Archive: August 2008

Three cases, the drinking-age buzz, and an Olympic wrap-up 8/25/08

First up tonight, the sad case of the Tennessee middle school student who suffered relentless teasing and bullying due to alopecia (baldness) and was fatally shot at school last week by a fellow student.  The 15-year-old shooter is in custody, facing trial as an adult on a charge of first-degree murder, and believe it or not, his older sister is on the run and wanted for a different murder — nice family.  A few quick points about this case:  1)  This is what bullying can escalate to, and kids need to take a stand by not encouraging, participating in, or condoning it and by ostracizing bullies rather than their victims.  2)  Once again, I predict that this will not prove the be the shooter’s first run-in with the law and that if the system had been as tough as it should’ve been on him for previous offenses, this one might not have happened, if for no other reason than the shooter might not have been attending a mainstream school.  And 3)  As I’ve also said before, a teenager’s brain might not be developed enough to bear adult-level responsibility for every action, but it’s certainly well-developed enough to bear adult-level responsibility for pre-meditated murder.  (By the way, a Texas school district is allowing licensed and trained faculty to have concealed firearms on campus this school year, to hopefully deter such an incident and to potentially stop one in progress, which I applaud.)

Next up tonight, the cops who cuffed and detained a highly-intoxicated woman at the Phoenix airport last year have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in her death, which occurred while she was in a holding cell alone.  I’ve worked as an expert witness in cases where law enforcement officers were alleged to have mistreated people in custody, and while I believe the vast majority of cops to be good, honorable people, I’m certainly for weeding out bad apples whenever they’re found.  In this case, I’ve seen nothing to indicate wrongdoing by the cops.  The only thing that seems potentially wrong to me is the medical examiner’s report on the cause of death.  The report says she died by “accidental” strangulation with her handcuffs.  I don’t really understand how that could even happen.  While I’m not an m.d. and could be wrong, the woman apparently had a lot of alcohol plus prescription antidepressants in her system, and I expected the combo of the substances plus extreme excitement and exertion to have led to unconsciousness and a Ledger-like suffocation.  In any case, her family’s filed what I think is a bogus suit against the p.d.  I’ve seen nothing to indicate that a death was foreseeable under the circumstances of this case.

Speaking of alcohol, there was a lot of “buzz” last week about reducing the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 in order to reduce the incidence of “binge” drinking.  Proponents of this measure often site two things:  the lower incidence of binge drinking among young people in Western European countries and the paradox of allowing 18-year-old Americans to serve in the military but not drink alcoholic beverages.  I’m skeptical that simply lowering the drinking age to 18 would engender European attitudes toward alcohol in this country.  In Europe, I’ve found alcoholic beverages to be pretty much omnipresent and to not really go from being socially “taboo” to socially acceptable at a particular age, so scoring them is less of an exciting “coup” for teens.  For that to happen here, I think, would require cultural change, which takes a long time and can’t really be legislated.  As far as the military service paradox, I’m fine with allowing anyone who’s 18 and serving in the military to drink on military property, off duty of course — takes care of the paradox and even adds a little reward for serving.  It was a bunch of college presidents who brought this issue to the forefront last week, and I think there are steps that people in their positions could take with respect to drinking that would be helpful and wouldn’t require legislation.  For example, many colleges and universities have adopted strict “dry campus” policies that involve aggressive enforcement and stiff penalties for having alcoholic beverages on school property or even affiliated with the school, like fraternity and sorority houses.  The result that I’ve observed has been far fewer students drinking on or near campus, in places they could walk to and from, and far more students obtaining fake i.d.’s and drinking off campus, in places they drive to and from, often intoxicated.  While they’re asking the 50 states to reevaluate their policies on underage drinking, maybe these academics ought to take a look at their own schools’ policies and see whether they’ve helped or exacerbated drinking-related problems.

Also tonight, the man convicted in the brutal torture, rape, and murder of nine-year-old Dylan Groene (after killing three of the boy’s family members and kidnapping the Dylan and older sister Shasta, who survived) back in 2005 has been certified by a jury as eligible for the death penalty in Idaho.  Before making that decision, the jury was shown a videotape, made by the killer, of the torture and rape, over the objection of Dylan’s father.  While I sympathize with the father (and with the jurors who will no doubt be haunted by the images they saw in the course of their service), I think it was necessary for a reason that I’ve stated many times, even in discussing the recent Tennessee school shooting earlier in this very post:  we have got to get tougher sooner on people who indicate that they pose a risk of violence to their fellow citizens.  This guy had served 20 years for a previous child rape.  What in the hell was he doing out?  As someone who’s served as an expert witness on the issue of sexual predator status (required for holding sex offenders beyond their original sentences), I can tell you that it’s not always as easy as you’d think to get jurors to understand what they’re dealing with, but hopefully now the jurors in the Groene case get it.  I can’t wait for the “mitigating” evidence from the killer’s lawyer.  We’ve already heard a “devil made him do it” argument, and how ashamed he is (as he loudly protested the showing of the videotape) — yeah right.  We’ll probably hear about how “mentally-ill” he is (as I’ve explained many times, pedophilia is just a messed-up sexual attraction to kids — it doesn’t make anyone do anything), and I won’t be surprised if he suddenly becomes “mentally retarded” as well.  I expect that it will all be a huge crock — other “experts” on t.v. might make it seem complicated, but it really isn’t.  The guy’s a monster, by his own choosing, period.

And finally tonight, to end on a positive note, the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics were spectacular.  I’ve been there, and I’ve seen the potential of the Chinese people — not the elite athletes, but the people you meet in stores and restaurants and other businesses — that has been unleashed by their government’s partial moves toward capitalism and economic liberty.  The potential explosion of human productivity that could occur if capitalism and individual liberty were embraced fully is palpable there.  I hope that the legacy of these Olympics is an acceleration of China’s movement in that direction.

Scary statistics, a bogus bailout, and chair growth 8/20/08

First up this morning:  A new suicide study suggests that roughly half of all American college students have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.  If that’s true, it represents an alarmingly-higher percentage of young Americans experiencing suicidal ideation than was previously thought.  I question the validity of that finding, however.  It’s not clear to me that the study distinguished effectively between people who’ve thought about suicide conceptually (i.e. wondered what must go through suicidal people’s minds, etc.) and people who’ve actually contemplated committing suicide.  When participants were asked whether they had “seriously considered” suicide, the percentage responding affirmatively dropped to 15, which sounds closer to being an accurate overall estimate of the percentage of young Americans who’ve experienced suicidal ideation.  The study also suggests that 5% of all American college students have actually attempted suicide at some point in their lives.  If that’s true, it represents an alarmingly-higher percentage of young Americans attempting suicide than I’ve ever heard.  I question the validity of that finding as well.  Over many years, the number of suicides committed per year among Americans 15-24 years of age has been right around 10 for every 100,000 people in that age group.  If this new study is correct, and 5,000 out of every 100,000 college students have actually attempted suicide, then an extremely high number of those attempts have apparently been unsuccessful — too high a number for me to believe that that many “attempts,” if they truly happened, were genuine attempts.  Nevertheless, suicide is a serious problem in the U.S.A., and “red flags” such as discussion of death or suicide, deep depression, giving away possessions, and of course any history of self-injurious behavior should be taken seriously.

Next up this morning:  A t.v. bounty hunter (no, it’s not “Dog”) has announced that he’s going to bail Casey Anthony, mother of missing three-year-old Caylee Anthony, out of jail, where she’s spent several weeks after repeatedly lying to investigators (allegedly) about the circumstances of her daughter’s disappearance.  This is nothing but a publicity stunt on the bounty hunter’s part — he says he’s going to help Casey find Caylee.  Unfortunately, and I hope I’m wrong, I think Caylee is probably not alive at this point.  I think Casey probably either killed the little girl so she could live a carefree life (as we’ve seen in some other tragic cases, most notably the case of the “prom mom” who gave birth during a school dance, disposed of the baby’s body in a dumpster, and returned to the dance — and by the way, Casey was photographed partying at a nightclub within days of her daughter’s disappearance) or was irresponsible in supervising the little girl, resulting in her accidental death (as we’ve seen in cases of kids drowning while swimming unsupervised or suffocating when parents have left them in locked cars on hot days), and disposed of the body to evade prosecution.

Finally this morning:  Obesity rates have reportedly risen since last year in 37 states.  Shocking!  Maybe that’s why so many furniture stores are now selling a piece of furniture called (no kidding) a “chair-and-a-half”!

What does it matter? 8/19/08

Not to rain on the Olympic parade, but if you think about it, what does it really matter whether the person who can do the best somersault of anyone in the world is from the U.S.A. or from China?  Other than entertainment for the masses every four years, what does the outcome of any of the events really matter?  Well, first let me say I don’t knock the value of entertainment.  I think entertainment is an important part of life, just maybe not one of the most important parts.  I’ve really enjoyed watching these Olympics, often late at night as I write my blog posts; I just don’t think the outcomes matter much.  But something about the Olympics does matter.  People taking natural talents that they’ve been given and developing those to their fullest — that matters because I believe it’s what we’re all supposed to be doing in life.  People from all nations coming together and competing civilly with one another — that matters because when we do that, I think it brings out the best in us, i.e. elevates our talents to their highest levels.  People winning and losing with grace and dignity — that matters.  For example, what Team U.S.A. swimmer Dara Torres showed kids around the world when she asked that the start of a race be delayed so one of her competitors could change out of a torn swimming suit — that matters.  And while it’s fun to see members of Team U.S.A. win gold medals, here’s what I think really matters about that:  China has over a billion people, between three and four times the population of the U.S.A., and it has the ability to select any of its young citizens at early ages and force them to train to compete in international athletic competitions (for example, Chinese gymnasts are selected at age three and sent to live in gymnastics training camps, seeing their families sometimes as infrequently as once a year).  If you think about it, China should win every event…but it doesn’t.  Why not?  Because, for all its talent and all its coerciveness, the Chinese system is neither the most efficient nor the most effective way to get the most out of people.  (Sure we have some overbearing, borderline-tyrannical parents here in the U.S.A. who probably push their kids almost as hard as the Chinese do, but still, those parents don’t get to pick kids to push — they have to take the kids they’ve got and try to help them make the most of what talent they have.)  When Team U.S.A. wins, I believe, it not only demonstrates the triumph of individuals, but it also demonstrates the triumph of the American system, in which people are free to choose which talents they wish to develop, whether they’re talents that have profound life-&-death implications (like doing the best brain surgery) or talents that just entertain other people (like doing the best somersault).

Tragic deja vu 8/18/08

You may not have heard about it because it wasn’t as widely publicized as some other school shootings, but back in February, an openly-gay California middle-school student was shot and killed during class by a fellow student.  Apparently, the victim had publicly professed romantic interest in the male shooter, and the humiliated shooter then shot the victim in front of their classmates (I’m not blaming the victim here, just filling you in on what happened).  It’s very similar to a 1995 case in which a man was invited to appear on the t.v. talk show “Jenny Jones” and be introduced to someone who had a secret crush on him.  The secret admirer was revealed on national television to be a male friend, and after the show, the humiliated straight guy murdered him.  And that’s not where the similarities end.  In the “Jenny Jones” case, the victim’s family sued the show for not anticipating the consequences of the awkward public revelation.  Initially, that family won a $25 million verdict, but an appeals court later overturned that verdict, ruling that the show couldn’t be held responsible.  Now, the parents of the gay student killed in California are suing the school district for allowing their son to cross-dress at school, subjecting himself to abuse and “death threats” from fellow students.  While I agree that a middle-school student shouldn’t be allowed to cross-dress at school, for his/her psychological as well as physical well-being, I think this is the unfortunate result of cases like the one I told you about in my previous post “Is it real, or is it South Park?” about a Colorado second-grader whose parents threatened legal action if he wasn’t allowed to cross dress, use a restroom other than the boys’ room, and be called by a girl’s name.  This California lawsuit will hinge on three things:  the ability of the school district to prohibit cross-dressing, causation, and foreseeability.  First, the court will have to determine whether the school district’s policy of prohibiting “disruptive” attire gives it broad enough discretion to prohibit a boy from attending school in clothes that girls are allowed to wear.  I think it should, but that determination will require the court to interpret California law.  If the court finds that it was within the school district’s discretion to prohibit the cross-dressing, then a jury will have to determine whether the district’s failure to do so caused the victim’s death.  I don’t think it did — I don’t think the shooter killed the victim for cross-dressing; I think it was for humiliating him.  Finally, if they believe that the district’s failure to prohibit the cross-dressing resulted in the victim’s death, jurors will have to determine whether that result was foreseeable.  I don’t think it probably was, but I could be wrong.  That determination will depend on the credibility of the “death threats” received by the victim.  A school has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of students on campus, so if there was reason to believe that the victim actually would be attacked, and if school staff didn’t take all reasonable steps to prevent that, then the district will be in trouble.  Still, unless the shooter had announced what he was going to do, it’s tough for me to imagine a scenario in which school staff should’ve expected the shooter to bring a gun to class and shoot the victim.  As the civil case goes forward, the 14-year-old shooter awaits trial in adult court on charges of first-degree murder and committing a hate crime.  (By the way, I don’t really understand the concept of a “hate crime”.  In this case, for example, assuming the shooter is convicted of first-degree murder, he shouldn’t get a less-severe penalty if it’s determined that his choice of victim had nothing to do with the victim’s homosexuality.  For another example, if a white guy murders a non-white guy to steal his wallet, he should get just as severe a penalty as a white guy who murders a non-white guy to make a racist statement.  In other words, I don’t think the law should say that one motive for murder is worse than another — if it’s murder, it’s murder, and the penalty should be just as severe as I see it.)

Philosophical questions 8/17/08

Since Senators McCain and Obama were asked yesterday by Pastor Rick Warren at what point they thought a developing human being deserves legal protections (McCain said at conception, and Obama hedged, saying it was “above my pay grade”), I’ve been asked several times how I would’ve answered the same question.  Now I’m not hedging, but for now, since I’m not running for anything, I’m going to answer that question with a few questions (because I’d rather people thought it through for themselves).  First, if a mugger attacks a woman who’s on the way home from finding out that she’s pregnant, leaving the woman alive but causing her to lose her baby, do you think the mugger should be charged with murder?  If you think so (as I think most Americans do), but you’re “pro-choice,” then you need to reconcile those two beliefs somehow.  Second, do you think that we should have the death penalty?  If you think so (as I think most Americans do), but you’re “pro-life,” then you need to reconcile those two beliefs somehow.  Third, do you think that a woman who finds out she’s pregnant and then goes home and gets drunk or smokes crack should be charged with child abuse?  If you think so (as I think most Americans do), but you’re “pro-choice,” then you need to reconcile those two beliefs somehow.  I think people’s positions on specific issues are important (especially if they’re running for office), but I’m usually more interested in the philosophical underpinnings of those positions, i.e. whether they have a philosophy that they can articulate and that’s rooted in sound logic.

Olympic playmates 8/16/08

Four female Olympic athletes from Germany reportedly will appear nude in “Playboy” after the games in Beijing.  If you’ve read my recent posts “A real American Hero,” ‘Dark Knight’ too dark,” and my “Quick takes” post dated 7/29/08, then you know I’m concerned that kids growing up today are sorely lacking worthy “heroes” to look up to as it is.  With the number-one song playing on the radios and iPods of girls all over the world promoting girl-on-girl “experimentation” as the hip thing to do, it would be nice if female Olympians could, at least publicly, represent constructive ideals like commitment, perseverance, sports(wo)manship, and the pursuit of excellence.  Hopefully that will be the case with the women on this year’s Team U.S.A.  By the way, one of the German posers said, “I did it because I am confident of my body and myself.”  At least she didn’t claim to be confident about her decision-making ability (i.e. intelligence).  I’m not seeing a basis for her to be confident about that!

Flight attendant’s lawsuit lands her $0 8/15/08

You may have heard about the lawsuit filed by a flight attendant who alleged that the wife of televangelist Joel Osteen accosted her for not cleaning up a spill in the first-class cabin quickly enough.  While I don’t doubt that Mrs. Osteen was a pain in the rear who expected to be treated like the only passenger on the plane, the flight attendant’s claims that the incident caused emotional distress, loss of religious faith, and hemorrhoids sounded completely bogus.  I think:  1) the jury did the right thing finding in favor of Mrs. Osteen, 2) the flight attendant needs to develop a thicker skin if she wants to stay in that job, and 3) if Mrs. Osteen wants undivided attention while traveling, she can ask her husband to take up a collection to pay for a private-flight (wonder how the members of his church would feel about that!).

Pill-popping teens and the lazy adults who love them 8/14/08

Even after the deaths of Anna Nicole Smith and Heath Ledger, the latest study released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse indicates that abuse of prescription drugs among teens continues to be a major problem.  And how are teens often getting these drugs?  Easily, by opening the medicine cabinets in the master bedrooms in their homes.  In other words, they get them from lazy, clueless parents who don’t bother to monitor access to medications in their homes or to know where their kids are, what they’re doing, and with whom.  You know, the kind of parents who’d probably be thrilled to hear the main finding of another recent study, this one coming out of the University of Michigan:  overweight people aren’t necessarily unhealthy.  While some Americans no doubt will embrace that finding as a license to eat — and eat, and eat, and not exercise — they’ll do so at their peril because the finding, as reported by some media outlets, is misleading.  It’s true that some overweight adults who participated in the study were relatively healthy and some thin adults who participated had health issues, but obese participants were still twice as likely as thin participants to have risk factors for serious health problems like heart disease and type-2 diabetes.  If they’re parents of teenagers, perhaps those overweight participants could get some exercise by exerting themselves enough to lock up their prescriptions and by keeping better tabs on their kids’ activities.

Five Boogers, one sex slave 8/12/08

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, there’s this:  Ms. “Bernann” McKinney made news last week when it was announced that she had paid a South Korean lab over $50,000 to clone her deceased pit bull, “Booger.”  That was weird enough — anyone who wants a pit bull is weird, and anyone who wants to clone a pit bull is weirder in my opinion.  But it didn’t end there!  This week, she made news again, only this time it was as “Joyce” McKinney, a 1970’s Wyoming beauty pageant winner and fugitive from justice in the U.K. for over 30 years since being accused of — get this — kidnapping a Mormon missionary, handcuffing him to a bed with mink-lined handcuffs, and forcing him to be her “sex slave” for several days.  What’s a girl to do, right?  Sit around and wait for a guy to ask her out?  I know, serious questions abound, like how did she abduct a man? (allegedly at the point of a fake gun and with the help of a male accomplice) and how did she force the victim to “perform”? (no answer on that one yet).  She’s been quoted saying, “I love him so much that I would ski naked down Mt. Everest with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to.”  What a classy lady — wonder if she’s related to Rielle Hunter (see my last post).  Anyway, McKinney reportedly had had a prior relationship with the kidnapping victim, stalked him on his mission trip to the U.K., jumped bail after being arrested and charged with kidnapping (but not rape interestingly) there, returned to the U.S., and went into hiding — sort of.  In the interim, she reportedly has been caught with a fake passport by the F.B.I. and arrested for stalking — the same dude, again, years later, outside his office with rope and handcuffs in her car, here in the U.S. — but kept disappearing.  She also reportedly has written bad checks and made criminal threats against at least one person.  She sounds like a sociopath with erotomanic delusions, and I’d like to know how she got $50,000 to spend cloning “Booger.”  I feel sorry for the California neighborhood that’s now going to have this nut and her five pit bulls living in it.  British authorities say they won’t extradite her because it’s been so many years since her alleged crime in the U.K.  I say she should be extradited no matter how long it’s been — get her and her “Boogers” out of here!

Stabbing at Olympics and smoking “news” 8/11/08

Chinese police have revealed that the assailant who killed the father-in-law and seriously wounded the mother-in-law of U.S. Men’s Olympic Volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon in a stabbing attack on Saturday was emotionally distraught due to family problems including his recent second divorce and his son’s criminal behavior.  I say there had to be more to it — while he wounded a Chinese tour guide in the process, it looks like he targeted Americans (although Chinese police dispute that).  We may never know the full story because A) Chinese authorities may not want it out, and B) the assailant jumped to his death from a balcony after the attack, but I can tell you that research on methods of suicide suggests that people who jump tend to be severely psychotic more often than people who commit suicide by other means.  I have to give props to Team U.S.A. for going on to win its first game the next day, despite profound sadness about the tragedy and without McCutcheon present (he was at the hospital with his wife and mother-in-law).

In other news, the latest research “discovery” about cigarette smoking is that the same gene is associated with getting a “buzz” from smoking and with being addicted to cigarettes.  Duh.  Whatever the addiction, people who like it more are obviously going to have a harder time quitting it.  So, as the risks far outweigh any benefit you could ever expect to get from it, and as you’re not going to know whether you have this gene until you try it and see if you like it, you’d be far better off to just not try smoking in the first place.

Edwards update 8/10/08

Over the weekend, more has emerged about former Senator John Edwards’ affair and possible child with a woman who had worked on his unsuccessful campaign for the Democrats’ presidential nomination.  Apparently the mistress, who I said on t.v. last Friday sounded borderline-delusional when discussing her relationship with Edwards, reportedly said that Edwards’ wife “does not give off good energy.”  How classy.  But something else that Rielle Hunter reportedly said over the weekend is more important.  Remember how Edwards denied fathering her child and offered to take a paternity test to prove it?  (In my last post, I opined that his offer was bogus because if he really wanted a paternity test, he could’ve had it done and had results ready to release when he acknowledged the affair to the media last Friday — after all, the “National Enquirer” photographed him secretly visiting mistress and child at a hotel just last month.)  Well, as Edwards’ luck would have it, the mistress reportedly has said that she will not allow a paternity test to be performed.  Coordinated effort?  You be the judge — Edwards publicly offers to take a paternity test, but then never has to take one because the child’s mother won’t allow it.  How convenient.  Wanna know what I think?  I think Edwards probably admitted the affair to his wife and said it was over back in 2006 but then continued it and fathered the child, and now he’s desperate to avoid having to admit to his wife that the lies have continued.  (By the way, Edwards reportedly made the unbelievably-lame statement that his wife’s cancer was in remission when he started having the affair, as if that makes it less of a betrayal.)

Ok, until now, I’ve been very tough on Edwards and totally sympathetic toward his wife, but I think this last observation is important even though some people may not appreciate it:  Mrs. Edwards reportedly knew about the affair in 2006.  I believe that report, and in fact, I suspect she at least had inklings long ago, as do most spouses of cheaters, that her husband was a cheater (it’s such a difficult thing to face, because of its life-altering implications, that many people remain in denial about their spouses’ suspicious behavior until there’s undeniable evidence of cheating).  If that report is true, I don’t think she should have asked people to trust and vote for and donate money to her husband all through the primary elections, knowing as she did that he is not trustworthy and that this scandal could’ve broken and derailed his campaign at any moment.  Nevertheless, I still feel sorry for her and hope she’s handling this and her cancer as well as anyone could under the circumstances.

One day, two amazing performances 8/10/08

The day:  Friday, August 8, 2008

Amazing performance number 1:  Former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards telling America how ashamed he was after it was exposed in the “National Enquirer” that he an extra-marital affair and may have fathered a child with a former staffer — he admitted the affair but denied the fatherhood and said he’d take a paternity test to prove he’s not the dad.  (By the way, the shows that I appear on didn’t run with this story until Edwards admitted that it was true.)  Edwards’ “mea culpa” was a load of crap and reminded me of that Rhianna song “Take a Bow” (you know, the one where she tells a cheating jerk who’s pleading for her forgiveness, “That was quite a show…you’re only sorry you got caught…”).  Rhianna’s right, If Edwards’ actions truly were inconsistent with who he is, he wouldn’t have engaged in them.  Usually, I worry most about the kids in these situations, and I think this will affect his kids profoundly, even the daughter who’s an adult (I hope they heard it first from their parents and not from us in the media).  In this case though, I’m equally concerned about his wife Elizabeth who’s fighting cancer.  Cancer patients really benefit from social support that they can rely on, which makes this a particularly-disgusting betrayal.  Fortunately, I’ve observed her to be a strong individual, so I hope she’ll do as well as anyone could under some very difficult circumstances.  This is an important story because it underscores the fact that character matters, especially in our elected officials.  It’s absurd for a voter who is likely to never even meet a candidate to trust that candidate when that candidate’s spouse can’t even trust that candidate.  Furthermore, Edwards was on the short list for a Cabinet post if Barack Obama wins the presidency, and had this story remained unpublicized, it would have exposed Edwards to blackmail and other undue influence in that position.  In a country of approximately 300 million people, we can do better.  Edwards apparent level of narcissism makes Brett Favre look like a “team-first” kind of guy (I know, it was just yesterday that I said I wanted to get through an hour of t.v. without hearing Favre’s name, and here I was the one who brought it up today).  As sorry as I feel for Edwards’ wife and kids, I admit I had “church giggles” (you know, when you’re laughing in an inappropriate situation) during Friday’s “Prime News” — when “Enquirer” reporters described Edwards barricading himself in a public restroom to avoid them and when Edwards’ mistress talked on tape about how “open” Edwards was to “trying new things.”  By the way, I suspect that Edwards is the father of her baby because he’s known for a month that this story was going to break in the mainstream media, so he could have easily had a paternity test ready to release to along with his statement on Friday.  I also suspect that this mistress isn’t his first.  Edwards said in his statement that an apology to his supporters wasn’t enough, and I agree, so I’m going to help him out with a recommendation:  If he really believes that, why not refund, out of his own substantial resources, the contributions that he took from supporters during his most recent run for the Democrats’ presidential nomination — money that he accepted knowing that this scandal could have broken and derailed his candidacy at any moment?  What do you think are the chances he’ll do that?

Amazing performance number 2:  The opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.  On one hand, I thought they were spectacular!  On the other hand, I thought maybe I was seeing the kind of performance people give when they know they could be locked up indefinitely in a gulag if they mess up!

Ivins, Olsen, and Favre 8/7/08

Here are some quick takes on three of this week’s newsmakers:

As the FBI continues to release information about suspected Anthrax murderer Bruce Ivins in the wake his suicide (see my previous post, “Anthrax case closed?”), it looks like he had a fascinating and frightening mixture of personality traits (but not multiple personalities — we’ve talked about that, remember? — see my previous post, “A tale of two Britneys?”).  Ivins reportedly had a long history of mental problems including depression, paranoia, and suicidal/homicidal thoughts but also had some church-going, Red-Cross-volunteering, family-guy characteristics.  I’m thinking now that he may in fact have meant to kill people with the Anthrax mailings, but probably intended recipients, e.g. government officials, rather than incidental/accidental recipients, e.g. postal workers, an elderly woman.  I’m also thinking that the government needs to hire me to do psychological evaluations of people who hold positions like the one Ivins held.  If I were in Congress, I’d hold hearings on how he ever got his security clearance to work with Anthrax and how he kept it as long as he did.

Apparently, the feds have decided to drop their efforts to question actress Mary-Kate Olsen about how the late actor Heath Ledger obtained the various redundant prescription drugs that were found in his bloodstream after his death earlier this year.  Olsen reportedly had resisted cooperating with investigators, claiming to know nothing about the source of the drugs but simultaneously seeking immunity from prosecution.  I think she did know something, and I think the feds should’ve forced the issue, no immunity, because it looks like another example of “Hollywood healthcare” (see my previous post with that title).

Lastly, football star Brett Favre (why is it pronounced “Farv” anyway?) apparently is back in the game and has been traded to another team after tearfully retiring months ago, then changing his mind and recently demanding to return to his old position on his old team despite the fact that a successor had already accepted the job.  I’m nominating this as the “most-discussed/least-important” story of the year, and I’m hoping we can now get through an hour of television without hearing mention of this histrionic crybaby’s name.

L.A. or Riyadh? & To visit or not to visit? 8/3/08

First up:  L.A. or Riyadh?

Ok, here are the clues:  It’s a major city, and its local government is banning men from walking dogs on its streets.  Is it Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, or is it L.A., right here in the United States?  Ok, this time it’s Riyadh, where the “chastity police” are concerned that men are using cats as well as dogs to initiate corrupting conversations with unsuspecting single women (can you believe guys would do such a thing?), but if you guessed L.A. after reading my recent post, “L.A. or Beijing?” then your guess wasn’t all that implausible.  Of course now that you know chastity is involved, you can be sure that L.A. (where the number-one song playing in clubs throughout the city at this very moment is about how “fun” it is for girls to engage in same-sex “experimentation”) is not.

Next up:  To visit or not to visit?

The con-man known as “Clark Rockefeller,” who made national news last week for allegedly kidnapping his own daughter, has been apprehended and the little girl is safely back with her mother.  As a child-custody expert, parental kidnapping is always a consideration during and in the aftermath of custody battles, but in this case, it looks like steps were taken to address the concern.  Rockefeller reportedly kidnapped the girl during a supervised visit by overpowering the supervisor, illustrating the difficulty that judges face in weighing the risk of such an incident against a parent’s right to see his/her child, i.e. the only way to make sure it can’t happen is to make it impossible for the parent to see the child.  In Rockefeller’s case, it should be impossible now, and for quite a while.

Anthrax case closed? 8/2/08

It looks to me like the eccentric scientist who had worked on anthrax vaccines for the military and committed suicide this week was in fact behind a series of anthrax mailings in 2001 that killed five people and prompted the costly closure and decontamination of several government buildings.  The guy had been under suspicion and investigation by the FBI for years, and sources within the Bureau have told reporters that they had accumulated enough evidence for an indictment, which reportedly was imminent.  The guy also was facing stalking charges for reportedly threatening a woman, and I believe that he had intent to harm the woman because his psychotherapist was concerned enough to break doctor-patient confidentiality and warn her (if anyone’s wondering, the therapist’s warning was not only ethical but also required in most jurisdictions).  We’ll learn a lot more about this guy and the evidence against him in the weeks ahead, but here’s my initial speculation based on what I know so far:  He may not have meant to kill people.  I’ll bet that he had a history of bottling up rage and lashing out when he felt ignored.  I’ll bet that he was frustrated because he thought that people in the government weren’t paying enough attention to the threat of bio-terrorism and specifically to his work.  I’ll bet that he was trying to “teach the government a lesson” with the anthrax mailings.  We may never know for sure, but there’s already a lot of information about the guy on the Internet, so if you’re interested, you can read it and see whether you agree with my speculation.

Berserk bus beheader and murderous molesting minister 8/1/08

You may have heard the disturbing story of a beheading that occurred on bus traveling cross-country in Canada early Thursday morning.  Apparently, a male passenger started stabbing the sleeping passenger seated next to him, sending the rest of the passengers running for the exit.  The murder weapon reportedly resembled a hunting knife, and witnesses have said that the assailant seemed to remain eerily calm during the attack.  The driver pulled over, and as he and the fleeing passengers gathered outside the bus in horror, the assailant displayed the severed head of his victim.  The driver had the presence of mind to disable the bus so that the assailant couldn’t drive off in it, and a passing trucker helped several passengers barricade the assailant inside the bus until police arrived.  After a lengthy standoff, the assailant was taken into custody but has not yet been identified.  He’s described as approximately six feet tall, 200 lbs., and 40 years old, with a shaved head, and he reportedly was wearing sunglasses even though it was nighttime.  So far, Canadian police have said that the he hasn’t been questioned, and the motive for the attack remains a mystery.  There is no evidence that the murderer and his victim knew each other prior to boarding the bus.  We discussed this case on Thursday’s “Prime News” on CNN Headline News.  In recent years, beheading has primarily been associated with terrorism, and while the actions of the assailant reportedly were calm and deliberate, as in videotaped terrorist beheadings, the hallmark pronouncements and claims of responsibility during and after terrorist acts are absent.  Assuming then that it wasn’t terrorism, multiple stabs and slashes indicate rage (remember the O.J. Simpson murder case).  In the absence of some precipitating interaction between the assailant and his victim, rage indicates psychosis, probably a delusional state of some sort.  The murder weapon and the reported calmness of the assailant during the attack indicate to me that he may have military training.  Now this is wild speculation, but I’m imagining a scenario in which the assailant had been sleeping, awoke in a strange place in a delusional state, perceived the victim as someone or something threatening, and reacted almost instinctively (see my previous post “Revisiting the concept of evil”).  There is an insanity defense under Canadian law, and it’s very similar to the insanity defense that we have in most jurisdictions in the United States — it hinges on whether the defendant knew what he/she was doing and that it was wrong.  It’s way too early to tell, but at this point, it looks like this possibly could be an insanity case, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know it’s extremely rare for me to say that.  Then again, he could be a psychopath who knew exactly what he was doing, knew it was wrong, and chose to do it anyway.  (And as you also know if you’re a regular reader, I don’t think it really matters in terms of what has to happen — if a guy has a propensity to kill people, sane or insane, he still has to be kept behind bars.)  We should know a lot more about why this happened when the Canadian police start releasing details of their interrogation and investigation.  In the meantime, I hope the passengers, especially any children among them, and the driver get some psychological follow-up.  They may not all need it, but they witnessed something horrific enough to cause post-traumatic stress symptoms such as nightmares, flashback memories, persistent feelings of despair, and persistent fear in at least some of them.  Such symptoms are tied to the loss of a sense of control over people’s physical and psychological experiences, and psychologists can help people regain that sense of control (see my previous post “Virginia Tech shootings”).

Also on Thursday’s Prime News we discussed the case of a minister who was arrested in Alabama after one of his eight children reported that he had molested her and that he had murdered their mother.  The mother’s body was found in a freezer in the minister’s home.  By the way, it’s unclear if this guy’s really a “minister” because no particular denomination seems to claim him, but he reportedly preached regularly in local churches and was in the middle of a sermon when the cops showed up to arrest him.  In contrast to the bus beheader, who seems like he may have killed in a psychotic rage, the murderous minister sounds more like a stone-cold psychopath.  The more I hear about this case, the more it reminds me of the “dungeon guy” in Austria (see my “Quick takes” post dated 5/8/08).  As I said of the witnesses to the bus beheading, I hope that the eight children of the murderous minister are getting psychological care at this point.  Unfortunately, if he molested one of them, there are likely to be more molestation victims among them.  This case certainly underscores the point that actions speak louder than words — people can profess to be religious or moral, even preach in church, and it can mean absolutely nothing; their behavior can be as evil as it gets.  A couple of other examples:  the “BTK” (bind-torture-kill) killer here in Kansas was an elder in his church, and Warren Jeffs (see my previous post, “Polygamist preacher probably posing”) was the head of his church.

As I said on the air, Thursday was a particularly-morbid news day.



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