Good Night Sweet Prince

Good night sweet prince and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2. But the bard could easily be talking about the other Prince. The music world’s purple Prince. The one found dead just the other day in an elevator at his recording studio and home in Minneapolis. That Prince also happened to be very intriguing, enigmatic, supremely talented but incredibly private. An air of mystery now hanging over him in death as it did in life.

And following his death the worldwide well of public grief has been tapped and turned on. Gushing is a better description. There are tributes everywhere you look. Video clips of him playing. People speaking in hushed tones about their experiences of working with him, playing with him. But even if you didn’t know him personally you couldn’t help but admire Prince. He could play any musical instrument you care to name. Not just well but with sublime perfection. There was a staged arrogance about him but it was never obnoxious. There are plenty of good stories doing the rounds to illustrate the point. The one I like was when Rolling Stone magazine took him off the list of the world’s top 100 guitarists. Prince took it very badly. He wanted to make a point in public so he managed to wiggle his way on stage during a music award tribute to the late George Harrison. He was one among a posse of musical royalty. Just the audience he wanted. And the tune, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ became the perfect vehicle for a perfectionist. Prince fittingly played the final solo. He made his point.

No one was like him. No one will ever be like him. He played being the individual extremely well. His cockiness was just self-confidence. He knew he was good and what bits that weren’t he simply worked on until they were. You have to admire people with that strength of character.

There is no doubt he was eccentric. Publicist Alan Edwards recalls the first time he did business with Prince in 1991 with bemused clarity. “I got a call from Rogers & Cowan in America, the PR firm, asking if I would like to work with him,” says the veteran publicist, whose clients included David Bowie, the Who and Michael Jackson.

“I was flown out to Minneapolis and picked up by a chauffeur. It was flat and cold and it was the middle of winter. We drove for miles and miles through the snow, then suddenly Paisley Park [Prince’s recording studio and headquarters] pops up. I was shown up to a suspended room – just hanging in the air, with a glass floor and everything – in the middle. I sit there. No one even offers me a cup of coffee. A button is pushed and an album starts playing. It was Diamonds and Pearls, and I had a sense I was being watched. So I put on a lot of foot-tapping.

“At the end, the receptionist comes and gets me and says the car’s outside. I’d come halfway around the world and no one had spoken to me. I get in the car, and we’re driving along. The driver, this cool African American guy, says to me: ‘What did you think of the album? What about this track?’ I was being questioned forensically, so I guessed it was being taped, or played back to his highness. I got back to London, and three days later I was hired to work on Prince.”

From all accounts he was a lover of life and loved his own which only makes his death all the more mysterious. There is talk of drugs and a possible overdose. But those closest to him say he wasn’t a recreational drug user and he took a dim view of people who were. But he did have medical problems. He needed a hip operation and his religious beliefs only presented an added complication. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion opposed to blood transfusions. If the reports are true, Prince was in a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort.

Again, unconfirmed reports suggest he was taking the narcotic painkiller Percocet. He had to be hospitalised only days before he died after taking an overdose. It has been widely reported that Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing so he could seek medical assistance for “flu” or “flu-like” symptoms. At the time Prince’s publicist said the singer was suffering from the flu, but details have surfaced in US media that the catalyst for that emergency was actually concern for Prince’s condition after taking a dose of Percocet on his way home from a recent concert in Atlanta.

This is a drug which has a very bad reputation for misuse. Percocet, has several other trade names including Endocet. It’s a combination of paracetamol and the semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone. Percocet’s generic name is ‘acetaminophen and oxycodone’. In 2009, a US federal advisory panel voted to recommend a ban on Percocet because of its damaging impact on the liver, and the high incidence of accidental overdoses involving the drug. The panel reported that “more than 400 people die and 42,000 are hospitalised every year” in the United States from overdoses of Percocet.

Authorities have all but ruled out suicide and say there were no “obvious signs of trauma” to his body. A post mortem examination has already been conducted. Authorities said all information regarding Prince’s “medical and social history” will be gathered and that anything considered relevant will be “taken into consideration”.

The autopsy and toxicology results will take weeks to finalise but the sheriff’s office could release preliminary results much sooner. It would be extraordinary but, given the character of the man, not all that surprising if his religious beliefs were somehow indirectly linked to his premature death at the age of 57. He was and is and will always be an enigma. When asked as a black man did he think that white people understood his music he replied: “ No, of course they don’t. White people are very good at categorising things – and if you tell them anything they’ll remember it, write books about it. But understand? You have to live a life to understand it. Tourists just pass through.”

He certainly lived a life but it was all too brief. He once said this about himself: “I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.”

Of course he was different. Of course we will miss him. He was a rare jewel and one that truly sparkled. And now that bright light has been extinguished and the world seems a slightly duller place. Unfortunately people like him don’t come along often enough. His passing is very sad. Personally I don’t think it overly sentimental to repurpose Bill Shakespeare’s words:

Good night Sweet Prince.

 

 

 

Can You Actually Die Of A Broken Heart? Answer Might Surprise You

I was aghast the other day. Now there’s a word I bet you haven’t heard in a long time. Significantly aghast is how I would describe it. The same sort of aghast I had, as a child, when I discovered evidence that questioned the existence of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. When I look back in hindsight, I was definitely sold a pup on the Easter Bunny. Seriously though, a bunny that delivers chocolate eggs at Easter? Pull the other one. But as for the two other so called myths, there was no way they could be anything other than the real deal. I mean how else do you explain all those presents at the bottom of my bed on Christmas morning? And being left a pile of silver coins, just because some baby tooth fell out, come on, that has to be magic, right?

So what triggered a revisit to painful memories of what I thought was true at the time, that later turned out to be something else entirely? I was reading a story about the commonly used expression: they died of a broken heart. Call me naïve but I always genuinely thought, that dying of a broken heart, was just a metaphor for being profoundly unhappy. You can’t really die of a broken heart can you? I mean that couldn’t possibly be a recognised medical condition? . Wrong again. Turns out that you can not only die of a broken heart it is also a physiological condition with a medical explanation.

Before we get into the medical explanation part, what really got me thinking about this topic was a series of stories I’d read about couples, married for 60 years or more, who die within minutes or hours or days of one another. I know what you’re thinking. Pure coincidence. But it happens too often to be so easily explained away. Take the case of Ohio couple, Ruth and Harold Knapke who met in the third grade and continued a torrid love affair for the next 66 years. They both died on the same day, Ruth aged 89 and Harold aged 91 just 11 days shy of their wedding anniversary. Their children firmly believe the timing was no coincidence. “When it became clear that Mom was dying — and Dad understood that — he spent a mostly sleepless night,” their daughter Margaret Knapke said. “The next day, Friday, there was a certain calm about him, and he began to fail rapidly. Dad died 11 hours before Mom did — both of them on Sunday — and we believe he did that as final act of love for her. We believe he wanted to accompany her out of this life and into the next one, and he did.”

This is by no means the only story. High school sweethearts, Les and Helen Brown were born on the same day and died one day apart after 75 years of marriage. Pennsylvania couple, James and Marjorie Landis died 88 minutes apart after 65 years of marriage, and Iowa couple Gordon and Norma Yeager died one hour apart, holding hands after 72 years of marriage. Gordon Yeager, 94, and his wife Norma, 90, left for a shopping trip into town but they never arrived at their destination. A car accident sent the couple to the hospital emergency room and intensive care unit with broken bones and other injuries. But, even in the hospital, their concerns were for each other. “She was saying her chest hurt and what’s wrong with Dad? said the couple’s son, Dennis Yeager.  ” Even lying there like that, she was worried about Dad, and his back was hurting but he was asking about Mom.”

When it became clear that their respective medical conditions were not improving, the couple moved into a room with beds side-by-side where they could be close together. They held hands; his right hand in her left hand. Gordon Yeager died at 3:38 p.m. He was no longer breathing, but his family, were surprised by what Gordon’s heart monitor continued to show. Even though he was dead, the monitor said his heart was still beating. A hospital staff member explained to them that Norma’s heartbeat was being picked up because she was holding her husband’s hand. “And we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Mom’s heart is beating through him,'” Dennis Yeager said. “Dad used to say that a woman is always worth waiting for. He waited an hour and held the door for her.”

As I mentioned earlier, there is a proper medical name and explanation for this condition dealing with affairs of the heart. It’s called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or Broken Heart Syndrome. The condition nearly always follows a traumatic emotional loss, such as death of a spouse, parent or child and it primarily affects women. It causes chest pain and sudden heart failure, believed to be brought on by a surge of fight or flight hormones. The good news is patients with the condition tend to recover faster than most other patients with heart problems. And if they manage to survive the initial onset, it almost never recurs. But there are plenty of examples of Broken Heart Syndrome causing both severe, short-term heart muscle failure and ultimately death for the sufferer.

And if you still don’t think Broken Heart Syndrome is real, there is additional science to shine even more light on the phenomenon. In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, decided to examine whether stress can actually contribute to illness. They surveyed more than 5,000 medical patients and asked them to say whether they had experience of any of a series of 43 life events, the psychiatrists identified, that might have occurred in the previous two years. The respondents, who took part in the study, listed the death of a spouse as the most stressful life event a person can experience. Of course stress can cause physical ailments especially to the heart, and the physical and emotional consequences of severe grief can sometimes be more than the heart can physically cope with.

Medical research has discovered that in some cases, one person’s heartbeat can affect, or regulate, the heartbeat of another person, quite possibly by acting as a type of life support. In one such study, at the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, California, scientists looked at what happens to the hearts of six couples,’ in long term relationships, while they slept. Heart-rate monitors revealed that during the night, as the couple slept beside each other, their heart rhythms fell into synchronisation, rising and falling at the same time. When the printouts of their heart rate monitors were placed on top of each other, they looked virtually identical.

“When people are in a relationship for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, they create a sort of  co-energetic resonance with each other,” one of the scientists involved in the study said. “A simple analogy is two tuning forks, put next to each other. They create a co-resonant pitch.” Another scientist put it a different way: “ It’s about connection. For many people their spouse represents their greatest sense of connection to this world.”

Can someone die of a broken heart? Absolutely.

Grand Juries, Too Soft On Police Who Do Wrong?

In the United States, grand juries have suddenly become de rigueur but not in anything like a good way. To put it bluntly, too many white policemen are getting away with killing black men and Grand Juries are rubber-stamping the process.

Now before anyone climbs on their accusatory high moral horse suggesting this is biased and anti police, bad luck, I’ve beaten you to it. I’m already on it and riding at full gallop.

My high moral horse says the police are yet again culpable. The grand jury got it wrong and the facts speak for themselves.

This time it’s the New York Police under the microscope. Or, to be more accurate, captured on video.

The victim was Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, father of six children and a grandfather of two. On July 17 this year, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. Why they did this is a question that was certainly never answered by the grand jury but it’s one that really does demand some kind of explanation in my view. What made this case radically different from all the others, was that cell phone footage was recorded by an onlooker, as the drama unfolded. And because the footage was shared online, the one eyewitness became millions more.

Garner was genuinely puzzled that the police officers seemed intent on arresting him for such a trifling offence. He was a big man, but at no point did he behave aggressively towards the officers or show them any disrespect. But maybe he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture, quickly enough. In any case one of the policemen, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe.

It should be pointed out that this maneuver was outlawed by the New York Police Department 20 years ago.

Again there appeared to be no reason for the police to take such an aggressive approach to Eric Garner. It was not warranted by his alleged crime or behavior. The videotape shows Garner complaining repeatedly that he’s having trouble breathing. The police officers wrestle him to the sidewalk and Eric Garner dies. Emergency paramedics are summoned but the police officers, who were present, are clearly shown making no attempt at all to resuscitate Eric Garner.

Again let’s be clear on the facts. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him. The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Officer Pantaleo to a grand jury. The other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. But the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

An American journalist, Eugene Robinson wrote what I consider to be an insightful piece, in the Washington Post, about the tragic death of Eric Garner. He called it a depressing episode in the reality series, No Country For Black Men. In his view, equal justice before the law in the United States is just a cruel joke.

Robinson wrote that African American men are being taught a lesson on how society values, or devalues their lives. He says the Garner case raises two very important issues: One involves what he called the excessive license given to police to do whatever they must to guarantee that the streets are safe. The second, poses the question, has the pendulum now swung too far in the law and order direction at the expense of justice, liberty and equality?

Robinson believes the Garner case is part of what he called the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. If you want to reduce serious crime, you crack down on minor, nuisance offending like selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. He draws a parallel between the Garner case in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, Robinson says, the grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause, a very low standard of proof, that the police officers involved did anything wrong. He asks, would the results have been the same if the victims were white?

In yet another twist in the Garner case, the only person to be indicted, who was involved in the Eric Garner killing, was the eyewitness, Ramsay Orta, who recorded the Garner incident on his mobile phone. He faced charges relating to weapons offences after a bust by an undercover policeman. Police allege Orta slipped a handgun into the waistband of a teen accomplice outside a New York hotel. Orta claims he was falsely charged in retaliation for the Garner filming. His case was also examined by a grand jury, which had no trouble at all in indicting him.

I think all of us have an obligation to be extremely careful in playing the race card. It’s easy and convenient and can be used to either confuse or silence justified criticism especially when there are two sides to every story. But in the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner it happens to be true. Sadly, the category that defines America’s most feared and loathed citizens would appear to be young, black men. Ironically, Eric Garner didn’t even fit this profile stereotype. He was a middle-aged, overweight asthmatic man. He was engaged in an activity that warranted nothing more than being told to move along.

I hate to say it, but in my view, his capital offense, in the minds of those police officers who confronted him, was to be born black.

Is It Time To Ban The Sport Of Kings?

One of Australia’s most iconic sporting events was celebrated the other day. It was the running of the Melbourne Cup. This is a horse race, run over three miles, held on the first Tuesday in November each year that literally stops the nation. Although, calling this year’s race a celebration might be glib under the circumstances.

There was certainly nothing to celebrate after the race. The race favorite, a horse from Japan called Admire Rakti, ran last and later collapsed and died in his stall. Admire Rakti was a champion. He came to Melbourne for this year’s spring racing carnival winning the Caulfield Cup. But his trainers, vets and connections, as well as the Australian Jockey Club stewards, were not aware he was suffering from an extremely rare heart condition. The 3200 metre Melbourne Cup race was simply too much for him. Although I should point out he was observed to exhibit pre race signs that all was not well with him and it might have been better to scratch him. But even if that happened, would it have saved his life? The answer is probably not. I guess we can all look back with 20/20 hindsight after the event.

But we were still not done with race day tragedy. Another horse, Araldo placed seventh in the Cup, was returning to the stables, when he was spooked by a spectator waving a flag. Araldo lashed out and kicked a fence shattering his hind leg. He had to be destroyed on veterinary advice.

Of course this has caused understandable outrage. Two magnificent thoroughbred animals ending up dead after a horse race is not a good day for the sport of kings. Animal rights activists called for immediate changes in the racing industry to prevent what it described as “unnecessary deaths.”

A group calling itself the Coalition For The Protection Of Racehorses protested at the racecourse after the running of the Melbourne Cup and some of its supporters, video taped Admire Rakti’s collapse in his stall, which, in my view, was completely tasteless under the circumstances. But the position they took garnered massive support on social media with thousands of people taking to Twitter and Facebook, to express horror, outrage and sadness.

Here are some of the tweets that were posted: “ I heard next year the favorite will be “any horse to die”, probably paying $1.04.”

“What a debacle horse racing really is. I am horrified about the death and casualty of two horses. Hope it was worth it.”

“If only it was the nation that stopped the race.”

The Coalition For The Protection Of Racehorses paid for a huge billboard to be displayed in Melbourne with the slogan: Is the Party Worth It? Underneath the slogan there is a picture of a dead horse.

If this group was not taken seriously before they will be now. What they have to say will resonate over the coming days and weeks.

A coalition spokesman said he believed the death of the two Melbourne Cup horses would change people’s perspective on the treatment of racehorses. A total of 129 racehorses died on Australian racetracks between August last year and July this year. That equated to one racehorse every 2.9 days. The coalition has also called for a ban on two year old racing and jockeys being allowed to whip horses during the race.

There is no doubt the general public is starting to question the credibility of the racing industry when it comes to the health, welfare and safety of thoroughbred horses. Jumps racing is a classic case in point. Horses die during those races. The industry knows it but refuses to ban the practice.

Animal welfare group say they are planning to target races involving two-year- old horses. Racing them at such a young age when their muscles and joints have not been fully developed leads to problems down the track. More than half the horses that died last year were raced as two-year-olds.

But supporters of horse racing point to the fact that the racing industry in Australia is almost as old as the nation itself. It employs tens of thousands of people. Contributes more than a billion dollars to the Australian economy. In pure statistical terms there are 30 thousand thoroughbred horses in work. Twenty thousand horse races take place each year. So the death rate in a given year is about 0.4 percent or put another way, one racehorse dies every 160 races.

So are accidents and deaths part and parcel of the racing industry? Did Admire Rakti die because he was pushed beyond his physical limits? Or was it just a case of bad luck? I’m not sure I know the answer to any of those questions. The truth about whether the sport of kings is cruel, or not, probably lies somewhere in the middle. What I do know is my heart skips a beat every time I hear of a magnificent four legged elite athlete cut down in their prime.

The Frightening Reality Of Ebola

There is one word putting fear into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. It’s called Ebola. Judging by what’s happened so far, and what is likely to happen in the future, we should all be worried.

It is already one of the deadliest diseases in the world. It has killed more than four thousand people. The number of people infected is double that figure. If it is allowed to rampage around the world, and it this point I don’t know what is going to stop that from happening, then Ebola could affect all of us.

Scientists say this disease is going to get much worse before it gets better. The World Health Organization says there are more than eight thousand suspected cases but this figure could be much, much higher due to under reporting of the disease especially in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia where health authorities would not have a clue.

Health map modeling show the eight thousand cases of Ebola, as of the 10th of October 2014, are expected to jump to more than 18 thousand over the next four weeks. Yes, I said 18 thousand cases. The United States Centre For Disease Control says Ebola cases in Liberia are doubling every 15 to 20 days, while the number of cases in Sierra Leone doubles every 30 to 40 days.

The Disease Control Centre estimates Liberia and Sierra Leone will have 1.4 MILLION cases within the next three months.

In a nutshell, Ebola is a virus that invades cells and replicates like fury. It will hijack a person’s immune system and somehow make the body’s natural defences turn on themselves. It hoodwinks blood into clotting where clotting is not needed, for example around the liver and then it goes about damaging the lining of blood vessels, to such an extent, that infected blood cells packed with replicated versions of the original virus smash their way through like wrecking balls. With the body’s clotting agents already used up, the tiniest break in skin membrane will lead to heavy bleeding, sometimes from the nose, fingernails or anus. Victims die from multiple organ failure as their blood pressure drops away to nothing. And anyone who has come into contact with infected bodily fluids is at great risk of contracting the disease. At the moment it is incurable but there is one drug, while untested, that’s had some success in fighting Ebola. The one saving grace is that at the present time the disease can’t be spread through the air or by insect bites. But Ebola has the capacity to mutate itself which means it could end up being able to do what it can’t do at the present time. And if that happens God help all of us.

West Africa has the highest concentration of cases. The disease has been confirmed in seven countries around the world. The World Health Organization divides the cases into a couple of categories. Those with widespread and intense transmission like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. And those with localized transmission including Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the United States of America.

Yes. I said the United States of America. This past weekend, a nurse who cared for a man in the United States, who died from the disease, has tested positive for Ebola. A breach of health protocols has been blamed for allowing her to become infected. But what has health officials scratching their heads is: how did the breach happen? More importantly, how did it occur in a country where absolute state of the art equipment and protective gear was available?

What happens next is the inevitable waiting game to see who else, who came into contact with the nurse, might now become infected with the disease. It is insidious and contagious. Police are now guarding the home of the infected nurse. US health authorities say another 50 people who came into contact with the man who died from Ebola in the United States are also being isolated and monitored.

There are widespread calls for countries around the world to do more to combat this disease. The Australian Prime Minister is on the public record saying it is too risky to put boots on the ground in West Africa but that attitude is a bit like putting your head in the sand and pretending Ebola doesn’t exist.

In my view, we have to confront this thing with everything we have got. We simply can’t allow it to become a scenario where the only thing we can say is you should have listened, I told you this would happen, because there might not be anyone left to hear it.

Let’s Get Rid Of The R Word

This might not be a shock to many. But it is to me. The United States has an R problem. More specifically, the police have an R problem. I’m talking about Racism. An extremely ugly word that has no place in civilized, educated societies. It clearly is a problem. How big a problem is anyone’s guess but just recently there have been some examples that should make us all feel ashamed.

I’ll come to Ferguson, Missouri but lets begin in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A local cop has quit after he was busted sending text messages to colleagues urging them to “pull a Ferguson and take them out.” He was referring to young Black Americans. That was only the beginning. He also described African-Americans as “monkeys” and told how he “enjoyed arresting them with their sagging pants.”

This policeman patrolled a predominantly Black southern University. You can only begin to imagine the kind of treatment he would have handed out to the students he encountered. This cop has resigned and is now being investigated. He may face criminal charges. One of the local police chiefs in Baton Rouge did say  it was “gut wrenching” to believe that someone possessed that much hate in them especially a police officer who is in the community enforcing the law everyday. He might have added especially a police officer packing lethal force. The Police Chief said the revelation made him sick to his stomach. Bravo.

But unfortunately this has not been, nor will it ever be, an isolated occurrence. There is something rotten to the core in the US of A. In Jonesboro, Arkansas an investigation is continuing after a 21-year-old African-American allegedly shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car. He was arrested after police discovered a $10 bag of marijuana in his pocket during a routine traffic stop. A post-mortem is expected to provide more details about the shooting. I don’t want to pre-judge anything. But I would point out that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shoot yourself in the head when your hands are cuffed behind your back.

Here is what it has come down to in Ferguson Missouri. Police are now wearing body cameras, which include a recording device in an attempt to calm community anger after an 18-year-old man was shot dead by police. This incident sparked a wave of street protests and the predominantly white police in Ferguson, were widely criticized for being heavy-handed and using unnecessary force in dealing with protestors. Two companies donated the body cameras and now patrolling police are wearing them. There is a hope that the cameras will make police more accountable, and allow for greater transparency. It will mean that judges and juries can see video footage and make a deliberation on what happened during an incident that resulted in a complaint against police or in a fatal police shooting.

What makes me sad and despairing is that all of this has become necessary. But the police must act swiftly and decisively to nip this racism thing in the bud. That means either through education or threat of prosecution, dismissal or all three combined. Public confidence is at stake. We can’t function properly as a society if our cops are making judgment calls based on nothing more than a person’s skin type. Quite frankly it isn’t a world any of us wants to live in.