenital heart defects, the procedure is also effective to replace heart valves, placing stents in blocked arteries, or performing biopsies. Instead of a more intensive open-heart procedure, cardiologist cause catheterization as a less invasive method to perform this critical tasks.

Heart Catheterization Procedure – courtesy Mayo Clinic

2019 – 50 Years On

In the fifty years since the open-heart surgery, I continue to see cardiologists on an annual basis as part of a preventive maintenance program for Tetralogy of Fallot individuals. It is critical to work to keep the heart healthy, and I am fortunate to be able to utilize the fitness professionals and resources in my hometown fitness center, at No Alibi Fitness (www.noalibifitness.com). The facility has a cadre of fitness sessions, my favorite is the spin-cycle class. My heart thanks me every day for getting out there, and keeping the blood pumping!

No Alibi Fitness

A favorite hobby of mine is playing piano, here is a link to some of my projects: http://writingreal.com/musicworks I enjoy working on various pieces, here is one I put together a few years ago:

Prologue: Beauty and the Beast A. Menken arr. B. Podesta

My current team of cardiology professionals include my longtime cardiologist Dr. Joseph Kirkpatrick, and  more recent addition to the team, Dr. Michelle Hadley, who specializes in patients with congenital heart defects (CHD). A good strategy moving forward is to have a strong, positive team of medical professionals and I am fortunate to be blessed with these outstanding physicians. Let me introduce you to these heroes!

“I enjoy sitting down with patients and explaining their situation. I feel everyone should be able to understand exactly what’s wrong with them and what their treatment options are.”
Dr. Joseph Kirkpatrick (Hero)
Dr. Michelle Hadley (Hero)

Advancements in medicine and technology continue to astound us. Over the past 50 years, huge strides have been made to help people. The challenge continues to find cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and to further improve our livelihoods. I remain hopeful the best of our angels will prevail to solve these issues.

I remember something said to me by Dr. Nadas at Boston Children’s Hospital. I had a cardiac catheterization procedure in 1978, a planned event for preventative maintenance to view my progress over the previous nine years. I was curious about my longevity, as there didn’t seem to be long-term statistics for ToF patients. Dr. Nadas said “You are doing remarkably well. Each day is a day of building your history.”

50 Years Later – 2019


1 Weiss, Allen B. MD Cardiac Surgery, A Century of Progress 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3231540/

2 Zampieri F, Thiene G. Encyclopedia of Pathology 2017. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-28845-1_4080-1

3 Fliesler N Boston Children’s Hospital 2012. https://vector.childrenshospital.org/2012/02/defying-orders-to-make-heart-surgery-history/

4 Carpenter, M. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2012. https://www.post-gazette.com/news/obituaries/2014/04/20/Robert-Pontius-pioneering-heart-surgeon-at-Children-s-Hospital/stories/201404200178

5 Dyer, David childrens.harvard.edu Nadas – Interview 2 by David Dyer 1993, Harvard Medical School Archives

6 Schwan, Henry Metrowest Daily News 2018. https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20181101/framingham-innovative-surgeon-dr-william-bernhard-of-boston-childrens-hospital-dead-at-93

7 Weiss, Allen B. MD Cardiac Surgery, A Century of Progress 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035758/

8 Radeska, T., Vintage News 2016. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/09/12/werner-forssmann-nobel-winner-performed-first-human-cardiac-catheterization/

Special thanks and acknowledgement to the family of Dr. Robert Pontius, who provided insight into their father and the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas procedure.


Victor Johnston

Victor Johnston, performing with his band The Road Owls August 2019 Grafton MA

Working in a career as an emergency room nurse for more than forty years, I wanted to learn about interesting experiences Victor had in the E/R, and would make an engaging story. Little did I realize, when Victor was a teenager in the 1960s, he was drafted in the war in Vietnam and served his country. Let me introduce you to Victor Johnston.

This is the base where Victor was stationed as a medic.

The 1960’s was a turbulent time in our nation’s history. The War in Vietnam was raging, and protests continued to rattle the core of our country.  Victor Johnston was a teenager growing up in northern California. He stayed busy with school and worked at the local hospital as an orderly.

I asked Victor what was going on in his life in the 1960s.

“In 1968 at the age of 18, I finished high school in Auburn California, then hitchhiked to Cleveland Ohio to chase a girl who was moving there that summer. Soon after I arrived, her Dad wasn’t all to pleased, and we didn’t get along. He wanted me out of the house. My Mom called from California and said “Victor, your draft notice came in.” So, I did the logical thing and ran down to the Navy to sign up, but they wouldn’t take me until January 1969. Instead, I went to the Army recruiter, who took me in right away. I wanted to be a hospital medic. After taking multiple tests, I passed the exam, and was shipped to Fort Knox in Kentucky.”

Victor’s upbringing in California had zero minorities, and when he showed up at Fort Knox, he was joined by hundreds of African-American men from Detroit. In places in America where there was poverty, a large contingent of minorities with limited opportunities would sign up for
military service, as a way to make a better life for themselves. 

After basic training at Fort Knox, Victor was transferred to Fort Sam in San Antonio Texas for basic medics training. From there, Victor was transferred to Fort Gordon in Georgia to complete advanced medics training, and he received his 91C.

Through 1969, Victor learned to be a medic. “I learned how to sew people up, along with the usual nursing tasks, including prescribing medication.” All at the ripe old age of 19.

Victor didn’t have hesitation reporting to the Army. Vietnam veteran Senator John McCain,  25-year member of the Navy, and a 5-year prisoner of war in Vietnam,  discussed his view about the draft. On C-SPAN McCain says, “One aspect of the (Vietnam) conflict by the way that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”

As the year progressed, Victor met his girlfriend Ann in August of 1969, and proceeded to get married to her in December. In January 1970, Victor was shipped to Vietnam.

Social Upheaval

In 1970, the war in Vietnam continued to rage. By this time it was clear America was not even close to winning this conflict. The current and prior presidential Republican and Democratic administrations of Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy made major mistakes regarding combat strategy and operations during their tenures.

A group of anti-Vietnam War protestors carry a poster showing the ‘My Lai Massacre’ during the ‘Home With Honor’ parade to mark the homecoming of American troops from Vietnam, New York City, 1973. (Photo by Jill Freedman/Getty Images)

The American people were fed up. During this time of protests and assassinations, an upheaval of social consciousness permeated distrust in our institutions, namely the government and the military. Vietnam resulted in the fourth deadliest war in U.S. history, behind the Civil War and both World Wars, with more than 58,000 American lives lost. Over 587,000 Vietnamese people perished from this war.

Vietnam Experience
The 93rd Evac Hospital in Long Binh Vietnam would be Victor’s home for the next year, including working in the medical ICU. Long Binh is located 18 miles east of the South Vietnamese capitol city of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Victor commented on his experiences and his view about the War in Vietnam.  “Vietnam was the first American war where every soldier, no matter their rank, wanted to go home. It was not a war anyone wanted to be part of. The best part was getting high, smoking dope. You had two groups, the dope smokers group , and the alcohol group. Obviously, people did both, but I didn’t find anyone who wasn’t part of either group. Partying was a way to alleviate boredom.”

And, what was the worst part being in Vietnam? “That you’re always in harms way, that you could get killed at a moments notice. The other worse part, as I mentioned, was boredom.”

Patient being treated at the 93rd Evac Hospital by Victor

In the Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick film The War in Vietnam, was your time in Vietnam depicted accurately? If you were interviewed by Ken Burns, what would you want him to know?

“It was more accurate than I ever imagined, such as the part where soldiers disobeyed orders from their Lieutenants. This was more common than reported. More than a third of the series covered the Vietnamese perspective. No other Vietnam documentary has covered the intense suffering of the Vietnamese people.”

A Vietnamese citizen being treated at the 93rd Evac Hospital

The media reported Vietnam veterans were being treated poorly upon returning home. Was this your experience?

“These reports were way overdone. I remember about a gung-ho Vet, all for the war, and was now bawling at the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington D.C. He realized how wrong the war was.”

You mentioned boredom as being one of the worst parts of being in Vietnam. What did you do to alleviate the boredom from day to day drudgery?

“Well, I did some crazy things over there, in fact quite stupid, with a disregard for my own safety. For instance, one time I hitchhiked to Saigon and visited the Saigon Zoo.”

According to Victor, many people don’t realize, there were many American servicemen impregnating Vietnamese women. The result was an overflow of children without father’s in orphanages.

“This picture I took below is of an orphanage in Vietnam. Many orphans were were left abandoned by their American fathers when they left Vietnam.” – Victor Johnston

In December 1970, Victor was sent back to the U.S. Since he had a year left, he was sent to a medical ICU in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In September 1970, Victor was honorably discharged from service with an E5 classification. “You start out by being a private as an E1. I was discharged as an E5, the level of a sergeant. Since I had a specialty, and I wasn’t a sergeant, they called me E5 although E5’s are sergeants.”

Victor commented how soldiers could increase their E-Level rank. “One thing you could do was to take an exam. One of the questions on the exam was ‘What do you call the round ball at the top of a flagpole?  Well, it’s called a Truck. I have no idea why.”

Post-Vietnam Experience

Victor is probably the only person in the U.S. that became a Registered Nurse without a formal nursing degree.

“I went back to California and I was allowed to take the M.O.S. Service – 91c, the registered nursing exam in 1977.Once this was passed in California, Victor had to convince Massachusetts that he could work as a nurse. After three trips to the Board of Registration, he was granted certification as a Registered Nurse in Massachusetts.

Victor worked from 1979 to 2014 in his career in nursing, primarily in Emergency Rooms. As one can imagine, the E/R had it’s shares of stories. Victor recollected a time when a women entered the E/R, saying she was thinking of committing suicide. Victor recounted the story:

Victor: “I asked her, ‘Well then, how are you going to do this?”

Woman: “I’m going to drive a car off a cliff!”

Victor: “Ok, well, do you have a car?”

Woman: “Uh, no.”

Victor: “Well then, do you have a cliff?”

Woman: “No, I don’t have a cliff.”

Victor: “OK, then have a seat, we will be right with you.”

In Today’s World

We just witnessed yet another horrific mass murder of 58 people in Las Vegas in October 2018, and this is now the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history. And this past week, yet another mass-shooting of church in Texas. Thirteen of the 26 people murdered were children. Mass shootings have become the norm in America. With the assault weapons ban discontinued in 2004 by Congress, (it had been in place the previous 10 years), gun makers were free to sell weapons with automatic capacities to fire off multiple rounds at one pull of a trigger.

I asked Victor, what is your take on what should be done with gun control in the USA? “There’s simply no reason for citizens to have access to military-grade weapons. There is absolutely no reason for these high-powered assault weapons, there is no sport or hunting need for any of it.”

Did you ever think the negative politics of today would surpass the tumultuous 1960’s: war, assassinations, and a disgraced President of the United States forced to resign in 1974 rather than facing impeachment hearings for obstruction of justice?

“Simply put, the politics of today have not learned the lessons of the past. There’s no effective reason to be in Iraq. Why should we die in Iraq or Afghanistan? Iraqis and Afghans will last a lot longer than the US or Russia, so why are we spending endless resources.”

Any other thoughts about your experiences?

“These experiences made me who I am today.” -Victor Johnston

Victor at home in Holden, enjoying the day with his granddaughter.

Pictures property and courtesy of Victor Johnston, All Rights Reserved.

Cristofori’s Dream, Composed by David Lanz, arr. B.Podesta

Cristofori’s Dream, Composed by David Lanz (1988) arranged by B.Podesta

New Age artist David Lanz released his album Cristofori’s Dream in 1988, and the concept for his album-titled piece is provided from his blog:

Cristofori’s Dream


As the music begins we find our selves in little Italian village. It is the
1700’s. The sun is going down and the stars are coming out.  Looking through
a leaded glass window we see Cristofori hard at work in his harpsichord
shop. (picture Walt Disney’s Geppeto)

It has been a rather long and frustrating day for Cristofori as he has been
putting in long hours and hoping for a breakthrough on his new invention
(which will eventually transform the harpsichord into his imagined piano

With the days work done, Cristofori puts his tools aside, lays his head down
on his workbench, and falls to sleep.

As Cristofori sleeps, he begins to dream. And as the music continues, two
beautiful dream goddesses appear. Through their impressionistic dance and a
dream sequence,  Cristofori is shown the evolution his invention will go
through in the next several hundred years. He is also given a sense of the
tremendous impact the piano will have on the world of music.

Eventually Cristofori finds himself standing in a balcony overlooking a
beautiful concert hall. Center stage is a 9′ concert grand piano and a full
symphony orchestra which are now playing together as the piece is reaching
it’s musical peak.

As  the peak is reached, everything begins to slowly spin and spiral
downwards. Cristofori awakes very inspired by his dream and even though it
is still the middle of the night, he relights his candle, reaches for his
tools, and goes back to work.

Now the music slowly begins to wind down much like a child’s music
box…..and as the very last chord of the song sounds…Cristofori’s
harpsichord… changes magically into a piano…..Cristofori’s Dream.

My Interpretation of Cristofori’s Dream

During the year 2020, our country is faced with an enormous loss of loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with ongoing gun violence, the opioid epidemic, deep derisions between family and friends, and loss of business and income, we’re facing major challenges as we enter the decade of the ‘twenty-twenties’. To me, Cristofori’s Dream reflects this deep sense of loss, and the difficult times we’ve endured. But it also provides a layer of positive foresight and hopefulness that our better days are truly ahead.

-Brian J. Podesta, November 2020.