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      Quantitative Easing, to put it simply, no matter what form you do it in, is only marginally effective. Most of the money goes to the rich, you may or may not get a technical win in GDP, and in many cases the money may flow out of the country. If you want to improve the [...]
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Serial: I think I figured it out.

Leakin Park

I intentionally got Katiebird hooked on Serial. Now, I feel like a pusher. “Go on, try it. Are you afraid? All your friends are doing it.”

But yesterday, it all came together for me. Katiebird is still wending her way through the evidence so I’ll go first on a theory of what’s going on with Serial and then Katiebird can tell me where I’m wrong.

I’m working off of a couple of concepts here. The first is that it is very difficult to construct and be consistent with an elaborate lie. If the events never really happened, the mind has to fill in gaps, explanations, timelines. It’s hard to keep all the details straight because it is a constructed memory, not a real one.

The second concept is that of confirmation bias.  Rabia Chaudry, Adnan’s friend and longtime advocate, touches on confirmation bias in her blog. Basically, that is the tendency to look for evidence that supports your theory and throw out evidence that doesn’t. Fox News encourages confirmation bias but it’s hardly the only offender. In general, if you are a consumer of cable news, you are introduced to confirmation bias to one degree or another on an hourly basis. That’s why I don’t watch cable news.

If you have been a faithful listener of Serial, you will have been exposed to all the information you need at this point to come to a completely new and novel explanation of this crime. I’ve gone back and listened to all of the episodes and multiple clues have been dropped in every single one that helps cut through all of the confusion of the timelines and locations and motives. But recently, like, yesterday, I came across a reference on Reddit to another case that brought all of the information into sharp focus.  The item in question is the case of Ezra Mable.

Ezra was a bit player in the Baltimore drug scene until he spent 10 years in prison for the killing of a major Baltimore drug lord. Eyewitnesses actually pointed to a different guy but the cops built a case for sending Mable to jail. They did this by intimidation of witnesses, threatening to take their children away in one case, and constructing an alternative reality that made Mable look guilty. Mable spent the last 10 years in prison getting to the truth. Don’t ask me how he did this from prison. He’s not an educated man but he was determined to prove his innocence. Last year, his conviction was overturned and a whole slew of detectives and prosecutors were accused of misconduct including detective William Ritz. Detective Ritz was also on the Hae Min Lee case. Ritz has since resigned from the Baltimore Police Department after Mable’s conviction was overturned.

Another piece of information came up in the 1998 murder of another Woodlawn teenager. Jada Denita Lambert was found raped and strangled in a nearby park about six months before Hae Min Lee’s disappearance. The murderer, Roy Sharonnie Davis, was already in prison on another charge when DNA from the crime scene was found to match him in 2002.

Ok, let’s go back to the beginning of this story to see if adding corruption and a serial killer makes more sense to the chronology of events than the nonsensical timeline that Jay gave the cops. In this scenario, Hae Min Lee leaves school about 3:00pm to pick up her cousin at daycare but is kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Maybe this happens in the parking lot of the school or at another stop along the way. Katiebird says Hae stopped for gas. The assailant forces Hae to drive to the I-70 park and ride near Leakin Park. He then takes her into the woods via the Gwynnes Falls Trail (see the Leakin Park map), attempts to rape her and strangles her.

Hae’s body is found almost a month later. The cops ain’t got no clues. It could be a serial killer. But if they tell the Lee’s that, they’ll never hear the end of it. The community will demand a full, lengthy investigation and in all likelihood, the crime will never be solved. It will be just be endless years of the Lees getting on their nerves. Serial killings don’t look good on end of year performance evaluations and when you don’t have a motive or any connections to the victims, they’re a pain in the ass to solve.

Enter the old boyfriend.

Pinning it on either Don or Adnan will solve all their problems. Don has an airtight alibi. Adnan does not. Adnan’s whole future depends on one track team coach taking attendance that day. Track team coach doesn’t.

Now, here’s where I speculate all kinds of corrupt police skullduggery. The cops fake a call to the office tipping off Adnan as the killer. They immediately subpoena Adnan’s cell records and find Jenn Pusateri as a person of interest. They bring her in for questioning and threaten her. She gets a lawyer and tells some elaborate lie that Jay helped bury Hae’s body. Then they bring Jay in. They spend hours with him off tape before they start recording his story. Serial hired an expert in police investigations who says that this is probably where there was a deal made with Jay.  Supposedly, Jay tells them where Hae’s car is parked.

I used to think that knowledge of the location of Hae’s car is what solidified Jay’s involvement but now, I don’t buy it. It certainly makes the possibility of a serial killer fade into the background though, doesn’t it? Hae’s car is a serious piece of misdirection. I’m going to bet that the cops found Hae’s car shortly after they found her body. They weren’t that far apart.

The reason why Jay’s story and timeline make no damn sense is because it was constructed in the interrogation room in order to frame Adnan. Oh sure, they can claim that Adnan was the killer because he doesn’t  have an airtight alibi. But that’s all they’ve got. No alibi and this convoluted story of two teenagers driving around all afternoon getting stoned and looking for a place to bury the body in the trunk.

In the Ezra Mable case, the Baltimore PD is accused of “losing” exculpatory evidence that would have proved Ezra’s innocence as well as failing to investigate the guy who really committed the murder. In Hae’s murder case, Jay and Jenn were never given a polygraph, Jay’s house, car, possessions, phone records were never searched. Now, why would you fail to do that? I’ll tell you why. The investigators had no reason to think there was anything to uncover there- because they never did anything wrong. They were just two people who happened to be caught up in the scheme who were pressured to give evidence against Adnan. And they might have had some good reason to suspect that the cops were going to bust them on drug related activities. (There goes Jay and Jenn’s financial aid packages and her sorority membership.) But, in general, the whole story that Jay gives doesn’t make sense because it never happened.

One vital clue to Jay’s cooperation in this case is that he didn’t serve any jail time. It was probably part of the deal. Give us what we want and we’ll see to it that you don’t go to jail for being an accessory after the fact.

So, there you have it. These are the pieces of the puzzle that made sense to me. It’s a simpler explanation that doesn’t require me to reconcile a lot of conflicting timelines. It doesn’t force me to concentrate on subjective evaluations of character that distract from the lack of physical evidence. It resolves the issue of Hae’s car. It explains why Jenn says she didn’t know anything about a murder the first time she meets with the cops but lawyers up the next day when she starts spinning a tale. It explains why Jay doesn’t want to be interviewed. Maybe they can’t get him on being an accessory to murder but perjury is still a pretty serious crime.

It also explains why Sarah Koenig says that Hae’s murder may never be solved satisfactorily. The serial murderer is dead. The forensic evidence from Hae’s murder site may not be available. We may never know where Adnan was on the day of Hae’s death but I’m betting he was at track. There’s no physical evidence tying him to the crime and plenty of reasonable doubt now. I predict he’ll be home for Christmas. The likelier outcome is that Koenig and Glass will win a slew of awards and podcasts will become the new “thing”, even though some of us have been podcast junkies for years now.

Whether Adnan will track down Jay and beat the s^&* out of him is another question. Koenig reports that Adnan is a perfect gentleman in prison, well liked and has won awards for being a model prisoner. But he’s probably learned a thing or two while he’s been incarcerated for 15 long years. We’ll see.

I’m anxiously awaiting Katiebird’s analysis.

All Roads Lead to Jay

Patapsco Valley State Park

I’m talking about Serial again because, let’s face it, politics is pretty depressing right now. We’re like a bunch of alcoholics who haven’t hit bottom yet. Knowing that the bottom is coming is much less interesting to think about than who killed Hae Min Lee.

I won’t go over the new information that was presented today because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. But it is looking more and more like Jay is at the center of all of this. He had the means, that is Adnan’s car, cell phone and time. He also has an eyewitness to cleaning and disposing of the evidence in Jen Pusateri. He also knew where Hae’s car was parked. Lead police straight to it. His timeline is beginning to fall apart badly now. (listen to today’s episode for that)

So, what was Jay up to? If he didn’t actually kill Hae out of jealousy of Adnan and and to get Adnan away from his girlfriend Stephanie, he definitely knows who did it.  No doubt about it.

And what was he doing at Patapsco State Park in the middle of the afternoon around 4:30pm?

One other thing: What was Hae’s exact time of death? Hae was killed and left outside in the middle of winter. Her body must have been a little better preserved than usual. What were the contents of her stomach? What did she eat last and when? Where was all that stuff in her digestive tract? Where’s the forensics report on that?

Getting a jump on Serial,

The next episode of Serial downloads tomorrow and I’m getting an idea of what is really going on with this mystery.  If you don’t want to be spoiled, skip this post. You can also check out the Serial page on Slate in order to catch up with other listeners. I want to talk about who might have killed Hae Min Lee.

First, let me say that I really like the way Sarah Koenig has presented this story. She has had different professional experts look at the evidence, investigation and trial and that is a good thing. It’s important that the analysis converge at some point in order to ferret out the truth.

So far, the cell phone experts say that the call records presented at trial were inconclusive, the innocence project lawyers say the evidence presented at trial does not incriminate Adnan Syed, and the homocide detective consultant who specializes in interrogations says that the police may have made a deal with Jay in order to tie up the loose ends of their theory that Adnan did it. In short, it looks like Adnan Syed was a convenient suspect and the case was built to send him to jail using his “friend” Jay as the primary witness against him.

The one person who we know for certain is involved in the murder of Hae Min Lee is Jay. We know this because he was the person who lead police to the location of Hae’s car. There is no physical evidence linking Adnan with Hae’s body or the crime scene and nothing but circumstantial evidence linking him with the crime at all. The motive, that Adnan killed Hae because she caused him to violate his religious principles and then broke up with him, is silly. The evidence for that is dubious at best and in all other respects, his friends report that he got on with his life and other girlfriends while still remaining friends with Hae.

Let’s do what the innocence project lawyers suggest for a moment and take Adnan out of the picture. That leaves us with a couple of alternative explanations for who killed Hae.  The first is a yet unknown serial killer. There has been a suggestion that another murderer who killed a young woman Hae’s age less than a year before might have been the murderer. The problem with the serial killer theory is that it doesn’t explain Jay’s involvement in the Hae’s murder. The murderer of the previous victim was caught in 2002(?), so while this person might have killed Hae, there has yet to be a link back to Jay.

Jay might have been the killer. So far, he’s the only person directly implicated and he got off with two years of probation for hiding the body. Maybe Jay was forced to cooperate with hiding the body because the real killer threatened to expose Jay’s connection to illegal drug dealing. In other words, the murderer and Jay each had something on the other. Maybe the murderer threatened someone Jay cared about.

There have been other suggestions by both the innocence project team and the homocide investigator that seem to be converging.  That is, the person who killed Hae really hated her and/or Jay is trying to protect someone, i.e. the person who really killed Hae.  We have heard over and over again that Jay would have done anything to protect his girlfriend, Stephanie. We need to take a look at her.

Stephanie has been in the picture from the very beginning. She appeared in the first episode as a bit player. If Koenig were writing a mystery story, it would be best practice to introduce all of the suspects in the first fifty pages. That’s so that the readers are not lead on a merry chase throughout the story only to have the murderer appear in the last chapter without any relationship to the rest of the story. So let’s assume that the murderer has been introduced and let’s look at all of the other suspects. Let’s look at Stephanie. What do we know about her?

Stephanie is in the magnet program of a urban/suburban high school. She is bright, blonde, beautiful. She’s athletic. She runs, so presumably, she’s on the track team with Adnan. Hae is not on the track team that I can tell but she does play LaCrosse with Jay. Jay is not in the magnet program with Adnan, Stephanie and Hae. He is “gen pop”. Stephanie is out of his league in many respects. Jay is from a broken family. He lives with his grandmother. He’s poor. He deals drugs. His prospects are poor. Stephanie is going places. She has a scholarship.

On the morning of January 13, the day of Hae’s disappearance, Adnan goes to Jay’s house and tells him that he should get a gift for Stephanie’s birthday. Adnan has already given Stephanie a gift of a stuffed reindeer. He gives Jay his car and his cell phone. I don’t know but something about this part of the story just seemed weird to me. Koenig picks up on it in the first episode. It sounds like a convenient excuse. Why was Adnan so interested in whether Jay got Stephanie a present? Is it possible that Adnan had moved on from Hae to Stephanie? They were junior prom prince and princess after all.  They had a lot in common academically and extracurricularly. They were in AP Psychology together.

The biggest predictor in who you will fall in love with is proximity. Adnan and Stephanie are spending a LOT of time together. Jay is graduated, not in school and is more of an outsider looking in.

My next questions have to do with Stephanie’s relationship with Hae.  How well did Stephanie know Hae? Were they friendly? Was there any reason for Stephanie to fear Hae or something Hae knew about Stephanie? Where was Stephanie on the afternoon of Hae’s murder? I’d just like to know in order to eliminate her as a suspect. Also, was Jay seeing someone other than Stephanie? What kind of relationship did Jen Pusateri or “Cathy” have with Jay?

I suspect that there is a love triangle, quadrangle, quintangle going on here. Well, this is high school, after all. Hae was the unlucky victim, Adnan took the fall, but it’s the circle around Jay that knows who really killed Hae Min Lee. The circumstances leading up to or involving the murder threatened Stephanie in some way. Who were Jay’s connections and what did they have on him?

Gruber, Serial and Stupidity

Jonathan Gruber thinks you’re stupid.

Much has been made recently of Jonathan Gruber, ACA architect, giving away the game when he admitted that creating and passing the bill depended in part on the stupidity of Americans. There were also a lot of Democrats who relied on that. Even now, those of us forced in to buying these junk health insurance plans at inflated prices, or suffer a penalty that doesn’t fall on those blessed with employer based plans, are told to suck it up because it’s for our own good or the good of some other person. It’s funny that the moralizing seems to be falling on our heads all of the time but not on those people temporarily secure in their jobs that pay bennies. How is this different than the fundy Republicans who are always telling us that if something bad happens to us, it must be something we’ve done and not just a series of unfortunate events that have happened while they idly stood by and watched?

But I digress.

I won’t beat a dead horse about how the Obama administration has been counting on the stupidity of the people that voted it into office since 2008. The administration and it’s campaign managers are, after all, the “culture of smartness” that runs the finance industry. I think we are all on the same page about that now, are we not? Some of us came to that conclusion sooner than others, mainly because our former jobs consisted of sorting out patterns and data and not believing things that were not supported by evidence.  It doesn’t make us better people or smarter people but it does help just enough to know who’s bulls%^&&ing.

I have to believe that if Americans were better trained, they would have spotted the missing data when it came to Obama’s true opinions on the wars. They might have been more attuned to the misogynism coursing through the campaign stops. After the election, they might have noticed that the administration coasted on the Lily Ledbetter Act as if it ensured paycheck fairness when it clearly did no such thing. They might have made a bigger fuss about the fact that the Obama administration only tweaked slightly the Bush Conscience Rule until recently. Or that in spite of Obama’s evolution on LGBT concerns, federal contracts were still allowed to discriminate. They might have caught on sooner to the flaws with HAMP. Or holding the bankers accountable. You know, stuff like that.

It’s the kind of thing the Obama administration is famous for.  It announces things, initiatives, changes, to make Americans think it’s doing something and then it quietly doesn’t really do them. It depends on your stupidity and the fact that you will quickly dismiss anyone they have previously labelled as a “racist” because the troublemaker and naysayer hasn’t gratefully accepted their portion of poisoned mushrooms. (Have you ever had to prove you’re not a racist? Go ahead and try it. The burden of proof is on the accused regardless of the motive of the accuser. You can be perfectly innocent and have hundreds of character witnesses. It only takes one person with a particular goal in mind and a very big microphone to ruin your reputation.)

Anyway, I keep wondering why it is that the people who should be better critical thinkers can be so clueless. Why is it so many of us keep falling for the same old lies and misdirection? Some of it can be attributed to the fact that we are herd animals and usually adopt the opinions of those people in our immediate cohort but it’s really quite puzzling how so many of us manage to screw up so often.

Take Serial, for example. The podcast is a little more than half way through its exploration of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her former boyfriend Adnan Syed for the murder. I am a faithful follower and have come to the conclusion that Adnan Syed was not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He shouldn’t be behind bars. He is not guilty for the same reason that Casey Anthony was not guilty for the crime of killing her daughter Caylee, and that is, there is no physical evidence tying Adnan to the crime and plenty of clues that someone else did it. In particular, Adnan’s friend, Jay, who was the prime witness in this trial, had the motive, the means and, most crucially, knew where Hae Min Lee’s car was parked. He lead police right to it.

Years later, Jay is refusing to talk to Sarah Koenig, Serial’s investigator, about the crime. But where Serial’s team, and many Slate readers, see this as Jay’s trying to move on past a painful period of his life, I see it as an attempt to avoid self-incrimination. After all, Jay was never tried for Hae’s murder and it’s possible that something he says will trip him up and revive the case, this time in a different direction.

But what really floors me is the number of Slate readers who are still not convinced that there’s been a huge miscarriage of justice in this case against Adnan. Two weeks ago, Koenig spoke to an innocence project type team and they all came to the same conclusion that I did. This case shouldn’t have come to trial. There wasn’t enough evidence. It looks like Adnan’s conviction and sentence of life in prison relied heavily on the fact that the jury was easily lead, impressed by in court demeanor and the fact that Adnan did not testify on his own behalf. There is also the very real possibility that the jury was influenced by ethnic, racial or cultural issues.

Then, there was something the innocence project lawyer said that stuck with me. She said that when reviewing this case, they needed to give Adnan back the presumption of innocence. Everyone is entitled to that in court. But in this podcast, we are starting with a presumption of guilt that Adnan must somehow overcome. The deck is stacked against him because he is always trying to prove a negative and it’s not difficult to come up with exceptions that don’t conclusively rule him out as a suspect. But what keeps getting buried in all this is that there is no physical evidence tying Adnan to the crime and very little attempt by the prosecution to come up with any. There’s not a single hair, clump of dirt or strand of DNA that links Adnan with the crime. Thousands of people in Baltimore can’t account for their whereabouts on the day of the murder. The only thing that links this one individual with the victim is a past relationship that ended amicably, the dubious account of a former friend and some inconclusive cell phone records. How do you send a 17 year old to jail for life without parole on that?

I get that the jury was fooled. But after all that we’ve heard in this case, it is baffling to me that so many presumably educated readers and listeners still have doubts. Don’t mistake what I’m asserting here. I’m not saying Adnan is innocent. I’m saying there’s not enough to go on to convict him and a disturbing amount of material to point to someone else. But the listeners are not looking at the evidence. They are all caught up in perceptions of likeability and innocence. And beneath it all is the frightening possibility that we have trained a generation of citizens to give equal weight to the other side even when the argument is full of holes. We have lost our ability to evaluate accurately. The concept that there must be something there or an innocent kid was thrown in jail does not automatically strengthen the case for doing so. Similarly, just because Jay is a well spoken, polite kid on the stand doesn’t mean he’s a good person.

It’s depressing. We just don’t seem to have the collective IQ to think our way out of most deceptions.

What is the purpose of Serial anyway? Why take a case so badly flawed and present it as a real mystery? What if the real mystery is why couldn’t the justice system figure this out? What if Koenig is out to expose something else entirely? Why are we so stupid? And is it leading to punishment and injustice on a grander scale?

The problems with mergers

No nuts for you.

Tim Wu at the New Yorker wrote a piece about the all too predictable outcomes when United merged with Continental back in 2010.  There were sharp increases in fares in newly uncompetitive markets and a gradual decline in overall service.  I think the decline goes back even farther than that when United eliminated or sharply reduced pensions for flight crews and pilots back in the early naughties.  I remember distinctly the beaten down and depressed looks of the flight attendants on one of the flights I took from Philadelphia to Denver when I was on my way to a conference. When asked, the flight attendant made some remark to the effect that she had lost a lot in retirement benefits. It felt like we were hurtling towards Soviet era customer satisfaction with poorly compensated and indifferent flight attendants. Was this really what United wanted its customers to experience: a demoralized employee workforce, fewer services and a plethora of new fees, the profits from which were not going to the employee pension fund?

By the way, Tim, that ritualized abuse that you feel Americans are experiencing after the approved mergers of airlines and cable companies, for example?  I call it “exploitative profit mining”.

Then I saw that the New York Times Magazine was doing a big story on the lack of productivity in drug discovery (which I have been predicting for years now) and maybe it was time to go back to “trial and error”.  Now, I’m not going to say they’re wrong because we have tried proteomics, genomics, combinatorials, target based drug design, RNA interference and a whole lotta other “omics” type technologies and none of them have pulled off the “immaculate reception” to save the game that they promised to deliver.

But the thing that really made me laugh was the idea that any bean counter is going to let the R&D division go back to “trial and error”. My last impressions of the industry just before Pharmageddon was that “trials and errors” were distinctly money wasting activities. First, there was no metric that could be applied that could accurately determine exactly how many trials would be necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Secondly, there was the negative word “error”. Error implies failure, not a measurable objective, like a lead in the pipeline. To MBAs and the finance industry that now direct drug discovery research, it is important to minimize negative outcomes like errors, nevermind that it is the way the scientific method works and that we learn as much from error as success. Errors are the way we eliminate dead ends and turn our attention to more promising avenues. It’s how we work the kinks out of all those “-omics” technologies. Whatever. Executives would much prefer “predict and succeed”, which is theoretically a better use of time and money but rather less like science.

We might also try to eliminate the mergers and acquisitions of the drug companies by bigger drug companies, a trend that has interrupted project after project in the last two decades and caused the elimination of entire therapeutic areas. The increase in mergers occurred at the same time that biology is undergoing a 21st century scientific revolution. The finance industry’s unchecked enthusiasm for trading drug companies like baseball cards has blighted many promising new technologies and the careers of thousands of highly trained scientists, hence, no new blockbuster drugs. We probably do not need to conduct any additional trials and errors in merger experiments before we kill off the field entirely.

Just my non-MBA opinion but the lack of blockbuster drugs in the pipeline was entirely predictable fifteen years ago by those of us who experienced the joys of constant M&As. Maybe the bigger problem is that the MBAs never asked those of us in the trenches about the effect of mergers on productivity. Hmmm, one can only imagine why…

Derek Lowe and his insider commenters weigh in on the New York Times Magazine as well.

Rise of the Nones (and other things Democrats should pay attention to but probably won’t)

David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, gave an interview to Mormon Stories just before the midterm elections. He discussed the rapidly rising number of people, especially Millenials, who chose to not have a religious identification. They’re called Nones. What’s surprising about the Nones is that they are responding to politics when they say they have no religious affiliation. Apparently, they are so disgusted by the religious right and its alliance with the Republican party, and its the socially backwards, environmentally unfriendly policies, that they would rather have no religion at all. In other words, religious Republicans are God’s worst PR nightmare. Well worth a listen. Check it out here.

Other things:

Maybe it’s not clear to the rest of the Democratic party but the primary focus of the Republican party is economic. They don’t like taxes, paying for education for the lower classes, or labor. That whole weekend thing ruined the last century for them. If Americans end up living like factory workers in Bangladesh, what’s that got to do with them?

Democrats are all about saving the planet and moving forward. But there is a rift in the Democratic party. It became painfully clear in 2008 when the party ditched its “old coalition” for the “creative class”. (New readers should go back to the beginning of this blog in January 2008 to see how this happened) Can I stop here and say that to the Masters of the Universe, the designations “old coalition” and “creative class” are meaningless? If you don’t have the money to go to Davos, you don’t count and neither does your Ivy League degree. Sooner or later, you will wear the livery.

So, anyway, I saw on the NYTimes where the Republicans are going to play up this rift. They are going to aggressively push for the Keystone Pipeline and the rollback of EPA regulations. I predict that the “creative class” is going to frrrrreeeeeaaaaak out. Cue the tearing of garments and gnashing of teeth.

Meanwhile, the “old coalition” is suffering from wage stagnation. And before the creative class loses interest in this issue, it should go read Derek Lowe’s blog In the Pipeline about what wages are like for the people who do the real creative innovation in the biotech industry. The finance industry (foolishly) thinks it can hire a bunch of newly minted Harvard post-docs and pay them well to do a bit of lab work before they are shunted into project management where they will direct a bunch of foreign CROs. For this, they will be paid handsomely- at about the same rate as the medicinal chemist with 20+ years of lab experience and an incalculable advantage in actually, you know, getting a project through the research phase. But I digress.

So, there is the rift. And Republicans are going to drive a truck right through it. The most vocal Democrats with the biggest mics are going to be screaming bloodily murder about the pipeline and ignore the wage slaves. That will play directly into Republicans’ hands.

Now, I’m not saying that the pipeline is not important and I am not a climate change denier but what Democrats really, really need are more people who identify with them and care about these issues. And the best way to get no pipeline and better environmental policy is to make sure that those people at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs are satisfied to the level that they can focus on pipelines and climate change. They need to get their heads out of worrying about their paychecks before they can concentrate on the EPA. To do that, the Democrats have got temporarily put their screaming about the environment on hold and focus with laser like intensity on eroding labor standards, wage stagnation and an artificially created unemployment crisis where too many people are on the verge of losing their jobs all the time.

Can they do it? I am optimistic. Just repeat after me: “It’s the economy, Stupid”. Take the power to divide us away from Republicans. Do not stop until you win. THEN shut the pipeline down.

The First Breakout Duggar?

My bet has always been Jessa and I might be right.

Let me back up and say that I don’t watch 19 Kids and Counting on a regular basis. For one thing, I cut the cord so any Duggar stuff I get is from YouTube.  But even with YouTube, it’s a bit much. And it’s intensely boring, if such a thing was possible. But every now and then, a Duggar girl starts to court and my curiosity is piqued, so I go back to some of those earlier videos and try to get a feel for the personality, what little is allowed to express itself.

I’ve been tracking Jessa for awhile now. Jinger has her own FreeJinger humanitarian campaign that was a response to her facial expressions and stated desire to move to New York City someday, a notion that was promptly squashed by her parents.

Jessa always looked like a spring that has been wound too tightly. Her “jurisdiction” in the Duggar household is organization. This girl would make a good general. Instead, she’s been stuck with this holier-than-thou family and their zillion kids and no way to get a decent education or go to work. Here and there in the videos, one Duggar or another has dropped hints that, unlike Jill, who was the perfect child and family valedictorian, Jessa was, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. She’s willful.  In DuggarWorld, that’s almost the worst sin.  It’s hinted that she’s difficult to get along with and that her husband Ben Seewald could have a balancing effect.

In the recent episode featuring Jill’s wedding, Jessa seems to have partially given up the pretense of loving the Duggar life.  She expresses dismay at the idea that Jill is going to start popping out babies. (she is) She tells her dad that if he stands in the way of her marriage with Ben Seewald that she’ll elope. She says it in a “kidding on the square” manner. It’s surprising that the TLC cameras kept that in because I thought it was a big tell. It’s becoming more and more clear that her courtship with Seewald was more lusty than her sister’s purer than Ivory Soap courtship with her new husband.

Then there was the root beer float comment.  Jinger goes on and on about how everyone at Jill’s wedding got their root beer floats and they were delicious. Then Jessa says with deadpan sincerity and perfect timing, “I don’t like root beer”. In other words, she’s not anything like the other Duggars and she doesn’t mind telling you that.

So, this was the kid who has been acting the part for 21 years but may be fed up. She’s not really cut out to be a Duggar. It’s not her thing.

She married last week. It was a bit of a surprise but in Duggar World, courtships are long and engagements are short. That’s to keep you from feeling each other up before the big day. I’ve found it a little weird that they would allow Jessa to court Seewald in the first place. They’ve got an older unmarried daughter who isn’t courting. Ben is only 18 or 19 and it’s clear that his interest is carnal. Well, maybe not exclusively but it’s hard to miss. She’s hot and has an amazingly photogenic face. So, I’m guessing that the Duggars figured it’s better to marry her off quickly than to let her get into trouble.

But then the big day arrives and Jessa struck her first blow at independence from the Duggar family. They said their vows, the pastor pronounced them, and Jim-Bob gave the official go ahead for Ben to kiss his daughter and they said NO.

They decided, like the rest of the sane world, that their first kiss is intimate and they needed privacy.  Imagine that, a DUGGAR finally sticks up for her right to have a moment to herself without a sibling minder, or chaperone, without a million people watching.  She decided that she could make up her own mind as to what was good for her without someone else imposing their expectations on her.

It came as a surprise to the rest of the church and Jim-Bob. I hope they were applauded. I know I certainly did when I read about it. So, Jessa and Ben didn’t kiss in front of a crowd of screaming fundies. Instead, they left the altar unkissed and made out in a room of the church after the ceremony. Rumor has it they had sex there too but that’s ridiculous. But what difference does it make what they did? It’s none of our business and none of their parents’ business either.

And if Jessa and Ben still end up being a couple of sanctimonious churchy types, I don’t expect it to last long. She’s already waaaaay ahead of some of her siblings in her mind. The crack has been open and Jessa is making a run for it.

BTW, Jessa posted a very unDuggar like lusty photo of her and Ben kissing.  It’s absolutely wonderful.

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