The Weekender, March 15, 2019

1) “Guilty” (Slate, 37 minutes, March 2019). The subhead: “In 1998, I helped convict two men of murder. I’ve regretted it ever since.” A warning about this one — it doesn’t have a happy ending.

The case was, in some ways, simple. Twenty-two–year-old Maurice Douglas and 17-year-old Dominic Gibson stood atop a hill in Washington, D.C., on a drizzly night in April 1997. Someone shot down the slope of the hill, killing an off-duty police officer who’d been standing at the bottom.

At first, I thought my job as a juror would be to figure out who’d fired a weapon. Was it Maurice? Dominic? Both of them? But then it became clear that the answer to this crucial question—who killed the police officer?—didn’t matter in the eyes of the court. And as the trial wrapped up, I realized I was about to convict two men of murder, only one of whom I thought was guilty.

Those of us on the jury had no doubt, from early on, that Maurice deserved to go to prison for a long time. Dominic, however, was a question. I wasn’t even sure he’d taken his gun out of his pocket. Yet our decision hinged not on what he did or didn’t do that night, but on a cruel corner of the law that seemed to leave us no room for nuance or pity. The more we got herded toward a clean resolution, the more our votes tightened around Dominic like shackles. I was the last holdout, searching for some way to grant him mercy. Then I caved, too, regretting my capitulation even as I said it aloud.

2) “The reason why ‘ji32k7au4a83’ is a common and terrible password” (ZDNet, 5 minutes, March 2019). Thanks to Dan H. for sharing. This is a short one but a good one.

3) “The Aldi effect: how one discount supermarket transformed the way Britain shops” (The Guardian, 28 minutes, March 2019). The subhead: “When Aldi arrived in Britain, Tesco and Sainsbury’s were sure they had nothing to worry about. Three decades later, they know better.” (For those in the U.S., Aldi’s ownership is somehow related to that of Trader Joe’s, and the two chains follow similar strategies.)

4) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: Too Much Hare in Your Ear — Nelson Mandela gets a hoppy visitor.

Tuesday: Darts Darts Bo Barts Bananafana Fo… Uh Oh. — The Great Flatulence Darts Imbrolgio of 2018. (With a KEY update! Check it out at the bottom of that link. Thanks to reader Jo B. and Richard G. for bringing this critical information to my attention.)

Wednesday: The Game Must Go On — Golf versus war. Golf wins.

Thursday: The Trail Ink Left Behind — I really wanted to make a Dr. Seuss joke (the ink he likes to drink is pink) but couldn’t fit it in.


5) “Inside the Secret Sting Operations to Expose Celebrity Psychics” (New York Times, 19 minutes, February 2019).

Wen you’re setting up fake Facebook pages, it’s the little details that can mess things up. On a group computer call last winter, Susan Gerbic was going through her checklist of tips for her team’s latest sting operation — this one focused on infiltrating the audience of a psychic. It all started with maintaining their Facebook sock puppets — those fake online profiles. “American spellings everyone!” she commanded her half-dozen international colleagues through the Skype crackle.

Gerbic lives in Salinas, Calif., and while she is retired from the routine world of work, she has taken on a new job, as self-appointed guardian of Enlightenment Reason. She spends most of her days wrangling her far-flung group of Guerrilla Skeptics into common cause, defending empirical truth online.

6) “The official breakfast cereal power rankings: Part I” (Los Angeles Times, 11 minutes, March 2019). This is a surprisingly good list. I could quibble with a bunch of things (Reese’s Puffs are gross; Frosted Mini-Wheats are criminally underrated; and Raisin Nut Bran, which is the best cereal ever, fails to make the list), but in general, I’m impressed with how much I agree. (Seriously: I liked this story so much that I bumped another LA Times article from today’s Weekender.) Thanks to John G. for the tip — I’ll be looking out for the next part!

Have a great weekend!