"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 November 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Still Crazy After All These Weeks


[today i was walking back to work from my dentist appointment and i started looking around - note, its been a while since i really noticed the people of the city so-to-speak ]

Pre-Waco, law and order had yet

to make it vividly and

unmistakably clear that not

wanting to leave your

weapons-laden home was, in fact,

a crime worthy of being burned

alive and, if you make it

through that, serving long

prison terms. Domestic sieges

were staples of the 10 o'clock news

and COPS-style docutraumas.

Post-Waco, it takes more than

mere armed hermitage to make

copy. The siege of Shirley

Allen, for example, existed

below the Baby Jessica radar of

eccentric human interest stories

almost from the moment it began

in late September.


Mrs. Allen, a 59-year-old widow

living alone on 47 acres

in Roby, Illinois with a

slow-pumping oil well, began

disturbing her family after her

husband died in 1989, with such

activities as not inviting them

in on Labor Day, writing weird

letters mentioning the radar

beamed at her head, getting off

Prozac, and generally acting

quite depressed and

out-of-sorts. With the

suggestion of lots of other

bizarre behavior not made

public, Allen's relatives got a

judge to declare her ripe for an

involuntary psychological

examination. Her brother and

some state sheriffs went to

fetch her on 22 September.


For whatever inexplicable

reason, Mrs. Allen didn't want

to be taken in and possibly

locked up in a mental ward

without benefit of trial. She

waved a shotgun when they kicked

in her door; the cops fired tear

gas; Mrs. Allen fired her

weapon; the cops shot rubber bullets

at Allen. She retreated to her

home, took completely rational

defense measures against the

tear gas, including breathing

through a wet towel, and settled

in to her canned-goods-laden

house for what became a six-week



[and i got to wondering, on my 20 minute walk here, how many genuine, as sure as the seagull shit on the boat psychopaths did i just walk by!? ]

The state cops were called in,

Allen's power and water were cut

off, her phone routed so it

connected only to the cops,

and loud music was blasted

at the house constantly.

After some more attempts on the

part of cops to get too close

and some shotgun fire from Mrs.

Allen, she eventually sat in a

waterless, powerless house with

only one unbroken window,

Illinois winter coming on.


The press and public were kept

at least a half-mile away from

the property, leaving the police

the only source of information

as to what was going on. Family

members, wired for sound and

with police whispering

instructions into their ears,

were occasionally sent in to

sing songs at her. The hoary

joke had come completely true:

Even paranoids have real

enemies. Especially alleged

paranoids. Eventually, 39 days

after it began, and a couple of

days after she shot a police dog

sent to fetch her, Allen

wandered on her porch to snip

cables on police surveillance

cameras. She was shot again with

rubber bullets from a 37mm

launcher and subdued.


The case became something of a

cause célèbre for

types apt to be alarmed by

police military tactics, and

rumors flew to the effect that

the family had been attempting

to win control of her land and

oil. Not all of them pan out;

the oil well turns out to be a

low-pumping dud, and Allen's

whole estate probably isn't

worth much more than US$200,000.

But those, including the judge

apparently, who blandly accepted

the family's pure-hearted

concern for Shirley, must not

have ever seen any soap operas

in their lives: While a Dallas

scenario doesn't seem likely,

there are all sorts of

squirrelly reasons why a family

might become sincerely convinced

that, really, wouldn't it be

better for everyone involved if

Mom were sent somewhere to get

the help that she needs?


[maybe you live in new york, london, chicago, or even my hometown of los angeles, so you know what i mean by city folk -- it still amazes me though...i saw this guy wearing Turbo sunglasses, talking on some weird old-fashioned cell-type phone and then i thought... ]

When it becomes a public policy

issue, when nearly a million

dollars in public money is spent

to make some lonely, but

self-sufficient, woman's

paranoid fantasies come true, a

more thorough and public explanation

of exactly how dangerous she is,

and why, should be in order.

Shirley's brother has been

enthusiastically supportive of

everything the cops did,

including tear-gassing his

sister, and blandly assures the

press that Shirley's will is

airtight and leaves everything

to the grandchildren. He's never

heard, apparently, of the "being

of sound mind and body" clause,

as familiar to most Americans as

the beginning of the Miranda

rights. Which Shirley Allen

didn't get to hear, because

through all of this, she was not

being arrested; she was not

charged with a crime; she was

being taken in for involuntary

psychiatric evaluation.


The notion that, according to

the psychiatric profession, the

most benign personality quirk

can be defined as a mental

illness, has gotten quite a bit

of almost amused coverage

lately, most prominently in

Harper's and in The

Washington Post. It's

commonplace enough to have

become a staple of banal

stand-up comedy: Airline food

sure is awful; psychiatrists can

diagnose all human behavior as

an insurance-billable disease.

Ha, Ha, ain't the world

aggravating but still, through

all the petty problems, kinda



[maybe i am really in some bizarre James Bond meets Austin Powers mutation of a movie.  yeah, that must be it.]

Yes, the Diagnostic and

Statistical Manual of Mental

Disorders and the pretensions of

the psychiatric profession are

kinda funny, sort of, in a way.

But there's a corollary to the

joke of overreaching psychiatric

diagnosis that isn't quite so

funny, or is funny in a

different way. The therapeutic

profession, in combination with

state laws that allow

involuntary commission to a

mental institution on the

evaluation of a psychiatrist or

two, becomes the Therapeutic

State, and two months ago, the

state declared war on Shirley

Allen. If, as Randolph Bourne

once wisely asserted, "War is

the health of the state," siege

is its psychiatric evaluation.

And we're all crazy now.

courtesy of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk