Sunday, September 30, 2007

Detour to 1944

We've been watching the PBS series on World War II. This was my husband's war. Although he grew up in Vancouver, BC, his parents were English--his mother, who came from Wimbledon arrived there after a stint as a nursemaid in India; his father, who was born in 1861 in Stevenage, after working for over 30 years in Burma (Myanmar). Courtenay was 16 when Hitler attacked Poland, and he was navy mad. He was a boy and he thought war was a great adventure that he wanted to join in. His mother told him he couldn't join until he finished an undergraduate degree at university, so he went to school round the clock and completed his BA in 1942, three months shy of his 19th birthday. His mother loved him dearly, but she put no obstacles in the way of his enlistment, and he joined the Canadian Navy. Canada had agreed to supply the Royal Navy with its radar officers, so Courtenay was seconded to the Royal fleet as a lieutenant, jg, a radar signal officer. After two months training in Halifax, he left for England. His mother gave him a wrist watch as a nineteenth birthday present.

His first exposure to the realities of war came as his troop ship sailed into Liverpool. The sight of masts poking out of the water at crazy angles, all from ships sunk by German bombs and U-boats, was sobering indeed as the Queen Elizabeth navigated her way into the harbour.

He was assigned to a fast light mine-layer, Ariadne class, called the HMS Apollo, and served in her off Scapa Flow for 18 months, making quick runs to Gibralter and the western Mediterranean. Some of his friends from Halifax were assigned to the Murmansk run, a high-casualty run to supply the beleaguered Russians through the Arctic Circle. Many never came home.
Courtenay's only experience of shelling in his first months came from "friendly fire." He was on the bridge, when one of the Royal Navy's warships began shelling the Apollo. The captain signalled in vain, so the Apollo took off at top speed--40 knots. The next day, when the warship steamed into Scapa Flow, all the men on the Apollo stood on deck in their dark glasses (worn to protect the eyes from the fire of shells).

The seas around Scapa Flow can easily boast 40-foot waves. One day when they were out in 20-foot waves, Courtenay decided to go on deck--he was there by himself. A wave tore his mother's watch from his wrist, and, young fool that he was, he ran across the heaving deck after it, grabbing it just before it--and he--went into the North Sea.

The Apollo was chosen as the headquarters ship for General Eisenhower on D-Day plus 1. They sailed from Portsmouth in the early morning of June 7. The seas off the Normandy beaches were very heavy that day and the Apollo went aground, damaging one of her screws. Courtenay again was on the bridge as it was his watch; he was about a foot from General Eisenhower, who appeared both angry and nervous--apparently a ship that's gone aground is a very unstable vessel and the general was a landsman. However, a landing craft quickly appeared and took the general and assorted other VIP's to safety, while the Apollo limped back to Newcastle, able to go only about 2 knots with her damaged screw. The air and sea fire around them was ferocious, but they managed to arrive in port unscathed. That was the night that the first V-1's came over to England. It was an eerie experience to watch them, not knowing what they were--unlike today's rockets, moving at supersonic speeds, the V-1's went slowly enough that you could see them. Later, on leave in London, Courtenay heard them right before they dropped: the motor would suddenly cut out and you would flatten yourself, not knowing where the bomb would fall.

With the Apollo out of commission, Courtenay volunteered for the Pacific theater. He was on a battleship going through Suez when a number of the crew died of food poisoning. They were buried at sea, and one of the grimmer wartime sights was watching the giant sharks circling the ship, waiting for the next dead sailor. Before Courtenay was transferred to his new post, the Japanese surrendered.

Courtenay was demobbed in San Francisco on a hot June day in 1946. As he was waiting in his uniform to catch a bus north to Vancouver, he fainted from heat, excitement and exhaustion. When he came to, a stern-looking woman was bending over him, demanding, "Young man, have you taken the pledge?" (to this day, he drinks rum, proving that the Royal Navy's roots go deep in him.)

Now, watching the PBS series, Courtenay feels anguish for all the young men who never came home,or came home severely injured, from this or any other war, including the one we're senselessly waging now in Iraq. He wonders why he was spared, and feels no zest for war. As Erasmus said, "War is sweet to those who never fought one."

Friday, September 28, 2007

I Used to Like Whoopi Goldberg

by Barbara D'Amato

I used to like Whoopi Goldberg. I liked her irreverent sense of humor, her smart take on politics, and I liked her movies, even the dopey ones. I don’t like her so much any more, since she defended Michael Vick.

Vick, of course, is the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback who recently pled guilty to conspiracy in an illegal interstate dogfighting enterprise. Losing dogs were drowned, strangled, electrocuted, or slammed to the floor enough times to kill them.

On The View Whoopi said, “Where he comes from . . . it’s like cockfighting in Puerto Rico. There are certain things that are indicative [sic] to certain parts of the country.”

Joy Behar responded, “Oh, really? What part of the country is this?”

Goldberg said, “I just thought it was interesting, because it seemed like a light went off in his head when he realized this was something the whole country didn’t appreciate.”

He thought it wasn’t wrong? Oh, yeah, Whoopi? Then why did he claim at first he didn’t know about it and had never been involved in any such thing? He didn’t fess up until three of his co-defendants had agreed to testify.

And by the way, there was a photo of him and some of his co-defendants with a pit bull just prior to a fight. Maybe that helped convince him to cop a plea, too.

Bad Newz Kennels? They named it that, even though they meant it to be Fun on the Farm with Fido?

The President of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, called dogfighting “a sickening, barbaric, and criminal action.”

Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, spoke with Goldberg. The PETA blog mentions that Goldberg supports the Humane Society’s First Strike campaign, a group that links human violence with animal cruelty and educates young people in humane behavior. Does Whoopi put this together with the Bad Newz guys standing around as they drown the losing dog? Imagine this:
“Wow! Look at him struggle!”
“Yeah. Look at him fight.”
“Yeah. If he fought like that in the pit we wouldn’t have to be doing this.”
Ha, ha, ha.

That will surely turn them into humane citizens.

And for the dogs, it’s not just the fighting and dying, as if that weren’t enough. The dogs are treated cruelly from puppyhood, to make them permanently angry and willing to attack anything that moves. As Sara Paretsky mentioned in an earlier post here, most can’t be saved and have to be euthanized.

Dogfighting is illegal in all states of the U.S. and a felony in forty-eight. Vick didn’t know this? Vick had no idea animal cruelty was not nice? Its one thing to ask people to be more sympathetic than their peers. You can’t really ask a person to be far ahead of his time in sensitivity. In the 1700s, people caught stray cats, dumped them in bags, hung the bags from a tree and built fires under them, because the yowls and screams were amusing. People a little ahead of their time considered this inhumane.

Vick faces a maximum of five years in prison but isn’t likely to serve that much time.

He says he’s sorry. I say prove it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Violence: To Everything there is a Time?

by Libby Hellmann

I saw the film Eastern Promises, a dark story about the Russian mob, the other day. It was excellent... excellent but violent. There were several scenes of graphic violence, usually involving fighting, blood, and guns. While the first instance made me flinch, by the end of the film I was taking it all in without even a grimace. Which made me start thinking about violence and how I view it.

I used to criticize the depiction of graphic violence for all the reasons you’re supposed to: It’s sensationalist. It’s a wretched role model for kids. It’s a simplistic, cruel resolution to conflict. It wreaks unnecessary destruction and damage. Like most of us, I bought into the moral constraints. Konrad Lorenz might remind us of our animal instincts, but surely, as civilized beings, we could understand the price of violence and tame those primate brain stems.

Recently, though, I’m not so sure. It’s not just all the violence we see around us. Or the excuses (religious, protective or whatever) that some members of our society use to perpetrate it. The problem is that it’s getting personal.

I write crime fiction, and violence is a major plot driver. It’s hard to imagine a crime fiction story in which the protagonist does not face specific violence or the threat of it. My protagonists have had to learn to use knives, guns, and their fists to protect themselves. It doesn’t matter what their moral code is. It doesn’t matter whether they have an aversion to blood or guts or bruises. They either learn to use violence to their advantage or they don’t survive.

Some of that attitude has washed over me. A year ago I wrote a blog about shooting– I go to the target range occasionally – and I love it. I find it an incredibly empowering experience. I’m probably going to apply for a FOID card. I’ve also learned a little about knives and have found a knife – the Hideaway – that I’m considering buying.

Which raises an interesting issue: let’s assume that we can strip away all the moral strictures and guilt surrounding violence. All the “shouldn’ts” and “wouldn’ts.” Who among us wouldn’t want to blow someone away if they ticked you off badly enough? If you knew there would be no consequences, would you refrain from using violence against another person?

Or what about a situation in which someone’s coming at you with a weapon and you don’t know if they’re friend or foe? If you had only an instant to decide, would you
shoot first and ask questions later? I think I would.

My friend, Zoe Sharp, who’s been staying with me during her U.S. tour for Second Shot (a great book btw) says there’s a difference between graphic violence and gratuitous violence. I’m not so sure. Once you cross the line, once you accept violence as an acceptable method of conflict resolution, where do you stop?

I’m not sure where I am on that line. All I know is that I’m not disturbed by violence like I used to be.

And that disturbs me.

PS... On a lighter note, click here to see a music video for CHICAGO BLUES.

Monday, September 24, 2007


by Michael Dymmoch

You can’t really dish dirt about Chicago without mentioning our unofficial city bird. They’re quintessential city residents—smart (as birds go), adaptable, omnivorous.

Maybe there are huge flocks of them in parts of the city I don’t often visit, but they don’t seem as numerous as when I was in college. Maybe because the city’s Official Bird, the peregrine falcon is keeping them in check. They’re still ubiquitous as rats, though, and they’re frequently referred to as rats with feathers.

I usually encounter them on El platforms in the Loop—in spite of the spiky plastic strips the CTA installed to keep them from roosting above waiting passengers. As long as they can roost somewhere on the El structures and until all CTA passengers are housebroken—and stop dropping their trash on the platforms—there will be pigeons up there. Like muggers, they go where the loot is. Like panhandlers, they keep coming back if you feed them. Pigeons have the same kind of street smarts.

The parking structure at the Cook County Criminal Court House has a small population because it provides housing and free lunch. Visitors drop trash in the garage and along California Boulevard where the lunch wagons park. I hope the food is healthier for people than pigeons, because the birds at 26th and Cal do not seem to be thriving. The few pigeons in my neighborhood look pretty sickly, too, but that may be because they aren’t well fed.

No question pigeons are a nuisance. Probably a health hazard as well. Most people would be happy to see them vanish altogether. But then, what would our official bird eat?

And when a flock takes flight and wheels over the cityscape, they’re breathtaking.

PS I was going to include a picture of a flock of pigeons free-wheeling over an interesting building on the near west side, but it's still inside my camera. My old fashioned film camera. If I ever finish the roll (and if the picture turns ou) maybe I'll include it in a future blog on neat places to commit murder in Chicago. Meanwhile, if you go outside in the city and look around, you'll probably see a flock of pigeons. And if you want to see them flying, just watch them a while.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hey Mattel, I'm Sorry You're An Idiot...

by Sean Chercover

Remember the old joke? Timmy calls Jimmy an idiot, and Mom says, “Timmy, you apologize right this instant!” So Timmy says, “Okay Jimmy, I’m sorry you’re an idiot.”

Ha-ha. Anyway, in one of the more bizarre moves I’ve ever seen, U.S. toy company Mattel apologized to China yesterday. Yes, you read that correctly. Mattel apologized to China, the country that has been supplying our children with poisonous lead-painted toys of late. If you’ve been conscious in recent months, you’ve probably read something about the recalls of more than 21 million Chinese-made toys, from various Mattel brands.

The apology was delivered by Thomas Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations. “Our reputation has been damaged lately by these recalls,” began Debrowski, demonstrating his grasp of the blindingly obvious.

Debrowski, who also holds the title VP of dictator ass-kissing, then addressed Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, sucking-up thusly: “Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys.”

Mattel’s chief jellyfish then acknowledged that the, “vast majority of those products that were recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel's design, not through a manufacturing flaw in China's manufacturers.”

So Mattel specifically designed its toys to be dipped in poisonous paint that exposes our children to lead levels over 200 times the legal limit?!

No, of course not. My mistake. Or, China’s mistake, if you want to pick nits. But don’t wait for either the weasels at Mattel, or the Chinese “product safety chief” to acknowledge this.

Li responded to Debrowski’s boot-licking by chastising Mattel, and reminded him that, “a large part of your annual profit . . . comes from your factories in China.”

No kidding. Or as our lead-painted kids would say, Duh.

And just in case anyone was still unsure about exactly who is the Top and who is the Bottom in this relationship, Li added, “I really hope that Mattel can learn lessons and gain experience from these incidents,” concluding that Mattel should, “improve their control measures.”

It would be misleading to call Mattel a toy manufacturer. They once were, and they even made some of those toys in the USA. But as Li pointed out, Mattel maximized profits by shipping all those jobs to China, where labor is cheap and where environmental and safety standards are a bad joke.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but of all the toys recalled in the US so far this year, ALL of them were made in China (read this NYT article before you buy your kid's next toy).

No, Mattel is no longer a toy maker. They are a brand management and product distribution company, as are so many former manufacturers. And by focusing on maximum profit to the exclusion of all else, they have betrayed the trust of their customers and endangered our children. Not once, but over and over again. By apologizing to the very people who painted lead on our children’s toys, they have now added insult to grave injury.

I’m happy to report that Lego does not make any of its toys in China. I'm a big fan of Lego. And here’s an NYT article that profiles some other toy manufacturers who still seem to care about safety and quality.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Save the Date for Chicago Blues...

by Libby Hellmann

When: Friday, October 12, 5- 8 PM
Where: Legends (Buddy Guy's Blues Club)
8th and Wabash

Forgive my enthusiasm, but I just got back from Bleak House Books in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was able to hold in my hands the first few copies of hot-off-the-presses CHICAGO BLUES. What a rush!

For those of you who are new to the blog, or might have forgotten, CHICAGO BLUES is an anthology of 21 dark crime fiction stories that I edited. It will be released next month, both in hard cover and trade.

Everyone in The Outfit has a story in the anthology. In addition there are stories by Stuart Kaminsky, an old Chicago boy …. Max Allan Collins, whose protagonist, Nate Heller, prowled Chicago streets sixty years ago…. and Kris Nelscott, who wrote her very first Smokey Dalton short story for us. Joe Konrath wrote a new Jack Daniels story, Deb Brod waxes eloquent about the Cubs… and there are stories from Michael Black, Sam Reaves, David Walker, Mary Welk, Sam Hill, Brian Pinkerton, Steve Mandel, Jack Fredrickson, and Ron Levitsky. Rick Kogan, the dean of Chicago neighborhoods, wrote the introduction.

Happily, we’ve been getting nice reviews:

"...This impressive volume has soul, grit, and plenty of high notes…” Publishers Weekly

“Twenty-one excellent reasons to stay out of the Windy City…” Kirkus

A monument in words to this funky, mysterious and eternal American city… a fine collection.”
Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird’s Daughter

Gritty, excellent.. has (our) highest recommendation!” Midwest Book Review

“An impressive group of stories… an amazing group of authors…” Crimespree Magazine

So we intend to celebrate, and you are invited to join us. If you’re in the Chicago area, you like crime fiction, and you want to meet some of the CHICAGO BLUES authors, come to the launch party:

When: Friday, October 12, 5- 8 PM
Where: Legends (Buddy Guy's Blues Club)
8th and Wabash

If you can't make it to Legends, click here to find out where else we’ll be.

Btw, we’ve produced a special DVD that will be distributed with the hard cover collectors’ edition. It includes interviews with 15 of the authors about their stories and why they write about Chicago. To request a copy, e mail Bleak House.

Finally, if you’re into video trailers, check this out.

We now return you to your normal programming...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Family Secrets -- Whose Family?

by Barbara D'Amato

A few weeks ago, The Chicago Tribune asked me to write a short piece on the Mob for the Perspectives section, because the Family Secrets gangsters trial was looming large in the news. In the piece, I mentioned the puzzling fact that people seem to love gangsters.

I live about four blocks from Holy Name Cathedral, where Hymie Weiss and four other men were gunned down in a mob hit in 1928. Visitors hearing that Holy Name is nearby, want to be walked over to see whether they can find the bullet holes in the cornerstone.

We have gangster bus tours in Chicago, and gangster-themed restaurants.

And this blog is called The Outfit, isn’t it?

In the Tribune piece I was interested in why we find these mobsters interesting and frequently funny, when they are really horrible people, killing pitilessly and often in gratuitously cruel ways. I asked for opinions.
Surprisingly, most of the emails I received did not respond to that question. Most were from people deeply troubled by what they saw as an enduring prejudice against Italians. Why make such a fuss about the Family Secrets trial, they asked. Why is The Sopranos so popular?

It’s certainly true that Italian gangsters are the mob characters of choice in movies and television. Even such non-Italian mobsters as Bugs Moran, Bugsy Siegel, and Hymie Weiss himself are seen as sort of honorary Italians. A lot of people don’t even realize that there were Irish mobs every bit as brutal and powerful as the Italians.

One man, a dentist, emailed me that he frequently tells patients that he is Sicilian, because he wants people to realize that there are hard-working, honest Sicilians who are not mobsters. This is sad.

My emailers tell me that jokes are constantly made in their presence about Italian gangsters, Sicilians especially. And to a certain extent, I believe it’s true that ethnic slurs against these people are seen as okay in the way that slurs against the Irish, blacks, Hispanics, or Jews are not.

Yes, there are movies, and I suppose some TV shows, about Irish, Jewish, black, or Hispanic gangsters. But they don’t seem to be part of the nudge-nudge, chuckle-chuckle culture in the way the Italians are. And the characters mostly are not intended to be funny—or made fun of, either.

I don’t really have much of a personal problem with this, having married my Italian last name. In fact, I grew up in a town so WASPy that I had never met an Italian until I went to college.

But I am curious.

So, I have two questions:

What is the reason people are so fascinated by the Mafia and appear to find it so cute?

Second, is it true, as these emailers say, that prejudice against Italians is okay, in a way that jokes and slurs about other ethnic groups are not? Does PC not apply to Sicilians? Are Italians the last ethnic group people can laugh at without fear of being non-PC?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Happy New Year

Kudos to Kevin Guilfoile for his painstaking research on Dr. Cornbleet's murderer. We agreed as a group that he had important insights on a story that was not getting appropriate press attention; that's why he wrote several consecutive posts on the subject. Kevin scooped big media and all of us at the Outfit are mighty proud of him.

I had originally planned to use my post to comment on the convictions of five defendants in the Calabrese family secrets trial for racketeering and fraud, but the jury is still out on the more serious charge of first-degree murder, and sentencing also lies in the future.

Anyway, today is Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year, a time of starting over, thinking afresh about life, about the unnecessary baggage we carry with us. There should be one day of peace in everyone's life from time to time; I chose today to turn off my e-mail, to do no work, to enjoy the beautiful golden day in Chicago with my dog and with friends. And I thought, too, about all the ways that in my life and work I fall short of a mark that I wish I met. One of those ways is to demonize people who oppose ideas and ideals that are fundamental to my sense of self. A friend of mine who's a theologian and does a lot of work on issues around reproductive rights commented recently how much both sides of the abortion battle need each other; we demonize one another, she said, and use the demonic acts the other side commits as ways of galvanizing support for our own positions.

I want to cast off many things this Rosh Hashannah--tormenting myself about my work, wasting the precious time in front of me--but I want also to cast off demonizing people who don't agree with me--if I can make an exception for Dick Cheney and George Bush. As John Donne wrote, “How many men that stand at an execution [who] ask, For what dies that man? should hear their own faults condemned and see themselves executed by attorney?”

For all who visit this site, I wish you a year of health and peace, and pray that the one who establishes peace in the high places will, against all odds, grant peace to all the world.

Sara Paretsky

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To Cry, Kill, and Die; To Lie, Hate, and Fear

By Kevin Guilfoile

Hi, I have always been different from most of my peers - extremely quiet, unable to engage in any sort of small talk, somewhat obsessive, intelligent, and somewhat unable to make friends. Many of these qualities I attributed to the fact that I grew up in a house in the middle of nowhere, with no immediate neighbors, and the way that may [sic] parents were rather different than most people in the town that I lived near. (White trash town - my father is a doctor, my mother from France, and not used to many American customs) I was always considered talented and gifted in school, but I struggled socially (many people felt I was mute), and I have never been in a real relationship in my life despite my above average physical attractiveness. I am now 28 years old and recently moved from the United States to an island in the Caribbean.

Recent readers of this site will recognize in those words the troubled voice of Hans Rudolph Peterson, who one month ago confessed to last October's savage murder of Chicago dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet.

(If you're new to the case, or if you've been directed here by the recent flurry of Peterson coverage, you can find links to previous reports in our last post related to Peterson's online activity at the Accutane/Roaccutane Action Group Forum. A version of that post also appears on the op-ed page of today's Chicago Tribune. If you are a regular reader of this site, our usual rotation of contributors will resume on Friday.)

The above introduction was posted to yet another internet discussion, this one at Wrong Planet an "online resource and community for those with Asperger's Syndrome." Peterson registered at the site in July of 2004, but apparently didn't post until February 4, 2007, three months after Dr. Cornbleet's murder. He joined the discussion only twice, but the posts seem to provide one more fold in the map Peterson was trying to follow to the source of his mental illness. As in the Accutane discussions, he is trying to find a concrete reason why he became the person he did. It is also perhaps the most revealing glimpse we've had into Peterson's psyche. In his own words, he provides a vivid picture of just what what Hans sees when he looks into the mirror.

I suppose what I am trying to do here, is determine whether or not I have AS. I have many of the attributes typically attributed to AS:

* Social awkwardness/lack of intuitive understanding of social situations: I have never felt comfortable with small talk, or making friends. It's not that I don't want do, I definitely do. I just find myself pushing people away frequently because I'm generally clueless regarding friendships - and, probably more importantly, I seem very averse to initiating or continuing normal social interaction with people that I have just met.

* Excessively logical rather than emotional thought processes. I'm not the person one would want to come crying to for comfort. My brain just doesn't work that way. I seem to always look at things from a logical rather than emotional perspective. (I have emotions, they just seem more warped and diluted than those of most other people.)

* Above average intelligence. In many (most?) areas of intelligence I am substantially more intelligent than my peers. When it comes to long term memory, or understanding systems, or writing, or most academic subjects I am just a lot better than most of my peers. (I have always done exceptionally well on standardized tests, etc.)

* Lack of organization/attention span. In classes or lectures I have never been able to take notes - not even a single page. For some reason, the whole idea of writing things down repulses me. When I am paying attention, I just try to process what is being said rather than writing anything down. Also, I frequently find myself staring out the window or at a wall with my mind wandering around some subject or idea totally unrelated to the class or lecture. These factors undoubtedly hurt my academic performance. I tried to correct them to some extent, but my success was very limited. Also, I virtually never clean my room or even use a garbage can - as a result most of my rooms/apartments are not very pleasant places in which to hang out.

* At points in my life, I have been rather lazy about my hygiene as well. Just not shaving or wearing the same clothes frequently because I become bored with the process of picking out different clothes to wear. (This has not always been the case, there have been stretches in my life where I have been rather hygienic.

* Obsessive interests: Generally I am either very interested in a subject, or not interested in it at all. This has resulted in quite varied performance in school and work. Also, I suppose, when I was a child, I would have very specific interests that I would obsess over at the expense of everything else (such as dinosaurs or geography). I have generally grown out of that pattern, however, the all or nothing interest that I have in subjects largely remains.

However, i do not have some of the common AS attributes: (at least I'm not aware of having these)

* Panic attacks: I can't even comprehend what it feel like to have one.

* Lack of coordination: I'm not especially coordinated, but nor am I especially uncoordinated.

* Stimming: I may have this, I'm not sure, I certainly don't do the over the top full body convulsion type of thing, but I do fidget a fair amount, and I almost always bounce one of my legs up and down when sitting.

Also, my line of work doesn't seem typical for someone with AS. I am a professional poker player and a key part of that is thinking from the perspective of one's opponents. However, in the setting of poker, this can be done in a very logical and systematic manner, so maybe it isn't that hard for someone with AS.

I have a variety of mental issues: depression, extreme shyness, and some shades of OCD.

So, do you think I have AS? (I took the online test, it said I was very likely an aspie.) If I am, what difference does it make? AS isn't a disease, right?. It does not have a known cause, or 'cure' for that matter. As a syndrome, is it just a group of attributes which seem to be rather correlated? I dislike some of my attributes, such as the social awkwardness. Does the idea that these things may be part of a greater syndrome make it easier to deal with? I don't know yet. I guess one good thing is that I now know that there are others that have the same peculiarities as me.

It's not clear that Hans ever concludes that he has Asperger's Syndrome, but three days later he joins a music discussion at the same site.

Although I doubt it was written with AS in mind, Tool "46&2" describes my mental state fairly well. In particular the obsessive tendencies, introspection, desire to analyze, and desire to change.

(From what I read it may have been written about some sort of Jungian psychology or the next step in the evolution of the human species, but the lyrics are vague enough to cover a wide variety of topics, including AS.)

These are the words to the song Forty Six & 2 by the band Tool, the lyrics which allegedly described Hans Peterson's mental state "fairly well" just three months after he bound, gagged, tortured, and stabbed David Cornbleet more than twenty times:

My shadow's
Shedding skin and
I've been picking
Scabs again.
I'm down
Digging through
My old muscles
Looking for a clue.

I've been crawling on my belly
Clearing out what could've been.
I've been wallowing in my own confused
And insecure delusions
For a piece to cross me over
Or a word to guide me in.
I wanna feel the changes coming down.
I wanna know what I've been hiding in

My shadow.
Change is coming through my shadow.
My shadow's shedding skin
I've been picking
My scabs again.

I've been crawling on my belly
Clearing out what could've been.
I've been wallowing in my own chaotic
And insecure delusions.

I wanna feel the change consume me,
Feel the outside turning in.
I wanna feel the metamorphosis and
Cleansing I've endured within

My shadow
Change is coming.
Now is my time.
Listen to my muscle memory.
Contemplate what I've been clinging to.
Forty-six and two ahead of me.

I choose to live and to
Grow, take and give and to
Move, learn and love and to
Cry, kill and die and to
Be paranoid and to
Lie, hate and fear and to
Do what it takes to move through.

I choose to live and to
Lie, kill and give and to
Die, learn and love and to
Do what it takes to step through.

See my shadow changing,
Stretching up and over me.
Soften this old armor.
Hoping I can clear the way
By stepping through my shadow,
Coming out the other side.
Step into the shadow.
Forty six and two are just ahead of me.

A likely irrelevant but nevertheless creepy coda to Hans's brief foray into the Asperger's site is provided by another poster who calls himself Flagg. Like several other members of the online Asperger community, Flagg tries to welcome Hans and encourage him to post further.

"Welcome to the unending battlefield of Outer Planet," Flagg writes. "I'm the unofficial host of the slaughter, Liquid Ocelot."

DIPLOMATIC UPDATE: "U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to consider, in light of the State Department's support for France's extradition request for Manuel Noriega, to publicly request that the Government of France extradite Hans Peterson, an American citizen who reportedly confessed to the 2006 murder of Dr. David Cornbleet in Chicago."

MEDIA UPDATE: The syndicated television program Inside Edition will be featuring the murder of Dr. Cornbleet today (Thursday, September 13). In Chicago, that show airs at 3PM on WLS-TV channel 7.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

'Cause Sorrow Is Just All The Rage

By Kevin Guilfoile

"Justice will not be found through the legal system...Would taking some of their money even be justice? Their lives would go on, just with a little less money. Our lives will never be the same."

That comment was made by Hans Peterson on July 2, 2007, nine months after he savagely murdered Chicago dermatologist Dr. David Cornbleet. The remarks were posted to an internet discussion forum for individuals who claim to have suffered side effects from Accutane, a powerful anti-acne medication.

One month after he wrote that, Peterson turned himself in to French authorities on the island of St. Martin. According to reports, he told police that he murdered Dr. Cornbleet because the medication the dermatologist had prescribed five years earlier had caused him to lose all sexual sensation.

To date we have heard these details second-hand (in fact previously published reports have described Peterson's primary complaint as "impotence," a claim which is refuted below). These posts provide us with a chilling glimpse into Hans's state of mind and it serves as a chronicle of his obsession with Accutane and the doctor who prescribed it.

Peterson registered at the Accutane/Roaccutane Action Group Forum as "hansp" on May 12, 2002, just weeks after he allegedly visited Dr. Cornbleet's office for the first time. (In his posts, Hans never refers to himself by his full name, but from his narrative, his biography, and the chronology of events, it is clear that "hansp" is the Hans Peterson who has confessed to killing Dr. Cornbleet.) On June 16 of that year he posted his first comment.

"In late April, I went to see a dermatologist for my very mild, but persistent acne. He was an unethical old man who suggested accutane. He said that it was a very safe and popular drug with no serious side effects. I was never given a blood test. He never showed me the consent forms that he is required by law to make me sign. I was started on 80 mg per day. (I weigh around 190) He said that I could take the entire day's dose at once. When I picked up my prescription, the pharmacist conveniently forgot to give me the FDA required medication guide. When I picked up the medication, I was under the impression that accutane was an extremely safe drug.

"I took it for 2 days. Then I got a bad headache and read about the side effects. I stopped right away. I thought that I was safe having only taken a few pills. However, about 5 days later, I got really depressed and couldn't sleep. My ears started to ring around this time, and a lot of hair around my hairline began to fall out. (The roots of these follicles were black, normally they're white.) My appetite went away around this time as well. A couple of days after this, my libido vanished and I lost virtually all sexual sensation...It has been over a month and a half since my very brief experience with accutane and most of these effects have not improved at all. (I sleep a little better as I am starting to get used to the ear ringing, but that is about it.)

"Am I permanently affected from taking an acne medicine for 2 days?"

More than 60 posts from Hans follow over the next five years. They show a man becoming increasingly obsessed with the drug Accutane and the effects he believed it was having on his body and his mind. He attributes a series of ailments, including depression, to the medication but the two that he claims most haunt him are a constant ringing in his ears and a loss of sexual sensation.

On November 15, 2002 Hans wrote:

"Since taking a relatively high dose of accutane for a very short period of time 7 months ago, I have been experiencing persistent sexual problems. I would describe it as a loss of libido and sexual sensation. I have lost virtually all interest in sex. When I do engage in sex or masturbation, the act is no longer pleasurable. I can get an erection and otherwise function normally. The pleasurable sensation is just gone."

On April 30, 2004, in a thread specifically about "Erectile Dysfunction," Hans wrote:

"How am I coping with it? Not particularly well. You take a drug in order to increase your chances of getting laid, and end up not being able to enjoy getting laid. (Getting an erection isn't that big of a problem - it's the near complete loss of sensation.) I guess you could try to enjoy pleasing the other person, and all that crap. But, still, this side effect is horrible..."

As the years pass, Hans tries to become more familiar with both the science and the unsubstantiated claims made about Accutane. He consults with other doctors, who are not able to prove a link between his ailments and the drug he took briefly years before.

On February 6, 2003, he wrote:

"I have just begun law school, and tasks like paying attention or concentrating are not as easy as they were before I took Accutane. Perhaps I can use whatever legal knowledge I gain to take my revenge... I have nothing else to live for."

(The list of side-effects that members of this forum attribute to Accutane is so long that it would be difficult to find a response from drugmaker Roche for every single one. In the past Roche has denied a connection between Accutane and the most serious conditions alleged. "It's our conclusion, along with the outside experts and the FDA, that there is no scientific basis that links Accutane with depression or suicide," a spokesperson told Reuters in 2002.)

In a few of these posts, Hans seems to be formulating his rationalization for murder. According to Hans, Dr. Cornbleet is a villain who "deceived" him by knowingly prescribing a dangerous drug without providing any warning of the harmful effects associated with it. Hans also suggests a possible motive for this: Greed. On October 9, 2002 Hans speculated that Dr. Cornbleet was "desperate for patients, and, if I were to go on accutane, I would have to see him every two weeks for a check up."

These two claims would seem to be inconsistent, however. Presumably Dr. Cornbleet did not tell Hans that Accutane was an "extremely safe" and "popular drug with no serious side effects" that nevertheless required an intense schedule of bi-monthly monitoring visits.

And yet, especially compared to the standards of internet discussion forums, Peterson's writing is frequently clear and concise. At times he even grows impatient with his fellow posters, chastising them for throwing out statistics and claims without citations:

"Is there anyone that can tell me where this information is actually published? I admire the effort of the people that run this site, but you should really provide some adequate form of citation, so we know that these figures aren't just pulled out of the air...I don't doubt the truth of these statements, but in order for this website to be taken seriously, there needs to be some way of verifying the claims that are made on it."

After a period of frequent activity in the spring and summer of 2004, Hans disappears from the forum for two years, returning on September 20, 2006, just four weeks before he would travel from New York to Chicago to murder Dr. Cornbleet. On that day he posts two links--one to a depression study reported on the BBC web site and another to a video on YouTube. On October 10, he posts the complete text of an article about Dopamine.

The next post is February 7, 2007, more than three months after the murder:

"I was deceived by my doctor almost 5 years ago into taking this drug (no consent form, no med guide, no warnings whatsoever). I took a rather high dose for two days. TWO DAYS!!! (albeit an 80 mg undivided dose) Life altering, presumably neurological, problems which I never experienced before have plagued me ever since.

"I will never know again what it is like to pleasure a woman because I no longer have any sexual sensation - I will never again experience what silence is due to the constant ringing in my ears - I will never know who I would have become because of what this motherf**king drug has done to my mind. A drug which I should have never been prescribed...In at least some cases, such as mine, this drug just does its damage when its taken, or shortly thereafter, and that's it. No real hope of recovery, doctors are useless, the damage is done.

"Doubt my problems and their connection to Accutane all you want - I know I wouldn't believe a word of it if I had never taken the drug and someone told me the story I have told above. The truth is, I'm a rational non-hypochondriac who still can't believe how his life has been changed by this drug."

He posted four more times before he turned himself in to St. Martin police in August. On July 2, his second-to-last post he wrote:

"Justice will not be found through the legal system. There is no way to objectively verify Accutane-induced permanent neurological problems. Even if there were, it would be near impossible to legally prove causation. Even then, statutes of limitation would have run... If and when the **** ever does hit the fan they will just point out how strenuously they claimed their ignorance about permanent problems.

"Would legal justice even be justice, anyway? The people who have profitted from Roche's deception won't be personally brought to justice -- they will be shielded from personal liability... Roche's stock might drop, that's about it, it still would have been rational for those ***holes to deceive regarding Accutane in the first place: its profits over the years have been more than enough. The corrupt FDA, as a gov't institution, can't be held liable....

"There is no foreseeable retributive action in the legal system which would make their fraud regarding Accutane a mistake. Their decisions were economically rational and they know it. Would taking some of their money even be justice? Their lives would go on, just with a little less money. Our lives will never be the same.

"If you seek real justice, it will not come through the legal system -- they know this, that's why they continue to deceive and play ignorant. It is the financially rational thing to do..."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Autopsy photos

by Michael Dymmoch

After the initial shock, the autopsy photos become meaningless. The victim was stabbed and strangled and crushed by blunt force trauma, and People’s exhibits 53 to 80 exhaustively document her injuries. One of the jurors looks up at the clock. I do, too. I’ve seen photos like these before. And I didn’t know the woman. All of this seems overkill to me, as over killed as was the victim, stabbed and smashed and strangled.

The medical examiner has testified already as to all this carnage. His explanation of the photos is reinforcement—in case anyone missed something on the first pass. We in the gallery will not see the images, but the jury will. When the M.E. is finished, the pictures will be “published”—passed from juror to juror—here in court, then passed around later—if they can stomach it—in the jury room.

Couldn’t we just stipulate that she was brutally murdered? That’s not in question, is it? Won’t all of this distract us from the real point of the trial—did the defendant do it?

This is the part they leave out of legal thrillers. This is real life, real death—nauseating as the smell of putrefaction, ugly as road kill.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Looking Through Some Photographs I Found Inside A Drawer

By Kevin Guilfoile

When I first wrote about the Cornbleet murder case it was largely because I couldn't figure out why no one had published a photo of the confessed killer. It certainly seemed relevant. It still does.

At the right is a recent photo of Hans Peterson, who savagely tortured and murdered Dr. David Cornbleet in his Michigan Avenue office last October, allegedly because Peterson believed a medicine Cornbleet had prescribed four years before had made him impotent. Although I'm not sure exactly when, I have reason to believe the picture was taken after Dr. Cornbleet's murder.

Less relevant but still interesting are these photos of the street and apartment where Peterson lived after he fled the US for St. Martin.

This morning a resolution was introduced in the Chicago City Council asserting that France's refusal to extradite Peterson "offends the notions of justice of this body and...the people of the City of Chicago." In response Mayor Daley has promised to raise the issue in an upcoming meeting with the mayor of Paris, Chicago's sister city.

I'm not sure that will have any impact at all, but as my good friend Lew Temple likes to say, good on them.

If all such efforts fail, the Sun-Times has a brief explanation of what Hans's French trial would be like.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Pox Upon Your Newspeak

by the "Un-good" Libby

I was about half-way through a blog about the collapse of Chicago’s plan to provide wireless internet service throughout the city – and I still wonder whose greed scuttled what could have been a noble effort to empower citizens -- when I ran across something, that, for lack of a better cliché, makes my blood boil.

See, I was also going to talk about the issue of Net Neutrality. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it seems as if communications giants like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and others who provide internet access would very much like to limit that internet access. For example they’re touting a kind of pay-to play tax on website operators (think about it, writers....unless you fork over the dough, your website might languish in some sluggish back alley of the net that takes forever to load and crashes easily.) They’re also thinking about a tiered system for which internet users, like you and me, would pay. Kind of like cable TV. They have to make money somehow, don’t they? It’s the American way.

A bill that would start the process was – thankfully – defeated in Congress last year, but rest assured the battle over what really does constitute First Amendment rights on the internet has just begun. (Btw, for more information, click here.)

At any rate, that’s not what this blog is about. In my research, I came across a group called “Hands Off the Internet.”

Now.. if you came across an organization with that name while researching internet freedom, what would you think? Wouldn’t you think it was an earnest, grass-roots organization? A group who wants to empower everyone with equal access to information? Wouldn’t you assume it was an ally in the fight to keep Big Business off the net?

If you did, you’d be wrong. It turns out Hands off the Internet is funded by the same communications giants I mentioned above. In fact, under the guise anti-government regulation, this group is actually PROMOTING the very same initiatives mentioned above.

Talk about twisting language. Misinformation. Deception. Orwellian Newspeak. Winston Smith would feel right at home.

As someone who tries to choose words carefully, and often anguishes over the right one, I am personally and professionally offended. Admittedly, we’ve come to expect Newspeak from the Bush Administration. Consider:

“No Child Left Behind...” which has left public education worse than before it started

“The Clear Skies Act...” which significantly weakened the 1970 Clean Air Act and gives companies license to pollute

“Sectarian violence...” a euphemism for Civil War

Touting "democracy" in certain Central American countries: Check out David Corbett's "Blood of Paradise" for an eloquent depiction of the pretense...

“Either you are with us, or you are a terrorist”... do we really need an explanation

But here’s the worst part. One of the co-chairs of Hands Off the Internet is Mike McCurry, President Clinton’s former press secretary. Clinton. Not Bush.

Can you spell “sell-out?”

Okay, since it's clear that Newspeak is not just the penchant of the current Big Brother – er, Administration, nor is it new to American culture and politics, it's time to take notice. If only to warn each other how easy it is to dissemble.

So, dear blog readers, give me your Newspeak-isms. What pearls of twisted, mangled language can you offer up to further confuse the issues? To show hypocrisy, if not outright deception?

Oh, and Happy Labor Day ... (or, since it's a holiday, is it technically "Un-Labor"?)