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Ward Churchill’s Genes; No Surprise: Suprise Parties Can Kill; Sheridan Says It All

Letters pour into our CounterPunch inbox about Ward Churchill, the vast majority applauding our stand in support of the man.

A few whine about Ward’s genetic material, claiming that he’s not really an Indian and therefore has no standing to comment on 9/11 or anything else. I should add that these cavils come from people who sound as though they would like to butcher all Indians. I couldn’t care less if Churchill is 100 per cent Indian, or 3/16ths Cherokee, which is what I believe he says is his Indian component. Didn’t the Nazis kill people for that amount of Jewish blood in their veins? Anyway, history is replete with people assuming an ethnic identity out of solidarity.
Surprise Parties Can Kill

Years ago his wife Mariam asked me if I would make available my apartment in New York, where I lived at that time, as the site for a surprise 40th birthday for Edward Said. I dislike surprise parties but of course agreed. The evening arrived; guests assembled on my sitting room on the eleventh floor of 333 Central Park West. The dining room table groaned under Middle Eastern delicacies. Then came the word from the front-door. Edward and Mariam had arrived! They were ascending in the elevator. Now we could all hear Edward’s furious bellow: “But I don’t want to go to dinner with f—— Alex!” They entered at last and the shout went up from seventy throats, Happy Birthday! He reeled back in surprise , staggered and for a moment I thought he was going to keel over with a heart attack. Of course he didn’t, and after a few minutes looking somewhat dazed at the greetings of friends he hadn’t seen for twenty years he had a great time.

But that moment when Edward reeled back has stayed with me down the years, confirming my general view that surprise birthday are pernicious institutions, often sadistic in basic intent. What could be more pleasant than a well planned, entirely disclosed birthday party, with the central figure allowed every opportunity to vet the guest list, plan the impromptu toast, dictate the scope of food, drink and music? What more barbarous than the sudden scream of “surprise!”, the unpleasing visages from the past looming into view, the wrong cocktails?

Now the scientific evidence is in. Surprise parties can kill. To put the matter in scientific terms: Emotional stress can precipitate severe, reversible left ventricular dysfunction in patients without coronary disease. Exaggerated sympathetic stimulation is probably central to the cause of this syndrome.

Or, in the words of the press release from Johns Hopkins: Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that sudden emotional stress can also result in severe but reversible heart muscle weakness that mimics a classic heart attack. Patients with this condition, called stress cardiomyopathy but known colloquially as “broken heart” syndrome, are often misdiagnosed with a massive heart attack when, indeed, they have suffered from a days-long surge in adrenalin (epinephrine) and other stress hormones that temporarily “stun” the heart.

“Our study should help physicians distinguish between stress cardiomyopathy and heart attacks,” says study lead author and cardiologist Ilan Wittstein, M.D., an assistant professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart Institute. “And it should also reassure patients that they have not had permanent heart damage.”

In the Hopkins study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine online February 10, the research team found that some people may respond to sudden, overwhelming emotional stress by releasing large amounts of catecholamines (notably adrenalin and noradrenalin, also called epinephrine and norepinephrine) into the blood stream, along with their breakdown products and small proteins produced by an excited nervous system. These chemicals can be temporarily toxic to the heart, effectively stunning the muscle and producing symptoms similar to a typical heart attack, including chest pain, fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath and heart failure.

Upon closer examination, though, the researchers determined that cases of stress cardiomyopathy were clinically very different from a typical heart attack.

“After observing several cases of ‘broken heart’ syndrome at Hopkins hospitals – most of them in middle-aged or elderly women – we realized that these patients had clinical features quite different from typical cases of heart attack, and that something very different was happening,” says Wittstein. “These cases were, initially, difficult to explain because most of the patients were previously healthy and had few risk factors for heart disease.”

One of the earlier patients, Dr Wittstein told the New York Times, was a 60-year-old woman whose family had given a surprise birthday party for her. “Seventy people jumped out from the dark and screamed, ‘Surprise!’ and literally three hours later she was in the intensive care unit,”

Of course many rituals in our society have a furtive homicidal intent, most notably those fraught sessions known as family reunions. Grandpa and grandma drive to the event, get mildly looped, head for home and are wiped out on the interstate by a semi when grandpa pulls out of the rest stop. Father keels over when he opens the front door to see a plump faced man vaguely resembling the daughter who left home all those years ago saying in a throaty voice, “Hi, dad”.

So please, no surprises.

Sheridan Says It All

“IF a stranger had at this time gone into the kingdom of Oude, ignorant of what had happened since the death of Sujah Dowlah-that man who with a savage heart had still great lines of character, and who with all his ferocity in war, had still with a cultivating hand preserved to his country the riches which it derived from benignant skies, and a prolific soil-if this stranger, ignorant of all that had happened in the short interval, and observing the wide and general devastation, and all the horrors of the scene-of plains unclothed and brown-of vegetation burnt up and extinguished-of villages depopulated and in ruin-of temples unroofed and perishing-of reservoirs broken down and dry-he would naturally inquire, What war had thus laid waste the fertile fields of this once beautiful and opulent country? What civil dissensions have happened thus to tear asunder, and separate the happy societies that once possessed those villages! What religious rage had, with unholy violence, demolished those temples, and disturbed fervent, but unobtruding piety in the exercise of its duties? What merciless enemy had thus spread the horrors of fire and sword? What severe visitation of Providence had thus dried up the mountains, and taken from the face of the earth every vestige of green?-or rather, what monsters had crawled over the country, tainting and poisoning what the voracious appetite could not devour? To such questions, what must be the answer? No wars have ravaged these lands and depopulated these villages-no civil discords have been felt-no religious rage-no merciless enemy-no affliction of Providence which, while it scourged for the moment, cut off the sources of
resuscitation-no voracious and poisoning monsters-no; all this has been accomplished by the friendship, generosity, and kindness of the English nation. They had embraced us with their protecting arms-and, lo, these are the fruits of their alliance.”

Thrilling stuff, no? CounterPuncher Suzanne Erfurth of Chicago culled this eighteenth century speech , delivered in the British House of Commons by the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Suzanne tells me she found it in an essay by Fintan O’Toole, which starts with an errand boy in Covent Garden darting across the street because he thinks the theater building in which Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal” is being performed is about to collapse; the applause is so thunderous that he mistakes it for falling walls and ceilings. O’Toole then talks about how Sheridan has just recently made this speech in Parliament that helped impeach Warren Hastings, and how the theater audience is keenly aware of all that and is applauding the play, the man, his eloquence, his ideology, and his actions.

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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