Derek Jeter’s Brand New Shiny Swing

“God, I hope I wear this jersey forever.” Derek Jeter

I almost wish it hadn’t been said. But then, I’ve never been a big fan of Derek Jeter anyway.

Jeter was a very good hitter for a shortstop– but then, he shouldn’t really have been shortstop. It is well known in informed baseball circles that Jeter’s range has been seriously diminished for years. He really should have moved to 3rd base by now. You can’t really move him to the outfield. He doesn’t make many errors– if he gets to the ball– but the Yankees are taking a hit on defense to keep him on the team. In the position to which he is accustomed.

Anyway, this is what is said: Jeter has been working with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to adjust his stride.

I am skeptical. I am skeptical that, at 37, a player can discover a hitherto unknown (to him) technique that will allow him to improve as a hitter. At the same time, I am very skeptical that a player with Jeter’s reputation would cheat. At the same time, I am skeptical that a player like Jeter would be happy fading into the limelight after such a celebrated career. Look at Andy Pettite.

I am skeptical that baseball incorporated has really made it all that difficult for players to cheat. Baseball incorporated benefits from records and milestones and the attraction of even washed-up stars like Derek Jeter. And young stars like Ryan Braun. And I fervently wish that those who wish to give Ryan Braun the benefit of the doubt on his positive test for performance enhancing drugs be put in charge of our criminal justice system to see if we can’t reduce the rate of spurious convictions.

I don’t know what to make of it all. Jeter was clearly washed up in 2010, and last year, and then made a dramatic improvement in September, and he has continued to demonstrate this radical improvement in April 2012. He is hitting up a storm. At 37, he is top of the charts, again. At least, in terms of offense. The Yankees won’t be able to sit him down now.

As a Blue Jays fan, I’m delighted.

Did you think that the very public, loud MLB commitment to drug testing has made it unlikely someone like Jeter would cheat? The 2008 #1 draft pick, Tim Beckham (Tampa Bay) has just been suspended 50 games for his second violation. There have been at least 37 other suspensions this year for doping violations in the minor leagues.

If a #1 pick was doing it, what is the likelihood #179 was doing it? Or #400? Or an aging superstar with declining skills?

Did you ever think about how funny it is that players all wear uniforms and sit in the dugout chewing in sunflower seeds between innings? Really, given their economic power, they should be driven out to their positions by chauffeurs in gold-plated golf-carts. But then, how would that make baseball look, as a sport?

Junk Science in Court: Bite Me

If you were charged with a crime in the U.S. and put on trial, would you assume that the forensic evidence introduced in court against you would at least be based on some kind of sound, factual, scientific research? Think again.

Frontline recently ran a documentary on the “science” of fingerprinting, bite mark analysis, and other forensic “sciences” and demonstrated rather convincingly that many courts will allow testimony by self-styled experts that has no basis in any substantive research whatsoever.

The most dramatic examples were related to two men who had been in prison for ten years or more for assaulting and murdering three-year-old girls. In both cases, the men were the former boyfriends of the girls’ mother. In both cases, an orthodontist who claimed to be versed in the science of bite mark analysis testified that scratches on the little girls’ bodies were actually bite marks that could only have come from the suspects, to the exclusion of everyone else. In each case, this testimony was the bulwark of the prosecution’s argument. In each case, the judge allowed the testimony. In each case, the man was convicted. In each case, DNA analysis– which is founded in real science– eventually exonerated the men, and the real killer confessed to the crimes.

Do I have to be polite when expressing myself about how I feel about these judges for allowing this testimony into their courts? This is not a matter upon which reasonable, educated people might respectfully beg to differ. These are witch trials that have no place in a civil society.

How far does it go? At the Casey Anthony trial a self-styled expert in smells testified that a container of smell– I’m not making this up– from the trunk of Casey Anthony’s car contained the smell of a dead body. Casey Anthony was found not guilty largely because she was able to raise $200,000 for decent lawyers by selling pictures of her with Caylee to People Magazine. Those lawyers successfully challenged a host of junk science evidence.

Now, there are rules about “expert” testimony. Prosecutors interviewed by Frontline didn’t seem aware of them. One of them declared that it was up to the jury to determine whether the smell evidence was truthful, relevant, or accurate. It is not. The Supreme Court has ruled that the judge is the “gatekeeper” for expert testimony and determines whether any specific evidence should be presented or not.

Furthermore, evidence will be deemed qualified if it has been gathered according to a scientific methodology which makes use of valid scientific procedures. One key element is falsifiability.

That said, some judges will permit both sides to present evidence on the scientific validity of certain procedures and expect the jury to sort it out. This gives an enormous advantage to the heavily resourced prosecution in most cases.

My own take on the Caylee Anthony case? I doubt we’ll ever know the truth. Casey Anthony is clearly a disturbed, unstable, delusional young woman, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she is also a murderess. She could be. But we’ve seen enough wrongful convictions to know that people tend to fit the facts to the preferred narrative, not the other way around, and whacky, unstable people are particularly vulnerable.

Here’s the most compelling point in her favor: if the police and prosecutors really believed she was guilty, why on earth did they introduce so much whacky junk forensic science into the proceedings? If you were a prosecutor, wouldn’t you have dumped the “smell” science immediately as something that looked specious and stupid, and would ultimately weaken your case? If you really believed in your own case, with any kind of integrity or intelligence, why would you introduce so many dubious elements into your presentation?

The answer is that prosecutors and police believe that the court system is a bit of a game, and you do what it takes to win, and getting at the truth is merely a secondary objective. I think they see a kind of organic logic to the system, justice theatre, in which their goal is to lock up bad people when something bad happens. If a few innocent people get snagged along the way, so be it.

And if a particular suspect didn’t commit a particular crime but was busted for it anyway– it’s a small price to pay for a system which, they believe, ultimately “works”.

When I was very young, my brother came into our house one day and told me he needed help. He led me to the back of the garage where he had started a fire which was now beginning to lick up the exterior wall. He wanted me to help him put it out. We began filling small plastic buckets with sand from the sand box and throwing it on the wall. In spite of our efforts, the flames grew bigger and bigger, and I believe I was about to tell him we should get real help when I noticed he had disappeared. He had gone back into the house to tell our mom that I had started a fire behind the garage.

I denied it, of course. My mom stared at me and ask me if I was telling the truth. Everybody knows that if you are telling the truth, you won’t get nervous and giggle. I giggled. Busted.

Or maybe I wasn’t. I had a feeling that Mom wasn’t totally convinced. I don’t remember any big punishment other than having to stay in my room for a while.

We now know, I hope, that people giggle when they are nervous, whether they are lying or not. It was the bite mark of my childhood, a wrongful conviction based on spurious evidence. You might think it trivial, but I have never forgotten. I few years ago, I brought it up at a family party and my brother acknowledged that he, in fact, had started the fire. Within a year, the entire family seemed to forget that revelation and went right back to blaming me for it.

, and even to this day my siblings tend to remember that I started that fire rather than the fact that Ed finally admitted the truth years ago.

Locard’s Exchange Principle and Dr. Sam Sheppard

Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value. Paul Leland Kirk, describing Locard’s Exchange Principle, 1953.

Dr. Edmond Locard, one of the pioneer’s of “forensic science”.  He allegedly solved several high-profile cases through the rigorous application of his Exchange Principle, particularly applied to clothing fibres.

That does not sound unfamiliar. It sounds like something you might hear a Crown Attorney tell a jury after having provided for them an entertaining “analysis” by an expert “microscopist” proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that a fibre from a sweater owned by the accused was found near the body of the victim. Or that a tiny, invisible pin-head-sized dot on a car door is actually, possibly, almost certainly, human blood, maybe. Or that the baby could only have died as a result of incredibly forceful shaking by the only person with the baby at the time of death, with a 99% degree of certainty.

I have a feeling this is prevailing mythology around police investigators and prosecutors in North America. As such, it is extravagantly misleading. It answers a question that does not need to be asked– the real question is, does a “matching” fibre really provide an exclusive match to the material in question? Does it prove that the suspect and only the suspect could have committed the crime?

What exactly is a “match” anyway? You might be surprised to know that the answer is somewhat religious: I know because I know. There is no objective criteria for what constitutes a match because there is no “science” of microscopy– check it out: there isn’t. There is no research or systematic investigation that shows how and where and why fibres travel or are found. There is no statistical proof that any particular fibre is unlikely to match any other fibre from any other article of clothing of similar characteristics…

Locard is right in one sense: at any given crime scene there will be multitudes of “evidence”, of fibres, of blood, hairs, saliva, skin flakes, whatever. The question is, what does any particular sample prove?

About the silliest comment in the entire quote is “physical evidence cannot be wrong”. No one said it could. Indeed, no one ever accused a fibre of lying. But when a “microscopist” tells a jury that he has some kind of rational calculation to tell them about the odds of that particular fibre coming from someone else’s sweater– he is lying.

If you are intrigued by this, you might want to read the blood spatter testimony of Dr. Paul Leland Kirk, who claims to be an expert in “criminalistics”.   Yes, that’s a made-up word, for a made-up science.

Yeah, I used to eat this stuff up too, but when I read it now it almost sounds farcical. Well, all right– it’s not entirely farcical. At least he did some experiments and testing which, even if it was ridiculously specious and capricious, at least gave some empirical heft to his testimony. I’m not hard to please: I would have loved to see a well-funded defense team record on film some of their own experiments and then try to persuade Dr. Kirk to analyze the results and compare his conclusions to the actual record.

I’m not ridiculing science here. In fact, it is precisely because I value real science highly that I think our criminal justice system has to start filtering out the junk science that tries to pass for the real thing. Kirk’s testimony at the Sam Sheppard trial is a classic case: he mixes in real scientific facts and research with rather startling conclusions that don’t really have a tight connection to the evidence. His statements about the arc of the swing of the attacker’s arms, the angle from which she was struck, and the source of various blood spatters strike me as dubious at best. It provides a patina of “science” to a lot of conjecture, the signal conjecture being that Marilyn Sheppard was murdered by someone who was left-handed (Dr. Sheppard was right-handed).

The truth is there may have been an element to the crime that no one has thought of yet. If you think Dr. Sheppard’s explanation of what happened is a little difficult to believe, that is precisely because we are not likely to imagine, before hand, the sequence of events he describes. And we all know how often the police create suspects out of people who do not behave the way they expect after a traumatic event, including Lindy Chamberlain.

Sheppard’s account:

According to Sheppard, he was sleeping soundly on a daybed when he heard the cries from his wife. He ran upstairs where he saw a “white biped form” in the bedroom and then he was knocked unconscious. When he awoke, he saw the person downstairs, chased the intruder out of the house down to the beach where they tussled and Sheppard was knocked unconscious again.  From Wiki.

There are good sciences, like DNA analysis, that do inspire confidence. So far, it is most famous for exonerating people who were convicted based on evidence like that given by Paul Kirk.

Weird Detail: Sam Sheppard later married a German woman named “Ariane Tebbenjohanns” who was half-sister to Magda Goebbels, who helped murder her five children in Hitler’s bunker in the waning days of the 3rd Reich, rather than leave them alive in world without her beloved Fuehrer.

Even Weirder Detail: Sam Sheppard later established himself as a professional wrestler (I am not making this up).  Later yet, he returned to surgery where his incompetence caused the deaths of two patients.  He died of alcoholism April 6, 1970.


Listening Thoughtfully to the Least Thoughtful People on the Planet

If the NRA wanted Mitt Romney to support the rights of guns owners, he would say yes, clearly.

If they asked him to support expanded “conceal and carry” laws, I’m sure he would.

If they asked him to support continued legalization of personal ownership of semi-automatic machine guns, he’d be delighted.

A United Nations resolution guaranteeing the right to guns for everyone in the entire world? No problem with that. He would point out that Assad would have been overthrown by now if only his citizens had had guns. Well, aside from the tanks. Or the artillery. Or the helicopters.

And now, Mr. Romney, we would like you to put on this tutu and these ballet slippers and tights and perform “Tiny Dancer” for us.


Is there anything, anything at all, a Republican will not do for the gun lobby? Is it normal for a lobbying group to be able to demand anything at all, without limit, of a politician? Is it normal that a politician like that would get elected?

Have you considered carefully the fact that he NRA came into being at the same time that the KKK disappeared?

Have you considered that the NRA is not really about guns at all. The people pulling the strings don’t care about guns. The Republican Party surely can’t be quite as stupid as they look on the issue. The guns have always been a wedge issue. Mitt Romney might just as well go around saying “and I will keep the darkies in their place”.

I would like to hear someone mock Romney: do you think for yourself on the issue of guns because it appears to me that there is not one single thing you will not give to the NRA if they ask for it. Shouldn’t a politicians exercise some independent judgment? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself.

The parents of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting are on the phone– will you take their calls? I didn’t think so.


My Rights Your Wrongs

My rights are NOT infringed if I lose the ability to tell you what to do. My rights are infringed when you deprive me of the right to make the choices I want to make. Does that make sense? Not to Republicans. They would have you believe that when two men or two women marry each other, they are somehow deprived of a “right”. That “right”, it turns out, is their “right” to boss you around.

When the Catholic bishops whine about the state intruding on their liberties and freedoms it turns out that the state hasn’t intruded on any liberty or freedom at all.

Can they still worship? Yes. Can they still gather to carry out their beliefs? Yes. Can they choose to not use birth control and have 13 babies in twelve years? Absolutely. Nobody is making them use birth control or have abortions or marry a gay partner. Nobody at all.

So what’s this “liberty” they are whining about? It’s the liberty to prevent you from using birth control, if you happen to work at one of their hospitals or universities.

What is “freedom of speech”?

Once again, the hysterical right-wing flag-waving shrieking patriots have let us all down. They should be out there right carrying posters and waving flags and shouting something like “Stop Oppressing Ozzie Guillen”. But, like all raging hypocrites, they only want this liberty for themselves. Guillen had the audacity to actually have an honest opinion. His sin is that it was different from the opinions held by Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or Michelle Bachmann.

The Supreme Strippers

The Supreme Court, featuring the immortal Clarence Thomas, has just ruled– 5-4, of course, (Republican Appointees vs. Democratic Appointees), that the police may strip search an individual even if he has only been charged with the most trivial crime. And that is not an exaggeration: the justices were explicit. Overdue speeding ticket? Walking a dog without a leash? Litter? Literally, even the slightest offense.

I am amazed that five adults could conclude that the a strip search is a rather trivial price to pay for a procedure of dubious efficacy applied to people who just don’t seem likely to be much of a threat to law and order. Again, the justices were explicit: the police don’t have have to have any particular reason for believing that a suspect might be in possession of a weapon or other contraband. They can just do it. For fun, if you will.

The internet is a creative conduit for civil discourse: there really ought to be a group created to monitor the Supreme Court justices at all times. It should be coordinated on Facebook or a private website. People can volunteer and take turns following the five justices around, taking pictures and video (which can then be posted to the internet) to make sure they aren’t doing anything illegal. These volunteers should absolutely observe the letter of the law. Hoo haw! Make way for the new “reasonable”!

At what point do you think a Justice might complain that he doesn’t like being followed or observed or recorded or spied on? What right would they have to complain? It is perfectly reasonable to infringe a little on someone’s privacy in order to accomplish a greater good. It is clearly in the interests of the citizens of the United States to make sure that their Supreme Court Justices are not doing anything to besmirch the reputation of the courts.

One of the rationales for this ruling is that the court should not interfere in the practice of law enforcement unless absolutely necessary because that would be “judicial activism”. Like repealing legislation enacted by a duly elected congress. Like Obamacare.

Another reason given– this one is a real gem– is that any of these people arrested and strip searched might turn out to be Timothy McVeigh or one of the 9/11 hijackers. And…. so, a strip search might have revealed that McVeigh was packing 2 tons of explosive fertilizer? He might have been planning to blow up the prison? A strip search would have stopped him?

Or Mohammed Atta might have had a box-cutter hidden under his scrotum?

And he might have littered or jay-walked just prior to boarding the aircraft?

That would surely have tipped authorities off to the plot…

It should surprise no-one that Chief Justice John Roberts ruled the way he did: this is the man who ruled that it is not unreasonable for a large policeman to take down a child and handcuff her for eating a French Fry on a subway platform.

America’s Secret Police

Do not mention to the public or the media the use of cell phone technology or equipment used to locate the targeted subject,” the Iowa City Police Department warned officers in one training manual. It should also be kept out of police reports, it advised. NY Times, April 1, 2012

For all the screeching and wailing about government oppression in the form of an insurance mandate for health insurance, why are those freedom-loving, liberty-cherishing, gun-hugging Americans so utterly placid and spineless about the massive government intrusion into their personal lives through the routine abuse of police powers as described in the New York Times on April 1?

Apparently the police, even in small, rural towns, routinely go to cell phone companies and demand the locations of particular phones, or the content of text messages. Some of these police departments have even acquired their own equipment to do it without having to pay– or possibly arouse the antipathy of– private cell phone companies.

Where’s all the outrage? Where’s the placards, the effigies, the righteous indignation, the groveling, tearful references to the Constitution, the swelling, yelling, enraged marches?

The most sacred rights are being systematically disemboweled and we hear not a whimper from the so-called patriots.

It’s all a lie and America is a giant fraud. It’s time to hold a grand public ceremony and officially burn the Constitution in a steel barrel and then roll it off the docks somewhere near Wall Street and the “Freedom Tower”, and time for all the flag-draped Patriots to just get over it: you are liars.

Retroactive Immunity: John Ashcroft’s wet kiss to the Telecoms

I will note that I was completely wrong about consequences of Ashcroft’s actions, primarily because Obama has completely and totally capitulated to the forces of darkness in the American intelligence community and has, indeed, joined in the Constitution-defying American Jihad against suspected American enemies everywhere with his own program of assassinations and mayhem.

I would like to say that I predict that it will be the thing Obama will be sorriest about in ten or twenty years. But he won’t be, because the American public will adore him for killing people on their behalf. The more, the better. The bigger and more spectacular, the better. The bloodier, the lovelier. In foreign lands or, hell, why not, here on American soil. Arrest them, torture them, kill them remotely: our religion is an angel, a drone, with a gift of shredding.

If there were no enemies out there to kill, I strongly suspect we would make them up. No military or intelligence community would ever willingly acknowledge that they are not really needed, or that they do more damage, in the long term, than good.

And if you think that is preposterous, you should ask yourself how we got here: Obama, the “yes we can” guy, in the embrace of a Hellfire missile.

[added July 17, 2012]

Did you know that about 98%– no exaggeration — of criminal court proceedings in the U.S. end with a plea bargain? Is this good? Bad? Terrible?

What we have is district attorneys with enormous power bullying defendants into giving up their constitutional rights by threatening to lay more serious charges than are called for (which could result in a far more severe sentence) if the defendant doesn’t please guilty to “lesser” charges.

Now, did you know that District Attorney’s are allowed to demand a “waiver” as part of these agreements, wherein the defendant gives up his right to appeal his sentence later, if he happened to, say, discover exculpatory evidence somewhere, or that his own lawyer was a dunce? Furthermore, his own lawyer is likely to push him to agree to these terms because part of the waiver excludes his own attorney from any culpability for incompetence or negligence resulting in a more severe sentence than might be reasonably expected?

Hurray for Death Panels: I Mean it!

By the Republicans definition, any attempt to prevent people from choosing expensive but ineffective treatments, is a “death panel”.

It is a tribute to how badly outfoxed on public relations the Democrats have been: the public associates “Death Panels” not with congressmen determined to prevent them from accessing health insurance, at a sustainable cost, but with the Democrats who want to provide it. That is an amazing accomplishment.

As far as I can tell, the Republicans greatest concern about health care is the rising costs. It has been rising, rising, rising for fifty years under the Republican system: private insurance. Did I say the Republicans are concerned about these rising costs? Yes they are. They have a solution. Do nothing. As Ross Douthat in the New York Times admits, the conservative solution to the uncontrolled cost of health care is “modest reforms that would help the hardest-pressed among the uninsured”. Isn’t that inspiring? That covers a multitude of nothings.

As the health care industry expands to meet it’s central dynamic: we are a society that looks at itself in the mirror and says, “we believe life is more valuable than money”. Therefore, if someone’s life needs saving, we will spend as much as necessary to save it. The health care industry understands this. There is no reason why they should ever find cheaper, more efficient treatments: it is contrary to their fundamental interests.

It is not contrary to the real interests of the government and the people they represent to place some reasonable controls over how much should be spent on any particular disease or injury. But it’s something all the parties have to agree on or else one particularly stupid or ruthless party can exploit the fact that most people appear to refuse to believe what they see. An unfortunately large percentage of the population can be led to believe that one party can provide all the health care they want and need without bankrupting the country while cutting taxes.

So I’ll bet more than a few rational Republicans — if any are left– regret the choice of the word “death panels”. Because they have attached the phrase to the idea of limiting the relentless increase in health care costs. Because the potential cost of health care is infinite. The last twenty years of astonishing increases have proven it.

Come on, Democrats! Seize the term and turn it on the Republicans! They are the party that doesn’t want you to have affordable health insurance. They are the party of war, of unregulated industry, of tort reform: they are the Drop Dead Party.

The Republican approach will inevitably lead to a system where only the rich can afford proper treatment. By the Republicans definition, any attempt to prevent people from choosing expensive but ineffective treatments, is a “death panel”. Any attempt to limit treatments performed on people who are going to die soon anyway is a “death panel”.

Do you want to be the politician who tries to explain to the American people that too much health care is provided to people in the last few months of their lives, and that this is making the whole system unsustainable?

Here’s the naked truth: what the U.S., and most western countries need or already have, is something the Republicans have labeled as “death panels”.

As Douthat correctly noted, health care costs rise at astronomical rates. New treatments come on board constantly, new drugs, new techniques, and pharmaceuticals and doctors and hospitals charge enormous sums for these goods and services. Unfortunately, all this new technology has had the opposite effect that it had on computers: medical costs have risen steadily. Why? Really, in a nutshell, because people will pay anything to get better. Anything. Whatever it costs. People will sell everything they own to pay for it because nothing you own matters to you if you’re dead. And the medical industry knows it.

There really as an infinite amount of money we can spend on health care. Unconstrained, it will eventually consume most of the financial resources of the entire nation.

The health care industry also knows that people don’t go shopping around the cheapest cancer surgery, to see if they can get a discount. They don’t turn down an incredibly expensive operation just because they also have cancer and failed kidneys and diabetes and a heart condition, because they are 80 years old, or because they are Republican.

With this logic in place, there is no ceiling on medical expenditures, and eventually it will consume more and more and more of the economy, until it breaks. Or until Republicans, having created an unsustainable system, declare that no system is sustainable and announce their new policy for the uninsured: drop dead.

Most other developed countries simply negotiate what they will pay for particular treatments, which treatments will be available, and how much over-all spending will go into health care. What the Republicans call “death panels” are really nothing more than educated people trying to balance needs against resources, and so far it works pretty well in Europe, Australia, and Canada.

I have no problem accepting a system that declares that it will not spend an infinite amount of money on health care. I have no problem believing that we can still have a pretty good system that provides effective essential treatments for almost every illness. I accept that when I am 80 years old and suffering from all the ailments a typical 80 year old suffers from that I will not be a candidate for a kidney or heart transplant.

The only way to have a sustainable and effective health care system is with death panels.

The essence of the American debate was captured for once and always in this exchange:

Someone reportedly told Inglis, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

“I had to politely explain that, ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,'” Inglis told the Post. “But he wasn’t having any of it.”  Huffington Post