Archive: December 2009

Merry Christmas! 12/22/09

As we head into Christmas, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do — voluntarily give the floor to someone else.  I recently got the following note from some good friends, Janet and Steve Hayes, and thought it pretty much said it all this Christmas, so thanks to them, I now get to share it with you.  They begin by pointing out how many people wish us “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” at this time of year, but nobody ever tells us how we’re supposed to achieve that.  They continue:

“Christmas is a state of mind.  It is not about shoving folks at the crack of dawn the day after Thanksgiving at pre-dawn Black Friday sales, or wrapping presents, or hanging lights on the house or decorating trees.  It really has nothing to do with any of that.  Odd isn’t it!!  Christmas is all about faith — faith that a set of actions will produce results that don’t make any sense in the real world.  Faith says give, and you will receive more than you could have gotten for yourself.  Faith says show warmth and love in the face of cold indifference and you will break down boundaries that were set in stone.  Faith says look at the world differently than everyone else.  Faith is full of hope and promise.  So, if you want a merry Christmas, or a happy holiday, or a joyous new year, you will have to become a giver.  Giving doesn’t mean buying gifts and wrapping them, although you can if that’s your thing.  A giver simply gives.  Everyone has an excess of something in their lives.  What is it that you have an overabundance of?  It may not be money, it may be a positive attitude, or a great sense of humor.  You might have extra clothes or gloves or earrings or shoes.  Maybe you have a talent to fix things like cars, or furnaces, or washing machines.  Maybe you are a great helper, or door holder, or house cleaner.  Maybe you are good at sharing your company, or your compassion.  You might just be a great listener, or have a heart-lifting smile.  Everyone has something they can give.  So give it.  Give it often, give it now and throughout the new year.  Share your talents and your gifts and your excess.  Because in giving, you will receive a joy you can’t get or buy or steal from anywhere else.  Giving to those in need will give you a sense of satisfaction and self-worth you can’t find anywhere on Earth.  Giving will bring an abundance in your life you couldn’t gain on your own.  Become a giver and experience the true wisdom of the Wise Men of old.  We promise you, you will never regret the things you give from your heart.”

With some truly radiant bright spots along the way, 2009 has been a very difficult year for me, and maybe for you, too.  At times, I’ve felt like I went from a brightly-glowing ember to a cold piece of ash on the morning after the bonfire’s all burned out.  Maybe you have, too.  Janet and Steve stoked a little bit of light back out of me with their note, and hopefully it will grow back into a glow in 2010.  No matter what kind of year you’ve had, I hope that their note brought a little more light into your life as well and that you now bring a little more light into someone else’s this Christmas.

Thanks to Janet and Steve for writing, and thanks to you for reading.  Merry Christmas!

Brian

Updates and a bizarre new missing-persons case 12/15/09

Tiger Woods updates:

1)  A major sponsor, consulting firm Accenture, has dropped Tiger Woods as its spokesperson.  Looks like the folks at Accenture have been reading my blog!  Good!

2)  Some in the media are speculating that Tiger Woods has “sex addiction.”  That’s a crock, and even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t excuse anything.  Wanting to do something so badly that you’re willing to hurt your family to do it may mean you’re a messed-up individual psychologically, but it still doesn’t mean you can’t resist doing the behavior.  It just means you’re selfish enough to put your wants above your family’s needs.  That’s why I think that infidelity is a legitimate factor to consider in custody cases.  While infidelity may not be a factor in dividing property due to “no-fault” divorce laws in 49 states, as a child custody expert, I do think it’s reasonable to consider it as a factor in determining custody of divorcing couples’ children.  I have to question the judgment and commitment of a parent who’s willing to put his/her children’s happy home in jeopardy to have an affair.

3)  Multiple “mistresses” of Tiger Woods have given interviews in which they’ve claimed to be “sorry” for helping Woods hurt his family.  No, they’re not.  If helping a married man hurt his family really bothered these women, they wouldn’t have done it.

4)  Representatives of Florida’s child protective services reportedly have visited the Woods home, apparently to determine whether an altercation between Woods and his wife posed any danger to their two small children (by the way, it looks like sleeping pills may have contributed to the conclusion of that altercation, in which Woods crashed his vehicle in the couple’s driveway).  Fine, but as I recently wrote, I’ll bet there are literally thousands of homes in Florida where the suspected danger to children is considerably greater, yet the investigative response is considerably slower.

Chris Brown update:

The rapper is reportedly upset that some stores apparently aren’t carrying his latest CD.  Good!  I hope they’re not.  It’s about time people started making some judgments in this culture, and it’d be a step in the right direction if no one wanted to buy things from guys who beat women.

(Now here’s a step in the wrong direction:  The prostitute who was involved in the scandal that toppled former New York governor Eliot Spitzer has reportedly been hired by the New York Post as…guess…a sex advice columnist.  I don’t recommend patterning your life after this woman’s in any way!)

In other news:

On Monday night’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, we discussed a case in which a Utah mother went missing from her home after her husband claims to have taken their two toddlers on a midnight camping trip in freezing weather on a Sunday night, forgetting that it was a work night for both him and the wife.  I’m not buying the husband’s story, several implausible elements strung together and illustrated with what look to me like crocodile tears.  Even if his expressions of emotion are genuine, it’s still not clear to me what emotion it is, maybe grief but maybe also remorse or even fear (of being caught).  I think that the four-year-old child may actually crack the case — as we saw in the “balloon boy” incident, it can be tough to get a kid to stick to a lie, so if the kid knows they went somewhere other than where the father says they went that night, I’ll bet skilled investigators can get it out of him.

Study this, casually 12/11/09

On Thursday, the media jumped all over a new study on casual sex among young people.  The study reportedly found that having sex with emotionally-insignificant others does not have a negative emotional impact on college-aged people.  Well, in my experience as a psychologist, that’s not exactly true — I’ve seen people experience negative emotional-health consequences like guilt, shame, anxiety, disillusionment and remorse after having casual sex, not to mention negative physical-health consequences, which then have their own negative emotional-health consequences.  So I looked a little deeper into this study, and it looks to me like it’s based totally on college students’ self-reports.  In other words, students who admitted to having casual sex recently were asked how they felt emotionally, and most of them said they felt fine.  If that was basically the methodology, then I don’t think this study comes close to proving that casual sex is an emotionally-healthy behavior.  Sometimes negative emotional consequences and the causal relationships involved go unrecognized, and sometimes negative emotional consequences take time to manifest.  If anything, I think this study illustrates that people are increasingly reluctant to label certain behavior (their own and others’) as “bad” (destructive in some way) and are therefore less likely both to experience and to impose emotional consequences like guilt and shame when that behavior occurs, which will only increase the frequency of behavior that actually can be destructive.

Do you trust Tiger? 12/10/09

I recently (11/17/09) wrote about how American culture has gotten itself in deep trouble by embracing “nonjudgmentalism” as a virtue — by accepting that there’s virtue in withholding judgment of others’ bad behavior.  OK, here’s a perfect illustration of why that’s insane:  Tiger Woods’ multi-million-dollar product endorsement deals.  Ultimately, they’re based on the guy’s trustworthiness.  No male consumer in his right mind would want to shave with a particular razor just because some guy who’s good at golf shaves with that razor.  What if it’s a sucky razor?  Does golf skill imply shaving skill or special knowledge of razors?  No.  Sure, some sycophantic fans might buy Tiger’s razor just to “be like” Tiger, but I don’t think that explains the majority of the value in a razor endorsement deal with Woods, and it certainly doesn’t explain why people would go out and buy a particular car that Woods endorses, especially when it’s pretty clear that Woods doesn’t even really drive that particular car.  No, the value in these endorsement deals has come primarily from the public’s largely-baseless perception that Woods is a “good guy,” a guy whose recommendation can be trusted, i.e. “if Tiger says it’s good, it must be good.”  If you think about it, that was pretty much a baseless perception even before Woods’ infidelity became a public spectacle because, as I’ve said in the cases of swimmer Michael Phelps and others, it’s a complete fallacy to conclude that a guy’s “a good guy” or trustworthy simply because the guy’s good at a sport.  Sure, it might make sense to trust that guy to tell you how to swing a golf club or swim a particular stroke, but unless you know him personally and have a basis for trusting him in general, there’s really no reason to trust him on any other topic.  Nevertheless, many Americans do put their trust in athletes’ recommendations simply because those athletes are good at sports, which just illustrates another stupid development in American culture about which I’ve also written repeatedly — a fanatical overemphasis on sports.  But be that as it may, now that it’s clear that Tiger’s own wife can’t even trust him, would anyone in his/her right mind trust his recommendation of a good car or even a razor, particularly knowing that he’s been paid millions of dollars to say it’s good?  And would any corporate CEO in his/her right mind want to relay his/her company’s message to consumers via a spokesperson who’s widely perceived as a liar?  I guess we’ll see — while some sponsors have shelved ad campaigns featuring Woods for the moment, they’re not dropping him in droves like they should be.  If consumers and corporations don’t judge this guy to be dishonest and stop following and paying for his recommendations, then the insanity of “nonjudgmentalism” will be perfectly-illustrated.

MISTAKE? 12/7/09

USA Today ran a story on Monday about golfer Tiger Woods’ alleged philandering with this stupid headline: “Mistake vs. serial cheating? More queries follow Tiger Woods scandal.”  The article goes on to draw a distinction between people who cheat once and people who cheat multiple times.  OK, now that I’m done throwing up, it’s obviously time for a crash refresher course on this topic, so here goes:  Cheating is NEVER a “mistake”!  A mistake is something one didn’t mean to do, i.e. an accident.  Cheating is NEVER an accident.  Cheating is ALWAYS an intentional betrayal for which there is NO excuse, whether it happens once or 100 times, period!  Other than inducing vomiting, the USA Today piece does a good job of one thing — pointing out as I have many times that narcissism and a sense of entitlement are psychological hallmarks of cheaters.

A Pennsylvania police officer was shot dead as he sat in his parked patrol car on Sunday night.  The suspect is already in custody, and guess what?  He’s a multi-convicted felon.  Guess what else?  He was on parole, released just days after serving the bare minimum sentence for his most-recent conviction, and wearing a tracking bracelet on his ankle at the time.  And guess what else?  The most recent conviction was for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.  If this guy had served the maximum instead of the minimum sentence for that conviction, he would’ve been in prison until 2014, and a police officer would still be alive today.  WHEN are we going to scrap the “two, three, four…chances” example and start actually preventing and deterring crime with a “you do this and your life’s effectively over” example?!  Apparently not until I’m in charge.

Remember that loon in Connecticut whose pet chimpanzee mauled a house guest to within an inch of her life earlier this year, blinding and severely disfiguring and debilitating the victim?  Connecticut prosecutors have announced that the owner will face no criminal charges stemming from that incident.  At least she’s still being sued civilly, and I hope the victim wins!  These nuts who keep dangerous animals as pets need to be held strictly accountable for any damage their “pets” do.  The State of Connecticut is also being sued for allegedly failing to enforce laws that should’ve prevented the chimpanzee from being kept as a pet, and I hope the victim wins that one, too!

Study this:  The second new study on loneliness to be released in the past week found that people who lack social support are more vulnerable to cancer (both more likely to get it and more likely to have it be more aggressive).

And study this:  Another “new” study found that antidepressants also have a calming effect on some people, making them less “neurotic” (i.e. less anxious).  I’m not sure what’s “new” about this.  Doctors have been prescribing antidepressants (rather than more-dangerous, more-addictive benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan) to people with mild anxiety symptoms for years.

Weekend update 12/6/09

A jury in Italy found Amanda Knox guilty on Friday, and she’s been sentenced to over 27 years in an Italian prison.  There’s been a lot of talk in the media this weekend about the circumstantial nature of some evidence in the case, but I’ll bet that the jury was right, and here’s what sealed it for me — how she reportedly lied immediately following her arrest and implicated a totally-innocent guy who, luckily for him, turned out to have an air-tight alibi.  To me, that willingness to implicate an innocent person to save one’s own ass from a murder charge is consistent with capability of the crimes for which Knox has been convicted.

Also on Friday, a Michigan woman (I can’t bring myself to call her a “mother”) was allowed to plead “no contest” to a charge of involuntary manslaughter for starving her ten-year-old adopted quadriplegic daughter to death.  She apparently deprived the girl of fluids that were supposed to have been administered through a feeding tube.  The plea bargain allowed the woman to avoid the more serious charge of second-degree murder.  Ok, but here’s what I don’t understand about this case.  Both second-degree murder and manslaughter charges are appropriate only when the person committing the crime didn’t premeditate it.  This murder — and that’s what I think it was — must’ve taken a while, and it seems to me that the woman must’ve thought about it over and over again as the poor child wasted away.  Why a prosecutor and judge would agree to pretend like it was an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment act is beyond me.  The woman now faces a maximum of 15 years in prison but is likely to get less than half of that.  Sounds like the Italians are doing a better job of administering justice than the folks in Michigan are doing!

Several relatives and friends of the man who ambushed and killed four Seattle police officers last weekend have been arrested for assisting him when he was on the run (he’s since been shot and killed by a police officer).  I’m very glad to see these additional arrests being made — we don’t prosecute accessories to crimes nearly as often as we should.

The ignominious head football coach at the University of Kansas, about whom I wrote back on 11/17/09, has resigned under pressure.  That’s good, but university officials should still talk to me about how to write future coaching contracts so that someone who behaves as shamefully as this guy doesn’t get to walk away with millions of dollars.

Study this:  Even as the FDA approved two more antipsychotic medications for prescription to children as young as ten years old, it also recommended further study of the long term consequences of a common side effect, weight gain.  I think this trend whereby kids are being diagnosed and medicated as psychotic at younger and younger ages is psychotic in itself (see my column “A Perfect Storm” if you want to know why), and if you know of a child who’s been harmed by an antipsychotic medication, tell the parents to send me their story.

And study this:  Here’s a positive one — a new broad-based study found no significant correlation between cell-phone use and brain cancer.

Insanity defenses on parade 12/3/09

A panel of military psychologists is preparing to examine the Ft. Hood shooter to determine whether a mental disease or defect prevented him from knowing that his actions were wrong.  In the meantime, he’s now facing 32 attempted-murder charges in addition to the original 13 murder charges.

A soldier stationed at Ft. Drum in New York after returning from Iraq has been charged with stabbing two fellow soldiers to death, and it sounds like he’s probably going to claim that PTSD prevented him from knowing right from wrong at the time.  If so, I have plenty of experience diagnosing and treating veterans with PTSD as well as plenty of experience determining people’s sanity when various crimes were committed, and I’ll be highly skeptical.

Finally tonight, the Ohio guy who apparently used his “second chance” (after serving prison time for a similar prior conviction and then being released) to rape and kill at least eleven women (whose bodies were found hidden in his home) reportedly has entered a plea:  not guilty by reason of insanity.  I would love to be the prosecution’s expert on this one — there’s evidence of premeditation and consciousness of guilt all over the place, which tells me that while he may be nuts and probably is, he likely knew what he was doing and that it was wrong, in which case he’s guilty, sane or not.

2 updates and a single, isolated, “study this” 12/2/09

Seattle police shooting update:  The man who ambushed four police officers in Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend has been shot and killed by a police officer.  That’s good, but now there’s even more evidence that he never should’ve been on the street in the first place.  Not only did former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee second-guess the Arkansas court that sentenced this guy to 108 years (a court that actually had an opportunity to see the guy and gauge his level of dangerousness) by commuting the sentence and allowing him to be paroled, but then a judge in Washington granted the guy bail just days before this weekend’s deadly ambush, even though he was a convicted felon with a violent history and had been rearrested for rape.  I feel for the cops who’ve got to be frustrated with the lenient, “everybody deserves another chance” mentality among many judges and lawmakers that forces them to keep risking their lives to catch the same people over and over and over.  When I’m in charge, it’ll be once, and the cops won’t have to worry about seeing the same individual on the streets again for a long, long time, if ever!

Tiger update:  Sounds like Tiger Wood’s wife may have had a reason (perhaps even a pretty good one!) for smashing into his car with a golf club other than the stated reason (that she was trying to help extricate an already-injured Woods from the car after he had crashed it).  Not that I’m necessarily feeling sorry for Woods or wanting the wife to face any consequences, but is anyone else wondering now when and why the window smashing actually occurred?

Finally tonight, study this:  A new study says that loneliness is catching.  Hmmm.  Anyone else puzzled trying to figure out how that would work exactly?

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