A Facebook exchange with Chicago’s “Ethics” Honcho (?)

After the exchange reproduced below (somewhat edited) I realized that my main interlocutor was the lawyer who heads something called Chicago’s “Ethics” commission, which is probably located in the Oxymoron Building.

This was interesting, because his language game was something I’d been familiar with in Lincoln Park and other fancy arrondissements, and in my ripostes I’d said so, before realizing who I was going up against.

The language game? Some Yuppies talk obsessively at el Jardine or 21 or other fashionable bistro about some horrific crime when I, das ist, silly me, had hoped, along with Wally Shawn, to find well-lit rooms where “in the room the women come and go/talking of Michelangelo”:

I shall not want Honour in Heaven
For I shall meet Sir Philip Sidney
And have talk with Coriolanus
And other heroes of that kidney.

I shall not want Capital in Heaven
For I shall meet Sir Alfred Mond:
We two shall lie together, lapt
In a five per cent Exchequer Bond.

I shall not want Society in Heaven,
Lucretia Borgia shall be my Bride;
Her anecdotes will be more amusing
Than Pipit’s experience could provide.

I shall not want Pipit in Heaven:
Madame Blavatsky will instruct me
In the Seven Sacred Trances;
Piccarda de Donati will conduct me…

(TS Eliot: A Cooking Egg)

Instead of discourse about Michelangelo, my experience was that it was more based on National Enquirer type stories, the point of which retailing or commenting on completely escapes me. People do so nonetheless in America, and as far as I can determine this is to make sure that others know that they would never do, nor countenance, such horrendous deeds…as if the reassurance doesn’t raise the possibility.

Now, in Chicago, there are judges, lawyers, district attorneys, public defenders, cops and doctors, and apart from the boys in blue, most of these people live in fashionable arrondissements. They call, below in the language game, for immediate execution of the gemoke or perp who dunnit before any trial, preferably “enhanced” with torture. This is considered au fait and maybe they teach it at the University of Chicago Divinity Skewl, where my guy pulled one of his degrees.

The problem is that men like my father, a neurosurgeon, may have saved the lives of pedophiles and other gemokes. The problem, as I show below, is that the next step is not torture and execution. Instead, in our legal system (which my buddy here studied I would imagine, since he’s a lawyer), a public defender is appointed to get the guy off…for example under the “M’Naghten rule” in which a man who does not know right or wrong (or did not at time of crime) cannot be convicted.

M’Naghten’s thought experiment would be any kind of “automatic” action that causes another’s death: in M’Naghten, as I understand it, a truly crazy person cannot be convicted, and is neither innocent nor guilty, since in the criminal law innocence and guilt can only be spoken of in relation to a person who can make a moral choice. I thought dey taught dat in law school.

Therefore, I find refined dinner conversation that turns to what the dominant males would like to do to Jeffrey Dahmer, whilst the females mewl approvingly, one of those points at which enlightenment dialectically turns into reverse. I’d rather talk about Shakespeare and I get to here in Hong Kong’s small but amusing English-language theater community. Graduate school at the University of Chicago seems to me from the outside to be an education in brutalization.

Here’s the edited transcript.

Ethics Honcho

Call me a wing-nut Republican, but if this man did what the front page of the NYT says he did, he deserves the death penalty, and I hope he gets it, and I hope we harvest his brain and send it to Columbia Presbyterian MC to see what sickening synapses are in it and what went wrong. This one is not “society’s fault.”

Woman Burned Alive in Brooklyn Elevator
Detectives and fire marshals were reviewing video surveillance footage of a woman being burned alive in the elevator of an apartment building.


Actually, it is, because the abuse of women and bullying is a tool of social control.

Ethics Honcho

This crime is truly heinous, and anyone who commits this crime is beyond redemption. This particular incident goes beyond mere abuse of women and bullying, though I fully agree with you about the societal phenomenon. I’m hypersensitive to it, raising two daughters.


Nobody is beyond redemption in my opinion.

Ethics Honcho

I would like to agree, but don’t. That’s ok.

Nice Lady #1

…even bleeding heart liberals such as myself think this guy ought to fry.

Ethics Honcho

But you won’t be allowed to say that the 2012 Democratic National Convention–you’ll be drummed out of the party (just like I would be drummed out of the Republican Party for arguing in favor of gay marriage).

Nice Lady #1

…liberals aren’t all that closed-minded, and I sure hope all conservatives aren’t either! I like to think that politics doesn’t make people stupid. 🙂

Ethics Honcho

It’s hard being moderate…

Nice Lady #1

I know. Good to know there are closet moderates around!
12 hours ago · 1

Guy who must watch a lot of movies

I think I remember from the movie “Escape from NY” as the criminal was walking down a hallway he had the option to walk to the right and self-destruct. We should simply add a third where a victim has the option, once found guilty, to push him into some death chamber. OKay, I feel better. Save society a lot of $$.

Nice Lady #2

Oh my God.

Guy who must watch a lot of movies

lol…okay, I’ll forgoe that third chamber…but maybe we can agree on that self destruct option…inform the murderer what they did and that they can make the world a better place without them, and save us the years of paying for their Harvard education priced incarceration…


People wonder why Republicans get elected. This is one of the reasons: even “liberals” can say, without in this, or in many other cases, knowing the full story, that the criminal law and its procedures should be suspended, merely so they, these putative liberals, can be spared having to really confront what it is to be a victim and what the violence in our society is about.

Republicans get elected because we so systematically short-circuit discussions such as why there are neighborhoods in which violence is so frequent, and why women walk in fear. It’s far easier to show that one’s a “good person” by saying “suspend criminal law, don’t give him a trial, don’t give him a life sentence, just do unto him what he did to her”.

The Republicans express who we are and what we’ve become. Dammit all to hell, I was told by a coworker after getting fired from a job in Chicago in 1981 that the reason I got fired was because I didn’t fuck the right executive women. I was fucking MARRIED with CHILDREN but this is what “liberal” men from Lincoln fucking Park say to each other. And the Republicans express this dark fucking heart of the fucking “American dream”.

We in fact need in a court of law to hear the perp’s full story because under the most conservative criminal law, the old M’Naghten rule, he may not have known right from wrong at the time of the crime. Charles Manson’s mother tried to sell him for a bottle of beer, for “that’s life” in Amerikkka, that’s what we “accept”, that what we “pray about”, that’s what we try to “deal with” in self-help, when we SHOULD be saying, clean up the neighborhoods, rebuild the schools, and teach men to be decent to women.

The late Susan Brownmiller was right. The rapist, in her analysis, does society’s dirty work, because the fear of rape and here violence makes women afraid to ask for equal pay for equal work and subservient. More generally, the fear of bullying keeps both men and women in line.

The street violence is an enabler of what happens in banks when the banks are given billions in the bailouts, and what happens in banks enables the violence in a Satanic cycle.

If I had a law degree and was a public defender, I would listen to the perp and get his full story in hopes of finding that he was criminally insane. This is called CIVILIZATION, people.

And a prison term costs a Harvard education? Boo fucking hoo. First of all, is your kid even gonna qualify for admission?

And secondly, CIVILIZATION includes expenditure for “wasteful” things such as education (which cannot be explained properly by “libertarians” such as Robert Nozick) and incarceration. As it happens, the death penalty is more expensive than incarceration.

If you make it cheap, then the blood of innocents is on your hands, because prior to Miranda and prior to modern anti-death penalty jurisprudence innocent people were executed all the time.

Weep for the woman. But weep also for the black males that were also doused with gasoline and lynched as recently as 1983 in “perfectly normal” ceremonies in the South and rural North, which were celebrated in postcards sent openly in the US mails. Weep for the queers that were victimized by the macho men who deliberately infected them with AIDs and then, after the act, told the sissy boy that they had AIDs. Weep for the Reuters newsmen killed by US troops alongside their children in May 2007.

Ethics Honcho

Edward, with all due respect, you’re overanalyzing this. This guy is a monster, who committed a monstrous crime. You, Susan Brownmiller and other feminist theorists to the contrary (not having read them, other than Carol Gilligan, I can’t say whether they’d agree with you), It’s not the fault of the Republicans, or the media, or liberal society, or his mama, or his papa (if he has one or knows who it is), or the banks, or the advertising agencies, or capitalism, or the dark side of the Amerikkan dream, or racism. Were your theories correct, there would be many more of these absolutely shocking crimes. No, we are not a society that wishes, secretly, to destroy women. Whether the fundamentalist Muslim is, I withold judgment, because the evidence is much more persuasive. But that it is Saudi, not Brooklyn. Men are taught that in madrassas, it is overtly condoned in society. Here, it’s street talk. But it’s not holy writ. Have we lost the ability to make moral judgments? to make ethical discernments? To absolve individuals of their responsibilities because Marx and Freud and their inheritors were right, and we are controlled by society-think? I think not. I reason not. I hope not. I am not a praying man, but I pray not, just the same.

This is, dare I saw it, evil. Yes, I use the “e word” here. I do weep for the black men who were lynched (I thought the most recent lynching was in Terre Haute IN in 1938, but maybe I’m wrong), and for the 3 civil rights workers (only one of them black) murdered in Nashoba County MS in 1964. Yes, our society has ills. And were I the PD assigned to this case, I would do my sworn legal duty to ensure that the prosecution, here the Kings County DA, does its work, and presents its case flawlessly. And if New York state has no death penalty (which is a shame, but that’s my p.o.v.) then I argue to the extent of my abilities that the punishment on this poor, put upon lad, whose mother and father and big brother and sister sodomized him and shot him up with drugs and prostituted him to feed their own drug habits, should be lenient, because this boy can be rehabilitated. Which is why I am not a PD. But if I’m the judge, I say, yep, that may be true, but this man still committed a crime that cannot be countenanced or explained, and he planned it to a precise degree.

We have not given up our ideals as a society that is under the rule of law, though of course you can point to people who act otherwise and flout it. But this, here, is simple. If the guy did it, then I’m not so interested in his story, at least as a way to lessen his responsibility. We are not automatons. There is no subliminal message in our society to dress up as an exterminator and burn women in elevators alive after dousing them with lighter fluid. This man made his decision, society didn’t make it for him, and he needs to pay. Interestingly, Immanuel Kant believed in the death penalty; if we squander our freedom on evil, we deserve our penalty.

Stephen Sondheim had it right in his satiric lyrics from West Side Story:

West Side Story-Officer Krupke
The Jets mock the kinds of excuses authorities use to rationalize the existence …
See More


You are wrong. You are wrong. The fact is you’re neither the DA nor the public defender. The problem is that you, Mr. Steve Berlin, are wasting my time and yours by over-identifying with the public prosecutor. I am trying, and apparently failing, to show you that to do so is barbaric, because midway between the public prosecutor and the public defender in our society we must acknowledge that someone needs to sit down with the perp and try his damnedest to find out if he, the perp, does not know the difference between right and wrong.

This is because at a minimum, a civilized society does not kill innocent people and the criminally insane who under the M’Naghten rule do not know right from wrong are innocent people, period. Otherwise, we revert to what our ancestors did: kill animals who’d caused deaths and sacrifice human beings to the gods.

The M’Naghten rule is far older than anything from the 1960s and was a part of British jurisprudence since the 1830s.

Abraham realized that killing Isaac was not anything a God that Abraham could conceive, a being greater than Abraham, would countenance. Likewise, you will accomplish nothing by killing the perp. NOTHING. And I don’t give a hoot in hell how many incompetent psychiatrists you can pay to gibber about the “grieving process” and how it’s assisted by seeing the murderer die, because that is a Satanic lie. We get over what’s done to us when we forgive.

When these cases are discussed around the oh so very liberal dinner table or restaurant table in Lincoln Park or Manhattan, the conversation is as here dominated by loud males with issues of power and control and they never identify with the public defender nor even the ordinary cops, one of whose jobs happens to be caring for the perp until he can be brought to trial. The direct result is that innocent people are tortured (as is Bradley Manning as I write) and executed as was Troy Davis last summer.

The only reason for even exchanging these notes about this sordid crime (one as sordid as the murder of Reuters journalists and children from well-armored Apaches in Baghdad four years ago) is to know, in Tolstoy’s words, “what we then must do”.

Well, I’m with Kant and my late father, who as a neurosurgeon operated on criminals and gave them back their lives.

“What we then must do”, call it with that underused clerical and military word our Duty, here, is above all not get our fucking rocks off and show off for women by saying, with unique futility since neither of us is a DA nor a public defender, how we’d like to kill “da guy who did it”. Because Duty is that which sucks, and it sucks in this case not to give way to our desire to undo a killing with another killing.

By your logic, Israel can invade anyone it likes when it decides there is an existential threat.

By your logic, we invaded Iraq even though Osama hated Saddam.

This is the logic of the deodand, a primitive legal rule in which animals and plants were executed to atone for a crime when the criminal could not be executed.

The intention is to restore something but I say, if you use capital punishment you merely add to the dead. You do NOT undo the crime.

Ethics Honcho

I guess I’m a deodand then. And so I shall remain. It’s not mine to forgive. It’s the family the of the woman burned alive. If I wasted your time, Edward, well, whatever.

Nice Lady #2

You make a powerful point, “Ethics Honcho”. This crime is textbook evil because he planned it so precisely. That one fact is perhaps the most disturbing in a tremendously disturbing story. This one is really off the charts.


No, “Ethics Honcho” makes no point at all. If the perpetrator did not know the difference between right and wrong, the crime was not “textbook evil”, the evil was in a society which as it happens fails to care for people with mental disorders.

If the perpetrator did know the difference, then he committed an evil act and needs to be locked up at society’s expense (it is more expensive to use the death penalty).

I have enough to do in assaying my own potential for evil and not in taking others’ inventory. I have naught to do with the case, which I find sordid and disgusting, as I find, derivatively, the interest in such deeds by my oh so liberal and educated friends who’d be better off in my opinion discussing the Higher Things, but who in recent years have lost touch with the Higher Things in the pursuit of real estate.

I mean: give me a break. It was an evil deed if done by a man who knew right and wrong. To have to SAY this is stating the obvious when in fact we live in a society in which we perpetrate crimes when, for example, we work in banks or insurance companies.

Ethics Honcho

Edward, you make no point. Banking and insurance are evil, comparable to burning a woman alive in a premeditated act? Sorry dude. Call me whatever names you want. Glad you’re not a policy-maker. That our society is far from perfect is not a reason to “lock him up society’s expense, which is cheaper than the death penalty.”

Do a blog, because you have the right, but the boring pseudo-Marxist claptrap that you think passes for argument is convincing no one. Sorry about your liberal and educated friend who have given up the pursuit of “higher things in the pursuit of real estate.” Shame on them, I guess. Please stop the drivel. You’re entitled to think it, and write it, but enough. We get what you’re saying.


One Response to “A Facebook exchange with Chicago’s “Ethics” Honcho (?)”

  1. spinoza1111 Says:

    I posted this as psychological first aid, because in the early 1990s, a friend of a friend who headed the Crime Commission in Chicago (which is also one would imagine located in the Oxymoron building alongside the Ethics Board) was quite harsh when I met him the first time and he learned that I was divorced with kids. For he set store on family and Church…and bragged about snatching his wife away from a former husband. One of those self-appointed alpha males like Ted Nugent which dominate life in the Midwest, and define “reality” as dey see it, ya know?

    I discovered this guy talking with my son, saying, “here’s a dollar, kid, in case your Dad’s a pedo and you need to get home”.

    I actually made light of the incident at the time for I was rather desperately trying to retain computer consulting work in Chicago to pay child support, and, like some sort of gangsta punk I would take these insults so’s not offend the big men. Statistically, most of your gangstas, whether in Al Capone’s Chicago or today, are of necessity little weasels. Ain’t they.

    But, perhaps it’s why when my adult son comes to SE Asia he don’t come through Hong Kong, and it’s why I have to do “anger management”. Just.watch.me. Watch me paint and write and chew Nicorette and walk, you motherfuckers. And survive.

    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

    WB Yeats

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