But can’t you see? Your prayers have not worked!

Thanks to a blog post by a skeptic in a nearby city who goes by the pseudonym Rev. El Mundo, I heard about a school district fairly close by where they used to have prayers, this time before school athletic events. Of course, they had to have known that such prayers are unconstitutional but school administrators tend to pander to the needs of the local community and hope no one notices that they are violating the constitution. They only stopped when they received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to stop the prayers or face a legal challenge.
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Score another win for Satan

The Satanic Temple, in the front lines against the intrusion of Christian dogmatic beliefs into public life, has won a skirmish in the fight to defend women’s rights when they challenged the state of Missouri after they passed a law that forced women seeking abortions to listen to an ultrasound. The Temple was suing the state on behalf of a member of the Temple.
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The tilted scales of justice

Two stories in The Intercept illustrate well how skewed the justice system is in the US.

In the first case, Shaun King writes about a man, clearly inflamed and influenced by Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and in particular at CNN, who phoned in multiple deaths threats to that network.

EARLY TUESDAY MORNING, we learned that Brandon Griesemer, a 19-year-old grocery store clerk from Novi, Michigan, made at least 22 calls to CNN’s Atlanta headquarters where he not only threatened to shoot and kill employees, but used racial and ethnic slurs for both African-Americans and Jews. The calls were made two weeks ago, and Griesemer was charged last Friday.

This was not Griesemer’s first rodeo. On September 19, he was reported to have made similarly ugly calls to an Islamic center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Brandon Griesemer is a bigot.
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This Trump legal maneuver will fail

One of the methods used by wealthy people and businesses to intimidate people and prevent them from taking action against them is to threaten them with legal action. Even if you, as an individual, are completely in the right and they are completely in the wrong, you will encounter a lot of up front costs and hassle in pressing your case, because the high-priced lawyers on the other side will make things as hard as possible for you. People like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein use this tactic repeatedly and, sadly, it usually works to silence critics.
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I had no idea that this law existed

A Sri Lankan friend of mine alerted me to the fact that since 1955, there has been a law on the books in that country that women were not allowed to purchase alcohol. I had no idea that such a law existed, probably because it was never enforced. That law has just been repealed.

Sri Lanka is to allow women over the age of 18 to buy alcohol legally for the first time in more than 60 years.

The government said that it was amending a 1955 law that it agreed was discriminatory against women.

The amendment to the law, announced on Wednesday, also means that women will be permitted without prior approval to work in places that sell alcohol.

Critics of the repeal warn that it might lead to more alcoholism among women. Apart from the fact that gender-based legislation is inherently problematic, this concern seems unwarranted. Although alcoholism is a problem in Sri Lanka, no one seemed to be aware of this unenforced law at all before its repeal so practically it is not going to have any effect.

How science is helping eliminate false convictions

In my post on the documentary The Thin Blue Line, I mentioned how in so many jurisdictions in the US the police, the prosecutors, and even the medical examiners offices are so determined to pin the crime on someone that they are willing to manufacture evidence or overlook or even actively suppress evidence that suggests that they might have the wrong person. Fortunately, there has been an increase in private individuals and pro bono lawyers who have taken an interest in such cases and there have been some high-profile releases of wrong incarcerated people.
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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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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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Incompetent Trump nominee withdraws

Recall Matthew Petersen, nominated by Donald Trump for a lifetime appointment as a federal judge who at a hearing last week was unable to answer a single question about the law that was posed to him by Louisiana senator John Kennedy, a very conservative Republican. Well, it appears that after being at the receiving end of a storm of ridicule, he has withdrawn his name from consideration.
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Hey, maybe Trump will nominate me for a federal judgeship

After seeing this video of one of Donald Trump’s nominations for a lifetime position as a federal judge in the US District Court, I feel that I am just as qualified as him. He failed to satisfactorily answer a single question of law posed to him by Republican senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. Trump has been nominating extreme ideologues to the federal bench, many of whom have been deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association. The sad thing is that the Republican senators have confirmed many of them.
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