I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

June 22nd, 2017

I’m sorry that I have to blog this, since:

  • It is a genuine tragedy, and I don’t mean to make light of it.
  • There’s no way that I could not blog this, for obvious reasons.

Fox News reports that Rebecca Burger, who has more than 150,000 followers on Instagram, was killed when a defective whipped cream dispenser exploded and hit her in the chest.

Ms. Burger is described as a “popular French fitness model”. Link goes to the Statesman and not to Fox News because the Fox News story has really obnoxious auto-play video.

I guess this is another one of those “tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody” stories. At any moment you could be hit by a bus, gored by a bull, hit by a falling beam, or even killed in a “freak whipped cream accident”.

Be careful out there.

Memo from the police beat.

June 22nd, 2017

Remember a few months ago, we had a guy who shot himself in the back of a patrol car while under arrest, because the cop missed his gun during the patdown? (Previously.)

Chief Slate Fistcrunch Manley suspended the officer for 20 days. This is one of those “let’s make a deal” suspensions: the officer took the 20 day suspension, agreed not to appeal, and in turn the chief agreed not to fire him.

“A twenty-day suspension is like a vacation,” Sayeed said.

Except he’s not getting paid for it. And he loses benefits for that period. And it is a blot on his permanent record. And he can’t do any part-time work related to law enforcement while he’s on suspension, as I recall. (I think he could mow lawns, or drive for Uber, or other temp jobs, but I don’t think he could work security. At least if I remember the APD discipline policy correctly.)

I hate to seem like I have callouses on my soul. I get that the family is sad and upset, and I get that some people will think I’m a cop apologist. But look: it isn’t like the cop pulled his own gun and shot the guy. It isn’t like the cop killed him in a negligent discharge, or shot him in the back as he was running away.

This man pulled his own gun, held it to his head, and pulled the trigger on his own. What the officer did wrong here was missing the gun in the frisk.

Is that a firing offense? Or is this guy possibly salvageable, and a 20-day suspension, a year of probation, having to go out to the acade4my and tell cadets “this is how I f’ed up, don’t be like me”, and the memory of this incident, is enough? I think maybe it is.

Chief’s memo here.

Meanwhile, in another odd story, another APD officer and his wife are being charged federally with social security fraud Specifically, “making a false statement to an agency of the United States and misprision of felony”. It sounds like he lied about having a joint bank account with the wife, and lied about living in the same household with her.

I love that word, “misprision”. Almost as much as I love “barratry”.

But lying about having a joint account – something that’s so easy to check – is such a stupid thing to do, it makes me wonder: were these two just getting really bad advice from a lawyer, or someone pretending to be a lawyer? Or were they desperate and made bad choices? Or were they really trying to scam the system? The Statesman is oddly short on details at the moment.

Bagatelle (#5).

June 20th, 2017

Could it be…SATAN?!

No. Actually, it wasn’t Satan at all. It was mass hysteria and a doctor who made a mistake.

I’ll throw this in just for fun: if you are a “dancer” who performs “in paint, latex, wax, gel, foam, film and coatings”, are you a nude dancer in the eyes of the law?

And why does it matter? Because clubs with “fully nude” dancers have to collect a state-mandated $5 entry fee.

…n January 2017 the comptroller amended its rules to include clubs that employ latex and paint-covered dancers as sexually oriented businesses.

Obit watch: July 20, 2017.

June 20th, 2017

Bill Dana. Or perhaps I should say “the other Bill Dana”? (Previously.)

In this case, we’re not talking about the legendary NASA test pilot (who passed away in 2014) but the legendary television comedian, perhaps most famous for his portrayal of José Jiménez.

The character became an immediate hit, and over the next decade Mr. Dana invented a variety of preposterous professions for José, including deep-sea diver, wild animal trainer and, most famously, astronaut. He recorded several hit comedy albums as José (often rendered without accents) and appeared as his alternative self on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “The Andy Williams Show,” “The Hollywood Palace” and even, in a cameo role, “Batman.” A series of his own, “The Bill Dana Show,” on which he played José as a hotel bellhop, aired on NBC from 1963 to 1965.

By 1970, Mr. Dana had stopped performing as José — he even read the character’s obituary at an event in Los Angeles sponsored by the Congress of Mexican-American Unity — though he insisted that he made that decision not because of mounting anger about the character but because some people were misinterpreting his intentions.
He decided to drop the character, he said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, because of people “who would tell me, ‘Boy I shore love it when you play that dumb Mexican.’’’

After retiring Jose, he continued to work, but more as a writer than performer: among his writing credits was the Sammy Davis Jr. episode of “All In the Family”.

We extend our condolences to Mr. Dana’s family and friends, and to great and good friend of the blog guffaw.

Obit watch: June 17, 2017.

June 17th, 2017

Helmut Kohl, former German chancellor.

John G. Avildsen, noted film director. Among his credits were “The Karate Kid” and “Rocky”, the movie that shouldn’t have won Best Picture in 1977, but beat out the far superior “Network”.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Anita Pallenberg, sometime actress:

In quick succession, she was cast in “Candy” (1968), based on Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s erotic novel, as a sexy nurse; in “Barbarella” (1968), Roger Vadim’s futuristic space fantasy, as a cruel brunette dictator who dresses in black lace and sparkles and calls Jane Fonda’s character “pretty-pretty”; and “Dillinger Is Dead” (1969), as a woman whose husband (Michel Piccoli) is inspired by a newspaper headline to shoot her.

She may, perhaps, have been better known for her relationships with Brian Jones (“who was reported to have physically abused her”) and after him, Keith Richards. (“She lived with Mr. Richards from 1967 through 1980, and had three children with him.”)

In 1977, Mr. Richards was arrested and charged with heroin possession in Toronto, and as a couple the two entered rehab.

Finally, there’s an interesting obit for Marine Corps Capt. Arthur J. Jackson, who passed away at 92 last Sunday.

During WwII, Jackson (at the time a private first class) committed serious acts of badassery during the invasion of Peleliu:

Loaded up with grenades, he charged the pillbox, raking it with automatic fire while discharging white phosphorus grenades and other explosives. He was credited with killing all 35 occupants.
Continuing alone and again at tremendous peril, he repeated the same maneuver at 11 smaller pillboxes that contained another 15 Japanese soldiers.

He received the Medal of Honor for his actions. After the war, he became a commissioned officer in the Army and then in the Marines.

On the night of September 30, 1961, as a company commander at Guantanamo Bay, he discovered a Cuban who worked as a bus driver (“even though he expressed openly pro-Fidel Castro sympathies and was under surveillance by naval intelligence”) in a restricted area of the base. Jackson and his executive officer decided to escort the Cuban, Ruben Lopez, off the base. But the gate they were using was locked: Jackson sent his XO to get something to break the lock with. And while the XO was gone, Jackson claimed that Lopez “lunged at him” so he shot and killed Lopez with his sidearm.

Jackson and some other Marines buried Lopez in a shallow grave on base. Cutting to the chase, the truth eventually came out, and Jackson was allegedly “thrown out” of the Marines.

Capt. Jackson, who said he long felt “ashamed” of his Guantanamo killing, did not speak publicly about the incident until an Idaho Statesman reporter interviewed him in 2013.
He said his key concern was his “understanding” of a treaty between the United States and Cuba that could have resulted in his detention in a notorious Cuban prison.
“I hoped no one would find out,” he told the newspaper. “The world found out.”

Department of I Wasn’t Going to Blog This.

June 9th, 2017

Really, I wasn’t. But I tossed off a quick email mention to a few friends last night, and I was surprised at the reaction. Then I saw that the story made the WP

Terry Thompson was indicted Thursday on murder charges. His wife was also indicted as an accessory.

The twist is: Mrs. Thompson is a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy.

Backstory: On May 28th, Terry Thompson and his kids went to a Denny’s. There, they ran into John Hernandez, who was allegedly urinating in public outside the restaurant. Thompson confronted Hernandez and the confrontation got physical at some point. Thompson took Hernandez to the ground, pinned him down, and put his arm around Hernandez’s neck.

There isn’t video of what led up to the confrontation, but there is about 50 seconds of video showing Thompson pinning down Hernandez. Mrs. Thompson is also shown helping her husband pin down Hernandez. (My understanding is that Mrs. Thompson also tried, or encouraged other people to try, to stop the video, but I can’t find my original source for that. I may have misread or misremembered one of the stories.)

Hernandez eventually stopped breathing and passed out, at which point Mrs. Thompson administered CPR. Hernandez was taken to the hospital, where he died three days later from “a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by chest compression and strangulation” according to the coroner.

The sheriff’s office, rightly (in my opinion) asked the Texas Rangers and Department of Justice to assist with the investigation, and suspended Deputy Thompson. But there was a significant amount of community pressure in this case, including a demonstration in front of the DA’s offices Wednesday afternoon.

Keep in mind: Hernandez passed on the 31st, and the Thompsons were indicted on the 8th. I’m not sure if anyone knows how far the Rangers and DOJ have gotten in their investigation. But the sheriff his ownself today announced that Internal Affairs is looking at eight other deputies who responded.

That’s probably not unusual: from my understanding pf APD policy, this would be considered a “death in custody”. APD’s Special Investigations Division would be tasked with investigating it, IA would probably be involved as well, and they’d be looking at everyone who showed up to the scene.

What is unusual is that this was presented to the grand jury as a “direct to grand jury” case, and the speed with which it was presented to the grand jury. Murray Newman, who I’ve mentioned many times in the past (former Harris County prosecutor, now defense attorney) has a good explanation: briefly, “direct to grand jury” means the prosecutors present whatever evidence they have, but leave the decision on whether and what charges to file up to the grand jury.

Cases that are presented directly to Grand Jury are usually complicated ones. They often take weeks and weeks, if not months and months, to investigate before a presentation is made. The idea that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to file charges on Thompson last week but there is enough for a full Grand Jury presentation this week doesn’t really compute. The skeptical side me thinks that there is more in play here.

HouChron coverage of the indictment. WP story. Both of these include the video.

So is the DA’s office trying to railroad a guy and his wife for acting in self-defense, because elements of the community are demanding it? Or did this guy and his wife the deputy figure they could get away with choking a minority because of their law enforcement connections?

Or does the truth lie somewhere in the middle? I have no idea. This is why we have judges and juries. But it will be an interesting case to follow.

Bookity bookity bookity bookmark!

June 6th, 2017

By way of @newsycombinator:

A whole big bunch of free NASA e-books in various formats, including Kindle and PDF.

A few titles that pique my interest:

  • Unlimited Horizons: Design and Development of the U-2
  • X-15: Extending the Frontiers of Flight
  • Breaking the Mishap Chain: Human Factors Lessons Learned from Aerospace Accidents and Incidents in Research, Flight Test, and Development

I’ll admit some of these are a little geeky even by my standards. It takes either a professional or a special kind of person to want to read a history of pressure suit design, or one of the Langley wind tunnel. But guess what: I am that person, and I bet some of my readers are, too.

Besides, who doesn’t love the X-15 and the U-2?

(No, really, who doesn’t? Raise your hands. No, I’m not noting your IP address…)

Quick followups.

June 6th, 2017

Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver, aka “War Machine”, was sentenced yesterday. (Previously.)

Yeah, he got life.

Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver will be eligible for parole in 36 years, when he will be 71 years old.

ESPN obit for Jimmy Piersall, which I note here for the following reason:

But Piersall also had furious arguments with umpires, broke down sobbing one day when told he wouldn’t play and got into a fistfight with the New York Yankees’ Billy Martin at Fenway Park, followed minutes later by a scuffle with a teammate.

As far as I can tell, there is no Wikipedia entry, or other comprehensive list, for “People Billy Martin Got Into Fistfights With”. This seems like a failing of the Internet, and perhaps one I need to remedy here. But would it be easier to do a list of people Billy Martin didn’t get into a fistfight with?

Obit watch: June 6, 2017.

June 6th, 2017

Peter Sallis, knock-around British actor, has passed away at 96. (Edited to add 6/7: NYT obit.)

He was in a whole bunch of stuff, including a role on “Doctor Who” and voice work in the animated “The Wind in the Willows” TV series. In England, he may have been most famous for his role in the long running TV series, “Last Of the Summer Wine”: he played Norman Clegg from the start of the series in 1973 until it ended in 2010.

In the US, he may be better known as the original voice of Wallace in the Aardman Animations “Wallace & Gromit” films.

Tribute from Nick Park here.

Roger Smith, “Jeff Spencer” on “77 Sunset Strip”. He was also married to Ann-Margret and was her manager for many years. (edited to add: NYT obit.)

There’s a great story (recounted in Joe Bob Briggs’ Profoundly Erotic among other places): after Ann-Margaret fell in Lake Tahoe, Smith “commandeered” (some sources say “stole”) a small private plane and flew from Burbank to Lake Tahoe and back again, in some accounts through a thunderstorm, with his seriously injured wife, so she could get treatment and reconstructive surgery at UCLA instead of in Lake Tahoe. (As you know, Bob, she made a full recovery. My recollection is that the reconstructive surgery that UCLA did was actually cutting edge work for 1972.)

Obit watch: June 5, 2017.

June 5th, 2017

Jimmy Piersall, noted center fielder for the Boston Red Sox.

Piersall was an outstanding center fielder, a solid hitter and a two-time All-Star, playing in the major leagues for 17 seasons.

However, he was better known for off-field reasons:

The Red Sox demoted Piersall to the minors in June 1952, hoping he could gain control of his emotions, but his antics continued, and he entered a mental hospital in Massachusetts a month later. He remained hospitalized for six weeks, undergoing shock treatment and counseling for a nervous breakdown.

He returned to the Red Sox, and later wrote a book about his illness and recovery, Fear Strikes Out.

“Mr. Piersall’s courageous description of his struggles with manic depression, now called bipolar disorder, helped bring the disease and its treatments out of the shadows,” Dr. Barron H. Lerner, professor of medicine and population health at the New York University Langone Medical Center, wrote in The New York Times in 2015. “It was really a big deal 60 years ago.”

The book was also famously adapted as a movie, with Anthony Perkins playing Mr. Piersall.

“I hated the movie,” Piersall wrote in his 1985 memoir. Perkins, he said, gave a fine performance but looked foolish trying to play baseball. He maintained that the movie included events that had never happened, and that he had never blamed his father for his breakdown.

(The 1985 memoir is The Truth Hurts.)

And hey, I haven’t brought this up in a while!

Piersall later had broadcasting jobs with the Texas Rangers beginning in 1974 (doing color and play-by-play for televised games) and with the Chicago White Sox from 1977 to 1981, and was teamed with Harry Caray. He ultimately was fired after excessive on-air criticism of team management.

Yes, Jimmy Piersall does indeed show up in Mike Shropshire’s Seasons in Hell. As I recall, at one point he threatens to beat the crap out of Shropshire: they later made up when the team was sold and the new owner hired Mr. Piersall as a salesman and doubled his salery.

I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning.

June 2nd, 2017

For some reason, I’ve been even grumpier than usual most of this week. But there were two stories in the NYT this morning that brought a smile to my face.

1) The rise and fall of Bleecker Street.

During its incarnation as a fashion theme park, Bleecker Street hosted no fewer than six Marc Jacobs boutiques on a four-block stretch, including a women’s store, a men’s store and a Little Marc for high-end children’s clothing. Ralph Lauren operated three stores in this leafy, charming area, and Coach had stores at 370 and 372-374 Bleecker. Joining those brands, at various points, were Comptoir des Cotonniers (345 Bleecker Street), Brooks Brothers Black Fleece (351), MM6 by Maison Margiela (363), Juicy Couture (368), Mulberry (387) and Lulu Guinness (394).

“six Marc Jacobs boutiques on a four-block stretch”. I have no joke here, I just like saying: “New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks”.

How’s that working for them?

Today, every one of those clothing and accessories shops is closed.

Oh.

While quirky independent stores couldn’t afford the new Bleecker, it became apparent over time that neither could the corporate brands that had remade the street. An open secret among retailers had it that Bleecker Street was a fancy Potemkin village, empty of customers. Celebrities shopped there because they wouldn’t be bothered. The “Sex and the City” fans lining up at Magnolia and snapping photos of Carrie’s stoop weren’t willing or able to fork over $2,000 for designer heels.
“Jimmy Choo — I never saw anybody in the shop,” Ms. Bowman said. “I don’t get it. Who’s buying this stuff?”

2) There was a music festival scheduled for the middle of Joly – the “Pemberton Music Festival in the mountains of Canada”. Tickets were $275.

The festival was cancelled, and the promoters filed for bankruptcy, about two weeks ago.

Pemberton, held in a picturesque spot about 100 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia, was a typical entry into the frothy festival business. It was revived in 2014 by Huka Entertainment, a well-known independent promoter, after an earlier iteration failed. According to bankruptcy filings, the festival lost money for three years, and sold 18,000 tickets in 2017, down from 38,000 last year.

But wait, there’s more! The ticket buyers are being told that they are “unsecured creditors” in the bankruptcy proceedings! Which translates into, “Good luck getting any part of your money back, suckers!”

In filings, the two entities that controlled the festival — Pemberton Music Festival Limited Partnership and 1115666 B.C. Ltd. — declared $5 million in assets and $12.5 million in liabilities, with ticket holders listed as having an unsecured claim of $6 million. The first meeting of creditors is scheduled for June 6 in Vancouver.

Even better:

Music executives are now aghast over the failure to provide refunds and the maneuvering of investors in the weeks before the festival fell apart. Marc Geiger, the head of music at William Morris Endeavor and an outspoken voice in the business, called Pemberton’s collapse “a fraud and a scam” that could have a domino effect on the industry, hurting smaller promoters the most.

Mr. Geiger reserves a special ire for Pemberton’s investors, among them several wealthy Canadians with no background in the music business. As secured creditors, they now stand a better chance of getting their money back than the fans who paid $275 a ticket. One investor, Amanda Girling, is also chief executive of a company that owns the land on which the festival was held, and which is for sale for $12.5 million.

I hate to sound like a cranky old man who doesn’t get these kids today and their music (which is why I’ve avoided expressing an opinion about the top-billed artists) but: I don’t understand the point of spending that much money to stand around outside for two or three days in order to see one or two bands that maybe I kind of like, and a whole bunch of other ones where my feelings go from “totally indifferent” to “actively hate”.

If this really is “the symbolic end for independently promoted festivals”, would that be a bad thing?

Random notes: June 1, 2017.

June 1st, 2017

The NYT is offering buyouts to some of the staff.

In a memo to the newsroom, Dean Baquet, the executive editor, and Joseph Kahn, the managing editor, said the current system of copy editors and “backfielders” who assign and shape articles would be replaced with a single group of editors who would be responsible for all aspects of an article. Another editor would be “looking over their shoulders before publication.”

I probably would not have noted this story if it wasn’t for another aspect of it: the paper of record is also eliminating the “public editor” position.

Mr. Sulzberger, in a newsroom memo, said the public editor’s role had become outdated.
“Our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be,” he wrote. “Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.”

Am I reading this right? Is Sulzberger basically saying he plans to turn the role of the public editor over to the screaming mob – you know, the screaming mob that threatened to cancel their subscriptions because the paper published views by someone they disagreed with?

On Tuesday, The Times announced the creation of the Reader Center, an initiative that appeared to overlap somewhat with the public editor’s role. The center will be responsible for responding directly to readers, explaining coverage decisions and inviting readers to contribute their voices.

Or am I reading this wrong?

Speaking of “reading this wrong”, there has to be more to this story than meets the eye:

A New York City police sergeant who fatally shot a mentally ill woman in her Bronx apartment in October was charged on Wednesday with murder in the woman’s death.

The charges are “second-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide”. He’s already been suspended without pay, and was “stripped of his badge and gun and placed on modified duty” after the shooting.

Initially, the police said that Sergeant Barry persuaded Ms. Danner to drop a pair of scissors, but that she picked up a bat and tried to swing at him. Only Sergeant Barry was in the bedroom with Ms. Danner.

Some people might say that I’m a cop groupie, and that I want to make excuses for cops. It’s true that I’ve been through two citizen’s police academy classes. I think I have an informed perspective on how the police work. But I also think I’m a rational and reasonable person. I’m a lot more sympathetic to the views of people like Grits and Radley Balko than I probably let on (though a lot of that has to do more with the courts and jails than boots-on-the-ground police work).

I wish we did a better job of handling mental illness in this country. I think the APD, in particular, is making great efforts in this area. But a lot of their recent shootings have been of emotionally disturbed/mentally ill people. I wish that wasn’t the case. But in all the recent cases I know about, unless new evidence has emerged, these were emergent situations where either an officer or a bystander was in immediate danger and the police officers didn’t have a choice on how to respond.

Someone in one of my CPA classes made the point: we expect the police to solve, in 30 minutes, family and social problems that have taken years – even generations – to emerge.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said Sergeant Barry had not followed police protocol for dealing with people with mental illness. Specifically, he did not use his stun gun to try to subdue Ms. Danner, and he did not wait for a specialized Emergency Service Unit to arrive.

I quoted Tam back in October when this happened, and I’ll borrow from her again:

A baseball bat to the cranium is lethal force and don’t kid yourself otherwise. You start lethal forcing at me and I’m gonna lethal force right back at you to make you stop.

And if Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill don’t believe a baseball bat is lethal force, I invite them to join me in Times Square and let me swing baseball bats at their heads.

The “didn’t wait for ESU” thing may be more defensible, but that’s a policy violation, not a murder charge. And if he believed someone was being carved up with scissors, or was doing themselves harm, was he supposed to wait for ESU to arrive, whenever that was? I’ll also concede the point that the officer may have lied about the circumstances: I hope not, but if that is the basis for the prosecution, it should come out at trial. Meanwhile: body cameras.

And finally, speaking of “lethal force right back at you”, I should have noted this story last night. But it was still kind of emergent, and I had a bad day yesterday.

Two bounty hunters show up at a car dealership because they believe a wanted fugitive may make an appearance. They may, or may not, have identified themselves as “federal agents”.

After several hours, bad guy shows up. Bounty hunters corner him in an office. Bad guy goes for his gun, apparently drops it on the desk, goes to retrieve it. There’s a scuffle.

And when it is all over, both bounty hunters and the bad guy are dead.

I don’t know what lessons can be learned from this. Maybe “don’t drop your gun”? Or “if you have the tactical advantage, press it”? It just seems bizarre and worth noting.