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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, December 30, 2005

Number of Orthodox Churches in Moscow Increases

Nearly 80 Orthodox Churches and Chapels were opened in Moscow alone this year.

Here is an article with all of the statistics.

The article also notes that, as of this year, there are 1,191 Priests and 490 Deacons serving in the Moscow region.

More information on Orthodox Churches in Moscow (in Russian) can be found here.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Saint Herman of Alaska

Tonight at Church we celebrated the service of Saint Herman of Alaska. Saint Herman has always been one of my favorite Saints.

For more information on the life of Saint Herman check out this book.

There is also an Orthodox Seminary in Alaska named after him.

Here is an Akathist to Saint Herman of Alaska as well as a prayer.

Myrtle Beach

I saw this article today from CNN and it struck a chord with me. I have a lot of relatives who live in Myrtle Beach. I spent a lot of time there (especially in the summers) when I was growing up.

I have not been back in a few years but every time I visit I am always surprised (and a little saddened) at how much things have changed. It is still a great place to vacation but as the article relates I can remember the way things used to be.

The article talks of the small "mom and pop motels" that used to be a common sight at the beach. I can directly relate to this. I had a Great Aunt and Uncle who ran just such a motel for decades. They named the motel after their two boys. At least two generations of my family spent time during the summers of their youth working and vacationing at that motel. I think that tradition may have even been passed down to a third generation before the motel finally left family ownership within the past few years.

I have a lot of great memories from my time spent there. Once, I happened to run into our family physician from Houston as he was checking in to the hotel across the street with his family for their vacation. Small world.

I also made a lot of friends during my days spent at the beach. And as the article mentions it used to be, and hopefully still is, a "family beach". If you don't know what that means I'm not sure I can explain it. The best way I can describe it is with a story. Once when I was staying at my aunt and uncle's hotel there was a man who was at the pool deck drinking a bottle of beer. My elderly aunt walked out when she saw him and told him in no few words that this was a "family establishment" and she would not allow that. The man dutifully obeyed, said "Yes Ma'am", and poured out his beer. When my aunt had walked off he just grinned and said "There's no arguing with a woman like that, God Bless her."

I can also remember driving out to (what was then) the country to visit my relatives in Socastee. We always paid a visit to the old Methodist Church with its cemetery where generations of my family are buried. I believe my family's history in the area dates from at least Civil War times if not before. This church used to be a picturesque old wood frame church nestled in the middle of some woods at the end of an old dirt road. Now it sits right across from a freeway interchange.

I also remember flying into Myrtle Beach and landing at the small old Air Force Base. Now the Base is closed and there is a large modern airport. A lot of the small mom and pop motels are gone replaced by giant condominium and hotel complexes. Most of the miniature golf courses have been paved over for parking lots.

Some things, thankfully, are still the same. As the article notes the Gay Dolphin is still there. My mother worked there when she was a teenager. The Pavilion Amusement Park is also still there...though it looks a little different these days from what I remember as a boy. The Boardwalk is apparently still going strong. Some of the old nightclubs are still there...the Attic, the Bowery, Studebakers. Some like Mother Fletcher's are now gone.

Most of the great restaurants still seem to be there. Lots of "Calabash" Seafood places. My own personal favorite though is the old "Sea Captain's House". This is a required stop on all my visits. The Omega Waffle house is also a great place for a hearty and cheap breakfast.

There are a lot of new attractions, restaurants and stores that are worth seeing. Every time I return I discover a new place to add to my favorites list. But I always miss the "old" beach.

For some entertaining stories of life at the Beach from a few decades ago check out this book.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Welding Rod Litigation: The next "Manufactured" Epidemic

Forbes has a good article (requires registration) on the current state of Welding Rod litigation.

The article references a 2003 verdict that granted a million dollars in damages to a former welder who claimed that manganese fumes from welding rods caused his Parkinson's Disease.

It goes on to mention the charges of faked injuries in recent cases.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Richard F. Scruggs who also successfully sued to recover state healthcare costs from the tobacco industry. The main diagnosing physician for the plaintiffs is Dr. Paul Nausieda.

The article also notes that a Motion has been filed asking the Court to dismiss all claims from plaintiffs who were diagnosed by Dr. Nausieda. More information on this latest filing can be found here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Winter Beer Roundup

Here are my thoughts on some of the Winter Beers on the market this season. I've had a random sampling of some of this year's offerings over the last several weeks. So here are some brief comments in no particular order:

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale - Fruity. If you like fruity beer you should like this beer...because it is really fruity.

Young's Winter Warmer - Wow. They should make you sign a waiver before drinking this! Not bad actually...but may cause you to (mistakenly) believe that you can beat any challengers in a game of darts.

New Belgium's 2 Degrees Below - Spicy and Fruity. Contrary to its name the room temperature seemed to rise at least 20 degrees after drinking. Did I mention this is a spicy beer?

Samuel Adam's Winter Lager - Sweet beer. A little bit spicey. Nice taste. Pretty good over all.

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome - Nice taste. Creamy and a little bit sweet. Overall is a pretty good beer.

Saint Arnold Christmas Ale - I was fortunate enough to try the cask conditioned version of this ale down at the Duck. This is really a great beer! If you are in the Houston area you MUST try the cask version. The only two places in town that I know have it are the Mucky Duck and the Ginger Man. The regular bottled version is more widely available. Has a great taste that is the perfect mix of spicey and sweet. One of the best tasting beers I have ever had! Well worth the extra cost.

Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale - The old traditional favorite. Very good ale. Very sweet with just the right amount of spice. Another excellent offering from the folks at Anchor.

and the winner is...

Saint Arnold Christmas Ale (Cask Conditioned) - Just one more reason to live in Houston. : )

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Coldplay on ACL

I just got a chance to watch Coldplay perform on tonight's episode of Austin City Limits.

Some interesting backstage footage from this performance can be seen here.

The concert was recorded only 9 days ago.

The set list was made up of the following songs:

Speed of Sound
White Shadows
'Til Kingdom Come
Ring of Fire (Yes that Ring of Fire)
In the Sun (joined by Michael Stipe of REM on a cover of a Joseph Arthur song)
Nightswimming (also with Michael Stipe performing the REM tune)
In my place
Fix You

It was interesting to see the respect that the band showed for the late Johnny Cash. 'Till Kingdom Come is a song that Coldplay wrote in honor of Johnny Cash. This was followed by a very nice cover of Cash's Ring of Fire.

The concert perfomance was really first rate. I am hoping to see Coldplay in concert in Houston next year when they play at the Toyota Center. They were supposed to play at the Cynthia Mitchell Woods pavillion at the Woodlands (which is an outdoor concert venue with horrible acoustics) earlier this year. The concert was canceled though due to Hurricane Rita.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Welcome to (Judicial) Hell

The American Tort Reform Association has released its 2005 rankings of "Judicial Hellholes".

You can read their complete report here.

Much to my surprise I discovered that the #1 rated Judicial Hellhole of 2005 was: "Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast, Texas". Specifically they singled out Jefferson, Brazoria, Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces and Starr counties.

It seems somewhat amazing that Texas would be rated #1 after significant tort reform legislation went into effect earlier this year. But as the report states:

"...even where legislative reform has been successful, such as in Texas, judges can still misapply the law and make procedural rulings that favor local plaintiffs' lawyers and their clients and their clients over out-of state defendants."

Well I noticed that the American Tort Reform Association is headquartered in Washington DC. So I guess they should know a "hellhole" when they see one.

Don't mess with Texas.

: )

Silica suits in Texas come to a standstill

This article from the Texas Lawyer details how Silica litigation in Texas has come to a virtual standstill.

Even more silicosis news from Mississippi

This article notes that the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that separate trials must be held for the 30 plaintiffs named in two silicosis cases. The Court also ruled that claims from plaintiffs living outside Mississippi should be dismissed.

The Court held that it is:

"...reasonable to expect counsel to know prior to filing suit the identity of each client, the defendant each client proposes to sue, the alleged harm committed by specific defendants against each client, and the location and period of time the harm was committed."

"Though some have complained that these simple requirements place too great a burden on plaintiffs counsel in mass tort cases, we do not agree...".

Sanctions sought after dismissal of Silicosis Claims in Mississippi

On a related note to the previous post...defense attorneys are now seeking sanctions against the Texas plaintiffs firm that brought the Silicosis claims recently dismissed in Mississippi.

This article has the details.

The defense attorneys are seeking $330,000 in sanctions against the plaintiffs firm.

Over 4,000 Silicosis claims Dismissed in Mississippi

A Circuit Court Judge in Mississippi has dismissed 4,202 Silicosis claims relying on the findings of Judge Janis Graham Jack that most of the diagnoses of Silicosis were fraudulent.

This article has more details on the dismissals. The Judge only allowed 79 claims to go forward. The article also mentions that a Federal Grand Jury in New York City is continuing its investigations into possible criminal charges relating to asbestos and silicosis litigation.

The article notes that:

"Up until this past year, 20,000 of the 30,000 Americans who sued for injuries from silicosis have filed their lawsuits in Mississippi. So far this year, 5,590 silicosis claims have been dismissed in Mississippi. More are expected."

The article also relates that Dr. George Martindale (accused of producing suspect diagnoses) is now cooperating with a Congressional investigation into the matter.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Orthodox Houston

The Orthodox Clergy Association of Southeast Texas has a new website available.

Orthodox parishes in the Houston area can be searched for by jurisdiction, name and location.

There is also an interactive map with the location of all the Houston area parishes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Down at the Duck

Photo from www.revelshou.com

This week's trip down to the Mucky Duck was to see the group Danse Cadence in performance.

Danse Cadence is a musical troupe from Quebec that performs traditional French Canadian music including jigs, reels and waltzes. The group also features the traditional Quebecoise step-dancing of Pierre Chartrand. Danse Cadence has a website that is primarily in French.

The music was lively and very enjoyable. The highlight of the show, however, was the amazing step-dancing of Pierre Chartrand. He brought the old "gigue" style of dancing (usually only described in dance or music history textbooks) to life. The similarities with traditional Celtic music was also reflected in the group's performance of some of the Quebec tunes.

Danse Cadence is in town to perform in this year's Revels Houston Concerts.

Monday, December 12, 2005


The first Federal Vioxx trial has ended in a mistrial.

Here is an article from Bloomberg on today's development.

The common sentiment seems to be that a mistrial was bad news for Merck. As the article notes:

"The mistrial is not good news for Merck,'' said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who teaches product-liability and has been following the Vioxx litigation. "Most people thought Merck was going to win this one.''

The article continues:

"A second victory would have bolstered Merck's argument that Vioxx didn't harm short-term users and reduced pressure on it to settle about 7,000 Vioxx suits."

Much mention has also been made of this recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine concerning the VIGOR study and whether it might have influenced the non-sequestered jury.

The article also notes that:

"A single juror refused to go along with other panelists voting in the drugmaker's favor, one juror told the Associated Press."

Most legal analysts had indeed expected a win for Merck in Federal court. As in the last trial some jurors evidently found that the decedent simply had too many other risk factors for heart attacks.

The article also makes mention of the fact that Dr. Eric Topol, an expert witness for the plaintiffs in this case, was relieved of some of his positions at the Cleveland Clinic shortly after his testimony.

The next scheduled Vioxx trial will take place February 23rd in New Jersey State court. The New Jersey trial will be a consolidated trial involving two different plaintiffs who suffered non-fatal heart attacks after taking Vioxx for longer than 18 months. The New Jersey trial will also likely see the reappearance of Mark Lanier who represents one of the two men.

From the Fathers

Photo from www.kosovo.com

An Athonite elder said,

“The more spiritual a person is, the fewer rights he wants in this life.”

from an Athonite Gerontikon

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Down at the Duck

Yes, I know, this is getting to be a regular feature of my blog.

Last night I ventured down to the Mucky Duck to hear one of the legends of the local Texas music scene. Shake Russell has been performing in Houston clubs for as long as I can remember.

I have to admit that I am a bit too young to have experienced his hugely popular shows "back in the day". In the early 80's it seemed like the Shake Russell Band was headlining almost every weekend at such legendary Houston area venues as Anderson Fair, Fitzgerald's, and Rockefeller's.

It has been written that "Russell's songs bring up the images of driving down a narrow country road, carving it's way through a calm countryside into the heart of the Texas Hill Country."

In songs like "Will a Blue Bonnet grow in Tennessee", "I'm Just Smiling Like Austin Does", "River of Innocence", and the crowd favorite "Travelin' Texas" one can certainly sense the influence that the landscapes of Texas have had on his music. In fact "Travelin' Texas" was written for the local television program "The Eyes of Texas" in honor of the Texas Sesquicentennial.

Shake Russell's music has also been influential for many other musicians. His songs have been recorded by such artists as Clint Black, Waylon Jennings (Deep in the West) and Ricky Skaggs.

You can sample some of his music here and purchase his cds here.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Federal Vioxx Trial Goes to Jury

Here is an update on the first Federal Vioxx trial from the Houston Chronicle. Closing arguments were held Thursday and then the jurors deliberated for around two hours without reaching a verdict. Deliberations will resume on Friday.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Orthodox Site of the Week

Here is a new website that features Orthodox homilies and lectures in English in MP3 format.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Down at the Duck

Last Sunday night I had the pleasure of hearing Brennen Leigh perform in concert down at the Mucky Duck. Brennan Leigh was accompanied by her brother Seth Hulbert. The siblings hail from the Fargo, North Dakota area but moved to the Lone Star State a few years ago to become a part of the Texas music scene.

Brennen Leigh's music draws from both the bluegrass and country music traditions. She has been described as sounding "like a young Tanya Tucker channeling the ghost of Hank Williams".

You can hear for yourself on samples from her debut cd here. She also has a second cd that can be sampled here.

I decided I had better not miss them this time around after reading about some of their earlier performances here. Brennan Leigh and Seth gave a great performance. They have the ability to play music and harmonize together seamlessly as only siblings can. Their show was a lot of fun and they even took requests...Apparently they are fans of Lefty Frizzell's music. Their set list was seemingly inexhaustible as well. In fact I had to leave nearly two hours into the show and they still had not taken their first break!

They are a definitely a "don't miss" show for any future engagements in Houston.

The Mucky Duck has been offering some really good concerts of late. You can check out what is on tap for the rest of this month here as well as upcoming concerts both here and here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Topol Testifies at Federal Vioxx Trial

Some of the more interesting testimony in the ongoing Federal Vioxx trial comes from the plaintiff's expert witness Eric Topol.

As this article from NPR relates:

"Topol told jurors that by 2000, Merck had evidence from two scientific studies to show that Vioxx was risky for the heart. That was four years before Merck pulled the drug from the market.

Topol said Vioxx's heart risks were demonstrated in studies that were actually designed to exclude those at risk of heart attacks. He said, with evidence from these two studies in hand, Merck should have immediately undertaken a study of Vioxx among patients who were at risk of heart attack. Indeed Vioxx was often prescribed to such patients, Topol said.

Topol told the jury that he started looking into Vioxx's risks in 2001. That's when he learned that in a large scientific study, called "VIGOR," patients on Vioxx had suffered five times as many heart attacks as those on an older painkiller, Naproxen. Merck said the study, completed in 2000, showed naproxen protected the heart. As a cardiologist, Topol said he was skeptical of that information because naproxen had been around for 20 years, and it had never been proven that naproxen had such large benefits for the heart.

Topol and two colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association that argued the VIGOR study most likely showed that Vioxx raised the risk of heart attacks. They urged doctors to be cautious in prescribing Vioxx and another similar drug, Celebrex, to patients at risk of heart attack.

Topol told the jury that before he submitted the paper for publication, he sent a copy to a colleague at Merck. He wanted to understand why Merck's version of the VIGOR data had fewer heart attacks, strokes and deaths than the numbers subsequently made public by the Food and Drug Administration.

Topol's request for data triggered a visit from a senior Merck scientist, Alise Reicin. She told him that he'd gotten it wrong and would be "embarrassed'' if he published his paper. He said he found her comment "brazen.''

Internal Merck e-mails shown to the jury as part of Topol's testimony showed that Reicin subsequently reworked Topol's manuscript in an attempt, among other things, to "tone down'' its recommendation that Vioxx be avoided among patients with heart problems.

Another company e-mail acknowledged that the manuscript, as revised by Reicin, would not "completely neutralize the potential negative impact of the publication, but … (was) substantially improved from the original.''

The article continues with the following details from Topol's testimony:

"Topol told jurors that late last year, soon after Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market, Merck CEO, Ray Gilmartin, approached the chairman of the board of trustees at the Cleveland Clinic, Malachi Mixon, to complain about Topol.
In the wake of the Vioxx withdrawal, Topol wrote opinion pieces in the New York Times and the New England Journal of Medicine criticizing the way Merck developed and marketed Vioxx. According to Topol's testimony, Merck CEO Gilmartin told Mixon, "What has Merck ever done to the Cleveland Clinic to warrant this?''

One other interesting note related to Topol's testimony can be found in this article from Bloomberg. Defense lawyers for Merck were able to get Topol to admit that he himself had taken Vioxx off and on over the course of several years!

As this article states:

"During cross-examination, Topol acknowledged he took Vioxx for knee pain starting in 1999 and continued to use it intermittently for several years.

Challenged by the company's lawyers on why he would take a drug he considered unsafe, Topol countered that he didn't fit the profile of someone facing an increased risk heart attack or stroke from the drug.

``I didn't think I was one of the people who should be worried,'' he said. The doctor noted he was 45 years old at the time with no history of heart disease. "

From the Fathers

"Therefore let us leave untouched the senseless speculations of the masses and the false doctrines, and turn to the teaching delivered to us in the beginning, let us be temperate and ready for our prayers, persevere in fasting, and fervently implore the All-seeing God not to expose us to temptations, since the Lord has said: 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

St. Polycarp - Epistle to the Philippians