High-Tech Lynching Of Shirley Sherrod Has Begun

I thought I had seen all there was to be seen about Shirley Sherrod, until I can across an article titled Sherrod Story False in American Spectator by Jeffrey Lord, a story that advances a ridiculous premise as a part of the right wing media drumbeat to neutralize Shirley Sherrod. It is an all out attack that goes straight for the jugular of black America, an assault whose intentions are simple—to malign our image individually and collectively until we are fully defined by these attempts to confine.

There is a certain amount of irony in using "high-tech lynching" in the title of this article, but I'm not going to go into that right now because you already knew that.

What I want to talk about is fire.  

I have seen people play with fire before, the kind of people who work in circuses and or as street performers in places like Key West. Jeffery Lord’s piece reads like he is an amateur fire juggler. How do you call a woman a liar by telling your intended audience that the "lynching" of Bobby Hall Mrs. Sherrod describes on the now-famous NAACP tape as being perpetrated by Sheriff Screws was not your classic, textbook lynching, but nothing more than your garden variety brutal beating of a Negro man to death? Instead, it was just your ordinary, everyday death at the hands of white men who used blunt instruments instead of ropes to kill Mr. Hall while he was being transported to jail in handcuffs.

Ah, but they had no ropes, you see…   

This is what Lord quoted from the Supreme Court case Screws vs. U.S. Government:

The arrest was made late at night at Hall's home on a warrant charging Hall with theft of a tire. Hall, a young negro about thirty years of age, was handcuffed and taken by car to the courthouse.

As Hall alighted from the car at the courthouse square, the three petitioners began beating him with their fists and with a solid-bar blackjack about eight inches long and weighing two pounds. They claimed Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language as he alighted from the car.

But after Hall, still handcuffed, had been knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor, dying.

An ambulance was called, and Hall was removed to a hospital, where he died within the hour and without regaining consciousness.

There was evidence that Screws held a grudge against Hall, and had threatened to "get" him. 

Screws vs. United States Government

This is what Lord wrote after quoting an excerpt from the Supreme Court ruling on the case, which let the killers get a new trial:

 "In other words, the Supreme Court of the United States, with the basic facts of the case agreed to by all nine Justices in Screws vs. the U.S. Government, says not one word about Bobby Hall being lynched. Why? Because it never happened."

Jeffrey Lord

I am more than a little ticked off at attempts by writers like Lord-partly at myself for lumping this into the same old "this is the kind of bullshit black people have to put up with", but mostly at the way the rest of our media’s pundits and cultural border police have already taken out their tool kits to start subtly reshaping the boundaries of discussion, to imperceptibly point some of these raw, unfamiliar moments of truth in front of them into directions they are more comfortable following, ignoring all the while the rest of the drums beating at places like American Conservative, New American, Weekly Standard, and  National Review, as if they have convinced themselves that they simply do not hear them.  

The semantic game Mr. Lord wants to play neatly sidesteps the messy and inconvenient fact that in both the killing of Mrs. Sherrod’s father and in the killing of Bobby Hall multiple white men acted in concert to end their lives. Given the times that these killings happened, and the circumstances under which they occurred, most reasonable people would conclude that they were racially motivated killings.

But to watch this depraved public spectacle that is guaranteed to erupt from every crazed crackpot crowding the AM dials around the country, every right wing website from NewsMax to Town Hall, and every cable news TV station that has the call letters "F-O-X" in its name , an effort designed to convince an entire segment of our nation’s citizens to act like they are veteran fire jugglers, who have never gotten burned by a errant toss from their own hand…

…I could go on and on, but if we look at the other side of this coin…

Why isn’t there a chorus of voices to join Anderson Cooper and Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson and E.J. Dionne and even Peggy Noonan in condemning the kind of character assassination Andrew Breitbart perpetrated against Mrs. Sherrod? Why are we instead being treated to another round of "see no evil, hear no evil" from this lackluster press corps who call themselves members of the Fourth Estate? Has the press become morally bankrupt? Intellectually impotent? Or is it the glitter of the Murdoch billions than frightens them into a timid and fretful silence?

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then why can’t the nation’s journalists wield their pens or their keyboards as if they were metaphorical machetes to cut through the raft of half truths and purposeful distortions that clutter the airwaves hourly, delusional fantasies the rest of us can see through like they are made of glass?

The real travesty in all of this is, three months from now, when we are in the home stretch of this year’s political races, guys like Jeffrey Lord and Andrew Breitbart will be frequent guests on every news network in the country. Why do the networks—all of them, not just FOX News—gladly lend the air of legitimacy their cameras confer on their guests to these two, and the others like them? Because Lord and Breitbart are guaranteed to do the same thing they are doing now—make no sense, and promote nonsense.

But back to that damn fire these people insist on playing with…

…if you look closely at the picture that headlines this article, you will see what happens when angry amateurs start playing around with fire.  Although I would imagine, if I were faced with the choice between being burned alive on a spit or being beat to death while I was handcuffed, that the beating might seem to be preferable, although in the end, death would be the result of either choice.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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