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    • Is The Afghan War Lost?
      Danny Sjursen makes the case at the American Conservative. The piece as a whole is worth reading, but the bottom line is that the Afghan government’s own military and police are hopeless: losing to the Taliban.  The US military, with current force levels, cannot hold most of the country. Unless the US is willing to […]
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Good Bye 2014 and good riddance

2014 was supposed to be the rebuilding year. Well, it wasn’t. Health issues still plagued us well into the spring. It was scary, expensive and disheartening.

The job front wasn’t much better. I’m still in a part time position that barely keeps the lights on and the internet humming. So, yeah, about the same level of income that Lambert is managing to cobble together. This is not a good turn of events considering that Brook is in her freshman year and I can’t really send her any money. But this is clearly what the economy is demanding. There will be blood. Unfortunately, it will be mine.

The good news is I have met some people who are helping me get my act together and introducing me to potential employers. That has been a very bright spot for the end of the year. So, maybe 2015 will be the rebuilding year.

That is, unless the Congress and Obama crap all over it with even more penny pinching austerity measures meant to drive us to the brink of personal insolvency.

It could happen.

But, hey, the presidential campaign is going to start winding up next year. Katiebird and I think this site needs a major makeover and we’re going to start working on it. Who knows, we might even get to 52000 unique page views per day again.

In the meantime, let’s pour a cup of cheer tonight and, um, I dunno, watch a movie? Do some Wii Ski? I was invited to a big New Year’s Eve party at my cousin’s house with his band of Greek relatives but I have to get up early tomorrow. Maybe next year. But if I were going, this is what I would be drinking:

Rico is tending bar tonight and we’ve got a nice selection of appetizers. Try the seared scallops with creme fraiche and caviar, piggy back dates and stuffed mushrooms.

Tonight, we managed to snag Vince Guaraldi for music. I think he’s about to play Cast Your Fate to the Wind:

 

Don’t forget to tip your server. And try to keep it civil in here.

 

 

 

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#Serial: Gobsmacked by Jay

Update: Part 3 of Jay’s interview with The Intercept is up. Talk about manipulation, Jay’s the master. That doesn’t mean he had anything to do with the actual murder or coverup but, wow. He certainly knows how to work a room. Oh, and the stuff he says about Stephanie is pretty interesting and a little bit menacing.

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

As most of you who follow Serial know by now, Jay, the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, gave an interview to The Intercept. That’s Glenn Greenwald’s new digs. We like Glenn around here, especially with respect to his work on Edward Snowden’s revelations, although I’m betting he’s suffering some cognitive dissonance about his Obama vote in 2008.

Anyway, back to Jay. This time, he tells a completely different version of events to Greenwald’s colleague Natasha Vargas-Cooper. I haven’t read the whole thing yet but some of the new revelations from Jay are just bizarre and don’t match the timeline he gave the state during trial. For example, he says Adnan and he buried the body in Leakin Park at around midnight instead of earlier in the evening. That completely messes with the cell tower records that connected Adnan’s phone to Leakin Park earlier in the evening. He also said Adnan showed him Hae’s body at Jay’s grandmother’s house. So now Adnan has shown the body to him in about four different locations.

Then he completely trashes Sarah Koenig. Serial listeners know that Koenig bent over backwards to treat Jay fairly. She never even reveals his last name. As Adnan says in one of his last interviews with Koenig, she rakes Adnan over the coals for any tiny inconsistency, perceived change of emotion in his voice, and brings up embarrassing things he did when he was twelve, like stealing twenty bucks here and there from the mosque’s collection plates. Heck, my mom and her siblings stole stuff and did other naughty quasi illegal things when they were kids. If they get into trouble today, should we pull up and examine all the cottage cheese my mom took from the milkman’s truck when she was eight? But Koenig didn’t talk about all the things Jay did or Jenn did that might have gotten them into trouble with the law when they were younger. The only person whose character was under intense scrutiny was Adnan.

This is a big problem for us as human beings. Once someone is convicted of a crime, our whole perception of everything they have done since infancy is scrutinized for signs of malfeasance. If you are never convicted of a murder, your past and your word is sacred. This is the way Jay is behaving. How dare anyone drag him back into this period of time in his life that he would prefer to forget. He has a wife, you know. And kids. And they were crying when Koenig dropped by to ask him for an interview. His honor was besmirched, his reputation has been dragged through the mud. This. Must. Not. Stand!

So he gives The Intercept team yet another version of the truth.

What I find genuinely frightening, and I hope Glenn comments on it, is that you can be convicted of first degree murder and the state doesn’t have to prove that you were physically present when the crime was committed. It can rely solely on the testimony of a notorious fibber.  And that fibber doesn’t even have to say he saw you do it. He only has to tell police that you said you were going to do it. Last week. Or yesterday. Or maybe you didn’t say you were going to do it but somehow, you ended up with a body in your trunk. That you showed at four different locations.

The state is not required to check the body of the victim for traces of the accused’s DNA in order to convict someone of first degree premeditated murder. That to me is beyond shocking. I thought the rule in this country is that the state has to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise you are presumed innocent. But that’s clearly not what happened here.

I can afford to be charitable here. My theory has been that neither Adnan or Jay had anything to do with the crime, although Jay’s resentment of the magnet program for G&T kids appears to have grated on him for many years. If anyone had a motive to kill one of those kids and stick it to another one of those kids, it was Jay. That motive is more logical and compelling to me than Adnan’s inability to overcome the breakup blues. For that matter, there may have been a lot of kids at Woodlawn HS who could have hitched a ride from Hae on the day she died. One of them might have been pissed at Hae, or a budding rapist or serial killer. Why single out Adnan? There are presumably many former students who didn’t have an alibi.Or maybe it was someone from the local TV station that interviewed her that day. Or maybe it was a newly freed convicted rapist. The possibilities are endless but almost no one but Adnan was investigated.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this case has been hanging over Jay for way too long. Whatever shred of conscience that wasn’t coerced out of him by fear and the police might have been revived by Koenig’s relentless pursuit of the Nisha call. By giving this new version of events, he may be deliberately destroying the state’s case against Adnan, giving him a “get out of jail free” card 15 years too late. But hey, better than life in prison, right?

But Adnan has steadfastly maintained his innocence even when it has hurt him, and may continue to hurt him. If he is released on appeal because of a plea bargain for time served or some legal technicality, the idea that he was determined to be not guilty but still might have done it will follow him for the rest of his life. And the agent of that taint has lied repeatedly about very important aspects of this case. The idea that Jay thinks he is above scrutiny while the target of his lies has to prove his innocence in perpetuity is outrageous. If this is justice, we’re all potentially at risk for some very bad things to happen to us. The justice system appears to be running amok and any one of us could be minding our own business and find ourselves in way over our heads.

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

Here are some other interesting posts on the case and Jay’s new revelations:

Lawyer Susan Simpson at TheViewFromLL2 deconstructs the Court of Special Appeals hearing on Adnan’s post conviction appeal in 2003. She reveals some rather startling information about Jay’s “non-plea” agreement. There are some additional irregularities with the prosecution that are disturbing. The biggest problem that I can see is that once you have been convicted, your credibility is shot and no one in the justice system seems legally compelled to re-weight the burden of proof. Your task as a convict is Sisyphean. After reading this, I was convinced that there is something very wrong with this case and the manner in which the prosecution was securing the testimony of its star witness.

Rabia Chaudry at SplitTheMoon is rejoicing that Jay is telling new lies because he is ruining the state’s case against Adnan. But make no mistake, to prove Adnan never had anything to do with this crime, he’s going to need to pay lawyers, private investigators and forensic labs for DNA testing. You can contribute to Adnan’s fund here.

 

Merry Christmas!

May the hearts of the grinches grow five sizes today whether they like it or not.

Serial Withdrawal? Here are a few fixes

Rabia Chaudry. She makes a hijab look hot.

Update below.

It’s been almost a week since the last episode of Serial but the story is not over yet. There are appeals in the works and petitions and fundraisers. The BBC is picking up Serial to rebroadcast over the radio in Britain. So, the case of Adnan Syed and the mystery of Hae Min Lee’s murder will be exposed to a much wider audience soon. I have no idea when it will reach a mainstream audience in America. No one in my work or family circle is listening to the podcast, which makes it harder to obsess about. Fortunately for me, I turned Katiebird on to Serial. Do I feel guilty? Not a bit.

For those of you suffering from withdrawal, there are a few ancillary podcasts that I would like to direct your attention to.

First up, Sarah Koenig talked to Terry Gross this afternoon on Fresh Air. No big surprises here, though we do get to know a little more about Koenig and her personal quirks. Normally, Gross is a terrific interviewer and she’s not bad here either. It’s just that the subject matter is more meta than substantial. One thing I get out of this interview is how careful Koenig was trying to be as far as defining her role and protecting the people she was interviewing. In many respects, she is breaking new ground journalistically and sometimes, her journalism had unintended spillover effects on other aspects of the case. Consider Koenig the anti Nancy Grace (thank god someone has stepped up to fulfill that role). Nevertheless, her reporting may have influenced potential witnesses and we don’t know yet if those influences have been positive.

Those spillover effects are discussed briefly by Deirdre Enright in this Soundcloud interview with the other members of the UVA innocence project team that worked on Adnan’s case. I learned the most interesting information from this podcast. For example, Deirdre says that Koenig presented about 1/8th of the known facts of the case in her podcast. Ok, now I’m dying to find out what the remaining 7/8ths consist of. She also hints at Jay’s involvement and says that there may be other people in his circle who wmay have been involved in Hae’s murder. It’s just one of several scenarios they’re exploring. That doesn’t directly conflict with Koenig’s belief that Jay did not kill Hae but it does suggest that there is a story we aren’t being told and that was only vaguely hinted at in the last episode. There’s more information on the physical evidence that was found at the scene. It’s really pretty stunning that it was never tested to exclude Adnan. Deirdre also suggests that journalism and the law are sometimes at odds with each other and probably need to communicate more. This podcast was toothsome.

Finally, Rabia Chaudry of Splitthemoon had TWO podcasts this week. Both were pretty good. The first was with Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist. I can almost hear a version of  “The Muslim and the Godless can be Friends” at the hoe down. But this interview didn’t touch on religion at all. Nothing earthshaking here except two cultures showing how to do it.

The second is a weekly interview that Rabia has been doing with digital journalism professor Peter Rorabaugh on YouTube. This one had some juicy tidbits. For example, the state doesn’t like to admit it might have made a mistake so it is starting to push back against Adnan’s advocates and Serial. Rabia says that while the UVA innocence project team is ready to file a petition to test the DNA of samples found at the site of Hae’s body, the state may refuse to hand over the specimens. She said the state hasn’t been helpful before. Also, all those prepaid calls from the Maryland Correctional institute were not supposed to be recorded. Rabia says it’s in the initial recording that we heard every week but like an Apple iTunes agreement, most people just skip right on past it to get to the prisoner on the other end. That seems strange to me since both parties seem to be in agreement about what to record and Serial footed the bill for the calls. I can’t see what interest the State has in preventing the calls from being recorded under these circumstances. I think Serial is just embarrassing to the whole judicial system and this is their way of striking back. We’ll see how serious it is.

Anyway, enjoy the podcasts. I can’t believe this is the end of the story. Indeed it isn’t. As the series spreads beyond the podcastsphere, more mainstream people will become addicted and keep interest alive. That’s great for Adnan. Rabia is raising funds for his post conviction appeals. He has to foot the bill for the DNA testing, his advocates and the private investigators they are planning to hire. So far, she has raised about $24000 but she’s going to need about 10 times that amount to mount an effective defense.

Stay tuned…

Update: Last night, Jay posted something to his Facebook wall indicating that he’s now willing to be interviewed and that he was going to expose Sarah Koenig. Sometime during the night, he took that comment down. I’m guessing that someone told him he really should consult a lawyer first. Here’s the comment that a redditor was able to confirm:

“For the followers of the serial podcast produced by Sarah Koenig: I will make my self available for one interview : 1st, to answer the question of the the people who I hope are concerned with the death of Hae Min Lee (the person who’s paid the ultimate price for Entertainment). 2nd, to out this so called reporter for who she truly is.”

Reddit is too much of a conspiracy theory free-for-all for me to take much of what they say seriously but some readers over there did make the very good point that it’s a little odd that a guy who allegedly knew Hae was going to die, did nothing about warning her or the cops, and by his own admission helped bury the body, would suddenly find it distasteful that Hae’s murder has become the subject of “entertainment”. And if he wasn’t telling the truth about how he callously allowed an innocent 18 year old girl to die, then he just as callously allowed his friend to take the blame, sending him to prison for the rest of this life. So, there should be a lot hanging over Jay’s head, one way or the other. It’s probably not a good idea to make threats about exposing the reporter, who has a lot of extra material she hasn’t revealed yet.

As for who Sarah truly is, I suspect she thinks she’s less cool than she actually is.  Anyway, Serial is over for now. Jay had his chance to tell his side of the story, or one of the many versions of his story, and he declined. Too late now.

Happy Solstice 2014

“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

– Albert Camus

Here comes the sun!

My favorite Christmas movie scene

This scene has nothing to do with Christmas:

The Polar Express is my favorite Christmas movie. Oh sure, Rudolph has its charms but the 60s sexism just grates on me. I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas but living with an unreformed Grinch sucks. For music, nothing will ever surpass Vince Guraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas but I don’t believe the Luke version of the Christmas story. Sorry Linus. Weirdly enough, I’ve never seen the Heat Miser piece. I can’t even think of what it’s from but I hear a lot of good things about it.

Still, I’m sticking with The Polar Express. It’s about the true spirit of the season and thoughtfulness and kindness. I’m going to watch it again tonight while I’m doing Christmassy things.

What about you? Take the poll and share your favorite.

Serial: Yes, innocent people in jail have been incredibly unlucky

Lucky people do not end up jailed for life plus thirty years. Why do we need to state the obvious? You’re either guilty or innocent and unlucky.

This is what makes jailing innocent people for life so tragic. It is the culmination of a set of unlucky events.

The convicted knew the victim.

The convicted is the victim of a snitch or state witness with a plea bargain.

The convicted was stoned at the time of the murder, hadn’t eaten all day and can’t remember what he was doing.

The convicted was turned in by someone with a grudge or had heard a rumor.

The convicted left his car and cell phone with an untrustworthy friend.

The convicted had a track coach that didn’t take attendance.

Bad luck happens. It happens frequently enough that there’s an Innocence Project.

So, Serial came to a kind of conclusion today. Sarah Koenig says that as a juror, she would have to acquit even if she thought Adnan was guilty. But she doesn’t exonerate him because she still has doubt.

I don’t have that much doubt. I think the kid was just a convenient suspect without a reasonable alibi. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of one, if not two, people who were clearly lying. The only persons with a motive in this story are the police department and the prosecutor, Kevin Urick, who wanted to pin this murder on someone and to clear their books.

The recollections of Don and Jay’s other friend who were interviewed are interesting but say more about the actions of the state than Adnan. Don says the prosecution was angry that he didn’t make Adnan look like a creep on the witness stand. Jay’s friend says Jay was terrified but it sounds to me like he was more afraid of the cops since they were coming for him. The rest might have been a figment of his overactive imagination. The Pakistani connections could have been to a sticky black tar of THC for all we know. It’s hardly unusual.

I’m sticking with one of my original theories. The Baltimore police department wanted to wrap up this case, found an incredibly unlucky suspect and constructed a narrative to make him guilty. They threatened Jay, probably gave him information, intentionally or not, and ignored any other exculpatory evidence.

I don’t have any problems understanding why a high school kid would lend someone else his car or cell phone. Adnan sounds like he lent his car out to Jay frequently, maybe to make contact with those Pakistani connections. As for the cell phone, back then, and still today, you couldn’t bring your cell phone or pager to class with you. Teachers would confiscate them and you sometimes had to get your parents to get them back for you. It made perfect sense to me that you would leave your phone in the car while you were in school.

Sarah solved the Nisha call issue. I think we’ve all done butt dials, especially before the days of flip phones and smart phones. We often found ourselves questioning our bills or finding ourselves still connected to a call long after we had hung up.

But in the end, all the state had against Adnan was circumstantial evidence, a lying witness and a weak motive. Serial talked about that motive today as well but Adnan was never in love with Hae. Hae wrote about that in her diary. She loved him but it was disproportional to his feelings for her. He liked her and was fond of her but didn’t love her. Well, not like Don did anyway. It was a teen romance, they broke up, he found other girls to snog and made one of them, Nisha, the first entry in his speed dial. That’s not a person who has been pining over unrequited love.

Yes, Jay and Adnan probably did something that morning besides shopping. I’m guessing they scored something very powerful that wiped out Adnan’s memory synapses for that day. But in the end, there were many thousands of people in Baltimore that couldn’t account for their whereabouts January 13, 1999. Except for their lack of acquaintance with the victim, they could have all been murderers. In fact, one of them was. We just don’t know which one.

So, you know, Sarah, I’m just not buying it. I believe he’s innocent and I can’t resurrect my doubt until I see some physical evidence that suggests otherwise. The state hasn’t got it.

Sir William Blackstone said in 1765, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer“. Blackstone’s principle is a cornerstone of criminal law. That’s why we presume people to be innocent until proven guilty. John Adams expanded on that principle and predicted the state we are in now:

It is more important that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…. when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, ‘it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such a sentiment as this were to take hold in the mind of the subject that would be the end of all security whatsoever

It’s a tragedy that so much of our American justice system seems determined to thwart that principle these days. We are so intent on throwing people into jail that guilt or innocence doesn’t much matter.

What Serial and Koenig have done is give Adnan the thorough grilling that he didn’t get in his trial. And what we come find there are lies, innuendos, discredited cell phone testimony and not much else. What we find is a normal teen, a compassionate and good friend who made some seriously unlucky decisions one day in January 1999.

I vote to acquit Adnan. Release him already.