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The Atlantic followed up this week on the inspiring story of the Memphis "Fly Boys" -- Wooddale High aviation students Wesley Carter and Darius Hooker -- who competed recently in the elite Team America Rocketry Challenge. In an article titled "Meet the 'Fly Boys' of Memphis, the Future of American Education," writer Brian Reskin places the accomplishments of Carter and Hooker in the context of policy efforts to increase the number of students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- the "STEM" fields. Reskin asks: What counts for their success?

In the face of the recession and declining numbers of skilled technical workers, a key piece of the Obama administration's education plan is a renewed emphasis on Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, just like the one Carter and Hooker attended at Wooddale. Today's CTE programs are not the vocational curricula of the past, which focused solely on trade education. They include college prep as well, giving students more options after graduation. To fund them, the Education Department is calling for the renewal and retooling of the Perkins Act. The act was last renewed in 2006, under President Bush, but Obama wants to push it further, calling for increased collaboration between high schools, colleges, industries, and states.

"It seems very clear that when you give young people an opportunity like at Wooddale High School to engage in this kind of learning, it turns something on," James Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education, tells me. "I truly believe this, even though I can't point to empirical evidence that's research based."

In the end, the boys' rocket launch was unsuccessful, but they already have inspired the younger members of the school's aviation program:

Although disappointment hangs on their faces, Hooker and Carter are well versed in science and know that failure is just an opportunity to learn. "The center of gravity may have been off on it to give it that spiral," Hooker says. "It's not the end, there's still a lot of work to be done, a lot of knowledge to be passed on, but this is capping it off for us seniors."

scrocket1.jpg NPR follows up today on one of the true feel-good stories out of Memphis so far this year. Recall the Wooddale High School "Fly Boys," two top-notch students in the school's aviation program who won the chance to compete in the elite nationwide Team America Rocketry Challenge, which takes place this weekend in Washington. Darius Hooker and Wesley Carter beat out thousands of other hopefuls to earn a berth in the competition, but they and their school lacked the money to pay for the trip to Washington and back in time for graduation. Sure enough, though, Memphis came through with donations to support these two impressive young men, their sponsors and classmates on their quest.

Here are some excerpts from Hooker and Carter's chat with NPR's Michel Martin; transcript and audio available here.

MARTIN: I'm imagining that being in the rocket club, particularly when you were younger guys, was probably like being in the glee club, not the coolest. I don't know. So I just wanted to ask - did you ever have that experience and how did you, you know, overcome the usual?

HOOKER: My ninth and 10th grade year, to be honest - yeah. We were counted like the outcasts of the whole thing. My 11th and 12th grade year, me and Wesley kind of turned that around 100 percent. We were like the guys on campus. We are what's happening and, I mean, people see that we have things going for ourselves, so everybody wants a piece of what's going on. I didn't let anybody's worries get me down. I always knew what I was waking up to go to school for at the end of the day.

MARTIN: Wesley, what about you?

CARTER: We came in our ninth grade year and we would sit in class and, you know, everybody would be like, oh, hey, Darius - or hey, Wesley, can you give us the answers to this, this, this? And we would be completely nice about it, but once we got out of class, we had no friends at all, so me and Darius had to keep each other up.

PICTURED: Wooddale High School seniors Wesley Carter (left) and Darius Hooker, show off the rocket that qualified their team to go to Washington DC for the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge.


At the Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog, while lamenting Tennessee's prominent ranking on a number of "worst-of" lists for quality of life (we Memphians know all about that), Rachel Walden points out something I hadn't seen, either:

And I missed this last month, but the blogger at Lavender and Cheese writes about another embarrassing finding that got basically no media attention here: Black women die more from breast cancer than white women, and that's more true in Memphis, Tenn., than in any of the nation's other largest cities. In Memphis, a black woman is more than twice as likely to die as a white woman.

Lavender and Cheese links to the study from the journal Cancer Epidemiology and lays into the local media for missing the story (After searching the archives, I'm pretty certain we did not cover it in any way at The Commercial Appeal.). 

This is according to a study (pdf) released this week examining racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates. Of the twenty-five largest cities in the country, Memphis topped the list with the greatest racial disparity: the ratio of black women to white women who die of breast cancer in Memphis is 2.09. The study was conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago with funding from the Avon Foundation.

The results were published on Wednesday. It's now Friday.

The Washington Post published a story about this study on Wednesday, and DC wasn't even on the list of cities surveyed. The Denver chapter of Susan G. Komen tweeted a link to a Denver Post article, which is how I found out about the study.

You know where this study didn't make news? Tennessee. Not in Memphis, not in Nashville.

Digging through the study itself, I found some facts that should underline why this study should concern us in Memphis. "RR" is the rate ratio, in this case the racial disparity in mortality; "NHB" is non-Hispanic black; "NHW" is non-Hispanic white.

In Memphis the RR is so high (2.09) because the NHB rate is high (44.6) and the NHW rate is low (21.3). The very low RR in San Francisco is due to the NHB rate (19.6), which is the lowest of all the cities.

As this shows, poor health outcomes in Memphis compared to cities like San Francisco are even worse for minorities and women. Table 2 lists median household income among other correlates, and Memphis is among the very lowest of the 25, just more than half that of San Francisco.


At the Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog, while lamenting Tennessee's prominent ranking on a number of "worst-of" lists for quality of life (we Memphians know all about that), Rachel Walden points out something I hadn't seen, either:

And I missed this last month, but the blogger at Lavender and Cheese writes about another embarrassing finding that got basically no media attention here: Black women die more from breast cancer than white women, and that's more true in Memphis, Tenn., than in any of the nation's other largest cities. In Memphis, a black woman is more than twice as likely to die as a white woman.

Lavender and Cheese links to the study from the journal Cancer Epidemiology and lays into the local media for missing the story (After searching the archives, I'm pretty certain we did not cover it in any way at The Commercial Appeal.). 

This is according to a study (pdf) released this week examining racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates. Of the twenty-five largest cities in the country, Memphis topped the list with the greatest racial disparity: the ratio of black women to white women who die of breast cancer in Memphis is 2.09. The study was conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago with funding from the Avon Foundation.

The results were published on Wednesday. It's now Friday.

The Washington Post published a story about this study on Wednesday, and DC wasn't even on the list of cities surveyed. The Denver chapter of Susan G. Komen tweeted a link to a Denver Post article, which is how I found out about the study.

You know where this study didn't make news? Tennessee. Not in Memphis, not in Nashville.

Digging through the study itself, I found some facts that should underline why this study should concern us in Memphis. "RR" is the rate ratio, in this case the racial disparity in mortality; "NHB" is non-Hispanic black; "NHW" is non-Hispanic white.

In Memphis the RR is so high (2.09) because the NHB rate is high (44.6) and the NHW rate is low (21.3). The very low RR in San Francisco is due to the NHB rate (19.6), which is the lowest of all the cities.

As this shows, poor health outcomes in Memphis compared to cities like San Francisco are even worse for minorities and women. Table 2 lists median household income among other correlates, and Memphis is among the very lowest of the 25, just more than half that of San Francisco.


RealAge.com ranks Memphis No. 2 in 'Worst Cities for Sleep'

 
Fox 8 News in Cleveland links to a "Best Cities in America for a Good Night's Sleep" survey on RealAge.com that ranks Cleveland No. 1 among the best cities for sleep and ranks Memphis No. 2 among the worst. No criteria are explained for the sleep survey, but the accompanying text does say that sleep is among the more important factors in RealAge.com's RealAge 2012 Youngest & Oldest Cities Report, in which Memphis ranks 48 out of 50.

Aardvark from Memphis bears baby for Chicago's Brookfield Zoo

 

Ready for more cute baby zoo animals with Memphis-linked parents? Good! The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago has welcomed a baby aardvark -- Chicagoist calls it "the cutest looking alien pig we've ever seen" -- born to a mother, 7-year-old Jessi, on breeding loan from the Memphis Zoo. The sire, 17-year-old Hoover (get it?), is from the San Antonio Zoo. More good work from the Memphis Zoo! CBS 2 in Chicago has more about the baby, which despite being 6 weeks old and 15 pounds is still of indeterminate sex. Boy or girl, it is pretty darn cute ...

In a press release announcing the release of the new report "Impact 2011: Examining a Year of Catastrophes Through the Lens of Resiliency," the nonprofit advocacy group Federal Alliance for Safe Homes gave Memphis the poorest marks of four cities based on how quickly each would recover in the event of a severe earthquake. Earthquake-prone Los Angeles ranks first, and the other two are Seattle and Charleston.

In the modeled case study of these four cities, all located on major U.S. fault lines, Los Angeles (not the smaller cities) would fare the best on a relative basis because it's a better-built environment with stronger seismic building codes and practices. Conversely, Memphis, would experience average building damage ratios eight times larger* than that of LA, and would experience nearly eight times the rate of fatal injuries.

Why?  In natural disasters of any kind, it's all about resiliency or the ability of a community to survive and then bounce back from disaster --- and resiliency is directly related to the quality of the built environment, building codes and record of enforcement.


* Blogger's emphasis added.

Plasma torch toothbrush to be tested in Memphis

 
According to this item posted this afternoon on the Popular Science website, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis will be the site of clinical trials on a promising new dental device: the plasma torch toothbrush. It might sound scary -- plasma is a state of matter that includes stuff like the surface of the sun, lightning bolts and superhero energy beams -- but it needn't be. PopSci even has a picture of what it calls "the World's Bravest Dentist" firing a beam into his own mouth.

Some background, for anyone who doesn't subscribe to Dentistry Illustrated Weekly: the plasma brush isn't a toothbrush, but actually a tool dentists are hoping to use for two primary situations. The first is breaking up plaque; the plasma torch, though it's no hotter than room temperature, is excellent at breaking the bonds that adhere plaque to a tooth. The second is as a sort of primer for filling cavities.

2011 flood uncovered preserved cotton field in Coahoma County, Miss.

 
Via Western Farm Press ...

It turns out that the awesome power of the Mississippi River that was unleashed this past spring both gave and took away in the Mississippi Delta south of Memphis. An old cotton field in Coahoma County, Miss., that was buried under sediment in the Great Flood of 1927 was rediscovered after this year's historic flooding:

Fast forward to this past spring when floodwaters from the Great Flood of 2011 swept away the 5 feet of topsoil that the 1927 flood had deposited on the field. Like washing away a layer of mud from the bottom of an old pair of boots, the floodwaters revealed once again the treads of the old field, perfectly preserved sets of ancient mule tracks and old cotton rows.

Bowen Flowers and Pete Hunter, two Coahoma County cotton producers, were lucky enough to have seen the field while hunting this spring. Flowers took a few pictures on his iPhone. "You can actually see where the mule tracks were when they were rowing it up," said Flowers, who is serving as the president of the Delta Council this year. "It was like they were petrified."

The buried field avoided much damage from devastating flood of 1937, unlike Memphis up the river:


Those improvements in the 1930s helped confine the 1937 flood to a smaller area than the 1927 flood, according to Camillo. "We had to operate Birds Point that year (1937), but once you got down to the mouth of the Arkansas River, the flood kind of petered out because of the channel realignment, which had lowered flood stages by 10 to 12 feet. Most of the damage from the 1937 flood was limited to between Cairo, Ill., and Memphis."

Since last spring, work to repair broken levees and subsequent rains washed away forever what was left of that tough cotton field in Coahoma County, Miss.

Sleep drug gives new hope to family of brain-damaged Memphis man

 
A story from this coming Sunday's The New York Times Magazine called "A Drug That Wakes the Near Dead" is built around the story of a Memphis-area couple and their brain-damaged adult son -- and a new avenue of hope for patients stuck in a state of minimal consciousness.

"First they asked us to let them pull the plug," Judy recalled one recent afternoon, as we sat in the living room of the Coxes' house in a Memphis suburb. "Then they tried getting us to sign a do-not-resuscitate order." Without one, the doctor explained, hospital staff would be forced to revive Chris each time he started slipping away, which could mean cracking his ribs and shocking him with electricity. Even if they managed to keep his body alive, what was left of his brain would surely die in the days ahead.

Wayne and Judy refused to sign. "This is not some dog we're talking about putting down," Wayne shouted. "This is our son."

Some recent reports have suggested that the prescription sleep aids Ambien and zolpidem can suddently awaken people who have spent years in a vegetative state. The trick to pursuing an avenue with a patient like Chris Cox is figuring out which responses -- whether physical or merely detectable via electrical brain activity -- constitute consciousness and which are merely concidence. Also complicated and painful for families and caregivers is when to decide that the patient has recovered all he or she can:

"Once a patient progresses to minimal consciousness, we can't predict what's going to happen," says Dr. Joseph J. Fins, chief of medical ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and author of a coming book, "Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics and the Struggle for Consciousness." Some patients have recovered full consciousness, but many more remain stuck in limbo. The only way to know the outcome is to give the patient time.



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