The End of Serial, Part Two

Dec 18 2014 @ 12:47pm
by Michelle Dean

Adnan Syed

Well, it’s over. And naturally, in the way of Serial, my view on it is an internally incoherent, conflicted mess.

I suppose if you are afraid of spoilers you’d better stop reading here, though I’ve always thought the idea of being “spoiled” maps awkwardly onto non-fiction.

But I can’t write about Serial without calling today’s episode “meandering.” Over close to an hour, Koenig wandered through new interviews that didn’t resolve any questions, dropped a quick serial killer theory into the mix and digressed for quite awhile about AT&T billing practices. And then she came to a careful, qualified and ultimately inconclusive, er, conclusion:

If you asked me to swear that Adnan Syed is innocent, I couldn’t do it. I nurse doubt. I don’t like that I do, but I do. I mean most of the time I think he didn’t do it.

My first thought was that a lot of people are going to write editorials about how unsatisfactory an ending this was. That was a theme of Serial commentary for the beginning: people were begging for the catharsis of a good ending. They were maybe begging for it a little too hard, myself included. Some people wanted a good story; others wanted good reporting. I tend to agree with the Texas Monthly‘s Pamela Colloff, who I interviewed for the Guardian last week about Serial. I think it’s better to have some idea where you’re going with a story, as a reporter, before you put it in front of the public.

But overnight I got to thinking about the analogy people sometimes draw between Serial and the Paradise Lost documentaries about the West Memphis Three. It’s certainly true that the first of those did more or less what Serial did. Gathering a great deal of information about an unsatisfying case up in its arms and then dumping it onto the screen, the documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky simply sowed doubt. In fact, the first two documentaries point the finger at what was ultimately determined to be the wrong alternative suspect, if anything. They were just as digressive and speculative as Serial. And yet: those documentaries did ultimately lead to the West Memphis Three getting out of prison.

Though even now, after their release, it’s still not clear who murdered the three children in Robin Hood Hills. And even though it pretty clearly wasn’t Damien Echols, Jesse Miskelley, and Jason Baldwin, technically, on paper, they haven’t been exonerated. They entered an Alford plea, which is something of a declaration of stalemate where the truth is concerned. So even the catharsis of that ending was a little false, a little ersatz.

A lot about innocence and guilt is about gut feeling. Jurors vote based on gut feelings. And at least Koenig’s honest about what’s animating hers:

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Jeb’s Electability Argument

Dec 18 2014 @ 12:30pm
by Dish Staff

Jeb Bush Favorables

Kilgore finds it wanting:

[D]espite his name ID, his resume, and his “centrist” positions on at least some subjects, this on-paper “winner” is not very popular with the general electorate. In two solid years of being pitted against Hillary Clinton in polls, Bush has not led a single one, and trails her in the latest RealClearPolitics average by over 9%. That’s a poorer margin than for Ryan (6%), Christie (7%), and Huckabee (8%), and about the same as for Paul. Ted Cruz is the only regularly polled putative GOP candidate running significantly worse than Bush against HRC (an RCP average gap of 13%), and that’s largely because he’s far less well-known.

Hillary may currently beat him in the polls, but Frum insists that Jeb entering the race is bad news for her:

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by Will Wilkinson

Michelle’s post on the the difficulty of teaching rape law in this, the age of the “trigger warning,” put me in mind of my graying Gen-Xer suspicions that kids these days are entitled precious overdramatic snowflakes too poignantly damaged by their not-very-harsh lives to conduct adult conversations about adult topics, and that this triggering business is bosh.

Trauma is all-too-real, and experiences that throw those who have been traumatized back into painful memories of their trauma are all-too-real. But how common is it, really? How important is it, really, to avoid triggering events? Is not being reminded of a trauma others cannot be reasonably expected to know anything about the sort of thing to which we might be morally entitled? Does anyone have a right not to be triggered, such that we’re all obligated not to do it? Is there any science about this that might help answer these question? It turns out there is! And because it confirms my biases I am eager to share it with you.

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The View From Your Window

Dec 18 2014 @ 11:40am


Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 10.25 am

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Dec 18 2014 @ 11:25am
by Dish Staff

This reader thread, sparked by Danielle Campoamor’s story, is among the most powerful ones we’ve had this year. So far we’ve heard from a convict who was raped in prison, a white coed assaulted by a black basketball star, a young teenager sexually abused by his teacher, a followup from a woman who told us about her rape, and several others. Our next installment is from a gay reader – with an unexpected twist:

When I was 26, I was raped while traveling to London. I stayed several days longer than my straight friends and decided to go hit up the gay bars after they left. I met a guy from Germany, we danced and decided to go back to my hotel room. At some point he started to try to put it in. I told him that I wasn’t bottoming unless he wore a condom and that I didn’t have any. He held me down and went at it anyway. Which is the dictionary definition of rape, isn’t it?

I did not report the incident immediately and waited till I returned to the US several days later to seek treatment. I was honest with the doctor about what happened. She exerted extreme pressure on me to report the incident and get counseling. The process of trying to report such a crime is horrible. The police engaged in every behavior victim’s advocates dislike; victim blaming, disbelief, and homophobia were a constant.

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Hollywood Lets The Terrorists Win

Dec 18 2014 @ 11:02am
by Dish Staff

Columbia Pictures' Premiere Of "The Interview" - Arrivals

Cyber war expert Peter Singer calls Sony canceling the theatrical release of The Interview “a case study in how not to respond to terrorism threats”:

We have just communicated to any would-be attacker that we will do whatever they want.

It is mind-boggling to me, particularly when you compare it to real things that have actually happened. Someone killed 12 people and shot another 70 people at the opening night of Batman: The Dark Knight [Rises]. They kept that movie in the theaters. You issue an anonymous cyber threat that you do not have the capability to carry out? We pulled a movie from 18,000 theaters.

Eugene Volokh is also dismayed:

I sympathize with the theaters’ situation — they’re in the business of showing patrons a good time, and they’re rightly not interested in becoming free speech martyrs, even if there’s only a small chance that they’ll be attacked. Moreover, the very threats may well keep moviegoers away from theater complexes that are showing the movie, thus reducing revenue from all the screens at the complex.

But behavior that is rewarded is repeated.

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A Bottomless Heaping Of “Have”

Dec 18 2014 @ 10:22am
by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Reihan Salam dissects the concept of white privilege, making reference to a piece I wrote on the concept of privilege generally. He agrees with me that privilege-checking as sensitivity-signaling is silly, and I agree with him that unearned advantage is very much real. Here’s Reihan:

Even white Americans of modest means are more likely to have inherited something, in the form of housing wealth or useful professional connections, than the descendants of slaves. In his influential 2005 book When Affirmative Action Was White, Ira Katznelson recounts in fascinating detail the various ways in which the New Deal and Fair Deal social programs of the 1930s and 1940s expanded economic opportunities for whites while doing so unevenly at best for blacks, particularly in the segregated South. Many rural whites who had known nothing but the direst poverty saw their lives transformed as everything from rural electrification to generous educational benefits for veterans allowed them to build human capital, earn higher incomes, and accumulate savings. This legacy, in ways large and small, continues to enrich the children and grandchildren of the whites of that era. This is the stuff of white privilege. …

In Blurring the Color Line, CUNY Graduate Center sociologist Richard Alba argues that rapid aging of white America creates an opportunity for younger Latinos, blacks, and Asians. Even if whites want to hoard all of the most privileged jobs for themselves, they’ll have no choice but to open up competition to those with the necessary skills, regardless of race. But this process of opening things up, as WASPs did for southern and eastern European immigrants and their children in an earlier era, will go far more smoothly if we have a growing economy, which will give everyone an opportunity to climb the social ladder. If we instead have economic stagnation, we will see a fierce zero-sum contest for economic and political power, in which tribal identities—including white identity—will become more central.

I’d argue that this is exactly what we’re living through right now: If everyone’s wages were growing, and if everyone felt secure enough in their jobs to quit every now and again in search of better opportunities elsewhere, I doubt that we’d be talking quite so much about white privilege. We’d definitely talk about broken schools and mass incarceration and law enforcement policies that disproportionately damage the lives of nonwhites. Yet we might talk about these problems in a more forward-looking way, as formidable obstacles that need to be overcome by all Americans, not just guilty whites.

As I read him, what Reihan is saying is that the white-privilege conversation has emerged, paradoxically, because most white Americans – along with most non-white Americans – aren’t doing so great economically. A sense emerges that success (or just access to a living wage) is a zero-sum game. It emerges, that is, in all parts of society, except among the most entrenched of society’s haves.

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Bitcoin: The Next Internet?

Dec 18 2014 @ 9:42am
by Dish Staff

Tim Lee believes the crypto-currency can thrive as a global payment system, even if it fails as a currency. He compares it to another innovation that proved far more influential than anyone thought it would be:

dish_bitcoinHistory suggests that open platforms like Bitcoin often become fertile soil for innovation. Think about the internet. It didn’t seem like a very practical technology in the 1980s. But it was an open platform that anyone could build on, and in the long run it proved to be really useful. The internet succeeded because Silicon Valley have created applications that harness the internet’s power while shielding users from its complexity. You don’t have to be an expert on the internet’s TCP/IP protocols to check Facebook on your iPhone.

Bitcoin applications can work the same way. There are already some Bitcoin applications that allow customers to make transactions over the Bitcoin network without being exposed to fluctuations in the value of Bitcoin’s currency. That basic model should work for a wide variety of Bitcoin-based services, allowing the Bitcoin payment network to reach a mainstream audience.

Henry Farrell is skeptical, predicting that governments would act quickly to shut down such a system if it seemed to be taking off:

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by Dish Staff

Readers react to the big news:

Normalization of relations is a great and long overdue policy. I have a question about it that I haven’t seen addressed: will it create an opportunity to close Guantanamo?


Hopefully everyone’s noticed that the Republicans opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba:

A) Have no problem with us having diplomatic relations with China, another Communist country with an even worse human rights record.

B) Are currently defending the US’ own recent human rights abuses, i.e. torture.

We all know the real reason: political posturing. Castro stripped Cuban aristocrats of their wealth. They fled to Florida and have been propping up anti-Castro policy ever since. There are no principles here.

Another asks:

Lost in all the coverage is the one issue I think is the most important – will this change the absurd “Wet-foot/Dry-foot policy?

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A Colorful History

Dec 18 2014 @ 8:15am
by Dish Staff

Leann Davis Alspaugh revisits the mauve craze that swept Europe in the mid-19th century:

In the 1850s, the color mauve was discovered by a young chemist who was trying to synthesize Godey's Lady's Book May 1872 Fashion Plateartificial quinine. The residue from one his experiments became the world’s first aniline dye, guaranteed not to fade with time and washing. Queen Victoria wore a mauve gown to her daughter’s wedding, and Empress Eugénie of France cooed that the color matched her eyes—and an epidemic of “mauve measles” swept Europe. As cultural historian Simon Garfield noted in his 2001 book on the history of mauve, the color’s popularity led to burgeoning interest in the practical applications of chemistry and advances in the fields of medicine, weaponry, perfume, and photography. Mauve became indelibly associated with the elaborate, overstuffed décor of the Victorian period; when mauve returned in the 1980s, it was billed as “dusty rose,” a name much more congenial with that era’s other favorite color: hunter green.

(Image: Fig. 3 from a Godey’s Lady’s Book fashion plate, May 1872, via Flickr user clotho98)