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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Last night I was obliged to go to an Barnes & Noble Store out in the 'Burbs. CLA has been assigned a book for her English class, and our city based, locally owned independent bookstore didn't have it. Her teacher had announced that Barnes & Noble did, but that turned out to be a canard. As I scoured the shelves, trying to see if a copy had, perhaps, found its way onto a different part of the store (Barnes & Noble employs a frustrating sort of ontology-- more Blockbuster Video than Library of Congress, if you know what I mean), I saw a fat kid in the German History section. He was maybe about CLA's age-- somewhere between 12 and 15, I'd say, wearing a Nintendo sweatshirt and a camo porkpie hat. I saw him pick up a copy of Mein Kampf , and later, after we had determined that they didn't have what we had come for, I saw him at the checkout. My thought at the time was that this was a pathetic loser kid, but that at least he was buying it, instead of shoplifting it. I thought of him again today, when I read about the latest development in the Anna Lindh murder investigation. It seems that the Swedish police have released the neo-Nazi drifter they picked up shortly after the murder, and have arrested a new suspect.

People who visit here really should be visiting my law partner's site as well, of course. She is married to a Swede, so naturally this story is one that we have both been following. At the time she posted her first take on this horror she said to me that she thought it was peculiar that the surveillance camera photograph of the original suspect did not show him blood splattered. We speculated that perhaps this was because the photograph that was released to the media (or that the media chose to run) showed the man as he was entering the department store where the crime was committed, rather than as he was leaving the scene. Still, the whole thing, I think, struck both of us as a bit odd. The guy seemed tailor made for the arrest-- he seemed to fit a profile, but he didn't seem to fit the crime. People have been quick to say that this was a political crime, and maybe it was, but it doesn't seem like one to me, and I have a funny feeling that the first arrest may have been a triumph of over-thinking.

My partner's husband (I suppose I should go to initials or nicknames with them at some point), is not the best commentator on this sort of question. He can be a bit dogmatic, and that's not really what I am looking for here. Frankly, the whole thing looks more and more like a Martin Beck type situation to me, and I mean that the way I mean it when I say that any real life circumstance seems to be mirrored or anticipated by a work of art. It's funny-- I know quite a few Swedes, and Swedes are, in general, avid readers, but the Beck books do not seem to be something that very may of the people I am acquainted with have read. My brother introduced me to them-- they are, I think, almost as good as Raymond Chandler, and they speak to what Europe-- and the '60's-- were like as well as just about anything I've read-- at least, to the extent that I can tell. Marlowe's LA seems real to me, and accurate, for what it is. Per Wahloo¶and Maj Sjowall's Stockholm made the Stockholm I saw as instantly familiar to me as Hammet's writting did for me when I saw San Francisco. It doesn't look like too much has changed.

There is a lot that can be said about all of this, and I want to think some more about it, but one of the things that I want to think about is what all of this means about the differences between Europe and the US. Another is how both places are still very much the same. Some years ago the international bar association in which we were active had its annual conference in Washington, D.C.. At that time several of the European lawyers commented on the fact that Mein Kampf was available in bookstores, and in the open stacks in libraries. It isn't in Europe, apparently, and I remember joking about it. "We can't have that around-- you know how we get." Of course, I was a teenage smartass, so I've read the hateful thing-- although, to be honest, all I can remember of it is that it was hateful, even to a teenage smartass. I'm glad that I live in a place where something like that is available to teenage smartasses, or lardass losers-- I think that it is important that we believe that good ideas should be strong enough to stand up to that sort of wrongness. "A little sunlight is the best disinfectant," said Justice Brandeis, and I'll buy that, although, having been to Rotterdam, I can see why having Mein Kampf around in stores and libraries might be a little more offensive than my high-mindedness and off-hand manner might allow.

Still, I worry that the kid in the Nintendo shirt and camo porkpie hat is the sort of person that John Ashcroft might profile for a crime, because he didn't have the wit to shoplift Mein Kampf , and paid for it instead. I don't think for a moment that our cops are any brighter than the SAPPO-- I've read the Beck books, and I know better. Where does this leave us? I hate the idea of thought crimes. I don't see how that can possibly fit with the jurisprudence of freedom that we have spent over two hundred years developing, and I hate that I live in a time where my country seems to be going down that road. You can live in Sweden, but it doesn't change anything. Isn't it better to live in the US? And if it isn't, shouldn't it be?

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