Headline of the day.

May 26th, 2017

1 shot, 1 stabbed, 1 hit by car in Southeast Austin melee between families, police say

The trifecta. So rare to see in the wild.

(Per APD, nobody had “life threatening” injuries.)

Books in brief.

May 26th, 2017

My head is in kind of a weird place right now when it comes to reading.

I have a large stack of unread gun and hunting related books, including the PO Ackley biography and Ordnance Went Up Front, both on the basis of Hognose recommendations. (You know, I really miss Hognose.)

But I’m also trying to avoid burnout, so my rule is: one gun or hunting related book, then one book on a different subject. But then I get into a mode where what I have on hand isn’t something I’m in the mood to read, so I get stuck not reading anything except the Internet, causing my blood pressure to spike. Fortunately, I found a couple of books a week ago at Half-Price that I kind of enjoyed. (Also, fortunately, Half-Price is having a 20% off sale this weekend…)

I’m not sire why I didn’t read Papillon when I was young and impressionable. It was apparently a huge bestseller, so it should have shown up at garage sales (like a lot of other books I read at that age), or I should have seen it at the library. I can’t explain.

When I did finally get around to it, though, I had trouble putting it down. Henri Charrière is a great storyteller, and is well served by his translators. (June Wilson and Walter Michaels in the edition I read. Fact I did not know until I was looking at Wikipedia: the original English translation was by Patrick O’Brian. Yeah, “Master and Commander” O’Brian: before he became famous for those books, he was a well-regarded French translator.) And, let’s face it: Papillon is a really compelling adventure story about one man’s life in some of the worst prisons in the world and his drive to escape. This is exactly the kind of thing that should have appealed to me as a small boy.

And it still appeals to me today. Except for the Internet and some nagging little details that I found while I was looking up things on Wikipedia. It turns out that Papillon is maybe “10 percent true”, in the sense that these things actually happened to Charrière. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that Charrière incorporated things that he witnessed, but didn’t happen to him directly (the sharks and the little girl is a commonly cited example) and possibly elements from other works (specifically Rene Belbenoit’s Dry Guillotine).

I still want to see the movie, and read Charrière’s sequel, Banco (which either hasn’t attracted the same level of revisionist scholarship, or else sticks closer to Charrière’s actual post-prison exploits). But it is kind of depressing to discover that this grand adventure story is also, mostly, untrue.

I’ve written before about my fascination with the rabies virus, so you would expect Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus to push my buttons as well. And it did. I could have done with a little less “this is how the ancient Greeks and Romans treated rabies” and “rabies in popular culture” (especially the attempts to tie rabies and zombies together). But the chapters on things like Pasteur’s rabies research, contemporary treatment (turns out the Milwaukee protocol is more controversial than I thought) and rabies eradication on Bali (which also turns out to be more controversial and political than you’d expect) kept me hooked. And Rabid has the advantage of being an “economical” book: long enough to get everything in, but short enough to get through is an evening or a plane trip. Recommended.

Obit watch: May 23, 2017.

May 23rd, 2017

Anne Dick, Philip K. Dick’s third wife. (Hattip: Lawrence.)

Roger Moore.

(Edited to add: NYT obit, which was not up when I posted earlier.)

Followup: apparently, and contrary to the NYT report which I relied on, G.I. Joe had two daddies.

Small updates and notes.

May 18th, 2017

Rear Adm. Robert Gilbeau has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Noted here because:

1) His conviction was for lying to investigators. What did someone once say? Trying to remember, on the tip of my tongue…Oh, yeah:

Really, seriously, just shut the fuck up.

2) This is more fallout from the “Fat Leonard” scandal, covered both here and on Battleswarm.

For the record, I don’t have a damn thing to say about Roger Ailes: I don’t watch the news, on any network, unless I’m someplace where I don’t control the means of video reproduction.

In case you haven’t had enough of the Moors Murders, the NYT has chosen to publish a nice historical retrospective. I say that with only a small amount of sarcasm: it’s probably useful if you are a true crime buff who doesn’t have children and won’t lose sleep over the details. For the rest of you, well, content warning.

After a tense nine hours of deliberations, a jury acquitted Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby of a first-degree manslaughter charge in the death of Terence Crutcher.

Andrew Branca at Legal Insurrection.

Putting the touch on you once again.

May 17th, 2017

Friend of the blog South Texas Pistolero had a kitchen fire yesterday.

Nobody was hurt, and the family has a roof over their heads. But they’ve lost a lot of stuff, mostly clothes.

The great and good Erin Palette is taking point on this and has set up a YouCaring page for money donations. If you’re tight on money but long on spare stuff, Erin’s page also has a list of some specific needs.

When I get paid this week, I plan to kick some money into the kitty. Y’all know I wouldn’t ask you to donate if I wasn’t doing it myself.

I know I don’t get the readership of Erin or Borepatch or Tam, but if people could spread this widely, that would be appreciated at well. I still haven’t met up with STP (one of these days…) but we’ve exchanged blog posts and the occasional email. He and his family are good people who have been having a run of bad luck.

Please donate if you can. If you can’t, publicize.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#41 in a series)

May 16th, 2017

(Hattip to Mike the Musicologist for sending me the image.)

Previously on Battleswarm: Democratic State Senator Carlos Uresti’s Offices Raided by FBI, IRS.

And now, the senses shattering Part II:

Texas State senator Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio, was indicted today. He’s facing a total of 13 charges, including “conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of securities fraud”.

Interestingly, there’s actually two separate indictments that cover two separate “incidents”. The first one is being called the “Four Winds indictment”. Four Winds was a company that supposedly provided “frac sand”.

Documents filed months ago that outline the investigation claim that company officials in 2014 wired money from the company to personal bank accounts controlled by conspirators or their spouses; sent altered bank statements for the Four Winds’ general operating account to potential investors; and emailed an investor a spreadsheet that falsely showed the investor’s investment was used to buy fracking sands.

The main claim seems to be that Four Winds was just a giant Ponzi scheme. Uresti was the company’s general counsel. He’s charged with:

One count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, five substantive counts of wire fraud, two counts of securities fraud, one count of engaging in monetary transactions with property derived from specified unlawful activity, and one count of being an unregistered securities broker.

Also charged were Stan Bates, the CEO, and Gary L. Cain, a consultant for the company. According to the Statesman‘s report, the Four Winds investigation has already resulted in three guilty pleas by officers of the company.

Indictment number two is the “Reeves County indictment”. In this one, Uresti and a guy named “Vernon C. Farthing III” conspired to “pay and accept bribes” so that Farthing III’s company would get a contract for medical services for the Reeves County Correctional Center.

The indictment specifically alleges that Farthing paid Uresti $10,000 a month as a marketing consultant and that half of that sum was then given to a Reeves County official for his support and vote to award the contract to Farthing’s company, federal officials said.

Uresti and Farthing III are both charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering”.

Quoth the Statesman one more time (and this article is by Katie Hall, who I generally consider to be a pretty solid reporter on the crime beat):

Uresti would face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of being an unregistered securities broker. Additionally, each man could face up to 20 years in prison for each fraud charge and up to 10 years in prison for each money laundering charge.

Here is your obligatory link to Ken White on federal sentencing and why it’s misleading to say things like “up to 20 years”. I find it seriously hard to believe that Uresti will get anything close to that: Russell Erxleben only got 84 months (7 years) for his first conviction, and 90 months for his second.

Then again, Erxleben was a UT football player: Uresti was a Marine, but as far as I can tell, did not play football.

Obit watch: May 16, 2017.

May 16th, 2017

(Content warning: be careful about following links.)

Ian Brady descended into Hell yesterday.

Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley were the infamous “Moors Murderers”. Between 1963 and 1965, they killed five children. Four of them were buried on Saddleworth Moor: the body of the fifth has never been found. Brady and Hindley were convicted of three murders in 1966.

Moors murders from Wikipedia. There is more to the crime than I’m discussing here, because nobody needs to read that shit first thing in the morning. Both the obituary linked above and the Wikipedia entry give those details, but I strongly suggest you think carefully before following those links.

By the way, Hindley died in 2002.

Edited to add: NYT obit. This gives a longer and more comprehensive summary for a non-UK audience, in my opinion. Same content warning applies.

Obit watch: May 15, 2017.

May 15th, 2017

Powers Boothe, noted knock-around actor.

He attended Southwest Texas State University — he said he was the first one in his family to go to college — and then received a master’s degree in drama from Southern Methodist University.

(Apologies for not posting this earlier, but it took a while for the NYT to post their obit, and none of the other sites that had obits posted were ones I wanted to link to.)

Hookers and blow watch.

May 13th, 2017

I swear that I wrote about the “resignation” of Don Pitts as the city of Austin’s “music manager” ($97,000 a year) back in February when it happened. But I can’t find that blog entry now, and even search engines don’t help.

Anyway, Mr. Pitts resigned after a city audit turned up the fact that one of his employees had submitted a fake invoice so she could get reimbursed for what was represented as a “zero-cost” “2014 work trip to Europe to promote Austin’s music scene”.

There’s a little more to the story than that, however. The employee claims that Mr. Pitts told her to submit the trip as “zero-cost” so the approval would go through, and told her to submit the fake invoice so she could get reimbursed. Mr. Pitts denies that he told her to submit the fake invoice, but he admitted that he didn’t tell anyone about the fake invoice when he found out about it: that’s what led to his forced resignation, apparently.

And meanwhile, the city filed an ethics complaint against the also now-ex employee.

That complaint was dismissed Wednesday evening.

A divided and half-present Ethics Review Commission cleared [the employee] of wrongdoing Wednesday night after failing to reach consensus on whether she or Pitts was primarily responsible for the scheme.

Because only six of the ethics board’s 11 members were present, they needed a unanimous vote to find that [the employee] abused her position and violated city policies. Four members were inclined to give her a pass in light of testimony that Pitts was at least aware, if not the architect, of the attempts to pay [the employee] under the table.

It seems odd that almost half of them didn’t even bother to show up.

Also worth noting: the employee in question made other complaints about Pitts.

…a Human Resources Department investigation into a dozen of [the employee]’s claims, which found three violations by Pitts of employee conduct policies. Records show he sent staff a copy of a resignation letter from a former job in an effort to motivate, but it came across as threatening, and he said he wouldn’t hire a temporary employee who complained that [the employee] was mistreated in the department.

Not sure how saying “I’m not going to hire a temp” is a violation of HR policy, but okay. Nut:

A third violation involved using the slang term “hookers and blow,” which Pitts said was common in the music industry when referring to excess, but human resources investigators deemed inappropriate. Investigators also found Pitts had called [the employee]’s mother to try to talk about her performance at work, though they didn’t consider that a violation of city policies.

So you can’t say “hookers and blow” at work. But you can call someone’s mother to talk about their work performance. Good. To. Know.

Remind me again: why does this office exist?

Obit watch: May 12, 2017.

May 12th, 2017

Stan Weston passed away May 1st.

In a letter to Mr. Levine that confirmed his ideas, Mr. Weston said that a “complete military package” could be developed around “rugged-looking scale dolls for boys complete with military wardrobes to scale, military headgear to scale, military weapons to scale,” and armed service insignia, combat medals, sharpshooting awards and flags of the United States and the world.

That became G.I. Joe. The good original one, not the lame “Cobra Commander” bushwa.

I was a big G.I. Joe fan when I was a kid (though Hasbro never quite got the “Kung-Fu Grip” right). I think I still have a couple of retro Joes (Tuskegee Airman and Marine Scout Sniper) around the apartment. I’ll have to look for those…

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#40 in a series)

May 11th, 2017

In a bit of a hurry here: this just broke, and I’ve got stuff to do.

But: remember Corrine Brown, the former Democratic House rep from the 5th District of Florida? (I didn’t know this, not being an avid follower of Florida politics, but she lost her primary.)

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

The verdict came after prosecutors outlined a pattern of fraud by Brown, 70, and her top aide that included using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions. She was convicted of 18 of the 22 charges against her, including lying on her taxes and on her congressional financial disclosure forms.

More:

Key to the government’s conviction was the testimony of Brown’s former chief of staff, Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, and the charity’s president, Carla Wiley. Both pleaded guilty after their federal indictments for misusing the charity’s funds, and testified against Brown.
Federal prosecutors said Brown and her associates used One Door to bring in more than $800,000 between 2012 and 2016, including a high-profile golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass. Brown’s indictment said the Virginia-based One Door only gave out one scholarship for $1,200 to an unidentified person in Florida.

(Hattip to Mike the Musicologist, who points out that former Rep. Brown’s party affiliation isn’t mentioned until paragraph 22 (edit: 18) of the linked story.)

Bad cop! No paycheck!

May 9th, 2017

Officer Carlos Mayfield of the Austin Police Department was “indefinitely suspended” (read: fired) on Friday.

What did he do? He accessed a police report about a sexual assault case, one he wasn’t assigned to.

Then he shared the information in that report with his ex-girlfriend and her son: the son was the person accused in the case.

Detectives interviewed the suspect after he had gotten details of the report, the memo says. Investigators didn’t know he had this information at the time.
Mayfield acknowledged that this compromised the case, the memo says.
Travis County prosecutors ultimately decided not to prosecute “the compromised sexual assault case,” the memo says. However, they authorized the Sex Crimes Unit to file assault with injury charges against the suspect.

Not mentioned in the Statesman article: the ex-girlfriend was also a convicted felon, and “consorting” with convicted felons is a pretty serious violation of APD policy. (Sharing the report information wasn’t just a violation of policy: it was “misuse of official information”, a third-degree felony.) Former officer Mayfield also admitted that he had looked up other reports for the ex-girlfriend in the past.

Chief’s disciplinary memo here.

No word yet on whether former officer Mayfield will actually be prosecuted for the felony, but I have high hopes.