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      Let’s run thru the most likely possible victories in the upcoming federal election and consider what they mean for America’s future. Put them in 4 baskets. Trump wins. He does more bad stuff, situation continues to get worse, American post-WWII style multilateral hegemony and trade order takes huge hits. Biden or Harris win. Harris will […]
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#Serial: Maguffins

Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 8.00.15 AM

The green pin drop. The new focus of investigation?

Maguffin- a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot.

I’ve asked myself over and over again why I can’t quit Serial. I think it has to do with fear. If Adnan is innocent, and I think he is, then getting thrown in jail for life is something that could happen to any one of us. All it takes is a prosecutor who is willing to press for a conviction rather than the truth. Any warm body will do. All it takes is a missing alibi witness. As the country becomes more polarized and ideological, who is to say that more life ruining prosecutions couldn’t happen?

Maguffins don’t hurt either. A maguffin could be something tangible, like a Maltese Falcon. Or it could be the idea of a missing car. In general, it misdirects the attention of the sleuths. Serial could just as easily be called “The Case of the Missing Car”.

The argument against a third party or serial killer in the murder of Hae Min Lee was that Jay knew where the car was. That’s what also tied Adnan to the crime, very loosely, in my opinion. If Jay knew where the car was, that means he must have known who the killer was. Therefore, Jay’s story that Adnan committed the crime derives its legitimacy from his knowledge of the car’s location.

But what if Jay did not know where the car was. What if he failed to find the car for the cops on his first attempt. And while we’re at it, what if the cops knew where the car was all along and used Jay to corroborate the theory they had. Maybe they played a version of “hot- cold” with him until he “found” the car, just like they had refreshed his memory about what he did that day with the cell phone records log. If that’s what happened, i.e., Jay didn’t arrive at the location of the car independently, then his story means crap, even accounting for the crazy timeline of his multiple narratives presented to the cops and in his court testimony.

There are some new podcasts and links that suggest two possibilities with respect to the location of the car: 1.) The police found Hae’s car before they found her body and 2.) Jay failed to identify the location of the car on his first try. In other words, he did not know where the car was.

The first link is to Deirdre Enright’s interview with Coy Barefoot (real name) of Inside Charlottesville. This podcast is full of cluey goodness. Deirdre has said previously that Serial only revealed about 1/8th of the evidence in the case. In this podcast, she says her Innocence Project team is ready to file in the state of Maryland for the physical evidence to be tested for DNA. Yep, the whole motion is all wrapped up and ready to go- except, her clinic has been getting hundreds of phone calls from people. Some of them just want to tell her their theories. The rest are from people who have new evidence or information. This information is relevant to the case and it sounds like it is pointing towards an alternative suspect. So Deirdre is holding off on filing. It sounds like they are getting closer to cracking the case. And then at about the 6 minute mark, she drops a bombshell. She briefly recounts to Barefoot the summary of the case and then says that the police found the car before they found Hae’s body. At first, I thought she just messed up the timeline. But now, I think she let that piece of information dangle out there on purpose.

Then there is Rabia Chaudry at Splitthemoon. Yesterday, she participated in a Blogginheads.tv podcast about the case. She also refers to the car. She says that the first time that Jay takes the cops to the car’s location, he gets it wrong. He gets it right the second time. So, does Jay actually know where the car is? Because if he doesn’t, his credibility is pretty much shot. Rabia had the files for the case in her possession for 15 years but maybe she didn’t have all of them until recently. If she had, the appeals process might have gone differently. It sounds like either Deirdre, Rabia or some other source has found the document that shows when the car was actually found.

Susan Simpson of The View from LL2 was interviewed by Arms Control Wonk the other day. Susan is relentlessly anal when it comes to checking and cross checking Jay’s story. She and the arms wonks discuss geospatial analysis and she refers obliquely to one other important location (the green pin drop in the map above) associated with Jay that could be the key to the whole mystery of who killed Hae. I believe she also refers to Jay’s knowledge of the car’s location and that it’s not what it at first appears to be, i.e. confirmation that Jay helped Adnan.

Recently, she has been parsing Keven Urick’s interview with The Intercept. The Intercept has either posed as prosecution friendly or actually is prosecution friendly (my intuition says they’re faking it) and in doing so has given both Jay and Urick enough rope to hang themselves. Susan has ruthlessly slashed through all of their inconsistencies. Her latest post on Urick’s interview should put an end to any question of wrongful conviction. It looks like Urick had no idea what the cell phone records really meant. Or maybe he did and he was just counting on a jury that wouldn’t pay attention or would be swayed by a more emotional appeal. It worked for Urick. But it was just another notch on his belt. At some point, putting an innocent person away for life became less important than winning.

Taking the car off the table is a big relief to data nerds like me. Nothing else made sense while it was still front and center. That is why I didn’t really believe Jay knew where the car was. More than two decades in research does leave a mark. That piece of data just never smelled right. If Jay could be coached through the cell phone records, why not the car location? But it was always the convenient comeback of “Adnan is guilty” people who accept that Jay lied, the cell phone records made no sense and there is no physical evidence tying Adnan to the crime. “But Jay knew where the car was!” put an end to any other theory of the crime. Remove Jay’s claim and the case opens up and we can rigorously consider other possibilities. With Susan’s analysis, the cell phone records make more sense. It looks like Adnan really was at track like he says he was. Combine that with the Asia alibi letters and we can account for much of Adnan’s missing time that day. Then, expand on Jay’s personal connections and the calls that ping the Leakin Park cell towers also come into play in a more predictable way. Who knows, maybe Jay really did help bury the body at midnight.

While Jay was burying Hae, leaving her frantic parents in suspense for a month, Adnan Syed was. in all likelihood, fast asleep in safety and warmth of his family home, dreaming away his last hours of youth and freedom.

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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.