Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What's worse than a violent sociopath?

A violent sociopath with power:

Serbian-Bosnian military man Karadzic, who hid for years in plain sight as a self-styled "alternative health" guru, is going on trial for war crimes, stemming from attacks of ethnic cleansing that left hundreds of thousands dead. And, like the late Yugoslavian tyrant Milosevic, he will be serving as his own attorney. There is an old saying, "A man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client." In the past, infamous criminals like Ted Bundy (who dropped out of a Washington State law school before his first prison term), Beltway Sniper John Muhammed, and Long Island Railway shooter Colin Ferguson have represented themselves at trial. And all walked away with long prison terms or death sentences. Why do they do it? I'm sure there are several reasons, but the one overwhelming motivation is most likely egomania, a trait common among sadistic serial killers, mass murderers, military criminals and bloodthirsty dictators. These men (usually) consider themselves so superior to others that they think the rules of the past, like the bad luck of defendants who have represented themselves, don't apply to them. Maybe they don't trust an outside lawyer to properly speak for them and their often complex and incomprehensible motives. Maybe they're just so full of themselves that they think they can do it all. Colin Ferguson, while questioning witnesses at his trial, referred to himself in the third person, an added touch of grandiosity. John Muhammed's opening and closing statements were barely coherent. I'm not familiar with Milosevic's trial or the defense he presented, but I know how it ended; he was convicted. And I'm sure the same is in store for Karadzic. Ferguson and Muhammed killed around a dozen people between them, but Milosevic and Karadzic, or those acting on their orders, murdered hundreds of thousands. These are men with a serial killer mindset who wormed their way into powerful positions, and the result was devastating.
In the case of Ted Bundy, although there was substantial forensic evidence against him in the Chi Omega murders, it was one statement to a witness that sealed his fate at trial, according to the attorney helping with his case. While questioning a police officer about the crime scene, Bundy asked for specific details and a thorough account of what the police found at the sorority house. To the jury, and others watching, this question appeared to be designed to allow Bundy to relive his crime, and the jury later sentenced him to death. This wouldn't have happened if Bundy could have let a professional handle his case, but a narcissist like him would not have accepted that. The judge at Bundy's trial remarked that this notorious murderer could have become a great lawyer, but he "went another way." But even the best attorneys, should they find themselves on the other side of the law, shouldn't defend themselves. They have the right, but that doesn't mean they should do it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Review of The Dark Knight

Anthony desperately wanted to see the latest Batman movie, and while I'm not usually into the superhero/comic book genre, I had heard enough good things and wanted to see what Christopher Nolan's take on the story would be. While the movie was a bit long, which I felt acutely since I saw it late at night, I did enjoy it. I thought that the praise heaped on Heath Ledger's Joker was just posthumous ass-kissing, and though I still doubt it would have received the same rave reviews if the actor was still alive, Ledger created a memorably sinister character. Using a voice that switches at will from a high-pitched taunt to an evil growl, this Joker is far creepier than Jack Nicholson's. The makeup is less clownlike and more faded and grotesque, with the scars around the mouth visible under the painted smile. Of course, after John Wayne Gacy, anyone in clown makeup assumes an evil stance. The Joker appears from behind masks and from the shadows to surprise and torment his victims. His only goal, he says, is to create chaos. When Batman (when did Christian Bale get so fucking hot?) is at a loss at how to capture the Joker, Alfred the butler (what a perfect role for veteran upper-crusty Brit Michael Caine), recalling a mission to Burma searching for a criminal, says "Some men just want to watch the world burn." The Joker, in the climactic scene, daring two boats of evacuated citizens to blow the other boat up to avoid both boats being destroyed, wants the world to burn. But when the passengers are unable to cause harm to the other boatload, he's left with the surprising (to him) fact that not everyone is as destructive and callous as him. While he tells several different stories of how he got his smile scars, the first one alludes to a drunk, abusive father torturing the young Joker's mother. Though I haven't seen Batman Begins, and I don't know if the Joker's identity is revealed there, I liked that the true identity of the Joker was left unknown. It added to his personification of evil, a nameless man whose only role is to bring misery, the man we wish all our criminals were. The Joker, with an abusive childhood and an urge to create destruction, is a cartoonish embodiment of violent criminal behavior, a miserable nonentity who, through the creation of a sinister alter ego that won't be ignored, aims to make the rest of the world suffer with him. He laughs while others are in pain, giving him the power he likely never had, turning life into a cruel game where he thinks he will be the sole winner. And it's a character Heath Ledger portrays brilliantly. He deserves the praise, although I wish Aaron Eckhart received more notice for his portrayal of Harvey "Two-Face" Dent, a crusading District Attorney with a lust for power and, as revealed in one scene, a tendency to violent behavior long before a trick of the Joker turns him into Two-Face. The Two-Face makeup, with burned flesh and exposed bone and tendon, is enough to make anyone wretch. Christian Bale's Batman/Bruce Wayne is more complex than previous incarnations, a vigilante, not a traditional hero, driven by a personal mission to right wrongs in his own way, which sometimes includes breaking the law. As Alfred notes, Bruce is unwilling to face his human limitations when the superhuman alter ego overtakes him. He's arrogant and insecure, lovesick for Dent's girlfriend but unable to let go of his power as Batman. The brilliant acting, combined with spectacular stunts and battles, and evocative camera work, make the latest Batman installment worthy of the hype.
Michael Savage, apparently a syndicated radio show host, claims autism is just another outpost of the supposed "sissyfying" of American men. Naturally, he neglects to mention that women can also have autism spectrum disorders. He claims all autism symptoms can be cleared up by stern fatherly discipline and appears woefully unaware of neurological breakthroughs that have occurred since the 1950s. He's not worth a lot of space, but I had to point out that this type of disgusting ignorance is out there, and that we desperately need to combat it to advance as a society.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


When Anthony and I first started dating, the concept of a commitment was terrifying. What if I wanted to be with someone else and screwed it all up for a quick meaningless fling? What if I got annoyed by being with him all the time? But now, it's been almost eight months, we've spent entire days together, he's met my family (and now hopefully my mom will shut up about it), he's teaching me martial arts, he's started taking time off of work to be with me (and he's a total workaholic) and I can't imagine my life without him. I will still need my space, but at least he seems to understand that. I can talk to him about how I feel without worrying about how he will react, because I know he will at least make an effort to understand. A healthy, satisfying relationship, with the great job interview I had this morning, and I'm dangerously close to being content with my life.
Now for the crime story of the moment. John and Patsy Ramsay have been cleared by DNA evidence in the death of their daughter, JonBenet. This was a muddled mess of an investigation from the start, with many law enforcement officials so fixated on implicating the Ramsays that they may have ignored crucial evidence. True, when a child is killed, particularly in his or her own home, the parents are the first suspects, but that the police in this case seemed determined to arrest the Ramsays. Former FBI profiler John Douglas, after interviewing the Ramsays and studying the evidence, came to the conclusion that John and Patsy did not murder their daughter. But Boulder officials continued to think they did, and some crime watchers, despite the DNA, still think the Ramsays were involved. The reason for this? John and Patsy's "demeanor." Few things annoy me more than when someone is implicated in a crime because their reaction doesn't "seem right" for someone whose loved one has been killed. Not everyone wears their grief on their sleeve. John Douglas described John Ramsay as a proud and stoic man, not the type to cry in public. That doesn't mean he killed his daughter, just that he could be dealing with his pain in a more private manner. While those who have studied crime and police procedure know that family members are intensly investigated when a murder has taken place, the Ramsays may not have known that, and felt offended when police questioned them, stonewalling the investigation for the worse in the process. It wasn't a smart move, but understandable. In a TV show about Arthur Shawcross, who terrorized prostitutes in Rochester in the 1980s, a sister of one of the victims did an interview next to her dead sister's grave. I found this far more disturbing than the behavior of John and Patsy Ramsay, almost like she was advertising her sister's death and her own grief. Clearly, John and Patsy Ramsay were not perfect parents, since they put their daughter in those very creepy child beauty pageants. But that doesn't mean they killed her. The killer of JonBenet Ramsay is still out there, if he isn't dead or in prison for another crime.