Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

A labyrinth of secret underground tunnels believed to have been used by the Nazis to develop a nuclear bomb has been uncovered.

The facility, which covers an area of up to 75 acres, was discovered near the town of St Georgen an der Gusen, Austria last week, it has been reported.

Excavations began on the site after researchers detected heightened levels of radiation in the area – supporting claims that the Nazis were developing nuclear weapons.

Documentary maker Andreas Sulzer, who is leading the excavations, told the Sunday Times that the site is ‘most likely the biggest secret weapons production facility of the Third Reich’.

It is believed to be connected to the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, where the Messerschmitt Me 262 – the first operational jet fighter – was built.

There are also suggestions that the complex is connected to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

Slave labour from the camp was used to build both complexes – with as many as 320,000 inmates in the harsh underground conditions.

But while the Bergkristall site was explored by Allied and Russia after the war, the Nazis appeared to have gone through greater lengths to conceal the newly-discovered tunnels.

Its entrance was only uncovered after the excavation team, which includes historians and scientists, pieced together information in declassified intelligence documents and testimonies from witnesses.

The team is now in the process of removing layers of soil and concrete packed into the tunnels and heavy granite plates that were used to cover the entrance.

Helmets belonging to SS troops and other Nazi relics are among the items that have been uncovered so far.

The excavation was halted last week by police, who demanded the group produce a permit for conducting research on historic sites. But Mr Sulzer is confident that work will resume next month.

He told the Sunday Times: ‘Prisoners from concentration camps across Europe were handpicked for their special skills – physicists, chemists or other experts – to work on this monstrous project and we owe it to the victims to finally open the site and reveal the truth.’

The probe was triggered by a research documentary by Mr Sulzer on Hitler’s quest to build an atomic bomb.

In it, he referenced diary entries from a physicist called up to work for the Nazis. There is other evidence of scientists working for a secret project managed by SS General Hans Kammler.

Kammler, who signed off the plans for the gas chambers and crematorium at Auschwitz, was in charge of Hitler’s missile programmes.

Mr Sulzer searched archives in Germany, Moscow and America for evidence of the nuclear weapons-building project led by the SS.

He discovered that on January 2, 1944, some 272 inmates of Mauthausen were taken from the camp to St Georgen to begin the construction of secret galleries.

By November that year, 20,000 out of 40,000 slave labourers drafted in to build the tunnels had been worked to death.

After the war, Austria spent some £10million in pouring concrete into most of the tunnels.

But Sulzer and his backers believe they missed a secret section where the atomic research was conducted.

The Soviets were stationed in St Georgen until 1955 and they took all of the files on the site back with them to Moscow.

Experts are trying to discover if there is a link between St Georgen and sites in Germany proper where scientists were assembled during the Third Reich in a bid to match American efforts to build the ultimate weapon.

In June 2011, atomic waste from Hitler’s secret nuclear programme was believed to have been found in an old mine near Hanover.

More than 126,000 barrels of nuclear material lie rotting over 2,000 feet below ground in an old salt mine.

Rumour has it that the remains of nuclear scientists who worked on the Nazi programme are also there, their irradiated bodies burned in secret by S.S. men sworn to secrecy.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2888975/Vast-underground-complex-Nazis-developed-WMD-discovered-Austria.html#ixzz3Nt33ax4F
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Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

brain tumor

By Ed Payne and Dave Alsup

Call it a mixed blessing — one that may have saved an Arizona convenience store employee’s life.

When Phoenix Circle K manager Jerimiah Willey was pistol-whipped during a robbery last month, he landed at St. Joseph’s Hospital with a head injury that required eight staples.

“He hit me in the head twice. … and then throughout the whole thing, he was nudging me with the gun,” Willey told CNN affiliate KTVK.

The hospital did a CT scan while he was there and discovered something far worse — a massive and potentially life-threatening brain tumor.

“They said that had this not been found and soon around the time that it was found, that he probably just would have gone to sleep one night and not been able to wake up,” his wife, Alisha Willey, told the affiliate.

He is recovering from the first of what’s expected to be three brain surgeries.

“It’s our understanding, that because of the size, we believe there’s going to be two more surgeries,” his mother-in-law, Rose Gould, told CNN.

The surgery has left him partially paralyzed, with slurred speech and some loss of hearing. He’s undergoing therapy.

Although the road ahead for the Willeys and their three children is uncertain, they’re hopeful that the slow-growing tumor is benign and was caught before it was too late.

A fund has been set up to help pay for the family’s medical expenses.

“It’s hard to be thankful to somebody who was so violent,” Alisha Willey said. “I’m just very blessed that my husband is still alive and that it wasn’t over that morning.”

http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/13/us/arizona-beating-brain-tumor/index.html

In the inner city, a health problem is making it harder for young people to learn. inner-city kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Youth living in inner cities show a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder than soldiers,” according to Howard Spivak M.D., director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention.

Spivak presented research at a congressional briefing in April 2012 showing that children are essentially living in combat zones. Unlike soldiers, children in the inner city never leave the combat zone and often experience trauma repeatedly.

One local expert says national data suggests one in three urban youth have mild to severe PTSD. “You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar. Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home,” said Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University.

In 2013, there were 47 recorded lockdowns in Oakland public schools – again, almost all in East and West Oakland.

Students at Fremont High showed where one classmate was shot.

“If someone got shot that they knew or that they cared about… they’re going to be numb,” one student said. “If someone else in their family got shot and killed they will be sad, they will be isolated because I have been through that.”

Gun violence is only one of the traumas or stressors in concentrated areas of deep poverty.

“Its kids are unsafe, they’re not well fed,” Duncan-Andrade said. “And when you start stacking those kids of stressors on top of each other, that’s when you get these kinds of negative health outcomes that seriously disrupt school performance.”

Duncan-Andrade said doctors at Harvard’s School of Public Health have come up with a new diagnosis of complex PTSD, describing people who are repeatedly re-exposed to trauma, which Duncan-Andrade said, would include many inner-city youth.

In Oakland, about two-thirds of the murders last year were actually clustered in East Oakland, where 59 people were killed.

Teachers and administrators who graduated from Fremont High School in East Oakland and have gone back to work there spoke with KPIX 5.

“These cards that (students) are suddenly wearing around their neck that say ‘Rest in peace.’ You have some kids that are walking around with six of them. Laminated cards that are tributes to their slain friends,” said teacher Jasmene Miranda.

Jaliza Collins, also a teacher at Fremont, said, “It’s depression, it’s stress, it’s withdrawal, it’s denial. It’s so many things that is encompassed and embodied in them. And when somebody pushes that one button where it can be like, ‘please go have a seat,’ and that can be the one thing that just sets them off.”

Even the slang nickname for the condition, “Hood Disease,” itself causes pain, and ignites debate among community leaders, as they say the term pejoratively refers to impoverished areas, and distances the research and medical community from the issue.

“People from afar call it ‘Hood Disease,’ – it’s what academics call it,” said Olis Simmons, CEO of Youth UpRising working in what she describes as the epicenter of the issue: East Oakland.

She said the term minimizes the pain that her community faces, and fails to capture the impact this has on the larger community.

“In the real world where this affects real lives, people are suffering from a chronic level of trauma that doesn’t have a chance to heal because they’re effectively living in a war zone within your town,” said Simmons.

“Terms like ‘hood disease’ mean it’s someone else’s problem, but it’s not. That’s a lie. It’s a collective problem, and the question is what are we prepared to do about it?”

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/05/16/hood-disease-inner-city-oakland-youth-suffering-from-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-crime-violence-shooting-homicide-murder/

F R W van de Goot, R L ten Berge, R Vos
The Journal of Clinical Pathology

In 1599, a Spanish governor in early colonial Ecuador suffered this fate. Native Indians of the Jivaro tribe, unscrupulously taxed in their gold trade, attacked the settlement of Logrono and executed the gold hungry governor by pouring molten gold down his throat. Pouring hot liquids or metals, such as lead or gold, into the mouth of a victim was a practice used on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, by the Romans and the Spanish Inquisition among others.

Several sources mention the bursting of internal organs. The question remains whether this is actually the case and, also, what the cause of death would be. To investigate this, we obtained a bovine larynx from a local slaughter house (no animal was harmed or killed specifically for this purpose). After fixing the larynx in a horizontal position to a piece of wood and closing the distal end using tissue paper, 750 g of pure lead (around 450°C) was heated until melting and then poured into the larynx. Immediately, large amounts of steam appeared at both ends of the specimen, and the clot of tissue paper was expelled with force by the steam. Within 10 seconds, the lead had congealed again, completely filling the larynx.

After cooling, cross sections of the larynx were made, and formalin fixed, paraffin wax embedded slides of the laryngeal wall were observed under the light microscope. The laryngeal mucosa was found to be totally absent, and coagulation necrosis of the underlying chondroid and striated muscle was seen at a maximum depth of 1 cm.

Based on these findings, we suggest that the development of steam with increasing pressure might result in both heat induced and mechanical damage to distal organs, possibly leading to over inflation and rupture of these organs. Direct thermal injury to the lungs may lead to instantaneous death, as a result of acute pulmonary dysfunction and shock. Even if this is not the case, the development of a “cast” (once the metal congeals again) would completely block the airways, thus suffocating the victim.

In conclusion, we have shown that in the execution method of pouring hot liquefied metals into the throat of a victim, death is probably mediated by the development of steam and consequent thermal injury to the airways.

http://jcp.bmj.com/content/56/2/157.full

There are a few things we take for granted in social interactions with people. We presume that we see the world in roughly the same way, that we all know certain basic facts, that words mean the same things to you as they do to me. And we assume that we have pretty similar ideas of right and wrong.

But for a small – but not that small – subset of the population, things are very different. These people lack remorse and empathy and feel emotion only shallowly. In extreme cases, they might not care whether you live or die. These people are called psychopaths. Some of them are violent criminals, murderers. But by no means all.

Professor Robert Hare is a criminal psychologist, and the creator of the PCL-R, a psychological assessment used to determine whether someone is a psychopath. For decades, he has studied people with psychopathy, and worked with them, in prisons and elsewhere. “It stuns me, as much as it did when I started 40 years ago, that it is possible to have people who are so emotionally disconnected that they can function as if other people are objects to be manipulated and destroyed without any concern,” he says.

Our understanding of the brain is still in its infancy, and it’s not so many decades since psychological disorders were seen as character failings. Slowly we are learning to think of mental illnesses as illnesses, like kidney disease or liver failure, and developmental disorders, such as autism, in a similar way. Psychopathy challenges this view. “A high-scoring psychopath views the world in a very different way,” says Hare. “It’s like colour-blind people trying to understand the colour red, but in this case ‘red’ is other people’s emotions.”

At heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list in full is: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (ie broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy. Hare says: “A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once said: ‘Bob, when I meet someone who scores 35 or 36, I know these people really are different.’ The ones we consider to be alien are the ones at the upper end.”

But is psychopathy a disorder – or a different way of being? Anyone reading the list above will spot a few criteria familiar from people they know. On average, someone with no criminal convictions scores 5. “It’s dimensional,” says Hare. “There are people who are part-way up the scale, high enough to warrant an assessment for psychopathy, but not high enough up to cause problems. Often they’re our friends, they’re fun to be around. They might take advantage of us now and then, but usually it’s subtle and they’re able to talk their way around it.” Like autism, a condition which we think of as a spectrum, “psycho­pathy”, the diagnosis, bleeds into normalcy.

We think of psychopaths as killers, criminals, outside society. People such as Joanna Dennehy, a 31-year-old British woman who killed three men in 2013 and who the year before had been diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder, or Ted Bundy, the American serial killer who is believed to have murdered at least 30 people and who said of himself: “I’m the most cold-blooded son of a bitch you’ll ever meet. I just liked to kill.” But many psychopathic traits aren’t necessarily disadvantages – and might, in certain circumstances, be an advantage. For their co-authored book, “Snakes in suits: When Psychopaths go to work”, Hare and another researcher, Paul Babiak, looked at 203 corporate professionals and found about four per cent scored sufficiently highly on the PCL-R to be evaluated for psychopathy. Hare says that this wasn’t a proper random sample (claims that “10 per cent of financial executives” are psychopaths are certainly false) but it’s easy to see how a lack of moral scruples and indifference to other people’s suffering could be beneficial if you want to get ahead in business.

“There are two kinds of empathy,” says James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California and author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. “Cognitive empathy is the ability to know what other people are feeling, and emotional empathy is the kind where you feel what they’re feeling.” Autistic people can be very empathetic – they feel other people’s pain – but are less able to recognise the cues we read easily, the smiles and frowns that tell us what someone is thinking. Psychopaths are often the opposite: they know what you’re feeling, but don’t feel it themselves. “This all gives certain psychopaths a great advantage, because they can understand what you’re thinking, it’s just that they don’t care, so they can use you against yourself.” (Chillingly, psychopaths are particularly adept at detecting vulnerability. A 2008 study that asked participants to remember virtual characters found that those who scored highly for psychopathy had a near perfect recognition for sad, unsuccessful females, but impaired memory for other characters.)

Fallon himself is a case in point. In 2005, he was looking at brain scans of psychopathic murderers, while on another study, of Alzheimer’s, he was using scans of his own family’s brains as controls. In the latter pile, he found something strange. “You can’t tell just from a brain scan whether someone’s a psychopath,” he says, “but you can make a good guess at the personality traits they’ll have.” He describes a great loop that starts in the front of the brain including the parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala and other regions tied to emotion and impulse control and empathy. Under certain circumstances they would light up dramatically on a normal person’s MRI scan, but would be darker on a psychopath’s.

“I saw one that was extremely abnormal, and I thought this is someone who’s way off. It looked like the murderers I’d been looking at,” he says. He broke the anonymisation code in case it had been put into the wrong pile. When he did, he discovered it was his own brain. “I kind of blew it off,” he says. “But later, some psychiatrist friends of mine went through my behaviours, and they said, actually, you’re probably a borderline psychopath.”

Speaking to him is a strange experience; he barely draws breath in an hour, in which I ask perhaps three questions. He explains how he has frequently put his family in danger, exposing his brother to the deadly Marburg virus and taking his son trout-fishing in the African countryside knowing there were lions around. And in his youth, “if I was confronted by authority – if I stole a car, made pipe bombs, started fires – when we got caught by the police I showed no emotion, no anxiety”. Yet he is highly successful, driven to win. He tells me things most people would be uncomfortable saying: that his wife says she’s married to a “fun-loving, happy-go-lucky nice guy” on the one hand, and a “very dark character who she does not like” on the other. He’s pleasant, and funny, if self-absorbed, but I can’t help but think about the criteria in Hare’s PCL-R: superficial charm, lack of emotional depth, grandiose sense of self-worth. “I look like hell now, Tom,” he says – he’s 66 – “but growing up I was good-looking, six foot, 180lb, athletic, smart, funny, popular.” (Hare warns against non-professionals trying to diagnose people using his test, by the way.)

“Psychopaths do think they’re more rational than other people, that this isn’t a deficit,” says Hare. “I met one offender who was certainly a psychopath who said ‘My problem is that according to psychiatrists I think more with my head than my heart. What am I supposed to do about that? Am I supposed to get all teary-eyed?’ ” Another, asked if he had any regrets about stabbing a robbery victim, replied: “Get real! He spends a few months in hospital and I rot here. If I wanted to kill him I would have slit his throat. That’s the kind of guy I am; I gave him a break.”

And yet, as Hare points out, when you’re talking about people who aren’t criminals, who might be successful in life, it’s difficult to categorise it as a disorder. “It’d be pretty hard for me to go into high-level political or economic or academic context and pick out all the most successful people and say, ‘Look, I think you’ve got some brain deficit.’ One of my inmates said that his problem was that he’s a cat in a world of mice. If you compare the brainwave activity of a cat and a mouse, you’d find they were quite different.”

It would, says Hare, probably have been an evolutionarily successful strategy for many of our ancestors, and can be successful today; adept at manipulating people, a psychopath can enter a community, “like a church or a cultural organisation, saying, ‘I believe the same things you do’, but of course what we have is really a cat pretending to be a mouse, and suddenly all the money’s gone”. At this point he floats the name Bernie Madoff.

This brings up the issue of treatment. “Psychopathy is probably the most pleasant-feeling of all the mental disorders,” says the journalist Jon Ronson, whose book, The Psychopath Test, explored the concept of psychopathy and the mental health industry in general. “All of the things that keep you good, morally good, are painful things: guilt, remorse, empathy.” Fallon agrees: “Psychopaths can work very quickly, and can have an apparent IQ higher than it really is, because they’re not inhibited by moral concerns.”

So psychopaths often welcome their condition, and “treating” them becomes complicated. “How many psychopaths go to a psychiatrist for mental distress, unless they’re in prison? It doesn’t happen,” says Hare. The ones in prison, of course, are often required to go to “talk therapy, empathy training, or talk to the family of the victims” – but since psychopaths don’t have any empathy, it doesn’t work. “What you want to do is say, ‘Look, it’s in your own self-interest to change your behaviour, otherwise you’ll stay in prison for quite a while.’ ”

It seems Hare’s message has got through to the UK Department of Justice: in its guidelines for working with personality-disordered inmates, it advises that while “highly psychopathic individuals” are likely to be “highly treatment resistant”, the “interventions most likely to be effective are those which focus on ‘self-interest’ – what the offender wants out of life – and work with them to develop the skills to get those things in a pro-social rather than anti-social way.”

If someone’s brain lacks the moral niceties the rest of us take for granted, they obviously can’t do anything about that, any more than a colour-blind person can start seeing colour. So where does this leave the concept of moral responsibility? “The legal system traditionally asserts that all people standing in front of the judge’s bench are equal. That’s demonstrably false,” says the neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. He suggests that instead of thinking in terms of blameworthiness, the law should deal with the likelihood that someone will reoffend, and issue sentences accordingly, with rehabilitation for those likely to benefit and long sentences for those likely to be long-term dangers. The PCL-R is already used as part of algorithms which categorise people in terms of their recidivism risk. “Life insurance companies do exactly this sort of thing, in actuarial tables, where they ask: ‘What age do we think he’s going to die?’ No one’s pretending they know exactly when we’re going to die. But they can make rough guesses which make for an enormously more efficient system.”

What this doesn’t mean, he says, is a situation like the sci-fi film Minority Report, in which people who are likely to commit crimes are locked up before they actually do. “Here’s why,” he says. “It’s because many people in the population have high levels of psychopathy – about 1 per cent. But not all of them become criminals. In fact many of them, because of their glibness and charm and willingness to ride roughshod over the people in their way, become quite successful. They become CEOs, professional athletes, soldiers. These people are revered for their courage and their straight talk and their willingness to crush obstacles in their way. Merely having psychopathy doesn’t tell us that a person will go off and commit a crime.” It is central to the justice system, both in Britain and America, that you can’t pre-emptively punish someone. And that won’t ever change, says Eagleman, not just for moral, philosophical reasons, but for practical ones. The Minority Report scenario is a fantasy, because “it’s impossible to predict what somebody will do, even given their personality type and everything, because life is complicated and crime is conceptual. Once someone has committed a crime, once someone has stepped over a societal boundary, then there’s a lot more statistical power about what they’re likely to do in future. But until that’s happened, you can’t ever know.”

Speaking to all these experts, I notice they all talk about psychopaths as “them”, almost as a different species, although they make conscious efforts not to. There’s something uniquely troubling about a person who lacks emotion and empathy; it’s the stuff of changeling stories, the Midwich Cuckoos, Hannibal Lecter. “You know kids who use a magnifying glass to burn ants, thinking, this is interesting,” says Hare. “Translate that to an adult psychopath who treats a person that way. It is chilling.” At one stage Ronson suggests I speak to another well-known self-described psychopath, a woman, but I can’t bring myself to. I find the idea unsettling, as if he’d suggested I commune with the dead.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10737827/Psychopaths-how-can-you-spot-one.html

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

R-wordredskins

It’s one of the NFL’s bigger rivalries, the Cowboys vs. the Redskins. And intentional or not, Sunday’s game occurs during Columbus Day weekend, deepening the meaning of a fresh conflict about whether “Redskins” slurs Indians, their leaders say.

More than 500 years after Christopher Columbus’ encounter with the natives of the Americas, any enduring uneasiness between Indians and mainstream society is exemplified by the controversy over the Washington Redskins name, which took a new turn last week when President Obama spoke of “legitimate concerns” that the mascot is racist, some Indian leaders say.

Team owners strongly dispute any racism behind the mascot and won’t change it, saying the Redskins name honors “where we came from, who we are.”

But many Native Americans contend it’s incredulous that a major sports team in the nation’s capital fails to see the word’s offensiveness, especially in a game Sunday whose rival mascots conjure up the bygone real bloodshed between cowboys and Indians. Some news outlets and sports writers agree and aren’t printing “Redskin” in their stories about the NFL team.

“After 500 years, it’s pretty unbelievable that this issue is at the forefront right now,” said Jason Begay, a Navajo who’s an assistant professor and director of the Native American Journalism Project at the University of Montana. “Even in the last 50 years (of the civil rights movement), we learned so much. It’s just ridiculous that this is an issue.”

The NFL team disagrees. In response, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York began airing this weekend a radio ad protesting the Redskins mascot in the Dallas Cowboys’ hometown. The ad, entitled “Bipartisan,” quotes how Obama, a Democrat, and Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican leader in the House, disapprove of the Redskins name.

Washington team owner Dan Snyder stepped up his defense of the moniker this month. Last spring, he told USA Today he will “never” change the name.

“Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love,” Snyder wrote in a letter to fans.

“After 81 years, the team name ‘Redskins’ continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come,” he continued.

“I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too,” Snyder said, citing several polls conducted in recent years that show that a majority of people do not want the name changed.

But American Indians like Begay worry about the normalization of an epithet. He’s also vice president of the Native American Journalists Association, which launched last month a media resource page on its website about offensive Native American mascots in U.S. sports.

“We’re on the verge of laying back and letting this name run rampant when we can actually make a difference, which is what we all should be striving for,” Begay said. “I’m glad to see there are so many organizations like NAJA and the (U.S.) President who are standing against it.”

Obama said last week that if he were the team’s owner, he would “think about changing it,” referring to the mascot.

Obama added that “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.” The ad also airs a quote by Cole saying “the name is just simply inappropriate. It is offensive to a lot of people.”

The political leaders’ remarks are repeated in the radio ad advanced by the Oneida Indian Nation and its leader Ray Halbritter, who’s also CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, which operates a casino and other businesses.

Halbritter acknowledged his tribe’s “Change the Mascot” campaign faces an uphill struggle. He refers to the mascot as “the R-word,” without explicitly stating it.

“Well, history is littered with people who have vowed never to change something — slavery, immigration, women’s rights — so we think one thing that’s really great about this country is when many people speak out, change can happen,” Halbritter said.

When asked about other team mascots such as the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks, Halbritter cited how “redskin” is defined in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged online dictionary as “usually offensive.”

“Let’s be clear. The name, the R word, is defined in the dictionary as an offensive term. It’s a racial epithet. It’s a racial slur. I think there is a broader discussion to be had about using mascots generally and the damage it does to people and their self-identity. But certainly there’s no gray area on this issue,” he said.

Halbritter asserted the word was born out of hatred — and referred to the long, ugly history between the native people of the Americas and the colonizers from Europe who followed Columbus.

“Its origin is hated, use is hated, it was the name our people — that was used against our people when we were forced off our lands at gunpoint. It was a name that was used when our children were forced out of our homes and into boarding schools,” he said. “So, it has a sordid history. And it’s time for a change, and we hope that — and what’s great is when enough people do recognize that, change will come.”

Fans are sharply divided about the issue.

A non-scientific online poll by the Washington Post shows 43% saying the team should change its name. But 57% say no, keep it. One respondent said the term is “a racist holdover from another day, a time when Indians were depicted as violent, ignorant, savages (by) whites (who largely were equally violent, ignorant and savage).”

But another respondent referred to political correctness and said: “The liberal PC society has gotten out of control, if you don’t like the teams name THEN DON’T WATCH THEM…!”

Redskins attorney Lanny Davis said the mascot is “not about race, not about disrespect.”

At games, he joins fans in singing “Hail to the Redskins” because “it’s a song of honor, it’s a song of tribute.”

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/12/us/redskins-controversy/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

grandtheftauto5-630

It was one of the most brutal video games imaginable—players used cars to murder people in broad daylight. Parents were outraged, and behavioral experts warned of real-world carnage. “In this game a player takes the first step to creating violence,” a psychologist from the National Safety Council told the New York Times. “And I shudder to think what will come next if this is encouraged. It’ll be pretty gory.”

To earn points, Death Race encouraged players to mow down pedestrians. Given that it was 1976, those pedestrians were little pixel-gremlins in a 2-D black-and-white universe that bore almost no recognizable likeness to real people.

Indeed, the debate about whether violent video games lead to violent acts by those who play them goes way back. The public reaction to Death Race can be seen as an early predecessor to the controversial Grand Theft Auto three decades later and the many other graphically violent and hyper-real games of today, including the slew of new titles debuting at the E3 gaming summit this week in Los Angeles.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and numerous other recent mass shootings, familiar condemnations of and questions about these games have reemerged. Here are some answers.

Who’s claiming video games cause violence in the real world?
Though conservatives tend to raise it more frequently, this bogeyman plays across the political spectrum, with regular calls for more research, more regulations, and more censorship. The tragedy in Newtown set off a fresh wave:

Donald Trump tweeted: “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it’s creating monsters!” Ralph Nader likened violent video games to “electronic child molesters.” (His outlandish rhetoric was meant to suggest that parents need to be involved in the media their kids consume.) MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asserted that the government has a right to regulate video games, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary.

Unsurprisingly, the most over-the-top talk came from the National Rifle Association:

“Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media, and Obama’s budget kill people,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference one week after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He continued without irony: “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse.”

Has the rhetoric led to any government action?
Yes. Amid a flurry of broader legislative activity on gun violence since Newtown there have been proposals specifically focused on video games. Among them:

State Rep. Diane Franklin, a Republican in Missouri, sponsored a state bill that would impose a 1 percent tax on violent games, the revenues of which would go toward “the treatment of mental-health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.” (The bill has since been withdrawn.) Vice President Joe Biden has also promoted this idea.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) proposed a federal bill that would give the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s ratings system the weight of the law, making it illegal to sell Mature-rated games to minors, something Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has also proposed for his home state.

A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed studying the impact of violent video games on children.

So who actually plays these games and how popular are they?
While many of the top selling games in history have been various Mario and Pokemon titles, games from the the first-person-shooter genre, which appeal in particular to teen boys and young men, are also huge sellers.

The new king of the hill is Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which surpassed Wii Play as the No. 1 grossing game in 2012. Call of Duty is now one of the most successful franchises in video game history, topping charts year over year and boasting around 40 million active monthly users playing one of the franchise’s games over the internet. (Which doesn’t even include people playing the game offline.) There is already much anticipation for the release later this year of Call of Duty: Ghosts.

The Battlefield games from Electronic Arts also sell millions of units with each release. Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite, released in March, has sold nearly 4 million units and is one of the most violent games to date.

What research has been done on the link between video games and violence, and what does it really tell us?
Studies on how violent video games affect behavior date to the mid 1980s, with conflicting results. Since then there have been at least two dozen studies conducted on the subject.

“Video Games, Television, and Aggression in Teenagers,” published by the University of Georgia in 1984, found that playing arcade games was linked to increases in physical aggression. But a study published a year later by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “Personality, Psychopathology, and Developmental Issues in Male Adolescent Video Game Use,” found that arcade games have a “calming effect” and that boys use them to blow off steam. Both studies relied on surveys and interviews asking boys and young men about their media consumption.

Studies grew more sophisticated over the years, but their findings continued to point in different directions. A 2011 study found that people who had played competitive games, regardless of whether they were violent or not, exhibited increased aggression. In 2012, a different study found that cooperative playing in the graphically violent Halo II made the test subjects more cooperative even outside of video game playing.

Metastudies—comparing the results and the methodologies of prior research on the subject—have also been problematic. One published in 2010 by the American Psychological Association, analyzing data from multiple studies and more than 130,000 subjects, concluded that “violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviors and decrease empathic feelings and pro-social behaviors.” But results from another metastudy showed that most studies of violent video games over the years suffered from publication biases that tilted the results toward foregone correlative conclusions.

Why is it so hard to get good research on this subject?
“I think that the discussion of media forms—particularly games—as some kind of serious social problem is often an attempt to kind of corral and solve what is a much broader social issue,” says Carly Kocurek, a professor of Digital Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Games aren’t developed in a vacuum, and they reflect the cultural milieu that produces them. So of course we have violent games.”

There is also the fundamental problem of measuring violent outcomes ethically and effectively.

“I think anybody who tells you that there’s any kind of consistency to the aggression research is lying to you,” Christopher J. Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University, told Kotaku. “There’s no consistency in the aggression literature, and my impression is that at this point it is not strong enough to draw any kind of causal, or even really correlational links between video game violence and aggression, no matter how weakly we may define aggression.”

Moreover, determining why somebody carries out a violent act like a school shooting can be very complex; underlying mental-health issues are almost always present. More than half of mass shooters over the last 30 years had mental-health problems.

But America’s consumption of violent video games must help explain our inordinate rate of gun violence, right?
Actually, no. A look at global video game spending per capita in relation to gun death statistics reveals that gun deaths in the United States far outpace those in other countries—including countries with higher per capita video game spending.

A 10-country comparison from the Washington Post shows the United States as the clear outlier in this regard. Countries with the highest per capita spending on video games, such as the Netherlands and South Korea, are among the safest countries in the world when it comes to guns. In other words, America plays about the same number of violent video games per capita as the rest of the industrialized world, despite that we far outpace every other nation in terms of gun deaths.

Or, consider it this way: With violent video game sales almost always at the top of the charts, why do so few gamers turn into homicidal shooters? In fact, the number of violent youth offenders in the United States fell by more than half between 1994 and 2010—while video game sales more than doubled since 1996. A working paper from economists on violence and video game sales published in 2011 found that higher rates of violent video game sales in fact correlated with a decrease in crimes, especially violent crimes.

I’m still not convinced. A bunch of mass shooters were gamers, right?
Some mass shooters over the last couple of decades have had a history with violent video games. The Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, was reportedly “obsessed” with video games. Norway shooter Anders Behring Breivik was said to have played World of Warcraft for 16 hours a day until he gave up the game in favor of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which he claimed he used to train with a rifle. Aurora theater shooter James Holmes was reportedly a fan of violent video games and movies such as The Dark Knight. (Holmes reportedly went so far as to mimic the Joker by dying his hair prior to carrying out his attack.)

Jerald Block, a researcher and psychiatrist in Portland, Oregon, stirred controversy when he concluded that Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out their rampage after their parents took away their video games. According to the Denver Post, Block said that the two had relied on the virtual world of computer games to express their rage, and that cutting them off in 1998 had sent them into crisis.

But that’s clearly an oversimplification. The age and gender of many mass shooters, including Columbine’s, places them right in the target demographic for first-person-shooter (and most other) video games. And people between ages 18 and 25 also tend to report the highest rates of mental-health issues. Harris and Klebold’s complex mental-health problems have been well documented.

To hold up a few sensational examples as causal evidence between violent games and violent acts ignores the millions of other young men and women who play violent video games and never go on a shooting spree in real life. Furthermore, it’s very difficult to determine empirically whether violent kids are simply drawn to violent forms of entertainment, or if the entertainment somehow makes them violent. Without solid scientific data to go on, it’s easier to draw conclusions that confirm our own biases.
How is the industry reacting to the latest outcry over violent games?
Moral panic over the effects of violent video games on young people has had an impact on the industry over the years, says Kocurek, noting that “public and government pressure has driven the industry’s efforts to self regulate.”

In fact, it is among the best when it comes to abiding by its own voluntary ratings system, with self-regulated retail sales of Mature-rated games to minors lower than in any other entertainment field.

But is that enough? Even conservative judges think there should be stronger laws regulating these games, right?
There have been two major Supreme Court cases involving video games and attempts by the state to regulate access to video games. Aladdin’s Castle, Inc. v. City of Mesquite in 1983 and Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association in 2011.

“Both cases addressed attempts to regulate youth access to games, and in both cases, the court held that youth access can’t be curtailed,” Kocurek says.

In Brown v. EMA, the Supreme Court found that the research simply wasn’t compelling enough to spark government action, and that video games, like books and film, were protected by the First Amendment.

“Parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote when the Supreme Court deemed California’s video game censorship bill unconstitutional in Brown v. EMA. “Filling the remaining modest gap in concerned-parents’ control can hardly be a compelling state interest.”

So how can we explain the violent acts of some kids who play these games?
For her part, Kocurek wonders if the focus on video games is mostly a distraction from more important issues. “When we talk about violent games,” she says, “we are too often talking about something else and looking for a scapegoat.”

In other words, violent video games are an easy thing to blame for a more complex problem. Public policy debates, she says, need to focus on serious research into the myriad factors that may contribute to gun violence. This may include video games—but a serious debate needs to look at the dearth of mental-health care in America, our abundance of easily accessible weapons, our highly flawed background-check system, and other factors.

There is at least one practical approach to violent video games, however, that most people would agree on: Parents should think deliberately about purchasing these games for their kids. Better still, they should be involved in the games their kids play as much as possible so that they can know firsthand whether the actions and images they’re allowing their children to consume are appropriate or not.

Thanks to SRW for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/06/video-games-violence-guns-explainer

stress

stress bals

Darren Baldwin lost his temper when he was sacked from his job packing anti-stress balls. He turned on the warehouse manager who dismissed him, then clashed with a fellow worker who went to the manager’s aid. At one stage he pulled out two knives.

Baldwin, 44, of Sidford Court, Blackpool, admitted affray and assault when he appeared before Blackpool magistrates. Tracy Yates, prosecuting, said when novelty firm SPS, said they were having to let Baldwin go from the temporary job, his manager who passed on the bad news was punched in the face.

She said: “Baldwin then produced two knives and the victim was in fear of his life.

“Baldwin showed the knives to his colleague and started to shout threats like ‘I will cut you up’.” The court heard Baldwin left the Sycamore trading estate in Blackpool, where the company was based. He was arrested later. In interview he denied the offences but changed his plea on the day of a planned trial.

The court heard the knives were tools of his trade in the warehouse. His case was adjourned for pre-sentence reports and he was bailed on condition he does not enter the trading estate in Blackpool.

http://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/crime/stress-balls-fail-to-curb-temper-1-5429011

Pkld_MAIN_1_oldnew
Cash reserves of more than $1 billion were built up, in part, by skimping on staff and building upkeep.

By REESE DUNKLIN
Staff Writer
Dallas Morning News
rdunklin@dallasnews.com

Parkland Memorial Hospital quietly amassed more than $1 billion in cash reserves even as deteriorating patient-care conditions brought it to the brink of closure, an analysis of financial records shows.

The Dallas County taxpayer-supported hospital built the reserve over the last several years, in part by reducing staff and available beds, neglecting its aging building and moving hundreds of millions from the operating budget to help finance construction of a new hospital.

Federal regulators have since forced Parkland to plow at least $75 million back into operations to remedy lapses that they said threatened patients’ lives. That has prompted questions about whether focus on the new $1.2 billion hospital complex exacerbated Parkland’s patient-safety breakdowns.

Dr. Allan Shulkin, a member of Parkland’s governing board from 2004 to 2009, said a reason he left was because he was “a little troubled by what I thought to be an over-emphasis” on construction. He recalled hospital management assuring the board that patient care was under control and sufficiently funded.
It is clear now neither was the case, he said.

“Did we — the board, my board, the current board — get so focused on the new building that we forgot about operations?” said Shulkin, a pulmonary specialist who trained at Parkland in the mid-1970s. “I worry that that began to happen.”

Parkland officials declined Dallas Morning News interview requests. They referred to annual year-end statements of the Parkland Health & Hospital System for information about hospital finances. The News analyzed 10 years of such statements, obtained under the Texas Public Information Act. The statements don’t clearly explain how much money Parkland has at its disposal, but the hospital eventually said its “reserves” encompass cash, investments and assets limited to use, which is akin to savings.

By the Sept. 30 close of fiscal year 2012, those sources totaled just over $1 billion. Of that, about $315 million was restricted to new construction or bond debt repayment.

“We have plenty of cash on hand,” Ted Shaw, Parkland’s interim chief financial officer, told the Board of Managers during a December public meeting.

Parkland benefits from one of the nation’s biggest local-government hospital subsidies — a property tax that generates more than $400 million annually, about a quarter of Parkland’s total revenue. The tax rate is the second-highest for a Texas public hospital, at 27.1 cents per $100 in assessed property value.

Dr. Dana Forgione, an expert on health-care finance and accounting at UT-San Antonio, said public hospitals often don’t make clear how much they have in reserves so as to avoid questions from taxpayers.

“How can they have $1 billion and they couldn’t improve quality a little bit? Those are the questions they don’t want,” Forgione said after reviewing Parkland’s two most recent annual statements. “I understand there’s got to be a trade-off between current expenditures and long-term investment in new and improved facilities. But $1 billion is a lot of money, right?”

Starting in fiscal 2005, Parkland took surplus revenue from daily operations and saved the funds for construction of a new state-of-the-art hospital. Officials have touted what became a 17-story facility on Harry Hines Boulevard as “the largest hospital construction project in the United States,” likening it in size to Cowboys Stadium.

By 2011, Parkland had set aside more than $400 million, records show. The surpluses came from cutting spending on staff and charging higher prices for treating its mostly poor, uninsured patients, among other things.

The amount saved was higher than the $350 million in “cash reserves” that hospital officials had promised to contribute as part of a bond deal approved by voters in 2008. That election gave Parkland permission to sell more than $700 million in construction bonds — the biggest chunk of the new hospital’s financing.

Parkland’s total cash supply peaked at nearly $1.5 billion in early 2011 and began to decline as construction got under way.

Kevin Holloran, a health-care analyst from the Standard & Poor’s credit-rating agency, said Parkland’s balance sheet looked a “little rich.” But the cash levels were a “blip right now on the radar screen” because of construction.

“Cash becomes a very contentious topic at a public hospital. ‘Shouldn’t you spend it all down?’” Holloran said. “But if you’re about to build a new hospital, our opinion would be they financially, soundly did a good thing to put away some money.”

As Parkland’s cash supply grew, the hospital’s medical care in 2008 was coming under “near constant surveillance and investigation” because of “scores of patient complaints, injuries and death,” a federal report later showed.

The scrutiny intensified in 2011, when the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that Parkland’s patients were in “immediate jeopardy” of injury and death because of poor staffing and hospital conditions. Federal regulators took the unusual step of placing Parkland under independent safety monitoring in lieu of closure, making it the nation’s largest hospital to face such oversight.

In their February 2012 overview report on Parkland, the monitors said some hospital units lacked enough staff to accommodate emergency patients, worsening overcrowding and treatment delays in the ER. Cuts in the women and infants’ specialty hospital led to bed shortages and “unsafe” nurse-to-patient ratios. The building had soiled floors and holes in walls — duct tape covered one in an operating room — that jeopardized infection control.

The monitors quoted Parkland employees as saying that some safety problems were “the result of a budget reduction in a previous fiscal year” and “budgeted staffing constraints imposed last year.” Some concerns, such as the ER backlogs, were flagged by hospital consultants as far back as 2004, The News found.

The state also faulted Parkland for a “failure to adequately staff nurses in certain areas of the facility” — including the psychiatric ER, where a 2011 patient death triggered the CMS crackdown. In August 2012, the Texas Department of State Health Services fined Parkland a record-setting $1 million.

James A. Smith, former chair of the Texas Society of CPAs and managing director of a Dallas accounting firm, said Parkland’s leaders couldn’t blame patient-care problems on a lack of money, based on his analysis of the two most recent annual financial statements.

“Knowing what we know now,” Smith said, “it seems to me like the construction project, which was a grandiose plan, sucked an awful lot of air out of the room financially.”

For at least a decade, Parkland administrators and board members have argued that a new hospital was the cure to old Parkland’s problems.

“Indeed, Parkland’s future is largely being pinned to the public hopes arising from a new billion-dollar hospital that is making its way up from the ground across the street,” federal safety monitors noted last year. “But hospitals are not simply buildings, bricks and mortar.”

The existing hospital, which opened in 1954, had long been overcrowded. Even $140 million in improvements wouldn’t bring the structure into code compliance, consultants said at one point. And if Parkland hoped to compete for new patients, it needed modern facilities like those of other Dallas hospitals, officials said.

But expansion planning stalled in 2003. Parkland suffered a $76 million budget shortfall that year and started cutting about 500 jobs. County commissioners, who approve Parkland’s budget and appoint its board, were angered they weren’t consulted about new construction and hired outside consultants to study Parkland’s operations.

In February 2004, the board chairwoman sought a succession plan for Dr. Ron Anderson, putting his two-decades-long tenure as hospital CEO in doubt. She didn’t succeed and quit two months later, along with three other members who clashed with Anderson. A newly constituted board led by Dr. Lauren McDonald and other Anderson supporters extended his contract, and Anderson announced that his priority was to “get into a new hospital.” He did not respond to requests for an interview.

With political tensions easing, commissioners in 2005 appointed a blue-ribbon panel to explore construction options. In 2007, it proposed replacing Parkland with an 862-bed hospital. The replacement was about one-fourth larger, along with clinics and offices. Construction would be completed in phases, each likely needing voter approval. The first — featuring a medical, surgical and trauma facility — would tentatively open in 2013 at a cost $840 million.

As final plans were drawn up, Parkland administrators recommended a different approach: Building all at once.

The final bill could drop by $100 million to about $1.2 billion by avoiding the price inflation and redundancies of a gradual move-in, according to a 2008 planning briefing The News obtained. Accelerating construction, though, would require another $400 million sooner in the process.

To make that work, $747 million in bonds and a property tax-rate hike as high as 2.5 cents would be necessary. Parkland promised “to reduce the burden on taxpayers” by raising $150 million in private donations and using $350 million in “cash reserves.”

Parkland’s cash supply was nearly $600 million by mid-2008, after doubling in the previous three-year span. One-time windfalls and record-setting budget surpluses had stabilized Parkland’s finances. Commissioners also let Parkland keep its tax rate at 25.4 cents per $100 in valuation to generate extra money from higher property values.

That meant Parkland could immediately put $250 million of the $350 million into the project, according to the 2008 planning briefing. Enough cash would remain that Parkland could operate for at least four months without collecting another dime — above the median “days cash on hand” for hospitals with strong credit ratings, the briefing said.

The cash commitment helped reduce the amount of bonds needing voter approval but was about $130 million more than originally planned. Parkland forecast that its cash and investments would grow once construction began, according to the briefing.

Aiding that growth, hospital officials said, would be “revenue enhancements” and “productivity and expense improvements.” Parkland’s briefing described those as price increases above inflation and “strategic pricing” of patient services, as well as improvements in billing coding, “employee productivity” and “salary and benefit costs.”

Parkland did not define specific terms for achieving those savings but said doing so could gain $150 million between 2009 and 2014 — perhaps even eliminating need for an additional 1-cent tax hike once the new campus opened.

When Parkland’s board voted for the build-at-once plan in summer 2008, it prompted applause. “When the project got derailed almost five years ago,” Anderson said, “I wasn’t sure that this day would ever come.”

Two months later, safety inspectors showed up unannounced.

The inspectors, working on behalf of CMS, found that Parkland patients were undergoing surgery without informed consent, as federal rules require. The American Medical Association’s code of ethics says patients have the right to approve or reject their surgeon in advance.

Yet Parkland’s consent forms and other records reviewed by inspectors in September 2008 were unclear over who was performing the surgery — faculty physicians from UT Southwestern Medical Center, which staffs Parkland, or resident trainees. Consultants as far back as 2004 had found that many UTSW physicians weren’t supervising residents and urged Parkland to make changes, including hiring its own doctors.

In late October, two weeks before the November bond election on the new hospital, Parkland officials presented CMS a new consent form and insisted they saw no evidence of residents operating unsupervised. Six days later, CMS told Parkland it had revised the original inspection report to remove references to “deficiencies.” The incident remained out of public view until The News reported on it in March 2010.

Another complaint in September 2008 did get noticed. A 58-year-old man named Mike Herrera died after languishing 17 hours untreated in the main emergency room — the type of problem consultants foreshadowed in 2004. A national hospital accrediting agency, the Joint Commission, cited Parkland for about a dozen safety failures.

Parkland enacted new ER procedures and made 10 nursing hires early in the next year, as it promised CMS. Anderson, however, later said Herrera, who had a history of heart disease, was probably going to die even “had our system been working.”

Shortly after Dallas County voters overwhelmingly approved construction of the new hospital, Parkland’s board agreed to reserve the $250 million, as planned, plus another $16 million in cash for the project.

The new building, by that point, was taking more and more of the board’s time, said Shulkin, the former member. Meetings were lasting longer, and new ones were added to the schedule.

“There was a sort of new charge and direction for the board,” he said. “I got the sense that there was a lot of enthusiasm, ‘Oh, man, let’s do the new building.’”

Shulkin said he understood the project’s enormity. But that should not “distract from what we do today” — patient care, he said.

“I thought, hire the people and build it. We’ve still got a hospital to run. We still have patients to take care of,” said Shulkin, who practices at Medical City Dallas Hospital and serves on the Texas Medical Board. “We don’t need to be picking out the drapes.”

Herrera’s ER death had been appalling, he said, and frustrated some board members who had “demanded that the ER’s long waits had to stop.”

In March 2009, Shulkin decided to depart the board months earlier than planned.

“I knew, for me, I didn’t fit in there anymore,” he said. “If so much of the demands on the board are the development and construction of the new building, then let the people who are going to be there at the end be at the beginning as well.”

A month later, Parkland awarded $100 million in contracts to construction managers and designers. At a news conference to announce the firms, administrators talked excitedly about having a first-class, environmentally friendly building that was “patient-centered.” Anderson added that Parkland would no longer be a place of last resort, but rather “a hospital of choice.”

Construction bonds for the new Parkland were sold in August 2009, doubling its cash supply from about $600 million to more than $1.3 billion.

Then in January 2010, Parkland met its election pledge to put $350 million toward the new hospital. The board unanimously approved hospital administrators’ recommendations to transfer a lump sum of $53 million and monthly $2.5 million allotments during the next year from operations.

Before the vote, then-board member Louis Beecherl III cautioned that taking the money from operations at that time left Parkland “with a pretty fine line here of comfort.”

“If we don’t earn a positive bottom line, we’re going to be in real trouble,” Beecherl said, noting Parkland might not be able to build new community clinics if money became tight. “We need to be careful about what we’re doing here.”

Another board member, Alan Walne, said the money could be used for operations if necessary later. But there needed “to be pressure to bear that … we can put these other dollars away and can, in fact, perform in a manner that we told the voters we would,” according to a tape-recording of the meeting.

Parkland’s chief financial officer at the time, John Dragovits, told the board that the hospital would enforce fiscal “discipline so that we’re not in that situation.” Anderson added, “This is first things first.”

In a recent interview, Beecherl said his comment had “nothing to do with patient care.” He simply wanted Parkland to ensure a strong bottom line to maintain investor confidence, he said. Two credit-rating agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, had given Parkland’s bonds their highest scores, which reduced borrowing costs.

Asked whether Parkland’s large construction project had created financial pressures, Beecherl said the only pressure was finishing it.

“We were functioning in a 60-year-old building, and patient care was not up to current-day standards because of the age of the facility,” said Beecherl, an energy businessman. “The quicker we could build a new facility, the quicker we could get in and improve patient care to modern-day standards.”

Walne added, in an interview, that there was no talk that “we can skimp on patient care so that we can spend on a new hospital.”

“At the end of the day,” he recalled, “when we’d gotten everything taken care of, any dollars that we had … [in surplus,] we would try to set those dollars aside for the new hospital.”

As the hospital broke ground across Harry Hines Boulevard in October 2010, Parkland was also delivering on the “operational improvements” promised before the bond election.

Parkland earned nearly $150 million more in revenue between fiscal years 2009 and 2011 despite the sluggish economy. The hospital did that through price hikes in commercial insurance contracts, rate increases in Parkland’s managed-care plan for Medicaid recipients and “record-breaking reimbursements” through improved medical billing.

Parkland also cut salaries, wages and benefits. From fiscal 2007 to 2009, those expenses had increased by nearly $130 million. But in 2010, they were up only $33 million and, in 2011, they declined $3 million. That was the first reduction since 2003, when state budget cuts prompted layoffs.

A similar trend was apparent in the number of full-time employees, according to a News analysis of data Parkland produced in a public information request.

From fiscal 2007 to 2009, nurses and other classifications of caregivers increased by 9 percent, and Parkland’s total workforce was up by 8 percent. Both exceeded a nearly 7 percent growth in patient volumes.

In 2009 through 2011, however, nurses and caregivers increased by 1 percent, and the total workforce decreased by about 1 percent. Both lagged behind an 8 percent growth in patient volumes.

The cutbacks included about 200 jobs that Parkland eliminated to save $14 million in the fiscal 2010 budget. Officials had cited fears that property values would decline. Parkland said at the time most of the jobs were clerical, and an unspecified number would have been phased out because of a shift to electronic medical records. About half were already vacant, officials said.

For their 2009 and 2010 efforts, top hospital executives and administrators were awarded year-end “incentive” payments. Those bonuses totaled about $6 million for achieving goals such as reducing ER wait times and improving Parkland’s net income.

In recent interviews, former board members Walne and Shulkin said they may have asked administrators to justify staffing expenses, in general. But they recalled no edict to slow hiring or salary spending starting in fiscal year 2009.

“The question of staff was always,” Walne said, “do you have the resources you need to meet the goals you’re trying to achieve in the increase in quality?”

Walne said periodic safety inspections and News coverage of Parkland’s patient care failures had not suggested a “chronic problem” by the time his term ended in early 2011. The Joint Commission, he noted, had also extended Parkland’s accreditation after doing its own inspection in 2010 and was “very complimentary, quite frankly, of the care that was going on.”

“We would have reacted to whatever the recommendations would have been to accommodate patient care,” said Walne, who runs his family’s auto paint and body business. “We would not have known as a board where we needed to be spending money, because no one was giving us an indication that we had deficiencies where stuff needed to be addressed.”

Parkland finished its 2011 fiscal year with a surplus of $105 million — the seventh straight year with a margin of 5 percent or more. It even committed nearly $50 million more to construction. All of that despite having lowered the property-tax rate from 27.4 cents to 27.1 cents per $100 in assessed value.

Some county commissioners had questioned that cut, because of looming state and federal health-care overhauls that might change funding and patient volumes. But Dragovits had assured them during public discussions over the 2011 budget: “We’re not in a position of needing any kind of relief.”

Ongoing patient-safety breakdowns, meanwhile, prompted CMS to launch a massive, top-to-bottom inspection of Parkland.

Regulators found patients were in “immediate jeopardy” of harm or death and faulted the board’s oversight of the hospital. In September 2011, just weeks before the fiscal year ended, the government threatened to cancel more than $400 million in annual Medicare-Medicaid funding.

Continued federal funding was made contingent on Parkland hiring outside safety monitors to overhaul hospital operations, under CMS supervision. The board hired the Alvarez & Marsal Healthcare Industry Group, at a cost now exceeding $9 million, and accepted an April 2013 deadline to reform.

Alvarez & Marsal monitors found that Parkland was failing to meet about half of the government’s 100 or so safety standards and continuing to have an “extremely troubling” number of adverse patient events. Senior hospital managers also hadn’t kept board members “as informed as they should have been” and did not initially share “critical information and documents” during the government crackdown, the monitors wrote.

“Parkland faces regulatory, safety and patient care deficiencies in nearly every aspect of its organization and delivery system,” the monitors said in their February 2012 overview analysis. “If the deficiencies catalogued in this report are not addressed and fixed, Parkland could not pass a CMS hospital survey [inspection] and would not continue as a Medicare and Medicaid participating hospital.”

Some problems were attributed to past budget constraints that led to staff reductions and beds taken out of service. Others were the result of a lack of investment in operations and the existing building.

Parkland, for instance, hadn’t implemented rigorous methods to track the quality of care and performance of UTSW physicians and residents. Hospitals were required in 2008 by the Joint Commission and other accrediting groups to collect such data, monitors noted.

Other problems were in plain sight. In medical and surgical units, there wasn’t an “appropriate level of care-staffed inpatient beds” at key times. That translated into about 30 available but unstaffed beds a day.

“We were told that this was due to budgeted staffing constraints imposed last year,” monitors wrote.

In the ER, patients were forced to wait “longer than acceptable” to transfer. The backlog increased workloads for an already understaffed nursing team. It also “creates safety risks and creates delays for other persons presenting to the hospital for evaluation and stabilizing treatment,” monitors said.

Patients chose to leave without treatment at rates twice the national average in 2011, monitors found. The ER was so full Parkland diverted ambulances to other trauma centers during one-third of its hours each month.

In Parkland’s women’s and infants’ specialty hospital, known as WISH, two units were closed in 2011 and staff decreased by about 20 in anticipation of a decline in deliveries. But the number of patients increased in a few months’ time, monitors wrote.

That made beds scarce at peak times and forced women to recover in hallways or classrooms. Nursing-to-patient ratios in some areas became “unsafe.”

“While Parkland’s new hospital facility should be designed to resolve the inadequate size, proximity and model of care,” the monitors wrote, “Parkland must still make investments in the current hospital facility, specifically in WISH, to ensure a safe environment.”

The hospital itself was in such disrepair that some areas required immediate attention. Floors were soiled, paint chipped and furniture torn in WISH. An operating room had a hole covered by duct tape and a door that wouldn’t close completely. In another unit’s break room, large wet stains on ceiling tiles contributed to infection control risks.

“While Parkland’s current facility may show wear and tear due to its age, it does not have to be unclean,” monitors wrote. “Even the oldest facility can maintain an appearance and standard of cleanliness appropriate for patient care.”

Monitors warned that fixing the deficiencies by the April 2013 deadline was a “heroic challenge” that would require the focus of front-line staff, executives, the board and the community.

“The hospital is in the midst of a major construction project with the ongoing construction of a new hospital facility,” they wrote. “However, construction updates and discussions should not overwhelm or overtake the critical time necessary to oversee quality and safety functions and successful performance.”

The challenge also required money. Parkland estimated that it spent about $32 million in CMS-related expenses by fiscal 2012’s end in September. Just over half of that was on staff salaries, retention payments and benefits. Parkland projected adding roughly 250 full-time employees, including nurses, patient-care assistants and social workers.

The additions contributed to an 11 percent increase in nursing and other caregivers from 2011 to 2012, while patient volumes fell by about 1 percent. The growth rate was also the biggest since at least 2005, the earliest year-to-year comparison possible using the employment data Parkland provided The News. Despite the hires, another 400 nursing positions remained unfilled just before fiscal 2012’s end.

Another $45 million in CMS-related spending was estimated for fiscal 2013 year.

Among the specific investments made since the government’s intervention:

•New hires in the hospital’s medical and surgical units to accommodate more patients from the ER. Parkland also will create a 13-bed medical unit by converting space UTSW researchers were using and add 22 beds by remodeling offices that were once patient rooms.

•Renovations totaling up to $4.3 million in the main emergency department and psychiatric ER, and a redesign of the replacement hospital’s ER to meet safety standards. More than 100 caregiver positions were added in those short-staffed areas at nearly $6 million in fiscal 2012 alone. In early February, privately owned Green Oaks Hospital in Dallas was hired for about $1 million annually to manage the psych ER.

•An additional 28 beds in the women’s and infants’ hospital by reopening one of the closed units and filling 26 positions. Monitors also recommended studying how to use the second closed unit.

•At least $3 million on software systems to better manage patient cases, collect data, and measure clinical outcomes and physician performance. The monitors had urged Parkland’s board to “commit to the provision of financial support for the quality program.” They also recommended a patient rights and safety executive post, which is unfilled.

The expenses had Parkland executives worried publicly over their bottom line. Blaming the CMS-related improvements in part, they predicted fiscal 2012 would end in a loss for the first time in a decade.

“This is something we haven’t had to worry about since I got here,” Dragovits, the CFO who arrived in 2006, said during a March 2012 board meeting.

Dragovits retired last summer. He did not respond to requests from The News for an interview.

By the fiscal year’s end in September, Parkland reported making about $30 million more than it spent, according to its financial statement.

“We’re very financially healthy,” Shaw, Parkland’s interim CFO, said during December’s board meeting. “We continue to be well positioned.”

Nonetheless, there was some financial uncertainty.

Parkland forecast that it would close the fiscal year in September 2013 with a $6 million deficit because of the CMS-related spending, increased drug costs, more uninsured patients and Medicaid funding changes. Officials said balancing its budget would require using some of the $1 billion in “reserves.”

Parkland staff also told the board the replacement hospital would either need more funding to finish it as originally designed under the build-at-once plan or would need to be scaled back. And the 1-cent tax-rate increase it thought “operational improvements” could eliminate would be assessed starting in fiscal 2014, at a slightly higher rate of 1.4 cents.

If Parkland requires more money for construction and patient safety, the hospital could have its finances tested unlike in previous years, financial experts said. Dipping excessively into reserves would potentially make investors nervous, and asking for additional tax support is politically risky.

Already Standard & Poor’s has placed a “negative” outlook on Parkland’s bond rating. It did so after monitors released their critical analysis of Parkland’s problems. That meant a 1-in-3 chance Parkland’s rating could be downgraded, increasing future borrowing costs.

“We felt the risk is significant enough,” said Holloran, the S&P analyst, “that we owed it to the public to say they have a potential problem here.”

For former board member Shulkin, Parkland’s failures have left him “stunned and heartbroken.” He said he’s read the inspection reports and analyses and agreed with CMS’ mandates that the hospital spend millions on improvements.

Given the financial resources Parkland had at its disposal, Shulkin said, “It never should have come to this.”

“The problem with Parkland is, they forgot to take care of what they have to deal with every day,” he said. “They were so seemingly focused on what’s going on across the street that they’re forgetting about what’s going on inside these hallways.”

Staff writers Miles Moffeit and Sherry Jacobson contributed to this report.

http://res.dallasnews.com/graphics/2013_02/parkland/#day5main

Wonka Inventing Room Collection Launch At Sweet! Hollywood Grand Opening

A man in Norfolk, England, was reportedly attacked last week by a pair of Oompa Loompas.

According to WTVR.com, the 28-year-old man was assaulted in a city center by four individuals — two of whom had been dressed up as the orange-skinned characters made famous in Roald Dahl’s children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The man reportedly “suffered cuts to his face, nose and lip, as well as two black eyes” after being confronted by the group last Thursday.

The Guardian reports that the two Oompa Loompas, believed to be men, were accompanied by a woman and a man “not wearing fancy dress.”

Police say that the costumed men had “painted orange faces and dyed green hair.” They were said to have also been wearing “hooped tops.”

“One of the males in the group…pushed the victim to the floor before he got up,” a spokesman for Norfolk police said, according to Sky News. “He was then hit on the head, fell to the floor and hit again.”

Police are currently searching for the perpetrators.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/01/oompa-loompa-attack-man-assaulted-by-willy-wonka-characters_n_2392997.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news