Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Good night, Good luck

My recollection of Edward R. Murrow is hazy. I remember him best for his deep, soothing voice, his chain-smoking and his show, Person-to-Person. I remember Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimagio (or was it Arthur Miller) showing off their home. "This is our bedroom, Ed," she said. Yikes! Heady stuff even for a five year old. Joeseph McCarthy is less memorable, a man who seemed yucky, like some evil uncle that you intuitively knew to avoid. We never did the duck and cover in elementary school. The high desert of Central Oregon was too far out in the sticks for the Russians to waste an atomic bomb. But I do remember going with my mother on crisp February mornings to the cinder block house on the ridge behind the new hospital where we watched the skies for commie bombers. We had binoculars and a flip book to identify military aircraft: Russian /Bears and American B-whatevers. My mom used the clipboard to note American aircraft. There was a black phone there, maybe to call the Strategic Air Command if we were invaded, though I suspect it would be too late by then. Everybody was a little scared then, but the real consequences seemed to fall on someone far away, so there seemed no need to take action, to stand up.

The fear inspired by McCarthy and his cronies is little different that what the neo-cons use today to control the public. We must stop terrorists they say, when in actuality, we are less safe now than before 9-11. Those who dissent are intimidated and silenced by personal attacks. Real problems are ignored. We attack the wrong targets for the wrong reasons and money flows into the hands of the few. Maybe, just maybe, Bushes' house of cards is beginning to collapse, but for the young men and women dead in Iraq,just like for those crushed by the blacklists and the Senate Inquisition, relief comes too late.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Kick Ass and Take Names

So the a cop has stopped you, nailed you for a $398 speeding ticket and to top it off called you a cheese head and you're not even from Wisconsin. Cheesehead, indeed. You want to complain, but you're wondering about the stories from south Florida when citizens were intimidated by supervisors when they tried to file complaints. What do you do?

1. Know what to complain about.

Don't complain about getting the ticket or the cop towing your car or confiscating your dope. You need to allege misconduct or illegal behavior: the cop called you a cheesehead, beat the crap out of you or asked for a bribe. That's misconduct.

2. Document the incident.

Write down what happened as soon as you can. Get the names and addresses of witnesses. If it's your word against the cop's, then you'll probably lose. Independent witnesses bolster your case. Oh yeah, pictures and videos are killer evidence.

3. Know where to complain.

Police departments have three general systems for gathering complaints. In Portland, we have an Independent Police Review that is part of City Auditor's Office, not the Police Department. This bureau takes all complaints against the police, does a primary investigation and refers complaints of misconduct to the Internal Affairs Division of the Portland Police Bureau. This model is becoming prevalent in larger cities such as San Francisco, Omaha and Denver. In my opinion, this is the best way out there for local governments to handle complaints against police officers. The second method is that all complaints are forwarded to the Internal Affairs Division. Apparently if you live in Florida, you may get some grief if you try to score a complaint form. Go to Internal Affairs directly. Don't let a uniform sergeant intimidate you. The third and weakest system is having a supervisor take the complaint. If you're faced with this, good luck. Some supervisors are honestly concerned about your complaint, but some just want to get you out the door. Try to talk to someone higher in the food chain, a lieutenant or the Chief, even if you have to wait until the next day. And if you're drunk or stoned, wait until you're straight to file that complaint. It'll be harder for them to blow you off.

4. Get help

As an ex-cop, I shudder to give this advice, but if you're being stonewalled, check out other agencies or organizations that might help: the ACLU is interested in cases with constitutional ramifications, many ethnic assistance groups may help you, and dare I say it, there are some groups that focus on promoting police accountability. In Portland, Cop Watch is the place to go.

5. Don't give up.

If you really think that you've been on the receiving end of misconduct, don't let a lower level police supervisor dissuade you. Keep plugging away and make sure that your complaint is accepted.

6. Be realistic.

If it's your word against the officer's, chances are not much will happen. But, complaints against police officers are like green stamps. If they collect enough of them, they get a big surprise in the end.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Book recommendation: Pavane by Keith Roberts

Anthony Burgess named Pavane as one of the 99 best novels of the 20th century. Pavane is an alternate history that wonders what if Queen Elizabeth I had been assassinated in 1588? What if the Spanish Armada defeated England. What if the Catholic Church dominated most of known world into the Twentieth century? Then perhaps, the Church would limit technology to 19th century levels, to steam locomotives and primative radios. Perhaps many would worship the old gods, and an idyllic countryside might hide growing discontent and darkness.

This novel works for a couple of reasons. First: Roberts could write as well as any literary novelist:

At three in the afternoon the engine sheds were already gloomy with the coming night. Light, blue and vague, filtered through the long strips of skylights, showing the roof ties stark like angular metal bones. Beneath, the locomotives waited brooding, hulks twice the height of a man, their canopies brushing the rafters. The light gleamed in dull spindle shapes, here from the strappings of a boiler, there from the starred boss of a flywheel. The massive road wheels stood in pools of shadow.

Through the half-dark a man came walking. He moved steadily, whistling between his teeth, boot studs rasping on the worn brick floor. He wore the jeans and heavy reefer jacket of a haulier; the collar of the jacket was turned up against the cold. On his head was a woolen cap, once red, stained now with dirt and oil. The hair that showed beneath it was thickly black. A lamp swung from his hand, sending cusps of light flicking across the maroon livery of the engines.

Secondly, Roberts uses linked short stories to tell an epic tale in an understandable manner. Some have criticized Robert's use of linked short stories, as being too simplistic or muddled, but I think they may not understand that linked short stories provide a whole greater than the sum of the parts. No only is there a story arc in the individual stories, but a greater arc when the stories are taken together. Linked short stories are one of my favorite forms of storytelling. Check out Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid or The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. They're all great literary novels.

Oh yes, a word of warning. I didn't perceive the book as being anti-Catholic, but devout Catholics may not like how the Church is portrayed. Hey, I'm a lackadaisical Unitarian, what do I care?

Friday, March 03, 2006

What gripes my ass Friday--Ann Coulter

I was going to take a pot shot at photo radar for this column, then I stumbled across Ann Coulter's diatribe on the Oscars. Her rant is designed not to amuse or inform, but to offend. The column is racist, homophobic and facist. This is the woman that believes that Joseph McCarthy is just a poor persecuted right-thinking patriot. I'm not sure if she says these things for effect, or if she really believes the horse shit that flows from her mouth. I don't subscribe to the notion of hell, but if I'm wrong, one consolation is that Ann's scrawny bleached-blond ass will sizzle there like pork sausage on a short order grill.

Har! Har! Har!

". . . and another thing you bitch . . ."
"Michael!" the Doctor says raising his voice.
"Yes, sir," I say.
"Put down the keyboard. We've talked about throwing things, haven't we?"
"Yes, sir." My keyboard suddenly feels heavy in my hand.
"Have you taken your meds today?" he asks.
"Well . . ."
"They will make you feel much better. Ranting about that nasty old Ann Coulter makes you feel all yucky inside, doesn't it?" Doctor Frankenstupe holds out some pills for me: one fat yellow one and one tiny blue one.
"Could I have two blue ones?" I ask. "They'll help calm me down."
"Just this once," the Doctor says. After I take the pills, he waves at me with three fingers and shuts the door. I spit out the yellow pill and flush it down the toilet.
"I feel much better now," I say to no one in particular after the blue pills kick in.