Editors’ Picks of the Year: Notable Reads on WordPress.com

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

Our editors dove into the archives to resurface top posts published on WordPress.com this year, from personal essays to comics, and photography to fiction. Here’s a glimpse of what you published — and what the community especially loved — in 2014.

“Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did,” Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine

“Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning,” writes comic artist Stephan Pastis of the legendary Calvin and Hobbes creator. This summer, Pastis collaborated — in secret — with Watterson. Their awesome idea: Watterson would silently step in and draw Pastis’ comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, for a few days, pretending to be a second grader. Pastis recounts the experience, offering a rare glimpse of Bigfoot.

Pearls Before Swine; Stephan Pastis; June 4, 2014.

Pearls Before Swine ; Stephan Pastis; June 4, 2014.

“No Apology,” Mehreen Kasana

I will apologize for ISIS when every…

View original 1,360 more words

How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness


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child abuse1A brain scan study pinpoints the changes associated with child abuse that may raise people’s risk of depression, PTSD and addictions later in life.

Child maltreatment has been called the tobacco industry of mental health. Much the way smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease, early abuse may contribute to virtually all types of mental illness.

Now, in the largest study yet to use brain scans to show the effects of child abuse, researchers have found specific changes in key regions in and around the hippocampus in the brains of young adults who were maltreated or neglected in childhood. These changes may leave victims more vulnerable to depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Harvard researchers led by Dr. Martin Teicher studied nearly 200 people aged 18 to 25, who were mainly middle class and well-educated. They were recruited through newspaper and transit ads for a study on “memories of childhood.” Because the authors wanted to look specifically at the results of abuse and neglect, people who had suffered other types of trauma like car accidents or gang violence were excluded.

Child maltreatment often leads to conditions like depression and PTSD, so the researchers specifically included people with those diagnoses. However, the study excluded severely addicted people and people on psychiatric medications, because brain changes related to the drugs could obscure the findings.

Overall, about 25% of participants had suffered major depression at some point in their lives and 7% had been diagnosed with PTSD. But among the 16% of participants who had suffered three or more types of child maltreatment — for example, physical abuse, neglect and verbal abuse — the situation was much worse. Most of them — 53% — had suffered depression and 40% had had full or partial PTSD.

Child Abuse Primes the BrainThe aftermath of that trauma could be seen in their brain scans, whether or not the young adults had developed diagnosable disorders. Regardless of their mental health status, formerly maltreated youth showed reductions in volume of about 6% on average in two parts of the hippocampus, and 4% reductions in regions called the Subiculum and prosubiculum, compared with people who had not been abused.

That’s where this study begins to tie together loose ends seen in prior research. Previous data have suggested that the high levels of stress hormones associated with child maltreatment can damage the hippocampus, which may in turn affect people’s ability to cope with stress later in life. In other words, early stress makes the brain less resilient to the effects of later stress. “We suspect that [the reductions we saw are] a consequence of maltreatment and a risk factor for developing PTSD following exposure to further traumas.”

Indeed, brain scans of adults with depression and PTSD often show reductions in size in the hippocampus. Although earlier research on abused children did not find the same changes, animal studies on early life stress have suggested that measurable differences in the hippocampus may not arise until after puberty. The study suggests that the same is true for humans.

The findings also help elucidate a possible pathway from maltreatment to PTSD, depression and addiction. The Subiculum is uniquely positioned to affect all of these conditions. Receiving output from the hippocampus, it helps determine both behavioral and biochemical responses to stress.

If, for example, the best thing to do in a stressful situation is flee, the subiculum sends a signal shouting “run” to the appropriate brain regions. But the subiculum is also involved in regulating another brain system that, when overactive during chronic high stress such as abuse, produces toxic levels of neurotransmitters that kill brain cells — particularly in the hippocampus.

It can be a counterproductive feedback loop: high levels of stress hormones can lead to cell death in the very regions that are supposed to tell the system to stop production.

Emotion DysregulationWhat this means is that chronic maltreatment can set the stress system permanently on high alert. That may be useful in some cases — for example, for soldiers who must react quickly during combat or for children trying to avoid their abusers — but over the long term, the dysregulation increases risk for psychological problems like depression and PTSD.

The Subiculum also regulates the stress response of a key dopamine network, which may have implications for addiction risk. “It is presumably through this pathway that stress exposure interacts with the Dopaminergic reward system to produce stress-induced craving and stress-induced relapse,” the authors write.
In other words, dysregulation of the stress system might lead to intensified feelings of anxiety, fear or lack of pleasure, which may in turn prompt people to escape into depression, alcohol, or other drugs.

With nearly 4 million children evaluated for child abuse or neglect in the U.S. every year — a problem that costs the U.S. $124 billion in lost productivity and health, child welfare and criminal justice costs — child maltreatment isn’t something we can afford to ignore!

childhood abuse

Even among the most resilient survivors, the aftereffects of abuse may linger. Not only are such children at later risk for mental illness, but because of the way trauma affects the stress system, they are also more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
We can do better for our kids.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



Childhood abuse hurts the brain – Harvard University

Kids deserve better

Child Sexual Abuse – PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Not unusual to forget childhood sexual abuse – Harvard …

Promising Practices for Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

Child Maltreatment 2012 – Administration for Children and …

“Forgetting” Childhood Abuse study

Pathways to PTSD, Part II: Sexually Abused Children

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Scholarly articles for PTSD in abused children

Thought Police: How Brain Scans Could Invade Your Private Life


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fMRIResearchers say fMRI can probe the workings of the brain as never before—revealing everything from when you tell a lie to how you fall in love—while critics counter that reports of digital mind readers are premature, and we should think twice before using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) in our public and private lives.

In the past decade, a wave of researchers using scans has laid bare the schematics of how our brains handle fear, memory, risk-taking, romantic love and other mental processes. The technology is going even further, pulling back the curtain guarding our most private selves, a nearly foolproof lie detector based on brain scanning.

The government, employers, even your spouse–might turn to technology to determine whether you are a law-abiding citizen, a promising new hire or a faithful partner. It raises interesting questions about Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Is [an involuntary fMRI scan] illegal search and seizure since something was taken from you without your permission? And how do you protect your right not to incriminate yourself if people have a way of asking your brain questions, and you can’t say no or refuse to answer? These are some serious questions we have to begin to ask.

The underlying technology involved in functional magnetic resonance imaging has been around for decades. What’s new is the growing sophistication in how it is being used. Inside a massive doughnut-shaped magnet, an fMRI scanner generates powerful fields that interact with the protons inside a test subject’s body. The hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells, for instance, exhibit different magnetic properties depending on whether they are carrying a molecule of oxygen. Since regions of the brain use more oxygen when they’re active, an fMRI scanner can pinpoint which areas are busiest at a given moment.These can be correlated with our existing anatomical understanding of the brain’s functions–and, as our knowledge of these functions improves, so does the accuracy of neuroimaging data.

With fMRI, then, researchers can see what is going on across the entire brain, almost in real time, without danger or discomfort to the test subject. “It’s like being an astronomer in the 16th century after the invention of the telescope,” says Joshua Freedman, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “For millennia, very smart people tried to make sense of what was going on up in the heavens, but they could only speculate about what lay beyond unaided human vision. Then, suddenly, a new technology let them see directly what was there.”

In the last decade, an explosion of brain-scan studies that tapped into fMRI’s astonishing abilities has greatly enhanced neuroscience’s understanding of how the mind works. Some experiments have revealed vast differences between how our mental apparatus operates and how we perceive it to function. Other studies support common-sense intuition.

fMRIBrain Mapping of Deception and Truth telling

Feroze B. Mohamed, an associate professor of radiology at Philadelphia’s Temple University, conducted an experiment in which he instructed some test subjects to fire a pistol and then falsely answer questions about the event while undergoing fMRI. Compared to others who truthfully said they did not fire a weapon, the liars showed increased activity in twice as many brain regions, including those associated with memory, judgment, planning, sentence processing and inhibition. The findings lend credence to what we’ve all realized at one time or another: It takes a lot more effort to lie than to tell the truth.

In the wake of Sept. 11, the potential for fMRI to distinguish liars from truth-tellers generated particular interest as the U.S. government sought more reliable ways to extract information from detainees in the global war on terror. The Pentagon’s Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment at Fort Jackson, S.C., formerly the Polygraph Institute, has financed over 20 projects aimed at developing improved lie detectors. DARPA, the Pentagon’s high-tech research arm, also jumped into fMRI work. “Researchers, funded by the Department of Defense,” a recent article in the Cornell Law Review noted, “have developed technologies that may render the `dark art’ of interrogation unnecessary.”

lie_detector_1Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are looking for civilian applications. In 2006, a California company called No Lie MRI, which had conducted a DARPA-funded study, began touting its commercial lie-detection services, offering $10,000 brain scans that it says can determine whether subjects are telling the truth. Among the first customers: an arson suspect who wanted to establish his innocence.

Even some of fMRI’s most enthusiastic supporters recognize that using the technology in this way could pose gigantic risks to civil liberties. Joel Huizenga, chief executive officer of No Lie MRI, says he anticipates a potential backlash against his firm–and welcomes it. “There should be controversy,” he says. “If I were the next Joe Stalin, I could use this technology to figure out who my friends and enemies are very simply, so I’d know who to shoot.” To allay concerns, No Lie only scans those who ask to be scanned: “We will only test individuals who come forward of their own free will,” Huizenga says. “We don’t want to be forcing anyone’s head into the machine.”

No Lie MRIHuizenga’s firm may advocate strict limits on the technology, but there’s no reason to expect that other companies will. What if employers want to use this technology as part of a standard job interview? How about a classroom scanner to detect plagiarism and other forms of cheating? What if airport security agents could screen our state of mind along with our luggage?

Such applications might be “hypothetical,” of course, but their implications are already being hotly debated by bioethicists and legal scholars. The Cornell Law Review article asserts that “fMRI is one of the few technologies to which the now clichéd moniker of `Orwellian’ legitimately applies.” The article goes on to conclude that “fMRI’s use remains legally questionable” and that “the involuntary use of fMRI scanning in interrogation most likely violates International Humanitarian Law.”

In George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, a civil servant named Winston Smith (played in the 1955 movie by Edmond O'Brien, above) loses all privacy as Big Brother and his Thought Police bring him under constant surveillance. Is the NSA today's Big Brother?

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, a civil servant named Winston Smith (played in the 1955 movie by Edmond O’Brien, above) loses all privacy as Big Brother and his Thought Police bring him under constant surveillance. Is the NSA today’s Big Brother?

Since 2001, several companies have sprung up offering to decode thoughts for the benefit of retailers. One pioneering firm, The BrightHouse Institute for Thought Sciences, in Atlanta, claims to be the first neuromarketing research firm to land a Fortune 500 client–though it wouldn’t identify the company.

Consumer advocates worry that corporations will use fMRI to hone ever more insidiously effective marketing campaigns. In 2004, the executive director of Commercial Alert, a group co-founded by Ralph Nader, sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate committee that oversees interstate commerce, noting that marketers were using fMRI “… not to heal the sick but rather to probe the human psyche for the purpose of influencing it … in a democracy such as ours, should anyone have such power to manipulate the behavior of the rest of us?”

Bitmapping the Brain

Recent fMRI studies have enabled scientists to expand the intricate cartography that represents the mind at work. –E.M.

FMRI brain scan

brain activated by stimuli in five fMRI studies. The illustration shows activity in one hemisphere of the brain; most neural responses occur in both hemispheres.

* Truth Machine * Proof of Purchase * Big Love
For many, establishing guilt or innocence is fMRI’s holy grail.
Study: Temple University
Protocol: Six graduate students were asked to fire a gun loaded with blanks, then lie about their actions. Five students who didn’t fire a gun were told to be truthful. Could fMRI scans reveal who was lying?
Results: Fourteen areas of the brain, including the anterior cingulate cortex (top yellow dot) and the hippocampus (bottom), were active when subjects lied; seven areas were active when subjects told the truth.
One controversial use of fMRI is neuroeconomics –the study of mental and neural processes that drive economic decisions.
Study: Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, MIT Sloan School of Management
Protocol: Twenty-six adults were given $20 each to spend on consumer items. Could researchers predict intent to purchase based on brain regions registering activity?
Results: When areas of the brain associated with product preference and evaluation of gains and losses–the nucleus accumbens (right red dot) and the medial prefrontal cortex (left), respectively–were activated, the person bought a product. Accuracy rate: 60 percent.
Love might be nothing more than a chemical reaction.
Study: State University of New York, Stony Brook; Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Rutgers University
Protocol: Researchers asked 17 young men and women to look at photos of the people they professed to love, then analyzed their brain activity in an fMRI scanner.
Results: Early stage romantic love is about motivation and reward, since it lights up subcortical reward regions like the right ventral tegmental area (top blue dot) and dorsal caudate area (bottom). Subjects in more extended romantic love showed more activity in the ventral pallidum (middle), which indicates attachment, in prairie voles–and, scientists surmise, in humans.
* The Oops Factor * Better to Give
What happens when you make a costly mistake?
Study: University of Michigan
Protocol: Scientists asked 12 adults to complete 360 visually based tests that carried monetary rewards and penalties between 25 cents and $2.
Results: When subjects made errors with consequences–in this case, losing money–the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC, orange dot) was much more active. It was less active when mistakes carried no penalty. The rACC’s involvement suggests the importance of emotions in making decisions.
Does our brain think paying taxes is actually satisfying?
Study: University of Oregon
Protocol: Scientists gave 19 women $100 each, then scanned their brains as they watched their money go to a charity, via mandatory taxation and voluntary contribution.
Results: The caudate nucleus (right green dot) and nucleus accumbens (left), the same regions that fire when basic needs like hunger and social contact are met, were activated when subjects saw some of their tax money go to charity; activity was even greater when they gave money of their own accord. Scientists cite this as tentative proof of altruism.

William Uttal, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan who has written a book about fMRI’s potential shortcomings, points out that researchers don’t know how brain activity correlates to the mechanisms of thought. “The big problem is that the brain is far more complex than we understand,” he says. “With this MRI stuff, it’s very, very easy to misunderstand and to simplify things that are much more complicated.”

The most withering criticism centers on using fMRI scans as lie detectors. “Some people claim they can show you pictures of suspected terrorists, and even if you say you don’t know them, they can tell by looking at an fMRI scan whether you know them or not,” says Yale’s Andy Morgan. “Well, a positive result doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lying, because no one’s done studies involving faces that look alike. A familiar-seeming face may give you the same response as one you actually know.” And, regardless of Huizenga’s promise that his No Lie staffers won’t force anyone’s head into an fMRI machine, such assurances might not be necessary: Current scanning technology does not work with nonconsenting subjects. In fact, even tiny movements inside the scanner can negate results.

Unfortunately, any doubts about fMRI accuracy hardly lessen its potential for misuse. For decades, polygraph tests have been widely used despite their flaws. (Even proponents of polygraphy admit a 10 percent failure rate.) And junk science has long been rife in the courtroom. Earlier this year, law professor Brandon L. Garrett of the University of Virginia published a study analyzing 200 cases in which innocent people were wrongly convicted of a crime. In 55 percent of the cases, he found that jurors had been presented with faulty forensic evidence. “I personally am quite concerned,” says Vanderbilt’s Frank Tong. “If brain scans were admissible in court, and became popular enough, then even if they were not mandatory they would become in a sense obligatory. Because if you didn’t voluntarily undergo it, then there would be the question, `Why didn’t you take the test?'”

No doubt many brain-scan applications that critics most fear will never come to pass, and others as yet unseen will arise. What’s certain is that the technology will be transformative, with hardly an area in the public or private spheres that won’t be affected. Like it or not, the new brain science is here, and the world inside our heads is never again going to be completely private.



What Is FMRI? – Center for Functional MRI – UC San Diego

The Monumental Challenge of Mapping the Human Brain

Scientists Are Zapping the Brain to Enhance Memory


fMRI Research Study – The Academy for Scientific …

Brain mapping of deception and truth telling about an …

Brain Imaging, functional (fMRI) – RadiologyInfo

No Lie MRI – Home Page

The quest to build the perfect lie detector – Salon.com

xkcd: fMRI

Scientists use brain imaging to reveal the movies in our mind

Brain imaging: fMRI 2.0 : Nature News & Comment

What fMRI Can Tell Us About the Thoughts and …

How Brain Scans

Physics of the impossible – SlideShare

The Spy Factory | The New Thought Police image 4 | PBS

NOVA | The New Thought Police – PBS

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A New Research …

Neuroscience, Ethics, and National Security: The State of …

Overnight News Digest 06/21/2013 – Daily Kos

Scholarly articles for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

PM/AM: The Next Decade of Brain Science

A Microchip That Mimics the Human Brain

The Inspiration for Mind-Control Conspiracy Theories Faces Its Demise

IBM Reveals the Biggest Artificial Brain of All Time

Sex, Lies and fMRI—Gender Differences in Neural Basis of Deception

The Legality of the Use of Psychiatric Neuroimaging in …

Pentagon’s quest for nonlethal arms is amazing. But is it smart?


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 EM radiationTucked away in the corner of a drab industrial park in Huntington Beach, Calif., is a windowless, nondescript building. Inside, under extremely tight security, engineers and scientists are working on devices whose ordinary appearance masks the oddity of their function.

For hundreds of years, sci-fi writers have imagined weapons that might use energy waves or pulses to knock out, knock down, or otherwise disable enemies–without necessarily killing them. And for a good 40 years the U.S. military has quietly been pursuing weapons of this sort. Much of this work is still secret, and it has yet to produce a usable “nonlethal” weapon. But now that the cold war has ended and the United States is engaged in more humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, the search for weapons that could incapacitate people without inflicting lethal injuries has intensified.

Police, too, are keenly interested. Scores of new contracts have been let, and scientists, aided by government research on the “bioeffects” of beamed energy, are searching the electromagnetic and sonic spectrums for wavelengths that can affect human behavior. Recent advancements in miniaturized electronics, power generation, and beam aiming may finally have put such pulse and beam weapons on the cusp of practicality, some experts say. Weapons already exist that use lasers, which can temporarily or permanently blind enemy soldiers.

So-called acoustic or sonic weapons, like the ones in the aforementioned lab, can vibrate the insides of humans to stun them, nauseate them, or even “liquefy their bowels and reduce them to quivering diarrheic messes,” according to a Pentagon briefing. Prototypes of such weapons considered for tryout when U.S. troops intervened in Somalia.

Other, stranger effects also have been developed, such as using electromagnetic waves to put human targets to sleep or to heat them up, on the microwave-oven principle. Scientists have also created a sonic cannon that throws a shock wave with enough force to knock down a man.

NOLESWhile this and similar weapons may seem far-fetched to some, scientists say they are natural successors to projects already underway – beams that disable the electronic systems of aircraft, computers, or missiles, for instance.

“Once you are into these antimateriel weapons, it is a short jump to antipersonnel weapons,” says Louis Slesin, editor of the trade journal Microwave News.

That’s because the human body is essentially an electrochemical system, and devices that disrupt the electrical impulses of the nervous system can affect behavior and body functions.

But these programs – particularly those involving antipersonnel research – are so well guarded that details are scarce.

“People [in the military] go silent on this issue,” says Slesin, “more than any other issue. People just do not want to talk about this.”

Projects underway

To learn what the Pentagon has been doing, U.S. News talked to more than 70 experts and scoured biomedical and engineering journals, contracts, budgets, and research proposals. The effort to develop exotic weapons is surprising in its range. Scores of projects are underway, most with funding of several hundred millions dollars each.One Air Force lab spent more than $100 million to research the “Bioeffects ” of such weaponry. The benefits of bloodless battles for soldiers and law enforcement are obvious. But the search for new weapons – cloaked as they are in secrecy – faces hurdles.

One is the acute skepticism of many conventional-weapons experts.

“It is interesting technology but it won’t end bloodshed and wars,” says Harvey Sapolsky, director of the Security Studies Program at MIT.

Some so-called nonlethal weapons could end up killing rather than just disabling victims if used at the wrong range. Others may easily be thwarted by shielding. Sterner warnings come from ethicists. Years ago the world drafted conventions and treaties to attempt to set rules for the use of bullets and bombs in war.

But no treaties govern the use of unconventional weapons. And no one knows what will happen to people exposed to them over the long term. Moreover, medical researchers worry that their work on such things as the use of electromagnetic waves to stimulate hearing in the deaf or to halt seizures in epileptics might be used to develop weaponry.

In fact, the military routinely has approached the National Institutes of Health for research information.

DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] has come to us every few years to see if there are ways to incapacitate the central nervous system remotely,” Dr. F. Terry Hambrecht, head of the Neural Prosthesis Program at NIH, told U.S. News.

Still, the Pentagon conducts human testing with lasers and acoustics weapon, says Charles Swett, an assistant for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict. Swett insists that the testing will be constrained and “highly ethical.”

Laser ethics

What happened with U.S. forces in Somalia foreshadows the impending ethical dilemmas. In early 1995, some U.S. marines were supplied with so-called dazzling lasers. The idea was to inflict as little harm as possible if Somalis turned hostile. But the marines’ commander then decided that the lasers should be “de-tuned” to prevent the chance of their blinding citizens.

With their intensity thus diminished, they could be used only for designating or illuminating targets. On March 1, 1995, commandos of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 5 were positioned at the south end of Mogadishu airport. At 7 a.m., a technician from the Air Force’s Phillips Laboratory, developer of the lasers, used one to illuminate a Somali man armed with a rocket-propelled grenade.

A SEAL sniper shot and killed the Somali. There was no question the Somali was aiming at the SEALs.

But the decision not to use the laser to dazzle or temporarily blind the man irks some of the nonlethal-team members.

“We were not allowed to disable these guys because that was considered inhumane,” said one. “Putting a bullet in their head is somehow more humane?”

Despite such arguments, the International Red Cross and Human Rights Watch have since led a fight against antipersonnel lasers.

In the fall of 1995, the United States signed a treaty that prohibits the development of lasers designed “to cause permanent blindness.” Still, laser weapons are known to have been developed by the Russians, and proliferation is a big concern. Also, the treaty does not forbid dazzling or “glare” lasers, whose effects are temporary.

U.S. military labs are continuing work in this area, and commercial contractors are marketing such lasers to police. 

Acoustic pain

The next debate may well focus on acoustic or sonic weapons. Benign sonic effects are certainly familiar, ranging from the sonic boom from an airplane to the ultrasound instrument that “sees” a baby in the uterus.

The military is using something less benign – an acoustic weapon with frequencies tunable all the way up to lethal. Indeed, Huntington Beach-based Scientific Applications & Research Associates Inc. (SARA) has built a device that will make internal organs resonate: The effects can run from discomfort to damage or death.

If used to protect an area, its beams would make intruders increasingly uncomfortable the closer they get.

Such acoustic fences, he says, could be deployed today. He estimates that five to 10 years will be needed to develop acoustic rifles and other more exotic weapons.

The military also uses acoustic fields used to control riots or to clear paths for convoys. SARA’s acoustic devices have already been tested at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, near the company’s Huntington Beach office.

The Pentagon considered they could cause permanent injury to pregnant women, the old, or the sick. Parhami sees acoustics “as just one more tool” for the military and law enforcement.

Like any tool, I suppose this can be abused,” he says. “But like any tool, it can be used in a humane and ethical way.”

Toward the end of World War II, the Germans were reported to have made a different type of acoustic device. It looked like a large cannon and sent out a sonic boom-like shock wave that in theory could have felled a B-17 bomber.

In the mid-1940s, the U.S. Navy created a program called Project Squid to study the German vortex technology. The results are unknown. But Guy Obolensky, an American inventor, says he replicated the Nazi device in his laboratory in 1949. Against hard objects the effect was astounding, he says: It could snap a board like a twig.

Against soft targets like people, it had a different effect.

“I felt like I had been hit by a thick rubber blanket,” says Obolensky, who once stood in its path.

The idea seemed to founder for years until recently, when the military was intrigued by its nonlethal possibilities. The Army and Navy now have vortex projects underway.

The SARA lab has tested its device at Camp Pendleton, one source says. 

Electromagnetic heat

The Soviets were known to have potent blinding lasers. They were also feared to have developed acoustic and radio-wave weapons. The 1987 issue of Soviet Military Power, a cold war Pentagon publication, warned that the Soviets might be close to “a prototype short-range tactical RF [radio frequency] weapon.”

The Washington Post reported that year that the Soviets had used such weapons to kill goats at 1 kilometer’s range.

The Pentagon, it turns out, has been pursuing similar devices since the 1960s.

Typical of some of the more exotic proposals are those from Clay Easterly. Last December, Easterly – who works at the Health Sciences Research Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory – briefed the Marine Corps on work he had conducted for the National Institute of Justice, which does research on crime control.

One of the projects he suggested was an electromagnetic gun that would “induce epileptic-like seizures.”

Another was a “thermal gun that have the operational effect of heating the body to 105 to 107″ degrees Fahrenheit.

Such effects bring on discomfort, fevers, or even death. The biggest problem is power. High-powered microwaves intended to heat someone standing 200 yards away to 105 degrees Fahrenheit may kill someone standing 10 yards away.

Mission Research Corp. of Albuquerque, N.M., has used a computer model to study the ability of microwaves to stimulate the body’s peripheral nervous system.

“If sufficient peripheral nerves fire, then the body shuts down to further stimulus, producing the so-called stun effect,” an abstract states.

But, it concludes,

“the ranges at which this can be done are only a few meters.”

Nonetheless, government laboratories and private contractors are pursuing numerous similar programs. A 1996 Air Force Scientific Advisory Board report on future weapons, for instance, includes a classified section on a radio frequency or “RF Gunship.”

Other military documents confirm that radio-frequency antipersonnel weapons programs are underway. And the Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratory at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas is heavily engaged in such research.

According to budget documents, the lab intends to spend more than $110 million over the next six years,

“to exploit less-than-lethal biological effects of electromagnetic radiation for Air Force security, peacekeeping, and war-fighting operations.”

Low-frequency sleep

From 1980 to 1983, a man named Eldon Byrd ran the Marine Corps Non-lethal Electromagnetic Weapons project. He conducted most of his research at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) in Bethesda, Md.

“We were looking at electrical activity in the brain and how to influence it,” he says.

Dr. Eldon ByrdByrd, a specialist in medical engineering and bio-effects, funded small research projects, including a paper on vortex weapons by Obolensky. He conducted experiments on animals – and even on himself – to see if brain waves would move into sync with waves impinging on them from the outside.

By using very low frequency electromagnetic radiation – the waves way below radio frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum – he found he could induce the brain to release behavior-regulating chemicals.

“We could put animals into a stupor,” he says, by hitting them with these frequencies. “We got chick brains – in vitro – to dump 80 percent of the natural opioids in their brains,” Byrd says.

He even ran a small project that used magnetic fields to cause certain brain cells in rats to release histamine. In humans, this would cause instant flulike symptoms and produce nausea.

“The effects were nonlethal and reversible. You could disable a person temporarily,” Byrd hypothesizes. “Like a stun gun.”

Because it worked, he suspects that the program “went black.” Other scientists tell similar tales of research on electromagnetic radiation turning top secret once successful results were achieved. There are clues that such work is continuing. In 1995, the annual meeting of four-star U.S. Air Force generals – called CORONA – reviewed more than 1,000 potential projects.

effects_of_sleep_deprivation-svgOne was called “Put the Enemy to Sleep/Keep the Enemy From Sleeping.” It called for exploring “acoustics,” “microwaves,” and “brain-wave manipulation” to alter sleep patterns.

It was one of only three projects approved for initial investigation.


Direct contact

As the military continues its search for nonlethal weapons, one device that works on contact has already hit the streets. It is called the “Pulse Wave Myotron.” A sales video shows it in action.

A big, thuggish-looking “criminal” approaches a well-dressed woman. As he tries to choke her, she touches him with a white device about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

He falls to the floor in a fetal position, seemingly paralyzed but with eyes open, and he does not recover for minutes.

“Contact with the Myotron,” says the narrator, “feels like millions of tiny needles are sent racing through the body. This is a result of scrambling the signals from the motor cortex region of the brain,” he says. “It is horrible,” says William Gunby, CEO of the company that developed the Myotron. “It is no toy.”

The Myotron overrides voluntary – but not involuntary – muscle movements, so the victim’s vital functions are maintained. Sales are targeted at women, but law enforcement officers and agencies – including, but not limited to, the Arizona state police and bailiffs with the New York Supreme Court – have purchased the device, Gunby says.

A special model built for law enforcement, called the Black Widow, is being tested by the FBI, he says.

“I hope they don’t order a lot soon,” he adds. “The Russian government just ordered 100,000 of them, and I need to replenish my stock.”

The U.S. military also has shown interest in the Myotron Pulse Wave

“About the time of the gulf war, I got calls from people in the military,” recalls Gunby. “They asked me about bonding the Myotron’s pulse wave to a laser beam so that everyone in the path of the laser would collapse.”

Gunby said he was warned to keep quiet.

“I was told that these calls were totally confidential,” he says, “and that they would completely deny it if I ever mentioned it.”

Some say such secrecy is necessary in new-weapons development. But others think it is a mistake.

“Because the programs are secret, and the technology is unconventional,” says William Arkin of Human Rights Watch Arms Project, “the military has not done any of the things to determine if the money is being well spent or the programs are a good idea.”


Light beams affect mind and body

Lasers emit a high-intensity light, which can force an individual to turn away or cause blinding.

Those that result in permanent blinding have been banned by international treaty. But dazzling lasers might be used in hostage situations, prison riots, and special operations.

Laser gunDazzling effects Lasers can force the pupil to close, or they can burn the light-sensitive retina or cornea depending on the intensity of the beam.

Laser guns

Lasers have mounted on existing weapons, such as, but not limited to, the M-16 rifle.

  • Grenade-shell laser

  • Clip-on targeting transmitter

  • Cornea Pupil

  • Lens Retina and many more


Arms for crowd control and invisible fencing

Acoustic frequencies are used to guard sensitive facilities, rescue hostages, clear paths for military convoys, disperse crowds, or target individuals.

  • Acoustic frequencies can penetrate buildings

  • Acoustic “gun” mounted on humvee

  • Sonic “speakers”

Acoustic WeaponsAcoustic fencing

An array of acoustic devices can keep people away. The closer they get, the worse they feel. Acoustic effects on the body Sonic frequencies can cause tiny hair cells in the inner ear to vibrate, creating sensations like motion sickness, vertigo, and nausea.

They can also resonate internal organs resulting in pain, spasms, or even death. 


These arms can knock down people or even aircraft

The vortex gun expels a doughnut-shaped shock wave that could knock people down. The gun could also be filled with gases or chemical agents. A vortex ring of pepper spray, for instance, would stun its victims with both a physical blow and a chemical irritant.

  • They may be hand held or vehicle mounted Explosive charge creates vortex in shock tube

  • The vortex ring would travel at hundreds of miles per hour

  • The vortex ring must spin at Mach 1 or faster to create shock wave

  • Shock wave hits body

  • They also contain chemical agents such as pepper spray

Vortex technology

The vortex gun fires a doughnut-shaped wave with a powerful center. Lab tests show vortexes can break wooden boards across a room. When they strike a person, the effect is like being hit with a heavy blanket.


microwave weaponsA “tunable” weapon that can discomfort or cook the enemy
As antipersonnel weapons, microwaves could be used as “barriers,” causing pain or burns to those who enter their path. Phaser-like microwave “stun guns” have also been tested

Research is classified. 

  • Vehicle-mounted microwave gun Microwave “barrier” BZZZZZZT!!! Disturbs brainwaves

  • Affects heart rate

  • Causes heat, burns, fevers

  • Seizures or stun effects Impairs motor function

Microwave effects on the body

Microwaves have a wide range of biological consequences. A heating effect is produced by excitation of water molecules.

Army experiments with animals in non-weapons programs show that microwave exposure can lead to memory impairment, cardiac arrest, a “stun” effect, and evoked body movements.

Active Denial System

The Active Denial System (ADS) is a non-lethal, directed-energy weapon developed by the U.S. military, designed for area denial, perimeter security and crowd control.  Informally, the weapon is also called the heat ray since it works by heating the surface of targets, such as the skin of targeted human subjects. Raytheon is currently marketing a reduced-range version of this technology.

Active_Denial_System_HumveeOn August 20, 2010, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department announced its intent to use this technology on prisoners in the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles, stating its intent to use it in “operational evaluation” in situations such as breaking up prisoner fights. The ADS is currently only a vehicle-mounted weapon, though U.S. Marines and police are both working on portable versions. ADS was developed under the sponsorship of the DoD Non-Lethal Weapons Program with the Air Force Research Laboratory as the lead agency. There are reports that Russia and China are developing their own versions of the Active Denial System.

V2K (Voice to Skull)

US Air Force has experimented with microwaves that create sounds in people’s head (which they’ve called a possible psychological warfare tool), and American Technologies can “beam” sounds to specific targets with their patented HyperSound.  Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is jumping on the bandwagon with their new “Sonic Projector” program.

Oleoresin Capsicum Aerosol


Mind Justice – Nonlethal Weapons – A Global Issue

“Psychotronics” and “Silent Sound”

Control Mental


The Psychic Universe

Wonder Weapons

Microwave auditory effect

List of laser applications

Non-consensual human experimentation

Active Denial System

Microwave Technology And Its Use Against Humanity

V2K, Voice to Skull and Silent Sound Weapons

A Voice Only You Can Hear: DARPA’s Sonic Projector

Directed Energy Bioeffects Division – Wright-Patterson Air …

Artificial Telepathy

Judge Quashes $650M Government Mind Control Lawsuit …

Sex, Lies and fMRI—Gender Differences in Neural Basis of Deception


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brainsexDeception has always been a part of human communication as it helps to promote self-presentation. Although both men and women are equally prone to try to manage their appearance, their strategies, motivation and eagerness may be different. Here, we asked if lying could be influenced by gender on both the behavioral and neural levels. To test whether the hypothesized gender differences in brain activity related to deceptive responses were caused by differential socialization in men and women, we administered the Gender Identity Inventory probing the participants’ subjective social sex role. In an Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) session, participants were instructed either to lie or to tell the truth while answering a questionnaire focusing on general and personal information. Only for personal information, we found differences in neural responses during instructed deception in men and women. The women vs. men direct contrast revealed no significant differences in areas of activation, but men showed higher BOLD signal compared to women in the left middle frontal middle frontal gyrus (MFG). Moreover, this effect remained unchanged when self-reported psychological gender was controlled for. Thus, our study showed that gender differences in the neural processes engaged during falsifying personal information might be independent from socialization.

In The Supreme Court of the United States You Have No Rights: Judges Are Above The Law


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Michael L. Kathrein, Petitioner v. Brigid M. McGrath, et alWHY THIS CASE MATTERS SO MUCH  –  TO SO MANY

Imagine one day you or someone you love, find yourself wrapped up in some unexpected litigation, whether civil or criminal. (Statistically speaking, everyone in America will, at some time in their life, be a party in a lawsuit.)

A little background.

Michael L. Kathrein truly believed courtrooms were places where judges listened to the facts carefully and decided cases honestly.

Then he got the lesson of his life.

A judge in his case could, and did, cheat. Opposing counsels could, and did, cheat. And once they coordinated their cheating, no fact, law or procedure could save him. He was set up to lose. (see Title 18 U. S. C. § 242 provides that judges are liable for criminal acts committed under “color of law.”)

When someone commits a crime against you, the prosecutor and judge are supposed to work together to help. Suppose for a moment that the person who breaks the law and violates your rights is the judge or the prosecutor? Where can you turn for help? Certainly not to the judge or prosecutor. The instant you complain to either one about the other, you become their common enemy. They will do everything in their power to bury you and your complaint, whether legal or illegal.

That scenario is the heart of Mr. Kathrein’s (pronounced Kath’-rine) Petition to the Supreme Court – see Petition for Writ, second half of this booklet. Kathrein is not a lawyer. He is an ordinary citizen trying to protect himself and his family.

When you think of a “corrupt” judge, you may think of one who trades rulings for cash. This sort of corruption is not rare. You must appreciate however, that corruption may take subtle but equally destructive forms.

Theoretically, judges and prosecutors are no better than or different from any other people. They are certainly not above the law…or are they?

Put yourself into Kathrein’s situation for a minute.
Imagine you are in the middle of an ordinary legal claim arising from a personal injury, contract dispute, bankruptcy or divorce. If your opponent’s case is weak, an unspoken doctrine that insiders know as “reasonable dishonesty” comes into play. An unethical opposing counsel will introduce inflammatory or prejudicial material against you that has nothing whatsoever to do with the case. They do this for the singular purpose of prejudicing the judge. A judge will believe a prosecutor before he believes a stranger, especially if that stranger is a non-lawyer. This tactic can be spectacularly effective.

Among other things, a dishonest judge can ignore evidence, twist rules and procedure, obstruct the record, retaliate, manufacture facts or ignore others, allow infirm claims or dismiss valid ones, deny admission of evidence prejudicial to the favored party, suborn perjury, mischaracterize pleadings, engage in ex parte communication and misapply the law.

When he or she does these things intentionally, (motivation is a separate issue) he commits a crime. Petty or grand, the acts are still crimes. It takes surprisingly little to “steer” a case.

gavelAfter the American Revolution, our Constitution was conceived and adopted as the supposed mechanical foundation of our government. For ordinary citizens, the independent grand jury was the only tool of salvation from judicial corruption. Without this critical tool of redress, American civil rights exist only at the will of a judge. That tool (unfettered access to a grand jury) has been taken away.

Judges simply snatched it from us. They did it by enacting “judicial legislation,” i.e., by “ruling” that private citizens had no right of access to the grand jury. They took the grand jury from us and they gave it to themselves, and they use their “gatekeeping” power to protect themselves (from accountability) all the time.

Who decided, what will be the law? Judges did.

Who is supposed to decide, What will be the law? Congress is.

Right under Congress’s nose, the entire judicial branch of our government placed itself out of reach. They eliminated all means to be held accountable to the public for their actions.

Judges are now, above the law.

Federal judges and federal prosecutors routinely block the access common citizens are supposed to have to the federal grand jury.

There is a logical but not legal, reason for this.

If you have ever seen someone hustled through the courthouse cattle chute, you will understand that “equity” and “justice” have little to do with the process. Judges can be determined to make things turn out the way they want them to and naturally, prosecutors are always determined to get convictions. In many ways, equity, justice, facts and law, interfere with the process.

Have you ever stopped to consider that public defenders (the poor man’s lawyer) don’t investigate anything? Public defenders do not have police or detective resources at their disposal…only prosecutors do. Your defense will rely almost entirely upon the evidence the prosecutor decides to “share” with your lawyer. If the prosecutor “forgets” or “loses” evidence that would help your case, or decides to ignore an important lead, he will win and you will lose.

That is not merely misbehavior, that is criminal behavior. The very last thing a prosecutor (or judge) wants is a properly operating, independent grand jury.

The ONLY recourse that remains now, against a corrupt judge, is to respectfully “request” that the judge evaluate himself for honesty.

What criminal wouldn’t desire the power to block an investigation of their own crime?  It is hard to imagine a more fundamental or structural conflict of interest than that.

Grand-JuryHuman nature takes over.

To protect the sanctity of the judiciary, otherwise honest judges are driven to shield the misdeeds of their crooked brothers at the bar. Perfectly understandable human nature, yes… but when this behavior is at the expense of the public trust, it is utterly unpardonable. The courtroom is no place for situational ethics.

A judge who is honest 99% of the time is useless to the people. If this judge is your judge, his 1% of corruption equals your 100% of conviction. Your right to a fair trial does not go away just because nine out of ten people did get one. And your right to challenge a man for criminal behavior should not go away just because that man wears a black robe.

Justice cannot tolerate exceptions. Just like a cop, a priest, or a bank teller, if they cross the line once, they have to go. Dishonesty is extremely difficult to detect and prove. External, independent, unbiased inquiry is the only solution.

It wasn’t always like this.

Title 18 U. S. C. § 242 provides that judges are liable for criminal acts committed under “color of law” meaning that judges may be immune from prosecution for civil misbehavior, but they are NOT immune from prosecution for criminal behavior.

The only way to make a judge answer for criminal behavior is to bring criminal charges against him. The ultimate irony here is that the only way to bring criminal charges against a bad judge is to ask another judge for permission to pursue the bad judge. As noted above, that will never happen.

As long as the subjects of the investigation (judges) are the gatekeepers of the investigation, there will be no investigation. Therefore, judges have rendered Title 18 U. S. C. § 242 unenforceable.

judicial misconductjudgesabovethelaw com 2014-12-11 19-42-24IfbKathrein’s lfight to bring evidence of judicial misbehavior directly to a grand jury, then all Americans who are victims of § 242 crimes are denied their civil rights. It will become impossible to get a complaint against a judge, past a judge.

This is why his complaint matters so much to so many… because you never know if the judge on your case is going to do his job.

If he decides to steer the proceedings against you, you will wrongly lose your property, your liberty and perhaps your life. You MUST have a way to protect yourself.

Read Kathrein’slBooklet to understand how this barricade affects all of us…in ways you would never suspect.

Call your Congressman, TODAY.

Tell them, to tell the Supreme Court, to answer these question.


Does an American citizen have a Constitutional right to petition the federal grand jury to investigate crimes committed against him?
Does an American citizen have a statutory right to petition the federal grand jury to investigate crimes committed against him?
Do members of the executive or judicial branches of government have the authority to block access to the grand jury?

Should judges be the gatekeepers of inquiry into allegations of judicial misconduct?

Should judges be the gatekeepers of inquiry
into allegations of judicial misconduct?


Michael L. Kathrein, Petitioner v. Brigid M. McGrath, et al.

Docket for 05-1431 – Supreme Court

Brief summary of the case.

Petition for Writ of Certiorari

View all documents, including the Writ of Certiorari.

In The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth – pdfoke …

18 U.S.C. 242 – Legal Information Institute – Cornell University

Judges are not above the law.

Grand jury legal definition of Grand jury – Legal Dictionary

Judge banned from bench due to online comments

The Independent Grand Jury That Wasn’t: The Ferguson Grand Jury’s Openness Was a Farce

Judiciary reform – Stripers Online

Statutes – Department of Justice

Confidentiality in Settlement Agreements Is Bad for Clients .

The Grand Juries Should Be Abolished


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Secrecy in grand jury proceedings was intended to protect the reputations of the unindicted.

The secrecy, lack of oversight, and disregard for the rules of evidence do not serve justice.

Grand juries originated in 12th-century England to prosecute criminals; in the 20th century, England abolished them. Other members of the former British Empire—Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, and Canada—have done the same, but not the United States. As demonstrated in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, today’s state criminal grand juries serve no useful purpose and make a mockery of justice; they should be abolished. There is nothing “grand” about grand juries.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1791, includes a grand jury clause that reads, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.” All federal capital crimes and federal crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than one year must therefore be presented to a federal grand jury, unless the accused waives this right. The federal grand jury does not determine whether the accused is guilty; rather, it decides if there is “probable cause” to believe that the accused has committed a crime. By codifying the grand jury in the Fifth Amendment, the framers [supposedly] intended to protect peopleagainst hasty, malicious and oppressive prosecution.” On the state level, things are different.

kangarooIn state courts, judges preside over probable cause hearings called preliminary examinations. These “prelims” (an event that precedes or prepares for another, in particular) are open to the public, and they are adversarial. Witnesses are questioned and cross-examined by prosecutors and defense attorneys, all of whom must abide by the rules of evidence.

About half of the states have both prelims and criminal grand juries. In these states, it is in the sole discretion of prosecutors whether to hold prelims or to convene grand juries. Unlike prelims, criminal grand jury proceedings are not adversarial. No judges or defense attorneys participate. The rules of evidence do not apply; there are no cross-examinations of witnesses, and there are no objections. How prosecutors explain the law to the jurors and what prosecutors say about the evidence are subject to no oversight. And the proceedings are shrouded in secrecy.

In high-profile, controversial cases, where officers use lethal force, prosecutors face a dilemma. If they don’t file charges against officers, they risk the wrath of the community; if they do file charges, they risk the wrath of the police and their powerful unions. By opting for secret grand jury proceedings, prosecutors pass the buck, using grand jurors as pawns for political cover. The Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases are examples of how prosecutors manipulate the grand jury process.

The final question was whether there was anything else that Wilson wanted the jurors to know. He did.

In the Michael Brown case, an assistant prosecutor gave an instruction to the jurors about the law on an officer’s reasonable use of force. However, in 1985 the U.S. Supreme Court revised this law by placing some limits on the use of force. When officer Darren Wilson testified, the jurors understood his story within the framework of the erroneous, broader definition of the use of force. It was not until weeks later that the prosecutor acknowledged her error; and even then, she failed to explain to the jurors how the current law differed from the pre-1985 version. This egregious error would not have occurred had a judge and defense attorney been in the room.

Darren Wilson

Darren Wilson will not be tried by local prosecutors. (St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

The version of Michael Brown’s shooting that the grand jurors heard was engineered by the prosecutors, who vigorously questioned witnesses when their testimony contradicted Wilson’s story and barely questioned witnesses whose testimony supported the officer’s version. Wilson received especially lenient treatment by the lead prosecutor. The final question he asked was whether there was anything else that Wilson wanted the jurors to know. He did:

One of the things you guys haven’t asked that has been asked of me in other interviews is, was he a threat, was Michael Brown a threat when he was running away. People asked why would you chase him if he was running away now. I had already called for assistance. If someone arrives and sees him running, another officer and goes around the back half of the apartment complexes and tries to stop him, what would stop him from doing what he just did to me to him or worse … he still posed a threat, not only to me, to anybody else that confronted him.

There was no defense attorney to question Wilson’s self-serving statement to the jurors.

The prosecutor improperly asked Wilson leading questions that suggested the answers the prosecutor wanted. For example, he asked the officer, “So, you weren’t really geared to handle that call?” And: “So nobody heard you say ‘shots fired’ to your knowledge?” And: “In your mind, him grabbing the gun is what made the difference where you felt you had to use a weapon to stop him?” At one point, the prosecutor allowed Wilson to give an uninterrupted 1,889-word narrative about the shooting.

eric-garner-chokeholdAll that we know about the Eric Garner grand jury proceeding is that a majority of the grand jurors refused to indict the officer. We will never know why there was no indictment because what the prosecutors said, how they said it, what evidence they presented, and what they asked the witnesses will forever remain secret, unless the transcript is opened to the public by court order.

Secrecy in grand jury proceedings was intended to protect the reputations of the unindicted, individuals accused of crimes who grand jurors determined should not stand trial. The entire world knew the names of the unindicted officers in the Garner and Brown cases. Grand jury secrecy did nothing to protect their reputations.

By convening grand juries, the prosecutors in Missouri and New York ensured that there would be no justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Sadly, these two men are gone. But if we abolish criminal grand juries, at least their deaths will not have been in vain.


The Independent Grand Jury That Wasn’t: The Ferguson Grand Jury’s Openness Was a Farce

Grand Juries – Slate

Preliminary Hearings – Nolo.com

Glossary of Legal Terms — Judicial Education Center

Police Use of Excessive Force – Department of Justice

Ferguson documents released

It would have been very simple to indict Darren Wilson and …

Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual … – ACLU

Is it legal for the police to shoot an unarmed, surrendered …

Teaching 4th Amendment Based Use-of-Force – AELE’s …

After 2 years on the county grand jury, I’m done

Prosecutor Bob McCulloch May Face Ethics Complaints For …

Ending Grand Jury Secrecy for Cases Like Eric Garner

The Temple of Karnak – American Traditions Magazine

The Independent Grand Jury That Wasn’t: The Ferguson Grand Jury’s Openness Was a Farce


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The Ferguson prosecutor’s bizarre, self-justifying press conference revealed his own influence.

Robert McCulloch

Rather than take the podium to announce the grand jury decision, and then go on to explain the process and answer questions, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch launched into a lengthy disquisition on the evidence.

It was a big night for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch. Stepping to the lectern, with the eyes of the country fixed firmly on Ferguson, McCulloch used his moment in the spotlight to deliver an odd, extended ramble before finally declaring that no charges would be filed against police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. As we think about the subsequent outrage, feast on images of the looting and fires, and pore over the damage assessments and arrest counts, it is worth taking a moment to talk about the road to this ruinous place and the ways in which McCulloch’s decisions exacerbated the problem.

Make no mistake about it—police shootings are complicated cases to investigate, and even harder ones to prosecute. Add a potent “racial dimension” to the mix and there is almost no way to satisfy the profoundly divergent constituencies with an interest in the case. And there are few things elected officials like McCulloch enjoy less than being forced to decide issues that will alienate voters.

So McCulloch did something sneaky. He decided to foist the responsibility for an inevitably unpopular decision onto the members of the grand jury. By letting them make the ultimate decision, McCulloch hoped that he would be absolved of the responsibility for either prosecuting a cop or freeing a man many saw as a murderer.

He did what prosecutors have always done: present his case to the grand jury and place his thumb squarely on the scale.

But in order to do this, McCullough first needed to sell the notion that the grand jury was an independent body. And while there is some historical basis for this claim, in modern America, the grand jury is by no means independent. Rather, it is completely controlled by and ultimately loyal to the prosecutors who submit cases to it. This reality is sufficiently well-known that McCulloch realized that merely claiming that the grand jury would be independent wouldn’t turn the trick. His solution: pledging to change the very nature of how the grand jury works by fundamentally altering its mechanics.

McCullough set out to show that in the Wilson case the grand jury was indeed an independent body and that McCulloch was, rather than its overseer, merely its mouthpiece. Rather than frame the case and present carefully curated evidence designed to obtain the result the prosecution sought, McCulloch insisted that the grand jury presentation in the Wilson case would be “open.” That is, the prosecutors would present all the evidence, for every side, and would take no stand, nor play any role in the evaluation of that evidence.

It was, in a way, a brilliant move—McCulloch wrapped himself in a profound loyalty to one of the few unimpeachable virtues in politics: transparency. Indeed, by opening up the process and potentially bringing democracy to one of the dark autocratic corners of the criminal justice system, McCulloch might have been able to do a good thing while at the same time actually managing to shirk responsibility for the very decision he wanted to avoid making. And he might have pulled it off, but for the bizarre self-justifying ramble that was his press conference.

As McCulloch stood in what appeared to be a courtroom—a place where protracted throat clearing and extensive preamble is commonplace—he put the lie to the entire process. Rather than take the podium, announce the decision, and then go on to explain the process and answer questions, McCulloch launched into a lengthy disquisition on the evidence, detailing the physical evidence and the ways in which it both discredited many of the witnesses who claimed to have seen what happened and supported the version of events that had a terrified officer firing in self-defense while being attacked in his car. Over the course of almost 20 minutes, McCulloch didn’t merely fail to get to the question on everyone’s mind, he implicitly demonstrated the very thing he’d spent weeks denying—that he had everything to do with the decision.

What became clear in his rambling presentation was that, just like in every other case, McCulloch had used his role as “legal adviser” to the grand jury to structure evidence and frame the presentation in such a way as to yield the very conclusion suspicious residents of Ferguson always feared. Robert McCulloch hadn’t changed the nature of the grand jury process after all. He hadn’t ceded autonomy to an independent body, he’d done what prosecutors have always done: presented his case to the grand jury, and placed his thumb squarely on the scale. And that may be why, before he even finished the Q&A, windows were smashed, cars were set ablaze, and tear gas began to waft over Ferguson.

There is no question that McCulloch is right when he says that none of us know the evidence the way the grand jury does. And it may well be that the decision not to indict Wilson was “legally proper.” But what’s improper about what happened was peddling the idea of grand jury independence as a cover for political cowardice. So despite what McCulloch might want, the rage that is spilling over in Ferguson shouldn’t be focused on the grand jury, but rather on the corrupting role of a governmental power that has so neutered the traditional function of grand juries that even when they are supposedly open they cannot truly escape the long shadow of prosecutorial influence.





Shooting of Michael Brown

Michael Brown case: New grand jury documents released

Slate’s coverage of Ferguson, Missouri

Michael Brown Death: Turmoil, Tear Gas and a No-Fly…

Volokh Conspiracy: The overlooked audiotape of the Michael Brown shooting

Darren Wilson on Ferguson: Sorry but conscience clear -…

Grand Juries Should Be Abolished – Slate

DARPA Aims to Rebuild Brains


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DARPA 1On April 2, 2013, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative (BRAIN is actually an an acronym for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies - too cute),  a 100 million dollar investment (later increased) by 10 groups, with the 3 main US government groups being NSF, NIH, and DARPA. DARPA would be responsible for 50 million of the 100 million to be invested. Private sector partners, such as the Allen Institute for Brain Science, HHMI, Kavli Institute, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, are also involved.

DARPA? That acronym stands for  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research wing of the Department of Defense. This is their mission: Creating breakthrough technologies for national security. As it says on the DARPA website, you can read “Better Understanding of Human Brain Supports National Security: DARPA plans $50 million in 2014 investments to increase understanding of brain function and create new capabilities.”

New capabilities for what? It is pretty clear from DAPRA’s past exploits and present plans that its mission contradicts the mission of most scientific organizations- to do good science for mankind. Not for some, who happen to be Americans. Not for war to protect US “interests.”

darpa-missionJonathan D. Moreno has examined this intersection of neuroscience and DARPA in his 2006 book, Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense, and the 2012 update, Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century.

It is well worth reading for all scientists, but should be mandatory for neuroscientists, and certainly for the ones involved in this initiative. Moreno gives lists of DARPA research proposals that read like the CIA want ads. Brain control? Better warriors who can stay awake and fight without pain? Reading the minds of your enemy? Technology to predict the behavior of individuals and groups?  Moreno’s pragmatic conclusion- that basic scientists and the military should work together in order to maintain openness and restrict the possible dastardly applications of DARPA’s brain research. Could there be trickle down benefits- that is, innovation for the public that may merge from a DARPA-funded discovery- are worth it? Moreno does point out the ethical dangers of this kind of work, and encourages scientists to consider the end result of their research.

mapping the mindNature Blogs reporter Vivien Marx, and the response of attendees at the 2013 Society for Neuroscience in San Diego to DARPA’s inclusion in the BRAIN initiative show a rather scary pragmatism. In an article reporting on a town hall meeting at the Neuroscience meeting, “Brain initiatives galore, smiles aplenty,” Marx describes with enthusiasm the different funding model of DARPA (DARPA uses contracts rather than grants, allowing it to be more nimble), and seems fine with quoting Colonel Geoffrey Ling of DARPA in saying, “Yes, we build guns and bombs, that is true.” Perhaps there was more disagreement with DARPA at the meeting than indicated.

But why would scientists think it is okay to be partners with an agency whose mission is contrary to peace and health?

Why is it okay for basic research funds to be channeled through DARPA instead of through NSF or NIH? Why on earth should the Department of Defense be dictating what research is done?

DARPA says it is committed to sharing results- does anyone really think that is going to happen?

People seem to be most enthusiastic about DARPA’s intent to “develop solutions to prevent, treat, or even reverse the harmful effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Traumatic Brain Injury in returning war veterans.” Ah, remember tobacco companies and their interest in health issues? Stop making cigarettes. Stop sending kids to wars!

PTSDPanelists: PTSD Can’t Be Cured, Only Managed | Military

PTSD cannot be cured: it is a physiological response to trauma, and the trauma of killing is overwhelming. Gary Marcus, professor of psychology at New York University in a recent NY Times  op-ed, pointed out that there is little discussion of what we will/should do with the information collected from the BRAIN initiative. Yes, we hope results will go towards understanding the brain and helping those with mental illness and brain injury. Yes, it is complicated. But perhaps one of the reasons is that DARPA’s mission wouldn’t fit well in with what most people want from an initiative this expansive and expensive. Telling the public that their money will be put to the Department of Defense’s mind control experiments might not be as happily accepted as it is by the scientists who are part of the initiative.

The potential to understand ourselves better, to prevent and heal mental illness and brain injury for all people, is immense. The Department of Defense, DARPA and the BRAIN initiative should be rethinking what happens when they send our kids off to illegal, unjustifiable wars.



John Horgan May 22, 2013. Crosscheck (Scientific American blog)   Why you should care about Pentagon funding of Obama’s BRAIN initiative.

Peter Freed, M.D. April 3, 2013. Eisenhower’s ghost and Obama’s brain.  Neuroself.

Peter Freed, M.D.  May 23, 2013.  Neuroself.   DARPA follow up: Where the scientific-military-industrial complex is headed. 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Brain Research through Advancing Innovative …

BRAIN Initiative | The White House

Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century

Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense

The Shock of War- page 3 | History | Smithsonian

Hacking the Brain with Neuropsychological Treatment …

DARPA | Scientists as citizens

BRAIN 2025 – Brain Research through Advancing …

UC San Diego Creates Center for Brain Activity Mapping

CISE FY2012 Request to Congress – NSF

Neuropsychological Treatment Services: Neuropsychology

DARPA Aims to Rebuild Brains – Science

Society for Neuroscience in San Diego and the Big Brain Projects in the EU and US


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Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego clocked record attendance.

The brain is hot!

Despite dismay about the recent 16-day US government shutdown, the impact of automatic budget cuts–the sequester–taking effect in light of federal budget disagreements in Washington, and the general economic malaise, there is palpable excitement. New large-scale initiatives are getting underway around the world to develop technologies to empower neuroscientists.

This year’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in San Diego that has just ended, clocked a record attendance of over 30,000 attendees, noted society president Larry Swanson to attendees with a broad smile in one of his conference announcements. “It is an inspirational time to be a neuroscientist,” he said, with the field drawing attention, for example, across the European Union and in the White House. In a town hall meeting for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, there was no lack of critical comments and suggestions of aspects to include in BRAIN. But smiles stayed plentiful as funders explained their plans.

The fact that the US president chose neuroscience as his multi-year, signature project is something “we should all be pretty excited about,” says Tom Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health. In addition to projects in the US, such as BRAIN Initiative and the EU’s Human Brain Project, large neuroscience projects are just emerging in Australia, China, Japan and Israel. “This is beginning to feel like a global movement,” he says. And projects are unfurling in the private sector, too.

Reconstructed fiber tracts that run through the mid-sagittal pla

A reconstruction of nerve fibers running through the human brain.

The new tools, says Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, will help neuroscientists do their work “bigger, better, faster” and expand the research strides made in recent years.

Much remains to be done. Compared to what is known about the kidney or heart, very little is known about the brain, says Insel. Adding to the neurological diseases, he noted, are the “invisible wounds of war” such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Tools to help diagnose these illnesses are urgently needed.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse says that the BRAIN initiative stands to “act like a catalyst” in ways not unlike the decoding of the human genome and its successive “avalanche of discovery.”

Besides attending SfN’s hundreds of sessions and 17,000 posters, scientists had the chance to get up close and personal with representatives from the funding agencies and to hear about and discuss the new opportunities. Here is a snapshot of some of the announcements.

European Union

As Daniel Pasini from the European Commission’s programme on future and emerging technologies explained, the 10-year European Human Brain Project has invited the scientific community to present “grand ideas” for a massive effort to computationally reconstruct the human brain using supercomputers.

The model will help to study brain-related diseases, which are a major health challenge, an economic and social burden, and to pool data and expertise more effectively and translate results for treatments.

The project, which took three years of planning, involves over 250 scientists across Europe in 135 research groups in 22 countries, including groups in the US and Asia. The program began officially in October and has a budget of $1.6 billion. Half of the money will come from the EU the other will come from national funding sources, Pasini says. The first phase is slated to last 30 months and is funded with $100 million.

Six platforms are to be developed including, for example, the neuroinformatic platform as a single point of access to all neuroscience and clinical data along with software tools. The other platforms involve brain simulation, high performance computing, medical informatics, neuromorphic projects and neurorobotics. The idea is to keep improving the model as new data become available. All tools and data are set to be made available to the global scientific community. The plan is to create the ‘CERN for brain research.’ Not unlike a telescope facility or a super-collider, scientists will be able to perform experiments and use this platform to help continue to expand the model.

The Brain Observatory at UC San Diego is running ‘Deconstructing Henry’ an examination of the Brain of patient H.M.

The Brain Observatory at UC San Diego is running ‘Deconstructing Henry’ an examination of the Brain of patient H.M.

 US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

“Yes, we build guns and bombs, that is true,” says Colonel Geoffrey Ling of DARPA more generally. He is a neurologist who also served in Afghanistan and Iraq and currently deputy director of DARPA’s division responsible for defense sciences, which does not build bombs and guns. He and many other neuroscientists want to cure diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia to post traumatic stress disorder to traumatic brain injury. DARPA is indeed “zeroed in” on the problems facing soldiers returning from the battlefield.

Speaking directly to fellow panelists from NIH, he says: “I wish they would double the budget yet again for you guys,” which was greeted by SfN attendees with vigorous applause.

Two DARPA solicitations for proposals are now open, offering “real money,” as Ling says, collecting projects that relate to memory dysfunction and psychiatric disorders. More solicitations are “in the works,” he says. “It’s not for us to decide what you’re going to build,” he says, highlighting the importance of imagination and taking a diversity of approaches.

The funding model at DARPA is shaped by use cases to assure that what is developed serves his constituency, the servicemen and women.

Multidisciplinary research, for example, is not achieved with the collaboration of a cellular neuroscientist, a neurophysiologist, and a neurologist. Rather, for DARPA interdisciplinary efforts can be a team comprised of a mathematician, a physicist and “a crazy guy in his backyard putting together some Rube Goldberg thing,” says Ling.

Unlike NIH, DARPA issues no grants but rather contracts, which are “deliverables-driven,” and may seem more rigid that NIH. But he sees strength in the synergy of the different funding approaches by NSF, NIH and DARPA. DARPA is committed to this project over the next decade, says Ling.

Data-sharing provisions are built into each contract, which DARPA takes “extremely seriously,” and breach of contracts are pursued. The DARPA solicitations issued are just the beginning, he says.

The first report of the BRAIN initiative’s working group, says Landis, offers a guide for how the project could begin to move forward in its first year. The working group, is the advisory committee to the NIH director is chaired by Rockefeller University’s Cornelia Bargmann and Stanford University’s Bill Newsome. Landis says excitement is high in the Obama administration and across NIH. The hope is that this enthusiasm would be reflected in the budget allocations.

The NIH first year funding is “a down payment,” she says.

Insel says that the NIH’s $40 million to be allocated in 2014 is drawn from the following sources:

  • $10 million are coming from the NIH Director’s discretionary fund
  • $10 million are from the NIH Blueprint Neuroscience a program to enhance collaboration across NIH institutes
  • $20 million are split among four NIH agencies: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)

These monies were previously slated for initiatives of the individual institutes’ choice. As Landis explains, these four agencies agreed that the BRAIN Initiative was the one they selected for fund allocation. She says she and her colleagues are “optimistic” that the excitement, opportunities and promise of the BRAIN initiative will power the budgets of the future. Throughout sessions at SfN, she, Insel and others were quick to squelch fears that BRAIN would draw funding away from investigator-driven grants.

The first NIH Requests for Applications (RFAs) are currently begin hashed out with cross-communication happening across NIH, NSF and DARPA, says Insel.

All BRAIN Initiative projects are peer-reviewed and perhaps unlike the more classic grants, they will have milestones and there will be “expectations of data-sharing.” “That’s going to be baked into everything we do in this project,” says Insel. Evaluations will accompany the projects that are funded.

A number of awards through cooperative agreements, which are part way between a contract with deliverables and R01s, says Landis. These agreements are accompanied by milestones. If researchers do not share data and that provision is in their notice of grant award “there can be consequences,” she says.

visual_learn_fNational Science Foundation (NSF)
Cora Marrett, the acting director of the NSF says her agency will “very energetically” support the BRAIN Initiative. She says that funders need to take “the long view” to let the forces of scientific discovery play out with a long-term commitment. “I’m feeling very optimistic, too, about what the long-run prospects for additional resources will look like.”

Evidence of NSF’s engagement with neuroscience in general can be seen in the recent $25 million grant to fund the Center for Brains, Mind and Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The intent is to blend computer science, math, robotics, neuroscience and cognitive science.

The BRAIN Initiative will require intense collaboration across disciplines and scales, she says. Neuroscience has been more devoted to small science, she says, the work of individual principal investigators and small lab groups. Marrett agrees with Alan Leshner, the executive publisher of Science, that neuroscience’s strides will benefit from a change in the culture toward larger-scale, interdisciplinary efforts.

At the same time, this shift will occur without prescriptions that all work needs to be on “the huge scale” of a particle accelerator, for example. Indeed neuroscientists will need to integrate findings across the scales of their research and link physiology, biophysical and genetic data with cognitive and behavioral findings (see Leshner Editorial in Science).

The projects will require data management plans of the grantees, she says, to explain how they will handle data-sharing, which is to the benefit of the entire enterprise.





Over $300 Million in Support of the President’s BRAIN Initiative

BRAIN INITIATIVEDARPA is supporting current programs and is planning new investments in support of the BRAIN Initiative, with the ultimate goal of relieving and rehabilitating warfighters and civilians suffering from traumatic injury and neuro-psychiatric illness: DARPA has launched a number of major efforts to develop breakthrough neurotechnologies that are deepening scientists’ understanding of brain function and are supporting the development of novel therapeutic strategies. As part of this effort, DARPA is developing and assessing revolutionary electronic interfaces to the brain, as well as to the peripheral nervous system, that have the potential to provide high-resolution insights into neural circuits, lower the need for and impacts of invasive surgery, and improve neurocognitive and medical outcomes for patients with some of the most challenging disorders of the nervous system. Efforts currently underway at DARPA include the following programs:

* Neuro-Function, Activity, Structure, and Technology (NeuroFAST), which seeks to decode the behavior and neural activity of higher-order mammals to create a more complete understanding of neuronal activity and the structure and behavior of neural networks.

* National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in Sept. of this year its first wave of investments totaling $46 million in fiscal year 14 funds to support the goals of the Brain Research through the BRAIN Initiative. More than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries will work to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action. These new tools and this deeper understanding will ultimately catalyze new treatments and cures for devastating brain disorders and diseases that are estimated by the World Health Organization to affect more than one billion people worldwide.
* Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS), which aims to monitor, decode and alleviate symptoms in patients with otherwise intractable psychiatric and neurological diseases.
* Restoring Active Memory (RAM), which is focused on restoring an individual’s ability to form new memories following traumatic brain injury or neurologic disease.
* Hand Proprioception & Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX), which aims to enable improved dexterity and fine motor control and restore the sensation of touch and spatial awareness for prosthetics users.

ElectRx aims to explore neuromodulation of organ functions to help the human body heal itself

DARPA will expand upon these efforts in FY15 with the new ElectRX Program, which aims to develop new, minimally invasive neurotechnologies that, through targeted stimulation of the nervous system, can enhance the body and brain’s ability to heal without surgery. These technologies hold promise to be helpful to service members, veterans, and others for the treatment of a wide range of medical conditions including inflammatory diseases and mental health disorders.

NSF continues its support of the BRAIN Initiative by accelerating fundamental research and the development of new technologies for neuroscience and neuroengineering: Over the past year, NSF has continued its significant investments in core activities focused on accelerating fundamental research and the development of new technologies for neuroscience and neuroengineering. In FY14, NSF funded 35 EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) awards for innovative approaches and neurotechnologies to understand the brain. NSF also funded many more interdisciplinary neuroscience projects that span computing, engineering, and the mathematical, physical, life, social, and behavioral sciences, including support for the Science and Technology Center for Brains, Minds & Machines | MIT School of Science.



Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Brain Research through Advancing Innovative …

BRAIN Initiative | The White House

Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century

Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense

Scientists As Citizens| Activist Scientists

Hacking the Brain with Neuropsychological Treatment …

Brain initiatives galore, smiles aplenty – Nature Blogs

Move Over, Wolverine: DARPA’s Self-healing Implants …

BRAIN 2025 – Brain Research through Advancing …

UC San Diego Creates Center for Brain Activity Mapping

Society for Neuroscience

Neuroscience 2014

Plan for Washington, DC

The Human Brain Project: following CERN’s example

Funding – Brain Research through Advancing Innovative …

Over $300 Million in Support of the President’s BRAIN Initiative

Brain Facts book – BrainFacts.org




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