A follow-up to the SerialDynasty podcast

Originally, I wanted to write a blog post to discuss some of the disagreements around facts that Bob and I had in his podcast. But when I started to put it together, it just seemed too long and too nit picky. Essentially, I think my views were represented fairly and I’m happy with the way things turned out. Despite the odd insult, which is par for the course with this type of thing, there’s been a lot of positive feedback and I’d like to try and keep the good vibe going.

The one big point I would like to make, however, is that I get the feeling that quite a few people think that if you understand and accept someone else’s point of view, you must also, by default, agree with it, which is definitely not the case. I see all Bob’s points, think some of them are valid, others not so much, and still remain convinced that Adnan is guilty.

So that said, If anyone has any questions in response to the podcast, I’d be happy to try to answer them preferably in the comments section here, but also on Twitter.

Legally Conned

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The Dennis Oland murder verdict was thrown out thanks to an illogical legal theory that’s been sowing confusion in Canada’s courts for decades It was a murder case that had Maritimers fixated. Dennis Oland, whose wealthy family founded Moosehead brewing, … Continue reading

Why I believe Julie Payette assaulted her ex-husband, Billie Flynn

Julie Payette’s ex, Billie Flynn. When a guy looks like Mr. Top Gun, the cops are going to want to see some evidence of assault before laying charges

I believe Julie Payette assaulted her ex-husband. And I believe there was physical evidence, which is why the charges were laid. It’s hard to come up with any other scenario to explain why the police would lay charges against an astronaut. Unless they were undercover men’s rights activists, the cops aren’t just going to take the word of a fighter pilot, who looks like he could play himself in a movie, that his wife is slapping him around.

After that, what a mess. Payette probably regretted what happened almost instantaneously and her ex-husband Billie Flynn likely regretted reporting it. But once the wheels of justice start to turn it’s hard to stop them. There’s bound to be way more regret to come.

When Julie Payette says the now-expunged charges against her were “unfounded” that’s almost certainly true but it’s also contrary to what most of us understand “unfounded” to mean. The police use unfounded in a bizarre way that strips the word of its common meaning. Statistics Canada stopped using the term years ago because it means anything and everything. And the definition of “unfounded” is just as confused in the U.S. where the assault was alleged to have taken place.

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Andrew Potter’s Quebec bashing meant he had to go as head of Canada institute

Andrew Potter’s article was not criticism but a malevolent full frontal attack

There are some mistakes that are resignation worthy. And Andrew Potter’s malevolent and unfounded essay about Quebec, published earlier this week in Maclean’s, is one of them. The director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada simply can’t write a hit piece like that and go on to do his job effectively. His credibility was shot. He had to go.

Yet because his target was Quebec, in the rest of Canada, opinion is almost unanimous that Potter, who remains on the faculty at McGill as an associate professor, is the one who has been wronged and that Quebecers are just a bunch on thin-skinned crybabies. McGill is being called cowardly and craven, first, for issuing first a statement saying that Potter’s opinion was not shared by the university, and, then, for accepting Potter’s resignation as institute director.

In the space of a day, the Twitter critics went from criticizing the university for dissociating itself from Potter’s article instead of remaining silent to demanding McGill actively defend Potter’s academic freedom and right to remain the head of the Canada Institute. Rumours were floated that powerful politicians had demanded Potter’s head although they were as unsubstantiated as much of Potter’s article.

To Potter’s credit, he owned up to his article’s mistakes although what prompted the diatribe remains a mystery. For many in the chattering classes, his apology was enough and it was time to move on with Potter keeping his job. But this idea is untenable.

Potter’s article portrayed Quebecers as friendless, ungenerous, duplicitous. It went well beyond criticism deep into attack territory. The reaction it provoked is not about an inability to accept criticism but rather shock at the bigotry being directed at Quebec. And this bigotry was not coming from just anybody, but from the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Imagine if the director of a North America think tank denounced Canadians as a bunch of whiney, boring losers. Would we all rally round to demand that director keep their job? Or would we say WTF, time to find a new director, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable for someone in that position. 

The fact that so many of Potter’s defenders see no problem with Potter’s portrayal of Quebec is astonishing as is their ability to ignore the almost unanimous chorus of Quebecers saying they didn’t recognize the place Potter described, that he must be living in a parallel universe.

For an academic and journalist, Potter is surprisingly unskeptical when he quotes a Statistics Canada report showing “the proportion of people who report having zero close friends is highest in Quebec … And (that) while 28 per cent of Quebecers over the age of 75 report having no close friends, the average for the rest of the country is a mere 11 per cent.”

An anomaly like that shouldn’t make much sense to anyone not predisposed to view Quebec as some sinister backwater. There’s simply no logical reason for Quebecers to have fewer close friends. I suspect what we’re dealing with here are possible translation issues and different cultures’ interpretations of what constitutes a friend, close friend or acquaintance. And please note, I say this as someone who — like Potter — has questioned Quebecers cherished vision of themselves as full of joie de vivre compared to uptight Canadians.

Many Quebecers would also likely agree with several of Potter’s points had they been presented in context. Montreal should have long ago put an end to a never-ending police labour protest, where cops wear colourful camouflage pants instead of their uniform trousers. But how? Like Toronto does? By caving in and giving cops everything they want? Montreal may have police in clown pants but Potter never mentions that Toronto has a force where almost everyone who is not on the Sunshine List of Ontario public service employees, who make more than $100,000, is only a few thousand dollars away. Here in Ontario we’ve used our non-social capital to buy off the police, hardly a superior solution.

Perhaps this is something Potter will ponder as the snow melts and he ventures out to one of those many two-bill restaurant he alone seems to know. He can drown his sorrows about a future that is temporarily a little less bright and a career that is slightly less charmed than it was last week. Actions have consequences, but if Potter is truly as smart and affable, as his backers maintain, he will rise again having learned to be even smarter as a result of his very serious mistake.

Satoshi Nakamoto: Is it ok to hunt for the identity of the Bitcoin inventor?

To search or not to search for the identity of the mysterious founder and inventor of Bitcoin, that is the question. Do we the public have a right to satisfy our curiosity about who the person behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym is? Or are we ethically obliged to respect his or her privacy?

Two opposing views on the topic come from Adrian Chen, a staff writer at The New Yorker, whose beat is internet technology and culture, and Emin Gün Sirer, Cornell prof and self-described hacker.

Chen’s argument is that “in investigating the background of an inventor, we hope to learn something about innovation that can’t be gleaned from the thing itself.” He says it’s wishful thinking to argue as many Bitcoiners do that Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity is irrelevant. Somewhat unconvincingly, Chen also maintains that the mere fact that Satoshi holds an estimated half a billion dollars worth of Bitcoin legitimizes the curiosity about who he is or isn’t.

At core though, Chen’s argument seems to be about not letting technology control us. “Turning away from the question of Nakamoto’s identity is a way to deny the fact that bitcoin, like all technology, is ultimately, imperfectly, human,” his brief essay concludes. “The world could use this reminder now more than ever.”

In contrast, Sirer says the spectacle of journalists hunting for Satoshi’s identity “serves only a prurient interest.” He argues that we have no right to make “someone who wants to remain a private individual into a public persona,” especially when what’s brought attention to them is an invention that ultimately benefits the public.

In the case of Bitcoin, Sirer says, being outed as Satoshi could also be dangerous and lead to “extortion attempts from the Russian mafia[.] Everyone known to hold substantial bitcoin, and even those who do not, get extorted by shady characters.”

But, somewhat contradictorily, in the same blog post, Sirer says he thinks he might have identified Satoshi, that people’s “thought patterns and idiosyncrasies form a unique signature, the same way code structure forms a unique signature for developers.”

“Having read Satoshi’s writings, I have a very good idea of his unique mental signature,” he writes.

“So, for some time now, every time I converse with someone new, I have been doing a quick comparison to Satoshi…

“Interestingly, I have come across one person who was a perfect fit. That person had the precise same intellectual signature as Satoshi, someone who could have written, word for word, some of Satoshi’s forum posts.”

Now Sirer says a lot of things that make sense to me about Bitcoin. And as a writer and investigator, I know that people definitely have a writerly signature. I frequently discover people’s identities due to their unique turns of phrase. I am inclined to believe that he might very well have insights into who the Bitcoin inventor truly is.

But I don’t agree with Sirer that the Bitcoin inventor would automatically be in danger from the Russian mob. There are lots of rich people in the world, who get along just fine. While being outed might be majorly disruptive for Satoshi, I am far from convinced it would be perilous. Not to mention that Sirer seems perfectly secure telling the world he believes he has identified Satoshi.

I also don’t think it’s fair of Sirer to accuse the media of conducting a “pointless Satoshi manhunt” when he’s been doing the exact same thing. He clearly wants to know who Satoshi is so why can’t the rest of us?

It’s not good enough to say responsible media don’t do this. There may be a good reason not to reveal Satoshi’s identity or there may not be. There may also be compelling grounds to tell the public who Satoshi is. Without knowing his or her specific circumstances, it’s impossible to say.

On the question of privacy, lt’s my experience as a journalist that people who want to be left alone generally do get left alone. In the Satoshi case, there’s little doubt that a public identification would lead to a media conflagration, but after a stint in the world’s headlines, I think it would be pretty easy for Satoshi to get back to leading a normal life.

I am, however, still undecided on the question of whether the public has a right to know the identity of the Bitcoin creator, as Chen seems to suggest it does.

Ultimately, I think that depends on Satoshi’s very individual circumstances as opposed to what responsible media should do or how we need to be reminded about the imperfections of technology.

Adnan Syed and the systemic dismissal of real violence against women

I have written a number of articles about the troubling phenomenon of how Adnan Syed, a guy rightfully convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, became a poster child for the wrongfully convicted. I’m especially disquieted by how Syed supporters wave away and dismiss all the warning signs of intimate partner violence.

In light of his upcoming post-conviction relief hearing on February 4 and 5 and the attention being showered on Adnan apologists, I wanted to put the key links in one place:

Adnan Syed I'm going to kill note

Adnan Syed wrote “I’m going to kill” on the back of the note, which his supporters variously dismiss as a “stray thing” and so much teenage drama

1) Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murderer, so where’s the feminist outrage?

There has not been one serious feminist critique of Serial in the mainstream US media. Yes, a couple of Brit pundits expressed shock, but that was before Christmas (2014) and they were pretty much ignored and then forgotten. Just like race beat out gender two decades ago at the OJ trial, allowing a wife killer to be transformed into a symbol of justice for African Americans, so, today, can Adnan can be hailed as a representative of the wrongfully convicted despite the plentiful evidence against him and the transcripts that show he had a fair trial. Koenig’s “I nurse doubt” cri de coeur is V.2014 of “if the glove don’t fit you must acquit.” Read complete article

2) Adnan advocate-in-chief Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist critique of Serial, and I respond back to her

Your crowd, Rabia, has shown no qualms about smearing innocent people including, among many others — Stephanie, Don, Don’s mother, Detectives Ritz and MacGillivary, and, most favourite of all, Jay. In short, pretty much anyone who’s not Adnan. Here’s your own brother suggesting, with zero evidence, that Stephanie might have done it:

Rabia's brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Rabia’s brother Saad suggests in his Reddit AMA that maybe Stephanie killed Hae

Accusations of murder are thrown around like they’re nothing, which is pretty ironic given that the goal of all this is to get a guy out of jail who’s ostensibly been wrongly convicted of murder. Read complete article

3) ‘Injustice porn’ like Making a Murder and Serial celebrates men who kill and abuse women

Injustice porn history is repeating itself with Making a Murderer. The directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos leave out key evidence about Avery’s possible guilt and history of violence against women. They also portray Avery’s parents as kindly homespun hillbillies, showing his father tending to his garden and his mother spending years fighting to get her son out of jail. They skip over the fact that Avery looks like he might have fetal alcohol syndrome and don’t bother to mention that all three of Avery brothers have criminal records including multiple charges for assaulting women.

As a result of these omissions — apparently no big deal in injustice porn land — the abusive and dysfunctional Avery family has developed quite the internet fan following. In contrast, family and friends of the victim have been subject to internet abuse based on their treatment in Making a Murderer. “Mike Halbach seems awfully creepy,” tweets Kinsey Schofield, a tv personality and journalist  to her 286,000 Twitter followers. Read complete article