May 25, 2010

Opposite World

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May 20, 2010

The Snake

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May 17, 2010

Love Pains

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" was determined that it would be in the best interest of public safety..."

Detroit SWAT team shoots seven year old girl dead while executing search warrant.

"As is common in these types of situations, the officers deployed a distractionary device commonly known as a flash bang," [Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee] said in the statement. "The purpose of the device is to temporarily disorient occupants of the house to make it easier for officers to safely gain control of anyone inside and secure the premise.

More here. Just awful.

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May 14, 2010

Gloomy Sunday

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May 12, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I hate the internet."
-- Columbia, MO Police Chief Ken Burton in his second press conference on Corgi-gate.

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Here's Radley Balko's update on the Columbia, MO SWAT raid video, including the story of how the video came to light and bits of a heartbreaking email from the adult female victim in the targeted household.

As he points out, this is not just a case of misconduct by the Columbia Police: it is a national problem. "Odds are pretty good," he writes, "that your local police department is doing the same thing." And he adds: “calling for the heads of the Columbia SWAT team isn’t going to stop these raids.”

He's right that America's misguided drug policy is ultimately to blame for the militarization of police and excrescences like the Columbia raid. A change in national policy is long overdue, obviously. I do think, though, that one step in the right direction would be to hold police departments and the offending officers responsible in cases of clear abuse. Rolling heads can be a deterrent to the most aberrant behavior in the short term, while the long term (and frankly, long-shot) goal of nationwide reform could be worked on. I'd like local police chiefs and those comprising their departmental apparatus to think twice before authorizing such harsh treatment of people suspected of trivial transgressions, and it's hard to see how that works if no one ever loses his job.

Another important point is that, in practice, the difference between "no-knock" and "knock-and-announce" raids is largely ceremonial. (The Columbia raid was not "no knock," but you could have fooled me.) I'm no expert, but I do know that a great deal of legal verbiage and effort and argument has been expended on specifying the standards that demarcate these different types of "entry." If it makes no difference in practice, what's the point? Maybe a police chief who truly believed his job depended on not screwing up, honoring citizens' rights, and ensuring their safety would instruct his officers to give the guy more than 3 seconds to answer the door at 2 AM before busting in and shooting up the place. Seems worth a try, anyway.

Finally, let me quote one of Megan McArdle's commenters:

Do we really want to live in a country where when someone busts into your house at night you're supposed to assume they might be cops? There are countries like that, of course, and a lot of people have moved from them to America for that reason.
Their bad, I guess. We are one of those countries. We've got to do better than this.
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May 11, 2010

My Love Explodes

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Novels by Frank Portman


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The Sixteenth Minute

Here's a lengthy and quite engaging conversation between Michael Totten and Paul Berman on the subject of Berman's new, long-awaited book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. Long-awaited by me, at least. My copy should be arriving any day now, I'm told.

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Library-ing in the Chicago Suburbs


That's Aaron and Billy, who drove four hours from Indiana to see my little presentation in Palantine, IL's public library this past weekend, and almost made it, arriving just as I was packing up. A ways back, Aaron had sent me a dollar bill to autograph to add to his collection of autographed punk rock dollar bills. Flake that I am, I hadn't got around to doing that. But also, flake that I am, I still happened to have his envelope in my computer bag where I put it when I picked it up from the post office a couple of months ago, intending to get around to it at some point. So I was able to take care of that right there. Another thing to cross off my to-do list. Sweet.

It was a good time, and seemed to go pretty well. Thanks to everyone who showed up, and to Tom Spicer and Megan Ower, the librarians who arranged the whole thing.

A few of the attendees on Sunday were punk rock type couples who came with their babies. The antics of one of them (Rose, I think, the daughter of Cpt. who is a frequent commenter here) were so adorable that I got distracted and forgot the words to a song or two. Okay, so that probably would have happened anyway, one way or another, but still. Sometimes a baby would start crying or "fussing" and would have to be taken out of the room for a while, reminding me of church.

After the presentation in Arlington Heights the previous day, one of the attendees invited me to his girlfriend's graduation party, which was at a place called the Wellington which happened to be just down the street from my hotel. I'm sure they didn't expect me to come, but they were nice people and I was at a loose end, so I stopped by.

Now I'd expected The Wellington to be a bar, with maybe a HAPPY GRADUATION banner somewhere, and a bunch of friends just hanging out, saying "woo" from time to time, playing quarters, that sort of thing. And I figured I'd walk in, find the folks I'd met, be introduced to people, have a drink, say "congratulations," maybe say "woo" now and again, play quarters, and such. But what the Wellington was, as it turns out, was a complex of multiple banquet event rooms. And the party to which I'd been invited turned out, in fact, to be a catered dinner, a family gathering with a generous assortment of uncles, aunts, grandparents, little nephews and nieces running around, etc. I was thrown for a loop by this, but I regained my composure almost immediately and tried to blend in as best I could. When the surly, gravel-voiced waitress asked me if I wanted a Harvey Wallbanger "or what," I had the presence of mind to say "just a beer thanks" as though I really belonged there.

It was surreal to be smack in the middle of someone else's family like that. But the folks who had invited me were really nice and the conversation and joking around was so successful I might have even forgotten they weren't actually my own family for moments here and there. It was a good time and a lot less awkward than it sounds.

Also, the food in Chicago rules.

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May 10, 2010

The Cops that Shot the Corgi

The story has "legs" because of the terrifying, disgusting video. But this sort of thing happens with insane regularity all across the country. And sadly, shooting all the animals they can find appears to be part of the standard operating procedure in this kind of raid. That's the first thing they do. It's infuriating, sickening, and wrong. Most people who have viewed the video seem to agree: this must stop. (It's hard to imagine anyone feeling otherwise, but here's one. Unfathomable to me.)

There clearly needs to be a much higher bar to clear for authorization of paramilitary night-time home invasions like this. SWAT teams should be deployed only in extreme situations where the threat of violence, danger to the public, and seriousness of wrong-doing is likely to be greater than that caused by the "operation" itself. That's what they were designed for. Using them to serve routine warrants is insane. They often get the wrong house entirely. Innocent people get killed, along with all sorts of animals, not to mention the slow (but accelerating) death of Constitutional protections against state tyranny. (You think the Fourth Amendment still protects you against "unreasonable" searches and seizures? Me neither.)

Last week I cited concern for the pets, only partially in jest, as reason enough to vote for the decriminalization of marijuana in the upcoming CA state election. Fewer paramilitary raids on ordinary citizens suspected of smoking dope means fewer corgis shot on sight, right? If you won't do it for the hippies or the children or the United States of America, at least do it for the animals. It's not their fault we decided to have a stupid war on drugs.

However, it turns out that Columbia, MO actually does have a cannabis decriminalization law, similar to that established by Oakland's Measure Z, passed by city referendum (62-39%) in 2004! I still believe the fewer pretexts for police home invasion the better, but the lesson here is, if agents of the state want to break down your door and kill your animals and terrorize your family, they can probably find a way, whatever the law says. The real problem is that the bar for authorizing paramilitary "dynamic entries" and no-knock raids is ridiculously, absurdly low, and that police departments and the officers involved rarely face any real consequences for malfeasance in the course of them. I still hope California's legalization initiative passes, mostly because the drug war is stupid. Mostly. But also as an animal lover.

Anyway, I guess the decriminalization thing could explain the "endangerment of a child" malarky. It is, of course, patently absurd to accuse this fellow of endangering his own kid's life, since he wasn't the one firing multiple rounds in an enclosed space and storming a single family home like it was Iwo Jima. If that charge had any real meaning, it would be the reckless officers (and the police department that authorized the action and the judge who signed the warrant) who should have to answer for it. But of course, it is a manifestly bogus charge, likely brought only because the city's decriminalization law precludes felony drugs charges, and they wanted to charge him with something more serious than the law authorizes. In other words, the police have undertaken to nullify the existing law, using "child endangerment" as a proxy for possession, essentially pursuing the possession charge under a different name and quite literally subverting justice. This is itself a serious abuse, though it is my understanding that it is a common practice. We should be able to expect law enforcement to enforce the law as it actually stands, rather than seeking creative loopholes to circumvent it for the sake of justifying their budgets, harassing people they dislike, and saving face. In a saner, more just, world there would be severe penalties for this alone.

The worst abuse, though, is the mere fact that paramilitary units are deployed to conduct routine business like this at all. The actions of those officers were arguably criminal and certainly unwise and dangerous, but those guys shouldn't have been there in the first place. Everyone should be concerned about this, because even if they get the wrong house (which happens frequently) and even if you are completely innocent and you and your pets are lucky enough to come out of the ordeal with your lives, they will find something to charge you with, seeing as they're there. Think about it: 40,000 of these raids per year; over 100 per day. It could quite easily be you and your pets or family one day, even if you live in a city that has decriminalized possession, and even if you have never come within a mile of the substance in question. This is not the kind of country anyone wants. This is, allegedly, the United States of America. And we should start acting like it.

Finally, I realize it is trivial compared to these other points, but would it be too much too ask that these public servants conduct their business without screaming obscenities at the public any time there is a hint of conflict? We're all accustomed to this sort of behavior from TV and perhaps decorum is a lost cause in this day and age; perhaps we should simply be grateful on those occasions when they opt to allow our pets to live till the next altercation. But in fact, we do deserve a degree of professional conduct and cordiality from public servants, and why should police officers be any different? Maybe they should be trained to address members of the public, even naughty or unpleasant ones, as "Citizen" rather than "motherfucker." It worked for Batman.

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May 07, 2010


a couple of library appearances in the Chicago area this weekend:

Saturday, May 8th, 2 - 3:30 PM at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton, Arlington Heights, IL 60004


Sunday, May 9th, 1:00 - 2:30 PM at the Palatine Public Library, 700 N. North Court, Palatine, IL 60067.
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May 06, 2010

Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel

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May 05, 2010

I love wikipedia's song synopses

Like this entry for the Sylvers' "Boogie Fever":

The narrator of the song notes a change that seems to have come over his girlfriend - at the drive-in movie, she turns down the speaker volume and turns up the radio to hear her favorite disco songs, and "boogies" to the disco beat while eating her meal at the pizza parlor. He concludes that his girl must have caught the "boogie fever" which seems to be "goin' around." In the final verse, he consults his doctor and realizes that he, too, has caught the "boogie fever" as a result of dancing all night "doin' the bump, bump, bump" with his girlfriend.


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One reason to vote to decriminalize marijuana, even if, like me, you never touch the stuff:

Police will have to find another pretext to break in and shoot your dogs.

Caution, this is horrifying:

The insult to injury bit is that they charged this guy for "child endangerment" because of the "small amount of marijuana" they found on the premises. The whole operation is child endangerment. That kid could easily have been shot, and is probably scarred for life (and not because of the pot.) Even I'm crying over the pets. How do these people sleep at night?

And maybe I'm naive, or my information is out of date, but aren't they supposed to show or read out the warrant to the person whose home is being invaded? I thought I read that was in the common law.

There are over 100 of these raids every day in America, according to this.

More here. God bless Radley Balko for tirelessly documenting these abuses.

ADDED: The dog's crying has been haunting me all day long. I've been reading about abuse like this for years and I know this sort of thing is extremely common; it's only the unusually clear video that makes this particular case special. What kind of country subjects its citizens, even those guilty of misdemeanors, to this kind of harsh treatment? I hope this guy sues Columbia, MO into bankruptcy. And any investigation that leaves these officers and their chief free to terrorize citizens in this manner again will be a failure and an outrage. We need to demilitarize the police.

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May 04, 2010

Whatever it Takes

Attention, fans of the '93 Geo Prizm: have we got a book for you.

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May 03, 2010

Okay, but there's a twist. See, we find out the killer suffers from multiple personality disorder. Okay? See, he's really also the cop and the girl. All of them are him!

The "they all turn out to be the same person" gimmick generally irritates me, though I have been tempted to end stories like that when I can't think of any other way. It is, perhaps, slightly better than having everybody run over by a truck.

For that, and a variety of other reasons, I rank Ferris Beuller's Day Off above Fight Club (and the Stephen King one and the John Cusack movie whose titles I can't remember at the moment.) I love Ferris Beuller's Day Off.

For some reason, though, this only makes me love it more:

My favorite thought-piece about Ferris Bueller is the "Fight Club" theory, in which Ferris Bueller, the person, is just a figment of Cameron's imagination, like Tyler Durden, and Sloane is the girl Cameron secretly loves.

One day while he's lying sick in bed, Cameron lets "Ferris" steal his father's car and take the day off, and as Cameron wanders around the city, all of his interactions with Ferris and Sloane, and all the impossible hijinks, are all just played out in his head. This is part of the reason why the "three" characters can see so much of Chicago in less than one day -- Cameron is alone, just imagining it all.

It isn't until he destroys the front of the car in a fugue state does he finally get a grip and decide to confront his father, after which he imagines a final, impossible escape for Ferris and a storybook happy ending for Sloane ("He's gonna marry me!"), the girl that Cameron knows he can never have.

(via Althouse.)

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It came in the mail

An Andromeda Klein-shaped box:


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May 02, 2010

Reagan the Occultist

In a guest post on a Washington Post blog, Mitch Horowitz, author of the very entertaining Occult America, asserts that one of Ronald Reagan's oft-told parables about America's grand mission has as its direct source Manly P. Hall's tract "The Secret Destiny of America."

As Horowitz points out, it would be truly remarkable if such an obscure work had found its way into the hands of the future president when he first told the story in a commencement address in 1957. That would suggest a greater, and clearly more long-standing, familiarity with esotericism than the often-ridiculed interest in astrology during his presidency alone ever indicated. And it is fascinating to speculate on how such an unlikely situation might have come to pass. Occultism certainly played a role, not to be exaggerated but larger than is generally recognized, in the elite cultures of 20th Century Southern California. Reagan the actor could have encountered this or that occult luminary at one of those Hollywood Babylon parties. I admit, I like the idea of that and I kind of want it to be true.

However, the story is an old one, as Horowitz indicates, a part of American folklore that managed to turn up in printed forms that predate the So Cal occult revival. Indeed, that's clearly how Manly Hall himself got hold of it. (A version of the story published in 1911 in a collection of American political speeches was apparently reprinted in the Theosophical Society's journal in 1938.)

Horowitz traces this history, but believes that Manly P. Hall's tract is Reagan's direct source. "It is Hall’s language that unmistakably marks the Reagan telling," he writes.

Well, maybe so. I wish he had adduced some examples of these unmistakable rhetorical parallels to go along with this assertion. I don't have the text of Hall's pamphlet before me, nor do I have the text of Reagan's two documented tellings of the apocryphal story. But I have read quite a bit of Manly P. Hall, and I grew up during the Reagan presidency, so I believe I've heard enough of Reagan's rhetoric to be familiar enough with his style of public speaking. And I have to say, with due respect to Horowitz, the bits of Reagan's speech that are quoted seem way more Reagan-y than Manly-y to me. I mean, they both use the word "destiny," it's true. Is that enough?

As I said, some perverse part of me wants it to be true; but, as with a lot of things I want to be true, I suspect it is not.

Nonetheless, it's a interesting post about an interesting subject for those who are interested in that type of thing. (All twelve of us, I guess.)

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