Monday, February 01, 2010

'Minority Report' Redux

A Minority Report. I'll explain. Later.

SHAMMADAMMA. Brizoni and IP have both weighed in on the State of the Union speech. But Mrs. CP and I have both been down sick with the -- what do they call it? -- Wild Boar Hog Flu -- which collapsed the two of us like flour sacks on the couch in front of the TV set for about five days. So, if you don't want to spend hours documenting intern misspellings on Fox News chyrons (My favorite? "Navel vessels.") or watching NBA lowlights on ESPN, soap operas, Lifetime Channel movies (where old actresses go to flex their facelifts) or Criminal Minds reruns (Mandy Patinkin needs a drink), you wind up watching murder on Dateline ID.

Kind of ironic when you think about it. You never have a more jaundiced and misanthropic view of life than when you're feeling physically lousy. Everything and everyone is annoying just by being there. Your spouse is feeling the exact same way right next to you. And you're sitting there watching husbands killing wives and wives killing husbands, all of them bent on committing the perfect crime. What's the kick? Making sure the other person on the couch isn't making surreptitious notes on the backs of envelopes. (Just for the record, I wasn't, and I never once caught her doing it either. Although she's far better organized than I am. And mostly smarter too. That's not an accusation. At all. But if CP suddenly vanishes from the site.... I'm just saying.)

So what are all the murders about? Spouses killing spouses. In the past five days we've probably seen somewhere between thirty and fifty spouse murders introduced by that weird chick NBC won't let out of the basement. Initially we felt sorry for her. "Such a nice outfit! Why does she have to stay down in the cellar?" Toward the end it was getting nasty: "Okay, so she lives on mold and mildew in the world's largest underground walk-in closet. They obviously have a very very good reason for keeping her there..." In fact, it seems that practically everybody should be locked in a basement, at all times, on general principles.

Because after a week of such education, I may not know a damn thing about the Obama agenda in 2010, but I know one hell of a lot about murder. Wanna hear? You better. It's all I can offer today.

I'm pretty sure, regardless, that my flu week constitutes a great service to my fellow citizens. It boils down to a handful of rules, a couple of keen observations, and ONE breakthrough recommendation. Ready? Rules first:

1. If you're looking for vengeance, get the venue changed to Ohio.

There is no case so circumstantial, so gossamer, so outright fantastical that an Ohio jury won't convict a husband or wife on a charge of First-Degree Murder. You thought the Sam Shepard case that inspired 'The Fugitive' was an artifact of the 1950s. It wasn't. There's an old saying (said way too many times btw by legal pundits) that a Grand Jury will indict a ham sandwich. Ohio juries will convict a ham sandwich of murder and then eat the sandwich themselves in their zeal for a death sentence. (This is not prejudice. My east-coast Vassar aunt was living in Ohio during the Shepard case. She would bite your nose off if you suggested Sam Shepard was innocent even after he was proven innocent. I'm just saying.)

2. Whatever you do, don't ever marry a doctor, a nurse, or an orderly.

Stone killers, all of them. Especially when it come to a nasty little drug called succinocholine. Don't ask what it does. Too awful to contemplate. Just know that they're dying to give it to you the moment your backside is turned (it's delivered by injection).

3. Forget about life insurance. Don't ever bring the subject up. Not for your spouse. Not for you.

As it turns out, all life insurance policies are simply the first step in a murder plot. Whenever there's a life insurance policy, the insured person dies. The police are looking for this. Which means that if you're the insured one, you're dead the moment you sign. ANd if you're the one who suggested it, you're going to be tried and convicted for murder. Even if you don't live in Ohio.

4. Adultery is a death sentence. Either way.

If you cheat, you'll kill or be killed by your spouse. If you're cheated on, you'll kill or be killed by your spouse. Simple enough? Good.

5. Don't ever have money problems.

They always end in murder.

6. When planning your own spousal murder, stay the hell away from any plot that involves garbage bags, duck tape, tires, shoes, baseball bats or knives, arterial spray, Kleenex, or succinocholine.

They're onto all that stuff. Even those dumb hicks in Kentucky. You'd be shocked at how good those white trash language hammerers in border-state police forces are at nailing genius wife-killers.

7. Just because you're a rocket scientist, neurosurgeon, or rabbi, don't think you're automatically talented at murder. Think instead: you probably suck at murder. Big time. Laughably. Godawfully. Think about what an asshole you're going to look like during the perp walk. And they will do the perp walk. Because they don't like you.

Let's put it this way. The SATs do not measure aptitude for successful spouse killing.

Did I mention observations? Okay, here are a couple:

1. Murder juries seem to take their job seriously in 49 states of the union.

They're pretty impressive overall. Something about the dynamic of individuals from many walks of life evaluating everything that happens in the courtroom.

2. The quality of police forces and prosecutor offices varies enormously from place to place. Getting away with murder really is a crapshoot.

Sometimes the cops are amazing and the prosecutors spineless shits. Sometimes the prosecutors are brilliant but relying on lazy, slovenly police work. Sometimes they're both admirable, sometimes equally weak. The good thing is that there's no pattern. There's no way to be sure that the town or county you kill your spouse in will be staffed with dumbfuck cops and timid "I don't go to court without a slam-dunk conviction" prosecutors. The good ones, wherever they are, protect all of us. It's called deterrence.

3. Justice isn't just about forensics; it's also about judgment.

Spouse killers, male and female, really are different from you and me. That's what the juries see, even when they convict in ephemerally circumstantial cases. That's why Mrs. CP and I stuck with our murder course. You usually get to hear from the jurors what the jurors thought. They don't discount forensic evidence. They understand it better than Obama might think they would. But they're also watching the accused. They don't even seem to be judging him or her for violations of traditional morality. Infidelity, pornography, larceny, domestic violence, none of that seems to equate for them to murder. They really can set that aside. They suffer, even for the most unlikable defendants, under the power of life and death they hold over the accused.

They speak commonly of entering the courtroom after the verdict has been agreed on with hammering hearts and tears in their eyes, even when the verdict is guilty. After five days of watching them, I'd trust the juries of 49 states to judge me fairly.

Which leads me to my only real recommendation. The only dead-serious one anyway.

Mrs. CP and I developed a habit over the five days of looking to each other when the narrator announced that a case had gone to the jury. I'd say, "Guilty or Not Guilty?" She'd say, well, uh, "Guilty." As would I.

You see. Our five-day course taught us something else. When a spouse who has no enemies is murdered, the surviving spouse is usually the murderer. Not always. But usually. And the question of guilt or innocence is often easy to assess.

Killing someone you supposedly care about without immediately confessing the deed is almost always a job for a sociopath. The good news is that sociopaths tend to give themselves away. They know how to mimic ordinary human emotions -- vexation, disappointment, anger, loss, grief -- but their mimickry is based on observation. Which means they don't know how to imitate the unique emotions of having a loved one violently murdered. They've never seen it and so can't imitate it.

The media get in the way of this observation, making it seem as if there's some conformist ideal of grief whose violation is a disruption of clichee that leads to the death sentence. "uh, he didn't act normal." That's not what's happening. Juries aren't convicting defendants because they don't cry when they seemingly ought to. They convict them because they have an ear -- and an eye -- for what is false, what is faked. The husband, the wife, the children who cry predictably at every mention of their purported loss, without tears.

That's what Mrs. CP and I saw again and again and again and again in OUR murder tour. The accused who wept lavishly and at every whipstitch, without tears.

We lifted our congested heads from our weary hands, looked at one another, and said, "Guilty."

BUT. The insight is this. Spouses who kill spouses in the first degree are almost all like this. They are sociopaths. That's why my recommendation is a kind of 'Minority Report.' There are many more sociopaths among us than most people suspect. These are people without empathy, without conscience, without morality, and in most cases, without fear, which is why murder seems like a reasonable option to them. It never is. The price is so exorbitantly high compared to the benefit that the expected vaslue of the risk run is ridiculously low. The person who can't perform that dead-simple calculation is an emotionally retarded freak.

In fact, the people who think murdering their wives or husbands a rational choice are human defects. Damaged, incomplete, missing persons in your face. They're different enough from the rest of us that they can be identified by testing. Truthfully, we should all be able to identify them in normal conversation. (I know I've done.) And there are more of them now than have ever existed in our culture before:

As we've said. Before.

Of course, I'm just an old batshit bastard who doesn't know one thing one about anything.

Ignore me all you want. But test the kids for sociopathy. More of them are than you want to know. Do you really want their hands on the Hoverround when you're touring the Grand Canyon?

If you're too stupid to understand that question, stay away from Mrs. CP. Her Hoverround has a machinegun.

And I ride right behind her.

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