On April 23, 1966 the Associated Press reported that the Soviet Ambassador in Washington had finally settled on a location for a new “camp and summer recreation area” for the children of his embassy employees. The site in question was a beautiful mansion on the Shenandoah River in Northern Virginia, 40 miles out of D.C.
The elephant-sized omission from the news report was that the house was strategically positioned at the base of Mount Weather, home to a key U.S. continuity of government site and a massive underground nuclear bunker. The “summer camp” was a dreadfully obvious ruse, but both the State and Defense Departments inexplicably gave their authorization to the Soviet summer campers.
Mount Weather was something of an open secret among locals who rubbed shoulders with military men at the town bar and could see the black helicopters run mock evacuation drills. After the Soviet summer camp plans became known, a localClarke Courier reporter blasted the State Department for permitting such a blunder, calling it a “stupid move that tempts the fate of the unknown.” “Maybe we have been wrong, along with everyone else in the area, in thinking that Mt. Weather is a hush-hush project,” the Courier opined. “Perhaps it should be classified as merely a weather station which, of course, it isn’t.”
It’s unlikely that the Soviets could have used their spy station to listen in through Mount Weather's blast-proof walls. But there were plenty of useful clues to be gathered in the open source from such an opportunely located lookout—namely monitoring the front gates for motorcade arrivals and the skies for helicopters. The unexpected arrival of a mass of visitors from Washington could be a tip off that a surprise nuclear attack was underway against the Soviet Union.
The Soviet summer spy camp has been alluded to in several histories of the Cold War period, but the exact location of the house was a mystery. Comparing an AP archival photograph with modern Google Earth imagery and real estate listings reveals a likely address. It’s unknown when the Soviets moved out of the area, but it seems their old spying summer camp is presently used as a veterinary stable.
I’ve been compiling lists of “unpopular ideas,” things that seem weird or bad to most people (at least, to most educated urbanites in the United States, which is the demographic I know best).
Because my collection of unpopular ideas became so long, I’ve broken it into categories. Below, I focus specifically on ideas about crime and punishment. (Here are my two previous lists, on social norms and political/economic systems.) I’ll be posting similar lists on other topics and adding to each one over time as I find new examples.
Why am I making these lists? Even though I disagree with many of these ideas, I nevertheless think it’s valuable to practice engaging with ideas that seem weird or bad, for two reasons: First, because such ideas might occasionally be true, and it’s worth sifting through some duds to find a gem.
And second, because I think our imaginations tend to be too constrained by conventional “common sense,” and that many ideas we accept as true today were counterintuitive to past generations. Considering weird ideas helps de-anchor us from the status quo, and that’s valuable independently of whether those particular ideas are true or not.
Unpopular ideas about crime and punishment:
Juries should be replaced by judges, especially in cases that are complex or subject to bias. (1)
Non-retributive justice: Criminals are purely victims of genetics and circumstance. We should abandon punishment as a goal and instead focus only on preventing future harm. (1)
We should provide prisoners, especially those serving a life sentence, with the means to commit suicide, and encourage them to do so. (1)
We should send destructive drug addicts to towns away from society with free birth control, food, shelter and drugs. It would be less expensive to society than the crimes they commit and the cost of imprisoning them.
Our current prison system mixes punishment with rehabilitation, and therefore does an ineffective job of both. We could get better results either by focusing solely on punishment, or solely on rehabilitation.
Pre-punishment (like in Minority Report) would be effective and morally acceptable. (1, 2, 3)
The death penalty is broken only in practice, not in principle. It wouldn’t be difficult to fix and should be kept in place for the worst criminals. Life imprisonment is extremely costly, dangerous to other inmates, and not much more humane than death anyway. (1)
Prison abolitionism: We should get rid of prisons altogether, or reduce the size of the prison population to about five percent of its current size. (1, 2, 3)
Police abolitionism: The benefits the police provide are not great enough to justify the harms and injustices they cause. (1)
We should flog criminals instead of imprisoning them. Variant: we should offer convicts the choice between flogging and imprisonment. (1)
Public shaming is often a more effective solution to crime than imprisonment, and should be more widely used. (1, 2)
It should be legal to blackmail people over crimes they committed. This would provide an extra deterrant for criminals, and be cheap relative to policing. (1)
The internet is filled with pockets of loveliness and brief totems to the wondrous bounty of the human spirit, plus a few good dogs — largely corgis. There are also dark corners of nastiness such as the thread on Reddit called “r/race_realism,” a place where racists once could sling debunked Charles Murray junk science, post thudding and unfunny racist memes, and unironically declare fealty to white nationalism without fear of condemnation from any human with a lick of decency.
Thankfully, per a report from Gizmodo, the subreddit has been destroyed from within, transformed from a teeming hive of anonymous, vile bigots into a forum for talking about — wait for it — racing.
Hop over to r/race_realism now, and you’ll spy a nice photo of Jesse Owens in full sprint during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin alongside discussions of NASCAR and pro cycling. You’ll also note that many of the threads include a cheeky reference to the subreddit’s former knuckle-dragging content, such as “Some races are indeed dumber than others,” which now links to a YouTube video of dudes bounding down a hillside, riding, falling off, and ultimately wrecking toy Jeeps — a “sport” that appears to be a whole heap of fun, if very dumb.
Redditors also instituted new rules such as “No bigotry or hate speech directed towards other races. All types of raceing are celebrated here, be it Formula One or the Tour De France or what have you. Most importantly, all races are equal.”
This scrubbing of one particularly grimy corner of the internet was accomplished by the same band of merry trolls that transformed r/WhitePower and r/stormfront. Those subreddits were previously the domains of various phylum of white supremacists and neo-Nazis but now are a forum for talking about the literal color white and the actual weather, respectively.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, the group says their greatest accomplishment to date is seizing control of the subreddit r/faggots — which ex-Breitbart tech editor and alt-lite provocateur Milo Yiannopolous had his eyes on during his “Dangerous Faggot” speaking tour — into a home for fans of bundled sticks.
Here’s how they pulled off their latest feat via Gizmodo:
“What we do is keep an eye out for hatereddits without active moderation. When mods of hate subs fall off the radar or get banned, their subreddit may become eligible to be taken over via /r/redditrequest,” forum moderator awkwardtheturtle told Gizmodo.
Subreddits with inactive moderators can be posted to r/redditrequest so that Reddit can give control of them to new owners. “All the mods of this sub were either banned by the admins or very inactive,” awkwardtheturtle explained to Gizmodo.
GodOfAtheism, also a member of this trolling collective, said that the process of seizing power didn’t require that much effort, given that — you know — actual racists tend to cross all sorts of lines, like calling for the systematic murder of non-white people. What’s more, Reddit has been attempting to rein in some of the awfulness that has proliferated and festered on the site, specifically targeting neo-Nazis.
Redditor groups have also subverted openly sexist subreddits with pages of adorable felines, turning yet another nasty corner of the internet into a bastion of kitties. So cute!
Opioid makers have been accused—and in many cases convicted—of doing all sorts of shady things to get people on highly addictive, often deadly opioid pain medications and spurring the devastating epidemic the country is now facing. They’ve allegedly greased doctors into writing unnecessary prescriptions, hidden and misled everyone on the drugs’ addictiveness, and looked the other way as large orders of opioids made their way to the black market.
But an investigation led by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, adds a new seedy tidbit to the list: posing as doctors' offices and straight-up lying to insurers to get deadly, powerful opioids covered for patients who don’t need them. In an audio file and report (PDF) released Wednesday by McCaskill, that’s exactly what you can hear a representative of Insys Therapeutics doing.
In the recording, the Insys rep is working to circumvent a so-called “prior authorization process” that insurers use to weed out unnecessary or abusive prescribing. In this case, the Insys rep wanted to get the Insys drug, Subsys, approved and covered for a patient in New Jersey named Sarah Fuller.
The problem was that Subsys is an incredibly powerful and dangerous fentanyl opioid, only approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use by cancer patients with “breakthrough” pain. That is pain that is unresponsive to other powerful opioids. Fuller had back and neck pain and fibromyalgia—not cancer or intractable pain from it. She also had a history of addiction to narcotic drugs.
Despite knowing this, Fuller’s doctor, Dr. Vivienne Matalon of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, had been prescribing her opioid medications for pain management—namely OxyContin and Percocet—since 2014. But, in January 2015, Matalon and Fuller had a meeting with an Insys representative to discuss her switching to Subsys, which costs more than $20,000 per month.
It was in that month that an Insys rep called her pharmacy benefit manager to try to get Fuller’s Subsys prescription covered. Initially, her insurer denied coverage of the “off-label” prescription.
In the call, the Insys rep repeatedly and strongly suggested that she was employed by Matalon and that she was calling from her doctor’s office. She then equivocated and dodged answers to get the benefit manager to think that Fuller had breakthrough cancer pain.
Here’s the audio file (mp4) and the transcript of the important bit (~4:45):
PBM: Hello, Gina? Hi, Gina, thanks for holding, I appreciate your patience. So is this initial or continuing therapy?
Insys rep: This is initial.
PBM: OK, and what is the diagnosis for the patient?
Insys rep: Uh, let me look here…[mumbling]… medication is intended for the management of breakthrough cancer pain. The doctor is treating the patient for breakthrough pain with a diagnosis code of 338.29 [chronic pain]…
Insys rep: 338.29, yeah and 338.4 [chronic pain syndrome]
PBM: And did you say 338.4 also?
Insys rep: Yes
PBM: Thank you. [pause] Is it also for the breakthrough cancer pain or not?
Insys rep: Well, there’s no code for breakthrough cancer pain.
PBM: Yeah, and that’s fine. I typed out the description. I just wanted to make sure that I heard you correctly.
Insys rep: It’s for breakthrough pain, yeah.
PBM: Good. Ok.
According to court documents filed by Fuller’s family, Fuller died on March 25, 2016, “due to an adverse reaction to prescription medications.”
In a statement, McCaskill explained that this was unlikely to be a unique situation, saying:
“There is extensive evidence that Insys aggressively pressured its employees and the entire medical system to increase the use of a fentanyl product during a national epidemic that was taking the lives of tens of thousands of Americans a year in order to make more money—it’s hard to imagine anything more despicable. Their attempts to manipulate the prescription approval process for this drug appear to have been systemic, and anyone responsible for this manipulation deserves to be prosecuted.”
McCaskill also released a letter from Insys’ new president and CEO, Saeed Motahari, in which he emphasized that the company has gone through a massive overhaul, reshuffling executives and turning over more than 90 percent of its staff. He joined Insys in mid 2017 and is a former executive of Purdue Pharma.
“Like you and your staff,” he wrote, “I was concerned about certain mistakes and unacceptable actions of former Insys employees.” He said the company has since put new programs and ethics standards in place to correct problems. “We passionately believe that the company has taken steps to ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Insys and its former executives face several federal, state, and civil lawsuits related to its opioid medications and their distribution.
The Senate committee’s investigation continues. McCaskill has expanded it to include “documents and information from opioid manufacturers Mallinckrodt, Endo, Teva, and Allergan, while a request to McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc., focused on their distribution of opioid products.”
He was an activist who inspired millions to fight for their rights. He knew what was wrong with our country and risked his life to help his people achieve equality. In the society where black were treated like animal he did everything possible to change this. His brave soul, his will and courage changed the history of America , changed the people. He made us believe we can win this war. He payed for it with his life. He will always be remembered.