by Katherine Butler

“We are a culture of germaphobes, spending as much as $930 million on antibacterial chemicals and $2.4 billion on soap at the end of the last decade.  But is it possible that our war against germs is doing more harm than good?

“Antibacterial or antimicrobial products do have a place in our society:  in hospitals, on the surgeon’s table, in your nurse’s hands.  But stationed in our handbags, waiting to be daily lathered up at the first touch of a subway pole?  Not so much.  Studies show that some antimicrobial products not only contain potential hormonal disruptors, but they are enabling superbugs to breed beyond our ability to smite them.”

A hyperbolic title, but still a good reminder that the increasing predominance of antibacterial soaps/hand cleansers is not beneficial, and probably affirmatively harmful.  I have been shocked to see recently both the number of people that go to extreme lengths to try to avoid “contaminating” themselves in juxtaposition with the number that don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.


by Christopher Robbins

“A former NYPD informant tells the Associated Press that he was paid as much as $1,000 a month to ‘bait’ his Muslim friends and associates into making incriminating statements and indiscriminately spy on their activities, a tactic the department has repeatedly denied that it engages in.  ‘We need you to pretend to be one of them,’ the informant says his police contact, ‘Steve,’ told him.  ‘It’s street theater.'”


Two acres isn’t that much . . . right?

by Sue Russell

“No matter if science can debunk old ‘evidence’ used to win a conviction, no matter if overwhelming information is uncovered to prove an innocent was wrongfully imprisoned, some key players–detectives, prosecutors, fire marshals, et al–will cling to their long-held certainty about a suspect’s guilt.

“‘It’s always easier to recognize the mistakes of others,’ cognitive neuroscientist Itiel Dror says of these often mystifying denials.  ‘The problem we face,’ says social psychologist Carol Tavris, ‘is not from bad people covering up their mistakes and not wanting to face the truth.  It’s from good people who deny the evidence in order to preserve their belief that they’re good people.’

“Anthony Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, says it’s natural for most of us to see ourselves in the most favorable light possible; to picture ourselves as more heroic or good or honorable than we are.  For some, accepting that they may have contributed to an injustice would be such a massive blow to their perception of themselves that it is simply intolerable to countenance.  So they don’t.”

An interesting look at a phenomenon that I’d often wondered about.  I find it pretty disturbing that so many people are so reluctant to recognize (and learn from) their mistakes, though I can certainly understand the tendency to be defensive of past actions.  That said, I think the opinion expressed by Special A.D.A. David Angel in the final few paragraphs is preposterous:  It’s not that every mistake made by prosecutors is misconduct.  The misconduct lies in the fact that prosecutors refuse to recognize or acknowledge their mistakes, often actively hiding evidence that would exonerate the accused.  Prosecutors are properly held to a higher standard because the accused’s liberty is at stake, and we, as a country, believe (ostensibly) that it is preferable to let a guilty person go free than to imprison an innocent person.

by Christopher Robbins

“Bradley said when he explained that he worked as a security guard, the officer snapped at him, ‘I’m trying to treat you like a gentleman and you want to act like a (expletive) animal.  You’re going in.’

“He was handcuffed and placed in the van, where police questioned him.  ‘They asked me about drugs, they asked me about guns, they asked me about this that and a third, but not about trespassing,’ he said.

“At the stationhouse, Bradley was strip searched and eventually released on a desk appearance ticket charging him with trespassing.  The case, he said, was later dismissed by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.”

And a good follow-up article here.

by David Wong

“So there was a mass shooting during a Batman movie and, goddamn it, it turned out the killer owned a Batman mask and called himself ‘The Joker.’  By now, several talking heads have come to the conclusion that the movie somehow triggered the massacre, or whatever.  You know the game at this point–sadly, we’ve seen this whole cycle play out more than once.

“As always, this knee-jerk reaction by old, scared talking heads will predictably result in most of our audience scoffing and saying that movies can’t influence people to do anything, because movies are make-believe and every non-crazy member of the audience knows how to separate fact from fiction.

“Well, the thing is . . . that is equally wrong.  But not for the reason the talking heads think.”

I wouldn’t typically cross-post to something from Cracked (though I am strangely addicted to reading its articles at odd hours of the morning), but I have been very interested, since reading this book,  in the effect that media (particularly passive media, such as television and movies) have on our behavior and perceptions of the world, and this article sums it up in a concise, easily understandable way.

I know I already linked once to this very sad story regarding the unarmed driver who was fatally shot by an NYPD officer, and I’m not inclined to dwell on it before all the facts are in, but one line particularly caught my eye:

“For legal reasons, to protect officers from self-incrimination, investigators cannot immediately interview officers directly involved in a police shooting.”

What’s going on here?  In what situation would the investigators say ‘Well, there were several witnesses that saw this man shoot and kill an unarmed man, and we have direct access to him, but we’re going to hold off on interrogating him, just in case he happens to incriminate himself”?  Is there some secret clause to the Fifth Amendment that endows cops with extra protection from being interrogated?  On what grounds?  Can anyone point me to the legal basis for this statement?

UPDATE:  Gothamist has a good follow-up article here.

by John Del Signore

“Councilman Jumaane Williams has been at the forefront of a push to reform the NYPD’s controversial stop and frisk policy, which has been criticized as racist and unconstitutional.  (NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly insists that stop and frisk isn’t racial profiling, something Williams calls ‘bullshit.’)  Along with other Councilmembers, he’s working to reform the NYPD’s stop and frisk policies, but his efforts meeting getting resistance from Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr.”

by Maura R. O’Connor

“‘All of us have noticed a huge increase in lawsuits against police,’ said Joel Berger, a civil rights attorney for 45 years who was a senior litigator with city’s Law Department from 1988 to 1996.  ‘People are going to the [Civilian Complaint Review Board] less and going to the courts more.  The city is overloaded with complaints and lawsuits.’ (The Mayor’s Management Report shows a 25 percent decrease in Civilian Complaint Review Board cases since the previous edition, to 5,724 last year.)

“‘Whether it’s stop and frisk, marijuana arrests, trespassing—this stuff is completely out of control,’ said Berger.

*  *  *  *

“In its 2011 bi-annual report on legal claims, the Comptroller’s Office recommended that the police department begin pilot programs to reduce risk and the costs of litigation.  The number of claims, the report said, represent a ‘growing area of concern.’

“In response to the rise, the city has been lawyering up, increasing the size of its Special Federal Litigation Unit staff from 92 to 127.  Rose Weber, a plaintiffs’ attorney who previously worked for the Law Department, says she saw a clear shift in the city’s posture as the number of lawyers boomed.  ‘They got really cocky, saying we’re not going to settle, we’re going to take them to trial,’ said Weber.

“However, the city’s eagerness to file motions for dismissal of cases angered some judges, according to Weber.  ‘In two of my cases, the judges were furious.  In one, the judge threatened sanctions.  I think the city decided ‘let’s pull back on that strategy’ once they saw they were not going to get them all thrown out,’ she said.

*  *  *  *

“‘It is absolutely absurd to respond to an increase in lawsuits by simply hiring more lawyers and defending to the hilt,’ he said.  ‘That is such poor public policy.  What they should be doing is asking themselves, ‘Why?’'”

A great piece on the indirect problems caused by rampant police abuse, though I wish the final point had received more attention:  why, since this is such a problem, is the city not doing more to correct illegal behavior by officers?  Every time an officer decides to assault a bystander, or arrest someone he just ran over with a motorscooter, or kill an unarmed driver, this merely corrodes what little public trust may still exist for the NYPD and city government as a whole.

Gothamist also covered the story (here), which article includes a perfunctory damage-control reply from the Law Department.

by Ben Goldacre

“I did everything a doctor is supposed to do.  I read all the papers, I critically appraised them, I understood them, I discussed them with the patient and we made a decision together, based on the evidence.  In the published data, reboxetine was a safe and effective drug.  In reality, it was no better than a sugar pill and, worse, it does more harm than good.  As a doctor, I did something that, on the balance of all the evidence, harmed my patient, simply because unflattering data was left unpublished.

*  *  *  *

“Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments.  Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer.  When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects.  Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug’s life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government.  This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.”