Friday, May 29, 2009


As I contemplated the passage of yet another year I thought to explain the term natal day. No, I’m not traveling to Natal, that beautiful resort city in northeastern Brazil or going to the natatorium for a quick dip. Rather, I have just celebrated or perhaps just noted the forty-third anniversary of my 23rd birthday on May 24. Yes, I am closer to the end than the beginning.

I started traveling to Canada in the 1970’s on business and then enjoyed ski holidays especially at Mont Tremblant in Quebec (Hello Dubois). I later traveled to Nova Scotia and other provinces across Canada where I found wonderful people, great food and a rich language (OK, two languages) that embraced many words we fail to recognize or at least use regularly in the lower forty-eight.

In 1983 I was in Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia given my position as President of the Keith Clan Society of the United States on the occasion of the International Gathering of the Scots and Keith Week when they not so coincidentally were also celebrating their Natal Day replete with parades, concerts, sporting activities, fireworks, huge birthday cakes, all sorts of parties, talent shows, markets and many other celebratory events including the First Nation inspired and unforgettable clambake on the beach with lobsters, corn, potatoes, shellfish and, yes, clams. What a party!

Even though Nova Scotia has been a member of the Canadian Confederation since its inception on July 1, 1867, and Prince Edward Island (PEI) since July 1, 1873, it seems that the only excuse the provincial Fathers needed to formalize this founding via a recognized Natal Day holiday was the arrival of the railroad tracks in the Halifax area in 1895. An explosion of civic pride ensued and a formal celebration of the founding of these two provinces mostly on the first Monday in August continues to this day as a holiday of great importance.

Of special significance for me and my ilk is the participation and sponsorship of the Alexander Keith Brewery of Halifax in these natal day festivities. Not only do they brew a damn fine product (love their India Pale ale – “Those who like it, like it a lot”), they also represent an important link to the past for my Family in the person of brewery founder Alexander Keith, also the three time mayor of Halifax. His great grandson Sandy Keith along with other members of the Keith Clan Society of Canada were great hosts and I cherish the memories of that trip which were for me kind of an epiphany and rebirth. I thank the then Nova Scotia Premier John MacLennan Buchanan for his hospitality and for the honor of being named an Honorary Citizen of Nova Scotia and pray that I never follow a man of his erudition and elocution on any program, ever again.

While some with a more theological perspective might have us celebrate our natalis as the date of our burial and “festival of the highest order to be dead to our vices and to live to righteousness alone,” the reality is that the term "natal" springs from the Roman-era, Latin word for birth and, hence, Natal Day is the official “birthday” of the two aforementioned provinces, my birth, your birth and yet another excuse to rub shoulders with some great people and party hearty.

So, no doubt probably just to be different and to embrace my Friends in Canada I have since 1983 used Natal Day to refer to the date of my birth though not like a depressed Emily Jane Bronte of Wuthering Heights fame, I was not, “alone on my natal day” nor do I like Alexander Pushkin, “curse my natal day.” It is what it is and no more. I am assured that my Mother was nearby.

So, when you especially - in these trying economic times - want to meet folks of your ilk in a very special place with all the charisma of Europe and without the heavy tariff, consider celebrating your natal day whatever the date by going to Nova Scotia and explore Cape Breton, take a cruise on the Bluenose II, pack a picnic and spend the afternoon at the lighthouse at picturesque Peggy’s Cove, watch the changing of the guard of the 78th Highland Regiment at the Citadel (Fort George) in Halifax, watch the heroic fireworks displays on the Angus Lewis MacDonald bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth, take a really fun tour of the Alexander Keith Brewery (one of the oldest breweries in North America) or go down to Privateer’s Wharf for fine dining and maybe even a Keith’s India Pale Ale (or two). Now isn’t that the skirl of pipes I hear?


Ned Buxton

Friday, May 22, 2009


A good Friend recently confided that clowns rather than prompting humor or laughter for her are the absolute nadir of repugnance, fear and horror; something to be despised and avoided. Whoa! Then I looked up Coulrophobia, “an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns” though that term is not in use by psychiatrists it is applicable to a significant part of our population. It is apparently seated in the fear of an identity hidden, an antagonist, one who would do us harm

Well, my positive perceptions of Clowns heretofore were based on my regular and well anticipated childhood visits to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus while in Rhode Island and their world famous and very happy, mostly slapstick clowns of Clown Alley in mostly kinder and gentler times. The enduring characters created by icons Emmet Kelly, Jr. and his Weary Willie mime and Red Skelton’s eerily similar Freddie the Freeloader cemented those happy feelings and memories for me.

Skelton’s cross-eyed seagulls, Gertrude and Heathcliffe and singing country bumpkin cabdriver character, Clem Kadiddlehopper probably helped defuse any potential negative feelings for me. For me, these are probably two of the funniest men that ever lived. Kelly and Skelton really didn’t hide their identities though they surely exaggerated their personas morphing to hobos. To my Friend, however, both Skelton and Kelly are lumped in with the rest of the clown thugs that capitalize on what is to her no more than a sinister disguise.

If Kelly and Skelton weren’t enough, a daily dose of NBC’s Howdy Doody Show with Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and their pal the supposedly mute Clarabelle (the clown not the cow - initially played by Bob Keeshan of Captain Kangaroo fame) who at his most demonic moment squirted the occasional Doodyville resident with his seltzer bottle fixed only positives for me. There was never a menacing persona there that included Chief Thunderthud, head of the Ooragnak tribe (Kangaroo spelled backwards), Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and the curious and amazing Flub-a-Dub. It was all naïve and funny skits that led to a denouement where the heretofore mute Clarabell the Clown tearfully bids "Goodbye, kids." Yes, I was a home bound member of the Peanut Gallery…

Remember the very funny, adlibbed Kukla, Fran and Ollie show that was more suited for adults than kids? Well, the leader of the puppet pack was the sweet natured and gentle Kukla (photo above) who looked like a clown and was the personification of all that is good. I started watching Kukla, Fran & Ollie and Howdy Doody in 1948 at age five…That was my initiation into Clowndom…

But my Friend has a point as the rules have since changed. Fast forward to the seventies and eighties. We need only remember the campy 1988 MGM sci-fi horror film, Killer Klowns from outer Space? Frankly, I expected a funny parody of the status quo B films of the period and not the seriously bizarre and hideously straight, dark flick that scared the hooey out of me in a couple of scenes and now has even ascended to cult status.

We have been visited in cinema and on paper by other notorious clowns that include:

*The attack clown in Poltergeist (couldn’t sleep for a week)
*The demonic clown from Spawn (the Devil incarnate)
*The Joker in various Batman movies and scores of comic books where most recently in The Dark Knight where the late Australian Health Ledger reinvented himself in a chilling 2008 Academy Award winning performance (Best Supporting Actor) as the maniacal and terrifying “chaos for chaos' sake” Joker that will forever immortalize this incredibly talented actor in this very dark role.
*Pennywise, Stephen King's child devouring clown in It.
*Ronald McDonald (?), Yes, to some- Hello Willard Scott.
*Bozo the Clown. And last but not least,
*Betty Davis as Baby Jane Hudson, well she really looked ghastly and how about that lipstick? Yes, I dreamed about that one too… Scary…

This fear appears to equate normally comical personas into the same company as pure evil icons like the expressionless Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Michael Myers from Halloween or (shudder) Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th, et al. As a former goaltender I certainly appreciated and gloated over that one…

Most who post on this subject seem to agree that this flows to the persona of that notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy and his Pogo the Clown character. Pure sicko evil… 33 kills…

In England the University of Sheffield in 2008 polled 255 children between the ages of four and sixteen about appropriate decorations for the walls of hospital children’s wards. The study, as reported in the Nursing Standard magazine and on BBC, found that many of the respondents not only disliked the use of clowns, most were scared of them.

As a student of Anthropology I along with good Friend Mike Wilson find strength and wisdom in one of our First Nations the Lakota (Sioux) who revere a sacred clown known as Heyoka - a contrarian or jester who by his actions as teacher helps to define acceptable social mores, practices and behaviors in their society. By drawing attention to critical or even mundane issues they help demonstrate balance and a deeper awareness within their sphere of influence.

Perhaps this whole exercise indicates that the clown is nothing more that a reflection of our society in a “fun-house mirror” begging us to once and forever point a finger and laugh at ourselves lest we take this whole exercise too seriously. That, however, probably isn’t possible for those that harbor a subconscious fear of clowns. Would that these folks could meet good Friend the Hon David Irvine, 26th Baron of Drum and Chief of Clan Irvine and wife Caroline in their red clown noses. If I could write a prescription for the afflicted to be cured I would counsel them to spend just a short time with the delightful David and Caro. If their good humour doesn’t do it, their cullin skink and haggis will do the trick. A cure is guaranteed.

What I do know is that if a clown sinister approaches any of my Friends challenged by this fear they will, most assuredly, be visited by the Straighten-Outer.

Guess that I will have to put off my skin bleaching, hair coloring, botox and lip plumping for now. Guess its time to stop clowning around…


Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The other day I listened to an NPR interview with George Taber, author of the well-researched book, To Cork or Not To Cork: The Billion-Dollar Battle for the Bottle (Scribner, NY, October 2007). Taber offers a history of cork and describes the current world-wide controversy and debate surrounding the current choice of wine closures. He offers an objective analysis of the debate though it surely appears that he ultimately favors cork as the closure of choice.

Taber brought me back to an incident in 2005 that marred what would have otherwise been an exhilarating wine experience. Imagine my delight when after waiting almost three months I went to Sherlock’s in East Cobb County, Georgia some five years ago and took possession of a case of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc from a winery whose name I shall not repeat - ever. I had been seriously evolving my wine palate for at least ten years prior to that after living down my distant past college days which had been full of Boones’ Farm and countless beautiful bottles of Mateus. Anybody got a candle?

I had fully evolved from my solid, bed rock Bordeaux days to the more sophisticated Chinon Cabernet Franc where my nose appreciated that light to medium bodied, very fruity (sometimes herbal – not thin or weedy) smoother mouthfeel and languid finish typical of not so harsh tannins. In the west of France it is a star in its own right even when it’s adding muscle to Merlot or toning down a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon.

Part of my affection for this wine also probably stems from its local name, Breton. You see Bretons are the native culture (sort of, as they were preceded by the also Celtic Gauls) in Celtic Brittany where they still speak, yes, Breton. Celts from present day Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Cornwall migrated (back) to Brittany somewhere from the third century on. Also, many of those “Normans” including my ain folk probably had a lot more Breton in them than admitted. 1066 must have been a real homecoming for many of those folks.

So what does that have to do with Cabernet Franc, you say? Well, absolutely nothing, save another opportunity to up the Celts. Truthfully, I am also motivated by my meeting with some Bretons at FolkMoot USA many years ago in Waynesville, North Carolina whilst a guest of Flora MacDonald Gammon the Younger and Permanent Sergeant-Major John Dall. I borrowed one of John’s great kilts and hand made sporran and headed off for a fine gathering of Celts where I enjoyed the lively and high-pitched binou-kous Breton pipes, bombardes and our hosts in their native Breton dress. They well appreciated the gesture and there were hugs and shared adult beverages all around though no French flags to be found… I noticed more than a few playing our Highland pipes…

Whenever I hear Chinon mentioned I also think of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, who came to Chinon Castle in 1429 where she inspired and motivated the then weak-willed dauphin, Charles VII to put on the French crown at Reims, ultimately drive out the English and unite France under one ruler. To his eternal shame he also allowed the martyrdom of Joan… So, back to the wine.

So, here I am finally back in Texas and having transported the case of Loire Valley/Chinon Cabernet Franc all the way from Georgia treating it with the reverence of The Holy Grail. It was going to be a superlative, yea magical, moment that would be savored by me and me alone (alas, no one to share). I opened a bottle with all the reverence of the best sommelier and ugh! I was greeted with that ummistakable nauseating fungal aroma; a combination of moldy newspaper and wet, dirty Labrador Retreiver. The wine was corked, tainted by TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) and undrinkable. I didn’t have the heart to open each and every bottle then though I slowly over a several month period discarded all but one of the bottles. That was my wine legacy from Georgia. I have since moved on to more of a southern Rhone mentality and palate occasionally looking back to Chinon.

While TCA is mostly caused by the reaction of chlorine on cork bark or wood (ironically used for sterilization) and one of the reasons manufacturers now use hydrogen peroxide and steam sterilization along with other methods to clean corks, this critter can also run rampant in rubber hoses, wooden barrels, and can be affected by light, humidity and temperature. It has been a tough nut to crack and has caused the recurring and very persistent controversy over the use of cork closures. The incidence of cork taint has been such a problem that many wineries have been slowly switching over to screwstops (Stelvins) or the almost as reliable though not as popular plastic corks. Having said that the wine industry has not been totally pleased with the plastic plug as they are generally difficult to open and tend to leak after they have been in place a while.

Understandably, cork producers are scared to death coming up with study after study trying to assure wineries and the wine buying public (especially high end wine collectors/investors) that the incidence of cork taint remains rare, even well below 1% of total production. I remember several years ago when noted wine critic James Laube, an editor for Wine Spectator magazine, reported in 2004 on a tasting of elite 1991 California Cabernets where nearly 15 percent of the wines were spoiled by TCA tainted corks. This controversial report prompted questionable outrage in some circles alleging that Laube just had a more sensitive nose. Sensitive nose or not it would appear the bottom line was the wines were tainted and they should have been recalled.

No doubt as a follow-up to Laube’s report, Wine Spectator (my Bible) in 2005 released a study of 2,800 bottles held at their blind tasting facilities in Napa, California which found that 7% of the bottles were tainted… long way from less than 1%. In the August 20, 2007 (very impressive site) posting "To Screw Cap Wine Bottles or Not", Tablas Creek Vineyard General Manager Jason Haas stated, "Industry estimates range from three percent to as high as 10 percent of corks are tainted. The reality is that failure rates like this are totally unacceptable in any industry.”

Haas correctly related that despite all the problems and the risk associated with cork closures, some wines may well benefit from cork to include Syrah and Mouvedre-based wines which taste better with a little age. Other wines like Rose and Viognier and Grenache Blanc and others which are prone to oxidation and intended to be consumed immediately are likely candidates for the screwtop which better preserves the floral freshness in these wines and extends their lifespan. It would appear that there are other options.

Since an estimated 98 percent of all wine is drunk within six months of its purchase, all of this debate may be moot. That cork may allow ultimate benefits to include flavor and oxygen exchange with some wines, constitutes credible debate though for the masses all that really matters is a wine closure that offers a tight, effective seal. For those other two percent, perhaps wine connoisseurs and the fine wine buying public, cork will still be a mainstay where they can wax nostalgic and argue the very real benefits of the cork closure for aging and maturing those mostly red wines though they will still be faced with the potential of TCA, deteriorating corks, wine oxidation and ultimate spoilage.

The cork industry now offers other choices to even include granulated corks while that old standby, the glass enclosure, is making somewhat of a comeback in the wine closure wars. For you youngsters out there glass was a standard enclosure before modern technology came along. They look a little like decanter stoppers, are resealable and, yes, they are recyclable. These upscale and robust stoppers with a green mentality just might be our answer while the only real issue as with screw tops may be
reduction. While we might be seeing more glass and screw caps down the road the issue is still hotly debated. I will continue to choose wine with closures that suit the wine and my circumstances.

Whilst I ponder the issue many wineries are now switching over to screwtops, plastic or glass including one of my favorites, the wonderfully eccentric folks down at Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz, California who made the move in 2002. Many other credible wineries have or are now contemplating the switch as the stigma associated with screwtops has apparently eased. Almost all New Zealand and over half of all Australian wineries have converted to screwtops though it would appear that the changeover will still be a slow and arduous, though predictable process, in Europe and the Americas.

While I will miss the aesthetics of cork and the romance of that POP performed by me or a knowledgeable sommelier, I am strengthened and assured by the almost certainty that from this point on the bottle I’ll be drinking won’t be tainted. No doubt that the passage of the choreographed pomp and circumstance of the proper selection, presentation and consumption of a fine bottle of wine may be lost on the masses, we hope that it will not result in the demise of that old and sacred institution - the sommelier.

I was reminded the other day by a good Friend of an experience a vacationing young couple from Ann Arbor had in Barbados in 1974. With limited financial resources they were frugal, creative and counseled their resources allowing for one formal sit-down dinner where they were going to have (tah-dah!) a bottle of wine. They were greeted by a white-gloved sommelier wearing vest and apron replete with white cloth napkin, the obligatory sterling tasting cup and an awesome and very expensive wine list. The couple perused the wine selection and was horrified by the extravagant and outrageous prices. Much to the chagrin of a by now totally disgusted sommelier, they settled on a $50.00 bottle of white wine.

The bottle came out properly presented wrapped in a napkin, iced and in a footed silver bucket. The sommelier presented the bottle to the host who approved whereupon the sommelier opened the screw top bottle and presented the cap. The host asked what he was supposed to do with it and the sommelier smugly and with a sneer (and maybe a little glee) told him that he was supposed to smell it… Gees…

The Lady still has the gold colored screw top with Enjoy Good Taste proudly embossed around its girth. She still laughs long and happily about that experience, those kinder and gentler times, their naïveté and the reality that it was probably a Boones Farm though she couldn’t remember if it was their Apple or Strawberry….


Ned Buxton

Friday, May 8, 2009


The other day I was driving westbound on Spring Valley Rd before Coit in Richardson, Texas and just before the big Fiesta grocery store on the left. Probably about thirty five yards before the front of the store I spied a pigeon flying eastbound at about windshield height in my right hand lane – directly towards me. I probably wouldn’t have seen the pigeon but this was an almost pure white bird that lit up the early afternoon spring air and caught my eye. I always drive slowly through what I call The Gauntlet for reasons I will address in another post, so speed wasn’t a factor.

This whole incident probably only took a matter of seconds though I was looking for a bailout position in what would be my merciful attempt to avoid a collision. I couldn’t go right (sidewalk) and only the center and left hand lanes were available. There were no other cars near me so I was planning to execute that option. At the last second I decided to stay the course (I don’t know why) and maintained my position in the right lane though at a much slower speed. Just when I would have turned, the pigeon banked right and into the center lane. Had I veered left, I would have most certainly have hit the bird. We both proceeded our separate ways no worse for the experience. I thanked the ultimate power for his guidance of my supposed intuitive steadfastness which, admittedly, was no more than a “gut” response.

I’ve thought about that incident and why we do what we do and how our approach to our decision making abilities can have far reaching effects on all those around us, including pigeons. Hopefully we will have the time and capacity to address all pertinent issues and make educated and not always “gut” decisions. Many times, however, that’s just not possible and we are required to reach into the depths of our life experiences and shared knowledge of those we come into contact with in our daily personal and business lives.

There are professions that especially include Police Officers, Firefighters, Paramedics & Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), the Military and Doctors (should we in retrospect include stock traders and brokers?), among others that are trained to make those decisions with laser accuracy and with the expectation of a high degree of successful outcomes. There are companies that offer self improvement courses on subliminal decision making where we learn to quickly engage all available resources. There surely should be a segue to material that can teach us how to react and make the correct decisions in non routine and critical tasks. We have learned that grave situations do exist in our world and can present themselves tout de suite in our everyday lives. Playing chicken with a pigeon is not one of those.

Now I’m not a doctor nor am I an expert in psychology, but I have read that the conscious mind cannot deal with the preponderance of complex data required to make successful split second decisions. The simplistic inference is that the attempt to weigh in many factors where all outcomes are considered in a rational cognitive model – an effort that would prompt an educated decision - may not be the best option. It appears that our subconscious mind is better at processing complex problems though that would require sufficient life experiences and problem solving skills that can lay the foundation for successful “gut” decisions.

We have always heard about those who intellectualize problems or business/personal situations and take forever to make substantive though routine decisions invoking images of a deer in the headlights. I’ve seen this happen in business and can recall a major manufacturer that built so many barriers and roadblocks in their hiring process that their average time to fill (TTF) some of their entry to mid level sales positions approached ninety days. In that interim they lost valuable ground to their competition with many outstanding candidates losing interest, disgusted with the seeming inability of the company to make timely decisions. They were right.

As a successful hockey goaltender for Lenox School, the Atlanta Knights, AAA Beer Mug, the AAHL All Stars and fifteen minutes of fame as a back up practice goaltender for the Atlanta Flames I learned quickly that technique, reaction time and positioning in the net were critical. You really don’t have time to think about where the puck is going. No doubt a successful goaler’s repertoire includes great fearless involuntary technique though he will ultimately be required to proactively and intuitively react to where he thinks the puck is going. You have to clear your mind of all prattle and trust your involuntary intuition. Hmmmmm. Yes, this is just a piece of the puzzle though you have to understand and master all your tools and resources and then use them effectively. The bottom line is that you have to be alert, prepared and not afraid to proactively engage any situation.

Years ago I prompted my Developmental School students and employees to, “Just Do Something” and imploded when a well known company came up with a similar phrase that help catapult them to leadership in their industry. They realized that if you remain frozen in time and space unable to process all the available information or just sit waiting for that last little tidbit of data that will tip your decision making scales, then that opportunity may be lost and you may not achieve any of your goals.

First, we all need to evaluate our current decision making capacity and available strategies, if any. If you find yourself confused and unable to even conceptualize the decision making process, just ask yourself what you are going to do in case of an emergency (tornado, hurricane, flood, pandemic, pigeons, etc) and how you are going to develop and implement that plan.

Once you know what you have to do, you need to concentrate on how you’re going to perform to mission. Don’t be afraid to be proactive and engage a mental construct that evolves into strategies to develop and maintain these skills (no deer in the headlights here). Aside from administering and enforcing established policies and procedures, we all need to develop verifiable, substantive skills on all levels that will assist us when those difficult decisions confront us.

There are some useful tools available to us that include the 1998 Sources of Power and the 2004 The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work by cognitive psychologist Gary Klein (a good start).

This is an incredibly simplistic approach to an extremely complex dilemma. Don’t worry about “modeling” and statistics and all the other BS that consultants and decision junkies sell. I’m not saying that these are not worthwhile activities, rather that you need a logical starting point and that’s the admission that you have to get with the program and develop this capacity. The recent pandemic scare proves once again that ours is an ever evolving, complex world that requires your undivided attention to the decision making process. Just do it and perhaps you will be able to avoid that pigeon when he comes flying at you on Spring Valley Road…


Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 2, 2009


The pandemic scare of April/May 2009 is yet again another opportunity to ponder the reality of this our mortal plane. For a little over one year this kid sat in the Pandemic Chair on the now devolved Disaster Services Committee of the Dallas, Texas chapter of the American Red Cross. As a result I have become a passable student of that lowly perceived but critical subject.

The current Swine Flu outbreak is an Influenza A virus, a virtual “old friend” and descendent of the subtype H1N1 virus which prompted the Spanish Influenza - the deadly outbreak of 1918-19 that killed up to 100 million folks worldwide. There are some differences, though, and this is not to be confused with seasonal flu that kills an average of 36,000 Americans every year.

For the last several years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been concentrating on the potential of an Avian/Bird Flu outbreak and fighting this critter in such venues as China, Vietnam, India and other third world countries trying to keep it isolated and away from the population centers of the world. To date they have been successful or, more than likely, the sometime human to human jump the bird flu has taken has hit a dead end each time. So now comes this clone of the Avian, Swine and Human Type A Virus and we, for want of a better term, call it what it has been, the Swine Flu (more later).

What is interesting is how we have coped or handled this situation so far. Folks at the CDC and WHO appear to be doing an admirable job along with many local municipalities to include both Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas. Since that ten year boy (Patient A) from southern California infected with the virus stopped in Texas several weeks ago, it appears that we are the epicenter of the Swine Flu activity. We should note that he has not been associated with any of the local outbreaks but did, indeed, trigger the pandemic alarm in Texas.

While the CDC engaged and then later relaxed school closing recommendations, the school system in Fort Worth along with Lewisville, Ponder, Denton, Decatur, Chico, Lake Dallas and Cleburne in north Texas; New Braunfels, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City and Comal in south central Texas and Brownsville in south Texas literally shut their doors for up to ten days after several cases of this new virus surfaced in their student populations. Houston closed two of its schools while Dallas, Birdville, Plano and Richardson opted to stay open though many athletic and other congregate activities and some individual schools were closed after students fell ill. Though some may perceive this as closing the barn door after the horses have left, it was better than no response at all.

The organizers of Fort Worth’s wonderful Mayfest cancelled their 2009 event and now threaten because of the huge financial shortfall, that they may never again hold that event (any benevolent souls out there?). These have been incredibly tough but admirable decisions as the universal response to pandemic or the potential of same is always to limit congregate activities – take the fuel away from the fire. The big challenge in managing virulent human to human illnesses appears to be the balance against apathy and no action against overreaction.

Its been interesting to watch the behaviors that have manifested during this crisis. In an ever more increasing politically correct (PC) world I continue to be amazed at what lengths we will go to assuage, pacify and mollify those who are, maybe or might be offended by any action, however legitimate. Witness the consideration by some US officials with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and some folks at the CDC who are now calling the current H1N1 virus as “swine like”. WHO has also threatened to stop labeling the current flu as the Swine Flu because “it was misleading and triggering the slaughter of pigs in some countries.” Indeed, in Baghdad, misguided Iraqi officials killed three wild boars at Baghdad's zoo because of swine flu fears while equally ignorant Egyptian authorities were preparing to slaughter their pig populations.

Understandably, the National Pork Board has apparently weighed into this nonsense. Seems that the sale of pork is off due to fears and outright quarantines (unjustified) and they don’t want the image of their product tainted further so they want to rename the disease. By the way, I am eating a pork Bar-B-Q sandwich as I write this post – delicious! It is a known fact that eating properly cooked and prepared pork will not prompt the virus. This proves once and for all time that it all comes down to money and that may be our ultimate downfall. We can't reinvent science because of some ignorant folks.

Scientists including some of the top virologists on this planet tell us that with a "mud on the snout" mentality it is what it is; that scientifically it is the “Swine Flu” and any attempt to call it anything else is, “absurd”. Nonscientifically if it squeals like a pig, roots like a pig and smells like a pig; it’s probably a pig uhhhh Swine.

We have also heard of patent discrimination against Mexican nationals and even some people who are referring to the virus as the “Mexican Flu” drawing a quick retort from some grossly offended Mexicans who suggested that perhaps it should be called the “North American Flu”. One tongue-in-cheek good Friend with Canadian roots has suggested calling it the NAFTA Flu?

We need to note some of the clueless and irrational behaviors that have accompanied this outbreak. With the closure of the Fort Worth schools we have witnessed in some parents an understandable but short sighted reaction that could ultimately put us all in jeopardy. Local media has documented angry parents foaming at the mouth because their children cannot attend their proms or go to/participate in local sporting events. Would they rather see the ultimate health and welfare of their children compromised by such superficial issues? In a non scientific survey almost 63% of folks in Dallas feel that the closures represent an overreaction. We obviously have to expand and ratchet up the educational process.

Then you have the real yahoos such as one Hispanic named individual on a local post who proclaimed that this was all “artificially created” to “harm Mexico.”

Many working parents are now scrambling to figure out what to do with their kids while they work? While Friends and Family (lots of grandparents) have been called in to do child sitting duties, their efforts have not been enough. Many employees have been forced to stay at home as child care facilities are also closed or not taking on any more children. While some companies have been responsive, many still appear unwilling to let their employees, when reasonably possible, work from home thereby defusing that concern.

And what about those surgical and/or dust masks that the Mexican government has been distributing to their citizens? The CDC has not recommended their use by the general public and states that there is little evidence that they do much good. Truth is that while they are a “feel good” patch, they probably cause more harm than good and prompt people to take unnecessary risks in crowded environments where the spread of the disease is most likely.

The CDC indicates that N95 and P95 respirators or better may offer some protection though they should be used in specific situations and in conjunction with other precautions that include frequent hand-washing, covering coughs, seeing our physicians and staying at home if ill and at all costs avoiding crowds or really any congregate activity (six foot rule). Above all we need to listen to our health officials, respect their very difficult decisions and follow their directions to the letter. Please surf on over to for some good advice on the definition of and recommended use of masks and respirators. One of the best sources for education on this or any other pandemic issue can be found at

While this initial outbreak has been fairly mild, we still aren’t out of the woods yet. We need to clear away the fuel that could prompt an antigenic shift and mutation (that’s what it does) that could, in a second wave where we would have little or no immunity, be far more devastating.

Well, I certainly do hope and pray that all this really is an overreaction and that any (just one) of the steps we have taken to date haven’t really been necessary. We need note that this scenario could also validate the effectiveness of the precautions already taken. If one child has died as a result of apathy and/or the failure to properly prepare for the potential of an highly virulent epidemic/ pandemic disaster, then we obviously haven’t done nearly enough. Even if this remains a mild outbreak it still proves that, subject to the whims of nature, the Bird Flu or another virus with an even higher mortality rate is still sitting and waiting for that right opportunity. Again, that's its nature.

One Emergency Preparedness Coordinator from the State of Minnesota said it all for me, “I think that the key thing for us is we don't know what it will evolve into. Whether it will go away or whether it will turn into something significant." We must remain vigilant. We can’t be tainted or see our judgment fail because of any self serving issues. As Leonard Crane, author of Ninth Day of Creation states, “The next influenza strain that ravages the human population will probably not be the one we were planning to encounter.”

The bottom line is that we have to do something when we encounter viruses that have the potential to become deadly pandemic. Some feel, and I agree, that even when their presence is confirmed, it appears that we will always be reactive and "behind the curve" hence our present conundrum. It would appear that this is just a practice run...


Ned Buxton