Protecting Donald Trump fans from themselves

The Attorney General of New York is suing Donald Trump for running an allegedly fraudulent “Trump University.”

Yes, “Trump University.”  My favorite allegation: “Trump University speakers repeatedly insinuated that Donald Trump would appear at the three-day seminar, claiming that ‘he is going to be in town’ or ‘often drops by’ and ‘might show up’ or had just left, or baited students with the promise of a ‘surprise’ or a ‘special guest speaker.’ As students later discovered, these claims were untrue. Rather than being photographed with Donald Trump, they were offered the chance to have photos taken with a life-size photo of Donald Trump.”

The Donald™ hit back by saying the prosecution is politically motivated.  (To be fair, there’s no reason they can’t both be true.)  Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri concedes that TU is almost certainly a scam, but how can you help anyone gullible enough to sign up for it?

There is another word for “consumers who believed in the Trump brand” enough to pay $35,000 to go to Donald Trump University, and it rhymes with “Borons.”

New York is suing Trump for fraud. Maybe the word “University” shouldn’t have been in the name, but does the state of New York always swoop in on such cases? If so, I know some people who paid $12.50 each to attend “Monsters University” at their local cinemas who learned very little about being monsters and became, if anything, less attractive as hiring prospects.

Also, doesn’t the proximity of the name “Donald Trump” in the phrase “Donald Trump University” cancel out “university,” like “Facebook” in “Facebook privacy”?

Donald Trump University didn’t make you rich? Donald Trump can barely make Donald Trump rich!

What did people think they were going to get out of this? Even if the program did what it promised — offered you an instructor hand-picked by Donald Trump who showed you the way to replicate The Donald’s success — you wouldn’t actually be much better off. “Okay,” the instructor would say. “First, be born the son of real estate developer Fred Trump. Then lose a lot of money. Call me back when you’ve completed that step, and we’ll discuss hair options.”

Fraud is wrong. But if you looked at this offering and your thought was, “Great! I will just give Donald Trump $35,000, and then I’ll be a millionaire like him!” maybe you needed this wake-up call before you embarked on any other business ventures, like, say, mailing Elon Musk your life savings “as an investment.” What was your backup plan, to buy 2000 As Seen On TV Earwax Vacuums, and use the $50,000 you “saved” to start a business?

Why the accused in “12 Angry Men” is almost certainly guilty

Mind: blown.

Clearly, Reginald Rose, who wrote the original teleplay as well as the film script, intended the unnamed defendant—we’ll just call him The Kid, as the jurors generally do—to be innocent. There isn’t some hidden twist that nobody’s ever noticed until now. But in attempting to make the scenario as dramatic as possible, Rose inadvertently and unwittingly made it almost impossible for The Kid not to have killed his old man. Is he guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt? No. If he’s innocent, however, then so was O.J. Simpson, using pretty much the exact same arguments. (I’m indebted to Vincent Bugliosi’s Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder for much of the following analysis. For anyone harboring any doubt about Simpson’s guilt—or about whether Oswald acted alone in killing JFK, for that matter—Bugliosi’s books, though abominably written, are invaluable. He cuts through the bullshit.)

Here’s the evidence that The Kid committed murder, as discussed by the jury in the film:

  • A few hours before the murder, The Kid was heard loudly arguing with his father, at one point shouting words to the effect of, “I’m gonna kill you!”
  • An elderly man in an adjacent apartment testified that he saw The Kid flee the murder site immediately after he heard the old man scream.
  • A woman who lives across the street from the murder site testified that she actually saw The Kid stab his father to death through the windows of a passing elevated train.
  • The Kid’s alibi for the time of the murder was that he was at the movies, but when questioned the very same night, he couldn’t remember any details of the pictures he saw—titles, stars, anything.
  • The murder weapon—a switchblade knife—was, by The Kid’s own admission, identical to one he owns, and had been seen in his possession. The Kid claimed to have lost his knife that very night.

Rose, an expert at dramatic construction, has his hero, Juror No. 8 (Fonda in the movie), undermine each of these pieces of evidence individually, assisted along the way by those who’ve defected to the Not Guilty camp. Some items in this impromptu defense are more persuasive than others. The most satisfying, both for its deployment at the climax (it’s the argument that finally convinces E.G. Marshall, playing the most coldly rational juror) and in terms of an appeal to logic, is the observation that the female witness had marks on her nose indicating that she regularly wears eyeglasses, which she wouldn’t have had time to put on when awakened by the victim’s screams in the middle of the night. Far less impressive is the discussion of The Kid’s faulty alibi: Fonda challenges Marshall to account for his actions on each of the last several nights, going back further each time Marshall succeeds, then feels vindicated when Marshall finally gets the title of a film he saw four days earlier slightly wrong (The Remarkable Mrs. Bainbridge vs. The Amazing Mrs. Bainbridge) and stumbles over its no-name stars. It wasn’t even the film he’d actually gone to see (which he names without hesitation), but the second feature.

None of this ultimately matters, however, because determining whether a defendant should be convicted or acquitted isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—a matter of examining each piece of evidence in a vacuum. “Well, there’s some bit of doubt attached to all of them, so I guess that adds up to reasonable doubt.” No. What ensures The Kid’s guilt for practical purposes, though neither the prosecutor nor any of the jurors ever mentions it (and Rose apparently never considered it), is the sheer improbability that all the evidence is erroneous. You’d have to be the jurisprudential inverse of a national lottery winner to face so many apparently damning coincidences and misidentifications. Or you’d have to be framed, which is what Johnnie Cochran was ultimately forced to argue—not just because of the DNA evidence, but because there’s no other plausible explanation for why every single detail points to O.J. Simpson’s guilt. But there’s no reason offered in 12 Angry Men for why, say, the police would be planting switchblades.

[…]

  • The Kid coincidentally happened to lose his knife within hours of his father being stabbed to death with an identical knife.

The last one alone convicts him, frankly. That’s a million-to-one shot, conservatively. In the movie, Fonda dramatically produces a duplicate switchblade that he’d bought in The Kid’s neighborhood (which, by the way, would get him disqualified if the judge learned about it, as jurors aren’t allowed to conduct their own private investigations during a trial), by way of demonstrating that it’s hardly unique. But come on. I don’t own a switchblade, but I do own a wallet, which I think I bought at Target or Ross or some similar chain—I’m sure there are thousands of other guys walking around with the same wallet. But the odds that one of those people will happen to kill my father are minute, to put it mildly. And the odds that I’ll also happen to lose my wallet the same day that a stranger leaves his own, identical wallet behind at the scene of my father’s murder (emptied of all identification, I guess, for this analogy to work; cut me some slack, you get the idea) are essentially zero. Coincidences that wild do happen—there’s a recorded case of two brothers who were killed a year apart on the same street, each at age 17, each while riding the same bike, each run over by the same cab driver, carrying the same passenger—but they don’t happen frequently enough for us to seriously consider them as exculpatory evidence. If something that insanely freakish implicates you, you’re just screwed, really.

And that’s just one improbability. In order to vote for acquittal, you would need to accept everything outlined above. Some of these coincidences are individually believable—it’s quite possible that both eyewitnesses honestly convinced themselves they saw The Kid, when they actually just saw a vague figure. But as Bugliosi notes of both Simpson and Oswald, in the real world, you cannot have that much damning evidence pointing at your guilt and still be innocent, unless all of it was deliberately manufactured. (The one place where Bugliosi is shaky is that he won’t concede that some of the evidence in the Simpson case may have been planted by cops who genuinely believed O.J. was guilty, but wanted to seal the deal.) As stirring as it is to watch Fonda upend his fellow jurors’ assumptions and prejudices, their instincts were sound. The Kid is almost certainly guilty. What a hell of a downbeat, realistic twist ending that would be, eh? Had the movie been made during the Watergate era, maybe that’s how it would have turned out.

Much more discussion here.

Divorce gets ugly

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When Feng’s wife gave birth to a girl, he was convinced it could not be his as he believed their daughter would be as beautiful as her mother, so he concluded his wife must have been unfaithful. He insisted she tell him who the father was.

When a DNA test proved that the baby was his, the wife confessed she was originally rather ugly, but had spent $100,000 (P4 million) on cosmetic plastic surgery in South Korea before they were married. Feng filed for divorce citing “false pretenses.”

Unverified photos circulating in China do show a marked improvement in looks after the women went under the knife. Interestingly, no one has been able to track down a photograph of Feng himself. A pity as we could judge for ourselves if he really is the Mr. Oh So Good-Looking he thinks he is.

After the divorce, he then sued his ex-wife. He argued that she had conned him into thinking she was a beautiful woman.  It’s clearly a man’s world in China. Amazingly, the judge agreed with Feng’s argument and ordered his ex-wife to hand over $120,000 (P4.9 million) in compensation.

“I married my wife out of love, but as soon as we had our first daughter, we began having marital issues,” said Feng. “Our daughter was incredibly ugly, to the point where it horrified me.”