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Family of dead AlphaBay suspect says he was a “good boy”

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Enlarge / Alexandre Cazes, in an undated photo posted by his stepmother, Kathy Gauthier. (credit: Kathy Gauthier)

The stepmother of the late Alexandre Cazes told Ars that she and her husband have a hard time believing what American and European authorities have said about their son as a criminal suspect. The Department of Justice said Thursday that Cazes was behind the recently shuttered AlphaBay, the world’s largest underground drug website,

The DOJ also said that Cazes was arrested on July 5 in Thailand at his home outside Bangkok and apparently committed suicide while in a Thai jail on July 12.

In a brief French-language interview conducted over Facebook Messenger on Friday afternoon, Kathy Gauthier, of Trois-Rivières, Québec, said that Cazes was always a "good boy" who had no previous run-ins with the law.

"We always thought his wealth was because of his investments in cryptocurrency and not with a dark market," she said. "And we don’t understand how he could be how the FBI describes him; it’s totally not the personality of Alexandre Cazes!"

She continued: "And if what the FBI says is true in totality, well, it’s not the Alexandre Cazes that we know… but we will love him just the same and we forgive him."

Gauthier also said that Cazes had come back to Canada around Christmastime last year, which is where she met her son’s Thai wife. According to Gauthier, her late stepson’s Thai wife is set to give birth "in around three weeks."

Before moving to Thailand, Cazes founded a company called EBX Technologies, which offered Web development and other services. The company’s website, which is now only available through the Internet Archive, was last available in March 2017. Ars called the 877 phone number listed on the site, which still plays a French-language voice message asking callers to dial an extension or hold the line for someone to respond. When we held the line, generic soft rock played for several seconds until we were referred to a voicemail box.

"a genius like him"

Earlier on Friday, Gauthier expressed similar doubts in a public French-language Facebook post, which we have translated and reprinted here, in full:

The FBI must absolutely have a culprit, and now that Alex has died, it’s difficult to get information, so why not put the [criminal] charges on Alex’s shoulders…I even heard on the radio that they brought up an e-mail address linked to the site which was Alex's personal address!!! Let's see! See if a genius like him would have done some shit like that! And by the way, EBX Technologie was created by Alex in 2009 and he really worked honestly and designed several programs and websites for several businesses, alphabay was created in 2014 following the closure of silk road, and at the risk of repeating myself He was already a millionaire before alphabay! So we really don't understand what his motives would have been... if he really did what the Americans blame him for in the past 3 years and not forever... in any case he was never judged and will never be able to defend himself from these accusations... easy to put everything on his shoulders now... anyway we will never know the truth but we still have serious doubts.. but it will never change the Love we have for him and no matter for us he will always be in our heart ❤️ rip alexandre.. we really love you, forever ❤️❤️❤️

On July 13, Gauthier also wrote: "he was a good little guy, peaceful, anti-drug guy, all his life he tried to convince his dad to quit smoking cigarettes!.. [the father, Martin Cazes] finally stopped in September before going to Thailand... In short, Alexandre was not a criminal."

That same day, Alexandre’s father, Martin Cazes, told a Quebecois radio station, Radio Mauricie, that he suspects that his son may have been killed and not taken his own life, as American authorities have said.

"He never had a criminal record," Cazes told the station in a French-language interview. "He never smoked a cigarette, never took drugs."

"Thai girls love supercars"

On Friday afternoon, The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, described how Cazes, under the name Rawmeo, frequently posted to Roosh V, a "pickup artist" discussion forum.

The site's founder acknowledged Rawmeo's passing in a post on Thursday.

(credit: Google)

In December 2014, in one of his early posts, Rawmeo started a still-ongoing thread entitled: "The most beta thing you did."

According to the paper, Rawmeo apparently submitted a several-thousand-long word post in 2016 about dating and "wife-hunting" in Thailand. He explained that unlike most foreigners who simply seek "promiscuous women in tourist areas," he had lived in the country since 2012. Moreover, he had attended a Thai language school, purchased property, and drove a Porsche Panamera because "Thai girls love supercars."

According to The Globe and Mail, Cazes "described his native Quebec as a place where too many are on welfare and where Muslim refugees get in easily and ‘start breeding like bedbugs,’ while he had trouble getting a visa for his Thai relatives."

"I left a broken society to live in a traditional one," he wrote in January 2017.

In another post, he wrote: "I am what we call a professional cheater. Despite having a live-in wife, I have a secondary residence that no one knows about—and that’s where I bring girls."

Rawmeo last logged on to the site on July 4, just one day before he was arrested. Roosh V records show that he posted 1,587 times, or an average of 1.55 posts per day.

Cazes also showed some small evidence of his tech prowess. In December 2016, he recommended the encrypted messaging app Signal, saying, "it feels good to know that nobody can snoop on my conversations. It's just about privacy."

In May 2017, he wrote about about how, as a "real privacy advocate," he preferred Arch Linux "because I can save all my documents on my persistent hard drive and do all of my daily tasks without any problem."

(credit: Roosh V)

When Ars pointed Gauthier to The Globe and Mail story, she wrote: "You’ve just made me discover a part of his life!"

She didn't seem fazed by Cazes' writings and added: "Why relate conversations of kids who toss [such comments] back and forth! Who is more ‘pimped’ than another! They all do that in their school hallways. Or in bars! No, it doesn’t shock me."

She continued in English:

"With all the fake news today, I don't think that everything we see is the real thing, and how can we be sure about all this conversation!!? And a lot of people say all kind of things on forums! And some people likes to get reactions and i think this is what Alex did if he 'really' said that."

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Any “good boy” claims are immediately proven false by being a PUA. 🤢
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Italy's Coffee Culture Brims With Rituals And Mysterious Rules : The Salt : NPR

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Italy is considered the spiritual home of coffee. The country's coffee culture is filled with rituals and mysterious rules.

Coffee — it's something many can't start the day without. In Italy, it is a cultural mainstay, and the country is perhaps the beverage's spiritual home.

After all, Italy gave us the lingo — espresso, cappuccino, latte — and its coffee culture is filled with rituals and mysterious rules.

Caffé Greco is Rome's oldest café. Founded in 1760, it's also the second oldest in all of Italy, after Florian in Venice.

The entrance to Caffé Greco, the oldest café in Rome. Sylvia Poggioli/NPR hide caption

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The entrance to Caffé Greco, the oldest café in Rome.

Sylvia Poggioli/NPR

On a recent hot summer afternoon, Caffé Greco was packed with tourists on settees upholstered in red velvet. They sipped coffee served on tiny, marble tables, while admiring 18th-century landscape paintings that hang along damask-lined walls.

Maitre d' Simone Rampone said that thanks to the quality of its coffee, Caffé Greco soon became very popular and was a favorite of writers from all over Europe, such as "Byron, Shelley, Keats, Gogol from Russia, Stendhal." He pointed out that we were sitting on the couch that belonged to Hans Christian Andersen, who for a time lived upstairs.

Coffee was introduced to Europe in the 17th century. But it wasn't until the invention of a steam-driven, coffee-making machine in the late 19th century that Italy gave the world espresso.

Espresso is not a particular coffee bean or type of roast. It's a method to brew finely ground and compacted coffee very fast, with very hot water, at very high pressure.

Moreno Faina is the director of the University of Coffee, based in Trieste. Owned by the Illy coffee company, it holds courses for baristas, coffee producers and coffee bar managers. This is how he describes Italy's signature coffee beverage.

Caffé Greco maitre d' Simone Rampone sits on Hans Christian Andersen's couch. Sylvia Poggioli/NPR hide caption

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Caffé Greco maitre d' Simone Rampone sits on Hans Christian Andersen's couch.

Sylvia Poggioli/NPR

"So you need an espresso, you ask for an espresso and a barista will serve immediately the espresso just for you. In all other cases," adds Faina, "when you ask for a coffee, the coffee has already been prepared, while espresso must be prepared on express order."

A landmark in Rome's Monti neighborhood is the Er Baretto café. Owner Marco Eskandar, an Egyptian by birth, and longtime Italian resident, reveals the secret of good espresso.

"It's the 5 M's," says Eskandar. "Miscela — blend; macchina, the coffee machine; macinino, the grinder; manutenzione, machine maintenance; and mano, the skill of the barista."

Eskandar is also a master of cappuccino — espresso and milk named for the color of the robes of Capuchin monks.

While the coffee brews, he twirls a metal pitcher of milk under a spout of steam. When the milk turns frothy, he carefully pours it over the espresso, making it the canvas for a little work of art — a beautiful white tulip.

According to Italian custom, I am violating an Italian taboo: It's afternoon and cappuccino is considered a breakfast beverage never, ever to be consumed after late morning.

Starbucks To Open In Italy, Home Of Espresso, In 2018. Italian Cafes Say Bring It

Elizabeth Minchilli — an American who writes about Italian food, wine and culture — says this unwritten law derives from a national obsession with digestion.

"I don't think after a meal you would have a warm cup of milk," she says. Echoing the Italian coffee mantra, she says, "it's pesante, it's heavy!"

Minchilli often warns Americans that if they order a latte here, all they'll get is a glass of milk. She stresses that Italian coffee culture has much to do with when and where the beverage is consumed.

"It's always this social occasion, whether it is in the morning, afternoon, or 6 in the evening, and there are rituals that go along with it," she says.

The most common ritual is drinking coffee standing up at a bar, chatting with the barista.

Here in Rome, you'll often hear a person order an espresso or cappuccino served in a glass — many claim it tastes better than in a porcelain cup.

EU Embraces 'Suspended Coffee': Pay It Forward With A Cup Of Joe

And there are many varieties to choose from, from caffé' macchiato — stained with a swirl of milk, to caffé corretto — an espresso corrected with a shot of grappa or cognac. And, for summer, says Minchilli, there are refreshing variations.

"Shakerato, it's when they put a shot of espresso into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake it, shake it, shake it, until it gets foamy and the ice kind of melts and crystalizes and then they pour it into a goblet. And that's fantastic!"

Then, there's Granita di Caffé — a frozen mix of coffee, sugar and water usually served with a big dollop of whipped cream on top — which is how Italians even turned their beloved espresso into dessert.

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How “Making a Murderer” Went Wrong


Argosy began in 1882 as a magazine for children and ceased publication ninety-six years later as soft-core porn for men, but for ten years in between it was the home of a true-crime column by Erle Stanley Gardner, the man who gave the world Perry Mason. In eighty-two novels, six films, and nearly three hundred television episodes, Mason, a criminal-defense lawyer, took on seemingly guilty clients and proved their innocence. In the magazine, Gardner, who had practiced law before turning to writing, attempted to do something similar—except that there his “clients” were real people, already convicted and behind bars. All of them met the same criteria: they were impoverished, they insisted that they were blameless, they were serving life sentences for serious crimes, and they had exhausted their legal options. Gardner called his column “The Court of Last Resort.”

To help investigate his cases, Gardner assembled a committee of crime experts, including a private detective, a handwriting analyst, a former prison warden, and a homicide specialist with degrees in both medicine and law. They examined dozens of cases between September of 1948 and October of 1958, ranging from an African-American sentenced to die for killing a Virginia police officer after a car chase—even though he didn’t know how to drive—to a nine-fingered convict serving time for the strangling death of a victim whose neck bore ten finger marks.

The man who didn’t know how to drive was exonerated, at least partly thanks to coverage in “The Court of Last Resort,” as were many others. Meanwhile, the never terribly successful Argosy also got a reprieve. “No one in the publishing field had ever considered the remote possibility that the general reading public could ever be so interested in justice,” Gardner wrote in 1951. “Argosy’s circulation began to skyrocket.” Six years later, the column was picked up by NBC and turned into a twenty-six-episode TV series.

Although it subsequently faded from memory, “The Court of Last Resort” stands as the progenitor of one of today’s most popular true-crime subgenres, in which reporters, dissatisfied with the outcome of a criminal case, conduct their own extrajudicial investigations. Until recently, the standout representatives of this form were “The Thin Blue Line,” a 1988 Errol Morris documentary about Randall Dale Adams, who was sentenced to death for the 1976 murder of a police officer; “Paradise Lost,” a series of documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about three teen-agers found guilty of murdering three second-grade boys in West Memphis in 1993; and “The Staircase,” a television miniseries by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade about the novelist Michael Peterson, found guilty of murdering his wife in 2001. Peterson has been granted a new trial. Randall Dale Adams was exonerated a year after “The Thin Blue Line” was released. Shortly before the final “Paradise Lost” documentary was completed, in 2011, all three of its subjects were freed from prison on the basis of DNA evidence.

In the past fifteen months, this canon has grown considerably in both content and prestige. First came “Serial,” co-created by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, which revisited the case of Adnan Syed, convicted for the 1999 murder of his high-school classmate and former girlfriend, eighteen-year-old Hae Min Lee. That was followed by Andrew Jarecki’s “The Jinx,” a six-part HBO documentary that, uncharacteristically for the genre, sought to implicate rather than exonerate its subject, Robert Durst. A New York real-estate heir, Durst was acquitted in one murder case, is currently awaiting trial in another, and has long been suspected in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen Durst.

The latest addition to this canon is Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’s “Making a Murderer,” a ten-episode Netflix documentary that examines the 2007 conviction of a Wisconsin man named Steven Avery. Like the prisoners featured in “The Court of Last Resort,” Avery is a poor man serving time for a violent crime that he insists he didn’t commit. The questions his story raises, however, are not just about his own guilt and innocence. Nearly seventy years have passed since Erle Stanley Gardner first tried a criminal case before the jury of the general public. Yet we still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project—bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort.

If you know anything about “Making a Murderer,” you know that Steven Avery has a particularly troubling and convoluted relationship with the criminal-justice system. In July of 1985, Avery was picked up by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department after a woman named Penny Beerntsen was brutally attacked while out for a run in a Wisconsin state park. Beerntsen, who had been conscious throughout most of the attack, deliberately sought to memorize her assailant’s features, and subsequently picked Avery out of both a photo array and a live lineup. At trial six months later, Avery was found guilty and sentenced to thirty-two years in prison. He served eighteen of those before being exonerated by DNA testing, a technology not available at the time of the trial. That DNA test also identified Beerntsen’s actual assailant: a man named Gregory Allen, who was, by then, imprisoned for another assault.

This was bad news for the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department. As the public learned soon after the exoneration, local police had gone to the sheriff’s department within days after the attack to report that Allen may have been responsible; the department, convinced that it had the right man, declined to investigate. Ten years later, while serving time, Allen confessed to the assault. Again, the sheriff’s department was alerted and, again, no one acted; Avery remained in prison for another eight years. In light of this information, he filed a lawsuit against the county for thirty-six million dollars.

In 2005, while the defendants in that civil suit were being deposed, Avery was arrested again—this time for the murder of a twenty-five-year-old photographer named Teresa Halbach. Four months later, his sixteen-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, was arrested as well, after he confessed to helping Avery rape and murder Halbach and burn her body. In 2007, after separate trials, both were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Ricciardi and Demos examine those convictions in “Making a Murderer,” and the information they present has led viewers to respond with near-universal outrage about the verdicts. Because of the pending civil litigation, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department was supposed to have nothing to do with the Halbach investigation beyond lending any necessary equipment to the jurisdiction in charge. Yet members of the department were involved in the case at every critical juncture. One of them was allegedly left alone with Halbach’s vehicle for several hours after it was located and before Avery’s blood was discovered inside. Another found the key to Halbach’s S.U.V. in Avery’s home—in plain view, even though the property had previously been searched by other investigators six times. A third found a bullet fragment in Avery’s garage, again after the premises had been repeatedly searched. The analyst who identified Halbach’s DNA on that bullet had been instructed by a county detective to try to come up with evidence that Halbach had been in Avery’s house or garage. Perhaps most damning, the defense discovered that a vial of Avery’s blood, on file from the 1985 case, had been tampered with; the outer and inner seal on the box in which it was kept had been broken, and the vial itself had a puncture in the top, as from a hypodermic needle.

That is sobering stuff, but the most egregious misconduct shown in the documentary concerns not Avery but his nephew, Brendan Dassey—a stone-quiet, profoundly naïve, learning-disabled teen-ager with no prior criminal record, who is interrogated four times without his lawyer present. In the course of those interrogations, the boy, who earlier claimed to have no knowledge of Halbach, gradually describes an increasingly lurid torture scene that culminates in her murder by gunshot. The gun comes up only after investigators prod Dassey to describe what happened to Halbach’s head. Dassey first proposes that Avery cut off her hair, and then adds that his uncle punched her. Finally, one of the investigators, growing impatient, says, “I’m just going to come out and ask you: Who shot her in the head?” After the confession is signed, the prosecutor calls a press conference and turns Dassey’s story into the definitive account of what happened—a travesty of justice for Dassey and Avery, given the questionable nature of the interrogation, and a terrible cruelty to the Halbach family.

Dassey repeatedly recanted his confession, including in a letter to the judge and on the witness stand. But it was too late. “Put the tape of his confession in the VCR or DVD player and play it, there’s our case right there,” Halbach’s brother told the press. He was right, but he shouldn’t have been. Most people find it impossible to imagine why anyone would confess to a crime he didn’t commit, but, watching Dassey’s interrogation, it is easy to see how a team of motivated investigators could alternately badger, cajole, and threaten a vulnerable suspect into saying what they wanted to hear. When Dassey’s mother asked him how he came up with so many details if he was innocent, he said, “I guessed.” “You don’t guess with something like this, Brendan,” she replied. “Well,” he said, “that’s what I do with my homework, too.”

By chance, I have known many of the details of the Avery case since long before the release of “Making a Murderer,” because in 2007 I spoke at length with Penny Beerntsen. At the time, I was working on a book about being wrong—about how we as a culture think about error, and how we as individuals experience it—and Beerntsen, in identifying Avery as her assailant, had been wrong in an unusually tragic and consequential way.

Beerntsen had also been unusual among crime victims involved in wrongful convictions in that she had instantly accepted the DNA evidence—and, with it, her mistake. “It ain’t all her fault, you know,” Avery had said at the time of his release. “Honest mistake, you know.” But Beerntsen had felt horrifically guilty. “This might sound unbelievable,” she told me when we first talked, “but I really feel this way: the day I learned I had identified the wrong person was much worse than the day I was assaulted. My first thought was, I don’t deserve to live.” She wrote Avery a letter, apologizing to him and his family, and, concerned by the missteps and misconduct that led to his incarceration, became involved with the Innocence Project, which seeks to free the wrongfully convicted and to reform legal practices to help prevent miscarriages of justice.

Given her history, Beerntsen does not need any convincing that a criminal prosecution can go catastrophically awry. But when Ricciardi and Demos approached her about participating in “Making a Murderer” she declined, chiefly because, while her own experience with the criminal-justice system had led her to be wary of certitude, the filmmakers struck her as having already made up their minds. “It was very clear from the outset that they believed Steve was innocent,” she told me. “I didn’t feel they were journalists seeking the truth. I felt like they had a foregone conclusion and were looking for a forum in which to express it.”

Ricciardi and Demos have dismissed that idea, claiming that they simply set out to investigate Avery’s case and didn’t have a position on his guilt or innocence. Yet “Making a Murderer” never provokes the type of intellectual and psychological oscillation so characteristic of Koenig and Snyder’s “Serial.” Instead, the documentary consistently leads its viewers to the conclusion that Avery was framed by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, and it contains striking elisions that bolster that theory. The filmmakers minimize or leave out many aspects of Avery’s less than savory past, including multiple alleged incidents of physical and sexual violence. They also omit important evidence against him, including the fact that Brendan Dassey confessed to helping Avery move Halbach’s S.U.V. into his junk yard, where Avery lifted the hood and removed the battery cable. Investigators subsequently found DNA from Avery’s perspiration on the hood latch—evidence that would be nearly impossible to plant.

Perhaps because they are dodging inconvenient facts, Ricciardi and Demos are never able to present a coherent account of Halbach’s death, let alone multiple competing ones. Although “Making a Murderer” is structured chronologically, it fails to provide a clear time line of events, and it never answers such basic questions as when, where, and how Halbach died. Potentially critical issues are raised and summarily dropped; we hear about suspicious calls to and messages on Halbach’s cell phone, but these are never explored or even raised again. In the end, despite ten hours of running time, the story at the heart of “Making a Murderer” remains a muddle. Granted, real life is often a muddle, too, especially where crime is involved—but good reporters delineate the facts rather than contribute to the confusion.

Despite all this, “Making a Murderer” has left many viewers entirely convinced that Avery was framed. After the documentary aired, everyone from high-school students to celebrities jumped on the “Free Avery and Dassey” bandwagon. In the weeks since, people involved in the conviction have been subjected to vicious and in some cases threatening messages from Netflix-watching strangers. (So have people who were not involved, including the Manitowoc Police Department, a separate entity from the county sheriff’s department.)

For those people, and for others close to the original case, “Making a Murderer” seems less like investigative journalism than like highbrow vigilante justice. “My initial reaction was that I shouldn’t be upset with the documentarians, because they can’t help that the public reacted the way that it did,” Penny Beerntsen said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, Well, yeah, they do bear responsibility, because of the way they put together the footage. To me, the fact that the response was almost universally ‘Oh, my God, these two men are innocent’ speaks to the bias of the piece. A jury doesn’t deliberate twenty-some hours over three or four days if the evidence wasn’t more complex.”

“Making a Murderer” raises serious and credible allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct in the trials of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. It also implies that that misconduct was malicious. That could be true; vindictive prosecutions have happened in our justice system before and they will happen again. But the vast majority of misconduct by law enforcement is motivated not by spite but by the belief that the end justifies the means—that it is fine to play fast and loose with the facts if doing so will put a dangerous criminal behind bars.

That same reasoning, with the opposite aims, seems to govern “Making a Murderer.” But while people nearly always think that they are on the side of the angels, what finally matters is that they act that way. The point of being scrupulous about your means is to help insure accurate ends, whether you are trying to convict a man or exonerate him. Ricciardi and Demos instead stack the deck to support their case for Avery, and, as a result, wind up mirroring the entity that they are trying to discredit.

Partway through “Making a Murderer,” we hear a “Dateline NBC” producer discuss the death of Teresa Halbach in disturbingly chipper tones. “This is the perfect ‘Dateline’ story,” she says. “It’s a story with a twist, it grabs people’s attention. . . . Right now murder is hot, that’s what everyone wants, that’s what the competition wants, and we’re trying to beat out the other networks to get that perfect murder story.”

That clip, presented without context, is meant to make the “Dateline” producer look shallow and exploitative, and it does. But it is also meant to inoculate Ricciardi and Demos against the charge that they, too, are pursuing a hot murder case with a dramatic twist in order to grab people’s attention. The implication is that, unlike traditional true-crime shows—“Dateline,” “48 Hours,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “Nancy Grace”—their work is too intellectually serious to be thoughtless, too morally worthy to be cruel.

Yet the most obvious thing to say about true-crime documentaries is something that, surprisingly often, goes unsaid: they turn people’s private tragedies into public entertainment. If you have lost someone to violent crime, you know that, other than the loss itself, few things are as painful and galling as the daily media coverage, and the license it gives to strangers to weigh in on what happened. That experience is difficult enough when the coverage is local, and unimaginable when a major media production turns your story into a national pastime. “Sorry, I won’t be answering any questions because . . . TO ME ITS REAL LIFE,” the younger brother of Hae Min Lee, the murder victim in “Serial,” wrote on Reddit in 2014. “To you listeners, its another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI. You weren’t there to see your mom crying every night . . . and going to court almost every day for a year seeing your mom weeping, crying, and fainting. You don’t know what we went through.”

Like the Lee family, the Halbachs and Penny Beerntsen declined to participate in a journalistic investigation into their personal tragedies. But no one in such a situation has any real way to opt out. “Making a Murderer” takes Halbach’s death as its subject (her life is represented by a few photos and video clips, which do not rise above the standard mise en scène of murder shows), and footage of her family appears in almost every episode. Beerntsen, for her part, was dismayed to discover that the filmmakers had obtained a photograph of her battered face from the 1985 attack and used it without her knowledge. “I don’t mind looking at it, but my children should not have to relive that,” she said. “And everything we’re dealing with, the Halbachs are dealing with a thousandfold.”

This is not to suggest that reporting on violence is always morally abhorrent. Crimes themselves vary widely, as does crime coverage, and it is reasonable to hold that at some point the demands of private grief are outweighed by the public good. But neither “Serial” (which is otherwise notable for its thoroughness) nor “Making a Murderer” ever addresses the question of what rights and considerations should be extended to victims of violent crime, and under what circumstances those might justifiably be suspended. Instead, both creators and viewers tacitly dismiss the pain caused by such shows as collateral damage, unfortunate but unavoidable. Here, too, the end is taken to justify the means; someone else’s anguish comes to seem like a trifling price to pay for the greater cause a documentary claims to serve.

But what, exactly, is that cause in “Making a Murderer”? As of January 12th, more than four hundred thousand people had signed a petition to President Obama demanding that “Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon.” That outrage could scarcely have been more misdirected. For one thing, it was addressed to the wrong person: Avery was convicted of state crimes, not federal ones, and the President does not have the power to pardon him. For another, it was the wrong demand. “Making a Murderer” may have presented a compelling case that Avery (and, more convincingly, Dassey) deserved a new trial, but it did not get anywhere close to establishing that either one should be exonerated.

The petition points to another weakness of “Making a Murderer”: it is far more concerned with vindicating wronged individuals than with fixing the system that wronged them. The series presents Avery’s case as a one-off—a preposterous crusade by a grudge-bearing county sheriff’s department to discredit and imprison a nemesis. (Hence the ad-hominem attacks the show has inspired.) But you don’t need to have filed a thirty-six-million-dollar suit against law enforcement to be detained, denied basic rights, and have evidence planted on your person or property. Among other things, simply being black can suffice. While Avery’s story is dramatic, every component of it is sadly common. Seventy-two per cent of wrongful convictions involve a mistaken eyewitness. Twenty-seven per cent involve false confessions. Nearly half involve scientific fraud or junk science. More than a third involve suppression of evidence by police.

Those statistics reflect systemic problems. Eyewitness testimony is dangerously persuasive to juries, yet it remains admissible in courts almost without caveat. Some interrogation methods are more likely than others to produce false confessions, yet there are no national standards; fewer than half of states require interrogations to be videotaped, and all of them allow interrogators to lie to suspects. With the exception of DNA evidence (which emerged from biology, not criminology), forensic tests are laughably unscientific; no independent entity exists to establish that such tests are reliable before their results are admissible as evidence.

It is largely because of these systemic weaknesses in our judicial system that we find ourselves with a court of last resort. While that court cannot directly operate the levers of the law, it has drawn attention to cases that need review, and innocent people have been freed as a result. Yet in the decades since Erle Stanley Gardner launched his column, none of the forces that put those people in prison in the first place have changed for the better. Nor have we evolved a set of standards around extrajudicial investigations of criminal cases. However broken the rules that govern our real courts, the court of last resort is bound by no rules at all.

That does not automatically compromise independent investigations into crime; some remarkable and important work has been done in the tradition of the court of last resort. But it does enable individual journalists to proceed as they choose, and the choices made by Ricciardi and Demos fundamentally undermine “Making a Murderer.” Defense attorneys routinely mount biased arguments on behalf of their clients; indeed, it is their job to make the strongest one-sided case they can. But that mandate is predicated on the existence of a prosecution. We make moral allowances for the behavior of lawyers based on the knowledge that the jury will also hear a strong contrary position. No such structural protection exists in our extrajudicial courts of last resort, and Ricciardi and Demos chose not to impose their own.

Toward the end of the series, Dean Strang, Steven Avery’s defense lawyer, notes that most of the problems in the criminal-justice system stem from “unwarranted certitude”—what he calls “a tragic lack of humility of everyone who participates.” Ultimately, “Making a Murderer” shares that flaw; it does not challenge our yearning for certainty or do the difficult work of helping to foster humility. Instead, it swaps one absolute for another—and, in doing so, comes to resemble the system it seeks to correct. It is easy to express outrage, comforting to have closure, and satisfying to know all the answers. But, as defense lawyers remind people every day, it is reasonable to doubt. ♦

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Trump wants a talk-radio host to be the USDA’s chief scientist

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Enlarge / Sam Clovis, then newly appointed national co-chairman of the Trump campaign, speaks during a news conference with Donald Trump. (credit: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Yesterday, the Trump administration formally named its candidate for the Department of Agriculture's undersecretary of research, education, and economics, a post that serves as the agency's chief scientist. Its choice? Sam Clovis, who has no scientific background but is notable primarily for having been a conservative talk-radio host. If approved by the Senate, the US' attempts to understand climate change's impact on agriculture will be led by someone who called climate research "junk science."

Clovis, who has also taught economics and management at an Iowa liberal arts college, was an early supporter of Trump's candidacy. He's been working at the USDA as a White House advisor since shortly after Trump's inauguration. Suggestions that he'd be nominated to this position have been circulating for a while, but his official nomination only came yesterday.

While the USDA doesn't have as prominent a role in science as, say, the Department of Energy, its Agricultural Research Service (ARS!) has over 1,000 permanent scientists and over 100 research facilities. It and other components of the research, education, and economics group are responsible for research in areas like nutrition, agricultural productivity, pathogens that affect agricultural animals, and non-food agriculture, such as forestry.

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1 day ago
At least he nominated someone but, holy hell, what the actual fuck, we are being led by a 5 year old child that can't think beyond his own private reality. Trump's thought process seems to be, "Did they support me? Then they're good people" - instead of "knowing the best people".
15 hours ago
That's not democracy, this is stuffing the administration with his own cronies with a view to turning America into a Trump dicatorship.
1 day ago
Dallas, Texas
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What It’s Like to Get Laid Off at the Carrier Plant Trump Said He’d Save


On February 10, 2016, the Carrier Corporation, an H.V.A.C. company founded in 1915, announced that it would be closing plants in Indianapolis and Huntington, Indiana, and moving to Monterrey, Mexico. Months later, at the first Presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump brought up the closings. “We have to stop our companies from leaving the United States and, with it, firing all of their people,” he said. “All you have to do is take a look at Carrier air-conditioning in Indianapolis. They left—fired fourteen hundred people. They’re going to Mexico.” Shortly after the election, Trump and Mike Pence, who was then the governor of Indiana, announced a headline-grabbing deal with Carrier that was said to keep about eight hundred jobs in the U.S. “So many people in that other—the big, beautiful plant behind us, which will be even more beautiful in about seven months from now, they’re so happy,” Trump said at a celebratory press conference.

In May of this year, Carrier announced its time line for eliminating what will ultimately be six hundred and thirty-two Indianapolis-based jobs. The first round of layoffs began on Thursday, with the departure of three hundred and thirty-eight employees. One of those was Brenda Darlene Battle, a fifty-five-year-old Indianapolis native who’d been working at Carrier for twenty-five years, most recently as a fabrication technician, or fab tech. She helped run the automatic press that makes steel doors, among other parts, for A90 furnaces. When the final furnace door was completed on the first day of mass layoffs, employees working the assembly line—some for the last time—autographed it. On Friday, shortly before finalizing paperwork related to her departure, Battle spoke by phone about the company that employed her for a quarter century, President Trump, and her future. Her account has been edited and condensed.

When the final furnace door was completed on the day of the layoffs, employees working the assembly line—some for the last time—autographed it.

Photograph by Duane Oreskovic

“I’ve been working at Carrier since I was thirty. I didn’t go to high school or college. My parents were union people. My dad was an oiler for G.M. I did a lot of babysitting before I joined the assembly line at Carrier. When I started, in 1992, they were threatening to move to Mexico, and any time they got pissed off, that was their old threat: ‘We’re gonna move to Mexico, anyway!’ That’s what management would say.

“It used to be a fun place to work; I didn’t mind going. Then they started making changes that only benefit them: robots, cutting jobs. Just yesterday, they were talking about cutting a three-man blower-shelf crew—they deal with the forms that hold the blower on one side and the heating element on the other—down to two. But two people can’t do that job. My job running the press, it was a two-man job, but then they brought a robot in. The doors go down the conveyor belt now, and the robot stacks them in the cart.

“It seemed like as soon as they first put the robots in, they made the announcement about layoffs a month later. I’ll never forget that day. They told everyone to meet them at the front of the plant. Then, when they got up there, that’s when they told us they were really moving to Mexico. It just went downhill after that. We knew change was coming, we just didn’t know what. But it went to hell in a gasoline-soaked handbasket in February of last year. They could have been a lot more professional about making the announcement.

“This is peak season for the industry right now. We work six or seven days a week. So those people at work is basically your family. Of the three hundred and thirty-eight who left yesterday, I knew over a hundred of them, because I had worked days and nights over the years. I knew a lot of people. My fiancé worked security at Carrier in the late nineties, and he had just died three or four days before the announcement in February of last year. So I was grieving. I was stressed out, on bereavement. When he passed, I moved home to live with my parents. Then, last December, my mom passed. So it’s me and my dad and my sister and her children, in one house.

“Trump came in there to the factory last December and blew smoke up our asses. He wasn’t gonna save those jobs. And, if that’s the case, he would have saved us and Rexnord, a company around the corner from us that makes parts.

“We had a mix of Trump supporters and Clinton supporters at the factory, I’d say. The ones that really supported him are quiet right now. Some of them got let go yesterday, too.

“We talked about Trump on the job, after the election. You could always tell who the Trump supporters were because they never participated in the conversation. It was about even, blacks and whites, for Trump. Also, some of them wore the hats. Not anymore, though.

“Personally, I think the President is a ‘rubber room’ politician. He’s crazy. He needs a straitjacket. He’s in there for his self. He’s not in there to help America keep jobs. Because if he was we wouldn’t be in the predicament that we’re in every day. He keeps howling, ‘Make America great.’ But he can’t make America great if all the jobs are leaving the States and going to Mexico. People can’t support their families.

“He has a thing against women, too. No woman is safe, to me. He wants to tell them what to do with their bodies. Women have been working for years, but he doesn’t want us to have insurance. Everybody came from a mother. Even him. I voted for Hillary. I think most of the people I worked with at Carrier voted for someone. The Trump people really thought he was gonna save our jobs.

“I think the C.E.O. of Carrier and Trump was in bed together the whole time. That day Trump came to Carrier, those two were too chummy. The way they sniggled and giggled. That sneaky kind of shit-eating grin.

“They sat us in the room based on seniority and job classification. On the aisle with me there was ninety-five years of seniority, just with three people: myself, my girlfriend, and this one guy who has been there forty-five or forty-six years. It was an experience, because not only was the media there, there were people from the E.P.A. We met a lot of interesting people that had nothing to do with Trump. I didn’t need to shake his hand.

“I’m going to be taking it very easy for a few months and do some of the things that my dad wants to do. He’s seventy-seven years old, but he thinks Trump blew smoke up our asses, too. We’d like to travel and see family in Cincinnati, Kentucky, Tennessee. I’ve got a little money saved. I’m in no hurry to look for another job quite yet.”

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How to Lose Friends and Anger Journalists with PGP

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By Martin Shelton

How to Lose Friends and Anger Journalists with PGP

Simply untangle. (Esfema)

A few years ago I began sending hundreds of emails to strangers—many, encrypted.

I was launching into my graduate research on the security habits of investigative reporters, and I wanted to hear from journalists with a variety of backgrounds.

If I wanted to meet technologically savvy reporters, I learned that I could more reliably catch their interest by sending a PGP-encrypted email. I also learned that this is a great way to annoy, frustrate, or otherwise upset journalists.

To understand why, let’s talk about PGP, and why it’s often at odds with journalistic work.

What is PGP?

PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy, an encryption standard created by Phil Zimmermann in the early 1990s. Zimmermann was a peace activist. For him, PGP was a way to allow grassroots political organizations to work without worry of government eavesdropping in the U.S. and abroad.

In 1991, the U.S. Senate debated an anti-crime bill poised to outlaw civilian access to strong encryption. Fearing that Congress would legislate away this right, Zimmermann says he worked to release his software online before such a law could pass.

At a time when strong encryption wasn’t available to the general public, PGP became one of the most powerful ways to secure messages and files.

Image of encrypted message

A PGP encrypted message.

Just as your personal signature is difficult to imitate, PGP lets users create cryptographic signatures for files and messages, allowing other users to check their authenticity. Perhaps most importantly for journalists, PGP helps users encrypt messages and files.

Today, an open source implementation, GNU Privacy Guard, is the frontrunner used by technologists, the human rights community, and increasingly, journalists.

PGP in the Newsroom

For some reason, reporters have been getting very interested in secure communications.

In recent years, there has been an enormous spike in the apparent number of PGP users associated with newsrooms. Alongside other encrypted messengers such as Signal, WhatsApp, and others, it also seems like everyone with a secure tip page accepts PGP emails.

Though news organizations position PGP emails as a channel for sharing confidential tips, using PGP yields no more anonymity than an unencrypted email. If anonymity is the concern, look elsewhere.

So why do news organizations use it?

When I speak to journalists about why they got started with PGP, typically it’s not because they’re big crypto geeks. Reporters are always hustling for interesting tips and sources, and PGP can be part of the hustle. Like a lottery, the possibility of a payoff is a strong motivator.

Reporters get noise. In their voicemails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and email inboxes, they receive countless messages and tips that aren’t particularly newsworthy. That includes encrypted emails from graduate students soliciting interviews. But PGP doesn’t let you know you have noise until you spend the time to decrypt it.

PGP opens the door to new conversations, but often, it also makes real work harder than it needs to be, and that makes journalists angry.

So let’s pause and ask, what problem are we really trying to solve here?

Reporters want sources to feel comfortable reaching out, while also providing sufficient communication security. They also want useful information without sacrificing time or efficiency.

With very few exceptions, PGP is probably not the best channel for tackling these problems. Instead, it eats into the time reporters can spend elsewhere.

How PGP Gets in the Way

In an environment where a growing number of alternatives do the job faster, PGP comes with barriers for practical use in newsrooms.

The barriers typically fall into four categories. Using PGP requires (1) becoming painfully aware of cryptography, (2) routine maintenance, (3) vigilance to avoid security mistakes, and finally, these issues lead to (4) filtering who you can viably talk to.

Becoming Painfully Aware of Cryptography

Modern encrypted messengers (e.g., Signal, WhatsApp) don’t require much know-how. PGP is a little more “hands on,” requiring users to understand a brief primer in the basics of cryptography. These lessons apply to both PGP, as well as accessing the web over a secure connection.

Let’s begin this journey with a loose analogy for passing secure messages over the web.

Illustration of students at desks

(Soraya Okuda)

Janine and her friend, Ewen, want to exchange notes in class. They don’t sit near each other, so they rely on other students to help deliver their messages. To prevent the other students from reading their notes, they come up with a scheme.

To make the message unreadable to anyone else who helps them deliver their note, they could agree on a set of rules to scramble the message in advance (e.g., shifting letters by one; “A” becomes “B,” “B” becomes “C”), then use their rules to scramble and unscramble the message. Now the note, “Sixth grade is hard,” becomes “Tjyui hsbef jt ibse”—gibberish to anyone who doesn’t know the rules.

Illustration of two messages

(Soraya Okuda)

This is a good start. But if other students in the class figure out the pattern to the scrambled message, they can also unscramble it themselves.

Still with me?

Illustration of two messages

(Soraya Okuda)

Janine and Ewen could solve this problem using public key cryptography, the architecture behind PGP. This is also how we get secure connections to the web. In this arrangement, rather than simply shifting over the letters, Ewen and Janine have two sets of “keys,” both of which represent enormous numbers. They have a public key that they can share with anyone and scramble messages, and a private key can be used to unscramble the message.

Image of two PGP-encrypted messages

If Janine and Ewen used PGP, the public and private keys would be represented by large blocks of text, generated and interpreted by the software. Their encryption scheme is so complex that only a computer could encrypt and decrypt the message. And without the private key, it would take an impractical level of computing power to unscramble the message.

Now if that sounds confusing, you’re in good company; even security professionals have a tough time explaining how this works.

By putting public keys front and center, PGP requires users to think about the mechanics of public key encryption, and puts responsibility for upkeep in the hands of users.

Routine Maintenance

If you want to encrypt a message to someone (e.g.,, you’d need to know where it’s going (e.g., their email) and their public key. Now you might wonder, where do you find a public key? How do you make sure it’s the right one? How do you use it now and in the future?

Welcome to the world of key management.

Many users share their keys using a key server—essentially an online phone book for public keys—such as the MIT key server. From there, you can search for the name, email address, or other information about whoever you want to reach out to.

Animation of key server

If all goes well, your recipient has their current key on the key server.

… But a lot can go wrong. You may instead find that the key is expired. Maybe you’ve got the wrong email address. Or you may still accidentally encrypt to the wrong public key, or they may try to decrypt with the wrong private key. If they don’t get many PGP emails, they may have forgotten the password needed to unlock their private key. Or they might not have access to the device that has their private key, effectively making the email unreadable.

At least one of you will suffer an aneurysm.

Finally, you and your conversation partner will likely exchange unencrypted emails to troubleshoot these problems. If all goes well, you’ll finally send the email. And if not, you might also decide the exchange doesn’t need to be encrypted that badly.

Vigilance to Avoid Security Mistakes

We’ve talked about things that can go wrong that are simply inconvenient, but PGP is also a minefield for mistakes that can undermine security for journalists and their sources, demanding close attention.

As far back as 1999, researchers identified PGP usability challenges that make security slip-ups tough to avoid. According to more recent research, these issues largely persist. There are too many ways to slip up to name here, but let’s briefly canvas a few.

For new users, the distinction between a public and private key might not seem meaningful, but the private key is used to unscramble your messages and should not be shared.

So naturally, PGP makes it easy to share your private key.

Compare this to Signal. With every message sent the keys change, making it impossible for one key to decrypt all messages.

You could also simply encrypt to the wrong person. And key servers are great for impersonation. If you don’t have the right email and key, you might have an extraordinarily secure email exchange… with an impersonator.

In turn, the impersonator can also pretend to be you.

If an attacker manages to impersonate both you and your conversation partner, there’s nothing to stop them from forwarding your messages to the real recipient, effectively allowing them to sit in the middle of the conversation.

If reporters insist on using PGP, they need to authenticate, or ensure that they’re talking to the right person.

PGP allows users to authenticate using a shortened code that corresponds to the public key—a unique fingerprint.

Screenshot of PGP fingerprint

Reporters and news orgs sometimes post fingerprints on webpages they control (e.g., the New York Times tip page). When importing someone’s key, users can compare their local fingerprint to their publicly posted fingerprint. If there’s a match, you’ve probably got the right key.

Users can also verify the legitimacy of a key by looking for other trustworthy actors who have cryptographically “signed” the key on a key server. Though in the real world, it’s very possible that no one has signed their key.

PGP is a Filter

Before you can speak to me over this channel, are you okay with a lesson in cryptography? How about key maintenance? How about tiptoeing through an unending minefield of security issues? Few people are willing to do all of these things.

For journalists, this means that a small sample of technologically inclined people will reach out this way. Journalists with unusually techy sources are the key beneficiaries.

Letting Go

Because of its architecture and design, even motivated users and security geeks have headaches with PGP. With a growing number of intelligent alternatives available (e.g., Signal), journalists should critically consider what problem they hope to solve, and adjust their tools and practices. Chances are, there’s an easier way forward.

In many ways, PGP is remarkable. It emerged to fill the void at a moment when powerful encryption was not available to the general public. But there’s no void now. Whenever possible, using simpler channels will make life easier.

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