Death Row appeal lost in the mail. Alabama says, “So what!”

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a death row inmate who faces execution after a mailroom mix-up at one of the nation’s most prominent law firms.

Lawyers at the firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, had agreed to represent Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, without charge. When an Alabama court sent two copies of a ruling in Mr. Maples’s case to the firm in New York, its mailroom sent them back unopened and stamped “Return to Sender.”

Two associates handling Mr. Maples’s case had indeed left the firm, but it appears that no one told the court or the mailroom that new lawyers there had taken over. A court clerk in Alabama put the returned envelopes into the court file and did nothing more…

In urging the court not to hear the case, Troy King, Alabama’s attorney general, wrote that Mr. Maples had been represented by “a team of attorneys from a multimillion-dollar law firm” who should know that rules are rules.

“Filing deadlines apply to death row inmates,” Mr. King wrote. “Countless attorneys have missed filing deadlines over the years, and state and federal courts routinely dismissed their client’s tardy appeal as a consequence. This case is no different, and it presents nothing new or nationally compelling.”

Mr. Garre responded that the case, Maples v. Thomas, No. 10-63, was hardly routine. Among other things, he said, “the state contributed to the missed deadline” and “a man’s life is at stake.”

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal. Which surprises me as much as the cold heart of the Alabama Attorney General doesn’t.


Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, probably ate fare similar to today’s pricey health foods such as cereal, fish and seaweed, according to a researcher who has studied the country’s 5th century diet.

Food historian Regina Sexton said records kept by monks showed that Patrick, who is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes and spreading the Christian message, most likely drew his sustenance from cereals and dairy produce such as sour milk, flavored curd mixtures and a variety of soft and hard cheeses.

It is safe to say that obesity was not a problem in those days, and that the fare was seasonal, wholesome and modest by today’s standards,” said Sexton of University College Cork.

A corresponding factor in reduced obesity had to be the hard work. Field hands back then often ate 2 lbs. of cheese per day. But, they used up more than four thousand calories at work.

Having arrived in Ireland as a slave after what was probably a cold and hungry journey from Britain, the future saint most likely snacked on wet preparations like porridge, gruel and meal pastes.

Other culinary delights he could choose from included hen and goose eggs, honey, curds, seaweeds and apples, which he could garnish with a dash of wild garlic or watercress.

Fish like salmon, trout and eel or meats like hand-cured pork were also on 5th century Irish menus, while flat breads made from oats, barley, a little rye and some of the altogether more exclusive wheat, added some bulk.

“Ironically, much of the food available then is what we call ‘health food’ now, which comes of course, at a premium price,” Sexton said.

I’ll forgive him converting Ireland to Christianity.

As for the “health food” comparison – a great deal of what the article discusses is Ireland’s answer to a Mediterannean Diet. The only goodies that get expensive are some of the seafood if you live in the Southern Rockies as I do. Otherwise, I grew up with most of the same foodstuffs in New England. Maybe a bit more white bread and beef – my family back in the Outer Hebrides were cattle drovers for centuries. No doubt they got a bit of beef, once in a while.

Nuns sue Boston Archbishop over pension fund accounting

Why do they need lawyers and accountants to sort their church pension fund?

In a highly unusual case pending before the Supreme Judicial Court, an order of nuns is suing Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, after years of trying in vain to withdraw from a church-run pension fund. Nuns fighting a cardinal in court is almost unheard of, and their lawyers say they are doing so only as a last resort…

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of troubles for the pension funds overseen by the Archdiocese of Boston. The archdiocese’s pension fund for lay workers — the trust the nuns invested in, alongside many other independent Catholic organizations — is significantly underfunded. A pension fund for priests has also been troubled in recent years, although the archdiocese says the condition of that fund has now improved…

The funds at stake in the lawsuit are not for the nuns’ own retirement, but for the retirement of their lay employees. The order has about four dozen employees and retirees in the Boston area and another four dozen or so nationwide…

The nuns believe they are owed $1.371 million, based on their estimate of the value of the assets in 2007. The archdiocese declined to say what it believes the nuns’ assets are worth, saying this is a point of disagreement that it hopes to resolve in mediation…

In their lawsuit…the Daughters of St. Paul say that they asked to leave the archdiocesan fund in 2005. They sought to establish a single pension plan for all their US employees that the Daughters would run themselves.

Their lawsuit alleges that representatives of the church-run plan were unable to supply data concerning the Daughters’ contributions and earnings required to effectuate the spinoff. The trustees, the lawsuit alleges, never kept separate records for each contributing employer — even though, it alleges, they were required to do so by the document establishing the trust.

Marcia S. Wagner, a pension law specialist whom the nuns hired in 2007, said she has never encountered such difficulty acquiring basic information to complete what she said should have been a straightforward matter. “What struck me as most atypical is the incredible lack of responsiveness, the lack of any hard data or information, non-answers to very specific questions, and just endless, fruitless negotiations,’’ she said.

She added: “When you want to accomplish something that is par for the course and ordinary, and it becomes mired in arcane complexity, nonresponsiveness and non-answers, that will usually mean that something is amiss.’’

In my experience, “something is amiss” is putting it too politely. Someone’s been skimming the cream off the milk of human kindness. Probably someone who thinks his god is on his side.

BBC World Service to get funding from the US state department

The BBC World Service is to receive a “significant” sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China.

In what the BBC said is the first deal of its kind, an agreement is expected to be signed later this month that will see US state department money – understood to be a low six-figure sum – given to the World Service to invest in developing anti-jamming technology and software.

The funding is also expected to be used to educate people in countries with state censorship in how to circumnavigate the blocking of internet and TV services…

Fortunately, the U.S. government need not rely on state censorship to prevent access to BBC World Service in the United States. Self-censorship by the major networks, cable and satellite TV distribution systems takes care of that.

The deal, which is expected to be formally announced on International Press Freedom Day, 3 May, follows an increase in incidents of interference with World Service output across the globe, according to its controller of strategy and business, Jim Egan…

Governments who have an interest in denying people information particularly at times of tension and upheaval are keen to do this and it is a particular problem now,” said Egan…

Egan added that the battle against jamming is likely to be an ongoing one because repressive countries are likely to develop methods to counter any anti-censorship technology that is developed.

I was surprised to find the Obama administration doing this. Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats think of the BBC with the same brain cells that quiver in fear at mention of AlJazeera’s English service.

Today’s American conservatives consider facts and reporting facts to be a dangerous leftwing plot. Witness the Republican commitment to crushing National Public Radio and PBS-TV. Perish the thought citizens should have domestic access to anything other than news as entertainment – as defined by corporate media mavens.

My guess is that the grant will come with provisos requiring BBC World Service to barely continue efforts to enter the U.S. online – and forget TV here altogether.

Would a seedless cherimoya be the next banana?

Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to man.” But the cherimoya, or custard apple, and its close relations the sugar apple and soursop, also have lots of big, awkward seeds. Now new research by plant scientists in the United States and Spain could show how to make this and other fruits seedless.

Going seedless could be a big step for the fruit, said Charles Gasser, professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis. “This could be the next banana — it would make it a lot more popular,” Gasser said.

Bananas in their natural state have up to a hundred seeds; all commercial varieties, of course, are seedless…

Researchers José Hormaza, Maria Herrero and graduate student Jorge Lora…studied the seedless variety of sugar apple. When they looked closely at the fruit, they noticed that the ovules, which would normally form seeds, lacked an outer coat.

They looked similar to the ovules of a mutant of the lab plant Arabidopsis discovered by Gasser’s lab at UC Davis in the late 1990s. In Arabidopsis, the defective plants do not make seeds or fruit. But the mutant sugar apple produces full-sized fruit with white, soft flesh without the large, hard seeds.

The Spanish team contacted Gasser, and Lora came from Malaga to work on the project in Gasser’s lab. He discovered that the same gene was responsible for uncoated ovules in both the Arabidopsis and sugar apple mutants…

The discovery also sheds light on the evolution of flowering plants, Gasser said. Cherimoya and sugar apple belong to the magnolid family of plants, which branched off from the other flowering plants quite early in their evolution.

“It’s a link all the way back to the beginning of the angiosperms,” Gasser said.

I used to eat soursop pretty regularly visiting friends in Barbados. Fond memories of folks who had a soursop tree growing in their yard as well as papaya. Delightful.

Ain’t nothing like picking tree-ripened fruit just in time for breakfast or a mid-day snack.

After 13 years of chauffeurs Jack Straw forgot how to drive

Jack Straw, the Blackburn MP and former Home Secretary, is having to learn how to drive again because he has forgotten after being chauffeured everywhere during Labour’s 13 years in power.

Mr Straw is completing a “driving refresher course” as well as received tips from a senior Labour colleague on how to cope with motorway driving. Since 1997, the former minister is understood to have only driven short distances on quiet minor roads a handful of times.

A friend of Mr Straw told a Sunday newspaper: “Jack was pretty much driven everywhere for 13 years. He did a spot of driving on minor roads to run the odd errand but not much else…

Mr Straw, as Justice Secretary, announced in 2009 that the maximum penalty for reckless driving would be more than doubled from two years in jail to five.

The legal change led to a rise in the number of drivers choosing to take refresher lessons, and the increase was particularly prevalent among elderly motorists.

Mr Straw, who stood down from Labour’s front bench last year, was unavailable for comment.

He probably forgot what it’s like to be honest man with reasonable opinions based on something other than political expediency and opportunism.