Archive: April 2009

Quick takes on the news 4/28/09

Here are my quick takes on news of Monday and Tuesday:

1)  It was amazingly irresponsible to fly one of the two “Air Force One” planes low over Manhattan with a fighter jet trailing behind for a “photo op.”  As I said when a disabled passenger jet was forced to land on the Hudson River back in January, imagine the fear that went through New Yorkers’ minds when they looked out of their office windows and saw a jumbo jet at (or near) eye level.  The difference back in January was that the pilot had no choice!  (Not to mention the $300,000+ cost of the “photo op” — see what I mean about how disingenuous this whole “budget crisis” business is?  Give me the federal budget and a red pen, and I’ll balance it for you inside of 30 days!)  The only benefit that I see possibly coming out of the flyover is that maybe it’ll make some people reconsider how concerned they really are about pouring a little water over a terrorist’s face if it could prevent another 9/11-style attack.

2)  Study this:  Researchers have identified what they believe to be some genetic markers of Autism, which hopefully will contribute to a better understanding of what causes that disorder and how to treat it.

3)  Lastly, Paris Hilton reportedly was asked whether she was concerned about swine flu and replied, “I don’t eat that.”

Change you can’t be relieved in 4/28/09

With the swearing-in of our (now-former) Kansas Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, as Secretary of Health of Human Services and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s party switch from Republican to Democrat, the likelihood of the federal government “changing” your health care for the worse is frighteningly high (i.e. “change you can’t be relieved in”).  If you’re interested in this issue, I’ve written about it here as a licensed health care provider multiple times, including “Dr. Brian’s Rx for health care” back on 9/9/08.  Most decent people would like everyone to have access to health care, but socialism is no more the answer in that industry than it is for the economy as a whole.  If a society fails to accept that inherent differences in individual members’ productive efforts necessarily lead to differences in outcomes between members, that society attempts to defy human nature, and human nature has been and will be around a lot longer than that society.  The correct challenge to be addressed by the society is not the equalization of outcomes (in this case, health care) among all members but the provision of charitable assistance to only those relatively very few members who are truly incapable of providing (in this case, health insurance) for themselves, and it’s a challenge to be addressed not by the society’s government but by its members, acting individually or in voluntary associations.  Appropriate roles of the society’s government in health care are to handle public health emergencies (such as a potential swine flu epidemic) at the national level and to provide emergency medical transportation (so we don’t have random citizens speeding through the streets to hospitals in emergencies) at the local level, not providing primary health care to individuals.  And there’s more to worry about here than just the government messing up the best health care system in the world.  The same politicians who want to “change” the health care system from privately-based to publicly-based will use a “public obligation” to provide your health care as a basis for limiting your freedom in other ways.  For example, they’ll say, “We can’t let you smoke cigarettes because if you get cancer, we have to pay for it,” or “We can’t let you eat trans-fats because if you get heart disease, we have to pay for it.”  No, “we” don’t have to pay for it, and “we” shouldn’t pay for it — individuals should be free to make their own behavioral choices when it comes to such vices as smoking and over-eating, and they should be expected to take personal responsibility for the consequences of those choices.  (By the way, anyone who asks for citizens’ votes and campaign contributions as a member of one party, wins an election, and then decides to join the opposing party — and I don’t understand how anyone Specter’s age still isn’t sure which party he/she wants to be in; I knew when I was about 14! — should:  1) immediately resign the office, 2) refund every contribution accepted during the campaign, and 3) run again in the next election as a member of the new party.  Otherwise, the person has perpetrated a fraud upon the electorate in my opinion, and I don’t understand why voters would trust him/her ever again.)



Weekend update 4/26/09 A University of Georgia professor allegedly shot his wife (or ex-wife — they had been divorcing but still living together so there’s some confusion as to whether the divorce was final) and two men multiple times, killing all three (sounds like there was a love triangle in there somewhere), at a community theater in Athens, Georgia and then fled.  So far he’s left no trace (e.g. credit card or cell phone use), but that may be because he’s already committed suicide somewhere else (of course it may also be that he planned his escape carefully and he’s on the run – we’ve seen both exit strategies fairly recently in other cases).  And if I hear one more person say that this was a perfectly respectable guy who just “snapped,” I think I’m going to throw up.  I guess by “snapped” people mean that he seemed normal to them shortly before the shootings and then obviously behaved extremely abnormally.  As I’ve explained many times, here and on t.v., it’s highly unlikely that a split-second transformation from normal to abnormal thinking occurred.  It’s far more likely that he became increasingly enraged with the wife over time, that he prepared to kill her at some point (he obviously had at least one gun, and reportedly possibly more than one, with him), that he decided (maybe on the spur of the moment but decided nonetheless) to do it this weekend, and that he knew not only what he was doing but that it was wrong by society’s standards (maybe not by his, but by society’s, i.e. the law’s, as evidenced by his flight, i.e. consciousness of guilt).  This whole “snapping” thing is really more historical and cultural myth than scientific reality — even totally psychotic people who don’t even know what they’re doing (let alone that it’s wrong) usually get that way gradually, and if they ever get that way in an instant, it’s extremely, I mean extremely, rare. 

There was also a shooting on the campus of Hampton University in Virginia.  An 18-year-old former student reportedly returned to the campus, entered the men’s dormitory, shot a pizza delivery driver and a front desk attendant (it looks like they’re both going to survive), and then shot himself (also apparently non-fatally).  No word yet on the shooter’s history, but given that he was 18 and already a “former” student, I’ll bet he had some fairly obvious problems that should’ve kept him from having access to a firearm and/or off the streets completely.

On last Friday’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, we discussed the “Craigslist Killer” case, and “criminal profiler” (I don’t know what her credentials are – I think she worked for the FBI, but I’ve never heard her addressed as “Dr.”) Pat Brown seemed like she misunderstood my response to one of Jane’s questions.  Jane asked me how a specific group of serial killers including Ted Bundy and the “BTK” killer could go for years (decades in BTK’s case) murdering people without being caught and without their closest friends and families suspecting anything and whether race may somehow play a role (most famous serial killers and all of the ones she listed in her question are white, and I think Jane was asking if maybe people don’t catch these guys for a long time because they mistakenly stereotype criminals as members of racial minority groups).  I explained that serial killers of the type that she asked about tend to possess two kinds of intelligence (which anyone of any race can have):  1) standard intelligence (at least average if not above-average I.Q.) that allows them to plan their attacks and escapes carefully, and 2) emotional intelligence that allows them to play and prey on others’ emotions and to effectively manipulate and deceive people.  Brown chimed in that people who kill multiple victims are not always intelligent and/or charming.  OK, but that was neither Jane’s question nor my answer.  I’ll give Pat the benefit of the doubt though because it is hard sometimes to listen to what everyone else on a six-person panel is saying while simultaneously formulating what you want to say next.  By the way, the suspect in the Craigslist case is reportedly on “suicide watch” (I recently wrote about the whole “suicide watch” thing involving the alleged rapist and murderer of Sandra Cantu).

In somewhat lighter news, Octomommy reportedly wants to start back to school and start dating, as if she has time for either while being responsible for 14 children, eight of whom are infants.  Seriously, “Adoption Idol,” how about it?  She gets her show and her money, the kids get good homes, and Americans can actually feel OK about watching this celebritrash because there will be a positive aspect to it.

Finally, on last Wednesday’s Prime News, they did a story about a lawsuit over the disruption of a wedding (I wasn’t in that segment).  Apparently, at the reception, a woman started yelling about how she’d been having sex with the groom (which he says wasn’t true), mortifying and humiliating the bride and resulting in the party’s cancellation.  The bride is now suing the other woman for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and someone asked how you’d prove that a person had suffered emotional distress.  Answer:  You’d send her to a forensic psychologist who’d examine her for signs of emotional distress and its causation and explain the findings to the court.

Love can be a blindfold & other observations 4/23/09 On Wednesday’s Prime News, we discussed the “Craigslist Killer” suspect, whose girlfriend continues to proclaim his innocence even though the victims’ underwear and the murder weapon have reportedly been recovered from his home, and Casey Anthony, whose parents proclaimed her innocence on CBS’s Early Show (Cindy Anthony even repeated Casey’s explanation for why she didn’t report Caylee missing for over a month — Casey was “afraid” of the “kidnapper” — right, and partying all the while!).  On the way home from the studio, I was reflecting on the show, and it struck me that the two stories had a common thread — they both illustrate what a “blindfold” love can be.  Sometimes people don’t even realize they’re wearing it, as I think is the case with the “Craigslist” suspect’s girlfriend, who seems to be in complete denial that her dream of marrying the would-be doctor and living happily ever after is turning into a nightmare.  Others put the blindfold on voluntarily, choosing to ignore obvious faults in their loved ones, as I think is the case with the Anthonys. 

Speaking of Casey Anthony, I’m reiterating my prediction that there ultimately will be a plea deal in the case, even though Cindy (in Wednesday’s CBS interview) said there wouldn’t be.  To me, the Anthony case is becoming more and more like O.J. #1 in that the evidence is mostly circumstantial, but there’s a mountain of it, and it strongly implicates the defendant.  The key difference here is that Casey is highly unlikely to get a sympathetic jury, as O.J. had, or even one sympathetic juror.  That’s why I think her attorney ultimately will sit her down and discuss her odds of being convicted, her odds of getting the death penalty, and her odds of spending the rest of her life in prison, at which point I think we’re likely to get another story from her about what “really” happened to Caylee.

It’s now looking like the father of the family found dead in a New York hotel room on Monday did in fact have financial problems, and he’s not the only one.  An executive of mortgage-lending giant “Freddie Mac” committed suicide on Wednesday.  He did not, however, take anyone with him.  As I watched the Anthonys on the Early Show, it occurred to me that at least maybe George’s discussion of his brush with suicide months ago could do some good.  We’ve now seen a string of people, mostly men, who’ve been distraught about various things, mostly finances, and ended up killing themselves, and in several cases, killed others first.  Hopefully someone out there who can relate to the kind of despair that George described and may have considered suicide, perhaps even murder/suicide, will instead follow George’s lead, get some help, and still be here for his/her family months (and years) from now.

On the international front, I have to go on the record here and say that I’m concerned about the weakness that I see the political leaders (not the military) of the United States projecting to the world lately.  I’m worried that it will embolden terrorists to strike us again, sooner rather than later.  What do I mean?  I mean making a federal case, literally, of pouring some water on a terrorist’s face to spare L.A. from a 9/11-style catastrophe.  I mean locking up our own border guards for shooting a drug dealer who fled from them after entering this country illegally (and no, there’s nothing “racist” about that — I don’t want an 80-year-old Canadian woman sneaking in here either).  I mean bringing the lone pirate who survived the rescue of Capain Phillips to the United States for a trial instead of hanging him from the bow of the U.S.S. Bainbridge on the spot.  Think about the message we’re sending:  if you attack the United States, the worst that will happen to you, if you get caught, is that you’ll be brought here, tried in one of our courts, and sentenced to a facility in which you won’t even have to worry about having water poured on your face, all of your religious and dietary preferences will be respected and accommodated, and any American who insults you in any way will end up in a cell of his/her own.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for respecting people’s religions — I’ve just seen no evidence that the Guantanamo detainees are any more devout followers of their religion than are most American followers of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, yet I see us making more accommodations in Guantanamo than we make for our own citizens).  I think those who advocate such soft tactics truly believe that the use of physical force to control behavior is no longer necessary in this world, but that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature and particularly the nature of our enemies.  Both internationally and domestically, there are people who will continue to demonstrate that they’re unwilling to live peaceably among us — in the international community and in your community — it’s a fact of human life.  Such people take advantage of weakness; they back down only in the face of overwhelming strength.  To them, a different message must be sent, immediately and forcefully, that their behavior will not be tolerated by this society — i.e. they’ll either live harmlessly with us or they’ll be rendered incapable of harming us, period.  (And by the way, it’s folly to think that terrorists will treat an American hostage any differently based on how we treat our prisoners.  If that were true, the worst that terrorists would’ve done to American hostages in recent years is “waterboarding,” yet I seem to recall some beheadings.)

Finally tonight, study this:  The latest research indicates that the belief in “NSAID” (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) pain relievers’ ability to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease may be a myth.  The jury’s really still out though, especially on whether NSAID’s might slow the progression of Alzheimers.  (Of course anyone who’s thinking of starting or stopping a medication regimen should consult his/her physician.)

Another family murder/suicide and no show for Blago 4/22/09 Another entire family was found dead on Monday, this time in a New York hotel room.  Cops are saying that it appears to be another tragic murder/suicide, but no apparent motive has been reported (neither a note nor financial troubles have been discovered).  The father (and assumed perpetrator) and his wife had come to visit their daughter at college and had brought their younger son with them.  As is often the case, friends and neighbors (like those of the “Craigslist Killer”) are of little help.  They say things like, “We can’t believe it,” “We never noticed anything unusual,” etc., but their cluelessness generally says more about how little they really knew about the perpetrators than it says about the perpetrators.  Murder/suicides generally fall into one of three categories:  1)  The murderer, driven by hatred of the intended victim(s), premeditates his/her actions, kills the victim(s), and then commits suicide to avoid facing justice, 2) The murderer, driven by rage (possibly but not necessarily psychotic rage), kills the victim(s) on impulse, and then commits suicide because of overwhelming guilt feelings and/or because he/she realizes that his/her life is ruined (he/she will be caught, tried, imprisoned, etc.), or 3)  The murderer, driven by psychosis (e.g. a fantasy about taking his/her loved one(s) to a “better place”), premeditates his/her actions, kills the victim(s), and then commits suicide to “join” the victim(s) in death.  It’s tough to imagine a father hating his entire family or even becoming enraged at his entire family (absent some kind of psychosis), so as details emerge, I predict that the father will start to psychologically resemble the perpetrators of other recent murder/suicides.  (If he doesn’t, I’d have to consider very carefully the possibility that it wasn’t a murder/suicide after all.)  I do think there’s a “copycat” phenomenon involved in the cluster of these cases that has formed in recent months in that potential perpetrators of Type 3 above — people who are already delusional — are getting “inspired” by these incidents to try to effectuate their own “paradise” fantasies.  It would be interesting to talk with people, especially clergy, who knew the perpetrators well and study their beliefs about the after-life.  I’ll bet that a strong belief in some sort of blissful “paradise” state is a common thread among them.  (I’m not saying that it’s psychotic or delusional to believe in “Heaven.”  I certainly hope that’s where I’m going someday!  I’m just speculating that these folks believed in Heaven and then became deluded into thinking that killing their families and themselves was a good “shortcut” to get there — to escape this world and be with their loved ones with no financial troubles, no relationship troubles, etc.)


By the way, guess who’s the latest “celebritrash” (one who has “celebrity” status only/mostly because of trashy/scandalous behavior) to be denied a reality show?  No, not Octomommy (but she’s a perfect example of celebritrash!).  It’s former Illinois Gov. Blagojevich!  Even though he’s facing multiple felony charges (of which he’s innocent until proven guilty), he wanted to go to Costa Rica to be on a show called “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!”  After prosecutors pointed out that Blagojevich could attempt to remain in Costa Rica after the show to avoid possible imprisonment in the United States, a federal judge denied the request on Tuesday and suggested that the former governor spend the time preparing for trial instead.

“Craigslist” suspect in custody, Miss California, hysterics in D.C., and a new “addiction” 4/20/09 An arrest has been made in the case of the “Craigslist” killer.  The suspect is a Boston-area med student.  I predict that there are more victims than the three we know of so far, and I hope that any other victims out there will put aside their own legal concerns (i.e. of being charged with prostitution, etc.) and come forward to help the D.A. get a conviction.  We don’t know much more about the suspect yet, but as details emerge, I predict they’ll be consistent with my initial observation that narcissism seemed to be at the core of his sociopathic behavior (see my previous post).  While it’s certainly not common, it’s not unheard of for someone in the medical field, someone who’s supposed to care about and want to help people, to be a killer.  Also, while some brain-imaging studies have found atrophy in certain areas of sociopaths’ brains (like the areas that process emotional impulse control, but we don’t know which comes first, the atrophy or the sociopathic behavior, and either way, it’s no excuse because people are expected to use their intellects to override destructive emotional impulses — doesn’t matter if it’s harder for some than others, being non-destructive is a low-enough bar that virtually everyone can be expected to get over it), the areas of their brains that handle “executive functioning” (planning, problem-solving, etc.) typically work well, meaning that an above-average I.Q. would be consistent with someone who committed a string of crimes like those attributed to the “Craigslist killer” (crimes involving careful planning, selection of victims, etc., as opposed to your everyday purse-snatching mugger whose I.Q. would typically be below average — that’s why I always point out that sociopaths consciously choose to inflict harm even though they’ve got more than enough brain power to figure out that it’s wrong). 

Someone named “Perez Hilton,” who apparently was a judge at the recent Miss U.S.A. pageant and who looks and sounds to me like his I.Q. is just shy of Paris Hilton’s, has publicly called a contestant, Miss California, stupid after she was asked whether she thought every state should legalize gay marriage and graciously said she was raised to believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.  Well “Perez,” for completely secular reasons that I’ve explained here previously (having primarily to do with the grounds for involving the government in people’s love relationships), I believe Miss California’s position on the matter has intellectual validity, and while I rarely say it, I do happen to be among the most highly-educated people in this country.  Disagreement with you does not make a person stupid, “Perez” (I’d generally suspect the opposite), and neither does one’s espousal of a moral belief rooted in religion.

There are some disingenuous hysterics going on in Washington this week over supposed “permanent psychological damage” to people whose “psychological damage,” if any, seems to me highly unlikely to be “permanent.”  The first category of supposedly “permanently damaged” people includes terror suspects who were coercively interrogated at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere (a practice with which I’m comfortable, for reasons I’ve explained here previously).  I believe that being interrogated by the C.I.A. is no fun, but I’ve heard absolutely zero evidence to support the contention that a single terror suspect has “permanent” psychological damage from it, and I’m skeptical.  (By the way, while we’re on the subject of terrorism, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano owes an apology to America’s veterans.  A recent report by her department on terror threats to the U.S. mainland focused inexplicably on American veterans being susceptible to “radicalization” instead of on Al Qaeda.  Sure, there could be a wacko or two among just about any large group, but on the whole, our own veterans are pretty much the last group of people Americans should fear!  As the grandson, son, and brother of veterans, I found the report insulting.)  In addition to terror suspects, the A.C.L.U. believes that a former middle school student suffered permanent psychological damage when she was strip searched for drugs at her school years ago — at least that’s the argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Again, I believe that a strip search by the school nurse was no fun for the girl, and it does sound over the top when you consider that the drug in question was ibuprofen (that’s Advil), but arguing that it caused “permanent” psychological damage is likely to be equally over the top in my opinion (and I’ll also bet that the principal who ordered the search had a greater-than-average reason to suspect this particular girl of causing trouble).

Study this:  “Video-game addiction”?  That’s right, a new study is actually suggesting that kids become “addicted” to video games.  Great, now we’ll have “economic stimulus” money going for “video-game addiction” “treatment.”  Once again, this is my point about “addiction”:  anything people enjoy enough that they’ll keep doing it even when they’re clearly being damaged by it could be labeled an “addiction.”  But there are mental and behavioral components of “addiction.”  The mental component, the “disorder” (or “disease” if you must apply that label), is the wanting to continue doing something that’s damaging oneself.  If it’s an illegal activity like snorting cocaine, I blame the “addict” for that component because he/she never should’ve done it in the first place to find out that he/she liked it.  If it’s playing video games, I have a little more sympathy for the “addict” because that’s an activity that one could reasonably have expected to be able to engage in safely and legally (especially a young child whose behavior-regulation abilities aren’t fully developed yet).  The behavioral component is the actual continual doing of the thing after it’s clear that it’s damaging the person.  I blame the “addict” (or the parents of the child “video-game addict”) for that component in virtually all cases because the mere psychological and/or physical desire to do the thing does not force one to keep doing it.  I am so sick of people calling the behavioral component a “medical problem” or a “disease” that has to be “treated” with a “medical model.”  Of course “addicts” love that terminology because it excuses them from taking personal responsibility for their behavior, but it does nothing in my experience to stop their behavior.  In my experience, actually helping them stop the behavior has mental and behavioral components as well.  The mental component of stopping addiction, in my opinion, is actually empowering addicts (rather than letting them see themselves as victims) — helping them see that they can choose to stop the behavior at any time.  Addicts and believers in the “medical model” of addiction love to say, “it’s not a moral issue.”  Yes it is!  The behavioral component of stopping addiction, in my opinion, is making it either impossible for addicts to keep doing the behavior or more “painful” for them to keep doing it than to stop it.  In the case of illegal drug “addiction,” that means stiff penalties for users as well as dealers and truly drug-free jails/prisons (not the “treatment”-based Obama strategy).  You may have heard me state “Dr. Brian’s Silver Rule” (there’s already a “Golden Rule” from a much higher authority):  “You don’t get people to do more of the right thing by making it easier for them to do the wrong thing.”  Well it’s also true that you can get people to do more of the right thing by making it harder for them to do the wrong thing.”  In other words, as I often tell parents, make the right path be the “path of least resistance,” i.e. make it easier, much easier, to do the right thing than it is to do the wrong thing, and you’re likely to see more of the right thing being done.  It’s simple behaviorism.  In the case of this bogus “video-game addiction” the behavioral “treatment” is extremely simple.  I’ll administer it right here without even getting any “stimulus” money from taxpayers:  All parents have to do is pull the plug on the video games (of course that requires actual parental involvement in their children’s lives).  One article about this new “addiction” to video games says that a key “symptom” is having “tried unsuccessfully to stop (playing).”  Do you see how stupid that is?  What are these people talking about — “tried unsuccessfully to stop”?  Huh?  As if whether to play or not play a video game isn’t 100% the player’s (or parent’s) choice?  It’s not that anyone has “tried unsuccessfully to stop,” folks.  It’s that someone thought it might be better to stop playing, then stopped playing temporarily, then decided it was worth it to start playing (or to allow a child to start playing) again.  It’s that simple.  Think about what an insult it is to someone who has a real medical disease, through no fault of his/her own (someone who’d love to just be able to unplug a cord and live symptom-free), for so-called “experts” to say that someone who plays video or casino games excessively (or has sex excessively or consumes alcohol or drugs excessively…) is also a “victim” of a “medical disease”!

Wrapping up the week 4/18/09 On Thursday’s Prime News, we did live coverage of the second memorial service in weeks marking the incredibly sad, incredibly senseless death of a little girl, this time Sandra Cantu (the last time was Caylee Anthony).  I was especially struck by the obvious emotional toll that the case had taken on the law enforcement officers who spoke.  As both the son of a retired law enforcement officer and someone who has a number of friends in law enforcement, I can tell you that it’s incorrect to think they haven’t been wounded just because they haven’t been shot or otherwise bloodied in the line of duty.  Law enforcement people often suffer more emotionally than even their families ever know.  I was glad to see politicians at the memorial service, but if they really care about crimes like what happened to Sandra, I’d like to see them get back to Washington and Sacramento and get tougher on first-time child abusers.  As I often say, we’re giving people far too many “second chances” to victimize children in this country.  Because it’s a woman in custody for the apparent rape and murder of Sandra, people have a lot of questions, so here are a few preliminary answers.  Yes, it’s statistically less common for females to be molesters, but this points out two things:  1) the weakness of “profiling” in trying to predict the kind of people we’re looking for during the investigations of major crimes, and 2) the pervasiveness of perversity (it’s not just white male loners who live in their moms’ basements).  The suspect reportedly has a young daughter of her own, so of course it’s totally reasonable to be extremely concerned about what’s happened to that girl, and I hope she’s undergoing thorough physical and psychological examinations.  This is a good time to remind folks that pedophilia exists in the mind only — it’s a mental disorder — and that when people act on it, they’re making conscious choices for which they must be held 100% responsible.  I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that the pedophile’s desire to have sex with kids is any stronger than a normal adult’s desire to have sex with adults, so it’s an equally controllable desire.  Never fall into the trap of thinking that people do things like this simply because they’re “sick.”  They may be “sick,” but that doesn’t make them do anything (I’ll get further into this in the next story).  It’s understandable that children who hear about this case might be more worried by it than usual because, even though they’ve (hopefully) been taught not to trust any strangers at all, they often make unconscious assumptions that strangers who are women, moms especially, can be trusted.  Two important points:  1) don’t trust any strangers at all, and 2) this kind of thing is an extremely rare thing to happen to a child whether a man or a woman is responsible.  The bottom line is that we want kids to be safe, which means we want them to be cautious, but we don’t want them to be paranoid because of unrealistic fears.  Lastly on this, the suspect (who’s innocent until proven guilty of course) is reportedly on “suicide watch” while in jail for a death penalty offense.  Am I the only one who always finds that a little bit funny — we’re going to make sure they don’t kill themselves so we can have a chance to spend millions of dollars and a couple of decades to do it?  Hmmm, wonder if there’s a shortcut to justice in there somewhere…I know, I know, what a horrible thing to say.  

Women who offer such services as massages and “private dances” on web sites like “Craig’s List” beware.  No, I’m not blaming victims, but look, there’s a guy on the loose on the east coast who’s arranging to meet such women in hotels, ostensibly to do “business” with them, then tying them up and robbing them, and he’s killed one who apparently tried to resist.  He’s been labeled the “Craig’s List Killer.”  The multiple gunshot wounds inflicted on the woman who apparently resisted point out something else of interests — looks like he was enraged by the resistance (because he reportedly inflicted far more damage than would’ve been required to subdue or even kill his victim).  Think about that, he’s enraged because she wouldn’t just give him whatever he wanted.  It really shows the narcissism that’s at the core of the kind of people who do these crimes, Sandra Cantu’s murderer included.  They feel (and I don’t care why, like if it’s because they feel they’ve been abused or oppressed or whatever) so entitled to whatever it is that they want (money, sex, etc.) that they’re entitled to hurt, even kill, other human beings to get it.  Now I’m not saying these creeps are always mentally healthy people, but that’s not mental illness folks — that’s just plain evil.

There’s been another parental murder/suicide, this time in Maryland, where a father apparently killed his wife and two children and then himself.  Speaking of the trauma that law enforcement officers endure on the job, it’s being reported that the father cut some of the family members severely and repeatedly with a knife before killing himself, leaving a horrific crime scene for cops to find.  He also apparently left multiple notes, as in the recent Binghamton, New York mass-murder/suicide and the mother-son murder suicide at a Florida shooting range.  No details yet on the apparent motive or the content of the notes, but it sounds likely that some unfortunate similarities to other cases about which I’ve written recently (in terms of foreseeability, preventability, etc.) will emerge.  I doubt that anyone who’s ever contemplated doing anything like that reads this blog but just in case:  Of course I don’t want people killing themselves; as a mental health professional I want you to call 911 and get some emergency help; but if you’re going to do it no matter what, then leave other people out of it!  You have no right to take anyone else with you (as if you can be certain that they’d end up in the same place with you anyway)!

Tax day, April 15th, was this week, and I’d just like to point out some hypocrisy.  Several Cabinet appointees now have been caught making “errors” in their income tax filings.  Interestingly, 100% of those “errors” have been in the appointees’ favor.  Keep in mind that these are people who claim to believe that it’s “patriotic” to pay higher taxes and that wealth should be redistributed.  Well, if they really believed that, they’d be “erring” on the side of the United States every time, and they’d be overpaying, wouldn’t they?

Also on the political front, there was a lot of noise being made this week about medical and mental health professionals participating in the interrogation of terror suspects.  I’ve written about this before, so here’s all I have to add this week:  It’s naïve for people to simply say that participation in interrogations violates the “do no harm” tenet among health care professionals and is therefore unethical.  For instance, if a doctor helps the military design a weapon that temporarily paralyzes people on the battlefield, the doctor is helping inflict harm on people, but it’s non-lethal harm, inflicted on people who pose threats, for the purpose of protecting innocent people, and I’m fine with it.

Study this #1:  Researchers have found genetic markers that may enable them to predict who’s at heightened risk for strokes and target those patients for preventive interventions.  Both as an expert and as a family member of someone who recently suffered a stroke, I can say that better predictability and prevention would be great.  In the meantime though, everyone should learn to recognize the signs of a stroke (I last wrote about them here back on 9/16/08), and get a potential stroke patient to a hospital as quickly as possible (911).  New medications are almost miraculous in their abilities to prevent long-term damage from many strokes, but they must be administered shortly thereafter to be effective.

Study this #2:  New research suggests that the anti-seizure and mood-stabilizing drug valproate (“Depakote,” prescribed to many people with bipolar disorder) inhibits brain development in babies whose mothers take it during pregnancy.  Early childhood I.Q. testing suggests significant intelligence deficits (roughly 10% when compared to the national average) among children whose mothers were on valproate during their gestation.

To wrap up the week on an uplifting note, literally, Google “Susan Boyle” and watch the YouTube video of her singing.  I found the story of the unassuming British woman whose talent wowed the world this week inspiring, and if you haven’t already seen it, I think you will too.  Have a good weekend.

Study this 4/15/09 All kinds of new studies came out on Monday.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Apparently it takes the brain longer to process information of a social or psychological nature than of a physical nature.  For example, if someone tells you how he/she is feeling (e.g. upset about a breakup), it would take your brain longer to process that than it would take to process a story about what he/she is doing (e.g. walking down a street).  It’s not so much the finding but the implication that’s interesting.  Supposedly, researchers are worried that the fast pace of social-networking interactions on services like Twitter will cause people to become less empathic (i.e. to forego the processing time necessary to really connect with other people emotionally).  I’ve explained previously why I don’t understand Twitter and why I think people who use it profusely might be a little off, but this latest study doesn’t really add much.  (By the way, another recent study actually suggested that people who spend some time on social networking sites during the work day — they even named it “WILB,” workplace Internet leisure browsing! — are actually more productive than people who actually work all day long!  Supposedly intermittent web-surfing “breaks” keep people from “zoning out” at their jobs.  OK, I’m going to go ahead and call bogus on that one and bet that it was funded by one or more of the social networking companies!)

Another new study, this one by the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that Americans are under increasing stress, likely coinciding with the state of the economy.  Ten percent of a national sample of 1.2 million people endorsed feeling significant negative emotions half or more of the time.  My home state of Kansas, interestingly, was included in the “upper Midwest” region, which actually reported a level of stress below the national average at just 8%.  Hawaiians fared best though, with just 6.6% of them reporting frequent emotional distress.

Finally tonight, another new study provided further evidence that type 2 diabetics are at heightened risk of developing dementia later in their lives.

P.S.  As I predicted, pirates off the coast of Somalia are right back at it after the U.S. Navy shot three of them and took one into custody on Sunday.  The pirates have hijacked another four ships, none of them American, and attempted to hijack an American ship, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at it as the Navy raced toward the scene.  Like I said, the only thing these people will respond to is force.  They need to see that the civilized nations of the world — which usually, in practice, pretty much means the United States — will kill significant numbers of them every day until they’re either all gone or they stop causing trouble.

“Suicide by polar bear” and “heart-healthy” prisons (including one for Phil Spector) 4/13/09

So, last week we had our first attempted “suicide by fighter pilot,” and this week, we have another creative new way to attempt suicide — “suicide by polar bear.”  No, I’m not kidding.  A German woman climed over a barrier and jumped into a pool of water in which polar bears were swimming at the Berlin Zoo.  She was bitten and scratched by the bears but was fished out of the exhibit alive by a zookeeper.  The woman reportedly was upset because she recently lost her job as…guess what…a schoolteacher.

The second time around:  Phil Spector, a “legendary” music producer (whatever — he’s a freak, look at photos of him online if you need proof) charged with murder in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson at his home six years ago, was finally found guilty in his second trial (his first trial ended with a hung jury).  The defense theory was that she committed suicide, and thus, her pre-death mental status became a huge issue in the case.  Defense attorneys argued that she had been depressed and that she committed suicide just hours after meeting Spector and accompanying him to his house for “a drink.”  Prosecutors offered evidence that she had not shown signs of depression, that Spector had a history of threatening women with guns while drinking (five women testified to that), and that Spector’s chauffeur heard both the gunshot and Spector saying, “I think I killed somebody.”  I think the jury just convicted somebody…who was guilty.

Study this #1 (this one’s familiar):  A new study added to the evidence that people with heart disease who become depressed run a heightened risk of heart failure.

Study this #2 (depending on how you interpret it, this one could be ridiculous):  A new study has found that people who’ve done prison time run a heightened risk of heart disease later in life.  Now that’s probably true, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the time they spent in prison.  Both going to prison and running a heightened risk of heart disease are probably attributable to a third factor — not basing their behaviors on careful forethought about what’s in their best interests.  I can hear defense attorneys now, “All he did was steal a car.  We can’t give him heart disease for that.”  OK, I’m on board with that, but I have a little different solution:  Go ahead and lock him up, serve him rice cakes and vegetables instead of anything that might increase his cholesterol level, get rid of the televisions, and have him engaged in cardiovascular exercise (i.e. hard work) all day long.  See, when I’m in charge, we’ll have “heart-healthy” prisons.

Dr. Brian, Piracy Czar 4/12/09

Just hours after my last post, in which I questioned why the hostage standoff involving four pirates and an American ship’s captain off the coast of Somalia hadn’t been ended by snipers aboard a nearby U.S. Navy ship, that’s exactly what’s happened.  Snipers took out three of the four pirates, the fourth surrendered, and the captain’s safely aboard the Navy ship.  Maybe I really should be “piracy czar”!  (By the way, none of the pirates will likely be alive at the end of any confrontations that happen when I’m in charge, and we’ll post video of the pirates meeting their demise on YouTube each time so any would-be pirates can see their futures, but today’s primary mission — the rescue — was accomplished, so I won’t nitpick.)

P.S.  People are already on t.v. saying that maybe this show of force by the U.S. will stop the piracy.  No way!  These pirates share the psychology of Middle Eastern terrorists when it comes to the value that they place on individual lives — none.  They’re not going to care that they lost three guys today like we Americans would, so the deaths of the three pirates will have virtually no deterrent effect on future piracy.  The most it might do is cause them to pick non-U.S.-flagged ships for a while, but ultimately, the piracy will continue until it’s pretty much universally understood that piracy is suicide (i.e. that they’ll never, under any circumstances, no matter how many ships they hijack, no matter how many hostages they take, live to enjoy any ransom they could get for them).  And by the way, this doesn’t need to be a U.S.-only endeavor.  Even the weakest of our “allies” ought to be able to cough up a ship with some big guns on it and help us out with this one.

Wrapping up the week 4/11/09

Wrapping up the week, it wasn’t that interesting of a story when it happened on Monday — a man stole a small airplane from a Canadian airport, flew it into U.S. airspace, was tailed by U.S. fighter jets, finally landed on road in Missouri, and was arrested.  I mean, there’s a more interesting car chase in L.A. just about every day.  Well, it got more interesting when it was discovered that the man had apparently been attempting to commit the first-ever “suicide by fighter pilot.”  We’ve all heard of “suicide by cop” (I just mentioned it here last weekend — it’s when a suicidal person intentionally provokes a police officer to shoot him/her), but this is a new one.  The man reportedly had left a suicide note indicating that he expected the U.S. Air Force to shoot him down.

On Wednesday’s Prime News, we covered a murder suicide in which a mother went to a Florida shooting range with her son, rented handguns for the two of them, shot her son in the head at point-blank range while he was shooting at the target, and then shot herself.  This was the second case in just days in which a clearly-psychotic person committed murder-suicide and actually left a note.  As I wrote here, the Binghamton, NY shooter left a note strongly suggesting that he had been delusional for years.  His delusions were paranoid and persecutory (that “undercover police” were following and harassing him).  The mother who shot her son at the shooting range had different kinds of delusions:  apocalyptic (that she was the “antichrist” and that many people, including her son, were going to die unless something stopped her), grandiose (that she had been an queen/angel but had become a “fallen angel,” and messianic (that she had to kill her son and herself to save the son from some kind of condemnation and to bring about peace on Earth).  You know how I always say there were plenty of signs that the people who do these things were dangerous long beforehand?  Well, here’s a classic example.  This woman reportedly had several previous suicide attempts and had even been committed to a mental institution involuntarily at least once.  Sometimes when I point these people’s histories out, I hear, “but what do you want us to do?”  If the person’s been a career criminal, as is often the case, I talk about the need to get much tougher much sooner and lock people up for longer times for lesser crimes.  If the person’s been violently mentally ill in the past, I talk about the misguided “deinstitutionalization” movement and the need to keep violent mentally-ill people institutionalized.  But here’s a case in which there was an easy way to avoid at least this specific event:  If this woman had wanted to purchase a gun (from a dealer), a background check using the NIBC (National Instant Background Check) system would’ve been required, and it would’ve (make that should’ve, hopefully would’ve) revealed her involuntary commitment, which would’ve (again, make that should’ve, hopefully would’ve) prevented the purchase.  So, if we think we need to make sure someone’s not crazy or a felon before selling him/her a gun permanently, why on Earth aren’t we making sure of those same things before selling him/her a gun temporarily (renting one to him/her)?  I’m a big proponent of the Second Amendment, but I think it’s totally reasonable to try to make sure that crazy people and felons aren’t buying guns, at least not legally.  It would help in that regard to apply the NIBC system to gun rentals as well as purchases.

There’s been an arrest in the murder of Sandra Cantu, the California eight-year-old who was missing for ten days before being found this week in a suitcase in a farm pond near her home.  The suspect is a female Sunday-school teacher, but her alleged motive is still unclear.

Finally, an American merchant ship captain remains the hostage of four modern-day pirates aboard a small boat adrift off the coast of Somalia.  The pirates briefly hijacked his ship, took the captain hostage, then fled in the small boat, which apparently ran out of gas shortly thereafter.  The U.S. Navy is on the scene, and “talks” are supposedly underway after a failed escape attempt by the captain.  Seems to me like the situation should be able to be resolved by a couple of good snipers on the deck of the nearby Navy ship, or by a Navy diver drilling a hole in the bottom of the life boat during the night, causing it to start taking on water and eventually sink, at which point there’d be five unarmed guys in the water (it’d be tough to tread water with an assault rifle), one of whom the Navy could then rescue.  I really don’t understand why this whole piracy thing is such an ongoing problem either.  Seems like it could be solved with a couple of attack helicopters permanently based on a U.S. Navy vessel in the region and some kind of “911” system for ships’ captains operating in the area whereby they’d dial “911” if approached by pirates.  A helicopter would then be on the scene within minutes, and the pirates would either turn around or be on the bottom of the ocean within seconds thereafter (and it’d be nice to see some cruise missiles slam into the pirates’ strongholds in Somalia too).  Maybe I’ve found a job that I could do in the Obama Administration — “Piracy Czar”!

Happy Passover to my Jewish friends, and happy Easter to my Christian friends!

Psychobamanalysis 4/11/09 When I’m conducting a forensic psychological examination, I ask specific questions, but I’m not just trying to learn what the examinee thinks about specific things.  I’m also trying to get at the foundations of what he/she thinks — his/her beliefs about him/herself and others, about how the world works, how it should work, etc.  I’m also trying to figure out how he/she thinks — for example, whether he/she bases his/her actions more on emotion or on logic.  While I’ve not met President Barack Obama in person, I’ve nevertheless drawn some conclusions based on an examination of his life, particularly his formative experiences, and analysis of his words and behavior on the campaign trail and during his first few months in office.

First, there are aspects of President Obama’s psychology that I think are very admirable.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call him the “First Shrink” as columnist Maureen Dowd recently did, but in general, President Obama seems to me to be highly emotionally-intelligent – to know how to be persuasive by recognizing and appealing to the motivations of others.  Unlike many politicians and Americans, I think that Obama knows exactly what he believes and that he thinks about public policy within well-developed philosophical constructs of how societies should be governed.  I think he’s principled and that he sincerely believes his policies are right for America.

When it comes to economics, perhaps in part because of the circumstances of his upbringing, I think Obama believes that historical racial and economic inequalities in this country make it incorrect to hold people mostly-personally-responsible for their outcomes in life, either on the upside or the downside.  I think he believes that successful Americans owe their success in large part to historical inequalities and that unsuccessful Americans can rightly blame their lack of success in large part on those same historical inequalities.  I believe I saw him put those beliefs into practice when he felt unfairly pressured during the campaign, a rare crack in an otherwise well-disciplined public presentation.  In a sit-down interview, Bill O’Reilly pressed then-candidate Obama to admit that he was wrong in predicting the failure of the troop surge in Iraq, but instead of taking personal responsibility for that error in judgment, Obama’s first reaction was to state that those who were right about it (e.g. Sen. McCain and President Bush) really couldn’t take any credit because they had essentially just gotten lucky (i.e. that they hadn’t expected the surge to succeed either).  Obama of course had no way to know what McCain and Bush had really expected, so that reaction, I think, revealed an underlying tendency in how Obama thinks.  I suspect that very strong emotions underlie his beliefs and give rise to a powerful motivation within him to affect what he sees as “justice” – to level what he sees as a historically-skewed playing field.  That quest for “social justice” is again a central theme of “Black Liberation Theology,” as preached in often-vituperative fashion by Rev. Jeremiah Wright at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, which Obama chose to attend for many years.  I believe that Obama sympathizes with the reverend’s ideology far more than he let on during the campaign.

When it comes to the role of government in people’s lives, I don’t think that Obama believes there’s any real distinction between society and government.  I think he believes they’re one and the same.  In that aforementioned interview with Bill O’Reilly during the campaign, then-candidate Obama actually said that it was “neighborly” for successful people to allow more of their wealth to be redistributed by government.  I think that Obama’s real belief is probably an even stronger, broader belief in collective rather than personal responsibility.  I don’t just mean a belief in collective responsibility for meeting the needs of each individual citizen.  I also mean a belief in collective responsibility for individual behavior.  I mean that Obama, I think, is likely to see crime, for example, more as a manifestation of systemic, societal failings rather than personal failings.  I think he demonstrated such a belief when he removed the “drug czar” post from his cabinet and announced that his drug policy would focus on “treatment” rather than punishment.

When it comes to the role of the U.S. in the world, I don’t think Obama believes in “American exceptionalism.”  I think he sees the U.S. as one member of an international community in which no member is superior, fundamentally or morally, to any other.  In fact, I think he believes that the world would be better off if the U.S. were actually somewhat weaker.  I think he believes that it’s time for the U.S. to go the way of Great Britain, once the superpower of the world, still a secure power but no longer in as strong a position to act – other than collectively – to impose its will beyond its borders.  In contrast to President Ronald Reagan, who believed in “peace through strength,” I think Obama essentially believes in “peace through weakness.”  I even believe that, deep down, Obama sympathizes with the ideals, though importantly NOT the actions, of 60’s radical Bill Ayers more than he let on during the campaign.

While I don’t doubt that President Obama is principled, I believe he’s also somewhat disingenuous.  I think he’s smart enough to know that his true philosophies about the role of government vis a vis society and about the role of the U.S. vis a vis the world are not shared by a majority of Americans – not yet at least.  Therefore, I think he works hard to sound like a centrist and a pragmatist when, in fact, his thinking is very far left.  While I have nothing against the man personally, as an expert in human behavior and how human behavior is regulated and channeled into productivity, I believe that Obama’s honestly-held core beliefs reflect fundamental misunderstandings of human nature and of how to maximize human potential, both individually and collectively (if you’re a regular reader, you know why I think we’re here on this planet and what I think the role of government should be vis a vis the individual).  That’s why I think it’s critically important, now more than ever, to understand our president’s core beliefs — if we ever embrace them fully, I believe the U.S.A. will be well on its way to becoming the U.S.S.A.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind? 4/6/09 Let’s mix it up and start off with a life-imitating-art “Study this”:  It may not be a real-life version of the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but that’s where memory researchers think they may be heading.  They’ve identified specific places within the brain in which certain types of memories are stored and have been able to chemically inhibit the functioning of those areas in mice, effectively “erasing” the memories stored within them.

Chris Brown might like to use that technology to erase Rhianna’s memory of what happened to her several weeks ago while riding in a car with him.  He was charged with assaulting her and has now pled not-guilty.  Some who are cynical about the likelihood that he’ll receive stiff punishment if convicted have pointed to a relatively lax sentence, one year in prison, recently handed down to fellow rapper T.I. for attempting to purchase illegal firearms.  I get the objection to “celebrity justice,” and I’d agree, but unfortunately, you’d be surprised how often that same lax justice is handed out to unknown defendants.  It’s pretty much the rule rather than the exception across the board these days.

There’s new information about the deceased shooter in last Friday’s Binghamton, NY rampage.  He sent a note to a television station before the massacre, making his killing spree even more reminiscent of the 2007 Virginia Tech bloodbath.  In the note, he rambles on and on in extremely poor English expressing what appear to be paranoid delusions about being persecuted for years by “undercover” police officers.  Oh yeah, and guess what else?  The dude apparently had a legitimate gun permit, even though he was mentally unstable and had been arrested at least twice, convicted at least once (of writing a bad check).

Sandra Cantu, a California eight-year-old missing for the past ten days has, sadly, been found dead.  Her body was discovered late Monday in a suitcase in a pond on a farm not far from her home.  The search for Cantu made national news last week but really didn’t get major traction, in part I think because of the ongoing Anthony and Cummings coverage.  Both the media and viewers are limited in terms of time (airtime for the media, attention span for viewers) and resources (coverage resources for the media, emotional resources for viewers) in their abilities to follow more than a couple of major cases simultaneously wall-to-wall.  The investigation into Cantu’s disappearance and death continues.

A new report by the Red Cross condemns medical and psychological professionals who attended interrogations of terrorists using coercive techniques at Guantanamo Bay over the past few years.  As I’ve written and said before, such participation generally doesn’t concern me at all, and I certainly don’t think it’s per-se unethical.  Just yesterday, I reiterated the view here that I’m less concerned about the “rights” of violent individuals than I am about the innocent people they’re likely to harm.  I was referring then to volatile mentally-ill people here in the U.S.A., but the philosophy applies to Guantanamo as well, and as I’ve reported here, polling suggests that a clear majority of Americans agree.

Lastly tonight, a new column by Maureen Dowd dubs President Obama the “First Shrink,” touting his emotional intelligence as evidenced by his ability to charm European leaders.  Specifically, she cites moves like offering the foreign leaders the option to speak first at joint press conferences as signs of psychological brilliance.  I’m sure he’s a personable guy, but personally, I need to see more before I recommend an honorary Ph.D. for him.

Already… 4/5/09 Just hours after my last post, a couple of sad “I told you so’s.”  Looks like the mother in Washington’s filicide case (her husband killed their five children and himself) was caught cheating on the father, which apparently precipitated his murderous rampage.  Is it possible that such a shock could precipitate a person’s first-ever psychotic episode and that such an episode could be homicidal?  Theoretically, yes, but I’ll still bet he’d been volatile in the past.  Now of course the mother is not directly to blame for the shootings — her husband pulled the trigger — but if the reports are true, then as I suspected, she’s apparently someone who was more interested in looking out for herself than for her children.

We’re also hearing that the ambush shooter in Pennsylvania was known to have been violent in the past — the cops apparently had responded to domestic violence calls involving the shooter in the past — and was also an outspoken white supremacist who’d been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military.  See what I mean?  A known-violent white supremacist living with his mother and amassing a stockpile of guns (the cops probably didn’t know about that, and it could’ve saved lives had his mother tipped them off) is a ticking time bomb.  Some have suggested that maybe he was trying to commit “suicide by cop.”  I don’t think so — he reportedly wore body armor and surrendered to cops when one of his guns jammed.

One last addition:  In the wake of last Friday’s massacre in Binghamton, New York, this cop ambush in Pennsylvania, and other murderous rampages in Alabama, California, Massachusetts and elsewhere, in which the killers reportedly have been disaffected because they’ve been unemployed, I’m being asked why I think we’re seeing these things happening at such an alarming rate.  First of all, I agree that there’s been an increase in these incidents.  As I’ve said many times, I don’t think it’s the economy directly.  I think these are people who’ve been mentally-disturbed long before lately.  Maybe financial stress is the thing that’s putting them “over the edge” into homicidality, which is why we’re seeing them go “over the edge” semi-simultaneously as the economy has deteriorated, but even without that, I think they probably would’ve gone “over the edge” eventually anyway, with different “last straws” occurring at different times.  I think there are other factors in play as well though.  These people are enraged when they do these things, and we, as a society, have been allowing and excusing people’s rage behavior over the past couple of decades.  As I’ve often said, shooting up a place is virtually never the first violent or crazy thing a person does, but I think we’ve been far too “understanding” and tolerant of their more minor rage behaviors over the years, when we may have had opportunities to stop them long ago.  For example, someone convicted of domestic violence can’t own a firearm, at least not legally, but even if someone had reported the Philadelphia cop ambush shooter for owning guns, I’m not confident that anything would’ve been done about it.  At at time when people are being raised to think in terms of right and wrong less than ever, it’s more important than ever that the secular government show that the secular society will NOT tolerate behavior that puts innocent people in danger (i.e. that we’ll take violent people out of society, for a long time, the first time).  Unfortunately, at a time when people are being raised to think in terms of right and wrong less than ever, those in government seem to be be similarly reluctant to make the tough judgments that are necessary to regulate behavior effectively.  As I wrote after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, that shooter went before a judge for crazy behavior well in advance of the massacre, and instead of ordering the shooter into a mental health facility, the judge let him go “voluntarily,” ostensibly to spare him a record of involuntary commitment.  Well, look what happened.  He checked in, checked out, and later shot up the school.  As you know if you’re a regular reader, I think the “deinstitutionalization” movement — the decision to do everything we can NOT to lock volatile mentally-ill people up — has been a deadly failure in this regard.  We’ve got to stop worrying so much about the disaffected individual and start worrying more about the innocent people whom he/she might hurt.  Also, while the media has to cover these stories because there’s a strong “need-to-know” factor, I think it does create an unfortunate copycat effect — I think it both gives other disaffected crackpots ideas about how to “be somebody” and shows them how relatively-easy it is to do.

Deja vu x 2 4/5/09 There’s been another police ambush in which three Pennsylvania cops were called to the scene of an apparently-minor incident where they were then shot and killed.  At first, this one looked like a copycat case to me, likely inspired by the recent shootings of four cops and by the disgusting, revolting, vile, inhuman glorification of the shooter — a worthless piece of human debris — by a bunch of cop-hating morons, mostly criminals themselves I’ll bet, who thereafter paraded through the streets in his honor in the California community where it occurred.  Upon learning more, however, this Philadelphia ambush looks like a case of a guy who was, once again, predictably violent, probably mentally-disturbed though not to the point of insanity — he survived a shootout with cops, so maybe we’ll actually have a chance to find out what was going on with him mentally, but he reportedly had been stockpiling guns for some time to prepare for some kind of national chaos or Armageddon or anarchy or something — about whom law enforcement didn’t hear in time to stop a tragedy.  Apparently, his mother, with whom he was living, actually did call police this time (to come and help her evict her son from her house), but the notice to law enforcement that there was a dangerous individual in the home came too late.  Now I’m not an anti-gun guy at all — I believe in the right of mentally-healthy, law-abiding Americans to have guns for their and their families’ protection — and I’m sure the mother, like the mother of the guy who killed two of his sisters in the Boston area last weekend, didn’t want to believe her son was homicidal.  But, for future reference, if the rest of us hear of some adult male living with his mother and stockpiling guns (i.e. supposedly can’t afford his own place but can afford numerous weapons), I’d say there are enough red flags in that situation to tip off the cops right then, not after we see it escalating to a point where the mother can’t handle it.  They may not be able to do anything right at that moment if the guy hasn’t broken any laws, but at least they might then be aware of what they’re walking into when they eventually do get called over there.       

There’s also been another horrible filicide case this weekend, this time a father shooting and killing five children and then committing suicide (guess which of the six deaths I couldn’t care less about) in the State of Washington.  In this case, it appears that the father had a fight with the children’s mother, who then left the home, after which the father went on his shooting spree.  Of course relatives and neighbors are saying what a nice couple they seemed to be, which as usual says more about the cluelessness of the relatives and neighbors than it says about the couple.  What I’ll bet we have here, yet again, is a case of a mother allowing her kids to be alone in a house with a person who had demonstrated dangerous volatility time after time, but I could be wrong.


Wrapping up the week 4/3/09

Details are still unfolding about Friday’s shooting massacre, tragically reminiscent of 2007’s Virginia Tech massacre, this time at a New York immigration center, in which 14 people died (13 that I care about, plus the cowardly shooter, who committed suicide on the scene, but instead of just taking his own worthless ass out, chose to take innocent people with him).  One of the details yet to be revealed is a motive, but there clearly was one — the shooter barricaded the back door of the center so no one could escape, which means that it was pre-meditated and that he was NOT just a “crazy” guy who “snapped.”  Apparently, he’d been laid off recently from his job, but as I’ve said and written many times, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been laid off from their jobs in the past year, so that wasn’t it, and it doesn’t look like terrorism either.  As usual, when his history comes out, I predict that there will have been plenty of warning signs that the guy was dangerous long before today.  Another aspect of this case that interests me as a psychologist is what it demonstrates about eyewitness memory.  I haven’t talked or written much about that lately, but it’s amazing how unreliable eyewitness memory can be and how easy it can be to suggest things to people that never happened but that they nevertheless then think they remember.   For example, today’s shooter turned out to be in his 40’s after initial eyewitness accounts identified him as being much younger.  Of course the most important aspects of the case to remember are the deceased victims, as well as their families and the 20+ wounded survivors who will need the same kinds of support about which I wrote after the Virginia Tech tragedy.

There’s another lawsuit by parents against a school, this time in Ohio, holding the school partly responsible for their son’s suicide because it failed to protect him from relentless bullying on school grounds.  I don’t know many details of this latest case, but as I’ve written here before, I generally support these lawsuits.  I don’t think America’s schools do nearly enough to ensure that no child — and I mean not one in the entire country — is afraid to go to school Monday morning because of what might happen to him/her at the hands of another student right under the noses of a bunch of negligent adults.

Apparently the latest big thing in social networking, Twitter, which I generally find annoying, actually has done some good.  Personally, I’d never take time to tell anyone about every little move I made, nor would I assume that anyone would care, nor would I think that anyone who did care had much of a life, and I certainly wouldn’t care to know about every little move that anyone else made.  All that notwithstanding, apparently a group of people “Twittering,” including actress Demi Moore, learned through Twitter postings that someone was suicidal and got emergency personnel to the scene in time to save the person’s life.

It’s being reported that a man aged 60+ was found during an MRI to have had a nail lodged inside of him for at least 30 years.  The man reportedly says he doesn’t know how the nail got inside of him, and I guess that’s possible, but believe it or not, there are people who insert objects like nails underneath their skin and sometimes even swallow such items in a rare form of self-mutilation.  The dude in this case doesn’t look mentally-disturbed to me (I saw video of him talking about it), so it’s anyone’s guess, including his according to him, how this particular nail got inside of him.  It’s out now by the way.

Finally tonight, there was a big public push this week for “Autism awareness,” including “Autism Awareness Day” on Thursday.  That’s a good thing for the kids who really do have the disorder, but as I’ve said and written repeatedly, I think this disorder is being overhyped and overblown.  I don’t believe for a second that one of every 150 kids born in this country is Autistic (that’s the statistic that Autism advocates are touting).  The only way that I can see to get to that level of prevalence (frequency), short of making it up outright, is to stretch the diagnostic criteria to the point that far more kids can be included in the affected group than I believe are truly suffering from that, or any, disorder.  Again, that’s not to say that no child is Autistic or that Autistic kids don’t need and deserve the best treatments that can be devised by the mental health field.  I’m just saying I don’t like the strategy that I believe I’m seeing from activist groups, which is to magnify the prevalence of a disorder to attract more attention and more dollars to it.

Have a good weekend!

Another “Mother of the Year” contestant 4/2/09

We have another “Mother of the Year” contestant, this one right here in my backyard.  A Kansas City area woman has been arrested and charged with felony child endangerment after (allegedly) hosting a birthday party for her 14-year-old daughter at which 13- and 14-year-olds were served vodka, bourbon, and beer.  Two of the teenage partygoers, one of whom had a blood alcohol content of over 2.0, approaching three times the legal limit for an adult, had to be taken to a local hospital.  The “Mother of the Year”-hopeful reportedly had encouraged the girls to “chug” vodka, offering a cash prize to the one who could do it fastest.  And believe it or not — if you’re a regular reader, you probably can believe it — there was another adult participant, a friend of the host apparently, who’s also been charged.

New resource for people struggling financially and psychologically 4/1/09

The federal government’s “Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration” (SAMHSA) has a posted a new guide called “Getting Through Tough Economic Times” on its web site.  It contains information to help people realize when their emotional health has been compromised by financial worries, identify positive coping strategies, and locate additional resources.  You can find it by Googling “SAMHSA.”


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