Happy New Year!

My family, including my grandson, are going to be visiting for the next few days and I am going to be spending some fun time with them so blogging will be suspended until early in the New Year. While 2017 was a disaster in terms of politics in the US, one wonderful thing for me personally was the birth of my grandson. I hope all of you also had at least one thing that was wonderful that enabled you to view the year at least somewhat favorably

Best wishes to all readers for a much better 2018!

If Ellsberg is a hero, why not Snowden?

There is a new film The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep and directed by Stephen Spielberg that resurrects once again the story of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and the legal case that was won by the Washington Post and other newspapers that prevented the suppression of them. Nick Gillespie writes that in an interview with the BBC Arabic service’s Sam Asi, Spielberg, Hanks, and to a lesser extent Streep, praise Ellsberg as a hero for his actions but avoiding doing so with Edward Snowden.
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Some Trump inauguration protestors cleared of rioting

The inauguration of Donald Trump saw a massive protest in Washington DC that resulted in over 200 people being arrested. In a chilling attempt at discouraging political protest, the authorities threw the book at them, as Yael Bromberg and Eirik Cheverud write:

On the morning of President Trump’s Inauguration, police trapped and arrested over 230 people. Some were anti-Trump demonstrators; some were not. The next day, federal prosecutors charged them all with “felony rioting,” a nonexistent crime in DC. The prosecution then launched a sweeping investigation into the defendants’ lives, demanding vast amounts of online information through secret warrants.

Prosecutors eventually dropped a few defendants, like journalists and legal observers, but simultaneously increased the charges against everyone else. The most recent indictment collectively charged over 200 people with felony rioting, felony incitement to riot, conspiracy to riot, and five property-damage crimes — all from broken windows. Each defendant is facing over 60 years in prison.
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What really happened in Las Vegas?

It has been awhile since the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1 that resulted in 59 deaths and over 500 injured. What is astonishing is that some major questions, such as the motives that Stephen Paddock might have had for his action, still remain obscure. But what is also disturbing is that more questions have opened up, suggesting that the police initially may have put out an incorrect timeline of the events, as Liz Posner writes.
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There is no such thing as a ‘friendly’ conversation with law enforcement

At a recent Science Café of which I am part of the organizing committee, we had two FBI agents to talk about how they track white-collar crime such as those involving Medicare and Medicaid fraud, with physicians inflating the charges for treatment. The two agents were very friendly and pleasant and before and after the session I had an interesting chat with them about their work. But that same friendliness can be a trap if you happen to be in their sights for any investigation.
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Two court challenges in elections

After the November elections, the Virginia House of Delegates is delicately balanced with 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats, a big shift from the 66-34 majority Republicans had before. One last seat is even more delicately balanced because, after a recount, it had 11,608 votes for Democratic candidate Shelley Simonds, 11,607 votes for the Republican David Yancey, and one disputed ballot. After examining the ballot, a three-judge panel ruled that the voter’s intent was for Yancey, thus causing a tie. Here’s the disputed ballot.

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Film review: The Thin Blue Line (1988) and the conviction of innocent people

This highly acclaimed documentary by Errol Morris has been on my to-see list for the longest time but I never got around to it. I watched it last night and it deserves all the accolades it received. It is also a grim reminder of how in America, at least in some jurisdictions, so many innocent people are executed or incarcerated for decades because the police and prosecutors care less about the truth than ‘notching up a win’ and closing a case as quickly as they can.

The case so well illustrates that when police and prosecutors severely distort the judicial process in order to get a conviction, it is not just that an innocent person is deprived of life and liberty, as bad as that is, but that a whole lot of random innocent people suffer because of it. In their zeal to convict an innocent man of murder, the Dallas police and prosecutors let the real killer walk free and subsequently commit a string of violent crimes for a decade that ended with another murder. It was only after he was arrested for that second murder that the crime spree ended. The authorities are thus indirectly responsible for all those crimes.
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The meaning of cousins ‘removed’

Recently we had as dinner guests a colleague and his wife and during the evening he happened to mention that someone was “his first cousin once removed’. I seized on this because I had never been sure what that meant and so asked him. He said that when he talked about someone being his first cousin once removed, he meant someone who was a child of his first cousin. But when I asked him how that other person would refer to him (since he was not the child of that person’s first cousin) he said he was not sure. I have also heard some people refer to the child of a first cousin as a second cousin.
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Keeping track of the creeps

The flood of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment accusations against prominent people in public life has made it hard for anyone to keep track of who is accused of what and by whom. Via Rusty Blazenhoff I learned about something called The Creep Sheet that has compiled a list of all the accusations, sorted into categories like Entertainment, Politics and Government, Media, and so on.
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