Monday, October 31, 2011

The Robin Hood Delusion

Forget the movies. We know what's happened with the Robin Hood movies - they've only gotten worse over time. Errol Flynn was probably the best Robin Hood. Despite his priapic narcissism (or, more likely, because of it), his R.H. knew how to keep his little band of men merry. It was all down hill from there. Kevin Costner's R.H. is a tedious prig - Alan Rickman totally steals the movie as the sheriff of Nottingham. As for Russell Crowe - Christ, who needs a fat depressive in that role? I mean - Jesus! Didn't Frank Sinatra do some movie about Robin and his hoods? Or am I just thinking of, like, Ocean's Eleven - the original Ocean's Eleven, the good one, in which Richard Conte collapses from a heart attack on The Strip, the gang hides their loot in his coffin to get it out of Vegas, and then it all goes up in smoke at his funeral. Very sad. Very suavely ironic. I would opt for Sinatra as a modern Robin Hood, but then again he and his shark-skin-suited Rat Pack always looked a little too well-heeled and too sleekly well-shagged to really have an authentic and desperate need for more cash. Except, of course, to maintain their lifestyles. Besides, Sinatra and his ilk are dead, well on their way to medieval obsolescence themselves.

Ultimately, it is impossible to imagine some dude committing larceny for the greater good, and remaining charismatic in the process. Charisma, among thieves, is notoriously the sign of a sociopath, and sociopaths care for no one but themselves. Uncharismatic dudes who steal for The People evoke instead the specter of a socialist bureaucracy, and we can't have that either. Especially not nowadays. If anything, we cling to the myth of the inner goodness of the charismatic thief. He is, if nothing else, attractive. Tycoons, moguls and other persons of impossibly inflated wealth invariably imagine themselves to have come from "humble beginnings" - even if their Dads were law partners or something. Anything would seem humble compared to their multi-billionaire status. And, because they enrich others beside themselves - even if these others are their equally rich cronies or majority shareholders who share the same delusion of "humble beginnings" - they imagine themselves to actually be sharing what they steal. Because they can never really feel rich enough, they delude themselves into the role of a valiant and resourceful poor man reaping lucre from some faceless moneyed multitude. And they love that image, too - Robin Hood-ism is the icing on their cake. In this sense, we are all like these dudes. If you're a used car salesmen or a crooked building contractor with a wife and three kids, you can justify every lie you tell or corner you cut or palm you grease as your own little way of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

This is the Robin Hoodian dichotomy - you and your own, oppressed as you are even if only by your own human imperfection and mortality, are "The Poor", and "The Rich" are simply the rest of the world. Everyone else, to wit. Be you a mafioso, some Old West outlaw or even Whitey freakin' Bulger, that's what you think you are. A righteous avenger against what may be nothing more than the human condition. That is another hallmark of the sociopath - not just charm, but the sureness that one is being persecuted, or put upon or misunderstood.

Robin Hood may be nothing more than the projection of a pathology, the embodiment of how sociopaths see themselves - not what they really are or could ever be. They say that mental institutions are full of people who believe they are Jesus or Napoleon. I suspect there are also more than a few who see themselves as Robin Hood. Maybe Robin Hood is really just the front man for a syndrome that belongs in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But then again, the top dudes in psychiatry recently de-pathologized Narcissism (probably because of its embarrassing prevalence among their own) - so good luck with getting Robin Hood-ism on the books. There are lots of powerful people out there with a vested interest in seeing themselves as plucky underdogs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mayhem At Musto's

At about 11:00 AM on September 6th, at least three individuals attempted to rob Musto Jewelers. When the local police intervened, one of the robbers shot through a plate glass window, hitting one policeman in the legs. His comrades returned fire, wounding the assailant. Another robber was able to escape into a getaway car driven by a woman. All the robbers were apparently Hispanic. About a week and a half later, the second robber was apprehended - apparently based on the description of a tattoo the fool was sporting. The Woburn police (at least as of September 16th) were still looking for a 1998 Toyota Camry implicated in the crime. Presumably, the Toyota will be incarcerated as well.

My remarks are as follows:

1) The robbery took place in a part of Woburn called Four Corners, where Lexington Street not only intersects with Route 3, but splits in two at the same time, spawning another road called Russell Street. For this and other reasons, this intersection can be a bitch to drive through, particularly if you're coming from the west along Lexington Street and want to turn left onto Route 3. I used to have to do that all the time during my daily commute a few years ago. Always made me afraid of being broadsided. Only idiot criminals would choose to stage a heist where the traffic patterns are so fucked-up.

2) As NECN notes, jewelry store robberies are part of an "alarming trend", in which miscreants are going for the gold rather than settling for mere cash, as gold prices have skyrocketed during The Great Recession. Yet again does "the economy" shape crime.

3) What idiot with a tattoo distinctive enough to be identified by it would commit a robbery without covering up his trademark? Jeez - grow a brain, amigo!

4) The perps were Hispanic, as they tend to be more and more these days, in keeping with their increasing demographic presence in Greater Boston. This is perhaps another "alarming trend" that does not get mentioned as it would not be politically correct to do so.

5) As always, it is exciting to learn of crimes committed on the grounds of one's old haunts. I'm just glad I wasn't driving through at the time, as all the confusion would have made that freakin' intersection worse than ever. Especially since I also drive a '98 Toyota.

Cop shot in Woburn during jewelry heist (Boston Herald)
One suspect in custody, another injured in robbery that led to Woburn officer's shooting (Wicked Local)
Brazen robbery of Musto Jewelers is part of alarming trend (NECN)
Release of tattoos helps authorities identify suspect (Daily Times Chronicle)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Anybody Wanna Buy The Head Of A Banker?

Yesterday evening, I dropped in on Occupy Boston on my way home from my cover job as a hitman pretending to be something else. I nosed around a bit, reminded the leering cops who kept blowing kisses at me that, "You're supporting the people who would cut your pension in a heartbeat if it meant an extra Ferrari in their garages." They ignored me, and that pissed me off. I turned my eyes from the monolithic Federal Reserve building to the box-like Fidelity Investments edifice on the other side of Summer Street. Expensively tailored finance types were streaming out of the building. I said to myself, "What the hell..." and started tailing one. He crossed Atlantic Avenue and Surface Road at one point and made a beeline to a bar on Oliver Street, just a few blocks from Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I followed him into the bar, and watched him guzzle down three dirty martinis, the extra olives in which serving as his supper. I quaffed only ginger ale, as is my wont these days, and waited for him to finish his last drink.

When he was done, I followed him out of the bar. He was a slight guy, maybe about five-eight and a hundred and thirty pounds, but he was swaying like a flagpole in a strong wind. I maneuvered him into the alley by repeatedly accosting him with the question, "You got any change?" Once he was diverted, I bopped around him from the other side and accosted him again. I was sort of like a Border Collie nipping at the shins of a sheep to guide it into a pen. Once I got him into the alley, I withdrew my Stanley box-cutter, cried, "Downsize this!" and before he knew it, his head was lying on the pavement. During the kill, I made sure to wear a pair of my gun moll's latex gloves, which she uses to clean the cat box, so I wouldn't leave any prints behind. But I did take the head. I put it into a gym bag and took it home. Now it's in a freezer in my basement (next to the safe).

What am I going to do with the head of some junior investment banker? Good question... Actually, I thought I'd sell it. I read an article (at the link below) about that perverted German scientist, Gunther von Hagens, who plasticizes human cadavers. At first, he did it out of scientific curiosity, and then for art's sake - and, now, apparently, he's doing it for profit. According to the article, he "plans to sell bodies for some $97,000, torsos for $79,000 and human heads for $31,000." And he's going to do this through some kind of e-commerce website. Well, more power to him. I think I will do the same.

How much would a plasticized banker head go for? Consider the magnificent brains they once contained. Not to mention their expensive coiffures. I think $40,000 would be a good starting price. I wouldn't even need my own website. I could do it all through eBay. If my startup does well, maybe I could present a business plan to some other bankers and they could wangle me some venture capital. Hell, some of them might even become my customers.

Seriously, though. I didn't really decapitate a banker. I have utmost respect for such shining exemplars of our glorious meritocracy. I would only sell facsimile banker heads instead.

(P.S.: Do you think it's a coincidence that the makers of Breaking Bad blew off Gus Fring's face just three weeks before Halloween? It would make a great mask. I'll have to google "gus fring masks" to see if any are already available.)

Corpse Meister to Sell Bodies Online (Newser)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gloomy Gus

This has nothing to do with Boston crime, but I couldn't resist posting it. As anyone who watches Breaking Bad knows, here is the last shot of the ruthless and inscrutable Gustavo Fring before he drops dead. Walter White, the chemist extraordinaire and sociopathic mensch who used to cook meth for Gus, has just blown him up with a wheelchair-bomb. Go "On Demand" via your local cable provider to see the episode for yourself. Breaking Bad is the ultimate crime-world fantasy for smart people, or at least for people who think they're smart. The New York Times thinks Breaking Bad has become so popular because it conjures the zeitgeist of a desperate economy and the moral turpitude that people will endure (or even revel in, e.g., Wall Street) to keep the bucks rolling in. All I can say is that I can readily identify.

In the scene shown above, Gus Fring has managed to step away from a bomb that has just killed his right-hand thug and an old nemesis from his Mexican drug cartel days who has been for years incapacitated by a stroke. Fring, who has been shrewd to the point of clairvoyance throughout the entire series, has never been out-foxed until now. He seems in denial as much about this as about his imminent death. He nattily adjusts his tie, either because he thinks (for a moment) that he can return to business as usual - or because he imagines (laughably) that he'll be able to leave behind a beautiful corpse if he just neatens up a bit.

I have no idea how long a person can survive with so much of his face blown away, but I hope I never have to find out. I would guess that your system would go into shock almost immediately and you wouldn't feel much pain. That is, until you looked in a mirror. My gun moll, a theater person who once designed gory prosthetics for a Marine exercise at Camp Lejeune, claims she watched the episode two more times after I went to bed - just to admire the "no-face" make-up on poor old Gus. I ain't the only one in the family with a screw loose, let me tell ya.

Breaking Bad - Gus Fring Dies (YouTube)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs And The Erosion Of Situational Awareness

Steve Jobs has died, but I feel little compulsion to buy an Apple product in tribute to the man. Not that I'm any Luddite. I have a laptop at work (Dell) and a tower-style PC at home (also Dell), and between the two I already commit obscene portions of my waking hours to email, blogging, web site maintenance, word processing, software development, web surfing, social networking and much else. I need some space between work and home in which I can just be myself, wandering through the environment unburdened by the temptations presented by electronic devices. Just as nature intended. Cro-Magnon-ilke, I don't even own a cell phone. However - also Cro-Magnon-like - I am able to remain alert to my environment, ever ready (if not always willing) to plunge my spear into prey or some hairy-backed dude from an enemy tribe. And that is also what nature intended.

Last week I blogged about the science of being streetwise, which boils down to something called "situational awareness". I first encountered this term in a discussion about the differences between Nerds and Jocks. The author had observed that Nerds tended to be focused on their own private worlds, and were often clueless about changes in either their physical or their social environment. Jocks, on the other hand, were always on guard for a ball to catch, a girl to impress, a rival to overtake or a dollar to be made. That is "situational awareness", and it seems to be the main advantage of those guys so annoyingly classed by the pick-up gurus as "alpha males". It allows would-be entrepreneurs to sense "opportunity", athletes to score, and soldiers and policemen to do their jobs. Even if you're a nondescript pedestrian, situational awareness will keep you from getting mugged or run over or even just from falling into an open manhole. I prefer to think that I'm like that.

Most people, these days, aren't. One reason I don't feel a need to buy an Apple product is because I see them everywhere. Their utter ubiquity precludes any curiosity I might have had about them. On the T, on the streets - all around me I see people with iPods plugged into their ears, reading things on their iPads, clamping their iPhones to their faces - or, more often than not - just checking their email on the damn things with flicks of their soft little fingers or diddling with some infantile computer game. And I see them doing all this while they are dodging traffic, stumbling down alleyways and shuffling past shady-looking strangers (like, indeed, me). A lot of these folks are young, I know, and I've heard it said that the youngest among us are better at multi-tasking. But anyone should be able to do any task better if they pay full attention to that task while they're doing it. Instead, the young have turned themselves into an entire generation of blinkered Nerds.

A few weeks ago a young woman was assaulted at an inner city Orange Line station. Apparently, she was strolling along fiddling with some electronic device, and some dude came up on her and... You can imagine the rest. The news team reporting this item put a damper on their happy talk for a moment to warn the public about Paying Attention To Their Surroundings. Especially after dark, if you're a nubile young lady, in not the best of Boston neighborhoods. At least she wasn't driving - another venue where "situational awareness" has been eroded right and left by a biblical plague of electronic devices.

Violent crime is not as bad these days as it had sometimes been in previous decades, so sacrificing vigilance to the pleasure of being perpetually wired may not be as costly as it could be. But times change, and eventually the need for vigilance will return. All those people with their precious senses glued to their Jobs-ian iProducts, barely aware of where they're going - much less of what might stand in their way - will suddenly become vulnerable again. Their plight will give new meaning to the phrase "Electric Sheep" as a horde of unplugged-in wolves descends on them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Boston Murder Map - On Our Way To 64K

It's "killings" that I mean by "K", not "kilobytes". Attached is a Boston Globe link that lists the 48 that have taken place in our fair city thus far this year. Considering that only about three quarters of the year have elapsed, and that 48 is neatly divisible by 3, it's as easy as pie to conclude that the count will reach 64 by the year's end.

Far and away the largest plurality (if not the majority) of the victims appear to have been young black males between the ages of 16 and 34. They were killed, with depressing regularity, in inner city neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan - and the murder weapon was overwhelmingly a "Gun". The identities of some of the victims are actually "unknown". It's one thing to have the identity of the murderer remain "unknown" - which I'm sure it has in many of the cases here - but quite another to have the victim remain that way as well. The poor continue to bear the brunt of violent death, just as they continue to bear the brunt of our failed economy - and the 50 percent employment rate among inner city youth is only making matters worse. Remember that old saying that "Idle hands are the devil's workshop"?

The page for the Boston 2011 Murders also provides links to similar pages for 2008, 2009 and 2010. (The map displayed above is from 2010.)

Reviewing the list, I was surprised to learn that a 30-year old "Unknown Female" was slain at an address I walk past almost everyday on my way to (or from) work. And, no, she was not one of my hits.

Murders in Boston during 2011 (Boston Globe)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Civil Disobedience - The Best Sort Of Boston Crime

Let's forget about bank robbers and murderers for a while, and consider instead another great tradition of Bay State crime - civil disobedience. Our own Henry David Thoreau, native of Concord and the illustrious author of Walden, wrote an essay by that name in 1849. He argued "that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice." He practiced what he preached. He was a tax evader with a difference, refusing to pay poll taxes for six years running not because he needed to buy a second Lamborghini - but because he did not support either the imperialistic war in Mexico or the U.S. government's tolerance of slavery. He was also a squatter of no mean commitment, living off in the woods by himself in a tiny house for which he hadn't even gotten a mortgage. No bank would love him today, that's for sure.

I saw something of Thoreau's spirit in Boston this Monday, as I dutifully came into town to fix one of my own legal lapses. My driver's license had expired several weeks ago, you see, and I needed to renew it. On my way to the Motor Vehicle Registry in Chinatown, I swung by the intersection of Summer Street and Atlantic Avenue. Here a kind of shanty town had been erected - a latterday Hooverville almost - by the demonstrators of Occupy Boston. They had pitched their sorry tents in the shadow of the spotless and towering Federal Reserve building, and it was here that they began their siege on corporate greed. Like so many other Americans, they were fed up with a sociopathic financial system that flourishes in direct proportion to the number of human lives it stunts. They were tired of being downsized, outsourced and overworked as stockbrokers and investment bankers and C-level executives line their pockets with the would-be pay packets of the never-to-be-hired and the freshly laid-off. They were angry that not only were the moral crimes of the corporations perfectly legal, but also that the laws that shielded tham had been bought with cash, the product of legislators which themselves had been purchased like so much shiny new merchandise. (And, yes, Scott Brown, I'm thinking of Gigolos of The Body Politic just like you.)

These supposed disturbers of the peace, many them unemployed or in debt, outed themselves as representatives of the 99 percent of American society that has not prospered in our modern era, in which the top one percent get all the wealth. I heard no commotion and saw no violence. In fact, their counterparts in New York City - the Occupy Wall Streeters - did not even resist the police who arrested them, but merely reminded them that they were fighting for the rights of the police themselves to retain their own pensions as much as for any other cause. If these people are criminals, they are truly my kind of criminal.

I felt tempted to join them. Or, if not that, to walk amongst them, poke my face into their tents, shake their hands and volunteer to sign every petition they had available. But I did not. It was a moment of moral hesitation that I regret. It reminded me of the time I was in Rome, and I was walking up toward St. Peter's with the intention of visiting the Vatican, of seeing the Sistine Chapel. Beggars lined the street like it was their own little Via Dolorosa. Some - most even - you could disregard. Except for one. There was a kid in his early twenties who seemed to be holding his hands up for a hand-out - until I saw that he had no hands at all. I tried not to look at him. All I had in my wallet was a twenty euro note, and I was pathetically unwilling to give him that. As I passed, he held up the stumps of his wrists to his face in despair. I don't care if he had a nice warm room in some halfway house somewhere, and was just trying to play me. Being a young guy with no hands has to be a hard row to hoe no matter how cynically you respond to it. When I finally broke that twenty euro note, I hurried back to give the kid some cash - but he was gone. The Vatican guard had chased him away. Anything not to disturb the tourists with any pleas for Christian charity.

That's how I feel sometimes about America. Rich patriots revel in the flag and the dollar and their own meritocratic magnificence, but when it comes to the idea every American should have an equal chance - well, let us just say that these grandees do not respond in the spirit of democracy, much less that of Christian charity - and yet they claim to be such fervent God-lovers too, at least some of them. The Vatican guard of the American state wants to chase away the disadvantaged and the unlucky so that its more fortunate citizens can luxuriate in the chapel of the wealthy, for they are the only ones that matter - the only ones who have "earned it".

Me, I'm not as good a person as the folks of Occupy Boston and Occupy Wall Street. My instinct is to counter economic violence with actual violence - or at least to fantasize about it. (Thus my indulgence in this "crime blog".) But the resistance against the gilded sociopaths of the Wealth-Industrial Complex may not stay non-violent forever.