Lazy linking

A few links to articles and blogposts that I think worth sharing

Laurie Penny has written a long-read article about not debating people: No, I Will Not Debate You

Civility will never defeat fascism, no matter what The Economist thinks.

Professor Julie Libarkin of Michigan State University has compiled a list of know harassers in academia

Rates of sexual abuse and harassment in academic science are second only to the military. It’s estimated that at least half of women faculty and staff face harassment and abuse and that 20 to 50 percent of women students in science, engineering, and medicine are abused by faculty. Those numbers are generally based on surveys, which are an important way of getting a handle on the problem and how it changes women’s career trajectories.

But when it comes to holding institutions accountable and making meaningful changes, naming perpetrators may be even more powerful.

Julie Libarkin has taken on the challenge of creating a database of harassers. She’s a professor at Michigan State University and she heads the Geocognition Research Laboratory. She’s compiled a list of some 700 cases of sexual misconduct in academia.

The human league: what separates us from other animals? by Adam Rutherford

You are an animal, but a very special one. Mostly bald, you’re an ape, descended from apes; your features and actions are carved or winnowed by natural selection. But what a special simian you are. Shakespeare crystallised this thought a good 250 years before Charles Darwin positioned us as a creature at the end of the slightest of twigs on a single, bewildering family tree that encompasses 4bn years, a lot of twists and turns, and 1 billion species.

Republicans hoped voters would forget they tried to kill Obamacare. They bet wrong. by Andy Slavitt

Andy Slavitt described his article thus on twitter:

Do you notice this phenomenon where your MOC behaves differently in odd numbered years and even numbered years? My @USATODAY column this week explains.

There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal-justice system is racist. Here’s the proof. by Radley Balko

This is very relevant to my earlier post about the need for a reform in the US judicial system.

How many innocent people must be freed? A sweeping review is needed

There is a well-known saying, called Blackstone’s formulation, which is supposed to represent the concept behind the judicial systems in the West

It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer

Yet, looking at the US judicial system, it seems like the exact opposite is the case. A lot of people are wrongfully convicted – either through being forced into plea bargains, or though plain wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project, which has been working to free innocent people for 25 years, have freed hundreds of people, many from the death row. Unfortunately, there is not enough resources to help everybody, and sometimes it takes a very unlikely series of events for someone innocent to get the attention of someone who can help.

This is the case with Valentino Dixon. He was wrongfully convicted of murder, and had served 27 years behind bars before getting his conviction overturned. While he family had fought for him getting released, the big breakthrough came when a golf magazine took up his case. Dixon came to the attention of Golf Digest because of his golf-related drawings. And as Golfworld explains, it didn’t take long for the magazine to notice that his conviction seemed rather doubtful.

It took about a hundred drawings before Golf Digest noticed, but when we did, we also noticed his conviction seemed flimsy. So we investigated the case and raised the question of his innocence.

The case is complicated, but on the surface it involves shoddy police work, zero physical evidence linking Dixon, conflicting testimony of unreliable witnesses, the videotaped confession to the crime by another man, a public defender who didn’t call a witness at trial, and perjury charges against those who said Dixon didn’t do it. All together, a fairly clear instance of local officials hastily railroading a young black man with a prior criminal record into jail. Dixon’s past wasn’t spotless, he had sold some cocaine, but that didn’t make him a murderer.

Golf Digest wrote about this, and the story was picked up by other media, without Dixon’s case got any traction. Then his case was picked by 3 Georgetown undergraduate students as their case in a Prison Reform Project course.

Dixon’s case was certainly the most advanced, mostly because he already had an attorney representing him and pursuing his innocence. But the case had stalled. One barrier to such efforts is the challenge of proving there is new evidence that needs to be considered — difficult in this case, since the real killer’s confessions had been well-known for decades.

The three students working on Dixon’s case kept pushing, traveling to visit Dixon in prison, tracking down witnesses, and interviewing the key figures in his original trial. Several interviews revealed the blatant incompetence and callousness of his original trial attorney, who didn’t seem troubled at all by the conviction.

But the bombshell moment occurred when the original prosecutor, unprompted, revealed that after Dixon had been arrested, the investigators had conducted gun residue testing on his hands and clothes, and the test came back negative.

This was a blatant violation of the landmark Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, which ruled prosecutors are obligated to provide defense attorneys with any material evidence helpful to the defense. Yet in this case, no one knew about the test until the Georgetown students captured the prosecutor talking about it on camera.

In short, these remarkable students broke new investigative ground and contributed to Dixon’s lawyers’ final and ultimately successful motion to overturn his conviction based on new evidence.

If Gold Digest hadn’t picked up the story, creating some media buzz, it is unlikely the case would have gotten the attention of the Georgetown professors running the course, and then the graduate students wouldn’t have begun their digging.

I cannot help wonder how many other wrongfully convicted people there are out there without the benefit of a passion that catches the eye of someone outside the prison. Given what we know about the conduct of US prosecutors and police forces, and in many cases public defenders, I can’t help but think that every case should be reviewed, especially those against poor, non-white people, who historically has been badly served by the US judicial system. This is not a small task, but it should be possible to identify cases with a high risk of wrongful conviction – this would be cases from districts where there has already been identified problems with the methods used by the prosecutor and the police force, cases where the public defender has a noteworthy bad record, and cases where there is evidence of a bias in the system (e.g. black crime against white people).

This is unlikely to happen as long as the GOP, and other though-on-crime politicians, are in political position – including the position of public prosecutor and judge in many cases. The only way to change this, is to vote for better politicians, and then pressure the elected politicians to work for justice, rather than being though on crime.

The original 2012 article in Golf Digest: Golf Saved My Life – Drawings From Prison

Lazy linking

A few thing I have found of interest.

SF will wipe thousands of marijuana convictions off the books

San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday — expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades.

The unprecedented move will affect thousands of people whose marijuana convictions brand them with criminal histories that can hurt chances of finding jobs and obtaining some government benefits.

Proposition 64, which state voters passed in November 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California for those 21 and older and permitted the possession up to 1 ounce of cannabis. The legislation also allows those with past marijuana convictions that would have been lesser crimes — or no crime at all — under Prop. 64 to petition a court to recall or dismiss their cases.

This is an important move. A lot of people have been jailed in the past for crimes which is no longer on the books, and it is only fair that they get released.

Science behind bars: How a Turkish physicist wrote research papers in prison

Thousands of academics in Turkish universities stand accused of either having supported terrorism or the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016. Theoretical physicist Ali Kaya is one of them. He was arrested three months after the failed coup and held for more than a year before his trial took place. On 20 December, a court declared him guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment — but released him early owing to the time he had already served in prison while awaiting trial. Kaya says that he is innocent and is appealing against the verdict. In the meantime, he has been suspended from his academic post, and he has yet to learn whether his university, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, plans to fire him or to await the outcome of the appeal.

This story shows how Turkey has become a totalitarian regime, and how scientists can persevere under horrible circumstances.

Your Grandma Was a Chain Migrant!

Jennifer Mendelsohn, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, has a low tolerance for bad faith. Last summer, after Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser, went on television to support a bill that would penalize immigrants who didn’t speak English, Mendelsohn took to Twitter. “Miller favors immigrants who speak English,” she began. “But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother couldn’t.” Her tweet, which included a photograph of a census document indicating that Miller’s ancestor spoke only Yiddish, went viral. “It’s hilarious how easy it is to find hypocrisy,” Mendelsohn said. “And I’m a scary-good sleuth.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, the spiritual mother of generations of writers; John Scalzi pays tribute

World’s oceans rise to hottest temperatures ever recorded ‘by far’

‘Long upward trend that extends back many decades does prove global warming’

Not that we really need any more evidence.

Spiritual hyperplane

How spiritualists of the 19th century forged a lasting association between higher dimensions and the occult world

Interesting bit of history.

Advice to government employees

Cross-posted at the Resistance blog

Slate has a article by Ian Samuel, explaining the legal situation for government employees. Samuel is a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School and a former law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia. The whole article is worth reading, but the last two paragraphs are the most important ones

Of course, asserting your legal rights and standing up to the government you work for aren’t always easy and come with substantial risks. (For one thing, a court might end up agreeing with the Trump administration that its orders were perfectly lawful.) The wise civil servant who was ready to refuse a Trump executive order would do well to talk with a lawyer beforehand. That’s why I’ve offered to represent, pro bono, any government official who refuses to execute a Trump order on the grounds that the order is illegal. A huge number of other lawyers—in particular, professors Daniel Epps (of Washington University in St. Louis) and Leah Litman (of the University of California–Irvine)—have offered their services as well, as have countless other lawyers, paralegals, law students, legal secretaries, and even (my favorite) a bartender in Cleveland.

No government program or White House command is self-executing. It takes thousands and thousands of people, distributed throughout the country, to transform an illegal order into an injustice. These loyal civil servants were there before President Trump arrived and they will mostly be there when he’s gone. Are you one of them? If so: The American system provides you with a choice. You can insist that you were just following orders. Or you can follow the law.

So, if you are a government employee who think that you have gotten an illegal order, there are resources available for you to draw upon. Please use them.