Published: June 20, 2009
Frank J. Low, who helped astronomers extend their vision beyond visible light into a vast realm of previously invisible colors, revolutionizing the study of the birth of planets, stars and galaxies, died on June 11 in Tucson. He was 75.
Associated Press, 1966

Frank J. Low



His death, after a long illness, was announced by the University of Arizona, where he had been a professor since 1965.
Starting as a young physicist at Texas Instruments in 1961, Dr. Low spent his career developing devices to detect and measure infrared, or “heat,” radiation from stars and getting them deployed in telescopes, airplanes and satellites.
Using Dr. Low’s devices and their successors, astronomers have been able to peer through dust clouds to find the birthplaces of stars; discover galaxies and quasars invisible to ordinary telescopes; discern rings of dust and, recently, even planets around other stars; and study what is believed to be residual heat left over from the Big Bang.
NASA’s next big effort, the James Webb Space Telescope, destined for a 2014 launching, is an infrared space telescope built in a design Dr. Low created.
Dr. Low helped drive the field of infrared astronomy with his enthusiasm and an intuitive knack for solving technical problems, said George H. Rieke, a longtime associate at the University of Arizona. Along with Gerry Neugebauer of Caltech and the late Harold L. Johnson of Arizona, Dr. Low was a co-father of the field, Dr. Rieke said.
Frank James Low was born in Mobile, Ala., on Nov. 23, 1933, and reared in Houston. He studied physics at Yale University and then Rice University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1959.
He then joined Texas Instruments, where he developed a low-temperature thermometer made of the rare-earth element germanium doped with trace amounts of gallium. Dr. Low realized that the device, which responded to absorbed energy by changing its electrical resistance, could be used as an infrared bolometric detector that could measure heat from stars.
Every object in the universe — from a fevered brow to an exploding star — emits some of this heat, which consists of electromagnetic waves longer than visible light waves but shorter than radio waves. For several years, astronomers, including Dr. Johnson, had been trying to tap into this radiation.
Dr. Low’s bolometer was more sensitive than previous detectors, and he was eager to put it to work. In 1962, he moved from Texas Instruments to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. There, he tested his bolometer on a radio telescope.
Besides being invisible, infrared rays also are absorbed by the atmosphere, especially water vapor, so a high, dry place is necessary for infrared astronomy. Dr. Low solved this problem by going above the atmosphere’s water vapor and initiating airborne astronomy, using ever larger and higher-flying laboratories: a U.S. Navy Douglas A-3 bomber carrying a 2-inch telescope in 1965 and 1966; and a NASA Learjet, Dr. Low’s favorite, with a 12-inch telescope.
With the Learjet, he discovered that Jupiter and Saturn emitted more energy than they received from the Sun, which meant they had some source of internal energy. In 1975, NASA began operating the Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory, a converted Lockheed C-141 military cargo plane, but Dr. Low continued to use the Learjet.
The Kuiper is soon to be replaced by a modified Boeing 747SP, called SOFIA, for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
Yearning to be completely free of atmospheric interference, Dr. Low, along with other astronomers, pushed NASA to build and launch the Infrared Astronomy Satellite, IRAS, which did the first infrared sky survey from space. Dr. Low was its chief technologist.
When an accident at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory destroyed the preamplifiers for the satellite’s detectors, throwing the project into a crisis, Dr. Low built new and better ones at his own company, Infrared Laboratories Inc., which he had founded in 1967 to supply astronomers around the world.
Launched in 1983, IRAS — a joint venture by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands — pinpointed more than half a million sources of infrared radiation in the sky, many of them galaxies. Indeed, astronomers now say that half of the energy released by galaxies is in the form of infrared emission, created when interstellar dust absorbs light from young stars and re-radiates it as heat.
IRAS also discovered rings of debris and dust around other stars, in particular Vega, suggesting that the same processes that had formed planets close at hand were at work deep in space.
Astronomers later found a similar debris field, the Kuiper Belt, which lies beyond Neptune. Dr. Rieke called it “certainly the first example of discovering a feature in other planetary systems before we found it in our own.”
NASA planned to follow IRAS with a Hubble-class infrared satellite called the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, now known as the Spitzer Space Telescope. Dr. Low was named the facility scientist, but the project was stalled for years by cost concerns.
At a retreat for the project scientists and engineers in Colorado in 1993, Dr. Low had a midnight inspiration for how to build the telescope more cheaply.
Previously, to keep infrared telescopes from being swamped by their own heat, the telescopes were encased in a giant thermos bottle and cooled to nearly absolute zero by liquid helium. Dr. Low proposed leaving the telescope out in the open and letting it radiate its heat to space naturally. Only the detectors at the focal plane of the telescope needed to be cooled with liquid helium.
Dr. Low’s design saved the project and opened up a new way to build space telescopes, including the coming James Webb Space Telescope, Dr. Rieke said.
Dr. Low retired from the University of Arizona in 1996, after 31 years; he also maintained a connection with Rice University from 1966 to 1979. He remained active in his company until 2007.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Edith Low; three children, Valerie Rossiter of Tucson, Beverly Fjeldstad of Oslo, Norway, and Eric Low of Rogers, Ariz.; a sister, Sallie Beckner of Washington; and six grandchildren.
SOURCE:  The New York Times:
Published: June 17, 2009
John A. Eddy, a solar astronomer who studied the history of the sun and demonstrated that it is not a constant star with a regular cycle of behavior but rather one that has periods of anomaly, died June 10 in Tucson, where he lived. He was 78.
John A. Eddy



The cause was cancer, his wife, Barbara, said .
In 1976, Dr. Eddy published an article in the journal Science in which he confirmed the speculative and largely unknown observations of 19th-century astronomers that for seven decades, from 1645 to 1715, the surface of the sun was inordinately calm, with the magnetic storms that often roil it — as indicated by the presence of sunspots — peculiarly absent.
Dr. Eddy called the peaceful interlude the Maunder Minimum, after E. W. Maunder, an English scientist who, along with a German, Gustav Spörer, first noted the presumed anomaly in the 1890s.
“I have re-examined the contemporary reports and new evidence which has come to light since Maunder’s time and conclude that this 70-year period was indeed a time when solar activity all but stopped,” Dr. Eddy wrote.
His research consisted largely of digging into historical documents — including accounts of telescopic observations going back to Galileo; reports of the aurora borealis from centuries past; visual observations of sunspots recorded in Asia and historical descriptions of the appearance of the sun’s corona during solar eclipses — all pointing with overwhelming coincidence, if not outright scientific proof, to the same conclusion.
But lastly, Dr. Eddy found confirmation of his findings in measurements of the concentration of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 found in tree rings, which is known to correlate with solar activity. The carbon-14 evidence also indicated earlier periods of solar quiescence, before the first telescopic observance of sunspots, including a period from 1450 to 1540, which Dr. Eddy called the Spörer Minimum.
The Science article was a striking repudiation of the generally held belief that solar activity is relatively consistent, with the number of sunspots rising and falling in an 11-year cycle, and it raised the possibility that irregularities in the behavior of the sun could have an effect on Earth and its climate. Dr. Eddy pointed out, for instance, that both the Maunder Minimum and the Spörer Minimum coincided with the coldest intervals of the Little Ice Age, a period of brisker-than-average temperatures, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, from 1450 to 1850.
“This behavior is wholly unlike the modern behavior of the sun which we have come to accept as normal, and the consequences for solar and terrestrial physics seem to me profound,” Dr. Eddy wrote, and though the idea that the climate is in flux is still a matter of scientific debate 33 years later, satellite observations of the sun have determined that its irradiance is variable.
“The observational evidence that the climate responds to the sun’s variations has continued to grow,” said Dr. Judith Lean, a former colleague of Dr. Eddy, who was at the University of Colorado while he was at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colo., and who is now a solar-terrestrial physicist at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. “His vision has been validated.”
John Allen Eddy, known to all as Jack, was born on March 25, 1931, in Pawnee City, in southeastern Nebraska, where his father managed a cooperative farm store. It was a small town, but it happened to be the home of a senator who sponsored him for the United States Naval Academy. At Annapolis, he took a course in celestial navigation, which engendered his love of the sky. After four years as a naval officer during and after the Korean War, he entered the graduate program in astrogeophysics at the University of Colorado. He received his doctorate in 1962.
Dr. Eddy’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1992, he is survived by a brother, Robert, of Longmont, Colo.; a sister, Lucille Hunzeker of Humboldt, Neb.; four children, Alexandra Eddy of Longmont; Amy Gale of Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Jack Jr., of Laguna Beach, Calif., and Elisabeth Walker of Kirkland, Wash.; and four grandchildren.
Dr. Eddy’s historical research also led him to demonstrate that the wheel-like formation of stones and cairns on a Wyoming mountain top — known as the Bighorn Medicine Wheel — was a purposeful, sky-oriented arrangement of stones, a crude astronomical observatory crafted by Native American inhabitants of the Western plains.
He spent his later years advancing the study of the relationship between Earth and the sun, and he had just completed a book on the subject, “The Sun, the Earth and Near-Earth Space: A Guide to the Sun-Earth System,” which is to be published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Dr. Eddy explained why he named his most famous discovery after a second-tier scientist who was not even the first to notice the hiccup in the sun’s behavior. Spörer’s observations preceded Maunder’s, but Spörer Minimum just didn’t sing. “Maunder Minimum,” with all those m’s, he said, did.
“You know, the temptation was to think that it might someday be called the Eddy Minimum, that is, to call it nothing in the hope that someone else would do that,” he said in an oral history interview for the American Institute of Physics, “but being from Nebraska, I could never do anything like that.”
SOURCE:  The New York Times:
Northwest Music Archives

The Ventures, from left: Nokie Edwards, Bob Bogle, Don Wilson and Howie Johnson in 1960.



Published: June 16, 2009
Bob Bogle, a founding member of the Ventures, the long-running guitar band whose jaunty 1960 hit “Walk — Don’t Run” became an early standard of instrumental rock ’n’ roll and taught generations of guitarists how to make their solos sparkle, died on Sunday in Vancouver, Wash., where he lived. He was 75.


“Walk Don’t Run” (

The cause was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Fiona Taylor, the Ventures’ manager, said.
Although not the first instrumental band of the rock era, the Ventures were the most successful and enduring, applying their twangy, high-energy sound to dozens of albums.
Older than the typical teenage garage band, the members of the Ventures cut wholesome figures, their guitar gymnastics coming across as good, clean sport.
Mr. Bogle and Don Wilson, two young construction workers and novice guitar enthusiasts, started the group in Tacoma, Wash., in 1958. Unable to attract a record label, they founded their own, Blue Horizon.
Their first single, “Cookies and Coke,” was a flop, but for their second they chose “Walk — Don’t Run,” a tune by the jazz guitarist Johnny Smith that Mr. Bogle had discovered on a Chet Atkins album. The Ventures transformed the gentle original with a quick tempo and bright, punchy guitars. Mr. Bogle played the lead part, punctuating the melodies with springy vibrato and various noisemaking tricks.
“They took a jazz song that had some swing to it, and they garaged it out,” Peter Blecha, author of “Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock From ‘Louie Louie’ to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ ” said in an interview on Tuesday. “They stomped their way through it, ignored the niceties of the sound and made it palatable to 15-year-old tastes.”
In the summer of 1960 the single became first a regional hit and then, with distribution by the Liberty label, a national one. It eventually reached No. 2 and sold 2 million copies, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Later that year, when the group prepared to tour, it enlisted a more dexterous guitarist, Nokie Edwards, and Mr. Bogle moved permanently to bass guitar. Howie Johnson was the drummer in the original band, later to be replaced by Mel Taylor.
“Walk — Don’t Run” became the Ventures’ formula, applied on hundreds of subsequent records. That same year, 1960, they had another hit with their instrumental version of “Perfidia,” a much-covered song by the Mexican songwriter Alberto Domínguez. (Charlie Parker, Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole and Linda Ronstadt, among others, have also recorded versions of it.)
The band covered pop hits, television theme songs and various novelties in the signature Ventures style, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” and the “Batman” theme. Psychedelic albums followed in the late 1960s, and in 1972 the Ventures covered “Theme From ‘Shaft,’ ” the blaxploitation classic by Isaac Hayes.
The Ventures scored a total of six Top 40 hits throughout the ’60s, including a surf remake of “Walk — Don’t Run,” which reached No. 8 in 1964, and a version of the “Hawaii Five-O” television theme, which went to No. 4 in 1969.
In 1965 the group released an instructional album, “Play Guitar With the Ventures,” and over the years many top rock guitarists, including George Harrison and John Fogerty, have acknowledged a debt to the band.
By the 1970s, the Ventures’ popularity had begun to wane in the United States, although they remained successful in Japan, where they had toured from their earliest years to the present; confounding record collectors, the group made dozens of albums exclusively for release in Japan.
Among Mr. Bogle’s survivors are his wife, Yumi; his brothers Clarence, Dennis and Curtis; a sister, Sybil; his sons Gary, Mike, Paul, Randy and Brandon; a daughter, Kathy; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008; Mr. Fogerty was the presenter. Mr. Bogle was not in attendance, but Mr. Wilson and Mr. Edwards were, and Ms. Taylor, the band’s manager and widow of Mel Taylor, accepted the honor on his behalf. Mr. Taylor died in 1996, and Howie Johnson had died in 1988. At the ceremony, the band performed the “Hawaii Five-O” theme and “Walk — Don’t Run.”
SOURCE:  The New York Times:
Published: June 16, 2009
Philip D. Curtin, a wide-ranging and influential historian whose pioneering use of modern statistical methods to determine the extent of the Atlantic slave trade suggested that far fewer slaves were transported from Africa than had previously been thought, died June 4 in West Chester, Pa. He was 87 and lived in Kennett Square, Pa.
Family photo, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University

Philip D. Curtin


The cause was pneumonia, said his wife, Anne.
In “The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census” (1969), Mr. Curtin followed two widely used estimates of the number of slaves transported from Africa back to their origins, and then applied quantitative methods to come up with his own figure: 9 million to 10 million, with a 20 percent margin of error.
The earlier estimates had been based on supposition, as it turned out. Mr. Curtin’s figure, based on scrutiny of shipping contracts and port data, was substantially less than the widely repeated figure of 20 million, which, he showed, was an extrapolation from now-lost records pertaining to Jamaica, and the figure of 15 million used by W. E. B. Du Bois, who repeated a figure arrived at by Edward Dunbar, a 19th-century abolitionist.
Before Mr. Curtin published his book, estimates varied wildly, from as few as 3.5 million to as many as 100 million. All these numbers, Mr. Curtin, owed their longevity to “a vast inertia, as historians have copied over and over again the flimsy results of insubstantial guesswork.”
The debate continues, but the range has narrowed.
Although he was known principally for his studies of the slave trade and the economic history of Africa, Mr. Curtin later took on even larger questions of human interaction across large geographic areas and periods of time.
“Once he had established himself as the foremost African historian in the United States, he extended his range to world history,” said William T. Rowe, chairman of the history department at Johns Hopkins University. “He was a proselytizer for a kind of world history that treated every human society with equal dignity and equal weight, interacting with each other and having indigenous processes of change, not simply waiting for the Europeans or the Arabs to arrive.”
Philip DeArmond Curtin was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Webster Springs, W. Va., where his family owned a coal and timber business. After a three-year interruption for service in the Merchant Marine, he graduated from Swarthmore College in 1948. In 1953, he received a doctorate in history from Harvard, writing his dissertation on the history and economy of Jamaica in the mid-19th century.
At the University of Wisconsin, where he began teaching in 1956, he and a colleague, Jan Vansina, started a department of African languages and literature, helping to establish African studies as an academic discipline in the United States. From 1975 until his retirement in 1998, he taught at Johns Hopkins.
In addition to his work on African societies, notably “Precolonial African History” (1974) and “Economic Change in Precolonial Africa” (1974), Mr. Curtin commanded an academic readership outside his field for books like “Cross-Cultural Trade in World History” (1984), “Death by Migration: Europe’s Encounter With the Tropical World in the 19th Century” (1989) and “The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex” (1990).
In addition to his wife, the former Anne Gilbert, he is survived by their three sons, Steven, of Northville, Mich; Charles, of North Haven, Me.; and Christopher, of West Chester; two brothers, David and Richard, both of Fort Myers, Fla.; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Curtin’s previous marriages, to Phyllis Smith, known in her opera career as Phyllis Curtin, and Patricia Romero, ended in divorce.
In 1983, Mr. Curtin was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. In 2005, he published a memoir, “On the Fringes of History.”
SOURCE:  The New York Times:
Published: June 16, 2009
Barry Beckett, an Alabama-born keyboardist who helped create the distinctly Southern amalgamation of rhythm and blues, soul and country that became known as the Muscle Shoals sound, and who as a producer recorded a wide range of music with Bob Dylan, Kenny Chesney, Bob Seger, Dire Straits and others, died on Wednesday at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn., north of Nashville. He was 66.
Matt McKean/Times Daily

Barry Beckett in 1999.



The cause was complications of a stroke, his son Matthew said.
As a studio musician in the 1960s, Mr. Beckett played in the band affiliated with Fame Studios, the production house that turned an unlikely Southern town, Muscle Shoals, Ala., into a center of indigenous American popular music. The band, known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and also called the Swampers, split from Fame in 1969 and, helped by the producer Jerry Wexler, created its own studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, in nearby Sheffield.
Either with the Rhythm Section — which also included the guitarist Jimmy Johnson, the bassist David Hood and the drummer Roger Hawkins — or on his own, Mr. Beckett played behind a remarkable list of performers. They include Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Percy Sledge, J. J. Cale, Boz Skaggs, Paul Simon — he played the organ solo on Mr. Simon’s “Kodachrome” — Bob Seger and Leon Russell. The Swampers were immortalized in Southern rock ’n’ roll when the band Lynyrd Skynyrd tipped hat to them in the 1974 hit “Sweet Home Alabama”:
Now, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord, they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now, how about you?
Barry Edward Beckett was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 4, 1943. His father, Horace, was an insurance salesman who also dabbled on guitar and for a time hosted a local radio program. He attended the University of Alabama, where, according to The Times Daily of Florence, Ala., he first heard the music of two of the Swampers, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hawkins, who were then playing in a band called the Del-Rays. He was working with a blues producer in Pensacola, Fla., when he was asked to join the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
In the 1970s Mr. Beckett began producing as well as playing. Among many other projects, he produced or co-produced the hit singles “Torn Between Two Lovers” (1976) by Mary MacGregor, “Smoke From a Distant Fire” (1977) by the Sanford-Townsend Band and Mr. Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonite” (1978), as well as, with Mr. Wexler, Bob Dylan’s albums “Slow Train Coming” (1979), on which he also played keyboards, and “Saved ” (1980).
In the mid-1980s Mr. Beckett moved to Nashville, where he worked for a time producing records for Warner Brothers, including Hank Williams Jr.’s album “Born to Boogie,” which reached the top of the Billboard country chart in 1987. He later became an independent producer, working with rock groups like Phish, and country artists like Kenny Chesney and Alabama.
In addition to his son Matthew, who lives in Nashville, Mr. Beckett is survived by his wife of 43 years, Diane, whom he met when he was playing at a club in Pensacola and she was in the audience; another son, Mark, of Hendersonville, a drummer who plays on Mr. Chesney’s current hit, “Out Last Night”; and a grandson.
“There’s no way I would be where I am today in my life if it wasn’t for Barry Beckett,” Mr. Chesney, perhaps country music’s top male star and whose first two albums were produced by Mr. Beckett, told the newspaper The Tennessean in an interview last week.
“He was one of the first people in Nashville to believe in me, on any level.”
SOURCE:  The New York Times:
Mr. Barry Becket introduced so many wonderful musicians, singers, and songwriters to the world. May he rest in peace.
On another note, concerning the band Lynyrd Skynyrd……..
Many people who listen to the song “Sweet Home, Alabama,” do not realize the racist self-denial that Lynyrd Skynyrd shows in their contempt towards Neil Young for telling the truth about Alabama’s viciousness towards her Black citizens with murder, lynchings, bombings, rapes and numerous atrocities.
Neil Young told the truth about Alabama, and Lynyrd Skynyrd could not face this truth, therefore, they wrote their angry diatribe of a song. The truth hurts; the truth cuts like a knife; but, the truth shall set you free.
Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote their song in response to Neil’s telling the “Southern Man” and “Alabama” that his hatred would destroy Alabama—and the South—-if the racists did not cease their venomous attacks upon Black citizens. (And it certainly does not help that LS slavishly runs and prarades a Confederate flag all across the stage during their concerts. A flag which is a mockery against the humanity of Black people.)
“Sweet Home Alabama.”
Not for the countless Black women, men and children who had their lives taken from them by a state that for decades upheld racist hatred in its laws.
Southern Man
Southern man
better keep your head
Don’t forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin’
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Southern man
better keep your head
Don’t forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

Lily Belle,
your hair is golden brown
I’ve seen your black man
comin’ round
Swear by God
I’m gonna cut him down!
I heard screamin’
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?





Oh alabama
The devil fools with the best laid plan.
Swing low alabama
You got spare change
You got to feel strange
And now the moment is all that it meant.

Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders
Thats breaking your back.
Your cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch
And a wheel on the track

Oh alabama
Banjos playing through the broken glass
Windows down in alabama.
See the old folks tied in white ropes
Hear the banjo.
Dont it take you down home?

Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders
Thats breaking your back.
Your cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch
And a wheel on the track

Oh alabama.
Can I see you and shake your hand.
Make friends down in alabama.
Im from a new land
I come to you and see all this ruin
What are you doing alabama?
You got the rest of the union to help you along
Whats going wrong?

“Sweet Home Alabama

Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the Southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think its a sin, yes

Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

In Birmingham they love the governor
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Here I come Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Sweet home Alabama
Oh sweet home baby
Where the skies are so blue
And the governor’s true
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Yea, yea Montgomery’s got the answer

Published: June 14, 2009
Physician, fugitive, federal prisoner, clinician to the homeless, advocate for AIDS patients. epidemiologist: That was the arc of Alan Berkman’s career.
June 15, 2009    

Poul Olson

Dr. Alan Berkman, right, discussing AIDS in Tanzania.

Associated Press

Dr. Berkman in 1985, accused of armed robbery and possessing explosives.



Dr. Berkman, a Vietnam-era radical who spent eight years in prison for armed robbery and possession of explosives and who later founded Health GAP — a leader in the coalition that helped make AIDS medication available to millions in the world’s poorest countries — died in Manhattan on June 5. He was 63 and lived in Manhattan.
The cause was cancer, with which he had struggled for nearly 20 years, said his wife, Dr. Barbara Zeller.
Eagle Scout; high school salutatorian; National Merit Scholar; honor student at Cornell, class of 1967; graduate of Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, class of ’71; medical director of the Highbridge Woodycrest Center in the Bronx, one of the first residences designed for AIDS patients; vice chairman of the epidemiology department at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health since 2007: Those, too, are parts of Dr. Berkman’s record, along with his years working in clinics in the South Bronx, Lower Manhattan and rural Alabama.
His life was laced with an activism that went to extremes, both in the tumult of the 1960s and ’70s and into the Reagan years.
On May 23, 1985, Dr. Berkman and a friend were arrested outside Doylestown, Pa. In their car, federal agents found a pistol, a shotgun and keys to a garage that contained 100 pounds of dynamite. That day ended Dr. Berkman’s two decades of participation in radical groups, among them the Students for a Democratic Society.
Four years earlier, on Oct. 20, 1981, an offshoot of the Weather Underground had attempted to rob a Brink’s armored truck in Nyack, N.Y. In the shootout, two police officers and a guard died.
A year later, a federal grand jury investigating the case subpoenaed Dr. Berkman, who, a witness said, had treated one of the robbery defendants for a gunshot wound. When he was indicted and charged with being an accessory after the fact, Dr. Berkman jumped bail; he spent several years on the run.
While a fugitive, he entered a suburban Connecticut supermarket with a friend; they brandished revolvers, tied up the manager and stole $21,480. Prosecutors later said the money was used to buy the explosives found in Doylestown and to support other radical groups. Dr. Berkman was sentenced to 10 years in prison; he served 8.
In 1994, when a reporter for The New York Times interviewed Dr. Berkman at El Rio, a clinic in the South Bronx where he was treating drug-addicted parolees, the doctor, too, was on parole.
“There is plenty to learn from all the mistakes we made,” he said at the time, referring to his radical colleagues. “Power is corrupting. And the use of violence is a form of power. People motivated to stop the suffering of others have to be careful not be caught up in the same dynamics.”
He changed his dynamics, not his motivation. In 1995, he became a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia, working with mentally ill homeless men who had AIDS.
In 1998 and ’99, Dr. Berkman did research in South Africa, where AIDS was rampant. Upon returning to New York, he gathered a group of fellow AIDS activists and founded Health Global Access Project, known as Health GAP, which became one of the leading groups in the campaign to provide antiretroviral drugs to poor people around the world.
“He was one of the key figures in changing 20 years of U.S. trade policy on patents and medicine,” said James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, one of the organizations that shared Dr. Berkman’s mission.
Health GAP, along with other advocacy groups, successfully lobbied the Clinton administration to change its opposition to compulsory licenses — orders by foreign governments requiring the owner of a drug patent to issue a license to a generic manufacturer, making the drug cheaper. Until that policy change, trade tariffs were often used against countries that issued compulsory licenses.
At the time, antiretroviral drugs cost about $15,000 a year for a patient. Now, with some American manufacturers sharply reducing their prices, and with generic marketers, particularly in India, offering them at very low prices, the drugs can cost as little as $150 a year.
In 1999, fewer than one million people, all in Western countries, had access to the H.I.V. medications they needed, said Jennifer Flynn, managing director of Health GAP. “Now,” she said, “there are close to four million, and more than half of them are in the poorest countries.”
Born in Brooklyn on Sept. 4, 1945, Alan Berkman was one of four sons of Samuel and Mona Osit Berkman. The family later moved to Middletown, N.Y., where his father owned a plumbing supply company. Besides Dr. Zeller, whom he married in 1975, Dr. Berkman is survived by his brothers, Jerry, Larry and Steven; his daughters, Sarah Zeller-Berkman and Harriet Clark; and a grandson.
Dr. Berkman learned he had a cancer of the lymph nodes while in prison and had recurring bouts with the disease.
In 1994, while treating parolees in the South Bronx, Dr. Berkman was asked how someone so committed to saving lives could have joined groups that were willing to plant bombs.
“I had seen pain in the communities I worked in,” he said, and “an increasing indifference” to that pain. “We became desperate and kept going further out on the limb.”
He added, “Between going to prison and having cancer two times and knowing that death sits on my shoulder, I try to make every day matter.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 17, 2009
An obituary on Monday about Dr. Alan Berkman, a Vietnam -era radical who became an epidemiologist and AIDS activist, described incorrectly a group to which he belonged. Students for a Democratic Society was a radical group in the 1960s, not an underground group.
SOURCE:  The New York Times:

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