Tuesday Reads: A Mixed Bag of Odds and Ends

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I thought I’d go light on politics in today’s post. I’ve got a collection of interesting links on varied topics. I hope you’ll find something to your taste.

I’ll begin with some true crime stories.

LA County’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran has completed a review of actress Natalie Wood’s autopsy report and has concluded that she was very likely assaulted before her death and was probably unconscious when she went into the water, indicating that her death is now considered “suspicious.” CBS News reports:

The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office released a new report (pdf) Monday. Sources tell CBS News the review of the original coroner’s report in 1981 raises questions about every major finding that led investigators to originally conclude Natalie Wood’s death an accident. Sources say the report concludes that the bruising on the actress’ wrists, knees, and ankles could be more consistent with injuries from an assault than they were from struggling to climb back on a boat.

Wood died on November 28, 1981, when according to her husband, actor Robert Wagner, she fell off their yacht, the 60-foot-long Splendour, possibly while trying to re-tie a dinghy that had been banging against the side of the boat, disturbing her sleep.

Her body was found hours later floating in the waters off Catalina Island.

Wood’s death was ruled an accidental drowning. But in 2011, Los Angeles Sheriff’s detectives re-opened the case after the skipper of the boat, Dennis Davern, co-authored a book in which he gave a very different account of what happened that night. Davern said, “I believe Robert Wagner was with her right up until the moment she was in the water.”

According to Davern, Wagner asked him not to tell investigators what had happened, but years later he regrets contributing to a “cover-up.”

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

However, according to CNN the county Sheriff says that Wagner is not a suspect. CNN provides two alternative descriptions of the events leading up to Wood’s disappearance from the yacht.

Davern offered a previously unreported account of how Wood’s death was reported, saying that Wagner waited hours to call the Coast Guard after Wood went missing off Catalina Island following an argument between the couple….

Wood and Wagner married in 1957, divorced in 1962, then remarried in 1972. They invited Wood’s “Brainstorm” co-star, Christopher Walken, to join them on the Thanksgiving weekend sail that preceded her death….

After Wagner then argued with Walken and broke a wine bottle, Wood left in disgust and went to her stateroom, Davern told CNN. Walken also retired to a guest room, Davern added, and Wagner followed his wife to their room. A few minutes later, Davern said, he could hear the couple fighting.

Embarrassed, Davern said, he turned up the volume on his stereo. At one point, Davern recalled, he glanced out of the pilot house window and saw Wagner and Wood on the yacht’s aft deck. “They’d moved their fight outside … you could tell from their animated gestures they were still arguing,” he said.

A short time later, Wagner, appearing to be distraught, told Davern he couldn’t find Wood. Davern searched the boat but couldn’t find her. He noticed the rubber dinghy also was missing.

Wagner claims that Wood went to her room and he didn’t follow her, but sat on deck having drinks with Walken before noticing that his wife was missing.

I’m sure you remember the story of the 10-year-old boy who shot his Neo-Nazi father, Jeff Hall, after years of abuse. I’ve written a couple of posts about it. Well, today the boy was “found responsible” for the death.

Neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall and friends

Neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall and friends

A Riverside County judge on Monday found a 12-year-old boy guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting and killing of his father, neo-Nazi activist Jeffrey Hall, as he slept on the family’s living room couch.

He also was found guilty of a weapons charge, with the judge determining he knew right from wrong.

This kid was 10 years old! Children that young simply cannot understand the consequences of their actions in the same sense as adults can. Yet he was found guilty of second degree murder.

Public Defender Matthew Hardy focused on the boy’s abusive home life, where gunplay and neo-Nazi gatherings were commonplace. Witnesses testified that Hall beat his son repeatedly, often in drunken or drug-addled rages.

Social workers responded to the Hall household more than 20 times. At the time of the shooting, the boy was a dependent of the court, an effort designed in part to shield him from further abuse, Hardy said.

Clinical psychologist Anna Salter, a mental health expert called by the prosecution, testified that the boy’s birth mother used heroin, LSD and other drugs while she was pregnant, which she called
“devastating” to the boy’s development. The boy also has an extensive history of violence dating to when he was 3. In school, he once tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord, she said.

The judge acknowledged that years of abuse and exposure to hate-filled Neo-Nazi philosophy had led to the child killing his father. Yet at the same time the judge used the child’s exposure to violence and hate to claim that this boy was mentally more mature than other 10-year-olds.

The youngster, who was 10 when he put a gun to his sleeping father’s head and pulled the trigger, was charged as a juvenile. He could be held in juvenile detention until he is 23.

The boy’s father, Jeffrey Hall, was a West Coast leader for the neo-Nazi organization known as the National Socialist Movement. He was asleep on a couch in the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, when his son crept downstairs with Hall’s .357 magnum revolver and shot his father point-blank in the head.

The judge said Hall’s attempts to indoctrinate his son into the hate group corrupted the thought process of a disturbed boy who already had displayed violent tendencies.

“It’s clear that this minor knows more than the average child about guns, hate and violence,’’ Leonard said.

Still, she added, “this is not a naive little boy unaware of the ways of the world.’’

It’s outrageous. Putting a 12-year-old boy in a facility with older boys who are already hardened criminals will erase any chance this boy has for a decent future.

One more crime story…another person is claiming to know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

An aging mobster who was once a high-ranking member of Detroit’s La Cosa Nostra organized crime family reportedly knows where labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

NBC 4 New York reports that Tony Zerilli, 85, said Hoffa was buried in a field in suburban Detroit, about 20 miles north of the restaurant where he was last seen in July 1975.
“All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli told the station. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.”

Zerilli said Hoffa’s final resting place is in a field in Michigan’s northern Oakland County. He was buried in a shallow grave and the plan was to move the body at another time, but Hoffa’s remains were never moved from the first spot where they were buried, he said.

I suppose the police will have to go dig up the field and try to find poor old Jimmy Hoffa’s bones…

Since I’ve been struggling with a horrible cold plus a case of norovirus, I decided to check out the health news. I’ll bet you didn’t know that a bad cough will last around 18 days no matter what you do to treat it. According to Mark Ebell, associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, recently did a study to compare public attitudes with actual facts about viral illnesses.

A new study shows that although most people think a cough ought to last no more than a week or so, the duration of the most annoying symptom of winter illness is about 18 days — and could be more than three weeks.

Taking antibiotics in the interim is not only ineffective, it could also prompt dangerous side effects — and contribute to the country’s growing problem with bugs becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat them.

Ebell:

“A lot of times patients will come to me and they’ve been coughing for four or five days and they’re not getting any better, so they ask for an antibiotic,” he said. “After eight or nine days, they’re still not feeling better, so they ask for an even stronger antibiotic. Then they’ll say, ‘The only thing that really works for me is this really strong antibiotic.’”

The trouble is, antibiotics aren’t actually the solution for most of the 3 million outpatient cases in the U.S. each year in which cough is the chief complaint, or for the more than 4.5 million outpatient cases diagnosed as acute bronchitis or bronchiolitis. More than 90 percent of such cases are viral, not bacterial, which means they won’t respond to the drugs most folks request, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I love berries, so I found this story interesting: Berries Ward Off MI in Women. MI stands for Myocardial infarction, basically a heart attack.

Young and middle-age women whose diet included high levels of anthocyanins — the flavonoids present in red and blue fruits such as strawberries and blueberries — had a significantly reduced risk for myocardial infarction (MI), a large prospective study found.

Women whose anthocyanin intake was in the highest quintile had a 32% decrease in risk of MI during 18 years of follow-up (HR 0.68, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.96, P=0.03), according to Eric B. Rimm, ScD, of Harvard University, and colleagues.

And in a food-based analysis, women who consumed more than three servings of strawberries or blueberries each week showed a trend towards a lower MI risk, with a 34% decrease (HR 0.66, 95% CI 0.40 to 1.08, P=0.09) compared with women who rarely included these fruits in their diet, the researchers reported online in Circulation.

“Growing evidence supports the beneficial effects of dietary flavonoids on endothelial function and blood pressure, suggesting that flavonoids might be more likely than other dietary factors to lower the risk of [coronary heart disease] in predominantly young women,” they observed.

For years, researchers didn’t bother to study heart disease in women; but in recent years it has become clear that women and men differ in how heart attacks are experienced. Perhaps what we need to do for prevention differs from men too.

Here’s a science story that Dakinikat may find interesting in relation to her fascination with ancient graves and burial rites: DNA Test Sheds Light on Mystery Deaths.

A new DNA test can restore at least part of the identity of long-dead people who left no trace of their image, scientists reported on Monday.

The technique has revealed the hair and eye colours of unknown individuals slaughtered as sub-humans by the Nazis and of a mystery woman buried alongside monks in a mediaeval crypt, they said.

“This system can be used to solve historical controversies where colour photographs or other records are missing,” said Wojciech Branicki from Poland’s Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow.

Here’s one example:

Reporting in the journal Investigative Genetics, the researchers first tested it on a tooth taken from the remains of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who led Poland’s government-in-exile in Britain in World War II before dying in a plane crash in 1943.

Sikorski’s body was disinterred from a cemetery in Newark, England, in 1993 for reburial in pomp in Krakow, but was exhumed once more in 2008 for further examination to sound out a theory that he had been poisoned, shot or strangled.

Analysis of the genetic code from the tooth gave a 99-percent likelihood that Sikorski had blue eyes, and an 85-percent likelihood that he had blond hair.

Both tallied with contemporary descriptions of Sikorski and with paintings of him made many years after his death (no colour photographs of him are known to exist).

I’m running out of space, but I have a few political reads for you that I’ll post link dump style.

Allyssa Rosenberg at The New Republic: FX is Feminism for Men. Seriously, take a look at this one!

Politico: Biden: W.H. readies 19 executive actions on guns

Alternet: Noam Chomsky Slams America’s Selfish Ayn Randian Elites – Chomsky explains how elites’ obsession with short-term personal gain threatens humanity.

Alternet: 10 Awful Crimes That Get You Less Prison Time Than What Aaron Swartz Faced

Bloomberg: Geithner Says Debt Limit Steps May Run Out by Mid-February

Those are my offerings for today. What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Boy Who Killed Neo-Nazi Father Goes on Trial in California

I thought I’d take a brief break from politics to update a story I wrote about back in the spring of 2011 about the death of neo-Nazi Jeff Hall of Riverside, California. Hall’s 10-year-old son Joseph admitted to shooting his father.

At the time, I wrote that it is unusual for children to kill their parents unless there is a history of parental abuse. Hall abused his children first by exposing them to neo-Nazi meetings in the home where they soaked up his hateful ideology, and second by beating both Joseph and his stepmother. The boy had been separated from his mom for years, and at the time of the shooting was the subject of a custody battle between his biological parents. Clearly, he had been under incredible stress. I wrote in May 2011:

So we have a young boy who probably has Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from years of abuse by both parents, from being separated from his mother, and from being exposed to hate-filled rhetoric at Neo-Nazi meetings and probably from his father. It’s like something out of American History X. How could a judge allow children to live in a home like that? To me, exposing young children to racist, anti-semitic, and anti-immigrant vitriol is in itself abuse.

Since the boy is under the age of 14, he cannot be tried as an adult and will likely be put in a youth offender facility. According to the articles I read, he will probably get out when he is 25 years old. By that time, he’ll most likely be a hardened criminal.

I looked at several studies of young children’s understanding of death. A ten-year-old has barely begun to comprehend the irreversibility of death. His brain development has not reached a point where he has good impulse control or the ability to manage strong emotions well. This story makes me heartsick.

Joseph’s trial for murder began yesterday.

The 10-year-old son of a neo-Nazi leader told his younger sister that he planned to shoot their father, then a day later took a gun from his parents’ bedroom and fired one bullet into his father’s head as he slept on a couch, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday.

The boy’s father, Jeff Hall, was an out-of-work plumber who as regional leader of the National Socialist Movement headed rallies at a synagogue and a day labor site.

In opening statements at the murder trial, Riverside County prosecutor Michael Soccio dismissed the notion that Hall’s neo-Nazi beliefs contributed to his son’s behavior, as the defense maintains, and instead said the boy, now 12, was a violent child who had been kicked out of every school he attended.

The boy also suspected his father was going to leave his stepmother, and he didn’t want the family to split up, prosecutors have said.

At least he isn’t being tried as an adult. If convicted, he could be released at age 23.

Joseph’s public defender told The New York Times that:

his client has neurological and psychological problems, compounded by exposure to neo-Nazi “conditioning” and physical abuse in the home.

“He’s been conditioned to violence,” Mr. Hardy said, adding, “You have to ask yourself: Did this kid really know that this act was wrong based on all those things?”

Instead, Mr. Hardy said, Joseph thought he was being a hero by shooting his father. “He thought what he was doing was right,” said Mr. Hardy. “And while that may be hard for other people to understand, in his mind, in a child’s mind, if he thought it was right, or at least didn’t think it was wrong, then he cannot be held responsible.”

But here’s the most tragic part of this case, in my opinion:

if found responsible for the killing and made a ward of the state, Joseph, who is now 12, would be the youngest person held in one of the three fenced-in facilities run by California’s Department of Juvenile Justice, which houses about 900 of some of the state’s most serious juvenile offenders. The median age of these offenders held by the state is 19…

So the kid will be exposed to older boys who will probably abuse him physically, sexually, and emotionally. As I wrote last spring, he’ll most likely be a hardened criminal by the time he’s back on the street.

According to Joseph Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, it’s extremely rare for a child so young to go on trial for murder.

But Mr. Soccio said that Joseph had a history of violence, including an attack that involved wrapping a telephone cord around a teacher’s neck, and needed to be in a security setting “receiving as much help as possible for as long as possible.”

“I’ve had some people say, ‘How can you do that to a little kid?’ ” said Mr. Soccio. “And I ask them, ‘Well, would you like him to come live with you?’ ”

Whatever strategy the lawyers use, life inside the Hall household will most likely come up in the trial, and Joseph may take the stand, Mr. Soccio said. The court could also see testimony from members of the neo-Nazi group the National Socialist Movement, of which Mr. Hall was a West Coast leader.

Obviously Joseph should have been removed from the home years ago. Maybe it’s too late to rehabilitate him–I can’t say. It just makes me so angry that we live in a society that doesn’t give priority to protecting children and helping them cope with and recover from emotional trauma and abuse. Instead we cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and skimp on anything that could change outcomes for children like Joseph. As I wrote last spring, it’s just plain heartbreaking.


Thursday Reads: Allergies, French Attitude Adjustments, Neo-Nazi Homicide Update, and More

Pollen

I’ve been saying for awhile now that my spring allergies this year are the worst I can remember. Apparently I haven’t been imagining things. From USA Today:

“Everyone always has a reason to think the current year is the worst year ever for allergies,” said Dr. David Rosenstreich, director of the allergy and immunology division at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

But this year those complaints really do have some merit, he added.

“It’s been a very unusual allergy season. I don’t know if it’s because of the very wet winter or that it’s been cold longer, but the pollen counts are much higher. This week, it’s been running about 6,000 grains a day, instead of the usual 1,500,” Rosenstreich said of his local area.

I knew it was really bad this year! The Chicago Tribune got the same story from different allergy experts.

“Allergy season came a bit sooner and faster, and that’s what took everyone by surprise,” said Dr. Sonali Majmudar, an allergist and immunologist based in Hoffman Estates, who said many of her patients report that they’ve never struggled with allergies before this season.

[....]

The choppy, indecisive early spring weather for which Chicago is known, with temperatures jumping between balmy and freezing every few days, might also be to blame, Majmudar said. When it warms up and cools down, pollination starts and stops and immune systems don’t know how to react, she said.

Also contributing: one of the rainiest Aprils on record. While that might be great for yard plants, it’s a big problem for people with allergies, said Dr. Joseph Leija.

That’s exactly how the weather has been here in the Boston area: cold one day, warm the next, then back to cold–and constant rain.

Leija, an allergist at Loyola University Health System’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, also called this the most severe allergy season he has seen in years.

Tree allergy season, which usually begins to wane by early May, is still going strong this year, said Leija, who provides pollen counts for the Midwest to the National Allergy Bureau.

Well at least I know I’m not completely crazy (just partly). According this article in USA Today, allergies are “on the rise” and ragweed is mostly responsible. Want to know if your city is one of the worst for ragweed? Here’s a list of the top 30 cities.

1 Phoenix
2 Las Vegas
3 Kansas City
4 Riverside-San Bernardino
5 Dallas
6 Chicago
7 Sacramento
8 Philadelphia
9 Denver
10 Washington, D.C. (tied)
10 Minneapolis/St. Paul (tied)
12 New York
13 Cincinnati
14 Baltimore
15 Cleveland
16 St. Louis (tied)
16 Detroit (tied)
18. Atlanta
19 Boston
20 Pittsburgh
21 Orlando
22 Los Angeles (tied)
22 San Antonio (tied)
24 Houston
25 Seattle
26 San Diego
27 Tampa
28 Portland
29 San Francisco
30 Miami

Weird. I always thought the southwest was good for allergy sufferers. And I can’t believe Indianapolis isn’t even on the list!

Researchers say the increase in allergies is related to climate change.

Apocalyptic images of global climate change include drought, rising sea levels, suffocating coral reefs and emaciated, drowning polar bears. But a new study points to some of the more immediate and mundane side effects of global warming: runny noses, itchy eyes and persistent coughs.

Researchers say allergies are on the rise, and it’s the result of warmer temperatures and happier allergens, like ragweed and mold.

It figures, doesn’t it? Another recent study found that men are more susceptible to allergies than women, which is the opposite of what many people have always assumed.

It appears that French women are becoming more cognizant of their rights to not be sexually harrassed. Now one of Sarkozy’s ministers has been accused of sexually harrassing and/or attacking two former employees.

French prosecutors have opened an inquiry into sexual harassment accusations leveled against a junior minister by two women, one of whom said the arrest of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sex crime charges encouraged her to speak up.

The two women filed the complaints this week against George Tron, a minister in charge of the civil service in the center-right government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to their lawyer, Gilbert Collard.

Prosecutor Marie-Suzanne Le Queau told Reuters in response to a telephone query that a preliminary inquiry had been opened as a result of the accusations. “The inquiry will cover (suspected) counts of sexual assault and rape,” Le Queau said. All types of penetration can be classified as rape in France.

One of the women

said she was driven to break her silence after former IMF chief Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with attempted rape on the basis of the accusations of a New York hotel maid in a case that stunned France and the world.

“When I see that a little chambermaid is capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I do not have the right to stay silent,”

I don’t care for the “little chambermaid” reference, but I applaud the general spirit of what this woman had to say.

The Washington Post reports that the French are “questioning attitudes” about the sexual behavior of powerful men

The criminal charges prompted the media to revisit little-reported incidents in which Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexual aggressiveness that appeared to cross the line into harassment. Women have come forward with their own stories of unwanted approaches that they felt powerless to do anything about….

Feminists say that, to succeed in France, women in politics, business and the media have to put up with “heavy flirting” bordering on harassment.

One political TV talk show panel titled “The Return of the Feminists” asked: “Are we all chambermaids?’”

Prominent journalist Helene Jouan said last week that as a young reporter she had to put up with politicians “knocking on my hotel-room door” and sending unwanted text messages. She said the behavior made her uncomfortable, but it was something that was not really talked about.

There is a similar article at Bloomberg.

The arrest in New York of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of attempted rape is forcing men to watch what they say and emboldening women to challenge the modern-day version of France’s “droit de cuissage,” a feudal practice giving masters the right to have sex with female servants. It’s prompting introspection in the media over whether its laissez-faire attitude toward private lives of those in power helps them act with impunity.

“Since power is often thought of as an aphrodisiac, there was a sort of acceptance of men’s excesses toward women,” said Rachel Mulot, a member of a feminist group called “La Barbe,” or The Beard, which on May 22 joined protests in Paris against the “dominant male.” The Strauss-Kahn case may serve as a trigger to help victims of sexual assaults to break the “taboo of rape” in France, she said.

I wanted to give you an update on the case of the 10-year-old boy who shot and killed his Neo-Nazi skinhead dad. I told you I thought it was highly likely that the father was abusing his kids. It turns out I was right. The guy was beating his wife too.

A 10-year-old boy charged with murdering his white supremacist father told investigators that he shot the man after growing tired of him hitting him and his stepmother, court documents showed on Wednesday.

In the hours after the shooting, the boy told investigators he thought Jeff Hall, 32, was cheating on his stepmother and that he might have to choose who to live with, according to a police declaration filed in Riverside County.

The blonde-haired boy from Southern California told investigators he went into his parents’ closet, pulled a revolver off a low shelf, went downstairs and aimed the gun at his father’s ear while he was asleep and shot him. He later hid the gun under his bed, according to court documents.

“It was right there on the shelf,” the boy told investigators, according to the police declaration filed Tuesday in support of an arrest warrant for his stepmother Krista McCary on nine felony charges of child endangerment and criminal storage of a gun.

Investigators also reported that the house was a pigsty and not a fit place to be raising five children, including a two-month old baby girl.

The tornado season is continuing in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and all over the midwest. Why are the tornadoes so bad this year? That’s the question this article in the Christian Science Monitor tries to answer.

Nearly 1,200 tornadoes have swarmed the United States this year, according to preliminary numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Four of these storms have been rated at the highest tornado strength, an EF-5. The death toll from these tornadoes has likely topped 500, a number not seen since 1953.

But why has this year seen so many and such devastating twisters? Scientists point to several large-scale climate factors, some of which have been at work behind the scenes since winter. And at least some of the mind-boggling tornado numbers, believe it or not, can be chalked up to humans — there are more of us around to see them.

The article offers a number of explanations–too much information to excerpt, so read the whole thing if you’re interested.

I’m going to finish with a couple of Obama-family-related stories First, there’s a sex scandal roiling the private elementary school that Malia Obama attended.

The father of a 5-year-old Sidwell Friends School student has filed a $10 million suit against the school for allegedly allowing its staff psychologist to carry on an affair with his wife.

In court filings, Arthur Newmyer claims he and his daughter suffered “severe emotional distress” when then-school psychologist James Huntington carried on a lengthy affair with his wife, Tara Newmyer. Huntington was treating Newmyer’s daughter at the time, and the suit alleges that the girl was routinely present when he and Tara Newmyer would meet to spend time together.

Arthur Newmyer is accusing Sidwell of being aware of the affair and doing “nothing to stop it.”

Finally, as everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows, the Obamas are touring Europe right now. Afrocity posted this photo on Facebook. I think she probably did it to make fun of Michelle Obama, but I really loved it. I just can’t help but like Michelle. I even like her outfits. Go ahead and yell at me for it. I don’t mind. So here’s the photo

I just love that picture! That woman is a good sport and doesn’t take herself too seriously. I like that. If she were President instead of her husband, I think we’d probably be a lot better off, as you can see below: President Obama talks over “God Save the Queen” and quotes Shakespeare inappropriately. What an embarrassment!


So…. what are you reading and blogging about this morning?