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reports and thoughts on legal issues, music, Orthodox Christianity and/or whatever else strikes my interest

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Location: Houston, Texas, United States

My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I am an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Friday, September 30, 2005

From the Fathers...

"Patient endurance kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not to grow listless in the face of its many battles and afflictions."

St. Peter of Damaskos (Book 2: Twenty-Four Discourses no. 5, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 222)

Vioxx Attorney files Bus Explosion Lawsuit

HOUSTON, Sept. 30 /PRNewswire/ --

Houston attorney Mark Lanier, who in August won a $253 million verdict in the nation's first trial over the painkiller Vioxx, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a survivor of the deadly bus explosion involving elderly residents fleeing from Hurricane Rita.

On Sept. 23, plaintiff Gloria Marie Putney and 37 other residents ofBrighton Gardens of Bellaire retirement center were headed to Dallas on a bus chartered by Chicago-based Global Charter Services Ltd. As the residents neared Dallas, a fire consumed the inside of the bus and caused many residents' oxygen tanks to explode. A total of 23 people died, making it the deadliest Texas bus crash since 1952.

"This terrible tragedy never should have happened," says Mr. Lanier, who will donate any fees earned in this case to hurricane relief efforts. "We now know that the innocent people who boarded this bus in order to save their own lives actually were victims of a series of needless failures by practically everyone who was supposed to be helping them."

In addition to Global Charter, which does business as The Bus Bank(http://www.thebusbank.com ), the lawsuit names as defendants McLean, Va.-based Sunrise Senior Living Inc., owner of Brighton Gardens of Bellaire, and Juan Robles Gutierrez, the Mexican national who was hired to drive the bus.

Currently, Mr. Gutierrez, who does not have a Texas driver's license, is being held by federal immigration authorities in McAllen, Tex. Mr. Gutierrez' employer, Pharr, Tex.-based Global Limo Inc., was warned by state officials about violating safety and maintenance regulations in 2002.

The Internet site for Global Charter, operator of The Bus Bank, says the company has "a very rigorous bus operator certification process that reviews an operator's insurance, safety program, driver certification and customer feedback." Mr. Lanier says those assurances were false.

"This 'certification process' was nothing more than a pass through," Mr.Lanier says. "If their certification actually was 'rigorous', then why would they rely on a bus operator with a history of safety problems?"

The lawsuit, Gloria Marie Putney v. Global Charter Services Ltd., et al., No. C-2373-05-B, is filed in Hidalgo County's 93rd District Court.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Arvo Part

"I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me." - Arvo Part

Estonian composer Arvo Part (pronounced Pairt) recently celebrated his 70th birthday. Part is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and his birthday was marked by congratulatory letters from Patriarch Alexei II and Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk.

Part has written many works over several decades. Several of these works are written in what the composer describes as his "tintinnabuli" style. This compositional style gives rise to extremely moving and powerful pieces which are immensely popular.

Some of my favorite Part compositions are: "De Profundis", "Fratres", "Te Deum", "Miserere", "Triodion", and "Kanon Pokajanen".

"Kanon Pokajanen" or the "Canon of Repentance" is an a cappella setting for mixed choir, singing in Church Slavonic, of the Canon that is found in most Russian Orthodox Prayer Books. I believe this Canon was written by St. Andrew of Crete who also wrote the "Great Canon" which is read during Great Lent.

I believe this work is Part's masterpiece. I start every Lent by listening to this piece over and over. It is an incredibly spiritual work. I had the privilege of hearing this piece performed in concert by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in Houston as part of a Da Camera program. This was one of the greatest concerts I have ever heard. It would probably have been the greatest concert I have ever heard had it been held in a more acoustically friendly venue for a cappella choral music than the Cullen Theater at the Wortham.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More on the Merck Vioxx emails

Here is another article on some of the contents of the internal Merck emails regarding Vioxx.

These emails played a prominent role in the first Vioxx trial in Texas and have also been shown to the jury in the ongoing New Jersey trial.

Here is a brief excerpt on some of the contents of the emails:

"In a video deposition, ex-Merck research chief Edward Scolnick was asked by a lawyer for plaintiff Frederick Humeston, a Vioxx user who blames the painkiller for his 2001 heart attack, about e-mails he wrote confessing his concerns about the drug's safety.

"My worry quotient is high," he wrote in an April 2000 e-mail. "I am actually in minor agony."

Merck Executive testifies

Here is an interesting article from Newsday.com on the ongoing Vioxx trial in New Jersey.

The article begins by noting:

"Fearing a warning about Vioxx's cardiac risks would hurt the painkiller's sales, Merck & Co. battled with federal regulators for two years to keep the information out of the "warnings" section of the package insert, the company's top marketing official testified Monday.

Under questioning by plaintiff's attorney Chris Seeger, David W. Anstice acknowledged Merck forecast a $500 million drop in sales for the $2.5 billion-a-year blockbuster drug if Merck lost its bid to instead put information about heart attack risks in the insert's less-urgent "precautions" section. "

The article then continues:

"A patient study in 2000 showed Vioxx users suffered five times as many heart attacks as those taking the older, cheaper painkiller naproxen. Anstice testified that Merck asked the FDA to put that risk information in the "clinical studies" and "precautions" sections of the detailed package insert, or label, not in the more-serious "warnings" section. In the meantime, Merck stuck to its policy of not letting its sales representatives talk to physicians about any potential risks not yet listed on the Vioxx label, Anstice said. "

The article also offers some details on the seemingly damning internal Merck emails which were also used in the first Vioxx trial in Texas:

"Seeger again showed jurors e-mail messages written by Edward Scolnick, Merck's former head research scientist, in which Scolnick ripped the FDA's proposed label as "ugly" and called FDA officials "bastards." Scolnick, who testified earlier in the trial that he had lingering fears about Vioxx's safety, told Merck colleagues in a Feb. 25, 2002, e-mail it would be a miracle if FDA agreed to put the warning in the "precautions" section. "To all: If you get this label, it will be an Al Michaels quote: Do you believe in miracles?" Scolnick wrote, alluding to the sportscaster's call when the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. "

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's back...

There is now a new English-language version of the website of the Moscow Patriarchate. The site had disappeared for awhile as it was being redesigned. It now seems to be back online.

There are still some unfinished sections but there is already a lot of useful information at the site.

The website includes english translations of the Basis of the Social Concept (adopted at the 2000 Sobor) and the Basic Principals of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox.

The Sitka Icon of the Theotokos comes to ROCOR San Francisco Cathedral

Here is a report on the visit of the Sitka Icon of the Theotokos to the Cathedral of the Mother of God "Joy of All who Sorrow" in San Francisco. Photos of this event can be seen here.

This wonder working icon dates from the mid-nineteenth century and was originally brought from Russia to what would later become the State of Alaska.

The report notes that the anointing of those who came to venerate the icon took over an hour. It is heartwarming to see such a large turn out and the joining in prayer of various jurisdictions including ROCOR, the Moscow Patriarchate, the OCA and the Jerusalem Patriarchate.
The OCA has posted on their website an Akathist Service to the Sitka Icon along with the texts set to music.

Asbestosis Deaths

Here is a link to an interesting report on deaths caused by asbestosis in the U.S. This report was compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The report states that there are over 1,000 deaths from asbestosis per year in the United States. It also believes that there may be a 40 year gap between the time of exposure and the time when symptoms of asbestosis begin to appear. It further suggests that deaths from asbestosis will continue for at least another 10 years even though asbestos is no longer in widespread use.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Links to information from the Golden Triangle Region

Here are some links to some sites with useful information on the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in the Golden Triangle Region:












Some Random Thoughts on Hurricane Rita

After having my life put on hold for the past few days due to Hurricane Rita I am finally getting home and online again.

Like approximately a million other residents of Houston my family and I also decided to evacuate.

My mother Linda and my sister Kathryn and I (along with our Golden Retriever Sam) left at 10pm on Weds. September 21st. By 6am on Thurs. September 22nd we had only made it a total of about 30 miles to Spring just barely out of the Houston City Limits. It took us 8 hours to drive only 30 miles with all of the traffic. We saw numerous vehicles out of gas or stranded on the side of the road. We were very concerned about running out of gas before we reached our intended destination of Dallas.

Fortunately for us we were able to stay at the home of St. Jonah parishioners Steven and Joan-Marie Pennings. They were very gracious to open up their home and my family and I are extremely grateful.

The hurricane came onshore in Sabine Pass, the site of an old Civil War battle, early in the morning on Saturday September 24th. Even in Spring we felt some of the effects. There was a lot of wind and a fair bit of rain. The winds were gusting quite strong at times and several tree branches were knocked down throughout the neighborhood. We lost power around 2am that night.

The next day we had a relatively easy ride home. On the way we noticed a few trees and fences that had been blown down. Our house was fine but there was no power...thus no air conditioning. Since the forecast called for temperatures in the upper 90's the following day we opted to "evacuate" again.

We were able to spend the night at the air-conditioned home of some friends of the family and members of my mother's church. Once again we are extremely grateful to Chuck and Betty Vonderlin for opening their home to us.

The next day we arrived home to find power and air-conditioning. It never hurts to have a lineman for CenterPoint Energy as a next door neighbor. : )

Later that day I was finally able to come home to my apartment and thankfully I also had power.

It certainly seems that the Houston/Galveston area dodged a bullet with the storm turning to the east. What really bothers me though is when I see headlines that downplay the damage to southeast Texas. Those people living in and around Sabine Pass and in the Beaumont and Port Arthur areas and further east got hit hard. Real hard. The media, though, only seems to be covering the Houston/Galveston area or the towns in Louisiana that also got hit hard. The "Golden Triangle" area seems to be forgotten.

I admit I am a little sensitive to this because most of my extended family live in these areas. Everyone was able to evacuate but it will likely be weeks before they are allowed to come home. Though I am praying that their homes are safe it is very likely that most of them suffered damage. Catastrophic damage is a very real possibility I am afraid.

The communities of Beaumont, Bridge City, Nederland, Orange, Port Arthur and Port Neches deserve our attention and support as well in this time of need. I consider many of these towns to be a part of my stomping grounds having spent considerable time in those communities during my childhood.

In fact my grandmother still owns a home on 3rd Street in Port Neches and my father is buried just a few blocks away in Oak Bluff Cemetery next to the Neches River.

So for me these towns are also home.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans begins to rebuild...with a little help from the U.S. Navy

Photos from www.goarch.org

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans was significantly damaged during Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. The photos of the damage are disheartening. There is hope, however, in that efforts are already underway to repair the Cathedral.

The cathedral lays claim to being the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral founded in the United States. The origins of the Cathedral date from the mid-nineteenth century. The present Cathedral building was built in the last several years.

During the aftermath of the storm the Cathedral had around 3-4 feet of standing water inside. Orthodox Priests were able to gain access to the Cathedral with the assistance of the Massachusetts National Guard via helicopter to retrieve the Holy Vessels from the altar.

Then sailors from the U.S.S. Iwo Jima arrived to aid in the cleanup of the church. The Commanding Officer of the Iwo Jima is Captain Richard S. Callas. Captain Callas is also an Orthodox Christian.

Unbelievably, through the efforts of the clergy and the sailors, the church was cleaned up enough to allow the Divine Liturgy to be served last Sunday. Even with the Cathedral still surrounded by water eight people braved the elements to attend the service.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Fraud in Fen-Phen Lawsuits?

First it was the Silicosis Debacle. Then it was the questionable asbestos claims and the blacklisting of several doctors used as experts by plaintiffs firms. Now there are new claims of fraud involving mass torts. This time its Fen-Phen.

As this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

"Spurred by allegations of massive fraud in the $5 billion class-action settlement over fen-phen diet drugs, federal investigators are conducting a nationwide criminal probe into tens of thousands of claims asserting heart damage from the pills.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia and the FBI are examining whether lawyers, doctors and medical technicians conspired to submit bogus claims, according to sources in the criminal justice system.

Investigators also are trying to root out former fen-phen users who participated in scams to file phony or exaggerated claims."

The trust fund that was set up by Wyeth to pay the Fen-Phen claims hired a cardiologist to review the medical reports on several hundred of the filed claims. The expert concluded that:

"...70 percent of the tests contained "material misrepresentations," amounting to "pervasive fraud." He found hundreds of echocardiograms that had been manipulated to give a false image of valve damage. Some, he said, had been doctored with inserted frames so patients would appear sicker than they were.

Among the cases he reviewed...he found some people who had been duped into believing they had heart-valve disease. One woman's echocardiogram, he said, was "seriously manipulated" to show severe valvular regurgitation, in which blood leaks backward through an improperly closing valve.

On Aug. 29, 2002, she had valve replacement surgery - a needless operation...that had been "set in motion by a cooked echocardiogram, a misrepresented diagnosis, and a badly frightened patient."

The article continues stating that:

"For Wyeth, the fen-phen saga has been increasingly expensive. So far, about 4,000 claims, ranging from $3,000 to $1.5 million, have been paid from the settlement fund alone. The company estimates that it ultimately will pay out about $21 billion - counting the settlement, plaintiffs who have opted out and taken their cases to trial, and other cases and settlements still pending."

Even some of the plaintiffs lawyers admit that fraudulent claims have likely been filed:

""I think there has been a significant amount of fraud in this claims process," said Center City lawyer Michael Fishbein, who is counsel for class-action plaintiffs and a liaison to claimants' attorneys. He estimates that up to 85 percent of claims may be questionable."

The article goes on to detail specific instances of fraud and alleged fraud:

"Despite the shadow of fraud, the only prosecutions so far have occurred in Mississippi. Eighteen people were charged in connection with submitting phony claims to the settlement trust; 17 pleaded guilty.

In Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle 3d, who is presiding over the federal fen-phen litigation and the settlement, has repeatedly expressed alarm about fraud.

In May, he threw out the case of a Texas woman, Cheryl Yvonne Barnett, who contended she took Redux for about four months in 1989, then developed valve disease.

Bartle cited serious problems with her claim: Redux wasn't available until 1996; the pharmacy that she said filled her prescription was a parking lot, and the doctor who she said prescribed the drug did not exist.

The judge ordered her and her lawyer to pay Wyeth $9,654 to compensate the company for its costs in fighting the case. "There can be no doubt," Bartle said, "that an attempt was made to perpetrate a fraud upon Wyeth and the court."

Ms. Barnett, incidentally, happened to be a client of the Houston Law Firm of O'Quinn, Laminack and Pirtle. This is the same firm that was sanctioned by Judge Janis Graham Jack in the Silicosis investigation.

The article concludes by noting that:

"Indeed, fen-phen is not the only mass tort litigation being scrutinized. In New York, federal prosecutors also are looking at asbestosis and silicosis cases. The investigations suggest that big-money class actions and settlements may become a new focus for white-collar prosecutors.

Former Chief U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle, who presided over the fen-phen case until he retired in 2001, said in an interview last week that mass tort cases generally have been tainted by "hyped-up claims."

Settlement funds are at risk for depletion before worthy claimants are compensated, he said, and the courts do not have the resources to "police" the legitimacy of claims.

Bechtle called it a "national calamity" and said the legal system must come up with a way to restore litigants' faith."

Here is a related article on the Mississippi Fen-Phen indictments.

"King of Torts" dies in San Antonio

This article from the San Antonio Express-News details the life and career of Pat Maloney, Sr. This famous plaintiffs attorney won the first million-dollar verdict in the history of San Antonio.

He also served as a Marine in World War II and was wounded while fighting in the Pacific.

As the article states:

"Maloney made himself a promise that if he survived the war, he would attend Mass every day. He often arrived at San Fernando Cathedral a half-hour before 6 a.m. Mass.

Unwilling to open earlier, Father Virgilio Elizondo, the church's former rector, finally gave Maloney a key to the cathedral and showed him where to turn on the lights.

Maloney still had the key when he died."

Pat Maloney, Sr. died September 11th, 2005 at the age of 81.

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios visits Hurricane Katrina Relief Center

Photo from www.goarch.org

Orthodox Prelate Visits IOCC Hurricane Response Center

September 13, 2005

Baltimore, Md. (IOCC) — His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Chairman of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), visited Baton Rouge, La. on September 9, 2005 to meet with members of the IOCC Emergency Response Network and partners who have been providing assistance to displaced families following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Archbishop Demetrios, accompanied on his visit by Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, Bishop Andonios, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Director of Philanthropy, and the national president of the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society Georgia Skeadas, was briefed by IOCC Executive Director Mr. Constantine Triantafilou at a Second Harvest warehouse that has become an ecumenical center for the distribution of assistance in Baton Rouge.

After the briefing, staff and volunteers at the facility were addressed by Archbishop Demetrios who offered inspirational words of consolation and encouragement. The group included many who had themselves been displaced by the storm’s wrath and who were filled with emotion by the visit.

“Archbishop Demetrios’ gift of love to those who have been impacted by this tragedy is inspiring,” said Triantafilou. “His presence exemplifies the support that the SCOBA member jurisdictions have given IOCC in this most recent disaster.”

In addition to witnessing the pan-Orthodox humanitarian efforts, Archbishop Demetrios led a Prayer and Memorial Service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Chapel in Baton Rouge with Father Anthony Stratis, pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Orleans, assisting.

Following the service, Archbishop Demetrios presented Triantafilou with a $100,000 contribution from the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Fund and $100,000 from the special fund set up for the hurricane victims by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America over which he presides.

National Chairwoman Georgia Skeadas also presented a $50,000 check on behalf of the Philoptochos membership in support of the IOCC effort.

The trip concluded with a visit to Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge, where Archbishop Demetrios was received by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans Alfred Hughes, Bishop Meunch of Baton Rouge, National Catholic Charities Chairman Father Larry Snyder and Bishop Jenkins of the Episcopalian Diocese of New Orleans and their staffs. The meeting reflected the interfaith cooperation which has been successful in delivering assistance to thousands of displaced families in and around the Baton Rouge area.

IOCC is a pan-Orthodox organization founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of SCOBA. IOCC’s relief and development programs bring urgent and sustainable assistance to people suffering from war, poverty, disease and natural disasters. Since its inception, the organization has provided more than $200 million in assistance to 29 countries around the world.

For media inquiries, please contact IOCC at 1-877-803-4622 or news@iocc.org.

NBA All-Star Vlade Divac Delivers Relief Supplies to Houston to Help Victims of Hurricane Katrina

Photo from www.iocc.org
This article shows that Vlade Divac is one of the truly "good guys" of the sports world. He has long been a supporter and contributor to the International Orthodox Christian Charities. Vlade Divac has also helped found the Group 7 Children's Foundation. In addition he and his wife have adopted two orphans from the war torn regions of Bosnia and Kosovo.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Relics of Saint Arsenius Possibly Found in Suzdal Cathedral

From interfax-religion.com

16 September 2005, 16:50

Church of Greece asks the Diocese of Vladimir and Suzdal to return relics of St. Arseny

Vladimir, September 16, Interfax - The Greek Orthodox Church asked the Diocese of Vladimir and Suzdal to return the relics of the Greek saint Arseny Elasson, the Diocese reported to Interfax Friday.

The interviewee of the agency says that the Greek Church has already asked to help find the relics of the Greek saint.

‘Greek clerics assumed that Arseny, a Greek by birth, was buried in the Suzdal Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God. According to historical description, his burial place is located near the south column of the cathedral. Special commission was established and archeological excavations were held with the blessing of the hierarch’, the Diocesan source says.

Indeed, certain relics were found and moved to the sanctuary of the cathedral while their particles were sent to Greece for expertise.

St. Arseny was born in Greece in 1550. Before coming to Russia he was archbishop of Elasson. He became archbishop of Suzdal and Tarusa in 1615 and was buried in the Suzdal Cathedral ten years later. The Orthodox Church canonized him as a Suzdal saint as he had a gift of healing sick children. Prayer services for sick children were conducted upon his relics.

‘Arseny Elasson wrote in the Greek language. His notes are very important for Russian and Greek history’, the Diocesan source stated.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Expert Testimony Begins in New Jersey Vioxx Trial

Here is an article from marketwatch.com on today's testimony:

Third day of Vioxx trial opens with heart expert

By Greg Groeller

Last Update: 1:24 PM ET Sept. 16, 2005

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (MarketWatch) -- Merck & Co.'s (MRK) Vioxx painkiller is part of a class of drugs that can potentially cause heart attacks in people with pre-existing heart problems, a cardiovascular expert testified Friday.

Dr. Benedict Lucchesi, a witness for the plaintiff in a high-profile trial in Atlantic City, said some physicians and researchers were aware of the problem in the years before Merck and its rivals launched a class of drugs called Cox-2 inhibitors in the late 1990s.

Lucchesi testified during the third day of the trial, which involves a lawsuit by Frederick "Mike" Humeston, a postal worker from Idaho who alleges that Vioxx caused his heart attack in 2001. Merck contends that Humeston's heart attack was the result of poor health and lifestyle.

Christopher Seeger, Humeston's lawyer, showed jurors a letter that a researcher at Vanderbilt University sent to a Merck official after the launch of Vioxx in 1999, warning of problems the Cox-2 inhibitors could cause in patients with heart ailments. The letter was referring to the active ingredient in Celebrex, another painkiller sold by rival Pfizer Inc. (PFE), but applies to all drugs in its class, including Vioxx, Lucchesi said.

The researcher was warning that "you can't just give this to anybody," Lucchesi told jurors. "You have to identify people who are going to have adverse incidents."

Vioxx and other drugs in its class inhibit an enzyme known as Cox-2, which can cause painful inflammation but which also helps prevent blood clots from forming. When Cox-2 is reduced, it can lead to heart attacks and strokes in people who are predisposed to them, Lucchesi said.

"You [drug companies] have a responsibility to educate the practicing physician," Lucchesi said. "Not show ice skaters who can now get out of bed to skate. You've all seen the ads on television. That's really overplaying the point."

The trial, which is expected to last about five weeks, is the first since a Texas jury awarded $253.4 million to the family of a man who died after taking Vioxx. Merck pulled Vioxx from the market last year after a company-sponsored study found that the drug increased the incidence of heart attacks after 18 months of use.

Lucchesi testified for the plaintiff in the Texas case and is expected to appear at future trials. During a break from the courtroom, Seeger said Lucchesi has made a decision to testify against Merck because some scientists and physicians are "embarrassed" by what occurred with Vioxx.

"We are trying the case on the science," Seeger said.

Lawyers for Merck, which faces 5,000 Vioxx lawsuits, will have a chance to cross-examine Lucchesi.

Federal Vioxx Trial will move to Houston

As expected the first Federal Vioxx Trial will be moved to Houston. The case was originally set to go to trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans. Due to the damage from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath it was decided to relocate the trial to Houston. The trial will now be held at the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse in Houston beginning on November 28th. The trial in Houston will be the third Vioxx related trial. The second trial began this week in New Jersey.

Since I work across the street from the Courthouse I may have to try to sit in one day if there are any available seats. Somehow I doubt there will be any though.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Judge Warns of Vioxx Mistrial

The Judge in the second Vioxx trial threatened a Merck attorney with serious consequences, including a possible mistrial, for violating the Judge's instructions. The attorney for Merck had made some negative comments towards the plaintiff's attorneys in the jurors prescence. This prompted a sharp rebuke from Judge Carol Higbee.

As this article from CNN states:

"Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee, who is overseeing a Vioxx product liability trial in Atlantic City that got under way this week, said that lawyers comments about one another risked prejudicing the jury.

"It is simply playing to the bias of jurors. There is a certain perception that there are too many lawsuits, and that it is causing society some problems," Higbee said angrily. "

The article continues:

"The judge said she had not decided what the consequences would be if lawyers continued to ignore her instructions but said she could declare a mistrial.

"Don't do it; if you do it, you will regret it," she warned the attorneys. "

Putin Visits ROCOR Synodal Cathedral

Recently Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Synodal Cathedral in New York City of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Vladimir Putin was greeted by Metropolitan Laurus and venerated the Kursk Root icon and relics of Saints Elizabeth and Barbara. Mr. Putin also attended a moleben service before the Kursk Root icon. The Russian President offered his hopes for a successful conclusion of the ongoing discussions between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate.
A report of the visit can be found here. Photos of the visit can be found here.

Houston's Best Music Store

The other day I was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by one of my favorite stores in town. Cactus Records (as I still call it) has consistently been voted "Houston's Best Music Store" by the Houston Press.

This is not your average chain music store. The variety of music and the depth of selection that they offer is really impressive. They feature local bands and musicians heavily and have a great deal of cds by Texas musicians. Whatever you are looking for there is a good chance they may have it. They also now have a nice online store.

After browsing through the seemingly complete catalogue of Emmylou Harris and Townes Van Zandt I ended up with a nice used copy of Spinning Around the Sun by Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Cactus has been around for years. It actually evolved out of an old record store called "Daily's" which was originally in the Heights. You can check out some of the old photographs from artist appearances at "Daily's", including Hank Williams, that are now displayed on the walls at Cactus. You can read more about the founder of "Daily's" here.

Asbestos Trust Fund Bars Suspect Doctors

One of the largest asbestos compensation trust funds has now blacklisted several doctors used by plaintiffs lawfirms. The trust fund has decided to stop accepting medical reports from certain physicians. This article in the New York Times provides more of the background.

As the article points out:

"The named doctors are responsible for tens of thousands of claims submitted to the trust, which has paid out $3.3 billion to resolve 655,096 claims since it was created in 1988. The move by the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust is a response to growing concern that some of the claims it receives are not valid and may even be fraudulent. "

The article continues stating:

"Lawyers for Claims Resolution Management Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Manville Trust, also said that the company had received a subpoena from federal prosecutors in Manhattan who are looking into asbestos claims. The subpoena is an indication that the government's investigation is widening.

And the trust's decision could affect current bankruptcy proceedings of companies coping with asbestos claims and, potentially, legislation mired in Congress that would set up a massive compensation fund for victims, lawyers said.

"It is further evidence that the tide is turning on these doctors," said Jane Thorpe, a lawyer in the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird who has defended corporations in mass tort cases of various types, including asbestos, for more than 20 years. "Things like this letter are going to become more commonplace as people are really going to examine the underpinnings of the expert testimony that has been proffered for years in asbestos litigation."

The article also point out the fact that:

"The vast majority of the claims filed with the Manville Trust, which is a bellwether for other similar compensation vehicles, are submitted by people with no current malignancy - that is, people who are not yet demonstrably sick. Such claims are worth thousands of dollars each, according to the trust.

The move by the trust will probably affect fewer than 2,000 current claimants, Ms. Marvin said. This is not the first time that the trust has created a blacklist, she added, although it is the longest such list. The trust, which has paid billions of dollars for claims, is running so low on funds that it now offers just 5 cents for every dollar that a claimant is due under a schedule gauging the severity of disease."

This action is actually a fallout from the earlier Silicosis debacle that occured in Judge Janis Jack's courthouse in Corpus Christi, Texas. As this article mentions:

"The creation of the list by the Manville Trust appears to be another aftershock from an unusual hearing in federal court in Corpus Christi, Tex., in February. That proceeding dealt with claims by people who said they were injured by exposure to another material that can cause respiratory disease, silica, which is used in making glass, paint, ceramics and other materials. The Manville Trust memorandum that includes the list of doctors cites evidence developed in that litigation.

In the Corpus Christi proceeding, several doctors testified that they diagnosed silicosis in patients they had never met or interviewed. Some of the same doctors conducting separate examinations of the same claimants found only silicosis in one examination and only asbestos-related diseases in the other. That is not an impossible sequence of events, but it was considered unlikely that both illnesses in the same patient would not have been noted in one examination. Some doctors had little training in how to interpret X-rays to find signs of silicosis, which affects the lungs, and they reached their conclusions after spending just minutes looking at an X-ray. Some doctors backed away from their conclusions. Dr. Harron interrupted his testimony to ask for a lawyer. "

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The 75th Anniversary of Holy Trinity Monastery

Recently Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York celebrated its 75th Anniversary.

A report of this celebration can be found here. Pictures from this event can also be found here.

The Situation in Taybeh

The small village of Taybeh is the last all-Christian community left in the West Bank. Recently this village and its Christian residents were attacked by a mob of fanatic Moslems who destroyed and looted many properties. Fr. John Whiteford has an excellent post on this incident on his blog. He also has a post on an update on the attack.

For more information on the community of Taybeh see this website.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jury Picked for Second Vioxx Trial

Jury picked, openings set for Wednesday in second Vioxx trial

Associated Press Writer

September 13, 2005, 4:21 PM EDT


One's a stay-at-home mom. Another is a veteran prosecutor. One is married to a retired surgeon. Another is an eighth-grade reading teacher. One works as a bookkeeper at a china manufacturer. Another works in accounting at a hotel.

Along with four other people, they will try to answer a $50 billion question: Is withdrawn painkiller Vioxx to blame for a heart attack suffered by Frederick "Mike" Humeston?

The seven woman and three men were chosen Tuesday to hear Humeston's product liability suit against manufacturer Merck & Co., which pulled Vioxx off the market last September after research linked the popular arthritis drug to increased risk of heart attack and stroke after 18 months' use.

The case, which is being heard in a courthouse two blocks from the casino strip, promises a high-stakes showdown pitting the 60-year-old Boise, Idaho, postal worker against the pharmaceutical giant. Rocked by a $253 million verdict in a similar case last month in Texas, Whitehouse Station-based Merck now must persuade a home-state jury that Humeston's medical problems and sedentary lifestyle _ not Vioxx _ led to his Sept. 18, 2001 heart attack.

Analysts say the company, which plans a case-by-case fight in defending itself against thousands of civil suits over Vioxx, could end up paying as much as $50 billion in settlements and jury awards over the coming years.

Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday in the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

On Tuesday, the focus was on the would-be jurors, 325 of whom had each filled out an 87-item questionnaire that quizzed them about topics ranging from their employment and marital status to their feelings about drug companies and lawyers.

In court, Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee asked whether they had any links to Merck, had ever taken Vioxx or knew anyone who did, knew any of the attorneys or other jurors, or felt they could be impartial in deciding the case.

Some were former Vioxx takers; they were dismissed as soon as Higbee heard them say it.

"I was on Vioxx a couple years, and ..." said one man, his response interrupted by Higbee, who cut him off to prevent him from sharing his opinion of it in open court. "Alright, we'll excuse you," she said.

A middle-aged man who walked with a cane told her he had taken it, too, and she dismissed him. "I'd rather have my Vioxx," he said as he walked out.

Others were excused after persuading Higbee their service on the panel would be a hardship for them personally, or telling her they couldn't be impartial.

Attorneys for Merck and Humeston said they were pleased with the jury's makeup; each exercised only four of their allotted six challenges to excuse people they didn't want on the panel, which will be narrowed to six people for deliberations once all the testimony has been presented. The remaining four people are alternates.

"Love it. We're thrilled," Chris Seeger, Humeston's lead counsel, said of the selections. "The people are right down the middle. We're going to get a fair shot, and that's all we ask for."

He said he didn't think Merck's status as a New Jersey company would hurt his cause with jurors.

Jim Fitzpatrick, a Merck lawyer and spokesman, would not discuss his side's strategy in picking the panel.

"I wouldn't portray it one way or the other," he said. "We're focused on presenting our evidence. We believe the evidence is very strong that Vioxx was not involved in Mr. Humeston's heart attack."

Humeston, who survived the heart attack, is to testify in the trial, as is his wife. Seeger's first witness is to be Humeston's personal physician, Dr. Gregory Lewer.

Statement by Metropolitan Laurus on the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Statement by His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus

During these days, as we mourn over the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, I call upon all to raise their prayers for the dead and the suffering, their relatives, the rescuers and others who lend their help and support.

I pray before the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, the main holy icon of our Church, with the hope that the Most-Blessed Virgin will strengthen and console everyone, including Priest Alexander Logunov and the parishioners of St John of Shanghai Community in Mobile, Alabama, whose church suffered damage.

The Gospel shows us that the Mother of God possessed true humility. She always accepted the will of God, subjecting and submitting herself totally to it, remembering that everything—both the good and the fearsome—is a gift from God. Let us try to follow Her example and look upon all things that happen to us in this life in this vale of sorrows in the same way, for Divine will sends all things to man for his own benefit, as we sing during the pannikhida: "Thou only Creator Who, with wisdom profound, mercifully orderest all things, and givest that which is useful to all men." And only then, with God's help, will we acquire true spiritual peace and consolation. I wish this with all my heart for those "weeping and mourning, seeking the consolation of Christ" during these days.

+Metropolitan Laurus,First Hierarch of theRussian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
September 8, 2005.

Bishop Alexander (Mileant) Reposes

Here is the announcement of Vladyka Alexander's repose from the webpage of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia:
His Grace Bishop Alexander (Mileant) of Buenos Aires and South America Reposes

On the night of September 12-13, after a lengthy illness, His Grace Bishop Alexander of Buenos Aires and South America departed to the Lord. A pannikhida will be held this evening at Holy Trinity Church in Oxnard, CA. A pannikhida will be held there also on Thursday before the body of the newly-reposed hierarch, and the following morning, a hierarchal Divine Liturgy and the funeral. The burial will be held at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY.

The late Bishop Alexander was born Alexander Vasilievich Mileant in Odessa in 1938. During the Second World War his father disappeared at the front, and his family, fleeing the Bolsheviks, went to the West. They lived in Prague, in Rome, and finally in Buenos Aires, where the young Alexander received his primary education and then completed a seven-year electro-technical school. He worked as a machine draftsman for several companies. He then enrolled in Buenos Aires University.

From the age of 8, Alexander served as an altar boy under Archbishop Panteleimon, then under Archbishop Afanassy, who took him under his wing and gave him three years of formal theological training. Vladyka Afanassy possessed a great theological library. Wishing to read the works of the Holy Fathers in the original, Alexander first learned modern Greek, then ancient Greek.

At the end of 1963, Alexander enrolled at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, which he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology in 1967. A year earlier, Archbishop Averky (Taushev, +1976) ordained him to the deaconate, and during Great Lent, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky, +1985) of blessed memory ordained him to the priesthood and sent to Protection of the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, where he served as rector for 31 years. From 1971-1985, Fr Alexander led several youth pilgrimages to Greece and the Holy Land. While spiritually nourishing his flock, Fr Alexander continued his scientific education, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics in 1978, then a Master’s Degree in Electronics, and finally, in 1983, an Engineer’s Degree from the University of Southern California in Communications. He worked in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA. His lay work enabled Fr Alexander to become an expert in computers, which in turn helped him publish numerous missionary pamphlets which enjoyed great popularity in Russia and abroad. Today there are over 300 brochures published in Russian, English and Spanish on Orthodox Christianity.

In 1955, Protopriest Alexander was tonsured to the monkhood in Holy Trinity Monastery and given the name Alexander in honor of Holy Martyr Archbishop Alexander of Kharkov, who died in prison in 1939 (until then, Fr Alexander bore the name of St Alexander Nevsky, whose feast day was celebrated yesterday).

On May 28, 1998, Archimandrite Alexander was consecrated a bishop at the Synodal Cathedral in New York and appointed Ruling Bishop of Buenos Aires and South America.
See www.fatheralexander.org for some truly wonderful material on Orthodoxy that Bishop Alexander helped translate and make available in the English, Portuguese and Spanish languages.
May his Memory be Eternal!

Houston Orthodox Christian Community Responds to Hurricane Survivors

Houston Orthodox Christian Community Responds To Hurricane Survivors

September 12, 2005

Houston, Texas (IOCC) — Orthodox Christians in Texas have worked tirelessly since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast to deliver emergency supplies, welcome those displaced from neighboring states and partner with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to provide relief to the region.

“The devastating hurricane which has ravaged the Gulf Coast states of our country… is a reminder to all of us that tragedies in the world are dramatically increasing and that one’s life can be taken in the twinkling of an eye,” wrote Metropolitan Isaiah of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver in a letter to parishes encouraging them to respond through IOCC.

Orthodox parishes in the Metropolis of Denver and throughout the United States have collected funds for the effort and prepared health kits for the hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee the devastated region.

Just days after the hurricane, when people were retreating from New Orleans, Leon Vezos organized a shipment of emergency items and headed to Baton Rouge, La. After loading a truck with water and Gatorade over the Labor Day holiday weekend, Vezos personally drove the supplies which were distributed to rural communities in and around Alexandria, La.

Fr. Gabriel Karambis, Dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, where Vezos is a member, has encouraged Orthodox Christians in the community to join in the effort and made available the resources of his parish. Orthodox Christians throughout the city have worked to prepare additional supplies for transfer to Baton Rouge, La. The effort resulted in truckload of urgently-needed diapers, water, Gatorade, clothes and health kits.

Houston, along with Baton Rouge, La. and Mobile, Ala., has become a center for IOCC operations where staff from its Emergency Response Network is coordinating aid to survivors of the disaster.

The IOCC Emergency Response Center in Houston is hosted by St. George Antiochian Church, which is providing office, storage space, and accommodations for the IOCC staff.

IOCC’s emergency response network, comprised of trained Orthodox clergy and their U.S. parish communities, provides emergency services to people struggling to recover from natural or man-made disasters.

Contributions to IOCC’s Hurricane Disaster Response Fund may be sent to IOCC, “Hurricane Relief,” P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, MD 21263-0225. Donations may also be made online at www.iocc.org or by calling toll-free 1-877-803-IOCC (4622).

Founded in 1992, IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).

To make a donation to the IOCC click here.

For more on the Orthodox Christian community in Houston click here.

Another Article on Putin's Pilgrimage to Mount Athos

Photos from www.kremlin.ru

This article from Orthodox News gives some additional information about Russian President Vladimir Putin's pilgrimage to Mount Athos. It also reports that he presented a donation of three million dollars for the restoration of Saint Panteleimon Monastery.

Russian Art Masterpieces come to America

The art exhibit RUSSIA! opens on September 16th at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. This exhibit will feature over 250 masterpieces of Russian artwork from the 13th century to the present day. This will be the first time that many of these pieces of art have ever left Russia.

Highlights of the Exhibit include icons by Saint Andrei Rublev, the iconographer Dionysious, the 1514 Vladimir icon of the Theotokos, Vasilii Perov's famous portrait of Doesteyevsky, works by Ilya Repin, Dimitry Levitsky, and Marc Chagall among many others.

The exhibit runs through January 11, 2006.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Epic Legal Battle Looms for Louisiana

Louisiana set for an epic legal fight

By Christopher Swann in Baton Rouge and Andrew Ward in Atlanta

Published: September 11 2005 22:02 Last updated: September 11 2005 22:02

Louisiana is facing an epic legal battle to determine who should pay to repair damaged properties, with insurance experts predicting that tens of thousands of homeowners will discover their insurance claims will not cover the cost of rebuilding their homes.

Jim Brown, Louisiana's insurance commissioner from 1992 until 2004, estimates that only a quarter of houses in the poorest areas affected by Hurricane Katrina had flood insurance. Standard insurance policies, carried by almost all homeowners, cover damage caused by storms but not floods.

In addition, those who bought federal flood insurance beyond the means of many poorer households may find compensation falls short, since it covers losses of only up to $250,000. “There is a big insurance gap,” said Mr Brown. “In all likelihood many people will suffer great financial loss.”

Similar disputes are expected along the Mississippi coast, where the worst damage was caused by the storm surge brought ashore by Hurricane Katrina rather than the 145mph winds. Experts said disputes are likely to arise over whether a storm surge will be classified as a flood.

Flood coverage was offered under a scheme backed by the Federal Flood Insurance Program. But it was expensive, costing up to $1,000 a year for a $200,000 home.

“The [physical] nightmare of the emergency is hopefully over for many people but the financial nightmare is just about to begin,” said E.L. “Bubba” Henry, alawyer representing insurance companies.

A report by Risk Management Solutions, a company that provides catastrophic risk data to insurers, estimated that losses from the hurricane could reach $125bn, with insured losses of between $40bn and $60bn. Insurance experts said in general, if damage is caused by wind or rain, the insurance companies are liable. But if the water comes from the ground, the Federal Flood Insurance Program is liable. Many homeowners are expected to argue that the flooding was caused by the wind and torrential rain, which led to the bursting of the levees in New Orleans.

James Donelon, general counsel for the state Department of Insurance, believes this question will have to be decided in court.

Opening Statements

Photo from www.c-span.org
The Confirmation Hearings for John Roberts, the nominee for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, got underway today in the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee. Judge Roberts gave his opening statement today as did the different members of the Committee.
The questioning of Judge Roberts will begin tomorrow. C-Span has excellent coverage of these hearings along with clips of all the opening statements.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Other Vioxx Case from Texas

This article from the Austin Business Journal details the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott against Merck the maker of Vioxx.

Like the thousands of personal injury Vioxx cases the State of Texas alleges that Merck knew the drug was potentially unsafe but yet continued to market it. In this case Merck was marketing it to the State of Texas Medicaid Program.

The lawsuit also alleges violations by Merck of the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act. The State of Texas is seeking restitution from Merck, plus interest, for all Medicaid payments made to Merck for prescriptions of Vioxx.

This lawsuit was filed last June well before the verdict of the first Vioxx trial in Angleton.

Drugmakers Under Fire

Here is an interesting article from the Los Angeles Business Journal on litigation against various drug companies initiated by the Attorney General's Office of California.

Flight 93 Heroes Mourned


Flight 93 Heroes Mourned in Pennsylvania

The Associated Press
Sunday, September 11, 2005; 6:20 PM

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. -- Volunteers on Sunday slowly read the names of each of the 40 passengers and crew aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 as peals from two bells marked the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Calvin Wilson, whose brother-in-law, co-pilot LeRoy Homer Jr., was killed, thanked the community for embracing victims' families.

"This is always tough, but I'll do it every year," said Wilson, speaking through tears as he addressed the crowd of 1,000 people, which included U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Gov. Ed Rendell and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

United Flight 93 was en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco. The official 9/11 Commission report said the hijackers crashed the plane as passengers tried to take control of the cockpit. Officials believe the hijackers had targeted either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

Ridge praised those who died, saying their actions saved others.

"The passengers and crew are an emblem of America's great glory: freedom and patriotism demonstrated at its highest regard," Ridge said. "Here upon this field of honor, lives were saved and heroes were made."

The Flight 93 Advisory Commission on Wednesday announced the winner of a design competition for a memorial at the 2,000-acre site.

The "Crescent of Embrace" memorial, created by a team of designers led by Paul Murdoch Architects of Los Angeles, will feature a chapel with 40 metallic wind chimes symbolizing each of the victims.

The design still must be approved by the director of the National Park Service and the secretary of the Interior. Officials are hoping to raise about $30 million for the memorial. The state of Pennsylvania has already donated more than $10 million.
On the Net:
Flight 93 Memorial Project: http://www.flight93memorialproject.org

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Tour

Public Viewing of 9/11 Memorial Inspires Deep Emotions
By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2005 – For the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Pentagon today allowed the public to view the 9/11 memorial site.

Helen O'Ferrall was one of many visitors who were moved by what they saw. Indeed, the 64-year-old grandmother from Prince George's County, Md., fought back tears as she tried to speak.

"I'm sorry," she finally said. "When I saw how far that plane penetrated into the building - it's horrible. It's not like it just hit and bounced; it tore into everything."

The Pentagon actually was fully renovated less than a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. However, as O'Ferrall's experience shows, the memorial site there can conjure up solemn images for Americans with a vivid memory of what happened on that fateful day.

"It conjures up a lot of emotions," said Nate Nygaard, a retired Army officer from Rhode Island who also visited the memorial site today. "It kind of makes you ... choke in the throat just to think about it. All of this kind of makes you emotional, especially with (Hurricane) Katrina and everything else that's going on."

The memorial is on the south side of the Pentagon, precisely where hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed. A total of 184 people -- everyone onboard the plane and Pentagon workers -- were killed in the attack. And, according to the military Honor Guard tour guides with today's visitors, about 20 percent of the building - five floors high and three rings deep - was completely destroyed.

But as bad as that was, the damage and fatalities actually could have been a lot worse.
"The plane hit the ground first," Senior Airman Aaron Johnson told his tour group. "That caused it to lose about half of its momentum and half of its fuel. Otherwise, we would have been looking at a lot worse disaster."

Moreover, during that time, the south side of the Pentagon was being renovated, and only 125 workers were in that section. But in another two weeks when the renovation was due to be completed, "there easily could have been 3,000 or so people there," Johnson said.

Visitors saw the stone that had been set into the restored building and inscribed "September 11, 2001." The stone remains charred black from the fires that were ignited by jet fuel. Behind the stone, Johnson said, lies a time capsule to commemorate all 184 who died in this terrorist attack.
The time capsule records all their names patches from the nearby Arlington County, Va., police and fire departments; Defense Protective Service patches; 'Let's Roll' patches; medallions from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers; a signed photo of President Bush and Rumsfeld; a copy of Bush's speech to Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and a bound collection of 46,000 thank-you notes from Americans to U.S. servicemen and women.

As one leaves that area and enters the Pentagon, there is an American Heroes Memorial that records, on stone, all 184 names. A book in front of these tablets provides a picture and short biography of each person, written by surviving family members. Another book allows visitors to record their condolences and sympathies for the families.

The American Heroes Memorial also includes separate tablets for the Purple Heart and Defense of Freedom medals, which were awarded posthumously to those who died on that fateful day.
The Purple Heart is awarded to American servicemen and women who are killed or injured in a conflict; the Defense of Freedom is the civilian counterpart to the Purple Heart.

In addition, visitors saw the adjacent Pentagon Chapel, which, likewise, has been dedicated to the 184 who lost their lives. The chapel includes stained glass windows, one of which has 184 pieces of red glass, all of which surround a small pentagon.

The stained glass windows include depictions of an eagle and a broken heart and the beginning and ending of the military service oath: "Support and defend ... so help me God."

As one leaves the chapel, there is an adjacent outside field on which will be located the Pentagon Memorial, with 184 benches, each with an underlying reflecting pool. The benches will be sized and situated differently, depending on the age and status of the airline passenger or Pentagon worker, Johnson said.

The Pentagon Memorial is being built by a privately endowed foundation, the Pentagon Memorial Fund. The nonprofit fund has raised $9 million for the memorial, but requires another $9 million to commence construction. Officials hope to break ground on the memorial in the fall of 2006, with completion slated for spring 2008, according to memorial fund president Jim Laychak.

"I love the stain-glassed windows, with the heart broken," O'Ferrall said, "And the vows that they take, and 'In God We Trust' -- that was nice. And seeing that charred stone; it's still there... We've got to stop the terrorists," she added.

"I felt very privileged, actually, to be able to be included in what everyone else, I guess, went through," said Caitlin McFadden, 25, of Falls Church, Va. "This actually made you feel like you were a family member, and that you too had lost someone. And it just felt very good to be able to be part of their suffering."

Added Ken Walker, 60, of Yorkville, Ill.: "I take it as a personal assault and affront on us that they would do something to us here like that. That's why when we heard on the news this morning that this was going to be open to the public, I said, 'This is a must. We've got to pay our respects."

Pentagon officials estimate that between 1,500 and 2,000 people today viewed the American Heroes Memorial.

The public today "felt excited, you know, to see a 9/11 memorial," said Marine Sgt. Kelvin Avelar. "I mean, I can see it in their faces today. You know, they're pretty excited that they get a chance to do this."

Avelar himself has volunteered twice for overseas service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He assigned in Washington area now. Avelar's wife also is a Marine, and the couple has twin daughters who will turn 4 years old in October.

Feast of the Beheading of the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John

September 11th on the Civil Calendar corresponds to August 29th on the Church Calendar. On this date the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Beheading of the Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John.

A life of St. John the Baptist can be read here. The Gospel Reading, Troparion and Kontakion for the Feast can also be found here. In addition a Homily on this Feast by St. Justin Popovic can be read here.

On the morning of September 11th 2001 many Orthodox Christians in the United States were in Church for the Divine Liturgy held in honor of this Feast. In particular, the ROCOR parish in Washington D.C. is named after St. John the Baptist. In fact the Feast of the Beheading is their Patronal Feast Day.

On that morning much of the Parish was in the Church celebrating the Liturgy when the Pentagon was attacked. I have been told that there were indeed parishioners present who worked at the Pentagon. They had taken that morning off to attend the service and thus were not at their desks when the plane hit.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Waits to Rebuild

This week the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on PBS featured a story on the parish of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in New York City. This parish had their church building destroyed on the morning of September 11, 2001 during the attacks on the World Trade Center.

As can be seen in the photo above St. Nicholas was located almost directly across the street from the World Trade Center buildings. The Church had been in that location since 1922 and had a long history in the city. The Church was completely destroyed when the towers collapsed.

The parish, however, is determined to rebuild the Church. They have been given assurances by the authorities overseeing the WTC site that the Church will indeed be rebuilt as part of the planned Freedom Tower site and Memorial.

The problem for the parish is that they cannot rebuild their parish until all the design and feasibility questions are resolved for the rest of the site. This has been a trying time for the parish but they are patiently enduring and continuing to plan for the rebuilding.

Jackson Browne

Photo from www.pbs.org
This is another of my favorite musicians. Jackson Browne is a musician's musician. I have always admired his music and have had a few favorite songs of his through the years. A few months ago, however, I happened to pick up a used copy of his cd "The Next Voice You Hear: The Best of Jackson Browne" which was released back in 1997.

This cd collection blew me away. What a perfect collection of songs. There were some great songs on this cd that I had simply forgotten about. There were also some wonderful songs that I had never heard before.

Jackson Browne is one of those rare performers in popular music who have managed to maintain their artistic creativity and integrity over the decades.

"The Next Voice You Hear" can be purchased here. More information on Jackson Browne and his recordings can be found on his excellent website. This website also allows viewers to listen to extended excerpts from many of his albums.

Law permits federal courts affected by hurricane to move

Courts face unique challenges

Law permits federal courts affected by hurricane to move

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hurricane Katrina's long-reaching effects have even ravaged the federal and state court systems in areas trying to recover from one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.

With many courts along the Gulf Coast damaged by winds or floodwaters, judicial officials are looking for new venues to hear appeals and hold jury trials.

On Friday, President Bush signed into law the Federal Judiciary Emergency Special Sessions Act of 2005, which allows federal courts to operate outside their jurisdictions in the event of a disaster.

The law allows a federal appeals court to hold sessions "at any place outside the circuit" if the chief judge or the next highest-ranking person available determines the court cannot operate in its jurisdiction due to "emergency circumstances."

"The court may transact any business at a special session outside the circuit that it might transact at a regular session," according to the law.

The law also applies to U.S. district courts and bankruptcy courts.

With New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has moved temporarily to Houston, Texas. Other federal courts also have found temporary homes.

The bill was first proposed in June, but Katrina spurred its passage.

"The recent impact of Hurricane Katrina on the federal courts in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi has increased the urgency of congressional action regarding this proposal," the law says.

Federal courts are not the only ones facing hurdles. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Friday that state and county courts face unique problems.

"There really is no precedent for this kind of destruction, so every possible solution is a new solution," Toobin said on "Lou Dobbs Tonight."

"One idea, move the New Orleans courts wholesale to another city, even another state."

Logistical issues would be just the first problem, Toobin said.

Court records have been destroyed by floodwaters. Witnesses have been displaced and relocated throughout the country. Other witnesses have died.

It might even be difficult to determine what crimes a prisoner has been charged with, Toobin said.

"It's a new legal world on the Gulf Coast," he said, "and no one knows what the rules are yet.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ecumenical Team Evacuates Hundreds From New Orleans Airport


110 West Road, Suite 360, Baltimore, Md. 21204
Tel: (410) 243-9820
Fax: (410) 243-9824
Web: www.iocc.org E-mail: news@iocc.org

For immediate releaseSeptember 6, 2005


An ecumenical response team made up of personnel from International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) negotiated their way from Baton Rouge, La. to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport during the early hours of Sunday morning to evacuate 340 people in need of urgent medical care.

Along the way, the group described the heroic efforts of countless people from the bus drivers who made the journey to medical personnel at the airport and the frayed nerves of people doing their best to cope and survive.

The airports baggage claim area, serving as a triage facility where hundreds of people were receiving attention from medical personnel, was crowded with stretchers on carousels, the wheelchair bound, and people with broken limbs and other ailments.

Medical staff at the airport expressed relief at the sight of buses which took those in need of medical attention to the Louisiana State University Field Hospital in Baton Rouge, La. Physicians at the airport recounted the 36 hour period prior to their arrival when attempts made by other buses to access the facility had been turned away.

Traveling in a convoy of ten school buses provided through the Disaster Recovery Center and accompanied by students from local universities, the team made its way to the airport through complete darkness and uncertainty during a journey that was at times made tense by the lack of clear communication on the ground especially at the checkpoints.

As we approached New Orleans there was a stench in the air, described Leonidas Lee Kapetanakis, an IOCC Emergency Response team member from Houston, Texas. It was an eerie scene as we negotiated our way through four checkpoints, escorted by military personnel and police officers.

The operation began as an effort to evacuate a group of 300 Vietnamese who reportedly were stranded at the airport. Based on the information they had, the team met with officials at the Disaster Recovery Center in Baton Rouge to organize their transportation.

When the group arrived at the airport, they found that only 15 Vietnamese remained, but that there was an immense need to relocate more than 2,500 people with medical needs.

As the team returned to Baton Rouge with 340 of the sick and injured, the uncertainty of the journey and concern for the fate of those left behind turned to hope when they passed as many as one hundred buses headed toward the airport. By the next day the impasse had been broken and nearly all of the medical patients had been transported from the make-shift facilities at the baggage terminal to the field hospital.

The group s efforts were spearheaded by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans chief executive officer Jim Kelly, who himself was displaced from his home by Hurricane Katrina s onslaught. Kelly was supported by former CRS executive and IOCC consultant Frank Carlin, Rev. Fr. Peter-Michael Preble of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, head of disaster response for CRS Pat Johns, IOCC disaster response team member Leonidas Kapetanakis and Rev. Fr. Pham a Roman Catholic priest and medical doctor.

In addition to the evacuation, the interfaith effort is warehousing and distributing relief arriving to Baton Rouge. Hygiene items, oral electrolyte solutions for children and adults, diapers, water, food, blankets and hygiene kits have been provided by the collective efforts of the group.

This is an incredibly inspirational ecumenical effort here in Baton Rouge, said Frank Carlin, a former CRS executive with 37 years of domestic disaster and international relief and development experience who is working with the IOCC Emergency Response Team and Catholic Charities. In addition to the convoy, we are providing ongoing aid to those who have been displaced from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and filling gaps in services.

Contributions to IOCC s Hurricane Disaster Response Fund may be sent to IOCC, Hurricane Relief, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, MD 21263-0225. Donations may also be made online at www.iocc.org or by calling toll-free 1-877-803-IOCC (4622).

Founded in 1992, IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). Catholic Charities in the United States started in New Orleans and has been helping clothe, feed, educate and care for the needy for decades. CRS, founded in 1943 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States, is the official international relief and development agency of the US Catholic community.