Travels With Mitch

Stalking Mitch McConnell through coal country, one thing is clear: When I say Mitch, Mitch says nothing. 

Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn

Story From Louisville Magazine

It’s 9:35 in the morning on Aug. 7, and I am late. There isn’t a soul in the office at Whayne Supply. Desks empty, papers abandoned in mid-scrawl, phones silent. It’s as though the Rapture has sucked heavenward all the good people of Corbin, Kentucky, about 40 miles from the Tennessee border. Nobody mans the front desk. That alone feels like an invitation, so I wander in. As I advance, I see two men to my left. I expect them to yell, “Get out of here!” They don’t. They don’t seem to care. I push through a door and into a warehouse. And now I hear voices. The farther I walk, the louder the voices. The farther I walk, the brighter the light. Finally, I reach a large room at the end of the warehouse.

I am entering the presence of Senator Mitch McConnell.

Maybe 100 people, mostly men, stand around a chunk of coal the size of a pygmy hippo. It catches the light and glitters seductively, displaying a dazzle every bit as beguiling as that other carbon product, although this one is not quite ready for an engagement ring setting.

A young woman yells (young women, I’ll come to learn, are always yelling), “When I say team, you say Mitch.





“When I say Kentucky, you say coal. Kentucky!”




That night, when I bed down in an overpriced Holiday Inn Express in Hazard, the chant will ring through my dreams. I will have heard it 100 times or more. Maybe 1,000, with occasional variations:

“When I say Mitch, you say coal!”





No chants are unprompted. No enthusiasm is unaided by the ample voice of some young female campaign worker.

I ponder starting my own chants.

“When I say ketchup, you say tomato!”




But I don’t. There are more serious matters at hand.

READ THE REST: fullmitch

Dead Horses Have Babies, Clones Compete, Superhorse Has Arrived

How to get a baby horse by any method except sex. I wrote this story for the April issue of Louisville Magazine.

The colt was born this morning. Now shy and spindly, it clomps lightly on supermodel legs, a bit dazed beside the mare that birthed him. Up and down the barn aisle are other mares with newborns or mares fatly pregnant. One Morgan mare, a month overdue, her body swollen and heavy, seems to slosh and sway in her stall.

The mares are all surrogates, the hothouse incubators for champion embryos. While the show-mare mothers continue to prance in the ring, their progeny take up residence in the wombs of genetic strangers who play mother and wet nurse. The privileged champion, like a well-bred Victorian lady, hands off the messy parts without missing a hoofbeat.

A short walk away , in the main veterinary building at Equine Services in Simpsonville, it is fretful filly day. Seaforth’s Bonnie Lass stands in a red metal stall, sensitive to every movement in the room. Her ears point straight up and flick nervously, like receivers snatching at stray signals. She is sedated, but you wouldn’t know it. She could not be more watchful.

Behind her, Scott Bennett pulls on a clear blue plastic glove that goes all the way up to his armpit.

He’ll need it.

Bennett, the veterinarian who owns Equine Services, is about to retrieve an embryo via the back end of the antsy mare. 


Horse Cloning Story COLOR

The Ferocious Insectivore!

93-million-year-old mammal

An insectivore from South America

The charming little guys in the illustration above are the new best clue to what went on in mammalian evolution in the southern continents from 130 million years ago to 60 million years ago. Note what big teeth this insect-eater had. Nobody is sure just what they used those oversized canines for, unless Cretaceous-era insects put up a hell of a fight.

Probably no more than 4- to 6-inches long,  Cronopio dentiacutus  was about the right size to hide from the dinosaurs, the dominant life in the neighborhood. A paper about the discovery of inch-long Cronopio skulls is published in the November 3 edition of Nature. University of Louisville researcher Guillermo W. Rougier, an expert in mammalian evolution, is the lead author.

Rich Cifelli of the University of Oklahoma, who studies early mammals, called the skulls a “Rosetta Stone,” for mammalian evolution in the southern continents.

Ninety-three million years ago, South America was just breaking up from the supercontinent Gondwana, the land mass that included Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica. During Cronopio’s lifetime, Earth was a toasty place, with no polar ice caps. Although the continents were south of where they sit today, and Africa and South America were separated by an ocean no bigger than the Mediterranean Sea, the land was tropical.

The paper’s second author, Sebastian Apesteguia, discovered the Cronopio skulls embedded in rock in 2006. While the Argentine scientists worked to remove the skulls from the surrounding material, Rougier waited to see what emerged. An expert in mammalian evolution, Rougier has conducted field work  in China, Mongolia, Japan, and elsewhere.  When he saw photos of what was emerging in the Argentine laboratory, he was stunned.

“I could not believe those canines! I mean these are really large canines. I asked, ‘Are you sure they’re not falling out?’… I was dying to go down there and I flew away as soon as I could.”

The animals had long, tubular, pointy snouts and the triangular teeth of an insectivore — nothing too surprising there. But the big canines, about one-fifth the length of the head, have no precedent in a skull with this shape, Rougier says. “It’s a model for which we have no living representatives.”

Rougier, who will be 47 on November 4,  came to U of L in 1998 from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He grew up in Buenos Aires and dreamed of being a paleontologist since he was 7. Although his primary focus is on mammals, he has researched the origin of turtles, work featured on the cover of Science in 1996. His work on the origin of marsupials was on the cover of Nature in 1998.

Rougier said the skulls are only a single data point in the long history of mammalian evolution.

“We broke a 60 million year hiatus, because we have one mammal, but that is ridiculous,” he says. “I cannot begin to think we have a realistic view of the diversity of mammals.”

In pursuit of that picture, Rougier will return to Argentina early next year.

Fixing Broken Hearts: Louisville Magazine 8.2011

Louisville researchers are using stem cells found in the heart to treat devastating heart failure.  While patients improve after stem cell transplant, no one really knows why. I wrote this story for the August 2011 edition of Louisville Magazine.

No alarm sounds but Dr. Roberto Bolli is awake. Again.

He’d slept fitfully, waking often to fret about the coming day, the thousand things that could go wrong, every possible misstep. Now, at 6 a.m., there was no point staying in bed. By 8, the cardiologist is in the bone marrow transplant laboratory at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center watching the research team prepare precious stem cells. The cells, coddled and multiplied for four months, will now, with a bit of luck, save a life.

Across the street in Jewish Hospital, doctors prepare Mike Jones to receive those cells. Jones, 66, a painting and remodeling contractor, will be awake during the procedure.

It’s good to be awake when you’re making history.

Read the rest of the story.