Archive: December 2008

Recapping Christmas week 12/28/08

After a few days off, I’m back with a recap of several stories that broke or developed during the week of Christmas.

First, did anyone else notice a significant drop in the number of Christmas cards that you received this year?  Maybe I’m just getting less popular, but I think there could be more to it than that.  I don’t think it’s that people couldn’t afford as many cards because of the economy.  I think it’s just that so much was going on at the end of ’08, including the economic slowdown and the presidential election, that the holidays kind of sneaked up on people this year.  I know it felt that way to me.

Just as the holidays arrived, a court decision in California cleared the way for people to sue “good Samaritans” who try to help at the scenes of accidents and accidentally end up causing further damage.  Nice, just what we need after a year in which we saw “good Samaritan-ism” already on the decline.

You probably heard about the Christmas-party massacre in which a man dressed in a Santa suit murdered several party-goers at his ex-in-laws’ home and then committed suicide, but not before he booby-trapped his car in an apparent attempt to kill police arriving on the scene.  Reportedly, the guy’s ex-wife decided to divorce him after learning that he had abandoned a disabled child years ago but continued to take annual income-tax deductions for that child.  That tells me this was yet another tragedy brought about by a self-absorbed psychopath hell-bent on getting what he wanted at anyone else’s expense and punishing anyone who denied him his way — way too much planning and concealment of his lethal actions to have been done without the knowledge that those actions were wrong, a sad reminder at Christmastime that there are intentionally-evil people in this world.

The man behind a string of shootings along a Texas highway apparently has died of a gunshot wound self-inflicted as law enforcement closed in on him.  He reportedly was an ex-Utah law enforcement officer who had been fired for some disturbing/disturbed behavior.  No telling how much that had to do with his shooting spree, which occurred in a different state after all, but sniping is a crime of which the “appeal” to the sniper is largely a feeling of power (seeing a potential victim through the scope of a rifle and getting to “decide” whether to pull the trigger, whether that person lives or dies).  Regardless of how angry and disempowered he may have felt after his firing from law enforcement, he was yet another probably-sane, selfish coward who took himself out rather than facing the judgment of his peers.  I guess, as a practical matter, it’s for the best that he and the Santa-suit murderer are where they can’t ever hurt anyone else and where they can be judged by the only authority with the power to fix what was wrong with them.

There’s been another person-overboard incident on a cruise, and a search is underway off the coast of Mexico for a missing woman.  I don’t understand why the cruise lines have not installed netting, cameras, motion detectors, etc., to prevent these incidents.  As big as I am on personal responsibility, it seems to me like there have been enough such incidents by now that juries could start finding liability for failure to take reasonable preventive measures.  If one of the families called me, I’d probably take their case.

In a less-heavy story, the daughter of French billionaire (or is it billionairess?) and octogenarian Liliane Bettencourt reportedly is challenging her mother’s mental competency after the mother reportedly gave over a billion dollars’ worth of property to her much-younger gentleman companion.  As someone who serves as a psychological expert in such cases, I find this one particularly interesting, and if you’re remembering reading something similar here in the past, I last wrote about that work when American billionaire/billionairess Leona Helmsley left millions to her dog.  It’s important to keep in mind that a person isn’t incapacitated just because his or her children — it’s usually adult children who challenge their parents’ competency in these situations — don’t like the decisions that the parent is making.  As long as he or she is able to perceive, process, and communicate information, make conscious, reasoned decisions, understand what he or she is doing, why he or she is doing it, and what the likely consequences will be, and take adequate care of himself or herself, he or she generally should be free to give his or her property to whomever he or she chooses.  If Bettencourt is able to establish her ability to do all of the above, I imagine there won’t be much under her Christmas tree for the daughter next year.

In an apparent copycat story, a Florida woman took holiday loneliness a little too far when she called an ex-boyfriend and told him that, unbeknownst to him, she had given birth to his child after the romantic relationship ended.  Then, when he rushed back to her to meet his child, she told him that the child had been kidnapped by…a nanny.  Sound familiar?  She even called police and went on television begging the nanny to return the child, no charges, no questions asked.  Well, guess what — no child and no nanny ever existed, and the woman is now in custody, charged with making a false report and wasting substantial law-enforcement resources investigating the bogus kidnapping.

The holidays traditionally have been popular dates for people to get engaged, and reportedly, Drew Peterson is among the happy grooms-to-be this year.  You may remember Peterson is the former Illinois cop whose wives keep dying or disappearing.  The reported bride-to-be is apparently one brave 23-year-old, considering that patrolling the streets of Baghdad, flying the space shuttle, and saving Private Ryan are all, statistically and historically, safer jobs than being Peterson’s wife.  (If you’re wondering why anyone would want to be Mrs. Peterson, you might be interested in last Valentine’s Day’s post in which I explained why some women fall in love with imprisoned serial killers.)

Finally tonight, in an abbreviated “Study this” segment, a new Japanese study found a correlation between breakfast and sex.  No, I’m not kidding.  Apparently, Japanese teenagers who had breakfast daily started having sex later in life than teenagers who skipped breakfast.  So, if you want your kids to put off having sex, should you start making them breakfast every day?  Well, maybe, but it’s probably not the food that makes the difference.  It’s more likely a difference in the kind of parenting that goes on in households where breakfast is served/eaten versus households where everyone just races out the door in the morning.  So, if you’re like me, and you don’t like to wake up a minute earlier than you have to in the morning, there may be a broader message in this seemingly-silly study from which you can still benefit.  In fact, an additional finding of the study is that good relationships between parents and teens in general extend the age at which teens have their first sexual experiences.

OK, that’s it for this catch-up edition of the blog.  I hope you had a merry Christmas week.  Happy New Year!

3 sad stories, 1 important lesson 12/24/08

In the past few days, I heard the story of a Texas man whose wife and children were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide perpetrated by the wife.  She reportedly had been behaving strangely, calling police about “home invasions” by strangers in the week before she and her two kids were found with gunshot wounds to their heads, apparently inflicted by her.  There may yet be more to this story, but in any case, the man has lost his entire family (and, importantly, appears to have played no role in whatever happened).

I also heard the story of an investment manager who committed suicide in the wake of a major Wall Street scandal in which his clients lost millions, if not billions.  Apparently, the man was distraught, not so much because of his own losses but because of the responsibility that he felt for the losses incurred by his clients on his watch.  There may end up being more to this story too, but at the moment, there’s apparently no evidence of any complicity in the scam on his part — on the contrary, when the scam was uncovered, he apparently tried desperately but unsuccessfully to recover his clients’ funds.  While I’m a big admirer of personal responsibility, I wish that Clarence, the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” could’ve intervened to help the guy put the loss of money and the loss of life into proper perspective.

I also heard the story of a woman who had been shot in the face by an estranged boyfriend years ago and was celebrating, with uncommon grace and dignity, the success of the most recent in a long and painful series of reconstructive surgeries.  She was being interviewed in the context of the first successful full-face transplant in the U.S.A. (which wasn’t possible back when she was shot), and she expressed nothing but gladness and good wishes for the transplant recipient and others with disfiguring injuries who will benefit from the medical advances made in both of their cases.

These people’s stories struck me as I found myself disgruntled about my purchase of some gift cards that weren’t activated properly, requiring me to make a second trip to the store to straighten it out.  It occurred to me how each of the people in the stories that I mentioned (and millions of others the world over whose stories I haven’t heard) probably would love to have a hassle with a retail store be the most upsetting thing they had to face yesterday.  Realizing the infinitesimal magnitude of my problem relative to theirs, I felt guilty for having been irritated at all, and even guiltier when I considered going the rest of my life without getting irritated about anything and doubted my chances of success in that endeavor.

So, here’s what I concluded:  The perspective that those tragedies and others I’ve covered have given me — perspective on life and what really matters in it — is an easily-overlooked blessing, and, among the many blessings that I and many Americans count at this time of year, I need to include the incredible luxury of being irritated — a little irritated, on occasion — by relatively meaningless things.  Whether you’re surrounded by loved ones this holiday season or find yourself far from where you want to be, I hope you’re able to count many blessings, large ones and small ones, ones that are obvious and ones that are easily overlooked throughout the year.

Merry Christmas!

I’m back 12/21/08

No, I haven’t disappeared.  I’ve just been on t.v. every weekday for the past 10 days talking about the discovery of Caylee Anthony’s remains in Florida, just blocks from the Anthony home.  While I’m convinced that Casey Anthony was involved in the little girl’s death and in covering it up afterward, I’m not yet convinced that she premeditated the girl’s murder.  Why?  Three main reasons:  1)  Casey reportedly didn’t want to be a mother all the way back when she was pregnant with Caylee, but she wouldn’t even consider having an abortion (she reportedly only considered giving Caylee up for adoption, and her mother, Cindy, reportedly talked her into keeping the baby, which I think could be a source of a lot of guilt feelings in Cindy right now), 2)  Casey is a horrible liar, and a person capable of the premeditated murder of a child usually would be a much better liar, and 3)  The child’s remains reportedly were found partially-covered with an item from the Anthony home (other than her clothes, like a sheet from a set that’s been tied to the home), and that seems like evidence more likely to be left by a person in a panic than by a person who planned the death out in advance.  There are, of course, Internet searches by Casey in the months prior to Caylee’s disappearance for such terms as neck-breaking (although the child’s neck apparently was not broken) and chloroform (which is consistent with the theory that Casey sedated the child in order to go party, came home and found the child dead, and disposed of the body to avoid getting herself in trouble, perhaps even trying to make it look like a kidnapping to anyone who discovered the body), but also for such terms as missing children, death, etc.  It’s definitely possible that Casey pre-planned her own daughter’s murder, perhaps trying to become the next Beth Holloway, garnering a lot of media attention, almost celebrity status, surrounding the disappearance of her daughter (not that Mrs. Holloway did anything wrong — she didn’t, but her daughter really did disappear.  I’m saying that a psychopathically self-focused individual might resort to murder to get that same kind of attention, which is why I’d be looking for any signs of Munchausen-like behavior from Casey back when Caylee was alive — that’s when parents intentionally harm their kids to get sympathy from friends, health care providers, etc.).  It’s still a major mystery, and I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for a long time to come.

Another case that we discussed on t.v. this week was the case of a New York woman who went to a nightclub, left with a man she met there, and now is missing, presumed dead.  The man turned out to be a convicted sex offender and is now in custody under suspicion of murdering the woman.  Here we have yet another preventable tragedy — preventable in more ways than one.  First of all, of course the guy shouldn’t have been in that nightclub in the first place if we already knew that he had a propensity to commit sex offenses.  As I’ve said in case after case, we let these guys out way too quickly, and we don’t watch them closely enough when they do get out.  In addition though, as I’ve also said many times, there are lessons to be learned in every one of these cases that hopefully can help save lives in the future.  When I tried to make that second point on Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on Wednesday night, some people were upset with how abruptly she dismissed it.  I wasn’t — the show’s called “Issues,” and we’re not always going to agree, which is what makes it an interesting show, and Jane feels strongly about keeping the focus on the criminals rather than on the victims when it comes to the prevention of future crime.  I just don’t think it’s “blaming the victim” to point out the ways in which people like Natalee Holloway and the victim in this case put themselves in harm’s way.  It’s not that the women were responsible in any way for what happened to them — no one is to blame but the perpetrators — but they had opportunities to avoid what happened to them, and I think it’s not only OK for us to point that out; it’s our obligation.  For example, there are young women (not that this applies only to women) who watch the shows that I’m on and think that they would be able to spot guys like Joran Van der Sloot or this guy in the New York case.  That’s bull.  I’ve studied and reported on these cases for years.  These guys are able to make themselves appear totally harmless, and their victims usually don’t spot them until their lives are in grave danger.  Obviously the victim in New York was fooled, and I’m not blaming her by using her tragic case to illustrate how easy it is to be fooled by these guys.  I just believe that shows like the ones I’m on can save lives if those of us who have specialized knowledge and expertise in these matters share it with the audience to help people live safer, more cautious lives, looking out for themselves and their loved ones more effectively.  It also might be the only or greatest good to come out of these tragedies — the saving of future lives.  Of course I agree with Jane that Natalee Holloway should’ve been able to go to the beach at night with anyone she wanted and not had to worry about her safety, just like this women in New York should’ve been able to leave that club with anyone she wanted and not had to worry about her safety.  We should also all be able to leave our houses without having to lock our doors, but that’s not the world we’re living in unfortunately.  If you leave your door unlocked and get burglarized, and I tell everyone in your neighborhood to start locking their doors, I’m not blaming you for the burglary.  I’m simply trying to help you and your neighbors to avoid future victimization, knowing the unfortunate truth that there are burglars out there.

Also this week, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear the state Attorney General’s motion to oust indicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich on the basis that he is incompetent to govern.  As slimy as Blagojevich is, that was the decision that I recommended last week, and it was the right decision, for the reasons I enumerated here.  In typical narcissistic fashion, Blagojevich made a speech in which he vowed to fight on, claiming that he has done nothing wrong.  He did make a cryptic reference in that speech to fight the charges against him until his last breath, which made me think that he may bear some close watching if/when he’s convicted (highly narcissistic people, like Blagojevich and Casey Anthony seem to me to be, usually have strong self-preservation instincts, but sometimes when they reach the end of a maze of lies, are cornered and have nowhere left to go, they choose to go out on their own terms rather than take responsibility and punishment for their actions).

Adolf Hitler was a person who chose to go out on his own terms rather than face the judgment of the world, and believe it or not, a Pennsylvania couple has named their son Adolf Hitler Campbell.  In my opinion, as a child custody evaluator, that’s abusive.  Obviously, growing up with such idiotic, hateful parents is going to make it almost a miracle if the kid turns out to be a functional adult American, but that name is going to add to his difficulties in so many ways that his personality/identity development likely will be affected by it.  It’s functionally no different from sending the kid to school in a t-shirt that says, “beat me up,” which makes it likely to be both emotionally and physically harmful to the child.  Hopefully, now that this has made national news, Pennsylvania’s child protective services will keep a watchful eye on this poor little boy and his nutty parents.  On a positive note, there has been research on the effects of ridiculous names on children, and such a name does not necessarily doom a child to a life full of failure.  That research confirms that the “parenting” he’ll get from parents who would name a kid Adolf Hitler is likely to be a much greater barrier to his success in life than the name, which he of course can change as an adult.  Nevertheless, plenty of kids whose parents gave them crazy names have gone on to lead successful lives, so hopefully this boy will develop a reactionary drive to distance himself from the ignorance of his parents — hopefully.

Competency commentary 12/13/08

I may surprise some people here, because as much as I believe that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a disgrace to his office, and as much as I think he should resign that office immediately, I’m uneasy about the Illinois attorney general’s request that the state Supreme Court declare Blagojevich unfit to serve due to a “disability.”  The Illinois state constitution provides for the removal of a governor if that governor becomes unable to carry out his or her duties because of death, impeachment, or a disability, but I’m not sure what the disability here would be.  It would have to be a mental disability, as that’s really the only kind of disability that would disqualify someone from governing, and there are really only two kinds of mental disabilities that would result in a governor’s incapacity:  1) a mental condition that makes it impossible for the governor to perceive, process, and communicate information effectively, such as dementia, perhaps from a stroke, or psychosis, or obviously, complete unconsciousness, such as a coma, and 2), duress (as dramatized in the movie Air Force One, in which the President of the United States and his family are held hostage, and the President orders the release of a jailed terrorist, whereupon the cabinet considers whether to declare him temporarily-incapacitated by duress).  As an expert who’s called upon from time to time to determine whether people are competent to do certain things (e.g. stand trial, make a will, manage their finances, etc.), I’m not getting how Blagojevich is incapacitated by a disability at this point.  If he suffers from a debilitating mental illness, something chronic or recurrent or some acute reaction to all of the stress he’s under, I haven’t heard about it, and I think that the possibility of him being under duress was actually greater before his scandalous behavior became public (because at least until last week, he would’ve been extremely vulnerable to blackmail by anyone who knew about his corrupt dealings).  I think it’s important to keep in mind here that whether someone should be carrying out the duties of governor and whether that person is mentally-capable of carrying out those duties are two separate questions.  As I’ve said, I certainly don’t think Blagojevich should be carrying out the duties of governor at this point, but that determination has been delegated to the people of Illinois through their elected representatives and the impeachment process, not to the judiciary.  If courts start asserting the power to remove public officials from their jobs for lack of public trust, then any public official who makes unpopular decisions and has low public-approval numbers could be subject to removal from office.  Similarly, if courts start asserting the power to remove public officials from their jobs because probable cause exists to believe that crimes have been committed, it seems to me like those public officials will no longer be “innocent until proven guilty.”  In either case, the power seems like one that could be easily manipulated and abused (a partisan prosecutor could make criminal allegations against an adverse public official and thereby create a “disability” that a sympathetic court could use to remove the official from office without adjudicating the truth of the allegations).  In the opinion of this psychologist and lawyer, unless there’s evidence of debilitating mental illness or duress, if the governor won’t take the high road and bow out on his own, then removing him from office is the job of legislators, not judges.

Odds and ends 12/11/08

First, the odds:

Some very odd ideas about preventing dropouts by eliminating F’s in our nation’s schools and what those odd ideas say about our culture are the subjects of my column on WorldNetDaily today.

In an odd “study this,” a new study revealed that people were more successful at losing weight when they were paid to do it.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a study like this.  Similar findings have been made with people trying to quit using drugs.  It’s also not a big surprise that you can give someone some extrinsic motivation and get them more motivated than they were if all they had before was some weak intrinsic motivation.  The important thing that this study affirms is that weight loss is within people’s control!  While we’re on that subject, Oprah Winfrey spoke candidly in the media this week about her history of weight gain and loss over the years.  I’d actually like to commend Ms. Winfrey because, at least in all the quotes I’ve heard, she’s never said that her weight is some kind of disease that’s beyond her control.  In all of her quotes that I’ve heard regarding her weight, she’s taken personal responsibility for it and acknowledged that she has the power to change it when she wants to badly enough.  (She reportedly has mentioned that a thyroid problem makes it more difficult for her to regulate her weight than it otherwise might be, but I haven’t heard her say that the thyroid issue makes it impossible for her to regulate her weight.  In fact, she has said that she’s ashamed of her weight, thyroid problem notwithstanding.)

President-Elect Barack Obama spoke recently about his cabinet picks, and he used a term that I discuss in the college course that I teach, “groupthink.”  Obama said that he’s picking an ideologically-diverse group of cabinet secretaries to avoid “groupthink” within the cabinet.  “Groupthink” is a phenomenon that occurs when members of highly-cohesive, highly-homogenous groups start to prioritize acceptance from their fellow group members more than being right, and the group as a whole then starts to prioritize consensus over leadership.  When I think about a hot-button issue like coercive terrorist interrogation measures, I’m not sure that there won’t still be “groupthink” among Obama’s cabinet picks so far, all but one of whom appear to me to favor collectivist and Keynesian economic policies and globalist, non-exceptionalist foreign policies.  Other than Defense Secretary Gates, I’d expect everyone in the room to be against coercive interrogation, so in that case, the burden of countering “groupthink” is likely to fall entirely on Gates’ shoulders, making him the “odd man out.”

Now, the ends:

While we’re on the subject of politics, you’ve probably heard that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by the feds this week for multiple alleged instances of corruption over a period of years, culminating recently in an effort to “sell” the appointment of a replacement for Obama in the U.S. Senate.  Think back to Bill Clinton, Mark Foley, Paul Morrison here in Kansas, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, and on and on.  The question is always:  “How can these guys be smart enough to get where they are in life and stupid enough to jeopardize it all so unnecessarily?”  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it all comes down to narcissism.  As I’ve said many times, these people need to have a little narcissism, exceptionally-healthy self-confidence at least, in order to believe that they deserve to lead their states or their country in the first place.  Then, once they get into office, they surround themselves with “yes” men and women, bask in all the deference and adulation that they get, and their narcissism rises to a level at which they’re able to rationalize and justify almost anything they want to do.  Thankfully for the people of Illinois, Blagojevich’s political career has reached its end.

Lastly tonight, what appears to be a sad, if not unexpected, end — the body of a deceased little girl has been found in Florida, and at this hour, all indications are that it is the body of little Caylee Anthony, missing since the summer.  Casey Anthony, in jail awaiting trial for Caylee’s murder, apparently reacted hysterically and had to be sedated upon hearing the news, but given the extreme self-focus she’s exhibited throughout this case, it’s tough to tell what that means.  It seems equally, if not more, likely that her tears were brought on by the discovery of incriminating evidence against her than by the dashing of hopes for her daughter’s safe return.  Nevertheless, Casey is such a bad liar that she doesn’t seem like the typical stone-cold psychopath who could plan and perpetrate the flat-out murder a two-year-old for convenience purposes (and remember that she reportedly didn’t even consider abortion even though she knew during her pregnancy that she might not be the best mother for Caylee).  At this point, I still think that a combination of intended consequences (perhaps sedation) and unintended consequences (perhaps a sedative-related overdose, suffocation, or fall) brought about the heartbreaking end of this little girl’s life.

Study this 12/8/08

Four new studies to start the week:

1)  Good bosses are good listeners, right?  Well, apparently not always.  A new study found that some of the most effective bosses (not clear exactly how that was determined) get that way by tuning employees out, at least emotionally.  Basically, the study found that bosses who were able to separate emotion from rationality and base major decisions almost-exclusively on rationality tended to make more effective decisions.

2)  Another new study suggests that people without Attention Deficit Disorder could benefit from taking psychostimulants like Ritalin while working or studying.  Follow the money on this one.  If someone’s cerebral cortex is functioning normally, I see absolutely no reason to recommend artificially enhancing its functioning, especially when negative side effects are possible, other than the enrichment of the drug manufacturers (and of this study’s authors I’ll bet).  The worst thing about this study, particularly as we approach final exams at the end of an academic semester, is that it may encourage more high school and college students to engage in the already-rampant (and criminal!) distribution and sale of prescription psychostimulants in schools (sometimes intended to “help” recipients study but more often for recreational use).

3)  There’s another new study suggesting that traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan are causing serious negative long-term effects on the psychological functioning of U.S. veterans.  If you’re a regular reader, this will come as no surprise to you because I’ve written a lot about our veterans’ needs for better mental and brain health care.  This study gives us yet another reason to be concerned about the job that the military and the V.A. are doing of identifying t.b.i. victims quickly, treating them expertly, and following them closely.

4)  Lastly today, a new study found significant deficits in the functioning of “poor” children’s brains relative to “middle-class” children’s brains.  Specifically, the “poor” kids’ language and attention skills were not as well-developed as those of “middle-class” kids by the same ages.  The study also found that the identified deficits in functioning could be eliminated or diminished greatly through intensive instruction, which indicates to me that the cognitive deficits are largely the results of experiential deficits, like deficits in parental examples of proper oral and written language skills, in parental efforts to encourage and stimulate intellectual interests and achievements, and in parents’ behavioral expectations for the “poor” kids.


Simpson sentenced 12/5/08

You’ve probably heard, but O.J. Simpson, age 61, received what could amount to a life sentence from a Nevada judge on Friday.  He won’t be eligible for parole for nine years, and he could spend more than 30 years in prison for the robbery/kidnapping of some sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas last year.  Simpson gave a tearful speech before his sentencing, saying that he was sorry for his actions and that he didn’t realize he was doing anything illegal.  Was he sincere?  Yes, I think so — sincerely not wanting to go to prison.  I saw signs that the speech was rehearsed, and afterward, Simpson’s attorney acknowledged that it was.  Sociopathic people are usually very good at seeming sincere, and on top of that, Simpson has movie and t.v. experience, so he’s probably more capable than most of making a rehearsed speech look sincere and spontaneous.  Like I said about Joran van der Sloot a couple of weeks ago, O.J. was going to continue causing trouble until he was literally caged, and now he has been, for a long time.  (I did think it was a little weird that the judge felt the need to expressly state that she wasn’t sentencing Simpson for anything in his past.  It’s her duty to act in accordance with the law and judicial ethics, and the fact that she gave O.J. far less time in the slammer than she could have affirmed that she wasn’t biased toward him, so the mere mention of anything to the contrary seemed to raise the question of bias unnecessarily.)

Now, just a few updates on other stories as we head into the weekend:  A plea bargain has reportedly been offered to the eight-year-old charged with murder in Arizona that would keep him in juvenile detention until adulthood.  Psychological evaluations reportedly remain ongoing, and no decision has been made about whether the deal will be accepted.

Also tonight, there’s another case of teenage girls texting naked photos of themselves to boys at their school, and instead of telling their daughters to accept their suspensions from the cheerleading squad, the parents are…you guessed it, suing.  Sadly, I wrote about almost that exact same parental reaction in an almost-identical case last year, and in both cases, given the parenting, it’s no surprise that these girls are off-track in life.

You may have heard that there’s an atheist display mocking religion next to a nativity scene in the Washinton State Capitol building, and the governor there has said she had no choice but to allow it because the Supreme Court has prohibited government regulation of religious displays.  No, wrong, while the governor may have had legal trouble if she had prohibited any display by the atheists, she certainly didn’t have to allow them, or any group, to put up a display that’s derogatory toward any other group.


Lastly, a very brief “study this”:  A new study suggests that happy people have happy friends.  Most of the media is reporting this as evidence that happiness is “contagious,” but it’s not really clear whether hanging around with happy people actually makes people happy or happy people just seek each other out.

Have a good weekend, and be happy!

Another non-epidemic 12/3/08

Just hours after I last wrote about a study overblowing the prevalence of mental illness among young people, we get a similar study, this one saying that teens are increasingly engaging in parasuicidal (self-harm) behaviors involving the insertion of objects beneath their skin.  That seemed alarming to me, so in a deja vu of yesterday, I looked into it further.  Guess how many teens were involved in this newly-released study.  Nine.  Not 9,000 or 900 — 9.  Self-mutilation, whether it be cutting oneself, burning oneself, or this rare “self-embedding,” is a sign of very serious mental problems (usually indicating an effort to convert emotional pain into physical pain, sometimes but not necessarily accompanied by suicidal intentions) worthy of immediate clinical intervention, but here again, thankfully, it’s not an epidemic.  The vast majority of parents don’t need to be running metal detectors over their teens’ skin after school this afternoon.

Study this 12/2/08

A new study suggests that up to half of American college students are diagnosable with at least one mental disorder.  As a psychologist and an adjunct faculty member at a major university with over 25,000 students, hundreds of whom take my course every semester, I was shocked by that.  So, I looked into it further and guess what I found.  The most prevalent “disorder” identified in the study, accounting for more than half of all potential “diagnoses,” was…alcohol abuse.  If you’re a regular reader, then you know what’s coming next.  The study’s bogus in my opinion because I don’t think substance abuse should be considered a mental disorder in the first place.  People certainly can and do suffer from serious mental disorders during their college years, but when you take alcohol abuse out of the mix, the percentage is way below 50, just as I thought.  The next largest category of diagnoses after substance abuse was personality disorder, of which there are 10 subtypes:  Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal, Histrionic, Borderline, Narcissistic, Antisocial, Avoidant, Dependent, and Obsessive-Compulsive (similar to OCD but less-severe and more pervasive).  My dissertation was on the assessment of personality disorders — pervasive, dysfunctional patters of thinking, feeling, and behaving — and one of the essential diagnostic criteria is that a person must be experiencing significant distress or impairment attributable to his/her personality patterns.  Interestingly, the study noted that few of the supposed “personality disorder” sufferers have ever sought any kind of assistance in changing their personalities, which isn’t really unusual (many people who have personality disorders don’t realize that it’s their personalities that are causing them problems, especially interpersonal problems), but given the relatively large percentage of college students found to be “diagnosable,” I have to wonder how strictly the diagnostic criteria were applied.  While I don’t doubt that we have a large percentage of American college students drinking too much, I’m not convinced that we have an epidemic of mental illness on campus.

P.S.  We now know that the Arkansas newswoman brutally beaten to death several weeks ago was both robbed and sexually assaulted, but I’m still waiting for some explanation for the kind of rage that apparently drove the attacker to beat her nearly beyond recognition.  The alleged assailant is in custody, so hopefully, eventually, we’ll find out what was going on in his mind at the time of this horrific crime.  Also tonight, there’s apparently another “dungeon” case in which a malnourished and barely-clothed 17-year-old reportedly escaped from a California couple who were raising four other kids and leading what appeared on the surface to be a “normal” family life (get this — the mother was a Girl Scout leader!).  Sometimes even I don’t know what’s left to say about such people — yes, they’re sick, but no, their acts can’t be blamed on mental illness.  These kinds of well-planned, well-hidden, horrifically-heinous acts are just pure (I know some of you hate this term, sorry)…evil.

Study this…kids 12/2/08

This edition of “Study this” is all about kids.

In a new national survey of U.S. high school students, 30% of respondents admitted that they had stolen something from a store in the past year, and 64% of respondents admitted that they had cheated on a test in the past year.  What’s worse is that 93% of respondents said they felt good about themselves.  So, we’ve got kids behaving horribly and still feeling good about themselves.  Hopefully we can all agree now that the whole self-esteem thing has been way, way, way overdone in our schools!

Also tonight, a new meta-analysis (consolidation) of over 170 studies conducted since 1980 confirms what good moms have been saying for years, that spending too many hours watching television, playing video games, and/or surfing the Internet is bad for kids.  The analysis found strong correlations between hours of media exposure and obesity, tobacco use, and promiscuity.  Shocking, I know.

Deja vu? 12/1/08

When I heard these next two stories, Dionne Warwick’s “Deja Vu” came to mind.

Actress Winona Ryder apparently borrowed jewelry valued at $80,000+ to wear to an event, never returned it, and now claims to have “lost” it.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because Ryder shoplifted over $5,000 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue back in 2001.

Also, NFL star Plaxico Burress apparently carried a concealed handgun into a nightclub without a license, stupid move number one, and then accidentally shot himself in the leg, stupid move number two.  If this and the preceding story sound familiar, you may be thinking of a previous post that you read right here entitled “Stupidity + money = trouble.”

Finally, Iowa mother Michelle Kehoe pleaded not guilty to slitting her two son’s throats in late October, killing the two-year-old and leaving the seven-year-old in critical condition.  Police say that the murder and attempted murder were well-planned, committed using a blade and duct tape purchased well in advance, and that Kehoe initially said a stranger attacked her and the children, a story which was later found to have been written out by Kehoe beforehand.  If this sounds familiar, you may be recalling Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in a bathtub in Texas several years ago, was found guilty of murder in trial number one, and was then found not guilty by reason of insanity in trial number two.  I thought that Yates’ first jury got it right, and this Kehoe case is an opportunity to reiterate that just because someone is mentally-ill, which Yates and Kehoe both probably were/are, doesn’t mean they’re not guilty of criminal acts that they commit.  If they know that certain acts are criminal, which Yates and Kehoe both probably did/do know, and they commit those acts anyway, they must be found guilty.  In Kehoe’s case, it looks to me like a lot of prior planning went into her actions and attempt to cover those actions up, which suggests that she knew the acts were criminal, which suggests that (assuming she committed the acts in question) she’s guilty, whether she’s totally sane or not.  In addition, if you’re from Iowa or Illinois, the name Kehoe might sound familiar for a different reason.  About a year ago, Kehoe’s car “accidentally” careened off a road and into an icy river, whereupon some heroic bystanders dove into the frigid water and pulled Kehoe and her two children to safety.  When you put it all together, it sounds very possible to me that Kehoe’s been thinking about ways to eliminate those kids, for whatever reason, since all the way back then.



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