No discipline for lawyers who wrote the torture memos

Legal bureaucrats clear their peers of crime. Surprised?

One of the most controversial aspects of the “war on terror” – especially at the height of the fighting in Iraq – was the way those captured by US and other allied forces were questioned.

Described variously as “torture” or merely “harsh,” these “enhanced interrogation techniques” included the infamous waterboarding – the near-drowning of captives – as well as “stress positions,” sleep deprivation, isolation, extremes in temperature, and other methods meant to elicit actionable intelligence.

At the heart of the controversy among military professionals as well as elected officials (and Americans generally) were the so-called “torture memos” written by Justice Department officials in the Bush administration as a basis for justifying harsh interrogation.

Now, the Justice Department’s ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, has determined that the memo’s authors – John Yoo and Jay Bybee – exercised “poor judgment” in writing legal opinions that “contained significant flaws.”

Office of Professional Responsibility investigators found that Yoo had “violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective and candid legal advice.” And they determined that Bybee had “acted in reckless disregard” of ethical obligations for his actions regarding the memos.

RTFA for the details. Essentially, this administration’s White House lawyers criticize the last administration’s White House lawyers for letting their ideology trump the law and justice.

But that’s OK because after all – they are lawyers.

They all ride the same bus.

Weightlifting ant is photo contest winner

An amazing image of an ant lifting 100 times its body weight has won first prize in a science photography contest.

The image shows an Asian weaver ant hanging upside down on a glass-like surface and holding a 500mg (0.02oz) weight in its jaws.

It was taken by zoology specialist Dr Thomas Endlein of Cambridge University as he researched insects’ sticky feet…The research shows how ants change the size and shape of the pads on their feet to enable them to carry heavier loads…

“The pads on ants’ feet are self-cleaning and can stick to almost any type of surface,” he said.

“No man-made glue or adhesive system can match this. Understanding how animals can control their adhesive systems should help us come up with clever adhesives in the future.”

Wow! Give that ant an extra homoptera for dinner.

Coma ‘writer’ Rom Houben can’t communicate, after all

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A Belgian man who stunned the world last year by apparently communicating after 23 years in a coma cannot in fact do so, researchers say.

The doctor who believed that Rom Houben was communicating through a facilitator now says the method does not work.

Dr Steven Laureys told the BBC: “The story of Rom is about the diagnosis of consciousness, not communication…”

Dr Laureys, a neurologist at Liege University Hospital in Belgium, had earlier established that Mr Houben, was more conscious than doctors had previously thought – and that is still thought to be the case.

But he also believed that his interaction with the speech therapist was genuine. Following further study, however, Dr Laureys says the method does not work.

He told the BBC that a series of tests on a group of coma patients, including Mr Houben, had concluded that the method was after all false…

“It’s like using an Ouija board,” Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told Associated Press…

“I hope Rom and his family will stay as an example” of how hard it is to pick up the signs of consciousness, Dr Laureys told the Associated Press. “Even when we know that patients are conscious, we don’t know if there is pain or suffering or what they are feeling.”

First, credit Dr. Laurys for the integrity to challenge his initial conclusions. Introducing sophisticated testing proved his hopes incorrect – and he’s offered that updated information to the medical community and the world at large.

Second, don’t fault the therapist who thought she was simply a tool of communication for Rom Houben. She was motivated by a calling which in general is overworked and underpaid, relegated to the dedicated.

Finally, understand that science always demands reproducible, verifiable results before data is accepted as fact. There is significant difference between this process and the “political” skepticism in fashion among those usually one step removed from creationism in their anti-science ideology.

France wine producers found guilty of fraud

A dozen French winemakers and traders have been found guilty of a massive scam to sell 18 million bottles of fake Pinot Noir to a leading US buyer.

The judge in Carcassonne, south-west France, said the producers and traders had severely damaged the reputation of the Languedoc region.

The 12 more than doubled profits passing off the wine to E and J Gallo under its Red Bicyclette brand.

The court ruled the 12 had deliberately and repeatedly mislabelled the wine as one of the more expensive varieties of grape in order to get a better price from E and J Gallo.

The Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir single grape wine is hugely popular in the United States.

French Customs officers spotted the swindle and called in investigators. They found the amount of Pinot Noir being sold to Gallo was far more than the region produced. Some of those in the scandal were not even Pinot Noir producers.

The judge handed out suspended jail sentences ranging from one month to six months for the most prominent wine trader and ordered all the defendants to pay fines.

The judge said: “The scale of the fraud caused severe damage for the wines of the Languedoc for which the United States is an important outlet.”

Bravo for the customs officers who spotted the swindle – and their pride in a national product.

U.S. agency says Google can be power marketer

I have to chuckle over how many supposedly knowledgeable pundits from the geek world think this is something unheard of. Remind me to ignore their stock tips.

Google won approval from U.S. energy regulators to act as a power marketer, which will make it easier for the Internet search giant to obtain renewable energy to run its huge data centers…

In its approval order, FERC pointed out that Google does not own or control any facilities that generate electricity to sell in the wholesale markets.

Google says the extent of its electric generation ownership is to provide power solely to the company’s facilities and for emergency backup power.

Other companies that consume a lot of electricity have been given similar power marketing authority by FERC to help control their energy costs.

The agency lists on its website about 1,500 companies that have subsidiaries with the same market-based rate authority, including Alcoa, the Safeway grocery store chain and Walmart.

There has to be at least a couple of paranoid vegan Google-panic geeks who will now fear being electrocuted if they use the Chrome browser.

Smelly passenger kicked off flight from PEI

Should’ve dunked him in the water, first

Air travelers already have to deal with unruly passengers, excessively talkative ones and many other types who make flying miserable.

But a new low may just have been reached for weary road warriors: The overwhelmingly smelly passenger.

A man on Jazz Air, a regional airline in Canada that also serves U.S. cities, was reportedly kicked off a plane earlier this month because of his strong body odor.

“People were just mumbling and staring at him,” said a woman who sat near the man, according to The Guardian, a newspaper in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where the flight originated on February 6. It was a very uncomfortable situation, she added.

Another passenger described the smell as “brutal.”

The man was an American visiting Prince Edward Island, the CBC reported.

Jazz Air spokeswoman Manon Stuart confirmed that a passenger was “deplaned” from the flight, but she could not provide specific information about the person involved or the reason why he was asked to leave because of privacy issues.

“It’s important to understand that our crew members make every effort to resolve a situation before it becomes an issue. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, it may become necessary for our crew to remove passengers.”