David Usborne: Our Man in New York

The way the Crowe flies into a temper, he must think he's living in his own private Idaho
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The Independent Online

The avalanche of press about the incident in June may briefly have boosted the box office of Mr Crowe's new film at the time, Cinderella Man, but probably he regrets it now. He must return to New York for a court hearing in September. He is charged with "felonious assault" and, wait for it, "criminal possession of a weapon". If convicted he could, in theory, serve seven years in prison.

No doubt, Russell, you are a clot. What kind of self-respecting person does time for possession of a telephone handset? That's humiliating. And why did you chuck the thing at the guy there, right in the hotel? Couldn't you have driven him somewhere else first? Like to a small corner of Idaho?

To explain, I have come to see that Crowe's now famous Mercer Meltdown was entirely understandable. It turns out that when he was first remonstrating about his inability to make a simple phone connection to Australia from his room, the reception guy finally uttered The word: "Whatever..."

Pardon? What did you say? No word in the English language is better designed to send a person potty. It dismisses, mocks and insults all at once. Clearly, it can warrant physical violence in return. Nearly as maddening is a phrase my children like to deploy just as I draw breath after offering my best possible explanation as to why something they are doing is unacceptable. "And your point is?" Aargh!

Violence, as Crowe has discovered, is not only socially unacceptable, it also draws the attention of the law and, subsequently, of judges and juries. However, I have been researching this conundrum, which is why I suggest to him now that he should have considered a side-trip to Idaho.

Of course, I do not mean to encourage a Hollywood star, or anyone, to inflict bodily damage on another person. But if they must, they need to know about an area measuring about 50 square miles on the western edge of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone lies primarily within the borders of Wyoming, but this bit is in Idaho. This, I have recently learned, is the place in America to commit the perfect crime.

An intriguing new paper by a Michigan law professor named Brian Kalt tells us why. Under the US constitution, he explains, every citizen has the right to be tried by jurors drawn from the state and from the judicial district where the alleged crime took place. Hit someone with phone in this part of Yellowstone and you can insist that your jury comes only from these 50 square miles, because they lie both within the pertinent judicial district, which is mostly in Wyoming, and the pertinent state, Idaho. But guess what, no one lives in this section of the park. Not one soul. No jurors, no jury, no trial.

Scholars among you might be reminded of the phrase: "Getting away with murder", which springs, I believe, from a similar legal kink that existed in 1500's England. A murderer could only be judged by jurors from the county where the killing took place. The clever ones, therefore, did the deed in two counties at once, short-circuiting the whole system. That usually meant attacking the victim one side of a county border, say in Sussex, but leaving him to die on the other side, in Kent.

None of this is much help to Crowe today, of course. But then he is awfully rich and the kind of lawyers he will hire could probably make the case that the Mercer Hotel is in fact in Idaho - not Manhattan.

I do now have a new code to institute with my children. If they so much as whisper "whatever" or "and your point is", I will simply reply "Idaho". If they don't get it, they can expect to be packed instantly into the car and driven the one-thousand-odd miles to you-know-where. Every kid deserves to see Yellowstone some time or another.

Life during wartime

When the first bombs exploded in London almost four weeks ago, I wrote something to the effect that we know how you feel, because here in New York we have been there. And I speculated on how different life in London would become. What I didn't anticipate was how much those attacks would actually affect us too. Now we have policemen at subway stations inspecting our bags. The false alarms come almost daily. Yesterday they closed Penn Station when someone threw an empty rucksack at a police officer.

A new anxiety has settled on New York, especially on the buses and the subway. One incident more than any other symbolised how London's unease looms over the Apple. It happened two Sundays ago when managers of a tour company alerted police to some suspicious-looking passengers who had boarded one of their buses - a red London, double-decker bus. The NYPD quickly diverting into a sealed-off street near Times Square and ordering all those on the open-top upper deck to put their hands in the air. They might have been on a Disney roller-coaster ride.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg later apologised for the whole affair. It turned out that a worker at the bus company had been a little over-zealous, thinking the worst because the men seemed to have bulges under the coats. And - wouldn't you know it? - all five of the perfectly innocent men were Sikhs on holiday from Britain.

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