If they’re not innocent, I’m not interested 8/30/07
While listening to various people opine in the media this week that “Vick’s a victim” of racial prosecutorial profiling (like we’d all be fine with dog fighting if a white athlete did it), I had to laugh as I recalled my high school days. Students would show up late to school because they got speeding tickets on the way and then complain that the local police “targeted” teenagers for tickets. They’d freely admit that they had been speeding but then protest vehemently that their moms or dads never would have been stopped (probably because their moms and dads wouldn’t have been speeding). Now I’m not for selective law enforcement, but a guilty person doesn’t have much credibility when complaining to me about it, and in my experience, that seems to be the case virtually always. I know it probably occurs — very rarely — in a country of 300 million people, but I’ve personally never seen a case in which a totally innocent person was arrested and charged with a totally made-up crime simply because the police didn’t like his or her looks. Maybe I just live in an area with good cops, but I don’t think that’s it — I think the vast majority of American law enforcement officers are good people who sincerely want to do good in their communities (I evaluate these men’s and women’s fitness for duty, which gives me some unique insight into their motivations). So, if someone has a yard full of maltreated, malnourished pit bulls, or gets caught driving near a military base with a trunk full of pipe bombs, I don’t really want to hear about how that person supposedly got arrested and charged because of his or her race. Bottom line: if a person who’s charged with a crime alleges police or prosecutorial prejudice, and that person’s not innocent, I’m not interested.
Origins of orientation 8/29/07
Whenever there’s a major story involving homosexuality, like the case of the Idaho senator in the news this week, people ask me where I think sexual orientation comes from — whether I think it’s due to nature (genetics and biology), nurture (upbringing and experiences), or whether it’s a choice people make — so I’ll give a brief answer here. First, as I often do, I want to make a distinction between thoughts and behaviors. Sexual attraction involves thoughts, while sexual activity involves behaviors. When I talk about sexual orientation, I’m talking about sexual attraction, and I think of it on a continuum ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. I don’t think it’s a choice. I think that where each person fits along the continuum is the result of both nature and nurture, but not necessarily in the same proportions for every person. For example, I think there are some people whose biology is such that they would be attracted to the opposite sex virtually no matter what they experienced. Likewise, I think there are some people whose biology is such that they would be attracted to the same sex virtually no matter what they experienced. Then I think there are others whose biology is such that they could have developed an attraction to either sex depending on what they experienced. Basically, I don’t think that everyone’s sexual orientation develops in exactly the same way, so I don’t think it’s possible to give a single explanation that applies to every person. Now, whether a person acts on his or her sexual attraction and engages in sexual activity involves behavior, which is a choice for everyone, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Bottom line: attraction isn’t a choice, but behavior is. (By the way, attraction is also invisible — it happens in the brain — so it’s impossible to discriminate against someone on that basis. Discrimination can, however, be based on a person’s expression of his or her attraction, so whether or not to protect that expression is the real the issue to be considered by legislatures and courts.)
People sometimes then ask me whether I think a psychologist or psychiatrist should ever try to assist a person in changing his or her sexual orientation (becoming attracted to the opposite sex). Obviously, if someone’s attracted to the same sex and is happy with that orientation, then there’s no issue from a psychiatric or psychological perspective, and anyone who knows me knows that a person’s sexual orientation isn’t a factor when it comes to my respect for that person. In principle, I think that a decision to help someone try to change his or her sexual orientation should come down to what that person wanted, but I think its chance of working generally would be low and would depend on the extent to which that individual’s current sexual orientation was determined by experience. In general, I think that the nature aspect of attraction would be virtually irreversible, and that the nurture aspect would be only slightly more reversible. That said, if a person were attracted to the same sex but wanted desperately to be attracted to the opposite sex so that he or she could have a heterosexual relationship and procreate, I don’t agree with psychology or psychiatry invalidating that person’s wishes by insisting, based strictly on political correctness, that they’re not worthy of any effort. After all, the healthcare professions generally would try to help anyone else of child-bearing age who wanted to reproduce and was somehow prevented from doing so. While I wouldn’t expect the person’s sexual orientation to be reversed, a caring professional could at least help that person come to terms with his or her feelings about it.
Now, in the case of the Idaho senator, I don’t know if he’s gay or not, and I personally don’t care. If I were an Idaho voter, I’d be concerned about how effective a senator the guy is and about his character, including of course whether he had committed any crimes. So, I’ll just make this observation because I think this is yet another instance of a public figure making himself look worse in attempting to cover up or explain away his behavior than he looked when all we had heard about was the original behavior. There are certain things that you won’t often hear a straight guy say. For example, you won’t often hear a straight guy say that an article of clothing is “fun.” Similarly, you won’t often hear a straight guy say that someone’s house is “cute.” And rarest of all, you won’t often hear a straight guy copping a plea to a charge of soliciting sex from another dude in an airport restroom, as occurred in this case.
No way, Nowak! 8/28/07
As I predicted, the lawyer for the former astronaut who (allegedly) drove roughly 900 miles in diapers and a disguise to stalk and assault a romantic rival, reportedly intends to present an insanity defense at her trial. Not guilty by reason of insanity? Lisa Nowak? I say, no way! See my previous posts “What Anna Nicole Smith and a rocket scientist have in common” and “The Asperger’s defense” – one of the conditions she claims to have, which I doubt – for more on the case and why I think Nowak’s mental status is no excuse for her behavior. (And by the way, Ms. Nowak wants the judge in her case to rescind an order that she wear a GPS ankle bracelet to track her movements while she’s free awaiting trial because the bracelet supposedly interferes with her “exercise” routine. Once again, I’d say “No way, Nowak — if you didn’t want the authorities to interfere with your exercise routine, it would’ve been a good idea not to stalk anybody.” At this point, I’d be a lot more concerned about the victim’s peace of mind than I’d be about Nowak’s convenience. I’m not sure I understand the problem anyway — shouldn’t lifting a little extra weight be good for her physical fitness? If she told me she’s worried about developing uneven muscle tone in her legs, I’d order a matching bracelet for the other leg.)
Of hip-hop and hippies 8/26/07
Just as a raid of hip-hop “artist” DMX’s Arizona home reportedly turned up drugs, weapons, and what appears to be yet another dog fighting operation, and an up-and-coming rapper (a white guy, lest anyone think that this has anything to do with race — anyone who knows me knows that I make judgments based strictly on behavior) was killed in a shooting here in the Kansas City area, Bill Cosby was on his way to town to help counter the influence of hip-hop by talking to area youth about personal responsibility. I can’t speak for Dr. Cosby, whom I’ve never met, but I personally will be happy when the hip-hop movement goes the way of the hippie movement and fades from prominence in American culture. With a few notable exceptions, I think hip-hop has advanced the very unhealthy notion that there’s something to be enjoyed about the worst aspects of our culture: drugs, gangs, crime, violence, prostitution, promiscuity… . When hip-hop moguls argue that it merely “reflects the struggle” of young people, they’re just redefining deviancy in order to justify enriching themselves at the expense of the very “young people” about whom they claim to care. And even if hip-hop “reflects” young people’s struggle, how does it help anybody (other than those in the business) to stop struggling? Overall, it doesn’t, but I will. Here’s a simple prescription for any able-minded and able-bodied young person (which, statistically, thankfully, is not far from every young person) who wants to live his or her adult life above the poverty line:
1) Stay in school. Education in this country is free through high school. They’ll even give you meals there for free if you’re hungry and can’t pay for them. Yeah, it’s easier for some than it is for others, but it’s statistically very rare to have an I.Q. so low that you can’t pass enough high school classes to graduate. (Then preferably, go on to college. Yeah, you might have to work and take out loans and pay your fellow Americans back when you graduate, but why shouldn’t you have to do those things?)
2) Don’t commit any crimes. It’s not hard. Just follow the law.
3) Don’t get addicted to anything. This isn’t hard either. If you’re in doubt, just don’t try it in the first place, and then you can’t possibly become addicted to it.
4) Don’t make any babies unless and until you’re married (to the person with whom you’re making the baby).
If you follow those four simple steps, you have an extremely high statistical chance of being able to earn an income that is above, probably well above, the poverty line for a family of four. Working hard, being dependable, and staying married (except in rare circumstances), will make that chance even higher. There, I just did more for America’s youth than the entire hip-hop movement ever has (maybe even helped some aging hippies and hippie-wannabes too). No need to thank me.
One postscript & one prediction 8/25/07
Postscript: On Friday, August 24th, John Couey, the man who kidnapped, assaulted, and killed little Jessica Lunsford, was sentenced to death by a Florida judge, following a jury’s recommendation. Couey’s defense attorneys argued that he’s mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, but the judge rightly rejected that argument. (See my previous posts, “Marked man maintains mental mitigation mockery” and “WHY are we PAROLING these people???” for more on why this judge got it right.)
Prediction: I predict we’ll soon learn that the New Jersey schoolyard shootings were part of a gang initiation and that one or more of the teenagers in custody (along with the 28-year-old, repeatedly arrested and released, illegal alien, alleged child rapist, and reputed gang member who was with them and was initially thought to have been the trigger man) fired at least some of the rounds that killed three innocent students and critically wounded a fourth. (See my previous posts “More preventable tragedies” and “Update on Kansas probation travesty and New Jersey schoolyard shooting” for more on this case.)
Redefining deviancy 8/24/07
Here’s another phenomenon to watch out for, and this one’s been going on throughout American culture for a while now. I call it “redefining deviancy.” It’s basically a way for people to avoid facing and dealing with societal problems by simply declaring them to be the new “normal.” Behavior that would’ve been labeled deviant and warranted corrective action in the past is re-labeled, and voila, problem solved. One variation of redefining deviancy is dismissing it as a symptom of some responsibility-absolving disorder. For example, 50 years ago, a sixth grader who cussed out his teacher would have been in big trouble in most American homes, bigger trouble than he would’ve been in at school. Today, there’s a high chance that his parents would rush him to the nearest pediatrician to get pills for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder before they’d consider the possibility that some additional structure and discipline at home might be in order. (By the way, A.D.H.D. is the most-frequently-bogus diagnosis that I see in children, and A.D.H.D. medications are by far the most overprescribed. In my opinion, medical licensing boards across the country need to get serious about this problem because telling a kid that there’s something wrong with his brain when there isn’t just gives that kid an excuse to devalue himself and make no effort to improve his behavior.) Re-labeling deviancy as disorder is bad, but a classic case of redefining deviancy is one in which the very existence of a problem is simply dismissed. For example, if middle school kids were going to school with their pants hanging six inches below their underwear and having sexual experiences at 14 years old 50 years ago, it would’ve been seen as a major societal problem that needed to be addressed through increased parental involvement and supervision. But today, many parents are “too busy” to take the time to address such issues, so it’s just easier to make pronouncements like, “they’re just exploring identities,” or “they’re all hormones at that age.” Redefining deviancy seems to happen a lot in matters of character, and here’s a timely example: as I write this, political pundits are actually arguing on television about whether a politician’s marital infidelity is deserving of the public’s attention. You don’t need to be a forensic psychologist to understand that a person who’ll break the most solemn promise of his life, a promise made to the mother of his children, might not be too worried about keeping promises made to you, a voter he’ll probably never meet, at a time when he desperately needed your support to get elected. As obvious as that is, millions of Americans simply dismiss it with inane statements like, “every marriage has problems,” once again, redefining deviancy as normalcy. Cheating on one’s spouse is deviant ladies and gentleman, and any serious voter should take the time to consider its implications carefully. As Bill O’Reilly often says, “you don’t justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior,” and I would add the following: a behavior doesn’t stop being deviant and start being normal just because it’s happening a lot. If the behavior is unhealthy or destructive, it should still be labeled deviant, and Americans should have the courage to address it as such.
Stupidity + money = trouble 8/23/07
Ever wonder why you keep hearing about athletes and entertainers who have millions of dollars jeopardizing their careers and even their freedom by shoplifting clothes that they could easily afford, participating in dog fights, carrying guns into nightclubs, and on, and on, and on? I think I know, but I have to preface this with a reminder that an explanation is not equivalent to an excuse. For example, you may have heard various “experts” over the past few weeks saying that football star Michael Vick probably got involved in dog fighting because of poor potty training, not enough hugs as a child, and on and on. Whether those things happened in his life or not, he got involved in dog fighting because he decided to get involved in it, knowing that it was illegal, so he’s fully responsible in my book. (By the way, let me use the Vick case to illustrate a quick point that I’ve often made: the law shouldn’t really focus on whether a defendant knew that an act was “wrong,” as many states’ insanity defense statutes currently do. A better question would be whether the defendant knew or should’ve known that his/her action was “illegal.” Here’s why: most sane sociopaths would disagree that a lot of criminal actions are “wrong,” in a moral sense, because sociopaths don’t really have consciences, but they still virtually always would know that those same actions are wrong by society’s standards, the law, which is what really should matter. In Vick’s case, for example, he might personally have thought that dog fighting was ok, maybe he even grew up with it, but he certainly knew it wasn’t ok by society’s standards because he apparently went to great lengths to conceal his involvement in it.) Ok, so why do athletes and entertainers seem to be getting in trouble all the time? Well, their talents, whether athletic, musical, theatrical, or whatever, usually are discovered when they’re still quite young. At that point, with exceptions of course, the adults around them usually stop working very hard to develop the young prodigies’ minds and focus only on developing their talents. Their talents then enable them to have successful careers, so what you often end up with, exceptions noted, are stupid people with a lot of cash. Basically, stupidity + money = trouble. You take a stupid person and give him/her a lot of money, and he/she’s almost bound to get “drunk” with purchasing power, develop an invincibility complex, become highly self-focused and malignantly narcissistic, and end up in trouble. Think Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Nicole Richie… . Now, contrast them with neurosurgeons and CEO’s who have similar money but had to be smart to get it. You don’t usually hear about those people shoplifting clothes or trying to smuggle marijuana onto commercial airplanes. Now, you may think that’s just because doctors and executives usually aren’t famous like pro athletes and entertainers. While there certainly are exceptions, and while CEO’s certainly have committed their share of financial crimes lately, I don’t think the fame thing completely explains the difference. I think there’s a reason why people who make $50 million by inventing a new surgical instrument, or by starting a company and taking it public, tend to keep a lot of it, even grow it, while people who win $50 million in a lottery tend to lose a lot of it. Again, it’s absolutely no excuse for any athlete’s or entertainer’s bad behavior (even someone with a borderline I.Q. can be expected to know, for example, that stealing’s not allowed) — it’s just an interesting observation that I’ve made over years of watching them get into trouble.
Hope for the culture! 8/20/07
Just when we thought that the likes of Paris Hilton, Barry Bonds, and Snoop Dog had won the hearts if not the minds of America’s youth, there’s good news from a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and MTV. They asked 1,280 Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 to list their “heroes,” and the results were surprisingly encouraging. Nearly half included one or both of their parents (29% listed their mothers, 21% listed their fathers, and 16% listed both parents). Eleven percent included friends, 10% included God, 8% included a grandparent, 7% included a sibling, and 5% included a teacher. Some included historical and political figures (4% listed Martin Luther King, Jr., and 1% listed the President), and unspecified soldiers, firefighters, and police officers were listed frequently. But here’s the really encouraging part: no celebrity, athlete, or performer was listed by more than 1% of respondents (Oprah Winfrey, the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, and pro golfer Tiger Woods each got 1%). Two percent of respondents did list themselves, so there are some up-and-coming narcissists out there, but not as many as might have been expected. Looks like there’s hope for this culture yet!
Update on Kansas probation travesty and New Jersey schoolyard shooting 8/9/07
If you watched O’Reilly on July 19th, you watched us discuss a judicial travesty in my home state of Kansas in which a judge sentenced a man convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl 17 times to probation. No surprise, the convict was soon arrested again, this time for using drugs, and was scheduled to come back before the sentencing judge to either be sent to prison or released on probation again. Last week, I went to the judge’s courtroom for the scheduled hearing but found the room dark and empty. Apparently either the prosecution or the defense had asked for a continuance, which the judge had granted. On my way out, I heard a guy who (I think) was a courthouse employee say, “That’s that guy from the O’Reilly Factor!” Then in the week between the originally-scheduled hearing and the rescheduled hearing, the judge, who had been respectfully confronted by a Factor producer and refused comment and had then been roundly criticized by O’Reilly and me on the air, apparently asked the chief judge of the district court to reassign the hearing to another judge. So after a replacement judge was selected and after another postponement, the hearing was held today, August 9, and I was there, front and center in the spectator section. The defense attorney looked right at me at one point and then tried to persuade the judge that “the national media” had been responsible, at least in part, for her client’s difficulty adhering to the terms of his probation, making it difficult for the perv to find an employer who would hire him, a drug treatment center that would treat him, blah, blah, blah. It didn’t fly. The replacement judge did the right thing and sent the creep to prison for the next 13 years, and for that, I believe “the national media” (i.e. the Factor) deserves some credit!
Now, as I predicted, two suspects are already in custody in connection with the horrendous schoolyard shooting that took place in New Jersey last weekend, and it’s already sounding like the suspects are no strangers to the local police. More arrests are expected, and I have no doubt that the same will be true of those individuals. One of the suspects currently in custody is 15 years old, so while I’m on the subject, I’ll go ahead and answer a question that I often get in such situations: Should a 15-year-old be held to the same standard of criminal responsibility that would be applied to an adult accused of this crime? Absolutely! A less-than-fully-mature brain might not, for example, foresee the gravity of the danger posed by stringing duct tape across an intersection to watch what happens when a car runs into it, and in a case like that, I might not object to charging a kid as a juvenile. In a cold-blooded shooting case like this one, however, there’s no question in my mind that a 15-year-old brain should be fully capable of foreseeing and consciously (rather than recklessly or negligently) disregarding the harm inflicted on the victims. The Supreme Court has ruled that it’s unconstitutional to execute anyone under the age of 18, but this punk should definitely be tried as an adult and face the most severe punishment otherwise available under the law. (And by the way, I also don’t think it matters if his father is in prison, and his mother is on drugs, and he lives in a gang-infested neighborhood, and his school has a leaky roof, and he has Attention Deficit Disorder, blah, blah, blah — none of that makes a person, at any age, commit cold-blooded murder.)
WHY are we PAROLING these people??? 8/8/07
As a follow-up to my last post, I just want to point out that John Couey, the convicted rapist and murderer of little Jessica Lunsford, and the two pathetic excuses for human beings who are charged in the recent horrific home invasion in Connecticut, in which a mother and her daughters were assaulted and then set on fire, had all been released from prison early at the times of those crimes! Why are we paroling these people??? Just last night, I heard columnist Ellis Henican tell O’Reilly that American-turned-Taliban-fighter John Walker Lindh’s 15-year prison sentence was too long and that he should be released now, after serving approximately five years. “It doesn’t do him any good to treat him like Osama bin Laden,” Henican said. That statement illustrated perfectly the difference between people who think like I do and people who think like Henican does. “It doesn’t do him any good”??? Who’s worried about doing him any good — this traitor, this terrorist??? Not me! I’m worried about doing some good for all of the innocent Americans whom this guy would probably like to kill — people who will be at risk when he eventually gets back on the street! In case anybody reading this isn’t sure, in my expert opinion, guys like these are never going to be “rehabilitated,” and they will always pose a risk to the people around them. The best that society can do is to take these guys out of it. People like Henican talk about giving these guys “second chances,” but what that really means is the rest of us taking “second chances” on them, and I for one don’t think we should.
A quick update on Couey: After the jury in the Jessica Lunsford case recommended the death penalty, Couey’s lawyers argued that his life should be spared because of his low I.Q. (see my previous post, “Marked man maintains mental mitigation mockery”). As I predicted, the judge in the case has ruled that Couey is not developmentally disabled and that he is in fact eligible for the death penalty. Couey’s sentencing is set for Friday, August 24.
More preventable tragedies 8/5/07
If you’ve watched/listened to me on the air or read my blog, you know that getting the word out about preventable tragedies is a big thing with me. O’Reilly and I recently discussed this after the Benoit murders (the wrestler who killed his family and then himself), and we warned the millions of Americans who are involved with volatile, violent, irresponsible, and/or drugged-out people to get out of those relationships before they turn deadly. Of course we got flack for “blaming the victims” of tragedies like the Benoit, Natalee Holloway (the high school grad who disappeared in Aruba after leaving a nightclub with a stranger) and Jessie Davis (the pregnant Ohio woman who was killed by her unborn baby’s father, a police officer with a long history of shady behavior) cases. We weren’t blaming the victims — we were trying to draw the only possible good from tragedies, lessons for the living about how to avoid being victimized. I’m not speaking for O’Reilly here, just myself, but seriously, it’s not like a tornado came down out of the blue and snatched these women off the face of the earth, and I’m sick of hearing people at candlelight vigils asking, “How could this have happened?” — it usually doesn’t take 15 years of college education to figure out how it happened and that it was foreseeable for a long time.
The cases I just mentioned are frustrating to me because the women’s and children’s deaths could have been prevented had the women stayed away or gotten away from guys who were clearly bad news. This week, we saw two new cases in which it looks like people’s deaths also could have been prevented, but in these cases, it was the government rather than individuals that probably missed opportunities to avoid tragedies. By now everyone knows about the bridge collapse in Minnesota (and by the way, it looks like the first responders really put the lessons of 9/11 into practice and did excellent work under extremely difficult conditions). As the investigation of that tragedy unfolds, I predict that it will be shown to have been foreseeable, possibly even foreseen by somebody whose warning was dismissed, and definitely preventable. Then just last night, three college students and a fourth friend, two young men and two young women, were shot at close range, execution style, while they were listening to music in a Newark, N.J. schoolyard. Three are dead, and the lone survivor remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds. By all accounts, the shooting victims were good citizens and good students with clean records and good grades. Several young men were seen fleeing from the murder scene, but they have not been apprehended — yet. I predict that they will be, and when they are, I predict that unlike their victims, the perpetrators all will have criminal records and plenty of prior contact with law enforcement. As I’ve said many times before, a lot of this country’s crimes, probably including these three young people’s murders, are preventable if we would just get tough, really tough, on lawbreakers before they commit really serious offenses. Just like when somebody harms a kid, it makes me mad when innocent adults die preventable deaths, and just like I hope individuals learn the lessons of the Benoit, Holloway, and Davis cases, I hope our government officials learn the lessons of these bridge and shooting cases.