Free at last – after 35 years

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

After more than three decades in prison, a Florida man was set free Thursday after a DNA test showed he did not kidnap and rape a 9-year-old boy in 1974…

James Bain was 19 when he was convicted on charges of kidnapping, burglary and strong-arm rape. He received a life sentence. He’s going home for the first time in 35 years…

Of the 245 people in the United States whom DNA testing has exonerated, none has spent more time behind bars than Bain, according to the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through such testing.

In 2001, Florida passed a statute allowing cases to be reopened for DNA testing. Bain submitted handwritten motions four times seeking such testing but was denied each time. His fifth attempt was successful after an appeals court ruled he was entitled to a hearing.

Bain initially was expected to be freed with some conditions as the state wanted a further review of DNA test results. But the review was completed ahead of Thursday’s hearing…

“Mr. Bain, I’m now signing the order, sir,” the judge said, referring to an order vacating the judgment and sentence.

You are a free man. Congratulations,” he said, and the courtroom erupted into applause.

Regardless of excuses, rationales, there’s really only one reason a state denies DNA testing for someone in a case like this. They’re afraid they will be shown up – one more time – as having condemned an innocent man.

Double Dimwits Award

One dead granddaughter, one dead son

The Oregon City parents charged with criminally negligent homicide in the faith-healing death of their teenage son will ask a judge to dismiss the charges because they followed the advice of state child welfare workers…

The Beagleys belong to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church that relies solely on spiritual healing and rejects doctors and medicine. The hearing today in Clackamas County Circuit Court will preview some of the prosecution and defense arguments but won’t delve into medical evidence.

Attorneys also will revisit issues that arose during the Carl and Raylene Worthington case. The Worthingtons, also Followers of Christ, were accused of manslaughter in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava.

Raylene Worthington, who is the Beagleys’ daughter, was found not guilty after a 12-day trial in July. Carl Worthington was convicted of criminal mistreatment and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Both cases involve questions about the rights of parents to treat their children with faith healing and allegations that church members are targeted for prosecution because of their beliefs…

The Followers of Christ — a congregation that reportedly has about 1,200 members, mainly in the Oregon City area — gained notoriety in the late 1990s after news reports that a large number of congregants’ children died from medically treatable conditions…They claim the state wrongly treats spiritual healing as “nothing more than fatalism.”

Prayer, the laying of hands and anointing with oil — the chosen practices of the Beagleys and their church — are treated as “nothing more than throwing your hands in the air and saying ‘Let nature take its course,'” according to one of the defense motions.

And your defense is…?

USDA joins global alliance to confront climate, sufficient food

Bee researchers in California
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The U.S. Agriculture Department announced it has joined 18 other countries in a global alliance focused on curbing greenhouse gas emissions while increasing world access to food.

The USDA will increase its spending on agricultural climate change mitigation research by $90 million to more than $130 million during the next four years. USDA will contribute its findings to the Global Research Alliance.

The group, which also includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India and Britain, will focus on finding ways to grow more food without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture produces 14 percent of global greenhouse gases.

“No single nation has all the resources it needs to tackle agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time enhancing food production and food security,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is attending U.N. climate discussions in Copenhagen, said in a statement.

The global partnership is expected to work on cheaper and more accurate methods of measuring greenhouse gas emissions and carbon stored in soil; new farming practices that reduce emissions and increase carbon storage in farmland in different countries; and farming methods that sustain yields while helping to mitigate climate change.

Overdue – which isn’t surprising. We’ve hardly ever had an administration which offered progressive leadership in agriculture.

It’s been considered sufficient to bend over for the corporate giants of agribusiness.

Is Swine Flu beating up the regular seasonal influenzas?

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Seasonal flu, which annually kills 30,000 Americans, may not appear in the U.S. for the first time in more than 40 years, crowded out by the swine flu pandemic and mass vaccination campaigns.

Seasonal strains are almost nonexistent in reports from countries where swine flu, or H1N1, has taken hold. In the U.S. and Europe, 99 percent of influenza cases tested last week were H1N1, according to government reports. Seasonal versions of virus that usually arrive in December and peak in February may not emerge at all, said Marc Lipsitch, a flu tracker at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.

“I would bet against a seasonal flu this year,” said Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology, in a telephone interview. “But I wouldn’t bet very much money.”

One of the seasonal strains most likely to appear this year, known as type B, was responsible for 7 of 478 positive cases in a testing sample for the week ended Dec. 5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A second form, H3N2, hasn’t been spotted at all.

Neither seasonal strain emerged after H1N1 struck in the Southern Hemisphere, where the winter flu season ended in September, according to the World Health Organization in Geneva…

Scientists aren’t sure exactly how some flu strains can crowd out others, said William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and an outside adviser to the CDC on vaccine policy…

The last time seasonal flu strains were crowded out entirely in the U.S. was during the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968, Lone Simonsen [researcher at GWU] said. She predicted that swine flu will return in January and may circulate simultaneously with seasonal flu strains, potentially attacking both the young and old.

It’s probably still a very good idea to get vaccinated, because this is not over,” Lone Simonsen said in an interview on Dec. 8. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but we had two historical pandemics where there was an early fall wave — 1918 and 1957 — and both of those were followed by a winter wave.”

RTFA. Lots of interesting detail to theories. And like Ms. Simonsen says – none of us has a crystal ball. The details may yet kill a bunch of us.

Thanks, Mr. Fusion

Iraqi insurgents are hacking U.S. drones

A Predator at Balad Air Base in Iraq (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

You guessed it. The Pentagon thought they didn’t need encryption. Har!

Iraqi insurgents have reportedly intercepted live video feeds from the U.S. military’s Predator drones using a $25.95 Windows application which allows them to track the pilotless aircraft undetected.

Hackers working with Iraqi militants were able to determine which areas of the country were under surveillance by the U.S. military, the Wall Street Journal reported…adding that video feeds from drones in Afghanistan also appear to have been compromised…

This apparent security breach, which had been known in military and intelligence circles to be possible, arose because the Predator unmanned aerial vehicles do not use encryption in the final link to their operators on the ground. (By contrast, every time you log on to a bank or credit card Web site, or make a phone call on most modern cellular networks, your communications are protected by encryption technology.)

When a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, is far from its base, terrain prohibits it from transmitting directly to its operator. Instead, it switches to a satellite link. That means an enterprising hacker can use his own satellite dish, a satellite modem, and a copy of the SkyGrabber Windows utility sold by the Russian company SkySoftware to intercept and display the UAV’s transmissions.

The Air Force became aware of the security vulnerability when copies of Predator video feeds were discovered on a laptop belonging to a Shiite militant late last year, and again in July on other militants’ laptops, the Journal reported. The problem, though, is that the drones use proprietary technology created in the early 1990s, and adding encryption would be an expensive task.

So, why spend the money, right?

No doubt, we’re already paying through the nose for these aircraft. Who was the dummy who decided to leave out encryption?

iRobot founder to develop UAVs to inspect infrastructure

We found out in June that the stealth robotics company created by iRobot founder Helen Greiner would work on unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for emergency response. Now the company has revealed that these UAVs will also be used to inspect bridges, dams and other infrastructure.

Formerly known as The Droid Works, and now called CyPhy Works, the company has received a NIST grant of $2.4 million. CyPhy Works will work with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop small, hovering UAVs equipped with video cameras and sensors.

If successful, the project will produce an advanced class of UAVs that would enable entirely novel, efficient, and relatively low-cost techniques for monitoring the health of the nation’s existing civil infrastructure.

While many researchers are working on small, hovering robots for search-and-rescue, surveillance, and structure monitoring, controlling and coordinating these aircraft remains a challenge. Many UAV projects currently use GPS to navigate, but this is not very precise and does not work inside buildings.

CyPhy Works apparently plans to develop a more precise navigation system. It has plans for two types of monitoring: Robotic Assisted Inspection, where a UAV slowly flies along a structure taking high resolution images, and Autonomous Robotic Monitoring, where a UAV stays at a structure and routinely checks for potential dangerous changes on its own. It will be interesting to see if the company can make the latter approach work, and what techniques it develops for stabilizing the UAVs in high wind.

Don’t you love people who ask irrelevant questions? Do we send out helicopters on risky missions when there is the added fillip of, say, a hurricane? Why send out a UAV?

Sorry to be distracted by nonsense. Following iRobot is a delight because they’re never dull enough to offer products that only seem to work in one environment or sell to a single class of customer.

Mexican drug lord killed in shootout in Cuernavaca

One of the most wanted figures in the drug war was killed in a shootout with the Mexican navy Wednesday said an official.

Arturo Beltran Leyva and three members of his drug cartel died in the gunbattle in a gated, upscale apartment complex in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. A fifth suspect committed suicide during the shootout, said the official, who under navy rules could not give his name…

Beltran Levya, known as the “boss of bosses,” was one of four brothers who split from the Sinaloa cartel several years ago and aligned themselves with Los Zetas, a group of former soldiers hired by the Gulf Cartel as hit men.

That split is believed to have fueled much of the bloodshed across Mexico, where more than 14,000 people have been killed in the past three years…

The Mexican government lists Arturo Beltran Leyva as one its 24 most-wanted drug lords and had offered a $2.1 million reward for his capture.

The navy official said more than 200 sailors raided the apartment complex as part of a crackdown on the Beltran Leyva cartel in central Mexico. The raid sparked a gunbattle that lasted nearly two hours.

He will be mourned by junkies and fools – and the politicians on his payroll.