Don Williams, Laid-Back Country Legend, Is Dead At 78

Don Williams performing at London’s Wembley Arena in April, 1977. Williams was beloved in countries as far-flung as South Africa, long before country’s popularity had crossed the oceans.

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Don Williams, who began a long career in country music as a Nashville songwriter in the early 1970s and who entered the Country Hall of Fame in 2010, died today following a short illness at his home in Alabama, a publicist confirmed to NPR. He was 78.

Williams topped country charts with regularity through the ’70s, in songs characterized by an easygoing, Sunday-afternoon air and delivered with a smooth voice that walked the seam of a porch-front baritone and stage-ready tenor. The sentiment that drove much of Williams’ country was a rakish positivity, best remembered in his biggest song, 1981’s “I Believe In You”:

“Well, I don’t believe that heaven waits / For only those who congregate / I’d like to think of God as love / He’s down below / He’s up above / He’s watchin’ people everywhere / He knows who does and doesn’t care / And I’m an ordinary man / Sometimes I wonder who I am / But I believe in love.”

Born in Texas in 1939, Williams began playing guitar as a teenager, and played in various groups around Portland, just across the bay from Corpus Christi. After a move to Nashville around 1969, Williams began penning songs for another country legend, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and his newly formed JMI Records in 1971. Three years later, Williams was a recording artist in his own right, topping the country chart with “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me,” properly kicking off his career and becoming a regular fixture on those charts from then on. (By 1980, his footprint had grown such that he played himself, and performed his own songs, in the Burt Reynolds vehicle Smokey and the Bandit II.)

In a time of volume and digital precision, his smooth, salt-of-the-earth recordings are a respite. In early 2016, Williams announced it was “time to hang my hat up and enjoy some quiet time at home. I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends and my family for their everlasting love and support.” Not more than a year later Williams’ legacy spurred a tribute album, The Gentle Giant, featuring covers of his songs by Garth Brooks, Keb’ Mo’, Chris Stapleton and Trisha Yearwood, among others.

Williams is survived by his wife Joy, songs Gary and Timmy, three grandsons and one granddaughter.

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As Hurricane Irma Nears, Gasoline Is In Short Supply For Floridians

People in Miami lined up to get gas during preparations for Hurricane Irma on Friday.

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As Florida drivers hit the road to escape Hurricane Irma, the demand for gasoline has outpaced supply, leaving filling stations throughout the state short of fuel.

“It’s horrible, man,” said Aaron Izquierdo, who waited in a long line of cars at a Shell station in Doral on Friday. “Just yesterday I was in line for two hours to wait for gas, and by the time we got to the pump there was no gas.”

In Gainesville, 60 percent of the gasoline stations were without fuel, according to Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at the crowdsourcing website Gasbuddy.com. In Miami, it was 40 percent.

Even in the Tampa area, far from the expected landfall, more than a third of stations lacked fuel, he said.

Irma is coming fast on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which clobbered the Texas and Louisiana coasts and left a quarter of the nation’s oil refining capacity off-line.

But the problem in Florida isn’t supply. It’s demand.

Gasoline companies usually know pretty much where a hurricane is going to hit and can target supplies to that area. Irma has been harder to forecast, so a lot more people have chosen to evacuate.

“Unfortunately, because everyone panicked because of the uncertainty…we ended up with shortages in multiples areas of the state,” said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Retail Association.

“The amount of motorists filling their tanks is overwhelming the system. Trucks can’t get to the stations fast enough,” DeHaan said. “And at the rack, or what some might call fuel terminals, tanker trucks can’t be loaded as fast as motorists are filling their tanks.”

State officials are trying to keep supplies flowing, by waiving restrictions on the number of hours that truckers transporting gasoline can work and even providing tanker trucks with police escorts. The White House too is trying to make it easier to bring fuel into the country by waiving the Jones Act, which bars foreign-flagged vessels from transporting goods between U.S. ports.

Still, finding fuel can be dicey.

Scott Alderman, who lives in Broward County, was out for a bike ride this morning when he passed a gas station without fuel.

“But a tanker truck was pulling in and, like the pied piper, there were 15 or 20 cars following him,” he said.

Alderman has lived through hurricanes before and knows that, once the electricity goes out, it can be days before gas is available again. So he immediately went into action, racing home to tell his wife to fill up her car.

She got to the station within five minutes, he said. But she still had to wait nearly an hour to fill up her tank.

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Using A Robotic Hand, She Wants To Throw Out The First Pitch For All 30 MLB Teams

Hailey Dawson throws out the opening pitch with her 3D printed hand before the game between the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers at Nationals Park in June.

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Hailey Dawson’s favorite thing to do is throw out the first pitch at a baseball game, and thanks to a majority of all the MLB teams, she’s going to be doing quite a bit of that in the future.

The first pitch seven-year-old Hailey threw out was at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas Rebels game. The UNLV engineering department had made it possible.

At the request of Hailey’s mother, Yong, a group of researchers and students took on the challenge to create a 3D printed prosthetic hand for Hailey. As a result of being born with Poland syndrome, which leaves a pectoral muscle and other parts of the affected side underdeveloped, Hailey was born with a right palm, but not all of her fingers on that hand. The prosthetic hand the university created allows her to grasp objects, like a baseball.

In 2015, Yong told theMid-Atlantic Sports Network that after throwing out the first pitch for the Rebels team, Hailey said she wanted to throw out the first pitch for the Orioles, the family’s favorite team.

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“She just loves throwing that ball out and when she did it for UNLV it was amazing and she just hammed it up big time,” Yong told MASN.

Yong said she was unsure of how to make her daughter’s wish happen, but then decided to send a letter with a request. It worked and on Aug. 17, 2015, Hailey threw the first pitch for the Orioles game to her favorite player, Manny Machado.

“For her to be able to have a hand to actually hold something, where in the past she’s never been able to, that’s amazing,” Yong said at the time.

Yong told MASN that the entire family enjoyed watching the UNLV team create the hand for Hailey.

“It was inspiring for me to watch the students when she first put that hand on and used it and what it meant to them,” Yong said in the interview with MASN. “Not just what it meant to us, but to them to actually build it for her and for her to actually hold something. And they loved it, and I loved it.”

Hailey’s pitching didn’t stop in Baltimore. She went on to throw out the first pitch for a Washington Nationals game in this June, after meeting Bryce Harper in Las Vegas and asking him if he could arrange for her to visit the park in Washington, D.C.

After she showed her pitching skills at the Nationals game, Bleacher Report produced a video about Hailey’s story that got the attention of even more teams. Hailey’s goal is to throw out the first pitch for all 30 MLB teams and as of Friday afternoon, Yong says 24 more teams have responded on Twitter saying they would love to have Hailey come for a game.

7-year-old Hailey Dawson wants to throw out the first pitch at every MLB ballpark with her 3-D printed hand pic.twitter.com/onStqhEzyB

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 7, 2017

In total, Hailey has seven different hands, including the custom ones she wore to the Orioles and Nationals games where she got to hang out with some of her favorite players, who she now refers to as her “buddies.”

“She likes to get her hands signed, so now every time she gets a new hand she likes to get it signed by someone,” Yong says.

While Hailey is having a good time meeting some of her favorite players, Yong says she’s glad this is also raising awareness for Poland syndrome and how accessible and affordable it is to get a 3D printed prosthetic. The robotic hand has also been a confidence boost for Hailey, who was once shy.

“It was initially a functional thing for her … to be able to ride a bike and for safety issues, but it eventually became a social confidence thing,” Yong says. “Because when she puts it on everybody wants to see it, everybody want to touch it and everybody wants to be around her.”

Because school just started and baseball season is closing out, Yong says the family will probably wait until next season to start visiting a lot of teams — but they could make an exception, say, for a World Series game.

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Dental Schools Add An Urgent Lesson: Think Twice About Prescribing Opioids

Dentists are among the larger prescribers of opioid painkillers. They’re trying to change that.

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The opioid epidemic has been fueled by soaring numbers of prescriptions written for pain medication. And often, those prescriptions are written by dentists.

“We’re in the pain business,” says Paul Moore, a dentist and pharmacologist at University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. “People come to see us when they’re in pain. Or after we’ve treated them, they leave in pain.”

Indeed, 12 percent of prescriptions for immediate-release opioids are written by dentists. In 2012, dentists ranked 4th among medical specialties for their opioid prescribing rates, according to data from QuintilesIMS. It has made dentists targets for people “doctor shopping” in order to get opioids to abuse.

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“I have dentures,” said Shawn Bishop, a recovering opioid addict at Hope House, an addiction treatment center in Boston. “I had went to get some legitimate work done. And I got some Percocet. I realized that by going to another dentist, I could get some more Percocets.”

Bishop, now 59, recounts the times he teamed up with other addicts to play dentists for their opioid pills.

“He would look at our teeth or Mark’s teeth in particular,” Bishop said. “He would look at his teeth and say, ‘Yeah, we need to take this one, this one, and this one.’ And Mark will always say well, ‘I can’t do it today. Can we make an appointment for next week?’ And then the doctor will say, ‘Yeah, I need to write a prescription of Percocets.’ He kept bad teeth and toothaches just so he can do that, you know?”

For Bishop and his friends, the enterprise of getting opioid pain pills from dentists grew so routine, he says he became a professional at it.

“It was almost like they knew their part to play and we knew ours,” he said. “It was like actors in a little sketch there.”

Massachusetts has taken the lead in trying to reduce opioid prescription abuse. Last year, Gov. Charlie Baker’s office passed a law to prevent drug misuse. The law includes a set of core competencies that future prescribers of opioid medication are required to meet before graduating. Students will have to demonstrate that they know how to consider non-opioid treatment options.

“At least at the medical school, the dental school, nursing school and pharmacy school level, you don’t graduate from those places without having studied this stuff and understanding both the positives and the negatives associated with using it,” Baker says. “In addition to that, making sure as a condition of relicensure, you’re getting everyone who is writing prescriptions as part of that process.”

Now, after decades of criticizing health care providers for under-treating pain and not prescribing enough pain medication, the pendulum is swinging back. Some dentists are getting back up to speed about alternatives to opioids.

“For most dental pains, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) —that’s Advil, Aleve, Naproxen — those agents are every bit as effective as one Vicodin or one Percocet,” Moore says. “That’s been shown over and over and over again.”

This next generation of dentists is not only learning about how to prescribe opioids appropriately, but also about how to think about pain differently. At the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, students are learning how to approach pain, a world away from opioids.

“You can approach it from opioid therapy, you can approach it from different neuropathy drugs, you can approach from stretching exercises to meditation,” says Kellie Moore, a fourth-year dental student at Harvard. “And just kind of like, exhausting all the options.”

Leaning on different methods of pain treatment can yield mixed success, she says: what works with one patient might not work for another.

Dental students are also rethinking what the goal of treating pain is.

“On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst, if we can get you to a 4 or 5, could you live with that and still function daily?” says Sam Lee, a fourth-year dental student. “If the answer is yes, then I think it’s important to the patient understand that that’s what we’re going to try to maintain as the new normal for them.”

David Keith, an oral surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, agrees.

“I think it does us a disservice, making us and the patients assume that we should a total smiley face and a zero level of pain,” he said. “That’s not the real world. So we take a tooth out. We do a dental implant. You’re going to be sore for a few days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to work.”

The changing definition of pain is part of a larger change in the profession of dentistry. And Jeff Shaefer, an orofacial pain specialist who teaches at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, says the role of the dentist is changing as a direct result of the opioid crisis.

“Dentistry is part of the problem and I think that hurts — that we’ve been overprescribing medication,” he says. “Having a standard regimen to give every patient is not appropriate.”

Nationally, the profession of dentistry is starting to change as well. This summer, the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which sets accreditation standards for all dental schools, ordered all graduates to be competent in accessing for substance use disorder.

But currently practicing dentists may not be so eager for a change to their profession. Keith, who regularly gives lectures to dentists in the state, has heard their complaints.

“There is a reluctance to add that, as there is reluctance to check blood pressure or check a list of medication their patients are on because it adds time to the day,” he said.

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What Goes Into Hurricane Forecasting? Satellites, Supercomputers And More

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Where will it go? How strong will it be? When will it hit? Those are the answers everyone wants — not the least of which are the hurricane forecasters themselves.

To get those answers, hundreds of millions of data points — everything from wind speeds to sea temperatures — pouring in from satellites, aircraft, balloons, buoys and ground stations are fed into the world’s fastest computers and programmed with a variety of models at different resolutions, some looking at the big picture, others zooming in much closer

That data, collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other forecast agencies around the globe, is processed and ends up on local weather reports.

“We have a whole suite of numerical forecast models ranging from those at the global scale, that have less spatial resolution, to other models that cover smaller domains, but have higher resolution,” Christopher Velden, a senior researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center, tells NPR.

The advent of supercomputers and the more complex models they can accommodate has meant a revolution in forecasting as ever-more granular data can be packed into the input, Velden says.

“In the past, there was an incredible amount of satellite data that just dropped on the floor because we simply didn’t know how to effectively ingest it all into the models,” he says. “Now, with advanced data assimilation systems and supercomputing, more of the information content of that data is making it into the models, and improving forecasts.”

The best known global-scale models are the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting Model, or ECMWF, and Global Forecast System, or GFS, run by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction. Those models are used for all kinds of weather forecasting, not just hurricanes, so if you are something of a weather geek, you’ve no doubt encountered them before.

These two models, and a handful of others, are good at making predictions in forecasting hurricanes, especially where they will go.

“The best hurricane forecasting models we have are ‘global’ models that solve the mathematical equations governing the behavior of the atmosphere at every point on the globe,” writes Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at Weather Underground. “These models take several hours to run on the world’s most advanced supercomputers.”

The GFS and ECMWF models are run every six to 12 hours, but the more focused models, which have higher resolution and in some cases feed off near-real-time data, are run every three to six hours, according to Velden.

Latest runs from Euro (red) & GFS (blue) models show Fla peninsula faces dire risk from #Irma, but exact track, ground-zero, not locked in. pic.twitter.com/zDINsKIES1

— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) September 8, 2017

“We have a set of models specifically to forecast for smaller-scale events such as hurricanes, and they can telescope down to resolve the storm at convective scales,” he says. “These can assimilate data in the inner core of the storm from reconnaissance aircraft.”

Some models on so-called “spaghetti charts” of multiple tracks are run simply for historical or comparison purposes and are little heeded by forecasters, Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told NPR in 2012.

The National Hurricane Center puts the top three or more models into a basket and produces a consensus forecast. The result is the track you see displayed on the NHC forecast webpage.

“If you average together the track forecasts from these models, the NHC official forecast will rarely depart much from it, and the NHC forecast has been hard to beat over the past few years,” Weather Underground’s Masters writes.

New models with improved methods to assimilate real-time high-resolution data from satellites and radars are emerging, but still being worked on, Velden says. “For this reason, some of the earlier models are still competitive with the newer ones.”

#Irma is expected to move through the SE Bahamas today and approach south Florida on Saturday as a dangerous category 4 hurricane pic.twitter.com/83bh2woM43

— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 8, 2017

According to data collected by the NHC, the error in its forecast tracks for tropical storms has shown a dramatic improvement since 2000, when it was, on average, off by about 130 nautical miles (150 miles). By 2016, the track error had been cut in half, to about 60 nautical miles (70 miles).

Getting that track right is critical and forecasters have put a lot of effort in recent years into refining their predictions, Velden says.

“Getting the model track forecast right can make a big difference on impacts,” he says. “[With] Irma for example, the expected turn [north toward Florida] is all about timing; if that turn occurs six hours earlier or six hours later, it would make a world of difference in terms of local population and economic impact.”

Will there ever be a perfect model?

“It depends on how you define ‘perfect,’ ” Velden says. “If you want a model that can answer the question: ‘Will Miami get hit in two days?’ — yeah, I think we can do that. But if you want a model that can tell the guy who owns a house in North Miami whether he’ll get 100-mph winds with 100 percent certainty two days in advance, I don’t think we’ll see that anytime soon.”

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