2018, the Year of the Bird

This video from the USA says about itself:

Year of the bird: Tracking TN‘s bird population

Jan. 1, 2018: Local bird enthusiasts helped track Tennessee’s population of feathered friends.

From Cornell Lab eNews in the USA, January 2018:

Welcome to the Year of the Bird

We’ve joined with National Geographic, National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and more than 100 organizations to declare 2018 the Year of the Bird. Coinciding with the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act‘s ratification, it’s a great moment to pledge to do one thing per month to help birds. To kick off the year, we’ve collected six resolutions to help you #BirdYourWorld in 2018.

Why Birds Matter. That’s the topic of a National Geographic article by novelist and birder Jonathan Franzen. He joined Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick and Audubon’s David O’Neill for a conversation with NPR’s OnPoint radio show. Listen here.


Electric eels, shocking truth discovered

This video from Tennessee in the USA says about itself:

14 September 2017

An electric eel zaps biologist Kenneth Catania with pulses of electricity during a leap attack in this slow-motion video.

By Mariah Quintanilla, 2:14pm, September 14, 2017:

A researcher reveals the shocking truth about electric eels

Electrical current of a real-life recipient of the fish’s leap attack is measured for the first time

Kenneth Catania knows just how much it hurts to be zapped by an electric eel. For the first time, the biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville has measured the strength of a defensive electrical attack on a real-life potential predator — himself.

Catania placed his arm in a tank with a 40-centimeter-long electric eel (relatively small as eels go) and determined, in amperes, the electrical current that flowed into him when the eel struck. At its peak, the current reached 40 to 50 milliamperes in his arm, he reports online September 14 in Current Biology. This zap was painful enough to cause him to jerk his hand from the tank during each trial. “If you’ve ever been on a farm and touched an electric fence, it’s pretty similar to that,” he says.

This is Catania’s latest study in a body of research analyzing the intricacies of an electric eel’s behavior. The way electric eels have been described by biologists in the past has been fairly primitive, says Jason Gallant, a biologist who heads the Michigan State University Electric Fish Lab in East Lansing who was not involved in the study. Catania’s work reveals that “what the electric eel is doing is taking the electric ability that it has and using that to its absolute advantage in a very sophisticated, deliberate way,” he says.

Electric eels use electric current to navigate, communicate and hunt for small prey. But when faced with a large land-based predator, eels will launch themselves from the water and electrify the animal with a touch of the head.

Using electrical measurements he collected during the eel attacks, Catania came up with an equation to estimate the amount of electric current flowing from the eel into his arm. The electric shock was strongest when the electric eel was farthest out of the water. That makes sense because when an eel is mostly submerged, the majority of the electricity dissipates in the water. As the eel rises out of the water, the only place left for the electricity to flow is into whatever the fish head-bumps (SN Online: 6/9/16).

Catania cannot say, however, whether a leap attack from an electric eel is equally as shocking for all potential predators. Electrical currents travel through an animal more or less effectively depending on its outer layer. The internal resistance, or opposition to electrical current flow, may be different for a human arm than for an animal with scales or fur, like a crocodile or a dog, Catania notes. More research is needed to understand how powerful the shock is for other land animals.

Extrapolating from his experience with a small eel, Catania estimates that a human struck on the trunk by a larger, 1.8-meter-long electric eel might endure a current of 0.24 amperes, or 63 watts of power. That’s about 8½ times as powerful as the zap from a typical law-enforcement Taser gun.

Wildlife in Tennessee, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

20 June 2017

A visit to the Duck River Unit of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge west of Memphis.

Including great blue heron, great egret, red-winged blackbird and other birds.

Innocent man jailed for 31 years, no compensation in the USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

Wrongfully convicted Tenn. man fights for compensation after 31 years in prison

CBS Evening News

12 December 2016

Lawrence McKinney was convicted of rape in 1978 and spent over 31 years in prison until DNA evidence proved he was innocent in 2009. Under Tennessee law, McKinney may be owed up to $1 million for the wrongful imprisonment. But the state’s parole board has refused to exonerate him, despite the evidence, reports Omar Villafranca.

By Shelley Connor in the USA:

Tennessee wrongfully imprisoned man for three decades, provided only $75 compensation

16 December 2016

Lawrence McKinney was imprisoned by the state of Tennessee for 31 years for a rape and burglary he did not commit. Under Tennessee law, McKinney could be compensated $1 million.

However, the Tennessee Parole Board has refused to grant him an exoneration hearing, and the only compensation he ever received was the paltry $75 given to him when he was released from prison in 2009. McKinney has now been forced to bring his case before Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, whose office received the application for executive clemency on November 21.

McKinney was charged in October of 1977 with having raped a Memphis, Tennessee woman and burgling her apartment. Six months later, he and his codefendant were found guilty after the victim identified them in court as her attackers. McKinney, then 22 years old, was sentenced to 115 years in prison for the crime. In 2009, DNA evidence from the victim’s bed sheets demonstrated that McKinney had not been present at the crime scene. He was then released from prison; the state issued him the $75 and the crime was expunged from his record.

Tennessee is one of 31 states with compensation statutes for the wrongly accused. It is also one of many states that complicate the compensation process. McKinney was forced to go before the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole to seek compensation and exoneration, even though he was released from prison and the crime had been expunged from his record. The board voted 7-0 to deny his exoneration in November.

Patsy Bruce, who sat on the parole board that denied his first exoneration hearing, has stated that she is not convinced that McKinney is innocent, despite DNA to the contrary. She also claimed that the judge and the District Attorney failed to provide properly tested evidence to support McKinney’s innocence.

In the United States DNA evidence was used to exonerate a wrongfully-convicted inmate for the first time in 1989. Since then, nearly 350 people, including McKinney, have been freed on the basis of DNA evidence.

The states, however, have been criminally remiss in responding to the life-changing implications of this technology. Nineteen states—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming—have yet to enact statutes providing compensation for those exonerated of crimes.

In the 31 states where compensation laws do exist, the processes to obtain compensation can be prohibitively time consuming and expensive. In New York, an exoneree has only a two-year window to file civil cases against state and municipal governments to receive compensation. These cases can take years to adjudicate, as demonstrated by the ongoing case of Alan Newton.

In 2010, Newton successfully sued New York City for $18.5 million after his exoneration. Newton had been convicted of rape, robbery, and assault in 1985 in a case that prosecutors had built around eyewitness testimony. He had requested DNA testing of evidence in 1994 and was denied; in 2006, after serving over 20 years in prison, he was finally released on the basis of such evidence.

The city appealed the judgment. In 2011, United States District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin set the judgment aside. Newton appealed Scheindlin’s decision. In 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated Scheindlin’s ruling and turned the case back over to her.

In March of this year, Scheindlin reduced the award to $12 million, claiming that the previous amount was excessive. If Newton did not accept the reduced amount, Scheindlin said, he would have to suffer another trial. She also cited the fact that Newton had been accused of a separate rape, although he maintains his innocence and no judgment has been made.

In another case, David Ayers, a Cleveland, Ohio man, served 11 years for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011, and two years later, he sued the two Cleveland detectives—Michael Cipo and Denise Kovach—upon whose manufactured evidence he had been incarcerated. The city of Cleveland was originally named in the suit, but was removed before it went to trial. The appellate court judge in the case stated that there was sufficient “evidence that Detectives Cipo and Kovach conspired to violate [Ayers’] civil rights.” Ayers was awarded $13.2 million by the jury.

Three months after the verdict in Ayers’ favor was delivered, Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry helped Kovach and Cipo obtain a bankruptcy attorney. The city contracted to pay the attorney $1000 for each bankruptcy judgment, as well as the filing fee for the bankruptcies. The contract also stipulated that the attorney was required to obtain permission from the city’s law department to undertake legal research into the cases, effectively discouraging the officers and the attorney from exploring alternatives to bankruptcy. Cipo died a few months after Cleveland contracted with the attorney. Kovach declared bankruptcy. Ayers, now over 80 years old, fights on for his compensation.

McKinney, Newton, and Ayers all live in states where statutes provide for compensation for those exonerated of crimes. In each case, though, state and municipal governments have exploited loopholes designed to reduce payment to those they have incarcerated or avoid payment altogether. In some states, someone who has lost years in prison on false murder charges can lose compensation if they are later convicted of another, unrelated crime. As evidenced in McKinney’s case, a parole board can decide that it is not satisfied with exonerating evidence that has already been recognized by courts.

Those exonerated of wrongful convictions spend, on average, 14-15 years in prison. They are released into a society that has changed drastically, after enduring the myriad stressors and threats inherent to prisons. Parents and other loved ones die during their incarceration.

There is no uniform provision that would allow those exonerated to secure housing, employment, health care, or counseling so they can re-enter society successfully. To the contrary, the governments that energetically and enthusiastically prosecuted and imprisoned them expend just as much energy to avoid paying for the damage they inflict upon these exonerees.

This innocent man was awarded $1 million after spending 31 years in prison.

PROSECUTORS MOVE TO DISMISS LARGEST NUMBER OF WRONGFUL CONVICTION CASES IN U.S. HISTORY After this rogue state chemist was discovered to have fabricated evidence in over 20,000 cases. [HuffPost]

Three sheriffs in Alabama have admitted to pocketing money allocated for feeding inmates in county jails in response to a lawsuit brought against 49 county sheriffs by poverty advocacy groups: here.

‘We Shall Overcome’ folk singer Guy Carawan dies

This music video from the USA is called Guy CarawanWe Shall Overcome [Live].

From Associated Press in the USA:

Folk singer behind popularity of ‘We Shall Overcome’ dies

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The musician and folk singer who promoted the song “We Shall Overcome” and is credited with helping it rise in popularity as an anthem during the civil rights movement in the 1960s has died.

Guy Carawan’s wife, Candie, said Friday that he died May 2, at his home in New Market, Tennessee, after suffering from a form of dementia for years. He was 87. She says a private funeral service is planned.

For years, Carawan was a leader of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market. It served as a gathering place for social justice activists. Visitors included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

The Carawans marched with King in Selma, Alabama, and made recordings to preserve the civil rights movement.

Carawan spent much of his time collecting and preserving folk songs.

Evolution biology on trial in Tennessee, USA

This video from the USA is called The Scopes Monkey Trial Explained in 5 Minutes: US History Review.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Primate witness: the monkey trials go on

Thursday 7th May 2017

PETER FROST is amazed that, 90 years after the famous Tennessee trial, the evolution versus creationism argument still rages

ON MAY 5 1925, 90 years ago this week, a group of thinkers in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, are discussing a newspaper announcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is looking for someone to challenge the new Butler Act passed by the state to outlaw the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. This law bans the teaching of any theory that denies the literal truth of the biblical creation of man.

One of the men, 24-year-old science teacher and football coach John Thomas Scopes, says he will be willing to be indicted to bring the case to trial. Scopes has only taught biology as a substitute teacher and later says he isn’t sure he covered evolution in his classes.

On May 25 John Scopes was brought to trial for teaching evolution. The case, forever known as the Monkey Trial, made world headlines and is still talked about today.

Scopes agreed to purposely incriminate himself so that the case could have a defendant. He knew such a trial would draw intense national publicity to the argument. The world’s press flocked to Dayton. To make room for the many journalists and observers the trial was convened in the open air. This proved a blessing in the stifling Tennessee heat.

Defending Scopes was Clarence Darrow, already a famous lawyer. He would go on to become the best-known and most revered defence lawyer in US jurisprudence.

Darrow had made his reputation as a labour union lawyer and had defended many militant heroes of US working-class strikes and struggles — many of them framed on trumped-up charges. These included many members of the US Communist Party charged with treason. Leading the prosecution of Scopes was William Jennings Bryan, Bible scholar, rabid creationist and three-time Democratic candidate for US president.

Bryan’s argument was simple. He declared the word of God as revealed in the Bible took priority over all other human knowledge. Judge John T Raulston made no pretence at neutrality. He started each day with a hymn and a prayer. The judge ruled that the many scientists who wished to speak in Scopes’s defence could only give their evidence in writing.

British novelist H G Wells was asked if he would join the defence team. Wells replied that he had no legal training in Britain, let alone in the US, and declined the offer. The ACLU opposed the Butler Act on the grounds that it violated the teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, and was therefore unconstitutional.

Darrow and the judge frequently clashed and there were several threats of action for contempt with Darrow forced to apologise. Darrow attacked the literal interpretation of the Bible as well as Bryan’s limited knowledge of other religions and science. He scoffed at Bryan’s horror that human beings were descended “not even from American monkeys, but from old-world monkeys.”

Darrow took the unorthodox step of calling Bryan, the chief prosecutor, to the stand as a defence witness. Darrow asked him questions such as: “If Eve was actually created from Adam’s rib, where did Cain get his wife?” The confrontation between Bryan and Darrow lasted approximately two hours before Judge Raulston’s announced that he considered the whole examination irrelevant to the case. He ruled that it should be struck from the record. Darrow closed the case for the defence without a final summing up. Under Tennessee law, when the defence waived its right to make a closing speech, the prosecution was also barred from summing up its case.

Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a $100 fine. He addressed the court for the first time. “Your honour, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom. I think the fine is unjust.”

The appeal court set aside the conviction because of a tiny legal technicality: the jury should have decided the fine, not the judge, since under the state constitution Tennessee judges could not set fines above $50, and the Butler Act specified a minimum fine of $100. Appeal judge Green added: “We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case.”

The Butler Act stayed on the statute books until 1967. In reality this bizarre case and the arguments that caused it are still being debated. Strangely despite logic and scientific proof, the ideas of creationism are still gaining ground on both sides of the Atlantic.

When the Con-Dem coalition established free schools in 2011, three such schools — each teaching creationism — were approved by the then education secretary Michael Gove. Today free schools in Britain are no longer allowed to teach creationism as if it were fact. Now such teaching is confined to religious education classes and not presented as a valid alternative to established scientific theory.

Yet surveys show that, amazingly, one in three US citizens doesn’t believe in evolution. They think humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. White evangelical Protestants, particularly in the Southern Bible belt — states like Tennessee — are most likely to not believe in evolution and ridicule Darwin’s ideas.

Both Tennessee and Louisiana allow the teaching of creationism in school science classes. Currently, less than half of Republican voters, just 43 per cent, believe in human evolution. Only 67 per cent of Democrats think Darwin’s theory credible.

Worse, US opinion is shifting and the numbers doubting evolution and supporting creationism are growing every year. Nearly a dozen states are considering legislation to either outlaw the teaching of Darwinian evolution or to give equal space and time to creationism in school science classes.

In Tennessee the law defines controversial issues including biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning and seeks to ensure schools also teach what the Bible has to say on the subjects.

Tennessee law wrongly suggests the scientific community is divided over these issues. It is not, but the law has now made it significantly harder to ensure that science is taught responsibly.