Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Recent Posting in New York Times

What follows is a short posting of mine in the New York Times in response to a query from Nicholas Kristof, a moving force behind getting some attention on Darfur, about what can be done to improve the situation in Darfur, a country where in excess of 200,000 deaths have occurred as a result of an official policy of ethnic cleansing.

22.January 29th,
6:46 am It will be difficult for the United States to take the high road on this issue, given our actions in Iraq which, in effect, are creating the playing field for massive religious based (Shiite v Sunni) genocide. With that reservation (i.e., the pot calling the kettle black), the United States should condemn the role of China by the sympolic act of refusing to participate in the 2008 Olympics unless China takes steps to modify its behavior.

— Posted by Tom Bleakley

Monday, January 29, 2007

Science in the Courtroom

An editorial in the New York Times (January 29,2007) stated "Modern DNA testing is steadily uncovering a dark history of justice denied. More than 190 DNA exonerations in 18 years show ever more alarming patterns of citizens, wrongly convicted, suffering in prison. Consider the eight felons finally exonerated through DNA challenges in New York State in just the last 13 months. Or the 12 people who had to fight long and hard to prove their innocence in Dallas County, Tex., alone in the past five years. New York and Texas are, in fact, the leading states in yielding these hard-fought exonerations. This is hardly a credit to their justice systems since the victories are won by dedicated pro bono lawyers, not by state monitors charged with finding injustice." Reading this statement brought back to mind my pro bono representation of Dave Davis from 1988 until 2002. Briefly Davis was accused, tried and convicted of the murder of his wife via the purported injection of the drug succinylcholine, a muscle paralyzing agent used in anesthesia to temporarily paralyze the vocal cords to pass an endotracheal tube so that airway control can be maintained during surgery. The so-called test to prove the presence of the drug in the body of his wife was performed by Robert Forney, a toxicologist at the Medical College of Ohio who lied during his testimony about scientific criticisms of his test. The testing was performed in the early 1980s and has never been replicated since. Tens of thousands of DNA tests were performed before it began to be acknowledged as a legitimate method of detecting the presence of reliable information and the fact that it can now be used to not only convict, but exonerate, is a remarkable feat of science in the courtroom. In Davis' case, there was only one test, the procedure of which has never been replicated, even by its proponent. The test was admitted as evidence during the trial by a judge whose only claim to fame as an officer of the court was his track record for prosecutorial misconduct while working in his pre-judgel days as the local prosecuting attorney. Of course, once Davis was convicted, there was no judge in the Michigan judicial system (they are all elected) who had the guts to stand up and do what was right. Tests similar in nature, purporting to identify succinylcholine in body tissues, have been rejected by other States' courts as unreliable and incapable of doing so. Voting to release a man convicted of murdering his wife was apparently not the politically correct thing for an appellate judge to do in Michigan in the 1990s. Some day, and I hope it is soon, I may be able to convince the governor of Michigan that a major injustice has been committed which harms us all.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Setup

The Setup: If one stands back and looks at George's actions over a period of time since the fall elections, one notion becomes very obvious. For want of a better term, I call this the "Setup".

The "Setup" is a plan whereby George will not take responsibility for the messes he has created. Instead, he will fob them off on the persons, Congress and new president alike, who succeed him. The Setup entails, among others, George's loyalty to his notion of being a conservative (a fairy tale if there ever was one). His acts during his presidency involve wild, out-of-control spending coupled with his so-called tax cuts leading to a budget deficit reminiscent of a teenager with Dad's credit card running amok. Why this is part of the Setup is as follows: One of the favorite mantras of Republican stalwarts over the past decade is the phrase "tax and spend" applied to describe the Democrat's fiscal policy. Given George's fiscal mismanagement, the newly elected Democratic Congress and the newly elected (Democratic) president will have no choice but to raise taxes to keep our country from economic chaos. In other words, George has "set up" the Democrats to take the blame for correcting the very situation he has created and give the fodder for future pseudo conservatives to claim that Democrats are the tax and spend party.

The "Setup" also applies to the situation in Iraq. A virtually unchangeable nightmare has been created over there and it will be necessary for the U.S. to somehow disengage from that country. George has made it clear that the disengagement will fall to the next president, i.e. that president is "setup" to take the fall. Sending an additional 20,000 young men and women over to Iraq to buy him additional time to perfect the Setup should be seen as the political move that it is; morally repugnant, but it does allow him to claim as his place in history that he was not the president that allowed the U.S. to suffer defeat in Iraq.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Halycon: New Chapter

Chapter 7
“The little bastards are sleeping?”
Eric Hagstrom, the director of research for Upright Pharmaceuticals, Inc., walked slowly back and forth in front of the steel-meshed cages which lined the room. Scores of rats filled the cages, all the subjects of various drug studies. More than twenty different drugs were being tested at the present time although Smythe’s primary focus had been on the new drug for the past six months. This was the first time in four months, Ken Smythe thought, that his boss had bothered to come into Smythe’s laboratory and the timing couldn’t be worse. Smythe was still reeling from the disclosure made to him by his lab assistant, Lisa Bernsdorf, a few moments before the big man had unexpectedly appeared. Hagstrom looked at him through hooded eyes and Smythe felt himself cringe. He needed to maintain his composure. Hagstrom’s size and demeanor were always intimidating and the guy scared the crap out of him, particularly in light of this new information.
“Yes. They are. They were dosed six hours ago.” Smythe gestured to a row of cages. “The effect should last another four hours. Four different doses to twenty four animals each for three weeks, six days left.”.
“Anything else?” Hagstrom had stopped pacing and looked directly at Smythe.
A slight hesitation. Smythe struggled to maintain eye contact with the big man.
“Not really. The high dose animals are sleeping quite a bit longer than the others. That is to be expected.” He knew that he should mention the problem. To mention the effect of the high dose without telling Hagstrom about the problem would come back and haunt him, he knew, but he just couldn’t force himself to say anything until he had the opportunity to check it our more thoroughly.
Hagstrom broke eye contact, looked around.
“What about the other studies?”
Smythe nodded toward his research assistant, Lisa Bernsdorf, who was weighing an animal at the instrument table in the middle of the room. She acted as though she wasn’t paying attention, but Smythe knew she was listening to every word.
“We’re right on schedule.”
“Keep it that way.” Hagstrom stared directly at him again and Smythe felt the air on his arms stand up. He watched the large man walk out of the lab, then turned to Bernsdorf.
“You missed your chance.”
“I know.” Smythe looked over at his diminutive assistant whose short dark hair framed her face in sharp contrast to the rest of the room. Everything else was white; cages, floor, walls, ceiling, lab costs, scrubs, shores, everything except for the color of her hair, he thought.“You’re pale as a ghost,” Bernsdorf said. She smiled demurely. “I’m glad I don’t have to tell him. He scares me.”
Smythe looked at her. He scares me too, he thought. He was afraid. It wasn’t just Hagstrom, but Hagstrom’s boss, Cyrus Messner. What if this information killed the drug? The company needed this drug. He didn’t want to be the bad guy whose research ended the promise of a blockbuster drug. Messner had made the point loud and clear. Upright needed this drug badly.
The problem was that the drug did have problems. If what Bernsdorf had discovered was correct, the drug was dead. It could never be given to humans. The problem was how to break the news.
“Any further thoughts?”
“My guess is that it’s dose-related. It only happens at the highest dose and I can’t think of any other reason.”
“Let’s go take a look.”
They walked to the back of the lab and entered a small room where more cages were stored. Smythe turned on the light.
“That one is running his ass off. Look at him go.” Smythe gestured toward one of the cages where a large rat scurried rapidly on the wheel inside the cage.
“At lower doses we don’t see this.”
“How long has this one been doing this?”
“Four hours now. Last dose was yesterday at noon. It slept for sixteen hours. When it woke up, it started running.” She paused to chew on a cuticle. “Hasn’t stopped since. It’ll run until it dies. If I put another animal into its cage, it’ll fight it to death.”
Smythe shivered. “Tell me again how you came up with this.”
She grimaced. “I made a mistake. I missed sacrificing one of the animals in an earlier group. Found it running just like this one the next day.” She nodded toward the animal in the cage.
“It’s peculiar that it happens only after the drug is stopped.”
Lisa looked miserable. She stared down at her feet.
“The research protocol didn’t call for observation after dosing was stopped. As you know, I sacrificed the rest of the animals on the day dosing ended. There was no way we could have known this if I hadn’t made the mistake.”
“What’s done is done.” Smythe forced himself to smile at her. Hagstrom was going to be angry. There was going to be hell to pay for this.
“Better to know now before the drug is given to humans.”
“Maybe it’s unrelated to the drug.”
“That’s what I thought at first. Four animals, including this one, have done the same thing and only on the highest dose.”
“We’ll have to finish this up and report our findings. We want to be able to explain what happened and understand it better before we write the report.”
Smythe shivered again. Why did this have to happen now? The high dose was scheduled to be given to prisoners at Jackson Prison. He couldn’t tell Bernsdorf about that because the project was shrouded in secrecy. He needed to tell Hagstrom or Messner right away, but first he needed to think.
“Have you kept accurate records?”
“Of course. I keep records on everything I do. You know that.” She looked offended.
“Let me see your notebook.”
Smythe pored over her results. Everything was right there. Totally unexpected. There must be some explanation. He spent the rest of the afternoon surfing the internet for related research. Nothing. This was always a problem with research conducted in-house by the drug industry. No one, he thought, ever published their failures. No one ever published the results of research that might show a problem. Only the good results got published. There was no way of knowing whether anyone else had seen these results in this class of drugs.
He stood and stretched, walked over the window and stared out for a long time. The last thing he wanted was about to happen; he would be the jerk in research who pulled the plug on a promising new drug that was destined to bring a pharmaceutical giant back from the brink of bankruptcy. How could a drug that was supposed to cause sleep drive these animals into a sleepless frenzy? It didn’t make sense. More importantly, he thought, what would have happened if this drug had been marketed and used by thousands of human beings?
He thought back to the meeting when he’d first heard about this new drug and remembered how excited and proud he’d been about being taken into the inner circle of drug development. He walked back to his desk and looked at the results again, rubbed his chin with the back of his hand. He thought about the dying animals. They were certainly not what was expected, he thought. There must be an explanation. He needed to check the calculations again. He pulled out a notepad and wrote the basic information down for the third time. Thirty minutes later, he scratched his head. The results were the same. There was no getting around the fact that something was wrong. It was bite the bullet time, he thought. No sense in putting it off any longer. The project was already four weeks behind schedule. He picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hagstrom.” The rough voice on the other end of the line startled Smythe.
“Can you come back down to the lab for a minute? We need to talk.”
“Why don’t you come to my office?”
“I think its better if we speak down here. There are some things you might want to see.”
He stood and stretched. He needed to think about this while he waited for the Whale. He closed his eyes, tried to put the results of Bernsdorf’s findings into perspective. He located the cages of the most recent animals and watched them for a minute. They looked haggard and had neglected their grooming. He grimaced to himself. Their agitation was palpable.
“What happened to those animals?”
The Whale had approached so quietly that Smythe hadn’t heard him. He jumped at the sound of the other man’s voice.
“That’s what we need to talk about.”
Fifteen minutes later, Smythe completed the entire story. He felt cold and clammy. Hagstrom had looked at him throughout the presentation through those hooded eyes without comment.
“Maybe it’s a paradoxical effect. Like cats receiving morphine. Makes them agitated. Just the opposite effect as on humans."
The Whale looked at him. Smythe felt like the man was staring right through him.
“We certainly don’t want to do anything that would hurt this project.”
One thing about Hagstrom. You sure as hell couldn’t tell what he was thinking, whether he was joking or not, just by looking at him. Better keep his mouth shut. If the company was hell bent on putting this drug on the market, they were going to do it whether he complained about it or not. Besides, Smythe thought, the paradoxical reaction was a possible explanation. There were many examples of animals reacting differently to the same drug than effects which were seen in the human being.
“My suggestion,” Hagstrom said, “is to just forget about these studies. No conclusions. No summaries. Just put the raw data in the new drug submission to the FDA and see if they’re smart enough to figure it out.” He looked at Smythe again and continued. “If we make too much of this paradoxical effect, some mid-level bureaucrat at the FDA who’s never spent one day in the real world will kill this drug. Can’t let that happen, can we?”
Smythe nodded. He knew that there was only one answer to the pending question.
Hagstrom watched him. “Got any problem with this? Let me know right now and we’ll deal with it. If not, let’s move on to something important.”
Smythe swallowed. He felt like a deer caught in the headlamps of an onrushing car. He blinked. “The remaining studies should be finished next week.”
* * *
The Whale met with Messner that evening after work. Their favorite meeting place was a tavern, the Blue Goose, across town from Upright’s facilities. The out-of-the-way location afforded more privacy and lessened the chance of being spotted by other Upright personnel. The Whale relayed the conversation with Smythe to Messner who sat quietly until the big man finished.
“Paradoxical effect. That’s good. You’re a con man. You should be working in a carnival selling ring tosses three for a dollar, beating kids out of their allowances.”
The Whale’s facial expression never changed
“A man does what he has to do.”
The Whale looked down at his empty glass. Messner nodded toward it.
“Ready for another?”
“Sure. When the company’s paying, I’m drinking.”
Messner waved the waitress over and placed the order. In less than thirty minutes, the Whale had inhaled three double scotches. Messner sipped his glass of white wine.
“So what are we going to do about Smythe and his study? Paradoxical effect or not, it could mean trouble if Smythe talks about it.”
“We need to deal with him This is how we do it.”
The Whale laid out his plan and Messner sat and listened. It sounded good. They would put Smythe in charge of the submission of the new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration. To do so, Smythe wold have to put the very best spin on all of the studies, including his own. Making him the point man for the drug would neutralize him and his concerns about danger.
“You think it’ll work?”
“I’ll make it work.”“It’s risky. What are you going to do if Smythe doesn’t go along with it?”
“Do you think that you should know?”

The Halloween Incident

Reading the news of the convictions of nearly a dozen young black kids in Long Beach, California (the Halloween incident) where three young white girls were badly beaten, one unconscious, one a fractured jaw, all I find is reactions from the parents of the convicted children of anger and outrageous indignation over what is happening to their children. What is missing is the remorse that is essential to correctly place the entire judicial process into the appropriate perspective. In the best of all words, the adjudication of guilt should be the first step in the healing process. That is, I did this to you, I have been determined to have done this wrongly, I have hurt you badly and I must now be punished for what I have done. Then the important point. I am sorry for what I have done. Only then can both sides can move on with their respective lives in a positive manner. The present situation is even more compelling because it involves children and the reactions of parents to obvious wrongdoing of their children. I long to see the reaction of the parent who says my child has done something wrong and this is an important point in his/her life for I have always raised my child to be responsible and to recognize that there are limits to conduct beyond which his/her acts bear consequences, some of which may not be pleasant. Until parents, black or white, begin to acknowledge that children must be held accountable, the point of punishment is lost and the function of the judicial system serves only as a warehouse or storage system in which its inhabitants do nothing more than nurse their unacknowledged wrongs and perceive of themselves as victims, a sense imbued by their parents and friends . It’s a major problem.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A great tuba solo

Click on this to see a fascinating solo tuba performance.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Tonight George Bush (I have difficulty referring to him as the President) will announce to the nation his surge plan which will, in effect, condemn another three thousand or so young American men and women to death, not to mention tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens. Where help is needed, what is really needed, is a statesman somewhere inside the government bureacracy of this great nation of ours who can stand up and tell George and the rest of our country what everyone else in the world already knows; George, you are nuts. Your imperialistic, constitution-defying, irrational behavior and thinking is simply crazy. I have a test for you, George. Have your daughters enlist in one of the branches of the military service and see that they are placed in harm's way in the trenches in Iraq and then tell us what you are doing is the right thing for this country and the rest of the world. Put your daughters where your mouth is.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The nation's founding principles and impeachment

The administration’s assault on some of the nation’s founding principles continues unabated. If the Democrats shirk their responsibility to stop it, that would make them no better than the Republicans who formed and enabled these policies in the first place. Previously, I was an avid supporter of Debbie Stabenow, Michign'a junior senator (D), who retained her seat as a result of the November 2006 elections. Senator Stabenow, less than six weeks before her re-election, voted in favor of the Republican's misguided and illegal plan to suspend habeas corpus relief to those held at Guatanamo. The notion that a fellow human being could be held indefinitely at the whim of a government with no need whatsoever to account for its actions, along with the recently post-election announcement of the Bush adminstration that it maintains that it can open up U.S. Postal first class mail without the benefit of a warrant, strikes me as being the very essence of a tyrannical government. These are but a few typical exdamples of a broad pattern that has been established. It is not the type of government I envisioned during the period of my life I studied and fought and litigated to preserve the founding principles emobdied in our Constitution.

The lawless and reckless disregard of our cherished values makes a strong case for impeachment and conviction of this seemingly crazy president who seems so hell-bent on destroying our basic values. Quite simply, he needs to be relieved of his responsibilities before thousands more of our young men and women die needlessly in his latest gambit, the so-called surge, which is in reality nothing more than a major escalation of an already hopeless war.

Senator Stabenow, who supported part of this craziness, should be ashamed of herself. At the time I became aware of her actions, I sent her an e-mail asking for a refund of my campaign contributions. To date I have not heard from her and I strongly suspect she is hoping I will go away. News flash: Not only will I not go away, I hereby call on you, Senator Stabenow, to lead the charge to reverse this ugly act and begin the process of impeaching George W. Bush.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The plan

A good friend of mine who simply cannot get over the fact that his beloved Republican party is totally out of step with reality sent me his "plan".

"Here's the plan: Back off and let those men who want to marry men, marry men.Allow those women who want to marry women, marry women.Allow those folks who want to abort their babies, abort their babies.In three generations, there will be no Democrats!!! Damn, I love it when a plan comes together."
The only problem with the plan is that the Cheney name will disappear from the earth, Republican congressmen will become an endangered species, and evangelistic ministers and Catholic priests will start preying on young people of the opposite sex.