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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Photo: Oughterard Galway 1895

Oughterard Galway around 1895

Photo: It's Cold Outside

A squirrel did not like the latest snowfall in Baltimore Maryland USA and started to shiver while crossing his paws. I just hope we don't get to feel like him this winter.

Snapped by David La Mason

Barry Clifford: Oh God And A Happy New Year Everyone

Recently, David Quinn posed a question in his titled article submitted to the Irish Independent of  “If there is no God, no law giver, then why should we be equal?” I shall try to answer. With or without a God we as a society or just to function as one needs to have equality. The closest we can come to that is being born equal which we are not. Some people are born with disabilities, other into crushing poverty or extreme wealth, and that is only the start of our un-equality.
God, depending on whose version we adopt Christian or otherwise, is not into equality either. The historical version of the Catholic Church in Ireland proved that beyond any reasonable doubt, and in Spain the story of the inquisition, one drawn in nothing but blood, removed any doubt that was still left. God’s laws are, if you were to believe them without cheery picking the interpretations, are steeped in cruelty, and three of them are primarily based on a rather narcissistic view of himself: Remember to keep his holy day; leave out the competition; don’t mess around with his name.
The rest are entirely suspect too: Though shall not kill. Tell that to a Jewish man that had seen all of his family die in a gas chamber or a Catholic whose daughter had been raped; or tell a Protestant man on the battlefield to turn the other cheek as an enemy bears down on him with sword. 

How about honour your father and mother? No go here either if, as my parents had done, had abandoned you since you were 5 years old. Life is not straight forward in black or white only grey, and no law can fit all especially religious ones, and do not allow either for the rest of the complexities regarding the human condition. Civil law enshrined in democracy at least attempts to solve these conundrums even if not successful with its permanent imperfections.
Recently I came accross a few books on Martin Luther King and his speeches. He is one of those people that I still admire. It was not his Christian view though that dominated his thoughts or his willingness to engage the enemy in open view, it was his world- view that all men should be created equal rather than the fact that they are not. His idealism is rooted in making things better rather than Darwin’s scientific view of just reporting the facts that most religions still struggle with today. The content of one’s character rather than what hat or robe that they are wearing is all of the human condition anyone needs to know, as Martin said before you can make any informed choices. Other than that it will always be the survival of the fittest as it is in all species, and always has been and will be.

God or no God needs us to strive towards equality, to make more just laws rooted in humanitarianism along the way of life, and not a Catholic version of law or indeed a Muslim one, or the Hindu commandments along with all the other alphabet soup of religions and their dictates out there. It is equality and its cousins of fairness with tolerance and justice that will ensure all our survival whatever religions we choose to follow or not, and must never allow any threat to that social democracy that is sometimes called freedom or otherwise it may be our epitaph.
It is that, with God or not, is my hope for 2014. Happy new year everyone and thank you for your support.   
Barry Clifford 

Article: How We Feel

If you’ve ever felt a warm glow inside when in love or hot headed with anger, there may have been more to it than you thought.
Scientists have suspected for a long time that emotions are connected to a range of physiological change and now a study has shown that emotional states are associated with specific sensations regardless of a person’s culture.
The research visually shows that heartbroken people really do feel an ache in their chest, weak with sadness or feel happiness spreading over their entire body.

Yellow shows the regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feelings. People feel happy from head to toe, anger can literally make someone feel hot-headed and depression leaves people feeling numb

Happiness is the only emotion where a person feels an increase in sensation all over, while sadness, including heartache draws their attention to their heart and head. People feel an increase of sensation in their chest when they are proud, while shame and disgust draw attention to a person's digestive system and their head

The findings come from Finnish researchers who showed 700 volunteers films and read them stories designed to evoke particular emotions.
The men and women were then given outlines of bodies and asked to colour in the parts they felt became more active or less active.
The results were the same across cultures, with love ‘felt’ right down to people’s toes and happiness suffusing the whole body with feeling.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that such physical feelings may underpin the way we experience emotions.
The University of Turku researchers said: ‘Unravelling the subjective bodily sensations associated with human emotions may help us better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.’

However, Paul Zak, Chairman of the Centre for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, said that the study does not shed extra light on how emotions work and does not show that people often feel a mixture of emotions and thinks activity in the body such as sweating and temperature would give a better indication between emotions and physiological changes.

Researchers have found we can take pleasure in the pain of others – particularly those we envy.
According to a study published in October, tests showed the feeling of joy at seeing someone else fail or suffer –  known as schadenfreude in German – to be so commonplace that scientists believe it must be a basic biological response in humans.
Professor Susan Fiske, of Princeton University and her former PhD student Mina Cikara, now of Carnegie Mellon University, measured the electrical activity of cheek muscles with an electromyogram.
This captures the electrical activity when an individual smiles and thus experiences pleasure.
Participants were shown photographs of individuals associated with different stereotypes: the elderly (pity); students (pride); drug addicts (disgust); and rich professionals (envy).
These images were then paired with everyday events such as: ‘Won five dollars’ (positive); ‘Got soaked by a taxi’ (negative); or ‘Went to the bathroom’ (neutral). Participants were asked how this would make them feel, and their facial movements were recorded.
The results showed people took genuine delight in the misfortune of those they envied – the rich professionals.
‘Because people don’t like to report envy or schadenfreude, this was the best method for gathering such responses,’ said Professor Fiske.
‘And in this experiment we were able to viscerally capture malicious glee.
‘We found that people did smile more in response to negative than positive events, but only for groups they envied.

Being in love makes a person feel a warm glow everywhere apart from their knees, perhaps hinting that there may be something in the popular saying that the object of a person’s affection makes them ‘weak at the knees’.
Sadness leaves our limbs feeling weak and we are extra-aware of activity in our chest – and heart.
Depression also leaves us feeling weak, while disgust is felt in the throat and digestive system. 
Basic emotions including anger and fear cause an increase in sensation in the upper chest area, which could be because we are subconsciously preparing for a fight.

The findings come from Finnish researchers who showed 700 volunteers films and read them stories designed to evoke particular emotions.
The men and women were then given outlines of bodies and asked to colour
in the parts they felt became more active or less active.
The results were the same across cultures, with love ‘felt’ right down to people’s toes and happiness suffusing the whole body with feeling.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that such physical feelings may underpin the way we experience emotions.

The University of Turku researchers said: ‘Unravelling the subjective bodily sensations associated with human emotions may help us better understand mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

By Fiona Macrae

Monday, December 30, 2013

Image: In Trouble, Get Creative

Created by Koen Demuynck

Article: Just Do It; The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying

Few people want to dwell on their own death and even fewer want to imagine what they might come to regret when it is too late. Now a former nurse has shared her experiences of what terminally ill people tend to regret the most. Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse who looked after people in the last few weeks of their lives, says it is surprising how many dying people have the same regrets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the simple things in life, like staying in touch with friends and being true to yourself, that most people wished they had been able to achieve.  Bronnie also found men regretted working too hard, while many others wish they had had the courage to more frequently express their feelings. Inspired by what she discovered, Bronnie wrote a book - The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying: A Life Transformed By The Dearly Departing - about her experiences. She said: 'My patients were those who had gone home to die and some incredibly special times were shared. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality and some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected - denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.'
The five most common regrets were:
'I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me'
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.'
I wish I hadn't worked so hard
'This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.'
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
'Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.'
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
'Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. 
'Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. 'There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.'
I wish that I had let myself be happier
'This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called "comfort" of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. 
'Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.' 

By Emma Innes

Article: Rescue In The Dead Night

In 1943, the MV Kerlogue, carrying a cargo of oranges, defied the barbarity of war and risked being attacked to rescue 168 German survivors of a naval battle in Bay of Biscay, says Richard Fitzpatrick.
SUNDAY is the 70th anniversary of a remarkable episode in Irish maritime history. On the morning of Dec 29, 1943, a small, 142-foot-long Irish coaster, the MV Kerlogue, which was carrying a cargo of oranges from Lisbon to Dublin on behalf of the Wexford Steamship Company, steered towards the aftermath of a naval battle in the Bay of Biscay.

The battle had been over in minutes. Two Royal Navy cruisers had shelled a flotilla of German ships from distance, sinking a Narvik-class German destroyer and two torpedo boats. More than 700 Germans — some dead, others burnt and injured — were floundering in the ocean. The survivors clung to debris and upturned lifeboats in choppy, wintry seas.

A German warplane flew over the MV Kerlogue, dropping flares on its starboard side to alert it to the carnage nearby. The MV Kerlogue had reasons to disregard the plea. The Battle of the Atlantic was raging. People on land could see naval battles off the coasts of Cork, Kerry and Donegal. Dead bodies often washed up on Irish shores.

Ireland, or Éire, was neutral during the Second World War, but Irish merchant seamen were at peril: 149 men, of 800 on Irish ships, died, a higher fatality rate than in many combat units.

“Irish ships sometimes operated in convoy; sometimes they didn’t,” says Michael Kennedy, author of Guarding Neutral Ireland. “They were old ships, under a neutral state. Nobody really respects a neutral. The Allies didn’t want us in their convoys, although we straggled along with them; to the Germans, we were just another target to torpedo.

“Many of the Irish ships that went down were caught by torpedoes, because the Germans either went, ‘what the hell, sink them.’ Or they didn’t recognise what ‘EIRE’ written on the side of the ship meant.”

Months earlier, in October 1943, two unidentified planes had attacked the MV Kerlogue, 130 miles south of Ireland, even though it had sailed under lights, with an Irish flag, and had ‘EIRE’ painted in white letters on its deck and sides. For 25 minutes, cannon shells rained down on it. Several crew members were injured, including its captain, who fractured both his legs. The boat’s superstructure was destroyed, its lifeboats mangled. Water flowed into the engine room, but the pumps kept enough water at bay until the ship hobbled into Cork harbour.

Ironically, it was the boat’s cargo of British coal that saved it. The coal absorbed the cannon fire, and protected the hull. The flight logs of the planes, which were later identified as RAF Mosquitoes, are an example of the disorientation of a war: “Sighted and attacked, with cannon, 1,500-ton merchant vessel flying French flag and word ‘EMPO’ clearly discerned on starboard side — the word ‘France’ also on her bows. The vessel, which returned fire with cannon without effect, was left circling with smoke issuing from it.”

News of the botched attack reached the British war cabinet. It refused to accept responsibility, claiming the MV Kerlogue was off course. It did, however, sanction ex-gratia payments to the injured men.

When, two months after this attack, a patched-up MV Kerlogue responded to the Germans’ distress signal in the Bay of Biscay, its crew of 11 arrived at a horrific scene. It was 11am. For 10 hours, they hauled German bodies from the sea.

The Kerlogue bobbled in the heavy seas. Waves were as high as its masthead, which gave its crew a natural dropping mechanism for scooping men onto the boat with their bare hands and with grappling hooks. It was a harrowing chore. Dead men had to be thrown back overboard to make room.

Gary Roche, the father of Dick Roche, the former government minister and Fianna Fáil TD for Wicklow, was one of the Kerlogue’s crew members. He was blighted by nightmares from the episode.

“My father didn’t speak about it an awful lot,” says Dick. “It was a very painful memory for him. The thing that haunted him, he told me, was the men they had to leave in the water when Captain Tom Donoghue told them they had to head back. He very graphically described all the men, who were barely hanging onto life at that stage, and calling ‘comrade, comrade.’ I know that image stayed with him through his life.”

They had 168 Germans on the Kerlogue — in stores, along the alleyways, on the bridge, in the wheelhouse. There were 57 in the engine room, packed so tightly that the chief engineer was unable to move around to work the engines; he had to send signals across the engine room to the bedraggled Germans to carry out procedures.

Given the huge swells, the stability of the boat, which was low-lying, was challenged. “I remember, when I was a kid,” says Dick, “looking at photographs of the Kerlogue and asking, ‘Is that boat sinking?’ She was so deep in the water. It takes a lot of courage to cross the Bay of Biscay in winter in a tiny coaster.”

Spare clothes were given to the Germans. There was no doctor on board. Gary Roche administered first aid. “They ran out of gauze, so they had to use the gauze they used for greasing the engines,” says Dick. “They took it off the rolls and dipped it into seawater, which had salt in it that helped to ease the pain of the wounds.” The oranges were plundered to make hot drinks, to succour the wounded.

To avoid detection by Allied planes, the Germans had to be kept below deck during daylight.

There was a rumour, denied by Captain Donoghue, that the Germans tried to overpower the crew, and redirect the boat towards Brest or La Rochelle. “I’m just guessing here,” says Kennedy, “but it was a chance to get out of the war as well for the Germans. A U-boat later in the war — in 1945, the U-260 — was sunk off the coastline, near Courtmacsherry, and the men were told, ‘Sorry, lads, we hit a mine.’ But the officers said: ‘We hit something. The ship’s not badly damaged, but sink her, because if we go home the chances are we’ll be out on another patrol and we’ll be dead. The war’s nearly over. We’ll spend the rest of it in Ireland.’ Also, you have to take into account how exhausted the survivors were.”

The Kerlogue resisted radio calls from the British to land at Fishguard. By the time it reached Cork, four of the Germans had died.

Emergency services treated the survivors in Cobh, before moving them onto hospital, and to internment at the Curragh, Co Kildare.

Two of the Germans died while interned, and are buried at the German war cemetery in Glencree, Co Wicklow.

The Nazi German minister in Dublin, Dr Eduard Hempel, wrote a letter to Captain Donoghue, applauding him and his crew for their “exemplary deed, worthy of the great tradition of Irish gallantry and humanity,” and he sent a letter of thanks to the hospital matron at the Military Hospital, Cork Barracks.

A silver cup was also presented to Captain Donoghue, with the inscription ‘Bay of Biscay’.

Written By Richard Fitzpatrick 

Barry Clifford: The Illusion Of Control

In life we have no control only the illusion of it for it seems that death happens to someone else. The illusion is further propagated by the myth that others are destined to live while masses die under the extraordinary circumstance within the theatre of war; that these men, mostly, are somehow touched by the hand of destiny with a little help from God. Yet death, like life, is a very natural order in nature with no favourites driven only by the collection points of atoms. Here are a just a few of those points.  

T E Lawrence of Lawrence Of Arabia fame did not die, though many times wounded, in war as he fought in Arabia; he died when he fell of a motorbike doing less than 40 miles an hour on a country road.

Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier during the Second World War for bravery, did not die on the battlefield but as a passenger on a private plane in 1971.

George S Patton did not die in the theatre of battle during the Second World War war, but in the closing months of it, on his way to a pheasant shoot. The car he was driving was hit by a truck doing low speed. Patton was paralyzed from the neck down, and had said just before he was hit: “How awful war is. Think of the waste.”

Julius Caesar, arguably the best general in history, then and now, did not die in the many campaigns of war, he died at the hands of his friends who were now his enemies, pulling his toga over his head as the knifes plunged into his flesh over and over again, crying as he lay dying: “ Et tu, Brute” or ‘you too Brutus’

Barry Clifford 

Article: Cork Penny Dinners

You may well have walked past it and not given the single-storey squat building a moment’s thought. Its exterior is entirely nondescript: the kind of white pebble-dashed building that is swallowed into its grey surrounds. 

But look closer and you’ll see a simple teak plaque with Cork Penny Dinners engraved. 

The name harks back to its 19th century origins for Cork Penny Dinners may have been set up as a soup kitchen by the Quakers during the Famine when the practice of paying one penny for soup and bread was born. 

Crossing the threshold, you are immediately struck by how old the interior is, how old, how small and how in need of renovation. 

A charity that hands out up to 1,400 hot meals per week is run from a kitchen and dining room that aren’t that much bigger than a large family kitchen and living room. 

Because it is so cramped, the place is heaving, not only heaving with people eating but groaning with boxes, crates and trays of tins, fruit, vegetables and dry perishables, all the ingredients that keep this seven-day-a-week free canteen in motion. 

There are deep freezers here and there, wall-hung cupboards that are crammed full and with 12-packs of toilet paper and bleach stacked precariously on top. 

At another corner of the linoleum-floored room stand trays of fizzy drinks, yoghurt drinks, crisps and boxes of tea. “Milk, tea and bread would be a big thing as they’ll be eaten all day,” says co-ordinator, Catriona Twomey. 

There are about six rows of tables in the dining room and about 30 customers, mostly men, sitting on benches redolent of church pews. 

Before coming here, I’d thought that people would just file in, eat and file out. 

Not so. Many of the groups slurping tea and picking at Christmas cake sit there for hours, eating some, talking some or just staring ahead. The volunteers say many of the older homeless stumble into the warmth shell shocked after a particularly cold night. 

There is an undeniable edge to some of the diners, a simmering anger. There is also laughter, sadness, razor-sharp wit and a lot of mental health problems, you can see the cold, wet hopelessness of depression and anxiety hang over some. One table of older men just all there sit there heads lowered. 

John William Roche tells me he’s been living on the street most of his life. He stares at me with open anger. 

“I’ve been in and out of jail all that time too,” he thunders as he shoves his bandaged hand under my nose so I can practically smell his injuries. 

One of the volunteers trying to negotiate storage is Barbara. She has tears in her eyes and has to gather herself as I move over to talk to her. 

“He was so delighted to be asked to help,” she says. “I never thought to do it before,” she splutters. 

She’d asked one of the younger diners, in his late teens I guess, to help her pack away the recently arrived food. A young man with a possible learning disability, he is revelling in his leadership role. 

“I come here twice a week,” says Barbara “and I get more pleasure out of it than anything”. 

When I walk over to the kitchen offering to help, it’s buzzing, 

The volunteers have been here since 6.30am peeling potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips for dinner. The first ‘knocks on the door’ will be people looking for a bowl of soup or mug of tea, so big stainless steel cauldrons of vegetable soup were made the evening previous and sit bubbling on the stove. 

Volunteer, Denis tells me those early callers will have been “out all night” and will be “cold to the bones”. 

Denis is in his 50s and volunteers five days a week. Since last May he’s one of the first into the kitchen every morning, leaving at 2pm. 

“It’s quiet today, normally much busier,” he quips as he quickly slices fat off roast pork belly and plates it up along with vegetables, mashed potato and gravy. 

Cork Penny Dinners has recorded a 55% rise in demand for its services this year. 2013 was its busiest ever. This time last year it was feeding about 900 people a week, a figure it described as “staggering” in comparison with the roughly 140 people that ate from the kitchen before the economic collapse. 

This operation is so simple, transparent and caters to such a basic need, the feeding of those without food, that it appeals to many. 

In the aftermath of the Central Remedial Clinic scandal, many other charities are recording drops in donations of up to 20%, Cork Penny Dinners has not seen a similar falloff as it’s all voluntary with no obscene pension plans or salary top-ups. 

There’s also a tangible warmth among the volunteers. 

Orders are barked from the wooden hatch that links the dining room and kitchen — ‘one dinner’, ‘two dinners’ ‘one dinner no gravy’. 

“Its like a well-oiled clock ” Denis says. “And it’s only as good as it is thanks to Caitriona. ”

Caitriona is from Blackpool, a mother of 8 whose father before her was a volunteer at Penny Dinners. I ask her can I do something to help and am quickly handed a tea towel. The cycle of dishwashing and drying is relentless here. On wash-up today is Ciara, a psychology student at the College of Commerce. 

Niall, another volunteer and a business enterprise graduate, is “on the teas and coffees”. He’s standing close to the wooden hatch where orders are called in to the kitchen, filling mug after mug with tea and coffee from the hissing burka boiler. 

Niall would like to set up a charity for homeless children in time. “A couple of weeks ago, you’d see a good few children coming in. There’s less at the moment but maybe that’s because it’s mid-week. You will see that a lot of the takeout dinners go to families with children who don’t want to bring them in here,” he says. 

There’s a mixture of accents in the kitchen: from ‘pure Cork’ to under Bow Bells Cockney. Caitriona says volunteers come from Afghanistan, Denmark, China, the US and the UK to work here. There are nurses, social workers, truck drivers, teachers, builders and the unemployed. You get the sense though that employment status or profession is irrelevant.

Volunteer after volunteer tells me how overawed they are by the generosity of individuals and businesses. The vast majority of the donors don’t want their names publicised but I hear Tesco, Ramada, Dealz and breadstores in the Old English Market being mentioned. 

“Just the other day, Caitriona got a phonecall from a fisherman who said he had a little bit of fish for us. A few hours later he arrived with 80 kilos of hake and whiting,” said Niall. 

“Yeah, and by that evening, the fish were all filleted and prepped and all eaten by 2pm the next day,” says early-man Denis. 

Conditions are so primitive on this site that the volunteers can’t even depend on hot water. When it suddenly runs cold, they just have to start boiling kettles. When you’re feeding over 100 people a day, wash-up by kettle is a trial. The space doesn’t have central heating either or any insulation so keeping it warm and inviting is costly business. 

Cork Penny Dinners is essentially a small hall spilt in two, the dining hall and kitchen. And the intermediary is Albert, the endlessly cheery man with the Dick Van Dyke smile who I sense may know more about what is going down in town than the gardaí. 

At another corner of the kitchen, a volunteer is trying to push dirty baking trays out of the way so he can find room to start packing plastic takeaway boxes full of dinner. There are as many penny dinners eaten out of these premises as are eaten in. 

Outside I start chatting to one of the few women who’d sat there all morning. A petite blonde with a face of full makeup, she pulls deeply on a cigarette. 

In her forties, she tells me she’s back living with her mother as she couldn’t find anywhere to rent. “You should see all the problems in there, drink, addictions, beatings, cancer, so many sick people. Caitriona is a lovely women though. She never says no.” The blonde woman’s 20-year-old son stands beside her. He has ADD, learning difficulties, and can’t read or write. He’s bunked up with his friend now. 

The mother and son spent the greater part of last year living in a tent near Gaol Cross. Penny Dinners, the Yellow Bus at Popes Quay and Simon were their salvation. 

But despite the cramped conditions, there is no chance of Cork Penny Dinners moving to a new greenfield state-of-the-art site. 

“If we move from here, nobody will come in. The anonymity and location of this site is vital,” says Caitriona emphatically. 

I hate to say it to Caitriona but such a cramped space and such a throughput of needy clients must make health and safety regulations a nightmare. 

“As you can see, we’re constantly, constantly cleaning, constantly organising, constantly moving. We have to. Every night, every cupboard is cleaned and sprayed and we do regular deep cleans, but for health and safety reasons we have to keep our volunteer numbers down”. 

The voluntary committee that runs the operation would love to extend the single storey building “by going upwards” and have fundraised 50% of what they will likely require. There’s a building next door for sale with a small pocket of land. The dream is to build upwards but Caitriona admits they’d love to get their hands on that nearby land. 

Year round Caitriona and the team are appealing for food donations, volunteers and money donations via their website. 

* Money can also be directed to the charity bank’s account at Ulster Bank, 88 Patrick St, sort code 98-54-80, account no. 10927581.

Claire O' Sullivan 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Photo: Fly Me To The Moon

A passenger aircraft, with the full "Harvest Moon" seen behind, makes its final approach to landing at Heathrow Airport in west London, September 19, 2013. The Harvest Moon is a traditional name for the full moon that is closest to the autumn equinox, and at a traditional period where farmers would be harvesting crops. The moon's rise time and angle of path give the illusion that the Harvest Moon is both closer, larger and brighter; though actually it is not.

Photo by Toby Melville

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Photo: No Appreciation

This dog did not appreciate art imitating life as he expressed his opinion on Bansky's work in New York

Article: A Solitary Jailhouse Lawyer Argues His Way Out Of Prison

In the Unites States each morning for 5,546 days, Jabbar Collins knew exactly what he'd wear when he awoke: a dark-green shirt with matching dark-green pants.
The prison greenies of a convicted murderer, he says, were "overly starched in the beginning, but as time wore on, and after repeated washes, they were worn and dull, like so many other things on the inside.
For most of those 15 years, Mr. Collins, who maintained his innocence, knew the only way his wardrobe would change was if he did something that's indescribably rare. He'd have to lawyer himself out of jail.
There was no crusading journalist, no nonprofit group taking up his cause, just Inmate 95A2646, a high-school dropout from Brooklyn, alone in a computerless prison law library.
"'Needle in a haystack' doesn't communicate it exactly. Is it more like lightning striking your house?" says Adele Bernard, who runs the Post-Conviction Project at Pace Law School in New York, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction. "It's so unbelievably hard…that it's almost impossible to come up with something that captures that."
Mr. Collins pried documents from wary prosecutors, tracked down reluctant witnesses and persuaded them, at least once through trickery, to reveal what allegedly went on before and at the trial where he was convicted of the high-profile 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack.
The improbable result of that decade-and-a-half struggle was evident on a recent morning in a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. Mr. Collins sat in a small office he now shares, wearing one of the eight dark suits he owns, a white shirt with French cuffs, a blue-and-gray striped tie and a pair of expensive wingtips. "Every day is beautiful" now, he said, smiling. "I don't have a bad day anymore. I think that my worst bad day out of prison will be better than my greatest good day in prison."
On March 13, 1995, as Mr. Collins was led by officers through a side door of a Brooklyn courtroom to a holding cell, his mother let loose a wailing sound that he'd "never heard before or since." Her son had just been convicted of murder.
He was 22, a father of three and facing at least 34 2/3 years behind bars. Three witnesses had implicated him in the midday shooting of Mr. Pollack as the rabbi collected rent in a building at 126 Graham Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Mr. Collins said he was home getting a haircut at the time.
To that point in his life, Mr. Collins had been drifting. His father died when he was 12 and his mother worked two jobs while also studying nursing. Under-supervised, he skipped school often, smoked a lot of pot and fathered the first of his children when he was 15.
When he was 16, he was arrested for a robbery. He says he was just waiting outside the store where a robbery took place. Mr. Collins accepted a youthful-offender adjudication under which he got probation and the arrest could eventually be purged.
Mr. Collins later obtained a general-equivalency diploma and took some classes at Long Island University. He was trying to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice when he was arrested for Mr. Pollack's murder.
During his trial, Mr. Collins recalls being mystified. "I felt like a child," he says, "everyone talking over my head." But hearing his mother wailing as he was taken away suddenly cleared his head. "You have a life of misery ahead of you," he remembers telling himself. "The only way you're going to get out is to become your own lawyer."
On returning to Rikers Island, the city jail complex, Mr. Collins headed to the law library. There and later at Green Haven prison north of the city, he spent most of his free time in law libraries, pouring himself into legal books: "Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure," "McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York," "The Legal Research Manual."
A thick text for paralegals called "Case Analysis and Fundamentals of Legal Writing" became his bible. He devoted two months to mastering the intricacies of federal and state law on access to public records.
Who Did What
Jabbar Collins achieved the rare feat of lawyering himself out of prison, 15 years after he was convicted of murdering a rabbi in Brooklyn, N.Y. Here are some of those involved.
PROSECUTOR: Michael Vecchione denied any witnesses were rewarded or pressured.
JUDGES: Robert Holdman rejected appeal at state level.
Dora Irizarry heard federal appeal where conviction was overturned.
WITNESSES: Adrian Diaz testified at trial he saw Collins with a gun. When Collins much later called him, posing as a D.A. investigator, Diaz talked about his route to becoming a witness.
Edwin Oliva testified at trial that Collins had said he planned to rob the rabbi. When Collins wrote to Oliva years later, Oliva wrote back describing what lay behind his testimony.
Angel Santos testified at trial he had called 911 and said he saw Collins run past. His voice didn't seem to Collins to match any voices on the 911 tape.
LAWYER: Joel Rudin helped Collins after his own 10-year legal effort.
His first request for trial records under New York's Freedom of Information Law, in July 1995, was denied. He would go on to file six more requests, five more appeals and a lawsuit before a judge gave him some of the records over two years later.
Finally succeeding in a request, gaining 239 pages of documents and 94 audio tapes, emboldened him. "It kind of refilled the tanks," he says, "gave me the confidence to fight on."
Over time, Mr. Collins would file a dizzying number of records requests. If they were denied, he appealed. If he lost, he'd add his requests to those he prepared for other inmates.
"The mosaic of intelligence gathering," Mr. Collins calls this. "You collect one item at a time and you add to the picture piece by piece until you create what is a stunning mosaic of what really happened."
He picked away at his case for eight years, but by the fall of 2003 he had hit a wall. That's when he carried out a ruse to trick Adrian Diaz, who had testified to seeing Mr. Collins tuck a gun in his waistband after the murder, into talking to him.
"I became Kevin Beekman, district attorney's investigator, for about 25 minutes," Mr. Collins says. The fictitious Mr. Beekman said he needed to recreate documents lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack. When Mr. Diaz agreed to talk about his testimony, Mr. Collins routed the call through a phone in his mother's home so it could be recorded.
Mr. Diaz said that before the trial, he had gone to Puerto Rico, in violation of his probation for marijuana possession. He agreed to return and testify against Mr. Collins, he said, only after prosecutors promised they would make sure his probation wasn't revoked.
That account, which Mr. Diaz later attested to in a signed affidavit, wasn't provided by prosecutors to Mr. Collins's defense counsel, who could have used it to undermine the witness by showing he was given an incentive to testify.
In 2005 Mr. Collins wrote to another witness, Edwin Oliva, who had testified that before the murder, Mr. Collins said he was going to rob the rabbi. "I really need to know what happened between you and the District Attorney's Office," Mr. Collins wrote.
"I always knew I was going to hear from you sooner or later," Mr. Oliva wrote back. "And to tell you the truth, I am glad you wrote, now once and for all I can settle the record."
Mr. Oliva wrote that he had been arrested a few weeks after the Pollack murder for a robbery he pulled in the building. He said the police asked about the rabbi's killing and he told them all he knew was that Mr. Collins had been arrested.
Detectives threatened to charge Mr. Oliva as an accessory, he wrote, and then made up a statement implicating Mr. Collins. Mr. Oliva wrote that he was so strung out and sleepy from a month-long run of "smoking & sniffin' dope" that he signed the statement, adding he "didn't even know what...I was signing."
But now, Mr. Oliva added, he wanted to help Mr. Collins, "because I know you got a rotten deal."
Mr. Oliva granted access to his records. They included a Legal Aid document that referenced, without elaborating, a "deal" being discussed between the judge, a prosecutor and Mr. Oliva's attorney. Mr. Oliva was allowed to plead to a lesser felony than he had been indicted for. He received a sentence of up to three years. The other charge could have kept him in prison longer.
At the trial, lead prosecutor Michael Vecchione stated that no key witnesses had received anything for testifying. "Oliva's motive is simple," the prosecutor said. "Just like all the rest of the witnesses, he saw something, he heard something, someone asked him about it, and he is telling what he saw and he is telling what he heard. Nothing else." Mr. Vecchione declined requests for comment.
Mr. Collins, though a skilled jailhouse lawyer who helped many other inmates, could take his own appeal only so far without help. In late 2005, after 10 years working alone, he contacted Joel Rudin, a civil-rights attorney known for winning what was then the largest wrongful-conviction settlement in New York, $5 million.
"I was amazed" at Mr. Collins's file, Mr. Rudin says. "I've never seen anything like this. There was so much documentation."
As the lawyer began reworking the appeal, Mr. Collins gathered another piece of his mosaic. He obtained a tape of calls to 911 after the killing.
A witness had testified he called 911 and told of seeing Mr. Collins run past. But when Mr. Collins listened to the tape of 911 calls, none of the voices sounded like what he recalled this witness sounding like at the trial.
Mr. Collins obtained a tape of a prosecution interview with this witness, Angel Santos. He hired a voice expert to compare the interview tape with the tape of people calling 911. No matches.
Mr. Santos and the other two main witnesses, Messrs. Diaz and Oliva, couldn't be reached for comment. Michael Harrison, Mr. Collins's court-appointed trial lawyer, said he couldn't remember whether he ever received the 911 tape because it was so long ago.
In March 2006, Mr. Rudin asked a state judge to overturn Mr. Collins's murder conviction on the grounds of newly discovered information the defense should have been given.
Mr. Vecchione, the prosecutor, swore that claims authorities had either coerced witnesses or failed to turn over potentially exculpatory information "are, without exception, untrue."
Then the roof crashed down. Learning of Mr. Collins's impersonation of an investigator, state Justice Robert Holdman dismissed the appeal, declaring it to be "wholly without merit, conclusory, incredible, unsubstantiated, and, in significant part, to be predicated on a foundation of fraud." For good measure, he barred Mr. Collins from filing future requests for information.
"Just devastating," Mr. Collins says. "This had been my life's work for the last 10 years."
He didn't have the luxury of wallowing. State law allows only 30 days to appeal such a ruling. As he wrote his appeal, he couldn't keep out his bitterness, and Mr. Rudin had to redo it. The state appeal failed.
In what amounted to their last shot, they filed a motion in federal court in Brooklyn seeking to overturn the conviction based on prosecutors' "knowing presentation, at trial, of false or misleading testimony" and withholding of evidence that might have been used to discredit the main witnesses.
This March, after two years of legal wrangling, federal Judge Dora Irizarry approved Mr. Rudin's request for additional material from prosecutors. Information Mr. Collins had spent more than a decade trying to get his hands on suddenly began pouring in.
One document concerned Mr. Oliva, the witness who wrote that under police pressure he signed a statement implicating Mr. Collins in the murder, even though he knew nothing about it. The document suggested that as the murder trial neared, Mr. Oliva had balked at cooperating. It said his work release for a robbery conviction was revoked "after he failed to cooperate with D.A.'s office regarding a homicide."
Other newly discovered information suggested Mr. Oliva had briefly recanted his statement implicating Mr. Collins. A prosecutor preparing to fight Mr. Collins's appeal learned this from a retired detective, who said that Mr. Oliva recanted, then changed his mind again and stuck to his statement after the detective and several prosecutors spoke with him at the Brooklyn D.A.'s office.
This prosecutor turned that information over to Judge Irizarry, acknowledging it should have been provided to Mr. Collins's murder-trial defense. (Mr. Vecchione had denied at Mr. Collins's state appeal that any witness ever recanted or "had to be threatened or forced to testify.")
Four days before a scheduled hearing in Judge Irizarry's federal court, the D.A.'s office offered to reduce the charge against Mr. Collins to manslaughter, allowing his immediate release.
Mr. Collins rejected the offer.
Later the same day, prosecutors informed the court that they wouldn't fight Mr. Collins's effort to overturn his conviction, but said they planned to retry him.
A retrial would move the case back to state court, a venue where prosecutors had known nothing but success against Mr. Collins.
Mr. Rudin, desperate to keep the case in federal court, persuaded Judge Irizarry to hold a rare hearing on whether the D.A. should be barred from retrying Mr. Collins because its misconduct had been so pervasive.
The hearing's first witness was Mr. Santos, the man who had testified about making a 911 call after the murder, but whose voice didn't seem to match any of the voices on the 911 tape.
Mr. Santos told the hearing that in the period when the murder occurred, he was using drugs "every day. Twenty-four hours."
He said that as the murder trial neared a year later, he told Mr. Vecchione he didn't want to testify, but Mr. Vecchione began "yelling at me and telling me he was going to hit me over the head with some coffee table."
He said he was threatened with prosecution, then locked up for a week as a material witness. When he agreed to testify, he said, he was taken from jail to a Holiday Inn, which he described as "paradise."
The federal hearing was due to resume a week later with testimony from Mr. Vecchione and other prosecutors. Instead, the D.A.'s office gave up. It said its decision was "based upon the weaknesses that now exist with the witnesses," but added that its "position, then and now, was that we believe in this defendant's guilt."
Judge Irizarry was not pleased. "It's really sad that the D.A.'s office persists in standing firm and saying they did nothing wrong here," she said. "It is, indeed, sad." Judge Irizarry declined to be interviewed; the judge who turned down Mr. Collins's state appeal didn't return a call seeking comment,
Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes stood firm. "Michael Vecchione is not guilty of any misconduct," Mr. Hynes said at the time. He, Mr. Vecchione—who is now chief of the rackets division—and a spokesman for the D.A.'s office all declined to comment, citing likely litigation by Mr. Collins.
Mr. Collins walked out of prison on June 9, to an emotional welcome from his family. He has had many Rip Van Winkle moments. Swipe cards have replaced tokens on the subway; coffee shops called Starbucks are everywhere; there are these devices called iPhones.
But some things haven't changed. Mr. Collins is back in a law library. His attorney, Mr. Rudin, has hired him as a paralegal.
Mr. Collins is first concentrating on his own case. He has filed "notices of claim" announcing an intention to sue the city and state for $60 million.

As a paralegal, he can't give legal advice to the many inmates who have written seeking it. He hopes one day to change that, by becoming an attorney.
Sean Gardiner