What bugs me about the Ferguson thing…

It’s the ignorance surrounding what a Grand Jury does and how it is supposed to work.  And it doesn’t come from just the general public since I saw one “legal scholar” make a comment that there should have been rigourous cross examination.

There are two different parts of the criminal process for determining whether a case should go to trial: the preliminary hearing and a grand jury.  Neither of these two proceedings involves a finding of guilt or punishment of a party.  In fact, no “jeopardy” attaches and one can be retried if found “innocent” in one of these proceedings.  The difference between the two is that a preliminary hearing looks like a trial it is open to the public with a prosecution, defence, and judge addressing the matter: None of those are present in a grand jury.

Grand jury proceedings are much more relaxed than normal court room proceedings. There is no judge present and frequently there are no lawyers except for the prosecutor. The prosecutor will explain the law to the jury and work with them to gather evidence and hear testimony. Under normal courtroom rules of evidence, exhibits and other testimony must adhere to strict rules before admission. In fact, a grand jury has broad power to see and hear almost anything they would like.

Well, almost everything.  United States v. Williams, 504 U.S. 36 (1992) points out that there is no right to testify or produce exculpatory evidence:

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

The difference in procedures and rules lead to a situation that a former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler would comment that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.”  Of course, that is also due to the fact that the burden of proof in these proceedings is less than a regular criminal trial: preponderance of the evidence v. beyond a reasonable doubt.  In other words, is it more likely than not that a crime occurred.

Federal law required a grand jury indictment before beginning a criminal proceeding.  There were 162,000 federal cases filed in 2010:  Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. Of course, this was a state proceeding rather than a federal one (and the feds love cases they can’t lose). On the other hand, “If the prosecutor wants an indictment (in a non-federal case) and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Of course, a lot of commenters are thinking that the prosecution didn’t want to bring charges, but this is a high profile case with a lot at stake.  What better than to pick a procedure where these is no real scrutiny.  In fact, ordinarily the proceedings in a grand jury case should be sealed, but they have been released in this case to try and give some form of legitimacy that this was some form of adversarial proceeding, which gets to the comment about cross examination.

That didn’t happen here.  In fact, from what I heard the prosecution basically discounted anyone who contradicted Officer Wilson’s defence.  Additionally, this was done without any real cross examination, yet there is this mysterious “grand jury proceeding” to lend an air that “justice has been done” when that was hardly the case.

Of course, I can guess that people who believe that a white person can carry a gun late at night in a known drug and prostitution area will find that the police acted with justification in shooting an unarmed black youth who may have been surrendering.  If the police officer in the first instance faces reprimand–shouldn’t he also in the second one?  In fact, it would seem more important that justice is done in the second situation since deadly force was actually used.

The real issue is not so much whether Michael Brown was an innocent young man as much as whether justice has truly been done.

Of course, that is something that far too many people have missed in this situation.

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Chemists have Successfully Produced Amino Acid-like Molecules in a Single Test tube.

For the first time, chemists have successfully produced amino acid-like molecules that all have the same ‘handedness’, from simple building blocks and in a single test tube. Could this be how life started. On earth? Or in space, as the Philae lander is currently exploring? René Steendam researcher in Astrochemistry at Radboud University, the Netherlands has published the findings in Nature Communications.

Some molecules are found in two chiral variants that, just like hands, are mirror images of one another. Nature, however, makes use of only one variant; for example, DNA is made of a right-handed helix and the most common sugar — glucose — is also right-handed. Why nature does this, and how it all started, remains an intriguing puzzle. After all, whenever chemists make the same molecules they obtain a mix of both variants.


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House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

My, my. Who could imagine that? What will the right-wing do now??



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Science thrives only in societies where knowledge and reason are not overwhelmed by superstition and prejudice

The medieval mentality of modern science | Science News

Science coexists with society. Science shapes society, informs society, enables society to function in ways not possible without an in-depth knowledge of how the natural world works. But you can flip that coin and declare, equally accurately, that society shapes science. Science responds to societal needs, reflects societal values, conceives of nature within the framework of society’s prevailing worldview. And science thrives only in societies where knowledge and reason are not overwhelmed by superstition and prejudice.

So modern science, the conventional story says, emerged with the societal Renaissance that ended the millennium-long “dark” ages. A rebirth of learning transformed society from medieval to modern, enabling the birth of modern science.

“There can be no doubt,” science historian David Lindberg has written, “that in the early modern period science found itself in new social circumstances, which influenced its practice and altered its shape.”

Thanks to this synergistic coexistence, modern science and modern society have achieved heights of sophistication, complexity and affluence far beyond the dreams of medieval savants. Society enjoys the fruits of labor-saving machinery, electronic technological wizardry, health care expertise and agricultural and industrial productivity that science has made possible. At the same time societal support has allowed modern science to master the microworld of atoms and molecules, the vastness of the cosmos, the secrets of stars and planets, the mysteries of the Earth’s environs and its innards, the mechanisms of life and the origin of its multiplicity of species — not to mention the architecture of the human body and brain. Modern society, and modern science, could not be more different from their medieval predecessors.

But then again, in some ways both science and society have remained very much the same. Society still embraces superstitions and prejudices. Greed, corruption and violence do not seem to be in any danger of disappearing. And modern science, for all its progress and achievements, has not resolved many of the issues that arose in medieval times. In many, many ways, modern science retains a medieval mentality, by which I mean a frame of mind mired in deep physical, philosophical and technical problems that impede the path to a profound and indisputable grasp on truth.

Nobody denies that science has made enormous progress in comprehending nature, or that today’s best theories and analytical tools far exceed the scope and explanatory power of medieval beliefs and methods. Yet deep questions remain unsolved, and scientists today struggle with issues very similar to those that occupied the best medieval minds.

For instance:

In medieval times, Europeans learned the view of the ancient Greeks that “celestial” matter in the heavens differed in nature from matter making up the Earth. Today, scientists have concluded that the bulk of cosmic matter is indeed unlike anything known on Earth, but have been unable to determine just what that cosmic matter is made of. Medieval thinkers similarly debated about the properties of celestial matter — whether it was crystalline and rigid or fluid, for example.

Medieval scientists (natural philosophers) also wondered whether the universe is eternal or had a beginning. Aristotle had argued strongly for eternal. Medieval authors debated that point in light of the Christian creation story. Today physicists generally believe in a Big Bang creation of our universe, but also debate whether the popular theory explaining that event — inflation — implies a preexisting universe extending back eternally.

Other questions can be posed in both the medieval and modern context. Can a void exist beyond the universe we inhabit? Again, Aristotle said no, but medieval scientists often argued otherwise. Today some physicists picture the universe’s three space dimensions as occupying an empty “bulk” space of higher dimensions. Consensus on this point is as elusive today as it was seven centuries ago.

Are there multiple universes, or only one? The medieval worldview encompassed one cosmos: a set of nested spheres, self-enclosed by the outermost one. But many natural philosophers and church officials alike contended that God could very well have decided to make other worlds. And today cosmologists seriously consider the possibility that our universe is just one in a multitude of spacetime bubbles — a multiverse — beyond our immediate awareness.

More generally, medieval experts debated whether science should restrict itself to direct experience or could consider factors abstracted from experience by reason. Averroës, a medieval Muslim philosopher, “identified the real world with the directly observable and concrete,” the historian A.C. Crombie wrote (a view shared by William of Ockham, famous for his “razor”). But while Averroës argued that abstract concepts were imposed on nature by modes of human thought, others, such as Avempace, believed that a deeper reality was revealed by the idealizations that reason could draw from direct experience. Much the same argument is alive in science today. Some scientists complain that a multiplex of unseen universes, or “superstrings” too tiny to detect, are not scientific at all, while others vigorously pursue those topics as mainstream scientific research programs.

On a related point, scientists then and now have both grappled with the nature of mathematics and its relationship to physical reality. Medieval scholars adopted Claudius Ptolemy’s mathematical treatment of planets circling the Earth, orbiting along circles modified by epicycles. But Ptolemy’s system was meant to be a method for predicting the motions of points of light in the sky using math. He wrote an entirely different book to discuss the nature of the planets’ physical reality. The more general issue was whether math is just useful for predicting observations (“saving the phenomena,” as medieval writers called it) or if it inheres directly in physical reality (as the ancient Pythagoreans, and Plato, believed). This issue resonates today in debates about the quantum wave function. It’s a mathematical expression that excels for making predictions of experimental outcomes. But experts don’t agree on whether it is “ontic” — possessing a reality of its own — or “epistemic” — merely offering knowledge about a system that is useful for predicting its behavior.

Other medieval-modern similarities arise when a science’s implications elicit objections to its validity. Despite the popularity of astrology in medieval times, some thinkers objected to it on the grounds that celestial control of personal destiny eliminated human choice and free will. Many medieval philosophers sided with St. Augustine, who had written that “the choices of the will are not subject to the positions of the stars.” Much the same sort of dispute over science occurs today about how findings from neuroscience could imply lack of free choice in human behavior.

Medieval scientists also argued about the proper methods for establishing scientific truth, debating the role of observation and reason and the proper use of experiments. Today methodology debates are much more sophisticated, but the proper way to design and evaluate experiments — and draw correct inferences — remains a source of vigorous discussion among scientists and philosophers alike.

Now, the point of all this is not that science has made no progress since the days of Averroës or William of Ockham. Or to just have fun finding some medieval-modern analogies. Rather the point is that the generalized system of science, for seeking truth about the workings of the natural world, is in a sense still medieval — that is, a prelude to a deeper understanding that may not come for another millennium.

Science’s history suggests that some of the grandiose claims of modern science’s success should be tempered by an appreciation of how it is likely to be viewed in the future. A few centuries from now, today’s grand scientific edifice will no doubt be viewed as something like a medieval cathedral — magnificent, to be sure, but nevertheless a product of a backward intellectual age. Some problems that perplex scientists today will have been solved; other questions viewed as crucial today will be seen as insignificant or improperly posed; topics not yet imagined today will be textbooks trivialities then. But even half a millennium from now, it may still well be that the deepest questions about reality and existence, mathematics and physics, eternity and ultimate truth, will still be fodder for bloggers whining about what science still doesn’t know.



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Training can lead to synesthetic experiences: Does learning the ‘color of’ specific letters boost IQ?

The University of Sussex research, published today (18 November 2014) in Scientific Reports, also found that the training might potentially boost IQ.

Synesthesia is a fascinating though little-understood neurological condition in which some people (estimated at around 1 in 23) experience an overlap in their senses. They “see” letters as specific colors, or can “taste” words, or associate sounds with different colors.

A critical debate concerns whether the condition is embedded in our genes, or whether it emerges because of particular environmental influences, such as colored-letter toys in infancy.

While the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive, psychologists at the University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science devised a nine-week training program to see if adults without synesthesia can develop the key hallmarks of the condition.

They found, in a sample study of 14, that not only were the participants able to develop strong letter-color associations to pass all the standard tests for synesthesia, most also experienced sensations such as letters seeming “colored” or having individual personas (for instance, “x is boring,” “w is calm”).

One of the most surprising outcomes of the study was that those who underwent the training also saw their IQ jump by an average of 12 points, compared to a control group that didn’t undergo training.

Dr Daniel Bor, who co-led the study with Dr Nicolas Rothen, says: “The main implication of our study is that radically new ways of experiencing the world can be brought about simply through extensive perceptual training.

“The cognitive boost, although provisional, may eventually lead to clinical cognitive training tools to support mental function in vulnerable groups, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD) children, or adults starting to suffer from dementia.”

Dr Rothen adds: “It should be emphasized that we are not claiming to have trained non-synesthetes to become genuine synesthetes. When we retested our participants three months after training, they had largely lost the experience of ‘seeing’ colors when thinking about the letters. But it does show that synesthesia is likely to have a major developmental component, starting for many people in childhood.”


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Tiny Houses for the Homeless

MADISON (WKOW) — Madison’s newest– and smallest– neighborhood makes its debut this weekend.

Tiny House Village on E. Johnson Street is a project to offer shelter to some of Madison’s homeless population. Occupy Madison created it three years ago with a goal of helping the homeless get back on their feet.

“Rather than taking people form the streets and putting them in a building, we thought we could work together to create our own structures,” says Luca Clemente, with Occupy. “We don’t give houses to homeless people, we enable people to build their own houses to create their own futures.”

When complete, there will be nine homes in the village made from reclaimed and recycled materials. Organizers hope to add a garden, tree orchard and chickens.


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Climate Change Militant now in Charge


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