Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whole What?

I first shopped at Whole Foods when I lived in Austin in the late 90s.  It was more elegant than the same organic open air Central Market.  It was grocery shopping for the elite.

I grew up hating grocery shopping as I had to go with my wildly eccentric father who growing up was very typical of those "OMG" moments we all have with parents. But he taught me quite a bit about food having grown up on one he knew and understood the value, necessity and complexity of what we so charmingly call "from farm to table."

Grocery shopping like going to the Doctor over the past few years has become a must do and obligation not something we enjoy or appreciate that we can actually go to one and have a multitude of choices of food laid out from which to choose.

A few years ago Gawker so famously posted a Whole Foods employee resignation letter.  I don't do links to Gawker (although now with their employees unionized and their regulator, owner, keeper, manager, whatever the new titles are for the online age, Nick Denton has become apparently human I may in the future) but here it is from the Daily Mail.

And today in Washington Post this greeted me.  As always I appreciate newspaper comment sections often more than the article itself.  Everything apparently is political. And yes John Mackey is quite the Libertarian with all the accoutrement's that allegiance enjoins, however,  I believe he is not the sole problem here as each store packages and in turn weighs and labels the pre packaged items.  You will find a multitude of products and they are huge loss leaders for any and all mass market businesses.  I used to work in food and candy and you have to know the markup and way retailers use that to offset the books.  I get that I am not getting 16 oz of shrimp as the packaging cost, the weight of ice or any other issues during the processing often contribute. So one might be more one might be less.  But who has time to actually weigh the product, deduct packaging weight, etc.  And that is the point.

This issue is not just about that, Whole Foods has been found convoluted the labeling process and admit that the organic and other critical data that enabled them to price accordingly - organic, no GMO, etc - has not been exactly substantiated and in turn legitimate.  That is fraud.  They are supposedly have taken care of it.  Sure. Ok.  Did they do the same with the prison manufactured food as well?

The Whole Foods where I shop is smack dab in the center of Amazonia. They are there simply to serve the pod dwellers that live adjacent and the employees on their lunch hour. Several restaurants have closed in the area as they never got the lunch traffic needed to stay open and the dinner hour is non existent as the Amazonians have figured out that the costs of living prohibit fine dining but eating another faux hippie meal at Chipolte is affordable. ***I can't believe these supposed highly sophisticated MEllinneals are not aware of that business and their CEO's excessive pay scales in comparison to the employees.. yet they are the $15/for all folks, proving again we like our politics to be bland and uniform but actually knowing anything about the "dark side" of truth not so much. Americans are idiots.  And yes I am aware I am a bitch/bitter/meanie... no I am honest and in your face but this is America and people like me, especially women are not of import.***

I shop at Whole Foods for specific speciality items, I also shop at Safeway or Kroeger/QFC for the fill in the blanks. I am not quite the customer they target as I am not consistent but I do find a large percentage of food I purchase at Whole Foods.  I am just as lazy as the millennial at their obsession with Chilpolte but I actually know how to market and  cook.   And I prefer my farmer markets during the year as many run year round so you can do seasonal and supplemental foods as well through them.  But all of this takes time and effort and again I have that luxury and it is a part of my day but I do get the idea of running in grabbing food and going.  But in the long run the costs add to the budget and again if you are so much a part of the tech set you can easily put this in a spread sheet or data tracker the same way they do you and see what the costs are.  But again Americans like it fast and furious.

And while I do shop there I am aware of the problems, the politics of its founder and the cost and then I speak to my favorite checkers and somehow in the same manner I reconcile my beliefs about Wells Fargo where I bank, I realize that the faces on the front line matter more than my politics and I can safely put them in my pocketbook for the time being and continue to write management and educate others to hopefully do the same as it comes from a customer who is a job creator by being one.

Paying more does not make it better it just means we pay more.  Take a look at our Medical Industrial complex in comparison, we pay more and get less.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


I am moving away from talking about the dysfunction junction that is our criminal justice system. Of late it is not a good place as we have no real idea on how to fix any of it.

Minnesota Supreme Court did the right thing and stopped the endless incarceration of men whom were convicted of "sex" crimes. A dubious crime in many cases and one that has destroyed lives and left in its wake a lifetime of utter bullshit.  Their ruling and reasoning is clear - you cannot intern people on crimes you believe they will commit. And the MSOP statute is and was a horrific piece of unconstitutional legislation that did nothing for any persons protection or safety.

Irony that today in an actual sex crime case,  the Vanderbilt rape case, a Juror foreman a Todd Easter, neglected to mention his role in a sex crime as a juvenile and due to that failure to disclose a mistrial was called. The Juror,was not trying to cover anything up or do so to get the rapists off or well even convicted, he just simply felt it was never a sex crime in the first place, it was consensual and because he was a minor it was not to the law.
Mr. Easter said he had opposed the prosecution of the man who ultimately pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct in his case because he regarded the relationship as consensual. He testified that he had not considered — or even recalled — his own experience as a crime victim during this year’s jury selection or subsequent trial.

And there is a  debate over the Innocent Project and their focus on exoneration's that only relate to DNA.  They do no other types of cases which in many cases exclude women as they are not often tried in cases where DNA evidence is the primary tool in which to convict and in turn exclude suspects.  As these require intense research and investigation which is both time and resource consuming.  Irony is that the head of the Texas branch quit due to the New York state one becoming the doyenne of the 1% and drawing such attention of the in crowd and by in not those who are in a jail but the same ones who fund the prison industrial complex.

There is the article from Time Magazine a year ago about the changing faces of exoneration's.  Not all are related to DNA evidence and  that too needs to change is critical reading when you realize how many women are in jail for crimes that they too did not commit and deserve a chance at justice.  There are these articles here in Huffington Post and this is the Women's Project from Northwestern Law Center on Wrongful Convictions dealing with the issues that often surround the complex nature of this issue.

As for DNA it is not all that perfect science as it is believed either.  It is one of the better and more reliable methods but all science is as good as the agents testing and the labs that perform the analysis. They too have their issues, their biases and their methodology often tied to funding and in turn who pays the bills gets the results they need.

That is a well documented and supported argument in all cases that require lab testing.  DNA is just one such type.

The Surprisingly Imperfect Testing of DNA Science

Years later, none of it — not 84-year-old Eleonora Knoernschild’s bloody body on the shag carpet, not the torn bedspread twisted around her neck, not the junk heaped on her corpse so abundantly that only her left foot poked out, not three decades of detective work — none of it would matter as much as the cheese wrapper.

This story was produced in partnership with Fusion and FRONTLINE.
The Marshall Project
June 24 2015

The day after Knoernschild was killed on Nov. 4, 1984, the local newspapers didn’t mention the cheese wrapper at all, nor the knee-high stocking that would also be of great consequence in the trials that would take place 30 years later.

 Instead, the newspapers reported how Knoernschild’s premature death had been discovered: Her daughter, 59-year-old Doris Wines, had been walking to the neighborhood donut shop that Sunday morning. Wines lived just a few doors down from her mother in St. Charles, Mo., an affluent St. Louis suburb on the western bank of the Missouri River. She stooped to pick up the newspaper on her mother’s lawn. As she went to drop it off, she saw that the window in the front door had been broken. She sprinted home and called 911.

That afternoon, police told reporters that Knoernschild had been murdered and her home ransacked. The motive was likely burglary, they said, but so far there were no witnesses or suspects.

Detective Mike Harvey of the St. Charles Police Department was assigned to the case. Harvey was a Vietnam vet with a flair for convincing criminals to rat each other out. He would devote considerable reflection over the next 30 years to the death of Eleonora Knoernschild. Long after it waned in departmental memory, he was still following leads. Even after he retired in 2009, Harvey thought about her death. So when an old friend in the county prosecutor’s office called and asked if he’d like to come out of retirement to work on cold cases for them, he did not hesitate. The Knoernschild files were the first he opened.

That was in April 2010, when the cheese wrapper had not yet gained its prominence in the case, although it had been in the custody of law enforcement for many years. Detectives found the rectangle of translucent plastic on Knoernschild’s linoleum floor next to a frozen Yankee pot roast. Over the next 27 years, the cheese wrapper sat inside a manila envelope in the St. Charles Police Department’s property room.

In November 2010, Harvey asked the county forensics lab to test it and 14 other items from the crime scene for DNA. One day the following summer, DNA technician Dan Fahnestock slid the cheese wrapper from its envelope. Fahnestock, half of the county’s two-person biological forensics lab, examined the wrapper. It was covered in silver dust, a relic of fingerprint testing it had been submitted to years before.

He wiped the wrapper with six cotton swabs and placed them each in solution to dissolve any human cells they had collected. He ran the solution through a series of machines tasked with detecting, isolating, and amplifying DNA. For each of the samples, the robots produced an electropherogram, a chart with a series of flat, squiggly lines punctuated by spikes, like the EKG of a failing heart or a seismograph recording tiny earthquakes. Several of the swabs returned nothing useful, but one produced a chart with a handful of peaks, each representing a genetic marker.

Fahnestock examined the chart. It wasn’t ideal. The amount of genetic material wasn’t exactly abundant, and the DNA had decayed considerably since 1984. Some markers couldn’t be seen at all.
Conservative technicians might have stopped there, deciding the sample was too compromised to analyze. But Fahnestock continued, piecing together a profile. That profile pointed to someone Harvey had suspected for years — St. Charles native son, Brian McBenge, an ex-boyfriend of Knoernschild’s granddaughter. Six weeks later, a DNA test of a knee-high nylon stocking found behind Knoernschild’s house implicated his younger brother, Cecil McBenge.

The DNA evidence would serve as the basis for prosecuting the brothers for first-degree murder. It was a crime Harvey believed they had gotten away with for decades. But the cheese wrapper may be evidence of something else entirely: the ambiguity of a science most people never doubt.

Eleonora Knoernschild on her porch in St. Charles, Mo. in 1982.

The man Harvey says killed Eleonora Knoernschild strode to the sturdy plastic table in the visiting room where I was seated. His goatee was sandy grey, same as his hair.

He placed a stack of papers between us: The 296-page deposition of Dan Fanhestock. In preparation for our meeting, Brian had reread the deposition, and on three sheets of yellow legal paper, in tidy print, listed dozens of page numbers where he spotted holes in Fahnestock’s DNA analyses of the cheese wrapper and stocking. He started to hand me the list, but a guard stopped him. Prisoners are forbidden from passing papers to visitors.

Brian sighed and forged ahead, flipping through the pages. He pointed to a question his attorney had asked Fahnestock: Whether Fahnestock could say with certainty that Cecil or Brian were the individuals who left the DNA on the cheese wrapper or the knee-high stocking.

Brian looked at me. “And he says no.”

Fahnestock’s answer was a simple acknowledgement that even at its best, DNA science is not absolute. To Brian, it was proof that DNA cannot be trusted.

In the three decades since DNA emerged as a forensic tool, courts have rarely been skeptical about its power. When the technique of identifying people by their genes was invented, it seemed like just the thing the justice system had always been waiting for: Bare, scientific fact that could circumvent the problems of human perception, motivation, and bias.

Other forensic sciences had taken a stab at this task. Lie detector tests, ballistics, fingerprinting, arson analysis, hair examinations — all aim to provide evidence independent of the flawed humans wrapped up in an investigation. But those methods were invented by law-enforcement agencies eager for clues; it is now well established that their results are not always sound. With few alternatives, police and courts spent most of the 20th century hammering away at justice with the rubber tools of traditional forensics.

DNA was different. It came up through science, which began, in the 1950s, to unravel the ways the double helix drafts our existence. When DNA profiling led to its first conviction in a U.S. courtroom in 1987, DNA had already vaulted through the validating hoops of the scientific method. Soon it was accompanied by odds with enough zeros in front of the decimal to eliminate reasonable doubt.

Today, most of us see DNA evidence as terrifically persuasive: A 2005 Gallup poll found that 85 percent of Americans considered DNA to be either very or completely reliable. Studies by researchers at the University of Nevada, Yale, and Claremont McKenna College found that jurors rated DNA evidence 95 percent accurate and between 90 and 94 percent persuasive, depending on where the DNA was found. That faith could be shaken, but only when lawyers made a convincing case that a lab had a history of errors.

Otherwise, the mere introduction of DNA in a courtroom seemed to stymie any defense. “A mystical aura of definitiveness often surrounds the value of DNA evidence,” the studies’ authors wrote.
In many cases, this aura is deserved. The method is unequivocal when it tests a large quantity of one person’s well-preserved genes, when it’s clear how that evidence arrived at a crime scene, and when the lab makes no errors in its work.

But those are not circumstances enjoyed by every criminal investigation. Take the case of Kerry Robinson of Georgia. Robinson was implicated, in part, when two analysts concluded his genes may be present on the victim’s vaginal swabs. The jury convicted, and Robinson received a 20-year sentence.

Greg Hampikian, a biology and criminal justice professor at Boise State University and director of the Idaho Innocence Project, was a defense expert in the trial and felt sure the analysts had reached their conclusion because of unconscious bias: They knew a great deal about the case, including that the detectives believed Robinson was guilty. To test his suspicions, Hampikian and cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror of University College London sent the DNA data to 17 other analysts and asked them to interpret it without any information about the case. Only one agreed with the original analysts.

Despite these results, the Georgia appeals court declined to overturn the conviction, stating that “as long as there is some competent evidence, even though contradicted … we must uphold the jury’s verdict.”

Because DNA is more reliable than other forensics, scientists have shrugged off suggestions that it could fall victim to the vagaries of bias. But Dror noted that much DNA analysis involves interpretation. With interpretation comes subjectivity, and with subjectivity can come error.
“DNA results can be in the eye of the beholder,” Dror said.

P olice officer John Young was the first to arrive at Knoernschild’s house. His partner conducted a perimeter check while Young stepped over the splintered glass on the porch. The door was locked, so Young reached through its broken window and opened it. He stepped inside and found himself in the dining room.

Two cabinets and a desk had been emptied; papers and pill bottles littered the floor. Kitchen cupboards were open and food cast around. Young approached a bedroom door, where a sign warned against smoking because an oxygen tank was in use. To the right, a bare mattress. To the left, a dresser emptied of its contents. On the floor, a heap of clothes and paper. He stared at it.
Knoersnchild’s foot was sticking out.

He dug through the debris. Under a blue gown, he found her face. Blood ran out of her mouth and down her right cheek, forming a pool. A tube tethered her face to a nearby oxygen tank. The fringe of her bedspread encircled her neck. The coroner would conclude that blunt force trauma had killed her.
Crime-scene investigator Bob Brockmeyer arrived minutes later. He began directing a team that searched the house and neighborhood for clues. The Yankee pot roast was collected, as was the cheese wrapper. Two mismatched gloves were found in a hedge across the street; their twins were in Knoernschild’s bedroom. A knee-high stocking was discovered near the garage, and another in the alley behind the neighbor’s house. One of the footprints on the front porch had a funny mesh pattern; Brockmeyer hypothesized the perpetrator pulled the stocking over his boots so as not to leave footprints. These items and dozens more were placed in manila envelopes and marked as evidence.
Detective Harvey was assigned to the case that day. Over the next months, he chased leads, but nothing materialized. He would arrive at his theory that Brian had killed Knoernschild the following year, in part after realizing that Brian had once dated Knoernschild’s granddaughter, Debbie Wines.

In January 1986, Harvey interviewed Wines about her relationship with Brian. Wines had suffered a tumultuous adolescence, experimenting with booze, drugs, and boys by middle school. Her parents sent her to a series of boarding schools; she’d met Brian through friends at one of them. Soon, they were dating. She introduced him to her parents, and they thought he was well mannered but didn’t like him. Something felt phony about his politeness, Don Wines would later say. Sometimes Debbie and Brian would go over to Knoernschild’s house and she would sneak $10 or $20 out of the Calumet baking powder can where her grandmother kept cash. After a while, she heard that Brian had gone out with another girl and broke up with him.

Harvey asked Wines if she was still dating Brian in early 1980, when she was 15 and he was 18, and her grandmother’s house was burglarized the first time: Cupboards were opened, junk dumped onto the floor — an uncanny preview of the crime scene four years later. Police hadn’t solved the 1980 burglary at the time, but a review of case records revealed that a fingerprint consistent with Brian’s had been lifted from the refrigerator. Wines said she couldn’t recall exactly when they broke up, so she couldn’t say if his fingerprint might have arrived there innocently. Her parents had no better recollection.
Brian’s adolescence and young adulthood were peppered with petty theft. One day, he and a friend got drunk and stole a car. Highway patrol pulled them over, and they escaped by foot. They wound up at an uncle’s house in central Missouri and continued their spree. His uncle got home and realized his truck and boots were missing, and called the police. Brian and a friend were arrested.

Like his brother, Cecil had been in and out of jail for petty crimes as a youth. One day when he was 21, he dropped some friends off at a restaurant, knowing they intended to rob it. The three were caught and arrested; Cecil was convicted of attempted armed robbery and armed criminal action.
While Cecil was awaiting sentencing, Harvey came to visit him and asked what he knew about his brother’s crimes. Cecil told him that once, when his brother called from jail, Cecil asked him if he’d killed an acquaintance of theirs whose death Harvey was also investigating. Brian responded, “Is your birthday in January?” Cecil said yes. Brian replied, “Well, that’s your answer.” According to Cecil, he made up the story on a stupid, youthful whim in hopes of escaping a long sentence for the robbery charges. Harvey asked Cecil to take a lie detector test implicating his brother, but the results were inconclusive. He was sentenced to 30 years.

When Brian left prison in 1987, he married and moved to a small town in southeastern Missouri, where his wife ran a restaurant; Brian was her breakfast cook when he wasn’t working construction. They raised two daughters. In 2000, Cecil was released on parole 15 years into his 30-year sentence. The following year, he was caught with cocaine at a Sammy Hagar concert and sent back. He was released again in 2003 and fell in love with an accountant named Sue. They had a daughter, adopted a dog, and bought a house.

During those years, Harvey continued investigating the brothers. He became increasingly convinced that Brian was not only responsible for Knoernschild’s death, but for two other unsolved murders from the 1980s. After joining the prosecutor’s office, he redoubled his investigative efforts, and in 2012, Brian was arrested on homicide charges in the two other cases. Harvey also led an investigation into allegations that Cecil had stabbed a fellow inmate in the early 1990s.

To Harvey’s disappointment, those cases proved to be dead ends: Brian was acquitted by a jury after 28 minutes of deliberation, and the other homicide case may not go to trial because the sole witness is now facing his own legal troubles. A judge could not find evidence that Cecil was guilty of the stabbing, and those charges were dropped. The first-degree murder charges for the death of Knoernschild, however, would prove more problematic for the McBenges.

I n photos taken the morning of the murder, a police officer grasps Knoernschild’s thigh and arm, lifting her limp body to expose the blood on her bedroom carpet. In the picture, the officer is barehanded.
People familiar with his work from the 1980s say that Brockmeyer, the crime-scene investigator, and his team probably weren’t wearing masks the day they searched Knoernschild’s house for clues, and likely used brushes and equipment that was not often cleaned between crime scenes (Brockmeyer died of a heart attack in 2003). The following day, Brockmeyer checked the stocking into the St. Charles Police Department’s property room, but he waited to turn over the cheese wrapper and several other items for nine days. He may have held onto them to do his own fingerprint processing, but it’s unclear — there is no record of the cheese wrapper’s whereabouts during that time.

The stocking was eventually sent to Southeast Missouri University (SEMO) in Cape Girardeau, where Professor Robert Briner trained graduate students in forensic analysis in a house-turned-lab. According to his records, he tested the stocking for saliva secretions, and found none. Enough time has passed that he does not remember specifically if he used a mask, or what evidence from other cases were tested in the same workspace, or which graduate students may have been around during testing.

Several months later, the stocking was sent back to St. Charles, where it joined the cheese wrapper in the evidence room. They sat there for more than two decades, until they were sent to Fahnestock for DNA testing. The cheese wrapper arrived at the crime lab in a sealed envelope; the stocking in an unsealed one.

As Fahnestock handled the evidence, he wore two layers of gloves, a facemask, and the evidence only touched surfaces that were covered with clean sheets of butcher paper. Despite these precautions, Fahnestock found his DNA on an item from Knoernschild’s house: A sample he tested from a blue glove discovered at the crime scene included at least two DNA profiles, one of which appeared to be his own.

Scientists are still exploring the circumstances and ease with which DNA can travel. Many of our cells and fluids — skin, saliva, sweat, and mucus — routinely find their way into our environment. If conditions are favorable, our genes can wind up places we’ve never been. After Silicon Valley millionaire Raveesh Kumra was killed in his 7,000-foot mansion in November 2012, police discovered the DNA of Lukis Anderson, a 26-year-old homeless man, on his fingernails. But hospital records indicated that Anderson was unconscious in a hospital bed while Kumra asphyxiated nine miles away.

Anderson spent five months in jail while lawyers and investigators pondered how he could have committed the crime. Finally, they realized that the paramedics who transported Anderson to the hospital had also responded to the homicide. They had clipped an oxygen-monitoring probe to Anderson’s finger that morning, and to Kumra’s that afternoon. Anderson’s DNA had gone along for the ride.

“It's a small world," Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith told the San Francisco Chronicle after the mistake was discovered.

Peter Gill is a giant in the forensic DNA community, counted among the scientists who wrote the original paper conceptualizing DNA as a forensic tool in 1985. But he has spent recent years warning people using his tool against blindly trusting its results. In a 2014 book called “Misleading DNA Evidence: Reasons for Miscarriages of Justice,” Gill wrote that contamination is dangerous because investigators are eager to believe that DNA found at a crime scene must come from the perpetrator.
“The presence of a DNA profile says nothing about the time frame or the circumstances under which it came to be there,” says defense expert and researcher Dan Krane. “Test results can’t distinguish between the possibility of contamination, or evidence tampering, or, you know, murder.”

Technology may soon increase the danger of implicating innocent people. Today, most DNA analytical machines are optimized to parse the DNA of about 100 human cells. Future generations of forensic robots may extract a profile from just one. The DNA of a person who drives by a crime scene with an open window could wind up somewhere suspicious; shake someone’s hand before he commits a crime, and you may be implicated.

“Next gen sequencing might generate lots of data from small amounts of DNA, but you’re still faced with the same fundamental question — what does it mean?” said John Butler, special assistant to the director for forensic science at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who has written several textbooks on DNA analysis. “You could detect a single cell on a knife blade, but that doesn’t mean anything — it might have arrived there long before the crime or been transferred there by chance.”

Everyone on the McBenge brothers’ defense team has a theory about how Cecil and Brian’s DNA could have found its way onto the evidence; some are more far-fetched than others. Cecil’s attorney Cyndy Short wondered if Knoernschild had tossed the stockings out by the trash cans days before she died, and Cecil, who lived a mile away, walked down the alley and sneezed. Bicka Barlow, another attorney and DNA expert on Cecil’s defense team, noted that a refrigerator repairman had visited the house earlier that week — perhaps a cheese wrapper that Brian had touched when he was dating Debbie had been sitting behind the fridge for years before it was somehow loosened onto the crime-scene floor. DNA expert Dan Krane of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, who testified for the defense, speculated that the investigators’ fingerprint brushes could have transferred Brian’s DNA onto the wrapper. “It doesn’t matter how long before the crime [Brian] was in the house, all that matters is that he was,” Krane said.

Eighteen pieces of evidence were tested from the crime scene, including knives found in the bedroom, the ligature around her neck, and the nightgown she was wearing while she was killed. Had the McBenges’ DNA appeared on anything intimate to the crime, the defense believes there would be less to speculate about. “But it was on a damn cheese wrapper,” said Short. And a cheese wrapper, she said, doesn’t tell the story of a murder.

The nylon stocking found in the back alley was even farther from the crime scene. Investigators have toyed with how it may have been deployed: First, they theorized it was pulled over a boot. Later, they speculated it was worn as a glove or a mask.

Prosecutor Phil Groenweghe said he doesn’t need to know exactly how it was used. “There are limits on what we can say happened because the only eyewitness is dead,” he said. “In a criminal prosecution, there’s certain elements that have to be proven, and the point in time when they put on the nylons isn’t one of them.”

Groenweghe disputed that the DNA could have arrived on the cheese wrapper or stocking innocently. “DNA was found on items that clearly had been touched at the time of the crime. We didn’t find it on the door jam.”

He also dismissed any theory that placed the DNA on the two items by accident. “Unless Brian and Cecil were working as lab techs at SEMO, I don’t think that’s a very compelling defense,” he told me. “The fact is, it was their DNA on the evidence.”

But the McBenges challenge whether it was their DNA at all.

I n the three years between the McBenges’ arrest and their trial, Fahnestock worked hard to make sure that the DNA he’d found didn’t belong to any of the bare-handed people who had handled the evidence. He tested the DNA samples of half a dozen current and retired police officers. He tested Dr. Robert Briner of SEMO. He tested everyone in Knoernschild’s family. He tested Debbie’s live-in boyfriend from 1984. He tested the cleaning lady who had waxed Knoernschild’s floors. He even tested Brockmeyer, who had passed away years earlier, by testing his son and wife.

As Fahnestock has explained to dozens of juries, crime labs don’t exactly map the human genome. Instead, they typically focus on 13 places, or loci, plus a 14th that expresses gender. Each loci is home to two alleles, one inherited from each parent. On an electropherogram, these alleles show up as spikes, and vary from person to person. We usually share half or more of our markers with close relatives, and often share several with complete strangers. But by the FBI’s statistics, the probability of sharing all 13 loci with someone you’re not related to is lower than 1 in a trillion.

The cheese wrapper had only produced a partial profile; spikes showed up at just six of 13 loci. This didn’t surprise Fahnestock. As DNA ages, it breaks down. Some markers are famous for crumbling into illegibility right away; others can be detected decades later. All things considered, six loci seemed reasonable for a sample from the 1980s.

But the partial profile put Fahnestock in a quandary. At the time, he didn’t know whose DNA he had found, so he wanted to search the federal database for the profile. That database, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, contains more than 14 million profiles, including all convicts and many arrestees from the state of Missouri for the last 15 years. But it cannot be searched without entering at least ten of the 13 loci, and Fahnestock only had six. Fahnestock asked for permission to make an exception and search for the partial profile — an uncommon but not unheard of request. After some discussion and paperwork, the state database administrator agreed.

When Fahnestock ran the cheese wrapper through the database, it returned 10 candidates — all ten were technically “matches” for the profile found on the cheese wrapper. Though we think of a DNA match as unambiguous, partial profiles have so little genetic material that they can result in several potential matches, and analysts must interpret which match looks best. Fahnestock did just that and then disregarded the nine other matches.

A few days later, he learned the identity of that match: Brian McBenge.

The defense team argued that because the profile was incomplete, it was more likely to be a false positive — a hit by unhappy happenstance.

It’s not clear how often coincidental matches occur. The FBI has argued that it’s rare, but some statisticians disagree, as a 2008 investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed. The newspaper wrote that a rogue Arizona state employee had run tests on the state’s database without the FBI’s permission and found 122 pairs of profiles that matched at 9 or more loci. Twenty of them matched at 10 loci. One pair matched at 11 and another at 12. This all happened in a database with just 65,493 profiles.

The Arizona results were not anomalous: In Illinois’s database of 220,000 profiles, a search found 903 pairs that matched at nine or more loci. Bureau experts say some matches can be expected in a large database, and that others may be close relatives or accidental duplicates. But they have halted further investigation of their statistics, citing privacy concerns.

Database matches are tricky. They can sometimes solve otherwise inscrutable cases, but they can also lead investigators down the wrong path. In one case in Bolton, England, police deduced a 6-loci profile from blood discovered on the window of a burglarized home. The trouble was, the DNA matched a man with advanced Parkinson’s disease who could barely walk. But the match statistic — 1 in 37 million — seemed so definitive that police arrested him anyway. He was finally vindicated after more advanced DNA tests revealed that he shared a partial profile with the culprit.

When a suspect has been discovered because of a database match, courts must decide how much weight to give that evidence, and different statistical methods can arrive at wildly different results. The method used by Fahnestock calculates how often the profile is expected to occur randomly in the population. After his initial tests, he calculated that the probability of a random person having the profile he found on the cheese wrapper was 1 in 741,000 among Caucasians.

Defense expert Dan Krane came up with a different statistic: 1 in 2.5.

The reason for the yawning difference, Krane explained, is that his method takes into account the likelihood of a coincidental match in a specific database. For instance, if you search a database of 1 million for a profile that 1 in 100,000 people share, you would expect around ten hits. If you arrested any of them without other evidence, you’d probably get the wrong person. The method was endorsed by a special advisory group to the FBI and a National Research Council panel, but is sometimes withheld from court in an attempt not to confuse jurors with statistical arguments.

The McBenge team contends that because the DNA on the cheese wrapper was degraded, it was far more likely to produce a false positive than a full profile would have. If investigators had found substantial other evidence pointing to their guilt, the database hit, even one with a 1 in 2.5 chance of being reliable, would have been the cherry on top. But without that substantial evidence, the juries were left to decide how much faith to place in the DNA.

I n contrast to the minimal spikes on the cheese wrapper’s electropherogram, the stocking’s chart was a mountain range. There could be only one explanation: Genes from multiple people were on the nylon. One of those people appeared to be Knoernschild, which was a good sign for the prosecution’s theory. The stocking, though found in the back alley, had probably come from her house.

Identifying who else was on the stocking was more challenging — particularly because the DNA there was degraded, so only some markers could be detected. Fahnestock approached the problem by puzzling out the spikes that didn’t belong to Knoernschild and creating a theoretical profile of a second contributor. Because that profile had at least one matching gene at 10 loci, Fahnestock didn’t need special permission to run it through the federal database. The result matched Cecil McBenge.

In forensic science, interpretation of mixtures is a known danger zone. When a sample has more than one person’s DNA, as the stocking did, the analyst must interpret the data, making decisions about how many individuals may be in the mix, and which spikes belong to which person. When people in the sample happen to have similar genes, it gets more complicated. Cecil and Knoernschild shared alleles at seven of their 13 loci.

A 2013 survey by the National Institute of Standards and Technology asked analysts from 108 labs to look at a three-person mixture and determine if a suspect’s DNA was present. Seventy percent of the analysts said the suspect might be in the mix; 24 percent said the data was inconclusive. Just six percent arrived at the truth: The suspect was not in the sample.

Not only do analysts vary in their interpretation of evidence, they also disagree over how certain to feel about the results. In another NIST survey, labs interpreting a two-person mixture came back with match probabilities that varied by 10 orders of magnitude. “Imagine if you take a pregnancy test and you send it to two different labs,” said Greg Hampikian, who authored the study on bias in the Atlanta rapist case, “and one said the odds are a billion to one that you’re pregnant, and the other said it’s 50-50.”

B ecause different analysts can reach different conclusions about the same DNA evidence, savvy investigators shop evidence around to get the results they want. In one instance, the California Innocence Project had a large private lab test evidence attorneys believed could exonerate a convicted murderer in Los Angeles. That lab reported the DNA was inconclusive. So lawyers took the same data to another analyst. By her assessment, the evidence plainly cleared the convict.

California Innocence Project attorney Mike Semanchik said he had no qualms about asking multiple analysts to look at the same data — doing otherwise would be a disservice to his client. Nonetheless, the implications are troubling, he said. “How can two labs get entirely different answers from the same DNA tests?”

Even the most automated part of the process — the analysis performed by machines — varies from lab to lab. Among other tasks, forensic profiling equipment amplifies DNA to an observable level. Most labs amplify DNA to the maximum the manufacturer recommends. But when that isn’t enough to produce legible spikes, some labs will hike up amplification or otherwise futz with the settings to get results.
Methods that push equipment beyond its normal bounds are commonly called low copy number DNA testing, or LCN testing. This is the most controversial practice in forensic biology today because of the errors it can produce. Pushed too far, the results will begin to show spikes where there are none, while other spikes disappear.

In New York City, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner has embraced LCN; it is the only public forensics lab in the country to have done so. Lab officials say they only use the technology in ways that are scientifically valid and reliable, and the New York State Commission on Forensic Science sanctioned the method in a series of contentious votes.

Last fall, commission member Barry Scheck voiced his concern about the method at a hearing of the DNA subcommittee. Before Scheck made his name disputing DNA as O.J. Simpson’s lawyer, he founded the Innocence Project, which has used DNA to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted people. He said he opposes the use of cutting-edge DNA forensics in court because he doesn't think they have been sufficiently proven. Scheck had been demanding the Office of Chief Medical Examiner make public its internal validation studies on LCN, which it has refused to do. At one point, after an otherwise subdued hearing, he yelled to some of the subcommittee members: “YOU ARE ALL FUCKING LYING!”

San Francisco resident Gale Joseph Young spent years incarcerated while lawyers fought over LCN testing. Young had been questioned and strip-searched in a San Francisco police station on suspicion of selling drugs in 2008. Officers found nothing on him, but after releasing him, they saw a plastic baggie with 14 grams of crack cocaine on the floor. There was so little DNA on the bag that the crime lab used LCN to get results, and concluded that he might be in the mix.

Despite defense objections, these results were allowed in court. One jury hung; a second convicted. The case was appealed to U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney, who was tasked with deciding the LCN question. Chesney, befuddled by the technical arguments, ruled the LCN evidence was admissible because neither side was “being ridiculous in their general approach.” The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, which reversed her decision and admonished her for failing to adequately evaluate the science (“Not being ridiculous is not synonymous with being reliable.”).
Unfortunately for the clarity around LCN, neither Chesney nor the higher court ruled on the validity of the science itself, because by then, Young had already served a 5-year, ten-month sentence, and prosecutors dropped the charges.

Fanhestock says his lab avoids such controversy by staying away from LCN testing altogether. If a sample has less DNA than his equipment has been validated for, he won’t blow it up with more amplifications.

But defense attorney and DNA expert Bicka Barlow countered in depositions and in court that his lab did toy with LCN in the McBenge cases: She noted that in some tests, he had doubled the quantity of DNA and increased testing time in order to heighten the low spikes. These techniques, she said, could result in errors. Fahnestock maintained that his methods were valid and uncontroversial and his results were reproducible.

To see if they were, seven analysts agreed to participate in an informal experiment for this story. This experiment, though hardly randomized or double-blind, would hopefully yield insights about the precision of DNA forensics. The participants studied the original electropherograms and accompanying data from the cheese wrapper and stocking in Knoernschild’s case, and deduced the DNA profiles on them. When the results came back, Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky, chair of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, scrutinized them for variance. It wasn’t hard to find. Two of the seven respondents wouldn’t do the analysis as directed, because they were instructed to go about it exactly as Fahnestock had — without a stochastic threshold.

A stochastic threshold is a way to anticipate problems: The threshold is established by testing equipment with shrinking amounts of DNA until the results are no longer accurate. Anything below the threshold is unreliable. As of 2012, about 86 percent of labs used a stochastic threshold. But in 2011, Fahnestock was still using equipment for which a stochastic threshold had never been established. (In 2014, Fahnestock retested a different patch of the stocking on newer equipment that did have a stochastic threshold, but he couldn’t do the same for the cheese wrapper, because all the DNA had been used in the initial testing.)

Even those analysts who participated arrived at different results, particularly in their certainty statistics. For the cheese wrapper, Fahnestock had ascribed a probability of 1 in 741,000 of a random match. The seven analysts’ rates spread from 1 in 3,670 to 1 in 593,000 (a full profile would have resulted in a statistic closer to 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000).

The stocking provided even less consensus. Fahnestock had assumed a mixture of two people — Cecil and Knoernschild. One analyst concluded it was a mix of at least three. Another came up with a result that excluded Cecil entirely.

Again, the certainty rate was wholly uncertain. Fahnestock’s final analysis ascribed a probability of 1 in 6.17 million of a random match; the analysts’ stats ranged from 1 in 4,470 to 1 in 106 billion. “I’m kind of astonished that there would be that much variation,” Kobilinsky said. “They all have the same job, and they’re coming up with different results.”

T he trial of Brian McBenge began in August 2014; his brother’s trial began six weeks later.
They were each charged with first-degree murder, so the prosecution had to prove they’d killed with intent. Prosecutors maintained that Brian had burglarized Knoernschild’s house in 1980, and returned four years later with his brother in search of more loot. This time, prosecutors said, Knoernschild was at home, so they killed her.

Brian was neither questioned nor charged at the time of the 1980 burglary. But Debbie Wines testified that she now remembered breaking up with Brian before that burglary, so there would be no legitimate reason for his fingerprint to be on the refrigerator. The prosecution showed the jury side-by-side photographs of the 1980 and 1984 ransackings. The same cupboards were opened, food dumped on the floor. Brian had motive and opportunity in both instances, the prosecutors told jurors, because he knew about the cash-filled Calumet can.

The defense teams attacked this evidence; the fingerprint was only partial, and Debbie’s memory of when she and Brian broke up was hazy at best, they said. The crimes had happened so long ago that neither Cecil nor Brian could provide an alibi. And there was no evidence that anything had been stolen from the house in either burglary: In 1980, Knoernschild hadn’t reported any money missing; in 1984, the can was found apparently untouched in the back of Knoernschild’s closet. Money was also found in her purse.

But neither a fingerprint nor a can of cash were likely to return a verdict. The outcome depended on the DNA found on the cheese wrapper and stocking. For a conviction, the jury would have to trust the DNA. For an acquittal, the jury would have to believe that DNA forensics can arrive at the wrong answer.

The prosecution blew up the electropherograms to poster-size and explained each spike to the jury. The defense attacked the relevance of those spikes: The DNA was found on items not intimate to the crime. Fifteen fingerprints were lifted from her house after she was killed — none were traced to Cecil or Brian. If they had committed the crime, Cecil’s attorney Cyndy Short said, how could they leave so little of themselves behind?

The prosecution countered. How likely was it that two brothers’ DNA could accidentally arrive on two pieces of evidence from the same crime scene?

The defense walked the jury through statistical and technical arguments to describe how that may have happened. The DNA was degraded, mixed, contaminated, meager and partial — a complete catalog of the danger zones in DNA analysis. The gap between good science and infallible science is wide, Short argued, and left ample room for reasonable doubt.

The totality of the state’s evidence against Cecil and Brian, Short concluded, was one partial fingerprint from the 1980 burglary, the photos comparing the crime scenes from 1980 and 1984, and DNA on a cheese wrapper and a knee-high stocking.

But it was enough.

The jury took four hours to convict Brian McBenge. He received a life sentence. A month and a half later, another jury delivered the same verdict to Cecil.

The judge in Cecil’s trial, Daniel Pelikan, could not comment on the specifics of the case, but said his juries have typically found DNA evidence extremely persuasive. “In all my cases, I warn the juries that the trials take longer than an hour to complete, and not every case has fingerprints, saliva, semen, and DNA,” he said.

But, Pelikan added, “We have a well-educated, sophisticated jury pool in my county. I’ve always been impressed with their ability to understand the science.”

The McBenges are now appealing their convictions on more than a dozen points. Cyndy Short is optimistic about the chain of custody question: That the cheese wrapper wasn’t checked into evidence for nine days after Bob Brockmeyer collected it, for instance, and the stocking arrived to the crime lab for testing in an unsealed envelope. The defense team is less hopeful about their appeal on the strength of the evidence; DNA evidence does not tend to inspire doubt.  

Having a Laugh!

Remember the crazy writer who has written contradictory articles about the medical profession? I will neither use her name nor promote her hideous book, so you can look through the Washington Post or the New York Times or this blog about how she defended Nurses and Doctors laughing at their patients as a coping strategy. Later she wrote about how mean Nurses are affecting care and compromising the profession.  Which is it? I think it is both frankly as they are human and we are not a perfect breed regardless of what we do for a living.

Well here we have the penultimate in why anyone in the profession should take a big pill and a big dose of STFU. This case makes me laugh as frankly we have to film encounters with cops and medical professionals to ensure our safety and veracity in each encounter. I do. I tell them when I walk in that I record as to ensure I am following instructions, can listen without taking notes or whatever other bullshit I can come up with to record legally. In my state we are not allowed to do so without permission. I do so, regardless, as I don't plan on using it in court, I transcribe it to make sure my recollections are the same and then I request my medical records immediately after to compare notes.

This is what you do after being exploited and abused by the medical profession to protect your rights. Only once was I asked if I was recording and told not to and that was by the Attorney representing the defendants in my suit against Harborview.  He knew I recorded as I had quoted specific phrases and details that had to come from a transcriptionist which was not present during the original meeting with the witches of Harborview, he is quite smart to have figured it out. Funny he just left that law firm and is now a solo Attorney located in a consortium of offices shared by Attorneys who are personal injury lawyers. Crossing over to the darkside perhaps? Protecting patients vs covering up for Doctors doesn't pay as much but maybe it does good on some level.

America you are screwed and told to sue. Well not always does it work out. And by the way this judgment will be appealed and in turn possibly settled and the individual will pay taxes on the total amount prior to the attorney fees being deducted. Just so you know that money is not the reason you sue, it is to shame, embarrass and humiliate and possbibly just possibly get the truth and maybe just maybe an apology.

Anesthesiologist trashes sedated patient — and it ends up costing her
Audio: Anesthesiologist trashes sedated patient

These audio clips are excerpts from conversations between a gastroenterologist, an anesthesiologist and a medical assistant during a colonoscopy. This was entered as evidence in a lawsuit filed by the patient for defamation and medical malpractice.

The Washington Post
By Tom Jackman
June 23 2015

Sitting in his surgical gown inside a large medical suite in Reston, Va., a Vienna man prepared for his colonoscopy by pressing record on his smartphone, to capture the instructions his doctor would give him after the procedure.

But as soon as he pressed play on his way home, he was shocked out of his anesthesia-induced stupor: He found that he had recorded the entire examination and that the surgical team had mocked and insulted him as soon as he drifted off to sleep.

In addition to their vicious commentary, the doctors discussed avoiding the man after the colonoscopy, instructing an assistant to lie to him, and then placed a false diagnosis on his chart.

“After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op,” the anesthesiologist told the sedated patient, “I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit,” she was recorded saying.

When a medical assistant noted the man had a rash, the anesthesiologist warned her not to touch it, saying she might get “some syphilis on your arm or something,” then added, “It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right.”

When the assistant noted that the man reported getting queasy when watching a needle placed in his arm, the anesthesiologist remarked on the recording, “Well, why are you looking then, retard?”

There was much more. So the man sued the two doctors and their practices for defamation and medical malpractice and, last week, after a three-day trial, a Fairfax County jury ordered the anesthesiologist and her practice to pay him $500,000.

The plaintiff, identified in court papers only as “D.B.,” wanted to maintain his anonymity and did not want to comment about the case, said his attorneys, Mikhael Charnoff and Scott Perry.

The anesthesiologist, Tiffany M. Ingham, 42, could not be reached for comment, and her attorney, D. Lee Rutland, did not return messages seeking comment. Ingham worked out of the Aisthesis anesthesia practice in Bethesda, Md., which the jury ruled should pay $50,000 of the $200,000 in punitive damages it awarded. Officials there did not return a call seeking comment. Ingham no longer works there, an Aisthesis employee said, and state licensing records indicate that she has moved to Florida. An anesthesiology practice in Tavares, Fla., said she no longer worked there. Calls to a number believed to be Ingham’s were not returned, and there was not an answering machine or voicemail at that number.

[Opinion: Nurses make fun of their dying patients. And that’s okay.]  **here it is.

On the opening day of the trial last week, the gastroenterologist who performed the colonoscopy, Soloman Shah, 48, was dismissed from the case. Court documents state Shah also made some insulting remarks — “As long as it’s not Ebola, you’re okay,” Shah was recorded saying during the rash discussion — and did not discourage Ingham from her comments or actions, which included writing on the man’s chart that he had hemorrhoids, when he did not.

Neither Shah, who did not return a message left at his office, nor the lawyers on either side would comment.

The lawyers also would not discuss whether Ingham or Shah faced disciplinary action from the Virginia Board of Medicine. No actions are listed against either on the board’s Web site.

The jury awarded the man $100,000 for defamation — $50,000 each for the comments about the man having syphilis and tuberculosis — and $200,000 for medical malpractice, as well as the $200,000 in punitive damages. Though the remarks by Ingham and Shah perhaps did not leave the operating room in Reston, experts in libel and slander said defamation does not have to be widely published, merely said by one party to another and understood by the second party to be fact, when it is not.

“I’ve never heard of a case like this,” said Lee Berlik, a Reston lawyer who specializes in defamation law. He said comments between doctors typically would be privileged, but the Vienna man claimed his recording showed that there was at least one and as many as three other people in the room during the procedure and that they were discussing matters beyond the scope of the colonoscopy.

“Usually, all [legal] publication requires is publication to someone other than the plaintiff,” Berlik said. “If one of the doctors said to someone else in the room that this guy had syphilis and tuberculosis and that person believed it, that could be a claim. Then it’s up to the jury to decide: Were the statements literal assertions of fact? The jury apparently was just so offended at this unprofessional behavior that they’re going to give the plaintiff a win. That’s what happens in the real world.”

One of the jurors, Farid Khairzada, said that “there was not much defense, because everything was on tape.” He said that the man’s attorneys asked for $1.75 million and that the $500,000 award was a compromise between one juror who thought the man deserved nothing and at least one who thought he deserved more.

“We finally came to a conclusion,” Khairzada said, “that we have to give him something, just to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

The colonoscopy took place in Shah’s surgical suite on April 18, 2013, according to the man’s lawsuit. While being prepped for the procedure, the man apparently told Ingham that he had passed out previously while having blood drawn and that he was taking medication for a mild rash on his genitals.

Because he was going to be fully anesthetized, the man decided to turn on his cellphone’s audio recorder before the procedure so it would capture the doctor’s post-operation instructions, the suit states. But the man’s phone, in his pants, was placed beneath him under the operating table and inadvertently recorded the audio of the entire procedure, court records show. The doctors’ attorneys argued that the recording was illegal, but the man’s attorneys noted that Virginia is a “one-party consent” state, meaning that only one person involved in a conversation need agree to the recording.

The recording captured Ingham mocking the amount of anesthetic needed to sedate the man, the lawsuit states, and Shah then commented that another doctor they both knew “would eat him for lunch.”

The discussion soon turned to the rash on the man’s penis, followed by the comments implying that the man had syphilis or tuberculosis. The doctors then discussed “misleading and avoiding” the man after he awoke, and Shah reportedly told an assistant to convince the man that he had spoken with Shah and “you just don’t remember it.” Ingham suggested Shah receive an urgent “fake page” and said, “I’ve done the fake page before,” the complaint states. “Round and round we go. Wheel of annoying patients we go. Where it’ll land, nobody knows,” Ingham reportedly said.

Ingham then mocked the man for attending Mary Washington College, once an all-women’s school, and wondered aloud whether her patient was gay, the suit states. Then the anesthesiologist said, “I’m going to mark ‘hemorrhoids’ even though we don’t see them and probably won’t,” and did write a diagnosis of hemorrhoids on the man’s chart, which the lawsuit said was a falsification of medical records.

After declaring the patient a “big wimp,” Ingham reportedly said: “People are into their medical problems. They need to have medical problems.”

Shah replied, “I call it the Northern Virginia syndrome,” according to the suit.

The doctors argued that the Vienna man did not suffer any physical injury or miss any days of work. The man’s complaint said that he was “verbally brutalized” and suffered anxiety, embarrassment and loss of sleep for several months.

“These types of conversations,” testified Kathryn E. McGoldrick, former president of the Academy of Anesthesiology, “are not only offensive but frankly stupid, because we can never be certain that our patients are asleep and wouldn’t have recall.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

I Don't Believe It

My least favorite expression ever. That and maybe "work hard."  They each have implications that puts the speaker on the defense. The former connotes that you are a liar the latter is that everyone is lazy and the speaker is an anomaly or exception to that rule.

I have written about the fallibility of memory and how children are suddenly these amazing stenographers that can recall in complete detail with regards to every sleight and incident yet can't recall if they brushed their teeth. The same for eyewitnesses and victims of trauma that manage to avoid the factors that can alter the memory, from injury, to substances and of course bias.  Then we have the idea that the lather rinse repeat factor that works well with regards to testing has no implication on affecting memory at all.  No people are inherently amazing cameras as minds that can utterly process and in turn recall events in perfect detail.

The mind is a terrible thing to waste and we know little how each mind works. And today the New Yorker has a great article about those who admit to that which they cannot recall.

As I said I was taking a break from criminal justice but this is weighs in everyday living and I see it in the schools where I work. This need to "investigate" and "inquire" about each word said, how it was said, to whom it was said and who else heard it.  We don't need Principals we need Columbo frankly with all the bullshit in education when it comes to the relationships between Educators, Parents, Administers, and lastly, always lastly, students. As once again we here in Seattle have another field trip debacle at the same high school that made national headlines last year for failing to investigate a rape allegation.   And another story I read recently about an award winning teacher in Los Angeles  suspended and being "investigated" over a joke in a class. I feel sick every time I walk into a school and I wonder when an axe will fall upon my head with some random allegation that makes no sense. When you work with the amount of trauma victims I work with you find your own inner coping strategies to offset the trauma it causes. All schools should have hazard entry markers frankly. How sad, tragic and grim.

March 5, 2015
Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit
By Douglas Starr
The New Yorker

In 1906, Hugo Münsterberg, the chair of the psychology laboratory at Harvard University and the president of the American Psychological Association, wrote in the Times Magazine about a case of false confession. A woman had been found dead in Chicago, garroted with a copper wire and left in a barnyard, and the simpleminded farmer’s son who had discovered her body stood accused. The young man had an alibi, but after questioning by police he admitted to the murder. He did not simply confess, Münsterberg wrote; “he was quite willing to repeat his confession again and again. Each time it became richer in detail.” The young man’s account, he continued, was “absurd and contradictory,” a clear instance of “the involuntary elaboration of a suggestion” from his interrogators. Münsterberg cited the Salem witch trials, in which similarly vulnerable people were coerced into self-incrimination. He shared his opinion in a letter to a Chicago nerve specialist, which made the local press. A week later, the farmer’s son was hanged.

Münsterberg was ahead of his time. It would be decades before the legal and psychological communities began to understand how powerfully suggestion can shape memory and, in turn, the course of justice. In the early nineteen-nineties, American society was recuperating from another panic over occult influence; Satanists had replaced witches. One case, the McMartin Preschool trial, hinged on nine young victims’ memories of molestation and ritual abuse—memories that they had supposedly forgotten and then, after being interviewed, recovered. The case fell apart, in 1990, because the prosecution could produce no persuasive evidence of the victims’ claims. A cognitive psychologist named Elizabeth Loftus, who had consulted on the case, wondered whether the children’s memories might have been fabricated—in Münsterberg’s formulation, involuntarily elaborated—rather than actually recovered.

To test her theory, Loftus gave a group of volunteers the rudimentary outlines of a childhood experience: getting lost in a mall and being rescued by a kindly adult. She told the subjects, falsely, that the scenario was real and had taken place when they were young. (For verisimilitude, Loftus asked their parents for biographical details that she could plant in each story.) Then she debriefed the subjects twice, with the interviews separated by one or two weeks. By the second interview, six of the twenty-four test subjects had internalized the story, weaving in sensory and emotional details of their own. Loftus and other researchers have since used similar techniques to create false memories of near-drownings, animal attacks, and encounters with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland (impossible, since Bugs is a Warner Bros. character).

Earlier this year, two forensic psychologists—Julia Shaw, of the University of Bedfordshire, and Stephen Porter, of the University of British Columbia—upped the ante. Writing in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, they described a method for implanting false memories, not of getting lost in childhood but of committing a crime in adolescence. They modelled their work on Loftus’s, sending questionnaires to each of their participant’s parents to gather background information. (Any past run-ins with the law would eliminate a student from the study.) Then they divided the students into two groups and told each a different kind of false story. One group was prompted to remember an emotional event, such as getting attacked by a dog. The other was prompted to remember a crime—an assault, for example—that led to an encounter with the police. At no time during the experiments were the participants allowed to communicate with their parents.

What Shaw and Porter found astonished them. “We thought we’d have something like a thirty-per-cent success rate, and we ended up having over seventy,” Shaw told me. “We only had a handful of people who didn’t believe us.” After three debriefing sessions, seventy-six per cent of the students claimed to remember the false emotional event; nearly the same amount—seventy per cent—remembered the fictional crime. Shaw and Porter hadn’t put undue stress on the students; in fact, they had treated them in a friendly way. All it took was a suggestion from an authoritative source, and the subjects’ imaginations did the rest. As Münsterberg observed of the farmer’s son, the students seemed almost eager to self-incriminate.

One young woman spun a story about a kind of love triangle. In the first debriefing, she remembered the incident as a fistfight between her and another girl. In the second, she remembered having thrown a small rock at her adversary after the girl uttered a slur. By the third debriefing, the rock had grown to the size of her fist and she had hurled it at the girl’s face. “It was very emotional,” Shaw said. “Each time she’d reënact the event, the rock would fill her hand a little bit more.” Nothing in the woman’s affect suggested that the memory was false. She earnestly believed in the truth of her confession, as most of her fellow-participants did theirs. The memory was vivid, loaded with details about the crime that the interviewer had not furnished. Moreover, Shaw and Porter could find no personality traits that distinguished the false confessors from the few holdouts, and no way of identifying who was most susceptible.

These are troubling findings. They mimic, in the gentlest way, what can happen during police questioning: a small lie, told to shake loose the truth, rattles around in a suspect’s imagination and takes root. The psychologist Saul Kassin has studied interrogation and false confession for decades. He told me that Shaw and Porter’s experiment illustrates perfectly how social pressure can make innocent people admit to wrongdoing. “Think about the dilemma the suspect now faces: ‘I don’t have a memory for this, but the person who took care of me does. Therefore it must be true and I have to find a way to remember it.’ ”

Kassin cited the example of Martin Tankleff, a high-school senior from Long Island who, in 1988, awoke to find his parents bleeding on the floor. Both had been repeatedly stabbed; his mother was dead and his father was dying. He called the police. Later, at the station, he was harshly interrogated. For five hours, Tankleff resisted. Finally, an officer told him that his father had regained consciousness at the hospital and named him as the killer. (In truth, the father died without ever waking.) Overwhelmed by the news, Tankleff took responsibility, saying that he must have blacked out and killed his parents unwittingly. A jury convicted him of murder. He spent seventeen years in prison before the real murderers were found. Kassin condemns the practice of lying to suspects, which is illegal in many countries but not here. The American court system, he said, should address it. “Lying puts innocent people at risk, and there’s a hundred years of psychology to show it,” he said.

Shaw and Porter’s study also provides further evidence of the inaccuracy and malleability of human memory, evidence that is already compelling enough to have persuaded the state supreme courts of New Jersey and Massachusetts to mandate that judges instruct juries that eyewitness testimony is inherently unreliable. “Evolutionary theorists say memory is good enough—just good enough for us to survive and to reproduce,” Shaw told me. “But, at the very least, this research calls into question whether we should be putting so much weight on any memory in court”—especially in the absence of corroborating proof. “It’s sort of a reality check.”

The Laws of Man Not Women

And I start this as I need to move on past the issues that surround our criminal justice system. I have had enough of bashing that wall and frankly one head injury a lifetime is all I need, after all I am not in the NFL.

I want to address the issues surrounding women. Funny I would start with this hilarious piece by Amy Schumer, a comic who like Louie CK I find at times amusing at others ham fisted with the need to make a point. At least I am not sexist.

Today this op ed piece was in the New York Times the Opinion Pages:

Republicans Take Aim at Poor Women

JUNE 22, 2015

One would imagine that congressional Republicans, almost all of whom are on record as adamantly opposing abortion, would be eager to fund programs that help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

That would be the common sense approach, anyway.

And yet since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have been trying to obliterate the highly effective federal family-planning program known as Title X, which gives millions of lower-income and rural women access to contraception, counseling, lifesaving cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

They tried and failed in 2011, when the Senate was under Democratic control — although they still managed to extract significant cuts from an already underfunded program. Now that Republicans run the show, opponents of sensible and effective family planning are back to kill it off for good. Last Tuesday, a House subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services proposed to eliminate all Title X funding — about $300 million — from a 2016 spending bill.

The bill would also slash funding by up to 90 percent for sex education, specifically President Obama’s teen-pregnancy prevention initiative. The only winner was abstinence-only education, whose funding the subcommittee voted to double, despite the fact that it has basically no effect on abstinence and has been associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy.

Meanwhile, Title X, which was enacted by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress in 1970, is caught up once again in the nation’s abortion wars — even though like all federal programs, it is barred from providing any funding for abortions.

Republicans have complained that this ban is subverted by Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions and is Title X’s biggest recipient. They want to deny the organization any federal funds at all. But 90 percent of the women who visit Planned Parenthood clinics are there to get contraception or other reproductive health care, not abortions.

What Title X grants actually do is help prevent unwanted pregnancies — more than one million in 2012, which translates to about 363,000 abortions avoided. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization, every dollar spent on contraception saved about $3.74 in costs related to pregnancy, birth and infant care. When the reduction in other health problems, like premature births, sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer is factored in, the savings nearly double. So the proposal to slash the program’s funding is not just inhumane, it’s also fiscally dumb.

Sadly, that’s no surprise coming from the House Republicans, whose zeal to stop the government from providing an essential service like health care to lower-income Americans has also resulted in dozens of votes to cripple or repeal the Affordable Care Act. (The new spending bill would also roll back much of the health care law.)

This latest bill aims squarely at one of the nation’s most vulnerable groups — poorer women, many of whom live in rural areas with little access to health care of any kind. So much for compassionate conservatism.

Remember the war on women? Well did it go away like the war on drugs or on black lives or immigrants? Again back to the issue not related to the omnipresent criminal justice dysfunction. Hey did you hear today that Obama used the word "nigger" on Marc Maron's podcast. Yep said it and if the President can so can I. Again the need to protect the youth from the dirty clearly has failed ask the nut kid who shot and killed 9 people in a house of God. Another round of finding fault in anything but gun laws and access to guns, now its the MEllennial generation taking that hit calling them  both racist and terrorist (apparently this is an either/or thing, who knew?). Well hello!! Who shot up Sandy Hook, a theatre in Colorado, Gabrielle Giffords, people on the street of Santa Barbara community? Angry White Men (AWM)? No boys of the millennial generation but hey that group was nuts, hated women and were autistic. Remember those excuses/explanation/justifications. God I love media - can't live with it can't live without it.  Just like men and/or women as the joke goes.

Which brings me back to the clip. See how I circled back to the point which infuriates people in the 140 character world.

But this war is not just about poor women it is about women who no longer are useful. The women in the clip are famous, well off and have families and pensions, they are not going out to pasture or being sent on a boat to die but for women, married and single of a certain age, find themselves in a precarious teeter totter of hoping to stay relevant and meaningful in age where we are obsessed with millennial and sex. This is really all about sex so irony that the funding referred to in the editorial also is about abstinence, which will work out well in the ever increasing issues surrounding sex and college rape. Good luck with that like the booze and drugs thing.

I think back to the post about the dowdy patient and the shrinks inability to help her find her inner sex goddess. He should have been uh something called honest. Gee heard of that and couch it in language that explains the psyche of men and how their dicks are directly hard wired to their brain and they have little inability to see the inner you when they are too busy going "wow that is one fugly bitch." Gee just like the Police with black people, I am going to sweep a broad picture with a narrow brush about men. But I can do this as I am well past my last faceable day and the only penis I will encounter in the future is one I purchased from Babes in Toyland.

Listening to the Obama/Maron podcast I hear him discussing stereotypes and images regarding age, how one looks and how one's ideas of self changes as one ages. But when it comes to women apparently that is not happening.

The Hollywood Reporter, a journal I have never read ever, had a cover story on women and women of color and their roles in film and television. And the story was about how many of them have found a receptive audience on television. The story centered on what is called the "third rail" with regards to race, sex, age and nudity. The women were all women who found a much more appreciative and receptive audience on television and I for one have long been a proponent of television versus movies for story telling, diversity and subject matter.

I have to admit I have always loved television.  There is a much better way to allow for a narrative to unfold over a story arc in 13 episodes or so versus 90 minutes of largely action. I think that may be why Boyhood was so acclaimed, not that it was all that great but it was done over years and enabled everyone to age appropriately and realistically. As for a story arc or story line uh no that they neglected but hey if you watch the Apted "...UP: documentaries it is largely the same only with accents.

But again these are women of fame and with that some comfort in the idea that they will always have a community in which to rely. But what about women like myself, like the lady I ride the bus with or see in the laundromat or the wife of my laundromat attendant who loathes her and cannot wait to divorce her to move to the dessert and shoot guns. Yes I still have conversations with idiots a book writing itself at this point. And I like him he is a good man but when it comes to his marriage he steps into those stereotype boots with a perfect fit.

But the issue of sex always weighs heavily when it comes to another one of our wars - the war between the sexes.  I saw on Father's day the most interesting play about male/female dynamics with regards to sex and intimacy (again they can be either/or too) I have seen since Skylight on Broadway; this play was called Threesome, a play written by an Arab Englishman now living in the Northwest and was its premiere. To say that provocative would be a word  that would be appropriate given the title, but not with regards to the meaning and reference for it is not the same at all.  

This play takes place with a couple who yes are exploring a threesome, they are Arab ex-pats and the women is writing a book that her lover is aware of but not read.   The story revolves around the young man they meet at a publishing party for the book and in turn invite him into their home for the ubiquitous act of the title. Act I is funny, bodacious as there is full frontal nudity by both the men and the awkwardness of sex with a stranger or strangers in this case.  But like the play Skylight, Act II takes on a much darker serious note and in Threesome the Arab Spring weighs heavily as does the idea of what it is like to be a Muslim woman and well be a woman frankly regardless of faith when placed in situation of struggle.

I have said that I find it ironic that there is this hysteria around Islam and the idea of sharia law and yet I cannot find a place that would welcome it more than America. The suppression and objectification of women, the ability to abuse, imprison and kill women for largely morality crimes are not lost in a country that is going out their way to ensure the sexual servitude and patriarchal view of the purpose of women - to be fucked and to breed. Then when done discarded.

Do I "sound" harsh and angry? I am sitting here listening to President Obama speak quite frankly on what it is to be both bi-racial and feel confused about where one belongs, the rights of gun control and the ability to kill anyone for whatever convoluted reason they wish and in a dispassionate but honest manner is quite relieving. You can be angry about things and well not be angry. Those are two different facets and like the President I am very good at compartmentalizing issues that matter from those I take personal. In this case I have first hand experience what it is like to be cast out like garbage, to be dismissed as nothing first by a hospital and later the courts in where both a woman and a black man who sat in positions of power and had no problem doing so.  So am I sexist and a racist as I point out the obvious?  We don't like the truths unless we can find some "ist' in which to justify them.   So please tell me that I am angry, it is valid but it has no "ist" or any other disorder in which to explain nor excuse.   I expect no sympathy or empathy but I do ask respect. I will never find it from those in positions of power they have none as they are too busy propping themselves up to remain there.  I simply want to remind people that all lives matter.

Sharia law would have been perfect had they been able to enable it. We have versions of shaming laws here, making people read books, hold signs up, clean streets with clear identification as convicts or felons or driver license tabs or marks on cars, registries for those who offend and long time incarceration while awaiting trial, neither guilty or innocent. Please tell me how we are a democracy?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sorry, the hardest word

The other morning I heard this on BBC and thought, well we are not alone here in the sheer hubris and ignorance of the medical profession. A girl is dead because she actually gave a damn about her health, tried to be an informed and engaged patient. Nope in the medical profession that is the last thing they want. They want you complacent, compliant and subservient. Doesn't mean you are any better off and you may end up dead as well but it makes their life easier.

The new Mary Poppins should have a song "shut the fuck up and take the pill."

The only thing that makes this British is that they apologised(no, not a spelling error its the Brit way)

Family of 19-Year-Old Ignored By Doctors For ‘Googling’ Symptoms Get Apology For Her Death
Medical Daily

Bronte Doyne, a 19-year-old UK resident, died a tragic but possibly preventable death from liver cancer in March 2013. Her family says that her pleas for help were ignored by doctors until it was too late.© Facebook Bronte Doyne, a 19-year-old UK resident, died a tragic but possibly preventable death from liver cancer in March 2013. Her family says that her pleas for help were ignored by doctors until it was too late. It's the worst kind of cautionary tale in medicine: a tragic death that may have been prevented if only doctors had been willing to listen to their patient's concerns.

But this one carries an particularly 21st century twist to it: Doctors told 19-year-old Bronte Doyne and her family to "stop Googling" her symptoms after they brought up the possibility that her rare liver cancer had returned. By the time she was readmitted to the hospital in March of 2013, it was already too late and she died ten days later on March 23, only 16 months removed from the day she first sought treatment for suspected appendicitis. Now two years later, the hospital that managed her care is finally formally apologizing to her family for their fatal lapse in communication.

As the Nottingham Post reports, Bronte was a vibrant 18-year-old girl who received horrifying news in 2011 when she was told that her stomach pain was actually caused by fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare cancer with no more than 200 cases diagnosed worldwide annually. Surgeons removed part of her liver, and the doctors were confident that she would recover.

But as diary entries released to the Nottingham Post by her mother, Lorraine Doyne, reveal, Bronte wasn’t getting any better. "Feeling sick for months now. Tired of this feeling crap. Hospital not worried so trying to get on with it," she wrote in one such entry in November 2012.

Attempts to get doctors to pay attention to her ailing health fell on deaf ears, as Bronte and her family were ignored when they inquired about the chances of her cancer returning, relying on information about the disease from the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation.

"It's not just some pathetic website on Google, it's been endorsed by the White House in publications, and was the only contact we had to get some awareness about this disease," Lorraine Doyne said, according to the Nottingham Post. "But that information was dismissed here. I told the clinician that I knew what was happening to my daughter and something needed to be done but I was just told to 'stop Googling'."

The next few months would see Bronte’s health spiraling out of control, and a hesitance by staff to take her seriously."Finally my 6 monthly MRI scan today, wish it had been sooner, I know something's not right. I'm getting thinner by the second but like the doctor said I'm part of a skinny family!" she wrote in her diary on February 14, Valentine’s. One month later, she would text, "I can't begin to tell you how it feels to have to tell an oncologist they are wrong, it's a young person's cancer. I had to, I'm fed up of trusting them."

For their part, the hospital has accepted culpability for their role in Bronte’s death. "We apologise that our communication with Bronte and her family fell short. We did not listen with sufficient attention. We should have referred Bronte to the expert support available from the Teenage Cancer Trust much sooner," said Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) medical director Dr. Stephen Fowlie.

Bronte’s mother and the NUH are working together to make sure that stories like Bronte’s never happen again, with Lorraine Doyne participating in a video about Bronte’s case to be shown to NUH staff later this year, according to the Nottingham Post.

"This has put the spotlight on how the internet age and the availability of information can challenge the way we respond to patients who may be very well informed, but can remain frightened and vulnerable," said NUH deputy medical director Keith Girling. "The best information is helpful and accurate, based on evidence of what works. These sites help patients make choices, as they become experts in their condition."

Girling also cautions that the vastness of information on the internet can be too much of a good thing, and that both doctors and patients alike will have to take that into consideration. "But some sites are inaccurate or misleading, and may give false hope or cause distress. They may not be relevant to the unique clinical and other circumstances of the patient."