Crime Archives

May 8, 2014

Richard Linklater, in for the long haul

Richard Linklater

There are some filmmakers who make their movies, put them out, then move on to the next thing. Not Richard Linklater! After he completes his movies, it could be years (or decades) before he's really finished.

Consider his new movie Boyhood, which he took 12 years to shoot using the same actors over time. Or the Before trilogy, when he got Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy together three times over 18 years to tell the charmingly long-winded story of Jesse and Celine's romance.

At the time it was released, we didn't know Bernie would be another movie with a long time horizon for Linklater. But today we learned that, since the movie came out in 2012, Linklater has maintained some connection to the real life Bernie Tiede, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his rich and super-mean companion Marjorie Nugent. The movie apparently inspired a lawyer to revisit the case, and she persuaded a judge to let Bernie out on bail and reduce his sentence to time served (he's been imprisoned since 1997.)

The best part is that one of the stipulations of Bernie's release is that he live in an apartment in Richard Linklater's garage! "When Bernie comes out, he wants to take care of him," said Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the article that inspired the movie.

This means there's a pretty good chance that 15 years from now, he'll reunite with School of Rock's Miranda Cosgrove to be her campaign manager when she inevitably runs for President.

July 15, 2013

Spitzer changes his mind

Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, unlikely political candidates

Many thoughts spring to mind about Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer entering this year's NYC elections. Can a politician come back after resigning in shame? And do voters even care about embarrassing sex scandals? (In the case of Mark Sanford, I guess not.)

What's also springing to mind are the icky details and images we all have of these guys' gross, inappropriate, and/or illegal sex lives, unavoidably returning to our consciousness. I never wanted to think about, for example, black socks in relation to Eliot Spitzer again, for example, but there they are, rising from the dark corner where I had mostly repressed it. (Even if that detail turned out not to be true.)

I've also been thinking about a really good interview from Spitzer in Vanity Fair from 2009, just over a year after the scandal and resignation. In conversation with John Heilpern, he reveals a surprising level of sincerity and regret about his actions and how he betrayed his family and the public. When I first read it, I actually felt a little sorry for the guy:

"I make no excuses," he emphasized, staring at me earnestly. His contrition was palpable. He explained that he tried to do good as governor and before that as attorney general. "Then I sinned and created trauma."

"You knew the risks. Either you felt you were above the law or you had some kind of death wish."

His response was that neither was the case. "It's a story that has been repeated since our earliest days as a species. It's both obvious and not susceptible to an answer," he insisted. "Nonetheless, we are led down a certain path. It wasn't hubris or a death wish--but frailty, temptation, and common miscalculation."


"Do you think the scandal will ever go away?," I asked.

"No. My obituary's written," he replied with shocking finality. "And that is a very hard thing to live with." When he turned away, I could see he was in tears.

When asked if he'd ever return to politics, he said, "I've a hard time seeing politics as a career. I wouldn’t want to put my family through the agony." Well, his family's agony must be less of a concern these days, because I'm sure they've had a horrible week since he announced he was running for office again.

Spitzer's name recognition alone is probably what landed him at the top of a recent poll, though he does have certain qualities that would make him a perfect candidate for the job. He's not afraid to stand up to powerful corporate interests in protection of the public good, which these days is so unusual that it's automatically appealing. But he went about his vigilance against wrongdoing in a hyper-aggressive, asshole-ish kind of way, making the entire financial sector hate his guts. I half love this about him and half think it shows a stunning lack of judgment. When it turned out he was hiring hookers while fighting publicly against sex trafficking, the "asshole with bad judgment" characterization got a lot of extra points.

Given the uninspiring list of candidates we're looking at for major offices, Spitzer's immoral/criminal past alone might not be enough for him to lose the primary, but the entire financial sector gleefully mobilizing their resources to bring him down probably is. A Crain's article about corporate bigwigs responding to the Spitzer (and Weiner) candidacy shows a fascinating combination of nervousness and salivation. "This is very serious business," one business leader said last week. "The mayor is a very serious thing. Comptroller is very serious. And they have a big impact on the economy and quality of life. So the question is, do either of these guys deserve to do that, or would they be good at it?" "Neither one of these guys has any friends in the business they were in," said one business leader. "That's part of the reason they fell so hard," he happily recalled.

I doubt these guys could care less about the prostitution scandal, but they'll use it however they can to remind voters about those black socks.

April 8, 2013

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers poster

(Warning: spoilers)

I saw Spring Breakers weeks ago and have been struggling to come up with something to say about this movie and what it all means: the partying, the beach, the kids, the boobs, the drugs, the guns, the booze, the murder. I can't quite get my head around it, but here's what I've got.

The four girls at the center of the movie are so desperate to go to the beach for spring break that they rob a chicken restaurant using squirt guns and intimidation techniques we've all seen a thousand times in every heist movie ever (yelling, swearing, threatening to bust everyone's skulls, etc.) They are completely successful, and go to St. Petersburg to party.

The interesting thing is that everything the girls do is something they (and we) have learned through endless examples in TV and movies. They dance on the beach to techno, douse themselves in beer, scream "Woooo Spring Break!", shake themselves all over the place, loll around in their bathing suits stroking each other's hair, and occasionally make out with each other. They wear neon string bikinis because any other kind of bathing suit would never be considered for even one second. They sing "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears and talk about how Florida is the greatest paradise they have ever known. Any person who has experienced MTV or a movie about off-the-hook teen parties in the last 20 years knows exactly how to be a girl going wild on spring break, because we've all seen it hundreds of times.

And we all know exactly how to commit armed robbery and be a badass gangster because we've seen it hundreds of times, too. The girls move from robbery with squirt guns to partying on the beach to doing drugs in a cheap motel room to getting into serious crime with real guns and real gangsters, but it all feels like a logical progression along a continuum of familiar, predictable pop cultural references. They're always performing.

There's a flattening of "bad girl" behavior at work here: taking your top off at a beach party is more or less on the same level as stealing in order to have a good time, and neither is really all that different from hitting up a local drug dealer and taking his cash. We've seen it on TV and in movies. By the time the girls hook up with James Franco, put on their My Little Pony face masks, and start doing some real damage with assault rifles, it bizarrely feels like just more of the same. As Manohla Dargis writes, it's "more of a horror film than a comedy."

So is Spring Breakers a criticism of our hyper-sexualized, hyper-violent pop culture? I think it is. It's also really dark and really hilarious. The culture that teaches teenage girls to think people will like them more if they take their tops off and tongue-kiss each other for the boys is the same culture that thinks organized crime and murder are cool. We live in a world where teenage debauchery and gangs are a little naughty, but so exciting! And when the girls start killing bad guys, does that make them good? Maybe?

This is a controversial viewpoint, but that's how it goes with Harmony Korine. I like the cultural criticism in the movie, but even better is the dream-like impressionistic way a lot of scenes unfold. There are many sequences with recurring loops of dialogue and non-linear, abstract camera shots of sky, ocean, body shots, and making out in a hot tub that all sort of blend into each other in a nightmarish haze. It's indistinct and gorgeous, which is more than I would typically say about a scene shot in a Florida motel pool.

March 1, 2013

Craig Brewer's next movie that might be good

Craig Brewer and the Beverly Hills Gangster Princess

I'm a fan of writer-director Craig Brewer, the guy who made Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. He's a good director, and I especially admire how unpredictable/crazy his storylines and characters are. If you like Terrence Howard like I do, he's really fantastic in Hustle & Flow, plus that movie indirectly generated my favorite ever Oscars one-liner: after Three 6 Mafia had won Best Song and accepted their Oscar with adorably genuine enthusiasm, host Jon Stewart came out and said, "You know what? I think it just got a little easier out there for a pimp."

And Black Snake Moan, aka Samuel L. Jackson Chains Christina Ricci To a Radiator, is a bewilderingly strange movie about addiction, mental illness, and the blues, and it's frankly a miracle that it's anywhere near as good as it is. Plus it features a not-bad performance from Justin Timberlake as a returning soldier with PTSD.

Then, Craig Brewer made the Footloose remake, a weird choice, but I was willing to go with it. But by all accounts it was not darkly gritty or interesting, or even entertaining in any way, and I lost faith.

Then I found out what his next project is going to be: a movie based on last summer's excellent Rolling Stone article about Lisette Lee, an alleged Samsung heiress/model/singer living in Beverly Hills and leading a life of glamour and self-indulgence, who in reality was a super-manipulative sociopath from a modest background with a messed-up family life, who was ferrying hundreds of pounds of marijuana from LA to Ohio on a private jet. Eventually she got busted.

Now that's more like it! A story like this lets Brewer get back to what he's good at: exploring the flamboyantly self-destructive impulses of charismatic, mentally unbalanced people who want a better life. Or in some cases, an entirely new identity. He's going to write the screenplay and direct. The title of this movie is probably still not certain, though the AV Club helpfully suggests the brilliant Beverly Hills Weed-Jets.

This story about normal people becoming obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle and doing illegal things to try to get it reminds me of another great story-turned-movie: The Bling Ring of teenagers who blithely robbed celebrity homes for months in 2009. Sofia Coppola's movie adaptation is coming out this summer.

So I'm glad Craig Brewer is clawing his way back to movie respectability through the world of spoiled, lying, narcissistic drug mules.

January 23, 2013

Hell's Kitchen dancers, Hell's Kitchen pervs

Broadway Dance Center, and Private Eyes, on 45th St

There's an article today about a stretch of West 45th Street where a fascinating diversity of New Yorkers intersect. There's the Broadway Dance Center, a high-level school for aspiring young dancers that's been around for decades, and right across the street, there's a hotel for homeless people. Students and parents with kids at the school just learned that three sex offenders live (legally) at the hotel, including one guy who abused a 9 year-old, so now they're concerned. One 19 year-old student says, "We go home by ourselves every night at 11. It's dark and bad things could happen."

In addition to housing sex offenders, there have been violent incidents in the hotel, like a woman arrested for attacking a man with a knife a few weeks ago, who yelled "I'm the victim!" as she was led away. Residents of the hotel (and actually, anyone on the sidewalk) can see the Broadway Dance Center students dancing through large windows that face the street.

What this article doesn't mention, and the parents don't comment on, is the strip club immediately adjacent to the dance school, Private Eyes. You can see the sign in the photo above. I've long been amused by the variety of dance styles offered in one convenient midtown location.

All kinds of questions come to mind. Like: Do parents and students have any concerns about all the non-traditional forms of dance going on next door, while Broadway Dance Center students are walking home? Are parents worried about the Private Eyes patrons hanging around outside eyeing their 19 year-old daughters during ballet class? What about the Private Eyes dancers, many of whom are probably the same age as the students--is it dangerous for them to walk home after work past convicted rapists?

On a more practical level, do recruiters from Private Eyes visit the Dance Center to tell students about the job opportunities available to them after they finish Jazz, Tap, and Modern? Do Private Eyes dancers ever brush up their technique with a few Street Jazz Funk classes next door? Broadway Dance Center actually offers a class called Stiletto Heels, which seems like a perfect cross-over for students looking for an immediately lucrative career, right in the neighborhood.

One concerned mom with a daughter taking ballet says she doesn't like that the guys in the homeless hotel can watch her daughter during class. "The kids are all wearing tights, but they might as well be naked." She really said that, I swear.

May 31, 2012

Bad Love High School strikes again

Bad Love Teacher, Erin Sayar

The wholesome, glowing bride in this photo is Erin Sayar, a 36 year-old English teacher at James Madison High in Brooklyn. She was removed from her classroom in January for allegedly having sex with an 11th grade student she was supposed to be tutoring. The story is familiar to anyone who follows the non-stop deluge of disastrous teacher/student relationships that fit the Bad Love criteria: an adult in a position of power, a kid who doesn't know any better, lots of sex, and zero judgement.

The story goes that Sayar and the student started having sex both in her office during the tutoring sessions, where they also smoked the weed she kept in her filing cabinet, and in her SUV, where she pulled up in front of his house late one night last fall. In addition to the student's confession that the two of them had sex 8-12 times, he also identified tattoos "on intimate parts of Sayar’s body". And then there's all the texts. For some reason, teachers who have sex with their students are also ferociously enthusiastic texters--Sayar and the student sent 3,856 text messages in 17 days--over 200 a day!

Note to self: if you have 200+ text exchanges with someone every day, whatever it is you're doing with them, it's probably ill-advised and/or illegal.

Somehow, they got caught. Actually it wasn't the kid's mom who figured out what was going on, it was his girlfriend. In an interesting twist on the usual formula, the girlfriend saw her teenage boyfriend flirting with a teacher and got suspicious, so naturally, she hacked his Facebook account. There she found messages from him to his teacher: "I love you so much", and the one that just about breaks my heart: "I always loved you, since last year."

When the adult in these Bad Love situations declares their love for the teenager they're sleeping with, I pretty much assume that they're emotionally crippled delusional creeps. But when the kid tells his English teacher that he's always loved her, since last year, I just feel awful for that poor misguided lovelorn 16 year-old, whose romantic fantasy is a married mother with glaringly obvious mental problems. And I might feel a little bit worse for his girlfriend.

We should point out that James Madison High was also the site of some hot girl-on-girl teacher action in 2009, when a janitor stumbled upon two drunk language teachers, Cindy Mauro and Alini Brito, going at it after school in a classroom, which was the most excellent Bad Teacher story of the decade.

Man, my high school was SO LAME.

May 11, 2012

Who's Hotter?™: The accused well-dressed groper or the actual one?

Ladies: if you're going to be groped by a random dude on the street, would you prefer your assailant to be the man on the left, Karl Vanderwoude, who was wrongly charged with a series of assaults on women, or the man on the right, the dude in surveillance images from the Chambers St subway station who grabbed a woman's crotch on Centre St?

NYC well-dressed groper, accused and real

[more hot groper images here]

It took the NYPD three weeks to realize these two are not the same person, which in my view is pretty obvious if you share my awkward but undeniable views on the superior hotness of the real groper, the guy on the right. Sorry. Sue me. Anyone interested in a momentary, unsolicited, one-sided makeout session with a strikingly handsome fellow might get lucky if they hang out on downtown sidewalks, proffering their ass.

The not quite as handsome non-groper, Karl Vanderwoude, was arrested on a tip by someone who knew him well enough to provide the police with his phone number and the name of his roommate, but he was released earlier this week and all charges were dropped. After his name and photo were plastered all over the tabloids and local news as the "well-dressed" groper. The Post has been referring to him as the "gentleman groper", I guess because a good-looking white guy in nice clothes who grabs women's crotches on the street somehow still retains an air of respectability and decency.

Another strange aspect of the coverage of this story is a piece in today's Times which compares the misfortune of Mr. Vanderwoude and his false accusation to that of DSK and the botched police work around his charge of raping a hotel maid, noting that both men made the same much-photographed perp walk. "The ghost of DSK was hanging in the rafters," said Vanderwoude's lawyer. The Times comments, "The next wrongly accused person might not have an alibi backed up by video and e-mails. Is the Police Department making any inquiry to see what caused this wreck?"

Both examples represent high-profile NYPD failures on sex crime cases, but DSK's actual personal semen was all over a hotel room and the maid's clothes, while this poor guy was a completely innocent person paraded through the streets as a predatory ass-grabber based on faulty information. It's a bad comparison, and I'd be pissed. At least Vanderwoude wins any comparison with DSK, even if he lacks the beguilingly, distressing chiseled features of the actual groper.

May 1, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Dead Spy in a Bag

Gareth Williams, dead spy in a bag

You might have already read about the strange case of MI6 agent Gareth Williams who was discovered dead in his apartment last year, inside a duffel bag that was inside his empty tub. The inquest is happening now in the UK, and I thought I'd share some details surfacing about what is quickly becoming my favorite story of the year.

The Times seems to be enjoying the story, too, reporting from the inquest about the growing suspicion that Williams was not murdered as some sort of retaliation for his work at MI6, as his family suggests, but instead was part of a claustrophilic episode gone wrong. Attempts at recreating a scenario where Williams would have gotten himself closed up inside a locked bag all failed (see photos above), suggesting that other people were involved. And then there's this excellent paragraph:

Investigators also discovered that he had more than $30,000 worth of women’s high-fashion clothing, including Christian Louboutin shoes and Christian Dior dresses, in carefully packed bags in his apartment. Much of the clothing was brand new, but some of the 26 pairs of shoes had been worn, and a bright orange woman's wig was found over the back of a chair, along with a pair of newly pressed men's underpants, in Mr. Williams's otherwise sparsely decorated but conspicuously tidy bedroom.

"Sparsely decorated but conspicuously tidy." That is some beautifully insinuating journalism, there.

Williams had also visited bondage websites and his landlords report that they were once awakened by his screams. From his Wikipedia page: "Apparently he had managed to tie himself to his bed, and required assistance in releasing himself. The testimony was that Williams had claimed at the time that he had done it just to see if he could free himself and that he promised not to try this again. Nothing further had been said about the incident since, between Williams and his landlady."

The landlady reports that she and her husband cut him loose. "I said, 'Gareth, I can't have you doing this,'" she told the court. That was three years before he ended up dead in the duffel bag.

It just so happens that a friend of a friend wrote the book on claustrophilia. Cary Howie's book, Claustrophilia: The Erotics of Enclosure in Medieval Literature chronicles people's love of enclosed spaces and physical constraints through the ages. The Daily Beast tracked Cary down for an article on the case, since he's pretty much top dog in the world of claustrophilia theory. In explaining this predilection that maybe isn't as uncommon as you'd think, he says, "Imagine all the ways in which limitation produces or heightens sensation, from tight clothes to the formal constraints of certain kinds of writing, and then imagine how this works in space." Or in a duffel bag. Sexy!

The story also makes me admire the spies at MI6 for keeping up with the times. Britain's spy agencies, as the Times says, "are no strangers to scandals that have involved the sex lives of some of their greatest talents." Cold War-era spy novels, John Le Carré, etc., -- the sex lives of spies have always been a topic of fascination. If you were going to have a shocking secret sexual identity back in the '70's, it was good enough to just be gay. But times have changed, and the stakes are higher. Now you've got to own a bigger and fancier collection of women's shoes than any woman I know, be able to tie yourself to your bed, and, tragically, dabble in duffel bag enclosure.

Williams' body didn't show any signs of fear or struggle when he was found in the bag, so it sounds like he was cool with whatever was going on, until it all went horribly wrong.

March 23, 2012

Bad Love: Back with a vengeance

Bad Love, Hot For Teacher

A few years back, we started a regular feature called Bad Love to chronicle the endless cases of adults who start inadvisable romantic relationships with teens. The hallmarks of Bad Love include poor judgment, narcissism, lust, a kid who doesn't know any better, and an adult who really should. Common scenarios are teacher/student, volleyball coach/team captain, guidance counselor/troubled youth, and a few memorable instances of "cool mom"/son's friends. Bad Love had its own website for awhile, which was fun while it lasted, but deep down we knew we shouldn't be doing this.

Until today! I came across an article from a few weeks ago (tx ADM!) about business and computer teacher James Hooker, who left his wife and children for his 18 year-old student, Jordan Powers. Powers' mom found out about their relationship when she stumbled across 8,000 texts they'd written to each other over the past few months, though the couple claims they didn't have sex until she turned 18 in September.

Now the lovebirds have moved in together. James Hooker was banned from the school (where one of his kids is a student), and Jordan has decided to stop going to school, probably because all the other kids would tease her out of burning jealousy that she's dating her bald 41 year-old married computer teacher.

But what makes this such a classic tale of Bad Love is the textbook delusion case of James Hooker, husband, father, and erstwhile mentor for young minds. In an interview about his decision to abandon his family for a teenage student, he said, "In making our choice, we've hurt a lot of people. We keep asking ourselves, 'Do we make everyone else happy or do we follow our hearts?' I just kind of knew that she's the one."

She's the one! Yes she is. They're gonna grow old together.

Jordan's mom is understandably enraged, and has been waging an anti-Hooker campaign on Facebook. She says, "She looked up to him. [He was in the] position of an educator, [and you] don't seduce your student. Period. She's still in high school. She still lives at home. She has a curfew. That's not OK."

Don't worry, lady. Just wait a few more months until she realizes that living with her weird daddy-surrogate teacher Mr. Hooker is not cool or fun and she'd rather be at college doing Goldschläger shots like everyone else.

May 18, 2011

Some guys just have the knack

Officer Moreno, charged with rape     Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with rape

New York has a couple of high-profile alleged rapists in the news: Officer Kenneth Moreno, accused of raping a drunk woman in her apartment, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accused of attacking and raping a maid in his hotel room.

Let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that Moreno and Strauss-Kahn did in fact rape their respective victims. Both of these guys are opportunist rapists: I don't think either attack was premeditated, but when they realized they'd encountered vulnerable women they thought they could take advantage of, they went for it.

But one of these guys could teach the other a thing or two about how to commit rape if you want to get away with it:

First, pick a woman who is totally wasted. That makes it harder for her to defend herself, and makes it easier to discredit her in court. Officer Moreno is a real pro at this one, with the added bonus of being an alcoholic himself, so he could tell a story to the jury about how he empathized with his victim and spent those four visits to her apartment counseling her through her addiction, spooning in her bed, and singing "Livin' On a Prayer" to her.

Strauss-Kahn, on the other hand, selected a sober, able-bodied woman for his attack, and while he apparently was able to ejaculate somewhere during the assault (EWW EWW EWW), she eventually fought him off and got away.

Second, wear a condom. That way, there's less chance of physical evidence. Officer Moreno confessed to his victim, who was wearing a wire, that he used a condom when he raped her (and has subsequently gone through all kinds of bizarre logistical contortions to explain that one.) But he successfully avoided leaving any trace of his bodily fluids in the apartment or on his victim, while Strauss-Kahn's genetic material is being extracted from the Sofitel carpet and analyzed as we speak.

And we have the NY Post to thank for this additional piece of advice: you should wear a condom in case the woman you rape is HIV+.

We'll know in the next day or two if Officer Moreno gets away with it or not. I think it's going to be a lot harder to get to a guilty verdict for him than it will be for Strauss-Kahn, if he ever goes to trial. He may be a brilliant economist, but he's one sloppy rapist.

I hope they both get locked up forever.

April 18, 2011

Hey everybody, it's TAX DAY!

Tax forms

There are a few different approaches you can take to paying your taxes:

  • Protest large corporations that rake in billions in profits yet somehow don't pay any taxes at all (e.g.'s protests at Bank of America and Boeing.)
  • Protest the very existence of a federal government and its tendency to spend money on things (e.g. the Tea Party's "out of control spending" rallies.)
  • Feel mild resentment about the things you don't support that you know your taxes are helping to pay for (wars, high fructose corn syrup) but pay anyway because it's the right thing to do, plus you have to.
  • Refuse to pay your taxes for 10 years due to a belief that law enforcement and the IRS are part of the "Zionist Illuminati", stockpile weapons, and end in an 8-month standoff with US marshals, like Ed and Elaine Brown of Plainfield, NH.
  • Derive a certain dorky satisfaction from doing your civic duty and making sure that you and the government and your fellow citizens are square. In more ways than one.

Related to that last approach (where I ended up this year) I really like what David Foster Wallace has said about taxes. In 2005, he wrote a letter while researching The Pale King, saying, "I have a vague, hard-to-explain interest in accounting and tax policy (utterly divorced from my own taxes, which I pay promptly and fully like an Eagle Scout)."

He's a little self-deprecating about his dutiful approach to taxes, but he's more profound in his essay about grammar, "Authority and American Usage", which appears in Consider the Lobster. In a discussion of politically correct language, he ends up comparing right and left ideological arguments about redistributing wealth through taxes, pointing out a huge mistake by the left in framing taxes as some sort of charity:

Progressive liberals seem incapable of stating the obvious truth: that we who are well off should be willing to share more of what we have with poor people not for the poor people's sake but for our own; i.e., we should share what we have in order to become less narrow and frightened and lonely and self-centered people.

Along the same lines of paying taxes as a form of self-improvement, there's a great short essay on leftist fiscal policy website Our Fiscal Security called "Giving Meaning to Taxes". Here's an excerpt:

Most other things that require effort and sacrifice--family, service, charity, and volunteerism--have virtuous, or at least redeeming, meaning associated with them ... The stories we tell about tax day reflect a chronic disconnection from our role as citizens; they are devoid of civic meaning. Taxes pay for the things that underpin our public life and connect us to one another through our communities, our states and our country. When we lose sight of this, taxes are seen as merely depriving us of our individual property. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as stewards of a common good, as citizen managers of public systems and structures that secure the city, state and country we live in, then taxes are our contribution to something important that is bigger than we are.

Let's thank our grandparents and great-grandparents for building the highway system, Social Security, and public universities, and pay our taxes with a cheerful, Eagle Scout smile.

March 29, 2011

John Roberts: women's rights crusader?

John Roberts wearing his NOW pin

The Supreme Court heard arguments today for the Wal-Mart class-action gender discrimination suit. Some of the justices were questioning whether the women in the suit, Wal-Mart employees who say they've been underpaid and passed over for promotions in favor of their male co-workers, have enough in common with each other to all be part of the same suit. It's a reasonable question: there are many thousands of women in the suit, a few hundred of whom are the store managers who would have made the decision to underpay their female employees.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, the case shines a light on the recalcitrant issue of equal pay for equal work, a central issue in women's organizations and labor groups for many decades.

But at today's hearing, a surprise supporter of pay equality may have stepped into the spotlight: Chief Justice John Roberts.

In looking at statistics about men's and women's pay at Wal-Mart, and men's and women's pay nationwide, Roberts asked, "Is it true that the Wal-Mart pay disparity across the company is less than in the nation?"

The lawyer for the plaintiffs replied that comparing Wal-Mart pay statistics to national statistics wasn't relevant, which I think is code for "Wal-Mart's pay gap is actually smallerthan the rest of the country's."

But did you see what Justice Roberts did there? By asking that question, he might have made the case for the Wal-Mart employees just a little bit harder, but he's really saying this: "Hey, look, people, the real question here isn't why is Wal-Mart, the world's largest employer, underpaying its female workers. It's this: why are women EVERYWHERE making 77 cents on the male dollar? Why do men get paid more than women even within female-dominated occupations? Equality now, my sisters! Bring the justice!"

Senator Hillary Clinton re-introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2007; it's been brought up year after year with no success. Going after Wal-Mart and other discriminatory employers is important, but it's going to be a lot easier to do that when the laws are better.

January 11, 2011

Judy Clarke: defending our crackpot assassins

Judy Clarke

The latest star to emerge from the Tucson shootings is Judy Clarke, who will be Jared Loughner's public defender. Clarke is our nation's biggest superstar in defending world-famous psychopaths who commit mass murder. She's already defended the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the woman who drowned her two young sons Susan Smith, Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh, and she also helped with the defense of the US citizen charged in the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui.

Here's what I want to know: with such an incredibly dramatic legal career involving some of the most infamous murderers of our time, why haven't we gotten a movie based on the life and career of Judy Clarke? Or at least a TV miniseries? I'm thinking either Judy Davis or Cherry Jones to play Clarke. How about a title. "Counselor of Evil"? "The Mercy of the Court"? "Defender of the Damned"?

This is a woman who has made a life out of representing some the most hated people on the planet. Obviously, she's not going for acquittal in these cases. Clarke opposes the death penalty, and has been pretty successful at getting life sentences for her clients.

Let's look at her track record:

Not too bad--I'd say Loughner has a decent shot at avoiding the death penalty. Which probably means that a whole lot of people out there will continue to despise Judy Clarke.

Clarke is characterized by everyone who knows her as unassuming and low-key, avoiding all publicity and media, but she's also "tough as nails", "invisible to the press", and motivated by a strong personal objection to capital punishment. A death-penalty lawyer and friend of Clarke's says, "Judy would probably say if the public saw everything she sees, it would look at the client or the case differently."

Apparently she's really good at getting the public to see cases from her point of view: she's humanized the most monstrous killers just enough to persuade a jury to give a life sentence. I would guess this also depends on gaining the trust and cooperation of her clients. In Loughner's case, that will probably be especially hard: he sounds like a non-communicative, possibly schizophrenic nutcase. But she's done it before with other obviously mentally ill clients. Only two people other than McVeigh have been executed in the federal court system since the federal death penalty came back in 1988.

Also: her husband's name is Speedy Rice.

A tough, driven lawyer in a floppy-bow tie breaking down the defenses of child killers and terrorists, convincing the most psychopathic ideologues to plead guilty: I want to watch that movie.

October 19, 2010

Bumping rails and stealing TVs with Dottie from Gone Baby Gone

Dottie from Gone Baby Gone

I've been on the road for most of the past month, so it's been pretty quiet around here. Now I'm back, so let's peer into the murky world of marginal fame, moral turpitude, and racist Boston lowlifes!

I've said before how, despite his shortcomings as an actor, Ben Affleck really knows how to cast a movie. His latest, The Town, centers on an unconvincing love story and has a few too many pointless scenes, but the supporting cast is so outstanding that Affleck seemed to actually run out of meaningful roles for all those fantastic actors.

He did a good job with his first movie, Gone Baby Gone, too, giving the wonderful Amy Ryan one of her first big roles, and dredging up some really impenetrable accents from the South Boston neighborhoods where the movie was shot.

The most memorable parts of that movie for me were the scenes with Amy Ryan as an irresponsible mother, Helene, and her hahhd-pahhtyin' best friend Dottie. Those ladies were phenomenal. Watching them sleaze around Boston in their jean skirts and sweatsuits, looking for a good time and free drugs, was my favorite part of the movie. I remember Emily saying she couldn't wait to see the sequel, Helene and Dottie Bump Rails.

Maybe Ben Affleck's casting skills are even better than we realized: today we hear (tx Em!) that Jill Quigg, the woman he hand-picked to play Dottie, got busted for breaking into a neighbor's apartment, stealing a TV and a printer, then telling cops she had seen "a black man" break into the apartment.

Cops said they became suspicious of what Jill Quigg, 35, and her alleged accomplice Georgios Keskinidis, 28, told them about an unidentified black man breaking into the South Street apartment ... Quigg and Keskinidis told cops they saw an unidentified black male run from the crime scene with a 32-inch television and a computer printer. Quigg also told cops the break-in was "drug-related," but could not explain how she knew that.

They also told police they took the stolen goods to Quigg’s apartment located across the street from the crime scene for safe keeping.

Oh, Dottie!

Maybe she took her inspiration from Charles Stuart, the Boston guy who shot his pregnant wife in the head, then told cops that "a black man" had done it. Everyone believed him and a random black guy was actually arrested for the crime, until Stuart's brother confessed to the cops what had really happened. Then Stuart jumped from the Tobin Bridge into Mystic River and killed himself.

It's a Boston Gothic story William Faulkner could have written if he was from Quincy.

Even if she made up the part about the black man, Jill Quigg probably had one part of her story right. In her IMDb bio, one of her quotes is: "I'd love to do more acting, absolutely, but right now I'm working on staying sober."

September 28, 2010

The non-political implications of guns at UT

Police clear students out of UT after shooting

Today's shooting at University of Texas today might be most distinguished from other campus shootings because the ski mask-wearing gunman didn't actually shoot anyone besides himself. After running down the street carrying an AK-47 and terrifying students and professors, the 19 year-old Colton Tooley went to the 6th floor of the library, opened fire, missed everybody, then shot himself.

Cushie sent me a blog post from the Austin paper the Statesman about a reading that had been scheduled for tonight by John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, a sentiment that after today's events could be viewed as more reasonable than ever or morbidly perverse, depending on what you think about guns.

Anyway, Lott was brought to campus by a student group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. The best part of the post is a quote from the president of Students for Concealed Carry on the reading's postponement due to an armed student opening fire on campus: "I don’t want to comment on any political aspects of this."

I know I'm a Democrat from the Northeast so am fundamentally unable to understand nuanced concealed-carry arguments, but seriously, more guns?!

Here's a great article from Harper's from a month or two ago, "Happiness in a Worn Gun", in which a liberal pro-gun guy in Colorado tries carrying his gun around for a few weeks to see how it feels. His conclusion: not so great.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on Charles Whitman, who killed his mother and wife, then went on a shooting spree at the University of Texas in 1966.

August 25, 2010

Movie trailer by anti-Muslim cab stabbing guy

Last night a "very drunk" 21 year-old guy was arrested for stabbing the driver of his cab after asking him if he was Muslim.

From the Times article:

After falling silent for a few minutes, the passenger began cursing and screaming, and then yelled, "Assalamu alaikum -- consider this a checkpoint!" and slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck, and then on the face from his nose to his upper lip, the alliance said. ("Assalamu alaikum" -- "peace be with you" -- is a traditional Muslim greeting.)

The assailant, Michael Enright, was an SVA film student who had recently been in Afghanistan shooting his documentary, Home of the Brave, about US soldiers.

The trailer is on YouTube:

It features young soldiers talking about what inspired them to enlist (9/11) and what it's like to be part of a tight-knight group of soldiers (they've got your back) and, actually, makes being a soldier in Afghanistan look pretty fun. There's basic training and motivational speeches in an auditorium, and also Christmas and birthday parties and playing with a friendly dog. Doesn't look like the film includes combat, probably because as a film student he wasn't allowed to see any action.

But clearly Hollywood has defined what we think war is supposed to look like, because there's a trailer for another movie called Home of the Brave that looks far grittier and more violent. This one is about Iraq, not Afghanistan, and it stars Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, and 50 Cent, but when you watch the trailer, the on-the-ground scenes look a lot more war-like than the documentary. It was directed by the guy who produced all the Rocky movies.

More bombs, fewer birthday cakes.

Anyway, it seems like Michael Enright was deeply attached to the US soldiers he met and other friends who were deployed, and somewhere along the way he went nuts. Interestingly, he was also a volunteer for Intersections International, a nonprofit that works to overcome racial and religious boundaries, in their veteran's dialogue program.

The cab driver is going to be OK.

July 29, 2010

Heroin branding

Now and Laters, candy version

The Daily News reports that a big heroin and crack ring operating in a Bronx housing project just got busted. After a year of investigation cops arrested 6 dealers yesterday, but haven't gotten the leader of the operation yet.

There are a few colorful details about one of the dealers they picked up, Tyrell Blue, who liked to post pictures of himself holding a wad of cash with a "$100 billion" wrapper around it on his MySpace page (which sadly looks like it's been deleted.) The article includes another shot of Tyrell with his arms around two girls who look like they're 14 and whose moms might like them to put on a different shirt.

Anyway, the article also mentions some of the brand names the guys used for their products, a form of marketing that I never get tired of hearing about. These guys sold heroin named after a luxury clothing line: Gucci. A classic brand of Mexican motorcycles: Carabela. A generic tough-sounding name: Power. And a leading brand of taffy: Now and Later. Love that one.

A month ago, the Times did a story on an art exhibit called "Heroin Stamp Project", in which members of the Social Art Collective gathered empty heroin packets from all over the city and displayed 150 of them.

Some of the brands are standard bad-ass sounding names with an aura of danger, like the names you might come up with if you had to name a new men's perfume: White Fang, Notorious, Last Temptation. One sort of inexplicable brand is Daily News, that also used an image of a camera like the paper's logo. And some are surprisingly blunt about the deadly nature of the product inside the packet: Last Shot, Game Over, No Exit. One called Shooters, with two guns facing each other John Woo standoff style, is apparently intended as both a reference to shooting up and as a threat to another dealer who was trying to sell on his block.

A thread on drug site Bluelight has tons of crazy heroin brands from the last 20 years. Some highlights: G.I. Joe, Marlboro, Tuna, Nestle, FDR, Dog Food, EZ-Pass, Adult Content, and my favorite, Fleetwood Mac. More threads here--people can talk about this forever.

May 18, 2010

Cuddle up a little closer, big oil

Bigs from BP at a Senate hearing

Today's Senate hearings about the BP oil well blowout featured Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who got all kinds of accusations about the "coziness" in the relationship between oil companies and the government regulators that are supposed to keep things like this from happening. Salazar admitted that his department had gotten lax, saying "there's obviously things that are inappropriate" going on at Minerals Management Service, the agency in question, and that we need to "clean up that house."

Let's remember the subtext of what Salazar is talking about here. Aside from MMS not being very good regulators, there have also been all kinds of corrupt shenanigans going on there for years now. A report by the Department of the Interior from a year and a half ago found that government regulators were literally in bed with the oil companies they were supposedly regulating.

Some MMS staffers were having sex with their oil reps, while others were accepting the usual illegal free stuff like ski trips, football games, and Toby Keith concerts, as well as smoking pot and using cocaine at oil industry parties. That's on top of more run-of-the-mill corruption like funneling oil contract money to friends and letting oil companies underpay on their contracts.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said at the hearing, "It is long past time to drain the safety and environmental swamp that is MMS. This agency has been in denial about safety problems for years." The problems probably started during the boozy golf outing days of the Bush administration, when the guy in charge of the MMS royalties program was sleeping with his secretary and buying cocaine from her boyfriend. But the people running the show there now should have gotten their act together.

April 9, 2010

Ride pimper, possible wife killer

Monica Beresford-Redman

This is a photo of the cute and sassy Monica Beresford-Redman. I'm assuming it was taken in the mid-90's, judging from the cigar. She's the owner of an LA nightspot that every news story refers to as "the Zabumba bikini bar", and the wife of Bruce Beresford-Redman who created MTV's "Pimp My Ride" and produced some "Survivor" episodes. Bruce was detained by Mexican police yesterday when Monica was found dead in the sewer system of a hotel near Cancun where they had been staying.

He was released today, but has been asked not to leave the country. It's not looking so good for Bruce: guests and staff at the hotel heard them fighting (probably because she had just learned he was cheating) and saw him try to hit her on Monday night, when she was murdered. It looks like she was scratched and choked, and Bruce has scratches on his face and neck, which if you're even a casual viewer of "Law & Order", you know is highly suspicious.

(Note: I realize that you can't really use crime-solving strategies from TV and movies to investigate real crimes. But, OK. In addition to the usual, face-scratches = guilt calculus of many "Law & Order" episodes, there are instances in pop culture when scratches on a suspect's face do not ultimately point to guilt.

One example is Sam Raimi's fantastic and probably underrated movie The Gift, in which an abusive and monstrous Keanu Reeves is initially suspected of killing Katie Holmes, in part because they were having a secret and probably really hot affair, and also because he got scratches on his neck the night she was killed. It turns out that his explanation for the scratches--"Stray cat. She didn't like it when I killed her."--though absurdly over the top in trying to make his character seem menacing and evil, was actually legitimate.)

But in the case of Bruce and Monica Beresford-Redman, I'd say those scratches were likely not from a stray cat. The night of their fight and Monica's death, their hotel door was also opened and closed "at least 11 times". Remember how in Rear Window, Raymond Burr's series of comings and goings late at night from the apartment complex was part of what led Jimmy Stewart to conclude that he had killed his wife.

Bruce B-R probably didn't set out to kill his wife that night (assuming he actually did it) but started hurting her in a moment of anger and poor judgment and, oh, whoops, she's dead. But if he'd spent more time watching crime dramas, he might have know how to cover his tracks better.

March 30, 2010

The illusion of subway safety

NYPD Hercules force on the subway

After Monday's terrorist attacks on the Moscow metro, the New York papers reported that the NYPD was stepping up security on our own subway: "Deadly Moscow subway suicide bombing triggers security alert in New York".

Phew! Way to stop those Chechen separatists from attacking us.

While we probably don't need to worry about the Black Widows riding the A C E line, there are real threats on our own subway system: early Sunday morning, two guys were stabbed to death on the No. 2 train over a tossed Duane Reade bag that accidentally hit the killer.

As of today, the killer still hasn't been caught. The Times points out that the Christopher Street station, where the stabber got off the train, doesn't have any security cameras in it. And of the 4,000+ surveillance cameras installed in the subway system after 9/11, about half of them don't work.

The Daily News reports that the Christopher Street station didn't have an agent at the token booth that night, because it was closed last year due to budget cuts. So there's no good description of the killer; the Times says he is "described only as Hispanic."

In other MTA security news, the Daily News reports that the MTA has eliminated the cops stationed at the exit of the Midtown Tunnel and the towers at the Verrazano Bridge on weekends. Instead, the bridge and tunnel will be monitored by, you guessed it, surveillance cameras.

So today we've got cops from the NYPD Hercules unit with M16's riding the 6 train to provide the illusion of security against terrorists in Russia, while the guy who actually stabbed real people on our own subway is still out there.

A couple of great quotes from subway riders questioning yesterday's heavily armed cops:

"I think it's excessive," said Holly Celentang, 26, a rider from Queens. "I feel there should have been a bit more of a thought process before they did this. We can't lose our heads over something that happened in another country and make New York City look like we are at war."

Torey Deprisest, 23, who was vacationing from Ohio, said he was stunned at the show of force.

"I think it's ridiculous," Deprisest said. "The attack happened in a different country and had nothing to do with Americans. I'd be nervous seeing cops with machine guns on the train. It makes people afraid when they don't need to be."

September 29, 2009

Strange crime

National Science Foundation

Some interesting crime stories today:

  • The National Science Foundation, which gives out billions a year in public funding for scientific research grants, has spent a lot of time on employee misconduct cases lately, including one senior executive who last year spent 331 days watching online porn. When he was busted, he claimed he was chatting with naked ladies online "to help provide a living to the young women from poor countries." How progressive of him. Investigators estimate that his time spent on porn cost taxpayers $13,800 to $58,000.
  • An Alabama minister chopped off a deputy's hand with a bush ax when police confronted him about a domestic violence call at his home. Rev. Curtis Watts was shot after he cut off the cop's hand, leaving his neighbors surprised: "He was a good Christian man. Something happened to him, but I don't know what," said James Crawford, 76.
  • NYPD has identified the guy who allegedly stabbed another guy in front of the 34th St post office in broad daylight on Sunday, after the two men bumped shoulders on the sidewalk. A tourist took some cellphone pictures of him. His name is Sirmone McCaulla, and he served in Kuwait. Surveillance video shows him stabbing the guy and walking away, as the NYT reports:

    ...but then he appears to have forgotten something. He returns to the location "at a relatively slow pace" and retrieves what the police believe is his cellphone, before proceeding north, continuing in the same direction he had been taking before the fatal meeting just moments before.

September 28, 2009

Roman Polanski and how to screw up a case

Roman Polanski

Polanski extradition = total mess.

It's like everyone involved in the entire history of this case has massively screwed up. There were lapses in the prosecution process by the judge. Polanski got nervous after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, then skipped the country before sentencing. The US inexplicably decided last week that Justice Must Be Served on a warrant that's been outstanding since 1978 and arrested him on his way to accepting a lifetime achievement award. It's a sloppy disaster.

If Polanski had just seen the plea bargain process through back in 1978, he would have spent his 20 days in jail or something like that and gotten through probation, and now he'd be able to make movies wherever he wants and serve as a guest judge on American Idol.

Instead, he's in jail in Switzerland at age 76, where he could be for 60 days while the US gets its formal extradition request together, then when/if he ends up back in court in LA, he'll have to deal with the fallout of running out on his sentence for a 31 year-old crime.

Meanwhile, members of the European film industry are making some half-intelligent, half-boneheaded statements that more or less claim that, because Polanski is a famous movie maker, the criminal justice system should just let this one go. It's nice that the victim has long since moved on and forgiven him, but he still pleaded guilty to sex with a 13 year-old, and in the words of Walter Sobchak, this is not 'Nam, there are rules.

I'm only partially kidding, here. Yeah, his movies are good (except Bitter Moon, man, that's a stinker) but suck it up and just serve your sentence, already. In response to the arrest, the French Cultural Minister said, "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face." Well said, but America is a lot like Polanski himself: there's the filmmaker who did Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown that I like, there is also a scary child rapist that's been hiding behind his celebrity for 30 years.

How about this for a solution: issue the warrant, fly him to LA, sentence him to time served (which was already done once), and everyone's done with it. Polanski can buy a place in Malibu and direct Charlie Kaufman's next screenplay and everyone can get on with their lives.

Maybe Polanski is lucky that he's went through his plea deal back in the 70's instead of today: AP has a piece on homeless sex offenders in Georgia who have been instructed to live in a makeshift camp out in the woods because there are no shelters or halfway houses that meet Georgia's strict living restrictions. These rules are supposedly made for public safety, and we end up with a bunch of sex offenders living together in the woods. Great.

August 21, 2009

"Let's get one of Bambi holding the gun"

waitress with a rifle

  • Some cops in Midland, TX got in trouble for taking this week's best picture, above. Someone called the cops after seeing this young waitress holding a big rifle and hanging out in the parking lot outside a restaurant. When they arrived, it turned out the guys she was hanging out with were other cops, who had been in the restaurant when they invited the waitress out for a little photo shoot. Her name tag, The Smoking Gun points out, reads "Bambi". I love that she still has on her apron with straws and pens in it.
  • New study: "the typical adult video game player is overweight, introverted and may be a little bit depressed."
  • Tuesday night's wild storm knocked down 500 trees in Manhattan.
  • A lot of the big movie star vehicles this year haven't done so well, and studios are trying to compensate, in part by paying stars less. Land of the Lost, Pelham 1 2 3, Duplicity, Funny People all had big stars and did worse than expected. The movies that did well are Harry Potter, Transformers, and Up, none of which were really popular because of their stars.

    And don't forget about that relatively small budget South African movie with zero stars where half the dialogue is subtitled. District 9 was mostly pretty good (except for some terrible dialogue toward the end,) but what I especially like about it is that studios will notice, again, that when a movie is well made (and well marketed) it doesn't need a huge budget, a famous director, big actors, or a dumb plot that's spoon-fed to the audience to make money. I love when people turn out for good, atypical movies and make them hits.

August 11, 2009

Crime, movies, Pee Wee

Pee Wee Herman

  • Paul Reubens is bringing back his live show that began in 1980, The Pee-Wee Herman Show, to an LA theater this fall. Most of the original cast and crew will be back, which I hope specifically means Laurence Fishburne.
  • A completed documentary about some guys trying to find the reclusive John Hughes is going to be released. It seems that late last week, they were suddenly able to find a distributor. It's called Don't You Forget About Me, but could also be titled You Forgot All About Me Until My Untimely Death Hit the News.
  • A Brazilian crime show host is being investigated for generating stories for his TV show by ordering killings. I wonder if that's how "Cheaters" works too.
  • A man was found guilty of groping Minnie Mouse at Disney World. The costumed victim said she "had to do everything possible to keep his hands off her breasts."
  • It's real: Bob Dylan Christmas album
  • Upcoming Hank Williams biopic. He died when he was only 29. Who could play Hank? I like Channing Tatum, who's from Alabama like Hank, if he can lose some of the beefiness. Or James Franco (too crinkly?) or Paul Dano (too baby-faced?).
  • A map of drug use across the US, by state. Vermont and Rhode Island like their drugs, North Dakota prefers binge drinking.
  • A report about the Waterfront Commission of New York, which was created to fight waterfront corruption, finds that (surprise!) it's corrupt.

July 8, 2009

Public Enemies: maybe I expected too much?

Johnny Depp in Public Enemies

The movie I've been most looking forward to all summer is Michael Mann's Public Enemies. I love some of Mann's movies (especially The Insider, Manhunter and most of Collateral), I love Johnny Depp, and I'm a sucker for period gangster movies that involve slick suits, big guns, and smoky nightclubs.

Maybe my expectations were too high. I was completely prepared to love Public Enemies, but I didn't.

The good things about it:

  • If the movie had any overarching theme, it's how our society constructs crime. John Dillinger knew how to turn on the charm and use the media to make the public love him, even though he was a thief and a murderer. J. Edgar Hoover also uses pop culture to launch his War on Crime, showing "America's Most Wanted"-style reels at movie theaters about "public enemy number one" like a sort of 1930's reality show. Hoover's methods may have backfired, since spotlighting Dillinger made him even more of a celebrity and a folk hero, but it's interesting to see the moment when law enforcement turned real-life crime into entertainment.

  • The contrast between Dillinger the man and Dillinger the pop icon. I love the scene of John Dillinger in a movie theater, watching the reel about himself. He watches, sort of detached and bemused, with only a moment of anxiety as the audience is instructed to "look to your right; look to your left", but of course, nobody notices him. John Dillinger is just an unsophisticated farm boy who's good with a machine gun; Dillinger the public enemy is practically a movie star.

  • The overlap between Johnny Depp and John Dillinger. In one of the only moments of exposition in the whole movie, Dillinger declares that he likes "baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars, whiskey, and you", speaking to a pretty girl he just met. He's a man of action who isn't interested in image, even though his image is what makes him who he is. You could say the same things about Johnny Depp, judging from the recent Vanity Fair feature where he carouses around with his buds, drinking and enjoying being Johnny Depp, yet has no interest in watching his own movies.

  • The scene where a mob middle-manager (played by John Ortiz, who was in "The Job") tells Dillinger that they will no longer associate with him, launder his money, give him guns, or let him use their safe houses, because he's "bad for business." The mob was pulling down a lot more cash through their gambling ring than Dillinger was stealing from banks, but the feds were only interested in Dillinger, because he made a better celebrity-criminal. This one scene says more about perceptions about what kind of crime matters in this country than anything else in the movie, and I wish they did more with it.

  • Marion Cotillard telling an abusive cop, "When my Johnny finds out how you slapped around his girl, you know what's going to happen to you, fat boy?"

But overall, the movie felt surfacy and meaningless. It's fine to drop in on the action with no exposition: we can figure out who these characters are as we go along. But it's like there was nothing to figure out. I never felt like I understood what John Dillinger was all about, except that he was good at robbing banks, and I have no clue what the members of his gang were like. Wouldn't it have been interesting to see some stuff about the relationships between Dillinger and his gang, the people at the safe houses, and the madam he was friends with? It would have been, but we hardly got any of it.

The gritty look of the HD video was fine and made sense, but using hammy dialogue straight out of a 40's gangster movie totally didn't fit with the look. The acting was cold and flat, which is fine for a movie that doesn't glamorize its characters, but then it's almost impossible to care when those characters get arrested or killed. There are no cheesy biopic cliches, but there also isn't any character development, emotion, or suspense. As Roger Ebert says in his (positive) review: "His name was John Dillinger, and he robbed banks. But there had to be more to it than that, right? No, apparently not."

I'm surprised that I these characters were so uninteresting, because Michael Mann knows how to get you to care about his characters. Think about The Insider: Russell Crowe is brave, but he's thorny and unfriendly, not especially likable. But we really care about what happens to him and want to see where the movie goes. We already know what happens to Dillinger, so we need something else besides the plot to feel invested in him, and I don't think we got it.

My favorite review is David Edelstein's in NY Magazine. He suggests that the best rejoinder for Public Enemies is the Michael Jackson video for "Smooth Criminal":

It's a tommy-gun gangster fantasia with a touch of Guys and Dolls, and it's everything Public Enemies isn't: madly inventive, genre-bending, a passionate tribute to the artist as outlaw-loner. The video reminds you why the gangster has become an existential hero in pop culture: It’s how he seizes the space. On some level Michael Mann knows that, but he's paralyzed by his pretentions and specious morality. And he can't dance.

Here's the long version and the short version of the MJ video. Not really a fair comparison, but the video is a lot more fun than the movie.

April 27, 2009

Timely programming

Law and Order: CI, Michael Emerson

While flipping channels in a hotel room the other day, I landed on the Washington, DC version of My9 (which is called My20, and is just as bad) and an old episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Some darkly clever programmer picked the single episode of that show that would most freak everyone out last week, amidst the growing trend of people deciding to kill their families.

The episode is called "Phantom", and was from the first season of the show, in March 2002. It's about a seemingly respectable middle-aged man who gets caught living a lie and making fraudulent investments with his family's money when his elderly father starts asking to withdraw his cash. The man starts to panic, and finally tries to kill his young children so they won't learn the truth and despise him.

Familicide--ripped from the 2009 headlines! Creepy. And who plays the fraudulent schemer but BENJAMIN LINUS!

You can watch an edited version of the episode on YouTube that gives you all the good parts in under 15 minutes. Including a particularly awesome Vince D'Onofrio, talking down a shotgun-wielding Ben Linus in an absurdly melodramatic, yet oddly affecting, speech that shows all the best and weirdest aspects of his character. That show was better than I think I realized at the time.

April 14, 2009

Scary mug shots

Phil Spector, Melissa Huckaby, and Nina Myers

These are the booking photos for Phil Spector, who was just convicted of shooting Lana Clarkson six years ago, and Melissa Huckaby, the Sunday school teacher who was charged with kidnapping, molesting, and killing an 8 year-old girl and stuffing her body in a suitcase. Both are pretty freaky. Their upturned faces and Spector's wild eyes and Huckaby's blank ones make them stand out from your typical celebrity mug shot.

They remind me of one of the greatest shots from the first season of 24, in which we see surveillance video of sexy villain Nina Myers murdering her colleague, then looking up at the camera with a delightfully evil glare.

Nina Myers on surveillance on 24

You can watch the scene from 24 here, starting at 1:00. (The video has a terrible soundtrack, best to watch with the sound off.)

April 10, 2009

Recession roundup

Abolish Money photo

[from NY Times Picturing the Recession series]

Here's a brief list of things people are doing right now as a result of the recession, besides the usual cutting back on expenses and getting canned:

March 4, 2009

Someone who isn't Gary Condit arrested for killing Chandra Levy

Chandra Levy

DC police are about to arrest a man for killing Chandra Levy back in 2001. The guy in question, Ingmar Guandique, is already in prison, after making a habit of assaulting women in Rock Creek Park. He apparently talked to some other guys in prison and wrote letters and made phone calls that included gruesome details about the attack, and the case was built on their testimony.

Gary Condit might have been telling the truth all this time! The beleaguered former Congressman may be a cheating slimeball, and really unlucky in his selection of interns to have an affair with, but maybe he didn't have her killed.

After the murder, Condit looked like the prime suspect. Women's killers are almost always their male partners, and a successful, powerful, married politician looked like just the kind of guy who would have his young secret girlfriend killed. There are still a lot of arguments floating around out there about Condit's probable guilt, detailing his suspicious absences on the day Chandra Levy disappeared. He also tried to paint Levy as a slut, which made him look desperate and guilty, and also like a huge jerk.

Mostly famously, my own favorite celebrity, crime, and celebrity crime reporter Dominick Dunne's theories and gossip about the case in his Vanity Fair column added to the speculation that Condit did it. The weirdest stuff Dunne talked about was a rumor he had heard that Condit was hanging out with the leaders of a prostitution ring at Middle Eastern embassies in DC and told some guys that he had a girlfriend he needed to get rid of. A Times article from 2003 describes it better, but it's basically hearsay based on a rumor based on the report of an unnamed, unreliable horse whisperer.

Anyway, Condit sued Dominick Dunne for defamation and they settled, then sued him again and lost. Remember, Dunne's own daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend, who got off with a light sentence, so his own emotions probably played a role in his assumption that Gary Condit was a murderer.

Gary Condit was ruled out as a suspect in the police investigation, but it seems like the public still thinks he's guilty. Reader comments to a CBS story about the case from last week include a lot of things like "CONDIT=MURDERER=GUILTY". And an episode of "South Park" refers to Condit as a killer that got away with it, OJ-style (the one where Butters' parents try to kill him after he follows his dad into a gay bath house.)

Even with new evidence that Condit had nothing to do with the murder, his political career is long dead, and his post-Congress career hasn't gone so great. He was sued by Baskin-Robbins in 2007 for not paying franchise fees for his two Arizona ice cream stores.

The Washington Post has an exhaustive series on the Chandra Levy case from last year with details about Ingmar Guandique, who was a suspect back in the fall of 2001, but the investigation was sloppy and he was eliminated as a suspect. One of the guys who Guandique told about the killing says that Guandique originally claimed Gary Condit had paid him to kill Chandra Levy, so it might not be over yet.

February 2, 2009

Who'dat?™: child actors, drug traffickers

Today's edition of Who'dat?™ is just about impossible, but you can go ahead and click on the photo below if you think you know who it is before I give it away.


But here's a hint: "Horses Are Pretty".

Yes! It's little Hallie Kate Eisenberg, who played temperamental indie director Christie in IFC's funny ads from the late 90's [watch examples, "You be quiet! No you be quiet!" and "Lili doesn't know her lines today"].

So the real news is here is that Hallie Kate Eisenberg is going to star in a new movie currently being filmed in NYC called Holy Rollers, and it sounds awesome.

The movie is based on a true story about a ring of drug traffickers who brought an insane amount of Ecstasy into the US in the late 90's. The twist: they were all Hasidic Jews. Sean Erez, an Israeli-Canadian in his early 30s, worked with a 17 year-old kid from Brooklyn, Shimon Levita, who recruited his teenage friends to make trips back and forth to Amsterdam carrying tens of thousands of pills at a time. The LA Times has a good pretty story on the case from around the time everyone was sentenced in 2001. Also the NY Times quotes Levita speaking to a New York judge during his sentencing: "I was raised in a real orthodox religious house," he said, hands clasped behind his back. "We didn't have no television and no radio. I didn't know what drugs were. But in nine months in jail, I learned what they can do."

Yesterday's Daily News had a good piece on the movie--they interview director Kevin Asch and actor/producer Danny Abeckaser, who got the idea for the movie while watching a documentary on the real smugglers on Discovery. The article covers a nightclub scene that was shot recently at Marquee, with a great photo of guys in yarmulkes and black suits walking through a crowd of dancing club kids.

The young smugglers are played by Jesse Eisenberg, the older brother in The Squid and the Whale, and Justin Bartha from National Treasure. Cast also features 16 year-old Hallie Kate Eisenberg, and, best of all, Q-Tip as an Ethiopian Jew named Ephraim.

Last year, the real Sean Erez was convicted, again, for trafficking cocaine in Toronto.

January 12, 2009

Ladies fall for "You Light Up My Life" every time

Jared Harris in Happiness

The Daily News has a story today about Joseph Brooks, a man who wrote the 1977 love ballad "You Light Up My Life", made popular by Debbie Boone and used as the title song in his show biz/romance movie of the same name, which Brooks wrote and directed.

These days, the 70 year-old Brooks is using his apparently durable fame to lure aspiring actresses to his apartment via Craig's List ads, promising to show them the Oscar he won for the song and give them parts in his next movie, then drugging and raping them. He's allegedly committed 5 such assaults over the past two years. Gross.

Maybe he was inspired by Jared Harris' use of the song in Todd Solondz's Happiness, in which his Russian cab driver character's acoustic rendition effortlessly sweeps a love-struck Jane Adams into bed.

Here's the video (involves sex, NSFW):

Here's a video of Debbie Boone singing the song at the Grammys.

December 30, 2008

Roland Burris graciously accepts pretend Senate seat

Roland Burris and Rod Blagojevich

Look at the smile on Roland Burris's face. That is one brave and gracious man. Getting appointed to the Senate by an indicted governor who is in process of being formally stripped of his appointing powers -- it must be sort of like when you're playing with a small child who, feeling generous, starts handing you random objects she picks up, like other people's wallets or her mom's thing of lipgloss. You know it's not really yours, but you smile and say "thank you!" anyway to keep up the illusion.

Poor guy. He has to stand there pretending this sham is for real, and then Bobby Rush points out to everyone that once Obama is inaugurated there will actually be zero black people in the Senate. Good point! But let's be honest here: everyone knows that Blagojevich can nominate a really exceptional and worthy person to the Senate right now, even someone who he couldn't squeeze for any cushy jobs for the delightful Mrs. Patti Blagojevich, and it doesn't mean squat.

I would have no problem hearing an outburst from Mr. Burris sometime in the next few weeks about how he got used in this silly charade by a greedy, meaty-fisted charlatan trying lamely to make himself look honorable as he crashed and burned. Potential upside: at least his name is out there now, so he could very likely get appointed by some less tainted Illinois person, or even elected through a legitimate process.

Also: Gawker points out that on his way out of the press conference, Blagojevich demonstrated spectacularly poor word choice by asking the press not to "lynch" Burris over the ongoing corruption scandal. Dude, it's all over.

November 25, 2008

New patron saint of Bad Love

Gina Salamino

Move over, Pamela Smart! Another ex-teacher has set the new standard for hitting the Bad Love jackpot: Gina Salamino, 37, a former 2nd grade teacher from Queens.

Salamino met her inappropriate love interest, Josh Walter, when he was 12 years old. When he hit 17, they started dating. Luckily for Salamino, in the intervening years Walter became a super-hot successful male model. Now he's 19, doing great as a Hugo Boss runway model, and lives with Salamino and their child. The dream can be yours!

Not only did Salamino get her teenage boy to engage in an actual, quasi-legitimate relationship with her (something most Bad Lovers never come close to achieving), Josh Walters is on the record declaring his affection for her, while sounding embarrassingly like a pretend rapper. From the Daily News story:

"I'm tapping that ass and there's nothing you can do about it," the teen responded, says the report from Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.

In a written statement to investigators, Walter said he considered Salamino to be "my shorty."

The lesson for would-be seductresses of impressionable children everywhere is this: get them while they're young enough that they'll be bewildered and enchanted by your amorous attention. You don't have to make your move until they've reached puberty, but plant that seed when they're definitely too young to know what they're doing.

While the world is wondering what an attractive successful guy like Walter is doing with an older, less attractive elementary school teacher who got fired as a result of their relationship (she's suing to get her job back,) the answer comes straight from Walter himself. In a video of models talking about their personal lives, he talks about his new career (in a wonderfully thick accent): "It hasn't really changed me that much. I'm still the same person that I was. I'm just in magazines and books and shit."

In other words: he's not tempted by all the other women he's met traveling around the world and doing fashion shows. He's still the same old guy from Queens, living with a older, sort of dumpy 2nd grade teacher/Bad Love mastermind.

Eat your heart out, Debra LaFavre!

September 10, 2008

Sex, Drugs, Oil, and Toby Keith

Big Oil is sexy!

Poster by Finnigan Productions

Today's ethics scandal is all about the corrupt government agency that oversees our nation's oil and gas reserves. Great timing, right?

As Sarah Palin said in her acceptance speech, "We Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. We've got lots of both!" And, as it turns out, we've also gotten lots of bribes, sex, and drugs in return for for selling it to oil companies.

A Times covers a report from the Department of the Interior that busts the officials responsible for selling our country's gas and oil. Turns out our government is literally in bed with big oil. The report characterizes the department as "a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch."

A few of the best findings:

  • Bribery: oil companies gave government employees drinks, tickets to a Toby Keith concert, football and baseball games, and highly illicit paintball outings
  • Sex: two employees had "brief sexual relationships" with their oil industry reps
  • Defrauding taxpayers: the department let oil companies pay less than their contracted price for the oil they bought
  • And while this doesn't strictly count as government corruption, one guy who directed sales of our oil regularly bought cocaine from his secretary, who he also had sex with! Even though he was buying coke from her boyfriend, too. Nice.

Here's the official Royalty-in-Kind website, which is the department where most of the shenanigans went down. It's part of the larger Minerals Management Service, which brings in $10 billion in revenue a year (not counting all the weed they smoked with oil reps on their free ski trips.)

August 5, 2008

I bet the Red Cross is loving this photo

Bruce Ivins, Red Cross volunteer

The weirdest story in the news is the unfolding drama of Dr. Bruce Ivins, the government scientist suspected of being behind the anthrax letters of 2001. The FBI's investigation for the last 7 years has mostly been a mess, and they still haven't released real evidence that links Dr. Ivins with the anthrax letters.

Ivins killed himself last week with an overdose of Tylenol with codeine, which is a really bizarre way for a scientist who deal with deadly chemicals all the time to opt to poison himself. It's a really slow, painful death, taking days to destroy your liver.

The case has already generated lots of negative publicity for every organization that Ivins had a connection to. Without any real evidence to point to, the media is reporting random bits of information about him that have nothing to do with the anthrax case. Among them:

  • The Red Cross. Ivins was a volunteer with his local chapter, and the AP photo of him above has been all over the news for a couple of days now. Is there ever good press about the Red Cross? I don't think there is.
  • Kappa Kappa Gamma. Ivins was allegedly obsessed with the sorority after dating a Kappa in college, and visited houses around the country in the 70's and 80's. The anthrax letters may have been posted from a mailbox near the Kappa office at Princeton. Of course, this has nothing to do with anything, and reports about Ivins' interest in Kappa seem to have been leaked by the FBI to make him look suspicious and creepy in a way that is not at all connected to anthrax.
  • Tame-sounding porn. Ivins also rented a post office box, where he got pictures of blindfolded women mailed to him. Again, who cares.

And how about the details of the FBI's investigation? They interrogated his two kids using highly suspect methods. In the Times: "They had even coercively questioned his adopted children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24, with the authorities telling his son that he might be able to collect the $2.5 million reward for solving the case and buy a sports car, and showing his daughter gruesome photographs of victims of the anthrax letters and telling her, 'Your father did this,' according to the account Dr. Ivins gave a close friend."

The FBI also searched his house last fall, and "bureau surveillance vehicles openly followed the scientist for about a year." He was escorted out of his lab last year, which a colleague said was "so humiliating. It's hard to believe."

Dr. Ivins was reportedly suicidal for the last month and was hospitalized for 2 weeks in July, claiming that the FBI was going to arrest him for 5 murders. Which, of course, they would have done, if they had gotten credible evidence against him. The FBI had already admitted botching their misguided 2002 investigation against another scientist in Ivins' facility, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who just got a $4 million settlement.

So he ended up killing himself. Ivins' suicide is probably going to become a part of the FBI's case against him, but look: I've seen The Long Goodbye. Just because a suspect kills himself doesn't mean he did it. In a way, his suicide is going to let the FBI off the hook for a sloppy investigation that never found convincing evidence of Ivins' guilt.

But if he actually did do it (and there's some evidence, mostly circumstantial), the best motivation for mailing those anthrax letters that I've seen is that he wanted to focus attention on the threat of biological warfare. In the Times' article from the weekend: "To some anthrax experts, while reserving judgment on Dr. Ivins’s case, his identification as a suspect fit a pattern they had suspected might explain the crime: an insider wanting to draw attention to biodefense." He also held patents for anthrax vaccines.

Pretty ironic that the US's only deadly biological attack ever might have come from one of our own government employees, who had been honored for exceptional civilian service in 2003 for his work in anthrax.

July 14, 2008

(53rd + 3rd) = (hookers x 2 boroughs)

53rd and 3rd, Manhattan version

The Daily News has a story on a woman who was walking to the emergency room last fall to get some help with her asthma, while wearing a long winter coat, and got picked up by the cops for prostitution. It was 2:30 AM, and she was walking alone on 3rd Avenue near 53rd St, an area the Daily News says is popular with prostitutes. You may know the Ramones song "53rd & 3rd", a song by Dee Dee Ramone about hustling for drug money back in the '70's.

Except the woman who got arrested was at 53rd and 3rd in Brooklyn. She was going to Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park.

Amazing. Is there some kind of cross-borough predisposition for certain intersections to attract the same kinds of people? I wonder if some South Brooklyn hookers knew the reputation of Manhattan's 53rd and 3rd and decided to base their operations at their local intersection to solicit confused old-school punk fans.

It looks like the Manhattan 53rd and 3rd hasn't changed so much since the 70's: when a big prostitution ring was busted in March (not the Spitzer one, the other one), one of its brothels was at 229 E 53rd St, just a few doors down from 3rd Avenue.

All charges were dropped against the Brooklyn woman who was mistakenly arrested last fall, and she's issued a complaint against the cop who brought her in.

July 1, 2008

My new favorite New Yorker: Randy Credico

The many faces of Randy Credico

The greatest guy in NYC* might be renegade drug-policy activist and stand-up comedian Randy Credico. Today's Times has a feature about him and his strategy of protesting small-time marijuana arrests. He sits on his stoop on Gay Street in the West Village, a quiet block where pot-smokers like to go, and warns people not to smoke there because the cops will likely bust them.

A pretty harmless campaign, and as Mr. Credico puts it, "Listen, I don’t want people committing crimes on my street and I tell them not to." But he also spent a night in the Tombs a few weeks ago after yelling at officers and telling them "that that they should be 'solving murders,' not making marijuana arrests."

He may claim that his warnings to pot smokers are just a crime-fighting strategy, but Credico is a much cooler and stranger guy that. He's the same one who randomly offered Shawn Kovell $25,000 for bail when she was arrested along with "preppy killer" Robert Chambers--one of my favorite stories from last year. She ended up turning down his offer for unclear reasons (she said she would have preferred rent money), but Credico's generosity seemed to stem from his desire to decriminalize drugs and get people in trouble like Shawn Kovell out of jail and into treatment.

Turns out the Times has been covering Credico's one-man crusade for some time now. Three years ago, they did another profile of him, which reveals the origins of his activism: trying to quit cocaine and happening to hear about the large number of black and Latino people in prison due to New York state's Rockefeller laws:

"I felt like I had dodged a bullet, because I'd violated those laws a million times but never came close to being arrested," he says. He was insulated, he claims, by his milieu: white, privileged and connected. "If I were black or Latino I'd be in prison right now. I feel like a lot of these guys are doing my time. Fighting these laws, which are unjust and racist, was a perfect platform for me: the antiwar movement is 0 for 50, you can't stop a war, but a movement to repeal the Rockefeller laws is something local. You can put a face on it."

When he's not on the comedy circuit, he works at the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, a legal aid service that fights the racially-based structure of our drug laws, and also hangs outside 100 Centre St taking pictures of judges in drug cases and undercover cops bringing in drug arrests--"Pretty easy to spot," he said. "The cops are usually white and the perps are almost always people of color." In his stand-up routine, he jokes that "Bloomberg" is Yiddish for "Giuliani".

There's also a great video of Credico in today's piece where we see him talking to cops, complaining about the drug laws, and smoking a big cigar.

*besides Christopher X. Brodeur, that is

June 26, 2008

Times Square, dirty and Dursty again

Kathleen Durst's missing person poster

Today the Times examines the recreation of 70's era Times Square on W. 38th St, for a movie called All Good Things. The movie is about (or at least "inspired by") the story of Robert Durst (crazy oldest son of the prominent real estate family) and his first wife Kathleen who, along with just about everybody else in Mr. Durst's life, is presumed to have died under very mysterious circumstances.

The movie is directed by Andrew Jarecki, who did the excellent documentary Capturing the Friedmans, another story about a cryptically messed-up family. Kirsten Dunst plays the long-lost and similarly-named Kathleen Durst, who vanished in 1982 after 10 years of marriage to Robert. Ryan Gosling also stars, and I'm guessing/hoping that he plays Durst. If you thought his delusional, tic-y loner in Lars and the Real Girl was a little unnerving, wait till you see him shaving his eyebrows and doing primal scream therapy.

You can read lots more about Robert Durst's epically strange and dangerous life in a very thorough bio. Highlights include Asperger's syndrome, witnessing his mother's suicide, almost certainly killing 3 people and dismembering 1, living as a not-very-convincing woman, and stealing a chicken salad sandwich.

The Times post goes into detail about how much Times Square has changed, and the regret that many New Yorkers feel for the transformation of the gross but thrilling area into a mall.

Earlier: Robert Durst is a free man, getting back into real estate

June 9, 2008

James Freys of the world not doing so well these days

Wildly successful writer and loathed memoir-fabulist James Frey has been having a rough few years. One thing he can be thankful for: he's not a child molester.

Another guy named James Frey got busted over the weekend for soliciting some kids in Washington Heights. First he offered a 9 year-old boy $5 to run away with his pants half way down. That same day he allegedly punched a girl in the face for refusing to give him her underpants. Ew.

The story ends well, though. He got caught when a group of teens, led by the older brother of the kid Frey offered $5 to, circled around Frey and cornered him until the police got there. "That's my brother. I didn't want anyone to hurt him," said 14 year-old big brother Jamel Hadley.

The Post has a good picture of the resourceful group of kids who captured the evil predatory James Frey:

Kids who captured James Frey

Sex offender James Frey was also arrested in 2005 for abuse. Here's his file in the state sex offender registry, which makes the other James Frey look like an eagle scout.

Media punching-bag James Frey has a good interview in this month's Vanity Fair. He seems like he's more or less doing OK. Janet Maslin seems to have forgiven him enough that she wrote her review of his new novel (we're all just coming right out and calling it fiction this time) Bright Shiny Morning in his old style of short, sharp sentences, which he thankfully seems to have left behind.

May 20, 2008

Almost-mythological R. Kelly child-porn trial is actually happening

R. Kelly at the Grammys

Over the past six years, you may have heard about successful and deranged R&B singer R. Kelly and how he was charged with having sex with (and maybe also peeing on) a teenage girl/girls, and taping himself doing so. Finally, the judge, the lawyers, and Kelly himself all showed up at the same time, a jury was selected, and opening statements are happening today.

Even though the judge in R. Kelly's case has forbidden access to sealed documents and closed hearings, there are so many weird details about this case, including all the other instances in which R. Kelly has had sex with underage girls, that the media is still finding plenty to talk about.

The Chicago Sun-Times published a long story in 2000 about R. Kelly having sex with teenage girls, and two years later, the incriminating videotape was sent anonymously to one of the authors of that story. The paper's website has has an incredibly thorough special section dedicated to the case. Recent headlines include "R. Kelly angrily hurls basketball at reporter at rec center" and "Potential juror: R. Kelly's 'not very smart'".

They also have a blog about the case, with a recent post suggesting that Kelly's brother might testify against him with evidence that R. Kelly tried to bribe him to say it was him in the infamous video. In an earlier interview, the paper quoted Carey "Killa" Kelly as saying, "And I say to America, the criminal justice system: If you let that n***** off, he's going to do it again, trust me. I bet my life on it."

The Sun-Times has owned this story from the beginning, but the NY Times has a good background article today, too. They interview some media and culture scholars about the case, with a few interesting conclusions. One of them thinks that since 2002, we've all gotten so used to sexed-up teenagers that this dirty video case seems like less of a big deal than it might have at the time.

The Times quotes a professor of black culture at Duke, Mark Neal, who notes that since the indictment, R. Kelly has continued to write songs about having threesomes and called himself the "Pied Piper of R&B", implying that he seduces children with his music. "Either he’s absolutely demonic or stupid or crazy."

Yep, probably. Or, as R. Kelly once attempted to explain the messes he's gotten himself into: "In life, you have people that love to party. That’s me. People that love God. That’s me. People that love sex. That’s me. People that love people. That’s me. And people that make mistakes. That’s me also."

Mm-hmm. Well, he also said at the time of his indictment that "Osama bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I'm going through."

I think I'm going to stick with demonic, stupid, or crazy.

May 15, 2008

Our awesome justice system

jury duty

Jury duty is an aspect of public life that many people think about only in terms of what strategy will get them out of it. You can try claiming you don't believe in the justice system, saying you're racist, saying your brother-in-law is a cop--everybody has theories about what to say during voir dire so that you don't get picked for a case.

This is totally the wrong approach. The chances are low that you'll get to put away Uma Thurman's stalker, but there are still lots of good things about serving on a jury. Once you get past the boring part of sitting around waiting to get selected, it's sort of cool:

  • For today's TV-loving juror, court rooms have been turned into entertainment venues. Everything that happens in there really is just like what you see on "Law & Order" and "Judge Judy". You'll almost definitely get to hear "all rise" every time you enter or leave the room, lots of objections (often vehement), deal with crotchety old world-weary judges, and maybe even get a few tears from emotional witnesses.
  • If you're dealing with a civil case, you get the opportunity to feel like you're leveling the playing field of our unfair world just a little bit by making corporate America/greedy doctors/unscrupulous landlords/corrupt nail salon owners/your oppressor of choice pay up, big time. This is incredibly gratifying.
  • During deliberation, you get to re-enact your favorite scenes from 12 Angry Men and either coolly persuade dissenters to come over to your rational way of thinking, or play the insane crabby jackass who holds out and almost ruins the whole trial. Not that you would actually change the outcome of the verdict through manufactured drama, but for anyone who enjoys playing devil's advocate, it's kind of fun.
  • Getting a whole jury to agree on a dollar amount for a civil case award is tricky, but everyone loves throwing around other people's money. Why stop at 50 grand? Let's give 100! No, 200! It's like you're on Oprah's show where you compete to give away a million dollars, but you don't ever get eliminated and, as far as I can tell, you can pick whatever huge number you want.
  • And let's be honest here, you get a legitimate reason not to go to work for a few days. Some days the judge will probably release you hours earlier than you would ever be able to leave work, and you should feel no obligation to go into work or use this time productively at all. As long as you're not self-employed, it's not a bad deal.

So go ahead, send in that juror questionnaire! It's not as bad as you think.

April 23, 2008

Seamy underbelly of Hell's Kitchen returns to obscurity

Dead Guy Pay-O-Matic in Hell's Kitchen

The two long-time Hell's Kitchen residents who wheeled their dead friend to a 9th Avenue Pay-O-Matic [above] in January and tried to cash his social security check were cleared of forgery and larceny charges yesterday. There was no proof that the dead guy, Virgilio Cintron, was actually dead at the time they brought him out of the apartment, so the case was thrown out.

And so, after a brief moment in the spotlight, this reminder of what the neighborhood (and a lot of the city) was like decades ago recedes to the background. The neighborhood is increasingly made up of $15/glass wine bars and posh baby-clothes stores, but those exist right next door to the check cashing places that serve the surprisingly resilient non-yuppie segment of the Hell's Kitchen population.

During their period of fame, the two defendants, James O’Hare and David Daloia, shared a lot about their lives with the press. Back at the apartment yesterday, O'Hare said that at the time of Cintron's death, his landlord was trying to evict him. "Maybe I feel like I should have done more," he said. "I could have done more to help him with the medication. I loved the guy. I miss him."

Daloia said, "If the medical examiner couldn’t tell his time of death, and they are the professionals, then how could we?," which doesn't make much sense, considering that they were actually there with the body, tried (unsuccessfully) to pull some pants up onto him, and carried him downstairs onto the street where a crowd immediately noticed that the man in the computer chair was dead.

Daloia and O'Hare have also expressed their surprise at all the media attention. From the Daily News: "Daloia said he was still amazed by all the attention generated by their arrests. 'I thought Britney Spears took her pants down again,' he said outside court."

From Newsday: "Daloia can't understand all the fuss. 'I robbed banks that got less coverage than this.'"

March 26, 2008

LA Times completely duped by Tupac fan/forger

James Sabatino

The Smoking Gun totally busted the LA Times today over last week's story about the Tupac shooting that implicated Puff Daddy. Turns out the FBI documents that formed the basis of the story were fabricated.

And here's the best part: the guy who forged the FBI documents is James Sabatino (above), a known con man and rap fan who has been trying for years to, as the Smoking Gun puts it, "insinuate himself, after the fact, in a series of important hip-hop events, from Shakur's shooting to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G." In the forged documents he created, Sabatino actually named himself as one of the New York hip-hop figures who lured Tupac to the site of the shooting.

I love it.

This isn't the first time Sabatino has made up connections to famous rappers. According to the Smoking Gun, he had "created a fantasy world in which he managed hip-hop luminaries, conducted business with Combs, Shakur, Busta Rhymes, and The Notorious B.I.G., and even served as Combs's trusted emissary to Death Row Records boss Marion "Suge" Knight during the outset of hostilities in the bloody East Coast-West Coast rap feud." He's currently in federal prison for some other crime.

Wired has good coverage of the many misspellings, typos, and other inaccuracies littered all over the fake FBI documents. And the NY Times is continuously updating their story, providing lots of details about LA Times journalist Chuck Philips (Pulitzer Prize winner!) and excerpts from interviews he's given since the article came out last week in which he gushes about how exciting it was for him to get such fabulous FBI reports--"like frosting on the cake." Philips notes that he had mysteriously never heard of James Sabatino in all the paper's years of reporting on the Tupac case, but insists, "he definitely knew these guys."

The LA Times has started to investigate their gigantic screw-up.

At the time the article came out, Puffy called the allegations "beyond ridiculous", which still seems to be true.

Another great bit from the Smoking Gun piece about Sabatino's other attempts to pass himself off as a hip-hop bigshot:

Sabatino has frequently claimed to have managed a number of leading hip-hop acts, including Notorious B.I.G., Lords of the Underground, and Heavy D and the Boyz. Du Kelly, a member of Lords of the Underground, described Sabatino as a "scam artist" who briefly tried to befriend the group's manager. Kelly said that he recalled Sabatino as a "short, Caucasian, little chubby fat guy" whose "father was supposed to be Mafia or something." He added that Sabatino also tried to get near the Wu-Tang Clan, "but I heard they beat him up."

March 17, 2008

Increasingly cynical state looks forward to non-sleazeball leader

David Patterson, our new governor

After what feels like the fastest political scandal in history, David Patterson is getting sworn in as our new governor today, and will be taking on a state government full of corruption, ineptitude, and mutual partisan loathing. Plus we're in the midst of a tempestuous budget season and a recession.

Actually, Albany is like that pretty much all the time. We've gotten so used to corrupt politics in our state that having a competent, non-combative, upstanding guy in power feels like a radical new approach to government. If Patterson can just avoid swearing at/threatening Assembly members and stay out of any federal criminal investigations, he'll probably be heralded as a success.

A couple of interesting reports on how he's dealing with his new leadership position today. The Post reports that he's getting irritated with state officials, lobbyists, and fake Barack Obama assistants all claiming that they have special access to him. Patterson has just won the political lottery, so he should get ready to hear from a lot of long-lost friends coming out of the woodwork.

The Times says that Gov. Jodi Rell of Connecticut, another surprise governor who replaced an ousted criminal, sent Patterson a care package of Pepto-Bismol, Excedrin, and a Magic 8 ball. She says she wanted to "provide him with a few laughs" by suggesting that his new job will cause him physical pain--haha!

One last thing about the Spitzer scandal: I wonder if the Times checked out any other high-level politicians in the state when they first noticed that an FBI public corruption unit was involved in the prostitution ring investigation. I wonder who else they considered as the significant public figure before figuring out it was Spitzer?

Bloomberg? Ew! Would have been a much bigger shock, also would have dispelled rumors that he's gay that I don't think are based on anything but never seem to go away.

Schumer? He loves the media (As Bob Dole said: "The most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a camera") and is probably smart enough about his image to not commit such a salacious and easily traceable crime. He's also been impressively restrained in his comments about Spitzer, who he's never liked.

Cuomo? He was already involved in a sex scandal in which he was the one getting screwed over, so maybe political sex scandals are a lightning strikes once kind of thing. Unless you're Bill Clinton.

As it turned out, the Times journalists couldn't have written a tidier morality play. They're so pleased with their reporting in this area that the paper did a lengthy profile of three more expensive prostitutes in yesterday's paper. That's a lot of whores for the Times.

March 11, 2008

The more we learn, the duller it gets

Eliot Spitzer scandal

I was on the road yesterday, so got 100% of my information about the Spitzer scandal from text messages from friends who were at work. The first vague message I got--"Eliot Spitzer in prostitution ring"-- was by far the most interesting part of the story.

Whoa!, I thought. This is big news! Was he getting paid off to look the other way about something he uncovered in his Attorney General days? Why would someone as rich as he is need to make extra money by renting out girls, or getting hush money? Or, wait, is Eliot Spitzer involved in human trafficking? Maybe it's an international syndicate! Maybe he was trading Colombian children for guns for FARC!

Then I eventually got more specific text messages, and figured out that Spitzer was just some regular asshole who was going to hookers. Yawn. Sure, it's shameful, but receiving further confirmation that Eliot Spitzer is a self-righteous jerk who thinks he can get away with treating people like crap is hardly a surprise.

It also serves as a reminder to all us Democrats that we're not shielded from this kind of thing. Our elected officials can pose around all high and mighty about bringing ethics and morals to Washington/Albany/Spokane while secretly engaging in exactly the kind of behavior they claim to be fighting, just like the most family-values Republican can.

The Times offers an overview of the mess Spitzer had already made of his first year in office, as well as a psychological profile ("reckless"). And a good piece from Clyde Haberman on how building a career based on moralizing from on high means you've got an extra long way to fall when you screw up this bad.

However boring this scandal is, I guess he'll probably resign, because now he's "lost the respect" of New Yorkers--something he'd already been doing pretty well for the past year all on his own.

February 28, 2008

America's weird orange jumpsuit fetish

America's Prisons

In a study by Pew, we learn that America has more people in prison or jail than any other country in the world. "Is that a higher percentage of the population in prison, or more actual prisoners?" you ask. Smarty pants. Both!

We started 2008 off with 2.3 million people in prison or jail, compared to 1.5 million in China, a country with nasty human rights practices and a population 4 times bigger than ours.

That's 1% of the adult population overall. 1 in 100 American adults is in prison or jail. Among young black men, it's 1 in 9. That's right, 11% of young black men are incarcerated. That's ten times more than the rest of the population.

Why do we lock up so many of our citizens? Because we can. Or rather, we can when our economy is doing well. A director at Pew says, "We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime. Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in the '80s and '90s." Now that we're broke, we're thinking that violating parole or driving drunk maybe isn't worth $45,000/year per prisoner.

Recently, the states with the most people in prison have reconsidered locking up so many of their citizens--but not because it's a terrible system that doesn't work. Mostly because it's so expensive.

So our country has swung from the "tough on crime" era of the '80's to the "let's spend our money on more important things, like the war on terror and tax rebates" philosophy of the current decade.

The Voice did an article a few years back about so-called million dollar blocks, or individual city blocks where the state is spending at least $1 million per year to incarcerate some of its residents. It was a great piece about all the creative and wonderful things you could do for one city block with a million dollar investment every year, apart from the tempting option of locking up a the same group of people over and over again.

December 5, 2007

Hot For Teacher Debra Lafave: update

Debra Lafave, booking shot

Debra Lafave is currently serving a 3-year probation and house arrest sentence for having sex with her 14 year-old student in 2004, as part of a special No Jail Time for Hot Female Teachers statute. By all accounts, she's doing well, and her lawyer hopes to convert the last year of her sentence to probation only.

Though she was arrested yesterday for talking privately with a 17 year-old girl she works with at a restaurant, which technically violates her probation, no one seems to think this is cause for concern.

But what about that t-shirt that Lafave was wearing at the time of her arrest (above)? The one that looks like it was vomited up by a hallucinating My Pretty Pony? The rainbow, unicorn, and, weirdest of all, Rubik's Cube design is straight out of a 10-year-old little sister version of Delia's. Hm. Maybe not the best wardrobe choice when you've already been convicted of preying on boys whose voices haven't changed yet.

During her creepy interview with Matt Lauer, Lafave said she "didn't feel like an adult" while she was going after this young kid, and essentially blamed him for her Bad Love behavior by saying he was "flirtatious" with her. Like she believes it was normal for her to have sex with her 14 year-old student. She may claim she's "not a sex offender", but she looks like she's ready to start trolling MySpace once she's free.

November 26, 2007

France's race problems not magically resolved yet +

Paris Riots, 2007

Over the weekend in the suburbs of Paris, two Arab boys riding a motorbike were hit and killed by a cop car. Less than an hour later, crowds of people had set fire to four buildings, torched 28 cars, and started throwing rocks at riot police. Today, they were still going, setting gas tanks on fire while cops fired rubber bullets and threw tear gas.

This is pretty much exactly what happened two years ago. Those clashes lasted for three weeks and resulted in thousands of cars and buildings getting destroyed [details on Wikipedia]. Not may people got hurt, though. This time, 25 cops have already been injured, one with a punctured lung.

Here's another difference: the interior minister who in 2005 referred to the rioters, mostly the children of Arab or African immigrants, as "scum" is now the President. The unemployment rate for young black men is still about 40%.

It's looking like the boys that were killed this weekend were mostly at fault for the accident: they weren't wearing helmets, the bike was stolen, and they cut off the car while traveling at full speed. So the violence of the last two days seems to be more in response to ongoing discrimination against immigrants and pretty much anyone who isn't white in France, not so much this particular incident. The chief of the Paris police union says, "We’ve been saying for eons that we’re sitting on a powder keg."

UPDATE: Sounds like the violence got worse last night: 82 cops injured, some with buckshot fired from hunting shotguns (kids in the French ghetto have hunting shotguns?!), more buildings set on fire, and over 60 cars torched. This is looking bad. I think the people in charge over there need to realize that they have major problems on their hands: several generations of pissed off poor young people who are technically citizens, but are systematically treated like they have no right to live there.

Here's a quote from a local resident, Boniface Gabo, talking about the housing project he lives in: "This is no place for human beings to live. Make no mistake, every hundred kids who grow up here are a hundred lost kids."

November 9, 2007

Mickey Rourke's zen approach to DUI arrest

Yesterday we learned that Mickey Rourke got arrested in Miami for drunk scootering, which is sort of endearing, as crimes go. But I was especially charmed by his mugshot, in which he looks almost as destroyed as Nick Nolte did in his mental DUI mugshot from 2002.

Nick Nolte and Mickey Rourke mugshots

But look at that grin! Nolte looks back at the camera from the bottom of a pit of despair, but Mickey Rourke takes a positive attitude about his substance abuse problems, his loud party shirt, and his goofy DUI arrest that is pretty funny, though not as funny as Bill Murray's.

Lesson: Mickey Rourke is probably more fun to drink with than Nick Nolte.

November 7, 2007

Grossest abuse ever of those tempting egg donor stipends

OK people, this one really is going make you puke.

South Dakotan Ted Klaudt was a foster parent for two teenage girls. One of them was interested in becoming an egg donor as a means of income. He convinced both of the girls to let him repeatedly examine them in a motel room to determine their fertility.

And by "examine", of course, he meant "rape". He performed 10 examinations on one of the girls to make sure she was really good and fertile.

And: he coerced these girls into submitting to repeated examinations by creating a fake email account and writing to the girls pretending to be a woman who worked for an egg-donation program, encouraging them to keep letting their foster father molest them.

And: he was an elected official at the time. Klaudt used to be in the South Dakota state legislature, as a Republican. He ran for state Senate last year and lost. One of the girls also worked as page in the legislature.

And: he looks like this.

former South Dakota legislator and rapist, Ted Klaudt


Thankfully, the good people of South Dakota found this sick bastard guilty of second-degree rape, disregarding the defense argument that because the girls were over 16, the age of consent, there was no crime.

October 30, 2007

Maybe crime would pay if criminals weren't such morons

Firefighters arrested for firehouse arson

Lots of funny, sort of pathetic stories in the papers today about crimes gone wrong:

  • More details have surfaced about the two firefighters who apparently torched a firehouse over the weekend, whose movements were all captured on surveillance video in what the Times calls "hardly a well-planned caper." Richard Capece and Michael Izzo bought a gallon of gas at the BP gas station on 38th St and 10th Ave, using Capece's debit card, and carried it in their own gas can. The NY Times story notes, "they also took a blue cigarette lighter from the station without paying for it, but no theft charges have been filed."

    The Daily News reports that Capece "was all smiles" on the W. 38th St firehouse's surveillance video, which caught Izzo "holding a lighter against the gasoline-soaked door" 15 minutes after their gas purchase, then a minute later, running back to their car and driving away. Neither firefighter worked at the station they burned, and a FDNY source says they didn't appear drunk in the videos, so everyone is pretty much assuming they're just a couple of pranking idiots. Izzo "was not well-liked by [his first] firehouse, or by his current one for that matter," as the FDNY source told the Daily News. He was also recently charged with assault in NJ. No one was injured in the fire, which was quickly put out.

  • Alleged crime boss Michael Uvino got busted on tape for pistol-whipping and threatening two enemies who robbed his card game in Long Island. In his bail hearing yesterday, Uvino's lawyer claimed that all he was packing during the taped threat was a BB gun. Judge Jack Weinstein didn't buy it: "I've never heard of Mafia members carrying BB guns... Most people in New York, if they are going to brandish a gun, will brandish a real gun. Unless they're suicidal." On the tape, you can also hear a handgun being cocked, and Uvino complaining to his informant associate, "I was trying to hit him with that fucking chair... Catch him with the metal part across his neck. All I did was fucking hurt my wrists."
  • Two men charged with calling people while posing as Equifax employees and scamming them for their credit card numbers now claim that they were targeting Bangladeshi people. Because, they say, Bangladeshis are "the ones who brought down the towers." So now they'll likely be charged with grand larceny plus a hate crime, because "targeting any ethnic group - even mistakenly - exposes them to additional penalties," according to prosecutors.
  • And in another story of confusion over terrorism and ethnicity, Brooklyn jeweler Rimon Alkatri is on trial for framing five other jewelers for plotting a suicide bombing. He apparently called the police, mobilizing a $100,000 operation, when he heard one of them saying "Allah akbar" on the phone. The defense lawyer points out that this is a common expression among Arabic speakers (known as the takbir), not a call to arms, and also that all five of the supposed conspirators are either Christian or Jewish.

October 29, 2007

Where Gap Kids clothes come from

Gap Product Red campaign

Gap just can't seem to shake its problem with child labor. The UK's Observer reported over the weekend that an Indian subcontractor producing Gap's line of clothing for children was using children, purchased as slaves, to make the clothes. What a coincidence!

Children as young as little Abigail Breslin, Gap model, were found working at a sweatshop in New Delhi making girls' embroidered tops. And: they weren't getting paid. From AP: "The Observer quoted one boy identified only as Jivaj as saying that child employees who cried or did not work hard enough were hit with a rubber pipe or had oily cloths stuffed into their mouths."

Rather than claim this as part of an innovative approach to developing new markets for its children's products, Gap said it has no idea, finds the allegations "deeply upsetting", and is investigating.

The Observer also reports that India is the child labor capital of the world: "According to one estimate, more than 20 per cent of India's economy is dependent on children, the equivalent of 55 million youngsters under 14."

Even though they've been through the ringer over unscrupulous labor practices before, Gap keeps manufacturing its clothes in India when it knows that child labor is a common occurrence there. It's this kind of indifference to human rights that makes the company's attempt at social responsibility via its (PRODUCT) RED campaign so transparent and phony. [note: clothes for the RED campaign are made in Africa, not India. That doesn't let them off the hook. It's the principle of the thing.]

Can one kid change the world? Sure, but not by manufacturing an embroidered blouse, and sure as hell not by buying a red t-shirt.

October 24, 2007

San Diego and New Orleans now have at least one thing in common

Big fancy burned houses

Once the fires stop burning, San Diego and surrounding areas will be left with a lot of charred houses and a lot of displaced people. Reports are talking about 1,500 homes destroyed as of right now. A lot of them were probably very big houses, like this photo of the remains of a multi-million dollar house in Rancho Santa Fe.

Comparisons are already being drawn between this disaster and the hurricanes of 2005. The Times has put together a simple chart comparing the populations of New Orleans and the areas around San Diego that were evacuated, and as you can probably guess, the people in San Diego are a whole lot richer, whiter, and have more cars to evacuate in. The Red Cross estimates that 350,000 homes were destroyed in Katrina and Rita.

But there are some things that these two very different regions of our country share: a take-no-prisoners approach to defending one's home against the perceived threat of looters.

In a article that compiles comments posted by San Diego-area readers, the Times quotes Jason S., whose family members made their way back into their evacuated neighborhood in Poway:

"Last night, my brother snuck past police barricades to check on our family home and watch for looters," he wrote. "Despite the risk, I think everyone is really proud of him for doing this."

After he returned from the home, his brother reported that a neighbor was camped out on another lawn with a shotgun and a sign that read "Looters will be shot."

"Looters will be shot"... where have we seen that before? Oh, hey! It's that guy! From New Orleans!

New Orleans looters beware

He must have moved to Southern California to get away from natural disasters and find a prettier woman.

October 10, 2007

Robert Durst gets back into real estate

Robert Durst, mugshot

Today the Post reports that Robert Durst, ousted real estate mogul, slippery weasel of the criminal justice system and all-around lunatic, is shopping for an apartment on the Upper East Side. He's hired a broker and reportedly is considering a $3 million apartment in the Miraval, which is under construction on E 72nd. The Post makes the fair assumption that Durst is only looking at condos, since he probably wouldn't do so well with co-op boards.

But the main story here is that Robert Durst, probable killer of 3, is a free man: he's finished his probation in Texas (for a gun charge and tampering with evidence, i.e. cutting up his neighbor's body and dumping it in Galveston Bay) and apparently still has a whole lot of money, even after his lengthy murder trial of 2003 that somehow ended with acquittal.

Nothing new to report here, but here's a quick version of his incredible story: Robert Durst, member of a powerful NY real estate family, married 19 year-old Kathleen Durst, who disappeared in 1982. She has never been found, and pretty much everybody thinks he killed her. Especially since his close friend, Susan Berman, was shot in the head in 2000 right before she was scheduled to talk to the police with some information she had about Kathleen's disappearance. That murder is unsolved, too.

Then he admitted to shooting and killing his neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001. Durst was living in Galveston, sometimes identifying as a deaf-mute woman named Dorothy Ciner, and sometimes as himself. He was on the run from the cops after the killing, and was caught in a Wegman's parking lot in Pennsylvania, when he was busted for shoplifting even though he had $500 in his pocket.

From Court TV's excellent bio:

"Surveillance cameras captured him taking a single Band-Aid from a box on the shelf, then going into the rest room and putting the Band-Aid over a shaving cut. Upon leaving the rest room, he wandered over to a refrigerated case and took a $5.49 chicken salad sandwich as well as a newspaper from the rack, hid them in his jacket, and walked out of the store... When Durst was apprehended he was wearing a woman's brown wig and a false blond mustache. Underneath the wig, his head was shaved clean like his eyebrows."

A new book about the case, Without A Trace, comes out early next year. It's by Marion Collins, who has written for the Post, the Daily News, and Star, so it will definitely include all the most lurid and sensational details.

October 3, 2007

The best and worst person to steal from in NYC

Bloomberg is rich!

If you're thinking about who to rob in this town, you'd look for the person who has the most stuff for you to take, right? The gang on ABC's canceled Knights of Prosperity chose Mick Jagger because of his yogurt baths and climate-controlled hat closet.

And earlier this year, two guys from Jersey chose Michael Bloomberg because of his billions and billions of dollars. Much of it in convenient cash form!

However, just like Mick Jagger is difficult to steal from because of all his armed security guards and fingerprint-scanning access pads, Michael Bloomberg makes it tricky due to the many investment advisors, bankers, and police chiefs working for him. A prosecutor in charge of the case said that the thieves probably reasoned, bank-robber style, that they'd "go where the money is"; in this case, they also pretty much went where the entire city's prosecutorial power is.

23 year-old single parent Odalis Bostic forged two checks from Bloomberg's Bank of America account for a total of $420,000, and tried to deposit them into his own accounts at PNC and Sovereign under the name of his bogus company Landerman Development. Both of his banks were suspicious and reported him.

Bostic's bust is probably the only reason that another guy, Charles Nelson, got caught for an earlier theft. He took $10,000 from the Mayor's same account, put it in his own E*Trade account, and spent it mostly on cellphone bills, according to the Times. And this was back in May! He probably assumed he was in the clear until that greedy Bostic blew it for him.

So I guess the lesson here is: if you steal $10,000 or less from some rich person's bank account, they probably won't even notice.

September 28, 2007

Hey Francis Ford Coppola, try this

flash drive

Francis Ford Coppola's house in Buenos Aires was robbed, and the thieves got his computer containing ideas for his next movie. The reports don't actually say that he didn't have a backup, but an employee said "Coppola is very sad and the only thing he's asked for is to get back his computer, which is essential for him and his work."

If you want to email any files to me, Francis, I'm happy to hold on to them for you. In the meantime, the director is offering a reward for help tracking down the computer- no word yet on whether the reward is a cameo in Tetro.

August 17, 2007

The history of crime in Hell's Kitchen

Hell's Kitchen 9th Ave

The Times offers a new feature series today called Weekend Explorer, in which a reporter does a sort of walking tour of a neighborhood with a local long-time resident, and describes the layers of history they can still see.

The first in the series focuses on our beloved Hell's Kitchen. The piece starts with a history of the working-class 19th century era, with Irish and German immigrants working on the docks and in factories. But the really interesting stuff is all about the criminal history: the neighborhood was a center of gangs, speakeasies and murder for the 100 years or so from the post-Civil War era through the '80's.

A few especially wonderful excerpts:

The Hell’s Kitchen Gang, whom Herbert Asbury called "a collection of the most desperate ruffians in the city" in his 1927 book The Gangs of New York (inspiration for the Martin Scorsese film), fought constantly with the police and with rivals like the Gorillas, the Parlor Mob, and the Gophers. Members had names like Stumpy Malarkey, Goo Goo Knox, Happy Jack Mulraney, and One Lung Curran, who, when his girlfriend complained of the cold, walked out to the street, "blackjacked the first policeman he encountered," according to Asbury, and stole his coat.


Two generations of Irish gangsters, nicknamed the Westies by the police and the press, operated in the neighborhood into the late 1980s. Murder, theft, arson, extortion, gambling, loan-sharking, liquor, drugs, nightclubs — the Westies did it all.

Mr. Robbins [local resident] said macabre stories about the 596 Club [formerly at the corner of 10th Ave of 43rd St] still float around Hell’s Kitchen. Old-timers remember jars behind the bar that held the severed fingers of guys who had crossed the Westies. There’s the one about gangsters rolling a severed head down the bar.

"I’ve heard a lot of that kind of stuff," T. J. English, author of The Westies, said in a recent interview. "Normally you’d dismiss it as absurd, but since it was the Westies, who knows? That place was certainly the proverbial bucket of blood."

The whole article is full of great, detailed, and often violent old-time stories like these, as well as descriptions of the gentrification that has made the neighborhood safer, though a lot less colorful.

August 16, 2007

Jim Naugle: scandal waiting to happen

Jim Naugle

If there's one thing that messy outings of conservative male political figures has taught us these past few years, it's that once you start going public with your promotion of anti-gay legislation and your personal views that homosexuality is a sin, your chances of being found to have had illicit/illegal sexual relationships with anonymous men, male hookers, or teenage boys go through the roof.

Jim Naugle is the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, the city with the highest concentration of same-sex couple households on the east coast. He's been quoted that he does not support gay rights, that homosexuality is a sin, and that ACLU stands for "Atheists and Criminal Lobbying Union". He also describes himself as being "extremely" conservative, though he is a Democrat.

Now he's in a fight with the local gay community over the issue of bathrooms at the beach--he wants to install single-occupancy bathrooms to deter "homosexual activity." When asked to apologize for making such an insulting statement, he agreed... then apologized to the families of Fort Lauderdale for not realizing "how serious the problem was of the sexual activity that’s taking place in bathrooms and public places and parks."

A grand total of 4 people have been arrested since 2005 for having sex in public bathrooms in Fort Lauderdale, and he's talking about a "serious problem" that compels him to be "concerned about protection of parks for our kids and saving lives."

Reading the Times coverage of Mayor Naugle and his bigotry, it's almost like the media is setting this guy up for some former Boy Scout to come forward and tell the world about his scandalous, possibly criminal, secret life. Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, former Washington state senator Jim West, even poor old Jim McGreevey--having such an anti-gay agenda just makes readers wonder exactly who's been spending so much time in those beach bathrooms.

Have you seen that clip of Ted Haggard telling his congregation about the Bible telling us not to be gay? [video]

August 14, 2007

New York Times: All the news we can find without leaving our desks


Lately the Times has been particularly interested in filling us in on news stories based on information gleaned from social networking sites. Apparently Times rules allow this reliable information to be printed without any corroboration or factchecking. You've probably heard the hard-hitting, important news that Giuliani's daughter belonged to an Obama-supporting Facebook group (until she deleted her account).

But did you also know that Facebook is an essential tool for crime reporters? A report on the young woman found dead near NYU helpfully tells us that "A Facebook entry that seems to belong to Ms. McCallum lists 255 friends." In a piece on the suspects in the recent Newark schoolyard shootings, the Times tells us about one suspect: "The teenager’s page on the MySpace social-networking Web site has references to MS-13, an international gang consisting primarily of Latinos, along with a picture of him wearing a bandanna over the lower half of his face."

I am looking forward to articles telling us things like "a google search for movie times in Midtown seemed to show that The Simpsons is playing in Times Square."
Photo from silencematters

April 17, 2007

The inevitable post-tragedy gun control debate

Bush at VA Tech Convocation

You might think that the days immediately after a horrible shooting spree seems like the most strategic time to raise the issue of gun control and try to make some real policy changes. Advocates for greater gun control have tried in the past, and generally failed (with the notable exception of Jim Brady.)

At today's convocation at Virginia Tech, President Bush spoke mostly about the raw emotions everybody is feeling: "On this terrible day of mourning, it's hard to imagine a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal, but such a day will come. And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday, and the time you shared with them, and the lives that they hoped to lead."

But his staff are already fending off suggestions that a different gun policy might prevent shootings like this from happening in the first place. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says, "We understand that there's going to be and there has been an ongoing national discussion, conversation and debate about gun control policy. Of course we are going to be participants in that conversation. Today, however, is a day that is time to focus on the families, the school, the community."

And you can bet that Second Amendment advocates are going to use this shooting as an example of why we'd all be more secure with greater access to guns, not less. After all, the reasoning goes, if some of the students in those classrooms had guns on them, they might have been able to take the shooter out before he killed so many people.

Boing Boing has coverage of the predictable debate. And as they point out, "No matter which side of the gun debate you're on, one thing is obvious: anyone who is capable of and intent on killing 32 innocent fellow human beings will do so regardless of law. Homicidal maniacs can always be counted on to violate the boundaries set forth by others who want to promote a civil, peaceful society."

March 19, 2007

How to not get scammed

In the aggressively unfunny "Funny Pages" section of yesterday's NY Times Magazine was a great True-Life Tale from Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's legitimately funny weekend quiz show, "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".

In the story, Sagal recounts a learning experience from his younger days, when an older respected writer friend gave him a crisp, new $100 bill to use for anything he needed to help his writing. Within seconds of dropping off the writer friend at the airport, he's already given 40% of it to a con artist.

It's a charming and self-deprecating story about how stupid he felt to not only have been duped by a sort-of attractive woman with a fake story (her invisible car broke down, she didn't have enough cash for a tow truck and the cops were about to ticket her if she didn't move her car), but to have continued playing along even after he knew she was lying: "I probably knew she was lying as soon as she got into my car. But by that point, it had become far easier to continue playing along than to call the whole thing off. She had worked so hard on her scheme that it seemed cruel to disappoint her. And of course, by suddenly expressing doubt, I would be admitting that I had been stupid enough to believe her to that point."

These kinds of scams seem to be incredibly common (other examples I've heard include "my car's brakes don't work and I need $19 to get a cab home" and the slightly more complex "I'm outside with two wardrobes and I lost my keys and need $20 to get a cab to my mother's apartment to get the extra set") and intelligent people sometimes fall for them. So if you are approached by someone asking for cash for some implausible emergency situation, you can do one of the following:

1) Blow them off;

2) Get some dark satisfaction out of playing along with their scam, but offering them the actual service they say they are in need of instead of money. Offer to call a cab or tow truck yourself and pay the driver directly, drive them to their mom's apartment, etc. This won't earn you any good karma, but will give the sick pleasure of watching the con artist's whole story disintegrate before your very eyes; or

3) If you happen to have some meth or gin in your pocket, or if you are a civic-minded prostitute, just skip the extra transaction and give the con artist what you both know they're really after.

If you want to get in on the other side, a good place to start is Simon Lovell's How to Cheat at Everything, a funny and practical guide to hustling.

[tx adm]

March 15, 2007

Tell It Like It Is

If there's one thing Americans can agree on, it's that punching old ladies in the face is a despicable act. Last weekend's assault on 101-year-old Rose Morat, who was punched repeatedly in the face and robbed of $33 on her way to church, has caused an uproar from concerned citizens, community groups, Queens residents, seniors, the police, legislators, the press - you name it. Even worse is the fact that this seems to be a habit. The mugger allegedly also beat and robbed an 85-year old woman, Solange Elizee, shortly afterward. Ms. Elizee lost $32 and her wedding band. The reward for the attacker is currently up around $18,000.

But the question remains - what kind of a person would do this? What kind of a person assaults old ladies in their homes for just a few dollars?

punching old ladies is bad

Also, apparently, the kind of person who wears a fur jacket and rides a pink bike.

February 21, 2007

Mag crew exploitation

Mag Crews

The latest article in a series that the NY Times seems to be doing about really horrible exploitation of vulnerable kids is today's piece on traveling magazine sales crews, who go around the country trying to get people to buy magazine subscriptions, often while being abused by their employers. The article is long and incredibly thorough, but might make you throw up or decide that the whole world sucks.

Even though this industry was investigated by Congress decades ago (article includes links to coverage of the hearings), it seems like no changes have been made. Here are just a few excerpts:

Two days after graduating from high school last June, Jonathan Pope left his home in Miamisburg, Ohio, to join a traveling magazine sales crew, thinking he would get to "talk to people, party at night and see the country." Over the next six months, he and about 20 other crew members crossed 10 states, peddling subscriptions door to door, 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Sleeping three to a room in cheap motels, lowest seller on the floor, they survived some days on less than $10 in food money while their earnings were kept "on the books" for later payment.

By then, Mr. Pope said, he had seen several friends severely beaten by managers, he and several other crew members were regularly smoking methamphetamine with prostitutes living down the motel hallway, and there were warrants out for his arrest in five states for selling subscriptions without a permit.

"You’re involved in bad stuff, you’re seeing bad stuff and they tell you, 'No negativity,' " said Jennifer Steele, 23.

In September 2004, Ms. Steele said, she was drugged and raped by two men who were partying with crew members at a motel in Memphis, where her crew was staying. When her manager told her to go back to work the next day, she said she "threw a fit." But she did as she was told, and worked part of the day before filing a police report and having a rape kit performed. She stayed with the crew for another seven months before quitting.

Asked if they ever went overboard, two enforcers [employed by magazine companies to keep sellers in line] recalled an incident in November 2005 involving an 18-year-old recruit from Dayton, Ohio, named Rudy. "All we were told was that Rudy had shoved and disrespected the manager." For 10 uninterrupted minutes in a motel stairwell in San Francisco, Mr. Simpson, Mr. McClinton and four other enforcers beat Rudy unconscious, Mr. Simpson and Mr. McClinton said. One held his mouth shut. Two others pinned down his arms and legs. Tearing off his shirt, they pressed a flaming lighter into his back. Mr. Simpson kicked him in the face and body. "I stopped because I ran out of breath," Mr. Simpson said.

Ugh. It's sadly reminiscent of Kurt Eichenwald's now-legendary articles about solicitation and exploitation of kids in internet chat rooms, and how child abusers encourage each other online.

January 31, 2007

Celebrity rehab: one-stop redemption shopping

Mark Foley, alcoholic

The Guardian has an essay today chronicling our favorite trend of 2006: celebrities checking into rehab to try to redeem themselves when they get busted for doing something idiotic or illegal that doesn't actually have anything to do with addiction.

So far we've got:

Mel Gibson
Screw-up: Anti-semitic tirade, resisting arrest, "sugar tits"
Went to rehab for: Alcoholism

Mark Foley
Screw-up: Dirty IMing with teenage Congressional pages, probably illicit sex with same
Went to rehab for: Alcoholism

Isaiah Washington
Screw-up: Fighting with co-stars, using homophobic slur
Went to rehab for: some unidentified problem, possibly anger management?

And let's not forget old favorite Jim McGreevey
Screw-up: putting his secret boyfriend on the state payroll in a made-up job that he wasn't qualified for
Went to a "treatment center" for: an "addiction to being adored by strangers", whatever that is.

And this Guardian piece alerted me to two others.

Jade Goody, from the UK's recently ended Big Brother season
Screw-up: racist comments about another contestant, Shilpa Shetty--called her "Shilpa Poppadom" and "Shilpa Fuckawallah" and was generally an odious tv-famous moron
Went to rehab for: "stress and depression", hopefully at the same made-up rehab clinic that Isaiah Washington is at

The essay also claims an arguable trendsetting example, from way back in 2002:

Winona Ryder
Screw-up: shoplifting, denial of shoplifting despite being recorded shoplifting on store camera
Went to rehab for: actually was sentenced to get counseling instead of getting jail time

If only Robert Downey, Jr. had been so lucky.

But, as the essayist says, "the question remains: how much of an atonement is it when you admit yourself and you're not even really addicted to anything?" Checking yourself into rehab as a self-created punishment for unrelated sins doesn't do anything to solve your real problem (racism, pedophilia, sticky fingers, etc.) and comes off as a pathetic attempt to make the public feel sorry for you. No one had any hard feelings toward Winona, whose crime probably only made more people feel like they could relate to her (especially teenage girls, who love to shoplift), but Mel and the rest of these guys don't seem to have anyone fooled.

December 11, 2006

Who's Fatter?™

Today's arrest of Nicole Richie for DUI has led to the revelation in a police report that the 5'1" celeb-for-nothing weighs a mere EIGHTY-FIVE POUNDS.

Before she evaporates completely, we thought we'd take the opportunity to adapt our famous Who's Older?™ quiz to compare two entirely too skinny celebs. (Key difference: One has the excuse of being 12 years old.)

So here you go:

Who's Fatter?™

Nicole Richie's mugshotdakota fanning

Nicole Richie or Dakota Fanning?

The answer? Nicole Richie weighs less than Dakota Fanning, assuming that Dakota is within about 10% of the weight of the average American twelve-year-old girl, which is 94 lbs. Too bad for you, Dakota -- next time that plum part for a 12-year-old with an eating disorder comes up, it might just go to Nicole instead.

October 16, 2006

Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil priests

A new documentary called Deliver Us From Evil about the Catholic priest sexual abuse cases just came out, and after watching it I was up all night thinking about this situation and what a horrifying mess it is. The movie focuses on one of the worst cases of institutional corruption to come out when these stories broke four years ago--Father Oliver O'Grady, who was moved from parish to parish around northern California, molesting dozens of children over two decades.

Three of O'Grady's victims, now adults, participated in the movie and talked about how their abuse has impacted their lives. But the most devastating segments of the movie are probably the interviews with parents, who were very close to O'Grady for years, invited him to their home many times for dinner and overnight stays, and let their sons and daughters go on trips alone with him. They trusted their parish priest implicitly, and even supported him when allegations started coming out, so their feelings of betrayal and rage are massive.

There's not much in the way of new information in the movie, but the personal stories are compelling, as are the interviews with the local bishop (now cardinal) who clearly knew what was going on with O'Grady, and continued to move him to new parishes when reports of abuse started up. The most illuminating interviews are those with theologians and canon lawyers, who describe the Catholic church and its role as intermediary between parishioners and God himself, the concept of grace that is accessible only via going to Mass and receiving communion, and the power that this bestows on priests and the entire hierarchy of the church. If you're a good Catholic, you need your parish priest in order to follow all the rituals of religious practice. And if that priest is raping your kids, well, you can imagine what this does to people's faith in the church.

All human institutions can be corrupted by power-hungry people who care more about their own success than the people they're meant to be responsible to, but when you're talking about kids getting raped and people's core spiritual beliefs getting shredded, it's a lot more gut-wrenching than Enron.

Another interesting thing about these stories is that the priest in question, who went to prison for 7 years, now lives a free and unrestricted life in his native Ireland. He participated extensively in the movie, and discusses what he did and how he felt about it in a seemingly open and reflective way. But he also downplays his own responsibility for his crimes, and he has clearly thought a lot more about his own struggles and mistakes than how his actions have ruined dozens of other people's lives. He seems to have agreed to do the movie mostly out of a desire to keep control over his own story and image. In one particularly sick, manipulative gesture, he even sends letters to some of his victims, inviting them to come and talk with him about everything that happened, as though venting their feelings to the sadistic psycho who raped them as children is going to help. They read the letters together and are like, "are you kidding me?"

Of course, an interviewer asks O'Grady the inevitable question towards the end of the movie: "Did a priest ever touch you inappropriately when you were a boy?" Yep, a priest sure did, and so did O'Grady's older brother. O'Grady went to prison and was defrocked; his victims are still all messed up and will be dealing with this for the rest of their lives; but O'Grady was a victim, too, even if he can't articulate how his own abuse made him into the compulsive rapist he is. In this way, the movie reminded me of another great documentary Capturing the Friedmans (which ADM wrote about in 2003.) There's no doubt in Deliver Us From Evil that the abuse really did happen, but both movies are about the confusion about how and to whom justice is served, and how there can be an unclear distinction between criminal and victim. Nothing happened to the cardinals and monsignors who knew what was going on, protected the abusers, and let them continue attacking kids.

The offical site has a map of clergy abuse, with the number of accused priests detailed for each diocese all over the country. LA still takes first place at 247; Boston has 208. The movie is playing only in NY, Boston, and LA, but opens in more cities over the next few weeks.

October 12, 2006

Meaningful gift-giving

Putin gets his gun

Vladimir Putin was given a very thoughtful and personal gift from Bavaria's Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber last night during his formal visit to Germany: a traditional Bavarian gun! How considerate of those Germans. Especially considering the event that dominated Putin's visit to Germany and probably many other aspects of his life this week: Saturday's murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

A NY Times editorial on the murder says she was killed at her apartment by one shot to her heart, and three to her head. Politkovskaya, a long-time vocal critic of Putin's administration, was most recently working on an article, with photos, about torture in Chechnya.

Bush asked Putin about the murder when they spoke recently about North Korea, and Putin said her death was "a blow to Russia" and promised an investigation. Putin also he had also "not forgotten" the case of Paul Klebnikov, an American who was editor of Forbes Russia when he was shot to death two years ago.

Still no news on who shot Andrei Kozlov, a Russian central banker who was trying to reform the corrupt banking system, a month ago. Or, probably, on any of the 13 other journalists that have been murdered in Russia since 2000, when Putin came into power.

August 1, 2006

Man, I was so wasted Friday night!

Drunk Mel Gibson

Nobody likes to see drunk pictures of themselves taken shortly before they did something really regrettable. Which is why we take such pleasure in this photo of Mel "I own Malibu" Gibson taken on Friday night at Moonshadows in Malibu, a few hours before his arrest and career-incinerating tirade.

Check out the defensive raised fist and scared eyes of the woman on the left. It's like she almost senses the nearness of racist, megalomaniacal, violent, hypocritical, alcoholic bigotry or something.

July 10, 2006

Hookers in Hell's Kitchen

hookers in hell's kitchen

The New York Post has never been our city's most sensitive newspaper, but we can usually count on them to make the rich and entitled of New York look like jerks and take them down a few notches. But in today's "Hooker Hell" piece, it seems that it's perfectly OK to take a self-important attitude, as long as you're condemning prostitutes.

The stroller-pushing yuppies that have been moving to Hell's Kitchen in droves are shocked to find some hookers walking around early in the morning: "I walk out of my building in the morning to see these girls with their asses hanging out," said Kimberly Solop, 34, who shares a $3,000-a-month two-bedroom on West 48th with her husband and their 2-year-old son. "I don't want him growing up looking at that. It's a lot of money to be paying to have this activity going on."

So, Kimberly, your rent is too high, so you don't want any nasty whores on your sidewalks? Or maybe, like a resident of the fancy Clinton West condos on W. 47th St, you're frightened that these savage prostitutes are threatening your personal safety: "I'm scared," said a resident too afraid to provide his name. "I have two kids, and I live on the first floor, and I don't want anything coming through the window."

Like what, a stiletto heel? People, I understand that hookers hanging out outside your apartment at night can be noisy, but they're certainly no worse than the entire population of Jersey City that gets drunk in the bars on 9th Avenue every weekend, and they're less likely to puke on your stoop.

While they're complaining about prostitution in the neighborhood, residents might consider that many of our city's prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, homeless, live in extreme poverty, get harassed and assaulted by police and their clients, and have only minimum-wage jobs to consider as an alternative to working on the street. Prostitutes may have been part of Giuliani's "quality of life" problems, but I wish the residents of Hell's Kitchen remembered what these women's lives are like before deciding that their expensive rent should mean that they don't have to look at poor, vulnerable people.

Read more on the realities of prostitution in NYC on the Urban Justice Center's website.

May 31, 2006

Sweet Cherry: the immovable object of strip clubs

Sweet Cherry topless bar

The NY Times has an unbelievably extensive article today on a Brooklyn strip club, Sweet Cherry, that has been under attack by city council, local residents, and state politicians for years, yet refuses to close. Back in the '90's with the introduction of Giuliani's new "zoning laws" (aka rampage of sanitized Disneyfication,) a lot of strip clubs, topless bars, and porn shops closed down. Apart from a stretch of 8th Avenue in the 40's, most of the city's smut has been banished to industrial areas like 11th Avenue, and Long Island City in Queens.

But the intrepid Sweet Cherry just won't quit, despite an impressive criminal history. The Times says,

Sweet Cherry is a great champion, brazen and near untouchable. The authorities have documented an in-house narcotics trade, pronounced the club a brothel and charged the manager with rape. (He has pleaded not guilty.) Once, patrons repeatedly stabbed an off-duty police officer, who lost partial use of his right hand. Once, a manager of bouncers for Sweet Cherry was shot dead in his apartment.

But despite two civil actions by the Police Department, voluminous criminal charges and neighborhood protests, the club has been closed for a total of just six days this year. Eleven days after its latest reopening, two dancers were charged with breaking a beer bottle over somebody's head.

The bar is in compliance with zoning laws, so the city has tried to go after it for all its other, very plentiful violations. And failed every time. Now that some small-scale industry and more families are moving into the area, they're stepping up their consistently ineffective efforts.

The article is a great read, with exhaustive details on the many drug busts that have happened at the bar, the employment and possible harrassment of underage dancers, the off-duty cop who mowed down three people after leaving another strip club on the same street, and the dancers such as "Diamond, whose real name was Jennifer, and Chastity, whose real name was Chastity."

There's also an interesting map of the still-standing strip clubs, topless bars, and peep shows in the city that have also resisted closure. Still a few hanging on in Times Square/Hell's Kitchen. My favorites are Wiggles and Goldfingers in Queens.

May 10, 2006

Katrina horror stories just keep coming

Michael Brown's hair mousse

In case you've started to forget the jaw-dropping political failure of responsibility we witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, a couple of stories today should freshen up those memories.

First up: what happened to the teenagers in New Orleans' juvenile detention center. The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which was working to improve the conditions that incarcerated juveniles lived in even before the hurricane, held a press conference yesterday. 15 year-old Eddie Fenceroy said he spent three days without anything to eat or drink, standing in sewage-filled water that reached past his hips. 150 kids under 17 years old were housed with adult prisoners at the parish prison (minors aren't supposed to have contact with adult convicts,) and were later evacuated with the adults to a highway overpass, where police held them at gunpoint. Which I suppose is arguably a step up from standing in sewage up to your hips.

Next is a report from the Center for Public Integrity, which includes even more embarrassing emails from Michael Brown to various colleagues in the days after the storm. On the day the storm hit, the always immaculately-groomed Brown was getting ready for a TV interview and emailing with his then-deputy, Patrick Rhode:

"Yea, sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair," Brown e-mailed Rhode.

"Me too!" Rhode replied.

Of course, FEMA and the rest of the government soon started getting attacked in the press as an inept, racist institution. On September 7, around the time that Eddie Fenceroy was being held at gunpoint on a highway overpass as part of his prison's evacuation, Brown wrote to his press aide: "I am tired, no, angered by charges of racism. You know that neither me nor anyone associated with me is a racist. Grrrr.

"How was that Sonic burger?"

April 26, 2006

What Does it Take to be a U.S. Citizen?

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue sure loves the Lord - last week, he signed a few bills allowing Georgia's schools to teach Bible classes, and their courthouses to display the Ten Commandments. But his love of God and man doesn't extend to those born outside our borders. While he had his pen out, he also took the opportunity to sign the harshest immigration law of any state, denying most state services to undocumented immigrants. And other states are looking to get in on the anti-immigrant action, too.

Luckily, our President understands the plight of our lowest-paid workers, admitting on Monday that it's just not "realistic" to deport 11 million people back to their countries of origin - especially when we have crappy jobs that need doing right here. Instead, he's hoping Congress can find a way for these folks to work their way toward becoming proud U.S. citizens.

Obviously, in these uncertain times™, we don't let just anyone become a citizen of our United States. So, what kind of people would we welcome as fellow citizens? A quick trip over to the Citizenship and Immigration website - now under the Department of Homeland Security - proved quite instructional. In order to apply for naturalization, you must be over 18 and have lived in the country for five years (or three, if married to a citizen). Fair enough. You must love the Constitution. Well, sure - who doesn't? Then we come to the sticky part....exhibiting " good moral character."

And what constitutes "good moral character"? Obviously, you can't have been convicted of a crime recently - including gambling or drug related offenses, prostitution, or other "moral turpitude." (sorry, GOP!) You also can't be a polygamist (sorry, Bill Paxton!) or a habitual drunkard (sorry, Amy's Robot!).

Good so far? You'll also need to demonstrate that you can comprehend and write English. At your interview, an immigration official will ask you to demonstrate this by writing a sample sentence of his or her choice. But don't worry - USCIS helpfully offers some samples to practice, such as:

All people want to be free.

America is the land of freedom.

Many people come to America for freedom.

People in America have the right to freedom.

Many people have died for freedom.

Prefer something more related to everyday life? How about writing 100 times:

The man wanted to get a job.

It is a good job to start with.

I go to work everyday.

The children wanted a television.

She needs to buy some new clothes.

They are very happy with their car.

They buy many things at the store.

Of course, why limit our future citizens? Amy and I came up with a few other suggestions, including:

How will he pay for the doctor?

Three dollars an hour is a fair wage.

They enlist their sons in the Army.

Any other suggestions to help our nation's undocumented workers become full participants in our great society?

February 26, 2006

Free Christopher X. Brodeur!

vote brodeur

Christopher X. Brodeur, eternally outspoken New York figure and sometime mayoral candidate, was convicted of harassment last week and was immediately remanded pending his sentencing. As you read this, he's in the holding cells in The Tombs downtown, and will likely get sentenced to Rikers.

But, in our opinion, it doesn't seem to be serving anyone to have CXB in jail now or later. He may seem crazy to many, and he may harass people, but it's not going to do anybody any good to have him in prison. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is often not capable of providing justice in cases like Christopher's, but we're hoping the judge in his case will find a fair solution.

Last week, we received an email from his fiancee, and we're asking you to review the situation, decide whether you think CXB deserves to be in jail, and send a note to the judge in the case if you think other arrangements should be made.

Here's Jessica, his fiancee:


Chris is in jail. Please help if you can. More details below. If you can use letter head, even better. [...]

Thank you,

Political activist and notorious gadfly/performance jokester Christopher X. Brodeur (aka Touching You, known for his involvement in The Liquid Tapedeck and Mr. Brooke Shields of Haunted Pussy) has been found guilty on 21 counts of various levels of harrassment. All of the specifics of the case are not available, but some details are:

** His charges of harrassment and aggravated harrassment (regarding annoying and sometimes seemingly aggressive calls he made to his landlord who illegally kicked him out of his home of 15 years) is a misdemeanor charge. Though Christopher has no prior record of violent crime and has obeyed every restraining order ever placed against him, he was remanded immediately, which means he was taken to jail on the spot once he received a guilty verdict. Many people in his position would be let go until the next court date to get sentenced. Even though his sentencing date was set for March 8th, he was refused bail (though there was already bail on this case) and taken immediately to jail to be subject to now a THIRD psychological evaluation. This is not a 730 remand psychiatric evaluation, this is a judge-ordered psychiatric evaluation to determine how to "best sentence Christopher". Each of the 21 counts holds a maximum sentence of 1 year, so essentially, he is looking at 21 years in jail. [[Ed. Update: Jess says from what she understands, Chris can only get a sentence of a year or two.]] He *probably* won't get that many years, but he technically could. It's likely he will get sentenced a few years, though, with probation to follow. A FEW YEARS in JAIL!!?? For SPEAKING???????????? It would be a very sad thing to see that happen.

WE ARE ASKING ANYONE who has been touched or affected by Christopher's thousands of various art, musical and political projects over his 15 years in NYC to please consider doing one or more of the following things, #s 1 and 2 being the MOST important, 1 being the MOST important of all.

1. Please write Judge Neil Ross a postcard or letter explaining that you know Christopher to be a harmless and beneficial artist, musician and politician if you find this to be true. If you have a project involving Christopher coming up, such as a show where he was scheduled to perform or work, please mention it. If you voted for him when he ran for mayor, please mention that. If you respect him or his work in any capacity, please mention that. Please mention that you do not know Christopher to be a violent person if that is your experience, and anything relating to that. Note that Christopher has been a Lower East Side resident and artist creating positive and imaginative art for the past 15 years, if you know this to be true. Please ask that Christopher be given probation or community service instead of having to do jail time. Mention that many violent criminals don't have to do jail time. Mention that you don't want YOUR tax dollars being spent imprisoning artists. Please do not insult the judge or the courts, even though it might be tempting. If you will write a letter or postcard, please do it ASAP and send it to:

Judge Neil Ross
c/o 100 Center St.
NY, NY 10007

On any piece of mail sent to the judge, please write on it somewhere, RE: CHRISTOPHER X. BRODEUR or something to that effect. Please ask three friends to do the same. List this on your blog and forward it to anyone you know who cares about free speech. This will only take a moment and only costs one stamp. Please do this if you can.

2. PLEASE come to Christopher's court date on March 8th. It is important that the judge and court see that Christopher is a member of a community of artists and activists and he is appreciated and loved. Yes, you might have to get up early, and be in criminal court at 100 Center St. at 9:45 am. If you can't get there that early, just come a little later.

3. If you know a lawyer, a powerful person with activism or free speech interests, a group of people who somehow want to get involved in this cause or are a friend of Christopher's, please forward this message, put it on your website, print it out, copy it and leave it on bus seats. Please help keep freedom alive. This may seem small and insignificant, but it is part of a much larger liberty that we all MUST hold dear and protect, or we will LOSE it. If you know Christopher, you know him to SPEAK his mind. This is a right we have, but we are losing that right more and more every day. Remember, he is in JAIL (currently he is in the TOMBS, to be transported to RIKER'S ISLAND(!!!) possibly for MANY YEARS, because of WORDS HE SAID.

4. Visit if you are not familiar with Christopher X. Brodeur.

THANK YOU dearly.

It doesn't take much to help him out, folks. Please send a note to the judge.

January 31, 2006

If the black leather bondage mask doesn't fit, you must acquit!

leather bondage mask

DEDHAM, Massachusetts (AP) -- A dominatrix was acquitted of manslaughter Monday in the death of a man who prosecutors say suffered a heart attack while strapped to a replica of a medieval rack. [...] During his closing argument to the jury, prosecutor Robert Nelson put on a black leather mask with a zippered mouth opening and re-enacted the bondage session.

With both hands, he reached back and clutched the top of a blackboard as if strapped to the rack. Then he hung his head as if dead. "That's enough Mr. Nelson," Judge Charles Grabau said. "Thank you for your demonstration."

What the hell was this guy doing in 1995? Obviously not watching the same murder trial everybody else in the world was.


ps. Nice American Flag Tie/Minnie Pearl Bondage Mask ensemble there, Mr. DA... Way to appeal to the heartland of Massachusetts. Hee-haw!

January 30, 2006

Expect More. Pay Less. Fight Crime.™

Target fights crime

Target does a good job promoting its charitable work in education, arts, and community service, but the Washington Post has a great profile of Target's extensive contributions to law enforcement and forensics. Get this: Target's HQ in Minneapolis has one of the top forensic labs in the world, and its investigators now spend 45% of their time doing pro bono work helping law enforcement all over the country solve violent crimes.

A lot of big department stores coordinate their security efforts with local police departments to deal with shoplifting and property damage, but Target takes the smarter approach of working with law enforcement to prevent crime in the entire community. In Minneapolis, they helped the city and state coordinate their databases of criminals using the same technology that Target uses to track inventory, and now the federal government is considering adapting it to a national database.

Treating repeat offenders like they're retail inventory obviously doesn't address the underlying causes of violent crime, but Target is taking a much broader and more interesting approach to corporate philanthropy than the more typical company's disease-oriented walk-a-thon. But I can't find any clear mention of this stuff on the corporate philanthropy and local giving pages on their website.

Another point to consider is the murky nature of a close alliance between a giant corporation and local government. In one sort of creepy public/private venture, the Target Foundation pays for a lawyer in the Minneapolis prosecutor's office through a grant, and measures the grant's success by number of convictions the lawyer gets.

Many American consumers trust and like Target (including me) even though it has many of the same questionable business practices as the much-loathed Wal-Mart. But do we want big corporations doing law enforcement? A company contributing to the security of its community is all well and good, as long as its role is strictly supporting the work of local government and police, and not turning itself into CSI: Minneapolis. One anecdote at the end of the Post article illustrates the point.

"Such close cooperation sometimes has Target employees working as de facto law enforcement officials. Chris W. Nelson, director of assets protection for the retailer, recalled one case in which he worked with federal agents for two years to break up a crime ring. He questioned informants, got to know some of the suspects and was there as a federal SWAT team surrounded one of the ringleaders on a speedboat on a lake in Minnesota. The suspect stopped short as he spotted Nelson in the crowd and shouted, 'What the fuck is Target doing here?!' "

Good question.

December 16, 2005

NYT webmasters take a shot at cop killers

They've done this before, but whoever it is that comes up with the URLs for decided to take an easy shot at Lillo Brancato Jr and his thug friend who killed the cop in the Bronx the other day. The URL for a story about the pair:

mooks url

For those of you who didn't grow up watching Lillo Brancato Jr movies, a mook is defined by the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang as "an ineffectual, foolish, or contemptible person." The word figures prominently in Mean Streets, which stars Robert De Niro, Brancato's co-star in A Bronx Tale.

November 20, 2005

Strange stuff on the MySpace profile of girl whose parents were murdered in PA +

I'm really sorry if this is incorrect information or I have the wrong person or whatever, but...

It seems like the MySpace profile of the girl involved in last Sunday's Pennsylvania murder/kidnapping has put a cover of the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in a continuous loop on her MySpace page, along with the tagline, "life goes on..."

Anyway, here's a screen capture in case the profile changes.

I have no idea whether this is really the site of that girl or not, but it sure seems to be. It was a public profile when I came across it shortly after the murders and it has since been marked private.

I'm not passing judgment here. I just thought the choice of music is notable, though I'm not sure what is intended by it.

Update [11:40 am]: She changed it. The music is gone, and the tagline is different.

November 4, 2005

Unintended Consequences

Check this out:

The 19-y-o killer in this story from California learned what ammunition was best and learned where to get it by posting to this forum, which original thread participants realized post-facto in this thread.

[via waxy]

November 1, 2005

Update on Fundamentalist Desert Sex Cult Fugitives

There have been some developments in the case of Warren Jeffs, the charismatic and psychopathic leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who runs a polygamist community in Arizona. Jeffs has been on the run from the law for having sex with underage girls and for arranging illegal marriages between underage girls and married men. All in the name of the Lord. Yeesh.

Anyway, Warren's brother Seth was caught by the police on Friday while driving in southern Colorado. He was taken in and charged with harboring a fugitive--presumably he knows where Warren is hiding.

But wait, just wait. When the cops caught him, Seth Jeffs had $142,000 in cash on him, and the driver of the car was a MALE PROSTITUTE that Jeffs had solicited for $5,000!

This is in contention for best story of the year.

October 28, 2005

The mystery of "Official A"

Is this a big deal? Has anyone else mentioned this?

From page 8 of the Libby indictment:

21. On or about July 10 or July 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke to a senior official in the White House (“Official A”) who advised LIBBY of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. LIBBY was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.

Novak is not described previously in the indictment's chronology as having had a conversation with Scooter yet. "Official A" must be Rove, right? In other words, either Novak told Official A that Plame was a CIA agent, or Official A told Novak about her. If it's the latter, shouldn't Official A be similarly investigated for disclosing this information? If he's already been investigated and he told the truth, shouldn't he be indicted, too? If he's already been investigated and he lied (like Libby did), shouldn't he be indicted for making false statements (as Libby was)? Hmm.

October 25, 2005

Fundamentalist Desert Sex Cult!

A community of 8,000 people who live in the desert area on the Utah-Arizona border and call themselves members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has inspired a sensational and implausible-sounding NY Times article. Religious frontier outlaws who rape children and force women to leave their husbands and take up with old men! Renegade zealots who run the Mayor's office, the school board, and the police department, despite the presence of outside law enforcement! A charismatic leader who is on the run from the law, but still controls everyone who lives in the township, has as many as 70 wives, and urges his followers to go on welfare to "bleed the beast"! Except of course it's all true.

Full-time law enforcement was brought in from outside to try to bring some order to this community, but to no avail. The charismatic outlaw leader, Warren Jeffs, teaches that men cannot get to heaven unless they have at least three wives, so the town's women are constantly being reassigned. A resident who left the church when it made his daughter leave her husband to marry her husband's father says, "This just makes me want to cry. I've lost my daughter and her children to this church. I have to stand outside on the sidewalk and beg if I want to see my grandchildren."

But the leaders of this church aren't just into forcing 16 year-olds into marriages with bigamists and controlling the lives of the its members, it's corrupt too. The church owns all the town's land, and recently used public education funds to buy a $200,000 plane, while teachers hadn't been paid in weeks.

Any other reporters who venture into this town had better watch out to make sure they don't get kidnapped, tied to a bed, and forcibly infected with a really big parasitic slug that crawls up your spine and into your brain, like what happened to Scully in "Roadrunners" from season 8 of The X-Files. Residents of that town (north of Sugarville) said they were "just a few like-minded people trying to keep the modern world at bay." Then in one of the creepiest scenes in the history of the show, the big mob of cult-members approach Scully with the God-slug and tell her, "Your life is about to take a wonderful turn. You're going to become a part of something much, much greater than you are. You're going to be... so loved."

Amen. Shudder.

October 10, 2005

Wire services agree: New Orleans police have "stepped it up a notch"

Reuters: New Orleans police vow crackdown as crime picks up


AP: Two New Orleans police officers repeatedly punched a 64-year-old man accused of public intoxication, and another city officer assaulted an Associated Press Television News producer as a cameraman taped the confrontations.

nola police

ap guy gets beat up by cops

I guess that trip to Vegas didn't really do the trick.

September 1, 2005

What the fuck is going on down there? +

Waiting for help in New Orleans

What the fuck is going on down there?

You mean to tell me the United States cannot get it together to save these people, feed these people, and have some semblance of law and order? We need to have dead people in the parking lot of the Convention Center, with no one around to tend to them? People need to break into the food stores in the Superdome?

Jesus. What is wrong with us. -ADM

A few selections from an AP article about what's going on in New Orleans:

"'Hospitals are trying to evacuate," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, spokesman at the city emergency operations center. 'At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them. There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, `You better come get my family.'"

This because there IS NO ONE coming to get these families. FEMA has been in New Orleans for three days, and this shit is still going on. Why is this happening in our own country, in a city that everybody knew was going to be hit by a massively destructive storm? Why is no one in charge?

"Mayor Nagin called for a total evacuation of New Orleans, saying the city had become uninhabitable for the 50,000 to 100,000 who remained behind after the city of nearly a half-million people was ordered cleared out over the weekend."

So there is still 10-20% of the city's population in the city? An effective emergency evacuation operated by the National Guard would not have left 100,000 people behind.

"Some Federal Emergency Management rescue operations were suspended in areas where gunfire has broken out, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington. 'In areas where our employees have been determined to potentially be in danger, we have pulled back,' he said."

If FEMA staff get to leave areas where there is gunfire, then where is Homeland Security? Isn't it their job to work in the problem areas? Where is the National Guard?

"Outside the Convention Center, the sidewalks were packed with people without food, water or medical care, and with no sign of law enforcement. Thousands of storm refugees had been assembling outside for days, waiting for buses that did not come.

"47-year-old Daniel Edwards said, 'You can do everything for other countries but you can't do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military but you can't get them down here.'"

Guess what? The Navy is finally sending an aircraft carrier to the Gulf of Mexico. Like NOW they send an aircraft carrier.

Cities like New York have learned to have a coordinated response to disaster. Maybe one problem is New Orleans' bad infrastructure and bad city management. But the national response has been disgraceful. The message to U.S. cities from the federal government seems to be "You're on your own."

And what do you want to bet that after it's all over, Bush comes out and says all this feel-good garbage about how inspiring it is that regular American citizens reached out to help their neighbors, all because all our public services completely fucked up?

Here's what Bush is saying about the looting and violence going on now: "I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this — whether it be looting, or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud. And I've made that clear to our attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together."

Right. How about zero tolerance of leaving a large sector of a poor and largely non-mobile population behind to fend for themselves in a destroyed city? -Amy

According to our friend Mike: at the Bush-Bush-Clinton press conference right now, Bush is spending a lot of time talking about oil. Meanwhile, a sniper is shooting at the hospital. -ADM

August 18, 2005

Teany stabbing


How's this for a depressing way to die?

Say you're a 40 year-old guy with a number of drug arrests in your history, and you get stabbed by some insane homeless guy on Rivington Street, stagger around unnoticed by anyone except for a staff person at Teany, the tea shop and cafe owned by Moby that serves the most delicious fake-turkey club sandwich in the city, who sees you and calls an ambulance. You collapse on the sidewalk as people walk over you, listening to their iPods. The Teany employee is shocked by the sight of a bleeding man right there in the Lower East Side: "This neighborhood is so pretentious the last thing you would expect is somebody running down the street bleeding."

While the ambulance is on its way and while the scene is being cleaned up, Teany customers are upset that they can't get into the shop. An employee said, "I asked the cops to tape the front of the restaurant because people were like, 'Can we get lattes?' We're like, 'No, you can't get anything.' People in New York just don't care."

So then you're brought to Bellevue, where you die. Newspaper reporters try to find someone to comment on your life, and it's your super (of the building where you live with your mother) who says, "He was a nice kid, but he started using drugs at about 16 or 17. After that he's been crazy. It was a matter of time before somebody killed him."

So far, the only person to say something nice about this guy is Moby, who said on his blog that he is saddened by this random act of violence.

Daily News piece, NY Post piece, Newsday piece, Moby's blog entry.

August 16, 2005

Redemption for Turkey Boy

Ryan Cushing is the Long Island teenage college kid who was part of a group of guys who stole a credit card and used it to buy DVDs and video games at Blockbuster, and a frozen turkey at Waldbaum's, then threw the turkey into oncoming traffic. The turkey, thrown by Cushing, went through the windshield of a car driven by Victoria Ruvolo with enormous force, breaking every bone in her face, and could have killed her. Yesterday, he plead guilty to a lesser charge after Ruvolo herself pushed for second-degree assault, rather than first-degree. Ryan Cushing will probably get 6 months in jail (and required counseling) instead of up to 25 years.

The press coverage of their meeting in the Long Island courthouse yesterday--the first encounter between the two since the turkey assault--is an unbelievably intense story that really sounds like it was scripted for a sentimental Ron Howard movie about the power of redemption or something. Except it's real, so it's touching rather than maudlin. Here's a bit from the NY Times piece:

Stopping to speak to her on his way out of the courtroom, Mr. Cushing choked on an apology and began to cry. For an intensely emotional few minutes, Ms. Ruvolo alternately embraced him tightly, stroked his face and patted his back as he sobbed uncontrollably.

Many of the two dozen people in court - prosecutors, court officers and reporters - choked back tears.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," Mr. Cushing said over and over again. "I didn't mean it." Most of their exchange was whispered, but at one point Ms. Ruvolo's advice to him was just barely audible.

"It's O.K., it's O.K.," she said. "I just want you to make your life the best it can be."

Speaking to reporters after this, the kid told them he loved her.

The Suffolk County DA said that during the preparation of the case, Ms. Ruvolo had insisted on a more lenient charge for Cushing, and though victim's wishes don't normally play a role in prosecution decisions, he was finally persuaded by her.

Let's just hope Kevin Spacey doesn't decide to make a movie adaptation.

August 8, 2005

Smackfest smackdown

As a part of his ongoing bust-up of the corrupt music industry, Eliot Spitzer has today reached a settlement with NY radio station Hot 97 , in which the radio station has agreed to stop its "Smackfest" promotion, in which female listeners competitively slapped each other and were awarded prizes. Hot 97 will also pay a fine of $240,000. Attorney General's office press release is here.

The payola case against Sony BMG and other big record companies was perhaps a clearer crime than the Smackfest, because the Smackfest participants were willing adults who voluntarily agreed to slap and be slapped so that they might have a chance to win up to $5,000 or score some Usher tickets. But NY State has laws against promoting combative sports (pretty much any sport where people beat the crap out of each other other than boxing and martial arts,) and City Council member John C. Liu said that Hot 97 had "broken the public trust by profiting from hate and violence."

So now the station has to promote anti-domestic violence campaigns and give a part of its settlement to Safe Horizon, much like Sony BMG has to give its $10 million settlement to music education nonprofits.

Of course, Hot 97 has gotten in trouble lately for other hijinks, such as their infamous ode to poor taste, "Tsunami Song" that used the tune of "We Are the World" and a lot of cruel racial slurs to jeer at the people killed in December's tsunami.

Sure, it's nice to see morning-show radio hosts, generally some of the more vulgar and offensive people in media, get the shaft, and pay-to-play policies in the music industry are unfair. But these days Spitzer's office seems awfully bent on going after the big splashy cases that regular people (i.e. voters) will respond to. Almost seems like it's all a part of somebody's election campaign or something.

July 26, 2005

Spitzer takes down Sony+

Eliot Spitzer, the enthusiastic New York State Attorney General who makes all your big-business-busting dreams come true, has won the first settlement against the music industry for paying radio stations to play their songs. Sony BMG Music Entertainment is paying the state $10 million, and there are three other big companies that have also been under investigation who have yet to reach agreements. The money is going to be given away to New York State music education nonprofits.

Radio programmers sure were raking in the payola. Many of those "listener contests" you hear about on stations were shams that existed only to provide cover for expensive trips and electronic merchandise that were given to programmers and radio staff. And, of course, programmers were just bribed outright. The best part of the story is the inclusion of entertaining payola-engineering emails among record execs in the Attorney General's Office press release. Some examples:

"Two weeks ago, it cost us over 4000.00 to get Franz [Ferdinand] on WKSE. That is what the four trips to Miami and hotel cost . . . At the end of the day, [David] Universal added GC [Good Charlotte] and Gretchen Wilson and hit Alex up for another grand and they settled for $750.00. So almost $5000.00 in two weeks for overnight airplay. He told me that Tommy really wanted him to do it so he cut the deal."

"WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET AUDIOSLAVE ON WKSS THIS WEEK?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen." [Maybe try getting them to release a decent single. -Amy]


Looks like a lot of "independent music promoters" out there are going to start having to buy their own iPods. Sorry fellas.

Of course, this kind of case is technically supposed to be handled by the FCC, but since the L.A. Times reports that the FCC has "imposed only one fine in a payola case in the last decade"--of $8,000--I'm happy to leave it to our boy Spitzer. - Amy

But honestly - doesn't it make you feel a little better about the world to know that listeners aren't actually requesting Good Charlotte? - Emily

July 13, 2005

Headlines can be misleading

An AP headline from yesterday afternoon:

"Bush Calls for Jailed Reporter's Release"

Of course, he doesn't mean that reporter. He means an Iranian reporter: "President Bush called Tuesday for the release of an Iranian journalist jailed for writing articles linking government officials to murder. Akbar Ganji was sentenced to six years in jail in 2000 after his investigation of the murders of five dissidents by Intelligence Ministry agents. Ganji was convicted on charges that the articles he wrote violated the law.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement that Ganji has been jailed for his political views and that Bush calls on Iran to release Ganji 'immediately and unconditionally.'

'Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.'"

But Judith Miller? She can rot. Rove? No comment.

July 2, 2005

Looking (out) for Deep Throat

mark felt

In case you missed this in the last few sentences of a WP article the other day:

Woodward writes he finally called his old source, who was now living with his daughter, Joan. In the course of their conversation, Felt said -- among other things that cast doubt on his mental state -- that he had no memory of being convicted or pardoned.

The next month, Woodward went to see him. Felt knew they had met, Woodward writes, but appeared to remember nothing about their Watergate transactions:

"Did he recall being my source, the one that was called Deep Throat? He said he didn't know."

Says his daughter, who pushed him to come forward:

...We could make at least enough money to pay some bills, like the debt I've run up for the kids' education. Let's do it for the family.

Related: Deep Throat film rights bought by Hanks' firm

June 3, 2005

The strange and terrifying world of Mike Tyson

As a diversion from your own wretched life this Friday afternoon, we bring you a USA Today profile of Mike Tyson, a tortured soul. Tyson has been through a lot in his time, and I've always admired his ability to continue to produce new headlines, each one more bizarre than the last, ("Mike Tyson thrown in solitary confinement after being denied psychiatric medication", "Tyson says he wants to rape victim and her mother", "Iron Mike hits rock bottom, admits homelessness", and "Mike Tyson sings Volare in Sanremo") for two decades now.

But these days, Tyson is a shell of a man. On June 11 he will go back in the ring against Kevin McBride, but he has nothing but regret for how his life has turned out. Here are a few quotes from the epic USA Today piece:

"I'll never be happy. I believe I'll die alone. I would want it that way. I've been a loner all my life with my secrets and my pain. I'm really lost, but I'm trying to find myself. I'm really a sad, pathetic case. My whole life has been a waste — I've been a failure."

"I just want to escape. I'm really embarrassed with myself and my life. I want to be a missionary. I think I could do that while keeping my dignity without letting people know they chased me out of the country. I want to get this part of my life over as soon as possible. In this country, nothing good is going to come of me. I'm so stigmatized, there is no way I can elevate myself."

Mike apparently is still wrestling with some paranoia issues: "People are trying to force me to redeem (myself) — certain women, certain mentors," he says. "Nobody's going to change me. I'm going to fight that. You can't change me; you can't tame me. When you say that, I'm going to bite you even harder. I'm more ferocious, more complicated. I'm not going to let anybody win a popularity contest off my conduct."

And slips a few times on the demonic banana peel of reality: "They would give (the late) Jeffrey Dahmer a second chance before they gave me another one. If you saw a (police) lineup and saw Tyson and Dahmer and they asked, 'Who killed and ate those people?' you would pick me and not Jeffrey."

If there's one thing this article proves (if the Che Guevara and Mao Zedong tattoos haven't given it away already) it's that Tyson is definitely your go-to guy for crazy. It's sad, in a way. Who could have predicted that today he would be the one raising pigeons, while Evander Holyfield rose to a new level of fame and critical admiration on Dancing With the Stars?

May 16, 2005

Sabrina Harmon: Soldier. Lesbian. Yoo-Hoo Drinker.

Sabrina drinks YooHoo!

At today's trial of Sabrina Harmon, who you may remember from the Abu Ghraib Photo Album, Sabrina did not speak in her own defense. But her lover, Kelly Bryant, did get on the stand and read from a letter that Sabrina wrote to her from Iraq in October 2003. "At first I thought it was funny, but these people are going too far," Sabrina wrote in her letter. "Kelly, it's awful. I thought I could handle anything, but I was wrong."

Unfortunately for Sabrina, it turns out that her letter was written a few days before the first instance of abuse that she is accused of committing.

Here's a picture of Sabrina not thinking it's funny.

Here's one of her not being able to handle it.

Wonkette has a funny bit on Harmon's trial and spelling skills.

March 1, 2005

At least now we don't kill minors anymore

A major victory for American human rights today: the Supreme Court just ruled that it is unconstitutional for our nation to execute 16 and 17 year-olds under the death penalty. 70 people currently on death row for crimes they committed while minors will now not be killed by their government.

In making this decision to not execute minors, the United States joins the rest of the first world (although hardly any first-world countries have any death penalty at all) and leaves behind the other countries that have recently executed minors: Congo, China, Iran, and Pakistan. We've discussed the US's company with other child-killers before in an earlier post.

The official ruling is here [pdf].

February 22, 2005

Dead people more interesting if beautiful, educated, sez Post

Consecutive stories in today's Post. Good thing they got this information into the lead:

A brilliant and beautiful pre-med student, who kindly stopped to help a car-crash victim on the Long Island Expressway, was struck and killed by another driver during yesterday's pounding snowstorm.

A beautiful blond college student from Connecticut was found dead yesterday in the Queens apartment of a friend she had been visiting for the weekend.

January 7, 2005

Phil Spector's Wall of Nuts

The L.A. Times successfully appealed to get the transcripts of Phil Spector's grand jury trial made public, and today they give us a few choice tidbits of testimony indicating what a creepy loon Spector is. Testimony includes many past incidents of threatened violence toward women, and an early admission that he "accidentally" killed the woman, which he later denied. What's notable about these anecdotes is not just that Spector is quick to pull out guns and threaten people, it's also that he seems to have no grasp of reality and to be totally unstable and delusional. Here are a few of the stories.

  • Deborah Strand told the grand jury that she did not know who Spector was when she saw her boyfriend's golden retriever jumping on a holiday party guest in their Beverly Hills-area home in 1999. She described the guest — whom she later learned was Spector — as a "drunk Dudley Moore." She said she "didn't know who this person was and why he was there," but he appeared not to be having a good time. "And I said, 'You can leave.' " The man turned around and pointed a handgun at her right cheek. "He said, 'What are you going to say now?'. He looked at me, and I looked at his bodyguard and I said, 'Get him out of here now.' That registered in his head, and he immediately took the gun off of my face, put it away; and in a matter of seconds they left without force."
  • Dorothy Tiano Melvin testified that Spector had hit her twice in the head with his right fist while clutching a revolver, as she tried to leave his estate over the July 4, 1993, weekend. Melvin testified that Spector became agitated while she was asleep on a sofa in his 33-room estate. She woke up to find Spector pointing a handgun at her new car in his driveway. When she confronted him outside, she said, Spector "whirled around and he pointed the gun at me" and told her to go inside. Once inside, Spector sat on a staircase in the foyer, pointing the gun at Melvin from about five feet away. He repeatedly demanded that she undress and go to the third floor, where the bedrooms are, Melvin testified. When she refused, she said he hit her again. "He said, 'You're a liar. You weren't on the couch. Where were you? You were searching my house. You were snooping. You were stealing things.' " She said he took her purse and went through it. When Spector finally ordered her out of his house, Melvin, sobbing, ran to her car and drove to the locked gate. "I heard him running down the drive, and then I heard the pump of a shotgun," she testified. She saw Spector pointing a shotgun at her. When she told him the gate was locked, he said he would open it and went back toward the house.
  • Photographer Stephanie Elizabeth Jennings testified that she had accompanied Spector to a party after the 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York. Back in her room at the Carlyle Hotel, Jennings said, Spector's bodyguard appeared at the door and announced that Spector wanted her to join him in his room. She said no. Spector came to her room next, and she again refused his request that she join him in his room, she testified. Spector blocked the door with a chair and a gun and would not let her leave. Jennings used her hotel phone to call 911 without Spector ever suspecting that she was talking to police. "He said, 'You can call your mom. She can't do anything,' something to that effect," Jennings testified.
  • Police Officer Beatrice Rodriguez testified that when police arrived at Spector's home after the shooting, Spector said, "What's wrong with you guys? What are you doing? I didn't mean to shoot her. It was an accident."

December 15, 2004

Victims and Priorities

Amy's Robot hasn't discussed the Scott Peterson trial, largely because we found the whole circus exploitative and sad. But we felt it necessary to comment on this touching article [Legal Superstar Stung By Peterson Defeat] pointed out by ADM, on the real victim of the whole tragedy. We are speaking, of course, about defense lawyer to the stars Mark Geragos.

It's been a rough year for Geragos, once the go-to guy for high-profile characters who got busted shoplifting or misplaced their interns. But that was before a cold-hearted jury found his star client guilty and sentenced him to death - with total disregard for Geragos' career!

To paraphrase ADM, give me a fucking break. This article, which suggests that the jury did something wrong by finding a murderer guilty, outlines just about everything that's wrong with the media sensationalism around these cases.

"I don't think it gets any worse than this, losing a death penalty case in such a public way," said trial watcher and Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson.

You know what, Laurie? I bet Laci Peterson's family thinks it gets a lot worse. In fact, I bet they think that having your daughter's death become a public spectacle, and then seeing her murderer featured on an E! True Hollywood Story and in People magazine, is much, much, worse.

The truly stupid part of this piece is that it almost accidentally points out that Geragos isn't such a hotshot after all. He wasn't able to get Winona Ryder off on her shoplifting charges, and he was fired by Michael Jackson. And when Michael Jackson fires you, it's probably time to take a good hard look at your career.

Geragos claims that he wanted to represent Scott Peterson out of a sense of moral obligation, because he felt the situation was becoming a "witch hunt". After all, his firm claims that "the law offices of Geragos & Geragos have always stood for one thing above all else: honesty and integrity in representation." Yes, enough honesty and integrity to post a piece yesterday written by a representative of a right-wing Christian organization* suggesting that a Satanist cult was somehow responsible for Laci Peterson's death. Witch hunt, indeed.

[tx ADM]

* The organization is Blessed Cause, which is opposed to teaching "Sex Ed Porn" in public schools, the ACLU, and "forcing children to pray to Allah". I'm not linking to it directly, but the web address is on the article link.

November 17, 2004

Worst Bank Robbers Ever

There are many weird and often funny crime stories in the news every day here in the big, bad city that we don't comment on, but every once in a while, we like to report on one that stands out as particularly inventive, disgusting, or asinine.

So today let's focus on asinine. Yesterday a couple spent some time driving slowly around the Upper East Side, casing banks to rob. Somebody noticed them, and the cops were alerted. So now they're trolling along First Avenue, with the cops watching them, and they decide to stop and hold up the Fourth Federal Savings Bank at 72nd St. The guy runs in, with no gun, and slips the teller a note asking for cash. He gets a whole $795 out of it.

Then the police watch as he jumps in the car being driven by his girlfriend, and the robbers speed off, only to hit one of the unmarked cop cars that has been trailing them all day. Then they turn the wrong way down 85th Street (which is a one-way street,) I guess to get onto the FDR, and in doing so, run into two more cars. At this point, they stop and are surrounded by cops.

So they get arrested for bank robbery. AND it turns out that the car they were driving was stolen. AND AND AND the guy also had two crack pipes on him, so they also get drug charges. And obviously they don't get to keep their amazing $795 jackpot. Unbelievable.

November 15, 2004

Real Life, ripped from a Law & Order script

Interesting story in the Times today about a woman who served as head juror on a murder trial 12 years ago, who has now contacted the defense lawyers to help them overturn the guilty verdict that she helped deliver. The case involves two men (now serving 25 to life) who were convicted of shooting a club bouncer in 1990; there have been three separate city investigations since then, and new evidence suggesting their innocence has surfaced within the past couple of years. The defendants' law firm has more details about the history of the case and its media coverage. This summer, the head juror happened to see a TV show about the many investigations of the murder, and realized it was the case she had sat on. On the show, she learned of some evidence that was not included during the trial, and she now says she is "sure they are innocent."

The story is reminiscent of a great Law & Order episode in which a female head juror at a murder trial falls under the spell of the defendant, a handsome and intense man who chooses to represent himself in court, who shoots long, smoldering looks at her throughout the trial. (This prompts the judge to scold the defendant, saying "This is a courtroom, not a singles bar.") After the trial ends with a hung jury, the juror approaches McCoy and admits that her deliberation was unduly influenced by the defendant and his flirtation. She offers to help overturn her jury's (non)decision. The TV version of the story is more exciting, of course (especially when the evil seductive defendant sneaks into the head juror's apartment to try to strangle her after she admits her misjudgement to McCoy, and she stabs him in the neck with a pair of kitchen shears,) but still, some interesting parallels.

September 3, 2004

Blame Bloomberg

This great article in the Washington Post covers all the important issues related to the prolonged and illegal detention of the protesters -- and non-protesters -- this week. They were finally freed last night after a judge placed the City in contempt-of-court for not releasing them after his previous order yesterday afternoon.

A police official quoted in the article has the gall to blame the protesters themselves for the length of their detention, calling them "pampered." Pampered for expecting police to comply with the LAW of the state of New York and release or arraign them within 24 hours? Pampered for being a teenage girl and expecting not to be kept in a pen with grown men overnight? Pampered for not expecting to be arrested on your way home from work and then being held for 2 days?

Conspicuously absent from the article is a response from Mayor Bloomberg or any of his city hall staffers. Bloomberg was all over the tv last week "welcoming" protesters and telling everyone how we all had a right, blah blah blah. It's been clear since before the convention even began, however, that this was merely lip service. Bloomberg put the satisfaction of the national Republican party ahead of his own constituents, and the 1,700 people arrested this week suffered for it, involuntarily sacrificing their civil rights for his benefit.

Bloomberg owes the detainees and the city an apology, which will never come. It's especially ironic that the contempt fines could end up costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars -- because Bloomberg, a renowned fiscal conservative -- was too pig-headed to order the police to release everyone earlier in the week. And I suppose it'll cost the city -- meaning taxpayers like us -- a lot more if the protesters (justifiably) decide to sue. Democrats like me who have cut Bloomberg some slack because he was a life-long Democrat before running for mayor will have to reconsider and hold him accountable for this in next year's election.

Which leads me to my next point. WHERE THE HELL WAS GIFFORD MILLER?? The 34-year-old speaker of the city council goes out of his way to nitpick Bloomberg all the time, usually in front of a million cameras, and has made it clear he plans to challenge Bloomberg for mayor, and yet this week, while his own core constituency is being locked up illegally, he's been absolutely invisible. Reports have abounded all week about the detentions and wrongful arrests, and a call for action from Miller -- or even a behind-the-scenes push -- earlier in the week might have saved those people several nights in jail. But Giff's been nowhere to be found, causing me to wonder whether he -- like all other establishment Dems -- has caught a case of Liberalitis and is afraid to stand up for people's civil rights because he's afraid he'll look soft on crime and terrorism.

Dubious? While he should have been advocating for the release of the protesters, guess what he was issuing press releases about. That's right! Issues that concern rich potential donors! On Wednesday, the ole Giff Miller publicity machine turned out this gem: "SPEAKER MILLER SHOWS SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES BEING STIFLED BY THE RNC" [pdf] Businesses! I can't wait for him to dig that one out at the Chamber of Commerce's fundraising galas next spring!

Now that the convention's over, it seems probable that Giff will try to score some easy political points by standing up and demanding an investigation into how all these detainees were "lost" in the system, but that's just more lip service. Instead, I would like to demand an investigation into how Giff Miller's political integrity got lost this week.

August 24, 2004

The Life of the Celebrity-slash-Addict

Interesting NYT piece about Jerry Stahl's new book I, Fatty (the best title for a book I've heard since Cintra Wilson's) a fictionalized memoir of Fatty Arbuckle. Arbuckle was a very popular and successful silent film star--the first actor to get a million-dollar contract--who was at the center of a major Hollywood scandal when he was accused of raping and murdering a starlet during an orgy at a San Francisco hotel. Although Fatty was acquitted at three separate trials, he was forever tarnished by the case, and his image was destroyed through a deluge of defamatory articles in the Hearst tabloids.

And: Fatty was a heroin addict. You may recall that Jerry Stahl, TV writer for ALF, Moonlighting, and Twin Peaks, also wrote his own memoir called Permanent Midnight (made into a movie starring Ben Stiller) about his $6,000/week heroin addiction. In discussing his own drug problems in the article, Stahl makes a lot of vague metaphors about addicts creating themselves as alienated beings via their addictions, but, as usual, the anecdotes are more interesting. He says he still buys a car with a consideration of what it would be like to live in it.

His book is doing well, and Johnny Depp's film company has optioned it. So let's think about who could play Fatty Arbuckle, if the film ever gets produced. Johnny Depp says he wouldn't play the title role, but suggests that Philip Seymour Hoffman could do it. How about Dave Attell? Or maybe Kiefer in a fat suit? He did a great job almost shooting up during 24's season this past year.

Stahl says about modern celebrity scandals, "self-destruction is a wing of show business... It has almost become a station of the celebrity cross to have that rehab moment, when you do something, you're caught, then you come clean and everybody loves you again and you're back in." It's the Bill Clinton model of the glorious return after shame. Robert Downey, Jr. aspires to follow this path, but somewhere around The Singing Detective I started doubting. And, of course, there is an ocean of celebrities who have blown it and never quite regained their previous stature (OJ, Christian Slater, Nick Nolte, Bobby Brown, Courtney Love) all of whom could likely relate to the plight of Fatty.

August 9, 2004

Advice to Drug Dealers

Just a friendly note to all you dealers out there: when you have 11 bags of heroin in your car and a whole bunch of stolen Xanax, don't do any of the following:

  • run out of gas
  • get sassy with the cop who pulls over to tell you to move your car off the road, and get his badge number with the intention of calling in a complaint about him, or
  • drive off without getting your ID back from him.

  • August 5, 2004

    Sneaky anti-abortion activism

    Interesting federal lawsuit against a man named William Graham in Louisiana who has operated Causeway Center for Women, supposedly an abortion referral service, for the last 10 years. However, when women called the Center to make an appointment, their appointments were cancelled again and again until they were too far into their pregnancies for a legal abortion. Many of these women had called his organization thinking they were calling an actual provider of abortions in Louisiana, Causeway Medical Clinic.

    It turns out that Mr. Graham is an anti-abortion activist who has picketed doctors' offices, and used to run a clinic with his wife called A Woman's Day Clinic, a pro-life center for pregnant women. The article also reports, "In 2002, Mr. Graham enrolled in the state's anti-AIDS condom distribution program, picked up 30,000 free condoms and discarded them. He pleaded guilty to theft and is on probation."

    One of the women suing him is a 19 year-old high school dropout with a boyfriend in jail and a terminally ill mother. She says that when Mr. Graham cancelled her appointment, he would give legitimate-sounding excuses: "The doctors worked on their own time so no one would know they performed abortions. He could not reveal the name of the doctor or hospital in advance for security reasons. When he failed to call, he would explain later that the doctor had had an emergency, or had been too busy that day." Demonstrating his concern for the welfare of his clients, Mr. Graham also told her to drink milk and stop smoking. Now she's eight months pregnant.

    Whatever your stance on abortion may be, this is the most underhanded anti-abortion action I've heard of. More details about the lawsuit, filed in June, on AlterNet. The judge for the case ordered Mr. Graham to disconnect the phone line of Causeway Center for Women, and said he had done "irreparable harm" to his clients. Even the founder of Louisana Right to Life said of him, "I think he's known for his very pronounced anti-abortion stand, and I can say this for sure: he's never worked with what you might describe as mainstream right-to-life groups."

    July 19, 2004

    Capital Punishment in America

    Some news today on the state of capital punishment in our morally upstanding country. The issues at hand are:

    1) can we kill a criminal even if there is evidence that might lead to his acquittal via DNA testing? and

    2) can we kill 16 year-olds?

    Right now, the answers are Yes and Yes.

    The state of Georgia has decided to go ahead with tonight's execution of Eddie Crawford, who was convicted of killing his 2 year-old niece 20 years ago. The lawyer who presented the case to the Georgia Supreme Court and state parole board is Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, an organization that has helped overturn many convictions through DNA testing. He thinks this is the first time a death row inmate has been denied DNA testing after every possible appeal was made. The Supreme Court says that there is "overwhelming evidence" against Crawford, although several samples of blood and hair have not been DNA tested. Crawford himself is an alcoholic who blacks out a lot, and he appears to have attempted to have sex with the victim's mother the night of the murder. However, check out the list of the other potential suspects in the murder: "the victim's great-uncle, who lived in the house next door, was being investigated for possible molestation of his daughter and stepdaughter, according to the brief. Across the street lived a convicted killer who was also under investigation for child molesting. The ex-husband of the niece's mother had a history of violent altercations with her and might have just discovered that the girl was not his biological child." Oh well, sorry Eddie.

    Also today, diplomats, the EU, Canada, Mexico, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Jimmy Carter all lobbied the Supreme Court to end capital punishment for killers who commited their crimes before age 18. There are currently 19 states that allow 16 or 17 year-olds to be executed. The four consistently liberal Supreme Court judges have already gone on record calling the execution of underage criminals "shameful," and it's easy to see why. Here are the other countries, besides the U.S., that have executed minors over the last four years: Congo, China, Iran, and Pakistan. Not exactly the kinds of countries we like to identify with in our human rights practices. Also, the United States executed more minors than the rest of the world combined between 1990 and 2003. The Supreme Court plans to examine underage executions this fall.

    See this page for statistics on the states that allow executions of juveniles, and the states that have actually executed juveniles since 1973. You have one guess at which state has done the most.

    July 16, 2004

    Robot-on-the-Spot: Bacanovic Sentencing

    bacanovic sentencing
    We were too sleepy to make it down to the federal courthouse for Martha's sentencing this morning, but due to some serendipity, we were around (with a camera) when her broker Peter Bacanovic made his post-sentencing perp walk. Unlike Martha, he didn't hold a "presser" on the courthouse steps to explain himself and urge people to buy his magazine. Instead, he walked swiftly to the maroon SUV parked in the red zone and sped off.

    Here are our photos of the event. (Including the money shot.)

    Bacanovic, by the way, received roughly the same sentence as Martha, but with a smaller fine.

    July 12, 2004

    The Rodney King Cops, 13 years later

    Interesting but depressing piece in the LA Times about one of the acquitted cops from the Rodney King beating case. Two of the officers involved were convicted in a federal civil rights trial, but the other two were found innocent in both criminal and civil rights court. One of these is Timothy Wind. Wind is legally innocent, but the devasting series of defeats in his post-beating life suggests that he is still somehow paying for his sins.

    After the riots, and after remaining in the LA area for an unbelievable 9 years, he and his family moved to Indiana. He went to law school in Indianapolis, where some of the other students questioned why he was admitted. He was rejected for an internship working for Indianapolis' prosecuting attorney. He's yet to take the bar exam, but it would be hard to see how any district attorney's office could hire him without being asked a lot of questions by the public, once they find out who he is. Nevertheless, Wind is determined to continue his career in law enforcement.

    Wind has reportedly "lost his motivation to build a new life," he has stomach ulcers, his wife got laid off from her job, they had three miscarriages, and his former Police Academy instructor describes him as being "emotionally disfigured." Dude, it might be better if you just get a job in marketing or real estate or something, and try to get over it. Instead, Wind is still unrepentant about the King beating, and claims he and the other officers were using their training. Apparently, the juries agreed: the two officers charged with civil rights violation served 30 months in prison, but the biggest punishment was given to the city of Los Angeles, which paid $3.8 million to Rodney King.

    And whatever became of Rodney? You probably would rather not know. The article states, "King consumed most of his $3.8 million judgment in an attempt at starting a rap record label. He has been arrested repeatedly on charges of domestic violence, drug use and drunken driving."

    June 30, 2004


    While we here at the 礎ot are deeply opposed to fear-mongering for personal or political gain, we know that it痴 only healthy to be a little scared. After all, anyone who has read The Gift of Fear knows that these feelings can make you more alert, and potentially keep you out of a bad situation.

    The fact is, some scary shit has been going on in New York City, and around the world. Is it 杜ounting tension� or some related group psychosis? Or are we just a civilization in decline?

    Now that ScaryNY, one of our favorite sources for this kind of news, has closed its doors, Amy痴 Robot has decided to pick up some of the reporting slack on the frightening things happening around us. We hope this new feature, AIEEEE!, will keep our readers aware and attentive.

    In our first installment of AIEEEE! we want to remind you that not all scary shit makes it to the pages of the New York Post. Take, for instance, our friend痴 experience earlier this week:

    "I was in a cab on Rivington and Chrystie and all of a sudden I was drenched in water from somewhere. The front windows were open and when I asked the driver, he said a kid from the park had thrown a bucket or bottle of water into the cab. No big deal. So we stop at the next light and I hear this noise behind me. I turned and this guy is on the trunk of the cab and jumping up and down. And then all of a sudden the back window of the cab explodes and I'm covered in glass! The guy has a chunk of pipe and concrete (like the kind that holds up street signs) and is bashing in the windows and roof. The cab driver freezes until I start screaming at him to drive and turn down Chrystie. Some people came running over and helped get the glass off of me and we called the police � not that that will do anything of course."

    As a testament to the spirit of New Yorkers, the friend in question actually apologized for her terrified reaction to the event, saying 的 know it's just one of those NY things that happen.�

    Now, that's even scarier.

    June 24, 2004

    Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg

    Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

    As a vulnerable woman living here in the Big City, I’m delighted to see that you and Police Commissioner Kelly are doing your best to protect me from the threat of terrorist attacks on the subway. Silly me, when I first saw the “If you see something, say something” posters, I thought they referred to general crime – but in fact, they meant that I should report suspicious packages!

    Not only that, I know now that the people taking pictures on subway platforms are not families of Midwestern tourists at all, but terrorists planning to kill us during the Republican National Convention.

    Thanks to you and thanks also to the MTA for involving New Yorkers in these efforts. I'm so excited to be part of the "Get Suspicious" campaign!!! The guy on the F train who sings "Stand by Me" a capella is so bad, it can only be a cover for his illegal activities!

    Now I’ll be so busy looking out for Al Qaeda operatives, I won’t have time to worry about being crushed by a train, or shot in the middle of the day, or pickpocketed, or beaten and robbed, or pushed onto the subway tracks.

    Thank you for making our subways safe!

    June 2, 2004

    Surprise! Drug companies knew anti-depressants are bad for kids+

    To continue the thread on the growing international awareness of the dangers of prescribing anti-depressants to young people: our local hero Eliot Spitzer has filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline, claiming the drug company withheld information about the negative effects of Paxil on children. As British drug regulatory bodies stated months ago, anti-depressants do not show conclusive positive effects on young people, and they can increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in some. The lawsuit says that Glaxo suppressed four studies that demonstrate these results, and also includes an internal memo circulated within the company that says they intended to "manage the dissemination of data in order to minimize any potential negative commercial impact." That negative impact might have reduced the $55 million in revenues that Glaxo made in 2002 from prescriptions of Paxil to children and teens.

    Glaxo claims that they made all of their studies available to the FDA. Which leads to the question: if U.S. companies got results like this in their drug tests, why didn't the FDA take action similar to the UK's regulatory agencies and ban the prescription of anti-depressants (besides Prozac) for young people? The article contains this seemingly contradictory sentence: "Paxil is not approved for use in children, but doctors can prescribe drugs as they see fit and routinely recommend antidepressants for children suffering from depression and other psychological disorders." The FDA's website answers some questions about Paxil and children; they say that the FDA has "not approved" the use of Paxil for depressed children, but that physicians can prescribe whatever they want for whomever they want. Way to throw your weight around, FDA. - Amy

    Interestingly, this news comes out on the same day the NYT reports on a government-funded study that shows Prozac is more effective than talk therapy for suicidal teenagers. The study appears legitimate, since it is not overtly funded by a drug company (although some people, by which I mean me, would argue that our government is the biggest and most profitable drug company of all).

    One doctor not involved in the study echoes the concerns of many bad parents, noting that the findings are a relief "because it's hard to get people into cognitive therapy anymore. They just don't want to take the time.'' - Emily

    May 20, 2004

    The Internet and Common Sense, Part II

    It痴 been a rough week for pedophiles. First, Firefighter Ryan Hogan was arrested for trying to seduce someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl, but was in fact a volunteer for the awesomely named civilian watchdog group Perverted Justice. In a supremely classy move, Ryan chose to appear before the judge wearing an FDNY shirt referencing September 11痴 fallen heroes. Unsurprisingly, since he has only been a firefighter since 2003, the gesture didn稚 win him much support.

    Then, yesterday, a Staten Island math teacher was arrested for sending suggestive emails to a 13-year-old student, asking for pictures of her in her underwear. Authorities aren稚 sure how long this kind of communication had been going on before the girl痴 mother logged onto her home computer and started receiving the 途acy� instant messages intended for her daughter.

    Here are some helpful tips: Don稚 send dirty IM痴 to your underage girlfriend if she shares a computer with her parents. Also, if you池e looking to get some hot action from a 14-year old girl, and her screen name is cuteashley4U1990, it痴 probably her father.

    And dude - just don稚 send live-feed videos of yourself jerking off to anyone, whatever their age. That痴 just gross, and I guarantee it値l come back to haunt you.

    In related news, here's a strange story about a child prostitution ring France that might have been made up.

    May 18, 2004

    I have some Viagra to sell you, too.

    Here's a tip for jobseekers: If you apply for a job through an online job listing site, the company hires you via email, and the job involves transferring cash out of your personal PayPal account and wiring it to the Ukraine -- surprise! Chances are that the job is not legitimate.

    The New York Times reports that crime rings are recruiting the gullible and greedy to launder money from stolen credit cards through, Careerbuilder, and Hot Jobs.

    "I assumed the jobs were legitimate," says Sasha Valentine, a graduate student in information technology who owes PayPal $700. "I feel really let down by Monster."

    People, why can't you use your heads? The worst consequence of our internet-based culture may be the accompanying total loss of common sense.

    May 6, 2004

    Highway Robbery

    People are unbelievable.

    Sure, I致e borrowed my sister痴 dress without asking, maybe pocketed a Snickers from the Cumberland Farms, but it never occurred to me to steal things like electricity and guardrails [login required]. That really takes balls.

    While New Jersey has apparently been losing miles of aluminum guardrails to the tune of $2.5 million "like termites silently devouring the wooden beams of your house", Con Edison has been enduring thievery from customers that ranges from street vendors stealing currents from lamp posts, meter tampering, and building false walls to hide electric wires.

    I壇 say that people will steal anything that痴 not nailed down, but guardrails and lamp posts are nailed down, aren稚 they? Or bolted? Or soldered?

    For me, these crimes raise many questions, such as: is it wise to try to save money by cutting open live electrical wires? And, do you seriously expect me to believe that no one notices people yanking sections of guardrail off the highway?

    Officials seem to take all this thievery in stride. New Jersey is compensating by replacing stolen aluminum guardrails with steel. And Con Ed痴 top inspector, Charles Mormilo, rationalizes, "New Yorkers are stealthy�But my inspectors are New Yorkers, too."

    May 4, 2004

    Petty bank theft

    Today's best regional news story:

    "I robbed banks to pay for surgery for my sick cat, Smoochie."

    Catherine Kaczanowski ("44-year-old recluse") from Bensonhurst pled not guilty to charges of robbery from five different banks, totalling $7,500. The first robbery of $2,000 was to pay for Smoochie's surgery, which you'll be glad to know was successful. Then she just decided to keep on robbing banks for very small amounts of money.

    April 30, 2004

    Why You Should Always Check References

    Anyone involved with a nonprofit institution (like say, the New York Academy of Art) knows that one Board member who drives everyone up a freaking wall. He痴 calling all the time, criticizing the staff, complaining about how the place is run. Then all of a sudden he痴 suing the institution because no one can account for pieces of art he donated, he痴 filing petitions with the state over mismanagement, and finally, you have to physically toss him out of your annual benefit for making a scene. Then, of all things, he hires a Private Investigator to follow your Chief Financial Officer into a restaurant and lift fingerprints from his water glass!

    What a jerk that guy is. But how embarrassing if it turned out he was right all along, and your CFO is actually a con artist wanted by the federal government.

    April 28, 2004

    Bullying is a crime +

    16 year-old Joey Bari ("not a crybaby") won a lawsuit worth $195,000 from NYC public education because he was teased, pushed, and tripped while in middle school. I'm not sure if this case sets a legal precedent for defining teasing and bullying as a crime (or at least, charging a school system when they ignore such behavior) but it certainly makes me wonder how little Joey will turn out as an adult. Apparently the bullies teased him for his slicked-back hair and preppy clothes, and the primary bully called him "freckle juice." I don't know about you, but just about everybody I know went through way worse than this during those difficult pre-teen years. There were kids in my middle school who got physically harassed every day. Believe it or not, some kids were even called names way meaner than "freckle juice."

    Teasing and bullying are major social problems in every single school in the country, and there are many in-school and after-school programs that encourage kids to accept differences and treat each other with greater respect. However, having a mother like Mary Bari (who is probably majorly bitter over her ridiculous name, and is lashing out at others to try to gain some self-respect) who says things like, "He was going through mental and physical abuse. I always told him never to fight. Now he's emotionally damaged. He doesn't trust older people after the school refused to do anything to stop this" probably isn't going to help little Joey develop into a self-sufficient well-adjusted adult either. Instead of suing the Deptartment of Education, maybe you could have taught Joey a few choice insults and washed the grease out of his hair, Mary.

    Hope you fare better in private school, freckle juice.

    I don't know, Ames, I think you're being a little hard on the parents. If they attempt to get remediation from the school and don't succeed, I think litigation is a reasonable recourse. The kid should not have to experience the burden of a hostile environment any more than an employee should have to experience harassment in the workplace. -ADM

    April 5, 2004

    The Softer Side of Prison

    So say you're a young Crip, in prison in California, and it's your cellmate's birthday. How do you make him feel special? Taking their cues from administraive assistants in corporate offices everywhere, gang members in prison are creating and passing around birthday cards for everyone to sign. However, the messages in the cards are more likely to say "Well cellie what can I say. Happy Birthday homie. I got nothing but love for you. Homies will celebrate later, I promise you. All right then fool. Your cellie, Drifter," than "Happy B-day Sharleen, you're the best!!! Don't eat too much cake!!!"

    Because of encrypted gang-related messages in the cards, and the use of nicknames that law enforcement might not be aware of, the Department of Corrections in CA is taking notice of these cards. Cards from members of the Crips usually say "Happy C-Day" because of members' avoidance of the letter "B", associated with Bloods. Some cards include obvious references to gang activity that mention specific people, which helps investigations. The cards themselves use both goofy comic book-style drawings and more expressive artwork: "The sillier cards are full of cars and girls and stylized homeboys smoking pot or drinking 'pruno,' the noxious homemade prison wine. The serious ones are more likely to feature buxom pre-Columbian princesses, fantasy-themed collages or the laughing and crying clowns that symbolize the highs and lows of the gangster lifestyle."

    The Entenmann's crumb cake, brownies, and diet coke of office birthdays also have their cellblock analogs. In prison, the cards are often presented along with a spread of snacks, some "pruno", and if you're lucky, a dose of heroin. Nice to know that even if you get sent up the creek, your cellies will still make your day special.

    March 8, 2004

    Dance music and drugs in America

    This weekend saw the kickoff of the biggest US dance music festival, the 19th annual Winter Music Conference held in Miami. The Ultra Music Festival on Saturday featured awards and performances by many mainstream people like the aging Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto and poor old washed-up Goldie, the far more exciting Ferry Corsten and Way Out West, as well as head-scratchers like Perry Farrell (or DJ Peretz, as he was called for this one-off performance) and Tommy Lee drumming along with a DJ. The NY Times says The Chemical Brothers' set was the best part. Every year, events like this get bigger and bigger, and every year, people comment that dance music just isn't taking off in the US. This year, people blamed the complex and restrictive US copyright laws that make sampling and remixing other people's music more difficult that it is in other countries.

    But another legal trend demonstrates that law enforcement appreciates the popularity of dance music, especially in terms of drug consumption at related events. Miami reports 117 arrests on drug charges, and the big bust-up at Sound Factory in NYC over the weekend means we've probably just lost yet another of the city's major clubs. It's too bad that we need massive police presence to define the legitimacy of a cultural development, but admit it, people: dance music has arrived in the US.

    January 29, 2004

    NY Times Frees Sex Slaves

    The NYT continues its suddenly all-encompassing coverage of the sex slave industry with this "special op-ed" multimedia feature. Nicholas Kristof goes to Cambodia and buys the freedom of two slave girls.

    This is reminiscent of a banner headline in Spin magazine about 10 years ago: "WE FREE A SEX SLAVE" The experiential journalistic behind that piece? Indefatigable novelist, historian, and reporter William T. Vollmann. The article isn't online, but he briefly discusses it in this interview.

    January 28, 2004

    Celebrity Courthouse

    faith evans martha stewart
    It's been a busy 24 hours on the celebrity court docket: James Brown, Courtney Love, Faith Evans, Martha Stewart. Not to mention Scott Weiland and Michael Jackson, who have been hanging around on the courthouse steps.

    Being famous is soooo hard. I feel very bad for these people. I really do.

    January 9, 2004

    Criminals and Crashes

    Here's a little detail from the story of that guy who killed four relatives (including his daughter) and then kidnapped the three step-daughters: when the police were in pursuit, this is how it ended:

    Keenan said deputies spotted the car and saw the children, but Jones refused to pull over. He drove a short way off the interstate when a state trooper bumped the back of the car, forcing it to spin and crash into a telephone pole. The 10-year-old got out and ran, and officers saw Jones slump in the front seat, Keenan said. They pulled the other children out, one of them covered in Jones' blood [because he shot himself in the face].
    Now, I've seen this bumper-car move on World's Scariest Police Chases a thousand times, but I didn't think the police would use it on a car carrying a bunch of little girls. I guess they figured they were in greater danger from the homicidal maniac driving the car, so they'd take their chances. I wonder if that's a standard procedure for such instances, or if the deputy just did what he thought he had to do.

    Anyway, here's another interesting tidbit:

    Jones' mother and stepfather were killed in the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades, and David O'Donnell said Jones got a substantial settlement. "He blew the money almost as fast as he got it, mostly on drugs," [his ex-brother-in-law] said.
    Sort of strange how the sad trajectory of this guy's life on the wrong side of the law was book-ended by crashes that in each case presumably traumatized the children involved -- he being the child traumatized by the first one.

    January 2, 2004

    The Year in Murder

    chalkIt's been a mixed year for homicide: the rate was down in Chicago, LA, and DC, but up in New York. The Windy City just barely defeated us for the title of Murder Capital. The score: Chicago: 599, New York 596. But some might say we had an unfair advantage anyway: Chicago has only about 1/3 of the population of NYC.

    Washington, D.C., had 247 murders in 2003 (down a few), Los Angeles had just under 500, down about 170 from last year. St Louis was down, too, but Baltimore was up. The killers there are using more bullets per shooting, they say. Per capita, poor old Gary, Indiana is the winner again, for the ninth year in a row, but let's be fair: they only had 69 suspicious deaths.

    If these other cities have anyone to thank for their declining rates, it might be New York. Ever since NYC introduced the CompStat system, we've gotten a handle on violent crime, and other cities are learning from us. It's remarkable that some of these cities, even in the midst of a pretty dark economic climate, can make such progress in reducing homicides. Cutting the murder rate by almost 20% in one year is a testament to the benefits of adopting NYC's approach. So why did our murder rate climb by 9 deaths this year? I would chalk it up to the sustained poor economic climate and the perception (fair or not) that Bloomberg is not as tough as Giuliani on crime. Even so, it's almost incredible to think that just as recently as the early 1990s, there were 2,000 homicides a year in the city.

    As long as our violent crime rates continue to trend downwards or stay flat I think we'll be okay, but it makes you wonder what the mayoral administrations of the 70s and 80s were doing as the rate just kept going up and up and up. And it also makes you wonder how low the rate can go. As our techniques for reducing crime become more refined, and the economy improves, would it be possible 5 years from now to have a mere 200 killings a year? Or fewer? Or is it just a part of American urban life that there is some kind of statistical wall that we will never be able to penetrate, regardless of crime prevention programs and economic and social conditions? Maybe to get those kind of results, we would have to spend as much effort on social programs as we do crime-fighting, but I don't think any city has offered itself as a test case for such an enterprise. Ironically, no mayor is going to look "tough on crime" if he advocates spending a sizable amount of a city's budget on "soft" programs intended to reduce crime.

    Maybe violence this year will motivate the powers-that-be to take some additional steps, however: already this year, we've had three murders, a dozen shootings, and a half-dozen stabbings.

    Here's an article summarizing the homicide rates in several large cities, the Washington Post's coverage of DC's murders, the NYT's coverage of 2003 murders in this city, and lastly, a detailed special report in the LA Times about the high rate of unsolved murders in that city. The article includes an interactive Flash presentation that shows the relationship between zip codes and the probability that a murder will be solved.

    December 19, 2003

    Green River Killer sentenced +

    The 20 year investigation and trial of the Green River killer, who murdered 48 women, finally ended yesterday with a fitting sentence of 48 consecutive life sentences. Gary Ridgway, the murderer, actually offered some apology to the families of the victims, saying he has "tried for a long time to keep from killing any more ladies." During the trial, he had been totally flat and without remorse.

    Each family got to have 10 minutes to tell him whatever they wanted, and some of them told him what his murders did to their families, with stories of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. I think the judge's statement is the best though: "The women you killed were not throwaways, or pieces of candy in a dish, put upon this earth to satisfy your murderous desires ... There is nothing in your life that was significant other than your own demented, calculating and lustful passion of being the emissary of death."

    Interesting how murders like Laci Peterson get total media saturation and national outpouring of emotional tributes, whereas stories about the murders of 48 young women, many of whom were prostitutes and runaways, aren't anywhere near the front page. Except in Seattle, where the Times features excerpts from the families' statements to Ridgway. -amy

    I happened to hear the GRK's apology to the victims yesterday on 1010 WINS, and it was creepy as hell. He was apparently crying a little as he was talking, but his voice didn't waiver -- it was just halting. Making him sound. Like this. A very dispassionate. And pathological. Human Being. It was strange that he even made this statement. I wonder if he felt true remorse, or just felt like he was supposed to. When he was finished, the judge called for 48 seconds of silence to remember the victims.

    Also of note is that his apology came on the same day that the nurse who "mercy"-killed all those people began resisting (through his lawyer) the express path to the death sentence he had previously been on. His lawyer has said he will no longer cooperate unless the death penalty is taken of the table. It seems to me he doesn't have much to bargain with, since investigators presumably could just check the records of where he worked and take another look at those who died under his care. It would take a while, but if what you really want is to execute this person, why let him off the hook just for telling you information you're going to uncover yourself anyway?

    All in all, it was just a terribly grisly day in the news yesterday, with the GRK, the nurse, the Malvo conviction, the M. Jackson charges, and so on. Well, someone's going to get a lump of coal in his stocking in a few days! Santa hates serial killers. -adm

    December 17, 2003

    Nigerian Oilfields = Scottish Pharmacy

    Great piece in the Guardian about the actual address that the suckers taken in by the "You have inherited a Nigerian oil field" scam are sent to. It's a family-run pharmacy in northern Scotland, and its owners are very bemused by the people who show up from all over the world looking for their millions.

    March 14, 2003

    Transcript and audio recording of Elizabeth Smart's abductor

    Transcript and audio recording of Elizabeth Sm*rt abductor's court appearance in San Diego for the church burglary. Excerpt: "I had for the first time in 22 years I got drunk that night and, uh, and the whole night was just a nightmare and, and it's, and, and I, this week in jail has, uh, been like, uh, Jonah getting swallowed by the whale. It's, it's turned me right around and, and I know I need to do what the Lord wants me to do with my life and, and, and uh, and uh, and I am, I am deeply sorry and, and, uh, nothing like that's gonna happen again."

    About Crime

    This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Amy's Robot in the Crime category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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