by Lindsay Beyerstein
How our blog got its name
Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”
Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.
It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.
Clear It With Sidney
Historically, one of the biggest barriers to understanding the link between concussions and brain damage has been the fact that the damage can only be confirmed at autopsy. All that may be about to change:
Researchers at UCLA have announced a major finding that could save the lives of football players and other contact-sports athletes who’ve suffered countless traumatic brain injuries.
In the war against head trauma in football, one of the most vexing problems has been how to identify and treat a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a form of brain damage that’s caused by multiple blows to the head and is believed to be the culprit in the high-profile suicides of former players such as Junior Seau, of the San Diego Chargers, and Dave Duerson, of the Chicago Bears. Until now, doctors haven’t been able to diagnose CTE in living people; they’ve had to dissect players’ brains postmortem to spot the telltale signs. [Popular Science]
The researchers used PET scans to visualize abnormal protein deposits in the brain, a hallmark of post-concussion syndrome.
[Photo credit: KJ Holiday, Creative Commons.]
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to announce tomorrow that the ban on women serving in combat in the U.S. military will be lifted. Women have been serving in combat in all but name for years, but the new policy will open up the final 20% of active duty military positions to female recruits.
[Photo credit: DVIDSHUB, Creative Commons.]
After the pomp and circumstance of yesterday's inauguration, it's refreshing to remember that not all nations buy into the trappings of the imperial presidency. Uruguay's president, José Mujica, a former guerrilla leader, still lives in his old house, drives a VW beetle, eschews servants, and gives 90% of his salary to the poor:
In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.
Visitors reach Mr. Mujica’s austere dwelling after driving down O’Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 — the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor. [NYT]
It's a powerful lesson in leadership that Mujica doesn't feel he needs an opulent lifestyle to project authority. His power resides in his office, not in conspicuous consumption.
[Photo credit: jonisanowl, Creative Commons.]
- Where do black market boner pills come from? NPR investigates.
- Force-feeding is a form of torture, but U.S. prisons still do it. Ann Neumann chronicles the longest prison hunger strike in U.S. history.
- Before Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a registry of New York City's most vulnerable residents, to help first responders find them in a disaster, but the database was never compiled.
- A superintendent at the Upper Big Branch Mine who ordered an electrician to disable critical safety equipment before the explosion that killed 29 miners was sentenced to 21 months in prison and a $20,000 fine. [HT: Bruce]
- The most famous dead girlfriend in college football history never existed, Deadspin reports.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Eager for positive publicity in the wake of the Bangladeshi factory fire that killed over a hundred workers, Walmart pledged Tuesday to source more of its goods in the United States.
How much more? Well, Walmart promised to buy an additional $50 billion worth of American goods over the next decade. The New York Times crunched the numbers and found that $5 billion per year would be about 1.5% of what Walmart spends to buy and transport merchandise annually.
So, while a few American manufacturers will welcome the extra business, Walmart isn't exactly pledging to change its business model.
[Photo credit: brandonevano, Creative Commons.]
Deborah Blum, the thinking woman's crime writer, tackles the mystery of the Chicago dry cleaner who won a $450,000 lotto jackpot and died in his bed the next day with bloody froth on his lips and a lethal dose of cyanide in his bloodstream:
According to news reports, Kahn’s wife first realized he was ill when he emitted a loud scream. Interestingly enough, that tends to be a classic symptom of cyanide poisoning, an almost involuntary response to the internal collapse. Gettler once described this as a “death scream.” The description of Kahn’s death has him screaming, staggering to a chair, and dying as he sat there. In other words, cyanide killings tend to set a very specific range for actual time of death.
Kahn's death is still a mystery, but the killer is likely to be caught when toxicologists determine exactly what kind of cyanide poisoned him. Cyanide is so tightly controlled, and available through so few channels, that toxicology can dramatically winnow the suspect pool, often down to just one person.
[Photo credit: Michael Till, Creative Commons.]
Sasha Abramsky of The Nation asks why President Obama has pardoned so few people:
While in the White House, Bill Clinton pardoned well over 100 people. So did President Bush. To date, Obama has pardoned less than two dozen and commuted even fewer sentences. His first commutation wasn’t until late November 2011, when, according to CBS News, he ordered the release of a woman who had served ten years of a twenty-two-year sentence for cocaine distribution. CBS reported that “the latest numbers from the US Pardon Attorney show that since taking office Obama has denied 872 applications for pardons and 3,104 for commutations of sentence.” A year later, ThinkProgress reported that the only presidential pardon granted in 2012 was for the lucky turkey, as part of the Thanksgiving tradition.
A president who talks the talk about more sensible, nuanced drug policy, and whose oratory frequently invokes what is best in the American political imagination, has shown himself remarkably reluctant to use one of the most important of presidential prerogatives—the power to right judicial wrongs. “This president,” says Anderson, “has been unbelievably timid and disinclined to do justice in cases that scream out for commutation. There’s not a lot of moral or political fortitude in play.”
[Photo credit: Scott Beale, Creative Commons.]
- Investigative Reporters and Editors has announced the winners of the Philip Meyer Awards for investigative journalism: Payments, Pain Pills, and Pardons.
- As public health officials brace for a brutal flu season, a Minnesota state legislator is championing a paid sick days bill.
- At times during his long career, one private contractor was performing up to 80% of the autopsies in Mississippi--the trouble is, he may have been completely unqualified, if not an outright fraud.
- For the last 655 years, a group of farmers has been forced to pay the equivalent of $76 a year to the Catholic Church to atone for an ancient crime, but a Swiss court has ruled they don't have to keep paying.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau was suffering from the concussion-linked brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he took his own life last spring, according to the National Institutes of Health:
In July the N.I.H. began its study and invited several nationally recognized neuropathologists to consult in the analysis of Seau’s brain tissue. They found “abnormal, small clusters called neurofibrillary tangles of a protein known as tau within multiple regions of Mr. Seau’s brain,” according to the statement. Tau has been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive neurological disorders.
“I think it’s important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from C.T.E.,” Seau’s ex-wife, Gina, said in an interview with ABC News and ESPN. “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”
These findings are an important step towards scientific consensus on the reality of CTE in professional sports. Football is notorious for medical and legal concussion controversies, but CTE isn't just a problem for football.
John Branch of the New York Times won a January 2012 Sidney Award for his profile of Derek Boogaard, an NHL player with a history of concussions who showed many of the symptoms of CTE during the two years before he died of an accidental drug overdose.
[Photo credit: patriotworld, Creative Commons.]
Leslie Patton of Bloomberg News has won the January Sidney Award for her eye-opening joint profile of a McDonald's fry cook and the CEO of the company. The fry cook, Tyree Johnson, would have to work over 1 million hours a year in order to earn as much as the former CEO of McDonald's, but in fact, he's lucky to get 40 hours a week because neither of the two McDonald's restaurants he works for will give him full-time hours.
Patton shows how the fast food industry is typical of our increasingly unequal economy that generates historic profits for executives and investors while leaving ordinary workers behind.