Articles in section: 'News'

Man “Baked to Death” in New York City Jail Cell

Man baked to death in NYC jailA man in New York City was picked up last month on the charge of trespassing. He had been found by police sleeping in a stairwell of a public housing project in Harlem. It has surely been a very cold winter in New York, and I guess that’s one of the places where someone without a home of his own could find some shelter. Public housing projects in New York City generally have token and non-functioning security mechanisms, so that anyone can just stroll in off the street and do whatever they want in the stairwells—which is naturally catastrophic for the quality of life of all of the residents (and yet our new mayor is more concerned about banning carriage horses from pulling carriages, rather than fixing such a fundamental problem for so many poor city residents). The easy accessibility of a legally-prohibited sleeping space was arguably tragedy number one for this man, Jerome Murdough, although really it had come after all of those other tragedies that led him to his life of living on and off the street. [Read more →]

Ariel Sharon: One Last Victory

one last victoryAriel Sharon’s story would provide a lesson to anyone tempted to believe that history just rolls on regardless of the efforts of the individual. A cursory glance at the events of his life (as in the newspaper today) would show the degree to which—beginning at a young age—Sharon made the very history he lived through.

And no one can live a life like that without causing controversy, all of which is being exhaustively argued out elsewhere.

However, I’d just like to take this opportunity to note his most recent achievement, one which was already referred to in this space about a year ago.

Following his stroke in 2006, Ariel Sharon was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state.” A few years later a hospital manager was quoted as saying that “the part of the brain that keeps his body functioning, his vital organs, is intact, but beyond that there is nothing, just fluid.” The definition of a vegetative state is indeed the absence of any cognitive function at all, with the brain only retaining the ability to sustain involuntary bodily functions like breathing. (This is as distinct from “brain death,” where even the ability to sustain those involuntary functions is gone, which is why brain death—when properly diagnosed—is regarded as an irreversible terminal event for a human being.) [Read more →]

Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research

Natural wonders and belief in GodOnce again, scientists have directed their telescopes and most advanced instruments upward, have spent long months studying the data and spending their grant money, and emerged to deliver their important conclusion: The sky is blue.

The story this time is in the UK’s Daily Mail: “Natural wonders increase our tendency to believe in God and the supernatural.” Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California announced their findings based on studying the reactions of human subjects to awe-inspiring natural sights, and have concluded that such sights increase the tendency of people to believe in God or the supernatural. Amazing. [Read more →]

Sandy Hook Again

newtown sandy hookWith the release of more details in the case of the massacre at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut on 12/14/2012, and the renewed focus by much of the mainstream media on the perpetrator, it is worth reminding ourselves of what the broader evidence shows about the motivations of those who commit these kinds of crimes. That is, that they are motivated by a desire to inflict spectacular harm that attracts universal attention—even deliberately competing to outdo previous mass killers—in the expectation that the same universal attention will then be focused on themselves and on their own nurtured grievances, frustrations and hatreds, whether contained in published manifestos or not.

They create the most horrifying spectacle possible in order to make a spectacle of their own hatred for the world and everyone in it. And every time the glare of the media spotlight is shone on one of these killers, it provides direct encouragement and inspiration to others who may be teetering at the abyss of similar horror. [Read more →]

What if Richard Nixon Had Won in 1960?

If Nixon won presidency 1960I like hats. Proper men’s hats, that is. It’s an affection that has developed in recent years, after belatedly realizing their utilitarian value and coming to understand that they also provide a relatively inexpensive and fun way of bettering one’s look and mood. When one begins wearing hats, it’s a natural thing to wonder why they ceased being ubiquitous in America, as they appear to have been based on photographs taken wherever men are present during the first half of the twentieth century. No man seemed to ever be without a fedora or other brimmed hat, at least when outdoors. Conventional wisdom has an answer to this—whether fully true or not—and it is that when John F. Kennedy stood hatless at his inauguration in 1961 the image of him doing so changed fashion on a dime, and men’s hats were transformed from a required item into a niche category. And then there came so many cheap baseball caps … and civilization duly collapsed.

This got me thinking: if Richard M. Nixon had been the winner of the 1960 presidential contest, would men’s hats have remained in fashion? On consideration, I don’t think so, because I don’t entirely buy the idea that JFK alone altered that fashion; I think it was bound to take place, and he merely hurried it and provided a prominent symbol. Yet, this train of thought leads to other speculations. The 1960 presidential election was one of the most closely-contested in American history. John F. Kennedy ultimately beat his opponent with only 0.1% of the vote. It was believed by many then that dead voter shenanigans in Richard Daley’s Chicago and similar fraud in Texas swung the election for Kennedy. Nixon chose not to be the first presidential contender in history to dispute an election, whether out of a genuine desire to avoid division or because he didn’t believe he would prevail. And John F. Kennedy was hatlessly sworn in on January 20th, 1961. His was a transformational presidency, but arguably more because of the hinges of history that would would turn as a result, as opposed to personal accomplishments in office. [Read more →]

Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

Let a smile be your umbrellaResearchers have found a dramatic link between the presence of smiles in photos taken during childhood and young adulthood and the future happiness of the people in those photos (see WSJ article by Matthew Hertenstein). Most specifically, a study of hundreds of college yearbook photos found that those individuals who smiled least were about five times more likely to get divorced later in life versus those who smiled most. Further research indicated that even photos taken at the age of 10 illustrated a strong correlation between a full-faced smile and a future successful marriage, versus a flat or stoic look and the likelihood of experiencing divorce(s) instead. The better-smiling types also seem to live substantially longer.

It seems clear enough that the more research that is done, the more associations there will be between smiling in youthful photographs and successful outcomes in every area of life. This is very depressing for someone like me. Were one to go through my childhood photos, one would conclude that I should be divorced four or five times by now. As it happens, I have failed to get started on even my first divorce. I can only conclude that my wife’s far more cheerful and smiling nature as a child has somehow outweighed the grim misery with which her future husband was obviously burdened. So, therein lies a key lesson for the non-smilers: do not marry someone as sour-faced as yourself. [Read more →]

Lou Reed 1942 – 2013

Lou Reed, R.I.P.It was something of a shock seeing the announcement today of Lou Reed’s death. Although chronologically he was 71 years-old, and although it was known he’d been having health problems, Lou Reed seemed more ageless than most. It’s hard to recall when he might have been young. He was just … Lou Reed. Never overexposed, but popping up from the periphery with reassuring regularity.

Despite his orneriness and his sometimes arrogant persona, and despite his tendency (at least in my opinion) towards self-indulgence in his work, there was something very likeable about Lou. He didn’t just have a unique singing voice; he was a unique voice. Although his music was intensely simple, he was one of the few true stylists of the whole rock & roll circus of the last fifty years, a seminal influence to countless other performers and one who never lost his creative spark. [Read more →]

Sad Commentary: A Fatal Fall at Sutton Place

Sad commentary: Fatal Fall at Sutton PlaceA 35 year-old woman fell to her death from the 17th floor of a building on 57th St. in New York City last night (or early this morning). She was apparently leaning against the railings on her apartment’s balcony when those railings suddenly gave way. The details are no doubt still to be fully established. Obviously, tragic accidents occur every day. This one is in the news at all only because of the particular drama of such a fall in midtown Manhattan. The story itself is, truth be told, relevant only to the people personally involved, and the people who mourn the woman’s loss.

Yet, what’s really remarkable is seeing the kinds of comments on this story that so many people have left, using in most cases their real names and Facebook identities. I don’t read comment sections anymore as a rule, but the first ones I saw on this were so horrible that I felt obliged to go on and see if they continued in that vein. And they did. Many of the most vile remarks were those directed at the dead woman because the story had reported that she was smoking on her balcony when the accident occurred. People felt it worthwhile to pause long enough on the page to leave brief derisive comments such as, “Who wants to date a woman who smokes and smells like tobacco – yuck,” or “She was a smoker. Poor judgment is par for the course.” Or something along the lines of “Tobacco kills!” Again, people using their real names, with photos and actual Facebook profiles attached (sometimes hugging a spouse or clasping their small child in their arms) stop to leave a random insult on a public webpage with a story about a woman who has just died. They are capable of being just that shameless. [Read more →]

Mariano Rivera and a Gift from God

Mariano Rivera & a Gift from GodMariano Rivera, born in Panama City, Panama, is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball. No serious person will argue that point, I think. He has arrived at this status as a result of being a reliever—mainly the closer—for the New York Yankees, for nearly twenty years now.

Being a New York Yankee fan by birth (born in the Bronx even if I grew up largely on distant shores) those few times that Rivera blew a big save naturally loom unnaturally large in my memory, but taken as a whole his achievements defy explanation or even praise. What can you say about someone who is so beyond-the-norm of excellence?

2013 is to be his final year of pitching for the Yankees, at the age of 43, if the amazingly-stellar year that he’s having so far (30 saves, 1.83 ERA) does not compel him by acclamation to return for yet another year. There is much being said and written about his career and his character. He is clearly one of the most loved and respected players in baseball, by both friends and opponents, and by both players and fans. [Read more →]

Knight, DeJesus and Berry: A Statement (and a Message Obscured)

Michelle Knight statementAmanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held captive in a house in Cleveland for about a decade. A man named Ariel Castro faces trial for their kidnapping and abuse and also for aggravated murder in the death of a baby which one of the women conceived during that time. I think it’s reasonable to say that most of us can only imagine in our worst nightmares what these women experienced during that decade of captivity. Most of us would also maintain that we’d rather die than face such an ordeal. Today, a video was released which features these three brave women thanking the public for the help and support that they’ve received since being freed.

Aside from being a compelling story on its own merits, it is also interesting to see how their message is being summarized in much of the media, for those who do not stop to watch the full three and a half minute video. In a portrayal that I’ve found typical today, TIME.com has this:

In an inspiring, yet heartwrenching statement, Michelle Knight, who went missing in 2002 at age 21, said:

“I may have been through hell and back but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground … I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation.”

What’s interesting to me is what is left out by means of those three dots in the middle (and the same words were left out by USA Today and the BBC and others). Read just as it is there, it seems that Michelle Knight is crediting a personal sense of pride and self-regard for her strength and her survival. But there’s a little bit more to it than that, if you listen to her full statement (embedded at the bottom of this post). Here is the bulk of it, as transcribed by yours truly:

I just want everyone to know I’m doing just fine. I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and with my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground, walking hand in hand with my best friend.

I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred. With that being said, we need to take a leap of faith and know that God is in control. We have been hurt by people but we need to rely on God as being the judge.

God has a plan for all of us. The plan that He gave me was to help others that have been in the same situation I have been in. To know that there’s someone out there to lean on and to talk to.

I’m in control of my own destiny, with the guidance of God.

[Read more →]

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