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August 4, 2008

I was certain, but I was wrong — by Jennifer Thompson


Her powerful New York Times Op-Ed page essay of June 18, 2000 is a classic.

It was featured here on March 6, 2007, May 8, 2006, March 18, 2005 and September 16, 2004.

Matt Penning yesterday wrote, "This reminds me that it might be time for another reprint of the eyewitness entry which opened my awareness [of] the fallacy of believing to be true what our memories recall."

It follows.

    I Was Certain, but I Was Wrong

    In 1984 I was a 22-year-old college student with a grade point average of 4.0, and I really wanted to do something with my life. One night someone broke into my apartment, put a knife to my throat and raped me.

    During my ordeal, some of my determination took an urgent new direction. I studied every single detail on the rapist's face. I looked at his hairline; I looked for scars, for tattoos, for anything that would help me identify him. When and if I survived the attack, I was going to make sure that he was put in prison and he was going to rot.

    When I went to the police department later that day, I worked on a composite sketch to the very best of my ability. I looked through hundreds of noses and eyes and eyebrows and hairlines and nostrils and lips. Several days later, looking at a series of police photos, I identified my attacker. I knew this was the man. I was completely confident. I was sure.

    I picked the same man in a lineup. Again, I was sure. I knew it. I had picked the right guy, and he was going to go to jail. If there was the possibility of a death sentence, I wanted him to die. I wanted to flip the switch.

    When the case went to trial in 1986, I stood up on the stand, put my hand on the Bible and swore to tell the truth. Based on my testimony, Ronald Junior Cotton was sentenced to prison for life. It was the happiest day of my life because I could begin to put it all behind me.

    In 1987, the case was retried because an appellate court had overturned Ronald Cotton's conviction. During a pretrial hearing, I learned that another man had supposedly claimed to be my attacker and was bragging about it in the same prison wing where Ronald Cotton was being held. This man, Bobby Poole, was brought into court, and I was asked, ''Ms. Thompson, have you ever seen this man?''

    I answered: ''I have never seen him in my life. I have no idea who he is.''

    Ronald Cotton was sentenced again to two life sentences. Ronald Cotton was never going to see light; he was never going to get out; he was never going to hurt another woman; he was never going to rape another woman.

    In 1995, 11 years after I had first identified Ronald Cotton, I was asked to provide a blood sample so that DNA tests could be run on evidence from the rape. I agreed because I knew that Ronald Cotton had raped me and DNA was only going to confirm that. The test would allow me to move on once and for all.

    I will never forget the day I learned about the DNA results. I was standing in my kitchen when the detective and the district attorney visited. They were good and decent people who were trying to do their jobs — as I had done mine, as anyone would try to do the right thing. They told me: ''Ronald Cotton didn't rape you. It was Bobby Poole.''

    The man I was so sure I had never seen in my life was the man who was inches from my throat, who raped me, who hurt me, who took my spirit away, who robbed me of my soul. And the man I had identified so emphatically on so many occasions was absolutely innocent.

    Ronald Cotton was released from prison after serving 11 years. Bobby Poole pleaded guilty to raping me.

    Ronald Cotton and I are the same age, so I knew what he had missed during those 11 years. My life had gone on. I had gotten married. I had graduated from college. I worked. I was a parent. Ronald Cotton hadn't gotten to do any of that.

    Mr. Cotton and I have now crossed the boundaries of both the terrible way we came together and our racial difference (he is black and I am white) and have become friends. Although he is now moving on with his own life, I live with constant anguish that my profound mistake cost him so dearly. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened had my mistaken identification occurred in a capital case.

    Today there is a man in Texas named Gary Graham who is about to be executed because one witness is confident that Mr. Graham is the killer she saw from 30 to 40 feet away. This woman saw the murderer for only a fraction of the time that I saw the man who raped me. Several other witnesses contradict her, but the jury that convicted Mr. Graham never heard any of the conflicting testimony.

    If anything good can come out of what Ronald Cotton suffered because of my limitations as a human being, let it be an awareness of the fact that eyewitnesses can and do make mistakes. I have now had occasion to study this subject a bit, and I have come to realize that eyewitness error has been recognized as the leading cause of wrongful convictions. One witness is not enough, especially when her story is contradicted by other good people.

    Last week, I traveled to Houston to beg Gov. George W. Bush and his parole board not to execute Gary Graham based on this kind of evidence. I have never before spoken out on behalf of any inmate. I stood with a group of 11 men and women who had been convicted based on mistaken eyewitness testimony, only to be exonerated later by DNA or other evidence.

    With them, I urged the Texas officials to grant Gary Graham a new trial, so that the eyewitnesses who are so sure that he is innocent can at long last be heard.

    I know that there is an eyewitness who is absolutely positive she saw Gary Graham commit murder. But she cannot possibly be any more positive than I was about Ronald Cotton. What if she is dead wrong?

August 4, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BuzzNot Travel Belt


From the website:

    BuzzNot Travel Belt

    Heavy leather — handsome, hefty and handy — and entirely non-metallic.

    Each size will adjust 3.5 inches longer or shorter than waist measurement ordered.

    1.5"-wide leather with approx 7" of iron-grip Velcro at tip.

    Black or Brown.



[via Teri Agins of the Wall Street Journal, who wrote in a July 24, 2008 story that these belts make up 20% of all those sold by Suspenderstore.com]

August 4, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Scientist magazine: 'An X-file on every page' — Chris Carter


Carter is the creator of TV's "X-Files."

In an interview with Nancy Palm that appeared in the July 27, 2008 Washington Post, he replied to her question regarding whether he's interested in the unexplained in his personal life as follows: "... I follow science, and science really is delving into the unexplained itself .... There's a fantastic magazine called the New Scientist, a weekly magazine. There's like an X-file on every page. Really, some of the best 'X-Files' stories come right out of science. And you just apply that 'what-if' idea. Oh, what if this were true? And that's why so many times the show is scarier because it was not necessarily improbable."

Off and on for years I've debated whether or not to subscribe to New Scientist.

I probably would if it were a monthly but I'm afraid my compulsivity about reading whatever comes in would make the weekly more a burden than a pleasure.

For now I'll limit the weeklies to Sports Illustrated, The Economist and The New Yorker.

August 4, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Snake Bike Lock


Reinforced metal interior, cloth exterior and hand-painted detail.


Black/Gold, Black/White, Blue/Green or Red/Yellow.


Designed by Laurent Mouveau.



[via Ellen Tien and the New York Times]

August 4, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Who knew? Diet soda enhances alcohol absorption


Anahad O'Connor's July 8, 2008 "Really?" column in the New York Times Science section was chock full of interesting information.

Along with the FunFact cited in the headline above, we also learn that "... alcohol was absorbed far more quickly when mixed with carbonated beverages than with flat mixers."

The piece follows.

    The Claim: Beware of Drink Mixers Based on Diet Soda

    The Facts: Usually it is solely the liquor component of a cocktail — not the mixer — that determines its inebriating effects. But some people contend the artificial sweeteners in diet soda speed the absorption of alcohol.

    Odd, perhaps, but research suggests it’s true. In a 2006 study, a team of scientists recruited healthy subjects and had them consume vodka cocktails. On some occasions, it was a 20-ounce drink mixed with a sugar-sweetened beverage, and on others it was a nearly identical drink mixed instead with a diet beverage.

    In the diet-mixer conditions, the alcohol entered the subjects’ bloodstream about 15 minutes faster, and their blood-alcohol concentration was higher, peaking at 0.05 percent, compared with 0.03 percent with the regular mixer.

    One theory is that the alcohol is absorbed more quickly because there is no sugar to slow it down, which would mean that club soda would have a similar effect. A second study in 2007 also showed that alcohol was absorbed far more quickly when mixed with carbonated beverages than with flat mixers, possibly because of the effervescence. As a result, experts say, it’s best to choose flat mixers like orange or cranberry juice over diet sodas or juices.

    The Bottom Line: Compared with sugar-sweetened drinks, artificial sweeteners can speed inebriation.


Here's the abstract of the 2006 study cited above, published in the American Journal of Medicine.

    Artificially sweetened versus regular mixers increase gastric emptying and alcohol absorption

    Mixed alcoholic drinks are increasingly being consumed in "diet" varieties, which could potentially empty more rapidly from the stomach and thereby increase the rate of alcohol absorption when compared with "regular" versions containing sugar.

    Methods: We studied 8 healthy males twice in randomized order. On each day, they consumed an orange-flavored vodka beverage (30 g ethanol in 600 mL), made with either "regular" mixer containing sucrose (total 478 kcal), or "diet" mixer (225 kcal).

    Results: Gastric half-emptying time measured by ultrasound (mean+/-standard deviation) was less for the "diet" than the "regular" drink (21.1+/-9.5 vs 36.3+/-15.3 minutes, P <.01). Both the peak blood ethanol concentration (0.053+/-0.006 vs 0.034+/-0.008 g%, P <.001) and the area under the blood ethanol concentration curve between 0 and 180 minutes (5.2+/-0.7 vs 3.2+/-0.7 units, P <.001) were greater with the "diet" drink.

    Conclusions: Substitution of artificial sweeteners for sucrose in mixed alcoholic beverages may have a marked effect on the rate of gastric emptying and the blood alcohol response.


The 2007 study published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine?

That abstract follows.

    Alcohol concentration and carbonation of drinks: the effect on blood alcohol levels

    Alcohol absorption and elimination vary considerably amongst individuals, and are subject to influences from a variety of factors. The effects of alcohol concentration and beverage mixer type on the rate of alcohol absorption, in a controlled environment was studied. 21 subjects (12 male, 9 female) consumed a solution containing alcohol, on three separate occasions. The three solutions were, A: Neat vodka (37.5 vol%), B: Vodka mixed with still water (18.75 vol%), C: Vodka mixed with carbonated water (18.75 vol%). The volume of alcohol each subject consumed was determined by Widmark's equation. The alcohol was drunk in a 5 min period following an overnight fast and breath alcohol concentrations were measured over a 4h period using a breathalyser. 20/21 subjects absorbed the dilute alcohol at a faster rate than the concentrated alcohol. The difference between the absorption rates was found to be significant (p<0.001). The use of a carbonated mixer had varying effects on the alcohol absorption rate. 14/21 subjects absorbed the alcohol with the carbonated mixer at a faster rate, with 7 subjects showing either no change or a decrease in rate. The mean absorption rate for solution C was 4.39+/-0.45 (mg/100ml/min), and the difference between this absorption rate and that with the still mixer (1.08+0.36) was significant (p=0.006).

August 4, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What's inside?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

August 4, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Can your iPhone do this? Golden Shellback waterproofs electronics

Didn't think so.

Someone's gonna be very, very rich.

[via Dean Kaltsas]

August 4, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's Most Technical Pot Holder


Sara Schaefer Muñoz reviewed it in the May 8, 2008 Wall Street Journal as follows.

Get-It Pot Holder


This a basic, square pot holder with a twist.

It has a small handle on one side that slides between the fingers for a more secure grip and, we found, easier pickup.


The handle also serves as a suction device so you can stick it on the oven to keep it within close reach.

The underside has raised ribs for a more secure grip.


7" square, made of silicone, heat-resistant to 600°F.

Blue, Green or Red.



August 4, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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