Upcoming Episodes of Law and Order

[ Important Note: I have been reliably informed by someone who watches more television than I do, that Law and Order is no longer being shown. In fact, it folded three years ago, which shows how out of it I am. I was fooled by the fact that every time I turn on the TV, there's an episode of Law and Order being shown. Turns out, they are all re-runs. Still, I think the premise for this post is valid. Just substitute CSI for Law and Order and it still works.]

At the end of each episode of Law and Order, a program that has run longer on TV than anything else except The Simpsons, there is a disclaimer that the show was complete fiction and not based on actual crimes in any way. Everyone knows that this is a lie. You read about a bizarre murder case and, a few months later, there it is with whoever is playing the lead roles this season tracking down, arresting, charging, discovering they haven’t enough evidence, going back and re-investgating, charging the right criminal this time, trying the person, and finally convicting them, or not. That’s the way it is in the Criminal Justice System. So here are three cases currently in the news that I expect to see on Law and Order. And possibly CSI. One of the CSIs or maybe all of them.

1 — The Murdered Gun Nut:

Keith Ratliff called himself a “gun nut”. He loved guns. He produced a YouTube series called FPSRussia that was all about guns including weapons that he had built himself. His body was found in his workshop on January 3. Ratliff had been shot in the head. The murder weapon was missing (or maybe not, the GBI has said they don’t know if one of the many guns in Ratliff’s workshop did it, but the wound was not self-inflicted). The police call it a homicide and have ruled out robbery as a motive — Ratliff’s workshop was full of expensive weapons.

Keith Ratliff at his desk.

Keith Ratliff at his desk.

The YouTube program, FPSRussia, was exceptionally popular — perhaps 11th overall amongst YouTubers. It featured Ratliff’s friend, Kyle Myers, who affected a Russian accent as he demonstrated the firepower of automatic 12 Gauge shotguns or a machine gun attached to a radio control helicopter. He blew things up and people loved it.

Keith Myers in the process of assembling a suitcase sniper rifle.

Kyle Myers in the process of assembling a suitcase sniper rifle.

So who and why? Well, there are theories:

1– Ratliff had both a level 10 and a level 11 firearms license, meaning that he could import all kinds of weaponry, including machine guns, and manufacture his own copies. So one theory has it that an arms deal went wrong;

2–Ratliff’s brother says that the killer had to be someone Ratliff knew or else he would have blown the intruder away. After all, he died surrounded by weapons;

3–Maybe it was a local resident who didn’t like him. Ratliff had only recently moved to Carnesville, leaving his wife and child in Kentucky, where they still live. Maybe there was some bit of difficulty with his new neighbors — Carnesville has only a little over 500 residents, maybe someone felt crowded. The sheriff says that he was called out to Ratliff’s place by neighbors at least once;

4– Maybe it was an anti-gun liberal that murdered Ratliff as part of a conspiracy to end Gun Rights in America. You think?

Of course, Law and Order doesn’t have to follow the actual facts of the case — it’s fiction, they say — so who knows what they will come up with. But considering the heightened debate about guns in the US, I suspect the Ratliff murder to spark an episode. One thing: I think the writers should change Ratliff’s buddy, the YouTube star, to a real Russian. I think Alexander Ovechkin would be perfect and it would help launch a new career for him, now that his hockey days are numbered.

2 — The Cannibal Cop:

In February 2012, Gilberto Valle, a New York City police officer, had a series of e-mails with a New Jersey mechanic named Michael Vanhise. The topic was one of kidnapping, rape, murder, and cannibalism. Vanhise wanted Valle to deliver a young woman to him so that they might both enjoy her body. Valle agreed, for a payment of $5000, payable on delivery, but warned Vanhise that she might be unconscious when delivered. He wouldn’t rape her, though, he wanted to be “professional”. Valle’s wife discovered the e-mail correspondence (which also included discussion of eating her) and turned it over to the police. Valle’s trial is due to begin February 25; Vanhise has only now been charged. (The defense says that this was a move to prevent him from testifying for Valle.)

Valle from his FaceBook page.

Valle from his FaceBook page.

Both Valle and Vanhise are members of the Vore community which likes to talk about eating people. They met on line in a Vore discussion group and things proceeded from there. Vore folk, when questioned, say that it is all fantasy and that aren’t interested in pain or torture, just sex resulting in cannibalism. The idea that this was all a fantasy and play-acting is Valle’s defense.

Valle's bail hearing. Bail was denied.

Valle’s bail hearing. Bail was denied.

Valle’s public defender has shown pictures taken from Vore sources to prospective jurors. The pictures included a photo of a bound naked woman with an apple in her mouth and some graphic artistic renditions. Those who became too squicked out to continue were excused from jury duty.

Vore picture (the model has fantasies of being eaten) used by Valle's defense to eliminate jurors.

Vore picture (the model has fantasies of being eaten) used by Valle’s defense to eliminate jurors.

Now, this defense of fantasy might play in New York, I don’t know. But, in Canada, there was the case a few years ago of a guy who had written some pedophilia fantasies on his computer (never published, IIRC) and was convicted of owning child pornography. And there is the case of Mike Diana, the Florida comics artist who was convicted of obscenity and forbidden from drawing. Now you may say that there is a difference here, that these two guys were convicted of pornography and obscenity charges only, but Diana’s prosecutor made a big point that Diana’s work might lead a person to become a serial killer. So: thought = deed.

Except that isn’t true in American jurisprudence, or at least it wasn’t true, before the Patriot Act. See, there is lots of grist for the Law and Order mill here — a lot of room (well, maybe five minutes after commercials and stuff) to discuss whether or not people should be convicted of fantasizing. It might be worth noting one on-line article defending Vore fantasy that exempted pedophilia from acceptability — it’s okay to fantasize about murdering and eating someone, but not okay to think about sex with children.

Anyway, the real Valle case will probably play out differently. Valle used his police credentials to obtain confidential info about a young woman that he stalked — that’s five years right there — and he was seen hanging about the places where two potential victims worked. And there are the e-mails and the offer of money and… However this works out on Law and Order, Valle is going to get locked up.

3 — The Rogue Policeman:

Back in 2008, Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner witnessed an incident where another officer kicked a suspect — a schizophrenic man — and reported her. The internal case was dismissed by the LAPD, but Dorner was not satisfied; he knew that there was a DVD of the incident that had been provided to a hearing. Dorner’s persistence got him fired in 2009 and he became a very bitter man. He accused the LAPD of racism and excessive use of force.

Christopher Dorner.

Christopher Dorner.

Everything was quiet until February 3 of this year when the bodies of Monica Quan and her fiancé were found in a parking garage. A long manifesto that Dorner posted on line contained the words: “I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, i’m terminating yours”. It is believed that these words were aimed at Quan’s father who defended the police officer that Dorner accused of assault. Dorner’s description went out to California police officers and, a few days later, a patrol car was following a truck believed to be driven by Dorner, when the driver opened fire on the police car, wounding one officer. A second police car was shot up by Dorner shortly afterward and one man was killed, another is seriously wounded. After some misadventures, including an attempt to steal a boat, Dorner escaped into Big Bear Park. A huge task force is hunting him down as I write.

Police car shot up by Dorner.

Police car shot up by Dorner.

In his manifesto, Dorner swore to confront police officers with “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare”. The authorities have taken this to heart.  Some police spokespersons have stated that this is a War on Police: “This is a vendetta against all Southern California law enforcement,” said one and another remarked: “Of course he knows what he’s doing; we trained him. He was also a member of the Armed Forces… It is extremely worrisome and scary.” Scary indeed! Officers pursuing Dorner have already shot up two vehicles containing innocent civilians, one is in serious condition. This is what asymmetrical warfare is all about: goad your enemy into over-zealous responses.

It is unlikely that Dorner will live through this ordeal — in his manifesto he says that his life ended when he was dismissed from the police force and that he does not expect to survive. But in the TV show, he has to live so that we can have the trial and legal manuverings. The defense will claim Diminished Responsiblity because of being unjustly fired (it will turn out that Dorner was telling the truth about the schizophrenic being kicked) or maybe because of service-induced PTSD and, say! when a vet accuses the police force of a culture of violence, well, he probably knows what he’s talking about. Of course, Law and Order always has a hard time dealing with issues of police violence, so this may be an episode that we don’t see.

Sinéad O’Connor Twenty Years After

Twenty years ago today, during a Saturday Night Live performance, Sinéad O’Connor ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II. There was an immediate outcry from critics, journalists, and, a week later, SNL host and noted theologian, Joe Pesci. O’Connor’s career never recovered. When she attempted to perform Bob Marley’s “War” at a Bob Dylan concert, she was booed off the stage. Now, twenty years on, Michael Agresta takes a fresh look at the event.

[click to see performance via YouTube]

Agresta listened to what O’Connor had to say: she added some fresh lyrics to “War” about child abuse as one of the Catholic Church’s sins. This isn’t news today, but it was then. In fact, most people (including me, I have to admit) missed the allusion altogether and thought O’Connor was protesting abortion/contraception policies or something. But O’Connor, when anyone bothered to ask, was quite clear about what angered her:

In Ireland we see our people are manifesting the highest incidence in Europe of child abuse. This is a direct result of the fact that they’re not in contact with their history as Irish people and the fact that in the schools, the priests have been beating the shit out of the children for years and sexually abusing them. This is the example that’s been set for the people of Ireland. They have been controlled by the church, the very people who authorized what was done to them, who gave permission for what was done to them.

The Time magazine interviewer didn’t really grasp what O’Connor was saying, so she tried to explain by giving some personal history. She said she had been subjected to every kind of abuse:

Sexual and physical. Psychological. Spiritual. Emotional. Verbal. I went to school every day covered in bruises, boils, sties and face welts, you name it. Nobody ever said a bloody word or did a thing. Naturally I was very angered by the whole thing… [Time interview, November 9, 1992, behind a pay wall, unfortunately.]

Her mother, said O’Connor, was a Valium addict, a product of Catholic schools. Later, when O’Connor went to an Adult Children of Alcoholics-type group, she got a handle on her situation. The photo of the Pope that she tore up? That had belonged to her mother: “The photo itself had been on my mother’s bedroom wall since the day the fucker was enthroned in 1978.”

Young Sinéad, striped shirt.

O’Connor herself was incarcerated in a Magdalene laundry, an Irish institution for wayward girls, at the age of 15. The Magdalenes have been criticized by the UN Committee Against Torture and one Magdalene being sold by nuns trying to make up stock market losses turned out to have twenty-two unregistered anonymous corpses buried out back.

After Pope Benedict apologized in 2010 for the Irish abuse cover-up, O’Connor criticized him for calling the cover-up “well-intentioned” and called for a boycott of the Church. She told Rachel Maddow that she is a believer who wants to free the Church from those who have brought it into disrepute. And in the Los Angeles Times:

I’m a Catholic, and I love God. . . . That’s why I object to what these people are doing to the religion that I was born into. . . .

I’m passionately in love and always have been with what I call the Holy Spirit, which I believe the Catholic Church have held hostage and still do hold hostage. I think God needs to be rescued from them. They are not representing Christian values and Christian attitudes. If they were truly Christian, they would’ve confessed ages ago, and we wouldn’t be having to batter the door down and try to get blood from a stone.

Sometimes angry people are dismissed when they do or say things other people find disturbing. Often these angry people are absolved over time. Sinéad O’Connor paid a price for expressing her anger and for telling truths that people weren’t ready to hear. She is a brave woman who has finally been awarded some of the respect that she has earned.


Recently a schoolbus monitor in New York State was subjected to verbal abuse by seventh-graders. This episode was recorded and released on YouTube where it got a staggering number of hits. A helpful Canadian (and aren’t we all!) started a fund-raising campaign for the woman that brought in more than $700,000. The kids involved were transferred to alternative education classes, whatever that means in that school district. The monitor herself has started an anti-bullying foundation. Efforts to end bullying are all well and good, but I have some questions; in particular, I want to know why this particular act of bullying got so much attention.

School bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied.(Complete video through YouTube link above.)

Now, most people with experience in the area will agree that seventh-graders are possibly the most difficult age group to handle. It is the practice of many schools to assign tough-guy teachers to these classes to keep the kids in line, which raises the question: are child bullies merely reflecting their adult models?

In 1978, a documentary confronted juvenile delinquents with the frightening realities of prison. Scared Straight took kids who had been charged with some infraction or other on a tour of Rahway prison in New Jersey. The movie won an oscar. Sequels followed. Scared Straight programs claimed a great deal of success and were started in other areas. But analysts who studied the results concluded that the program was worse than useless and might even encourage kids to become criminals. When one of the graduates went on to rape and murder, that point was underlined.  Complaints have caused the states of California, Maryland, and Rhode Island to suspend their Scared Straight programs. Other states still fund this dubious venture and A&E has produced three seasons of Beyond Scared Straight that show children being taken through these programs.

What kind of people watch this series; do they enjoy seeing children being reduced to tears by psychopathic thugs? If so, those voyeurs bear watching. And there is the underlying element of prison rape in all these programs. “I like white boys. You look pretty to me.”  When I hear someone giggle about this kind of stuff or otherwise express a belief  that rape is part of the sentence that judges hand down, I wonder about the fantasies that run through that person’s head.

But Scared Straight programs pale beside Boot Camps, programs where parents contract to have their children abducted, carted off to remote locales, and abused. Sexual abuse, yes, but also deaths in Utah, Florida, South Dakota, Arizona, even China.  VisionQuest has been involved in several deaths in various states. Boot camps are as counter-productive as Scared Straight programs, but they also continue to be funded. A number of countries have followed the US in promoting “get-tough” programs for children and many have become part of official state systems, though they may be contracted from private companies.

Screen cap from a video taken while Florida boot camp “instructors” beat and kicked a fourteen-year-old to death. No charges were filed. [Florida State Attorney's Office/AP]

It is a commonplace truism among people who work with youths at risk that “abuse generates abuse”, so it is hard to see how these programs can be supported by any thinking adult. The global acceptance of abuse as a strategy to teach discipline may point to one cause of bullying amongst children — they are modelling adult behavior. And all of this suggests why that bus monitor’s case roused so much interest and raised so much cash:  it was unnatural — the natural order, as many people see it, is for adults to abuse children, not the other way around.

Debunking TV Crime Shows and the CSI Effect

You watch crime shows, I know you do, if you watch TV at all, because the only other thing to watch is hockey (What? Reality shows? Screw that. Nobody watches those things!) Okay, there’s doctor shows but they are mostly soap operas constructed around puzzles that the doctor/detective has to solve. Some crime shows have lawyer characters, some have cops or detectives, Law and Order has both. But they’re all the same — the lawyers have to solve the crimes because otherwise their innocent client goes to the hoosegow and the police are incompetent unless they are the main characters and then they usually have a cool lab and double as scientists and stuff.

So how good are these shows? How much info can you take away from, say, Bones or CSI that is reliable. Well, not a lot. Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist, takes Bones episodes apart. A program that doesn’t have too many errors might get a B-, most get D or lower. You really think Temperance Brennan can tell the sex of a skeleton by its jaw? You poor fool.

Don't be taken in: they really don't know what they're doing.

Scott, a family practitioner in Illinois, critiques House, a show he enjoys. Here’s some medical stuff on one episode:

Hemothorax occurs when there is bleeding into the pleura (the membrane around the lung) which causes the lung to collapse. It is bleeding outsideof the lung. It is completely different from bleeding that occurs within the lung, which is what this patient had.

It is true that immune suppressants can worsen infections, but it’s not true that antibiotics worsen transplant rejection. Antibiotics are a routine part of post-transplant treatment. For example, I have several post-transplant patients, and most have been on a daily antibiotics since their operation.

Electrophysiology studies and angiograms are not used to diagnose long QT syndrome (but then, neither is scaring the patient to death).

If the lung transplant is rejecting almost immediately, then it is hyperacute rejection, which does not respond to immune suppressants.

Oliguria does not automatically indicate kidney failure. There are several other causes of decreased urinary flow, a urinary blockage for instance (though I will admit that renal insufficiency (i.e. kidney failure) is the most likely).
allFor supposed experts, they don’t pay a lot of attention to the most basic statistics available on ICU patients such as their I/Os (ins and outs).

Fabry’s is an x-linked recessive disease, so it generally does not show up in women.

It would save a lot of time and effort if they waited for a diagnosis before starting treatments. Both the amyloidosis and Goodpasture treatments were started – and these are not benign non-risky treatments – without proof of diagnosis.

Since she’s already had at least one arrhythmic episode, Della is going to be on heart monitors. Heart monitors would cause the alarms in the heart monitoring station to start going off the minute she showed a flatline (which is what unhooking her leads would show). She would have been found long before she made it down the stairs.

And after all that, the episode got a B and a C. Scott is a kind grader.

There’s other expert critics around. Fringe, for instance, which usually gets a failing science grade, has a couple of good blogs assessing that failure. Here’s one. And many episodes of MacGyver have been deconstructed on Mythbusters. But the show that has drawn the most attention is CSI in its various locales.


One thing I’ve learned from CSI is that if I yell “Enhance!” at my computer while clicking a bunch of keys, then I can zoom into a sharp focused image of incredibly tiny details in a photo, no matter how low-res and grainy it is. (And what is it with that typing? If these guys are running UNIX, then they should have macros operating with a keystroke or two. If they’re using Windows — and most of them seem to be – then they should have drop-down menus and a mouseclick. Instead they just clatter all over the keyboard and try to look competetent.)

Some claim that juries determine verdicts by looking for evidence which would have been discovered by forensic scientists, except that the evidence doesn’t exist and so they come to the wrong decision and free a criminal– the so-called “CSI Effect.”

“Some jurors are expecting that some of the technology used on the shows is real, and it’s not,” says Professor Carol Henderson, Director of the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law at Stetson University College of Law. “In fact, they’re sometimes disappointed if some of the new technologies that they think exist are not used. This is causing quite a bit of concern for prosecutors trying the cases, as well as some of the jurors.  They just want this evidence that may not exist.”  The CSI effect has been blamed for acquittals in some recent cases. “Unrealistic expectations are really harming the jury system,” Henderson says.

Others debate whether this “CSI effect” actually exists – “…despite numerous media stories and law enforcement warnings of a “CSI Effect” crippling our criminal justice system, no such effect exists…”

 On the other hand, the possibility of a CSI Effect may create “CSI Infection“:

[Tamara Lawson has coined] a new phrase, “CSI Infection,” by focusing on the significant legal impact that the fear of “CSI Infected Jurors” has made upon the criminal justice system. The CSI Infection is the ubiquitous “It” factor that scholars cannot conclusively prove nor effectively explain away; however, practitioners overwhelmingly confirm the CSI Effect’s impact on criminal jury trials. The CSI Effect’s existence, the CSI Effect’s true or perceived impact on acquittals and convictions, and how to define the CSI Effect, permeates criminal trials. For example, litigators base their motions on the CSI Effect and build their trial strategies around the CSI Effect, transforming the legal arguments of trial lawyers on both sides of a case. Specifically, voir dire questions, jury instructions, as well as opening statements and closing arguments have been modified and correspondingly challenged on appeal – all because of the CSI Effect.

So, even if the CSI Effect doesn’t influence juries, the possibility that it might changes the way lawyers operate in court.

Of course, no matter what juries or lawyers think, forensic science itself is under fire as unreliable. A 2009 National Academy of Sciences paper addressed the problem and there are many efforts being made to make forensic science better. Meanwhile people have gone to prison because of evidence produced from bad science, not to mention bad scientists. So maybe the problem is not that CSI Effect leads to the guilty set free but rather to the innocent being imprisoned.

Speaking of bad science, how about profiling like in Criminal Minds? Largely bullshit. The thing that’s scary about this is the general application of profiling for people applying for jobs or buying airline tickets.

So don’t believe any of that stuff you see on TV. If you’re watching a show for the characters and the drama, fine. Just treat it as fantasy. The “scientists” are really magicians who can wave a wand or chant a spell like “Enhance!” and reveal the truth. Oh, and those shows where lawyers are the main characters? Nothing that you see has any resemblance to anything remotely like genuine legal practice. Period.

Paper Dolls

Paper dolls based on television shows have become very popular projects. Mad Men is a perfect subject for this form — retro fashions and interesting characters — and these paper dolls by J.R.Smith show an appreciation for graphic concepts of that era. The dolls could have been cut out of a magazine ad.

There are other Mad Men dolls. The ones by Dyna Moe come from a new book that includes other  Mad Men inspired art using a somewhat different take on early 60s design than that of Smith above.






But the best examples of these nouveau paper dolls are those by Kyle Hilton, who has done Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development, and other shows as well as some movies. The Breaking Bad series are my favorites.

(via Metafilter)

Jason Maggio: The Man Who Ruined the All-Star Game

This weekend is the NHL All-Star Game. Part of the festivities will be a so-called skills competition featuring stars seeing who can skate fastest , who can shoot hardest, and who can score the fanciest breakaway goal. NHL goalies will stand in the net but in 2009, an amateur was in the crease and, according to Don Cherry, ruined the event.

Martin St.Louis stopped by Jason. St.Louis tried hiding the puck in his glove.

Jason Maggio, a goalie for the AA Dollard Vipers, was recruited for the job when the League decided not to put a pro goalie in the net. This may have been because, in 2008, the goalies actually tried to stop shots, even going so far as to poke check the forwards. After all, if there’s one thing a goalie hates it’s to have that damn disc sitting behind him. But the League wanted to see goals so they asked Jason Maggio to stand in the crease.

That was a mistake. Jason stopped all but five shots.

Alex Kovalev plays the puck off his head.

Jason really didn’t expect to do that well. He was excited going into the game: “Up until now, it’s got to be the No. 1 thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “Nobody else ever gets this chance to skate on the ice with all of these guys.” That’s true — no amateur had ever taken part in the skills competition before and, after Jason’s performance, probably none will ever do so again.

Don Cherry was very upset. “The people aren’t here to see him stop them. One reporter here in Montreal thought it was great. But the people didn’t come here, 19,000 of them, to see a Junior B goaltender stop the guys and make them look stupid!” Of course, the dignity of the game is very important to Cherry who makes a point of never looking stupid.

Don Cherry not looking stupid.

The players didn’t seem to feel that Jason had done anything wrong; they congratulated him in the dressing room. Nor did they seem to mind looking a bit silly. After all, this was entertainment, not a real game on the line.

Ovechkin wearing a hat (like Don Cherry) winning the breakaway competition.

Jason didn’t try anything fancy, he didn’t poke check, he just stood in there. But when players are trying things like bouncing pucks off their head into the net, they’re liable to miss more often than not. Even so, Jason wins bragging rights for stopping the NHL’s best. He is likely to be the only amateur ever given the opportunity to do it. “It was awesome for me, so it would have pretty cool to keep that going and have other kids experience it. It’s something different, something no other league does. I guess maybe Don Cherry’s complaint got through,” he says. Jason’s dad got really excited afterwards; he spoke of his son getting Italian citizenship and playing in Europe. Jason, a very level-headed guy, took a job with CCM instead.

This post inspired by Puck Daddy’s column. And here’s Puck Daddy in 2009.
Complete video of the Super Skills Breakaway contest.
News story. Cherry was particularly upset by this article that praised Jason’s performance.

The Ally Bank Commercials

You’ve seen the ads: a slick guy in a suit offers a little girl a pony and hands her a plastic toy, then he offers a second girl a pony only he gives her a real one! The first girl is ticked off, “You didn’t say I could have a real one.” The suit shrugs, “You didn’t ask.” A voice-over hammers us with the message: “Even kids know it’s wrong to hold out on somebody. Why don’t banks?” And then we are introduced to a new kind of bank: Ally.

Actually Ally is an old bank with a new name. It used to be GMAC — General Motors Acceptance Corporation — but after 2008 they decided to get rid of the words “General Motors” because they are associated with bankruptcy and bailouts and so forth. “They” would be Ally’s management, the owners happen to be the People of the United States. After bailout, the American people own 74% of Ally Bank. Ally/GMAC actually received $16 Billion in bailout funds. It has repaid $3 B of that.

So newly-named Ally sought a new image and hired Bartle Bogle Hegarty (yes, sounds like an old car trying to start) to create a series of ads. The early campaign flatout called banks crooked and said You don’t have to take it any more, come to Us! Well, bankers are sensitive people and whined a little so Ally changed their ads to ones showing kids being ripped off. This upset some of the American people who complained but Ally just shrugged and said they were following Management’s directions.

In case you want to know, the kids are pro actors, but they weren’t let in on the secret – the disappointment at not getting a pony? That’s real.

Now Ally knows something about people being ripped off by banks because they’ve done a fair bit of it themselves. In fact, shortly after yanking some of their commercials, Ally announced that it was suspending foreclosures in 23 states that require a court order to foreclose. To get the order, the bank must submit an affadavit to a judge and swear that the debt really exists and that it is in arrears. The bank swears that it has reviewed all the documentation and that it is correct. But that didn’t happen. One employee, Jeffrey Stephan, has admitted to signing 10,000 documents a month and never examining any of them. A spokesperson for Ally Bank says that’s the mortgage division and has nothing to do with the bank commercials. And, in all fairness, Ally does seem to have lower and fewer fees than many other banks. (Though I should add two words here: Credit Union.)

Ally is now working on a new set of ads: a guy is in line at the supermarket, someone with a single item asks if they can get in front. Guy says sure, person ahead of him reaches the till and lights flash, balloons drop from the ceiling, a voice announces that “You’re our one millionth customer and we have $50000 for you!” Of course the guy who let the person in front of him is the ad’s focus. Here’s the story of how one guy felt about the situation; for him it was unpleasant. Now that guy thought that he was being filmed as part of a Reality Show but this person discovered, via an attorney, that it was Bartle Bogle Hegarty at work for Ally Bank. Some of the people being duped were paid for their appearance, some weren’t, some were never told the entire thing was a sham. You know, in an economy where a lot of people are desperate for money, the ad-makers are risking the chance that someone will pull a gun and start blowing folks away. Check out this remix.

But the best take on these ads is probably the one that features that little girl who didn’t get the pony, thirty years later, when she asks the suit if he’d like a job…

Eat At Nando’s

The South African fast food chain, Nando’s, released a commercial showing Robert Mugabe remembering the old days– when he used to clown around with all the other despots like Gaddafi and Idi Amin. (That’s South Africa’s own P.W.Botha on the swing set.) It’s a funny commercial and went viral. But Mugabe has no sense of humor and wants you to know he never really liked Gaddafi. Mugabe also raised a bit of a fuss in South Africa and, after a while, Nando’s pulled its commercials. (Sigh.) Still, the Internet remembers. And, Hey! Here’s another version of the ad with lovable old Mao. (via MetaFilter)

Mugabe and Saddam making sand angels.

Big Bang Belarus

After each episode of Big Bang Theory, producer Chuck Lorre ends the credits with a vanity card — you know, that page of words that’s never on the screen long enough to read and, anyway, a promo for another show has shrunk the credits down to postcard size. Anyway, Lorre puts up various jokes and thoughts and stories. Comments in the vanity cards for Two and A Half Men sparked the battle between Lorre and Charley Sheen which you can google to read about somewhere else. Last night, after The Big Bang Theory, Lorre’s card said:


Belarus is a small, land-locked country next door to Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. According to Wikipedia, one of its major exports is cattle by-products. Which begs the question, what horrible shape are the cattle in, if all they’re good for is felt hats and wallpaper paste? But Belarus does have a bustling TV production industry. One of their most recent hits is a sitcom about four nerdy scientists who live next door to a beautiful blonde waitress. The characters are named Sheldon, Leo, Hovard, Raj and Natasha, and the show is entitled, The Theorists. …

Well, you probably already know that The Big Bang Theory is about four nerdy scientists who live near a beautiful waitress and their names are Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, and Penny. So why Natasha and not Penny? “Penny” is short for Penelope (or at least I guess so and I think the writers were having a little fun there — you know, faithful Penelope and all her suitors vs., um, Penny)  there has to be a Belarusan equivalent. “Natasha” is so cliche — but maybe I just don’t get it, maybe there’s some involved point about national stereotypes.  Or maybe only using 80% of the names gives them legal grounds to claim that they created at least 20% of the program. BTW, Lorre says there’s no use suing because the show is produced by, wait for it, the government of Belarus! Or at least the government TV authority, you know, like the CBC.

This is Natasha. She is not Penny.

The show is about techs looking for work in a large science facility that is operating at low capacity. I take it that the place is based on Novobirsk, or some similar Science City that was shut down and is now trying to revive itself. I don’t know if it’s based on a real place in Belarus. The Science facilities at Minsk seem devoted to agricultural stuff and I think these guys, the Theorists, are physicists. 

 Anyway, the guys more or less live together, and Penn..Natasha, uh, Natasha works at a lunch bar. I can’t make out if the guys work for the same department or section of what is, I think, a state-run operation. But then I can’t really tell who’s Raj and who’s Wolowitz. These guys are big, nobody Wolowitz-sized here. (That actor can make himself look really small.) And which one is which ethnic joke? Is Belarus so much less anti-semitic than Russia that it would show Jewish jokes? But maybe Raj (whichever one that is) is from, say, Chechnya! Maybe he’s a Muslim! Maybe this is some kind of multi-cultural propaganda meant to foster harmony and understanding between different ethnic groups! Boy, then won’t Chuck Lorre look silly for wanting to sue the beneficent Belarus! That probably isn’t what the Belarus government had in mind; they just meant to rip off a successful show, but I am curious whether there are ethnic differences in the characters and what these differences mean.

Here is, I believe, part of the opening episode. I think that’s tall blond Sheldon and stocky Leonard meeting Hovard for the first time. But it might be Raj.

This article has some embedded clips. You can locate more (if you are compulsive) on YouTube.

Here, so you can compare, is some Big Bang Theory dubbed in Russian. You can find lots more, which suggests that there is a large audience for imitations.

Wilmington Cigarettes

So I was watching Breaking Bad and Jesse has hidden the poison in a pack of Wilmington cigarettes.  The pack looked familiar and then I recalled another TV series where the suspect was smoking the same brand. Then I saw the Russell Crowe movie Proof of Life and one character pulls out a pack of Wilmington cigarettes.

Jesse's cigs

 These are TV cigarettes, stand-ins for the real thing  just as stage money was once used in American movies because it was illegal to copy the real thing. Probably there are regulations about not showing a genuine brand so that kids don’t try to imitate Jesse. Or maybe Joe Camel wouldn’t pay for product placement.The most famous TV cigarettes are Morleys, the brand favored by Cancerman (yes!) on The X-Files, who probably smoked more cigarettes on air than anyone since Edward R. Murrow.

Fake pack of Morleys