Saturday, December 13, 2014

Birthday . . . 82 years and 3 billion heart beats

Today is my 82nd birthday.  To those who try to cheer us old folks up by saying "age is only a number," my reply is:   "True;   but in fact 82 is a higher number than 81.    And my 82 definitely feels older than my 81."

I will agree that one person's 82 may be younger than another person's 75.    But few can honestly say that they feel younger at 82 than they did at 75.   Aging is pretty much a one-way street.

In fact, a recent visit with my cardiologist has prompted me to read up on the latest treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation.   An excellent 68 page, down-loadable pamphlet from the Johns Hopkins Medical Center starts with a startling little detail:

"The heart beats close to 100,000 times a day."    Think about it.   It sounds astonishing, but that's what you get with a pulse rate of 70.  And of course doesn't even include all the times your heart speeds up from exercise, fear, excitement, or anxiety -- to say nothing of various illnesses or cardiac arrythmias.

So having lived 82 years, that means my old heart muscle has done its repetitive job of contracting somewhere north of 3,016,944,000 times.  

Wow.   That is over 3 billion heart beats in one life-time.   Without a single vacation day or time off for good behavior for the old ticker.

It's a bit humbling.    More than 3 billion individual contractions of one organ to keep my blood circulating, bringing oxygen to my brain, my fingers, my digestive tract, my muscles;  filtering metabolic by-products through my kidneys and liver.    Keeping my body going . . . and, hopefully, my mind functioning.


PS:   My favorite birthday card about having another birthday: 
Front of card:   "People who have more birthdays . . . "     
Inside the card:                                                   " . . . tend to live longer."

Friday, December 12, 2014

The death of "The New Republic" -- a journalistic tragedy

These are not good times for print journalism, especially the kind that results in serious, in-depth reporting and essays about important subjects.    The New Republic was one of the few remaining that I respected and often quoted.    It just celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Through the years, TNR has had its shifts, sometimes taking a more liberal stance, sometimes -- with a change of owners or editors -- shifting more rightward.    In fact, I once cancelled my long-held subscription because the owner-publisher, Martin Perez, had become such a knee-jerk apologist for the Israel right-wing that I resigned in protest to the lack of moderation.   It wasn't just the political position;   Marty would scathingly denounce in a signed editorial anyone who dared to disagree with him -- either on his staff of writers, or a public figure.   He became so extreme that I began to wonder about his hold on reality.

However, two years ago Perez sold his interest, and Chris Hughes, a bright young Harvard graduate from the tech world bought it, vowing to restore it to its glory days by doubling down on "long-form quality journalism.   He backed that up by re-hiring a former respected editor, Franklin Foer, and an equally impressive staff of writers and editors.

I re-subscribed, and in truth they have put out two years of increasingly important journalism -- until now, just on the heels of the 100th birthday celebration.

Although Chris Hughes was Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard roommate and became a co-founder of FaceBook, he was apparently something of an intellectual with literary interests as well as internet technology.   He was known to read Balzac in the original French. 

Alas, although he was certainly capable of understanding serious journalism and had brought in (in some case, brought back) very good writers and editors, apparently he was not a businessman, nor long on patience.   Even though  readership was close to doubling in a such a short time, he wanted to go high-tech.

He hired a new CEO and put him in charge of the whole operation with power to change the direction.    This new CEO is Guy Vidra, who replaced the editor with someone who had previously worked for the gossip website Gawker and whose stated purpose is "re-imagining TNR as a vertically integrated digital media company."

Now virtually the entire staff of writers and editors have resigned en masse (more than 30 of them), some even asking that their articles slated for publication be withdrawn.    Publication of the magazine has been cancelled for two months.

So modern technology made Chris Hughes super-richhe bought himself a venerable journal of opinion and vowed to continue the tradition.    But then he got impatient and decided to go the other direction -- fast.    Now The New Republic, as we knew it, is dead.   Whatever Hughes and Vidra may come up with, it will not be anything recognizable as TNR.

An intellectual literary icon has just died -- it was killed by the man who had vowed to save it.


 PS:   When asked whether he had ever expected to make a profit, long-time majority-share own Martin Perez laughed and said "never."    It used to be that people of means were willing to lose money in the good cause of good journalism.   That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More on the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland

This comes from interviews with the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy who was shot by police while playing in the park with a toy pellet gun.   What we know, backed up by a clear security surveillance tape of the scene, is that the shooting was completely unjustified and an example of police incompetence.

The responding squad car police officers were not told by the dispatcher that the caller had said it was probably a kid with a fake gun, so they thought they were responding to perhaps a mass shooter in the park.  [incompetence #1]

OK.    But even a layman like me knows you don't just go blazing up in your police car, drive right up to where the suspect is standing, jump out of the car and have a shoot-out with him.    You stop some distance away, try to engage him, talk him down, wait for back-up help.   So, even given the misinformation they had, they mismanaged that part.  [incompetence #2]

The office who jumped out and shot Tamir within 2 seconds had been let go from a previous police job in the state, where a report had said he was completely unsuited for police work and it was doubtful he ever would be.    Within six months, Cleveland Police Department had hired him.   They had merely checked to see if he had any violations.   No, because he never apparently got beyond the initial training stage;  but they didn't ask.   [incompetence #3]

Then it gets worse:    We now hear from Tamir's mother that her daughter, Tamir's sister, heard that he had been shot and went racing over to the park.    According to the mother, the sister was tackled by the police, handcuffed, thrown into the back of the police car -- along with her dying brother's body.   [incompetences #4 through #9 or so;  and complete lack of humane kindness]

This is atrocious.    It comes on the heels of the Department of Justice's release of its two year investigation into the practices of the Cleveland Police Department -- which has some devastating observations and conclusions.

It sounds like at least this police department needs to be taken over by either the state or federal government for a complete make-over.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Yes, we tortured. We've known we did. Now it can no longer be denied.

Calling it "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- as Dick Cheney insists -- does not turn it into something other than torture.   It was torture, it is torture, and always will be torture as defined by international agreements. 

In fact, by any definition that's not merely a thin cover of denial of what we were doing, it was torture.

And -- as experts have been telling us for years -- and now the 6000 page investigative report from the Senate Intelligence Committee confirms -- it does not work.  Or at least it shows that any information that came from people being tortured could have been gotten in more conventional ways, without all the myriad ways in which torture degrades everyone involved.

Without a doubt, the net result of the torture program was a huge negative for the United States.    Thousands of young terrorists recruited in direct response to the stories that they heard -- that were true.    How many beheadings by terrorists are direct retaliation for the way we treated their men in our captivity?

What about the loss of respect worldwide?

I wished 10 years ago, and I wish now, that our leaders had had the wisdom of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, that we had set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Agree that no one will be punished for it in exchange for telling the truth about what was done in our name that brought suffering to prisoners and shame to our country.

I respect and am grateful to Sen. Diane Feinstein for persisting in getting this investigation done and getting the report released despite all the opposition.

It was the right thing to do.


Bravo, Sen. McCain !!!

Usually there is little that I agree with Sen. John McCain on, but opposition to torture is one of them.   Thanks to him for saying what he thinks and not following most of his fellow Republicans in denouncing the release of the Intelligence Committee's report on torture.  Here are some important words from Sen. McCain:

" . . .  Will the report's release cause outrage that leads to violence in some parts of the Muslim world? Yes, I suppose that's possible, perhaps likely. Sadly, violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world today. But that doesn't mean we will be telling the world something it will be shocked to learn. The entire world already knows that we waterboarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven't been a secret for a decade. Terrorists might use the report's reidentification of the practices as an excuse to attack Americans, but they hardly need an excuse for that. That has been their life's calling for a while now.

"What might cause a surprise not just to our enemies, but to many Americans is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism.

"And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure; torture's ineffectiveness. Because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much. Obviously, we need intelligence to defeat our enemies, but we need reliable intelligence. Torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence. And what the advocates of harsh and cruel interrogation methods have never established is that we couldn't have gathered as good or more reliable intelligence from using humane methods. The most important lead we got in the search for Osama Bin Laden came from conventional interrogation methods. I think it's an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading suspects. Yes, we can and we will.

"But in the end, torture's failure to serve its intended purpose isn't the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said and will always maintain that this question isn't about our enemies, it's about us. It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. . . ."

Thank you, Senator McCain.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A re-do in Ferguson ?? It's legally possible

Thanks to Judd Legum at ThinkProgress for the background on this:

I had thought -- after the grand jury did not indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, and given that the District Attorney Bob McCulloch obviously does not want an indictment -- that nothing further would happen unless the family filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit or the federal government brought an indictment.

But Judd Legum has brought up another possibility.  It's true that, if a person has a trial and is acquitted, there can be no second trial, no "double indemnity."   But this was not a trial.   Despite rhetoric coming from the police, Wilson was not acquitted.   They just didn't indict.

Another grand jury could indict him still.   And there is a Missouri Law that empowers "the court having criminal jurisdiction” to “appoint some other attorney to prosecute” if the prosecuting attorney has a conflict of interest or bias.  According to Legum, this would give that power to Maura McShane, the Presiding Judge of the 21st Circuit.

He cites one case from 1996 in which a Missouri court replaced the prosecutor because the judge “sensed that [the prosecutor’s] sympathies for [the defendant] may have prevented him from being an effective advocate for the state.” The judge “found the adversarial process to have broken down in that [the prosecutor] appeared to be advocating the defendant’s position.”

That sounds like a perfect description of what is obvious from reading the transcript of the grand jury proceedings and of DA McCulloch's press conference, which Ben Trachtenberg, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, said “read like a closing argument for the defense.”   Marjorie Cohn, a professor of criminal law and procedure at Thomas Jefferson School of Law agreed, saying “It was clear the prosecutor was partisan in this case, and not partisan in the way prosecutors usually are, which is to get people indicted.” 

Add to this the fact that the jurors had been misinformed of the applicable law during the entire time they were hearing testimony -- including Wilson's own defense -- without any cross-examining attorney or judge involved.

The case for doing this seems quite strong.   What isn't known is what Judge McShane thinks about this.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Democrats must stand up and fight Republicans' message that government is the problem

Democrats should pay attention to this message from Michael Tomasky on The Daily Beast. 
"Republicans profit from Americans’ childish hatred of government—and Democrats lose every time by staying silent. . . .  "Democrats disagree about loads of things, but the one principle they all subscribe to is a belief that the federal government can and must intervene in the economic and social spheres to even things out. And the rejection of that belief is the basic reason a person is a Republican. 

". . . .  And yet, for the past 30 years . . . [w]e’ve had one side relentlessly attacking government as incompetent to evil, and the other side saying nothing, being too cowed to stand up and say that government is, and does, good. . . . 

"Think of this: Of all the dozens of groups out there that make up what we call the liberal infrastructure, . . . there is not a single entity whose goal is the defense of government. Given this, it’s perfectly reasonable that such large majorities think the government is awful, because you have the government haters telling them for three decades how awful government is and the government defenders saying nothing. . . . " 
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a speech last week: 
“Together, Democrats must embrace government. It’s what we believe in; it’s what unites our party; and, most importantly; it’s the only thing that’s going to get the middle class going again. If we run away from government, downplay it, or act as if we are embarrassed by its role, people won’t vote for our pale version of the Republican view; they’ll vote for the real McCoy.” 
Schumer is exactly right.   And it's surprising that it's coming from him, known as he is as a friend of Wall Street and "one of the big banks’ best friends among Washington Democrats."
". . . The big idea in the speech is that Democrats have to come up with ways to show the middle class how the party will put the government to work in their behalf. I agree, but I would add that there’s another, prior job, which is simply to explain to middle-class people the dozens of ways in which the federal government already helps them and their communities but about which they have no idea. . . .

 "This hatred of government we see in this country is sickeningly childish and hypocritical. The rot starts from the topthe appalling Republican members of Congress who voted against the 2009 stimulus and then had the audacity to go cut ribbons in their districts at venues given life because of that very stimulus bill . . . .   

"This is the fight. Government’s role in people’s lives. It’s a fight Democrats have been . . . utterly petrified at the thought of having to take on. But they will never be the consensus-majority party again . . .until they do take on this fight again, and win it. . . ." 
Hillary, are you listening?    Here's your campaign theme.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On a lighter note . . .

Man, the news on here has been super-serious lately.   So I thought I'd share this bit of trivia that made me chuckle.

A sponsor on the local NPR radio station is PajamaGram, a company that's trying to make pajamas a popular gift item with a certain sophisticated cachet along with wholesome sexiness. 

One line they're promoting for Christmas this year is:   "Matching pajamas for the entire family -- including cats and dogs."

The catalog includes instructions for determining sizes for pets.


Don't blame all black people for the few rioters and arsonists

Huffington Post reported this episode of Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" last week:
Noting that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani had said on Fox News that "93% of blacks are shot by other blacks.   They're killing each other.   They don't talk about that."

First, statistics also show that something like 86% of whites who are shot and shot by whites.   So maybe the determinative factor is not racial but the fact that you tend to shoot people you are around.   That fits with the fact that the majority of people killed with guns are shot by people that know them.

All that is beside the point of this anecdote, which is this.    Jon Stewart had as his guest the Senior Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore, and he quoted Giuliani's statement and then asked Wilmore, "What do you say to those people?"

"They should probably go fuck themselves," said Wilmore, who will be taking over Stephen Colbert's 11:30 p.m. time slot starting next month.

Stewart then played a clip of Bill O'Reilly claiming that even the peaceful protestors in Ferguson were "aiding and abetting" those who burned and looted, thus indicting a whole race for the actions of a few.    To which Wilmore replied:

I have a dream, Jon, that one day, the actions of a few shitty white people will be seen as discrediting their entire race.”

[Drum roll.    Crowds cheers !!!]