Wandering Eye: The faked-drug-dog-certification case gets interesting, an algae virus that makes you stupid, and more

The faked-drug-dog-certification case winding through federal court in Baltimore has gotten interesting again, but not due to lawyers arguing over whether the use of fraudulent documents in litigation amounts to a violation of the prosecutors' duty of candor to the court. Instead, assistant U.S. attorney Stefan Cassella has a filed a motion for summary judgment in the forfeiture case, claiming that the person who says $122,640 in cash seized at Baltimore-Washington International Airport is legitimately hers—Samantha Banks, a real-estate investor in Indiana—hasn’t presented a shred of compelling evidence to support her claim. Rather, Cassella argues, "aside from her own self-serving and uncorroborated testimony, much of which is demonstrably false," Banks "has failed to show that she has ever had any interest" in the cash, which was found in luggage her husband, Jerry Lee Banks, was taking on a flight to San Francisco. Having painstakingly investigated the circumstances of Jerry Lee Banks' activities in Baltimore, and his prior travels, Cassella writes that he fits "precisely the profile of a courier carrying money for a drug organization." Whether Cassella's argument overshadows the still-pending issue of the faked drug-dog certification, and results in the government getting to keep the cash, remains to be seen. (Van Smith)


Scientists at Johns Hopkins and the University of Nebraska serendipitously discovered an algae virus that lives in people's throats and apparently makes them stupider. As reported in the Oct. 27 edition of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the virus—never before observed in healthy humans—lives in 43 percent of those the scientists surveyed. "This is a striking example showing that the 'innocuous' microorganisms we carry can affect behavior and cognition," says lead investigator Robert Yolken, M.D., a virologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and director of the Stanley Neurovirology Laboratory at Johns Hopkins. "Many physiological differences between person A and person B are encoded in the set of genes each inherits from parents, yet some of these differences are fueled by the various microorganisms we harbor and the way they interact with our genes." The scientists were looking at the microbial population in the throats of healthy people for an unrelated study when they found the virus, which normally affects species of green algae. Looking further, the team discovered the virus in 40 of the study’s 92 participants. "The group that harbored the virus performed worse overall on a set of tasks to measure the speed and accuracy of visual processing," Hopkins reports. "While their performance was not drastically poorer, it was measurably lower," the researchers say. "For example, people who harbored the virus scored, on average, nearly nine points lower on a test that measured how quickly they could draw a line between sequentially numbered circles on a piece of paper. Viral carriers also scored seven points lower, on average, on tests measuring attention." The scientists found the virus had the same effect on test mice. Infected animals had a harder time finding their way around a maze. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


The best election coverage comes from Slate, where Joshua Keating endeavors to cover events in the U.S. in exactly the same way American reporters cover the events of far-off lands. The piece is spot-on; every sentence stings. But the best one (and oh so relevant both nationally and locally) is: "In this deeply traditional society, where great import is accorded to family ties, powerful clans build patronage networks, and political office is often passed between relatives. Remarkably, one race pits the cousin of a former governor against the daughter of a former senator." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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