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24 March 2017
Morning Sedition

The Five-Finger Discount

Winona Ryder In Court After Being Found Guilty of Shoplifting

Winona Ryder In Court After Being Found Guilty of Shoplifting

I'm sorry for what I did. My director directed me to shoplift for a role which I was preparing.

"Security guard says Ryder admitted stealing to prepare for movie role," CourtTV.com

Shoplifting — also known as racking, boosting, jacking, gaffling, ganking, by the bland retail trade terms of "shrink" or "Organized Retail Theft", and by Winona Ryder as "research" — is an old word, dating to 1673. It was, naturally enough, formed from by combining "shop", for retail establishment, with "lifting", meaning to steal. ("Lifting" as a slang term for theft dates to 1595; amazing it took over a hundred years to join the two concepts.) The 1673 form only described the noun version, however; to "shoplift" as a verb was not in use until 1698.

Interestingly enough, the concept of shop as the verb form of engaging in the act of purchasing — shop 'till ya drop — wasn't in use until 1764. (Some say 1820.) The related term "five-finger discount" dates to 1966. (Five-finger as a component of a slang term for anything involving the hand is common; witness the innumerable list of terms for masturbation.) Anyway, whatever you or Winona call it, retail theft is a serious problem in the United States:

Organized retail theft (ORT) is a growing problem throughout the United States, affecting a wide-range of retail establishments, including supermarkets, chain drug stores, independent pharmacies, mass merchandisers, convenience stores, and discount operations. It has become the most pressing security problem confronting retailers. ORT losses are estimated to run as high as $15 billion annually in the supermarket industry alone – and $34 billion across all retail. ORT crime is separate and distinct from petty shoplifting in that it involves professional theft rings that move quickly from community to community and across state lines to steal large amounts of merchandise that is then repackaged and sold back into the marketplace. Petty shoplifting, as defined, is limited to items stolen for personal use or consumption. Listed below are links to resources that will provide you with the information you need to help prevent ORT.

Food Marketing Institute - Retail Operations - Loss Prevention

So what are the most popular items? Oxycontin? Nope, that's locked up so only pharmacists can steal it by shorting prescriptions. Ok, it's gotta be Robitussin DM? Nope, it seems teenagers actually pay for that. All right, then it surely must be rolling papers. Naaah. They keep those behind the counter. So, what is it? Advil. Fifty count, not a hundred. Yeah, go figure. Here's the list of rather surprising list of the most popular items for shoplifting, starting with most stolen:

Advil tablet 50 count
Advil tablet 100 count
Aleve caplet 100 count
EPT Pregnancy Test single
Gillette Sensor 10 count
Kodak 200 24 exp
Similac w/iron powder - case
Similac w/iron powder - single can
Preparation H 12 count
Primatene tablet 24 count
Sudafed caplet 24 count
Tylenol caplet 100 count
Advil caplet 100 count
Aleve caplet 50 count
Correcountol tablet 60 count
Excedrin tablet 100 count
Gillette Sensor/Excel 10 count
Gillette Sensor 15 count
Monistat 3oz tube
Preparation H Ointment 1 oz
Similac w/iron concentrate 13 oz
Tavist-D decongestant tablet 16 count
Trojan ENZ 12 count
Tylenol gelcap 50 count
Tylenol gelcap 100 count
Tylenol tablet 100 count
Vagistat 1 tube
Advil caplet 50 count
Advil gelcap 50 count
Advil gelcap 24 count
Advil tablet 50 count
Aleve tablet 50 count
Anacin tablet 100 count
Centrum tablet 60 count
DayQuil liquicaps 20 count
Dimetap tablet 12 count
Duracell AA 4 pk
Ecotrin tablet 100 count
Ecotrin tablet 60 count
Energizer AA 4 pk
Excedrin tablet 50 count
Femstat 3 app
Gillette Atra 10 count
Gyne-Lotrimin 3 app
Monistat 7oz tube
Motrin caplet 50 count
Motrin tablet 24 count
Oil of Olay 4 oz
Preparation H Ointment 2 oz
Schick Tracer FX 10 count
Gillette Sensor/Women 10 count
Sudafed tablet 24 count
Visine drops 1 oz

"Most Frequently Shoplifted Items in Rank Order" from the Food Marketing Institute

I can sort of understand why Sudafed is a popular choice, since it is used in the production of cold-process methamphetamine (pseudophedrine is a readily-available precursor) and your average meth-head isn't known for his judgment, especially when it comes to getting a much-needed fix. (And stores are on the lookout for large-volume purchases.) But Advil and Tylenol? What's up with that? I would think that a shoplifting conviction is a far bigger headache than whatever the thief could possibly be suffering from. And if it's a repeat offense for a male offender, well, he'll surely need that Preparation H for his trip to the Big House.

Shoplifting is a topic that is practically relevant to many and it should therefore not become an exclusive craft confined to a small shoplifting elite. On the contrary, shoplifting is an art that deserves the widest possible dissemination. For your convenience we have printed below a step by step guide to shoplifting. Good luck.

"The Art of Shoplifting," NoName, September 1995, Page 10

Federal Bureau of Intimidation

Upside-Down Flag With Swastikas

Recreation of a flag I saw at an anti-Bush rally in Union Square prior to the 2004 election. (An upside-down flag is the international signal for distress. The swastikas, well, you do the math.)

The FBI visited me this morning for violating the UnPatriotic Act. I'm going to try to sell this story and will put this entry up at some point in the future.

The UnPatriotic Act — one nation, under surveillance, with oppression and terror for all.

— CitizenArcane

"Baton Courtesy, Service With A Smile"

Cop With Baton

Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all: the policeman isn't there to 'create' disorder; the policeman is there to 'preserve' disorder.

— Mayor Richard Daley, 1968 Democratic Convention

I bet you didn't know it, but a beating at the hands of the police is supposed to involve science and medicine. Yeah, true, the cops do know to do soft tissue work so it doesn't show up on x-rays. (Military interrogators have refined this to high art.) But baton work is still a mystery to many law enforcement officers. So the wonderful people over at Monadnock Lifetime Products, a vendor of police batons, put together two charts for the 5-0 to determine where to beat a suspect and what level of aggression is appropriate. (Isn't this so helpful?) Monadnock has also created a description of various techniques, including grip and how to retain a baton when faced with an agressive suspect, like, oh, say, the Critical Mass bikerider whose bicycle is being illegally stolen by the cops.

The inherent difficulty with the question of force is the fact that though DEADLY FORCE issues are fairly clear, an officer can use deadly force to "protect his/her life or the life of another person against threats of serious bodily harm or death." The laws are not as clear when less-than-deadly force is acceptable to make an arrest, and this is the very area that gives law enforcement officers the most problems. This also leaves you in a precarious position. As a street officer, you are never quite sure just how much force is going to be required because each situation presents its own new and completely different set of circumstances. Though there is no way to completely insulate yourself from allegations of excessive force or wrongdoing, there are precautions you can take to lessen the chance of being accused of excessive use of force or wrongdoing including:

1. Be familiar with your department's policy on the use of force, as well as appropriate federal and state statutes dealing with the use of force. One example of federal statute you should be aware of is the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Title 42 U.S.C. Section 1983). This statute is commonly used by a person alleging a violation of their civil rights by a police officer via excessive use of force during an arrest.

"Every person who, under color of law or any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any state or territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or any other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceedings for redress."

This statute, along with other companion federal statutes, guarantees our civil rights against excess or abuse from public officials. What constitutes a violation? The court has stated conduct that shocks the conscience of a reasonable and prudent man. Examples of conduct that "shocks the conscience" can be found in a number of court decisions, but its precise meaning is not always clear or constant. However, it is important to mention in any use of force discussion.

2. Your report must justify the "need" to use force to control or restrain a person who is breaking the law or resisting a lawful arrest. Simply, you should use progressively stronger techniques to bring about compliance and stop when you have gained and can maintain control over the person being arrested. This approach gives a person ample opportunity to comply before being subjected to stronger control techniques or the possibility of being injured.

"What is Use of Force," Use of Force, Chapter 1, Monadnock Lifetime Products

The first step in beating a suspect is to ascertain exactly what level of beating is required. That's where the "Resistance-Response Model" model comes in. After all, if an officer uses too much force they might lose their job and their pension. So here's how cops are supposed to decide how much of a beating someone deserves:

Actions-Response Chart

Actions-Response Chart (larger version available)

Resistance-Response Model

The Use of Force by an officer should be directly related to the amount of resistance being offered by a subject. With this theory in mind, an agency can represent their Use of Force policy in a simple chart, called the Resistance-Response Model.

The Resistance-Response Model can be helpful in teaching and illustrating a department's Use of Force Policy. The model's concise format makes it a very simple but useful training aid in teaching students what level of response is a appropriate. Thus it can not only help protect the officers in your department from harm but it also protects them and the agency from liability.

The model also helps explain to students how a police baton, along with its other various defensive and subject-control options, functions within their agency's Use of Force guidelines.

"Resistance-Response Model," Use of Force, Chapter 2, Monadnock Lifetime Products

Bet you didn't know it had been distilled down to such a science.

Now, once the level of beating has been decided, it's time for the cops to decide where to administer it. And, once again, the wonderful people over at Monadnock have made this phase just as easy as the first:

Monadnock Striking Chart

Monadnock Striking Chart (larger version available)

Escalation and De-Escalation of Trauma

The concept of Green, Yellow and Red Target Areas of the Monadnock Baton Chart was developed to assist officers in assessing the probability of injury to subjects. When time allows, officers' use of force should take into consideration escalating and de-escalating options based on threat assessment, officer/subject factors and the probable severity of injury.

The Concept in Action

Green Target Areas are for confrontations where the subject is resisting an officer or another. Yellow Target Areas are for confrontations where the subject is assaulting an officer or another, or when force applied to a Green Target Area fails to overcome resistance or does not correspond with the threat level. Red Target Areas are for confrontations where the subject is attempting to cause serious bodily injury to an officer or another; or situations where force to lower level target areas fail to overcome the resistance and end the confrontation. Physical force directed at Red Target Areas pose a greater risk of injury to the subject and in certain areas may constitute deadly force because of the probability of causing death.

"The Monadnock Baton Chart," Use of Force, Chapter 3, Monadnock Lifetime Products

Red light, green light. It's one game that's a whole lot less fun when the police play it.

Battalions of riot police,
With rubber bullet kisses,
Baton courtesy,
Service with a smile.

"Deer Dance" by System Of A Down

"Communication Breakdown"

Captain, Road Prison 36

Captain, Road Prison 36 (Strother Martin)

What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men.

— Captain, Road Prison 36

Everyone knows the famous line, "What we have here is failure to communicate." (You can listen to it here.) Men quote it all the time. Most know it appears in Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 movie starring Paul Newman as a man sent to a work farm for cutting the heads off parking meters, even though they may have not seen the movie. Some know the actor delivering the line is Strother Martin. But just about everyone who uses it, however, misquotes it by saying "...a failure to..." or elides the remainder after "failure to communicate." It likely ranks up there with "You talking to me?" from Taxi Driver and "Funny How?" from Goodfellas in terms of being butchered by the masses. Yeah, I heard it totally knackered the other day and was inspired to write it up.

Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

And the title line? It's from "Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin:

Communication breakdown,
It’s always the same,
I’m having a nervous breakdown,
Drive me insane!

"Communication Breakdown" by Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, 1969

Is That a Machete In Your Pocket…
or Are You Just Glad To See Me?

Logo for Firearms/Toolmarks Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Logo for Firearms/Toolmarks Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Firearms/Toolmarks Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has put out an amazingly useful guide to concealed weapons:

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, airline hijackings the FIREARMS AND TOOLMARKS UNIT of the FBI LABORATORY has started a collection of small and easily concealed knives. This is the first installment of a continuing effort to collect and distribute information on knives that otherwise may be dismissed as non threatening items. Many of the knives in this collection were commercially purchased and typically can be bought for less than $20. Some of these knives are common items found in most homes and offices. You will notice also that some are made of a plastic material, making them less likely to be considered a weapon. Each of these tools was designed to cut and is fully functional in that respect. Whether used to cut paper, cardboard, or other material, these knives should be treated as potentially dangerous weapons. Each knife is shown with an accompanying scale for size reference and many include an X-ray photograph to show how these weapons might appear if placed in luggage and passed through a scanning device.

Guide to Concealable Weapons, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003

Guide to Concealable Weapons 2003

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 airline highjackings, the Firearms and Toolmarks unit of the FBI Laboratory started to compile information on small and easily concealed knives. This is the first installment of a continuing effort to collect and distribute information on knives that otherwise may be dismissed as nonthreatening items.

Guide to Concealable Weapons, published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003

Not only will they show you were to conceal the weapons:

Locations for Concealed Weapons

But they'll show you what weapons you could conceal. It's a virtual shopping catalog, albeit missing Website URLs and prices. You get to see each weapon closed, open, and even an x-ray view. When a weapon is made from ceramic or plastic, and thus immune to magnetometer screening, the guide will tell you. Now, this isn't anything you couldn't get from the catalogs or online, mind, so there's no great secret here. The advantage is that the FBI has collected it for you in one handy place.

Crucifix Knife

Crucifix Knife
(Who Would Jesus Stab?)

Coin Knife

Coin Knife
(Brother, Can You Slice Me Up With a Dime?)

Pen Knives in Shirt Pocket

Pen Knives In Shirt Pocket
(The Ultimate Pocket Protector)
(When The Pen is As Mighty as the Sword)

The Annual Mugging of Americans

IRS Form 8302: Electronic Deposit of Tax Refund of $1 Million or More

IRS Form 8302: "Electronic Deposit of Tax Refund of $1 Million or More"

We don't pay taxes. Only little people pay taxes.

— Leona Helmsley

When I were a lad — and we walked uphill to school both ways, in the snow, while dragging hundred pound cinderblocks and fending off ravenous sabre-tooth tigers and rabid voles — there were virtually no enterprising capitalists extorting money, I mean, soliciting donations from their fellow students using the threat of dire consequences if a suitable contribution was not made. Most, instead, went after the less-risky, an immensely profitable, upscale market by providing substances that were, shall we say, unavailable at Deliah's Liquors. (Deliah's was the place in town to buy if you were, ahem, underaged. I'm revealing no secrets here as they sold the business many years ago and the statute of limitations has long since run out.) But back to extortion.

Not that I'm complaining about the lack of regular muggings, of course, but the funny thing is that if more outright coercive theft had been committed in school it would have better prepared us for the joys of dealing with the IRS. For what is the IRS but a big bully that siezes our assets and puts us in jail if we don't cough up our lunch money? (Oh, wait. The breakfast, lunch, and dinner money. These days the average American works for the IRS until April 17th.)

The form above — "Electronic Deposit of Tax Refund of $1 Million or More" — is absolutely, 100% genuine, by the way. You can see it at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8302.pdf if you don't believe me. I'm uncertain which disturbs me more; that the Bush tax cuts have returned such vast sums or that so many are receiving them that a special form exists to receive the largess as quickly as possible.

Oh, sure, taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Except, as we know, rich people don't pay taxes. And neither do the red states; they get back vastly more than they send to Washington. The report from the National Tax Foundation has all the gory details. It seems, in short, that we in the blue states subsidize the bad behavior and fiscal irresponsibility of the red states. But isn't that what compassionate conservatism is all about?

Federally Favored States

“During fiscal 2003, taxpayers in New Mexico benefited the most from the give-and-take with Uncle Sam,” said Sagoo. New Mexico received $1.99 in federal outlays for every $1.00 the state’s taxpayers sent to Uncle Sam. Other big winners were Alaska ($1.89), Mississippi ($1.83), and West Virginia ($1.82). (See tables below).

The District of Columbia’s Special Status

Though not comparable as a state, the District of Columbia is by far the biggest beneficiary of federal spending: In 2003 it received $6.59 in federal outlays for every dollar its taxpayers sent to the U.S. Treasury.

“The District’s share of federal largesse amounted to $60,109 for every man, woman and child,” said Sagoo. “That’s more than ten times the national average.”

States That Help Others

If some states are beneficiaries, then naturally some must be benefactors—those states where so much is collected in federal taxes that any federal spending they receive is overwhelmed.

New York has often been the biggest payer in the Tax Foundation’s annual comparison of taxes to spending, which inspired Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Kennedy School of Government to launch their annual reference book comparing state taxes with spending (www.ksg.harvard.edu/fisc99) more than 25 years ago. In recent years, however, other states have eclipsed New York for the “blessing” of being the state that gives far more than it receives.

Combining the third highest tax burden per capita with the ninth lowest federal spending, New Jersey had the lowest federal spending-to-tax ratio (57¢). Other states that had low federal spending-to-tax ratios in FY 2003 are New Hampshire (64¢), Connecticut (65¢), Minnesota (70¢), Nevada (70¢), and Illinois (73¢).

"Federal Tax Burdens and Expenditures by State", National Tax Foundation, Report No. 132, December 2004

Hard to believe it was forty years ago that the Beatles complained about the 95% marginal rate — no kidding! — that forced many successful people into tax exile. That's the meaning of the line "There's one for you, nineteen for me." in Taxman — the Beatles were able to keep only five percent (one part in twenty) of their income above a certain level. Revolver was the Beatles' seventh album, so they were, by this point, rolling in filthy lucre. The "Mr. Wilson" and "Mr. Heath" in the song refer to Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister (Labour Party) and the opposition leader Edward Heath (Conservative). The Labour Party had just won the 1966 election; the mess they made of the country would later lead to Margaret Thatcher's election.

Taxman

One, two, three, four...
Hrmm!
One, two, (one, two, three, four!)

Let me tell you how it will be;
There's one for you, nineteen for me.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five per cent appear too small,
Be thankful I don't take it all.
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

if you drive a car, car;
I’ll tax the street;
if you try to sit, sit;
I’ll tax your seat;
if you get too cold, cold;
I’ll tax the heat;
if you take a walk, walk;
I'll tax your feet.

Taxman!

'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Don't ask me what I want it for,
(ah-ah, Mister Wilson)
If you don't want to pay some more.
(ah-ah, Mister Heath)
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Now my advice for those who die,
(taxman)
Declare the pennies on your eyes.
(taxman)
'Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

And you're working for no one but me.

Taxman!

"Taxman" by George Harrison, Revolver, The Beatles, 1966

"Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law…"

Camera Use Prohibited

I must have a real problem with authority. (Yeah, I know, realizing this was a shock to me, too.) Whenever I see a sign saying "no cameras" I, of course, feel obliged to take pictures. When the police harass me, I quote the First Amendment as if it were some ur-document of holy writ. (For some reason they have not been impressed by my recitations.)

I've been taking pictures in the Holland Tunnel for some time; most don't come out, because it is difficult to take a shot one handed, without looking, at 45 miles per hour. But I've lusted after the "Camera Use Prohibited" sign outside the Holland Tunnel for ages. Why? Not just because it sums up everything that's wrong with the post-9-11 view that the citizens are cattle to be herded from illegal war to illegal tax cut. That's a lot of it, true. But the biggest reason is that the area is crawling with cops, so it's a hard shot to get without being arrested. And the intersection is usually so packed with cars that I can't get a clear line of sight to it.

But it was a torrentially rainy day with flood-watch warnings, so the area was empty enough for a shot, even if it was overcast. I took this one almost perpindicular to the sign, and through my windshield, though. Sometimes discretion is the better part of not having your day ruined by jackbooted thugs.

Breaking The Law

You don’t know what it’s like,
you don’t have a clue
If you did you’d find yourselves
doing the same thing too

Breaking the law, breaking the law
Breaking the law, breaking the law

"Breaking The Law", Judas Priest, British Steel, 1980

Cujo, Whitefang, or Just Spot?

Police With Dog in Grand Central

When I was at Grand Central looking at William Wallace's sword I noticed the substantial police presence, complete with bomb-sniffing dogs. It disturbs me that such things used to be anomolies worthy of remark; now they are all too routine. Anyway, two women were all over that dog, and he was so happy to have the attention. They asked the policeman if he put the dog in a kennel at night and he seemed much taken aback by that. "No," he replied, "he comes home with me." "Does he sleep on the bed?" the women asked with a smile? The policeman was scandalized. "No," he said, rather emphatically, with a shake of the head, "he's not allowed on the bed."

I asked if I could take a picture and nobody had any objections. The women started to back out of the frame and I told them they were the reason I wanted to take the shot. The whole situation, I think, reflects the basic futility of the police presence throughut the city. No terrorists, no threat, just a few bored cops, some friendly women with time to spare, a police dog happy to get some attention, and a slice of NYC life.

This was very different from my last interaction with the police.

Better to Burn Out Than it is to Rust

It's better to burn out, than it is to rust...

— Neil Young, "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)", Rust Never Sleeps

Corroding Aluminum I-Beam

"The Amazing Rusting Aluminum", by Theodore Gray, Popular Science

Aluminum is rusty; that's what makes it useful. Really. There is a fine surface coat of aluminum oxide — rust — that protects the rest of the metal from oxidation. Without that layer, aluminum would be useless, because it would corrode (oxidize) while we watched. Copper is similar, which is why it was used for roofing. (That very same green coating on copper roofs is identical to the oxide coating the Statue of Liberty.)

Iron is quite different, because its oxide coating flakes off instead of tightly adhering to the surface. This means that new, unreacted iron is constantly being made available to oxygen's deadly embrace. Aluminum, to contrast, always has a hard layer of aluminum oxide (Al2O3) on the surface. To give you an idea how hard it is, this same molecule is the building block for abrasives and gemstones like corundum, alumina, sapphire, and ruby.

I found it interesting that the delicate oxide coat can be disrupted by mercury. Once this happens, the protective oxide layer fails to form and the aluminum literally crumbles before our eyes. This photograph shows what happens when an I-beam comes in contact with mercury; it corrodes as the seconds tick by. The photo above was taken after only an hour after mercury was applied. The problem is not just in the lab; it exists for any critical structure that might come into contact with mercury. Like, oh, say, airplanes. Yup, airplanes. Boeing's maintenance manual for the 747 specifically sets forth the risks:

The spillage of mercury or a mercury compound, within an airplane, requires immediate action for its isolationg and recovery to prevent possible corrosion damage to and possible embrittlement of aluminum alloy structural components. C. All metallic aircraft structure which is wetted by elemental mercury suffers severe degradation in strength. The rate of diffusion of mercury into a metal is dependent on the specific metal contacted and the protective finish applied; however, once diffusion has started it cannot be stopped.

Boeing 747 Maintenance Manual Guidelines for Mercury Spills

The problem was recently written up by Popular Science, with some hype about terrorists. I've come across stories from the 1970s, during the peak of the terrorist-hijacking epidemic, about professors who were more worried about mercury being applied to aircraft than they were about bombs.

Unless you are a representative of a national meteorological bureau licensed to carry a barometer (and odds are you’re not), bringing mercury onboard an airplane is strictly forbidden. Why? If it got loose, it could rust the plane to pieces before it had a chance to land. You see, airplanes are made of aluminum, and aluminum is highly unstable.

...

Applied to aluminum’s surface, mercury will infiltrate the metal and disrupt its protective coating, allowing it to “rust” (in the more destructive sense) continuously by preventing a new layer of oxide from forming. The aluminum I-beam below rusted half away in a few hours, something that would have taken an iron beam years.

I’ve heard that during World War II, commandos were sent deep into German territory to smear mercury paste on aircraft to make them inexplicably fall apart. Whether the story is true or not, the sabotage would have worked. The few-micron-thick layer of aluminum oxide is the only thing holding an airplane together. Think about that the next time you’re flying. Or maybe it’s better if you don’t.

"The Amazing Rusting Aluminum", by Theodore Gray, Popular Science

This is not news; there's an old magic trick called "hypno heat" which involves taking a piece of aluminum foil, typically from a stick of gum a cigarette pack, and reacting it with HgCl2 (mercury bichloride) which used to be widely available as an antiseptic. (Before people realized that getting mercury into the body was very, very bad.) The aluminum oxidizes, giving off heat, which is attributed to the abilities of the magician. Viking Magic, to my amazement, still sells it by special request:

Question: I have a document created by you in 1989, and revised in 1995 titled: "Hypno heat/hot & cold-The tin foil trick". I was given hypno heat by an old friend in both solid pellet, and liquid form, but cannot find any suppliers in the UK. Could you tell me if you, or anyone you know supplies it please. Thank you in advance.

Answer: Hypno-Heat is a mercury by-product as as such can be dangerous if mishandled. I have been using HH for my own use for over 40 years with no adverse affects but then I am cautious and I know how to handle it. This item is not available to the general public any more but if you write me directly, I can put you in touch with it: NOSPAMhaenchen@msn.NOSPAM.com Do NOT use the liquid form. This is very dangerous as it is absorbed into the skin on contact. As with all chemmicals, keep this out of the hands of children or anyone not professional enough to handle it.

Viking Magic FAQ

One has to be really, really, really stupid to handle any mercury compound, even if you aren't on an aircraft.

It's better to burn out, 'cause rust never sleeps...

— Neil Young, "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)", Rust Never Sleeps

Sometimes Opium is the Opiate of the Masses

The Velvet Underground, 1966

The thing is, heroin gets you addicted to heroin. But opium is 40 to 50 different alkaloids, meaning 40 to 50 different drugs I was becoming addicted to.

"Confessions of an EBay opium addict" by Peter Thompson, News Review, 31 March 2005

You might be able to find anything you want at Alice's Restaurant, but if there isn't one local, or it isn't open a 4 am, try eBay instead:

Like anyone trolling the Internet at 4 a.m., I had been looking for some kind of temporary drug fix. I found it on eBay under Crafts>Floral Supplies>Flowers, Foliage>Dried.

Crafting. Sure. I liked art.

A query turned up all sizes and quantities of poppies. Some, called gigantheums, were as big as tennis balls. A special of “600 XXL-sized gigantheums” was selling for $399. Fortunately, for crafting projects requiring so many poppy plants, financing was available for $17 per month. For all of us hard-core flower arrangers, of course.

The recipe was simple enough. Hot water and crushed poppies. A blender and a strainer or an old T-shirt to squeeze out the pulp. I ordered a few dozen dried flowers from a seller with more than 3,000 positive-feedback points and a clever handle that was a clear double-entendre on horticulture and getting high.

At first, the plants came double-boxed, rubber-banded by the dozen with the stems intact. But after a few more orders, the seller seemed to cut out the pretense that I might actually be using the poppies for floral arrangements and just sent the pods themselves.

The first taste gave off a steamy insult. Even after being filtered twice, the manna was as putrid as a bowl of warm pus. It seemed completely undrinkable. Its fermented, earthy taste--a little like a liquid squeezed from gym socks--had to be chased with something sweet. The dark grinds of crushed seed and sediment formed a repulsive grit in a half-ring around the bottom of the bowl.

As I poured the slosh into what would become my ceremonial chalice--a plastic child’s cereal bowl with a built-in silly straw on the side--I learned how to drink it. Rather, it seemed to teach me how. Its nauseating properties demanded that it be downed fast at first, and then titrated for the rest of the session.

"Confessions of an EBay opium addict" by Peter Thompson, News Review, 31 March 2005

He just makes it sound so, well, attractive, doesn' t he? (And I wonder what fungicides those dried flowers may have been treated with, too. Some of them will give you liver cancer for sure, and maybe even Parkinson's as a bonus.) Television may be the opiate of the masses, but sometimes, it seems, opiates are the opiate of the masses.

Another thing opium tea slows down is the bowels. As an experienced pod-head, I learned to carry a Fleet two-pack before any major binge. (Those are the enemas in the green box.) Opium bunged things up the way eating a beach towel might. When things did finally make their exit, they felt like pine cones being forced through a tiny hole in a dry brick.

"Confessions of an EBay opium addict" by Peter Thompson, News Review, 31 March 2005

"Cigarson"

Art Deco Cigar Ad

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

— Sigmund Freud, attributed

I heard a story and instantly knew it for what it was; it took only a few minutes with Google to confirm my first impressions. To begin, here's the jist of the story:

A man bought several boxes of cigars and had them insured against fire. When he had smoked them, he put in a claim against the insurance company that they had been destroyed by fire.

The company refused to pay, and the man sued. The judge ruled that the company had given the man a policy protecting against fire, and must pay.

As soon as the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested on a charge of arson.

"Cigarson", Snopes.com

This is, of course, an urban legend that's been debunked:

Insurance policies are generally written so that deliberate actions on the part of the policyholders cannot trigger payouts. Furthermore, destroying your own property isn't arson, as long as the act isn't intended to defraud anyone. If a court had already ruled that the insurance company was required to pay, then obviously no fraud was committed, and thus the burning could not be considered arson.

"Cigarson", Snopes.com

Sometimes an urban legend is just an urban legend.

"I Was a Racketeer, a Gangster For Capitalism"

There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

There is an old saying in philosophy, cui bonum; literally, "who benefits?". The point is to ask, for any situation, who benefits from it. Asking that question about war is, to some extent, pointless, because we know who benefits: the military-industrial-political complex. It never met an armed conflict it didn't like. Today's blog entry contains words from a military man who understood the evils of war. Although his words are seventy years old, they are just as applicable today, if not more so.

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler was not a coward. A coward would not have received not one, but two medals of honor for acts of bravery during wartime, and would not have been widely respected and honored for his courage and valor. Neither was he a pacifist who favored appeasement at all costs. Such men do not serve in a variety of conflicts, nor do they rise to the rank of Major General, nor do they publically criticize fascists like Mussolini. General Butler was a soldier who came to loathe and despise war because he felt it served only to enrich the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the ordinary people: workers, families, and soldiers.

The United States Marine Corp's writeup on General Butler certainly establishes his bona fides to comment on the evils of war:

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, one of the most colorful officers in the Marine Corps' long history, was one of the two Marines who received two Medals of Honor for separate acts of outstanding heroism.

He was not yet 20 when the citizens of his native West Chester, Pennsylvania, presented him with a sword on his return from the Boxer Rebellion in China. Some 50 years later that trophy was presented to the Marine Corps for permanent custody.

General Butler, later known to thousands of Marines as "Ol' Gimlet Eye," was born 30 July 1881. He was still in his teens when, on 20 May 1898, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps for the War with Spain.

Following a brief period of instruction at Washington, D.C., he served with the Marine Battalion, North Atlantic Squadron, until 11 February 1899, when he was ordered to his home and honorably discharged on 16 February 1899.

He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 8 April 1899; promoted to captain, 23 July 1900; to major, 13 May 1908; to lieutenant colonel, 1 August 1916; to colonel (temporary), 1 July 1918; to brigadier general (temporary), 7 October 1918; to colonel (permanent), 9 March 1919; to brigadier general (permanent), 4 June 1920; and to major general, 5 July 1929.

...

His first Medal of Honor was presented following action at Vera Cruz, Mexico, 21 and 22 April 1914, where he commanded the Marines who landed and occupied the city. General Butler (then a major) "was eminent and conspicuous in command of his Battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22d and in the final occupation of the city."

The following year, he was awarded the second Medal of Honor for bravery and forceful leadership as Commanding Officer of detachments of Marines and seamen of the USS Connecticut in repulsing Caco resistance on Fort Riviere, Haiti, 17 November 1915.

During World War I, he commanded the 13th Regiment in France. For exceptionally meritorious service, he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Order of the Black Star. When he returned to the United States in 1919, he became Commanding General of the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, and served in this capacity until January 1924, when he was granted leave of absence to accept the post of Director of Public Safety of the City of Philadelphia. In February 1926, he assumed command of the Marine Corps Base at San Diego, California. In March 1927, he returned to China for duty with the 3d Marine Brigade. From April to 31 October he again commanded the Marine Barracks at Quantico. On 1 October 1931, he was retired upon his own application after completion of 33 years' service in the Marine Corps.

United States Marine Corp, History Division

Now it is time to consider what he said about war and who profits from it. This is excerpted from a speech he gave in 1933 before he had written his book, War is a Racket:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss" Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

He went on to expand these ideas into a book. Here is the opening part. It is worth reading, even if it is similar to the speech because it could very well be describing the Iraq war:

War Is A Racket

It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few -- the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

His conclusions are as valid today as they were in 1935:

To summarize: Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket.

1. We must take the profit out of war.

2. We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.

3. We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935

Sources and Further Reading

  1. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  2. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  3. War is a Racket, by Smedley Darlington Butler, 1935
  4. "War is a Racket" speech by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, 1933 (note: this is not the same as the previous links to books)

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

— Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, speech, 1933

Art Event Wear:
Black Jacket, Black Tie, Black MP5

NYPD Tactical Response Team

NYPD Tactical Response Team

On Friday I was almost arrested and "interrogated" (normally I expect dinner and a kiss first) by an NYPD tactical unit, in full regalia, guarding Christo & Jeanne-Claude for their signing at the Guggenheim. Seems I pointed a deadly weapon at the cops: my camera.

You surely know that only "terrorists" take pictures of NYPD units. Gee, Officer UnFriendly, when I see six humans so large they make football players look puny, armed with more firepower than an entire third-world nation's army and with trigger fingers at the ready, I tend to think, "hmmm, this is a somewhat unusual situation; might be a photo op".

The were guarding the Guggenheim against destruction by terrorists. (Personally, if the terrorists want to remove that piece of urban and art blight I'll send them fifty bucks to help cover their costs.) The idea that we live in a society so dangerous that anyone rich, famous, or powerful needs to be guarded against attack is a highly corrosive one. It teaches people to be fearful so they can be easily controlled.

Anyway, they gave me attitude about photographing them so I gave some back. I was polite, but I told them I had an absolute First Amendment right to photograph and they could call the editor of the news desk at the NY Times if they wanted someone to vouch for me. Yeah, I know. Whatever part of my brain is devoted to self-preservation — particularly when it comes to soldiers toting automatic weapons capable of turning me into something resembling bloody swiss cheese, in an eyeblink, no less — is clearly damaged beyond all hope of redemption. Either that or I've turned into a one of those lunatic photographers I keep reading about.

They blew a gasket at this point and told me that unless I could produce photo ID so I could prove I wasn't a "terrorist agent" who was "working for the other side" that they'd lock me up and interrogate me about my activities for four hours. Because I sooooo clearly look like a terrorist.

Puh-leaze.

Their big issue is that by photographing them I allow terrorists to identify them, and then kill their entire families because that's what terrorists do. (Yeah, this is happening all the time in America, right?) Then one of them deluged me with a tirade about how liberals don't support troops in Iraq and are training schoolchildren to write letters to soldiers calling them baby-killers, and how this aids the terrorists, how I need to respect the police as human beings because they protect me from being blown up, and how right this VERY MINUTE terrorists are plotting to destroy my way of life. All of this was pretty offensive; I don't know a single American who doesn't support the troops and who doesn't want them back home alive ASAP, and I don't know anyone who supports attacks on Americans, other than Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky. I can understand that they're angry because they believe all the Fox News lies about American's lack of support for soldiers, but still, their response was way over the line. (Their job is to tote a gun and protect people, which means they have certain responsibilities and obligations to be rational. Or, at least they should have those responsibilities and obligations.)

Some of the gems were: "Look downtown! YOU SEE ANY TOWERS? That's because WE ARE AT WAR!". And "Don't lecture me about the constitution and the first amendment. You have the rights I say you have." Oh, and "You gonna call the New York Times next time there's a terrorist attack? You think they'll keep you safe?" Their favorite phrase was, "You don't realize that WE ARE AT WAR ", which was repeated a lot. Well, officer, technically not, because only congress can declare war... (No, I didn't say this. Even I have shreds of rationality, sometimes.) And, beyond that, the Bush administration knew about 9-11 and bin Laden but didn't care. (No, I didn't say that either.)

I eventually managed to calm them down and walked away, after a handshake, with my photos intact. How did I do it? Easy: I let my inner fascist come out and play for a while. As I'll tell anyone who'll listen — republican or democrat, deranged neocon or delusional bleeding heart — the war in the mideast isn't about fighting Islamic terrorism. If it were, the US would have arrested, tried, and executed the entire Saudi royal family for financing 9-11 and other attacks, including Madrid. I wouldn't have outsourced finding bin Laden to the Pakistanis who actually put the Taliban into power and supported them. Then I told them about how Bush doesn't support the troops because they don't get their combat pay, they get forced to reup, they don't get Humvee armor they desperately need, and they don't get rehab after suffering horrific injuries because of multiple failures in command beyond just failure to provide Humvee armor or secure confiscated explosives. And then I started in on about how our borders leak like sieves, and how real security starts at the ports. (Yeah, they just listened. Pretty respectfully, actually, given the circumstances. I guess the novelty of a citizen talking back to them was too much of a shock.) Anyway, after I told the NYPD my thoughts on terrorism and the war — all true, by the way — and they decided I was an American and not one of "them".

Afterwards, I was reminded of Chicago Mayor Richard Daly's observation waaaaaaay back in 1968 that, "The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder."

I think this is what's really wrong with America. The constitution isn't some toy that Americans get to take out of the box when we're good boys and girls, and it isn't something that presidents can suspend because the nation is allegedly "at war". Anyway, I got my shots and they look, well, terrible. Oh well. Shit happens. I was opened waaaaaaay up to burn out the sky and make the dark blue uniforms and guns show up, but it just needed a flash. Oh well. Better luck next time. (Except if I'd used a flash they woulda shot me, for sure.)

But, damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. Or a photographer. Or a terrorist... Whatever. All seems to be the same difference to the NYPD.

One Pill Makes You Larger…

Montage of ecstasy pills

Are you a veteran with PTSD? Have a pill you can't identify? Think it might be MDMA? Wait! Before you go popping them into your mouth like Hunter S. Thompson and going on a five-hundred mile road trip through Barstow, you might want to see what they actually are, instead of being a human guinea pig. (I know I have this problem all the time.) That's why Dance Safe does the hard work of tracking the myriad of different Ecstasy pills.

Now, I had no idea they came in so many shapes and colors, with so many different markers, colors, and shapes. (I clearly need to get out more and spend more time with teenagers waving lightsticks.)

Caution: Just because you have a pill that looks like one of the ones shown here does not mean it contains the same ingredients. There are often many versions of the same logo going around. Measuring the height and width of your pill with a pair of calipers like the ones shown here (available at any hardware store) can help you determine whether your pill is from the same batch as one we have tested. It is also helpful to test your pills with an Ecstasy testing kit and compare the color-change with the descriptions in the last column of the chart.

Laboratory Testing by Dance Safe

I think my favorite brand in the photograph has to be the "Think Different". (Third row, fourth pill from left.)

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are those goddamn animals?"

— Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Yeah, I'm still bummed about HST.

The Agony and the… Ecstasy?

Ecstacy Pills

There's an old saying about letting not the left hand knoweth what the right doeth. That seems to be an adage well understood by the United States Government. The Guardian reports that ecstasy (MDMA) — that's right, the drug that the goverment tells us causes irreparable damage with a single dose — is now being investigated as a treatment for US soldiers with PTSD from Iraq and Afghanistan:

American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists. Several victims of rape and sexual abuse with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom existing treatments are ineffective, have been given MDMA since the research began last year.

Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist leading the trial, said: "It's looking very promising. It's too early to draw any conclusions but in these treatment-resistant people so far the results are encouraging.

"Ecstasy Trials for Combat Stress" by David Adam, The Guardian, 17 February 2005

Now, this can't be explained just as yet another aspect of the crappy health care that der Fuherer gives to the soldiers mutilated in his illegal wars. MDMA might work, and it is just one of a number of severely controlled or illicit substances being investigated for legitimate medical uses by reputable doctors:

The South Carolina study marks a resurgence of interest in the use of controlled psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs. Several studies in the US are planned or are under way to investigate whether MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, can treat conditions ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to anxiety in terminal cancer patients.

"Ecstasy Trials for Combat Stress" by David Adam, The Guardian, 17 February 2005

Why use MDMA? Simple:

"It's really tough doing psychotherapy with people who have anxiety disorders because when you get to the heart of the matter it causes a panic attack. For somebody who has a particularly gruesome time trying to talk about important end-of-life issues it bubbles into anxiety and nothing gets achieved," Halpern says.

"MDMA may be potentially useful in that it doesn't induce that reaction. We want to see if that can translate into decreased anxiety and meaningful increases in the quality of life for these people."

The alternative, he says, is heavy doses of sedatives such as Valium. "At the moment these people have a choice of being over-sedated and not having anxiety or being alert and suffering panic attacks."

Patients volunteering for the trial will receive up to 125mg of MDMA over two experimental sessions several hours apart - about the same or a little more than in a typical ecstasy tablet. They will also receive more conventional help during several non-drug sessions. Psychologists will assess their mental state before and after the trial to judge whether the drug has helped.

Rick Doblin, the founder and head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funds the Harvard research, says the study could bring one step closer his goal of making MDMA a prescription medicine.

"Treating Agony With Ecstasy" by David Adam, The Guardian, 17 February 2005

I find it interesting that the FDA has approved this clinical trial given the "official" government view on MDMA:

MDMA is toxic to the human nervous system. Scientific studies, with both animal and human subjects, found that MDMA use produces long-lasting, perhaps permanent, damage to the neurons that release serotonin, and consequent memory loss. Because MDMA affects the serotonin system, which regulates mood as well as body temperature, use can result in a marked increase in body temperature (malignant hyperthermia) leading to muscle breakdown and kidney and cardiovascular system failure. The biggest short-term threat of MDMA is its ability to overload the heart, precipitating heart attacks or strokes, depending on the age of the user.

Moreover, MDMA use can result in mental confusion, anxiety and panic attacks, depression and paranoia. We now know that it leads to significant impairments in visual and verbal memory and may lead to impairments in other cognitive functions, such as the ability to reason or sustain attention. In a recent study, primates exposed to MDMA for four days experienced brain damage still present seven years later. Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of NIDA, explains, “[P]eople who take MDMA, even just a few times, will likely have long-term, perhaps permanent, problems with learning and memory.” An English study demonstrated preliminary proof that MDMA use during pregnancy causes serious birth defects.

America at Risk: The Ecstasy Threat, Donald Vereen, Deputy Director Office of National Drug Control Policy, Testimony before Senate Drug Caucus, 21 March 2001

Yet the deputy director admits that MDMA is safer than other problem drugs like cocaine or heroine. (I can't believe anyone goes to an emergy room with a marijuana overdose. "Like, doc, ya gotta help me, man, I, like, ate an entire pizza and then watched reruns of the, like, Brady Bunch and Family Feud all evening, man. Then I, like, totally ate a pint of Haagen-Daaz all by myself and took a nap.")

Nevertheless, emergency room mentions of MDMA are rare, compared to those of cocaine (168,763 mentions in 1999), marijuana/hashish (87,150 mentions in 1999), and heroin/morphine (84, 409 mentions in 1999). While the number of deaths reportedly related to MDMA use remains small (41 deaths in 1999 based on the Drug Abuse Warning Network, Medical Examiner Data), we should not underestimate the public health threat posed by this substance.

Ecstasy: Underestimating the Threat, Donald Vereen, Deputy Director Office of National Drug Control Policy, Testimony before Senate Drug Caucus, 25 July 2000

Omitted from their list is a drug that mutilates and kills staggering numbers of Americans each day: alcohol.

Alcohol Impaired Driving Statistics
Total Fatalities / Fatality Rates

1. 250,000 people have died in alcohol related accidents in the past 10 years.
2. Presently 25,000 people are killed each year in alcohol related accidents.
3. 500 people are killed each week in alcohol related accidents.
4. 71 people are killed each day in alcohol related accidents.
5. One American life is lost every 20 minutes in alcohol related auto crashes.
6. It is estimated that one out of every two Americans will be involved in an alcohol related accident in his or her lifetime.
7. In 1994, New Hampshire had 119 total highway fatalities, 42 were alcohol related (or 35.3% of the total). New Hampshire leads the nation with one of the lowest percentages of alcohol related fatalities.

Community Alcohol Information Program (CAIP), New Hampshire

So the next time some bible-thumping moron from red-state America rants about how ecstasy is killing people, explain that alcohol murders one American every twenty minutes. If terrorists, let alone illegal handguns used by criminals, killed seventy-one Americans a day, you can bet that just about everyone would be screaming for the government to do something. But alcohol? Naah. All the public says is, make mine a double.

Somethin 'bout those little pills
unreal the thrills they yield
until they kill a million brain cells

Now I need to go, who's gonna give me a ride to the after show (me!)
I hope that I have enough change so I can make my brain rearrange
I'm going down to La La Land
I hope to see ya soon in La La Land

— "La La Land" Green Velvet

How Many Lawyers Does it Take…
To File Frivolous Charges?

Of all the places that you would cherish freedom of speech, surely one is in the shadow of a courthouse.

— Ron Kuby, constitutional attorney

Last month I blogged how two men were arrested for telling lawyer jokes. Well — surprise, surprise — the grand jury nobilled it.

A sidewalk comedian won over his toughest crowd yet on Monday when a grand jury declined to indict him on charges filed after he and a friend told lawyer jokes outside a courthouse, his lawyer said.

The man, Harvey Kash, and the friend, Carl Lanzisera, were doing their routine last month while waiting in line outside Nassau County's First District Court in Hempstead when one bystander, who identified himself as a lawyer, complained. Court officers, who were also not amused, clapped handcuffs on the amateur comics and charged them with disorderly conduct.

The men complained that their constitutional right to make fun of lawyers was being violated, and the case drew international attention.

Punch Line for Jokester: No Indictment by Grand Jury, by Bruce Lambert, New York Times, 8 February 2004

Just in case you're reading this after the NY Times article expires out of their free section — when will these idiots realize that micropayments are the answer instead of huge per-article fees — here's the Newsday version:

A grand jury delivered the punchline for a senior citizen charged with disorderly conduct after telling lawyer jokes outside a Long Island courthouse: charge dismissed. No kidding.

Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon said Tuesday that a grand jury considered the evidence in the case and voted to dismiss.

Man who told lawyer joke gets last laugh as grand jury dismisses case, by Pat Milton, Newsday, 8 February 2005

After I blogged the original arrest then the lawyers chimed in. (What planet do these reptiles live on?)

It is, of course, the constitutional right of every American citizen to laugh at the law and, in the case of these two activists, even ridicule officers of the court. But to protect the integrity of the court, one needs to do any guffawing outside the courthouse. There is a legal imperative to create an environment that provides a fair, solemn and impartial forum from which to decide the fate of individuals and institutions. History reminds us what can happen when courtrooms become circuses, or worse.

...

But no one should shout "fire" in a crowded theater to proclaim one's right to freedom of speech. Mocking the legal system in a courthouse can be a corrosive force to jurisprudence. If permitted, it would attack the very fabric of our democracy by creating a judicial environment that ridicules and derides those who not just serve the courts but, far more important, those citizens who seek justice. Ultimately, scornful, derisive behavior inside our courthouses would threaten the very laughter that is so crucial to who we are as a free and open society.

Lois Carter Schlissel, Esquire, managing partner of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein

Anyone who has participated in the legal process, or been on the receiving end of it, knows that the crooked racket judges and attorneys run for their own benefit is the real joke. Except that joke just ain't funny.

Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line he doesn't really mean to cross — it just happens — and if you cross it enough times, it disappears forever, and then you're nothing but another lawyer joke...

— Rudy Baylor, "The Rainmaker" by John Grisham

"A Slow Moving, Bipedal Source of Protein"
(Miaow! Crunch! Slurp! Purrrr…)

Field Museum diorama with Tsavo man-eating lions

Tsavo man-eating lions in diorama at The Field Museum

People remain fascinated with man-eating cats, likely because the closest we come is when a furry monster chews on our ears to wake us up for food. Ok, ok. It's because there are few creatures able to prey on man and, as the top of the food chain, we naturally have a primal fascination with them. The famous case of the man-eating Tsavo lions — reputed to have eaten over a hundred railway workers — was traditionally explained by the belief that "injured" lions attack humans because of an inability to hunt other prey. That view turns out to be wrong; they hunt us because humans are tasty:

First, the Tsavo lions were not 'aberrant'. Lions and other big cats have repeatedly turned to man-eating in the face of certain conditions, many of which are manmade. Furthermore, man-eating by lions continues today.

"For most of their history, extinct and living humans, have represented little more than a vulnerable, slow moving, bipedal source of protein for big cats," says Julian Kerbis Peterhans, associate professor of Natural Science at Roosevelt University, Field Museum adjunct curator and co-author of a study on man-eating by lions recently published in the Journal of East African Natural History

Legend has it that in 1898, two Tsavo lions killed at least 135 workers constructing a bridge in Kenya, temporarily stopping the construction of a railroad linking Lake Victoria with the port of Mombasa. Lt. Col. John Patterson eventually killed the lions, which are now on exhibit at The Field Museum, Chicago.

...

In a few well-documented, localized incidents, man-eating appears to be a learned behavior. Once lions establish a pattern and begin to prey regularly on humans, they can pass it on to their offspring, along with sophisticated strategies and techniques, such as never returning to the same place two days in a row.

"Lions are a social species, capable of transmitting a behavioural tradition from one generation to the next," Kerbis says. "The fact that they can be born and raised to hunt and eat humans means that an outbreak of man-eating usually does not stop until all the responsible lions and their offspring are eliminated."

Further supporting this view is the fact that man-eating incidents in Tsavo did not begin with the arrival of railway crews, nor did they end with the destruction of the notorious lion coalition. The authors document killings by lions in Tsavo for several years prior to the arrival of Col. Patterson. Killings continued regularly through WWI when soldiers were picked off on patrol. All of this points to a man-eating culture among Tsavo lions, a phenomenon rarely documented.

Field Museum uncovers evidence behind man-eating; revises legend of its infamous man-eating lions

But back to 1898. The problem of midnight snacking on the railway workers because so severe that a big-game hunter was called in to take care of the situation. The real issue wasn't dead workers, but the delay in the schedule, or shed-ule as the British pronounce it. (The outsourced Indian workers were highly affordable, and there was a large supply of new ones to replace those designated as appetizers by lions.) Colonel Patterson was the man selected for the job; he later wrote a book about his experience:

UNFORTUNATELY this happy state of affairs did not continue for long, and our work was soon interrupted in a rude and startling manner. Two most voracious and insatiable man-eating lions appeared upon the scene, and for over nine months waged an intermittent warfare against the railway and all those connected with it in the vicinity of Tsavo. This culminated in a perfect reign of terror in December, 1898, when they actually succeeded in bringing the railway works to a complete standstill for about three weeks. At first they were not always successful in their efforts to carry off a victim, but as time went on they stopped at nothing and indeed braved any danger in order to obtain their favourite food. Their methods then became so uncanny, and their man-stalking so well-timed and so certain of success, that the workmen firmly believed that they were not real animals at all, but devils in lions' shape. Many a time the coolies solemnly assured me that it was absolutely useless to attempt to shoot them. They were quite convinced that the angry spirits of two departed native chiefs had taken this form in order to protest against a railway being made through their country, and by stopping its progress to avenge the insult thus shown to them.

...

I had only been a few days at Tsavo when I first heard that these brutes had been seen in the neighbourhood. Shortly afterwards one or two coolies mysteriously disappeared, and I was told that they had been carried off by night from their tents and devoured by lions. At the time I did not credit this story, and was more inclined to believe that the unfortunate men had been the victims of foul play at the hands of some of their comrades. They were, as it happened, very good workmen, and had each saved a fair number of rupees, so I thought it quite likely that some scoundrels from the gangs had murdered them for the sake of their money. This suspicion, however, was very soon dispelled. About three weeks after my arrival, I was roused one morning about daybreak and told that one of my jemadars, a fine powerful Sikh named Ungan Singh, had been seized in his tent during the night, and dragged off and eaten.

Naturally I lost no time in making an examination of the place, and was soon convinced that the man had indeed been carried off by a lion, as its "pug" marks were plainly visible in the sand, while the furrows made by the heels of the victim showed the direction in which he had been dragged away. Moreover, the jemadar shared his tent with half a dozen other workmen, and one of his bedfellows had actually witnessed the occurrence. He graphically described how, at about midnight, the lion suddenly put its head in at the open tent door and seized Ungan Singh -- who happened to be nearest the opening -- by the throat. The unfortunate fellow cried out "Choro" ("Let go"), and threw his arms up round the lion's neck. The next moment he was gone, and his panic-stricken companions lay helpless, forced to listen to the terrible struggle which took place outside. Poor Ungan Singh must have died hard; but what chance had he? As a coolie gravely remarked, "Was he not fighting with a lion?"

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures by Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson, D.S.O., Chapter 2 Without Images
With Images

Colonel Patterson with dead lion

Lt. Col. John Patterson with dead lion

As expected, the lion proved no match for a high-powered rifle in the hands of an expert marksman. The story was filled with such drama — cowed dark-skinned natives, fearless white hunter, vicious lions — that Hollywood couldn't resist. The result was the first 3D movie — Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack.

Movie poster for Bwana Devil

Movie Poster for Bwana Devil

The movie was, well, not very good. It certainly has not stood the test of time. Here's one of the kinder comments about it:

Bwana Devil is reputedly the first major studio, full length feature filmed entirely in the 3D process. Supposedly producer Oboler went to Africa to shoot a different movie, but after hearing the tale of two man-eating lions, terrorizing railway builders, decided on this one. It's a good story too, almost Hemmingway-like; fear, redemption, the great white hunter and all. It's the telling of the story that seems to drag, almost as though filming in the new process was too weighty for the crew. The action scenes are stiff, almost too staged. But these technical problems appear small in light of the film's dramatic conclusion.

Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) is a remake of Bwana Devil starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer as lion hunters. I've seen both movies and I think the 1996 remake is the better movie, even if it isn't strictly true to the story.

The lions ended up at The Field Museum where there is an online exhibit. Notice how the lions lack manes but Hollywood added them.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. The Tsavo Man-Eaters
  2. Tsavo Maneater Resources or The Ghost and the Darkness, the true story!
  3. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  4. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  5. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Russell Smith
  6. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Anomie and Anarchy
Living Together in Dysfunctionality

The word anomie comes from the Greek anamos, meaning "without law". It means a lack of social or ethical standards in an individual or group. This is what people mean when they talk about "anarchy". Think downtown Iraq or anything inside the Washington Beltway and you'll get the general idea. The key element of anomie is that it is an unraveling of the social contract and the rules of society, and not in a way that promotes freedom or individuality. Rather, it is the endless rise of entropy, the enemy of civilization.

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labour in Society, published in 1893. He used anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occurring in society. This meant that rules on how people ought to behave with each other were breaking down and thus people did not know what to expect from one another. Anomie, simply defined, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviours) are confused, unclear or not present. It is normlessness, Durkheim felt, that led to deviant behaviour. In 1897, Durkheim used the term again in his study on Suicide, referring to a morally deregulated condition. Durkheim was preoccupied with the effects of social change. He best illustrated his concept of anomie not in a discussion of crime but of suicide.

Durkheim's Anomie

The word anarchy comes from the Greek anarkhia, meaning "without rulers". The vernacular uses it to mean lawlessness or a state of chaos, such as accompanies rioting or looting; the true meaning, however is quite different: a lack of rulers, not a lack of rules. (Measuring devices still exist under anarchy, so do not despair.) So comments like, "Anarchy - it's not the law, it's just a good idea." are structurally incorrect, no matter how clever they may be. The famous case of Sacco and Vanzetti springs to mind whenever anyone mentions anarchists. (Well, that and the WTO meeting in Seattle.) The specifics of the case aren't particularly relevant for the definition here, but some of the words of Sacco and Vanzetti serve to illustrate the distinction between anarchy and anomie:

Oh friend, the anarchism is as beauty as a woman for me, perhaps even more, since it include all the rest and me and her. Calm, serene, honest, natural, vivid, muddy and celestial at once, austere, heroic, fearless, fatal, generous and implacable-all these and more it is.

Nicola Sacco, Italian Anarchism in America: An Historical Background to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case by Paul Avrich

I am and will be until the last instant (unless I should discover that I am in error) an anarchist communist, because I believe that communism is the most humane form of social contract, because I know that only with liberty can man rise, become noble, and complete.

Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian Anarchism in America: An Historical Background to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case by Paul Avrich

Oh, and as long as we're on words that start with "a" and concern lawlessness, here's another good one: amok. This one comes to us from the Malysian, where it means a brooding despair punctuated by frenzied, uncontrolled violence. Sort of like what happens when England loses a soccer match to, oh, say, Pakistan.

The cbs [culture-bound syndrome] of "amok" has been known for many centuries in the Malaysian culture (Knecht, 1999). The syndrome has been defined as an episode of dissociation (Suryani & Jensen, 1993) and is often characterized by "a sudden rampage, usually including homicide, ending in exhaustion and amnesia" (Hatta, 1996). Typically seen as a Malaysian cbs, "amok" has been further documented in India, New Guinea, North America and Britain (Kon, 1994). Hawaii has been seen as the melting pot of the pacific with many cultures merging and yet remaining distinct. The legal defense of "amok" was utilized for a Filipino-American that had killed five people and injured three others. Orlando Ganal Sr. (Honolulu Advertiser, 1991) was enraged by his wife’s reported relationship with another man, shot and killed his wife’s parents and wounded his own wife and son. Ganal continued to firebomb the home of the other man’s brother, Michael Touchette, killing Michael, Michael’s two children and badly burning his wife, Wendy Touchette. Ganal was seen as a mild mannered man, until the stress grew and he finally "ran amok."

International Society for the Study of Dissociation

Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist

"Money you have expended without limits, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, and sepulchers--these are your only trophies."

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Sounds like someone commenting on the Iraq war, doesn't it? Except this was written during the Civil War. And during the Civil War, making statements like these got you arrested and banished from the country. Wait just one minute, you say. The First Ammendment and the Constitution — yeah, right. Didn't play in those days and it may not play here soon. Don't believe me? Think about how many morons defend the loss of our liberties saying, "ok, but we are at war...".

President Abraham Lincoln realized early on that his illegal war against the south depended on suppression of all speech critical of it. For if people were free to say they did not want their children, brothers, fathers, uncles, and cousins drafted, mutilated, and slaughtered, the war would become unsustainable. And that's exactly what got Ohio congressman Clement Larid Vallandigham in such trouble: he did nothing more than speak out against the war.

Clement Laird Vallandigham

Clement Laird Vallandigham

When Lincoln was asked how he could persecute Vallandigham for speaking out against the Civil War, he replied with an analogy:

Long experience has shown that armies cannot be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death… Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father or brother or friend into a public meeting and there working on his feelings, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptible government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.

Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Erastus Corning, 12 June 1863

Suppression of the First Ammendment and freedom of speech rights of Vallandigham was swift, brutal and effective: the United States government banished one of its citizens, forbidding him to set foot on US soil for the duration of the war. Really!

On 13 Apr. 1863, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, Commmander of the Department Of The Ohio, had issued General Order No. 38, forbidding expression of sympathy for the enemy. On 30 Apr. Vallandigham addressed a large audience in Columbus, made derogatory references to the president and the war effort, then hoped that he would be arrested under Burnside's order, thus gaining popular sympathy. Arrested at his home at 2 a.m., 5 May, by a company of troops, he was taken to Burnside's Cincinnati headquarters, tried by a military court 6-7 May, denied a writ of habeas corpus, and sentenced to 2 years' confinement in a military prison. Following a 19 May cabinet meeting, President Lincoln commuted Vallandigham's sentence to banishment to the Confederacy. On 26 May the Ohioan was taken to Confederates south of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and there entered Southern lines. Outraged at his treatment, by a vote of 411 -11 state Democrats nominated Vallandigham for governor at their 11 June convention.

Vallandigham was escorted to Wilmington, N.C., and shipped out to, Bermuda, arriving there 17 June. He traveled to Canada, arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario, 5 July, and from there and Windsor, Ontario, conducted his campaign for the governorship. Candidate for lieutenant governor George Pugh represented Vallandigham's views at rallies and in the press. Lincoln interested himself in the election, endorsed Republican candidate John Brough, downplayed the illegalities of a civilian's arrest and trial by military authorities, and claimed that a vote for the Democratic contender was "a discredit to the country." In the election of 13 Oct. 1863, Brough defeated Vallandigham 288,000 - 187,000.

Civial War Home article on Vallandigham

The famous short story "The Man Without a Country", was written by Edward Everett Hale in 1863 after he learned of Lincoln's persecution of Vallandigham.

When Vallandigham sought relief in the courts, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.) on the grounds that civilian courts had no jurisdiction over their military counterparts:

[T]here is no original jurisdiction in the Supreme Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum to review or reverse its proceedings, or the writ of certiorari to revise the proceedings of a military commission.

Ex Parte Vallandigham (68 U.S. 243; 17 L. Ed. 589; 1863 U.S.)

Yup, the Bush administration argued the same thing about its policy of indefinite incarceration without trial. Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose.

But the wrath of Lincoln and the war on free speech wasn't restricted to congressmen opposing the war. Newspapers quickly learned that to speak out against the war was to brutal censorship and oppression.

Suppression of these editors began early in the war. For example, in August of 1861, the Christian Observer was closed by the U.S. marshal in Philadelphia. At the same time, a federal grand jury in New York cited the Journal of Commerce, the Daily News, the Day-Book, the weekly Freeman's Journal, and the Brooklyn Eagle for the "frequent practice of encouraging the rebels now in arms against the Federal Government." This was followed by an order from the Postmaster General forbidding the mailing of these newspapers.

Similarly, other newspapers were forbidden to circulate and sell. General Palmer temporarily prohibited the distribution of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Chicago Times within Kentucky. In New Haven, Connecticut the circulation of the New York Daily News was prohibited. General Burnside took similar action in excluding the New York World from Ohio. This action was taken on the grounds of suspected disloyalty, and was intended as a partial measure for press control.

On February 23, 1863, the Davenport Daily Gazette in Iowa reported that some seventy-five convalescent soldiers from a near-by military hospital entered the office of the Keokuk, IowaConstitution, wrecked the presses and dumped the type out the window. In the spring of 1863, the Crisis and the Marietta, Ohio Republican, a Democratic paper, suffered damages at the hands of a mob of soldiers. The next year a number of other newspapers in the Midwest, including the Mahoning, Ohio Sentinel, Lancaster, Ohio Eagle, Dayton Empire, Fremont Messenger, and the Chester, Illinois Picket Guard experienced similar visitations.

Along with suppression came the arrest of some editors. In October, 1861 the editor of the Marion, Ohio Mirror was arrested on charges of membership in a secret anti-war organization. In Illinois, a number of men were taken into custody including the editors of the Paris Democratic Standard, M. Mehaffey and F. Odell. These men were imprisoned without trial in Fort Lafayette, Fort Delaware or the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C. In other Midwestern states those arrested, usually on charges of interfering with enlistment or similar activities, included Dennis Mahoney, editor of the Dubuque Herald, and Dana Sheward, editor of the Fairfield Constitution and Union. In Philadelphia the Evening Journal was suppressed by military order in January, 1863, and Albert D. Boileau, its editor, confined to Fort McHenry for a few days until he wrote an apology and promised to reform.

Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith

So the next time someone tells you that the Republican party is the party of Lincoln, well, you can agree with them.

Oh, and Vallandigham? Well, his political career was just getting started when he met an untimely end:

Following the Civil War, Vallandigham emerged as a leader of Ohio's Democratic Party. He served as the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Convention in 1865. He also encouraged the Democrats to adopt his "new departure" resolutions. Vallandigham came to believe that the Democratic Party had to support slavery's end and equal rights for African Americans with whites if the party was ever to regain power from the Republicans. His political career ended with his untimely death on June 17, 1871. While preparing the defense of an accused murder, Vallandigham enacted his view of what occurred at the crime scene. Thinking that a pistol that he was using as a prop was unloaded, Vallandigham pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The gun discharged, mortally wounding Vallandigham.

History of Clement Vallandigham

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Transcript of Trial
  2. History of Clement Vallandigham
  3. Ex Parte Vallandigham
  4. Lincoln and Habeas Corpus by Craig R. Smith
  5. History of Clement Laird Vallandigham

"The Constitution as it is, the Union as it was."

Campaign slogan coined by Clement Larid Vallandigham, May 1862

First Thing, We Gag All the Lawyers

When lawyer jokes become the basis for prejudice and bigotry, a line has been crossed which can lead to dangerous situations. Lawyer-bashing is hate speech that is as heinous as all other forms of bigotry. Crimes of violence against attorneys should be covered by hate-crime laws.

Harvey I. Saferstein, President of the California State Bar Association
quoted in "He Must Be Joking", The Oregonian, 8 July 1993, Page B8

Following on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling that the First Ammendment is not advisory, we have this story:

"How do you tell when a lawyer is lying?" Harvey Kash, 69, of Bethpage, said to Carl Lanzisera, 65, of Huntington, as the queue wound into the court. "His lips are moving," they said in unison, completing one of what may be thousands of standard lawyer jokes.

But while that rib and several others on barristers got some giggles from the crowd, the attorney standing in line about five people ahead wasn't laughing.

" 'Shut up,' the man shouted," Lanzisera said. "'I'm a lawyer.'"

The attorney reported Kash and Lanzisera to court personnel, who arrested the men and charged them with engaging in disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

"They put the handcuffs on us, brought us into a room, frisked us, sat us down and checked our driver's licenses to see if there were any warrants out for our arrest," Lanzisera said yesterday. "They were very nasty, extremely nasty."

The men are founders of Americans for Legal Reform, a group of outspoken advocates who use confrontational tactics to push for greater access to courts for the public and to monitor how well courts serve the public. One tactic is driving a truck around the Huntington area emblazoned with the slogan "Stop The Lawyer Disease." They said their rights to free speech were violated Monday.

NY Newsday

And lawyers wonder why they have a bad reputation? So bad that people are always quoting that that line from Shakespeare. You know the one. The one people always say is about how eliminating lawyers is the key to destabilizing society and seizing power: "First thing, we kill all the lawyers." Well, that interpretation is just plain wrong and is nothing more than wishful thinking, if not downright lying, on the part of lawyers.

The line comes from Henry VI, Part II. The context is fairly simple. Jack Cade, a notorious thug and vicious criminal, is a pretender to the throne, and is talking about all the wonderous things that will transpire upon his coronation. Dick The Butcher is a member of his gang.

JACK CADE: Be brave, for your captain is brave and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny, the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops, and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king, as king I will be —

ALL FOLLOWERS: God save your majesty!

JACK CADE: I thank you, good people — there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK THE BUTCHER: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

JACK CADE: Nay, that I mean to do. Is this not a lamentable thing that the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? That parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings, but I say ’tis the bee’s wax. For I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.

Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2 by William Shakespeare

So the quote is not about how lawyers prevent revolution by keeping society orderly. It is not about how lawyers are key to ensuring that government is not disrupted by criminals. It is just about a bunch of semi-drunken criminials talking about what would constitute utopia. And given how lawyers treat the rest of us, is there really much doubt that eliminating many of those two-legged reptiles would bring about, if not utopia, at least a better world?

Ooops! Hate crime! Anyone know a good bail bondsman?

The Freedom to Not Listen

In Russia is freedom of speech.
In America is also freedom after speech.

—Yakov Smirnoff

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 2

Free speech is not supposed to be inoffensive. Not only that, but it is, in fact, guaranteed to be inherently offensive to someone. That is, after all, the whole point of being able to say whatever is on your mind, no matter how distasteful someone will find it. It doesn't matter if we agree with the ideas or even like them: the rights of those who espouse Nazi or KKK dogma are just as protected as those touting kittens and puppies or the truly wonderful job Bush is doing for America by liberating Iraq and exporting jobs to China.

Free speech allows the Ayn Rand foundation to condemn tsunami relief efforts using government funds (aka tax dollars) just as it allows us to label their ideas as "typical callous and cruel Randroid claptrap". (No, I am so not making this up. Read their apology if you don't believe me; they — wisely — yanked their original editoral.) Free and open discourse is an essential to freedom, no matter how repugnant we may find it at times.

That's really the whole point: we don't have to all just get along. We don't have to spout ideas that everyone likes. We don't have to say only those things that the government gives us permission to say. Communism, to use a famous example, is a truly idiotic ideology; that does not, however, give the government the right to spy on and persecute those who believe in it.

You probably were not aware that the American fascist dictator Abraham Lincoln — yes, that Lincoln — suspended freedom of the press during the Civil War, suspended habeas corpus, suspended the Constitution, and actually imprisoned those who criticized the war, either verbally or in print. People could be arrested and incarcerated for the duration of the war on mere suspicion or even rumor of advocating peace. (The Republican party truly is the party of Lincoln.) Ezra Pound spent thirteen years institutionalized because he espoused repugnant political views. Is this right? No, it isn't.

The best way to deal with abhorrent ideas is to get them out in public where the santizing light of day can illuminate them for what they are. During the Civil War, my explaining the crimes of Lincoln, for example, would have had me imprisoned or banished. (I'll be writing more about that in a few days.)

The origins of the First Ammendment can be found in the John Peter Zenger trial.

No country values free expression more highly than ours, and no case in our history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of a German printer named John Peter Zenger. On August 5, 1735, twelve New York jurors, inspired by the eloquence of the best lawyer of the period, Andrew Hamilton, ignored the instructions of the Governor's hand-picked judges and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" on the charge of publishing "seditious libels." The Zenger trial is a remarkable story of a divided Colony, the beginnings of a free press, and the stubborn independence of American jurors.

John Peter Zenger Trial

The case, in a nutshell, is that way back in 1731, a newspaper publisher named Zenger published an article critical of New York's governor, and the governor retaliated by having Zenger arrested for sedition and libel, and then imprisoned for ten months before trial when Zenger couldn't meet the £800 bail. (This was a truly staggering sum in those days.)

The trial opened on August 4 on the main floor of New York's City Hall with Attorney General Bradley's reading of the information filed against Zenger. Bradley told jurors that Zenger, "being a seditious person and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels" had "wickedly and maliciously" devised to "traduce, scandalize, and vilify" Governor Cosby and his ministers. Bradley said that "Libeling has always been discouraged as a thing that tends to create differences among men, ill blood among the people, and oftentimes great bloodshed between the party libeling and the party libeled."

John Peter Zenger

Andrew Hamilton Summation

Andrew Hamilton's Summation at Trial

Nowadays this would be an open-and-shut case. But there was no First Ammendment back then. Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, had travelled all the way from Philadelphia to represent him. (This may well be the origin of the advice, "Get yourself a Philadelphia lawyer".) Hamilton argued that the jury could only convict if what Zenger wrote was false; the judge ordered the jury to convict, saying that Zenger had no defense. Well, the jury refused to convict and the case achieved such renown that Thomas Jefferson added the right to speak one's mind to the Bill of Rights.

Andrew Hamilton: The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the Jury, is not of small nor private concern nor is it the cause of a poor printer, nor of New York alone. No, it may affect every Freeman to deny the liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth.

Alexander Hamilton
Summation,August 4th, 1735

Ok, enough with the history lesson. What bearing does this have on the news? Well, it seems that the The United States Supreme Court just declined to hear Rahn v. Robb, Case 04-629, a case important to all believers in free speech. For those of you who don't track the Supremes' docket like a Yankee fanatic tracking Billy Martin's ups and downs, this was the case involving the Ku Klux Klan wanting to adopt a section of the Missouri highway. (Can you imagine? The Ku Kluxers have hobbies other than lynching and cross-burning. Who knew?)

Now, we all know that the KKK isn't doing this out of civic mindedness, and giving back to the communty. Far from it. This is a potent propaganda opportunity to say that the KKK is still alive and well in Missouri, given that the state will put up a sign saying that litter is being picked up by them. This sign is, of course, offensive. But, then again, so is seeing signs from churches, other bigoted groups (like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), political groups (Republicans and Democrats), and even the local funeral director. It's all bigotry, politics, advertising, or some combination thereof, and I don't like it or want to see it. But the First Ammendment says, too bad. And that's good.

The state of Missouri, like most states, encourages groups to adopt a section of highway and keep it free of litter. Everyone wins: the group gets some free, and very public advertising; the taxpayers save millions in cleanup costs; and the public gets a clean stretch of road. (So the prisoners who used to do this job don't get their dose of fresh air and exercise anymore; too bad.) Anyway, when the KKK filed papers to adopt a stretch of highway the state refused. Litigation ensued, and the 8th Circuit Court of the United States ordered Missouri to honor free speech and let the KKK have its segment of highway. While the Missouri appeal was pending, however, state officials showed they had a sense of humor: the stretch of highway was renamed the "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway". No, this is not an urban legend.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater today honored a pioneer of the civil rights movement by dedicating a one-mile section of I-55 south of downtown St. Louis, MO as the Rosa Parks Highway.

"Forty-five years ago, Mrs. Rosa Parks’quiet defiance greatly contributed to the civil rights movement, said Secretary Slater. "Today’s naming of the Rosa Parks Highway reminds individuals that transportation is about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. It’s about people and empowering citizens to fulfill their dreams."

During the 2000 legislative session, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill, sponsored by State Senator William Clay and State Representative Russell Gunn, to name a 1.13-mile stretch of Interstate 55 from one mile south of Lindbergh Boulevard to Butler Hill Road the "Rosa Parks Highway." Former Governor Mel Carnahan signed the bill into law on May 30, 2000.

Missouri, Department of Transportion

Highway Cleanup Courtesy of the KKK - Sign 1

What's most amusing is that neither the United States Department of Transportation nor the Missouri Department of Transporation managed to mention exactly why Rosa Parks was being so "honored". (Another bit of trivia: John Ashcroft ran against Governor Mel Carnahan. When Carnahan died in a plane crash right before the election, Missouri voters elected the dead man over Ashcroft. After the dead man won, Republicans challenged the vote on the grounds that Carnahan was not, strictly speaking, a resident of the state on election day. They lost and sent Ashcroft to Washington. Guess who got the better end of that deal.)

Anyway, here's the story:

For the second time in four years, the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for the Ku Klux Klan to participate in Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway Program.

The high court on Monday declined to hear the state's appeal of a lower court ruling siding with the Klan, meaning that picking up litter along Missouri 21 heading into Potosi can remain the responsibility of the Klan.

...

Missouri began its Adopt-A-Highway program in 1987. About 3,400 groups care for about 5,000 miles of Missouri roads, according to the MODOT Web site. The program saves the state about $1.5 million a year, the Web site said.

Such programs are popular nationally; every state but Vermont has one.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court supporting Missouri's position, the Texas solicitor general warned that states could cancel their Adopt-A-Highway programs if they are forced to allow the Klan to participate.

Kansas City Star
Courtesy of BugMeNot.com
Login: icantkick@mailinator.com
Password: oregon1

I think the real question here is when are Americans going to wake up and realize that individuals must make decisions about what is or is not appropriate speech for themselves and that we must defend to the death the right to offend others. To do otherwise is to create world where a committee determines what we can say or hear, and that road, my friends, leads to fascism.

Oh, I have one more real question: how do klansmen keep those white outfits so spiffily starched and free of grass and dirt stains while picking up the trash in the hot sun?

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Kansas City Star Story (Login: icantkick@mailinator.com, Password: oregon1)
  2. Snopes confirmation of "Rosa Parks Memorial Highway" story as fact
  3. Seattle Post Intelligencer
  4. John Peter Zenger

Where Death Delights to Help the Living

Convict the guilty, clear the innocent and find the truth in a nutshell.

— Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Nutshell Studies book cover

TitleThe Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
AuthorCorinne May Botz
ISBN1580931456
PublisherMonacelli Press

We take forensic pathology for granted, nowadays. While Sherlock Holmes' pithy observations might have been profound in an earlier time — protestations of how it was merely "elementary" to the contrary — they are so commonplace today as to be the subject of banal television dramas. But even as recently as the 1940s police procedure was an utter mess, and crime scene analysis was little better than the Victorian days when photographs of a victim's retinas were taken in a pointless effort to identify a killer. (Despite never having a single success, for obvious reasons, the Victorians earnestly believed that the eye was a camera.)

Boston Saloon

Killing at a Boston Saloon

Modern forensics owes a debt to Frances Glessner Lee, a volunteer police officer, who devoted her life, and fortune, to improving police work.

It was back in the 1880s that murder and medicine first began to thrill the gentle, pigtailed Frances Glessner, who became today's powerful, iron-willed matriarch. For murder and medicine were the interests of George Burgess Magrath, her brother's studious chum who always appeared at "The Rocks" when the Glessner family arrived from Chicago for a summer vaction in the White Mountains.

For hours on end, Frances would listen to George's latest tales of unpunished or undetectable crimes; of unexpected clues that turned up in the autopsy room at medical school; of amateur coroners and old-fashioned police officers who knew little about crime-hunting; and about his own plans for a great career as a medical crime detective.

From one summer vacation to another, France's interest in murder and medicine grew, paralleling George's rise in his self-chosen profession. The promising young medical student became the brilliant young teacher of medicine, the famous professor of pathology, and eventually "America's real-life Sherlock Holmes," a pioneer of legal medicine.

But for Frances there was always the sobering return to the stodgy social routine of Chicago's upper set. Marriage, children and even grandchildren did not change her father's unwritten law that "a Glessner" could not possibly think of nurturing interest in a subject like crime. Thus, Mrs. Lee was well over 50 years old when her long-frustrated career in crime-detection began.

She was ill in Boston for months; and almost every night Magrath came to see her. He talked "cases" as enthusiastically as ever. But through all his stories ran a gnawing fear: what was to become of his young science of "crime doctoring" when he died? One day, Mrs. Lee asked what she could do to perpetuate his work. "Make it possible for Harvard to teach legal medicine," was his answer, "and to spread its use through education."

Mrs. Lee lost no more time: she went ahead. Magrath, who died in 1938, lived to build up the Harvard department which Mrs. Lee financed; to enjoy the use of the most modern equipment American industry could supply; to witness his name being given to the world's biggest library of Legal Medicine, collected by Mrs. Lee in years of searching at home and abroad; and to see the department permanently endowed by her.

"Grandma Knows Her Murders" by George Oswald, Coronet, December 1949

In order to educate and train police, she created dollhouses of death; miniature crime scenes, complete with victims and clues, ideally suited for instruction:

Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress, provided for just about every creature comfort when she fashioned 19 dollhouse rooms during the 1940s. She stocked the larders with canned goods and placed half-peeled potatoes by the kitchen sink. Over a crib, she pasted pink striped wallpaper.

But you might not want your dolls to live there.

Miniature corpses -- bitten, hanged, shot, stabbed and poisoned -- are slumped everywhere. The furnishings show signs of struggles and dissolute lives; liquor bottles and chairs have been overturned; ashtrays overflow.

Lee, a volunteer police officer with an honorary captain's rank whose father was a founder of the International Harvester Co., used her ghoulish scenes to teach police recruits the art of observation.

Bellwether Gallery

Nutshell Study Number 7: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom

The text accompanying "Nutshell Study Number 7" provides a typical set of clues for the student:

Mrs. Rose Fishman, a widow, was found dead by Samuel Wiess, a janitor. He was questioned and gave the following statement: Several tenants complained of an odor and on March 30, he began looking for the source of the odor. Mrs. Fishman didn't answer her bell when he rang it, and when checking with other tenants he found that she had not been seen recently. Therefore, he looked into her mailbox and found that her mail had accumulated for several days. He entered Mrs. Fishman's apartment and found it in order but the odor was very strong. The bathroom door was closed, when he tried to open the door, he could only get it opened a little way, the odor was much stronger. He immediately went downstairs and climbed the fire escape to enter the bathroom through the window. He could not remember if he found the window opened or closed. The model however shows the premises as he found them.

Nutshell Study Number 7
The Pink Bathroom
Based on an actual crime from March 31, 1942

Nutshell Study Number 2: Three-Room Dwelling

Nutshell Study Number 2
Three-Room Dwelling

The school soon became a mecca for those interested in learning proper policework:

Accounts by witnesses were typed and attached to each model. Each student was assigned two "nutshell studies" to review. The student's task was to search out the clues that were cleverly hidden in each model and prepare a detailed report of how the deaths occurred. Enrollment at the seminars was limited to two dozen students and police officials as far away as Scotland Yard jockeyed to be included on the list.

To have graduated from a seminar and thereby become a member of the Harvard Associates in Police Science was "a high honor in police circles." Erle Stanley Gardner, famed creator of the Perry Mason detective stories wrote that "invitations to the seminars were as sought after in police circles as bids to Hollywood by girls who aspire to be actresses."

"Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine, Page 3

Francis Lee Glessner at work

Francis Lee Glessner Making Crime-Scene Dioramas

As shown in the photographs, the level of detail in the construction and the accuracy were simply amazing:

According to Alton Mosher, a local man who assisted in the construction of the models over a ten year period, Frances' reputation as a perfectionist was well deserved.

He recalls being instructed by Frances to "scale down" pieces of siding from a 100 year old barn to authenticate the detail of a crime scene. "She demanded precision in all phases of her work," recalls Mosher. Even the clothing made for the dolls in the models was fashioned to scale, knitted by Frances using common pins and unraveled thread.

"Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine, Page 3

Nutshell Study Number 6: The Blue Bedroom

Nutshell Study Number 6
The Blue Bedroom

While not intended as such, Lee's "blood-splattered dioramas" are delightful art:

Not surprisingly, John Waters, a Baltimore native, is an admirer of the sometimes blood-splattered dioramas. "When I saw these miniature crime scenes," he said recently, "I felt breathless over the devotion that went into their creation. Even the most depraved Barbie Doll collector couldn't top this."

"Dollhouse detective", Eve Kahn, San Diego Union-Tribune

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Nutshell Study Number 3: The Pink Bathroom

Frances Glessner Lee died in 1962, aged 83, long before Dick Wolf turned forensics into entertainment. After her death these wonderful models were almost destroyed by neglect:

Harvard lost interest in forensics after her death and shuttered the department. A former professor there, Dr. Russell Fisher, became Maryland's chief medical examiner and brought the Nutshells with him. Participants in police science seminars have been poring over the models ever since.

By 1992, Lee's creations were disintegrating, and the Maryland Medical-Legal Foundation donated $50,000 for their restoration. Despite the dated decor and narratives, criminologists still swear by the Nutshells. "People take them as seriously as any other crime scene," said Dr. David R. Fowler, the current chief medical examiner for Maryland. "I've never seen anybody make jokes because of the degree of intricacy and detail. The quality is stunning. I have never seen any computer-generated programs that even come close."

"Murder is merely child's play" by Eve Kahn, San Francisco Chronicle

Sources and further reading:

  1. "Murder downsized" by Eve Khan, New York Times (Warning - JPEG; see the San Francisco Chronicle or San Diego Union-Tribune stories for text versions)
  2. "Grandma Knows Her Murders" by George Oswald, Coronet, December 1949
  3. "Murders, She Wrought" by Roberta Bolduc, Magnetic North Magazine
  4. "Murder in the Dollhouse", by Jennifer Schuessler, Boston Globe
  5. "CSI in a Doll's House and the Contagion of Obsessiveness" by Vince Aletti, Village Voice
  6. "Murder is merely child's play" by Eve Kahn, San Francisco Chronicle (from NY Times)
  7. "Dollhouse detective", Eve Kahn, San Diego Union-Tribune (from NY Times)

Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus.
Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

Let conversations cease. Let laughter flee.
This is the place where death delights to help the living.

— Autopsy room motto of Dr. Milton Helpern, Medical Examiner of New York City in 1960s

A Suitcase Full of Dead Presidents

Hundred-thousand dollar bill with Woodrow Wilson

"A single Federal Reserve note–of any denomination–weighs one gram. Ten thousand $100 bills weighs 10 kilograms: roughly 22 pounds. It’s bulky but manageable."

William Bryk

The briefcase full of money is a movie cliche familiar to all. But exactly how much money fits into a briefcase? Would a million dollars really fit? Consider this famous story told about Frank Sinatra:

Another story that made the rounds, then and now, and later portrayed in the film, The Godfather, was that Rocco Fischetti had several travel bags stuffed with two million dollars, the proceeds from dope sales that was owed to Lucky Luciano. Fearing that he was being tailed by narcotics agents, which he was, and terrified that he would be stopped and searched as he left the United States, Fischetti had brought Sinatra along to carry the bags into Cuba because Fischetti knew that, traditionally, starstruck customs agents didn't check celebrities' baggage.

None of it was true. The money in the suitcase story was spread by a writer named Lee Mortimer who disliked Sinatra intensely and at one time the dispute brought the two men to blows. Years later the FBI expanded on Mortimore's story who said that Sinatra carried the money to Lansky in one briefcase.

For decades Sinatra denied the story saying, "If you can show me how to get two million dollars into a briefcase, I'll give you the two million dollars."

The Short Return of Charlie Lucifer

Hundred dollar bill with Ben Franklin

Ok, so the game is on. Can a million bucks fit into a suitcase? Packing a suitcase full of enough bucks to buy an election used to be a lot easier. Until 14 July 1969, specifically, when the Federal Reserve announced that the "$500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 would be discontinued immediately due to lack of use." Mmmm-hmmm. I think we all know the real reason: density. It's a lot harder to lug around multiple suitcases of $500 bills without being noticed. (I doubt criminals would want to use larger bills; how would you change them or use them to pay a bar tab?) But back to our question: what about the suitcase full of retirement money?

Actually, a million dollars’ worth of $100 bills weighs a lot less. A single Federal Reserve note–of any denomination–weighs one gram. Ten thousand $100 bills weighs 10 kilograms: roughly 22 pounds. It’s bulky but manageable.

Still, it would have been easier half a century ago, when the United States still looked beyond the Benjamin. Imagine peeling off a $500, $1000 or $5000 bill. Today we might refer colloquially to $500 bills as "Williams" (for William McKinley), to $1000 bills as "Grovers" (Grover Cleveland) and to $5000 bills as "Jameses" (James Madison). There was also a $10,000 bill we would have had to call "a Salmon" (after Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln). The last of these was printed in 1945, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Treasury Dept. agency charged with engraving Federal Reserve notes (and White House invitations, incidentally). They were withdrawn from circulation in 1969, supposedly due to declining demand.

At one time, the United States issued a note in an even higher denomination: a Series 1934 gold certificate, bearing a portrait of Woodrow Wilson, for $100,000.

Bills: Big Money by William Bryk

Stack of Bills

Rather than just do gedanken experiments this fellow did the math:

The largest U.S. bill in circulation is the hundred dollar bill, and it takes 10,000 of those to make one million dollars. Ten thousand bills. That is the smallest size you can get a million dollars in cash.

...

Next I visited Kinko's copies, where they have an industrial paper-cutting machine. I asked them to cut the 8?x11 sheets of paper into bill-sized mini-sheets. They asked about my intentions, and when they found out about my counterfeiting plans, they reminded me that I would not be able to pay for the cutting service with fake bills.

...

After separating the paper, I designed and printed some paper bands for my counterfeit cash. The bank teller had told me that hundreds are wrapped with purple bands. She asked me about my intentions, and when she found out about my counterfeiting plans, she reminded me that I would not be able to deposit fake bills.

How Much is Inside a Million Dollars

So, to answer the question: "can you cram a million bucks into a briefcase?" Yup, you can if you use a reasonably-sized briefcase. If this turns out to be of practical use to you, pop a few dead presidents over to me.

Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
It’s all about the benjamins baby
Uhh, uh-huh, yeah
It’s all about the benjamins baby
Goodfellas, uhh

— Puff Daddy, "It's All About the Benjamins"

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