Tuesday, October 31, 2006

TORONTO -- They were school pals. One is 15. Most are just out of high school, some still in. The 17 boys and men whom Canadian police are calling "homegrown terrorists" forged their bonds in student clubs and on school soccer fields, chatted on the Internet, and urged each other to be heroes for their faith.
The arrests last weekend left many Canadians pondering how a country proud of its diverse culture and political moderation could spawn such an apparent interest in violence. Especially by people so young.
What started as boasts and youthful rhetoric crystallized into action, the government says. The youths ordered $4,000 worth of ingredients for a bomb, built a detonator and cased out targets for a two-pronged attack that would take hostages on Parliament Hill in Ottawa while setting off bombs in Toronto, prosecutors contend.
The plans allegedly ranged from the fanciful -- steering remote-controlled toys loaded with explosives into police stations -- to the meticulous. The suspects calculated the exact solutions of nitric acid and grams of mercury they would need to detonate the bombs, according to a summary of the prosecutors' allegations reviewed by The Washington Post.
The school ties have some people here asking if Canada's attempt to accommodate all faiths and backgrounds -- many Canadian schools offer rooms for Friday prayers and foster Muslim student clubs -- is encouraging religious divisions. Some of the clubs "are very conservative, very judgmental," said Rizwana Jafri, a Muslim and an administrator at a Toronto-area high school. "Young people are looking for a group to belong to, and religion plays into that. It's almost cult-like."
Suspect Saad Khalid, now 19, is typical of those charged. At Meadowvale Secondary School, he was bright and outgoing in his early high school years, fellow students told reporters last week. His father, a technology professional from Pakistan, lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to Canada 10 years ago. The family recently moved to a brick townhouse in one of the new suburban developments being carved out of farmland in Mississauga, a spreading suburban town west of Toronto.
In 2003, Khalid's mother died in an accident. In the following years, he became more strident about his Muslim faith. He formed athe Religious Awareness Club to preach Islam during lunch hours at the Meadowvale school. He spent time with two older classmates, Fahim Ahmad, now 21, and Zakaria Amara, 20, the government contends.
Meadowvale is a bustling, brick school in the heart of Mississauga. Teenage boys in T-shirts and baggy jeans lolled about the campus last week. A smaller knot of young girls, with Muslim headdress, stood in the shade of a tree. School officials declined to speak to reporters and urged students to do the same.
"Young people who are disenfranchised or ill-fitting in a society look for ways to belong, and sometimes religion plays to that, creating a desire for martyrdom, a desire to be a hero," Jafri said. In her view, the school clubs they form sometimes paint an extreme view of a Muslim world at odds with the secular values the school is trying to teach.
Khalid and his pals spent time in a chat room on the Internet and called themselves the "Meadowvale Brothers." According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, which reported on the electronic chat diary before it was removed from the Web, the young men's talk dealt with movies and final exams. But Zakaria Amara kept returning to the issue of sacrifice for Islam.

What kind of crime is this? Is it really for religious purposes, why did the boys have to go to such extremes? Would any of them had acted this way if he weren't encouraged and egged on by a group? Why are they behaving this way at such a young age?

Something grisly for Halloween:

Read this. It's short, to the point, and really wierd.


You'd think a murder this nasty would hit the national news, but I can't recall hearing about it. I know it was awhile ago, but can anyone else?

So, as the blog marches on, I'm still thinking about motive. I'd almost like to think this woman was influenced some way--her husband was cheating or abusing her or something. That's not to say I have a problem finding women culpable of crimes (look! sexism all over again!), but the idea of a spouse-killing dismembering nut job giving me shots is a lot scarier.

Okay, so this is going to be less an intelligent post and more an examination of obvious facts. It tells us in the first part of the CNN.com article that the additional charges have to do with McGuire falsifying letters and planting evidence to frame her sister-in-law (while she was out on bail, no less!). If so, she must be crazy, because I'm a 20 year old college student with no criminal record and I could have told her she would have gotten found out.

So far, there's been no argument that someone else killed her husband. The closest we've seen is that she had help. See this quote from a long-ago article of People magazine on the crime: Says State Attorney General Peter Harvey: "This somebody who was cutting the body knew how to cut without making too much of a mess." After doing farther research, I learned McGuire'd been having an affair with Dr. Bradley Miller, with whom she worked at a fertility clinic. My bio major suitemate says that the process of disarticulating a corpse isn't naturally clean, whether you're in the morgue or dissecting a goldfish. However, according to this slightly longer article (only the first half or so is actually interesting):


"With the help of someone else, she cut through his body first with a scalpel then with a reciprocating saw or an electric carving knife or both, an investigator said. She wrapped his severed head and other body parts in plastic, placed them in the luggage then drove to Virginia and hurled the luggage in the water again, with the help of someone else, authorities said."

One would think a someone who went through medical school would know a fairly efficient way to deconstruct a course given tools like that. Also, given that the average American man weighs 175 lbs., divided by three is 58.333... Three loads of sixty lbs. each? That's a lot of weight for one petite nurse to chuck off the Virginia shoreline by herself.

Bottom line is, I think she did it, but she must have had help. What really interests me is the behavior that her friends and neighbors describe, both on the part of McGuire and her late husband. Apparently they both had a bit of the compulsive behavior in them (see second article). I just wonder if McGuire was a slightly bumbling murderess before she married, or it developed during the course of the marriage.

How do people miss things like this? How do you ignore something like your wife going crazy? I mean, I have this image of crazy people tearing their hair or writing on the walls in meaningless symbols, but either her husband was totally oblivious to her mental decay or she lost it silently, inside her own mind. Does that happen?

I'm planning to write my final story with a lot of help from the National Institute for Mental Health website, so I guess I'll find out.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Modern day Marlowe???

"You can't be a private investigator without having police contacts. It's impossible. I had hundreds of them."

"At least 10 times in this case I've been offered a plea bargain. It's not going to happen,"

"I won't be a rat for anyone no matter what the consequence is to me."

"If I spend the rest of my life in prison, so be it."

Someone just finishing “The Long Goodbye” may very well think these quotes came directly from the text of the book when in reality they were spoken by Anthony Pellicano, former private investigator to the stars, who was recently arrested in connection with a wiretapping scandal involving Hollywood celebrities. I came across the article while reading stories from my local hometown newspaper (http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CA_HOLLYWOOD_WIRETAPS_INTERVIEW_CAOL-?SITE=CAANR&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT). Prior to his most recent arrest Pellicano had served a 2 ½ -year prison sentence after FBI raided his house and found military grade C-4 explosives, reportedly in quantities capable of bringing down a passenger size airplane (http://www.lukeford.net/profiles/profiles/anthony_pellicano.htm). This came after he was hired by Steven Seagal to do a little dirty work. In one interview I read regarding his chosen profession he reportedly stated, "I could have been a criminal just as easily." Keep in mind that in no way am I vouching for the validity of these randomly acquired quotes, but the more I think about it, the less important the truth becomes. The idea alone is enough to sustain my interest. It is this culture of hardboiledness that is so intriguing. “I could have been a criminal just as easily”. That’s a frightening statement at best. One might believe the lives of criminals and the lives of private investigators are complete opposites, but this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality private investigators, which some might argue are only a few coworkers away from being police officers, straddle the problematic line distinguishing right from wrong. What implication does this have for the rest of us? Nothing really. This isn’t something new. Those of you who may have believed the introductory quotes came from “The Long Goodbye” can attest to that fact. Fifty plus years and the waters of scandal and tough private dicks are nonetheless murky.

Information Technology musings...

Information flows like liquid gold through our culture and society in this day and age. And I can't help but think that detective fiction as we know it is over. In Black Betty the main character actually drives around questioning people for information. Today he'd be text messaging, internet file browsing, GPS monitoring, phone tapping... Likewise, Marlowe's driving around looking for a Dr. V and meeting people randomly in a bar. In Skintight Stranahan lives in a little house on stilts away from everyone and has to fight off assassins who actually sail out to his place. Who lives that far away from technology anymore, and still stays in the game? In Birdman the closest they seem to get to something like the internet is the slow process of shifting through files about hospital employees. This frustrates the crap out of me. We have CSI and mysteries and crime solving brigades that collect the tiniest bits of information... but it seems boring compared to detectives actually having to sneak around or obtain information like they do in the novels we've been reading. Today someone like Marlowe would push a few buttons, maybe bully some contacts with blackmail information gleaned from hacked emails and instant messenger conversations and shabam, info. Or maybe tap some phones. Hack some IP addresses.

Today a lot of our crimes are facilitated by technology. Guys on the Fox News (i hate fox news) crime watch track down women in chat rooms and rape them. Teens pose as teachers on MySpace and teachers pose as teens and everyone messes with everyone else. You can stalk your classmates with Facebook. You can look up the people you graduated with on those stupid adds on websites. Or even hire someone to figure out your family tree. Everything is fast exchange of information. Snail mail is becoming obsolete- a mere formality. Satellites can read a license plate number from space. People like Martha Stewart wear ankle things that little men watch on screens to make sure they aren’t escaping house arrest. Along with the ease and power of information trafficking comes the abuse of that power and ease. Crime is born, the elusive kind of crime that doesn’t leave a paper trail but a cookie trail, or a web history trail, or an email trail…

It’s so BORING compared to someone like Stranahan in Skintight getting down and dirty, and the chasing where the big guy with the cornflake face flies on planes to get where he wants to be to kill someone he doesn’t know, and the action that happens when someone has to physically hunt stuff down instead of getting fat drinking Dr. Pepper in front of a computer screen like I’m doing right now.

Who’s going to write a book where Easy Rawlins is hired to find Black Betty, so he sits down at a computer, logs on to the internet, and sends out a mass email?

People tell me that advances in information technology don’t make the process easier, just quicker. It’s true. You still have to pick the hairs off the jacket of the dead body and fight people like Potter who have enough money and good enough connections to keep information from flooding onto the scene before you can use the internet to hunt down your suspects through the files and databases. We just get more and more ridiculous, implausible-seeming stories now. We have to entertain ourselves with massive conspiracy theories and stories like Alias about crazy technology that makes almost anything possible. The chase scene has been replaced with the FBI showing up to arrest some pale nerd who stole money with a scam website, or the police showing up at a family’s home to say “Ma’am, your son illegally downloaded a Justin Timberlake song, and now he’s going to pay!”

I guess the heart of detective fiction is the f-ed up nature of humanity and the twisted inner workings of our strange, dark psychological existence. We can’t really get rid of that. I guess it’s an entertaining if not good thing – makes for really sick stuff in crime watch articles.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Of course I have to start with the Amish girls. The horror continues to resonate, as in today's piece by New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert. His question is "Why Aren't We Shocked?" Actually I think we are. But here's part of what he says:

"Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack.

"In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

"There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

"None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected."

The first time I read this the last sentence seemed wrong, but reading it again I think he's right. We may not LIKE violence against women. But we DO expect it. It's easy to find one reason why: it's so common. We may not like it but we're not surprised.

Or do we - that is, men - actually LIKE it? Herbert goes on to say that images of violence or domination of women help to sell stuff and thu must be popular.

"An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, 'When was the last time you got screwed?'

"An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video."

" . . . A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We’re all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society’s casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels — objects — and never, ever as the equals of men."

Herbert concludes by saying, "You’re deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It’s all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa."

I've cut some of his piece, but the flow is pretty much like this, reading backwards:

Mass murder of Amish girls (while Amish boys are spared)
men hating women (boys hating girls)
echoes of degrading sex in commercials
degrading sex in porn
society tolerating men's dehumanization of women?
men's dehumanization of women

But there are problems with this analysis:
Problem: murdering schoolgirls is in parallel with porn-like sex
Problem2: killing is similar to kidding (the ads)
Problem3: the degadation of women is so pervasive that it's hard to see what would stop it.

Still, Herbert is right about the different outrage around racial hate crimes. When James Byrd Jr. was lynched by being dragged behind a truck in Jasper, Texas on June 7, 1998, there was not only an outcry but the further resolve, "Never again." Do we think that lynching African-Americans is optional - not an intrinsic white need - and so can be stopped, but male violence against women is innate and can only be slowed down?

What do you think of all this?

Which reminds me that one friend of mine said, "you can think about the Amish girls but you won't learn anything. It's a MYSTERY, meaning that there's no explaining it."