Thursday Reads: Goodbye Google Reader, Pope Francis and the Dirty War, and Other News

Afternoon-Coffee

Good Morning!!

For the mainstream media, the big news yesterday was the election of a new pope. I’ll get to that shortly, but first I’ll address the even bigger news for bloggers–the imminent demise of Google Reader. Google announced last night that it will be shutting down the popular application on July 1.

From The Atlantic Wire: Like a Dagger to Bloggers’ Hearts, Google Just Killed Google Reader.

Journalists and geeks united in exasperation on Wednesday evening when Google made a very sad announcement: The company is shuttering Google Reader. We should’ve seen this coming. And those that didn’t see the inevitable death of Google’s RSS feed organizer and reader might’ve easily missed the news, since Google buried it halfway down an official blog post about a bunch of other stuff. But it is true. The search giant will pronounce Reader dead on July 1, 2013. Based on the somewhat storied history of Google killing Reader features, though, we’re pretty sure someone will start working on an alternative within the next few hours.

Apparently most computer geeks weren’t surprised, because Google stopped updating and servicing the reader back in 2011, even when they could have done so using cloud computing. But plenty of people were freaking out. Immediately after the announcement, twitter went nuts and the pope jokes faded into the background. Here’s Tom Watson at Forbes: Google’s Strange Attack on Bloggers and the Public Internet: the Massive Reaction to Reader Shutdown.

Does Google understand the concept of corporate social responsibility? That seems to be the basic question around the company’s strange decision to shut down a tiny service that serves as a major audience conduit for many thousands of bloggers, citizen journalists, and self publishers.

Google’s announcement today that it is destroying Google Reader, the most popular RSS syndication tool was a massive blow to the blogging community – and to most of those speaking out tonight via social media, an entirely unnecessary attack on an important corner of the public Internet by a company with more than $50 billion in revenue and a newly-won reputation as a tech giant on the move.

“That giant “NOOOOOOOO” sound is the Internet’s reaction to Google’s most unpopular decision in — well, as far back as I can remember,” wrote Pete Cashmore at Mashable, in a post emblematic of the flood of negative reaction to Google’s strange decision.

The thing is, Google is the giant gorilla of the internet–so it can do whatever it wants and everyone else has to just deal with it. Here are some articles with suggestions of how to do that, but be aware that things could change quickly. I downloaded Feed Demon last night, and then learned that it is now going to go out of business when Google reader shuts down.

Lifehacker: Google Reader Is Shutting Down; Here Are the Best Alternatives

Ars Techinica: Poll Technica: Where should we go when Google Reader is put out to pasture?

Forbes: Google Reader and the Underpants Gnomes

ComputerWorld: Google Reader alternatives roundup; RSS FTW!

Now, on to pope news.

I found some articles last night that address the biography of Pope Francis a hell of a lot more realistically that the corporate media did yesterday. The best is probably this one by investigative reporter Robert Parry: ‘Dirty War’ Questions for Pope Francis.

If one wonders if the U.S. press corps has learned anything in the decade since the Iraq War – i.e. the need to ask tough question and show honest skepticism – it would appear from the early coverage of the election of Pope Francis I that U.S. journalists haven’t changed at all, even at “liberal” outlets like MSNBC.

Pope Francis

The first question that a real reporter should ask about an Argentine cleric who lived through the years of grotesque repression, known as the “dirty war,” is what did this person do, did he stand up to the murderers and torturers or did he go with the flow. If the likes of Chris Matthews and other commentators on MSNBC had done a simple Google search, they would have found out enough about Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to slow their bubbling enthusiasm.

Bergoglio, now the new Pope Francis I, has been identified publicly as an ally of Argentine’s repressive leaders during the “dirty war” when some 30,000 people were “disappeared” or killed, many stripped naked, chained together, flown out over the River Plate or the Atlantic Ocean and pushed sausage-like out of planes to drown.

The “disappeared” included women who were pregnant at the time of their arrest. In some bizarre nod to Catholic theology, they were kept alive only long enough to give birth before they were murdered and their babies were farmed out to military families, including to people directly involved in the murder of the babies’ mothers.

Instead of happy talk about how Bergoglio seems so humble and how he seems so sympathetic to the poor, there might have been a question or two about what he did to stop the brutal repression of poor people and activists who represented the interests of the poor, including “liberation theology” priests and nuns, during the “dirty war.”

More at the link. Some other sources of information on Bergoglio:

Alternet: Cardinals Elect a New Pope from Argentina — Does the New Pontiff Come with a Dark Past?

Foxcrawl: “Sins” of newly elected Pope Francis I: accused of kidnapping and torture during dictatorship in Argentina

2005 story in LA Times: Argentine Cardinal Named in Kidnap Lawsuit

Via Greg Mitchell, a 2011 article from The Guardian: The sins of the Argentinian church

A final note–I’ve heard that the name chosen by the new pope may not be a tribute the St. Francis. More likely after St. Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuits.

In other news…

Yesterday was the first day of the Steubenville rape trial. The Atlantic Wire is following the story closely, so it is probably the best source for updates. From yesterday:

Enter the Trial in Steubenville, Where the Cast Is Not Merely Football Players

The case of two high-school star football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl as they travelled party to party last summer finally heads to trial on Wednesday morning in Steubenville, Ohio, the small fading steel town that became the focus of a social-media firestorm in big-time football country this winter. As the spotlight returns with open media access around but not inside Jefferson Country juvenile court, America will start putting faces to names that have been dragged through the headlines as violently as that Jane Doe from West Virginia allegedly was, while heavily intoxicated, on August 11. But a lot has happened since the hackers and leakers and protesters descended upon the town of 18,000 with a tortured past, beyond the shooting threats and the revoked scholarships and the FBI investigation — indeed, there were even developments late Tuesday night: The country may have looked elsewhere, but there’s a new judge after ties to Big Red football forced yet another legal player to recuse himself, and the hackers have now returned to the social-media pile-on as investigations into police cover-ups have given way to actual prosecution in the courtroom, where the alleged victim might testify after all, her friends can now testify against her, and the suspects are already speaking out.

The article then offers “a who’s who” of everyone involved in the crime and the trial. A couple more links:

The Steubenville Defense Will Center on Date Rape Not Existing

America Finally Hears the Case for the Victim on First Day of Steubenville Trial

On the trial of James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado, Time Magazine had a shocking report yesterday: Judge in Aurora Case Calls for Use of ‘Truth Serum’— But Does It Work?

If accused Aurora mass shooter James Holmes wants to enter a plea of insanity in the “Batman” movie theater massacre, he will have to agree to narcoanalysis.

That’s the ruling from judge William Sylvester, who made the narcoanalysis— in which defendants are injected with drugs to lower their inhibitions and presumably be more willing to tell the truth about their alleged crimes under questioning by prosecutors — a condition of an insanity plea.

WTF?! There’s no way forcing a defendant to take truth serum could be constitutional.

Experts were surprised by the legal determination that “truth serum” could be required in order for Holmes to use the insanity defense. They say that drugs touted for “narcoanalysis,” which typically include the barbiturates sodium amytal and sodium pentothal, are are not effective and certainly not reliable enough to meet legal standards of evidence.

“I was floored by it,” says Scott Lilienfeld, professor of psychology at Emory University upon learning of the ruling, “The claim that truth serum is truth serum is no longer taken seriously by anyone in the scientific community to my knowledge.” Moreover, Colorado is one of the states that apply the “Daubert” standard, in which scientific evidence can be disputed by the defense or prosecution. It requires that evidence meet certain standards to be admissible.

To pass the Daubert test, truth serum would have to be widely accepted in the scientific community and research literature and its use would have to yield a known error rate, both standards that experts say narcoanalysis does not meet. “In my view, it would not stand up,” says Lilienfeld.

But a former prosecutor, now a law professor at the University of Colorado and defense attorney, Karen Steinhauser, told CBS News that the technique is allowed under Colorado law. However, it is used so rarely she could not find any relevant case law.

Unbelievable!

pigs-4

The mystery of the thousands of dead pigs floating in China’s Shanghai River has been solved. Bloomberg: Shanghai Finds 6,600 Dead Pigs as Farm Confesses to Dumping

The number of dead pigs found in Shanghai’s Huangpu river climbed to at least 6,600 as the official Xinhua News Agency reported a farm in neighboring Zhejiang province confessed to dumping carcasses in the water.

The municipal government pulled 685 hogs from the river yesterday, adding to the 5,916 it had retrieved earlier, according to a statement on its website. A farm in Jiaxing admitted to discarding dead pigs in the river, after 70,000 of the animals died in the city from crude raising techniques and extreme weather at the start of the year, Xinhua said yesterday, citing the Jiaxing authorities. The Xinhua report didn’t specify whether other farms were involved in the dumping.

The discovery of the hogs comes as China’s legislature addresses food safety and citizens become more vocal on public health and environmental issues. The government said March 10 at a National People’s Congress meeting that it plans to create a regulator with broader authority to ensure food and drug safety and said the agriculture ministry will oversee the quality of farm products.

ancient grave

Finally, Beata posted this ancient burial news link this morning in the late night thread, and I thought I’d include it here to make sure that Dakinikat and JJ see it: ‘Medieval knight’ unearthed in Edinburgh car park dig

The remains of a medieval knight or nobleman found underneath a car park are to be moved to make way for a university building.

The grave and evidence of a 13th Century monastery were uncovered when archaeologists were called to an Edinburgh Old Town building site.

An elaborate sandstone slab, with carvings of a Calvary Cross and ornate sword, marked the grave.

It’s amazing what’s buried under parking lots in Great Britain!

Hey–I managed to avoid news about the economy and Village politics, and I wasn’t even trying! Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about this morning?

 


Tuesday Reads: A Mixed Bag (No Politics)

Good Morning!!

I’ve decided to avoid presidential politics this morning, but I have a variety of interesting news links that I hope you’ll enjoy.

I’m going to begin with some crime stories. Do you remember Amy Bishop? She was the University of Alabama Huntsville biology professor who was turned down for tenture and later murdered three of her colleagues and wounded three others at a department faculty meeting in early 2010. I wrote a couple of posts about her at the time, see here and here. Today Bishop was sentenced to life in prison.

A former Alabama biology professor who pleaded guilty to killing three colleagues and wounding three others in a 2010 shooting rampage was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday after a jury convicted her in a shortened trial.

Amy Bishop avoided a death sentence by admitting earlier this month to gunning down her colleagues during a biology department staff meeting at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

Alabama law requires a jury to decide the punishment and confirm a guilty plea for a capital murder charge.

Bishop’s defense attorneys did not contest the facts of the case during the abbreviated proceedings on Monday.

“She has admitted she did these terrible things,” defense attorney Robert Tuten said in his opening statement.

A few days ago, there was some interesting news in the Trayvon Martin case.

Forensic tests made public Wednesday show that George Zimmerman’s was the only DNA that could be identified on the grip of the gun used to fatally shoot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The results rule out Martin’s DNA from being on the gun’s grip. Zimmerman’s DNA also was identified on the gun’s holster, but no determination could be made as to whether Martin’s DNA was on the gun’s holster, according to the report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

I wonder if that will affect Zimmerman’s decision to go through with the stand-your-ground hearing that his attorney Mark O’Mara has scheduled for next year?

O’Mara is also trying to get access to Trayvon Martin’s school records even though they couldn’t be introduced at trial because they are not relevant to the crime, according to prosecutor Bernie de La Ronda.

In a new pleading, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda asks Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson to seal whatever those records show and in the future to keep O’Mara’s subpoenas a secret.

O’Mara is entitled to go on a fishing expedition to find out about Trayvon’s past, according to court paperwork de la Rionda filed Wednesday, but “he is not allowed to chum the waters and then, by innuendo or otherwise, to publish irrelevant items … to the media in an attempt to influence public perception or otherwise curry favor with potential jurors.”

De la Rionda also Wednesday filed a new evidence list – his eighth. It shows that a book and television appearance by Zimmerman’s self-proclaimed best friend, former Seminole County deputy Mark Osterman, are now officially part of the case prosecutors are building against Zimmerman.

Osterman’s self-published book, written with his wife, is titled “Defending Our Friend: The Most Hated Man in America.” From Examiner.com:

A new book claims that before being shot in the chest and dying, Trayvon Martin grabbed the gun of George Zimmerman, as the two struggled during a violent encounter, according to a report Thursday. This, despite the findings released this week that none of the teen’s DNA was found on the weapon….

The Miami Herald reports that Osterman was the first person Zimmerman’s wife called after the shooting. A former U.S. air marshal, he was with his friend during Zimmerman’s first three police interrogations.

According to the Herald, Osterman’s account of what took place the night of Martin’s death is “a sharp deviation from the versions Zimmerman gave…”

In his book, Osterman quotes Zimmerman as saying, “I desperately got both of my hands around the guy’s one wrist and took his hand off my mouth long enough for me to shout again for help.”

The quote continues, “For a brief moment I had control of the wrist, but I knew when he felt the sidearm at my waist with his leg. He took his hand that was covering my nose and went for the gun, saying, ‘You’re gonna die now, mother*****.’ Somehow I broke his grip on the gun where the guy grabbed it between the rear sight and the hammer. I got the gun in my hand, raised it toward the guy’s chest and pulled the trigger.”

James Holmes

I also have an update on the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. Accused shooter James Holmes recently appeared in court with short brown hair and a few days’ growth of beard.

Seeking to avoid any delays in the Colorado movie theater shooting case, prosecutors gave up their fight to see a notebook the suspect sent to a university psychiatrist and instead argued for a palm print to compare with one found on the inside of a theater exit door.

James Holmes appeared in court Thursday with short brown hair instead of a wild shock of orangish-red hair and seemed more animated than he has been in the past. He smiled and glanced around the courtroom, looking at his lawyers and reporters covering the hearing. He appeared to be moving his mouth but not actually talking.

Prosecutors believe they still have good arguments for getting access to the notebook and will continue to fight for it. Oddly, some victims’ families refuse to believe that Holmes is mentally ill.

Family members receiving updates about Holmes from the courtroom said it’s all an act by the former University of Colorado, Denver, neuroscience graduate student to appear mentally ill.

“He’s just putting on a show,” said Greg Medek of Aurora, whose daughter Micayla, 23, died in the shooting. “I don’t think he’s crazy. He’s just evil.”

The last crime story is about the New York man who jumped into a tiger cage.

Before his now-infamous tangle with a Bronx Zoo tiger, David Villalobos adorned his Facebook page with New Age odes to Mother Earth and affirmations like, “Be love and fearless.”

Police said Saturday that Villalobos had told detectives that it was without fear that he leaped from an elevated train into the animal’s den. His reason, they said, was that “he wanted to be one with the tiger.”

Villalobos also recounted how, after he landed on all fours, the 400-pound beast attacked him and dragged around by his foot, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne. Despite serious injuries, he claimed he was able to get his wish and pet the tiger — a male Siberian named Bashuta — before his rescue, the spokesman added.

Based on those admissions and a complaint from the zoo, police charged the hospitalized Villalobos with misdemeanor trespassing on Saturday. It was unclear if the 25-year-old real estate agent had an attorney, and attempts to reach relatives were unsuccessful.

There’s much more weird info at the link.

Here’s a bloodcurdling historical story for you from The Daily Beast. It’s a review of a new book, “Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying: The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWs” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

How much did World War II German soldiers know about the Holocaust? Publicly, many of them denied knowledge. But a long-lost cache of secret recordings that the British intelligence service made of German prisoners of war show that, in private, they chatted openly and casually about mass-murdering Jews, demonstrating what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

The book consists of transcripts of conversations secretly recorded by British intelligence. I’m not going to include an except, because the material is pretty gruesome. You can read it all at the link. But this certainly will be a valuable addition to the history of Nazi Germany and WWII.

The Foxconn plant in China where apple products are manufactured has been shut down because of riots that took place over the weekend.

SHANGHAI — Foxconn Technology, a major supplier to some of the world’s electronics giants, including Apple, said it had closed one of its large Chinese plants Monday after the police were called in to break up a fight among factory employees.

A spokesman said some people had been hurt and detained by the police after the disturbance escalated into a riot involving more than 1,000 workers late Sunday.

The company said the incident was confined to an employee dormitory and “no production facilities or equipment have been affected.” It said the cause of the disturbance was still under investigation.

One Foxconn employee reached by telephone Monday afternoon, however, said the incident began when workers started brawling with security guards.

Unconfirmed photographs and video circulated on social networking sites, purporting to be from the factory, showed smashed windows, riot police officers and large groups of workers milling around. The Foxconn plant, in the Chinese city of Taiyuan, employs about 79,000 workers.

The Chinese state-run news media said 5,000 police officers had been called in to quell the riot.

This one is for Connie: Stranded 655-pound turtle reluctantly released.

A 655-pound leatherback sea turtle that had been stranded in thick mud in Truro on Wednesday night was released off the coast of Harwich Port Saturday morning, New England Aquarium officials said.

A Massachusetts Audubon Society staff member spotted the 7-foot-long black male turtle in Pamet Harbor Wednesday night as high tide approached, said Connie Merigo, the aquarium’s rescue director.

Aquarium staff and volunteers, along with staff members of the Audubon Society and International Fund for Animal Welfare, brought the turtle to the aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy near dawn Thursday.

The sea turtle was about 100 pounds underweight and had low blood sugar and an old injury on his front right fin, Merigo said.

“When he first got here he was fairly lethargic, especially out of the water,” head veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis said.

Innis said the turtle was treated aggressively with “injectable sugar solution, vitamin and mineral supplements, steroids, and antibiotics to stave off infection.” It wouldn’t have been possible to keep him any longer, because leatherbacks are so stressed by being in captivity that they usually don’t survive long.

That’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed the break from politics. I know I did. Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Saturday Reads: Tax Returns, True Crime, Olympic Porn, and More

Good Morning!!

It looks like Tim Pawlenty might be the perfect VP match for Mitt Romney. He has had some issues with his financial disclosure forms and he refused to release his tax returns as Governor of Minnesota. From the Guardian:

Democrats have been digging into a web of allegations from nine years ago which involved Pawlenty’s use of a shell corporation to shield $60,000 in payments from a telecommunications group during his election campaign that were not declared to the state’s campaign finance board. The money came from a firm run by a prominent Republican strategist. Pawlenty had until recently been a board member.

Opponents accused Pawlenty of accepting an unethical and possibly illegal salary to campaign. The scandal widened because the telecommunications group making the payments was exposed for scamming customers, many of them elderly.

Pawlenty is touted as a leading candidate to be Mitt Romney’s running-mate in part because his background is seen as a political antidote to Romney’s life of privilege. He is the working class son of a truck driver, who knows adversity after his mother died while he was a boy and his father lost his job.

But if he is on the Republican ticket, a fresh airing of the allegations from 2003 is not only likely to undermine Pawlenty’s attempts to portray himself as the voice of the working man but threatens to draw unwelcome attention to difficult issues for Romney – the pressure to release his own tax returns, the morality of his business practices and the parking of millions of dollars in shell companies.

And if Romney turns Pawlenty down for VP, he (Romney) will look like a hypocrite.

I posted this link on Thursday morning, but I think it bears repeating. This op-ed in the NYT by Michael J. Graetz is the best thing I’ve read so far on what Mitt Romney may be hiding by not releasing his tax returns. Graetz discusses Romney’s huge IRA:

With an I.R.A. account of $20 million to $101 million, the tax savings would be more than a few pennies.

The I.R.A. also allows Mr. Romney to diversify his large holdings tax-free, avoiding the 15 percent tax on capital gains that would otherwise apply. His financial disclosure further reveals that his I.R.A. freed him from paying currently the 35 percent income tax on hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest income each year.

Given the extraordinary size of his I.R.A., we have to presume that Mr. Romney valued the assets he put in his retirement account at far less than he would have sold them for. Otherwise it is quite a trick to turn contributions that are limited to $30,000 to $50,000 a year into the $20 million to $101 million he now has there. But we cannot be certain; his meager disclosure of tax records and financial information does not indicate what kind of assets were put into the I.R.A.

He also addresses Romney’s offshore accounts, and concludes that

Mr. Romney is an Olympic-level athlete at the tax avoidance game. Rich people don’t send their money to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands for the weather.

The part I found most interesting was Graetz’ discussion of Romney’s transfers of funds to his sons. Graetz suggests that Romney may not have paid any gift tax on the $100 million trust fund he established in 1995; because it is well known that the IRS doesn’t generally audit gift tax returns.

Based on his aggressive tax planning, revealed in the 2010 returns he has released and his approval of a notably dicey tax avoidance strategy in 1994 when he headed the audit committee of the board of Marriott International, my bet is that — if Mr. Romney filed a gift tax return for these transfers at all — he put a low or even zero value on the gifts, certainly a small fraction of the price at which he would have sold the transferred assets to an unrelated party….According to a partner at Mr. Romney’s trustee’s law firm, valuing carried interests, such as Mr. Romney’s interests in the private equity company Bain Capital, at zero for gift tax purposes was common advice given to clients like Mr. Romney in the 1990s and early 2000s.

At this point, I’m convinced that there is some really hinky stuff going on in those returns. Otherwise Romney would have released them by now. But he’s dreaming if he thinks the press will stop focusing on this.

Yesterday, Wimpy Willard dodged questions about Michelle Bachmann’s muslim witch hunt and the Chick-fil-A controversy. Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon:

Mitt Romney failed to join other Republican leaders today in condemning Rep. Michele Bachmann’s witch hunt against Muslims in the U.S. government, telling reporters at a campaign stop in Las Vegas that it was not “part of my campaign.” Republicans like Sen. John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner, among others, have spoken out publicly against Bachmann’s campaign, but when Romney was asked about it, along with the controversy over Chick-fil-A, he dodged the question. “I’m not going to tell other people what things to talk about. Those are not things that are part of my campaign,” the presumed GOP nominee said at a rare press availability after a campaign stop.

Nothing really new about that–just more evidence of Romney cowardice.

We’ve been talking about how the female Olympic athletes are forced to wear skimpy costumes, presumably to attract the male audience. But at The Daily Beast Tricia Romano has a different take: The Olympics or Soft Porn? Female, Gay Fans Gawking at Male Athletes

Ripped, tanned men seemingly carved out of marble are making women and gay men happy—very happy—during these Olympics, spurring Internet memes and social-media buzz. It’s like the Channing Tatum male-stripper movie Magic Mike got a sequel—a very (thankfully) long sequel—one that’s also preciously short on plot but long on beefcake.

While women have long provided daydream fodder for men and lesbians—say hello to the field hockey team when not checking out the scantily clad ladies taking part in the beach volleyball competition—London’s Games seem to be drumming up a particularly focused interest in celebrating the fine male physique.

American gold-medal swimmers Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian might have gained notoriety for winning races, but they became instant sex symbols the second they stepped out of the pool. In the days since their London debut, you can read all about Ryan Lochte’s penchant for one-night stands, and there are entire articles parsing the hot-but-dumb problem posed by Lochte, and conversely how smart and sweet Adrian is and whether or not he has a girlfriend. (He’s single! Ready, set, go!).

I was at the grocery store yesterday afternoon, and I noticed that the National Enquirer had a big splashy story about James Holmes, the “Dark Knight Shooter. I was sorely tempted to buy a copy, but I resisted. It’s just as well, because I discovered the story was on-line. In case you’re interest, here’s the “scoop” in this week’s Enquirer.

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: INSIDE THE SICK TWISTED WORLD OF THE DARK KNIGHT SHOOTER

There aren’t a lot of revelations. They quote a fellow student who was supposedly freaked out by Holmes:

by the time he got to graduate school, Holmes had grown into a creepy individual who frightened others just by his presence.

“I’d seen him many times, always walking alone,” a fellow student at the University of Colorado Denver told The ENQUIRER. “He was very odd, walking around with a blank stare on his face like he didn’t see anyone else. Sometimes he was talking to himself, in an angry tone. I would cross the street when I saw him coming.

“He may have been a nerd, but he was tall and muscular which can be very intimidating. I felt like he was the kind of guy you didn’t want to be around if he snapped.”

The article also says that Holmes’ admired Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

In emulation of Breivik, Holmes spent the days leading up to his massacre of the innocent by bingeing on Internet sex and real-world drugs. He reportedly took the prescription painkiller Vicodin just before the shootings.

Holmes shared another trait with Breivik – a fascination with the extremely violent video game World of Warcraft.

I’m not sure where they got that. I suppose it could be a law enforcement source–or they could have made it up out of whole cloth.

There are a couple of other sensational stories on Holmes over there–look if you dare.

In other true crime news, the judge in the Drew Peterson case denied the defense’s request for a mistrial, and testimony continued yesterday. Anna Marie Doman, the sister of Peterson’s wife Kathleen Savio, testified that her sister had said that Peterson had threatened to kill her.

“She was afraid,” Doman said. “She said Drew had told her he was going to kill her. She wasn’t going to make it to the divorce settlement, and she wasn’t going to get his pension or the kids.”

After two years of court battles over the issue, it was the first hearsay statement heard by jurors in Peterson’s murder trial, allowing Savio to speak from beyond the grave.

As she described talking with Savio in her Romeoville home in 2004, Doman testified that Savio extracted a promise to take care of her kids, a vow Doman acknowledged she had failed to act upon.

“She made me promise over and over that I was going to take care of the boys,” Doman said. “She said, ‘I want you to say it — you’ll take care of my kids.'”

After a misstep by a defense attorney, Doman also was allowed to testify about a previously excluded statement — that Peterson had told Savio he would kill her and make it look like an accident.

I heard an interesting story on NPR a couple of days ago. It’s an interview with David Niose, a lawyer from Boston who has written a book called Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans. Here’s the blurb from the show:

The religious right has been a disaster for this country, according to David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. It has imposed an outsized and overbearing influence on our national politics at the expense of reason, critical thinking, science and ethics. And he goes further, saying the rise of the religious right correlates with an array of social ills — from high rates of violent crime and teen pregnancy to low rates of scientific literacy.

But he says there’s a growing movement to counter the religious right. Secular Americans — non-religious believers who for a long time were marginalized in America — are now emerging as a force to be reckoned with.

While a large majority of Americans say they still believe in God, many are losing faith in organized religion. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they don’t have any religious identity has doubled since 1980.

I hope you’ll give it a listen. There also a link to some excerpts from the book at The Humanist if you’re interested.

I found this interesting piece at Raw Story: Mayans may have used chocolate in cooking 2,500 years ago

When the Spanish conquistadores invaded Mexico 500 years ago, they found the emperor Moctezuma drinking a exotic beverage called xocóatl with his breakfast. Made from ground cacao beans that had been boiled in water, spiced, and beaten to a froth, it was literally the drink of kings, permitted only to rulers and other high aristocrats.

Until now, it has been believed that chocolate was consumed in ancient Mexico only in the form of a beverage and not as a food or condiment. However, that belief has been challenged by the discovery in the Yucatan of a 2,500 year old plate with traces of chocolate residue.

The discovery, which was announced this week by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, suggests that present-day Mexican dishes, like the chocolate-based mole sauce often served over meats, may have ancient roots.

Previous excavations have revealed traces of chocolate on drinking vessels used by the Olmecs and other early Mexican cultures as far back as 2000 BC, but this is the first find involving plates.

Smart people, those Mayans.

Now what are your recommendations for weekend reading?


“Dark Knight” Shooter James Holmes Called MTV Personality Before Aurora Massacre

Diggity Dave Aragon

More information trickles out about James Holmes odd behavior in the weeks leading up to the “Dark Knight” theater shootings. From LA Weekly:

In a creepy interview this morning (Wednesday) with CBS Los Angeles, Diggity Dave — a former “accessories master” for MTV’s Pimp My Ride who dabbles in alt-metal and campy horror films — says he believes his yet-to-be-released film The Suffocator of Sins may have inspired Holmes’ death rampage….

The L.A. singer/filmmaker tells CBS2 that a man calling himself James Holmes phoned him in June, acting all starstruck and claiming he’d watched the Sins trailer hundreds of times.

We quote:

“He would tell me what he really liked about the trailer. He kept pressing if I could give him more information on the story. He wanted to know how many people Batman kills. He wanted to know if it was selective killing. Does he make a list of people he wants to kill or is it a mass body count?”

From the CBS LA link:

In an exclusive interview, Pimp My Ride’s Diggity Dave told KNX 1070’s Charles Feldman that a young man who called himself “James Holmes” phoned him in June about his upcoming film, “The Suffocator of Sins.”

Dave wrote, directed and stars in the forthcoming takeoff of the Batman movie, which shows a young vigilante Batman shooting down evil doers. Some have said the YouTube trailer resembles a crowded movie theater. He describes the film as a “very sick and dark twist of the Batman movies.”

Here’s the trailer:

There’s a plot description at the LA Weekly link. Here’s another tidbit from Business Insider:

While he couldn’t completely, positively identify the man who called him as the true James Holmes, Dave said the caller introduced himself as such. What’s more, Dave said he thinks his caller was just looking for a friend.

“He was shocked I took his call,” Dave told CBS Los Angeles. “He couldn’t believe he was talking to me. I’m a pretty good judge of character and I knew the kid was lonely.”

Aragon also claimed that Holmes asked him about the Joker.

So we have a few more clues about Holmes’ state of mind. I’d have to say that watching the movie trailer “hundreds of times” is suggestive of paranoid schizophrenia. Holmes may have had delusions of reference–believing that he was video was communicating with him personally. Another suggestive symptom is that Holmes was apparently isolating himself from others It would be interesting to know if Holmes had been neglecting his personal hygiene. But, as I have said repeatedly, we still don’t have enough information to be sure what was happening in this young man’s mind. It sounds like he was able to communicate pretty well with Aragon on the phone.


James Holmes Was Referred to CU Campus “Threat Assessment Team” Before Aurora Shooting

Shooting suspect James Holmes and CU Psychiatrist Lynne Fenton

Here we go . . . Raise your hand if you didn’t suspect this was coming. The Denver Post has learned from “a source” that:

The University of Colorado Denver psychiatrist seeing accused murderer James Eagan Holmes was so alarmed by his behavior that she notified the campus-wide threat assessment team [known as the Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment, or BETA] that she helped create years before, a source told The Denver Post.

The source apparently didn’t specify what it was about Holmes’ behavior that frightened the psychiatrist. Fenton first called the threat assessment team about Holmes in “the first 10 days of June,” but once Holmes began the process of withdrawing from the CU doctoral program in neuroscience the so-called BETA team dropped their inquiry.

Dr. Lynne Fenton, identified in a court document as Holmes’ psychiatrist, in June took her concerns to members of the campus’ Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team but no further action was taken, a source with knowledge of the process told The Post….

The information was first reported late Wednesday by Denver’s KMGH-TV. The station, citing unnamed sources, reported that CU-Denver officials did not contact Aurora police before the July 20 massacre at the Century Aurora 16 theater that killed 12 people and injured 58 others. There was no mention in the report of whether CU-Denver police were notified.

According to the Denver Post article, the BETA team consists of a “group of high-level academic employees skilled at assessing potential threats on campus” It does not include anyone from the campus police department.

ABC News also claims to have confirmed all of this with their own sources. They quote a “threat assessment expert,” Barry Spodak regarding Holmes’ withdrawal from the university:

“You know, I think that’s the signal that you should intensify your efforts, not walk away,” said Barry Spodak, a threat assessment expert. “Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat assessment teams would have gone into action.”

How stupid is that? The university is going to held liable for knowing that Holmes was acting strangely. Why would they assume that his withdrawing from the program meant they were no longer responsible for monitoring him? I’m sure we’ll soon be hearing about other people who were concerned about Holmes’ behavior and did nothing.

UPDATE: The Denver ABC Channel has even more details.

Sources said when Holmes withdrew, the BETA team “had no control over him.”

“It takes more than just statements,” said one source, explaining that Holmes would have had to tell Fenton “something specific” before she would have to report it to law enforcement.

“He would have to tell her he had taken steps to make it happen,” said another source.