Ironic and pathetic death and serious injury news for the week of October 24

Two news stories caught my eye this week.  New post-mortem results on 27-year-old singer Amy Winehouse’s blood show that she had several times the legal limit of alcohol (416 mg/mL) in her system when she died on July 23. Winehouse, by all reports a talented artist, was best known for her song, “Rehab,” the lyrics of which scoff at the idea that she needed professional help to combat addictions to drugs and alcohol:

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, “No, no, no”
Yes, I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab, I won’t go, go, go.

It’s a shame that this young lady threw away her life and a promising career for the sake of alcohol. Hopefully some of the young people who made this song a Top 10 hit here and in the U.K. will pause to consider this.

Tragic, pathetic and ironic for different reasons is the severe injury on October 25 of Iraq War veteran and political activist Scott Olsen in Oakland, CA. Olsen returned home after two tours of duty in Iraq and began expressing his displeasure with American foreign policy through groups like Iraq War Veterans for Peace and Iraq War Veterans Against the War. Accounts differ on what precisely caused Olsen’s injury–his former roommate and fellow ex-Marine Keith Shannon believes it was a tear-gas canister–but it seems clear that the injury was the result of an excessive police response to the crowd of protesters Tuesday night where nonlethal crowd-control measures were employed after rocks were allegedly thrown at officers. Olsen suffered a skull fracture and at the time of this writing has inflammation of the brain that will probably require surgery. This young man, who unlike tens of thousands of his colleagues, returned home with no physical scars, was exercising the constitutional right to peaceably assemble;  he will likely have his life shattered forever as a result of this incident. Ironically, war advocates tried to sell Olsen and the public at large on the premise that American cultural heritage and values such as the rights granted to citizens by the U.S. Constitution were in grave peril and thus we had to “fight them over there before they come over here”–this was a convenient ex post facto justification for the American military intervention in Iraq after all of the other pre-war rationales were debunked. Any number of lessons can be drawn from this episode but perhaps the most significant is that we as Americans need to recognize that protesting government policies is not only a time-honored tradition but a constitutional right that should not be trampled upon lightly by civil authorities for any reason.

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