Travels with Headcase

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JD Headcase on Mastitis

May 6th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · No Comments

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Recently in Nursing school, my colleague Summer mentioned  the use of rBGH (growth hormone) in livestock.

Having grown up in Montana on a small ranch, I was curious about mastitis. My family raised cattle and milked our cows by hand, but rarely ever had outbreaks of mastitis…so my ‘Luddite suspicion’ was that cows were getting mastitis because modern milking machines are being too rough on their teats, OR they are milking them too much!  This is not the case at all.

a girl and her cow...

“The primary cause of mastitis in cattle, goats and sheep are well-recognized groups of microorganisms: Streptococcus sp., Staphylococcus sp., Pasteurella sp. and coliforms, Escherichia coli, Enterobacter sp., and Klebsiella sp.” These organisms like wet, warm, dark places found in dirty bedding and crowded quarters. (Mastitis, 2008)  Of course, the same bugs people get diseases from! The rGBH must be creating an environment where the pathogens overtake the normal flora of the glands and ducts of the teat. See image below:


While the article never mentions milking machines, it did say that prevention of mastitis requires your animals’ quarters be clean and dry. (Mastitis, 2008)

**Care for some Air and Light, Florence?**

So in the end, whether you are caring for animals or people, the rules for cleanliness are the same – absolutely necessary.

Now I finally understand the purpose for my constant barn cleaning regimen over the years – It wasn’t just mom trying to find me a way to stay out of the house; it was animal nursing, trying to actively prevent diseases in our animals.

source:

Mastitis in the Ewe Swartz, Helen A., Ph.D, State Sheep, Goat and Small Livestock Specialist. June 10, 2008. Retrieved on May, 2010 from: http://www.case-agworld.com/cAw.LUmast.html

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Michael J. Fox, help me build it!

May 6th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · 1 Comment

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‘Les Invalides, Paris’

It’s possible that if the “Sun-King” Louis XIV or Napoleon had a say in the matter, there would be a place where people disabled by diseases such as ALS and Alzheimer’s could be housed and helped, simply because they are citizens and have a debilitating disease.

Here’s the deal according to Prof. Pat Farmer: with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) your mind and cognition are fine, while your body is being destroyed, whereas Alzheimer’s is just the opposite, a healthy body with a brain being devoured.  Yes, both are terminal and fatal (i.e. the likely cause of death for someone who has the condition).

'Napoleon's Tomb'

Les Invalides in Paris, officially Le Institution Nationale des Invalides,  was founded in 1670 by Louis XIV, “as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers…” ( Les Invalides, 2010) Napoleon Bonaparte is it’s most famous fan and ‘resident’, interred at Les Invalides with other war heroes in 1840.  During his lifetime, Napoleon secured continued funding for Invalides to house and care for all of France’s soldiers who fought to defend her liberty.

(Speaking forensically…there is some controversy there; originally the cause of Napoleon’s death was given as stomach cancer, but after his body was exhumed and relocated to Invalides, it was noted that he was “fairly well-preserved”.  Upon further examiniation, large traces of arsenic ( a known tissue preservative)  were found on his body and in his hair, so it is thought that Napoleon might have been murdered.)   (Napoleon, 2010 )

Many years ago I visited this hospital on a tour.  I won’t forget the tottering old French men in wheelchairs, maimed by war, handing out flowers by the gate.  From what I could understand, they told us they “ate from the finest kitchen in Paris and we’re very content… Vive le France!”

Les Invalides L'Hospital

Today, I looked at the main homepage of the hospital at Les Invalides, where they assure “Veterans, Pensioners, and victims of war and bombings…  You have your house and doctor care; you can come in for consultation”…followed by a list of phone and room numbers for doctors within the different departments:

  • Internal Medicine and diabetologic; B. Chief physician PORTAL
  • Neurology: Specialist HIA VAL-de-Grace
  • Explorations echocardiographic; Professor JP OLLIVIER…etc.”  ( Institution 2009)

These diseases are so debilitating, and the help required so profound, that I propose a facility as grand as Les Invalides for people suffering from such diseases as ALS and Alzheimers. All we need to do is find the money to fund it properly.

Louis the Sun-King and Napoleon can’t be wrong!

‘Paris skyline’

Sources:

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Diabetes linked to cancer in women

May 5th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · 1 Comment

In researching serious Diabetes-Mellitus Type 2 risk factors, I found a real jaw dropper with the new article titled, New Study Claims Link Between Type 2 Diabetes And Cancer. (New Study, 2010)  Several sites are now running the news article, which disseminated via Diabetes UK Foundation.  Since the study was recently completed at the Tel Aviv University Medical School, I found a different take at an Israeli news org, which gave more detailed statistical information from the study.

  • Overall:  Diabetes-Type 2 patients had a 25 percent increase in risk of cancer in women, but not for men.
  • Regarding the men, there was a curious finding of note; the study found that men with DM-2 were less likely than men without DM-2 to develop prostate cancer, thus lowering risk for prostate cancer. (Israeli, 2010)
  • Population tested: 16,721 Diabetic Patients in the Maccabi Health Maintenance Organization, of whom 1,639 had cancer.
  • These cases were correlated with 7,945 cancer patients among the HMO’s overall 83,874 clients who are not diabetics.
  • To make the findings from the Haartz site easier to digest I made a table:

Cancer Type

Increase in Risk

Reproductive System 96 %
Breast Cancer No findings
Digestive System (overall) 46%
DS: Gall Bladder 4x greater
DS: Esophogeal 2.6x greater
DS: Pancreatic 89 %
DS: Large Intestine/Colon 52%
DS: Rectum No findings
Thyroid glands 61 %
Kidneys/Urinary 43 %
Osteo(Bone/Joint) 35 %
Circulatory 14 %
Respiratory 12 %

Most cancers mentioned are in the GI system

This study confirms another hunch doctors have had for years; due to the very nature of diabetes and the long length of time that people have it may increase their lifetime risk for cancers.

Sources:

“Israeli study: Diabetic women have 25% greater risk of developing cancer” Apr 26, 2010 by Dan Even. Retrieved on Apr 30, 2010 from: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1165160.html

“New study claims link between Type 2 diabetes and cancer” 29 April 2010.  Retrieved on May 1, 2010 from: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/About_us/News_Landing_Page/New-study-claims-link-between-Type-2-diabetes-and-cancer/

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How Much Sugar is THAT?

May 4th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · No Comments

I got this from a friend of mine who is getting tested for DM-type 2 right now: all pictures are visual representations of how many teaspoons of sugar are in single  serving sizes of various foods from the blog,  sugarstacks.com .

Very self explanatory – I know there’s a difference between sucrose and fructose, etc. but just look at the pictures.

To quote a recent posting from the SugarStacks Team:

“So the good folks at the Florida Department of Citrus want their voice heard, and who are we not to oblige? Just for the record, orange juice probably is, as they say, more healthful than apple juice or grape juice.

What worries us, and the point we’re trying to make, is that when people drink orange juice like it is water, they are ingesting too much sugar. Fruit juice may have its place, but many children (and many adults) drink WAY too much juice when they should be drinking water instead.”

Tweet them at:   https://twitter.com/sugarstacker

BLOG: SugarStacks. July 17, 2009.

http://www.sugarstacks.com/blog/

Ruth Mortimer, BusinesWeek

http://brandstrategy.wordpress.com/2009/08/page/2/

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Cancer of Unknown Origin

April 27th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · 2 Comments

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tomb of Unknown soldier

My goal in this quest was to find an unusual type of cancer where all of you might say, “hey, what the heck is that?” and what I found was something that puzzles even oncologists.

Filed under the Universal category of “Hey, What the Heck is That?” is the Cancer of unknown primary site (CUP).

Taber’s 20th edition Medical Encyclodedia tersely defines it as:

“Disseminated cancer in which the original tissue type is uncertain. Cancer of unknown primary site generally has a poor prognosis.” (Tabers 2005)

As Pat (my instructor) mentioned in class, identifying the primary site or origin of cancerous tissue is critical in order to diagnose and determine treatment methods and approaches for that particular cancer.  Just like finding treatment for any other disease, specificity is vital with cancers (remember culture and sensitivity?) The clock is ticking ever loudly with this difficult-to-ID cancer, as oncologists’ success rates are higher when they predetermine the type and origin of tumor the patient has.

According to the National Cancer Institute website:

“When the primary site cannot be identified, this disease may be called carcinoma of unknown primary (CUP). Most often, the metastatic cancer is first found in the lymph nodes, liver, lung, or bone.” (Cancer, 2004)

The article goes on to mention two important facets of identification: location of the spread and identifying tissue type found in cancer cells. If the spread of the metastatic cells is in the upper part of the body, the original cell is likely above the diaphragm (likely sites include the lung and breast); conversely, if the spread is noted in the lower part of the body, original site is likely below the diaphragm (such as the liver and pancreas). (Cancer, 2004)

Treatment options are largely governed by identifying the cancer, and ther  are a myriad of methods mentioned, but sometimes even advanced identification efforts fail. In the United States alone, 2% to 4% of all cancer patients are never diagnosed and suffer from CUP. The article ends with this not-so-cheerful thought:

“Still, when diagnostic tests have not identified the primary site, doctors must decide whether the potential benefits of more  extensive testing outweigh a patient’s discomfort and the financial costs.” (Cancer, 2004)

Final word:

(jd. disclaimer : small graphic picture of cancerous tissue below – proceed w/caution if you have a weak stomach)

Coming in at a close second in the ‘shocking cancers’ category was the ‘Chimney Sweeps’ cancer:  “cancer of the skin of the scrotum due to chronic irritation of coal soot”. (Tabers 2005)

I was hoping this cancer had died with the Industrial Revolution, but then I found this recent ad:

And this example of the disease: (tissue sample, cancer Scroti. )

Cancer Scroti - chimney sweep'c cancer

Yes, this cancer is still around, and chimney sweeps today are routinely protected against and assessed for scrotal cancer.

It’s mostly a man’s crummy job, but I imagine if there are women chimney sweeps they are assessed for vulvar cancers. (Screening, 2004)   'mary poppins'

SOURCES:

Taber’s cyclopedic medical dictionary – 20th edition. 2005, F.A.Davis & Co. Phila, PA. USA.

Farmer, Pat, 2010 notes, HSU Nusing 306: Pathophysiology/Pharmacology. Retrieved from: lecture notes, presentation material from Cancer_1.ppt.

Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin, posted: 1/22/2004. National Cancer Institute Staff. Retrieved on 4/24/2010  from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/unknownprimary

Screening Recommendations for Professional Chimney Sweep. Bruce M. Gardner, MD. Posted: 02/27/2004. Retrieved on   4/24/2010 from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/468905

http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/adc/12255737B.jpg

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Clash of the Titans (Digital 4D) Review

April 18th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Film and Art · 2 Comments

I get my hair done in friendly FORTUNA....HISSSsss!

(Guest contributor Tim Ayers submitted this ROAD STORY to the blog – note it’s the first travel story in what’s supposed to be a travelogue, so hat’s off to TIM! Catch his poetry show on KHSU-FM, 90.5, the Mad River anthology, every other sunday night!)

***Full disclosure: if you wonder why anyone drives 30 minutes one way to see a movie, it’s all for the love of the Fortuna Theater! 100% digital dude!  BEST place in Humboldt to see a 3D movie – North Coast’s biggest 3D screen at 50 ft. x 3 stories!( no wonder it’s so cool!)Friendly and Awesome staff!***

Clash of the Titans (Digital 4D) Review

So I am bored on a Saturday and decide spur of the moment to drive down to Fortuna from Manila (about half an hour one-way)and catch Clash of the Titans remake with Geeks on PCs replacing the Hands of Harryhausen.  I email My Friend Shaun to join me if he can, in the only digital 3D experience afforded you in Humboldt County.

Cholesterol levels be damned…it is time for a Minotaur with Cheese

This is also an excuse to grab lunch at the best burger shack in Humboldt County, the No Brand Burger Stand in Ferndale.   When you call the chef often picks up mumbling  “nbnd”, and you recover and ask when they are open until, and he usually says “4″, but once said “Uhhh….we‘re gonna try and stay open until 5.”  But he is golden, and creates flavors you never thought possible with such cuisine.  I just had time to down the grass-fed Minotaur burger with cheese and “salt fries” before  hitting the cross filled town of Fortuna who have the worst Chamber of Commerce TV spots in the history of television.  (The one that gets the most play on local TV is where a young woman who jogs describes going to a store to buy a card, becomes confused, and someone there asked her if she needed help.   Enough said- Thank You Fortuna.)

Release the Kraken

I spend the first fifteen minutes in Fortuna watching someone attempt to parallel park in front of me, with the co pilot on the sidewalk explaining to them how it will feel as the car comes down off the curbing they had climbed their rear tire with, how to turn their steering wheel, go forward now go backward, etc.    The driver finally achieves victory and exits the car looking like the Medusa from the first ‘Titans’ movie, plastic bag poncho and silver strips tied into her hair, cigarette butt dangling from her lips.  I flash back to the night at the historic Minor theater in Arcata when they ran an odd double bill of Apocalypse Now paired with A Boy and His Dog, with HSU students arriving dressed in costume inspired by one or the other; the camo facepaint of doomed surfer Lance or the bizarre clown makeup of the dwellers of the underworld.   The promise of Chistian Fortuneans dressing up for a Saturday matinee of Clash of the Titans is intriguing until I realize this woman actually escaped from a hair salon, which means you drive around with those silver things wrapped into your hair, wear a bib, and smoke a cigarette throughout the day.   I hoped she was still there to go to movie.

God’s Will Decides It All

While sitting in the car waiting to go in I get a call on My First Cell Phone, the affordable TracFone by Fisher Price, and it is Celia needing help back at the ranch.  She saw the original movie as a kid and wanted to see the remake her own self, especially if it is in Digital 3D, man.  I offer to drive back and skip the movie but say I will let God decide my fate, seeing if My Friend Shaun actually shows up.  If he does, I see the movie, if not, I go back to The Homestead with only my dreams of finally capturing the elusive blue raspberry Icee to show. (Ever notice how the blue Icee machine is always out of order at the theater?  Not the other colors, always the blue.   I asked them about it once and they said blue is by far the favorite color of Icee.  George Carlin once asked ‘Where’s the blue food?  We want the blue food!”  I do too George.  I do too.)

Mutating  Fortunean

So I sit on a bench across from the theater and watch for a car from out of town to drive down main street.  Basically, like very other person from Fortuna on a Saturday afternoon.  Watching for outsiders, those who “done took a wrong turn”.   There is no Shaun, so there will be no Liam.  I head home.

Bottom Line

Clash of the Titans (Analog 1D)  was excellent entertainment- the grass-fed Minotaur burger did not disappoint, the perm’d butt chomping Medusa was frightening, and the general atmosphere of the whole scene creepy.  Like people say about Avatar, I felt like I was taken into a different world.  I give it four stars, Joe Bob says check it out.

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Stan, the Clogged-up Mechanic

April 10th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · 2 Comments

"Stan's other Baby"

My patient Stan is at increased risk for Atherosclerosis.  This concerns me, as Atherosclerosis is one of the top fatal health conditions in America. He’s 55 years old, an avid car nut and family man.  He’s also a-pack-a-day since age 15 smoker and loves high fat greasy food (i.e. Polynesian BBQ, marinated Tri-tip, Jamaican Jerked Chicken…hello cholesterol!)

“So it’s been a while since you’ve come in…tell me how you’ve been doing.”

“Well JD, I don’t feel so well.  Whenever I walk my legs ache after about half an hour, and I have to rest to get the pain to subside.  I also get dizzy spells, and I have to sit down for those, too – and you know how much I love to sit – he he.” Smirked Stan.  I know he’s joking with me; he’s an active guy, always busy doing something.

“Tell me about your baby.”

“Miranda? Why she’s all growed up – I’m proud of her. You know, she’s going to school at Northwestern,” he says, sniffing back a tear.

“You must be proud Stan, you’re practically crying.”

“I am. I’m just sad thinking about ALL that money I’m gonna’ drop at Northwestern U.”

“Stan, that’s great, but I’m actually asking about your other baby in the parking lot there,” I said pointing to the late model Chevy in the parking lot.

His eyes light up. Suddenly, Stan’s a teenager again; eyebrows lifted and a smile draped across his face. “Oh! Oh Sheryl? Well, she’s running just fine.”

Stan’s other ‘baby’, the one he refers to as Sheryl, is his car.  A restored classic, 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS: mint condition, leather bucket seats, 4-speed, posi-traction rear, stock color GM gold flake.  It has the works.  Stan reworked the engine, 396 big block bored out to a 12:1 compression ratio – it’s a moderate but “street-legal racecar”.  Stan told me that with slick tires, it runs in the low 12’s on the drag strip.  Pretty damn good for a grandpa car.  I wanted Stan to think about that engine before I told him about his own internal engine – his heart and vasculature (i.e. arteries and veins) are clogged up by his 40 years of smoking and a fatty, greasy, grilled-animal-diet.  We’re going to have to discuss his numbers.

Me: “So Stan – I want to talk about your tests, but first, I want to ask you about your car’s engine – what happens to your engine if you use 20W-50 oil during the summer? Then say you neglected to change your oil, so it’s up to over 8,500 miles with the same heavyweight oil?  Let’s also say you haven’t had a radiator flush in 10,000 miles.  Tell me about the condition of that 396 c.i. engine out there under those conditions – just hypothetically, of course…”

Stan: “Well that particular oil is already real thick, so by now it would be sludgy – I’d get poor performance, the car would lurch and would accelerate more slowly, wouldn’t go nearly as fast as it could with lighter, thinner oil like 5W-30.  Old heavy oil is not efficient, not good at taking heat out of the engine, doesn’t circulate well…so it will overheat.  Might even clog up the valves, too.  Regarding that radiator, there’s a calcification that occurs on the inside of the engine block, the radiator tubing and radiator hoses if you don’t flush out that ol’ antifreeze.  Why, that might lead to a blocked radiator hose, which could stretch it out and blow a hole right through the wall of the hose.”

Me: “Alright Stan, your description of the engine is very much like what’s happening with your own heart and plumbing.  What’s happening is your blood is getting thicker; it’s not healthy, it’s like that heavy oil and thickened antifreeze fluids you described.  Looking at your INR-blood tests, and the other symptoms that brought you in today, we can see that you are at risk for getting a blood clot, which could blow a hole through one of your own pipes – the trouble is, that could cripple or kill you!  We need to make that blood thinner using a drug.  You’ve been using Aspirin, and that has helped, but we need to switch you to something more powerful, like Warfarin, commonly called Coumadin. Once you start taking this medicine, please stop taking the Aspirin; otherwise you might have problems with bleeding.  You also need to make significant diet changes – less salt, more vegetables, and get a walk in every day.  Smoking?  That’s gotta’ go.  It’s made a bad problem even worse.  If you want to be alive long enough to see your grandkids grow up, and be able to do more than watch them from your living room window, sitting in a wheelchair hooked to a respirator, you must stop smoking.”  I knew this last image of his inactivity would arrest his attention, knowing how active he is with his family.

“We have several options and even some drugs that can help wean you off the cigs for good, Stan.  Let’s start talking about that, as medicine can help you, but stopping smoking will really improve your health!”

Sources:

Lehne , Richard A., PhD (2007). Pharmacology for Nursing Care. Sixth Ed. USA: Saunders Elsevier Publ., St. Louis, MO.

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Chinese Teachers – film review

April 9th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Film and Art · No Comments

Chinese 280

Chinese Film Seminar – review of Country Teachers

Shaun L. Case

April 9, 2010


Do we embrace an Insurgent Learning Community in the face of failing educational systems?

– Dr. Manolo Callahan, Ethnic Studies, HSU, March 2008

While it is important to analyze historical aspects of the educational system in China represented in F.H. Qin’s film Country Teachers, Qin purposefully introduces strong ecological themes within the film as elements of social and political criticism.  Qin introduces the dramatic premise of ‘Nature as Equalizer’, railing against an inhumane Chinese Socialist machine that undermines its own people in order to support the country’s flawed government systems and structures.  Nature symbolizes one of the sharp edges on the double-edged sword of life in China: if the weather doesn’t kill you, the government will ultimately find a way to keep you under their control.

The filmmaker develops and explores this assertion by establishing tragic natural consequences resulting from the main characters confronting wild Nature, underscoring the reality that country teachers and village people endure the hardships of rural Chinese life.  They face an extremely difficult life of poverty and a lack of resources in rural China, yet are expected to work on farms and supply food to China’s populous cities.  Chinese Farmers are caught between two worlds — not only caught in a classist cycle of poverty by their own people via government offices but also subject to the whims of a dangerous, cruel and terrible countryside, both of which they have little control over.

Qin’s purpose is to examine the futility of China’s vampiric Communist system within the realm of a dynamic and wild country. It is a well-positioned social criticism; barely detectable and arguably hidden due to the rampant film censorship of Chinese cinema. [i] This criticism is purposely obscured to avoid censure of the China’s powerful film critics and to seem as an innocuous plot device to the eye of the ordinary viewer.  Nature is the fourth element in the film, and ‘Nature Always Bats Last’.  Effectively utilizing dramatic irony, Qin’s unsympathetic environment parallels the efforts of a Communist Patriarchy that controls its population through policies and bureaucracy, which in the end, undermines itself by squeezing the life out of the very people supporting it.

The most obvious victims are the working peasants, with Qin stressing the importance of a robust education in China juxtaposed against the necessity of working the land.  Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that class attendance is compulsory.  Family survival dictates that students are required to work the farm during harvest, when school falls off the priority list.  Many of them remain stuck in this cycle, never to return to school.

Environmental themes of the peoples’ struggles with Nature’s elements are highlighted in three scenes.  In the first, a man in the mountain village trying to feed his family is arrested and jailed for cutting down a tree, which authorities argue belongs to the State.  This causes a great amount of trouble for the country teachers, and even puts a dark shadow over the school itself.  In a later scene, foreshadowed by images and sounds of wolves along a mountain trail, one of the teachers negligently abandons an 8-year-old [female] student on the very same trail.  The girl’s mother shows up at the teacher’s house when the little girl doesn’t arrive that night, and the whole village sets out to find her.  The girl is found, alive and terrified, chased up a tree by the wolves, which would not leave the base of the tree.  Qin makes a subtle visual analogy here, drawing a comparison between the wild wolves and local authorities – both equally persistent in their efforts to control the villagers.  One has teeth, the other rules and policies, but the effects from both are similar.

We discover near the end of the film that Teacher Ming, the disabled wife of Teacher Yu, was also a promising teacher at one time, but Nature intervened and ended her career.  She was invited by the authorities to take her teacher certification test, which if passed would mean a stable government salaried position rather than an itinerant stipend for the rest of her teaching career.  It’s late winter, and the mountain pass is frozen and dangerous when Ming sets out to take the test.  Teacher Yu tells our protagonist, Ms. Zhang, that Ming slipped and fell into the icy river, caught pneumonia and missed her chance to take the certification exam. Ming ultimately lost face, never to recover, physically, emotionally, or financially.  Ming is destroyed by the land itself, which seems a cold-blooded ally to an even colder bureaucratic central government.

Qin’s cultural product lends itself well as a historical examination of the life of Country Teachers in China and their students, but it works just as well as social criticism.  Qin is creating awareness of the plight of country people, arguing loudly for more support from Chinese authorities to help support and educate its own constituents.  He does this by drawing a parallel between the ruthlessness of the Natural world and the insensitivity of the local government offices, showing them both to be about equal in the power to control the lives of the Chinese people.


[i] “Chinese Documentaries Show Realities Missing from Chinese Films

Duowei News journalist Wan Yizhong

http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/film-censorship/

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HSU Nursing program threatened

April 8th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Healthcare · No Comments

In an an effort to save money, on Tuesday April 6, Humboldt State University Board of Trustees has voted to close the nursing program.  I shall start posting about what you can do  soon, but first go see the news program that ran this week here…

(Bonus: see if you can find me in the program footage:)

http://kiem-tv.com/node/537

Shaun Case SN HSU

(translation: SN= Student Nurse)

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Mexican Revolution – Latino Film Festival

March 27th, 2010 by jdheadcase in Film and Art · 6 Comments

JD Headcase

SPAN 480 – Film Review

March 26, 2010

(NOTE: this review is about the Latino Film festival in Arcata, CA March 9-11, 2010).

The most important issue established during the recent Latino Film Festival in our community was an awareness and situated historical context of the Mexican Revolution within 2010, the Centennial celebration.  It’s been a hundred years, and the festival was an excellent introduction not only to place-time, events, and historical figures but also to the underlying power politics that transported Mexico into revolution.

The three films shown at the Festival are cultural products representative of the movement recognized as the Mexican Revolution. These films also reveal commonalities in how their characters treat issues of Power, Ethics, and Moral Responsibility. Each film reveals a similar power dynamic, which is an inverse relationship between Power (and how it is utilized) and Ethical / Moral Responsibility (and how that affects communities).  Generally speaking, what is exposed in each film was that as Power over larger populations increased in a continuum (individual à family à village à City à Stateà Country), the Moral and Ethical responsibility of those in power decreased by proportion. Conversely, those characters who exhibited elements of strong moral fiber or ethical decision making tended not to hold power.  For them, the only path to freedom (from coercive power) and out of oppression was Revolution.  Lastly, as another element of Revolution, in all three films the audience is meant to take the point of view of the oppressed.  This is VERY important, muy importante; for each film to successfully signify knowledge of the Revolution’s goals, a veritable visual revolution must take place in the theater for the audience.  The films “celebrate the movement by taking one back in time to the fields of Mexico”[i].

Essentially, there are two kinds of power represented in these films: Colonial Power, held by wealthy landowners descended from Spanish conquistadors and non-native European invaders, and Indigenous-People Power, which is more democratically structured, shared power having roots in ethics and morals, and coming out of the native traditions of the original inhabitants of Mexico itself.

The two forms of power are on opposite ends of a continuum, and what all three films embody are the human struggle of leadership transfer from Colonial to Indigenous centers of Power.  The filmmakers portray characters caught in the triangle of Power, Ethics, and Morality in order to reveal the underlying power politics that fuel a revolution.  The films portray the shift of power that occurs during a revolution and inherently turns the power triangle upside down, moving the center of power away from the few and into the hands of the many, in this case the indigenous people of Mexico.  At the start of the Festival, Dr. Escareño said, “The unique nature of these films is they are visual artifacts captured right after the end of the Mexican Revolution.  They were among the very first films produced in Mexican cinema, and it is unusual to have such a historic event documented so close to it’s occurrence.” In this paper I will briefly discuss the films as they appeared in order of the program: “El Compadre Mendoza”(1933)[ii], “Vamanos con Pancho Villa” (1935[iii]), and “El Principio (1972)”[iv].

“El Compadre Mendoza” by Fernando de Fuente

From the comical scenes of Rosario’s butler switching paintings of Huerte and Villa to the heartbreaking ending, “El Compadre Mendoza” is an excellent early morality film, showing the tragic cost of not choosing sides in a civil war.   One doesn’t lose the Dramatic irony in the film’s title – as Rosario was “friend” to both sides, selling arms in order to make money, but in the end, no one was his friend or on his side – Rosario gambled everything (the love and respect of his family, friendship with Felipe`) and lost it all.  Note that Rosario sells out his friend, the bandit Felipe to his government “friends”, even more corrupt in their concentration of absolute power, lacking all ethics or moral responsibility.  Rosario’s power at that moment is comparable to those he lords over, and thus reduced, he gives in to the greater power structure. We watch Rosario’s character struggle with his poor judgment.  The audience can see he is capable of taking moral responsibility, but chooses not to, and thus falls.

“Vamanos con Pancho Villa” by Fernando de Fuente

This film was representative of what common people believed Pancho-Villa to be, an idealized and memorable revolutionary figure, and how he disappointed them.  Following the Power-Moral continuum, it might be argued that he started with a high level of ethics and moral responsibility, but lost much of that as he gained power.  A dramatic foil to Villa, the last remaining villager from the “Lions of San Pedro”, maintains his dignity by adhering to his own high ethics by leaving Villa’s army after being forced to kill his compadre’, who Villa feared had smallpox.  Later during the evening discussion, Peter Blakemore mentioned that Latino historians painted Villa as a “quaint, mythical, almost quixotic figure” with his lack of military technology during the war. Dr Escareño juxtaposed those histories with controversy, telling us what Mexicanos at that moment in time said of Villa, “Pancho Villa’s men killed my sister…they killed my cousins, my brothers…They raped my mother…”[v])

“El Principio” by Gonzalo Martinez Ortega

Using elements of “magical realism” (as Dr. George Potamianos pointed out[vi]), “El Principio” is Mexican New Wave cinema using several flashbacks to tell the story of a local factory owner Ernesto, the company town he controls, and how he instigates Revolution thus ending his reign.  It’s a small, powerful story representing the larger reality in Mexico at the time.

Beginning with haunting images of men crawling like Wolves, group raping a Latina – this visual metaphor of primary ¡Chingada!, defined by Dr. Escareño – as a “metaphor for the struggle of Mexico, and as a term used by Octavio Paz for the rape of the first indigenous woman, by Spaniards…since that seminal event, Mexico has never recovered…” and has struggled for identity and independence from her dark Colonial history.  Other animalistic observations are drawn.  With the loss of the original, respected Patroñs from the town, (Ernesto’s grandfather and father), “El Principio” plays out like one big Alpha-Beta male battle for dominance, reminiscent of a pride of lions in Africa.  We see the living former Alpha-male (Ernesto’s father), now mute and crippled, useless to his community, though he was popular with factory workers.  His son Ernesto tries to gain control of the workers forcefully, not unlike a Conquistador. Ernesto is portrayed as all power, no ethics or morals whatsoever; he exhibits brutal, misplaced power – egotistical, abusive, and lethal.  Disconnected from his constituents (i.e. the factory workers), he sees them as a threat, and a local battle ensues – an ideal metaphor for the kinds of struggles that took place all over Mexico during the Revolution.

Continuing with the Alpha-male concept, we perceive that the character with increased moral backbone is at the bottom of this power triangle – the Blacksmith is by far the strongest man in village (physically and ethically).  However, due to Class restrictions, he struggles against Ernesto from the bottom of the power triangle, and is ultimately assassinated by Ernesto during the uprising.

In films and theater, when ghosts appear, ¡atención de la paga! The flashback scene of Ernesto’s son seeing his great-grandfather release Ernesto’s horse is akin to the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father appearing to Hamlet, revealing the uncle as his slayer. (“Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural.”[vii])  This is a blatant foreshadowing of the demise of Ernesto, revealing ancestral disrespect and disownment of the former leader for his grandson, Ernesto.

There was one interesting gender study in the film of Ernesto’s gun, a filmic phallic symbol; initially the gun follows the classic movie rule (has to be used once shown), but subverts the paradigm by allowing the dispossessed to gain revenge on the oppressor with the original murder weapon.  Also interestingly, the only time Ernesto regrets his power abuses is near the film’s end, during the dying of his father.  The disrespect of his ancestors finally wears him down, and in his weak, reflective moment, he is cut down in the scene where the kept prostitute kills Ernesto with his own gun.  This scene is emblematic of the Revolution, the release of the subjugated using the tools of the oppressor, with an altered outcome.

ALICE in Wonderland = Revolution?

Even today, the idea of Revolution appears in films in order to resolve conflicts between sides – even in a Disney film!  A current example showing in theaters now (March, 2010) is the popular Tim Burton vehicle, “Alice in Wonderland – in 3D”. Comparing the popular film to those from the festival is easy: observe the impetus for battle in Wonderland between the White Queen (representing Purity, an unspoiled country, indigenous peoples…), invaded and overturned by her jealous sister, the Red Queen, her hair blood Red, who destroys the White Queen’s land with red soldiers (led by Crispin Glover’s armored Knave of Hearts).  She utilizes new technology (a large fire breathing Dragon), and chaos ensues, much like the disparity of the battles shown in “El Compadre Mendoza” where the peasant soldiers are mowed down by machine guns.

Near the end of the film, Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, a powerless character with tremendous ethics and morals, leads the throng of common people and animals to Revolution and, with the help of a Champion warrior (a magical Pancho Villa in the guise of ‘Alice’), defeats the Red Queen, democratically integrates the red citizens, and reestablishes the White queen to her rightful place as leader of the land.  One could argue this is a contemporary symbolic scene of ¡Chingada! Being represented, original rape, ravaging the Garden of Eden, where the original people are avenged only through Revolution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the films viewed during the Latino Film Festival are cultural artifacts of historic events of Mexican Revolution.  They showed historically based characters acting along defined Class-based lines within an ethical and morality power play, and where they started heavily influenced their own direction and the outcome of their community and ultimately, an entire country.  During this Centennial, we must reflect upon the images shown, and we must reconsider how that past informs Mexico’s present struggle and how it will influence its future.


[i] Comment from Dr. Itzia Fernandez Escareño, Arcata, CA March 09, 2010.

[ii] El Compadre Mendoza”(1933). Director: Fernando de Fuente.

[iii] “Vamanos con Pancho Villa” (1935). Director: Fernando de Fuente.

[iv] “El Principio”(1972). Director: Gonzalo Martinez Ortega.

[v] March 10, 2010 – post film Panel discussion with Peter Blakemore, Dr. Escareño, et. al.

[vi] Comment from Dr. George Potamianos, March 11, 2010.

[vii] Shakespeare, William.  Hamlet; Act 1, Scene 5.

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