Scott Turow on the DOJ

I am not really a fan of Scott Turow’s books. Potboilers, mostly. But hey, I still like crime mysteries, so… There you go. Maybe it’s just a case of professional jealousy…

But count me among those who agree with his stance as Authors Guild President that the DOJ, in its investigation into price collusion between Apple and major publishers, “may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition.”

One set of numbers tells the tale:

  • Before Apple entered the eBook market, Amazon accounted for an estimated 90% of eBook sales.
  • After Apple entered the market, that figure dropped to an estimated 60%.

Yeah, I know he’s been criticized… Called a turncoat… It’s the same rhetoric over and over… In the three-legged stool represented by publishers, authors and consumers… The consumer is king. Yeah, we all like cheap. And while we’re at it, let’s kill the goose.

An Open Letter to Mike Daisey

Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.

Statement by The Public Theater on the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Yeah you took on Amazon. Burned out on the Peter Principle, you told stories out of school, as former-Amazon colleague Matthew Baldwin so eloquently notes. What the hell. That’s theater.

Next? You put Apple in your sights. Why not? Lots of $$$ and Chinese factories that are a muckraker’s field of dreams. We all love tales of wealth’s evil side and the contradictions of our privileged existence. Plus, the halls of Amazon are filled with ex-Microsofties. Lots of Apple love/hate memories to surf on. You knew the drill.

But you have to get it right, Mike. This line you insist on drawing between journalism and the theater doesn’t exist. At least, not in the context of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Because it’s a work that provokes demands real-life changes in Chinese factory conditions, it demands real-life truths. Not fabrications, confabulations, dramatic malfeasance or the like. Phrases like “I’m feeling,” I’m thinking,” and “I read” are NOT weasel-phrases. They are part of the truth. And, no, this is not a case where the end justifies the means.

Ok, you made a mistake. We all make mistakes. You just make big ones. Huge ones. You’re forgiven. But you should have seen this coming. Brendan Kiley did, with a simple fact check. You only get so much free hubris. Eventually somebody sees through your shit.

So what’s next for you, my man? A prediction…

Next Stop: REHAB.

Hell, there’s another monologue in there about “truth,” “lies,” “damned lies” and “journalists.” Throw in the whole This American Life bit. Spin it for all it’s worth. Yeah. Rehab. It’s the quintessential American experience. You’ll be genius.

You already have a theme song. “The Biggest Lie,” by Elliott Smith. Like I said. Genius.

Placing Bets on Disruption: A Losing Game?

In 1998, Microsoft was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for antitrust violations, including charges that it held a monopoly position in computer operating systems and used its market power to reach anticompetitive agreements with its partners.

In his defense, Bill Gates wrote a response piece in the June 13, 1998, edition of the Economist. It’s worth quoting:

The current popularity of Windows does not mean that its market position is unassailable. The potential financial reward for building the “next Windows” is so great that there will never be a shortage of new technologies seeking to challenge it.

In a similar vein, Gates told Forbes author Daniel Gross in 1997:

We’ve done some good work, but all of these products become obsolete so fast… It will be some finite number of years, and I don’t know the number — before our doom comes.

This notion that technological change comes swiftly, is unrelenting and has no sympathy for incumbents is a recurring meme. Certainly no one dared predict that Apple would overtake Microsoft back in 1997. But in the late ’90s, the Justice Department thought it should help shape the future of technology. There’s a cautionary tale here.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice has set its sights on Apple and a handful of publishers, whom they are accusing of eBook price collusion. Fair enough. Hell, let the EU jump on, too.

The danger here is that these well-intentioned bureaucrats may create another problem by solving the one allegedly at hand. As the esteemed Frederic Filloux points out in, “Ebooks: Defending the Agency Model,” Amazon’s Kindle format presently accounts for 60% of eBook sales. Sure, that’s not monopoly territory.

Yet.

But a ruling that undermines Amazon’s competitors, while giving it a leg up in the eBook market, may very well take things in that direction.

As Bill Gates pointed out many years ago, bureaucrats often tread on soggy ground when they jump into technology wars, especially those of the disruptive kind. Yes, the current battle is also about prices. And market share. But the underlying causality is something quite different. Oh ye regulators, be careful what you wish for…

Robert Hansen & His Victims

Toni Lister was 29 years old when she was murdered in Seward, Alaska. She was last seen alive on a Saturday night. Saturday, March 6, 1982, to be exact.

Calendar March 1982

Could Hansen have been there to kidnap, rape and kill her? He certainly knew Seward well enough. In his own words, taken from his February, 1984, confession:

I know an awful lot of people that’s down to Seward, that goes down there for the weekend… In the spring I would take my boat and pickup and camper and drive to Seward and leave it, then just drive a car back and forth or else fly, fly back and forth, one or the two.

So that one’s a push. March isn’t quite “spring” in Alaska. But Hansen admits to being a Seward weekender.

Was Toni Lister his “type?”

This is where is gets interesting. For there is a profile to Hansen’s victims. While more suggestive than determinative, it is still worth considering.

At age 29, Toni Lister was at the upper range of the Hansen victim profile. Hansen’s oldest victim was 30 (reported missing April 24, 1983). That woman (Paula Goulding) was a bit of an outlier; although older than the others, she was new to dancing and very inexperienced. Another woman, aged “approximately” 28, reported an assault by Hansen back in October, 1975. That woman was a teacher, up in Alaska earning extra money during summer break. Also inexperienced.

The average age of the nine Hansen victims (not all killed) for whom information is available… was not quite 22. Four of them were 17 or 18. The rest were barely over 21.

Yes, there’s a pattern here. Robert Hansen was no smooth talker like the good-looking Ted Bundy. He was butt ugly and he stuttered. He preferred victims who were young and inexperienced. Or just plain inexperienced. Why? The savvy women knew to stay away from him. They knew he was dangerous.

I’d like to think Toni Lister would have known. Would have suspected. Would have seen something amiss.

But then there’s Jimmy Lee Eacker.

A Tale of Two Maps

Toni Lister was reported missing in Seward, Alaska, on March 7, 1982. Her body was found a month and a half later. An autopsy showed she had been sexually assaulted and brutally stabbed 26 times with a Phillips screw driver.

Nine months later, on October 26, 1982, Robert Hansen was arrested on kidnapping and rape charges — and later confessed to the brutal murders of four women in Alaska, although the known death toll is much higher (at least 17 victims). In the final days and months of his killing spree, according to autopsy reports, Hansen had gone into a frenzy of violence, not only shooting the women, but stabbing them multiple times. When asked about the Lister murder by Alaska State Troopers, however, Hansen denied it.

It wasn’t until 2007 that cold case investigators made an arrest in Toni Lister’s murder. The man they arrested was not Robert Hansen. They instead arrested Jimmy Lee Eacker, a trade school friend of Lister’s husband. He had been an early suspect.

Is it possible that police have the wrong man?

Let’s be clear. Jimmy Eacker is no choirboy. He has an armed robbery conviction. He’s a registered sex offender. At his 2007 trial, at least two witnesses testified that he’d raped and threatened violence against them during the ’80s. He acknowledged he’d had sex with Toni Lister on the night in question. Beyond that, he claims he can’t remember killing Toni Lister because he was high on mushrooms.

To complicate matters, the critical DNA evidence in the case — the DNA that tied Eacker to Lister’s murder — was seriously compromised. More specifically, it was contaminated to the point where more than one person’s DNA was found. Several factors were involved, including sloppy lab work. The judge, upon learning of this, threw out Eacker’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

That’s where the maps come into play.

When Hansen was arrested, troopers found aviation maps at his home with hand-drawn markers on them. Those markers later proved to be spots where Hansen victims would be discovered. Once troopers started unearthing bodies, Sgt. Glenn Flothe created a parallel aviation map, marking spots that Hansen had “missed.” Flothe also color-coded his map, with blue marks for victims Hansen acknowledged killing, yellow for those he denied.

There are key differences between those two maps. Flothe’s map has more markers than Hansen’s. Including one very near where Toni Lister’s body was found (#23) — a marker missing from the Hansen map.

Glenn Flothe’s cryptic note about #23? “Denied.” Indeed, the Flothe map shows that Hansen claimed only one of the Seward markers represented a victim. The sole exception was Joanna Messina (#17), whose body was found in… 1980.

So by his own admission, Hansen had been in the Seward area as late as 1980 — and routinely visited Seward in the ’70s, during which time police have evidence of at least one kidnapping and rape (1971). There are also two very suspicious Seward disappearances (1973, 1975) that Hansen denied; suspicious because Hansen was known to be in Seward both times. Troopers speculate that Hansen denied those presumed murders because the victims weren’t prostitutes.

Could Robert Hansen have killed Toni Lister? Yes. Could Jimmy Lee Eacker have killed Toni Lister? Yes. Anyone else? Maybe.

The lesson? If you are going to go cold-casing, don’t cut corners on the lab work required to pinpoint the DNA. After thirty years, memories go bad. DNA evidence is not always perfect or pristine, but carelessness in the lab can be prevented.

AST Version of Hansen’s Flight Map (portion)

Sgt. Glenn Flothe's version of Hansen's flight map

Hansen’s Flight Map (portion)

Hansen's original flight map