Thursday Reads: What Happened to Lennon Lacy?

lennon-lacy crime scene

Good Morning

As I was browsing the news this morning, I came across an article in the Daily Beast about an incident I have often wondered about–the death of teenager Lennon Lacy on August 28th of last year in the small town of Bladenville, North Carolina. On the morning of August 29, Lacy was found hanging from a swing set by a woman who called 911 to report “a suicide,” and asked if she should try to cut the person down. The dispatcher told her to go ahead. That was the beginning of either an unforgivably botched investigation or a police cover-up. (The photo above is of the swing set from which Lacy’s body was found hanging.)

The story broke in the midst of the Ferguson protests over the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, just one the suspicious deaths of young black men reported in the wake of the publicity about Brown’s death and the protests that followed. I’m ashamed to admit that I never searched for more information on the story until today.

Here’s the story that got me started; frankly the headline is a gross understatement. I’m just going to excerpt some of the problems with the “investigation” and then give you some more background on the case.

Cops Didn’t Collect Evidence on Hanging of Black Teen Lennon Lacy, by Justin Glawe

Coroner Hubert Kinlaw told Dr. Christena Roberts, a pathologist hired by the North Carolina NAACP to conduct her own investigation, that he was prevented from taking photos of the crime scene by police—and that cops even threatened to take away his camera.

Furthermore, Kinlaw told Roberts as part of her investigation that police at the scene “didn’t want an autopsy performed,” and that Kinlaw took it upon himself to order one with the local district attorney. (Kinlaw has turned down repeated requests for comment.)

However, an officer from the State Bureau of Investigation said in a report that no photographs were taken at the scene because the sole crime scene technician was at “another homicide.” (No other homicides could be found in news reports for that 24-hour period.) So the authorities don’t even agree why photographs weren’t taken.

The teenager’s hands weren’t bagged when his body reached the medical examiner, which is  commonly done to preserve DNA evidence for retrieval by investigators.

The shoes that Lacy’s family members says weren’t his never made it to the autopsy table….

Radisch notes in her report the two belts delivered with Lacy’s body must have had been cut, because they didn’t seem long enough for Lacy to hang himself.

Radisch would only be left to speculate because the authorities didn’t measure the swing set where Lacy was found.

Well, someone could probably have gone to the crime scene and done that after the fact, but I guess no one bothered. Please read the rest of the article at the link. Glawe explains in detail why it would have been nearly impossible for Lacy to hang himself from the place where his body was found.

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy

Fortunately, the FBI is investigating Lacy’s death, but the fact that police just called it a suicide and didn’t collect any evidence will severely hamper their efforts.

On December 19, 2014, The Washington Post reported on why the FBI had been been called in.

— Teresa Edwards was driving to Bo’s Food Store when she spotted the teenager walking along the dirt road. It was getting dark. He was alone. She recognized him as Lennon Lacy, one of her son’s best friends. She stopped to ask him if he needed a ride.

“No, ma’am,” she recalls him saying, “I’m just thinking.”

Lacy had plenty on his mind that night in August, and many would soon puzzle over what those thoughts might have been. The next morning, Lacy, who was black, was found hanging by two belts from a wooden swing set in a predominantly white trailer park. State authorities called it a suicide. His family, and many others here, wondered whether Lacy’s death was something else: a lynching.

It looked to them as if his body was on display. He didn’t leave a note. And Lacy had been dating an older white woman for months. He was found wearing unlaced white sneakers that his family said were not his, one of several unsettled issues. Last week, in a scene echoing the civil rights era in the South, the FBI was called in and the NAACP held a protest march over Lacy’s death….

People who knew Lacy don’t think he committed suicide. Others are unsure what to believe. But many here say the possibility that Lacy, a popular high school senior who moved easily between black and white social circles, was the victim of a racially motivated killing demands more investigation.

“We know suicide is possible,” said the Rev. Gregory Taylor, a black preacher in a town where there are two churches named First Baptist, their memberships split along racial lines. “It’s just hard to accept that a black youth would hang himself given the history of ‘strange fruit.’ The facts don’t add up.”

It was Thursday, Aug. 28, when Edwards, who is white, saw Lacy on the dirt road. She also doesn’t believe the teen killed himself.

Lennon Lacy's grave after it was desecrated.

Lennon Lacy’s grave after it was desecrated.

Bladenboro has a long history of racism, and the Ku Klux Klan only stopped “parad[ing] through” the town in 1997. Moreover, Lacy’s body was found in an area that black children had long been warned to stay away from. Here’s a summary of some of that history from the Global Grind:

Here’s the truth — the statistic listed above marking the number of black bodies strung from trees in Bladenboro [“86 black people were lynched [in North Carolina] between 1882 and 1968″] is an image that is hard to let go.

And so is the racially charged climate of the rural town. In fact, Lacy’s neighbors, a white couple living in a trailer home right behind the Lacy family home, were instructed by police to remove a Confederate flag and a sign that read “Niggers keep out” from their front yard.

The Guardian asked the couple why they had put up the signs. Sykes said that it was his idea. “There were some kids who ganged up on our kid and I put some signs up.” Asked whether he now regretted doing so, he replied: “Yeah, I regret it now.”

Carla Hudson said she had begged her husband to take the signs down. “I told him he had to stop that. It wasn’t how I saw things – there’s not a racist bone in my body.”

In recent years, that tension hasn’t always been visible. According to The Guardian, Lacy “joined a multiracial youth group across town at the Galeed Baptist church where he went for weekly services and basketball ministry, and his friends were black and white, in almost equal measure.”

Though invisible in some facets of Lacy’s life, that tension is hard to ignore, especially considering how the teenager died.

Michelle Brimhall, Lennon Lacy's girlfriend

Michelle Brimhall, Lennon Lacy’s girlfriend

Back to the WaPo article:

Although the police claimed Lacy was “depressed” about the death of a great uncle, his family said he was exited about playing in the first football game of the season. He had already laid out his uniform in anticipation. The family also said that at least one of the belts used to hang Lacy wasn’t his. Most mysterious of all, his brand new Air Jordans were missing and when Lacy was found his feet were jammed into white sneakers that had no laces and were way too small for his feet.

Claudia Lacy identified her son. A state bureau of investigation agent interviewed her at the scene. She said that her son had just buried his great-uncle but that he didn’t seem depressed. The medical examiner performed an autopsy, failing to find any signs of a struggle or fight. Lacy’s death was ruled a suicide. No mention was made of the white sneakers — they didn’t arrive with Lacy’s body for the autopsy. It’s unclear what happened to the shoes, although the state bureau of investigation collected them, Kinlaw said.

To Claudia Lacy, the investigation felt rushed.

“Why were they so quick to call it that?” she asked now. “Was it because of my race? Was it because of my social status?”

The is much more information at the link.

Lacy’s white girlfriend, who was 31, left town shortly after his death. According the The Daily Mail, she believed he was killed because of their relationship and she didn’t feel safe staying in “Crackertown.”

Speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com she said: ‘I believe Lennon was murdered. The police ruled his death as suicide but Lennon would never harm himself. He’s got too much love for life.’ …. speaking in the town where she has moved to get away from Bladenboro, Brimhall spoke of how they had planned a future together, despite the age gap, and how he had a life in front of him which showed he would not commit suicide.

Read much more at the Daily Mail link. Other media outlets have been unable to get in touch with the woman. Was she forced to leave town?

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy

More quotes from Lacy’s family at MadameNoire:

[T]he family says suicide can’t be possible. Lacy didn’t have any issues that they know of when it comes to depression or mental illness over the years. And despite losing a great uncle he was close to right before his own death, Lacy’s mother says he grieved in the same way the rest of his family had, but carried on with his preparation for the football season.

“I know my son. The second I saw him I knew he couldn’t have done that to himself – it would have taken at least two men to do that to him.”

His brother, Pierre, agrees: “If my brother wanted to take his own life, I can’t understand why he would do it in such an exposed place. This feels more like he was put here as a public display – a taunting almost.”

Here’s the oft-quoted Guardian story. It’s excellent. Teenager’s mysterious death evokes painful imagery in North Carolina: ‘It’s in the DNA of America.’

I’ll end with a piece by Michael W. Waters at HuffingtonPost, The Life and Death of Lennon Lacy: Strange, Still.

The animus for Time Magazine’s “song of the 20th century” was a photograph of a Southern lynching. A Southern lynching would often draw an entire region of spectators together for a day of socializing. Small children were even present in the crowd, lifted high upon shoulder for an uninterrupted view of the day’s fatal proceedings. It was a strange, albeit frequent Southern spectacle, one that claimed many Black lives.

Given the frequency of this horrid practice, and the abundance of lynching photographs in circulation, many that doubled as postcards, it is unclear why one particular photograph troubled, then inspired Abel Meeropol, a New York English teacher and poet. Yet, it did. Unable to free his mind of this troubling image over several days, Meeropol sought consolation through his pen. As ink dried upon its canvas, its residuum formed words that have haunted generations, words etched into our collective memory as lyric by the incomparable Billie Holiday:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

Now seventy-six years removed its initial recording, there is still cause to sing this sorrowful song.

On August 29, 2014, another Black body was added to the crowded annals of those swung by Southern breeze. In a cruel twist of irony, the body of seventeen year-old Lennon Lacy was not found swinging upon a Southern tree, but upon a Southern swing set – a fact only beginning the strangeness surrounding his death. Authorities in Bladenboro, North Carolina, abruptly ruled Lennon’s death a suicide, declaring that he was depressed, and closed the case in five days.

Still, many questions remain.

Yes, there are many questions that must be answered.

I recall that it took months before the murder of Trayvon Martin became high profile. It’s time the same thing happened with the Lennon Lacy story. This smells like a police cover up to me. The police in Bladenboro are known for stopping black teenagers who are walking at night. Could it be that an officer or officers stopped Lacy and accidentally killed him in a struggle–like what happened to Eric Garner–and then tried to make his death look like suicide?

What do you think?

As always, this is an open thread. Feel free to post links and discuss topics of your choice. But I hope you take a moment to think about and discuss what happened to Lennon Lacy.


Monday Reads: Giuliani and other Tools for a Police State

Good Morning!

download (1)I’m going to be very personal and very open with you today because of something Rudy Giuliani said over the weekend.  He accused the president of  ‘anti-police’ propaganda.  As a person who doesn’t trust the police at all, I would like to say my feelings have nothing to do with the President, Eric Holder or whatever scapegoat Giuliani and his right wing friends can find.  It is because of the police themselves. It is because of what I’ve witnessed, what I’ve gone through, and what I’ve known to happen to others.  I live in New Orleans, and my guess is that my experience is not all that different from any one living in an urban area like me.

I’ve seen it all and I’ve experienced it.  People are fed up with out of control policing and it’s not because of anything any politician has said.  Police departments have brought  all of the criticism, protest, and mistrust onto themselves..  This does not mean that police deserve to be gunned down or to be the victims of violence.  However, I’m not surprised to see things escalate when justice is unavailable to so many. The crazed few always start acting out the frustrations of the many.  You see,  the American dream should not include places where you are more afraid of the people paid to protect you than you are of most anything else or where things are so unfair that your already deranged mind can follow martyrdom to some extreme awful end. I am completely saddened by the deaths of the two Brooklyn Police officers.  But, their deaths should not be used as an excuse to give bad policing and bad police officers a pass. Their deaths should also not lead to political chest beating and police state jingoism.  What we should realize is that we’ve got a broken criminal justice system and it needs to be fixed so that it turns no one into victims. I’m tired of being afraid of the police which is a place I’ve personally been for over 5 years now. Obama didn’t make me feel this way.

The last time I got called for Jury Duty was the first time I really didn’t think I could do it and not because it inconvenienced me.  The first day I got called in to serve I was selected for the voire dire of a case where a public defender who had been a friend of mine for some time was defending a man accused of sexual battery on the minor daughter of his girlfriend.  Normally, I would be DA’s dream of a juror.  When they got to me and asked I if there was any reason why I shouldn’t sit on the Jury I basically said, well , the defendant’s attorney is a friend but there’s another reason too. That was enough to get me taken off to the Judge’s chambers where they asked if being his friend would distort my ability to be neutral.  I laughed and said no.   That wasn’t it at all.  I know him well but I also know that his job is to provide a decent defense for whomever and that didn’t mean he was character witness for his client at all.    Normally, as an older,educated white woman with daughters, I’d probably give any accused child rapist a jaundiced eye.  If anything, any friendly feelings I had towards my friend would probably make me be more neutral towards the case.  So, what was my problem?

I told the prosecuting attorneys and the Judge that I don’t trust a damned thing any cop says and if you’re going to make your case on their testimony then forget it. I don’t think I could take it at face value at all.

That was a bit of surprise statement to about all concerned up to and after  I told them my story. I’d never seen two prosecutors so wide-eyed before.  About a year before, I was arrested and charged for being drunk and for fighting. Just being in that courthouse surrounded by uniformed police had me on the verge of tears and panic. What  really happened was I was assaulted in front of lots of witnesses by a drug dealer on parole from Federal Prison.  The arresting officer was right there watching him beat me up and doing nothing. I wasn’t drunk either and begged cop after cop for a breath test.  I had broken ribs in my back and bruises on the back side of my arms from being in the crouched, defensive position taught to any one that’s been trained for any kind’ve  protest training.  I was jackbooted.  The emergency room doctor actually volunteered to tell any one he could that I had been brutally beaten and there were no signs of anything but defensive wounds.  I was sent to a neurologist to ensure I didn’t have permanent damage it was so bad.  I went straight from the jail to the emergency room to the internal affairs office.  The last two entities had plenty of pictures of my damage and I made damned sure they talked to the doctor and had access to the xrays.  I did everything I needed to to ensure I could get justice for this. I never did.

At one point during the attack, I had actually managed to escape to a back yard to dial 911 when a visiting Canadian friend tried to get the thug off of me.  I was on the 911 phone call for like 15 minutes and when I was told they were there to help me, I went out to flag the patrol car down.  The cop flagged them away and arrested me.  He threatened to arrest all the folks that were trying to tell him what had really happened too.  I was driven around for some time while all the cops in question were trying to figure out how to dump me in jail to teach me a lesson for letting slip to the drug dealer that the cop had been banging his girlfriend for years.  This drug creep also used to brag in the bars about beating folks up for the cop too.  I have no record. I have privileged status in a lot of ways.  I’m white and I’m educated and I had money for a lawyer and bail. But, none of this protected me from the police department that day or from the absolute nonsense “investigation” that followed after I filed a complaint.

I had seen this same cop shake down a local prostitute for blow jobs for rookies on the trunk of a black and white not too long before that. He was well known for shaking down the pros in the area for his own personal pleasure.  Nearly everyone in the neighborhood had a story on this cop.  I knew that while the1408552285913_wps_4_epa04360584_Police_in_rio drug dealer was in prison and before that his girl friend–a nonstop pot smoker–was banging the cop and had to be smoking nonstop then too. Basically, he picked and chose when to adhere to the law.  He was–and probably still  is–the very picture of an out of control cop.   I filed a complaint that was investigated and it eventually cleared him of any wrongdoing . It stated that he did everything right.  He was arrested about six months later in the parish across the canal on domestic battery and for spitting at a Parish Deputy who was trying to arrest him.  I told the sergeant who took my interview at the time that the guy was angry, a drunk, and would eventually get into deeper trouble than this.  I also told him that he needed help and that it would only get worse if they continued to ignore him. And, ask the parish deputy.  It got worse. But, he’s still  patrolling the French Quarter now. Heaven help any of you that get in the way of his little schemes.

Those of you that have known me some time know this story and a lot more of the gory details.  You also know that I spent one very long night in New Orleans Parish Prison surrounded by lots of people arrested for “black while” and “hispanic while” and that was enough to convince me to never ever believe a police officer again. It didn’t even take the sham of an investigation to do that.   I couldn’t even convince one police officer that I wasn’t drunk and that I needed medical attention as I was beaten by a man much larger than myself. The arrest report he wrote eventually came back that I had slugged the girl friend.  I’m a Buddhist.  I don’t even step on bugs.  I would do no such thing.  I was jackbooted pure and simple because I had the audacity to ruin his good thing by answering a question drunk and honestly one night.

The NOPD is under the care and tutoring of the Attorney General and the Justice Department for all kinds of violations of civil rights.   They deserve to be.  I frankly believe the entire lot of them should’ve been brought up on RICO charges because that’s the law that applies to a group of people that conspire to commit crimes.  I would like you to know that not one of the “thugs” and the “thug” cop that I dealt with was black so no one reading this can reach conclusions that shouldn’t be there from their little corners of white privilege world.  Again, Rudy Giuliani and others need to know that my feelings towards the police have nothing to do with the President or any politician and my guess it that any one that’s seen what I’ve seen, knows what I know, and been through what I’ve been through thinks similarly .   You cannot possibly live within the borders of a large city that is populated with diverse peoples and not really feel this way unless you’re gated up with a lot of privileged white people. Not all police officers are rotten but the system and good cops protect the rotten ones. This makes them accessories and under most criminal laws, it makes you guilty of something.  If you think all cops are wonderful, you must live in a suburban enclave with mostly white people where police never ever go or where they only show up when the odd little inconvenience happens.  You could not possibly live in place where whites are the minority.  You could not possibly live in parts of town where they feel they can get away with anything. You’ve probably never ever lived in a place and time where you’ve been dive bombed by black helicopters and drones and felt like you’ve lived in the middle of a war zone for extended periods of time because of the presence of highly militarized police.  I’ve lived in both circumstances.  If you don’t think being white gives you a big ol’ pass in the world of policing, then you’ve really lived a very sheltered life.

I do know one exception, however, and it’s a doozy.  It’s what happened to my daughter when in high school in suburban Omaha right after the Justice department was looking at the cops there for arresting too many black people.   They decided to fix their stats and went after white kids.  She got picked up once for a curfew violation walking from a friend’s house to the house next door one evening.  She also got picked up for minor in possession when a boyfriend got pulled over for speeding in a pick up truck who had a six pack locked up in metal box in the truck bed that she didn’t even know was there. Of  course, my charges and my daughter’s charges were dropped.  They both were basically for effect.  I was not to interfere with whatever scam the cop in the neighborhood had running and she served as a number to prove that Omaha cops really aren’t targeting black people.  And, this occurred prior to the Obama presidency.  So, in this case, the solution for stopping and frisking black kids was to do the same to white kids.  I was relieved when she left that reign of terror and went to LSU, believe me.

I still have panic attacks when I see police officers.  I can’t see this ever changing. I can’t say that I’m going to ever go to jury duty and not tell a judge that you do not want me on any jury because my assumption will be that the police are guilty of something.

downloadSo, Guiliani, fuck off for this.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is condemning President Barack Obama for anti-police “propaganda” in the wake of the murders of two New York City police officers in Brooklyn.
When asked on “Fox News Sunday” if he had ever seen the city he once governed so divided, Giuliani shook his head and said, “I don’t think so.”

Giuliani said blame rests on “four months of propaganda,” which he said started with Obama, “that everybody should hate the police.” He said the nationwide protests against several recent police-involved deaths lead to one conclusion: “The police are bad. The police are racist. They’re wrong.”

Police, Giuliani said, are “the people who do the most for the black people in America, in New York City and elsewhere.”

On Sunday, Obama spoke out against the killing of the police officers Saturday, saying there is no justification for the slayings.

“The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day — and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day,” Obama said in a statement. “I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal — prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.”

No one should be calling for dead cops or any kind of blood shedding.  As the old cliche goes, two wrongs do not make a right.  Most of us who feel negatively towards the police really don’t want to feel that way. Really, who do you think I want to call if I need help?  The Ghostbusters?   I came to my panic attacks and mistrust through experience.   Something is very rotten in the criminal justice system from a county attorney that can purposefully suborn perjury, to a criminal or insane person that can get easy access to powerful guns to use on the rest of society, to a police official that thinks its a bad deal that his Mayor needs to enforce what the court orders and in doing so, accuses him of endangering the lives of police.   As long as there is easy access to guns in this country, we all are in danger.  Police are not exempt from the actions of the criminally insane.

“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Patrick Lynch, president of the largest police union, said late Saturday. “Those that incited violence on the street in the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it shouldn’t be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

Although New York is a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 6 to 1, de Blasio is its first Democratic mayor in 20 years and his stewardship of the city is being watched nationally as a test of unabashedly liberal leadership. After his landslide victory, he declared, “Make no mistake. The people of this city have chosen a progressive path. And tonight we set forth on it together, as one city.”

images (1)But really, how can we expect them to change? They’ve even complained about court ordered changes to the way they operate.  This is going to be a long and enduring struggle.

Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a champion of NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics that were found unconstitutional, on Tuesday blasted Mayor de Blasio’s decision to drop the city’s appeal of that ruling.

“Every indication is [that] if the appeal were allowed to go forward, it would have been reversed, and it’s a shame Mayor de Blasio did that, because I think people will suffer,” Kelly said on WNYC-FM’s “Brian Lehrer Show” Tuesday.

Stop-and-frisks have since decreased, and Kelly, the top cop under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, suggested the city may now be seeing a negative effect on crime.

What’s going on right now is an indication that the criminal justice system in this country is broke.  It is VERY broke. We have extremely high incarceration rates. The patterns of incarceration are telling. The incredible use, manner and patterns of police force against the mentally ill, against unarmed citizenry, and against racial minorities indicates something is very wrong.  The number of people–like me–whose stories detail police abuse should tell you something.  Instead, we have groups of folks in the media, in government, and in law enforcement that seem put out by exercise of first amendment rights.   What do they expect when police are armed and act like an occupying army and focus on protecting their own rather than protecting and serving whatever community is their beat.  Which police officer do you trust when it’s obvious the system jumps to defense of its extremely rotten eggs?

So, here I am, and I’m telling judges and prosecuting attorneys that I won’t serve on a jury because I can’t honestly say I’d believe anything brought to the court by the police as evidence.  I would be hard pressed to believe any police testimony. This is me; the mother of two daughters.  I walked away from sitting on the jury of an accused child rapist because I wouldn’t feel comfortable making any decision based on the criminal justice system and the police investigation. What does that say to you?  What should it say to the likes of Rudy Giuliani?

10373023_10155597050160377_4391899475424643952_oSo, I’m ranting again.

I’ll leave you with something to give you a belly laugh. This is the actual holiday card coming from our governor. It’s not photo-shopped. It’s not from The Onion.  Just have a really good belly laugh at the expense of those idiots in the state of Louisiana that voted for this pandering, self-loathing governor of mine who is whoring himself to the Duck Dick enthusiasts wherever they may skulk with their knuckles dragging and their heads up their asses.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Did Nepotism at The Washington Post Contribute to Irresponsible Reporting on the UVA Rape Story?

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Have you ever wondered how extremely young men are able to get jobs at elite newspapers like The Washington Post right out of college?

Take for example T. Rees Shapiro, who has led the charge to not only discredit the Rolling Stone story on the problem of rape on the University of Virginia campus but also efforts to dismiss and humiliate Jackie, one of the women interviewed by Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdley .

However flawed the Rolling Stone article may have been, it was about much more than Jackie’s story. It illustrated a culture of minimization of rape that had existed had UVA for at least 30 years, in which women who reported being sexually assaulted were discouraged from going to the police, their complaints were not treated seriously, and accused perpetrators were not seriously investigated or punished.

Shapiro’s career has been greatly enhanced by his dismantling of Jackie’s story about a violent rape that allegedly took place in 2012. As a consequence of his efforts to dismantle Jackie’s story, T. Rees Shapiro has appeared on numerous television programs and received praise from many quarters. Most likely his youth enabled Shapiro to con Jackie into trusting him enough to talk to him “several times.”

Last night, I decided to take a quick look at young Mr. Shapiro and his career development path. How did he get such an elite journalism job at the young age of 27?

T. Rees Shapiro

In 2009, Shapiro graduated from Virginia Tech, where he wrote for the student newspaper. In 2010, he was hired by the Washington Post as a copy boy. He soon graduated to writing obituaries, and in 2010 became an education reporter for the Post.

Clearly T. Rees (Nicknamed “Trees,” get it?) is a real go-getter, but he also has connections. His father Leonard Shapiro was a sportswriter for The Washington Post for 38 years, and his mother Vicky Moon is a writer and photographer who is apparently a fixture in Virginia society. Would Shapiro have gotten the Washington Post job without those connections? Maybe, but I doubt it.

When he wrote about Jackie, Shapiro emphasized several times that she was using her “real nickname,” thus enabling trolls like Chuck C. Johnson to find her and try to publicly out her. Shapiro was also able to locate Jackie’s so-called “friends” and get their after-the-fact critiques of Jackie’s story. Shapiro doesn’t say whether Jackie told him she still considers these people to be her friends.

In his critiques of the Rolling Stone article and specifically of Jackie’s story, Shapiro chose not to write about the other women who were interviewed by author Sabrina Rubin Erdley or to get input from experts on rape and traumatic memory. Would a more mature reporter have done so, rather than simply picking apart Jackie’s story? Would a female education reporter have thought to do that?

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Despite the Post’s attacks on Jackie, the University of Virginia does in fact have a rape problem. UVA is one of 86 schools being investigated by the Department of Education for mishandling rape complaints. Four Virginia schools are on the DEA list.

From Huffington Post in July: For Years, Students Have Accused Virginia Universities Of Botching Sexual Assault Cases.

Four universities in Virginia are currently being  investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations specifically related to sexual violence — JMU, the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond. Two other schools in the state, the Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University, faced Title IX reviews that concluded this spring….

Each of the investigations at the Virginia schools, like that at JMU, was sparked by federal complaints.

UVA’s investigation is unusual in that it started in 2011, but remains open. The Education Department declined to say why the investigation was so long-running, and noted “that some cases take longer than others due to the nature and complexity of the issues involved.”

(Emphasis added).

In fact, UVA is one of only 12 schools that that the Department of Education has “flagged for a total compliance review.”

Another Washington Post reporter, Nick Anderson, writes that the inconsistencies in Jackie’s story will not end the federal investigation of UVA.

The University of Virginia was under the microscope for its handling of sexual assault cases long before Rolling Stone magazine weighed in with the account of a student who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity house.

The emergence of fresh questions about that account — including the fraternity issuing a rebuttal, doubts voiced by some who know the woman, and a statement from Rolling Stone’s managing editor on Friday acknowledging “discrepancies” in her version of events — will not suddenly cancel that scrutiny.

A federal investigation of U-Va.’s response to sexual violence, begun in June 2011, continues. It is one of the longest-running active probes of its kind in the nation. U-Va. remains one of the most prominent of about 90 colleges and universities facing such investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Student and faculty activists for sexual assault prevention, given a national platform in recent days, are unlikely to let the issue fade away. Skeptics will still wonder why the university has not expelled anyone for sexual misconduct in the past decade. Parents of prospective applicants, also mindful of the slaying of sophomore Hannah Graham after she disappeared in September, still want assurances that the Charlottesville campus is safe.

Perhaps most important, University President Teresa A. Sullivan laid out a detailed road map this week for a comprehensive review of the campus culture, touching on sexual assault, alcohol, Greek life and university oversight.

Francesca Bessey

Francesca Bessey

Since rape on campus is such a huge issue, shouldn’t education reporters like T. Rees Shapiro be more knowledgeable about sexual assault and its traumatic effects? One journalist, Francesca Bessey thinks so.

From Huffington Post: Thought the Rolling Stone Article Was Bad? Try Other Rape Journalism. Here’s her assessment of the Washington Post coverage:

The actual discrepancies introduced by the Washington Post are few: one, the individual whom Jackie claimed brought her to the fraternity was apparently a member of a different fraternity; and, two, a student who allegedly came to Jackie’s aid claimed she initially gave a different account of what happened that night. The fraternity also released a statement denying knowledge of the assault, or that there was a social function the night Jackie believes she was assaulted.

For someone who knows little to nothing about rape, fraternities, or the contemporary college party scene — which unfortunately seems to characterize a lot of the coverage thus far — these discrepancies might initially seem like gaping holes in Jackie’s story.

However, as any medical professional or victim advocate will tell you, trauma-related memory inconsistencies are extraordinarily common in cases of sexual assault, often manifesting in the survivor describing the incident to first responders as less severe than it actually was. Such plasticity of memory is not unique to rape cases; the FBI, for example, notes that “there can be a wide range of after effects to a trauma,” which can impact on a victim of a violent crime or the victim’s family members. A list of these effects includes confusion, disorientation, memory loss and slowed thinking. Psychological research has long demonstrated that humans reconstruct, rather than recall, memory, which is why eyewitness testimony is considered one of the most dubious forms of evidence in a court of law.

Why have journalists covering this story given more credence to statements by the fraternity and friends who were portrayed very negatively in the Rolling Stone article than to Jackie’s version of events?

…it is important to note that the so-called “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story don’t necessarily invalidate her version of events. The fraternity’s statement is in no way more credible than Jackie’s own word — in fact, I would argue less so, given the sheer prevalence of fraternity rape. It would be foolish to assume that a fraternity’s formal denial of “knowledge of these alleged acts” means that they did not occur (with or without current leadership’s knowledge), as it would be foolish to rule out that the “date function” Jackie thought she was invited to wasn’t pure pretense in the first place. It is also within the realm of possibility that Jackie was brought to the party by a man who didn’t necessarily belong to the fraternity, even that he misled her about his membership in the frat. It is also possible that the student who gave a different version of how he found Jackie that night, lacks credibility or is himself having trouble recalling events.

Ultimately, these are all details significant to a police or journalistic investigation, upon which the responsibility is on law enforcement and journalists to figure out. For Jackie, however, it doesn’t change much. It doesn’t change her experience of violent assault, or those of countless students like her, many of whose stories are also featured in the article in question. It does not change the majority of the material in the original article: not the debasing lyrics of the UVA fight song; not the person who hurled a bottle at Jackie’s face the first time she tried to speak out; not the 38 students who appeared in Dean Nicole Eramo’s office in just one academic year to discuss incidents of sexual assault, despite the fact that not one student has ever been expelled from UVA for a sexual offense.

In light of these facts, in light of my own rape and the rapes of too many of my friends at the hands of their peers, I do wonder: Whose credibility is really to be doubted here? Jackie’s or the public peanut gallery that has diluted sexual assault down to a number and a date?

Again, I don’t want to personally denigrate T. Rees Shapiro. He writes well, and he has done a fine job of locating sources at the University of Virginia–both in this case and in his previous reporting on  in writing on the Hannah Graham murder case–probably because his youth helps him connect with college students only a few years younger than he is. But his analysis of a survivor’s story has suffered from his lack of knowledge and experience about campus sexual assault and rape in general.

I want to share two more articles that offer a more sophisticated take on these subjects–written by women with long journalistic experience.

Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn

From CNN, Rape culture? It’s too real, by Sally Kohn.

We don’t yet know all the facts behind the now-infamous, poorly fact-checked story in Rolling Stone about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. What we do know: Rolling Stone at first blamed the alleged victim, “Jackie” — rather than its own journalistic sloppiness — for so-called “discrepancies” (before changing its callous statement).

And new reporting by the Washington Post does reveal that Jackie’s friends, cited in the story, say they are skeptical about some of the details. Still, they all believe that Jackie experienced something “horrific” that night, in the words of one, and we do know that Jackie stands by her story. Most of the doubts about it were apparently raised by those she’s accusing, including the fraternity and main alleged assailant — whom, I guess, we’re supposed to believe instead. But one other thing we do know is that gang rapes just like what Jackie is alleging do happen — too often, and all over America.

While Rolling Stone’s reporting was clearly shoddy, some writers who initially poked holes in Jackie’s story did so for ideological motives. For instance, even before the reporting lapses were revealed, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg called Jackie’s story unbelievable. “It is not credible,” Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe it.”

Instead, Goldberg insisted, Jackie’s account was “a convenient conversation for an exposé of rape culture,” something, incidentally, Goldberg also doubts to be real. “‘Rape culture’ suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America,” Goldberg later wrote in National Review. It’s all hogwash, says Goldberg, alleging that the very idea of “rape culture” is just “an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists.”

In other words, whatever the reality of what happened to Jackie, Goldberg and others were skeptical because they simply don’t believe rapes like that happen with the participation of groups of assailants, let alone the complicity of bystanders. This is where they’re mistaken.

Kohn then lists several extreme examples of gang rapes that resemble Jackie’s description–most of which we have covered here.

burleigh

Also from CNN, In 2014, rape rage drove feminism’s ‘third wave’, by Nina Burleigh.

Historians could look back on this year as the beginning of feminism’s third wave.

The year was momentous for feminism. For the first time, rape victims and their supporters emerged from the shadows in significant numbers and started naming names — to significant effect. Women, their voices amplified by social media and with the support of a small but growing cohort of men, have been exposing and shaming venerable American institutions such as the NFL, Ivy League and non-Ivy League colleges, and the entertainment icon Bill Cosby.

First wave feminists won the right to vote. The second wave got us the right to work. But even with those advances, women have remained fundamentally restricted by the threat and terrible secret of sexual assault.

This year, emboldened and connected by social media, college women formed a powerful grassroots movement that led to universities such as Harvard being publicly named and shamed for not addressing women’s rape reports. They brought the issue of campus sexual assault into the White House, where Barack Obama became the first President to use the words “sexual violence.” The Department of Education released a list of universities under investigation for mishandling sexual violence cases, often letting even repeat predators off with barely a slap on the wrist.

These young women had been silent until social media enabled them to come together, even though thousands of miles apart, share debilitating secrets and then act with the confidence that safety in numbers provided.

I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.

I only hope that irresponsible journalism perpetrated by Rolling Stone and the even more irresponsible reaction to it have not set back the cause of protecting young women on college campuses from sexual violence.


Wednesday Reads: 2014 Going Out With A Bang

165514928Morning All

I really don’t have anything to add to the picture on the left. That is pretty much how things seem to be going lately. Each day another bomb drops, and many of us sit here wondering will it stop? Will there be a moment when some decent shred of humanity will shine through the toxic stew of torture, police brutality, racism, sexism and all the rest of it…

Here are your links for this morning, many reactions to the CIA torture reports will come as no surprise.

I guess John McCain is the one GOP dude who we would expect had some words to say on the matter: McCain on Torture: A Stain on our National Honor, Produces Misleading Info | Informed Comment

“As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.”

McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War and endured unspeakable torture, is virtually unassailable on the issue. His comments put him back in the maverick role, at least in relation to the chamber’s internal politics, that has long defined his congressional career.”

d79002a4d9795d36c23f422431ccbf3dVideo at the link.

In another link from Juan Cole’s blog: Psychologists, who Took mn. to Advise, Practice Torture, betrayed the Profession | Informed Comment

During the War on Terror, the CIA’s operations subjected hundreds of suspected terrorists to harsh interrogation techniques, which were often criticised as constituting torture. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the operation has made it clearer than ever that the CIA used many forms of “enhanced interrogation” to elicit information – very harsh methods indeed that simply did not yield the intended results.

As a leaked State Department memo put it, the report “tells a story of which no American is proud”.

This is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out. Many of the approaches the CIA used were developed by our discipline, and by individuals who will have known about the codes of conduct by which US psychologists are bound – which include beneficence and non-maleficence, and respect for rights, dignity and integrity.

It is profoundly disturbing to see that the CIA’s techniques included deprivation of basic needs (warmth, food, water), humiliation, threats and the repeated use of waterboarding.

Ironically, many of the methods adopted were based on psychologists’ previous work directed at training members of the military, intended to assist them in avoiding talking to interrogators should they be captured and tortured. This work was apparently reverse-engineered for use on terrorist suspects.

2a2130ec4f4c50723d90bf520b6784e0There is much more at that link, which is a guest post written by Laurence Alison, from the University of Liverpool.

Fox News…well, you know:

Fox Host: Forget Torture, ‘America Is Awesome’ — NYMag

After reading reports about how the CIA inadvertently killed someone during an interrogation and subjected others to repeated waterboardings, “rectal feedings,” and threats to rape and kill their family members, did you get the feeling that sometimes the United States is less than awesome? That’s exactly what the Obama administration wanted! This afternoon in the alternate reality that is Fox News, the hosts of Outnumbered explained that the report was only released to distract Americans from real problems, like the IRS scandal and Benghazi.

“The Bush administration did what the American public wanted, and that was do whatever it takes to keep us safe,” declared the particularly incensed Andrea Tantaros. “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she continued. “We’ve closed the book on [torture], and we’ve stopped doing it. And the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome” — mainly because they “don’t like this country” and “want us to look bad.”

Fox then returned to its regularly scheduled programming.

Alggpp0100nd Billy Boy: Bill O’Reilly: Torture Is ‘Morally Correct’ | Crooks and Liars

If you thought you heard it all from Bill O’Reilly, think again. Tonight he said that torture was a “morally acceptable” thing to do.

Meanwhile, across the pond: New Statesman | “Torture is always wrong”: David Cameron responds to the CIA report

David Cameron has responded to the alarming US report by Democrat senators on CIA interrogation activities in the wake of 9/11. Commenting on the shocking revelations about “brutal” techniques employed by the CIA on terrorism suspects, the Prime Minister said:

Let us be clear – torture is wrong, torture is always wrong.

For those of us who want to see a safer more secure world who want to see this extremism defeated, we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority.

Now obviously after 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong and we should be clear about the fact that they were wrong.

Clearly anticipating any questions emerging from this story that could drag Britain into the controversy, Cameron was keen to emphasise that he believes Britain has “dealt with” its position in relation torture policy. The United Kingdom appears on the list of countries that “facilitated CIA torture”.

Cameron referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee looking into questions raised by the Gibson Inquiry into the treatment of detainees post-9/11, and added that he has, “issued guidance to all of our agents and others working around the world about how they have to handle themselves”.

77374810001_693354346001_ari-origin06-arc-159-1291146682193The report itself has stunned the world following its release yesterday. It suggests America’s spies repeatedly lied to Congress and its foreign allies in an effort to cover up the scale and brutal nature of a secret global programme of torture.

Of course the UN has it’s own response: CIA torture: Calls to prosecute US officials involved in ‘brutal’ interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects – The Independent

The UN has called for the prosecution of those behind a ‘criminal conspiracy’ at the CIA that led to the ‘brutal’ torture of detainees.

Ben Emmerson, United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said those responsible for planning, sanctioning or carrying out crimes including waterboarding should not escape justice – even senior officials from George W Bush’s administration.

“It is now time to take action,” he said in a statement from Geneva. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy … must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.

“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth also said that the CIA’s actions were criminal “and can never be justified”.

hqdefault“The Senate report summary should forever put to rest CIA denials that it engaged in torture, which is criminal and can never be justified,” he said.

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction.

“Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Now, over at Al Jazeera, they have an article that interviews surviviors:

Survivors of CIA torture, rendition speak out | Al Jazeera America

Survivors of alleged CIA torture and rendition programs praised the release of a damning, if heavily redacted Senate account of the agency’s “brutal” and “ineffective” practices but noted it was only a first step toward accountability — and it certainly wasn’t an apology.

article-0-11CC61E1000005DC-710_634x476“Publishing this shows the other side, that human rights apply to everyone,” said Abdelhakim Balhadj, a Libyan political dissident who the U.S. rendered back to Libya in 2004, where he was allegedly tortured over a six-year period without being charged with a crime. “The U.S. denied us our human rights. We wanted the American people to recognize this.”

After years of delay, the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a 499-page executive summary of a more than 6,000-word report, which remains classified. It detailed a litany of apparently illegal methods employed by CIA officers to extract information from detainees — death threats, beatings, sleep deprivation, forced rectal feeding and other psychological torment — much of which had long since been leaked.

Significantly, the summary noted that so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques were “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented” and they were not nearly as useful in obtaining information vital to national security as the agency had previously said.

Though ex-detainees like Belhadj welcomed those findings, he was disappointed that his name had not been mentioned specifically. In a phone call from his home in Libya, Belhadj, now a prominent politician and military leader in Libya, told of how he and his pregnant wife Fatima were picked up by U.S. authorities as they were trying to leave China, where they had been living until 2004, to seek political asylum in the U.K.

750px-Castle_Bravo_(black_and_white)As well as the ex-CIA dudes…who have there side of the story: Ex-CIA officials say torture report is one-sided, flawed | Reuters

A group of former top-ranking CIA officials disputed a U.S. Senate committee’s finding that the agency’s interrogation techniques produced no valuable intelligence, saying such work had saved thousands of lives.

Former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, along with three ex-deputy directors, wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal that the Senate Intelligence Committee report also was wrong in saying the agency had been deceptive about its work following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The rest of the links for today’s post are in dump format, and they are not pleasant. In fact they are much of the same kind of news we have been seeing the past few weeks.

Orlando, Florida police sergeant shoots unarmed man – World Socialist Web Site

The usual story with the usual players. The men in this case were in a stolen car…that said…read the rest at the link.

 

School Counselor Threatens to Shoot Mike Brown Protestors, Blames Kid

School Counselor Threatens to Shoot Mike Brown Protestors, Blames Kid

 

“He should have to stand trial”: Rep. Keith Ellison sounds off on Eric Garner’s killing and civil rights in America – Salon.com

As the American people continue to debate about — and organize over — the lack of consequences for the police who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, some commentators (like yours truly) have urged national Democrats to be more directly and unapologetically supportive of their African-American supporters and the #blacklivesmatter movement in general. But while it’s much too soon to tell whether Hillary Clinton or other similarly well-known Democrats will heed the call, it’s clear that one Democratic congressman, Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, is listening. “The fact is, people have to demand [a] sense of justice: people in the streets are going to make the system more responsive,” he said recently on MSNBC.

atomic-bomb3New Statesman | Why Hollywood needs to listen to Chris Rock about its race problems

In a scathing editorial in the Hollywood Reporter, Chris Rock has confronted some issues that though obvious, are being blatantly ignored. He quite rightly points out that Hollywood is an exclusive, white industry that is terrible at giving opportunities to black and Latino people other than as the janitor. You only have to open your eyes to see this, but nobody, whether it be studio executives, producers, directors, other actors or critics, has been proactive in changing things. It’s OK to say it – Hollywood doesn’t care about black people.

In Arkansas, white town is a black mark | Al Jazeera America

Harrison, Arkansas billboard

Residents of Harrison try to fight off their reputation as the small town with the most hate groups in America

Thomas Robb lives 15 miles from downtown Harrison, Arkansas, past churches with signs speaking of God’s righteousness, a goat farm and a slew of rusted trailer homes. His home is a collection of nondescript white cottages that includes an office and a meeting place for the Christian Revival Center, where he serves as pastor. The buildings stretch across several acres — but don’t call the property a compound.

“It’s my home, not a compound,” Robb says, correcting a reporter with a smile. “The word ‘compound’ has such a negative connotation.”

Robb and his wife moved to the area 43 years ago from Tucson, Arizona: “You could see the handwriting on the wall of Arizona being a dumping ground for illegal aliens.” The stronger morals of people in Arkansas, he says, made the state a more attractive home for his Thomas Robb Ministries and the Christian Revival Center, which espouse a white-supremacist, “Christian-identity” theology. For the last 25 years, he’s also been the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group founded by prominent Klan leader and former Louisiana politician David Duke. In that role, Robb has attempted to advance the white-nationalist movement by portraying the Klan, in the words of one journalist, as more “gentle, upbeat and friendly” — an approach that’s sometimes frowned upon by other Klan members for being too mainstream.

Protest Against Police Violence

In Georgia, there was an execution last night: Injustice in Robert Wayne Holsey’s Case – NYTimes.com

Even by the abysmal standards of lawyering that defendants in capital trials regularly endure, Robert Wayne Holsey’s case stands out.

In 1997, Mr. Holsey was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a Georgia sheriff’s deputy named Will Robinson, who had pulled him over for robbing a convenience store. Despite evidence that Mr. Holsey was intellectually disabled — which should have barred him from execution under the United States Supreme Court’s earlier rulings — his lawyer neglected to make that argument at trial. Mr. Holsey was executed on Tuesday evening after the Supreme Court declined to stay his execution.

The evidence of Mr. Holsey’s mental deficits included an I.Q. test score of 70 when he was 15. In school, his intellectual functioning did not move past a fourth-grade level. But under Georgia law, a defendant is required to prove his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest standard in the country and one unmoored from scientific reality.

Palestinian minister dies after confrontation with Israeli soldiers | Al Jazeera America

A Palestinian minister has died after clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. The circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein’s death have yet to be officially confirmed, but sources told Al Jazeera that it occurred after he inhaled large amounts of tear gas and was struck by security forces.

Abu Ein, who was head of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, died in Ramallah Hospital on Wednesday following a protest against the separation barrier near the village of Turmusayya, northeast of Ramallah.

The 55-year-old is thought to have been hit in the chest by Israeli soldiers at the demonstration, according to an Israeli journalist and a Reuters photographer who were at the scene. Other witnesses said he was headbutted and then collapsed.

Activists said they were planting olive trees by the illegal settlement of Adei Ad when the soldiers attacked them and fired large amounts of tear gas at the group.

Pictures of Abu Ein, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, knocked out and on the ground quickly circulated on social media sites.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly condemned the death of Abu Ein, calling it a “barbaric act that cannot be tolerated.” He also said “all necessary steps” will be taken after an investigation into Abu Ein’s death is carried out.

More on the olive trees, and the significance here:

BBC News – Israel and the Palestinians: A conflict viewed through olives

Obama had a tough interview: Jorge Ramos Challenges President Obama On Immigration In Testy Interview – BuzzFeed News

Ugh….US Congressional Leaders Reach Accord on 2015 Spending Plan

Hey, this is a surprise: Police officer buys eggs for woman caught shoplifting to feed her family in Tarrant | AL.com

A woman caught shoplifting eggs in Tarrant Saturday didn’t leave with handcuffs and a court date. Thanks to a Tarrant police officer, she left with food for her family.

Officer William Stacy was called to the Dollar General on Pinson Valley Parkway when employees caught the woman trying to steal a dozen eggs, Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

The woman had her young children in the car. She told Officer Stacy that she was only stealing because she was trying to feed her children.

Stacy talked with Dollar General, and they said they wouldn’t prosecute. So Stacy made an offer.

“He said, ‘If I give you these eggs, will you promise that you won’t shoplift anymore?'” Reno said. “He knew that she was telling the truth and that’s the reason he went in and bought the eggs.”

Stacy bought the eggs and gave them to her, Reno said. The woman then asked if she could give him a hug.

Sorry if I am cynical…but…

“Police officers do this all the time. Of course, these are the kind of stories that never get told,” Reno said. “Every police officer in Jefferson County has done this at one point in time.”

Reno said this is one way police deal with issues — not every incident ends with someone being hauled off to jail.

No, they don’t get hauled off to jail, they get hauled off to the morgue.

Video of hug at link. It just is…I don’t know. Maybe y’all have a better way of putting it into words than I do?

Sounds a little like staged bullshit to me.

But again, I am a cynical bitch.

I mean, when you have a Sgt with the Tarrant Police Department police stealing evidence and selling it to other cops:

Update: Former Tarrant Police Sgt. turns himself in. – ABC 33/40 – Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

 According to Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno, former Tarrant Police Officer, Sgt. Charles Higgins, has turned himself in to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

The Tarrant Police Department is asking a suspected criminal to turn himself in. But this criminal isn’t like the others.

“He was an extraordinary officer,” Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

That’s because Charles Kevin Higgins used to be a Sgt. with the department.

“Myself and every officer here feels betrayed,” Reno said.

Reno says a while back his department noticed items missing out of the evidence room, which is what Sgt. Higgins was in charge of. Higgins was confronted and was told an investigation would be happening.

“Rather than face an investigation, Sgt. Higgins rendered his resignation at that time,” Reno said.

Further investigation would show much more missing from the evidence room than anticipated.

Nine handguns were missing. Reno says Higgins told people he needed money. He sold six of them to citizens. But four of them were sold to closer friends.

“He sold them to some of his fellow police officers here at the station,” Reno said.

The serial numbers on the guns sold to the officers matched the numbers of those missing from the evidence room. Reno believes Higgins made nearly $3,500 on the guns. Reno says the officers who bought the firearms thought they were part of Higgins’s personal collection, as Reno says Higgins is a gun collector.

Reno says he could not comment whether more items were taken from the evidence room.

Or the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office being investigated for racial discrimination: JeffCo Sheriff’s hiring, firing practices under scrutiny for racial discrimiation

A federal judge wants to know what Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale is doing to deal with racial discrimination.

During a status hearing over the county’s consent degree involving hiring and firing practices, U.S District Judge Lynwood Smith said he will now be focusing on the sheriff’s office.

The county’s hiring and firing is currently under the supervision of court appointed receiver Ronald Sims.

During Thursday’s court hearing, plaintiffs in the case said it came to their attention that Sheriff Hale does not have an affirmative action officer to oversee any racial complaints or violations of discrimination law.

Jefferson County has affirmative action officers in place but the question now is whether Sheriff Hale, who is already facing a tight budget, hire another person for the job or use the county’s personnel.

Jefferson County commissioner David Carrington says it’s a matter that has to be studied.

“It would be a little cumbersome for the county’s AA officer to get involved with the sheriff’s office. We have a lot of issues we need to deal with. If the judge says it’s our responsibility we will accept it and go forward,” Carrington said.

Judge Smith told Sheriff Hale’s attorney in court to get more engaged and to research what the sheriff has done to deal with racial discrimination going back to 1982, when the original consent decree was signed by Hale’s predecessor Mel Bailey.

Federal judge turns focus to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 32-year-old discrimination order | AL.com

A federal judge, who last year installed a manager to oversee all Jefferson County personnel decisions to prevent discrimination against blacks and women, has now turned his focus onto the county sheriff’s office.

At a hearing this morning U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith asked an attorney for Sheriff Mike Hale to determine what that office has done – or hasn’t – to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate against blacks or women in hiring, firing and promotions since a consent decree was signed by county officials 32 years ago.

Lynwood Smith.jpgFederal Judge Lynwood Smith. (Huntsville Times file)

Smith said he believes “it is past time to focus on the sheriff…  He (the sheriff) is under the same duties and obligations as the county commission.”

The 1982 consent decree was issued as part of lawsuits that contended the county and the City of Birmingham had discriminated against blacks and women. County officials, including former Sheriff Mel Bailey, signed the decree. Birmingham and the Jefferson County Personnel Board were ultimately released from their decrees.

About seven years ago plaintiffs in the lawsuits asked the judge to find the county in contempt for not abiding by the terms of its consent decree. After a lengthy process the judge last year found the county was in contempt and put in place a receiver, Ron Sims, over the county’s human resources department.

At today’s status conference Smith holds once a month to check on the county’s compliance, an attorney for the plaintiff’s, Rowan Wilson, told the judge about an issue that came up.

Hmmmm…go on…

Wilson said that Sims two months ago had appointed an affirmative action officer to review personnel complaints. Recently sheriff’s employees had come to the new officer with issues, which brought up the question as to whether the sheriff had an affirmative action officer, he said.

As part of the consent decree the county was to have an affirmative action officer, but didn’t, Wilson said. The issue came up during testimony in the contempt hearings.

Take a look at the comments….interesting to say the least.

This sounds a lot like Banjoville.

But seriously…to go back to the quote from Reno, the chief at Tarrant PD:

“Police officers do this all the time. Of course, these are the kind of stories that never get told,” Reno said. “Every police officer in Jefferson County has done this at one point in time.”

Oh yeah, I bet they do that act of kindness all the time….

That is it for me, y’all have a good day. So? What are you reading about?


Lazy Saturday Reads: #IStandWithJackie

219678-Painting-1311882147-926-640x480

Good Morning!!

I’m feeling very overwhelmed this morning, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Between the police killings of civilians and the UVA rape story, I don’t know where to turn for relief.

Last night I escaped for awhile by watching the season finale of “Z Nation,” which is a very violent show about a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse that almost seems like a metaphor for our sick society.

Why are people so fascinated by zombies at this time in history? Is it because so many of us are dead inside, with no empathy for our fellow humans? Hatred of anyone who is not a white, wealthy, straight “christian” male born in the USA has taken over so many of us and transformed our culture in so many ugly ways.

It’s as if a virus was loosed on the population–in the Reagan years?–and those of us who still care for other people and dream of equal rights and protection for all people are left fighting just to stay conscious–like the survivors in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Where will it all end?

I was planning to write about the backlash against the Rolling Stone story on rape at the University of Virginia in today’s post, but I don’t think I have my thoughts together enough to do a thorough job of it yet. When I first started thinking about it, the main backlash was about author Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s choice not to locate the accused perpetrators and get their side of the story.

WTF?! As Columbia journalism Prof. Helen Benedict told the NYT, a reporter doing a story on a university refusing to deal with a robbery or mugging on campus wouldn’t be required to hunt down the perpetrators and get their point of view on what actually happened.

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Ceri Richards

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Ceri Richards

But rape is different. Any woman who reports being raped in the good old USA must be scrutinized in detail, because she probably was asking for it or is lying. She must tell what she was wearing, whether she was drinking, whether she knew the perpetrator, whether she is just claiming rape because she regrets having sex while drunk, and on and on and on.

Then yesterday afternoon Will Dana, managing editor of Rolling Stone basically threw Erdely’s source “Jackie” under the bus, suggesting that she had fabricated her story. Dana apparently took the word of members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity that “Jackie’s” story was untrue.

As someone who was traumatized as a child and who has had to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder for much of my life, I took it personally. At first I could not stand to read the accusatory articles, so I went to Twitter first. There I learned that many men and women were pushing back against the media victim-blaming. They had started posting tweets with the hashtag #IStandWithJackie. Reading many of those tweets gave me the strength to read some of yesterday’s backlash articles.

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Because I’m really not ready to write a coherent post right now, I’m just going to link to some articles that you may want to check out.

The story that triggered yesterday’s backlash was by T. Rees Shapiro and published at The Washington Post: Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt. Shapiro, like Rolling Stone’s Will Dana, accepts the word of the accused fraternity that there was no party on the date given by “Jackie” and the word of a man she accused that he never met “Jackie.” Jackie’s compelling story is apparently eclipsed for the Post by these unproven assertions by unnamed men who have every reason to lie to protect themselves and their fraternity.

Here are some “key elements” of the WaPo story for me:

Jackie, who spoke to The Washington Post several times during the past week, stood by her account, offering a similar version and details.

“I never asked for this” attention, she said in an interview. “What bothers me is that so many people act like it didn’t happen. It’s my life. I have had to live with the fact that it happened — every day for the last two years.” ….

Jackie describes her interactions with Erdely and Rolling Stone:

Overwhelmed by sitting through interviews with the writer, Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused, and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.

Jackie said she finally relented and agreed to participate on the condition that she be able to fact-check her parts in the story, which she said Erdely agreed to.

“I didn’t want the world to read about the worst three hours of my life, the thing I have nightmares about every night,” Jackie said.

About the article itself:

Jackie told The Post that she felt validated that the article encouraged other female students to come forward saying that they, too, had been sexually assaulted in fraternity houses.

“Haven’t enough people come forward at this point?” she said. “How many people do you need to come forward saying they’ve been raped at a fraternity to make it real to you? They need to acknowledge it’s a problem. They need to address it instead of pointing fingers to take the blame off themselves.”

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Trauma has powerful effects on the brain, and it’s not at all surprising that survivors’ memories can be confused and inconsistent. In fact, even normal human memory is not designed to recall every detail of events with precision, and expecting that from a rape victim is ridiculous and unfair. But that’s the way it is.

“Jackie” did not even report her rape to the police, because she felt she couldn’t handle the backlash. Now a magazine that didn’t stand by its own story has made her vulnerable to attacks from all over the world.

Where is author Sabrina Rubin Erdely? Why isn’t she defending her story?

Last night on Twitter, Jamison Foser called attention to the fact that the WaPo story originally claimed as fact that Jackie was lying. Then they changed the line in the story without noting they had made a correction. That’s a pretty big “mistake” for a newspaper that has been busily trying to debunk “Jackie’s” story for the past couple of weeks.

Wonkblog (at the WaPo) posted a story on the Twitter response last night: #IStandWithJackie: People on Twitter are criticizing Rolling Stone and supporting UVa student.

Now some important articles that push back against the backlash, yesterday’s WaPo story, and Rolling Stone’s betrayal of “Jackie.” Some of these were published before the RS reversal, but I still think they are relevant.

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Mother Jones: Don’t Let the Rolling Stone Controversy Distract You From the Campus Rape Epidemic.

Think Progress: Gang Rapes Happen On College Campuses.

Thank Progress: Actually, The Link Between Sexual Assault And Alcohol Isn’t As Clear As You Think.

Melissa McEwen at Shakesville: Today in Rape Culture.

About Reporting: The backlash to Rolling Stone’s story about rape culture at UVa

Alexandra Brodsky at MSNBC: Rolling Stone scapegoats rape victim, makes matters worse.

Ali Safron at Buzzfeed: Victims’ Memories Are Imperfect, But Still Perfectly Believable.

Libby Nelson at Vox: Rolling Stone didn’t just fail readers — it failed Jackie, too.

Amanda Taub at Vox: The lesson of Rolling Stone and UVA: protecting victims means checking their stories.

Media Matters: Rolling Stone And The Debate Over Sexual Assault Reporting Standards.

Rolling Stone before the sudden reversal: Rape at UVA: Readers Say Jackie Wasn’t Alone.

Katie McDonough at Salon: “It makes me really depressed”: From UVA to Cosby, the rape denial playbook that won’t go away.

 

That’s about all I can handle writing this morning. I have some links on other stories that I’ll post in the comment thread. I hope you join me there and share your own recommended links.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Immigration Facts and Ferguson Fears

Vivien Leigh reads

Good Afternoon!!

 

President Obama’s executive action on immigration tops the news today. Ferguson is a close second. I’ll be focusing mostly on those two stories in this post.

Immigration

Before I get started, I want to point you to a new post by Darren Hutchinson of Dissenting Justice. It will give you some reality-based ammunition to deal with crazy wingnut friends, relatives, and Facebook and Twitter followers.

FACTS: President Obama’s Immigration Policies Are Absolutely LEGAL.

ATTENTION: Before you can argue that the government has violated a law, you must actually READ the law.

FACT: Congress has the exclusive power to pass laws regarding immigration (U.S. Const. Article I, Section 8, Cl. 4).FACT: Executive Power of the US is vested in the President, which means the President, not Congress, executes the immigration laws (U.S. Const. Article II, Sect. 1, Cl. 1)….

FACT: Consistent with the Constitution, the INA gives the Executive Branch (President, Homeland Security, Attorney General, and Secretary of State) the power to enforce immigration laws (8 U.S.C. Sect. 1103-1104)….

FACT: The Executive Can “Cancel” the Removal of Certain Deportable Individuals. 
The INA allows the Attorney General to cancel removal (deportation) or adjust the status of certain categories of undocumented individuals. The statute explicitly spells out the criteria for doing so. Thus, the statute provides an “intelligible criteria” for the Attorney General to follow. (8 U.S.C. Section 1229b(a)-(b))….

The Executive Can Give Temporary Protected Status to Certain Deportable Individuals. The INA also allows the Attorney General to grant “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) to deportable individuals from certain countries that the Attorney General has placed on a TPS list. As required by Supreme Court doctrine, the INA gives SPECIFIC guidelines – or an intelligible principle – for the Attorney General to follow when determining whether to give TPS designation to a country. The statutory factors include serious conditions in the individual’s home country, like armed conflict; natural disasters; a request for temporary protected status by the country; or “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that preclude the safe return of the individual, so long as TPS does not conflict with the interests of the US.
(8 U.S.C. Sections 1254a-i)

Those are the highlights. There’s more at the link. I plan to save Hutchinson’s post for future reference. I’m thinking of printing it out in case I get in a political argument with my brother over Thanksgiving dinner.

jimmy stewart reads in bed

Obama has been vilified from day one by people who obviously have never read the Constitution or any U.S. laws dealing with their various political hobby horses, and I’m sick and tired of it.

You all know I not a fan of Obama when he ran for president in 2008, and I still think he’s a conservative technocrat who is far to willing to support privatization of public services. But he is the President of the United States now. I support his efforts to reform immigration laws. He’s only taking executive action because Congress is full of stupid and irrational people who are too lazy or stubborn to cooperate with him. Sadly, the DC media is largely made up of wealthy, privileged people who got their jobs because through nepotism and/or because they attended elite universities and are too lazy or stupid to provide accurate information to the public. Therefore, people who don’t focus on politics like we do get false information from TV news or “journalists” who do not understand what journalism is.

Rant over.

A few more links on the immigration story:

Washington Post Wonkblog, Flow chart: Who qualifies for Obama’s immigration offer?

The president’s executive action would delay deportation for the undocumented mother of a child born in the U.S. on Thursday — but not an undocumented mother who gave birth here one day later. Similarly, the president has offered deferrals to children brought to this country by their parents before their 16th birthday — but not a few weeks after.

Such deadlines serve a purpose: They’re meant to discourage new immigrants from coming in the future, or to dissuade women already here from giving birth with the goal of securing deferrals. But they also show that the president’s action falls far short of a comprehensive solution. It offers, instead, a fragmented answer that will leave many immigrants disappointed.

Check out the flow chart at the link for details.

liz-taylor_steve-mcqueen

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, Bringing perspective to Obama’s move on deportations.

Now that President Obama has announced his executive action to temporarily shield millions from deportation, confirming the administration’s view that this move is well within his authority, the battle now shifts to a political fight over the policy itself, and over whether it violates “political norms.” Is this action so provocative an affront to Congress that it sets a precedent for future GOP presidents to use discretion to selectively enforce laws liberals like?

Embedded in the legal opinion that the Office of Legal Counsel released to justify the move is an important nugget that should, in theory, help take the steam out of the idea that this move is a flagrant violation of political norms.

Obama’s action temporarily shields from deportation the parents of children who are U.S. citizens and legal residents, and also expands the program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to protect people brought here illegally as children. But it excludes parents of DACA recipients.

The reason for this offered by the OLC memo is that protecting parents of legal residents is in line with Congressional intent, as expressed in statute, while protecting DACA parents isn’t:

[T]he parents of DACA recipients are differently situated from the parents of U.S. citizens and LPRs [Legal Permanent Residents] under the family-related provisions of the immigration law. Many provisions of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] reflect Congress’ general concern about separating individuals who are legally entitled to live in the United States and their immediate family members….But the immigration laws do not express comparable concern for uniting persons who lack lawful status (or prospective lawful status in the United States with their families…Extending deferred action to the parents of DACA recipients would therefore expand family-based immigration relief in a manner that deviates in important respects from the immigration system Congress has enacted.

This legal opinion probably precludes any future expansion of this program to cover parents of DACA recipients. And it underscores two things: First, that the proposal is heavily focused on providing relief from humanitarian hardship endured by U.S. citizens and permanent residents, a longtime intention of Congress, as expressed in statute. Second, it shows that the proposal’s legal rationale is tightly circumscribed to reflect that Congressional intent.

Follow me below the fold for much more . . .
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Lazy Saturday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

l-arlesienne-portrait-of-madame-ginoux-1888-1

Good Morning!!

I have a mixed bag of reads for you this morning–a little bit of politics, education, historical mystery, and science. The paintings and drawings included in this post are by Vincent van Gogh.

Last night President Obama announced that he’s sending 1,500 more troops into Iraq, supposedly  to serve as “advisers” who will train troops to fight the Islamic State. The Independent reports:

Barack Obama has authorised the US military to send up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq on top of the current total of around 1,400 to bolster efforts to combat Isis.

American soldiers would not take a frontline role, the White House said, but conduct “training missions” with Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers around Baghdad and Erbil.

The move comes less than a fortnight after the last British and American troops left Afghanistan and despite international condemnation of Isis’ atrocities, the public are still wary of another interventionist war.

The announcement had nothing to do with Tuesday’s election, according to “White House officials.” From the New York Daily News:

“It was really not driven at all the political calendar,” a senior White House official told reporters.

The official said that the decision to escalate the U.S. mission followed requests “over the last several weeks” by Pentagon officials, and political developments in Iraq.

Administration officials said the new deployment will expand the U.S. mission by placing American military advisors and trainers in western and northern of Iraq, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are directly fighting ISIS extremists.

Until now, U.S. troops have been mostly confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Erbil.

The White House emphasized that American soldiers will not directly engage ISIS fighters.

And so, the endless war continues.

Old-Man-Reading

Today President Obama will officially announce his nomination of US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. From NPR:

Lynch, whom the White House describes as “a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” will be introduced at the White House Saturday, alongside current Attorney General Eric Holder.

The plan comes after NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported Thursday that Lynch, a lead federal prosecutor in New York City, could be nominated within days.

“Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn,” Carrie said, “a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.”

And from the LA Times, Attorney general pick Loretta Lynch would be first black woman in post.

President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post….

Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.

The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.

Let’s hope she gets confirmed quickly, while Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate. A little more about her:

Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.

A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.

More recently, she has spent time in Washington as chairwoman of the attorney general’s advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, an The Novel Reader Van Goghinfluential job that brought her in close contact with Holder.

Diane Ravitch has an interesting piece at The New York Review of Books, The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. It’s a review of a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, by Yong Zhao.

On December 3, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duncan presided over the release of the latest international assessment of student performance in reading, science, and mathematics (called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA), and Shanghai led the nations of the world in all three categories.

Duncan and other policymakers professed shock and anguish at the results, according to which American students were average at best, nowhere near the top. Duncan said that Americans had to face the brutal fact that the performance of our students was “mediocre” and that our schools were trapped in “educational stagnation.”

He had used virtually the same rhetoric in 2010, when the previous PISA results were released. Despite the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandated that every child in every school in grades 3–8 would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and despite the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the scores of American fifteen-year-old students on these international tests were nearly unchanged since 2000. Both NCLB and Race to the Top assumed that a steady diet of testing and accountability, of carrots for high scores and sticks for low scores, would provide an incentive for students and teachers to try harder and get higher test scores. But clearly, this strategy was not working. In his public remarks, however, Duncan could not admit that carrots and sticks don’t produce better education or even higher test scores. Instead, he blamed teachers and parents for failing to have high expectations.

Duncan, President Obama, and legislators looked longingly at Shanghai’s stellar results and wondered why American students could not surpass them. Why can’t we be like the Chinese?, they wondered. Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

still-life-french-novels

Like many other failed policies, the obsession with testing began under Ronald Reagan.

P0licymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”

President Ronald Reagan had hoped his commission would recommend vouchers and school prayers, but that did not happen. Instead, the report recommended a stronger curriculum, higher graduation requirements, more teacher pay, and longer school hours, as well as standards and testing at transitional points, like high school graduation. The main effect of the report was caused by its alarmist rhetoric, which launched a three-decade-plus obsession with the idea that American public schools are failing and that the way to fix them is to raise test scores.

And succeeding presidents have continued the “testing mania.” Ravich writes:

At this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Will the book make a difference to U.S. political leaders? Probably not, but Ravich’s long review is well worth reading.

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, authors of a 2011 Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Vincent van Gogh. In an appendix to the book, Naifeh and Smith included a summary of their research on the death of the famous painter. After years of study in the van Gogh archives, the authors suspected that the artist did not commit suicide, as is commonly believed, but was very likely killed accidentally by a teenage bully named René Secrétan.

Man reading van gogh

In 1890, René Secrétan was the 16-year-old son of a Paris pharmacist whose family summered in Auvers. In Paris, René’s lycée education admitted him to bourgeois society. In Auvers, it gave him license to bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Wild Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He bought a souvenir costume (fringed buckskin, cowboy hat, chaps) and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.

He found an easy target in the strange Dutchman named Vincent. By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.

Unlike René, whose father was a powerful figure in the summer community, Vincent had no friends. Using his brother Gaston, an aesthete, as his front man, René artfully slipped into the vacuum. He cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations with Gaston about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.

René let Vincent eavesdrop on him and his friends when they imported “dancing girls” from Paris. He shared his pornography collection. He even posed for some paintings and a drawing. Meanwhile, he conspired with his followers to play elaborate pranks on the friendless tramp they called Toto. They put hot pepper on his brushes (which he often sucked when deep in thought), salted his tea, and sneaked a snake into his paint box.

There it was, all in the files: the details mostly in a late-life narrative from the cowboy himself, René. But every detail checked out with the other eyewitness accounts from Auvers. And it didn’t say anything new, really. Vincent had faced similar bullying and ridicule in every place he ever painted.

And there was this: a long-neglected account by a woman from a distinguished Auvers family who had broken with the community omertà to say that Van Gogh was far from the wheat field at the time the fatal shot was fired. He was, according to her, on the road that led to the Secrétan family villa.

Of course the “experts” (Naifeh and Smith call them the “Flame Keepers”) came out of the woodwork to denounce the new theory. In response Naifeh and Smith asked a well known forensic expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, to analyze the evidence. Read the article to find out what conclusions he drew.

Finally a couple of science stories:

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From Discovery News, 9,300-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia.

The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.

It’s been named the “Yukagir bison mummy,” after the region where it was found.

“The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary,” co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.

The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that’s to be expected given its advanced age.

The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren’t sure of that yet.

Compared to today’s bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.

The Daily Mail article has a number of photos of the specimen and the researchers.

And from The Atlantic, a brief article on The Resurrection of the Dodo.

Alas, the poor dodo. All that remains of this extinct flightless bird’s legacy are a single complete skeleton and a synonym for “dimwit.”

But from those bones, researchers may now be able to recreate the 3-feet tall bird. Using a 3-D laser, paleontologists from the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts made the first ever full 3-D dodo scans. The team presented the scans for the first time Thursday at theSociety for Vertebrate Archaeology’s annual conference in Berlin.

The scans showed that dodos had kneecaps, which were previously unknown structures within the dodo, Live Science reported. Leon Claessens, lead author on the scanning mission, told Live Science that information gleaned from the scans will help provide insight into how the bird moved. The team will also look at the bird’s large jaw in order to better understand how it worked and what type of prey it caught.

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Veteran’s Day weekend!