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    • Rationality Is A Process, Not A Conclusion (Nuclear Weapons Edition)
      A lot of mistakes come from assuming rationality means “thinks the same way I do” rather than “reasons from premises I might not share.” Left than 1/1000 economists predicted the financial collapse, because they reasoned from assumptions like “the market is self-correcting” or “housing prices never go down.” (Sometimes both at the same time, which is rarely […]
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Serial: Cold Turkey

In case you didn’t know, Serial is taking Thanksgiving off, the ungrateful wretches, so there will be no episode 10 today. But don’t despair, there are a couple of good fixes for those of you who are starting to get jittery.

Fix number one is at a blog called TheViewFromLL2 from a George Washington University Law School alum named Susan. She has two really excellent posts up about Serial. Her first post is a timeline of the prosecution’s case against Adnan Syed based on cell phone records. A couple of days ago, I hypothesized that neither Jay nor Jenn knew anything about the murder but were coerced by police into making false statements. After reading the timeline, I have to admit that at least Jay was probably involved in Hae’s burial in Leakin Park. The cell phone evidence is strongest here and it’s pretty certain that the cell phone was in the park at the probable time of Hae’s burial. So, there’s that. Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating and, rather than solidifying the case against Adnan, it just looks really damning for Jay. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a serial killer involved but it does mean that Jay probably knew the killer. Or was the killer.

The second post from Susan is one where she analyzes Jay’s statements to police and testimony in court based on four criteria that are essential to determining whether a witness is credible. Jay’s testimony fails pretty badly. (How can you tell when Jay is lying? When his mouth moves.) Susan is very detailed and a bit geeky and I find her posts very compelling and convincing. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system relies on juries that aren’t detail oriented or geeky. Juries seem to be very vulnerable to subjective evidence.

Fix number two is from Rabia Chaudry at Splitthemoon. Rabia is a family friend of the Syeds and an immigration lawyer. She’s the one who first contacted Sarah Koenig about the case and got this whole thing going. In her latest post, Where It All Began, she has put up some documents that she acquired from a FOIA request that helps clear up who pointed police to Adnan, especially the mysterious Asian male, aged 18-24. We now have a name and relationship to Jay. Again, all roads seem to lead back to Jay.

It’s not looking good for Jay. He knows things. A lot of things.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Katiebird says I can come to her house. It’s only 13.1 hours away from mine. If I leave now, I’ll be there for round two! Ummm, maybe next year. Today, I’m going to my aunt’s house. She made a pumpkin cheese cake. Yum. (Note to self: bring Lactaid)

About a week ago, the New York Times wrote a post about state dishes for Thanksgiving. But they got it all wrong when it came to Pennsylvania. The NYT says we eat glazed bacon on T-day. For the record, I have never eaten glazed bacon on T-day. I have never been to anyone’s house where glazed bacon was served on T-day. I have no idea where the NYT got its information but clearly, they did not talk to anyone from Pennsylvania.

The Upshot got a little closer this morning. It did a google search of recipes and supposedly, Pennsylvanians like potato filling. Ok, I have an issue with the word “filling”. No one I know calls it filling. It’s stuffing. But the potato thing sounds closer to the truth.

But here is the definitive answer for Pennsylvania: Baked Corn Casserole made with Cope’s dried corn. It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch country thing and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s a cross between a soufflé and a corn custard in actuality. When done right, it’s like pot de corn, rich but not too heavy with just a little sweetness from the toasted dried corn.

The Upshot says that Kansans prefer their corn with cream cheese. (Note to self: pack Lactaid for trip to Kansas).

Anyway, whatever you’re having, I hope it is delicious. Share your recipes in the comments below and let me know if they are a local specialty.

And say hello to your neighbors, like our local specialty, Mr. Rogers, used to do.

 

Ditto, Mr. Edsall

I read this book. It was pretty good. 4 sponges

Thomas Edsall, professor of journalism at Columbia University, gives a pretty accurate diagnosis of the problem with the Democratic party in the NYTimes today. In this piece, he speculates on the prospects of Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia. Here are some money quotes:

Webb is one answer to the weaknesses of today’s center-left, the so-called “upstairs-downstairs” coalition described by Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University. Kotkin argues in his recently published book, “The New Class Conflict,” that the Democratic Party has been taken over by what he calls “gentry liberals,” an elite that has undermined the historic purpose of the Democratic Party.

Kotkin contends that

“The great raison d’être for left-wing politics – advocating for the middle- and working classes – has been refocused to attend more closely to the policy imperatives and interests of small, highly affluent classes, as well as the powerful public sector.”

I asked Kotkin what he thought of the themes Webb intends to raise, and he wrote back “I think he’s onto something.”

The Democrats, Kotkin believes, need “someone — Sherrod Brown, Webb, Jon Tester, somebody! — who speaks to the issues of upward mobility and incomes.” Both Senator Brown and Senator Tester have staked out populist positions in support of their working-class constituents in Ohio and Montana.

I’m not sure that Jon Tester would be the right person either. But in general, this is what I think I was trying to get at with my proposal the other day to revive our old blogtalkradio show. We’re not the “gentry liberals”. We might not be Jim Webb’s cohort either but there’s definitely an intersection on the Venn diagram.

Then there’s this:

“Today,” Fiorina writes,

“We have a situation where voters can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.”

Asked about Webb, Fiorina replied, “the emotional side of me loves him.” But, Fiorina cautioned, “the rational side is worried about how he would actually behave if he were president.”

Well,  it’s about time that the pundit class openly admits what those of us on this blog have suspected since the day after Super Tuesday 2008. The party was highjacked during the 2008 primary campaign. That’s why the nature of discourse on Daily Kos changed almost overnight. Almost immediately it felt like the guys from Enron took the place over. And the super delegates started falling like dominos with the rush of money into party coffers. We know retrospectively from Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short, that there were plenty of people who knew the collapse was coming and wanted to set themselves up before the fall. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the bubble was going to burst with very grave consequences for the economy. The traders and bankers put their money on the enabler.

But one thing I disagree with is Edsall’s characterization of Hillary as polished and over produced. Maybe that was the case early in the 2007-2008 primary campaign season. But as the race became tighter and Florida and Michigan delegate numbers were withheld from her win column to create an artificial narrative that she was always behind, she transformed as a candidate and became much more authentic. We all saw her become a different person. That is why she continued to win primaries right to the bitter end and more and more voters responded positively to her as a person. Underdog status didn’t polish her. It forged and hardened her, like steel.

There’s another problem with the current Democratic party opinion makers that I think they need to sit and think about. For all the talk about Hillary being in the pockets of the corporate and financial elite, those donors abandoned her in 2008 for Barack Obama. I find it curious that no one wants to talk about that.

Plus, it’s my sense from reading all the commentary in the past 6 years that the gentry elite has never really liked the Clintons. Anglachel had a series of riveting posts on the subject back in 2008 about how the liberal elite thought of the Clintons as Arkansan podunks who didn’t know which soup spoon to use. They were rather too authentic in their support of working class economic issues. Bill was channeling the Jacksonian/Truman wing while the gentry liberals are all Adlai Stevenson. The class issues are stark and the bridge very hard to span. Maybe that’s where all the misleading “Clinton is a Third Way, neoliberal, DLC loving, puppy eater!” comes from. If you’ve never lived in poverty, crafting policies to address it become a mental exercise for the reader the results of which resemble intellectual masturbation. I don’t remember Clinton being about that kind of process. He rather enjoyed politics and making friends with everyone. He is the ultimate LinkedIn profile.

Nevertheless, I think it would be a good thing for Jim Webb to jump into the race. I think he would appeal to a lot of people in the Appalachia area and a lot of people that the Democrats wrote off in 2008. He might have a following here in Pittsburgh as well. Sure, why not have him run? Hashing out issues of class, opportunity and income would be a very good thing. We don’t hear enough of that kind of campaign rhetoric and the results of the last 6 years shows that Democrats in Exile, such as ourselves, have been completely ignored by the Democratic party. As Edsall speculates, Webb’s political skills might not carry him as far as the White House but he does represent a throwback to the New Deal era and the Tennessee Valley Authority and championing the little guy, not just some carefully data mined groups.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Hillary Clinton.

Serial: Ok, I’m listening now

There’s a point in episode 5 when Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvas are in the car retracing the route that Jay and Adnan took that fateful afternoon when Sarah makes some point to Dana and Dana says, “oh look, there’s a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib”. Sarah says, “Sometimes I don’t think Dana is listening to me.”

I thought I had the whole mystery figured out the other day and, for all I know, my hypothesis might still be the correct one. But something was lurking in the back of my mind and I couldn’t quite remember what it was. So I went back and listened to episode 4 on Inconsistencies and noticed a big fact that I had missed. This one is about the location of Hae’s car.

According to the map of the crime scene area in Baltimore put together by some equally obsessed fan, Hae’s car was parked at some point at the park and ride lot at the terminal end of I-70 and adjacent to the Gwynnes Falls Trail into Leakin Park where her body was found.  That’s what makes me think this is the work of a serial killer who intercepted her somewhere between the high school and her cousin’s daycare, then drove her to the park and ride, forced her out of the car and into the woods and then killed her not far from the Gwynns Falls Trail in Leakin Park.

But according to episode 4, Jay told the cops in his first interview that Hae’s car was located behind an old bunch of row houses on Edmondson Avenue. That puts the final location of her car at the other end of Leakin Park. I’m not sure how to interpret this yet. It could put Jay right back into the picture, if we are to give his story any credence at all. He knows the location of the car and he is heavily involved in getting rid of the body. Jay admits that he never saw Adnan kill Hae though. So, as far as we know, and provided he’s telling at least the partial truth, he’s the only true physical link to the crime.

So, where was the ultimate location of Hae’s car? Edmondson Avenue or the I-70 park and ride?

We now begin the chaos portion of our program

Did you see the front page of the NYTimes this morning? It’s looking pretty grim. There’s Ferguson, the resignation of Chuck Hagel accompanied by harsh words about Obama’s national security policy, and the soaring costs of generic drugs. I told you guys that generics were going to start increasing in price a couple of years ago.

Is it just me or does it seem like the whole shebang is unravelling rather quickly these days?

Now, I’m not going to say that all of these problems are due to Obama’s naivete, inexperience and incompetence. But I think it is time we put a mute button on anyone proposing we replace him in 2016 with yet another untested, inexperienced first term senator just because they can’t stand, and have a visceral reaction to, the most logical alternative.

Amnesty and podcasts

Sometimes a kid is just a kid.

I’ve had some brief conversations with people about Obama’s amnesty executive order.  To be honest, I haven’t read a lot about it because I’ve been a bit busy with work, applications for better work, classes to help me fill out applications for better work and painting my whole damn first floor. Readers from Pittsburgh who like painting parties- leave comment below.

But in general, there seems to be a general concern that giving amnesty to illegal immigrants is going to lead to higher unemployment. I can’t see this. These immigrants are already here and they’re already working. Besides, none of us unemployed STEM professionals are losing our jobs to illegal Mexicans from Guadalajara. We’re losing them to an out of control financial system that is eating its seed corn and chasing down “get rich quick” schemes because they don’t understand that research is long term and takes continuity and stability. Anyway, I could go on another rant about that but it just makes it harder to find a job.

The other thing I’ve heard is that Obama has done it to help Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016. I had to laugh about that. When has Obama ever done anything to further Hillary’s career? I suppose all that “the Clintons are racists!” shtick back in 2008 was a glowing endorsement as well. Honestly, I can’t see the current batch of Democrats voluntarily doing anything to help Hillary. They’ve always been suspicious of the Clintons. Again, another thing I don’t want to go into because the crazy ideas and conspiracy theories on both sides of the aisle are disturbing and ridiculous. It would take too long to unpackage the amount of willful misdirection that Democratic operatives have done against two of their most loyal servants. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why Democrats want to scuttle them and would take almost anyone else who could generate the same star power.

The only conceivable benefits I can see to this bold political move, and let’s face it, this is by far the most audacious thing Obama has ever done, is to collect revenue from a previously underground economy, and to turn Republicans into howling shriekers of rage. It certainly takes immigration reform off the table for the next two years, doesn’t it? I mean, the Fox News crew can scream like flaming swamp monsters but there’s not much Republicans can do about it. Making a big effing deal about the landscapers and nannies will be yesterday’s news. They might actually have to do something about the rolling layoffs that make voters think that unemployment is actually worse than the bureau of labor statistics says it is. Keep that in mind because here in Pittsburgh, that is definitely the perception. Unemployment is still pretty bad, people are constantly in fear of losing their jobs and that *is* having a drag on the economy.

Of course, this brings up the new “Republicans will have to prove they can govern” narrative that came out since the midterms. Govern is not what they’ve been aspiring to for the last 30 years. Tearing things apart and auctioning off valuable pieces of government to the highest bidders in the private sector has been what they’ve been up to. Let’s see if the media will shine a light on that for a change. I know, I’m dreaming.

*******************************

The New York Times says that Serial has finally moved the podcast out of nerdville into the “gen pop”. I’m not sure whether to be insulted or not. I’ve always loved podcasts and can recommend many fine podcasters other than public radio spinoffs who have global audiences. Plus, I’m not a nerd. I’m a geek. {{sniff}}

So, while podcasts begin their ascendancy to fame, maybe it’s time Katiebird and I dusted off our old BlogTalkRadio show, Conflucians Say, and provide an alternative in the left blogosphere for talk radio. We occupy a different stratum of the left. We’re not “knit your own sandals” types, though Katiebird has mad knitting skills and I am a “do it yourselfer”. We’re not all retro coffee klatching, “for the ladies only” types like The View. I actually can’t stand The View. The last thing I want to do is water down important topics and assign sides based on personality types. And we don’t fit the typical lefty activist niche either. We don’t really sound like Virtually Speaking and I’m not interested in going in that direction even if we end up covering some of the same topics.

What we are is technologically current, degreed but not Ivy, wide ranging in our interests, intuitive and we have a good sense of humor. We’re both comfortably left but our minds are not so wide open that our brains have fallen out. Katiebird is more of a dove than I am. We both take no prisoners. She seems nice in her comments but she’s not a pushover.

Reviving our podcast going into the year before an election would give us an opportunity to figure out what’s important from a more mainstream left perspective. Besides, we and only a handful of other bloggers on the left, were right about the 2008 election and its outcome. You’d think that would make us a little more credible. Maybe we could snag some interviews. I have a list of people I’d like to talk to on the air.

So, what say you? Should we start a new, topical podcast? And if so, who would you like us to invite as interviews?

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.