“After alcohol it was pot, which made my panic much worse, so I stopped that pretty quickly. Then I flirted with cocaine, but that’s like poison to somebody with panic disorder, literally like poison. And then I found opiates.”

—musician Jeff Tweedy to the Reader‘s Bob Mehr

The big makeover

The Reader had entered uncertain times marked by aggressive competition and a public being seduced by the Web. The owners summoned design consultants from Spain to oversee an expensive makeover. When their work was done the inky black-and-white Reader of old was history; the September 17 issue introduced color. The first cover in the new format was of a rat’s ass. Was there a message in that?

Scandalous new Reader feature

You know when someone says something so down-to-the-nitty-gritty rude that your brain short-circuits your heart’s reaction and there’s a moment of total awe, a kind of perverse admiration? That’s the place I went almost every time Vice magazine cofounder Gavin McInnes opened his mouth last weekend.

McInnes was the unofficial guest of honor at a party thrown by Vice’s Chicago-based PR agency, Biz 3, at Sonotheque on Friday. Chicago doesn’t get much attention on the national glamour front, so I was afraid of what jackasses we’d all make of ourselves in front of this out-of-towner who’s successfully appointed himself the cool police. McInnes writes Vice‘s Dos & Don’ts column, where no one is exempt from his outrageously racist, sexist, homophobic, and often hilarious barbs.

To my relief (and OK, slight disappointment) it was pretty much just a regular party. Mahjongg computer wizard Hunter Husar booty-humped publicist Kate Urcioli while she chewed on a corner of her skirt. Local designer Cat Chow appeared to be taking a nap on the couch. I kind of grabbed my editor’s boob, twice, and had a conversation with McInnes during which I forgot Costa Rica was a separate country. But anyone listening might’ve thought McInnes embarrassed himself worse.

Earlier that evening an attractive young Asian lady had caught his eye. She noticed, and struck up a little tete-a-tete with him. McInnes told me, “I wanted to fuck the shit out of [her] until she started talking.” He went on to posit that since Asians’ eyes don’t work so good in terms of facial expressions they have no choice but to emote with their mouths.

So began the first Chicago Antisocial, a column by Liz Armstrong the Reader carried from September 2004 to November 2006, when Armstrong moved to Las Vegas. Readers horrified by Armstrong’s shameless candor said the Reader had lost its way. They were a minority.

Torturers’ Logic

2003 had seen the invasion of Iraq and “mission accomplished.” 2004 brought us Abu Ghraib. No one was more qualified to weigh in than the Reader‘s John Conroy, who had been writing about torture in the Chicago Police Department since 1990 and four years earlier published the book Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture.

So the torturers’ defense builds. The orders were unclear—what is absolutely forbidden in the eyes of the civilian is conceivably normal behavior in war with a foreign enemy or war on crime at home. Soldiers (or police officers) feel they occupy the high moral ground. Each knows he’s on the front line of a noble war keeping the nation (or the city) safe from those who would destroy it. The behavior that so shocks civilians is something he saw yesterday and will see again tomorrow. The victims are from the demonized enemy, the less-than-human gooks, rag heads, paddies, niggers, Jews, Arabs, communists, reactionaries, gangbangers, whoever the out-group happens to be. The obligation to refuse to follow an illegal order from a superior is a vague notion with no connection to life as he knows it. How he would report such an order is unexplained, and the filing of such a charge would constitute betrayal of friends whose bond ensures his survival. When caught, the torturer argues that he is a victim, a scapegoat taking the fall for high-ranking officers who have escaped indictment.