Allen v. Farrow · Andy Mills Ouster · Abolishing The Death Penalty

Plus black-market gold, a Village real-estate grift, and more

Scott Eden’s longform piece on the global black market for gold in The Atavist is a maddening read. It’s brisk and compelling on the prose level, and Eden does a great job marshalling centuries of “iniquity” in the service of finding and acquiring the ne plus ultra of precious metals. The piece starts with the “laundering” of gold bricks in Doral, FL, then zooms out to put that laundering in systemically and historically lethal context:

Informal mining accounts for as much as 20 percent of the world’s newly extracted gold. In other words, up to one-fifth of the global gold business, worth more than $30 billion a year, according to some estimates, is a black market. And like all black markets, the illegal gold trade is vulnerable to the whole range of organized iniquity: bribery, human trafficking, money laundering, murder for hire, terrorism. The South American gold business is particularly fraught with these dangers, the Peruvian one perhaps most of all. It’s the kind of place, in the words of one industry participant, “where you can do everything right and still get in trouble.” 

The piece is very long, and the white type on black background is a little tough to read, but this is straight-ahead, dynamic writing that will make you seethe at all the corruption; I had to pee for like three full chapters, but I didn’t move from my desk chair. And it’s got something for everyone: mining process; the dark economies of mining boomtownlets; cartoon characters enlisted in the fight against tax evasion; Wells Fargo snark; a cameo by Lake Titicaca; a ritual in which binge-drinking workers get buried alive as a sacrifice to the mining gods; guys named Arcángel, guys named after Lenin, and guys nicknamed “Puby (pronounced poobie).” Oh, and COVID. And dad jokes:

The men who operated the pumps and hoses, excavating and then working down inside the muddy craters, could make up to 300 soles a day. That was the job Dengue wanted. I asked him how much money he’d earned so far in his gold-mining career.

“Everything is invested,” he replied.

“In what?”

“Mujeres y cerveza.”

I stumbled across “The Gilded Age” almost accidentally via, but that’s the sort of happy accident we’re about around here. — SDB

Andy Mills is out at the Times. Mills, one of the producers of the now-disgraced Caliphate podcast, resigned on Friday; a Times spokesperson “declined to elaborate,” but Mills, unfortunately, did not, posting what WaPo drily calls “a lengthy departure note” on his website, which I will not link to but which I would characterize as exactly the virulent strain of twatty self-pity you’d expect. Mills’s leave-taking seems to have some parallels to his leave-taking of WNYC, i.e., top brass likely come-to-Jesused him: leave under your own steam now, or wait for this to get even uglier, at which time we force you out anyway.

Mills is likely grateful that, at least in the Post’s version, he’s not even the lede; respected COVID-beat reporter Donald McNeil is also out after dropping the N-word in front of students:

High-profile science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr.'s departure comes after the Daily Beast reported that he had repeated a racial slur during a 2019 trip to Peru for high school students. The Times also confirmed that McNeil, who has been a key reporter covering the coronavirus pandemic, “had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language." McNeil initially responded to the report by telling The Washington Post, “don’t believe everything you read,” without elaborating.

I wonder if he gets to keep that Chancellor check. I also wonder what the legal and ethical thought process is behind letting Mills and McNeil “leave the organization,” versus firing them — particularly given how long various investigations into and protests of both men’s behavior had already gone on. Heads on pikes has got to be the preferred optics for the Times, but the heads in question must have had some grounds to sue for wrongful termination.

In any event, good riddance. — SDB

And now, let’s turn our attention to our new favorite journo at Best Evidence — Bridget “Must” Read on New York’s real-estate beat! We finally got around to Read’s August story about eco-yogi Brooklyn slumlords last week; the next day, a new New York arrived, and with it an even more compelling Read read. (#notsorry) “The Nightmare Share” is horrifying and infuriating, and it is NYC-resident-nip, the kind of story you tell around a(n illegal) campfire(pit) about the dark side of tenant-protection laws. There’s also a map with locations marked “The Secret Sandwich Ambush” and “The Great Leg-Sitting Offensive,” to remind readers that nobody has died here; it’s a roommate-from-hell grift that, on a scale of 1 to Pacific Heights, is about a 7…but just isn’t ending for Heidi Russell, thanks to the pandemic and to grifter/borderline personality Kate Gladstone’s expert leveraging of municipal statutes. Russell, now squatting in one room of her teeny 2BR, is trying to make it work, and the image of her pushing her poodle around in an old-style pram is heartbreaking:

To cope, Russell spent hours outdoors. And she found a decent public bathroom at the Wendy’s on 14th Street. She would walk all the way to Wall Street and back and then sit on the stoops of friends’ apartments. She hung out in the West Village Houses’ laundry room, where she would take “farmer showers.” It was better than the first few months of the pandemic, when Russell wandered a frigid, empty downtown, pushing Abby, who had injured her leg, around in a carriage. Back on Barrow Street, Gladstone still had the colored lights she’d put up for Christmas nailed to the wall. She was getting copies of The New Yorker.

By the time I got to the jump, I was grinding my teeth. Fantastic work, again, from Read — and a good reminder for this reader that my pandemic complaints ain’t shit. — SDB

I must confess that Allen v. Farrow wasn’t on my radar at all until my boss at Primetimer tipped me to its upcoming premiere on HBO Max. The four-part series from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (The Invisible War), which The Hollywood Reporter calls “explosive,” debuts on the streamer February 21. The official trailer is below:

New episodes will air on subsequent Sundays at 9 PM ET. Here’s more from THR on why I may not have known this existed until an assignments editor mentioned it:

The series, which was shot in secret, is reminiscent of HBO's involvement in the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland, which also tackled a once-beloved artistic genius accused of pedophilia. That docuseries also was made under the radar and announced just days before its Sundance launch, followed by a March 2019 release on HBO.

It had a big press day on Friday, though; if you need a refresher on the filmmakers’ previous work and/or the allegations made by Dylan Farrow against her father, Woody Allen, Nicole Sperling’s Times piece is a good place to start, and the interview with Dick and Ziering is good too. — SDB

News broke on Friday that Virginia has decided to abolish the death penalty, so it seemed like an appropriate time to link to Anand Giridharadas’s review of Maurice Chammah’s book on the recent history of the death penalty. Let The Lord Sort Them:
The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty
is the first book from Chammah, a staff writer at The Marshall Project, and Giridharadas’s lede makes it clear that the book is as much a portrait of slow, painstaking activist gains. Giridharadas also provides some helpful context about capital punishment’s “profile” in the last five decades:

When the Supreme Court finally ruled in 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, it didn’t declare execution unconstitutional in principle. Rather, a divided court found capital punishment to be ruled by caprice, irregularity and discrimination, and thus, as Justice Potter Stewart put it, a “cruel and unusual” violation of the Eighth Amendment.

And what you have to understand about America, and about the state Chammah focuses on, Texas — which is to America what America is to the world — is that many interpreted this historic ruling not as an invitation to step back and reimagine the justice system but as an invitation to retool the death penalty to get those heartbeats stopping again.

I’m eager to read Let The Lord Sort Them, and this segment of the review put me in mind of Bill James’s take on the abolition of the death penalty in Popular Crime — it’s on p. 295 of the hardcover edition, but if you don’t care to chase that down (…nor should you! that’s what I’m for!), he notes that the death penalty “had been in decline in American for four decades” by 1972, didn’t have “the benefit of any organized public support,” and would have gone extinct on its own had the Supreme Court not attempted to formally “put it to sleep.” Alas, “conservative Americans” resented the diktat and that resentment led “to resistance.” I was not yet a zygote at that juncture and don’t know enough about the issue now to say whether that’s an accurate assessment, but it doesn’t line up exactly with Giridharadas’s take above, and I’m interested to see if the book agrees that the death penalty would have just gone away on its own.

I also dug up this old Grantland interview of James by Chuck Klosterman; if you’d like to know what Goodreaders thought of Let The Lord Sort Them, here’s the book’s page — and some of the reviews offer related reading ideas, if you’re looking to add to your carceral-complex reading list. — SDB

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And now, local news — namely, a guy I’m pretty sure I know from around the neighborhood based on the description here. He robbed the Dunkin not a block from me on Thursday morning, then followed that up with another knifepoint heist a half-dozen blocks away on Friday. I had kiiiiind of hoped he continued his Munchkin-napping spree (with no injuries or trauma to workers/patrons, of course!) into the weekend, but apparently he either got enough money to keep him “off sick” for a few days, or he rightly figured pressing his luck with a third donut-shop robbery in a neighborhood with this many retired cops was not a great call. Anyway, not that Phoebe Judge needs my input but I would make an episode about the Dunkin Thief a listening priority.

This wasn’t even the bold-type crime boom of the day late last week, which saw three separate bike-jackings on Friday, but while I was paging glumly through the Police Beat section of the Brooklyn Reporter website, I found a legit heartening headline, namely that Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez is “moving to vacate” open warrants for prostitution and for loitering for the purposes of prostitution — “charges his office no longer prosecutes.” Why’s that? Take it away, EGon.

“[F]irst and most obviously, it doesn’t make sense for someone to have an outstanding warrant for something we no longer prosecute. But beyond that, these warrants have powerful negative consequences for the individual, and they undermine public safety. Because someone with an open warrant is subject to arrest at any time, those engaged in the selling of sex are more likely to be driven underground and be less likely to report abuse or other crimes, which makes both them and others less safe.

“Vacating these warrants and dismissing these cases is consistent with my view that those who engage in these activities need to be offered assistance, not criminally prosecuted. I am also calling on Albany to repeal the law that prohibits what is known as loitering for purposes of prostitution, because of the vagueness of the law, the stark racial inequalities in its enforcement, and the disproportionate harm that enforcement of the law has caused to vulnerable trans women in our community.”

I mean, what do I know, but this is eminently sensible and long overdue IMO, since (also IMO) criminalizing sex work creates and reinforces underclasses and systemic bias, so good for Kings County. Good news for former or retired sex workers who suspect they have warrants going back to the Koch era, too: “850 additional warrants dating back from 2011 to the 1970s that are archived and cannot be currently accessed because of the COVID-19 pandemic … will be dismissed at the earliest possible time, and any arrests made on those warrants will not be prosecuted.” — SDB

Tuesday on Best Evidence: A look at how far cell phone evidence has come since the Hae Min Lee case.

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