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Friday TOON Roundup 1 - Good riddance, Hater

Judge Otis Wright Slams 'Made Up' Government 'Plot' Designed To Ensnare Gullible Poor People

by Mike Masnick

For years now, we've been writing about the FBI's now popular practice of devising its own totally bogus "terrorist plots" and then convincing some hapless individual to join the "plot" only to later arrest them to great fanfare, despite the fact that everyone (other than the arrested person) involved was actually an FBI agent, and there was no actual danger or real plot (or real terrorists) involved. In fact, we just had yet another such story. We've written about similar occurances over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again -- and, depressingly, it seems that courts repeatedly uphold this practice as not being entrapment. Many have been questioning why the FBI is spending so much time and money creating fake terrorist plots that don't seem to protect anyone (but do give the FBI/DOJ lots of big headlines about "stopping terrorism!"), but the courts have basically let it go.

However, it finally appears that one judge thinks these kinds of things go too far -- and it happens to be Judge Otis Wright, whose name you may recall from being the first judge to really slap down Prenda law for its obnoxious copyright trolling practices. Reader Frankz alerts us to the news Wright has dismissed a case involving the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for a similar "made up crime" and completely trashed the government for doing these kinds of things. As with his order in the Prenda case, I urge you to read his full dismissal which is granted for "outrageous government conduct." Judge Wright, it appears, is not one to hide his opinions about those who abuse the legal system. The ruling kicks off with a hint of where this is heading:
“‘Lead us not into temptation,’” Judge Noonan warned. United States v. Black, 733 F.3d 294, 313 (Noonan, J., dissenting). But into temptation the Government has gone, ensnaring chronically unemployed individuals from poverty-ridden areas in its fake drug stash-house robberies. While undoubtedly a valid law-enforcement tool when employed to target or prevent demonstrated criminal enterprises, reverse stings offend the United States Constitution when used solely to obtain convictions.

This case didn't involve "terrorism" like the FBI cases, but rather a similar "reverse sting" in which an ATF agent pretends to be a cocaine courier, tells some dupes about a "stash house" he knows about and then pushes them to rob the house. The ATF agent convinced a couple of guys, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Whitfield, to take part, and they eventually brought along a third guy, Antuan Dunlap, after the ATF guy kept asking them to bring along associates. The group, lead by the ATF agent's detailed plan, agreed to rob this house and then were all arrested. It's the third guy, Dunlap, who argued that the government was engaged in outrageous conduct. The government claims that Dunlap bragging about being involved in past robberies means that it was perfectly reasonable to arrest him here, but Wright isn't having it:
the Court finds that the Government’s extensive involvement in dreaming up this fanciful scheme—including the arbitrary amount of drugs and illusory need for weapons and extra associates—transcends the bounds of due process and renders the Government’s actions outrageous.



China's Moon rover awake but immobile

Alexandra Witze

China’s Moon rover Yutu, or ‘Jade Rabbit’, has stopped hopping. But its ears are still twitching — and communicating with Earth.

Last week Yutu and its companion spacecraft, the Chang’e 3 Moon lander, awoke from a period of dormancy after the frigid, two-week lunar night — the third awakening since landing on 14 December, Chinese scientists said this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. The probes continue to gather data and send it back to Earth.

But Yutu may never move more than the 100–110 metres it has already travelled from its landing site — in the Mare Imbrium. Mission officials had hoped that Yutu would travel to the rim of a nearby crater and explore it, but a mechanical failure in Yutu’s drive system has stilled the rover since late January.

The rover has already used its ground-penetrating radar to probe the structure of the lunar soil more than 100 metres deep. Those data are still being processed, but Le Qiao, a planetary scientist at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, is anxious to see whether the results confirm the thickness of basaltic rocks at the landing site. Using satellite images of craters that expose the underlying layer, Qiao’s team estimates that the basaltic rocks are 41–46 metres thick at the landing site.



Time Warner Cable CEO to get $79.5 million from Comcast buyout

Robert Marcus just became Time Warner Cable's CEO on Jan. 1, but if Comcast is successful in buying TWC for $45.2 billion, he'll get a severance package worth as much as $79.5 million.

"Should the deal close, Mr. Marcus will receive $56.5 million in stock, $20.5 million in cash and a $2.5 million bonus if Time Warner Cable meets its performance targets by the time of the deal’s completion," the New York Times reported, pointing to a regulatory filing disclosed today.

Marcus joined TWC in 2005 as a senior executive VP, and he became chief financial officer in 2008 and chief operating officer in December 2010. He's been chairman and CEO since Jan. 1 of this year.

Initially, Marcus told shareholders it would be better to "continue as a standalone company than merge with a competitor," the Times wrote. Time Warner rebuffed an acquisition attempt by Charter, but "in a rapid series of developments in January and February, Mr. Marcus negotiated to sell Time Warner Cable to Comcast, the largest cable operator in the country." Marcus was paid $10.1 million in 2012.

"Other Time Warner Cable executives are also in line for big payday," the Times report said. "Arthur T. Minson Jr., the chief financial officer, will receive severance pay totaling $27 million. Michael LaJoie, the chief technology officer, will receive $16.3 million. And Philip G. Meeks, who replaced Mr. Marcus as chief operating officer, will take home $11.7 million."



nice 'work' if you can get it

Governors siphoning mortgage settlement money: It's disgusting

By Ted Rall
March 20, 2014, 6:00 a.m.
As a news junkie and student of the human condition, it takes a lot to make my blood come to a full boil. It takes even more to make me sympathize with wealthy corporations. Hand it to Gov. Jerry Brown — he managed to pull off both feats with the news that he diverted more than $350 million from California's share of the 2012 national mortgage settlement with the banking industry to reduce the state's 2013 budget deficit.

Now that California is enjoying a budget surplus, a coalition of homeownership advocates and religious organizations has filed suit against the state to force Brown to restore the money.

Back in 2008-09, the real estate bubble burst, taking the global economy with it. By many measures, especially real unemployment and median wages, we still haven't recovered.

By 2010, a political consensus had formed. Though politicians were partly to blame, the worst offenders were the giant "too big to fail" banks that had knowingly approved loans to home-buyers who couldn't afford to pay them back, sold bundles of junk mortgage derivatives to unsuspecting investors and secretly hedged their bets against their clients. After the house of cards came down, the banks played the other side. They cashed in their chips, refusing to refinance mortgages even though interest rates had fallen. They deployed "robo-signers" to illegally evict hundreds of thousands of homeowners — including people who had never missed a payment — and to ding them with outrageous late fees, while the banks profited from the subsequent foreclosures.



The Glassmaker Who Sparked Astrophysics

The lights in the sky above us—the sun, the moon, and the panoply of countless stars—have surely been a source of wonder since long before recorded history. Ingenious efforts to measure distances to them began in earnest in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C., and astronomers and astrophysicists today, with high-powered telescopes and computers, still ponder the universe and attempt to tease out answers to millennia-old questions.

But one of the most significant discoveries in this inquiry was not made with a high-powered telescope or a computer, or by anyone peering at the sky. Two hundred years ago, Joseph von Fraunhofer, a Bavarian glassmaker and researcher, experimented in his laboratory with simple equipment and detected dark lines in the spectrum of sunlight. He had no way of knowing that this curious discovery would allow future scientists to calculate the distances of stars and precipitate one of the most momentous advances in the history of all science—the recognition that the universe is expanding.

Joseph Fraunhofer was born on March 6, 1787, in Straubing, in lower Bavaria. On both his father’s and his mother’s sides, his forebears had had links to glass production for generations. Joseph, the youngest of 11 children, likely worked in his father’s shop. When Joseph was 10, his mother died; his father died a year or two later, and Joseph’s guardians sent him to Munich to apprentice with the glassmaker Philipp Anton Weichselberger, who produced mirrors and decorative glass for the court. This should have been an enviable apprenticeship, but Weichselberger was a harsh master who gave his apprentices menial tasks and taught them little about glassmaking. He prevented Joseph from reading the science books he loved by refusing him a reading lamp at night and forbade his attending the Sunday classes that offered Munich apprentices some education outside the trade.

Joseph endured two years of this misery, but then his story took a turn that could have come from a Charles Dickens novel. Weichselberger’s house collapsed, burying Joseph underneath. His rescue was dangerous and took several hours, giving prince-elector Maximilian IV time to arrive on the scene. The accident made Joseph the city’s hero, and a still-existing woodcut in Munich’s Deutsches Museum shows Maximilian, arms outspread, welcoming the boy back to life. Maximilian invited Joseph to his castle and put him in the care of his advisor, industrialist Joseph von Utzschneider. Utzschneider, realizing that this lucky young man was bright and had a thirst for knowledge, supplied Joseph with books on mathematics and optics.



Lab-Grown Organs Are Out In The Wild, And More Are Coming Soon

In 2011, an Eritrean man named Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyen was dying from tracheal cancer. The tumor in his windpipe was, the doctors explained, too big to remove. There was no time to wait for a donor organ to show up.

In years past, this might have been the end of the line for Beyen. Instead, he received a healthy new windpipe, made from his own cells. Beyen was the first of eight patients to receive a trachea grown on synthetic scaffolding in a laboratory. And so far, just two have died, from causes unrelated to their transplants. Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology, the regenerative medicine company behind many of the innovations used in the trachea transplants, believes we're only seeing the beginning of the lab-grown organ industry.

"We make regenerated organs for transplant. I know it sounds all kinds of science-fictiony. I think we've proven with the trachea that this approach works," says CEO David Green.

HART, a spinoff from Harvard Bioscience, sees a booming business in lab-grown organs. Green estimates that there is a $600 million per year revenue opportunity for trachea transplants alone. "The major technological hurdles have been overcome. Now the main issues are regulatory," he says.

The technological hurdles may have been overcome, but growing a trachea in a lab and then putting it inside a patient is no small feat. First, stem cells have to be taken from the patient. Then, they're added to a scaffold tailored to the dimensions of the patient's trachea. The scaffold is made out of a thin, styrofoam-like plastic polymer (HART doesn't use donor tracheas as natural scaffolding, even though this is technically possible, because plastic ones can be made in unlimited quantities and don't require immunosuppressant drugs).



Mysterious New Gully Spotted on Mars

A new gully has appeared on a sloped crater wall on Mars. The channel, which was absent from images in November 2010 but showed up in a May 2013 photo, does not appear to have been formed by water. Exactly what caused this Red Planet rivulet remains a mystery.

The winding gully seems to have poured out from an existing ribbon channel in a crater in Mars’ Terra Sirenum region. The leading hypothesis on how the gully formed is that debris flowed downslope from an alcove and eroded a new channel. Though it looks water-carved, the gully is much more likely to have been formed when carbon dioxide frost accumulated on the slope and grew heavy enough to avalanche down and drag material down with it.

Because the pair of images, taken by the orbiting HiRISE camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, were taken more than a year apart, scientists don’t know in exactly which season the new gully formed. Similar activity has been seen to occur during the Martian winter at temperatures too cold for water, which is why researchers think carbon dioxide is a likelier cause. While the formation of these gullies on Mars is well documented, scientists have yet to work out exactly how they work.


Researchers discover fish with a previously unknown type of eye

The University of Tübingen's Institute of Anatomy has discovered a fish with a previously unknown type of eye. The aptly-named glasshead barreleye lives at depths of 800 to 1000 meters. It has a cylindrical eye pointing upwards to see prey, predators or potential mates silhouetted against the gloomy light above. But the eye also has a mirror-like second retina which can detect bioluminescent flashes created by deep-sea denizens to the sides and below, reports Professor Hans-Joachim Wagner in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Professor Wagner examined an 18cm long glasshead barreleye, rhynchohyalus natalensis, caught in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, as part of an international research project. The results were unexpected – reflector eyes are usually only found in invertebrates, such as mollusks and crustaceans, although one other vertebrate, the deep-sea brownsnout spookfish or dolichopteryx longipes, also uses a combination of reflective and refractive lenses in its eyes. The light coming from below is focused onto a second retina by a curved mirror composed of many layers of small reflective plates made of guanine crystals, giving the fish a much bigger field of vision.
The glasshead barreleye is therefore one of only two vertebrates known to have reflector eyes; but significantly, although rhynchohyalus natalensis and dolichopteryx longipes belong to the same family, their reflective lenses have a different structure and appear to have developed from different kinds of tissue. That indicates that two related but different genera took different paths to arrive at a similar solution – the reflective optics and a second retina to supplement the limited vision of the conventional refractive cylindrical eye.
The prisms in the brownsnout spookfish eye grew out of a layer of pigment on the retina and the angle of the reflective crystals varies depending on their position within the mirror, but in the glasshead barreleye, the crystals are flatter and images are formed depending on the roundness of the reflective surface. "The mirror here is formed from the silvery skin of the eye, and the crystals are arrayed almost parallel to the surface of the mirror," says Wagner. Models of the reflector showed that it is capable of throwing a bright, sharp image onto the retina below. "Obviously, a broad field of vision is an advantage even at great depths if similar structures develop independently to ensure it."

ACLU: Steep drop in pot cases has freed up resources

A steep drop in charges filed against adults over 21 in Washington state after legalization of marijuana shows the new law is freeing up court and law-enforcement resources to deal with other issues, a primary backer of the law said Wednesday.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that such low-level charges were filed in just 120 cases in 2013, down from 5,531 cases the year before.

“The data strongly suggest that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals — to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources,” Mark Cooke, criminal-justice policy counsel with the state ACLU, said in a news release.

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said that hasn’t been the case in his office. He said prosecutors handled only a few misdemeanor pot cases a day before the law went into effect.


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