A Thought Experiment To Ruin Your Night (maybe).

The world near me is literally on fire. Florida beat LSU. I’m in the mood to ruin some people’s evenings. If you’re interested in a thought experiment, keep reading. If you’re the type that doesn’t like to think, and would rather have a nice evening, move on. Nothing to see here.

Still with me? Good, because you’re one of the smart ones. I like having you here. Allow me to present a theory. What if I told you last night started a chain of events where Donald Trump got a second term, and Kanye West held a high level position in his administration? Does that sound like a crazy prediction? It’s nothing different than what we’re seeing right now, is it?

Recently our Vice President Elect, Mike Pence, took a trip to Broadway. The crowd booed his entrance. After the show concluded, Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, singled out Pence and read a speech to him prepared once the show’s cast, crew and producer knew Pence would show up. You’ve probably seen clips of it by now. Here’s a sample of the text.

“Thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf of ALL of us. Thank you.”

Dallas and Subjective Belief

Now removed from my Dallas talk regarding the arts of mentalism, suggestion and their application in jury selection, I come back to the concept of belief. What struck with me the most wasn’t the talk’s reception. People enjoyed it and found it interesting, but the takeaway point for me is that peoples’ belief structures are incredibly subjective.

When I perform as a mentalist I always call myself a “psychological mind reader.” I make it a point to tell the audience my talents are those gained from a life of experience and understanding patterns in people. I don’t call myself a psychic, because I don’t believe in psychic powers, but I don’t discount the possibility of true psychics existing. I personally don’t possess those gifts.

One participant at the Dallas seminar approached me afterward and said “Hey thanks for not pretending to be a psychic and not knocking the real ones.”  I thanked this individual and reiterated I wasn’t willing to discount the possibility of real psychic phenomena. He then told me “You should check out my guy in Austin. The man is legit. James Randi couldn’t even get to him.”

That comment bothered me a little bit. James Randi, for those unfamiliar with the name, is a former magician who made a career out of debunking “psychics,” “faith healers,” and “mediums.” Randi forced Uri Geller to start calling himself a “psychic entertainer” through his work. The evangelical faith healer Peter Popoff called Randi the bane of his existence when James Randi exposed Popoff’s dirty methods of collecting information from the audience so he could get their money and make them toss aside their medicines in Jesus’ name. Randi even established a group of “psychics” called Project Alpha and fooled a group of scientists into thinking they’d discovered individuals with real  psychic gifts. One of those “subjects” was a man named “Banacek” who performs in magic circles to this day.

I’ve done readings, but I like to be consistent with what I do when I perform. I tell people as I read them they give away most of what they’re thinking without even realizing it. When I set the stage for one of my readings, I tell people how I read them is very similar to if they overhear a conversation between a couple in a restaurant. I do all of these things because I want to make sure the participant knows I’m as honest of a liar as they’ll get.

My issue with those who perform as psychics, mind readers, or otherwise isn’t that they hold themselves out as someone with paranormal abilities. I take no issue with these people charging a fee for their performances. What I can and will take issue with is when those who have such talents fleece people and offer them misleading information in the hopes of gaining fortune, fame, and glory. The same holds for those who have “tent revivals” and attempt faith healings. If you’re doing this for money and tell people to cast aside the medicine saving their lives in the name of faith, you’re some of the world’s worst scum.

On the flip side, if the audience is complicit in the performance, the belief is their own. They bought into the lie, and if they lose out on life as a result of the lie, does that make them just as culpable as the liar? My answer to that question would be “no,” as folks who visit entertainers seeking advice of a legal, monetary, or health concern are usually coming from a point of emotional desperation. They simply cannot think of any other options acceptable to their worldview. In those cases, the onus falls to the performer. Herb Dewey and Richard Osterlind, two very successful performers, advocate if someone is asked a question regarding any of the previously mentioned topics, the best suggestion is to say “My instincts tell me that’s a question best addressed by your doctor/lawyer/accountant.”

Suspension of belief is easy to achieve if one is a skilled performer. Manipulating that belief to a degree where people rely on you for advice in life is dangerous. The moment belief becomes subjective, and the believer’s mind is pushed to “Oh you just did a magic trick but the guy down the street does it for real?” That’s when a person needs an intervention.

Bob, Katherine, Eric, Let’s Talk Rockwood (Update)

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a big fan of the show “Howell & Yarbrough” on NewsTalk 98.7 here in Knoxville.  They’ve been kind enough to give me a chance to appear on their show a couple of times to discuss issues regarding a number of legal matters, my favorite being Representative Andy Holt’s pissing contest with Knoxville’s Chief of Police over red light traffic tickets.  In a world where journalistic integrity is falling short, Bob and Katherine are two that actually get what news is like.

Today, Katherine brought up the body cam footage of Rockwood, Tennessee Officer Chris Kennedy pepper spraying former Roane State Basketball player Xavier Howard.  As can happen, the discussion of this “use of force” spiraled into a full blown discussion over whether Xavier Howard actually “complied” with officer demands, whether using pepper spray in a situation like this was appropriate, and where the line is drawn when law enforcement officers escalate the use of force.  Sometimes I’d call in for a discussion on the merits of a case like this.  Today, I wanted to listen and hear what the community had to say.

First of all, it’s imperative you understand the First Rule of Policing before you get anywhere else in discussing situations like this.  That rule is simple: “get home in time for dinner.”  As Fault Lines Managing Editor Scott Greenfield repeatedly points out, this seems trivial to those who don’t wear a badge, but it’s the first thing that a cop thinks about before strapping on his or her service belt.  No amount of money from a pension, no gold shield, nothing makes up for the loss of a husband, son, father, mother, daughter, or wife.  That’s why force escalates so quickly in situations like this.

Second, police are increasingly trained to view interactions with civilians through the lens of “warrior vs. enemy combatant” instead of the “protect and serve” approach to community policing.  For further reading, please see Radley Balko’s seminal work Rise of the Warrior Cop. Posts at Fault Lines are littered with issues concerning escalation of force.  Do check out Greg Prickett’s work when you have a moment, especially his analyses of cop shootings.

And there’s the “just comply and you won’t get hurt” argument.  That argument holds absolutely no weight among members of the defense bar.  It certainly didn’t help Charles Kinsey, who laid on the ground, hands up, explaining to cops he was attempting to help one of his special needs patients from a weapon “discharging” into Kinsey’s leg.  Compliance doesn’t always equal walking away with your life or liberty intact.

Now that we’re past all that, let’s take a look at the video.

First, Officer Kennedy responds once Harris opens the door with “Where’s he at?  I heard him in there, where’s he at?” while shining a high intensity flashlight in her eyes.  When she attempts to tell Officer Kennedy the two were just having an argument, he responds with “I heard y’all fighting.”  That’s when Howard enters the frame, hands up, denying he’s touched Harris.  The two attempt to assure Officer Kennedy there’s no reason for cop intervention, but he insists “We got called here…we’re going to figure this out.”

Shortly after Howard asks “You want to search me?” he turns his back to the officer and drops his hands.  Kennedy then responds with “Get your hands away from that knife!”  Howard protests he didn’t see a knife, but Kennedy assures Howard it’s there and then orders him to come forward.

At the 3 minute mark Kennedy orders Harris in an elevated tone to “get over there” and radios “Sarge, step it up.”  His tone of voice escalates heavily as he yells at Harris and Howard.

Pepper spray is deployed around the 3:17 mark in the video, when Howard places his hands in front of his face, allegedly shielding his eyes from the flashlight Officer Kennedy continues to use.  Kennedy justifies deploying pepper spray by telling Howard he shouldn’t have come at him, when it’s clear there was no forward motion towards Kennedy.

Around 3:30 you can hear Kennedy say “I sprayed him, Sarge,” and another officer runs in while Howard is on his knees to cuff the former Roane State Community College player.  Howard’s coughs and pleas for help are ignored as the cops lead him out of the apartment.  Howard says around the 4:19 mark that he can’t see. By 4:35 Howard is begging for something to wipe his face off.  The cops respond “not right now.”  By 5:30 Howard is complaining he can’t breathe, and Kennedy responds with “You’re breathing.  You’re talking.”

Around the six minute mark Howard loses his cool, refers to the collar as “bullshit” and continues to call Kennedy a liar for the repeated assertions Howard charged at the officer.  By 6:54 Kennedy is justifying his actions to other officers on scene, saying “He wouldn’t comply with my commands, he kept coming at me.”  It’s almost as if Kennedy is framing the narrative for his eventual after-action report, even though the body camera tells otherwise.

By eight minutes, Howard’s face still hasn’t been cleaned off.  He’s not told the reason for his arrest.  Kennedy simply replies to repeated requests of why Howard’s arrested with “I’m going to figure this whole thing out.” Howard’s left in the car, potentially suffering from a severe allergic reaction to the pepper spray, while Kennedy discusses the events with “Sarge.”  Every statement is refuted by the body cam footage, especially the “I told him to step back but he wouldn’t.” (The command was “Stay right there,” which Howard lawfully obeyed)

Was the use of force necessary in this situation?  I’m not a cop, nor have I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express recently, but I’m going to land on the side of “no” here.  Everything Officer Kennedy did from start to finish was indicative of a “warrior cop” mentality, one trained to view Howard as an enemy rather than a person who needed to be investigated.  And the pepper spray, despite many listeners’ comments about how it’s “not that big of a deal,” wasn’t justified in use.  The entire matter stinks from beginning to end.

Bob, Katherine, Eric, if you’re reading this, I’m going to run the incident by Greg Prickett, Fault Lines’ ex-cop turned lawyer, to see if he’s got different eyes on this, but right now I’m calling this definitely a use of excessive force.  Katherine was right to question this, and kudos to her for bringing this to the audience’s attention.


I reached out to Greg Prickett and asked him to review the body cam footage from Officer Kennedy.  He’s an absolute treasure trove of information when it comes to reviewing officer-related shoots, and getting his analysis on this was worth the extra effort.  Here’s his response.

Jesus, where do you find these? That’s major f’ed up. I did not see any reason for the officer to spray Howard, and there damn sure wasn’t an arrestable offense that I saw. What are you going to arrest him for? You are forcing your way into the apartment, which is arguably legal if checking on the welfare of the parties. Of course, here you have both sides telling you to go away, everything is fine.
Then, after you tell him to move away from a knife that I never saw, you spray him because he’s not kowtowing to your insane demands? Howard never charged the officer. Then the sergeant kept saying to arrest him for domestic violence without any complainant or evidence of DV that I can see. Unless the state allows arrest for speech only (and not threatening speech, which there wasn’t any evidence of either), it’s a BS charge without a scintilla of evidence to support it.
Both the officer and the sergeant should be fired and charged criminally for violating Howard’s rights.


Postmortem: Social Autopsy


The following post contains references to people and subjects that when mentioned cause extreme emotional reactions in some people.  To make a point very clear: I take no stance on anything related to GamerGate.  I have no desire to discuss anything related to “ethics in gaming journalism” or “harassment” outside a clear examination of what’s made Candace Owens and “Social Autopsy.com” tank within one week and how terrible responses to communication affected this entire debacle.  The entire situation is a dumpster fire, but one we can learn from.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”–Mike Tyson

I love this quote from Mike Tyson because it examines your response to true adversity.  On a baseline fight level, Tyson knew this maxim meant you could plan for a fight, but the moment you experienced true adversity most people would freeze up and revert to their own personal defense mechanisms.  The same holds true when you’re examining just about every aspect of your life, especially conflict.  If you’ve polished your “fight strategy” going in and know your counterpart’s moves, you’ll do well until you get “punched in the mouth.”  You’ll freeze up and revert back to your old ways of talking to people or dealing with conflict.

Those who experience true adversity, people who’ve been metaphorically “punched in the mouth,” have an easier time dealing with it when adversity comes knocking.  Conflict is painful, but when you’ve dealt with it repeatedly you don’t have an issue with the pain.   You know what your reaction will be to conflict, and you can control it.  The case study for a complete inability to deal with conflict is Candace Owens and “Social Autopsy.com.” One good solid round of adversity in attempting to launch her startup made her resort to the very behavior she wanted to change societally.

Initially, Owens’ project, an “online database” searchable for parties desirous to learn about another’s “bad behavior” seemed like a joke.  Attempting to stop “cyberbullying” by calling someone a “cyberbully” is counterintuitive.  Fortunately, people recognized a Really Bad Idea when they saw it, and several people reached out to Owens in an attempt to warn her of the potential consequences for this new index.  One of those people happened to be Zoe Quinn, the alleged “patient zero” of GamerGate.  During a phone conversation, the two discussed the Social Autopsy project.  The world will most likely never know what occurred during the original exchange between Quinn and Owens.  What we do know is Quinn came away from the conversation convinced Social Autopsy wasn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, and Owens left thinking Quinn mentally unhinged and that “GamerGate” was the subject of Owens’ woes. In that moment of adversity, Owens reverted to her baseline tactic: call people names.

At best, the conversation I had with [Quinn] was weird. At worst, it was unstable.

Randi Lee Harper, another self-styled “anti harassment activist,” took issue with Owens discussing her telephone exchange with Quinn on Twitter.  She penned “An Open Letter To Social Autopsy,” where she described Owens as “a trainwreck,” “shady as hell,” and more.  Owens’ response, yet again, was to decry Randi Lee Harper as a co-conspirator with Quinn and GamerGate in shutting down her Kickstarter because of one line.

You blamed your Kickstarter getting shut down on trolls. You’re wrong. That was us.

That statement can be interpreted in any number of ways.  “Us” could be Zoe Quinn and Randi Lee Harper.  “Us” could be “anti-harassment activists.”  In a moment of complete and utter cluelessness, and relying on something as superficial as Wikipedia to get information, Owens somehow managed to connect Quinn, Harper, and GamerGate as a united front ready to put Owens through some sort of imagined cyber-bully hell.

I announced on Twitter that I would be releasing all of the e-mails; that I would be going on [a] webcast with my suspicions that Zoe Quinn was behind the cyber attacks. I ranted that I thought she was behind all of the e-mail attacks we had received and that this time, to quote her cohort, “the gloves were off”. I announced that I had e-mails and evidence and that I would be speaking out. I focused purposely on the fact that I had e-mails.

My plan worked: the emails magically stopped. They stopped cold turkey. As I sit wring this today, we have gone an entire weekend without receiving so much as one e-mailed threat.

Still think that’s a coincidence?  A total inundation and then a total sudden stop? No that is the work of Zoe Quinn.

No one, I’ll wager, has explained to Candace Owens correlation doesn’t always equal causation.  That said, no one really explained to Owens her fantastical delusion didn’t constitute “terrorism,” either.  That much is evident from her continued screed against Quinn, Harper, and GamerGate.

Randi Harper and Zoe Quinn had discussed my project with one another. Regarding that, there can be no question.

They thought they could get me to pull the project down by beefing up their respective resumes, and with one phone call from “patient zero” of Gamergate.

When that didn’t work, the two of them launched an effort of cyber-terrorism.

Once Owens ran with her gaffe on Degree 180, she started twitting it to every major news outlet she could imagine.  When she got a “hit” from a blog called “Heat Street,” she gave her side of the story and ran with it.  She was favorable to Jesse Singal of NYMag until Singal twitted a less than favorable response to the Social Autopsy project.  When that happened, Owens’ response was to question Singal’s objectivity as a reporter, intimate Singal lose his job, and stated in the same breath she didn’t care about what journalists said concerning her.

Never you mind that Candace Owens is already attempting to silence yet another journalist before an allegedly less than favorable article goes live on a national platform.  This is her new MO; you silence those who are against you and give a voice to those whose ideas you accept.

Cause of (eventual) Death: Hubris and an inability to understand target audience. 

Current Status: Project on life support due to victim status monetization. 


Postmortem: Peeple

Prefatory Note: The following was written in January.  As of today, reception to the Peeple app has been mixed at best.  It currently sits on the iOS App Store with a 1.5 star average rating.  The overwhelming number of the 187 reviews are 1 star.  The Peeple website still has the app listed as in Beta testing.  Peeple is zombified, but I consider my analysis still sound. 

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a great horror story.  Underneath that lies a cautionary tale of someone who had an idea that never should have taken flight, and refused to listen to an inner voice that said otherwise.  Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, the founders of Peeple, apparently think Doctor Frankenstein’s approach to the creation of their own monster is actually worth pursuing.

“She may have gone underground, but she’s not quitting. The 34-year-old Canada-based recruitment specialist is back with a new, toned down tune. She and her 37-year-old Southern California stay-at-home mom co-founder and best friend have eaten their humble pie, admitting that earlier iterations of Peeple’s policies were “ill conceived.” After taking a lifetime’s worth of burns over the Internet’s most hated app, they ditched the five-star rating system and opted for an opt-out. Peeple isn’t evil, they say, and you’d better be ready because it’s coming soon whether you want it or not.”

The initial Washington Post article on “Peeple,” an app that will allow you to rate people on anything and everything, was enough to turn Cordray and McCullough into the most hated people on the internet within hours of its publication.  People far more experienced than I in pointing out how terrible ideas can get did so on notification of the Peeple monster.

“Given an opportunity, some folks will use Peeple in good faith and some will use it to abuse, harass, and antagonize others. That is the natural and probable consequence of its existence…Bomb always eventually beats bunker; the urge to screw with other people always eventually beats technological innovation. Cell phone confirmation and a review structure stand no chance against a nation chock-full of mood-disordered twitchers will too much free time on their hands.”

Eventually Cordray and McCullough went underground, turning off their websites and social media accounts.  Cordray started damage control after making “Yelp for People” the “quickest way” to wrap “anybody’s head around the concept.”  She did this through posting LinkedIn updates about what happened, what she was doing, and why she was taking these steps as she built the app.

The first step was to shift public perception.  It wasn’t a rating app.  It was a “positivity app.”

“Peeple will not be a tool to tell other humans how horrible they are. Actually, it’s the exact opposite.

Peeple is a POSITIVE ONLY APP. We want to bring positivity and kindness to the world.”

The next step was to fine tune this “positivity app” into what Cordray and McCullough always wanted in the first place, just with a few “tweaks.” This “fine tuning” happened in less than a month after the world told her Peeple was ripe for abuse.

“The first change is that it’s 100 percent opt-in. You have to actually sign up to our platform to be on it and no one can actually add you to the platform. You also have full control over what goes live on your profile. So, if you want to post up positive recommendations only, or you want to do a mix of constructive criticism, or you want to put up some very honest feedback recommendations, which we highly recommend, you can do that. That’s the biggest change — you’re in control over what goes live.

You can now also deactivate your profile. Deactivating will remove any activity that you’ve ever done, as well as any activity that’s ever been written about you. If you decide to reactivate, all of that will go live again, so it’s not like you ever lose the data or the information about you. It just won’t be publicly visible while you’re deactivated.

There’s also something in place of the five star system we had. It’s your recommendation score. It’s a number made up of every recommendation that you receive, regardless of you posting it live on your profile or not. The score is accurate against what people are going to recommend you for. It’s made up five separate elements.

We also have a “Nearby” tab, which allows you to find the highest scored people within a 10-mile radius of your location. So, you could be at a networking event and look people up on the app and you can see who the best of the best are rated professionally. Or, say you’re dating and you’re at a bar, you can look up the best on the dating side.  ”

And how does one “opt in?” Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  All you have to do is double authenticate with a Facebook account and a PIN code texted to your cell phone.

Which still lends the platform to abuse, since there’s nothing verifying whether or not the Facebook profile is the person’s actual account or a fake. I could still get on Peeple, create an account for someone else, have the app verify through said fake account, and get the cell phone PIN texted to me.  Even their “six month activity” time isn’t a guarantee against someone with a grudge.

Peeple is in beta testing right now, which is rather interesting because adamant claim of Cordray against it being used for bullying is “you have to see the app to know it’s not going to be used badly

“I found it ironic that people could bully me and claim I was building a bullying app and I hadn’t done a thing. They did to me what they were scared that my proposed app would do to them, all without ever having seen it.”

The Entrepreneur article linked has a planned release date of December 10, 2015 to the App Store for iOS.  Visiting Peeple’s website still has it in beta testing.

Cordray’s takeaway from her Peeple experience sounds terrifying.

“Sometimes you need to lead down a path that is so innovative and so new that you will cause some fear. That doesn’t make everybody else wrong and you right, it just makes you more convicted in what you are trying to do and prove. Don’t waver on your convictions about what you want as long as it doesn’t harm others. Our app was never going to have the ability to harm anybody.”

Sub out “app” for “monster” in that last sentence and Cordray sounds quite a bit like Dr. Frankenstein.

Take a chance on the “Wrongless approach” here.

Want to build your own confidence?  Take a free class in pickpocketing from a Professional Opportunist.

Persuasion more your bag?  Here’s a free class teaching you some fundamentals.