Another preventable tragedy involving children 2/25/08
This mother who killed her three kids on Monday after repeated criminal convictions, repeated reports of child and drug abuse, and repeated pleas for a NY family court to reconsider custody of the children, is the ultimate example of the “system” ignoring blatant warning signs and erring on the side of a demonstrably-dangerous, mentally-disturbed individual’s “rights” rather than on the side of public safety. As you know, I’ve been pointing this out after every school shooting and numerous other cases including the recent Kirkwood, MO city council meeting shooting. This new NY case is also the ultimate illustration of the need for judges to order custodial parents whose mental status is in question (e.g. Britney Spears, but not just the wealthy ones) to submit to examinations by psychologists and to take those psychologists’ recommendations very seriously in deciding custody issues.
Valentine’s Day Massacre 2008 2/15/08
You’ve probably heard that there was another horrific mass shooting at a school on Thursday, this one in a large classroom at Northern Illinois University. Currently six people are confirmed dead, including the shooter, who apparently was a former student at the university, and 16 others are injured. As terrible as it is, it’s tough to know what to say about it. I feel like I’ve said it all before, and if you watch the shows I’m on or if you read this blog, you’ve probably heard or read it all before. I guess that’s really the big picture, isn’t it? This has happened so many times that it’s become almost routine, and that does not bode well for America. As always, I predict that as we learn more about the shooter, it will become apparent that there were both ample warning signs of his dangerousness and ample opportunities to get that cowardly little piece of human debris out of society long before yesterday. I also predict that we’ll learn that he made some kind of twisted connection between his shooting spree and the original St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that occurred in Chicago back in 1929, kind of like the human debris that flew planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 but with a different motivation. These emo, brooding, morose types like the Columbine shooters, the Virginia Tech shooter, and apparently this Northern Illinois shooter, think they’re so creative, so deep, so profound, when they’re mostly just self-absorbed little creeps who get about as much attention as they’re worth — zero — until they do something like this. If this guy wanted to leave the world, why didn’t he kill just himself? Why did he have to take other people out with him? Probably because he was angry, and because he was angry, he decided that he had the right to unleash his anger on his former schoolmates, or on his fellow citizens, or on humankind, or whatever. People will probably talk about how “mentally ill” the shooter was, so this is probably a good time to reiterate an important point about the relationship between mental illness and crime. Mental illness, if present, can make a person want to do a bad thing, but when that person actually does the bad thing, and the person is aware that he/she is doing it, that person is making a choice for which he/she should be held fully accountable. I do have one new observation to make in the context of this case, and it has to do with what could have been done to stop yesterday’s massacre before so many people were killed and injured, if not prevent it altogether. I teach a large lecture course as an adjunct professor at the University of Kansas, and the auditorium where yesterday’s massacre took place sounds similar to the one where my class meets. Even though Kansas and many other states license citizens to carry concealed firearms, licensees still are prohibited from carrying their weapons into school buildings, including universities. I think that needs to be changed. If the professor teaching the class in which yesterday’s massacre took place had been carrying a gun, I believe it is highly likely that the shooter could have been stopped cold before he could fire nearly as many shots as he fired, hurt nearly as many people as he hurt, and kill as many people as he killed. If we’re going to have a country where people walk into classrooms and start shooting from time to time, it seems to me that we need to give at least one person in each of those classrooms a fighting chance to defend themselves and others.
Death Row Valentines 2/14/08
Caution: If you’re feeling blue because you didn’t get a Valentine in the mail today, this might make you feel worse. As crazy as it sounds (and is), some of America’s most notorious murderers have “groupies” who send them cards and letters throughout the year, not just on Valentine’s Day. Believe it or not, serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy both formed “committed relationships” with women while the men were on Death Row. Even more unbelievable, both “Hillside Stranglers” (serial killers in California in the 1970’s), both Menendez brothers (killed their parents in ’89), and the “Night Stalker” (a serial killer in California in the late 1980’s) all have gotten married to women they’ve met through the mail while in prison. And reportedly, Scott Peterson (killed his wife Laci and their unborn child in California — what’s wrong with that state anyway? — in 2002) is inundated with mail sent to his Death Row address by female admirers. Now, if this really is making you feel worse about not getting a Valentine, here’s why you should really feel better: No matter how lonely, how inadequate, how desperate for affection you may feel on this Valentine’s Day, it probably doesn’t come close to the feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, and desperation that the women who fall for these disgusting human beings feel. Why would any woman fall for a serial killer on Death Row? It’s probably a combination of loneliness, desire for attention (“shock value” with family members), extremely low self-esteem (these guys pay attention to them — what else do they have to do in jail? — and make the women feel like rescuers), and the women’s ability to exert control in the relationship (e.g. when they communicate, etc. — at least until the women fall completely under the emotional control of their psychopathic boyfriends, who are masters at manipulating vulnerable people). So, if you’re a little blue this Valentine’s Day, I think the chances are very high that you’ll feel better (probably tomorrow) and find a yourself in a healthy romantic relationship long before these women will be mentally healthy individuals. See, I wouldn’t leave you hanging. Feel better now? Hope so. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Major-league liars 2/13/08
Since Wednesday’s televised Congressional hearing on rampant steroid abuse in Major League Baseball, people have been asking me whether I believed legendary pitcher Roger Clemens’ denials of steroid use. No, I didn’t. But my favorite moment of the hearing was when Rep. Chris Shays called Clemens’ trainer, Brian McNamee, a drug dealer. McNamee responded, “That’s your opinion,” whereupon Shays asked him whether he had sold drugs (“Yes”), whether those drugs were all legal (“No”), and how, given those answers, McNamee could possibly deny that the term “drug dealer” applied to him (no answer). Shays let it go at that point, but I wouldn’t have — I would’ve gone back and made that defiant dirtbag speak his answer to the question “So were you, or were you not, a drug dealer?” into the Congressional record, under penalty of perjury. I have no respect for either Clemens or McNamee. They’re both lying jerks in my opinion.
Is it real, or is it South Park? 2/12/08
Unfortunately, this is real, but it easily could be an episode of the irreverent cartoon series that makes fun of even the most controversial social issues. A Colorado elementary school is allowing a male second-grader to wear girls’ clothing, be called by a girl’s name, and use unisex restrooms (created for him) rather than the boys’ restrooms in the building, all of this apparently because the child’s parents claim that he has “Gender Identity Disorder” (the persistent and pervasive belief that one is a member of the opposite sex despite his/her anatomy) and wants to be “transgendered” (live as a member of the opposite sex). This is insane on several levels. I feel very sorry for the kid, who’s obviously very confused at this point in his young life. (In the interest of full disclosure, I tend to believe that Gender Identity Disorder — a real disorder in the DSM-IV-TR, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders — is a psychological condition more than a neuro-physiological one, but my mind is open to the possibility that there are incredibly rare cases in which brains wired to function as females end up in male skulls and vice versa.) But this kid is seven years old! In my opinion, he’s way too young to fully know, let alone fully articulate, exactly what and how he feels. As I see it, no seven-year-old is competent to make the very adult decision to be transgendered! Maybe he’ll grow up still wanting to be a woman, maybe he won’t, but he hasn’t even gone through puberty yet! So, while I accept that he says he wants to be a girl, I completely disagree that the right course of action is to go ahead and start treating him as one at the age of seven. I’d also like to know what role the parents of this kid have played in reaching the conclusion that their son is truly a daughter “trapped” in a little boy’s body. What if one (or both) of the parents has serious mental issues and is getting something out of having a child with a rare and attention-grabbing disorder (it happens)? Even if not, what if the kid wanted to be Mickey Mouse? Would these parents send him to school in a pair of mouse ears and tell all of the teachers to start calling him Mickey? Even in adults diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, the recommended approach to treatment is to exercise extreme caution before doing anything that might have irreversible consequences (the standard protocol in the United States is to have them undergo extensive psychological evaluation and dress/live as members of the opposite sex for a solid year before ever starting the hormone treatments that initiate permanent sex-change procedures). If it turns out that this kid’s psychological condition changes in a couple of years (keep in mind that his brain has a lot of development left to do) and he wants to attend school as a boy again, how easy is that going to be after a few years of these “accommodations”? I’m a lawyer, so I understand about students’ legal rights to be safe and be educated regardless of mental and physical limitations in the public school system, but I also believe that the needs of the individual student must be weighed against the needs of the majority of students. For example, I don’t believe that a student who can’t keep from shouting out nonsensical sounds should be “mainstreamed” into a classroom full of students who will then be expected to learn in that distraction-filled environment. Similarly, I don’t believe that this “transgendered” second-grader’s classmates and their parents should have to wrestle with the very adult issue of gender identity while the kids are seven (or eight, or nine, or ten…). Admittedly, I haven’t examined this kid or his parents, but based on what’s been reported in the media, here’s what I’d do. If I were in charge of the agency responsible for making sure kids’ needs are met in their community, I would get a court order for a comprehensive psychological evaluation of both parents and the child to try to determine how much of this is originating from the parent(s), how much is originating within the child, and what the child truly needs to be as safe and healthy as possible at this point in his life and in the foreseeable future. Then I’d hook the kid and parents up with the best psychotherapeutic services available in the community to help them figure out how best to address and cope with the child’s changing, or unchanging, feelings over time. If I were in charge of the school, I would tell the parents (and have them explain to the child) that it’s ok for people to feel uncomfortable in their bodies, but students who have boys’ bodies still need to wear boys’ clothes to school and answer to their actual names (if unisex restrooms already existed, I’d let this kid and any other kid use them, but I wouldn’t build or remodel restrooms just because this kid is uncomfortable using a restroom that says “boys” on the door). If the parents didn’t like that, I’d offer the school’s assistance in obtaining resources like textbooks, tests, etc. if they wanted to home-school their child. I think my approach would address both the needs of the “transgendered” student and his peers far better than the approach that his parents and school are taking. A second-grade boy going to school in drag — seriously, have we not fallen completely through the looking glass here? When it’s tough to tell reality from South Park, you know it’s gotten bad.
Isolated incident or sign of bad times? 2/11/08
The past week was a week of shootings: one last weekend at a Lane Bryant clothing store in the Chicago area where a gunman shot five women, another last Thursday in the Los Angeles area where a gunman killed three family members and a SWAT officer and wounded another officer before a police sniper took him out, another on Thursday in Kirkwood, MO where a gunman shot five people at a City Council meeting, and another on Friday in Louisiana where a student at Louisiana Technical College shot two fellow students and then committed suicide right in the middle of a classroom, and one last night at a very atypical, very trashy, very problematic bar right here in Lawrence, KS where a gunman shot three people. The Chicago and Lawrence gunmen are still at large. The Los Angeles and Kirkwood gunmen had histories of crazy behavior and, as in many such cases, probably should have been disarmed and forcibly isolated long before they had their chances to kill people. But the shooting I want to focus on tonight is the one in Louisiana, where the shooter and both victims were all…women. When’s the last time you remember a woman going on a shooting spree? Think of all of the unfortunate school shootings you can recall over the past several years — all male shooters, right? Anytime something happens for the first time (at least in recent memory), it’s tough to tell whether it’s an isolated incident or a sign of the times, so I’ll just tell you what I’m thinking and let you think about it too. In the past year, we’ve seen video after video of middle and high school girls beating the living daylights out of other girls. That didn’t happen, at least not regularly, when I was in school. Dudes did it occasionally, but girls did it only very rarely, and when they did, everyone thought they were trashy. Now it’s become an alarmingly routine story. Wonder if this is a trend — girls and women becoming more violently aggressive. We’ve definitely seen women becoming more sexually aggressive. Think of how many stories we’ve done in the past couple of years about female middle and high school teachers who’ve had sex with their underage male students. We used to hear about that sort of thing happening occasionally between male high school teachers and coaches and underage female students, but the female perpetrators are a fairly new phenomenon. Last spring, Shauntay Henderson was taken into custody not far from here in Kansas City, accused of committing cold-blooded murder and being the leader — that’s right, the leader — of a street gang. A female street gang leader is a relatively new one too. And now we have a school shooting with a female student walking right into a classroom with a .357, gunning down two other female students, and then turning the gun on herself. If police have determined the motive in that shooting, they haven’t announced it yet, but I’m looking at it in the context of those other trends that I mentioned and wondering what it all might mean. If women are becoming more aggressive, abusively and violently aggressive, and perpetrating traditionally-male abusive and violent behaviors with increasing frequency, what might explain it? Could our popular culture have something to do with it? Could it be that treating women as objects, unworthy of any kind of elevated dignity, at some point starts to numb that instinct that historically has caused both men and women to react more negatively and viscerally when they see women abused than when they see men abused? Could it be that women at some point even stop seeing themselves as worthy of great physical as well as interpersonal respect? And if the answers to those questions are affirmative, where are we headed as a culture? Stay tuned.
The “D” Team? 2/10/08
Remember “The A Team”? “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A Team.” Basically Mr. T and three other dudes rode around in a big black van helping victims of various injustices by blowing and shooting stuff up. It was classic 80’s t.v. in the tradition of The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider. Why am I mentioning this? It occurred to me that we’ve now had Bobby Cutts (from the Jessie Davis case last summer), Ceasar Laurean (from the recent Maria Lauterbach case), and Joran van der Sloot (from the Natalee Holloway case) all say that they were “just disposing” of the bodies of women with whom they’d recently had sex — none of these guys had anything to do with the women’s deaths of course. Yeah, right. Looks like we’ve got a new fad among murder suspects, the “disposal defense.” So, it made me think of these three guys getting together and forming “The D Team” — “If you just happen to come across a random dead body, if no one else can help you dispose of it, and if you can get them out of prison (where they’ll hopefully all end up), maybe you can hire The D Team.” Ok, that’s lame, I know, but not nearly as lame as these guys’ stories (and it is 4:30 a.m.).
Falling stars 2/9/08
On last night’s O’Reilly Factor, we talked about stars like Owen Wilson who’ve fallen into deep, even suicidal, depressions despite the public perception that they “have it all.” In that segment and in my previous post, “The pursuit of happiness,” I explained that I think it happens because these stars are often extremely inwardly-focused, pursuing happiness as an end rather than a byproduct of pursuing other important ends, and lacking meaning in their lives. I just want to add that I think it’s sad because I believe what they do is meaningful if they’d just get away from the mirror and the substances long enough to put it in perspective. Through their talent (and I use that word loosely in some cases), they enable many of their fellow Americans to escape from hectic, stressful routines for a few minutes or hours and relax, laugh, get excited, etc. I think that has very significant meaning, but seeing the meaning requires focusing on what the performance does for others rather than what it does for the performer him/herself.
Ledger’s death ruled “accidental” 2/6/08
The New York Medical Examiner has ruled actor Heath Ledger’s death “accidental.” The official cause of death: an overdose of multiple prescription medications including two sleep agents (so not an overdose of sleeping pills alone, as the media had reported initially). Toxicology apparently revealed that Ledger had, at least, two narcotic analgesics (pain-killers), two benzodiazapine anxiolitics (anti-anxiety meds), and the two sedatives all in his bloodstream at the time of his death, but none in a concentration high enough to indicate (at least not definitively) an intent to overdose. If his death was in fact accidental, it underscores the dangers in having mini-bars of prescription drugs in home medicine cabinets (multiple powerful and/or incompatible drugs, often obtained deceptively from different doctors and pharmacies) and not using all prescription medications under the direction of a single competent physician who’s aware of everything a patient is taking.
How to raise an O.J. 2/5/08
If you want to see what O.J. Simpson probably was like as a teenager, just watch the video of Joran van der Sloot that’s all over t.v. and the Internet. He’s the kid we all hated in school — the one who did whatever he wanted, knowing that his parents (and in O.J.’s case, coaches) would save him from any negative consequences. It doesn’t excuse his behavior in the Holloway case at all, but look at the parenting, or lack thereof, that van der Sloot had — he was running around at all hours on school nights during high school drinking, doing drugs, gambling, and having sex with strangers, and his parents either condoned it or were oblivious to it. Then, when he got into trouble, the parents jumped to his defense, talking about what a “good kid” he was and how he deserved “compensation” from the Aruban authorities. According to van der Sloot, he saw (or thought he saw) another human being die right in front of him, and what went through his mind? “Why is this happening to ME?” He admits on the tape that he was more concerned with disposing of Holloway’s body to keep himself out of trouble than he was with making sure that she was even dead, and I believe him. (By the way, I think that’s an admission that he was willing to dump, and thought he may have been dumping, a living, unconscious human being into the ocean to drown, and I think it warrants a more severe charge than simply disposing of a corpse, which should still be a “lesser included” charge.) I try to point out lessons because I think they’re often the only good that can come from sad cases like Holloway’s. So, parents, when there’s no structure, when there’s no discipline, when there are no behavioral expectations at home, you end up with an antisocial, sociopathic, narcissistic little punk who thinks he (or she) is entitled to whatever he (or she) wants. That punk then grows into an antisocial, sociopathic, narcissistic adult like Simpson, and we all know how dangerous that can be.
Yes, “give her more” (psych treatment) 2/4/08
Britney Spears’ doctors have invoked a provision of California law that allows an initial 72-hr. involuntary psych hospitalization to be extended by up to 14 days. Sounds like they’re wising up out there — maybe even reading my blog — which would be good for everyone involved.
You heard it here first! 2/3/08
In case you missed it amid all the Superbowl hype, Dutch t.v. aired a tape on Sunday of Joran van der Sloot, chief suspect in the Natalee Holloway case, explaining what happened the night the Alabama teen disappeared in Aruba in 2005. English translations of the transcript are all over the Internet. Once you’ve seen what he said, take a look back at my post, “Holloway case closed,” from Dec. 20, 2007, where I presented my theory of the case and my rationale for it. You heard it here first!
Oops, she’s in there again… 2/1/08
…Britney Spears, back in the psych ward as of Thursday morning on a 72-hr. hold (suicide watch basically). Hey hospital staff, how about keeping her the whole time this time?