14 February 2011

Monday Miscellany

* Last week, Glendale's animal rights terrorist, thirty-four year old Walter Edmund Bond, got five years in prison for burning down the sheepskin factory (and a $1.2 million restitution judgment together with three years of supervised release) following a guilty plea, despite the fact that he was utterly unapologetic and taunted the victims as he spoke prior to receiving his sentence. No physical injuries to people were caused by this or her other fires, but the business, which was not insured, was destroyed.

"In a society that honors money over life, I am honored to be a prisoner of war," Bond said. As Bond raged in the heavily guarded courtroom — at one point saying he wanted Livaditis to "choke on everything you earned" — a member of Livaditis' family cried in the audience. . . . [He] told Judge Christine Arguello that he has no remorse for the fire, which he has said he lit under the banner of the radical Animal Liberation Front, or ALF. . . . [The judge said] he would face additional prison time if he didn't keep up with restitution payments. Bond told Arguello he would not willingly make the payments. . . . Bond also has prior arson convictions that had nothing to do with animal-rights issues. Holloway said Bond was convicted in Iowa in 1996 for lighting a pentagram on fire inside a church convicted again in 1997 in Iowa for setting fire to a building, an incident that killed a family's pet. . . .

Bond's speech today stood in contrast to statements his lawyer made on his behalf last month in a court filing seeking to get Bond a reduced sentence of less than four years. In that filing, attorney Edward Harris wrote that Bond had renounced "burning the businesses of those who offend his principles. . . . Mr. Bond ... now believes that the better course of action is to limit his advocacy to speech and writing," Harris wrote.

That sentiment was not evident during Bond's speech, as he called affiliating with the ALF, "the proudest and most powerful thing I have ever done." Bond, who has identified himself at times in online writings as "ALF Lone Wolf," addressed part of his speech to "my vegan sisters and brothers" and encouraged them to keep up their campaign.

About a dozen of Bond's supporters sat in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing. . . After the hearing, many of the activists, some of whom traveled from across the country to attend, said they supported Bond's statement.

The willingness of federal prosecutors to accept such a lenient plea bargain may have something to do with the fact that he faces two more counts in Utah that will add to the total time served before his release. This conviction will impact his criminal history for the next convictions under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. U.S. Attorneys in Utah will also, no doubt, consider his statements at this sentencing in considering what plea agreements they are willing to reach with him.

Still, it is hard to imagine someone who claimed that he did this in the name of Islam, instead of animal rights, receiving a similarly light sentence. When someone who is deeply repentant can be sentenced to 30 years in prison for sending $3,500 to an Islamic organization that engaged in both terrorist and non-terrorist activities funded by petty fraud under a law that had never before been enforced, it is hard to see why someone with a prior criminal arson record he burns down a shop and has no remorse for the act should receive a lighter sentence.

* There seems to be some evidence that fructose (one type of dietary sugar) encourages obesity more the glucose (another type of dietary sugar).

* Genetic evidence has led biologists to reclassify a few species of worms called Acoels and Xenoturbella, that had previously been seen as a missing link between invertebrates with radial symmetry (anemones, jellyfish and sponges, for example) that use the same body opening to ingest food and excrete waste, and animals with bilateral symmetry that have a separate mouth and anus (earthworms, snails, insects, sea urchins and vertebrates, for example), since these worms have bilateral symmetry but a single body opening to ingest food and excrete waste. The genetic evidence suggests that rather than being a missing link, the Acoels had an ancestor that has bilateral symmetry and both a mouth and anus, but lost the anus in later convergent evolution. They turn out to be more closely related to the vertebrates and sea urchins than to other bilateral animals by several different genetic measures.

* Old teeth found at an archeological site in Israel suggest that there may have been modern humans in the Levant much earlier than prior finds have indicated, perhaps even shortly after the evolution of modern humans in Africa:

Excavated at Qesem cave, a pre-historic site that was uncovered in 2000, the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern humans, Homo sapiens, which have been found at other sites is Israel, such as Oafzeh and Skhul -- but they're a lot older than any previously discovered remains.

"The Qesem teeth come from a time period between 200,000 -- 400,000 years ago when human remains from the Middle East are very scarce," Quam said. "We have numerous remains of Neandertals and Homo sapiens from more recent times, that is around 60,00 -- 150,000 years ago, but fossils from earlier time periods are rare. So these teeth are providing us with some new information about who the earlier occupants of this region were as well as their potential evolutionary relationships with the later fossils from this same region."

Teeth are the prime sources for ancient DNA because the enamel shields them from outside conditions, leaving open the possibility that it might be possible to analyze the DNA of hominins much older than any other ancient DNA ever recovered. Even results limited to mtDNA could shed light on whether the modern humans finds in the Levant are ancestral to modern Eurasian, or a "dead end" as their apparent absence from the Levant for tens of thousands of year suggests might be the case. But, the rare teeth have value whole, and the ancient DNA inside could easy be degraded and provide no useful information, so the decision on whether scientists should try to analyze them in destructive testing for ancient DNA is a difficult one.

* One feature that is surprising absent from library cataloging software (at least in Denver) and online book purchasing sites (like Amazon) is an easy way to bring up all of the books and other media that are part of the same series and arrange them in order. This is particularly annoying when several volumns of a series are written by different authors (common in non-fiction and sometimes seen in tribute works to deceased authors). Even more annoying, however, is the effort of publishers like Little, Brown and Company's paperback offerings, where I have seen it done, to deliberately obscure the fact that a book which is one of the middle books of a series has books that come before it in the series on the book cover. I understand the desire to sell more books, but in general have a low opinion of marketing approaches that seek to capitalize on consumer ignorance rather than by letting them know more about the product.

* Marginal Revolution is a blog that is increasingly attracting my attention as a source of interesting and timely tidbits. So is Truth on the Market (which is more academic).

* Most recently, the latter blog brings the sad news that Borders, I book store that I saw rise from its humble beginnings as a wonderful independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan while I was in law school, is going bankrupt. Borders was acquired by Detroit area based Kmart to revive its Walden Books chain, one that I liked to describe as a book store for people who don't really like books that based on shopping malls. The book stores were spun off from Kmart, which went bankrupt and was merged in the same group with Sears, another retail chain that had jumped the shark but had valuable real estate holdings. Borders was a delightful book store, but expanded too fast with non-bookstore exeecutives, failed to gain a strong foothold into the online world, and tried to hard to meld a chain oriented towards intellectuals and one oriented towards non-intellectuals that was ill fated. I personally think that the role of a lack of online initiatives at Borders which has been played as a "death of books" scenario distorts what really went wrong with Borders, which can just as easily be understood as a lesson in the limits of the economies of scale.

* The Democratic Leadership Council (and its deceptively named think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute), a conservative leaning organization within the Democratic Party, is dead. It has run out of money and is suspending its operations. While the DLC has been more Clintonian than outright Blue Dog conservative, it has earned a great deal of ire from the progressive elements in the Democratic party anyway. The 2012 election was a blow to its core constitutency, as right leaning Democrats favored Republicans over Democrats, although the Democratic party still has a much bigger tend than the Republicans politically at the moment. Also, the DLC has simply lacked much of a coherent vision.

* Arizona is talking about bringing counterclaims in the federal suit to invalidate its anti-immigration law on pre-emption grounds alleging that Arizona has incurred fiscal harms as a result of non-enforcement of federal law by federal officials. The claim is frivilous as a matter of law and a nearly identical suit was promptly defeated in the courts in Colorado when Attorney General Suthers was directed by the legislature in a special session to bring such a suit. But, the political grandstanding continues to outweigh the legal good judgment of the officials making the legal move.

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