16 February 2015


0500 by Jeff Hess

tom peters 150216


16 February 2015


0200 by Jeff Hess

I think that those who commit murder ought to be swiftly and permanently removed from society in the least expensive way possible. Our criminal justice system is so deeply flawed, however, I simply do not have sufficient faith that convicted murderers are guilty to accept such an irrevocable sentence.

Rodney Reed, slated for execution in Texas on 5 March, is a case in point.

It was October 2014 and [retired New York Police Department detective sergeant Kevin] Gannon was working as part of a three-cop team featured on the A&E channel true-crime show Dead Again. The program follows the trio of veteran detectives as they reinvestigate old murder cases. The team approaches the cases cold, not knowing what original police investigators concluded — or who was arrested and prosecuted in the end. Sometimes, Gannon says, he and his colleagues end up agreeing with the official outcome. Sometimes, they do not.

In this case, the investigators were probing the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in a rural town in Central Texas. Gannon was given the autopsy report, crime scene photos and video, and police reports. “The first thing I remember [thinking] is, ‘oh my god, this is way off,’” he told The Intercept. “I knew it was wrong.” He went to talk to his producer and, by 7 p.m. that night, was sitting across from Reed’s Innocence Project lawyer, Bryce Benjet. Today, Gannon is among a number of people who are convinced the state of Texas is preparing to execute an innocent man.

Gannon’s reinvestigation of the Reed case will be shown in Monday night’s episode of Dead Again. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed about my reporting by A&E.) At the same time, Gannon’s conclusions, along with that of three of the country’s leading forensic pathologists who have studied the case, are at the heart of a new appeal on Reed’s behalf, filed on Thursday, February 12. The appeal argues that new scientific evidence proves conclusively that the state’s theory of the murder is “medically and scientifically impossible,” and that Reed is, in fact, innocent.

That this case has become a matter of Reality Television also disturbs me. The production values of justice and entertainment might intersect, but when the choice is made between what will attract viewers and what is true, the imperative to win viewers will triumphs every time. We ought not decide a man’s life that way.

Yet, there is more supporting Reed’s innocence than a television show and this kind of program might win Reed precious time.

[Police] attention eventually turned to a 29-year-old black man named Rodney Reed. Reed had been accused of a number of sexual assaults; he was tried in one case but ultimately acquitted. On a hunch, in April 1997, police compared DNA from semen found inside [Stacy] Stites with DNA collected from an unrelated case in which Reed had been accused of assaulting a woman. It was a match.

The DNA was all the state needed. The theory of the case came together quickly—if illogically—after that. Sometime after 3 a.m., authorities concluded, as Stites was on her way to work, Reed—who by the prosection’s account was alone and on foot without a vehicle —somehow overtook her as she drove along in Fennell’s truck. He kidnapped, assaulted, and strangled her, then dumped her body by the side of the road. He then abandoned the truck in the school parking lot, running off to the home nearby that he shared with his parents while leaving no physical trace of himself behind aside from his semen.

However far-fetched the state’s version of events sounded, Reed initially refused to explain how his DNA had been found in Stites. When questioned by police, he denied knowing Stites at all, apart from “what was on the news.” But by the time he went on trial in May 1998, Reed had admitted that this was a lie: He had known Stites. In fact, he says, he was having an affair with her, he was just afraid to admit it. In a small southern town like Bastrop, an affair between a black man and a young white woman engaged to a white police officer was not only scandalous, it could be extremely dangerous if it was revealed.

Reed’s defense at trial was that the semen found inside Stites had been the result of an ongoing, secret, illicit, and consensual sexual relationship. The couple’s last encounter was nearly two days before she was found murdered, Reed has said. While it might sound like a convenient, outlandish claim concocted to explain the presence of his DNA, numerous witnesses have said that they knew about the relationship. There was a local bail bond agent, a bar owner, and a neighbor of the Reed family who each claimed to have seen the couple together around the small town. And there were also Reed’s friends and relatives who told similar stories of seeing Reed and Stites together, behaving affectionately. But those sightings were the only evidence of the affair and there was nothing more concrete to back them up—no existing phone records, for example, because the Reed family did not have a phone in the mid-90s.

Small-town America is a very dangerous place to live.

15 February 2015

SPORT OWNERS’ BILLS—$8,898,896 IN 2015;

1400 by Jeff Hess

roldo quicken 150216

We already know that will never stop paying the bills of overly wealthy pro-sports owners and players but you may not have known that Cuyahoga County on Jan. 15 paid Gateway bondholders $8,898,896.

A hefty $5,315,970 of the total is listed as “A county [general fund] contribution.” Isn’t that nice?

That makes the County general fund payments thus far on Gateway runovers and Quicken (Gund) Arena $88,701,131.

And another $3,582,926 came from city admission taxes and bed tax revenues.

IN TOTAL WE TAXPAYERS HAVE SHELLED OUT $154,852,113! extra costs on the arena. And charlatan Dan Gilbert has his hand out for more.

Better than winning a Powerball.

And guess what: WE WILL CONTINUE TO PAY IN THESE SUMS UNTIL DECEMBER 1, 2023. Every January 15.


I warned back in 1992 when these bonds were issued—by the three commissioners that never went to jail—that the cost would be some $300 million Continue Reading »

15 February 2015


1200 by Jeff Hess

introverts 150215

I’ve written before about being an introvert—here, here and here—but this morning I came to yet another Oliver Burkeman essay on the subject where he references what he describes as the magazine’s most popular piece online: the Jonathan Rauch essay Caring For Your Introvert. There Rauch writes:

In its modern sense, the concept [of introversion] goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.”

Frankly, the only time I’m comfortable with a group of people for more than 30 minutes or is when alcohol is involved.

As an introvert, Rauch tells me, I am in a minority of the general population, but a majority in the gifted population (actually, that’s not Rauch’s claim, but one he found via Google and attributed to education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig).

Finally, I like the close of Rauch’s piece where he offers this advice to anyone wishing to let the introvert in their life know that they are supportive and respectful:

  • First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation.
  • Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say “What’s the matter?” or “Are you all right?”
  • Third, don’t say anything else, either.
  • 15 February 2015


    0700 by Jeff Hess

    non sequitur 150215

    15 February 2015


    0600 by Jeff Hess

    Ruffian, Scalawag, Knave, Rapscallion, Reprobate, Cad, Scapegrace, Hooligan, Scamp and Wretch.

    Which would you prefer to be called? Which would you prefer to be?

    15 February 2015


    0500 by Jeff Hess

    doonesbury 150215
    I had a very similar conversation with a student this past week…

    14 February 2015


    1800 by Jeff Hess

    The best thing we can offer to the world is our insight. To live our life in mindfulness and with concentration is to continue to produce insight—for our own liberation, healing and nourishment, and for the liberation, healing and nourishment of the world. p. 99

    From Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society by Thich Nhat Hanh


    Found in my electronic chapbook.

    14 February 2015


    1300 by Jeff Hess

    zits 150214
    This Malley’s…

    13 February 2015


    0300 by Jeff Hess

    That any of us can speak American (see comment No. 1 below), let alone read and write the horrible mess, however improperly, is a miracle.

    Luba Vangelova—against what I know will be a tsunami of I speak, read and write American just fine, thank you very much language apologists—makes the case that our convoluted spelling has become a global competitive handicap.

    Johnny in Topeka can’t read, but Janne in Helsinki is effortlessly finishing his storybooks. Such a disparity may be expected by now, but the reason might come as a surprise: It probably has much less to do with teaching style and quality than with language. Simply put, written English is great for puns but terrible for learning to read or write. It’s like making children from around the world complete an obstacle course to fully participate in society but requiring the English-speaking participants to wear blindfolds.

    Adults who have already mastered written English tend to forget about its many quirks. But consider this: English has 205 ways to spell 44 sounds. And not only can the same sounds be represented in different ways, but the same letter or letter combinations can also correspond to different sounds. For example, “cat,” “kangaroo,” “chrome,” and “queue” all start with the same sound, and “eight” and “ate” sound identical. Meanwhile, “it” doesn’t sound like the first syllable of “item,” for instance, and “cough” doesn’t rhyme with either “enough,” “through,” “furlough” or “bough.” Even some identically spelled words, such as “tear,” can be pronounced differently and mean different things.

    Masha Bell, the vice chair of the English Spelling Society and author of the book Understanding English Spelling, analyzed the 7,000 most common English words and found that 60 percent of them had one or more unpredictably used letters. No one knows for sure, but the Spelling Society speculates that English may just be the world’s most irregularly spelled language.

    All attempts to correct the problem have, predictably, failed miserably.

    12 February 2015


    0300 by Jeff Hess

    So why adopt error-hunting mindset? Simply because “it feels more authentic when we condemn error and enforce a rule… what good is learning a rule if all we can do is obey it?” Anger delivers ego-enhancing pleasure; so does strengthening the boundaries of group membership—and carping about language is far more socially acceptable than explicit class snobbery or nationalism (not to mention less bother than confronting actual atrocities). Still, can we get, sorry, “may we have”, a bit of perspective, please?

    Oliver Burkeman writing in The language police for The Guardian.

    11 February 2015


    1800 by Jeff Hess

    roldo litt 150210

    Isn’t it wonderful that Cleveland Indians boss Paul Dolan—member of one of our billionaire sports/cable families—has taken on the burden of pushing a tax on cigarettes to finance the arts.

    Steve Litt, of course, applauds loudly in the Plain Dealer Dolan’s heading a drive for passage of another cigarette tax.

    Neither Litt nor Dolan apparently has ever has known a regressive tax they couldn’t embrace and love.

    And one can expect the bought and paid for “REFORM” County Council to bow to its masters in the corporate community. Put the tax on the ballot, boys and girls!

    Why not a tax on sporting events on the facilities so generously financed, maintained and owned by taxpayers to the benefit of Mr. Dolan, Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Haslam? And partially already subsidized with a cigarette tax. How about $5 on all sports Continue Reading »

    11 February 2015


    1200 by Jeff Hess

    It’s been a busy week in Wally World: the Universe’s source of cheap plastic crap from China. On The Writing On The Wal—the blog USA Today says should be on its readers’ radar—I continue my singular work dedicated to drawing back the curtain on the Bentonvile Behemoth’s corporate disinformation and other flackery.

    HOPE FOR YET ANOTHER ABANDONED WALMART… We’ve written before about the dismal trail of abandoned Walmarts left in the wake of the Bentonvile Behemoth’s relentless quest to dominate ever corner of the United States and every other country where… Keep reading…

    WALMART PROFITS TRUMP PUBLIC SAFETY… In my home state, Ohio, Walmart is the largest private-sector employer. That carries clout with politicians. I don’t know the numbers for Maryland, but if the governor’s actions are any indication, he knows on… Keep reading…

    INNOVATION MEANS WHAT EXACTLY…? So, does anyone else interpret simplifying and improving day-to-day store operations and processes while helping develop new and innovative ways to improve business in any other way than squeeze more… Keep reading…

    WILL WAL-TERMS ENTER THE OED…? I am reminded of how Dan Savage ran a contest several years ago for a new definition for santorum. The winning selection was as unflattering to the former U.S. Senator and failed presidential hopeful as any could… Keep reading…

    IN EXCESS OF $3.6 MILLION… That would be: how much does Walmart think operating pharmacies in North Dakota is worth? Alex. That represents a tiny fraction of operating expenses for the Bentonvile Behemoth–the company spends nearly a half-… Keep reading…

    A MATTER OF FALSE DICHOTOMY… Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009 by Adam D’Angelo and Charlie… Keep reading…

    ALASKA TO CHINA TO THE UNITED STATES…? I’ve always known that much of the oil from Alaska’s North Slope is tanked to foreign markets, but this morning, buried in a story about Walmart dumping the London-based Marine Stewardship Council… Keep reading…

    PETS OVER PEOPLE WORKERS… I love my four dogs and one cat. I get very upset about stories of abused animals. I know that people down on their luck will sacrifice their own health to feed their pets. When the Bentonvile Behemoth makes a donation of pet… Keep reading…

    WALMART TELLS HOW TO BLOCK A WALMART… This is serious. We now know how to keep a Walmart from opening in our neighborhood. Alex Barron, regional general manager for Wal-Mart U.S., writes: For almost three years, Wal-Mart has worked… Keep reading…

    CUSTOMER SHAREHOLDER SAFETY FIRST… Back on 22 January, I wrote a bit about Walmart’s food safety concerns. Now, here’s a followup. By all accounts, Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannas is a man dedicated to his work… Keep reading…

    Previously on Walmart Wednesday

    10 February 2015


    0700 by Jeff Hess

    keef 150212

    Keef may be making a very unfunny point here. Given that the measles virus is more prevalent in other parts of the world, what would it take to transport infected children into the United States and visit every theme park and other places where unvaccinated people might gather?

    9 February 2015


    1600 by Jeff Hess

    roldo budish 150209

    Political honeymoons seem to last far too long around here. Think Frank Jackson.

    And they start too soon. Think Armond Budish. Think Squishy Talk. No answer answers.

    Budish has already understood that you can get away with bullshit very easily with our generally pliant Plain Dealer. They’ll swallow the mush as if it were good for you.

    (You will notice how they jumped on Ed FitzGerald, Jimmy Dimora, Frank Russo, et. al., BUT ONLY once they were down and out. Not when they were rolling.)

    Where the hell is a hard-hitting newspaper that will early and soon begin to tell Budish he isn’t going to get an easy ride? Political picnics are over.

    He can’t just take advantage of his newness to give us a lot of soggy statements that don’t say anything.

    The PD gave a good example of him doing exactly that.

    Here are some reasonable question posed to the new County Chief Executive from a Plain Dealer article and the less than responsive answers Continue Reading »

    8 February 2015


    2300 by Jeff Hess

    [Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown] a leading member of the Senate banking committee is calling on the US government to explain what action it took after receiving a massive cache of leaked data that revealed how the Swiss banking arm of HSBC, the world’s second-largest bank, helped wealthy customers conceal billions of dollars of assets.

    The leaked files, which reveal how HSBC advised some clients on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities, were obtained through an international collaboration of news outlets, including the Guardian, the French daily Le Monde, CBS 60 Minutes and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

    The files reveal how HSBC’s Swiss private bank colluded with some clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from domestic tax authorities across the world and provided services to international criminals and other high-risk individuals. The Guardian has established the leaked data was shared with US regulators five years ago.

    “I will be very interested to hear the government’s full explanation of its actions—or lack thereof—upon learning of these allegations in 2010,” said Brown.

    Referring to previous charges against HSBC, which were resolved in a landmark civil settlement in 2012, he added: “If the charges are true, the same institution that was first caught violating US sanction laws and laundering money for Mexican drug cartels could then escape accountability for promoting widespread evasion of US tax laws. I intend on pressing regulators, the IRS, and the DoJ for answers.”

    7 February 2015


    0500 by Jeff Hess

    measles simulation

    Post Disneyland (and anyone who thinks this story would have the same legs if the infections had occurred at some location without international recognition isn’t paying attention) we’re all talking about measles. Measles, a potentially deadly disease we declared eliminated (like polio) in the United States only 15 years ago.

    The Guardian has a story by Nicky Wolf illustrating how wealthy, empowered people react when their personal superstitions are called out.

    Eileen Dannemann is at war. “It’s a war between good and evil. It’s a primordial, cosmic war,” she says.

    Her website, which is called the Vaccine Liberation Army (one really scary website, JH), is one of a network of blogs and forums espousing, largely, the same message: that vaccines are bad for you, and that they are part of a nefarious, nebulous scheme by “Big Pharma” and, in some cases, the government.

    In a way, it is a war—one of opinion, being waged on blogs, on parenting forums, in the media and, lately, by politicians.

    An outbreak of measles—one of the most virulent diseases known to man, but one which the CDC declared eliminated (defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months) in the United States in 2000—in the US this year has brought the issue to the forefront of public awareness.

    Last year saw a drastic spike in measles cases compared to the years since 2000, with 644 cases reported in the US, and 2015 is on track to exceed that easily, with 102 reported in 14 states in January alone. Two other diseases that had been all but eradicated from the US after mass vaccination for them began—whooping cough (I had a student several years ago with Whooping cough and I now wonder why he wasn’t vaccinated, JH), also known as pertussis, and the mumps—are making comebacks of their own.

    The problem is that public trust in vaccines is waning—and as more parents opt not to inoculate their children, more and more parts of the country start to drop below the threshold at which “herd immunity” protects against outbreaks.

    So, what happens when parents start suing the anti-vaxxers for murder after their at-risk children contract and die from measles? Do they think that shouting No preachy science junk will save them?

    David Bry adds his thoughts in Paranoia is self-defeating. But you can change your mind about vaccinations for The Guardian.

    6 February 2015


    0700 by Jeff Hess

    zits 150206

    There was a story running around Ohio University in the early ’80s about a RTV major from up north tasked with reading the farm report one morning. He did well, so the tale goes, until he came to the current prices for sheep where he read: and “Eee Wees are up twenty-five cents.”

    The story has more than a bit of that Appalachian-payback quality in the punch line, but hey, I think the story is worth repeating.

    5 February 2015


    1300 by Jeff Hess

    If everyone knows that an important fact must be true because an important person shared that truth, then I am most inclined—in the absence of actually hearing the statement from the purported luminary’s own lips, reading the words in a work authored by the person in question, or an inclusion in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations—to call bullshit.

    It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so. Who said that? Brainy Quotes says Will Rogers, but I know that Rogers is one of those pity commentators who gets lots of words misattributed to him. We cannot be satisfied that important words were shared by someone, we must have an important person to have uttered, or written, those important words before we will deign to accept their importance.

    Oliver Burkeman, I have every reason to believe, writes:

    This is the story of one of the most popular inspirational quotations in the history of inspirational quotations. These days, it’s everywhere – on T-shirts and posters, in self-help books, religious and business books. But let’s examine its origin. It’s 1994, and a spine-tingling moment as Nelson Mandela addresses a crowd of thousands in Cape Town on the occasion of his inauguration as South Africa’s president. “Our deepest fear,” he intones, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world… As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Can you picture the scene? Of course you can’t. As the literature professor Brian Morton pointed out in a recent New York Times essay, it’s not just that Mandela never said these words; it’s that it’s preposterous to imagine he might have done so. Having led his nation from the horrors of apartheid, and now steeling its people for the challenges ahead, would Mandela really have focused on the importance of being gorgeous and fabulous? Whatever extraordinary strengths got him through almost three decades on Robben Island, it’s stretching the limits of language to label them “fabulous”. The Nelson Mandela Foundation confirms that he didn’t say these words in any speech its archivists know of. And yet there it is, confidently misattributed in hundreds of books, including several political and historical works from academic publishers, as well as a leadership manual from the Outward Bound USA organisation and a book entitled In The Words Of Nelson Mandela. Oh, and once in the Guardian, I’m afraid.

    The real source is A Return To Love, by Marianne Williamson, a book about the vaguely cultish spiritual teaching known as A Course In Miracles. The course’s author, Helen Schucman, claimed it was dictated to her by an “inner voice” belonging to Jesus. A lot of different people were involved, then. But Mandela wasn’t one of them.

    Quotes get misattributed or mangled all the time, especially “inspirational” ones: as Morton notes, Thoreau didn’t quite say “go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” and Gandhi didn’t say “be the change you wish to see in the world”. “Quotations,” to quote the critic Louis Menand, “are prostheses”, allowing you to borrow “another person’s brainwaves and [put] them to your own use”—and borrowing Mandela’s brainwaves is simply more impressive than borrowing Marianne Williamson’s.

    In this case, though, there’s another interesting aspect: the Mandela attribution has allowed those of us who scorn new-age kookiness to take the quote seriously. Yet, uncomfortable as it may be, new-age kooks sometimes say profoundly powerful things. I’ll admit it: I find Williamson’s words inspiring. Fear does keep us small; living at your fullest takes guts. None of this needs a fake Mandela attribution to be worth absorbing. So you like a new-age writer’s insights? So what? As Virginia Woolf famously put it: “It’s all good. Just go with it.”

    As a great politician and president once said: Trust, but verify, or something like that.

    5 February 2015


    0900 by Jeff Hess

    Cartoonist Scott Adams posits the power of the 30 percent.

    What would happen if 30% of taxpayers in the United States suddenly decided to ignore their complicated tax returns and instead pay a self-imposed flat tax?

    And let’s say these folks are working together, so they pick the same flat tax rate. And lets say there are some credible economists supporting the rate they pick.

    What the hell happens then?

    This is the sort of thing I can imagine happening because of the power of social networks. People would only need to believe that other people are rebelling in the same way at the same time to feel safe, like a virtual mob. If 30% of the taxpaying public rebels as one, and their demands are entirely reasonable and supported by economists, would the government try to penalize them?

    It couldn’t.

    When one citizen breaks the law, you jail him. When 30% of citizens break the same law at the same time, the law changes. It almost has to. There aren’t enough jails.

    There may not be enough jails, but there certainly are enough lawyers to bring enough civil suits.

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