Friday, June 20, 2008

No need to overly fret about things we can't control

Sometimes, when it comes to your heart, the only thing predictable about this life-giving remarkable muscular pump is its unpredictability.
You exercise. You diet. You lose weight. You avoid stress. You follow exactly your doctor's directives.

And you still die.

Read on:

Even best efforts can't prevent all heart attacks

from The Associated Press

NEW YORK June 18, 2008, 03:28 pm ET · Tim Russert was a good patient, taking medications for his heart disease and exercising, his doctor said. He had no chest pains and he passed an exercise stress test weeks ago. Yet at 58, he suffered a heart attack and died.

That's not uncommon, say cardiologists. Heart disease patients can significantly reduce their chances of a heart attack, but they can't totally prevent it, said Dr. Howard Hodis of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

"Under the most ideal circumstances, there's still going to be individuals who succumb to the disease process. It's never going to be 100 percent," said Hodis.

Experts say that shouldn't discourage heart patients from doing everything they can to lower their risks of a heart attack: control blood pressure and cholesterol, quit smoking, lose weight, change their diet, exercise and reduce stress.

"If you have heart disease, does it mean that it's all over? No. But it really means that you have to pay attention," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

For many patients, the hardest part is changing their diet and getting exercise, she said.

"It's easier to take a pill than it is to get up and do something," said Steinbaum. "It's very difficult. It's a big commitment."

Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," had a heart attack Friday in Washington while recording voiceovers for the news program.

His physician, Dr. Michael A. Newman, said in a statement that the heart attack was caused by a clot in an artery, blocking blood flow to the heart. That led to a fatal cardiac arrest — an abnormal heart rhythm that stops the heart from pumping blood to the body.

Newman said Russert had hardening of the arteries but no symptoms, and his blood pressure and cholesterol were well controlled. Russert exercised on a treadmill regularly, including the morning that he died, Newman's statement said. An autopsy showed Russert had an enlarged heart and significant blockage in the coronary artery where the clot formed.

Newman, who declined an interview request from The Associated Press, noted Monday night on CNN that Russert was overweight.

"Tim was a good patient. Are there things all of us as patients could be better at? Sure. But Tim was a good patient," Newman said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

About 920,000 Americans have a heart attack each year and 38 percent are fatal, according to the American Heart Association. Half of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms.

Despite impressive advances in preventing and treating heart disease, experts say there's no easy way to know which patients are going to have a heart attack and which aren't. Most heart attacks occur when fatty deposits in the arteries rupture and a clot forms.

The goal of preventive measures is to stabilize the plaque and prevent a rupture, or to prevent a dangerous clot from developing if the plaque does burst open.

Steinbaum said patients have difficulty understanding how someone can have a normal stress test like Russert, and then have a heart attack later. She said Russert apparently didn't have enough blockage when he had a stress test in April to indicate any problems. The test shows how the heart reacts to exertion and whether there's adequate blood flow to the heart.

"A stress test is important for us to assess how well the heart is functioning, but it doesn't give you a bye." said Steinbaum.

Not all heart attacks result in the heart suddenly stopping, as in Russert's case. Dr. Paul Wang of Stanford School of Medicine said only a small percentage lead to cardiac arrest, and it's not clear why, although the size of the heart attack can be a factor.

"This is far from uncommon though, unfortunately," he said. "There's still a substantial number of people who do have cardiac arrest," after a heart attack.

Few people survive a sudden cardiac arrest; a prompt shock from a defibrillator is needed to restore a normal heartbeat. Wang said the Russert case highlights the need for workplaces to prepare for a cardiac arrest, just as they plan for fire drills.

But not everyone can be saved. Russert's doctor said on CNN that efforts to revive him began immediately and paramedics shocked his heart three times before reaching the hospital.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Newspapers still alive and well (at least somewhat)

Lots of people have been predicting that this, the 225th year of existence for newspapers in America, is a terrible time for the print press.

And yet it is a down time--what with Web sites like and that are now running classified ads (a major source of revenue for newspapers) for free.

But all is not bad for the newspaper industry. Glimpses of light shine through all the pessimism.

Consider, for example, what Al Neuharth (founder of USA TODAY) recently noted about newspapers:

On 225th birthday, newspapers dying?
By Al Neuharth
Plain Talk
USA Today Founder

"The report of my death is an exaggeration."
-- Mark Twain to the New York Journal, 1897

The first daily newspaper in the USA was born 225 years ago next week. The triweekly Pennsylvania Evening Post in Philadelphia became a daily on May 30, 1783.

Since then, most cities or small towns across the USA have had their own daily or weekly newspaper. Currently, 1,422 dailies and 6,253 weeklies are being published.

Sure, the slumping economy has made times a little tough for them. But most still have profit margins well above most other businesses.

Exaggerated "obits," à la Mark Twain's, are being peddled mostly by newspapers themselves. When semiannual circulation figures were released recently, newspapers headlined slight losses among eight of the Top 10. But little or no attention was given papers that are growing. Examples:

* USA Today, the nation's largest, increased to 2,284,219 daily circulation. It has shown gains every year in its 25-year history.

* The No. 2 Wall Street Journal gained to 2,069,463. Under new owner/boss Rupert Murdoch, it's the most improved newspaper in the country and likely to show significant sharp future increases.

* A dozen other newspapers with circulations of 50,000 or more had gains ranging from 1.21% to 7.61%, including in Baton Rouge, Cincinnati, Mobile, Ala., Munster, Ind., San Jose, Calif., Seattle and Trenton, N.J.

Importantly, newspaper owners and editors have embraced the Internet and now are 24/7 providers of news, information, entertainment and advertising. The hunger for all that is greater than ever in history. That's why newspaper-oriented media companies have a bright future.

So, if you're a news junkie, you'll probably continue to get everything you've been getting from your newspaper. And more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Michelle Obama

Watched "Larry King Live" tonight and a big part of the program focused on potential First Lady Michelle Obama.

What's NOT to like about this extremely bright, fast-on-her-feet, highly respected, dedicated-to-her-husband and two daughters, power wife and mother?

Plus (okay) she's very attractive.

No downside here at all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Farewell to Tim Russert--Journalist Extraordinnaire

If there's a model for interviewing, it's Tim Russert, who died of a massive heart attack couple days ago.

Tim raised the bar for all other interviewers. He knew how to wrest info. from even the most reticent or press-scared of public officials.

He knew, as a journalist and 25-year anchor of "Meet the Press," how to make you squirm, but he also excelled in putting his interview subjects at ease--all in the service of the First Amendment and our right to know what government is or isn't doing.

I haven't watched the YOuTube video link (above) because the computer I'm typing this on has a very, very slow Net connection. But hopefully the link offers you a measure of Russert's greatness and high respect in the journalism community.

I loved him even more, maybe, for his personable, warm CD audios titled "Big Russ and Me"--about his relationship with his dad and his childhood in Buffalo, N.Y. A few years ago, my daughter Dorothy gave me those videos as a birthday gift.

Tim Russert--son of a sanitation worker in Buffalo--rose to the heights of his profession.

A heart attack, sadly and tragically, took him away from us.

The same kind of attack that could have killed me just a few weeks ago.

Why Tim Russert and not me?


Monday, June 9, 2008

My article on Shoeless Joe J. ran in Herald-Journal

Museum to open in famed slugger's former home in Greenville's West End
By Larry Timbs
Published: Sunday, June 8, 2008, The Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.)

Tom Priddy/ | Order a reprint

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson's home opens as a public museum on June 21. The 950-square-foot house stands at 356 Field St., across from Greenville's West End stadium.

The red-brick, two-bedroom home of the man some baseball fans glorify and others vilify will open soon as a museum and baseball library.

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson's home opens June 21. It is across the street from the stadium where the Greenville Drive, a Class A minor-league baseball team, plays.

He lived in the 950-square-foot house for about 10 years and died there in 1951. His wife, Katie, also died there in 1959.

Moviegoers might recall Jackson as one of the spirits in Kevin Costner's cornfield in the 1989 Academy Award-nominated film "Field of Dreams."

Jackson tells dejected Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Costner, "If you build it, he will come." Kinsella, against the pleas of his wife and banker, takes his advice and builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn, where the ghosts of baseball's Deadball Era then appear and play.

About three years ago, the Jacksons' home was bought and moved in two pieces from its original site a few miles away by Charleston real estate mogul Richard Davis. It is now at 356 Field St. on the west side of town. The address just happens to match Jackson's lifetime batting average, .356, the third-highest mark in Major League Baseball history among batters with at least 3,000 plate appearances.

Jackson's rise and fall

Jackson was a strapping 6-feet, 1-inch tall with big ears, brawny shoulders, large, soft hands and perfect eyesight. He led the American League in triples in 1912; in slugging percentage (.551) in 1913 and batted .408 as a rookie, the highest ever for a first-season average. He might have thrown the ball harder than anyone else of his era. A baseball historian said he threw "like a shot out of a rifle."

His baseball career rose from meager beginnings. The son of a cotton mill worker, Jackson was a kid at heart. He also was illiterate and never forgot where he came from, spending as much of his time off as possible with the children of mill workers.

For sure, Jackson didn't - at least in his early professional career - let anyone down on the baseball diamond. He quickly rose to national fame as a power-hitting outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics and the Cleveland Naps.

It was during his time with the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati that he encountered big trouble.

Though he batted .375 and amassed 12 hits, along with swatting the sole homer of the series, Jackson and some of his fellow Sox players were later accused of being bought off by gamblers. He was indicted but found not guilty at trial in 1921, steadfastly maintaining his innocence.

The not-guilty verdict didn't satisfy then-baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, though, who permanently banned Jackson and seven of his teammates from the majors. It was all known as the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal.

The scandal haunted him for the rest of his life.

Jackson, a man who some players - among them Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb - believed was the game's purest natural hitter, would go to his grave professing his innocence. Many fans maintain that he got a raw deal; even in death, he is barred from eligibility for baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Local fans enshrine homestead

Despite the scandal, Jackson's home will soon be a shrine for those who love the game and want to learn more about him.

"I refuse to argue the points … ," Arlene Marcley, executive assistant to the mayor of Greenville, wrote in a recent e-mail, "and if the documents, letters, memos and legal papers about the Black Sox scandal found a few months ago by Chicago-area collectors prove the case for Joe's innocence, then I'll have the last laugh."

Marcley, curator and foundation chairwoman of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, wants people to remember the player legendary for his home runs - known as "Saturday Specials" - his "blue darter" stinging line drives, and his missile-like 400-foot throws from the outfield that nailed many a runner trying to score.

At his home, visitors will see some of the couple's personal items such as a large whistle from the Brandon Mill, where Joe worked as a 6-year-old sweeping cotton lint off the floors. It also has a life-size portrait of Joe and Katie on their wedding day.

The house is a plain, sturdy, functional dwelling bought by the Jacksons in 1940 or 1941 for about $2,500. Its features include original pinewood floors, a small brick fireplace and arched entrances. Original pine panel walls that formerly lined one side of Jackson's trophy room were converted into a baseball research library with more than 2,000 books.

The small kitchen features 1940s-esque retro decor. It honors Katie Jackson, who curator Marcley says stuck by her man "through thick and thin."

"This is something for the ladies," Marcley said of the room where Katie cooked. "I've been getting donations of 1940s-era kitchen appliances, linens and a coffee pot."

Visitors also will see artifacts, memorabilia and photos chronicling Joe's life and career, and books about the history of baseball. The donations came in part from a successful Internet appeal.

"People from all over the country sent in books," Marcley said, "and I have very few duplicates, I might add."

The Jacksons' home is a "standalone baseball library," Marcley said. She thinks it could be the largest of its kind in the Southeast, with the nation's largest at Cooperstown.

She said that, after what she's learned since working on the restoration, it's amazing how many people research baseball.

It's no accident visitors will see so many books there.

"Because of Joe's illiteracy, I wanted books in Joe Jackson's house," Marcley said. "He could neither read nor write. His wife answered all fan mail and read all the letters to him, and I believe that's one of the reasons Joe got in trouble in Chicago. He couldn't read the legal documents."

All books are read-only, meaning they can't be checked out, unless done so by appointment.

The Jacksons' last years together

Though Jackson's major-league career was cut short, the Jacksons were "very comfortable" in Greenville, Marcley said, partly because of their successful dry-cleaning business in Savannah, Ga., as well as their ownership of a local liquor store and barbecue restaurant.

It was at that liquor store where fellow baseball star Cobb, who was three years older than Jackson, paid a visit. Joe Anders, a pallbearer at Jackson's funeral, recalls the day.

Anders said Jackson said something along the lines of, "Joe, I want you to meet the greatest baseball player ever."

To which Cobb replied: "No. Joe Jackson was the greatest, not me."

Restoring Jackson's name

So, did "Shoeless" Joe really help throw the 1919 World Series, or is he one of the biggest scapegoats in the history of sports?

South Carolina baseball historian and author Thomas K. Perry has spent decades researching Jackson, the focus of "Just Joe," Perry's fictional but fact-based 2007 biography of the player, which is told from the perspective of Katie Jackson.

Perry is cautiously hopeful that recently discovered documents about the Black Sox saga will help clear Jackson's name. From what little Perry can gain from those documents, examined by the staff at the Chicago History Museum, he thinks there's evidence that Jackson and other White Sox players received poor legal advice from the team's owner, Charles Comiskey.

This "set them up to take the fall" and kept Comiskey out of the headlines, Perry said.

But even if the documents tend to exonerate Jackson, Perry thinks it will make little difference.

"I think people care, yes, but baseball does not," he wrote in an e-mail. "My confidence in (Bud) Selig, commissioner of baseball, is nil. ... I do not see (Jackson) being offered clemency, and, as Joe always believed, how can you say you're sorry for what you didn't do?

"People come down on one of two sides when it comes to Jackson," Perry added. "You believe him and support him, or you call him the biggest liar and cheat in the history of the game."

Perry said he started researching Jackson about 20 years ago, convinced of the slugger's guilt, but "after all the studying, listening and evaluating, I no longer believe that. Should he have been suspended for guilty knowledge? Perhaps. But it should have had limits."

Some Jackson believers note that he grew up poor but had honest, hardworking, Christian parents with high moral values, including a mother who refrained from cooking meals on Sunday. They wonder, given his upbringing, whether the man was even capable of lying or cheating.

But count Winthrop University baseball historian Bob Gorman, who co-authored the 2008 book "Death at the Ballpark," against that idea.

Acknowledging Jackson's greatness as a ballplayer, Gorman says "Shoeless" Joe took money from gamblers in the 1919 World Series, and that can't be ignored.

"I have the same problem with Pete Rose," Gorman said. "He did gamble while manager and player, and though he says he never threw a game or did anything but play his hardest, there's just something about it that smells.

"So I'm in the minority that says neither should get in the Hall (of Fame)," he said. "I won't slit my wrists if both or either get in, but to my mind, they don't belong."

To some extent, though, Jackson is already enshrined at the hall. Visit and you'll see his jersey, glove, cleats, watch and plenty of photos of the man Babe Ruth reportedly described as the greatest hitter he had ever seen and the player whose style he copied.

Meanwhile, museum curator Marcley has this challenge: "Let those who think he (Jackson) was guilty prove it ... Joe's 1919 World Series stats don't show that he took part in any plan to throw the series - not to mention, he was found not guilty in a court of law not once, but twice."

Why the nickname?

Jackson got his nickname early in his career, and it stuck with him till he died.

The story goes like this: In 1908, while playing semi-pro baseball with the Greenville Spinners in the Greenville Textile League, Jackson suffered painful blisters on his feet from his new spikes. So he tossed those shoes, walked to the batter's box and slammed a triple.

Running the bases without shoes on caught the attention of a fan, who shouted: "You shoeless son of a gun!"

The rest is baseball history, thanks to sportwriters, fans and friends who forever, and for the most part affectionately, called him "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.

Larry Timbs is a journalism professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

David Crockett sets good example

He's a defense attorney in Elizabethton, Tenn., (my hometown), and his name is David Crockett.

I've never met him personally, and he has no idea who I am, I'm sure. Plus, I'm uncertain whether he's a descendant of "Davey Crocket, King of the Wild Frontier." (Remember that TV show or movie starring Fess Parker?)

Here's a quick observation about David Crockett, based on a scene in Criminal Court in Elizabethton (Carter County, Tenn.) last week.

I'm watching and listening to the proceedings.

I happen to be sitting near the front of the court room on a pew-like bench with a woman--about 5 feet away from me.

The woman, I can tell, is worried, anxious, unsettled. She's been watching the proceedings closely.

Maybe someone in her family is in trouble? I don't know.

The judge calls a recess. All officers of the court, including the judge, exit the courtroom.

The woman near me stays seated (same as I do.)

A well dressed man in jacket, white shirt and tie (obviously an attorney--and obviously David Crockett, based on photos I'd seen of him in newspapers) approaches the woman (whom, I presume is his client.)

They chat quietly and he assures her he's doing everything he can to help her (or her kin or friend), but it will take time, and nothing will happen instantly.

Just hold on and try to have faith that the best outcome will happen, he seems to be whispering to her.

She nods nervously back at him, as he consoles her by holding her hands.

Then she must have shivered, for Mr. Crockett says: "Do you want my jacket? You can wear my jacket."

The worried woman says something to the effect that she couldn't do that.

Continuing to shiver, however, she accepts Mr. Crockett's jacket.

Crockett then leaves the courtroom, and I myself also leave.

Citing this cause too often folks stereotype lawyers as scum-sucking bottom feeders.

Mr. David Crockett, a respected defense attorney in Elizabethton, defies that notion.

Good going, David.