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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 72500 times)
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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7770 on: Dec 19th, 2012, 3:41pm »

The Guardian

Star Wars Episode VII – is Yavin 4 storyline fact or fiction?

by
Ben Child

Wednesday 19 December 2012 06.50 EST

Star Wars fans are abuzz after a news agency report appeared to inadvertently reveal that the debut film in Disney's forthcoming revival of the series will feature a storyline in which Luke Skywalker returns to the planet Yavin 4 to build a Jedi knight academy.

The titbit is buried in an article by Reuters about the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, deep in the Guatemala rainforest, which George Lucas used for the location of the rebel base in 1977's Star Wars. (It is from here that the rebel assault on the first Death Star is launched.) The tourist destination has apparently become inundated with fans of the long-running space opera aiming to soak up the "end of the world" atmosphere as an era closes in the Mayan Long Count calendar this Friday.

Disney has not yet confirmed the storyline for Star Wars: Episode VII and some websites have speculated that Reuters does not have its facts straight. The usually reliable agency's story reads: "Yavin 4 and the rebel base return to the Star Wars plot in the forthcoming Episode VII, announced in October by the Walt Disney Co, in which Skywalker comes back to the planet to build a Jedi knight academy."

Reuters may have confused the storyline for Episode VII with Yavin 4's involvement in the "expanded" Star Wars universe as depicted in dozens of books released in the wake of the original trilogy that hit cinemas between 1977 and 1983. Here, Yavin 4 is indeed the location for a Jedi school, but there has been no suggestion from Disney that the new films will follow the direction of the novels, which Lucas himself never entirely accepted as canonical.

Nevertheless, the story has been picked up by a number of blogs as fans of the series scurry for the tiniest morsels of information about the new trilogy of films. So far Disney has revealed only that writers Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) and Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes) will take charge of the new triptych.

Disney announced the new Star Wars films in October after buying all rights to the series through its acquisition of LucasFilm for $4.05bn, with Lucas agreeing to step aside after more than 35 years in charge. British director Matthew Vaughn has been rumoured to be in talks to helm the first film in the new trilogy, while Brad Bird, Steven Spielberg and Star Trek's JJ Abrams have all ruled themselves out. The stars of the original trilogy, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo), have all been tipped to return to the series.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/dec/19/star-wars-vii-yavin-4-storyline?CMP=twt_gu

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« Reply #7771 on: Dec 20th, 2012, 10:01am »

Seattle Times

Originally published December 19, 2012 at 8:38 PM
Page modified December 19, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Snohomish County Council bans slaughter of horses for food

Moving to pre-empt the revival of slaughter houses that kill horses for food, the Snohomish County Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to ban the practice.

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Snohomish County Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption — pre-empting any effort to reinstate the controversial practice anywhere within its jurisdiction.

The council's action followed impassioned testimony from both sides. It comes about a year after the federal government reinstated inspections of horse-slaughter facilities, making it possible, after a five-year hiatus, for horses to be killed in this country for food.

While not widely consumed in the U.S., horse meat is eaten in parts of Europe, South America and Asia. Under federal law, inspections of slaughterhouses where horses are killed are mandatory, and when funding for those inspections ended in 2007 it essentially ended horse-slaughtering operations in the U.S.

The Snohomish County ordinance, introduced by Councilman Dave Somers and backed by a broad coalition of animal rescuers and advocates, was aimed at preventing the revival of horse slaughtering at Florence Packing, a company located just outside Stanwood.

Owner Wayne Lindahl slaughtered horses at his facility for more than two decades until 1992. These days, he ships an average of 2,000 live horses a year to a Canadian slaughterhouse, Bouvry Export. Bouvry in turn ships horse meat to markets around the world.

Allen Warren, founder of the equine sanctuary Horse Harbor Foundation in Kitsap County, said he was told by sources inside Bouvry that the Canadian company had planned to reopen horse slaughtering at the Florence facility now that federal inspections have been allowed to resume.

Florence's proximity to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he said, made it ideal for shipping to an expanding Asian market. Florence also is the only facility in the state where slaughtering could begin almost right away, without requiring the kind of approvals, including environmental, that would be required for a newer facility.

Animal advocates said they also found out through a Freedom of Information Act request that Bouvry had requested a permit from the Food and Safety Inspection Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to slaughter horses in this country, although a representative of Bouvry said he could not confirm that.

Given what they say they've learned, Warren said, "We connected the dots."

In addition to pre-empting such facilities in Snohomish County, Warren and other animal advocates are working to ensure that funding for inspections is stripped from the federal agricultural appropriations bill, essentially prohibiting horse slaughtering once again.

Florence's owner, Lindahl, said that despite the persistent rumors he has no plans to restart his slaughterhouse and is not in talks to sell his buildings.

He's running a stripped-down operation, he said. "We have no refrigeration, no equipment. It's been like that since 1992. I'm done with this business; I plan to retire by the end of next summer."

He said, "What the horse people don't understand is that there's no place for these horses when they're not being used anymore. We're not taking saddle horses and sending them for slaughter. They are older or ex-bucking horses."

Animal advocates point out that most of the horses sent to slaughter are not old, but are healthy. They also maintain that slaughtering is not humane but cited an inspector's testimony before Congress in 2008 that horses often are conscious during the killing process.

Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, which voiced strong opposition to the ban, said there's a need for a slaughter system in this state that has strong state and federal inspection and oversight.

It's important, he said, that decision makers not allow "emotion to cloud science and good judgment on this issue. You mention horses and people think of these great majestic animals with their mane and tail blowing in the wind."

But that's different from reality, he said. "What they don't see are the horses dumped on public or private lands by people who can no longer afford to manage and maintain them.

"Where's the science that drives this decision?"

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019939777_slaughter20.html

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« Reply #7772 on: Dec 20th, 2012, 10:07am »

Chicago Sun Times

Federal prosecutors involved in escapee’s case get protection

BY FRANK MAIN AND FRAN SPIELMAN
Staff Reporters
December 19, 2012 11:24AM

Even though he made an apparent threat to a judge last week, Joseph “Jose” Banks wasn’t under extra security in the federal jail in downtown Chicago.

The convicted bank robber escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center early Tuesday with fellow bank robber Kenneth Conley. They apparently crawled through a hole bashed in their 17th-floor cell and slid down a rope fashioned from sheets.

Last week, Banks told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, “You’ll hear from me!” after he was found guilty of bank robbery. An apparent threat like that would typically land a prisoner in a special housing unit where he would be allowed out just one hour a day until authorities checked it out, said a source familiar with the jail’s procedures.

The decision to house Banks in the general jail population raises questions about the security there, the source said. Indeed, Pallmeyer and the federal prosecutors in Banks’ case are now being given special protection because of the apparent threat.

On Wednesday, authorities said a videotape from a private surveillance camera showed the robbers fleeing in a cab on Congress Parkway around 2:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Officials continued the manhunt Wednesday and the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the escapees’ capture.

http://www.suntimes.com/17113017-761/federal-prosecutors-involved-in-escapees-case-get-protection.html

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« Reply #7773 on: Dec 20th, 2012, 10:11am »

Telegraph

A nagging wife has been given an ASBO after keeping neighbours awake for three years with her constant quibbling.

By Telegraph reporters
1:39PM GMT 20 Dec 2012

Julie Griffiths, 43, breached a noise abatement order a staggering 47 times in three months this year, a court heard.

Residents living near the Griffiths' £75,000 mid-terraced home in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs., spent three years listening to her berating her long-suffering husband Norman, 63.

Griffiths was first served a notice in 1999 and was fined £500 when she breached it in 2010.

Stoke-on-Trent Magistrates Court heard her behaviour persisted over the next two years and environmental health officers installed monitoring equipment in a neighbour's home this July.

On Wednesday Griffiths pleaded guilty to failing to comply with the requirements of a noise abatement notice.

Staffordshire Magistrates Court imposed a five-year ASBO which prohibits her from engaging in behaviour which causes or is likely to cause a nuisance, disturbance, harassment or alarm to her neighbours.

She was warned she could go to jail for five years if she breaches the anti-social order, fined £500 and told to pay £250 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Lisa Hall, prosecuting for the Borough Council, said it was "by far the worst" noise case an environmental health officer had ever had to deal with.

She added that the noise abatement notice was breached 47 times between July 4 and October 22 this year.

Steve Lee, defending, said Griffiths, a factory worker, became overtired after working 12-hour shifts on four consecutive days and sometimes had to "let off steam" to her husband of 23 years.

He added: "She accepts her voice got so loud it would have disturbed the neighbours.

"She doesn't mean to do it. She comes across as an emotional woman and vents frustration by shouting and screaming.

"She does not go around committing violence, it is simply shouting within the confines of her own home.

"She realises now that she has to keep it down."

The five-year ASBO means Griffiths must not: create noise audible to neighbouring properties, shout, scream or bang on internal doors, or contact or communicate with her neighbours.

After the case Councillor Tony Kearon, said: "This is a great result for the council and, in particular, for Mrs Griffiths' neighbours who have suffered this woman's appalling behaviour at first hand over a very long period.

"Our message is clear – we are here to support our communities.

"If you are experiencing problems, come to us for help. We will not tolerate anti-social behaviour."

A council spokesman added: "Many of the incidents concerned Griffiths screaming at her husband on a regular basis."

Neighbours today said living next door to Griffiths had "been hell."

One, who did not want to be named, said: "Everyone in the street is sick to the back teeth of her.

"Everyone just feels so sorry for her husband Norman who is the sweetest man you could ever meet.

"He must have the patience of a saint."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9758511/Nagging-wife-given-an-ASBO-after-keeping-neighbours-awake-for-three-years.html

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« Reply #7774 on: Dec 20th, 2012, 10:18am »

Jerusalem Post

UN confirms Hezbollah fighting for Assad in Syria

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF

12/20/2012 11:14

Report warns that civil war fighting has split along sectarian lines, pitting ruling Alawites against majority Sunnis.

The Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah has confirmed that its members are in Syria fighting on behalf of the government, United Nations human rights investigators said on Thursday.

There are also reports that Iraqi Shias are coming to fight in Syria, and Iran confirmed in September that its Revolutionary Guards are in Syria providing assistance, the independent investigators led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro said in their latest 10-page report.

The confirmation of Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian civil war heightens concerns that the regime may pass chemical weapons to the terrorist group. Earlier in December, Israel's ambassador to Washington Michael Oren warned that Israel will act if Syria passes chemical weapons into Hezbollah's hands.

"We have a very clear red line about those weapons passing into the wrong hands," Oren told Fox News. "Were those weapons to pass into the wrong hands, into Hezbollah's hands for example, that would be a game changer for us."

According to the UN report, the war in Syria has become divided across sectarian lines, increasingly pitting the ruling Alawite community against the majority Sunnis, with foreign fighters assisting both sides.

"As battles between government forces and anti-government armed groups approach the end of their second year, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in nature," it said.

Syrian government forces have increased their use of aerial bombardments, including shelling of hospitals, and evidence suggests that such attacks are "disproportionate," they said. The conduct of hostilities by both sides is "increasingly in breach of international law," they added.

"Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides," the report said.

Most of the "foreign fighters" filtering into Syria to join rebel groups, or fight independently alongside them, are Sunnis from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the UN investigators said, reporting on their findings after their latest interviews conducted in the region.

The UN report covers the period between September 28 and December 16.

"As the conflict drags on, the parties have become ever more violent and unpredictable, which has led to their conduct increasingly being in breach of international law," it said.

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=296690

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« Reply #7775 on: Dec 20th, 2012, 10:25am »




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« Reply #7776 on: Dec 20th, 2012, 6:46pm »

'Alien-Like' Skulls Excavated in Mexico

Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 20 December 2012

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Although cranial deformation and dental mutilation were common features among the pre-Hispanic populations of Mesoamerica and western Mexico, but scientists had not previously seen either in Sonora or the American Southwest.
CREDIT: Cristina García / INAH.


Human skulls deliberately warped into strange, alien-like shapes have been unearthed in a 1,000-year-old cemetery in Mexico, researchers say.

The practice of deforming skulls of children as they grew was common in Central America, and these findings suggest the tradition spread farther north than had been thought, scientists added.

The cemetery was discovered by residents of the small Mexican village of Onavas in 1999 as they were building an irrigation canal. It is the first pre-Hispanic cemetery found in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

The site, referred to as El Cemeterio, contained the remains of 25 human burials. Thirteen of them had deformed skulls, which were elongate and pointy at the back, and five had mutilated teeth.

Dental mutilation involves filing or grinding teeth into odd shapes, while cranial deformation involves distorting the normal growth of a child's skull by applying force — for example, by using cloths to bind wooden boards against their heads.

"Cranial deformation has been used by different societies in the world as a ritual practice, or for distinction of status within a group or to distinguish between social groups," said researcher Cristina García Moreno, an archaeologist at Arizona State University. "The reason why these individuals at El Cemeterio deformed their skulls is still unknown."

"The most common comment I've read from people that see the pictures of cranial deformation has been that they think that those people were 'aliens,'" García added. "I could say that some say that as a joke, but the interesting thing is that some do think so. Obviously we are talking about human beings, not of aliens."

Of the 25 burials, 17 were children between 5 months and 16 years of age. The high number of children seen at the site could suggest inept cranial deformation killed them due to excessive force against the skull. The children had no signs of disease that caused their deaths.

Although cranial deformation and dental mutilation were common features among the pre-Hispanic populations of Mesoamerica and western Mexico, scientists had not seen either practice in Sonora or the American Southwest, which share a common pre-Hispanic culture. The researchers suggest the people at El Cemeterio had been influenced by recent migrants from the south.

"The most important implication would be to extend the northern boundary of the Mesoamerican influence," García told LiveScience.

A number of skeletons also were found with earrings, nose rings, bracelets, pendants and necklaces made from seashells and snails from the Gulf of California. One person was buried with a turtle shell on the chest. It remains uncertain why some of these people were buried with ornaments while others were not, or — another mystery — why only one of the 25 skeletons was female.

During the next field season, the researchers aim to determine the cemetery's total size and hope to find more burials to get a clearer idea of the society's burial customs. "With new information, we also hope to determine whether there was any interaction between these and Mesoamerican societies — how it was and when it happened," they said.
García and her colleagues completed their analysis of the skeletal remains in November. They plan to submit their research to either the journal American Antiquity or the journal Latin American Antiquity.

http://www.livescience.com/25743-alien-like-skulls-excavated-mexico.html
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« Reply #7777 on: Dec 21st, 2012, 10:23am »

Merry Christmas Swamprat!
Thank you for that article.

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« Reply #7778 on: Dec 21st, 2012, 10:28am »

Reuters

Obama to announce John Kerry's nomination for secretary of state

Fri Dec 21, 2012 10:40am EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday will announce his nomination of Senator John Kerry as secretary of state to succeed Hillary Clinton, senior administration officials said.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, had been widely tipped for the post as America's top diplomat after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration last week.


(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick)


http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/21/us-usa-obama-kerry-idUSBRE8BK0QO20121221

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« Reply #7779 on: Dec 21st, 2012, 10:32am »

NASA.gov

New Expedition 34 Crew Members Dock to Station
12.21.12

Expedition 34 Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn, Roman Romanenko and Chris Hadfield docked their Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft to the International Space Station’s Rassvet module at 9:09 a.m. EST on Friday after spending two days in orbit.

The hatches between the Soyuz and the Rassvet module are set to be opened at 11:45 a.m. when Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin will greet their new crewmates. Once the hatches are opened, the six-member crew is set to take part in a welcome ceremony with family members and mission officials then participate in a safety briefing.

Coverage of the hatch opening will begin at 11:15 a.m. Friday on NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

Marshburn, Romanenko and Hadfield launched at 7:12 a.m. EDT Wednesday (6:12 p.m. Baikonur time) from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

Expedition 34 will be a six-member crew until March 2013 when Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin undock from the Poisk module and return home inside the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft for a landing in Kazakhstan. When they undock Expedition 35 will officially begin as Hadfield becomes commander staying behind with Marshburn and Romanenko before finally returning home in May 2013.

Hadfield last visited the station in April 2001 aboard space shuttle Endeavour as an STS-100 mission specialist. He helped install the Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm, during two spacewalks. Hadfield will be Canada’s first station commander when Expedition 35 begins.

Marshburn went to the station in July 2009 aboard shuttle Endeavour for the STS-127 mission. He performed three spacewalks to help complete the construction of the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.

Romanenko served as a flight engineer for Expedition 20/21 for six months in 2009.


http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition34/e34_launch.html

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« Reply #7780 on: Dec 21st, 2012, 10:36am »

Hollywood Reporter

Irish Studio Prepping Local Version of Comedy Classic 'Cheers'

3:09 AM PST 12/21/2012
by Stuart Kemp

LONDON – An Irish language version of the classic US comedy sitcom Cheers is in the works for Dublin-based Sideline Productions.

The Irish production banner inked a deal with Paul Gilbert from CBS in the U.S. to re-version the classic Ted Danson and Shelley Long starrer for Irish language channel TG4.

The channel's commissioning director Micheal O’Meallaigh is described by Sideline as having been "hugely supportive and across the negotiations from the very start."

The option deal to take the banter, bar and setting from its original home in Boston to a rural Irish bar setting was inked last week.

With a working title of Teach Seán, a reference to changing the original show's lead character Sam Malone to Sean for the Irish outing, the Irish version aims to get casting, re-writing and translation of the scripts underway in January 2013.

Sideline creative director and former RTE commissioning editor for entertainment Billy McGrath told The Hollywood Reporter the focus would be on the first two seasons of the show "with a view of re-writing and re-versioning 10 to 12 episodes set in a picturesque town in the West of Ireland."

Sideline will then submit the proposal along with TG4 into Ireland's TV funding round in late January.

McGrath said if that proved successful "we will shoot in late 2013 with transmission set for early January 2014.

The Irish version is likely to see character Malone's past changed from being a former baseball star to an Irish sport and also promises localized versions of Cheers' now classic bar regulars, Norm Peterson (George Wendt), Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) and Carla Tortelli (Rhea Pearlman).

"I know some people think it’s crazy but Sideline is now focused on both scripted and non-scripted formats. We already produce Irish versions of international formats Mastermind, Take Me Out and The Great British Bake Off for Irish audiences so why not Cheers?," said McGrath.

"Actually with a scripted format we have a lot more freedom and while we will have access to the original 275 Cheers scripts we want to adapt the 10 or 12 we need for the Irish market. The decision to option Cheers is also a strategic one as the deal gives us a brilliant insider education on the execution, casting, writing and top class production values of one of most celebrated studio shows in TV comedy history."

Sideline is developing it via its comedy division, the scripted arm of the Dublin-based banner set up in October 2012 to produce original Irish comedy projects for radio, TV, online and "ultimately film."

Other projects on its slate include one from the creatives behind Sminky Shorts whose animations so far have 12 million views on YouTube.

Cork based animator and writer Andrew James is working with producer Dee Ellis and script editor John Henderson on developing an original adult animation series with the working title Where the Sun Don’t Shine.

"Ireland is full of comedy talent across a gamut of genres and I suppose what we are trying to do is to target and work with the best and see what we can do to bring them on to the next level," McGrath said.

On the sitcom side, aside from the Cheers revamp, Sideline's comedy division is also working on a show with Father Ted and Moone Boy director Declan Lowney attached.

Sideline Productions –- including its scripted and non -scripted formats -– are now repped internationally by talent agents ICM.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cheers-remake-coming-ireland-406072

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« Reply #7781 on: Dec 21st, 2012, 10:41am »





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« Reply #7782 on: Dec 22nd, 2012, 10:41am »







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« Reply #7783 on: Dec 23rd, 2012, 10:12am »

Washington Post

Review of FBI forensics does not extend to federally trained state, local examiners

By Spencer S. Hsu, Published: December 22

Thousands of criminal cases at the state and local level may have relied on exaggerated testimony or false forensic evidence to convict defendants of murder, rape and other felonies.

The forensic experts in these cases were trained by the same elite FBI team whose members gave misleading court testimony about hair matches and later taught the local examiners to follow the same suspect practices, according to interviews and documents.

In July, the Justice Department announced a nationwide review of all cases handled by the FBI Laboratory’s hair and fibers unit before 2000 — at least 21,000 cases — to determine whether improper lab reports or testimony might have contributed to wrongful convictions.

But about three dozen FBI agents trained 600 to 1,000 state and local examiners to apply the same standards that have proved problematic.

None of the local cases is included in the federal review. As a result, legal experts say, although the federal inquiry is laudable, the number of flawed cases at the state and local levels could be even higher, and those are going uncorrected.

The FBI review was prompted by a series of articles in The Washington Post about errors at the bureau’s renowned crime lab involving microscopic hair comparisons. The articles highlighted the cases of two District men who each spent more than 20 years in prison based on false hair matches by FBI experts. Since The Post’s articles, the men have been declared innocent by D.C. Superior Court judges.

Two high-profile local-level cases illustrate how far the FBI training problems spread.

In 2004, former Montana crime lab director Arnold Melnikoff was fired and more than 700 cases questioned because of what reviewers called egregious scientific errors involving the accuracy of hair matches dating to the 1970s. His defense was that he was taught by the FBI and that many FBI-trained colleagues testified in similar ways, according to previously undisclosed court records.

In 2001, Oklahoma City police crime lab supervisor Joyce Gilchrist lost her job and more than 1,400 of her cases were questioned after an FBI reviewer found that she made claims about her matches that were “beyond the acceptable limits of science.” Court filings show that Gilchrist received her only in-depth instruction in hair comparison from the FBI in 1981 and that she, like many practitioners, went largely unsupervised.

Federal officials, asked about state and local problems, said the FBI has committed significant resources to speed the federal review but that state and local police and prosecutors would have to decide whether to undertake comparable efforts.

FBI spokeswoman Ann Todd defended the training of local examiners as “continuing education” intended to supplement formal training provided by other labs. The FBI did not qualify examiners, a responsibility shared by individual labs and certification bodies, she said.

Michael Wright, president of the National District Attorneys Association, said local prosecutors cannot simply order labs to audit all or even a sample of cases handled by FBI-trained examiners, because such an undertaking might be time- and cost-prohibitive for smaller agencies.

The chairman of the laboratory accreditation board of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors said it is gathering information to guide members.

“It is something we take seriously, and we are going to address it accordingly,” said Pamela Bordner, the chairman.

The announcement in July of the Justice Department review of federal cases marked a turnabout from the mid-1990s, when an inquiry looked at a limited number of cases and, in the area of hair comparison, focused on the work of one examiner at the FBI lab.

In its April investigation, The Post found that Justice Department officials failed to tell many defendants or their attorneys of questionable evidence and that the results of the review remained largely secret.

In addition, Justice Department officials have for years blamed errors on isolated failures by rogue examiners, careless prosecutors or inept defense lawyers.

But former chiefs of the FBI lab’s hair and fiber unit now acknowledge that the problems were more widespread. Some federal examiners, testifying in cases across the country, overstated the importance of hair evidence and responded to questions about the scientific accuracy of hair matches by citing amorphous statistics drawn from their experience.

Moreover, they said, examiners should have been trained to accurately portray their findings in court. When local lab examiners went to the FBI for training, they received the same inadequate instruction.

Myron T. “Mike” Scholberg, hair unit chief from 1978 to 1985, and Alan T. “Al” Robillard, chief from 1988 to 1990, said that in hindsight, they were not properly trained to answer a crucial question for jurors: How often might the hairs of different people appear to match? The truth is that there was no scientific way to know.

Instead of simply acknowledging the uncertainty, agents at times drew statistics from their cases without explaining why that was an incomplete or even misleading answer, Scholberg and Robillard said.

Harold A. “Hal” Deadman Jr., a top hair unit scientist who trained more than 600 examiners from 1972 to 1987, said he always explained to jurors why his case experience gave an incomplete picture of the accuracy of hair comparisons.

But Deadman said DNA testing should be done in all convictions that were based mainly on visual hair comparison, because of weaknesses in trial testimony and examiner results.

Interviews with the former unit chiefs, as well as more than 20 practitioners, scientists and legal experts, and a review of court records, training notes and transcripts of meetings indicate that some FBI lab examiners tried to skirt the limitations of their scientific findings in testimony and that they were encouraged to do so by their trainers.

As warnings about the problems mounted — through DNA exonerations, whistleblower complaints, court rulings — bureau managers implemented stronger protocols, but they limited disclosure of the problems they found. More forthcoming disclosure could have jeopardized convictions.

“If the FBI is going to be a role model, we need to see this federal audit lead to wider audits of labs across the country,” said Myrna S. Raeder, a Southwestern University law professor who is leading an American Bar Association effort to improve forensic evidence. “If you had even the elite FBI analysts out there crossing the line and exaggerating the forensics, that sent a terrible message that ‘anything goes.’ ”

In a letter this month to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department acknowledged that FBI examiners “may have exceeded the limits of the science by overstating . . . conclusions” in some cases.

“The Department and the Bureau believe it is necessary and appropriate that defense counsel and defendants are informed of any inappropriate testimony by FBI Laboratory examiners,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Judith C. Appelbaum wrote.

Powerful testimony

Before DNA profiling, testimony of a hair match was a powerful way for prosecutors to boil down an ambiguous case to a single, incriminating piece of physical evidence left at the scene of a crime.

No other agency in the United States performed as many hair examinations or believed as much in the technique as the FBI lab’s 10-member unit of hair examiners.

But The Post’s investigation earlier this year showed how agents, prosecutors or both sometimes exaggerated the significance of the evidence they had.

For example, in a 1980 Indiana robbery case, one agent told jurors that he was unable to distinguish between the hair of different people just once in 1,500 cases he had analyzed.

In one of the District cases, federal prosecutors claimed that the agent had been unable to tell hair samples apart only “eight or 10 times in the past 10 years, while performing thousands of analyses.”

In another, the prosecutor said in closing arguments, “There is one chance, perhaps for all we know, in 10 million that it could [be] someone else’s hair.” That defendant was declared innocent this year.

The problem is, as an expert peer review panel wrote in Melnikoff’s case, “There is not — and never was — a well established probability theory for hair comparison.”

As noted in 2009 by the chief of the FBI hair team, the proper answer to the question of how often hairs from different people might match is, “We do not know.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, said hair analysis practitioners should end their resistance to putting scientists in charge of setting clear, consistent standards for lab reports and testimony.

“When the stakes involve life and liberty, those scientific parameters and standards should be set by scientists, not by law enforcement,” said Neufeld, whose organization advocates for people trying to prove their innocence through DNA testing. The Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers were consulted by the FBI on the national review.

Vague standards

The FBI has known for decades that hair found at a crime scene is a valuable piece of evidence. Before DNA testing, agents would use a microscope to compare the evidence with a sample of hair from a suspect.

more after the jump:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/review-of-fbi-forensics-does-not-extend-to-federally-trained-state-local-examiners/2012/12/22/b7ef9c2e-4965-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html?hpid=z1

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« Reply #7784 on: Dec 23rd, 2012, 10:16am »

Reuters

Syria government says its forces still strong

Sun Dec 23, 2012 10:12am EST

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's information minister on Sunday distanced the government from comments by the country's vice president that neither the rebels nor the forces of President Bashar al-Assad could win the civil war.

Last week Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said in a newspaper interview that the country needed a government of national unity since neither side could win militarily.

"There are 23 million people in Syria with their own personal opinions, this was one of those 23 million," the information minister, Umran Ahid al-Za'bi, told a news conference in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad's Alawite minority, has rarely been seen since the revolt began in March 2011 and is not part of the president's inner circle.

Za'bi told journalists that the Syrian army was still strong, despite a string of rebel advances and seizures of military sites across the country. He said that many reports of rebel gains were "fantasy, media victories".

"I have general advice to those political powers that reject dialogue: Time is getting short. Hurry and move on to working on a political solution," he said.

"These military efforts to try to topple the government, of getting rid of the president, of occupying the capital ... forget about this. That is my advice."

The minister also said Syria would never use chemical weapons, if it had them, anywhere inside or outside the country. It was the first time a government minister clearly stated that there were no intentions of using chemical arms in any capacity.

The United States and other Western countries cited intelligence reports earlier this month suggesting that chemical weapons were being prepared or moved, and warned Assad their use was a "red line" that would have international repercussions.

More recently, Washington and NATO have begun to report the use of Scud-type, long-range missiles in Syria. Za'bi did not directly deny the use of such weapons, but said that reports of scuds and chemical weapons were a propaganda campaign against Assad's government.

When asked about rebel advances in the north, where the opposition holds large swathes of territory, Za'bi mocked the idea of rebel control there.

"They are incapable of staying there and they cannot control the ground," he said. "All this talk is untrue.. If they attack a checkpoint they cannot stay longer than 15 minutes."

While rebels have seized many residential areas and military sites, they have little defense against Assad's air power and long-range missiles. Air strikes regularly hit neighborhoods and military sites seized by the rebels.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Stephen Powell)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/23/us-syria-crisis-minister-idUSBRE8BM07A20121223

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