Gravel roads and flyover country

I once sat with a well-known law professor and three other federal trial judges in a fancy New York restaurant discussing important stuff after we had put on a panel discussion at a well-regarded New York law school.  I was the only judge from “flyover” country, and it was clear that the law school audience and my fellow judges viewed me as a curiosity. Later, at the dinner, one of the judges asked me how many miles I had to travel on gravel roads to get to work. It was apparent that the judge was not enamored with a jab I had thrown his way during the panel discussion–the punch drew laughs from the audience. Explaining that all roads are gravel in Nebraska, I let the remark pass.


Why do I tell this story? Our country, despite the absence of a monarchy, is status conscious. Oddly, we sometimes derive status (and infer ability), or the lack of it, from where people live. The federal judiciary suffers from this malady big-time. I can’t stress that point too much. By now, I really don’t care. Indeed, I find it amusing, and do my best to play the hick when it suits me. It can be a lot of fun.

But once in a while it is worth pointing out how stupid it is to derive conclusions about ability from a map. An example: There is now a third Ebola patient in America. His name is Rick Sacra, 51. He is medical doctor who has treated the ravaged people of Africa. He is not being treated at Emory. The federal government selected somewhere else. He is not being treated in LA, or Boston (his hometown) or Chicago or New York. He is being cared for in Omaha at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. See here.

Dr. Sacra arrived by plane at the sprawling Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha. He did not flyover. He was transported to UNMC on a paved road rather than a gravel one. His life depends upon the skill of the UNMC docs, and that is especially true since the miracle drug that Emory used is all gone. I bet this good man doesn’t care that he is being treated in a state with less than two million people but over six million cattle.

Update and Admission:  I have a bias for UNMC.  I should have disclosed it earlier.

My first father-in-law, the beloved Bill Blank, a highly regarded surgeon in Ohio who grew up south central Nebraska, was trained at UNMC.  Jim Armitage, my former neighbor in Omaha, who grew up in Kearney, Nebraska (out where there are miles and miles of gravel roads), advised me on my cancer treatment. Jim is probably the world’s leading expert on lymphomas, and you will find no kinder doctor anywhere. Mark Mailliard, my hysterically funny and brilliant brother-in-law, leads the Gastroenterology department at UNMC where he specializes in the treatment of Hepatitis C. Mary, Mark’s wife and Joan’s sister, is an oncology nurse at UNMC supervising clinical trials for breast cancer patients. She is probably the best human being I have ever encountered. Nurses are like that. Jim Eske is one of my fantastic career law clerks. His wife, Deb Thomas, is Associate Vice Chancellor at UNMC.  I have known Deb for over 30 years, and our relationship started back when she was a political wunderkind and I served as counsel for the Nebraska legislature regarding the impeachment of Nebraska’s Attorney General. Bar none, she is the smartest person I have ever known, and one of the toughest but nicest too.

So, take what I say about UNMC with a grain of salt, and then believe every damn word.



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