Later On

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Archive for April 8th, 2007

500 free fonts

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Pretty cool, some of them.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Software

Texas injustice

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One hears so many things about Texas. This is an example:

Many men claim innocence when staring at iron bars. But James Giles knew he was no rapist — and he believed three fellow Texas prisoners who told him they too were wrongly convicted of rape.

They shared their despair over games of chess and dominos, worked on long-shot appeals together in the law library, and dreamed of the day they would win forgiveness from a justice system that failed them.

It has taken nearly 25 years, but with the assistance of DNA testing, the men — all of them black Americans — are proving they are innocent. Two were freed from prison. A third was exonerated in March, years after serving his sentence. On Monday, Giles is about to clear his name, becoming the 13th man from Dallas County to prove with genetic testing that he was wrongly imprisoned.

Giles, who spent 10 years in prison, is seeking to vacate his 1983 conviction. New evidence suggests that another man — also named James Giles — committed the rape. Dallas County prosecutors more than two decades ago knew about the other James Giles, who lived across the street from the victim, but never told Giles’ defense.

“I lost everything in the world,” said Giles, 53. “I just thank God we finally got someone to see that I was the wrong guy.”

Branded a rapist, Giles struggled to rebuild his life when he got out of prison. The skilled construction laborer had a hard time finding menial jobs, and his wife, who stuck with him throughout his prison term, eventually sought a divorce.

The Dallas County District Attorney plans to apologize personally to Giles on Monday. The other three wrongly convicted rapists that he befriended in prison will be cheering in the courtroom.

The wrongful convictions of these four men are some of the most dramatic examples of shoddy prosecutions in the Lone Star State [and that’s saying something. It was in Tulia, Texas, you’ll recall, where almost an entire town of African-Americans were sent to prison solely on the testimony of one crooked racist cop. Bob Herbert of the NY Times hounded that story until the reversals started. – LG] — a shameful history that is coming under scrutiny.

Dallas County has had more people exonerated by DNA than all but three entire states. Texas, which leads the U.S. in convictions overturned by genetic testing, has had 27, Illinois, 26, and New York, 23. California has had 9 exonerations.

With countless current and former Texas prisoners clamoring for testing to clear their names — including more than 430 in Dallas County — law-enforcement officials predict that the number of overturned convictions will grow exponentially in coming years.

Texas prosecutors have typically fought activists’ attempts to revisit their predecessors’ cases. But Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the first black elected to the office, has forged an unusual alliance with the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that uses DNA testing to challenge convictions.

Watkins has proclaimed “a new day in Dallas,” and is promising to right the past wrongs of his office — particularly the many disputed convictions during the reign of Henry Wade, who served as Dallas County’s top prosecutor from 1951 to 1987.

Watkins’ office helped re-investigate the Giles case. The exoneration request must ultimately be approved by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but with Watkins’ support, that is considered a formality.

“The mentality of the office at that time was, ‘I don’t care if there is some doubt, let’s make sure we keep up our conviction rate,’ ” Watkins said of Wade’s leadership.

Wade died in 2001, and is best known for his role in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court right-to-privacy case that legalized abortion.

Nearly all the Dallas DNA exonerations have involved men who were convicted of sex crimes based on dubious witness accounts. Many are black — Giles would be the 10th. Unlike many other jurisdictions, including Houston, Dallas County preserved blood samples and other evidence collected decades ago, a stroke of luck that is allowing felons to seek a review of their convictions. [So how many other innocent men must serve their sentence because prosecutors destroyed the evidence? – LG]

Sadly, there’s more. Keep reading.

See also this, and this book by Bob Herbert.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 7:43 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

What “loyal Bushies” do

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What did the “loyal Bushies” do—the US Federal Attorneys who kept their jobs? Well, things such as described in this NY Times editorial:

As Congress investigates the politicization of the United States attorney offices by the Bush administration, it should review the extraordinary events the other day in a federal courtroom in Wisconsin. The case involved Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges just as her boss, a Democrat, was fighting off a Republican challenger. It just might shed some light on a question that lurks behind the firing of eight top federal prosecutors: what did the surviving attorneys do to escape the axe?

Ms. Thompson, a purchasing official in the state’s Department of Administration, was accused by the United States attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, of awarding a travel contract to a company whose chief executive contributed to the campaign of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Ms. Thompson said the decision was made on the merits, but she was convicted and sent to prison before she could appeal.

The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle’s opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s “corruption” to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won.

The Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit seemed shocked by the injustice of her conviction. It took the extraordinary step of releasing Ms. Thompson from prison immediately after hearing arguments, without waiting to issue a ruling. One of the judges hinted that Ms. Thompson may have been railroaded. “It strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the lawyer from Mr. Biskupic’s office.

Ms. Thompson’s case is not the only one raising questions about whether prosecutors tried last year to tilt close elections toward the Republicans. New Jersey’s federal prosecutor conducted an investigation of weak-looking allegations against Senator Robert Menendez that was used in Republican ads.

Congress should look into both cases to determine whether partisan politics played a role — and whether they were coordinated with anyone at the Justice Department or the White House.

The list of things to investigate keeps growing….

Read the rest.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 6:39 pm

A constant stream of lies

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Krugman points out how the GOP is abandoning for now the Big Lies (for example, those that took us into war in Iraq, and the promise to rebuild the Katrina-devastated region) and are using again a constant stream of little lies:

The Clinton years were a parade of fake scandals: Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, Filegate, Christmas-card-gate. At the end, there were false claims that Clinton staff members trashed the White House on their way out.

Each pseudoscandal got headlines, air time and finger-wagging from the talking heads. The eventual discovery in each case that there was no there there, if reported at all, received far less attention. The effect was to make an administration that was, in fact, pretty honest and well run — especially compared with its successor — seem mired in scandal.

Even in the post-9/11 environment, little lies never went away. In particular, promoting little lies seems to have been one of the main things U.S. attorneys, as loyal Bushies, were expected to do. For example, David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, appears to have been fired because he wouldn’t bring unwarranted charges of voter fraud.

There’s a lot of talk now about a case in Wisconsin, where the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney prosecuted the state’s purchasing supervisor over charges that a court recently dismissed after just 26 minutes of oral testimony, with one judge calling the evidence “beyond thin.” But by then the accusations had done their job: the unjustly accused official had served almost four months in prison, and the case figured prominently in attack ads alleging corruption in the Democratic governor’s administration.

This is the context in which you need to see the wild swings Republicans have been taking at Nancy Pelosi.

First, there were claims that the speaker of the House had demanded a lavish plane for her trips back to California. One Republican leader denounced her “arrogance of extravagance” — then, when it became clear that the whole story was bogus, admitted that he had never had any evidence.

Now there’s Ms. Pelosi’s fact-finding trip to Syria, which Dick Cheney denounced as “bad behavior” — unlike the visit to Syria by three Republican congressmen a few days earlier, or Newt Gingrich’s trip to China when he was speaker.

Ms. Pelosi has responded coolly, dismissing the administration’s reaction as a “tantrum.” But it’s more than that: the hysterical reaction to her trip is part of a political strategy, aided and abetted by news organizations that give little lies their time in the sun.

Fox News, which is a partisan operation in all but name, plays a crucial role in the Little Lie strategy — which is why there is growing pressure on Democratic politicians not to do anything, like participating in Fox-hosted debates, that helps Fox impersonate a legitimate news organization.

But Fox has had plenty of help. Even Time’s Joe Klein, a media insider if anyone is, wrote of the Pelosi trip that “the media coverage of this on CNN and elsewhere has been abysmal.” For example, CNN ran a segment about Ms. Pelosi’s trip titled “Talking to Terrorists.”

The G.O.P.’s reversion to the Little Lie technique is a symptom of political weakness, of a party reduced to trivial smears because it has nothing else to offer. But the technique will remain effective — and the U.S. political scene will remain ugly — as long as many people in the news media keep playing along.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 6:35 pm

Is California’s drug treatment program a failure?

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That’s certainly how it’s presented in this article in the LA Times:

The most comprehensive assessment of California’s landmark effort to treat drug users rather than jail them has found that nearly half of offenders sentenced under the program fail to complete rehab and more than a quarter never show up for treatment.

The high failure rates have prompted a growing number of critics to call for jail sanctions for defendants they say take advantage of the program’s lack of penalties.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36 in November 2000. Under the program, most people convicted of drug possession get three chances to complete rehab and kick their addictions before a judge can send them to prison.

To date, the initiative has cost California more than $600 million. By diverting thousands of nonviolent drug offenders from lockups, the measure has reduced the burden on prisons and saved the state $2.50 for every $1 spent, according to UCLA’s study of Proposition 36.

So far, researchers have analyzed each of the nearly 100,000 defendants who went through the program in its first two years.

But the large number of dropouts and no-shows has led judges, researchers and treatment providers to complain that voters undoubtedly expected more for their money.

“For the lay voter, I’m sure they thought, ‘If you build it they will come,’ and that you would have close to probably a 75% or higher success rate,” said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ana Maria Luna, who leads a county committee on Proposition 36 issues. “We just haven’t seen that anywhere in the state.”

But I recall the terrible failure of an Expert System that was developed to diagnose bacteremia. The goal was a 95% success rate, and the system got only an 85% success rate. Hmm. But then they looked at the best human doctors, and found that their success rate was around 60%. So it’s important to be very careful about how success is defined.

Here, for example, are some letters that make a good point: the success rate achieved by the program actually sounds pretty good:

Re “Users kicking Prop. 36, not drugs,” April 1

It’s become fashionable to bash Proposition 36 because “only” 24.5% of those ordered into rehab completed the course of treatment during the most recent statistical period. In fact, 24.5% represents a howling success, as just about anyone familiar with the treatment of addiction diseases will tell you. Of that 24.5%, 78% remained drug free a year later. Most addiction-treatment programs count 10% as a high success rate. Yet there seems to be an across-the-board agreement to treat Proposition 36 as a failure, even though it has dramatically reduced the number of people serving time for drug possession offenses.

For Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ana Maria Luna to attribute an expectation of “probably a 75% or higher success rate” to the “lay voter” is just magic thinking (if that’s what the lay voter really expected). No addiction-treatment program anywhere has a 75% success rate.

Los Angeles

Proposition 36 has largely succeeded in achieving its two primary goals: providing a less-costly alternative to prison and serving offenders who do not ordinarily receive treatment.

UCLA researchers found that the program saved $2,861 per offender in its first year, leading to net savings for Californians of $173.3 million. The National Criminal Justice Treatment Practices Survey has shown that fewer than 10% of prisoners nationwide receive the care they need. With Proposition 36, 73% of those who were referred did get treated, and half of these stayed in treatment for at least three months. Because addiction is one of a knot of issues, it is best addressed by pulling together service and faith-based providers, families, communities and criminal justice experts.

Without the option of treatment, offenders have virtually no chance of getting clean and returning successfully to society.

Senior research associate

Principal research associate
The Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center

As currently structured, Proposition 36 doesn’t give judges or probation officers sufficient authority to screen candidates and enforce the treatment-instead-of-prison bargain on often recalcitrant offenders. A UCLA study found that eligible offenders who had multiple arrests in the 30 months before entering the program accounted for a relatively large percentage of the crimes subsequently committed. Tightening up on that group and on those who fail to appear for treatment would make the proposition more effective at controlling substance abuse and crime. At the same time, improving county treatment systems to reduce waiting time to admission and to better engage and retain these offender-clients is needed as well.

Research economist
The Integrated Substance Abuse Programs
The writer is also an assistant professor of economics and policy analysis at the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

How was that 75% success rate figure arrived at? The article doesn’t indicate, but a close inspection of the judge’s ass might give a clue. The fact is that drug addiction is very difficult to treat, even for those who sincerely want to quit, and when you consider the population directed to treatment includes MANY who are just making the choice the avoid jail—well, 75% look close to insane. And even with a 25% success rate, the program is saving money for the taxpayers, as the article points out.

The article doesn’t touch on the fact that most drug use—particularly marijuana—is a somewhat artificial crime: legalize and regulate the use of that drug, like alcohol and tobacco (each more harmful than pot), and you end the “crime wave” completely.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Government

Creating a Lichtenberg figure

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Lichtenberg figure: at the link, it’s defined and there’s also a photo of a 3-D one.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Lying (?) with statistics

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Beware those semi-literate in science and maths: they might convict someone as a serial killer who is not. Read at the link, and here’s the point:

The judgement was largely based on a figure of “one in 342 million against”. Now, even if we found errors in this figure – and we will – the figure itself would still be largely irrelevant. Unlikely things do happen: somebody wins the lottery every week; children are struck by lightning; I have an extremely fit girlfriend. It is only significant that something very specific and unlikely happens if you have specifically predicted it beforehand.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Government, Science

For the Older Grandson and his dad

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A fun toy to make.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Daily life

And, speaking of crashes…

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From the Times:

A £2 billion project to answer some of the biggest mysteries of the universe has been delayed by months after scientists building it made basic errors in their mathematical calculations.

The mistakes led to an explosion deep in the tunnel at the Cern particle accelerator complex near Geneva in Switzerland. It lifted a 20-ton magnet off its mountings, filling a tunnel with helium gas and forcing an evacuation.

It means that 24 magnets located all around the 17-mile circular accelerator must now be stripped down and repaired or upgraded. The failure is a huge embarrassment for Fermilab, the American national physics laboratory that built the magnets and the anchor system that secured them to the machine.

It appears Fermilab made elementary mistakes in the design of the magnets and their anchors that made them insecure once the system was operational.

Last week an apparently furious and embarrassed Pier Oddone, director of Fermilab, wrote to his staff saying they had caused “a pratfall on the world stage”. He said: “We are dumb-founded that we missed some very simple balance of forces. Not only was it missed in the engineering design but also in the four engineering reviews carried out between 1998 and 2002 before launching the construction of the magnets.”

The LHC itself comprises two pipes, each containing a beam of protons travelling at near-light speed that are steered around the circular tunnel by powerful magnets. Such magnets are “superconducting” meaning they and the whole LHC are cooled to below -268C, using pipes filled with liquid helium.

The two proton beams travel in opposite directions but, at various points around the ring, their pipes merge, allowing the protons in each beam to collide.

However, since the thickness of each beam is less than that of a human hair, they have to be focused. This is the task of a second set of magnets, and it is these that were under test at the time of the explosion.

Coincidentally, Fermilab stands to gain most from delays at Cern. Its researchers also operate a rival but less powerful particle accelerator, the Tevatron.

Fermilab staff are pushing the Tevatron to ever-higher energies hoping that they might find the Higgs boson before the LHC switches on. An LHC researcher said: “Ironically, this delay could be all they need.”

Hmmmm. Yes, ironic.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Science

Cat mysteries

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One of the mysteries associated with having a cat living in the place is the odd and never-explained little crash sounds that you hear, generally around 3:00 a.m. You hear the crash, and the next morning you can find nothing to account for it. And the cat’s not talking.

Sometime early this morning I heard an odd sort of “clink” crash—small, but like something metal had fallen into the sink, for example. I was curious enough to go look. Nothing. I went back to bed, and then today went into the kitchen, looked more in the study, looked in the living room. In the study and living room, I looked especially for some little metal thing that might have hit the base of a floor lamp.


Just now I awoke from a nap in my chair, cast my eyes to the left, and saw, on top of the revolving bookcase, a little glass—on its side. Uninjured, just lying there. Miss Megs had either pushed or dragged it over, because it was certainly upright (but empty) when I went to bed. Clink explained.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Stephen Hunter: good thrillers

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I’m now reading my second Stephen Hunter thriller, The Day Before Midnight, and it’s highly satisfying and gripping. He’s good. I’ll be reading all that the library has, and filling in from any that I’m missing. If you’re a thriller fan, give his books a go.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 9:40 am

Posted in Books

oooooooh. It’s all coming out, at long last.

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Front page, no less, of the Washington Post, a wonderful story about good old Bernie Kerik. The beginning, with one highlight (so hard to choose):

When former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged President Bush to make Bernard B. Kerik the next secretary of homeland security, White House aides knew Kerik as the take-charge top cop from Sept. 11, 2001. But it did not take them long to compile an extensive dossier of damaging information about the would-be Cabinet officer.

They learned about questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption. Most disturbing, according to people close to the process, was Kerik’s friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime. The businessman had told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties.

Alarmed about the raft of allegations, several White House aides tried to raise red flags. But the normal investigation process was short-circuited, the sources said. Bush’s top lawyer, Alberto R. Gonzales, took charge of the vetting, repeatedly grilling Kerik about the issues that had been raised. In the end, despite the concerns, the White House moved forward with his nomination — only to have it collapse a week later.

The selection of Kerik in December 2004 for one of the most sensitive posts in government became an acute but brief embarrassment for Bush at the start of his second term. More than two years later, it has reemerged as part of a federal criminal investigation of Kerik that raises questions about the decisions made by the president, the Republican front-runner to replace him and the embattled attorney general.

A reconstruction of the failed nomination, assembled through interviews with key players, provides new details and a fuller account of the episode — how Giuliani put forward a flawed candidate for high office, how Bush rushed the usual process in his eagerness to install a political ally and how Gonzales, as White House counsel, failed to stop the nomination despite the many warning signs. “The vetting process clearly broke down,” said a senior White House official. “This should not happen.”

Federal prosecutors have told Kerik that they are likely to charge him with several felonies, including providing false information to the government when Bush nominated him, sources have told The Washington Post. Kerik recently turned down a proposed agreement in which he would plead guilty and serve time in prison because, his attorney said, he would not “plead to something that he didn’t do.”

The investigation has put Giuliani’s relationship with Kerik back in the spotlight at a time when the former mayor leads the Republican presidential field in national polls. During an appearance in Florida last weekend, Giuliani told reporters that they had a right to question his judgment in putting Kerik in charge of the New York Police Department and recommending him to Bush. “I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him,” Giuliani said. “It’s my responsibility, and I’ve learned from it.”

The White House explanation has shifted significantly. [as White House explanations tend to do. – LG] Just after Kerik withdrew, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that “we have no reason to believe” he lied and that it “would be an inaccurate impression” to say the vetting was rushed. Now current and former White House officials assert that Kerik lied “bald-faced,” as one put it, and say they erred by speeding up the nomination.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 9:29 am

First day with less coffee

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I put aside the 12-cup French press for a simple plastic cone that sits atop the cup: one cup at a time. It’s not so much fear of caffeine as a realization that I was going through coffee very fast, and it was a choice between drinking less coffee and buying cheaper coffee (robust!!!). (Of course, you might say I could do both. If so, you’re reading the wrong blog.)

So yesterday, on our little outing, I got a plastic cone, and today I’m having my single cup of coffee—though the cup/mug actually holds around 14 oz, almost a pint. I forgot to set the grinder back to a finer grind, so the coffee’s not quite so strong as it could be, but tomorrow’s will be better.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2007 at 9:21 am

Posted in Caffeine

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