Archive: January 2009

Wrapping up the week 1/31/09

Casey Anthony was back in court on Friday for a procedural hearing.  This time she was dressed like Lilith Crane from Cheers (conservative suit, hair in a bun) and appeared to be taking things somewhat more seriously than she has in the past.  Her attorney’s motion to disqualify the prosecution for reporting alleged fee improprieties (like a book deal and/or contingency fee arrangement with Casey) to the Florida bar was denied, as I predicted it would be on the air earlier in the week.  I will say that if, after investigating, the bar finds that Baez did nothing wrong and that the report was based on nothing but speculation in the media, then the reporting party(ies) should be sanctioned.  We don’t do enough in this country to punish people who make false accusations, which in my opinion, are often every bit as bad as the falsely-alleged conduct would’ve been.  Filing that motion in the first place showed some inexperience I think (he’s only been practicing for about three years), but at trial, Casey will also have the experience of Linda Kenney-Baden on her defense team, so I’m not really concerned about an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel appeal if/when Casey’s convicted.  No date has been set for the trial, but I think it’s unlikely that it’ll start in 2009.  While it’s still a long way off, I’ll go on the record now with this about the trial:  Yes, Casey’s innocent until proven guilty, and yes, the prosecution has the burden of proving her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but I think that the burden of proof will effectively shift to Casey if jurors hear solid forensic evidence that Caylee’s deceased body was in the trunk of Casey’s car, as was a high concentration of chloroform.  I think at that point jurors will be convinced at least that aggravated child abuse occurred at Casey’s hands and resulted in the little girl’s death, which is all they need to convict Casey of felony murder.  I know some of my defense-attorney colleagues on the various programs have opined that she’ll never plead guilty to anything and that she’ll never testify, but I’m not so sure.  I think if she sees the writing on the wall that she’s going to be convicted of felony murder and spend the rest of her life in prison, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that she’ll tell a story (either to the prosecutor in a plea negotiation or in open court) that makes her guilty of lesser offenses.  For example, she could say that she had chloroformed Caylee in the past and carried chloroform in her trunk for that purpose but hadn’t administered it on that night.  She could then say that she let Caylee swim while she (Casey) went inside with a guy, came back outside later, found Caylee deceased, panicked, was afraid of getting in trouble if she called the police and saw no need to call 911 because the girl was already dead, put the body in her trunk while she thought about what to do, and when her father smelled the decomposition, she disposed of the body in a flood-prone wooded area near the family home, taped up to look like she had been kidnapped if/when the remains were found.  If she were to tell such a story, and if the prosecutor or jury believed it, she’d still be guilty of crimes (like reckless/negligent homicide, child abuse, mishandling a corpse, obstruction of justice, etc.) but might spend far less time in prison. 

Suicides among U.S. servicemen and women increased from a total of 115 in 2007 to 128 in 2008, putting their suicide rate (the number of suicides per 100,000 people) slightly higher than the comparable civilian suicide rate.  I think the increase in the past year (and in each of the past few years) is probably attributable to the fact that we’re engaged in a protracted conflict on foreign soil, which can take more and more of a psychological toll on people over time.  Still, as I’ve said here multiple times, I think soldiers and veterans definitely deserve higher-quality mental health services than they’re getting.

Did you hear about the California woman who gave birth to octuplets (that’s eight babies!) after undergoing fertility treatments?  Well guess what?  Turns out that was round two for her.  She already had six kids from round one.  And guess what else?  She’s not married, apparently has no job, and lives with her aging parents.  I’m glad she didn’t abort any of the babies during the pregnancy as some women do.  (By the way that’s called “reduction” in the fertility-medicine lingo.  Isn’t it amazing how people come up with neutral labels for killing babies and actually use those labels with straight faces?  How would you like to be “reduced”?  But I digress.)  I’m also glad, of course, that the babies survived.  What I’m disgusted by is the selfishness of this woman, and any woman who goes out and gets pregnant just because she wants a baby, as if they were puppies or something.  Sure, there are mothers out there who become single parents for various unforeseen reasons (divorces, the untimely deaths of their husbands, etc.) and are somehow able to fulfill the roles of both mom and dad for their kids, but those are women who, through extreme dedication, luck, divine help, or some combination of those, beat the odds and prevent their kids from suffering from the absence of father figures in their lives.  That’s great, but I certainly don’t recommend it!  In other words, no one should plan for a kid to be fatherless from day one, and if a woman does that, she’s not putting the kid first.  She’s putting herself first, and that stinks.  If a woman can’t find a husband and wants to be a mother, there are many orphans out there who haven’t been adopted by married couples for various reasons.  They may not be babies, but hey, parenting is a lot more than pushing a cute, attention-grabbing little “doll” around in a stroller for the first couple of years of its life.  It’s about raising a human being to be as healthy and functional an adult as possible, and the optimal way to do that is with a married father and mother who love each other and the kid, for reasons I’ve explained here before.  So when I’m in charge, we’re not going to have single jobless mothers of six kids being eligible to receive fertility treatments so they can have eight more kids that they can’t effectively support and parent.  Let’s not have single parenthood be Plan A.  How about putting kids first, having single parenthood be Plan B, and trying to use Plan B as infrequently as possible?  (Now I know that some single women of child-bearing age may be offended by this, and I’m sorry about that, but I don’t really care what they want.  I care about what’s best for kids.  Of course not every marriage works out, husbands die, divorces sometimes have to happen, etc., but that doesn’t excuse anyone from doing everything she can to give a baby the best possible chance of growing up healthy, happy, and functional.  It’s not about the women.  It’s about the kids.)

Lastly tonight, I know this blog is mainly about psychology and law, but I’d like to throw in my two cents about the “economic stimulus” legislation moving through Congress.  Was I the only one who went to history class in high school and college?  Did we not try massive government spending to get ourselves out of the Great Depression, and did it not fail, leaving the economy stagnant until real, not artificial, demand for increased productivity (in that case, war materiel for use in World War II) finally got us growing again?  Those failed spending programs were part of a package of legislation called the “New Deal.”  Maybe we should call this one the “Nude Deal,” as in the old children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in which the emperor is conned into walking the streets naked rather than admit he can’t see some bogus material that’s supposedly visible only to the wise.

Another tragic family murder-suicide 1/29/09

This time it’s in Ohio — a father apparently shot his wife and two children, then himself.  As in the recent murder-suicide in California, this guy also left a note, but its contents have not been released.  Authorities have said only that the family’s finances were not a factor in this case.  By the way, some have compared the recent murder-suicide in California to the “Santa” murder spree that ended in suicide, also in California, back on Christmas Eve, 2008, and they’re really very different cases.  The killer who dressed up as Santa last December, crashed a Christmas party, and killed his ex-wife and several members of her family was a stone-cold psychopath hell-bent on punishing the wife for leaving him — he only killed himself when it became obvious that he couldn’t elude authorities any longer.  These other two guys made no apparent efforts to harm others and then “get away with it.”  They clearly pre-meditated committing suicide and dying with their families, and they probably were either psychotic beforehand or at least on the verge of psychosis beforehand, becoming psychotic upon experiencing major stressors like the California guy’s finances.       



Anthony update, murder-suicide with a bogus martyrdom twist, and a “study this” to remember 1/27/09 Anthony update:  A Florida company that planned to release Caylee Anthony “tribute dolls” has put the release on hold.  The dolls, called “Caylee Sunshine” play “You Are My Sunshine” and do not really resemble Caylee Anthony, but if you’re like me, your initial reaction is still negative.  The company says it intended the dolls to raise awareness of missing and abused children, but to me, it looks like a clear attempt to cash in on the public’s positive feelings toward the tragically-deceased child.  Interestingly, there’s a legal argument to be made that, even though there’s not much physical likeness, the dolls still use Caylee Anthony’s image to make money, and guess who’s the only person with the legal right to license such activity at this point?  Caylee’s innocent-until-proven-guilty mother, Casey Anthony (who needs major cash to pay legal bills right now — I wouldn’t put it past her!).

A California man shot his five children, his wife, and then himself, leaving a note in which he blamed their deaths on a hospital that recently laid off both the man and the wife.  In the note, he wrote that a hospital administrator asked the couple why they showed up to work one day and suggested that they “should have blown their brains out” instead.  This supposedly occurred before the layoffs, while the couple was still employed at the hospital.  I don’t believe it.  He also claimed in his note, which he sent to local media, that his wife was in on a murder-suicide pact to kill their children and then themselves.  I don’t believe that (it would be virtually unheard-of for two parents to both be so messed up psychologically that they’d be willing to murder their five kids together), and the police apparently don’t believe it either, handling the case as a murder-suicide perpetrated by the man.  As I’ve said in similarly-tragic cases before, being laid off might’ve been “the last straw” for this guy, but it certainly wasn’t the only straw.  He clearly had much more than just financial trouble.  Layoffs alone don’t make normal people psychotic, homicidal, or suicidal.  With what little we know at this point, I wonder whether there were cultural factors in play, i.e. whether his cultural background elevated the level of stress induced by the layoffs because maybe, in his culture, inability to support one’s family is a catastrophic shame.  While it involved some calculated planning before the fact, I also see some real psychological immaturity in the “martyrdom” ploy — the attempt to make hospital administrators feel responsible for the deaths and to embarrass the hospital publicly.  It reminds me of a little kid who gets “sent to bed without supper” and soothes himself by imagining how bad his parents would feel and how bad they’d look to others if he died of hunger (only this guy was apparently psychotic enough to actually cause his death and the deaths of six other people).

Lastly tonight, study this:  New research suggests that if you’re overweight, and you cut your calorie intake, you might improve not just your physical health but also your memory.  Just one more incentive to get in shape.

Never a dull moment 1/26/09 Here are an Anthony update, a Missouri Monster update, and an alarming new “study this” to start the week:

Casey Anthony’s father, George Anthony, remains hospitalized after an apparent suicidal episode at the end of last week, even though the initial 72-hour involuntary commitment period has expired.  This suggests that he’s remaining in the hospital voluntarily — perhaps relieved by the relative peace and quiet there — because if a judge had ordered an extension of the 72-hour hold, I think we’d have heard about it.  Also, he’s 60 miles from home, so the treatment team at his current hospital is probably trying to coordinate follow-up care with professionals closer to his home before releasing him.  In the meantime, it looks like a he-said-she-said is developing (likely stoked by the defense team) between Casey Anthony and her ex-boyfriend.  The ex-boyfriend reportedly has said that Casey once joked about drugging little Caylee to sleep, but Casey’s defense team apparently is suggesting that the ex-boyfriend may actually have done it, or at least may have been the one who did a search on Casey’s computer for information about chloroform.  Doubtful (but of course I’ll keep an open mind and continue to follow the developments for you, wherever they lead).  If Casey had someone else to pin this on, I’d expect her to have tried it by now.

Remember the “Missouri Monster” — the guy who allegedly fathered four children, three of whom are now dead, with his teenage daughter?  Well his wife, who lived in the family home at the time and never dropped a dime to protect her children and grandchildren (allegedly) and is also in custody, reportedly has admitted to knowing about the incest and the pregnancies and even assisting in the delivery of the babies!  You heard it from me first — last week on Prime News and right here.  And, when asked why she stayed with the monster and never reported what was going on, guess what she’s reported to have told police?  That she was jealous of the relationship her husband had with the daughter that she (the wife) didn’t think she was good enough to find another man.  Before you feel an ounce of sympathy for the woman, consider this — consider how selfish it is for a person to be complicit in incest and in the deaths of children so that she can keep a man.  In my book, she’s about as disgusting as the monster himself!

Study this:  A new study found that common medications for ADHD apparently cause hallucinations in some children.  So now we have millions of kids getting what I believe is a bogus diagnosis in most cases and being prescribed drugs that I believe are unnecessary in most cases with side effects now including psychosis.  This is a pediatric health crisis in my opinion.  If you know of a kid who’s been harmed by these drugs, tell the family to let me know.  I’m ready to sue companies and doctors who poison children because I think some big verdicts are the only things that might stem the tide of psych meds that’s drowning America’s kids!  At the same time, parents have to stop embracing the “quick fix” and be willing to address problem behavior with fewer pills and more parenting!  (There was another new study that resulted in headlines like “Popularity is Genetic!”  Turns out the study really only found that there’s likely a genetic component to how much social interaction people prefer — i.e. whether someone is introverted or extroverted.  No bombshell there, not even a shotgun shell.)

Crazy weekend already 1/24/09

Just hours after my last post, wrapping up the week, it’s already a crazy weekend.  Here are some of the developments:

There’s nothing funny about Belgium’s “Joker.”  A 20-year-old man made up to look similar to the Joker character in last year’s Batman movie, “The Dark Knight,” went on a stabbing rampage in a Belgian infant care center, killing two babies and a nurse and wounding several other children before fleeing on a bicycle.  The “Joker” was arrested shortly thereafter with the address of at least one other infant care center on his person.  He is charged with three murders so far, with other charges expected, and he reportedly has refused to talk to Belgian police about the attacks.  Obviously tragic, this will be an interesting one to follow.  Belgian authorities have said it’s the guy’s first arrest and that he has no history of hospitalization for mental illness.  We’ll see.  As you know if you’re a regular reader, the first crazy thing a person does usually isn’t stabbing babies.

Remember David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas?  He and many of his followers died in a fiery conflagration at the cult’s compound as federal authorities surrounded and attempted to enter it back in the 1990’s.  Well, apparently the surviving members of Koresh’s family are about equally stable mentally.  His mother’s been murdered, and his aunt’s been charged.  Nice people, those Koreshes.

Remember Marcus Shrenker, the indicted investment advisor who faked his death by bailing out of a small plane, letting it crash near people’s homes, and going on the run on a hidden motorcycle, only to be tracked by authorities to a campground where he then attempted, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide?  Well, guess what?  He supposedly “can’t recall” the jump from the plane.  Don’t believe it!  If he had sustained a serious head injury during his parachute landing, that could’ve impaired his memory of the jump (probably just temporarily though), but look at all of the things he did after the landing that obviously required memory, calculation, conscious deception, etc.  This guy is bogus, but what’s interesting is that you can see him kicking back into self-preservation mode psychologically after his attempt at the ultimate escape from judgment failed.

Also, a high school football coach has been indicted for reckless homicide in the death of a player who experienced a heat stroke during practice on a hot Kentucky afternoon last season.  A grand jury found that a reasonable person in the coach’s position would’ve recognized the danger and taken action to prevent an injury/death of a player before one occurred.  Without knowing more of the particulars of this case, I just want to say that I think many kids’ sports coaches take their sports way, way too seriously and send kids the message that sports are way, way more important than they should be, relative to other aspects of life.  I think there’s a psychological reason for that.  For these guys (they’re almost always guys), the only time in their lives when they can really exert much power over a group of people is when they’re coaching kids (e.g. a teacher who’ll never be principal and doesn’t make much money but gets to boss a bunch of younger guys around on the football field at the end of the school day).  I think some of them enjoy that, use it as a way to make themselves feel tough and important, and ultimately, abuse it.  As I said, I don’t know if that happened in this Kentucky case, but I do know it’s happening, and I think it’s up to parents to stop tolerating it, stop bowing down to these idiots (e.g. don’t cancel a family trip over the holidays because “Coach” wants to have practice during the break!), and give their kids a proper perspective on the importance of sports relative to other things (hint: not the top priority — not even top-three in my book).

Wrapping up the week 1/24/09 A new development in the Anthony case that may actually qualify as a bombshell (well, maybe a shotgun shell):  It was reported on Friday that Casey Anthony’s father, George Anthony, had been taken to a hospital by police for a mental health evaluation after leaving his house with several bottles of pills, checking in to a motel 65 miles away, and sending some messages that suggested he was suicidal.  When cops arrived at the motel, Mr. Anthony apparently had not ingested any of the medications, was lucid, and went with the cops willingly.  As in most states, Florida law provides for a brief involuntary commitment period (generally no more than 72 hours) when there’s cause to believe that someone is a danger to him/herself.  It would be tough to cover or even follow this case without feeling for this guy.  He’s obviously under incredible stress, grieving a grandchild and awaiting a child’s trial for her murder, a trial at which he is likely to be called as a witness for the prosecution.  It’s also likely that his marriage is under some strain at this point and possible that he may be feeling some guilt if he believes that he could’ve done something that would’ve prevented whatever happened to little Caylee.  I don’t think he really wanted to die though.  Men who are serious about killing themselves usually pick more reliably-lethal means than pills, and as a former law enforcement officer, he knows his way around a gun.  I think his prognosis is probably good, and I’m glad to see him getting some help in dealing with what must be an overwhelmingly-stressful set of circumstances.

Also on Friday we learned of another horror show very similar to the Josef Fritzl case in Austria (the dungeon guy — I’ve written about him here).  In this new case, a man in Missouri allegedly fathered four children with his teenage daughter.  Three of those children are now believed to be dead.  The case came to light when the new owners of the family’s former home found the remains of two deceased babies sealed in coolers on the property.  The fourth child of this monster and his daughter is thankfully in protective custody, and the monster is in jail, charged so far with second-degree murder, incest, and other crimes.  This guy and Fritzl are obviously very sick individuals, but remember, a lot of concealment and covering of tracks after a crime indicates that the criminal knew that his/her actions were considered wrong.  People like these guys remind us that psychology can only go so far in explaining willful attacks on innocent people perpetrated simply for the attackers’ gratification, amusement, vengeance, etc.  Psychology might be able to help us understand, for example, why a person could want to have sex with his/her own child, but why the person would go ahead and do that, knowing it was harmful to the child and considered wrong by the society is a question that requires us to cross a line between psychology and philosophy, where we contemplate the existence of evil (or whatever you choose to label it).  I’m very happy that the woman alleged to have been this Missouri monster’s wife and to have lived in the family home at the times of these horrific crimes, possibly even assisting in the deliveries of the babies, is also in jail at this hour.  I think it’s a complete load of crap that a guy could’ve been having sex with his teenage daughter and fathering multiple children with her under the same roof with his wife and the wife knew nothing about it.  I don’t believe it.  I think these guys’ wives were complicit or at the very least enablers of their husbands’ evil, and I think they must be held accountable for any part that they played in prolonging, if not causing, the suffering of their children and grandchildren.

So as not to wrap up the week on that disgusting and morbid note, just when you thought maybe Britney Spears was thinking lucidly again, she releases a song titled “If You Seek Amy” — say that five times fast, with a pause between the syllables in “Amy.”  Radio stations across the country reportedly are refusing to play the song, and the record label apparently is scrambling to create an alternate version minus the trashy double entendre.  Still a class act, that Britney.

Have a good weekend!

3 sad stories, an Anthony update, and a new sex study 1/23/09

First off, three sad stories tonight:

1)  A female student from China has been stabbed and decapitated by a male student, also from China, on the campus of Virginia Tech.  As I said last year in the case of the berserk bus beheader in Canada, decapitation usually indicates a statement (as in the beheadings of Western hostages by terrorists in the Middle East), extreme rage, and/or psychosis.  There does appear to have been a relationship of some kind between the killer and his victim, but the details are not yet clear.  In any case, the Virginia Tech community certainly has had to deal with more than its share of tragedy recently.

2)  A woman and her baby have been found dead in the woman’s car on the side of a road under a highway overpass in the Kansas City area.  Police are saying that it appears to be a murder-suicide perpetrated by the woman, but the details are not yet clear in this case either.  If it was in fact a murder-suicide, obviously the woman’s mental status was profoundly disturbed at the time, and I’ll bet there were warning signs that she was a danger to the child.  As always, I’d like to know what those warning signs were and who missed them, more for purposes of preventing similar tragedies in the future than for purposes of condemning anyone’s failure to intervene.

3)  Remember Adolf Hitler — not the historical Hitler, but the little New Jersey kid whose idiot parents named him that?  Well, Adolf and his two siblings reportedly have been removed from their parents’ home by New Jersey child protective services pending an investigation of reported child abuse in the home.  As I said before, that name alone is abusive in my opinion.

A quick update on the Anthony case:  More evidence was made public this week, but no real bombshells.  Some in the media have focused on the fact that a sticker in the shape of a heart was found on the duct tape that appeared to have been placed over Caylee’s mouth (although it’s not clear whether the tape was placed on the girl while she was alive).  To me, it doesn’t mean that much — could’ve been placed on the tape while the tape was still on the roll; could’ve been placed there after Caylee died accidentally as some kind of weird display of love before someone (e.g. Casey) disposed of the body; could be that a woman psychopathic enough to murder her own child is also twisted enough to put heart stickers on the body; or it could be (and this is the most chilling possibility) that little Caylee transferred the sticker from somewhere else on her body to the tape while struggling to remove the tape.  Like so many other aspects of this case, it’s open to multiple interpretations, but its mere presence doesn’t really prove much one way or the other.  Now, if fingerprints can be obtained from the tape and/or the sticker, that’s a different story.  I asked a medical examiner on Issues one night whether experts will likely be able to determine when the tape was applied (while the girl was alive or after, because if it was while she was alive, that would clearly prove the aggravated child abuse necessary for a felony-murder conviction), but he said he didn’t think so.

Now, study this:  A new study suggests that women enjoy sex with wealthy men more than with poor or middle-class men.  So, might there be a physiological rather than just a materialistic explanation for gold-digging?  Problem:  The study was done in China!  I didn’t think Communists were supposed to have social classes!  I know; they do have classes; I’ve been there, but I still have my doubts about how meaningful the study’s findings are.  If anything, I tend to think it’s more the confidence that often contributes to and accompanies wealth, rather than the actual wealth, that women find so exciting.

Multiple Knoxes? 1/22/09 If you haven’t heard, American Amanda Knox is on trial for the murder of her British college roommate in Italy.  She’s accused of trying to force the roommate to participate in some bizarre sex act with her (Knox) and her (Knox’s) boyfriend and killing the roommate in the process.  Some have suggested that maybe Knox has multiple personalities — “Dissociative Identity Disorder” — one a sexually-sadistic nymphomaniac, and another, a mild-mannered college coed.  OK, no.  I’ve written about this before, so I’ll make this brief:  I don’t believe in multiple personalities; I don’t think there should be any such thing as “Dissociative Identity Disorder.”  That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who act totally different, maybe even speak with different accents, etc., at times, nor does it mean that such people are mentally-healthy (they could be psychotic, or they could be faking).  It just means that there aren’t multiple individuals sharing Knox’s body.  That’s what I think, and I agree.   

Study this 1/21/09 Two new studies tonight:

1)  Being easygoing may help you avoid dementia later in life.  A new study found that laid-back people developed dementia only 50% as often as chronically-stressed-out people did.  Just another reason not to sweat the small stuff.

2)  In another new study, women found it more difficult than men to resist the temptation to eat.  Real-time brain imaging revealed that the emotional processing centers within women’s brains responded more strongly to food than in men’s brains.  There were only 23 total participants in the study though, and the findings weren’t universal even in that small group, and even if they were, I’d still say, “So what?”  While it’s probably harder for some people than it is for others (I don’t know about it being harder for one gender in general than it is for the other) to resist food, I still say anyone of either gender who really wants to do it can do it.  Just another instance of people confusing willingness to do something with ability to do it.

The “Obama Effect” 1/19/09 Regardless of which presidential candidate each of us supported last November, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and on the eve of President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, I believe that the Obama presidency will have some very positive effects on our American socio-cultural psychology.  Two of the most notable among these effects, as I see them, will be felt most keenly by America’s black children and within the American workplace. 

As a psychologist, I believe that President Obama will be a profoundly-influential role model for American children, especially black children.  While a child certainly need not share the same race with an adult in order for the adult to serve as a role model, I think children have a tendency to identify with people who look like them, and unfortunately, in recent years, for many reasons, I’ve felt that black kids haven’t had as many positive black role models as they’ve deserved.  With notable exceptions, like Tiger Woods and Will Smith, I think some of the most visible black figures in our popular culture, athletes and entertainers predominantly, have let black children down by exemplifying behavior that’s likely to result in failure for anyone who doesn’t have their talents, and most people don’t.  Again with notable exceptions, I think hip-hop artists (black and white) have been particularly unhelpful role models because they’ve not only exhibited but often actively promoted destructive behaviors such as gang violence, drug involvement, and promiscuous sex.  I’ve heard rap moguls argue that they’re just “keeping it real,” but their example – engaging in irresponsible and unlawful behavior with few or no apparent negative consequences – is far from reality.  I think most black kids, as well as the many white kids who also look up to these people, intuitively know it’s not reality, but unless they’re old enough and motivated enough, for example, to read “Dr. Brian’s guaranteed prescription for staying out of poverty” (Rx:  Stay in school, don’t commit any crimes, don’t get addicted to anything, and don’t make a baby unless you’re married to the person with whom you’re making the baby) or Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics (in which drug-dealing is exposed for the mostly-low-dollar, high-danger business that it is), I think they remain vulnerable to temptation to explore dead-end pathways in life.  In addition to intuition, I think kids need a clear vision of an alternative, productive pathway.  Enter Barack Obama, a man who didn’t have a great start in life, didn’t have two involved parents, didn’t have many material advantages, was raised primarily by his grandparents, but strove for academic excellence, stayed out of trouble with the law, pursued higher education all the way through a graduate/professional degree, achieved economic security and prosperity by developing and using widely-distributed mental ability rather than extremely-narrowly-distributed physical or artistic talents, got married first and then had kids, stayed married and involved with those kids, dedicated his professional life to something larger than himself, and will now be President of the United States, an image of an alternative path that will be omnipresent on a daily basis for at least the next four years.  For kids to be motivated, not only do opportunities need to exist, but the kids need to know that the opportunities exist.  From the fact that Obama was elected by a convincing margin of majority-white voters, it’s obvious that the country, somewhere along the line between the Civil Rights movement and last November, reached the point where a majority of citizens really do judge one another by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, where a black man from humble beginnings really can achieve the highest prominence by studying and working hard.  But even with similarly-successful public figures like Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice, I don’t know that a majority of black kids really believed that – in part because there wasn’t such an inescapable exemplar of it as Barack Obama, and in part because perhaps their parents didn’t believe it and therefore didn’t impress it upon the kids – until now.

Another socio-cultural sphere within which I think Obama’s presence in the Oval Office will have an especially-positive effect is the American workplace.  Admittedly, I’m white and (as far as I know) haven’t been discriminated against along racial lines, but as a psychologist, M.B.A., and lawyer who’s handled employment matters, with the results of the 2008 election to back me up once again, I believe our globally-competitive American economy has reached the point where very few of its participants are willing or even able to prioritize prejudice over profits (and for the very few who are, their days to remain in the competitive game are numbered).  We’ll never eradicate prejudice entirely from humanity, from our society, or from our economy – there will always be racist, bigoted white individuals out there, just as there will be racist, bigoted black individuals and racist, bigoted individuals of every other ethnic, cultural, and religious background – but it seems we’re at the point where such individuals are the ones who have the hardest economic times ahead.  I think the evidence is in that a definitive preponderance of Americans believes in basing hiring decisions, including the hiring of the President, on performance, not on prejudice.  I predict it will, rightly, be more difficult now for litigants to convince juries, by a contrary preponderance of evidence, that employers’ racism is the reason why they’re not farther along in their careers.  I believe it will be more difficult for activists-turned-“racial extortionists” to shake employers down, both in the public eye and in court, by threatening to brand them as racists.  I think this election represents a move toward a “color-blind” emphasis and focus on performance in our economy, and in these challenging economic times, when our collective productivity is being stretched to its limits by the demands of an ever-expanding government, I think it’s a move in the right direction.

So, politics aside, I believe we all have some socio-cultural reasons to be proud of our country today.

Study this 1/17/09 A new Harvard study found that the Internet is not that dangerous a place for kids because relatively very few of the adults who use it are predators.  OK, of course the vast majority of adults are not predators.  We all knew that.  But it does nothing to negate the fact that there are predators out there, and they do use the Internet to meet kids, so parents should be just as vigilant as ever about monitoring what their kids are doing online.  Saying it’s not that dangerous because most users are harmless is like saying it’s not that dangerous for women to go home from bars with men they just met there that night.  Yes, more often than not, the men probably wouldn’t harm the women, but as we’ve seen many times and very recently in the Garza case in New York, it’s very difficult to spot the dangerous ones in advance, so the only solution is to remain on guard — not paranoid, “don’t-leave-the-house” on-guard, but “look-out-for-yourself-and-your-friends” on-guard, where you take time to get to know people in relatively safe environments.  Likewise, there’s no way to spot those relatively-few predators on the Internet in advance, so parents have to remain on guard — not paranoid, “don’t-go-near-the-water” on-guard, but sensible, “swim-with-a-lifeguard” on-guard, looking out for their kids, making sure their kids aren’t swimming in the most shark-infested waters (like adult chat rooms), making sure their kids aren’t giving out personal contact information, etc., and teaching their kids to remain on guard as well.  (And a related item:  the new word for sending racy photos from cell phone to cell phone is “sexting,” sure to be one of the “words-of-the-year” for 2009.)

Another new study found that women, in significantly greater numbers than men, support using tax dollars to bail out homeowners who borrowed way more money to buy houses than they can now afford to repay.  In the college course that I teach, we take a look at gender factors in leadership, communication, and decision-making, so this will be a good issue to discuss in this upcoming semester.

Finally, I watched with interest as the confirmation hearings for President-Elect Obama’s nominee for Attorney General focused on issues like closing the Guantanamo Bay enemy-combatant detention center and prohibiting the CIA from using coercive interrogation techniques such as water-boarding when American lives are in jeopardy.  To me, it’s like Bill Clinton, immediately upon taking office, focusing on changing the military’s policy on enlisting gay servicemen and women.  While there certainly are groups of Americans who care deeply about such issues, studies have shown that a significant majority of Americans really are not too worried about a bunch of terrorists whose lives were mercifully spared on the battlefield and who are now being held indefinitely in Guantanamo, nor do they much care whether interrogators get coercive with terrorists when American lives are at stake.  Bill O’Reilly stated the latter well this week when he said that just about any parent would be willing to do whatever it took to a kidnapper to find out where a missing child was (I’m paraphrasing from memory, but that was the gist of his spot-on comment).  The apparent focus on these issues as the new administration takes office reminded me of an interesting illustration of Americans’ attitudes toward one such issue that I saw in a movie theater last year.  I went to see “The Dark Knight,” the latest installment in the “Batman” series, in which the late Heath Ledger played an over-the-top psychopathic Joker.  The point of the movie, which I also didn’t much like, was to show the “dark side” of the hero, Batman (I wrote a couple of posts back then explaining why I thought the movie was too “dark”).  So, at one point, the Joker is in jail, and there are two hostages in different locations, each with bombs rigged to go off any minute.  Batman goes to the jail and beats the Joker to a pulp to get the locations of the hostages (I know, the Joker lies about which hostage is where, resulting in the death of the female hostage, but there’s clear evidence that terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have “broken” and given accurate information after water-boarding).  Now, I’m sure that the Hollywood minds behind that scene wanted it to parallel a coercive terrorist interrogation and make Americans take offense to such tactics.  Well, they sure didn’t in my theater — they cheered.  I know it’s anecdotal, but all I’m saying is it’s consistent with studies that have shown Americans (and Western Europeans) to not be all that concerned about the “rights” and comforts of terrorists, so maybe these issues really are not most Americans’ top priorities for the new administration.

Wrapping up the week 1/16/09

Wrapping up the week that was:

Thursday’s successful emergency landing of a passenger jet on the Hudson River after bird strikes took out both engines on takeoff from New York City has dominated Thursday’s and Friday’s news.  Everyone’s been talking about the heroism of the pilot, and rightly so.  In a situation like that, human beings naturally have a “fight-or-flight” response in which hormones and neurotransmitters are released into the bloodstream and brain, shutting down processes that aren’t immediately essential like digestion and the sleep/wake cycle, speeding up processes like breathing and heartbeat, and sending a burst of energy to major muscle systems.  While it’s easy to understand how that might help someone to escape a threat on the ground by running away, you might rightly expect that it could impair the fine motor skills necessary to land a 150-ton airplane on the water with almost no margin for error.  That’s where the pilot’s training, probably military training in particular, kicked in and saved the day, enabling him to remain calm, cool, and collected in the midst of a “fight-or-flight” situation.  The relative calmness of the passengers and their relatively orderly exit onto the floating airplane’s wings has been lauded as well, and again, rightly so.  Contrast that with the deadly stampede of “Christmas” shoppers into a New York Wal-Mart on the day after Thanksgiving 2008!  Those people were after bargains, and yet their behavior was far more chaotic than the behavior of people who were trying to escape a sinking aircraft!  Of course the first responders deserve major kudos as well, but there’s one group of people who’ve really gone unmentioned — witnesses.  Imagine what it must’ve been like for people sitting at their desks in nearby office buildings to look out of their windows and see an airliner flying at eye level.  Imagine the panic, the disbelief — they must’ve thought, until they heard the news of what really happened, that it was 9/11 all over again.  I’ll bet there will be more people in therapists’ offices next week because of that than because of surviving the crash itself.  (Interestingly, I wonder whether the relative calmness of the passengers may, in part, be a positive legacy of 9/11 in that people may have learned the importance of acting calmly and decisively in such crises.)

In a small town here in Kansas, a father and his three children were found dead in their smoldering home on Thursday.  Police say the father killed all three of his children, set the house on fire, shot himself, and died (apparently of smoke inhalation rather than the self-inflicted gunshot wound).  The children’s mother hasn’t said much but reportedly told police that everything had been normal in their family when she left for work that morning.  I don’t believe it.  The first crazy thing a person does generally is not murder-suicide.  I predict there’s more to this tragic story that we’ll learn in time.

In another apparent filicide (parent murdering his/her child) case, more videotapes of Casey Anthony’s parents visiting her in jail have been released.  Some are saying that the callous detachment from her daughter and the self-focus Casey displays in these videos has led them to concluded that she is in fact capable of the cold-blooded filicide.  People who commit filicide generally fall into three categories:  psychopaths who do it to eliminate the “burden” of parenting, psychotics who do it because they insanely think they’re doing God’s will or something like that, and enraged people who let anger or frustration with their kids govern their behavior toward the kids and do things like shake crying babies.  Casey Anthony doesn’t seem to fall neatly into any of these categories, although it’s most possible, I think, that she falls into the first one.  Here’s an explanation of how the theory of an unintended death (e.g. administering an overdose of a sedative) followed by a cover-up of the death (e.g. disposal of the body in a manner made to look like a kidnapping occurred) could be consistent with Casey’s verbal and non-verbal behavior in these videos:  People who are extremely self-focused generally have very strong self-serving biases.  They tend to hold intense and prolonged grudges against others but to forgive themselves easily for misdeeds large and small.  Rather than feeling guilty when they’ve caused harm, they’re keenly able to rationalize away any guilt feelings by absolving themselves of responsibility and excusing their destructive decisions and actions as “mistakes.”  I think we’ve seen a person like that before in Joran van der Sloot, who I think is responsible for Natalee Holloway’s disappearance but appears not to be experiencing any guilt about it whenever he’s been interviewed.  Of course it’s still possible that Casey Anthony’s a stone-cold psychopathic murderess like Susan Smith, who drowned her two children in the family car and claimed that they had been kidnapped in a carjacking, all allegedly so that she could be with a new boyfriend who didn’t want kids.

The man accused of invading an Ohio home, killing a woman, and sexually assaulting and kidnapping her four-year-old son reportedly will face the death penalty.

Finally tonight, study this:  A new study suggests that Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia may be more closely related than previously thought, different points along the same continuum rather than distinct disorders.  Seems plausible to me, especially given the psychotic features of Bipolar Disorder (Schizophrenia is characterized by psychosis).  In fact, I think that mental disorders in general are defined too narrowly, causing us to have many more diagnostic labels than we really probably need, often describing variations of the same thing.

Have a great weekend!

2 updates, a D.B. Cooper wannabe, and a new drug study 1/14/09 A psychic, obviously suffering from “spotlightus enviosis” like “world famous bounty hunter” Leonard Padilla, is trying to inject herself into the Casey Anthony case by claiming to have led a private investigator working for the Anthonys to the vicinity of little Caylee’s remains last summer.  She can’t, however, seem to find the phone records to confirm that she was on the phone with the private investigator when he was videotaping in the general area in which the remains were eventually found.  She’s bogus.


The cop who fatally shot a man who was on the ground and under arrest in California, sparking riots in the community (I wrote about it here), has now been charged with murder.  I still think the evidence suggests that the cop thought he was drawing and firing his taser but drew and fired his gun by mistake.  He’s not talking, however, probably on the not-so-good advice of counsel.  I think the prosecutors probably decided to test the evidence in court in part because the cop didn’t provide a credible alternative explanation for his actions and in part to avoid sparking more community outrage if they didn’t charge murder.

Reminiscent of D.B. Cooper (the hijacker who famously bailed out of an airplane with a bag full of cash and was never found back in the 1970’s), an investment advisor who faked his death by bailing out of his small plane, allowing it to crash in the vicinity of people’s homes, and going on the lam on a pre-hidden motorcycle, all apparently to avoid being prosecuted for swindling investors, has been found at a campsite in a tent bleeding profusely from both wrists.  If you’re wondering why a guy who did so much to save his ass just a few days ago would end up attempting suicide, remember what I wrote recently about malignantly-self-focused people, like this guy seems to be and like both Casey Anthony and Rod Blagojevich seem to be:  They generally have very strong self-preservation instincts, but sometimes when they’re cornered, when it’s all over for them, they prefer to exit the world on their own terms rather than subject themselves to the judgment of others.

Lastly tonight, study this:  A new study with a large sample size found that antipsychotic drugs, including the most modern ones, double the risk of sudden heart failure and cautions prescribers to avoid using the drugs on children and the elderly.  Shocking?  Not to you, if you’re a regular reader, and not to me.  To make matters worse, these things are being prescribed often to calm down kids with diagnoses of ADHD, which is not an approved use and should never happen in my opinion.  If the parents of a child who died that way contacted me, I’d seriously consider personally taking their case against the doctor and pharmaceutical company involved because I think big jury verdicts are what it’s going to take to make a dent in the avalanche of often-unnecessary, often-dangerous psych meds descending on Americans and particularly on children.

Unwilling, not unable 1/14/09

The 22-year-old who allegedly invaded an Ohio home last week, killing a mother, sexually abusing her four-year-old son, kidnapping the son, and dropping him off at a truck stop, apologized for what he did in front of television cameras as he was being moved by police from one facility to another.  The question was posed to me on Monday night’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell whether those statements will be admissible as a confession.  I believe so, and here’s why:  A confession is admissible if it was made voluntarily (without coercion from law enforcement officers), by a competent individual (he’s an adult and he seemed to know what he was saying), who was aware of his right to remain silent (he would certainly have been read his Miranda rights by the time he made the apology).  I was also asked whether he might present an insanity defense based on the allegation that he didn’t know right from wrong because he had a horrible childhood (approximately 20 foster homes, drug and alcohol use at ages seven and eight, etc.).  I don’t believe so, and here’s why:  His childhood was admittedly horrible and heartbreaking, but none of what happened to him prevents a person from knowing that breaking into another person’s car or home, taking another person’s belongings, forcing someone into a sex act, kidnapping a person, and murdering another person are wrong (wrong at least by society’s standards).  It almost certainly contributed to the fact that he was unwilling to control his behavior, but I’m confident that it did not render him unable to control it, and there’s a big difference.  Also, there was clear planning involved in those acts in this case, and as I’ve said here many times, a mind working well enough to engage in a lot of planning is working well enough to discern right from wrong.  In addition, this guy had been punished for some of the very same kinds of things in the past, so as I see it, there’s no way he could prevail in an argument about whether he knew those actions were criminal in nature.  It’s been suggested that he may be “mildly retarded,” and if so, that might take the death penalty off the table, but it still won’t establish him as unable to know right from wrong at the time these crimes were committed.  We absolutely need to improve the foster system nationwide, as evidenced by the fact that the Kansas system apparently “lost” a kid for the past ten years (the Adam Herrman case discussed here last week), and it definitely helps when people are raised with good parental examples of distinguishing between right and wrong and doing the right thing, but the only way to maintain an ordered society is to expect every citizen of minimally-competent age and mental ability to distinguish between right and wrong regardless of how they were raised.  Unfortunately, once someone gets to late adolescence or adulthood still thinking and behaving in sociopathic ways (choosing to simply take whatever he/she wants from others, by deception, force, etc.), the only way to get them to conform their behavior to the law is to punish them, swiftly and severely enough so that they see it as in their best interests to behave (i.e. make it easier on them to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing).  Unfortunately for this guy, it’s too late, in part because society waited until he killed somebody (allegedly) to administer the severe punishment.  He served three years in a juvenile facility from ages 17-20 for burglary and arson.  The judge back then said he went with the juvenile facility in the hope that it could provide rehabilitation.  OK, but when he stole a car shortly after being released, he should’ve gotten ten years in a facility that he never, ever, would’ve wanted to return to when he got out of it.  Had that happened, he wouldn’t have been on the street to commit these most recent crimes, and maybe, just maybe, he would’ve chosen different behaviors when he got out.  We’ll never know now, but handling it my way seems like it couldn’t have produced a worse result than the one we got.

2 + 2 1/14/09 First up, two throwbacks:

Throwback #1:  Speaking of prolonging virginity, there was another big dustup on The View when author Ann Coulter discussed a chapter in her new book that correlates the ever-growing number of children raised by single mothers with many social problems in our culture.  While there are many single mothers who did the best they could in circumstances beyond their control and raised well-adjusted, high-functioning Americans, as I’ve said here before, for many reasons including socio-cultural factor and the physical and mental health/development of the kids, I think the optimal parenting situation for children is a married mother and father who love each other and the kids, period.

Throwback #2:  There’s another story, this time out of the U.K., about an extremely obese man whose weight is causing him to have trouble adopting a kid.  I’ve written about that here before, so just briefly, I agree that the man’s weight is a legitimate concern for the court.  Here’s why:  First, there are obvious concerns about the man’s physical health and whether he’ll be around until the child reaches the age of 18 given the myriad of complications, some of them life-threatening, of morbid obesity.  Second, psychologically, I’m concerned about someone so lacking in impulse control parenting children because I wonder about that person’s ability to model and teach the critical concept of personal responsibility, and not just when it comes to eating.  In my opinion, someone who would let him/herself get that big has “big” issues.  I also think that obese parents tend to model unhealthy eating habits and often don’t even have healthy food alternatives available in their homes, which contributes to their children also becoming obese.  As I said in the previous case, I feel sorry for everyone involved in this case, but in “weighing” the best interests of the child, I think the judge probably did the right thing by holding up this adoption.

Next up, two new nutty (but sad) cases:

Nutty case #1:  A guy in New York who donated a kidney to his wife several years ago is asking for the kidney back — seriously — or to be compensated for it financially now that they’re getting divorced.  Not only is it insane, but being paid for an organ is illegal, so I’m thinking he’ll be withdrawing the request once he gets some competent legal advice.

Nutty case #2:  A 34-year-old Wisconsin woman enrolled in high school and signed up for cheerleading tryouts using the identity of her 15-year-old daughter.  The woman said she just wanted to relive her high school years.  She’s been found not guilty of identity theft by reason of insanity and has been committed to a mental health facility for treatment.

Virginity stolen and virginity for sale 1/14/09 Virginity stolen:  There’s another story, this time out of Massachusetts, about a 20-something teacher having sex with a 13-year-old.  The specifics of this new story aren’t dramatically different from stories I’ve written about here in the past, so just very briefly, let me reiterate why I think we’re seeing more and more of these cases:  Three reasons, all cultural:  1) the disappearance of a stigma about female promiscuity, 2) women growing up without dads in their homes and not seeing healthy male-female relationships, 3) the “sexualization” of kids — treating them like little sexually-active adults — which plays right into the hands of predatory adults.

Virginity for sale:  Just last week, I wrote here about virginity, specifically virginity pledges and the effect of teenagers’ religious identification on the prolongation of virginity.  Well, this week, there’s a 22-year-old woman who’s openly auctioning off her virginity, supposedly to pay for graduate school in…get this…marriage and family therapy!  Beyond its moral repugnance, I don’t see how it’s legal — she apparently intends to do the deed at a brothel in ..Nevada.., where prostitution is legal, but engaging in discussions with potential buyers elsewhere in the ….United States…. over the Internet, as she’s apparently doing, seems like it should violate the prostitution laws of other states.  In any case, while she may not have a problem finding a man who wants her (although I doubt serious biddres really have the millions that reportedly have been bid), she should have a very difficult time finding a graduate school who wants her.

Quick takes on weekend happenings 1/11/09

Here a couple of very quick takes on weekend happenings:

1)  A group of Somali pirates who hijacked a Saudi oil tanker and held the crew hostage for weeks finally got their ransom air-dropped to them.  They then proceeded to flee from the tanker in a small boat, which capsized in rough seas, sending the pirates and their booty to the bottom of the sea.  What poetic justice!

2)  Personal finance guru and best-selling author Eric Tyson wrote a very interesting piece on his namesake web site called “What Motorcycle Jumping Can Teach Us About Money, Business and Government” (and I’m not just saying that because I’m quoted in it).

Wrapping up the week 1/10/09

Casey Anthony was present in court on Thursday for a hearing in which the judge ruled that defense attorneys are entitled to copies of such prosecutorial evidence as autopsy photos.  Casey’s parents weren’t in court, and although their absence sparked speculation about whether they continue to support their daughter, I don’t really read much into it at this point.

A now-deceased Wisconsin man recently confessed on his deathbed that he had been a serial killer, beginning some 50 years ago.  Cops have since found some alarming things in the man’s home, including child pornography, bondage devices, literature on cannibalism, and children’s shoes, but newly-poured cement in his basement and recently-turned earth in his yard concealed no body parts.  They’ll continue to try to identify possible victims who went missing at the times of his alleged murders and to place him in the vicinity of unsolved murders, but as of now, it looks like he was actually a Jeffrey Dahmer wannabe rather than a Jeffrey Dahmer copycat.  Obviously, the guy was extremely sick either way.

Finally tonight, an 88-year-old Oregon woman recently fought off a naked male intruder in her home by…grabbing him where it counted and squeezing.  Apparently her grip was still strong enough to send the man running out of her home.  He was apprehended by police shortly thereafter.  His name:  Michael Dick.  No kidding.  Priceless.  Have a good weekend!

Deja vu, possible deja vu, and 2 new studies 1/9/09

First up tonight, a deja vu:  There’s been another case of a parent actively coaching a teen in a fistfight with another teen.  This one was in Connecticut and involved boys and a father, but it’s very similar to a story involving girls and a mother that we covered on Prime News last year.  In this latest case, the father apparently claims that he was trying to teach his son to defend himself from bullies.  Nevertheless, he’s charged with endangering the welfare of a minor.

Next up tonight, amid the Blagojevich mess in Illinois, people have been discussing politicians and why they seem so susceptible to scandalous behavior.  First of all, I’m glad to see people actually caring and making judgments about behavior for a change.  Individuals making judgments about one another’s behavior and people bearing social consequences for their bad behavior are the primary tools that society has for keeping its members in line.  Even 200+ years ago, the founding fathers recognized that unless we had a government big enough to keep every citizen under the watchful eye of an armed officer at all times, which of course we’d never want to have, it was essential to the country’s survival for individual citizens to exercise personal responsibility and to maintain a culture in which personal responsibility is expected of everyone.  Recognizing that, I’ve been appalled amid past political scandals when so many Americans have said things like, “it’s none of our business; it’s his personal life.”  Think about what a terrible message that sends to kids growing up in our culture:  mom and dad say it’s wrong to make judgments about other people’s behavior, especially when it comes to their marital and sexual relationships.  Ever wonder what effects that kind of thinking will have on how those kids behave in their adult relationships?  Probably won’t be helpful, and with divorce rates being what they are, it’s not like marriage in general is a thriving institution in our culture as it is.  But I digress.  The big question I always get is why politicians, supposed “public servants,” do scandalous things at such an alarming rate.  I think that people who are motivated to pursue political office because they’re attracted to power are generally some of the people most susceptible to abusing power when they get it.  (It’s important to point out here that, luckily for us, the majority of politicians are motivated to pursue political office for other reasons, like trying to make a positive difference for their communities and country, and do not get caught up in abuses of power.)  Also, and here’s where it’s less complicated than a lot of pundits seem to make it, people don’t end up doing scandalous things unless they first saw those things as options for them.  In other words, it’s complete b.s. when they say some scandalous behavior was out of character for them.  If the individual didn’t consider the behavior an option that was available to him or her, he or she never would’ve even thought about whether to do it and never would’ve done it.  How do scandalous behaviors become options that politicians think are available to them?  That’s where narcissism comes in — the idea that they’re so special that they’re entitled to do things that others aren’t entitled to do.  I think they usually start out with some of that kind of thinking, which gives them the confidence to pursue political office in the first place, but then when they’re in office and surrounded by sycophants, virtually all self-critical thinking stops, and voila, scandalous behavior.

Also tonight, reports suggest that a California police officer who shot and killed an unarmed suspect during an arrest may have mistakenly drawn and fired his gun when he thought he was drawing and firing his taser.  If that proves to be the case, this could become a repeat of an incident that we covered on Prime News last year in which a New York cop committed suicide after unintentionally causing the death of a suspect.  As we wait for all the facts to come in, the California officer should be closely monitored.

Finally tonight, a “Study this” segment:

A new study found a connection between childhood abuse and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS, extreme, otherwise-inexplicable tiredness) in adults.  Personally, I’m not convinced that CFS is a legitimate medical condition, but when I heard about this new study, my mind was open to the hypothesis that early childhood trauma somehow down-regulated (caused the body to make less of) certain hormones that promote neuro-muscular activity in normal doses and “fight-or-flight” (elevated neuro-muscular activity) in periods of high stress (physical threats, emergencies, etc.).  Then, I looked a little deeper into the methodology and saw that the authors hadn’t defined childhood abuse precisely enough to confine it to serious trauma.  Apparently, any participant who claimed to have suffered undefined, amorphous “emotional abuse” was considered equally-traumatized as someone who was beaten up repeatedly.  Given that, and the facts that not all “abused” participants developed CFS and not all participants with CFS were “abused,” I don’t really see this study’s “finding” as much more than a hypothesis.

Another new study has found that Alzheimer’s patients who take antipsychotic medications (e.g. to control aggressive behavior) died significantly sooner than other Alzheimer’s patients, enough sooner that the study’s authors suggest there’s a causal relationship.  If you’re a regular reader, you know that this is just the latest in a series of cautionary tales about the pushing of powerful psychoactive medications on a population for which they very well may do much more harm than good.

Back-in-town rundown 1/8/09 After a couple of days out of town for a case, a lot’s happened, so here’s a quick rundown:

A boy (well, actually a man now) was reported missing here in Kansas — ten years after he apparently disappeared!  No, that’s not ten hours, ten days, or even ten weeks.  The boy’s adoptive parents reportedly claim that they thought he ran away, but they never reported the child missing and continued to accept state subsidy payments for his care.  There’s plenty of blame to go around here, and there should be plenty of charges.  Obviously, if the facts are as reported, the adoptive parents are guilty at least of child neglect, failure to report a missing child, and fraud.  In addition, state social services workers apparently had investigated reported incidents of child abuse in the home, and if so, clearly failed to follow up periodically as they should have to make sure that the boy was being cared for properly.  The case is being investigated as a murder, but it’s possible (hopefully, but remotely I think) that the boy did run away and is alive and well somewhere.  Adam Herrman would now be 21 or 22 years old.

A mother of three is missing in Kansas City, and her husband reportedly is being standoffish with detectives.  It’s also being reported that their marriage was troubled, possibly headed for divorce.  Of course the husband is innocent until proven guilty, but if you’re a regular reader or viewer, you know what the statistics suggest on this one.  Unfortunately, there’s a high statistical chance that these kids will end up defacto orphans like Adam Herrman.

There’s another high-profile competency case, this time involving actor Peter Falk (Columbo).  His daughter has filed for conservatorship of her father’s assets based on allegations that he suffers from Alzheimer’s-type dementia.  If you’re interested in what constitutes incapacity to manage one’s financial affairs, I wrote about that in a recent post about hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of gifts given by French billionaire Liliane Bettencourt.

Actor John Travolta and his wife are being wrongly criticized by some following the death of their teenage son, who was prone to seizures and apparently sustained a fatal fall at the family’s Bahamas home.  The Travoltas are Scientologists, and some have suggested therefore that they may not have sought adequate medical treatment to prevent their son’s seizures.  While I do believe that it’s child abuse for a parent not to seek medical care for a minor child, regardless of the parent’s beliefs regarding medicine (because a minor child isn’t competent to make that decision, and as guardian, the parent must be expected to act in the child’s objective best interests), there is no evidence that any neglect occurred in the Travoltas’ case.  Apparently they spared no expense or effort over the years to get their son any and all medical attention, treatment, and medication indicated for his seizure disorder.  I think some people also are confusing Scientology with Christian Science.  The disdain for modern medicine is more of a Christian Science thing than a Scientology thing.  As another famous Scientologist, actor Tom Cruise, made widely public in his criticism of actress Brooke Shields’ use of antidepressants, Scientologists’ disdain is more confined to psychiatry and psych meds.  While some of the meds prescribed to treat Bipolar Disorder are anticonvulsants, also prescribed to treat seizure disorders, it wouldn’t be expected that Scientologists would object to using them for seizures, and in any case, all indications are that the Travoltas’ son did in fact take them.

On Wednesday’s Prime News, we discussed the case of a man who apparently murdered his 90+-year-old father on New Year’s Eve and then went out and partied as if nothing had happened.  Obviously, this case parallels the Anthony case (Casey’s partying while Caylee was missing) and the case of the “Prom Mom,” in which a girl gave birth in a restroom during her prom, put the baby in a dumpster, and returned to the prom as if nothing had happened.  In attempting to make sense of people’s behavior in the aftermath of such crimes, it’s important to understand the psychology of the people involved.  We don’t know much about this guy yet, so I offered the following general hypotheses on Wednesday’s show:  1) The guy’s a psychopath, who wouldn’t feel any remorse, so it’d be no surprise that he’d feel fine about partying after committing murder; 2) The guy killed in the heat of a moment, felt remorse, and was trying to distract himself from thinking about it (i.e. was in denial about what he’d done); 3) They guy was trying to avoid suspicion by acting “normal” until cops found the father’s body; or 4) The guy’s insane (it’s not this one though, because a lot of planning apparently went into perpetrating the murder and trying to make it look like a home invasion had occurred).

Finally tonight, a lawsuit has been filed against a Seattle-area school district for failing to protect an autistic boy from bullying, and if the facts alleged in the complaint are accurate, I say bravo (and if anything like that is going on here in the Midwest, I’d like to hear about it)!  I believe that every kid, autistic or not, should be just as safe at school as President-Elect Obama’s children are.  I’m not kidding.  If you’re a school administrator, and kids are scared of being physically harmed in your building, you get a failing grade from me, no matter how high your students’ average test scores are.  When minor children are at school, the school staff is “in loco parentis,” meaning the adults take on the responsibilities of the children’s parents, of which the foremost is to keep those kids safe.  There is no excuse for any physical altercation to take place in a school hallway, classroom, or other common area out of view of a school staff member (and to avoid altercations in restrooms, kids should be permitted to use restrooms individually during class rather than being required to use the restroom only during passing periods — that way, kids who are being bullied can feel safe using the restroom alone during class).  Every school should have an anonymous email address and phone number that victims of and witnesses to bullying can use to alert school officials, who should act immediately on each and every report.  Also, if an altercation does occur, every effort needs to be made to identify who is at fault and punish only those individuals — none of this intellectually-lazy “both parties automatically suspended” b.s.  Kids need not only to feel safe, but also to feel like their world is just.  If the facts alleged in the Washington complaint are accurate, I love this lawsuit, and I hope the family wins millions.  Maybe after a few verdicts like that, we’ll start hearing less of the “bullying is a fact of growing up” b.s. (think about it — adults would never tolerate b.s. like “assault is a fact of adulthood”) and see more school administrators making kids’ total safety (not just safety from mass-shootings, which there would be less of if there were less bullying) job one.

Monday’s issue 1/6/09 If you missed Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on Monday, we talked about the tragic case of a four-year-old who was found at a truck stop claiming that someone had broken into his house, shot his mother, kidnapped him, and left him at the truck stop.  Turns out, he was exactly right.  In addition to his ability to relate his parents’ contact information to the couple who discovered him at the truck stop, the boy’s eyewitness memory (which was better than many adults’) helped the police catch the (alleged) murderer, now in custody.  Of course the suspect has a colorful criminal record and was out on the street nevertheless.  Looks like ’09 is shaping up to be just like ’08 in that regard.  If you watch Issues every night of ’09, you’ll see most of the crimes that we discuss committed by people who never should’ve been free to commit them.  Not surprisingly, the boy is reportedly showing trauma symptoms — lack of verbalization about the murder, exaggerated startle response — and there will likely be more, such as nightmares, flashback memories, maybe some behavioral regression.  The hopeful news is that when I serve as an expert in highly-contentious child-custody cases, I’m always amazed by the psychological resilience of children.  As our hearts go out to this remarkable boy and his dad, we can have hope that he will grow up to be healthy and happy despite this trauma, which has deprived him of his mother’s care and guidance.  I truly believe that sometimes in tragedies in which one parent is lost, the surviving parent gets some divine help to do the work of two parents for the surviving children.  Hope that’s the case here.  As is often the case in tragic stories like this one, there are lessons to be learned.  Apparently, the murderer stole the family’s car back in mid-December when the father parked it at a concert, leaving the keys and his wallet inside, which the murderer then apparently used to target the house (the father had changed the locks, but when the murderer’s key didn’t work, he broke in).  The lesson here is never to intentionally leave your keys and identification where they could be copied or stolen.  A second lesson in this case is for parents to always teach their children to memorize their addresses and their parents’ phone numbers, by heart, so they can spit that information out even if they’re extremely upset.  Thank God the parents in this case did that.  Hopefully the forensic evidence will be strong enough that this little boy won’t have to testify if/when the case goes to trial.  Of course this case also illustrates the frightening reality that people whose brains are working well enough to make and execute plans, i.e. sane people, sometimes do terrible harm to others just because they want to.  Call it what you want.  I call it evil.      

What’s next? 1/5/09 So, over the weekend, I was in a book store, seeing what’s new in the psychology section, and you won’t believe what I saw (well, maybe you will — I’m not sure how long it’s been out).  There’s actually a book on fatherhood by none other than…Alec Baldwin.  That’s right, actor and father-of-the-year 2007 Alec Baldwin, who famously called his then-11-year-old daughter a “rude, thoughtless little pig” in a voicemail that (should never have been but nevertheless) was released to the national media.  Wonder what’s next in this series…a book on marriage by philandering former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards?  Maybe a book on ethics by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich?  An investment guide by Bernie Madoff perhaps?

While I’m here, a quick “study this” segment:  Two competing studies about virginity were released in the past week, one suggesting that religious teens have their first sexual experiences significantly later (three years later on average) than non-religious teens, and the other suggesting that “virginity pledges” (whereby kids promise not to have premarital sex) do not in fact prolong virginity.  So, what to make of these studies?  Well, the longer young people wait to have their first sexual experiences, the more likely they are to be equipped (emotionally, intellectually, financially, etc.) to handle the potential consequences thereof.  So, while neither factor seems likely to guarantee premarital virginity, it seems to me that neither moral/religious instruction to maintain premarital virginity nor a commitment to uphold premarital virginity as a moral value is likely to hurt (i.e. hasten the loss of virginity).  Therefore, I’d still generally support parents who both provide moral instruction and encourage moral commitments to maintain premarital virginity.  I’ve mentioned this here before, but it bears repeating — I think that many parents underestimate the often-unspoken consideration that their teenagers give to parental values and opinions when making moral decisions such as whether to use drugs or have sex.  It’s tough to be that cautionary “voice in their heads” at such pivotal moments if you never bothered to tell them your thoughts, feelings, and hopes about what they should/would do.

Quick takes on two cases and a bounty hunter 1/4/09

Here are my quick takes on two new cases to follow into 2009:

1) A civil case filed by the parents of a 13-year-old who committed suicide in an “isolation room” at his school is getting underway in Georgia.  The “isolation room” looks much like a jail cell, four walls and a metal door with one small window which, at this school, apparently was covered with paper.  The boy reportedly was frequently disruptive and had been sent to the “isolation room” on as many as 15 occasions prior to the occasion on which he committed suicide by hanging himself with a rope reportedly given to him by a teacher to use as a belt.  He also reportedly expressed suicidal ideation at school on previous occasions, even threatening to hang himself.  Looks like the school district’s in trouble on this one, given the boy’s history of suicide threats and lack of supervision in the “isolation room,” but here’s the part that I don’t buy:  The parents said on t.v. that they had no idea their son had ever threatened suicide and no idea that he had been so disruptive as to have been placed in isolation 15 times.  B.S.  I don’t believe it.  There’s no way those parents weren’t told that their child had extreme behavioral and emotional problems, and I’ll bet we find that out if this thing goes to trial.  I’m not saying that the school district bears no responsibility here — this poor boy’s problems clearly were beyond what could be handled in a mainstream school facility and a little isolation clearly wasn’t going to cut it either.  I’m just saying that I think it’s probably bogus for these parents to contend that they did everything in their power to help their son and his school to deal with his problems.  I could be wrong, but they seemed to me to be “if-it-happens-at-school-it’s-the-school’s-problem” parents who might have ignored warnings about his behavior.  If they settle out of court, we may never know.  As for the school, and other schools across the country with similar “isolation rooms,” what ever happened to sending disruptive kids to the good old principal’s office, where they could be isolated from other kids under the supervision of adults?  For kids who are just mildly and occasionally disruptive, let’s can the unsupervised jail cells and go “old school,” and for kids who are so disruptive that a jail-cell-type room is all that could contain them, let’s get them out of their current facilities (which obviously can’t handle them) and into facilities where their extreme needs can be addressed individually and expertly.

2) When the newly-elected sheriff of a Texas county took office on Jan. 1, he immediately had to shut down the county jail and transfer the inmates to another facility temporarily because the previous sheriff apparently had let it become the party pen, complete with recliners, t.v.’s, video games, and unidentified pills in the cells.  No, I’m not kidding — this was supposed to be a jail, and it apparently had been made to feel more like a fraternity house!  What’s worse is that it was dangerous.  Inmates had been allowed to have items like large nails in their cells (one inmate used several such nails to build a coat rack on the wall of his cell), hang makeshift paper-towel “curtains” in their cells to give them “privacy” (obscure guards’ views of them), and plug highly-unsafe numbers of extension cords into electrical outlets to power all of their electronics.  The new sheriff hopes to have the jail back in safe, correctional condition in a couple of months.  In the meantime, several people are under investigation and may face criminal charges for the previous mismanagement of the facility.

Before I wrap this up, I have to comment on something that happened on t.v. the other day — New Year’s Day to be exact — when I was on a CNN panel with attorney Mark Eiglarsh and “world famous bounty hunter” Leonard Padilla (the guy who always wears a black cowboy hat on the air).  I’ve written about Padilla before — he bailed Casey Anthony out of jail the first time she was arrested and said he’d find Caylee within a week.  Since then, he hasn’t found anything but bogus evidence that I’m aware of, yet he keeps showing up on t.v.  Well, after Eiglarsh respectfully questioned his most recent “bombshell” revelation, Padilla called him “an idiot” and claimed that everything he (Padilla) had said was backed up by some F.B.I agent.  I sooooo wanted to jump into the fray, but I didn’t want to create a three-person melee that guest host Vinnie Politan would have to referee, so I held my tongue.  If I had spoken up, here’s what I would’ve said:  Normally, I don’t give formal diagnoses on the air, but I’m diagnosing Padilla with “Spotlightus Enviosis.”  The guy’s been trying to inject himself into the Anthony case since the summer and has yet to come up with anything helpful.  He’s a bounty hunter, and there’s no bounty to be hunted in this case, so unless/until Casey Anthony breaks out of jail and goes on the lam, I really don’t know what helpful expertise Padilla could have other than his ability to make some colorful t.v. in small, well-spaced doses.  I also wanted to ask Padilla whether the F.B.I. agent who supposedly could back up his latest revelation was the same agent who reportedly wanted to polygraph him after he (Padilla) found some bogus evidence at the bottom of a Florida swamp back when Caylee’s was still missing (and, by the way, Padilla notified the media before notifying the police of that “discovery”).  Stay tuned — I imagine I’ll get another crack at Padilla before he saddles up and rides back to Texas or wherever he’s living (Sacramento maybe — I think he ran for mayor there last year!).

Happy New Year! 1/3/09

In this first 2009 edition of the blog, I thought I’d take you on a trip down Memory Lane, a look back at some of the personalities and stories discussed here in 2008:

Britney Spears’ hospitalization was the big topic this time last year, and here she is this year making a comeback on the pop charts (and hopefully also as a mom to her two kids).

O.J. Simpson showed up here all throughout the year, but after about 15 years of getting in and out of legal trouble, it looks now like he might be out of the spotlight in 2009.

Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in Natalee Holloway’s disappearance, popped up a few times in typically arrogant, shameless, spoiled-brat, opportunistic ways, and he has yet to be caged like O.J., so there’s no telling when we’ll see van der Sloot next.

The questionable circumstances of actor Heath Ledger’s death and the extreme darkness of his last picture “The Dark Knight” were discussed here in the spring and summer.

Singer Amy Winehouse continued to make a public train wreck of herself pretty much all year.

Happiness, and why people who seem like they should have it so often apparently don’t, was a topic of discussion here, as was an apparent escalation of violent and aggressive behavior among girls and women.

Some Major-League Baseball players set horrible examples for America’s kids by showing themselves to be major-league liars about steroid abuse.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, former Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich proved how narcissism can become malignant when people entrusted with power start behaving as if they’re entitled to whatever they want.

Time and again, we saw cases of preventable tragedies in which people who had proven themselves to be dangerous weren’t dealt with properly by the justice system and were given opportunities to commit more violence.

We also saw pharmaceutical companies, assisted by well-paid “researchers,” continuing to push potentially-dangerous psychiatric diagnoses and medications on America’s children (as an attorney, I’m thinking I may need to do more in 2009 to stop this alarming trend — representing children who’ve been harmed by unnecessary psych meds).

Speaking of children being harmed, we saw a mass exodus of children from a polygamist compound as authorities in Texas tried to sort out the ages of the mothers and the paternity of the children.

The Austrian dungeon guy and a similar couple in California proved once again that people whose minds are definitely working well enough to know that they’re hurting others sometimes do it anyway, just for pleasure.  I call those people evil, but whatever you call them, they exist.

The “Monstrous MySpace Mom” got convicted of misdemeanors for perpetrating an online hoax that ended in the suicide of a troubled teenage girl — she belongs in prison with O.J. for the next nine years or so, but she’ll probably get probation.

Mental health care for our veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to be substandard, and the priorities of the VA health care system appeared to remain misaligned.

Yet another horrible message was sent to America’s kids when Hulk Hogan’s wimpy crybaby son got released from jail early after causing brain damage to another young man by drag racing.

Multiple incidents of Americans failing to be “good Samaritan’s” when it would’ve been easy to do so and an incident in which “Christmas” shoppers trampled a man to death in search of bargain gifts suggested that a trend toward self-focus in our culture will continue into ’09 unless people start recognizing it and changing both their own behaviors and the behaviors of their children.

American billionaire Leona Helmsley’s testamentary capacity was called into question after she left $12 million for the care of her dog, Trouble, and living French billionaire Liliane Bettencourt’s competency was called into question after she reportedly gave over a billion dollars’ worth of gifts and insurance benefits to a much-younger gentleman companion (although it looks like the 80+ year-old Bettencourt may prove to be both competent and extremely generous, and perhaps just a little naive).

Former model Christy Brinkley made sure that her divorce played out in the public eye and then acted like she was some kind of martyr, crying about the affect of the media attention on her kids, making her not much of a parental improvement over her philandering ex-husband in my opinion.

People’s reactions to extreme flooding in the Midwest offered a highly-educational opportunity to compare and contrast those reactions with the reactions that we saw in the New Orleans area after hurricane Katrina (and hopefully indicated some lessons learned).

The media’s glorification of teen pregnancy/motherhood in cases such as Britney Spears’ younger sister’s sent yet another horrible message to America’s youth, and a pregnancy pact among several girls at a Massachusetts high school signaled that the horrible message was received.

The disappearance of little Caylee Anthony and the murder case against her mother, Casey Anthony, has been a dominant story since the summer and will continue to be a major story in 2009 as Casey’s trial approaches.

The Beijing Olympics spotlighted some of the positive qualities that are sorely lacking in many of the professional athletes and entertainers whom America’s kids look up to these days.

The anthrax case, which began contemporaneous with 9-11 (2001), was finally closed, with the identification of a now-deceased government scientist as the perpetrator.

The presidential election caused Americans to think once again about the roles that our government should play in our lives, and the economic crisis illustrated just how destructive too much government involvement can be.  Unfortunately, many people seem to think that the lesson was the opposite — that the crisis happened because there wasn’t enough government involvement in our lives — and therefore, as we head into 2009, it looks like we’re going to get more bailouts, more government “guarantees,” more of the very same kinds of policies that led to the current crisis and likely will lead to the next crisis.  Looking back much farther in time than 2008, in 1794, there was a bill introduced in Congress to provide $15,000 of aid to some refugees from the French rebellion in San Domingo, and here is what founding father James Madison rightly said in opposition to that bill:  “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”*  I’m worried that we’ll continue to depart from Madison’s philosophy in 2009 because, as Professor Alexander Tyler presciently said over 200 years ago, “A democracy…can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”*

The trend toward not holding adults accountable for their own outcomes trickled farther down to America’s kids as educational expectations and standards continued to be relaxed at a time when America’s continued global competitiveness requires better-educated Americans than ever before.

A new law will force health insurance companies to cover mental health services to the same degree as other procedures are covered in 2009, but it’s bad medicine for a health care system that’s already overburdened with government involvement.  Again, looking back much farther in time than 2008, there was a bill introduced in Congress in 1854 whereby the government would’ve forced taxpayers to provide services for the mentally-ill, and this is what then-President Franklin Pierce rightly said upon vetoing that bill:  “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity.  [To approve the measure] would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded.”*

An eight-year-old was charged with murdering his father and another man in Arizona, and that case looks likely to be resolved in ’09 with the child’s incarceration in a juvenile detention center until adulthood.

Former Illinois cop Drew Peterson, under ongoing investigation for the death of one wife and the disappearance of another, got engaged over the 2008 holidays, and I’m sure we all wish his bride-to-be a safe 2009.

There was a tragic mass-murder at a Christmas party in which a psychopath dressed in a Santa suit killed his ex-wife and several members of her family before killing himself.

Plenty of other athletes and entertainers, most recently Plaxico Burress and Winona Ryder, continued to demonstrate that stupidity + money = trouble.

And of course, I discussed study after study in which theories about the psychology of everything from drugs to obesity to sex and relationships to the origins of mental disorders were advanced, debunked, and/or made fun of.

I hope you found the blog informative and entertaining in 2008, and I hope you’re looking forward to following psycho-legal news with me here in 2009.

Happy New Year!

* To find these and other timely quotes from our founding fathers, past presidents, and wise philosophers, check out the namesake web site of George Mason University economics Professor Walter E. Williams (no spaces and no period after the “E” in the url).



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