CRF Blog

Vietnam 1967: A 50-Year Retrospective

by Bill Hayes

In Vietnam 1967: A 50-Year Retrospective, one of its TimesTalks for the New York Times, a panel discusses the divisive war.

Does Democracy Demand the Tolerance of the Intolerant?

by Bill Hayes

In Does Democracy Demand the Tolerance of the Intolerant?, Open Culture examines political philosopher Karl Popper’s take on this question.

According to virtually every conception of liberal democracy, a free and open society requires tense debate and verbal conflict. Society, the argument goes, is only strengthened by the oft-contentious interplay of differing, even intolerant, points of view. So, when do such views approach the limits of toleration? One of the most well-known paradoxes of tolerance was outlined by Austrian philosopher Karl Popper in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies.

Interview of Pedro Noguera and Nate Bowling

by Bill Hayes

Christiane Amanpour interviews UCLA Professor Pedro Noguera and Teacher of the Year Nate Bowling about the recent teacher strikes.

The Global Decline of New Coal Power Projects

Infographic: New Coal Power Projects Are Declining Globally | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Unlikely Path to the Supreme Court

by Bill Hayes

In Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Unlikely Path to the Supreme Court for the New Yorker, Jill Lepore looks at how she had to overcome the distrust of feminist critics.

Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn in 1933. At thirteen, she wrote a newspaper editorial, a tribute to the Charter of the United Nations. Her mother, an admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt, died when she was seventeen. Bader went to Cornell, where she liked to say that she learned how to write from Vladimir Nabokov. At Cornell, she also met Martin Ginsburg, and fell in love. They married in 1954 and had a baby, Jane, in 1955. Brilliant and fiercely independent, Ginsburg was devoted to Marty, to Jane, and to the law. At Harvard Law School, which first admitted women in 1950, she was one of only nine women in a class of some five hundred. In one of the first scenes in “On the Basis of Sex,” Erwin Griswold, the dean of the law school, asks each of those nine women, during a dinner party at his house, why she is occupying a place that could have gone to a man. In the film, Ginsburg, played by Felicity Jones, gives the dean an answer to which he can have no objection: “My husband, Marty, is in the second-year class. I’m at Harvard to learn about his work. So that I might be a more patient and understanding wife.” This, which is more or less what Ginsburg actually said, was a necessary lie. It was possible for a woman to attend law school — barely — but it was not possible for her to admit her ambition.

In 1957, Marty was diagnosed with testicular cancer. During his illness and treatment — surgery followed by radiation — Ruth not only cared for him, and for the baby, but also covered all of his classes and helped him with his papers. She kept up an almost inhuman schedule, often working through the night. After Marty graduated, he took a job in New York, and Ruth transferred to Columbia. She graduated first in her class. “That’s my mommy,” four-year-old Jane said, when Ginsburg crossed the stage to accept her diploma.

Looking for work, Ginsburg confronted the limits of the profession’s willingness to take female lawyers seriously. Felix Frankfurter, the first Supreme Court Justice to hire an African-American clerk, in 1948, refused to hire a woman, even after he was reassured that Ginsburg never wore pants. Stymied, Ginsburg went to Sweden to undertake a comparative study of Swedish and American law. On her return, in 1963, she accepted a position at Rutgers, teaching civil procedure. A year and a half later, when she found herself pregnant — given her husband’s medical history, this blessing was unexpected — Ginsburg delayed informing the university, for fear of losing her position.

Ginsburg, in other words, had plenty of experience of what would now be called — because she called it this — discrimination on the basis of sex. In 1969, Ginsburg was promoted to full professor and her son, James, entered nursery school, rites of passage that freed her to explore a new interest: she began volunteering for the A.C.L.U. Working with and eventually heading the A.C.L.U.’s Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg pursued a series of cases designed to convince the Supreme Court, first, that there is such a thing as sex discrimination and, second, that it violates the Constitution. [more]

The Myth of Fingerprints

by David De La Torre

In The Myth of Fingerprints, Smithsonian Magazine looks at the rise (and apparent decline) of fingerprint evidence and the rise of DNA evidence in court.

The idea of fingerprints gradually dawned on several different thinkers. One was Henry Faulds, a Scottish physician who was working as a missionary in Japan in the 1870s. One day while sifting through shards of 2,000-year-old pottery, he noticed that the ridge patterns of the potter’s ancient fingerprints were still visible. He began inking prints of his colleagues at the hospital—and noticing they seemed unique. Faulds even used prints to solve a small crime. An employee was stealing alcohol from the hospital and drinking it in a beaker. Faulds located a print left on the glass, matched it to a print he’d taken from a colleague, and — presto — identified the culprit.

How reliable were prints, though? Could a person’s fingerprints change? To find out, Faulds and some students scraped off their fingertip ridges, and discovered they grew back in precisely the same pattern. When he examined children’s development over two years, Faulds found their prints stayed the same. By 1880 he was convinced, and wrote a letter to the journal Nature arguing that prints could be a way for police to deduce identity.

“When bloody finger-marks or impressions on clay, glass, etc., exist,” Faulds wrote, “they may lead to the scientific identification of criminals.”

Other thinkers were endorsing and exploring the idea—and began trying to create a way to categorize prints. Sure, fingerprints were great in theory, but they were truly useful only if you could quickly match them to a suspect. [more]

New Works in the Public Domain

by Bill Hayes

Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain celebrates that works from 1923 are now in the public domain, marking the first expansion of works free of copyright in 20 years. The Duke site has many links to resources on and works in the public domain.

The site Motherboard tells How to Download the Books That Just Entered the Public Domain.

Debates over intellectual property can be fascinating. CRF, along with Street Law, has created Educating About Intellectual Property, a web site with free lessons on current issues of intellectual property.

Global Terrorism Database

by Bill Hayes

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) “is an open-source database including information on terrorist events around the world from 1970 through 2016 (with annual updates planned for the future). Unlike many other event databases, the GTD includes systematic data on domestic as well as international terrorist incidents that have occurred during this time period and now includes more than 170,000 cases.”

The Trump Investigation, Thus Far

by Bill Hayes

Robert Mueller issued his report, which has not yet been made public. Here are public documents related to the Mueller investigation, from the most recent to the oldest:

Attorney General William Barr’s Letters to the House and Senate About the Mueller Report

First Letter (3/24/19)

Second Letter (2/29/19)

Indictment: U.S. v. Roger Jason Stone, Jr. (District of Columbia) (1/24/19)

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. Michael Cohen (Southern District of New York) (11/29/18)

Plea Agreement

Criminal Information

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr. (District of Columbia) (9/14/18)

Superseding Criminal Information


Plea Agreement

Statement of the Offense

Indictment: U.S. v. Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, et al (District of Columbia) (7/13/18)

Third Superceding Indictment: U.S. v. Konstantin Kilimnik (District of Columbia) (6/8/18)

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. Richard W. Gates III (District of Columbia) (2/23/18)

Superseding Criminal Information

Plea Agreement

Statement of the Offense

Indictment: U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., and Richard W. Gates III (Eastern District of Virginia) (2/22/18)

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. Alex van der Zwaan (District of Columbia) (2/20/18)

Criminal Information

Plea Agreement

Statement of the Offense

Indictment: U.S. v. Internet Research Agency, et al (District of Columbia) (2/16/18)

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. Richard Pinedo, et al (District of Columbia) (10/10/18)

Criminal Information

Plea Agreement

Statement of Offense

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. Michael T. Flynn (District of Columbia) (12/1/17)

Criminal Information

Plea Agreement

Statement of the Offense

Guilty Plea: U.S. v. George Papadopoulos (District of Columbia) (10/5/17)

Criminal Information

Plea Agreement

Statement of the Offense

Rosenstein Order: Appointment of Special Counsel (5/17/17)

For more documents, see Just Security’s Unsealed Documents in Special Counsel Mueller’s Investigation.

Politico’s Cartoons for This Week

by Bill Hayes

See Politico’s selection of this week’s political cartoons from across the country and the political spectrum.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Frederick Douglass in Full

by Bill Hayes

In Frederick Douglass in Full for the New York Times Book Review, Brent Staples reviews Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight.

The alchemy that transformed an unknown fugitive slave named Frederick Douglass into one of the most celebrated orators and political theorists in the world finished its work with astonishing speed. Douglass was just 20 years old when, on Sept. 3, 1838, he dressed up as a sailor and stole out of Baltimore carrying borrowed freedom documents. He and his wife — a free black Marylander who had aided the escape — fled to New Bedford, Mass., where Douglass was recruited to the abolitionist movement while honing his oratory at a local church.

As the historian David W. Blight shows in his cinematic and deeply engaging “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison were smitten with Douglass, instantly recognizing the value of a recruit just out of chains whose eloquence refuted the claim that Negroes were inferior and who could condemn slavery as immoral by drawing on America’s founding documents as well as his own bitter experience under the lash. [more]

8 things everybody should know about measles

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains 8 things everybody should know about measles.

1) How did the big US measles outbreaks happen?

Measles outbreaks in the US typically start when a traveler picks up the virus in another country where measles is still common and brings it back to an unvaccinated community here.

In New York, the current outbreaks also originated with travelers who had recently visited Israel, where a massive measles epidemic is currently underway. The travelers returned to the US and spread it among unvaccinated or under-vaccinated communities in New York state.

In the Washington outbreak, “patient zero” was also visiting from outside the country, carrying a strain of the virus that’s circulating in Eastern Europe, and came into contact with unvaccinated children in Clark County. Those children then visited public places including health care facilities, schools, and churches, as well as Ikea and Dollar Tree — spreading measles to others.

What these two outbreaks have in common: they’ve both happened in communities with high rates of people who opted out of vaccines on behalf of their children, making them more susceptible to entirely preventable diseases. As well, in both states, the outbreaks centered around tight-knit, traditional communities (in New York, ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities and in Washington, Slavic immigrants.)

These communities have become an urgent focus of health departments across the country, said Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before New York and Washington, it was vaccine-refusing Amish in Ohio and Somali Americans in Minnesota. When measles strikes, outbreaks in tight-knit groups tend to be “explosive” and more difficult to control.

According to CDC data, 12 of the 26 measles outbreaks in the past five years (involving more than five cases) centered on tight-knit communities, which Messonier defines as people of a similar background who share values and beliefs and interact often. And because these outbreaks have been bigger, they account for 75 percent of recent measles cases. [more]

Runs in the Family

by Bill Hayes

In Runs in the Family for the New Yorker, Siddhartha Mukherjee reports on new findings about schizophrenia.

That schizophrenia runs in families was evident even to the person who first defined the illness. In 1911, Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss-German psychiatrist, published a book describing a series of cases of men and women, typically in their teens and early twenties, whose thoughts had begun to tangle and degenerate. “In this malady, the associations lose their continuity,” Bleuler wrote. “The threads between thoughts are torn.” Psychotic visions and paranoid thoughts flashed out of nowhere. Some patients “feel themselves weak, their spirit escapes, they will never survive the day. There is a growth in their heads. Their bones have turned liquid; their hearts have turned into stone…. The patient’s wife must not use eggs in cooking, otherwise he will grow feathers.” His patients were often trapped between flickering emotional states, unable to choose between two radically opposed visions, Bleuler noted. “You devil, you angel, you devil, you angel,” one woman said to her lover.

Bleuler tried to find an explanation for the mysterious symptoms, but there was only one seemingly common element: schizophrenic patients tended to have first-degree relatives who were also schizophrenic. He had no tools to understand the mechanism behind the heredity. The word “gene” had been coined just two years before Bleuler published his book. The notion that a mental illness could be carried across generations by unitary, indivisible factors — corpuscles of information threading through families — would have struck most of Bleuler’s contemporaries as mad in its own right. Still, Bleuler was astonishingly prescient about the complex nature of inheritance. “If one is looking for ‘the heredity,’ one can nearly always find it,” he wrote. “We will not be able to do anything about it even later on, unless the single factor of heredity can be broken down into many hereditary factors along specific lines.”

In the nineteen-sixties, Bleuler’s hunch was confirmed by twin studies. Psychiatrists determined that if an identical twin was schizophrenic the other twin had a forty-to-fifty-per-cent chance of developing the disease — fiftyfold higher than the risk in the general population. By the early two-thousands, large population studies had revealed a strong genetic link between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some of the families described in these studies had a crisscrossing history that was achingly similar to my own: one sibling affected with schizophrenia, another with bipolar disorder, and a nephew or niece also schizophrenic.

“The twin studies clarified two important features of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” Jeffrey Lieberman, a Columbia University psychiatrist who has studied schizophrenia for thirty years, told me. “First, it was clear that there wasn’t a single gene, but dozens of genes involved in causing schizophrenia — each perhaps exerting a small effect. And, second, even if you inherited the entire set of risk genes, as identical twins do, you still might not develop the disease. Obviously, there were other triggers or instigators involved in releasing the illness.” But while these studies established that schizophrenia had a genetic basis, they revealed nothing about the nature of the genes involved. “For doctors, patients, and families in the schizophrenia community, genetics became the ultimate mystery,” Lieberman said. “If we knew the identity of the genes, we would find the causes, and if we found the causes we could find medicines.”

In 2006, an international consortium of psychiatric geneticists launched a genomic survey of schizophrenia, hoping to advance the search for the implicated genes. With 3,322 patients and 3,587 controls, this was one of the largest and most rigorous such studies in the history of the disease. Researchers scanned through the nearly seven thousand genomes to find variations in gene segments that were correlated with schizophrenia. This strategy, termed an “association study,” does not pinpoint a gene, but it provides a general location where a disease-linked gene may be found, like a treasure map with a large “X” scratched in a corner of the genome.

The results, reported in 2009 (and updated in 2014) in the journal Nature, were a dispiriting validation of Bleuler’s hunch about multiple hereditary factors: more than a hundred independent segments of the genome were associated with schizophrenia. “There are lots of small, common genetic effects, scattered across the genome,” one researcher said. “There are many different biological processes involved.” Some of the putative culprits made biological sense — if dimly. There were genes linked to transmitters that relay messages between neurons, and genes for molecular channels that move electrical signals up and down nerve cells. But by far the most surprising association involved a gene segment on chromosome 6. This region of the genome — termed the MHC region — carries hundreds of genes typically associated with the immune system. [more]

Getting serious about overfishing

by David De La Torre

In Getting serious about overfishing, The Economist reports on this important problem.

In 2013, the most recent year for which full data are available, 32% of the world’s fish stocks were being exploited beyond their sustainable limit, up from 10% in the 1970s, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. The amount of fish caught at sea has been pretty much flat for the past three decades, but the share of the world’s fish stocks that are being plundered unsustainably has continued to increase ….

Overfishing is not the only problem. Pollution, notably fertiliser run-off, damages a lot of marine ecosystems. There are estimated to be 5trn bits of plastic in the ocean, with over 8m tonnes of the stuff added every year. By the middle of the century the sea could contain more plastic than fish by weight, according to research done for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Not all the harm comes directly from the land; some comes via the sky. Carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere has so far raised the world’s average sea-surface temperature by about 0.7ºC. This has effects at depth; when seas warm up they become more stratified, making it harder for nutrients in the waters below to rise to where they are most needed by fish and plankton. Given this, it might seem fortunate that the ocean absorbs a fair bit of that carbon dioxide, thus reducing the warming. But doing so changes the ocean’s chemistry, making it more acidic. This is a particular problem for creatures with calcium-carbonate shells — which includes not just crabs and oysters but quite a lot of larvae, too. Acidification makes carbonates more likely to dissolve. [more]

For free classroom lessons related to biodiversity, see Are We Headed for a “Sixth Mass Extinction”? and also “Rachel Carson and the Modern Environmental Movement,” which is currently only in PDF and can be obtained from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive. You will have to register (if you haven’t already and it is free).

Why feelings are the unstoppable force

by Bill Hayes

In Why feelings are the unstoppable force for the Guardian, John Banville reviews The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures by Antonio Damasio.

From Plato onwards, western philosophy has favoured mind over “mere” body, so that by the time we get to Descartes, the human has become hardly more than a brain stuck atop a stick, like a child’s hobbyhorse. This is the conception of humanness that Damasio wishes to dismantle. For him, as for Nietzsche, what the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks, and further, both functions are inextricably intertwined. Indeed, from the very start, among the earliest primitive life forms, affect – “the world of emotions and feelings” – was the force that drove unstoppably towards the flowering of human consciousness and the creation of cultures, Damasio insists. [more]