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Ask Dr. Salvo

May 23, 1995

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dear Dr. Salvo,

I attended the USA graduation this past spring and was amazed to see a ten- year old graduating from the university with a bachelor's degree in science. When I asked the person next to me about how this could happen, I was informed that his knowledge was a gift from God. I was confused. I didn't see anyone who looked like George Burns or Charlton Heston, so I figured He wasn't there.

I asked her if God had paid the student's tuition and was rudely told that God had provided his knowledge. That led me to believe that God was a professor at South. I went to the Science Department and asked what classes God taught and I was told that God didn't teach science and had never taught there. A lady with a nose ring suggested the Philosophy Department because they were always talking about God and other famous people who had written thoughtful books.

I went to the Philosophy Department and asked to speak to someone about the provider of knowledge and was directed toward a group of men who were dressed like Rap Stars. I asked them where God taught and was informed that God didn't teach at South because he didn't have tenure. I then asked them what tenure was and I was told it meant one could stay at South forever or until he died. My next question was why God didn't have it. They gave me ten reasons:

10. He had only one major publication.
9. It was in Hebrew.
8. It had no references.
7. It wasn't published in a refereed journal.
6. Some doubt He wrote it Himself.
5. Many who do not doubt His authorship, nevertheless suspect plagiarism.
4. It may be true that He created the universe, but what has He done since then?
3. His cooperative efforts have been quite limited.
2. He has an excessive tendency to smite those expressing opposing opinions.
1. The scientific community has had a rough time trying to reproduce His results.

I am sure they were right about tenure because I certainly couldn't find God and no one had ever seen Him on campus. After I looked at the cost of tuition and fees at South, I'm sure that knowledge is never given away at South. Dr. Salvo, do you think that woman was pulling my leg when she said that knowledge at South was a gift from God?

Thank you,
Rev. Hank Shiver
Grand Bay, AL

Dear Rev. Shiver,

My apologies for the long delay in publishing your interesting letter. The truth is our editorial staff could not decide how/where to file your letter. Some said it was another puerile attack on God. Others claimed it was a sophisticated attack on USA, or perhaps the world of academia. I am inclined to the latter view, and wish you would turn your facile pen to satire more often and leave God out of it for a while.

Think of the fat, juicy targets to be found in the CIA, FBI, secret service, and all the other security agencies who spend your tax money without accounting for it, all this effort, one assumes just to keep the U.S. "secure." The Age of Greed and Federal Chicanery is another subject your poison pen could take on with ease.

Your letter, by the way, reminds me of "Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search For God" -- G.B. Shaw, I think. The lady was dead serious about knowledge at South. Pray for her, Reverend.


Dear Doctor Salvo,

I was pleasantly surprised that you found tarpon (tarpons? tarponi?) on your vacation. They are such beautiful fish, dancing across the water. Too bad you had to go to south Florida for the experience.

A friend who grew up in Mobile in the 1940's was telling me recently that we used to have tarpon here. He lived near what is now Brookley Industrial Complex and they used to watch them jumping out in the bay right in front of their house, or "camp" as they called bay houses back then.

Apparently they didn't have wall to wall factories and sewage plants from McIntosh to Dauphin Island, nor did they have all the streams channelized for "storm water management." From his description of the grass and plants growing in the bay things must have been fairly nice before fill dirt started washing down the sewers.

Of course Bel Air Mall was just a swamp in the forties. I for one wouldn't miss it even at the price of an occasional dengue or relapsing fever. I'll bet they had great bluegill fishing, right about where Charlie sits in the Woolworth cafe when he wants to pretend he's at some crowded New York eatery.

Now, I've never been to New York, except to fly over it at mach 0.85 courtesy of Uncle Sam, so I wouldn't know the pleasure of eating with eight hundred people walking by and coughing on my food. I suppose it is an aquired taste, like anchovies. Which reminds me of the point of this letter. Do you remember when we used to work at Searcy Hospital, the strange smells about halfway between Axis and Mount Vernon?

I used to car pool with a fellow named Jim. We had to give it up after a couple of weeks because he was afraid of my subcompact car and I was terrified of his speeding. But during our short relationship I used to wonder why he always chose to pass gas exactly at the same spot each day.

Finally I decided he must have some strange form of dyspepsia, which stimulated by the fear of riding in my little car (or the thrill of his own maniacal driving), activiated his bowels each day before we got to the hospital. So one day, like a fool, I asked him what was wrong.

He didn't answer, just stopped and rolled down his window. Wow! The stench was both fundamental and complete. Not even a lard bucket (pardon me, rotundly challenged person) like Jim could produce such a noxious vapor. So I apologized and we went on to work.

But through the years I've pondered a strange coincidence, even stranger than the possibility of Jim's flatulance.

It occured to me that the smell was never there in the afternoon, or even later in the morning, but even to this very day if one drives to Mount Vernon in the wee hours it thrives. (Just like that perpetual nocturnal burning of black sooty smoke right off of I-65 near Calera, south of Birmingham, or the "curious fish kills" downstream of the paper mills, or the dark trucks going into Emelle it occurs only outside of usual office hours for government agencies.)

Which leads me to the big question. Why don't the agencies which prosecute corporate pollution keep the same hours as the BATF, the FBI, the DEA and other agencies which classically pursue individual crimes? You always read in the papers about "...predawn raid netted..." such and such little bitty criminal anchovies but never about ADEM forcing some giant corporate octopus to ante up millions of dollars in fines.

If it's a question of money, don't they have the RICO act now? Or does it apply only to little old ladies standing in front of abortion clinics? Or is environmental crime conspiracy exempt? Or (most likely answer) does ADEM really function just to catch the little schmuck who filled in a pothole in his backyard or flushed the toilet on his boat?

Better warn Tim, if ADEM's real purpose is to make life hard for the anchovies, just imagine what it would do to a shrimp like him if it caught him piddling in the neighbor's yard.

Hasta La Vista
John the Methodist

Dear John,

Your letter took me down memory lane, as I too used to observe the tarpon and the tarpon fisherman plying the waters of the Tensaw River and Mobile Bay. I had not seen one of these elegant fish for years, until about ten years ago I caught a foot long specimen (accidentally) on the Eastern Shore. This reminded me that there used to be a ring of grass around the whole Bay, from about 3 feet to 8 feet out from the shore. Little kids with seine nets for two could drag through, parallel to the beach, for about ten yards and catch a bucketful of baby crabs, shrimps, jelly fish, flounders, and all sorts of trash fish. It was a never ending source of entertainment and better than baby sitters. Don't worry, I'm getting to your remarks about the air polluters up the Mobile River. They are the same highly respected citizens who poisoned the bay, but some are more poisonous than others. "The Paper Mill" has polluted the air in the grand flatulence style for over 50 years, and all through my boyhood it was also the subject of many scatological jokes. The jokes were on us though, since it was our air.

That patch of bad air and poisonous fumes up along Rt 43, next to the Mobile River, is very familiar to me. As a boy I traveled it with my father on hunting trips to Twenty One Mile Bluff. Years later I worked at Searcy for five years, noting the accretion of various manufacturing plants, each with its own stink and a rim of dead and dying trees around the plant. I've never seen anyone going in or coming out of those plants wearing a protective mask. "The Paper Mill" made itself known all over Mobile if the wind was out of the Northeast, East, or Southeast. So far as we knew in those innocent days its pollution of the river and thence the Bay, was not seriously disturbing. Things are quite otherwise with subsequent plants, whose effluent wastes have killed much of the delta, as well as that life-giving ring of sea weed all around the Bay. It is argued that these industries bring jobs and prosperity to Mobile County, and they are given all sorts of tax breaks to come here. Then they don't pay the miniscule fees they agreed to pay to assist our public school budgets. It is, all in all, a poor bargain: The recreation industry, the tourist dollars, the sportsman contributions, are far more significant to Alabama than a few little poisonous manufacturing plants. I suggest that each plant be required by law to "adopt" a number of miles of coastline and start cleaning it up, re-planting the sea-weed, and purifying its air and water effluents. And, to be supervised by the presidents of all the women's garden clubs in Alabama!


Dear Doctor Salvo,

There's been a lot of talk about the government these days, and people are falling into strife over it. As one of the oldest and I hope wisest men left I thought it best to write you, asking you to set some things straight. Maybe between us we can prevent the reinvention of the wheel, if not that at least the Edsel.

Take this militia thing for instance. Well the founding fathers had it right, "a well regulated militia..." (regulated in the eighteenth century sense of being able to shoot in the right direction, all together, as to produce maximum firepower, not in the twentieth century mode of finicky paperwork documentation), but they couldn't forsee that militiamen didn't have the heart for the sort of warfare we'd be fighting just a few years later.

Danged militia just didn't have the gall to take on the sort of serious pacification this growing country needed like in the Creek war of 1813. After Fort Mims a lot of good old boys signed up all hot to kill but then they started to drift away after just a few skirmishs.

Seems they didn't even want to rape the squaws (we old troopers all know that's one of the finest rewards for a battle well fought) and a lot of them fell out when it came to killing just a few wormy Indian young 'uns.

We were lucky we had Young Andy Jackson leading the fray. They didn't call him "Old Hickory" for nothing, he was tough as nails. First thing he did was fire all the militia, sent them home to their farms and called for regular troops from Tennessee. He made a deal with some of the Creek bands for help (I believe he swapped them some gambling rights) and took off after the bad guys.

Well, most folks would have chased them out of town and that's that but not Old Hickory. He chased them all the way up to Horseshoe Bend and killed the whole lot of 'em. Boy, did his regular troops gripe, 'cause it seems most of the squaws were killed by gunfire and the few that were left didn't last long, what with the whole brigade in line.

Yep, they made young Andy president for that, and for the way he saved New Orleans from the Brits. So he had ample time and power to see we had a healthy standing army and history bears me out we needed it. If you don't believe me, go and look up all the Indian wars. (Start with the Modoc Wars, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Wounded Knee and so forth but don't end there. To get a full picture you need to go beyond the Indians and understand the Civil War and the lesser known "Second Civil War of Western Assimilation," the Railroad War, the coal mine wars, the union labor wars, Prohibition, the Internment of the Japanese, you fill in the rest from recent news.)

Why if it wasn't for our strong positive suppression of dissent and splinter groups and anybody who wanted to call themselves different we might not have the great monolithic nation we have today. Just imagine what things would be like if we'd developed as the looser federation of States the founding fathers had intended. People might think they could just do what they want without asking permission, praying in public places, speaking Choctaw in public or worse growing their own food instead of using food stamps and supporting our agribusiness.

We might have missed WWII or Korea and surely would have skipped Viet Nam, and wouldn't that have been a shame. No we would have had some pissant little militia, all whining to go home to their mamas the first time we had to interrogate prisoners or carpet bomb, and there's no way you can fight a proper war that way.

Even the civil rights movement would have been different without Federal provacateurs in there stirring up both sides week after week. Just imagine how dull it would have been if they'd had to work it out amongst themselves. They might have had to sit down and talk to one another, and nobody gets any booty that way, least of all the poor trooper.

Yes, if you ask me they ought to round up this whole bunch of so called "militia" and put them to the test, say by invading Cuba. Then if they make it we can pension them off and if they don't, well no great loss.

They're just a bunch of fat middle agers and I hear tell half of them aren't even working men, they're just bankers and dentists. And how are they going to enjoy rape and looting if so many of them are women? Back in the old days that's why we joined up in the Army, to get away from that sort of female influence, always telling a man what's right and what's not.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love America. I love our government. I love Uncle Bill and I recognize that when he says two plus two is five, well it's five and there's no need stirring up dissent. We need to just study the new ways and back away from any might have beens. We don't want to try to bring back dead institutions, just let them have their moment of past glory and forget them.

Old Owens

Dear Old Owens,

Your letter on the historicity of the hysterical militia movements is so entertaining and stimulating -- it makes me want to jump on my hoss and ride off in all directions. You have hit it right -- a bunch of wrong-headed would-be bikers who couldn't manage the wheels, so they heavily armed themselves and took to the hills.

Though I'm in agreement with most of your observations about the militia, I also think they are "onto something" as Walker Percy would say. That is, they sense a general trend toward suppression of individual rights, by the government. The "security state" has replaced the republic, and we spend billions on surplus secret service types of agencies to guard our security. Who is threatening us? Who needs secret police?

But the poor mountain man can't find out which way to run and when to hide. The right wing primitive religionists are pushing theocracy and wholesale puritanism, along with jingoism and anti-everything that's fun. They are consumed by "that haunting fear that somewhere somebody is having fun."


May 23, 1995

The Harbinger