Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The FBI stumbles along: Their case against Bruce Ivins is collapsing

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Greg Gordon, Mike Wiser, and Stephen Engelberg write at McClatchy:

For a second time in three years, a federal inquiry cast doubt Friday on the FBI’s assertion that genetic testing had cinched its conclusion that a now-dead Army bioweapons researcher mailed anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized the East Coast in 2001.

The long-awaited report from the Government Accountability Office found that the FBI’s exhaustive, cutting-edge attempt to trace the killer with matches of genetic mutations of anthrax samples at times lacked precision, consistency and adequate standards.

The 77-page report, perhaps the final official word on the FBI’s seven-year investigation known as Amerithrax, lent credence to a National Academy of Sciences panel’s finding in 2011 that the bureau’s scientific evidence did not definitely show that the anthrax came from the Maryland bioweapons laboratory of Bruce Ivins.

The report’s findings also mirrored some of the conclusions of a joint investigation by McClatchy, ProPublica and PBS’ “Frontline” that waspublished and aired in the fall of 2011.

Shortly after Ivins took a suicidal drug overdose on July 29, 2008, federal prosecutors said they’d been drafting criminal charges against him, and they declared the scientist at Fort Detrick, Md., the culprit. In 2010, they laid out an extensive circumstantial case against him, presenting as a smoking gun the findings of genetic testing by outside laboratories that matched four distinct mutations in the anthrax spores in the letters with those in a flask full of anthrax in Ivins’ laboratory.

“The significance of using such mutations as genetic markers for analyzing evidentiary samples to determine their origins is not clear,” the auditors wrote. “This gap affects both the development of genetic tests targeting such mutations and statistical analyses of the results of their use.”

The auditors, who warned three years ago that they might be stymied because some information might be deemed classified, didn’t delve into theories that the anthrax contained traces of tin, perhaps reflecting attempts to weaponize it so it would stay airborne longer and harm more people. Rather, they stuck to the narrower issues of examining the bureau’s scientific methods.

The auditors pointed out that an FBI team recommended in 2007 that the bureau conduct experiments to determine whether the mutations the FBI was seeking to match might not have been unique to Ivins’ flask, known as RMR-1029. However, those tests were never done.

That omission also drew concern from the National Academy of Sciences panel, which noted that it was possible that four identical “morphs” could have grown in another laboratory in what it termed “parallel evolution.”

The auditors also focused on contradictory test results from samples collected from a colleague of Ivins’ who’d used anthrax from RMR-1029. That colleague – Henry Heine, though he wasn’t named in the report – submitted one sample that tested positive in all five genetic tests, but a duplicate sample from his vial tested negative for all five markers, the report said.

The report said that Heine, in the presence of an FBI investigator, didn’t follow instructions for collecting one sample as laid out in a grand jury subpoena. The disclosure raises the possibility that inconsistent collection methods undercut the massive testing effort. . .

Continue reading.

And I blogged earlier today about how the FBI loses evidence.

One good thing: the problems are being revealed, not covered up. That means they can be corrected.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

McCullough, DA in the Darren Wilson case, defends himself by saying he knew some witnesses were lying

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But he decided to let them testify anyone. His approach was to let anyone who wanted to testify as a witness do so, even when he knew that they were lying.

That’s his defense, and having a DA support perjury is not a good sign.

Here’s the story. He fully admits that he presented a biased picture to the jury by allowing untrue testimony. What a DA!

I wonder what he thinks a DA is supposed to do.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 5:45 pm

A fish that live at depths greater than 25,000 feet

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The video was recorded at a depth of just over 5 miles. Story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Science

Colorado Funds Medical Marijuana Research, a First

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One of the major benefits of legalizing marijuana is that at last some serious pharmaceutical research can be done on the plant and its substances. Kristen Wyatt writes at TPM News:

“This is the first time we’ve had government money to look at the efficacy of marijuana, not the harms of marijuana,” said Dr. Suzanne Sisley, a Scottsdale, Arizona, psychiatrist who will help run a study on marijuana for veterans with PTSD. Sisley plans to do her research in private practice after previously working for the University of Arizona.

Federal approval to study marijuana’s medical potential requires permission of the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and either the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Health and Human Services. And there’s only one legal source of the weed, the Marijuana Research Project at the University of Mississippi.

Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., allow marijuana use by people with various medical conditions. But under federal law, pot is considered a drug with no medical use and doctors cannot prescribe it.

Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer, says the lack of research on marijuana’s medical value leaves sick people guessing about how pot may help them and what doses to take.

“There’s nowhere else in medicine where we give a patient some seeds and say, ‘Go grow this and process it and then figure out how much you need,'” Wolk said.

“We need research dollars so we can answer more questions.”

Three of the eight research projects, including the veterans study, will still need federal clearance and access to the Ole Miss marijuana. The other five are “observational studies,” meaning the subjects will be providing their own weed.

Among the projects poised for approval Wednesday: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Media, Science

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

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The paradox of choice has been nagging at me lately: I have now so many razors that, even if I just use those I like most, I end up not using some for a long time. And, of course, making decisions actually does burn energy. (Thus Steve Jobs always wearing the same attire, the president having his clothing laid out for him and his breakfast served to him—both are avoiding using up decision energy on trivial matters.)

Barry Schwartz is the psychologist who (literally) wrote the book on the paradox of choice. Paul Hiebert interviews him for Pacific Standard:

Ten years have passed since the publication of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, a highly influential book written by the psychologist Barry Schwartz. If the title doesn’t sound familiar, the idea behind Schwartz’s argument should: Instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. Whether you’re deliberating between breakfast cereals, TV shows, career paths, pension plans, or lifetime partners, the amount of options out there can be overwhelming. In modern America, however, the freedom to decide who you are and who you’re going to be is mandatory.

While Schwartz doesn’t claim he discovered the setbacks of excessive choice, The Paradox of Choice is perhaps our best articulation of the overall problem. In the book, for example, he explores the stress people feel when confronted with ample opportunity, and the regret that follows from choosing poorly (whose fault is it other than mine?). He also discusses our loss of presence (why am I doing this when I could be doing that?), our raised expectations (with so many options, why settle for less?), and our tarnished sense of self that comes from comparing our choices with the choices of others (why do I continue to pick the wrong things when Alex always picks the right ones?). In sum, Schwartz’s work poses a serious challenge to the notion that more choice brings about more freedom, and more freedom brings about more happiness. As the book’s subtitle implies, sometimes a lot is simply too much.

Over the past decade, the ideas presented in The Paradox of Choice have not run dry. In 2010, for instance, the New York Timespublished an article titled “Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze,” in which Schwartz makes an appearance. Just last August, the New Yorker posted an online piece titled “When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices,” which, again, also mentions Schwartz. If anything, it seems the proliferation and social acceptance of Amazon, smartphones, and online dating has only exacerbated this phenomenon.

To find out more, I recently spoke with Schwartz about his book, his critics, and what has and hasn’t changed since 2004.

Over the past decade, do any particular events, trends, or general changes in the culture stick out to you as suggesting that The Paradox of Choice was right?

Well, it seems to me that the most striking trend is the appearance of social media. My suspicion is that it and dating sites have created just the thing I talk about in connection with consumer goods: Nobody’s good enough and you’re always worried you’re missing out. I see this as an extension of what I wrote about at a time when it wasn’t really going on much.

Are you familiar with the fairly recent term “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out)?

Oh yeah, of course. It seems to me that it’s a perfect description. I wish I had thought of that term 10 years ago.

Now, it’s just commonplace. I bet it’s especially bad in places like New York. Nobody makes plans because something better might turn up, and the result is that nobody ever does anything.

How else does social media encourage the problem of too much choice? Don’t you think it can increase social ties, and therefore help mitigate negative feelings? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

UVA rape story continues to fall apart

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It’s beginning to look as though the Rolling Stone reporter was taken for a ride. Robby Soave writes at Reason.com:

While at this point nothing could redeem Rolling Stone‘s tall tale about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, it’s remarkable that new details further undermining Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s shoddy reporting are still emerging on a daily basis—and each is more revealing than the last.

Since I last wrote on this subject, there have been several major developments, all concerning the three friends of Jackie who purportedly picked her up from the Phi Psi party and urged her not to go to the police. Those three friends—Ryan Duffin, Alex Stock, and Kathryn Hendley—have now given interviews disputing nearly all aspects of Jackie’s story regarding what happened that night.

We now know the “real” given name of Jackie’s date on the evening of her alleged rape, September 28, 2012: Haven Monahan. Jackie claimed that Monahan was an older student who had taken an interest in her. Prior to September 28th, Duffin, Stock, and Hendley had pressed Jackie for details about this mysterious love interest. She gave them several different cell phone numbers for Monahan, and they corresponded with him. He eventually sent a picture of himself. Many of his messages contained not-so-subtle hints that Jackie had (unrequited) feelings for Duffin.

We now know that no one named Haven Monahan attended UVA. The phone numbersaren’t even real—they redirect back to an internet service that allows people to send texts without having actual phone numbers. And the picture is of a former high school acquaintance of Jackie’s who never attended UVA and spent no time in Charlottesville that year.

This strongly implies, of course, that Jackie sent the messages herself. The Daily Caller‘s Chuck Ross has gathered compelling evidence—including an interview with Duffin himself—that Jackie may have been trying to make Duffin sympathetic to her or develop feelings for her.

Most recently, Ross obtained and published a bizarre email that sheds more light on the nature of Jackie’s feelings for Duffin. The email purports to be a message from Jackie to “Monahan” in which she confesses to being totally in love and obsessed with Duffin. “Monahan” forwarded the email to Duffin, claiming that he thought Duffin should read it. If Monahan were a real person, the message would have been oddly timed: it was forwarded to Duffin on October 3, 2012—just a few days after Jackie told Duffin that she was raped by five men during her date with Monahan. But since Monahan almost certainly doesn’t exist and is in all likelihood actually Jackie, the email makes the most sense as a form of elaborate cover for Jackie to indirectly share her feelings with the true object of her affection.

The full thing can be read here. A selection: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Daily life

George Clooney has a clear take on what’s at stake with The Interview

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The terrorists win pretty easily these days. George Clooney has an interview that is well worth reading. He’s thoughtful, and he has good insights.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 2:40 pm

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