Sunday, May 20, 2012

Former News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks' Body Language May Alienate Jurors

by Dr. Lillian Glass

After watching Rebekah Brooks, former editor of News of the World and once the most powerful woman in the Rupert Murdoch empire, give her testimony, I observed that he cockiness, air of arrogance and entitlement relayed via her monotone facial expression and icy tone would not go over well at the Leveson Inquiry.

Even the dress this once fashion plate wore, a white peter pan collar in with black bodice (as seen in the photo below), backfired as it was obviously worn to manipulate in giving the illusion of appearing as a soft, meek, innocent school girl.

She has now been charged with the crime of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

If she presents herself the way she presented herself when she gave her testimony, and when she came out in her press conference publicly attacking by accusing police and prosecutors of bowing to political pressure to find scapegoats for the hacking scandal, this once social butterfly who hobnobbed with Prime Ministers and the crème de la creme of society will most likely be spending he rest of her days behind bars. She comes across as unlikeable and needs a major image overhaul if she is to gain any type of jury sympathy.

The body does not lie and neither does the voice. In my view she needs to come across more humble and less hostile if she has any chance of presenting her case so a jury will listen to her with an open mind.

In another blatant show of arrogance and manipulation, Rebecca Brooks and her husband decided to have their press conference five minutes before the Crown Prosecution Service had their chance to announce that Rebecca Brown has been charged. The Brown’s made a calculated move to make their announcement before 6PM to make sure it would appear on the evening news.

Her husband also did not do his wife any favor her during the presser as he accused the prosecutors of subjecting his wife to a “witchunt” and stated that there were 172 police officers investigating phone hacking, computer hacking and corrupt payments to public officials. He then went on to say “so it’s no surprise to me that the pressure is on to bring prosecutions, however weak they may be” and “I have grave reservations that my wife can ever get a fair trial, given the huge volume of biased commentary that she is constantly subjected to.”

Rebekah Brooks did not help her defense as well by stating that it was “nothing more than an expensive sideshow, a waste of public money as a result of an unjust and weak decision.”

Both Brooks and her husband will appear at City of London magistrates’ court on June 13, after having been formally charged with tree counts conspiring to pervert the course of justice after news of a deceased girl’s voicemails were hacked by News of the World and she allegedly concealed documents, computers, and other electronic equipment from Scotland Yard officers who were investigating phone hacking and corrupt payments to public officials.

While Brook’s trial is said to begin next year, it was just announced at the Canes film festival that there will be a film about her life which Producer Gene Kirkwood likens to the downfall of Richard Nixon will trace her rise to power from secretary to one of the most powerful women in the world. There is even talk of Nicole Kidman portraying Brooks because of their physical likeness. The project is said to begin when Brook’s phone hacking scandal concludes so the producer will know how the film will end.

According to a Vanity Fair article on which the film will be based, Rebekah Brooks used her “magnetic attraction” to make her way in a male-dominated tabloid world as well as getting whatever she wanted in life.

Her “magnetic attraction," which worked so well for her in the past, may now come to an end as she faces a jury of her peers. She will no longer be able to use her feminine charms to manipulate. She will need to come across a lot differently and lose the attitude if she has any chance at not spending the rest of her life behind bars.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ushering in Intelligent Fingerprints

by Andrea Campbell

A genius group from the UK is on to something big. They have found a way to glean lifestyle information from fingerprints. Not only that, but the fingerprints when rendered will be of a high resolution—meaning it will be easier to read the finest points of a print—and, they’ve made it possible to collect this information in situ, on site!
We’ve known for ages that fingerprints are obtained because sweat is secreted through the pores on our skin to create friction ridge patterns. These patterns form a maze that when lifted or dusted and put down in order to visualize is a unique map to whom we are—a positive identification.
A Little More Individualized
What if we could determine more about a person from analyzing the chemicals in the sweat we naturally secrete? That’s it! This team developed a method to test the antibodies, metabolites and nanoparticles, the chemicals if you will, that make up some of the properties within the sweat. Scientists can now determine whether the individual tested has been using nicotine or illegal drugs.
The Idea on Simmer
Previously, David A. Russell and Dr. Sue M. Jickells, co-wrote a paper in 2007 that promised this technique: “…direct chemical information from drugs or drug metabolites present in minute quantities of sweat deposited with a latent fingerprint to provide ‘lifestyle intelligence’ regarding an individual.”
This device allows samples to be collected from suspects
on site using disposable analysis cartridges in mere minutes.
Fast forward to today. Intelligent Fingerprint Ltd. is now a company of six researchers looking to commercialize this methodology. The technique would be best suited for law enforcement, border security, prison services and health care.
The Skinny on How It Works
The secretions left behind in a fingerprint, visible or not, contain materials from both the apocrine and eccrine glands. This is comprised of water, chlorides, lactic acid, ammonia, creatinine, inorganic ions, amino acids, and metabolites. It is the chemicals from metabolic processes that are the exciting part. Food is metabolized but our metabolic substances can also point to whether a person has smoked or taken drugs. According to Kristi Mayo, author of “Beyond Identification” for Evidence Technology Magazine, writes, “a metabolite of nicotine is cotinine. After a person smokes a cigarette, cotinine can be found in his or her saliva, serum, urine—and sweat.”

The testing equipment is easily portable.
This new technology then, utilizes high-sensitivity reagents, made of anti-body coated nanoparticles. These tiny particles are either gold or iron oxide that bind or cling to the antibodies of proteins and other molecules. The antibody nanoparticles conjugate—combine two substances in such a way that they can easily be separated again—then bind to metabolic antigens found in the fingerprint. Right now the reagents under this new technology can locate nicotine, drugs common to abuse, and the stress hormone cortisol.
What this means is—instead of having to catch someone and do an invasive body test of their blood, urine or saliva, the same results can be taken up from a fingerprint.
It Gets Better
Not only are there drawbacks attached to the invasive form of body fluid testing, namely, the bio-hazard risk, the need for cold or frozen transport storage, but the sample can often get contaminated. Intelligent Fingerprint however, came up with a prototype handheld device that can be used anywhere, and also, they have put together reagent kits that can analyze samples taken either from the individual, or from touched surfaces. These chemicals can test for: cocaine, methadone, morphine and the psychoactive substance found in cannabis.
A prototype of the Intelligent Fingerprinting handheld
sample-and-analyze device.
What this ultimately means is that crime scene investigators could lift prints, test them right there on site with the reagent kit, and know whether someone has used cocaine, other drugs or marijuana. Any additional information toward identification is definitely a boon. There are some questions that need to be addressed in the near future but, isn’t new technology great?

For more information:
Mayo, Kristi, Beyond Identification, Evidence Technology Magazine, March-April, 2012, pgs. 20-25.

Photos courtesy of Intelligent Fingerprinting, Ltd.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day to our Readers 

and WCI Contributors!

We wish all Mothers a very Happy Mother's Day today, as we celebrate this day that honors mothers and motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. 

(photo courtesy of Carlson & Meisner)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why I am Grateful for the Bullies Who Tormented Me

Fight to Surviveby Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

When I was in the fourth grade, a popular girl named Paula led a gang of girls and boys to engage in a disturbing game at recess.  In this game she commanded the boys to ambush select girls, take off their clothes, and toss the clothes into mud puddles. I became one of Paula’s unfortunate victims. At the time my parents were away on a week-long vacation and I was staying with family friends. Humiliated, tearful, and muddy, I went to the principal’s office. I named names. The principal interviewed all of the children involved. He announced “since all of you told different stories I’m going to punish you all. This week you will all be benched at recess.” My sentence came down to a week of humiliation sitting next to my tormentors during every recess period. By the time my parents returned from vacation I had already served my time.

I learned some valuable lessons from this bully, and others I’ve encountered over the years. I learned that popular people and good people aren’t often the same people. I learned that I could suffer humiliation and survive.  This knowledge gives me the courage to take risks that have paid off in my life. I learned that people in authority look for easy explanations and solutions. I now keep my communication clear, simple, and precise whenever I speak with someone in authority. Complexity and political success do not work well together.

Bully prevention programs have become a cottage industry in this country. The tragic suicides of bullied children break my heart and inspire many of us to find solutions to the problem of human cruelty. Social scientists find that when one person comes to the aid of a victim, it encourages others to step up as well. When we motivate children to speak up for others, it can make a huge difference in the life of a tormented child. 

It’s equally important to help our children develop the inner strength necessary to cope with the inevitable injustice and cruelty they will encounter in life. Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., a pediatrician joined forces with the AAP in their book, A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings. Dr. Ginsburg writes that parents can help their children and teens recover more quickly from painful experiences by fostering what he calls the “seven C’s of resilience.” I’ll talk about four of the C’s here: 
  •  Competence: focus on something your child does pretty well, and encourage them to grow in that area. When a child works every day on skill development they can transfer that habit to learning other things important for survival.
  • Confidence: when children develop competencies they grow in confidence. Encourage persistence and effort rather than competition and success. I always tell my children, “I’m proud that you worked so hard for that competition,” not “I’m proud that you won.”
  • Connection: when children feel secure and loved at home they can suffer at school but have a safe place to recover when they go home. For many children home is just another battlefield. Encourage your child to share feelings with someone they trust.
  • Character: children who are taught strong morals and values can find strength in those values when confronted by unethical or cruel behavior. Teach your child to take pride in being a good, caring, compassionate person.
Of course lecturing our children about good character won’t help them learn if they watch us behave badly. In this election year our political discourse remains hostile, rigid, and filled with personal attacks. It might help to listen to your political rhetoric and try to remove the hostile tone. Your children are listening to you, and following your lead.  

Photos courtesy of: j.abalos and Kenziepants.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Eternal Hour of Lead

by Deborah Blum
This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow-
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
When 19th century poet Emily Dickinson wrote those lines, she was describing the terrible paralysis of grief. A good century later, analysts for the Environmental Defense Fund, would also note that the last line “aptly describes some of the symptoms of lead intoxication.”

I’ve always suspected that they also just liked the poem and wanted to use it – certainly that’s partly my motive here. But I’ve also been thinking about one phrase in Dickinson’s verse because it seems to me, recently, that as a human society we seemed perpetually caught – by which I mean poisoned – in an endless” hour of lead.”

The chemical symbol for lead is Pb, from the Latin word “plumbum” which referred to a malleable metal. The term plumbing comes from the use of lead pipes by the Romans; a plumber fixes them, a plumb bob refers to a lead weight, a plumb line is pulled straight by such a weight. An old-fashioned term for lead poisoning is plumbism. We are surrounded by references to what is arguably the most important poison in human history.

Many scholars have argued, for instance, that the plumbum-loving Roman empire – enthusiastically using lead pipes, bottles, and wine cups, leaded cosmetics and paint – came to its end partly due to lead-poisoning of its upper classes. One U.S. Environmental Protection Agency paper on the history of lead poisoning, cites “the conspicuous pattern of mental incompetence that came to be synonymous with the Roman elite” as evidence of lead’s destructive effects.

Interestingly, the EPA paper also cites poetry to illustrate the evils of lead poisoning, a scrap of anonymous verse, attributed to a Roman hermit and translated in 1829:
The feeble offspring curse their crazy sires,
And, tainted from his birth, the youth expires.
The key points there being, of course, crazy sires and dead children. “No safe blood lead level has been identified,” notes a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) backgrounder on exposure risks. Lead is a broad spectrum poison - it interferes with enzyme production, especially enzymes needed by red blood cells, and is known to cause lethal anemias. It targets neurons, disrupting the production of neurotransmitters such as glutamate (which plays a key role in learning by enhancing plasticity). It deposits itself into bones and stays there – the half-life of lead in human bones is up to 30 years. Muscle weakness, numbness and tingling, nausea, severe stomach pain, depression, fatigue, sleeplessness, loss of libido – all are symptoms of lead poisoning and all speak to its ability to impact every part of the body.

The Romans weren’t the only major civilization from our past to be affected by lead poisoning. Last summer, environmental scientists in Japan reported the results of an investigation into lead exposure in the Edo period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, a time when the country was dominated by shogun leaders, and laws enforced by an aristocratic class of samurai warriors.

According to Tamiji Nakashima, an anatomist at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu, the investigators studied the remains of samurai men, their wives and children, about 70 in total. Earlier tests had found unusually high levels in the women compared to men; the last study looked at the children. The researchers tested for lead in rib bones, x-rayed the childrens’ arm and leg bones looking for signs of lead poisoning.

The Japanese scientists had already concluded that the lead levels in women were directly related to the white face paint popular in aristocratic circles, which turned out to be loaded with lead. They wondered if exposure to the same material might have harmed the children and the new results showed them precisely right; they found evidence of lead levels more than 120 times background level as well as bands of lead deposits in the bones.

Nakashima and his colleagues believe that the children were poisoned by touch, as they were fed, hugged, carried by their mothers, the lead-rich paint rubbed off on them. They also speculate that the gradual lead-poisoning – with its inevitable taint of death and disability – helped put an end to the shogunate reign in the late 19th century, setting up the transfer of power to an emperor.

It has only been in the last century, of course, that we’ve realized just how dangerous lead actually is. That knowledge has resulted from the new ability of scientists to detect it in very tiny amounts and to connect those trace exposures with health problems. In the dawn of lead awareness, governments have banned lead paint and leaded gasoline, moved to replace lead pipes in water systems, squeezed down allowable lead levels in consumer products.

Is this a smart response? Yes, obviously, if we are talking about poison unsafe at all levels. But only if said governments are actively – and honestly – trying to enforcement protective standards. For instance, as reported last year by The Washington Post, when inspections discovered massive lead contamination from pipes in Washington D.C. in 2004, the Bush administration not only issued misleading reassurances but moved to loosen protective measures designed to protect against lead poisoning.

Or consider the discovery of lead in popular lipstick brands sold in the United States. Although some of these products showed clear lead contamination in amounts above EPA safety levels – and although women inevitably swallow some lipstick – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration insists that the lipsticks are perfectly safe. But as I noted in a recent post for the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, there remains considerable consumer doubt and fear about such findings.

Our leaded history continues to haunt us in this country. Lead-based paint remains in hundreds of residential buildings around the country, especially in poor neighborhoods, and our government seems newly reluctant to fund programs that remove such hazards. And it’s not just a paint-in-the living room problem. As USA Today reported this week, the government has been slow to alert city residents of lead-contaminated soils surrounding their homes, linked to long closed factories.

And to raise a non-urban example, considered the still unresolved petition filed with the EPA last year, trying to force the agency to regulate the use of lead shot in hunting, which advocates say is now killing more than 10 million birds and animals every year, mostly due to consumption of spent lead pellets. contaminated by lead.

“It’s long past time do something about this deadly – and preventable – epidemic of lead poisoning in the wild,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. The government does ban the use of lead pellets in shooting waterfowl but conservationists say this barely touches the problem. Still, the EPA has been notably reluctant to take an this issue angrily opposed by hunting groups, who are already describing the petition as an attack on traditional hunting values.

This is not to suggest that lead problems – or even the worst lead problems – are concentrated in the United States. In 2010, more than 1,300 children were sickened in China by lead exposure from nearby smelting plants, leading to furious protests from their parents against government cover-ups. Not to mention, lead poisoning related to gold-extraction in Nigera, where where health experts say more than 400 children have died and thousands more been sickened – as a result of lead exposure related to handling of contaminated ores.
The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought
Dickenson authored the above quote in her poem The Hour of Lead and she was writing, of course, of the clock-work motions of those caught in grief. But it strikes me that the mechanical analogy applies here too because we keep repeating these same actions that bring us into harm, as if we cannot seem to fully learn – or fully respect – what our own history should have taught us here.

We remain, thus, in our eternal hour of lead, still not fully awakened from that our lead-induced stupor, apparently, and still unable to let go.