Brings back old memories

There was a shooting in Seattle yesterday, at 3rd & Pine, and I said to myself, “I know that place — that’s where I was shot at!” This was around 1978, and I was often catching a late night bus at 3rd & Pike. This one evening, there was an altercation on Pine; a sex worker (I was there so often I recognized many of the ladies working those corners) was screaming angrily at someone in a car, and I could hear it a block away. Then she pulled out a handgun and started firing away.

She didn’t hit the guy, she didn’t even hit the car. The bullets were coming my way — I’d see a flash and hear a little “tch” sound as they struck the sidewalk near me, followed by a faint “pop” from the gun. I scrambled to hide behind a lamp post, thinking this would be a really stupid way to die, as an unintentional target of an angry woman who couldn’t hit a car ten feet away from her. Honestly, though, it was some small caliber pistol, shots were all over the place — one did make a little “pok” sound when it punched through a store window — even if one hit me by chance, it was unlikely to be lethal. I don’t think her target was hit at all, and he just drove away.

So just like the shooting yesterday, in the same place at least. Except this time the shooter was a bit more heavily armed and went on a far more determined shooting spree: one dead, seven injured, including a 9 year old boy.

We can’t change human nature easily — there will always be angry incidents and violent responses, just as there were in 1978 and 2020. What we could control, if we had the will, was the availability of lethal technology. The shooting yesterday was a product of human nature amplified by deadly weapons that had no place on a civilized city street.

Now I’m physically incapable of seeing Richard Jewell, because of all the projectile vomiting

Never forget.

Richard Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 Summer Olympics, who discovered pipe bombs that had been planted on the grounds. They were disarmed, he was hailed as a hero, and then people became suspicious and wondered if he had put them there, to win attention. He was later cleared of the accusation.

He is now the subject of a Clint Eastwood movie, with the tagline, “A hero’s life is shattered by one massive, misplaced rush to judgement when the man who thwarted the 1996 Atlanta bombing was wrongly accused as the main suspect.” It’s a pretty good summary. I have no interest in seeing the movie, however, given Eastwood’s political bias.

Do you have a bucket nearby? You might want to be prepared.

American Patriot has put up a review of the movie. Given AmPat’s reputation, you might expect it to be jingoistic and stupid, and you’d be right.

Don’t rush to click on the link, though. There’s one more detail that you need to brace yourself for.

The review is written by…George Zimmerman. You know, the guy who murdered Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black kid who went to the store to buy candy and was then tracked and shot by vigilante Zimmerman.

You will not be surprised to learn that Zimmerman loved Richard Jewell, because he identifies with Jewell.

This movie hit home. I absolutely identified. Richard and I were both cop wannabes — or so the media told us. We were both gullible. We both believed law enforcement had our best interests at heart. We both believed reporters wanted the truth. We both believed everyone was basically good and then we both realized what fools we had been to believe all that.

As I sat there in the dark, my stomach in knots, I found myself wishing Richard was still alive so I could reach out and hug him and tell him, “Yes, Richard, you are a hero.”

Aww, poor George. He identifies with a guy who was falsely accused, because he thinks he was falsely accused. Unfortunately, the facts are that Jewell didn’t kill anyone, and in fact saved lives, while Zimmerman literally and accurately shot a young black boy (this is not in dispute) for being in his neighborhood; he was acquitted, thanks to Florida’s unjust “stand your ground” law. He has since sued the Martin family for $100 million, been arrested multiple times for domestic violence and disorderly conduct, and has tried to raise money by auctioning off the murder weapon.

He is no Richard Jewell.

I’d say shame on American Patriot for publishing that self-serving drivel, but AmPat has no shame.

Bioethics has teeth

I told you that He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who had been carrying out gene editing on human subjects, was doing bad science and violating lots of ethical restrictions. I was right, obviously, because he was immediately repudiated and arrested by the Chinese government. You might be wondering what happens if you break the rules of bioethics — isn’t it all just an agreement between peers not to meddle in experiments that might cause trouble for each other? Well, now we know: He Jiankui has been tried and sentenced. He’s being fined over $400,000, and is going to prison for three years. Two of his colleagues are also going to jail. They’re also going to get a lifelong ban on doing scientific research with human subjects.

This isn’t just Chinese totalitarianism at work, either. It’s the same in most places.

Robin Lovell-Badge at the Francis Crick Institute in London told the UK Science Media Centre that a prison sentence and fine would also have been the likely penalties if someone had conducted similar work in the UK.

Maybe not everywhere, though. The people who carried out the Tuskegee syphilis study were not punished; the doctors who were paid to tell the public that smoking was safe were not punished; Andrew Wakefield is still roaming free, and is even making movies to spread disinformation; you can lie all you want about climate change. Jiankui seems to have picked the wrong victims, or lacked the corporate backing, to make his violations of human rights ignorable.

P.S. I think a hefty fine and a few years in prison would be the minimal punishment for Wakefield, who is responsible for the deaths of who knows how many children.

Where is Patrick Kessler, and how much was he paid?

Didn’t the NY Times find it suspicious that this is the only photo of Kessler they’ve got?

This guy calling himself Patrick Kessler sure had a brilliant scam. He talked to rich people and institutions and told them that he used to work for Jeffrey Epstein, and had been hired to set up encrypted servers that stored the thousands of hours of secret video recordings Epstein had made of rich, famous people raping young girls at his house, and that he now had the keys to the server and was willing to make them available to lawyers and the media. As proof, he’d show them grainy, porny still photos on his phone and say, “That’s Prince Andrew” or “That’s Alan Dershowitz”, and the gullible lawyers would fall for it. He kept the scam going for months, constantly evading any attempt to get any concrete evidence out of him.

He played off multiple marks. First he’s negotiating with David Boies and John Pottinger, two lawyers who were supposedly representing Epstein’s victims, and then he’d sneak off to the NY Times and tell them he didn’t trust the lawyers and wanted to deal with them. He invented convoluted schemes for transferring files, and would then at the last minute announce, “Oh no, the servers are on fire!” Everyone was dancing to his tune.

Then, the best part is unstated. The NY Times finally reports on this story, and I notice something is missing. Read it yourself, you’ll notice that the con artist, Patrick Kessler, just quietly drops out of the picture as his marks start turning on each other and pointing fingers. Has he been arrested? Has he fled the country? We don’t know. Apparently the reporters don’t care, either, since they just stop mentioning him. I might also ask if Kessler had been paid anything — he strung them along for months, are you saying he kept the con going just to sponge off the lawyer’s expense accounts for dinners and alcohol?

I’m actually impressed. He scammed a couple of high-priced New York lawyers, and he scammed the NY Times, and now he has disappeared and none of his targets will admit that they were stupid and got taken. If this were a crime novel, it would be a page turner. I want Carl Hiaasen to write it, because I think only he could adequately skewer Boies, Pottinger, and the NY Times while laying out the story.

And this is just legal corruption.

Mr. Boies and Mr. Pottinger discussed a plan. They could use the supposed footage in litigation or to try to reach deals with men who appeared in it, with money flowing into a charitable foundation. In encrypted chats with Kessler, Mr. Pottinger referred to a roster of potential targets as the “hot list.” He described hypothetical plans in which the lawyers would pocket up to 40 percent of the settlements and could extract money from wealthy men by flipping from representing victims to representing their alleged abusers.

The possibilities were tantalizing — and extended beyond vindicating victims. Mr. Pottinger saw a chance to supercharge his law practice. For Mr. Boies, there was a shot at redemption, after years of criticism for his work on behalf of Theranos and Harvey Weinstein.

Who is the real con artist here, Kessler or Boies/Pottinger? It seems to me that the lawyers were drooling at the prospect of getting blackmail material they could use as leverage to get rich people to cough up large sums of cash in return for suppressing the evidence, and they got to skim 40% off the top, while the rest would go to the clients they represented, or to charities, to make it look “ethical”. Further, they could get paid by billionaires who aren’t even in the recordings, like the contemptible Sheldon Adelson (at least, I don’t think Epstein would have had an Adelson sex tape, but who knows…). Adelson wanted to influence elections in Israel by buying incriminating videos of politicians he didn’t like.

Mr. Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate in Las Vegas, had founded one of Israel’s largest newspapers, and it was an enthusiastic booster of Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Pottinger wrote that he and Mr. Boies hoped to fly to Nevada to meet with Mr. Adelson to discuss the images.

“Do you believe that adelson has the pull to insure this will hurt his bid for election?” Kessler asked the next morning.

I guess this isn’t illegal? Or it is, but we’re going to quietly sweep it under a filthy rug somewhere?

It’s also weird how, throughout this story, they get all sensational about what men were possibly engaging in sex with underage girls in these photos. “Could that bearded man be…?” or “Is that actually Famous Man having sex…?” and the women are all invisible. No one seems to stop to consider that juicy compromising photo of some guy is also a photo of a victim — a victim who ought to have some rights, rather than being nothing but a pawn in photographic evidence of a crime.

But mainly, I read the entire NY Times story and wondered how bad journalism can get, when they don’t even ask, let alone try to answer, the major questions.

Where is Patrick Kessler, and how much was he paid?

Unbelievable

Over the past week, I’ve watched the 8-part Netflix series, Unbelievable. It’s a truly harrowing account of a serial rapist, and how one of his victims was not only disbelieved, but pressured by the police to recant her story — something to keep in mind when people try to argue that women lie and make false accusations. After seeing it, I learned that it’s based on a true story, and is remarkably faithful to that account, and has been validated by the victim, Marie. If you read that, you can skip the show, and you’ll just miss some excellent performances.

There is one thing in the written account that I didn’t see in the series.

Marie left the state, got a commercial driver’s license and took a job as a long-haul trucker. She married, and in October she and her husband had their second child. She asked that her current location not be disclosed.

Good. If you read her story or watch the series, though, I warn you: the happy ending does not salvage the horrible process.

It never gets less creepy

I never met Jeffrey Epstein, fortunately. My sole link was through Lawrence Krauss, who memorably took me aside way back in 2010 to urge me to ignore the “rumors” going around about Epstein, who was a donor to his Origins program at ASU. He particularly warned me against that scurrilous gossiper, Rebecca Watson, who has since been revealed as a wise prophetess. I just figured this was what high-level people with the job of getting donations do to curry favor with donors, I didn’t actually know much about what Epstein had done. Of course, now I know (and I quickly learned then) that Epstein had pled guilty to soliciting sex from minors back in 2008, and it wasn’t so much “rumor” as “incontestable fact”, and that Watson wasn’t so much a prophetess as she was someone who had her eyes open. As she wrote in 2011:

Jeffrey Epstein is the infamous media mogul who was jailed in 2008 for paying underage prostitutes who said they were recruited by his aides. Some girls were allegedly flown in from Eastern Europe, their visas arranged by his bookkeeper. Epstein only served 13 months in prison thanks to a sweetheart plea agreement which is now being contested by attorneys representing two of the girls, who were 13 and 14 when they were allegedly paid for sex. Both girls are part of a larger group of victims who have won monetary settlements from Epstein in civil cases.

Krauss responded to that with several comments, still ardently defending Epstein, and this quote is particularly damning.

“If anything, the unfortunate period he suffered has caused him to really think about what he wants to do with his money and his time, and support knowledge,” says Krauss. “Jeffrey has surrounded himself with beautiful women and young women but they’re not as young as the ones that were claimed. As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people.” Though colleagues have criticized him over his relationship with Epstein, Krauss insists, “I don’t feel tarnished in any way by my relationship with Jeffrey; I feel raised by it.”

“Unfortunate period.” Jesus. Epstein was paying local schoolgirls to give him naked massages and jerk him off, and who knows what was going on at his orgies. What an uplifting fellow. It was not an “unfortunate period”, as Krauss had to know — the police had a line of children who wanted to testify, had been raking through his garbage for evidence, and had him dead to rights, and then, as Rebecca mentioned, got a slap on the wrist (an 18 month jail sentence, which compared to what he should have gotten, counts as a relatively trivial penalty) in an exceedingly generous plea deal, which is still being contested.

The Miami Herald has published a multi-part investigation into that deal. The corruption just reeks on the page.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.

This is a huge story, and Epstein was monstrous in his crimes — he was a voracious sexual predator, and his favored prey were girls in their early teens. This was all known when Krauss was asking me to avoid discussing his patron.

“This was not a ‘he said, she said’ situation. This was 50-something ‘shes’ and one ‘he’ — and the ‘shes’ all basically told the same story,’’ said retired Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter, who supervised the police probe.

More than a decade later, at a time when Olympic gymnasts and Hollywood actresses have become a catalyst for a cultural reckoning about sexual abuse, Epstein’s victims have all but been forgotten.
The women — now in their late 20s and early 30s — are still fighting for an elusive justice that even the passage of time has not made right.

Like other victims of sexual abuse, they believe they’ve been silenced by a criminal justice system that stubbornly fails to hold Epstein and other wealthy and powerful men accountable.

“Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right,’’ said Courtney Wild, who was 14 when she met Epstein.

Justice dropped the ball on this one. The evidence is so damning that you have to wonder what the hell was wrong with people like Krauss, or his inner circle of enablers, or the rich and famous people like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton who called Epstein a friend. A lot of money was buying a lot of favors and silence.

And, you know, it’s not clear to me what he did to earn so much money that he had a private plane and his very own private island in the Caribbean. He’s a hedge fund manager. He manages other people’s money, and apparently it’s perfectly legal to skim off so much profit that you can basically get paid for diddling little girls, and you can escape prosecution by ratting out other overpaid financial company executives.

It just makes me sick. I don’t even want a second-hand connection to that world.

Anti-immigration paranoia is just another form of racism

I have an intuition that immigrants, contrary to Republican rhetoric, are going to be more law-abiding than those who take their citizenship for granted — I think if I were living in a foreign country, one where I was less confident about my rights, I’d be more cautious about breaking laws. That would be especially true if I were in a country where the police had a reputation for brutality.

But that’s just my feelings on the issue. Apparently a lot of Americans think the people who move here to do hard, menial labor in the farm fields or the poultry sheds are more prone to be criminals. If only there were objective studies of immigrants and crime rates…oh, there are? And there are no crime waves fueled by illegal immigrants? Gosh, I guess it’s nice to have one’s subjective opinions confirmed.

Now, four academic studies show that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems. In the slew of research, motivated by Trump’s rhetoric, social scientists set out to answer this question: Are undocumented immigrants more likely to break the law?

Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looked at whether the soaring increase in illegal immigration over the last three decades caused a commensurate jump in violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

“Increased undocumented immigration since 1990 has not increased violent crime over that same time period,” Light said in a phone interview.

You can read summaries of the other studies at the link. They all say the same thing: the myth of the predatory, criminal immigrant is imaginary.

But of course they also have to find a contrary view.

Ed Dykes, a local electrical engineer, says a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant is one too many.

“It’s actually immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not because they commit additional crimes,” Dykes says. “They are crimes that would not be committed. There are American citizens who’d be alive today if [unauthorized immigrants] were not in this country.”

So they found a guy with zero qualifications and no expertise at all in the sociology of immigration, and he disagrees. That’s about as relevant as my subjective opinions on immigrants. I do find something interesting about his comment, though: it’s a refocusing of the problem to concerns about individual crimes, rather than the aggregate behavior of a particular group. I think that is a valid perspective. We should be seeing this situation through the eyes of the individual victim and the individual criminal, because that’s how we address the breaking of laws, by trying the individual lawbreaker. That does say, though, that Ed ought not to be policing classes of people if he’s only concerned about individual acts.

Of course, from that perspective, there are more American citizens who’d be alive today if other American citizens had been properly investigated by law enforcement, rather than the law haring off after innocent people who happened to be brown-skinned, a fact irrelevant to the crime. It’s also a confusing argument to say it’s immaterial whether they commit more crimes or not — because if you replace a population having a certain frequency of crime with a different population that has a lower frequency, you will see fewer crimes committed.

Maybe Ed ought to stick to electrical engineering.

Just another American with guns

A terrible mass murder in Las Vegas: at least 20 people are dead when a man opened fire on a country western concert. The murderer was a local man named Stephen Paddock, who has since been killed by the police. Reports indicate that he was using some kind of automatic rifle, which you’d guess from the fact he killed a score and wounded at least a hundred, and that a search of his hotel room found even more weapons that he’d left behind. Also, the media is naturally calling him a “lone wolf”, since he’s white and so can’t possibly be a terrorist fed conspiracy theories.

So will this be the final straw that convinces the US to implement some kind of rational gun control?

No.


The New York Times is reporting that the death toll has reached 50.

I’ll never be able to read Matt Taibbi again

I’ve enjoyed his scathing, ferocious approach to political reporting, but I just learned today that he takes the same ferocious, scathing approach to women. He and Mark Ames were columnists writing for an expat paper in Moscow years ago, and they apparently had a grand time being outrageous. When I first read a few quotes, I thought for a moment that they had to be faked — that these were ginned-up accounts written up by political enemies, of which they have more than a few.

But no. These were their own words. They wrote them up in a book-length account of their adventures in Russia. They were bragging about these attitudes.

It’s not ironic–Ames and Taibbi explicitly scorn the bourgeois safety net of irony–and it’s not just a rhetorical stance. “You’re always trying to force Masha and Sveta under the table to give you blow jobs,” complains their first business manager, an American woman, in chapter six, “The White God Factor.” “It’s not funny. They don’t think it’s funny.” “But…it is funny,” replies Taibbi. They take particular glee in trashing several former female staff members in print, taking multiple potshots at the aforementioned business manager’s “gorilla ass.” They’re equally nasty to her replacement, who quit in disgust after they went on a four-month “brain-sucking speed binge.”

It’s OK if you want to stop there. It gets worse. Much worse.

[Read more…]

Bianca Roberson and the tragedy of the NRA

I hated driving in Philadelphia — the drivers there are the worst in my experience. It wasn’t just the vigorous honking and the aggressive tailgating, either, I personally witnessed a driver pull out a pistol and pop off a series of shots at a truck that passed him. Every day that I made that awful commute from King of Prussia to North Philly I was convinced that I was going to die (we got smart and moved to Jenkintown, finally, where I could take mass transit to work, in part because I was pretty sure I was going to have a nervous breakdown).

The story of Bianca Roberson brings back ugly memories. Any place along the highway were you were forced to merge two lanes together was going to provoke some people to fury, needlessly. All I had to worry about generally were the obnoxious drivers who’d flip you off and pound on their horn and drive recklessly to insist that they get to merge ahead of you. Bianca Roberson met a fellow driver who pulled out a gun and shot her in the head.

This is rank madness. You do not need a gun to drive on a highway, no, not even the Schuylkill Expressway. A gun does not help in any way. It makes everything worse, to no good purpose. You do not need to be armed at all times. You do not need a gun at a movie theater. You do not need a gun at school. You do not need a gun on your daily commute.

You need a gun when you go deer hunting, or if you’re going to a range to practice marksmanship. If you happen to have one with you on the way to the gun range or the hunting grounds, it should be unloaded and safely stowed someplace safe, like in the trunk. This is why we need more gun control and a culture of healthy respect for dangerous tools, not strident fanaticism and recklessness like we get from that criminal organization of evil assholes, the NRA. Actually, guns don’t deserve respect, people do…something the NRA and gun-fondlers everywhere do not understand.

The USA is a dangerous place to live or visit. Although, I can at least say I got out of a danger zone and moved to rural Minnesota, where people still have guns, but when you’re on the road you mainly have to worry about the constant expectation that you will wave to everyone.