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Name: Rex Stetson
Occupation: Masked Avenger Type
Base of Operations: Washington, DC
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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

UK Vigilante "Axle Grinder Man" Takes On Traffic Enforcement

A new kind of superhero has appeared in Kent, England:

...Axle Grinder Man!

Batman he isn't. Rather than going after violent criminals, AGM performs a very specific public service, namely cutting the "boot" or "wheel clamp" from cars immobilized by traffic police. Additionally, The Grinder alerts citizens to the locations of speed trap and security cameras, a popular target of public derision. Many of the government cameras have been destroyed recently by a band of masked vigilantes known as the "GATSO Killers". Link via Samizdata.

Like all good superheroes, The Grinder has no delusions of grandeur:

"I may not be able to single-handedly and totally cast off the repressive shackles of a corrupt government - but I can cut off your wheel-clamps for you."

As the BBC reports, he decided to go "full-time vigilante" in May this year.

"My obsession with wheel-clamping is actually a rebellion against a much deeper malaise," the Grinder explains."Namely, the arrogant contempt that politicians hold for the people who put them into power, and whom they claim to represent."

At this writing, the Grinder seems to be operating beneath the radar of the police, who have not yet recieved any complaints of clamps being cut, and have no plans to take action against him. He may be contacted through his website.

It is curious that the Grinder hails from the UK. The last alleged "real life superhero", the Caped Crusader was from Tunbridge Wells, Surrey,England.
Despite numerous sightings and reports of the Crusader foiling street crimes, the story was ultimately revealed to be a hoax.

There are of course, other candidates for the first "real life superhero", like Terrifica of New York, NY. Terrifica's crusade of choice is protecting inebriated female bar patrons from males who would take advantage of them.

Both these characters, however colorful and well-intentioned, are always narrowly-focused "issue" vigilantes, who get about as much respect as a third-party "issue" political candidate. The Grinder and Terrifica may not take on the "big" issues, but remember that Major Rudy Guiliani arguably cleaned up New York through community policing, and going after "little things" like broken windows and graffiti. So maybe these superheroes have the right idea after all: Hold the line on the little things, common courtesies and human decency- and the world will be a better place.

Just an observation, here: America's vigilantes, it has been long argued here and elsewhere, come from its tradition of rugged individualism and pioneer spirit. They fight for the status quo, defending themselves or their town against an external threat. In the abscence of this Wild-West "Cowboy" historical model, perhaps the somewhat more "revolutionary" British vigilante is culturally drawn from their anti-establishment heroes, like Robin Hood. To put it in a Comic Book analogy: America's real-life vigilantes, like Bernard Goetz, are closer to Batman (or Watchmen's Rorschach)- violently punishing criminals as they appear, and Britain's are closer to V for Vendetta, trying to free people from systemic problems of oppressive government. Hurmm....

Posted by Rex @ 2:41 PM

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

If You're Not Part Of The Solution...

The ever-brilliant Mark Steyn has a great piece up related to the assassination of Swedish politician Anna Lindh. He argues that the European nannyocracy mentality (let the government take care of all of life's problems, not the individual) is responsible for Lindh's stabbing death in a department store.

"How could this happen? Why didn't the Government do something?" are the questions of the day in Sweden, as they were in France recently as the country returned from its vacation to find 15,000 dead elderly. Steyn blames Eurosocialism: for the gun and knife control that didn't work in Sweden, for 15,000 neglected old folks, but more importantly- for creating a "culture of passivity", whereby the government is expected to "take care of it" rather than the individual.

By contrast, Steyn illustrates the American model: the passengers of Sept. 11's flight 93- who refused to remain passive per "outmoded '70s hijacking procedures", to whom we owe the fact that the White House is still standing:
That's the big lesson I took away from Sept. 11: Don't be passive...But, of course, no one will ever hijack an American plane ever again -- not because of idiotic confiscations of tweezers, but because of the brave passengers on that fourth flight. That's why, three months later, the great British shoebomber had barely got the match to his sock before half the cabin pounded the crap out of him. Even the French. To expect the government to save you is to be a bystander in your own fate.

This type of unilateral, decisive action is very "American". It is not embraced by our trendy Euro friends, who deride our view as too "cowboy", especially in foreign policy. It comes from our spirit of rugged individualism and pioneer spirit, by way of adventure, and taming the west with law and order- turning a wilderness into a military, economic, and cultural superpower in 300 years. Resentful, Europe? This spirit is reflected in (and reinforced by) the heroes in our popular culture: the righteous tough-guys who aren't afraid to break the rules when they don't work: the tough guy cowboy, cop, or superhero are all cast in this mold.

Indeed, the late Anna Lindh herself referred to President Bush "the Lone Ranger", meaning it as a criticism, not a compliment. But these fictional American heroes, however culturally resonant, are merely abstractions. Real life heroes like Flight 93's Todd "Let's Roll!" Beamer are the reality.

As Steyn observes, "They could have used him in that department store".

Spelling it out for the Europeans and the US Nannycrats, Steyn connects the dots:

If just a handful of the dozens present, had acted rather than bystanding, Lindh might still be dead but her killer would be in jail and not en route, like the late Prime Minister Olav Palme's murderer, to becoming yet another man who got away.

Sounds like Kitty Genovese all over again to me. Kitty was murdered in New York City, 1964, in full view of her neighbors, who couldn't be bothered to help. Passivity in the face of that and similar threats led to fear and high crime in New York for the next two decades.
Things remained bad until people like Mayor Guiliani and The Guardian Angels started cracking down on crime- taking an active role in policing their communities rather than sitting idly by and being "innocent" bystanders.

Posted by Rex @ 12:01 PM

Monday, September 15, 2003

Gen-X Libertarians Hit Hardest By Ritter Death

Usually Reason Online is just online HQ for the forces of liberty in the war against the socialist and lifestyle fascist elements in government, law, and public policy. On September 12, however, its "Hit and Run" section became a Gen-X wailing wall, following the untimely death of Three's Company star and Classic-TV icon John Ritter.

A sampling of the remembrances from the discussion board:

Ritter's quirky but likable gay fellow in "Sling Blade" is a superb performance. He was very talented and I am sorry he has died so young.

Posted by Mona at September 13, 2003 01:14 PM
You have to be younger to care deeply. I work at a cable tv entertainment network. And yesterday all my associates in who are in their twenties were moping around. I think if you're in your forties, you can remember how insipid the show was, how cheaply composed. But if you were a kid, you remember the simple lighting and bright colors as being cheerful. And yes, it introduced many to the idea that the sexuality of the future was in some ways comparable to candy. And if memory serves a subplot in the show concerned homosexuality, which we didn't get from Dick Van Dyke back in '60's. So maybe this represents progress. But still, he was a sitcom star.

In order to relate to my younger peers, I've been trying to imagine that Popeye or Fred Flinstone died. (It's nothing personal: Ritter & family gave many years and much effort to United Cerebral Palsy telethons, as was by all accounts a sweet guy.)

Posted by Cridland at September 13, 2003 02:02 PM
Cridland: "But still, he was a sitcom star."

I sat on this all day; did shopping and other shit, but can't let it go.

No, John Ritter was not just a sitcom actor. Over the years (have you fucking seen "Sling Blade?") he took many great and/or small parts and showed himself to be as talented as he was reputed to be a fine human being. I'm not one to gratuitously heap praise on the dead, but Ritter was a fine actor.

And "Three's Company," yeah, schlock, but dammit, it was the best of my generation's, in no small part cuz of him. It is small-spirited not to acknowledge that cultural role.

Posted by Mona at September 14, 2003 03:13 AM

And keeping alive Ritter's spirit of humor, there were even a couple of laughs to be found amidst our tears:

September 11 will surely be long remembered for this tragic event... Whenever I hear the words "hijinks ensue," I think of Jack Tripper.

Posted by Julian Sanchez at September 12, 2003 12:38 PM
Or, "it was all just a big misunderstanding."

Posted by Radley Balko at September 12, 2003 12:46 PM

John Ritter, you will be missed....thanks for Jack Tripper, Sling Blade, Hero at Large, Real Men, and everything else you gave us.

Fans are encouraged to visit John Ritter's preferred Fan Site to reminisce, or pay their respects.

Posted by Rex @ 11:56 AM

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