Archive for November, 2001

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” — Harvey Milk

November 27th, 2001

On 27 November 1978, twenty-three years ago today, San Francisco city supervisor Dan White took his gun to the City Hall (where Jo and I were married earlier this year). There he shot dead both the Mayor, George Moscone, and his fellow supervisor, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a significant office anywhere in the United States, and whose great political achievement is memorialised on this page (from where I took these fine images) and in the daily political activity of the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club.Notoriously, in the trial which followed, White was acquitted of first-degree murder after inaugurating the “Twinkie Defense”: eating too much sugary junkfood had, he claimed, made him temporarily insane. He served a little less than six years for voluntary manslaughter, and killed himself months after his release in 1985.

Nick wrote [2.12.2001]: A bit more background on the “Twinkie Defense”: not *quite* the spin you (and others) were putting on it, from

Neither White nor his defense team ever claimed that White’s consumption of junk food had wrought psychological or physiological changes in White that caused him to act in way inconsistent with his “normal” behavior when he shot George Moscone and Harvey Milk. White’s defense was that he had been suffering from a long-standing and untreated depression that diminished his capacity to distinguish right from wrong, and thus he was not capable of the premeditation required to support a charge of first degree murder. Dr. Martin Blinder was called as a witness by the defense to testify that the conversion of the previously health-conscious White to a diet of Twinkies and other junk foods was evidence of his depression. This testimony was similar to offering evidence that the habitual wearing of torn and dirty clothes by someone who had previously always been a snappy dresser was a sign that that person was suffering from depression. Nobody who paid attention would claim that such testimony asserted that bad clothing had caused the defendant’s depression, but that is essentially what happened in White’s case. Junk food was used as evidence that White was depressed; White’s depression was used to establish grounds for a successful diminished capacity plea; and therefore White was judged incapable of the premeditation required for a murder conviction.

When the diminished capacity defense was successful and White was convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, an outraged media and public skipped the middlemen. White’s depression wasn’t mentioned; instead we were told he had claimed that “Twinkies made him do it.” (Dr. Blinder did suggest excessive sugar could have aggravated a chemical imbalance in White’s brain, but that comment was offered only as a parenthetical remark during Blinder’s testimony about White’s depression. It was not in any way a substantive part of White’s defense.)

Jo wrote [2.12.2001]: The crucial part is the bit in parentheses. The reason that we here in San Francisco talk about the Twinkie Defense is that the perception (contemporary and in retrospect) is that this observation was an important factor in the verdict, whether or not it was an official part of the defense case. I agree that the events have become simplified through mass consumption, but I am sure we all agree that factors can influence a trial without being spelt out by the lawyers – witness the differential conviction rates of whites and people of colour. Perhaps it should be referred to as the “Twinkie Argument”, but it was made, and it seemed at least to matter. By the way, this website article has no by-line and only cites (later) newspaper articles as sources. It quotes other (contemporary) newspaper reports in order to dismiss them, presumably in the light of the first set of articles. There is no argument as to why we should believe a Newsweek reporter as opposed to the Chronicle reporters. (I note, by the way, that Randy Shilts did not have access to records of the trial when he wrote The Mayor of Castro Street: presumably these would be the only source which could really trump the newspaper reports dismissed on this website. Maybe the Newsweek reporter had access to these; the article does not make it clear).

By another way, I think that this website plays a rather banal game by describing a ‘myth’ in terms that the writer can then easily disprove, without giving any evidence for that particular formulation of the ‘myth’. So, in this case, I have never actually heard the version of the Twinkie Defense that says that Dan White’s lawyers actually made it part of the official defense, only that it was an influential argument used at the trial. But that version is less easy to disprove, so the website sets up a straw man.

In Memoriam

November 26th, 2001

Wilfrid George Kalaugher. Born 26.11.1904, died 12.8.1999. Ninety-seven today – and much missed.


November 25th, 2001

Nick recently sent me this variant on Martin Niemöller’s famous remark, which was, he tells me posted in a Usenet discussion of anti-Muslim sentiment in the USA:

When they come for the Muslims, I will speak up, even though I am not a Muslim.
When they come for the spammers, I will speak up and say: ‘Hey, you missed that one over there!’

On the whole, I’ve been relatively untroubled by electronic spam — though to write these words is to tempt fate. But then four copies of the same message arrived in my inbox earlier this afternoon, from someone who’d clearly been trawling The Voice of the Turtle for email addresses, and found several different ways of contacting me. What did he want to say?

This letter was borne out of my desire to establish a business/mutual relashionship with you.My name is Mr Smith Lunor,the son of chief michael Dada (the former deputy minister of finance under the ousted civilian government) who was killed and mutilated by the military junta led by Major Paul koroma,after overthrowing the elected of President Tijan kabba.Though I do not know to what extent you are familiar with events and disturbances in Sierra Leone,but the pressure of war drove my mother and me out of Sierra Leone into exile in Spain where we have been living under political asylum Sadly,my mother died of cancer three weeks ago and was burried in Spain.Prior to her death,she handed me over a certificate meant for a secret deposit which my father made in a Security Company in Spain,the deposit that worth US$14,500,000 (fourteen million five hundred United States dollars only),was money paid to his corporation by its overseas Company in the heat of the conflict.He made this saving on his name with the hope of converting it for his personal use at the end of the war;but was killed when the conflict intensified as a result of his opposition to the rebel forces. I have contacted the Security Company to confirm and the established ownership.Due to the return of peace in Sierra Leone and the subsequent death of my mother,I have decided to solicit for the participation of a honest and trustworthy person or Company that will assist in the transfer and business re-investment of the fund.I cannot do it alone due to my present social status and total ignorance of the business world.You will be given a nogotiable percentage at the end of the transaction. If you are interested in the above proposal,contact me immediately through this same e-mail address for more details.You must maintain absolute confidentiality to ensure success.Please indicate your personal tel/fax numbers when replying. Best regards, Mr Smith lunor.

A touching story, and one offering the tantalising prospect of personal enrichment (or at least a “nogotiable percentage”). But a moment with confirms the suspicion that this is spam and scam alike, and one with a distinguished history, as a glance at the thirty-three variations on a theme documented at the Sierra Leone Web demonstrates.Peter Andersen of the Sierra Leone Web writes [25.11.2001]: One of these days I will have to add some of that have been circulated in the past few months. For some reason the last week has seen a lot of activity. Even I got one! I’ve also had more than my share of dishonest potential victims writing to me under false pretenses. Apart from the 419 formula which you recognized, this scam artist has managed both to mangle all the facts and to completely misspell the names of everyone he has referred to.

Nick writes [27.11.2001]: This looks like a modern variant on the more famous Nigerian 419 scam. For more info, see this page, where there is also a beautiful “letters gallery” of non-electronic correspondence examples, plus sundry links to related scams and resources. The quatloos site is a perfect place to pass idle afternoons musing on human gullibility… as is (also highly recommended).

Rob writes [6.12.2001]: This is merely a technologically updated version of the Spanish Prisoner scam. Mamet’s version is a bit more exciting, and stars his scrumptious wife, Rebecca Pidgeon.

Nick found this model response [9.1.2002]:


It is so good to hear from a fellow-countryman, having been raised and lived for many years in our most beautiful homeland, Nigeria. I want to send you my sincere thanks and gratitude for your kind offer of USD$25,000.000.00
(TWENTY FIVE MILLION UNITED STATE DOLLARS) for taking part in this funds transfer transaction.

However, I am a businessman too, and I make my living transferring large sums of money from and to my friends, relatives, and business associates in Nigeria. Therefore, I know that you would agree, that in order to participate in this wonderful opportunity, I must have an advance monetary commitment from you — a good faith gesture on your part — in order to proceed.

Therefore, I ask that you deposit just 10% ($2,500,000) of the $25M into my PayPal account as an indication that you truly possess the funds and are actually authorized to release them. Using the online PayPal service is a
very convenient and secure way to transfer funds. All you need do is access the PayPal web site, open a PayPal account, deposit the funds into your new account, and then transfer the money into my existing account, which has already been set up to receive the $25M.

You only need my email address, which you already have, to transfer the funds into my account. Therefore, the complete safety of your account, as well as mine, is guaranteed and insured unconditionally. You have asked that
this matter be handled with the strictest confidentiality, and I will agree to that condition, provided that the transfer takes place in a reasonable period of time, say by Friday, 5 October.

If the money has not been received by that time, I must assume that you are not making a legitimate offer, and that you might be someone other than who you say you are — although I can tell by the exceptional language of your
email, that is probably not the case. However, if that is the case, then I will be forced to embark upon a most unpleasant course of action that I would prefer not to undertake.

Because I have so many loyal friends in the Government of Nigeria and the Military, and many close ties within the Security Service where you work, it would be quite easy to locate your office and your home, as well as learn the identities of your friends and relatives.

I truly don’t believe that you would want to jeopardize their health and well-being, and your own future. I will access my PayPal account on next Saturday to verify that your good-faith payment has been made. Once that takes place, we can move forward with the final transfer.

I trust that you will not disappoint me in this matter, since the consequences for non-compliance could be quite severe. I look forward with great anticipation to working with you.


Image of the Week, #4

November 24th, 2001

This cartoon and others by Kirk Anderson are available through the ZNet Cartoons Page.


November 24th, 2001

Two good anniversaries to celebrate. Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species on 24 November 1859. And happy birthday, Baruch Spinoza (b.1632) — three hundred and sixty nine today!

Pope sends first e-mail apology

November 23rd, 2001

From the BBC:

Pope John Paul II has sent an apology by e-mail for a string of injustices, including sexual abuse, committed by Roman Catholic clergy in the Pacific nations. The 81-year-old pontiff transmitted the message, his first virtual apology, in a recent string of statements of contrition, from a laptop in the Vatican’s frescoed Clementine Hall on Wednesday.

Pope John Paul II Reporting on a Synod meeting held in 1998, the Pope wrote that bishops from the region “apologised unreservedly” for the “shameful injustices done to indigenous peoples” in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific.

The Vatican website is still highly recommended.Nick writes [23.11.2001]: “My favourite detail was in the last paragraph of the Grauniad account:

“The Pope pressed the send button which emailed the document, by tradition a publication he would deliver by hand. Aides said it was intended to spare him a lengthy journey.”

A perfect example IMO of your old friend, “traditional values in a modern setting.”

“The Fabians propose new definition of socialism”

November 20th, 2001

The Fabian Society writes [19.11.2001]:

The Fabian Society AGM has voted to amend the Society’s statement of socialist aims and valuesAt the Fabian Society’s AGM on Saturday 17 November, members voted to adopt a new statement of aims and values. The Society’s proposed new Rule 2 updates the Society’s commitment to a classless society and to a just distribution of wealth and power. Unlike Labour’s new clause 4, it also expresses belief in the democratic direction of the economy and to common and social ownership. It commits the Society to strong and accountable public institutions and to sustainable development.

The proposed new Rule will now be put to a ballot of the full membership of the Society.

The proposed new Rule 2 reads:

‘The Fabian Society consists of socialists. It therefore aims at a classless society, where a just distribution of wealth and power assures true equality of opportunity. It holds that society, throught its democratic institutions, should determine the overall direction and distribution of economic activity, and seeks to promote where appropriate the social and co-operative ownership of economic resources. It argues for strong and accountable public institutions reflecting the values of public service to meet need. It believes in an active democracy, characterised by liberty, tolerance and repect for diversity. It aims at the implementation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and seeks the creation of effective international institutions to uphold and promote world peace and sustainable development. It seeks to secure these ends by the methods of poliical democracy.’

The existing Rule 2, which would be replaced, was drafted after the second world war. It reads:

‘The Society consists of socialists. It therefore aims at a society in which equality of opportunity will be assured and the economic power and privileges of individuals and classes abolished through the collective ownership and democratic control of the economic resources of the community. It seeks to secure these ends by the methods of poliical democracy. It also aims at the implementation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It seeks the creation of effective international institutions to uphold and enforce world peace.’

The Labour Party’s Clause 4 reads:

‘The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.’

All we’re missing here is the text of the old Clause Four of the Labour Party, drafted by Sidney Webb, so I’ll include that here for the sake of completeness:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

So, should the Fabians vote for the new Rule Two?