Archive: February 2010

Deja views 2/28/10

Another van der Sloot interview:  Remember Joran van de Sloot, the prime suspect in the disappearance of American Natalee Holloway in Aruba a few years ago?  He reportedly has confessed to causing her death in a media interview in his family’s native Netherlands, but prosecutors in Aruba have thus far declined to file charges, apparently believing the “confession” to be an implausible publicity stunt.  I stand by my prediction that this guy, van der Sloot, will keep hurting people one way or another until he’s literally caged.

Another apparent Hollywood suicide:  Just a couple of days after an 80’s sitcom actor was found dead in Vancouver, Canada (hanging from a tree) in an apparent suicide, the son of singer Marie Osmond was found dead (after falling from the roof of a building), reportedly having left behind a suicide note.

Another wild animal gone wild:  A killer whale at Florida’s Sea World became a killer of humans last week — or did it?  The whale dragged a trainer to the bottom of its aquarium, drowning the trainer, but it’s actually the third human death in which this particular whale has been implicated.  Whether it’s Sigfried & Roy’s tiger or this whale, it always amazes me when people act surprised that a wild animal has behaved in a wild way.  That’s what they do.  The unusual thing is that they can be trained to behave in non-wild ways most of the time.  From a Lawpsyc perspective, I’m interested in learning more about just how foreseeable this most recent incident was.  It took place in front of an audience that included numerous children who may have trauma symptoms connected to it, and if so, seems to me there may be some liability on Sea World’s part for knowingly risking that.

And finally this weekend, another school shooting:  A female Washington school teacher was shot and killed outside of her school last week.  The shooter, and adult male, was later shot and killed by police.  Hmmm, a school shooting, were there warning signs?  Of course.  This guy had been stalking the teacher for years.  In fact, he had been jailed as recently as February 19th for violating a court order to stay away from her.  That’s right, February 19th, and he was already back out on the streets to murder her just a few days later.  Posted a bail of $10,000.  Tip for judges:  If you’ve ordered a guy to stay away from a woman on penalty of imprisonment, and he goes near the woman anyway, there is a high likelihood that he’s determined to hurt the woman no matter what you say, so imprison him, and don’t make it easy for him to get out, I’m talking $1,000,000 bail here, if any, get it?  Hope so.

Another school shooting in CO and updates on other cases 2/24/10

What is it about Colorado?  Just miles from Columbine High School, the scene of one of the deadliest school shootings ever, there was another school shooting on Tuesday, this one at a Littleton, CO middle school.  The shooter was an adult male, and it appears indiscriminate.  He reportedly entered the school, asked two students, a boy and a girl, whether they attended the school, and when they said that they did, shot them both.  The shooter is in custody, thanks to a male teacher who tackled him and a school bus driver and another adult male bystander who helped restrain him until police arrived (a positive legacy of 9/11 I think).  Both victims are expected to recover, and one has already been released from a Denver-area hospital.  There’s no clear motive yet, but as always, I guarantee there will have been plenty of warning signs that this shooter was dangerous.  There’s also a big question as to what he was doing inside of the school in the first place.  He reportedly had shown up there before Wednesday, but it’s not clear yet what he did there on the prior occasion(s).  Stay tuned.

Other than that, it’s been kind of a slow Lawpsyc news week, but here are some interesting updates:

Eight of the 10 Americans who were detained in Haiti on suspicion of child trafficking have returned to their homes in the U.S., and the remaining two are expected to be released and repatriated this week for lack of evidence of criminal intent.

Charlie Sheen, accused of attacking his wife with a knife on Christmas, reportedly is off to…all together now…rehab.  Sounds like the old “try to show the judge that your behavior stemmed from some ‘disease’ beyond your control but that you’re now getting ‘treatment’ for it” strategy.  Not buying it, but when do I ever?

Tiger Woods’ “press-conference confessional” went just as I predicted on TV last week — seemed motivated by extrinsic factors (e.g. consequences of getting caught) rather than intrinsic factors (e.g. real feelings of guilt for his moral failings), didn’t include his wife, and didn’t involve an apology to the mistress who’s represented by attorney Gloria Allred.  I was glad to hear Sean Hannity and Judge Jeanine Pirro echo my disgust with Gloria over the weekend — her client deserves no apology and should in fact be apologizing to Mrs. Woods (you heard that from me first!).  Interestingly, Gloria and her client issued a statement after Woods’ statement in which she did make a half-hearted expression of regret for the part that she played in hurting Mrs. Woods (I challenged Gloria on TV last week to have her client apologize to Mrs. Woods!).  Can’t wait to see what kind of bogus lawsuit Gloria’s planning against Woods on behalf of this skank who had absolutely no right or reason to expect anything other than what she got from Woods!

My speculation in the immediate aftermath of the last week’s kamikaze attack on an IRS office in Texas turned out to be pretty much spot on — not terrorism (in the “jihad” sense) but a disgruntled taxpayer with a grudge against the government and the IRS specifically, a guy who’d been seething and fantasizing and festering for years before deciding to take vengeance.  Sadly, an IRS employee did die as a result of the attack.

A supporting cast member from the 80’s TV show Growing Pains reportedly is missing in Vancouver, Canada after there were indications/concerns that he might have been suicidal.  A search is underway but has turned up nothing so far.

Speaking of nothing turning up in a search, investigators in Texas have sifted through thousands of tons of garbage in a landfill and found no evidence to suggest that the body of missing Arizona infant Gabriel Johnson (whose mother left Arizona with the child, apparently stopped in Texas, and was caught in Florida without the child) is there.  The search continues.

Finally tonight, take a rest, and then study this:

A new study suggests that learning capacity increases after a nap, so if you get caught napping on the job, maybe you can convince the boss that you were just trying to make yourself smarter and therefore more effective (not actually recommending that).

Busy news day already 2/18/10

Well, it’s only lunchtime, and Thursday’s a busy Lawpsyc news day already!

Plane crash in TX:

First, a Texas man apparently set his own house on fire, stole a small plane, and flew it into an office building that houses an IRS office.  He’s apparently dead, and there are injuries at the IRS building but no other confirmed fatalities there or at his house.

I know, the first thought is terrorism because a government office apparently was targeted, but I actually don’t get the feeling that this was terrorism.  If the pilot tried to take family members out (by setting the house on fire) along with himself and the folks at the IRS office, then it sounds like a combination of two types of crimes:  1) the family murder/suicide in which a person decides to take his/her whole family off to a “better place” and 2) the mass vengeance killing (e.g. school shootings, Ft. Hood) after which the killer “escapes” punishment by taking him/herselfout.  If, on the other hand, no one else was in the home when he set it on fire, then it may just be type (2) above.

Authorities are declining to speculate on whether the man had a mental illness.  I’ll speculate:  yes.  As the details of this one unfold, there will be a history of nutty behavior from this guy (probably even enough nutty behavior that he should’ve been off the street before today, but it’s too early to say that for sure yet).

Just like I always say in the mass-shooting cases, there are alwayswarning signs before something like this happens.  The first nutty thing a person does is never shooting up a school, setting his house on fire and flying into an IRS building, etc.  And it’s generally not someone who’s pathologically/clinically mired in self-loathing and just wants to commit suicide (if it were that, then he/she’d just take him/herself out and not try to take anyone else with him/her).  No, it’s generally someone who feels oppressed, slighted, insulted, or mistreated and that he/she actuallydeserves to be treated better, and that he/she is then entitled to exact vengeance on whomever or whatever is the source of the perceived oppression, slight, insult, or mistreatment.  And it’s not a matter of some perfectly-mentally-healthy person “snapping” — it’s a lengthy process of seething and fantasizing and planning that culminates in a deadly event when the person finally, consciously, decides that the day to exact vengeance has arrived.  But as you know if you read/watch regularly, that does not mean he didn’t know what he was doing and that it was wrong, so had he lived, he very likely would not have had a viable insanity defense, even though he’s very likely (somewhat) insane.

Security breach at Biden event:

Next up today, a man apparently used fake identification to make it past three security checks and end up sitting within three rows of Vice President Biden at a political event.  No one was hurt, thankfully.  Authorities are speculating that the man may be mentally ill.  Yeah, OK, maybe so, but his mind’s apparently working well enough to plan out a way to get close to the V.P. (tracking the V.P.’s schedule, obtaining fake i.d., lying his way past security guards multiple times, etc.).  So, as in the first story (above), he may also be crazy, but he appears to have known exactly what he was doing and that it was wrong (i.e. that he wouldn’t have been allowed to do it if he had stated his intentions openly).

False accuser resurfaces:

And finally (so far today anyway), remember the woman who falsely accused several Duke lacrosse players of raping her a couple of years back?  I wrote about what a travesty it was that she didn’t end up in jail every second as long as they would have if they’d been convicted on her bogus charges (we don’t do enough in this country to punish false accusers who inflict damage every bit as great as the damage they falsely claim was done to them).  Well guess what?  She may end up there anyway (surprise, surprise)!  She reportedly assaulted someone with a knife and is now accused of attempted murder.  Good!  I mean, I’m glad no one got killed, but it’s about time we got this woman off the streets — seems like people were going to keep getting hurt one way or the other until we did!

Wednesday night’s Issues 2/18/10

If you missed Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on HLN Wednesday night, you missed a lot!  It all started with my shootout with famed attorney and women’s advocate Gloria Allred.  She’s representing one of Tiger Woods’ mistresses, and she wants Woods to issue a public apology to her client.  FOR WHAT?  What did Woods do to her client?  I mean, I know what Woods did to her client, but her client was a willing participant, right?  Gloria said that the wrong done to her client was basically that Woods had led the poor woman, a former porn star, to believe that she was his only mistress.  I said she was nuts to think that because, as you know if you read or watch me regularly, if they’ll cheatwithyou,they’ll cheaton you.  Gloria got righteously indignant after that, scolding me for laughing at a woman who’d been hurt and calling her names.  I then asked Gloria point-blank whether her client had apologized to a woman whom she had hurt — Woods’ wife — which of course she hadn’t, and that was pretty much the eagle that won the tournament so to speak!

After that, we switched gears to developments in the Haleigh Cummings case.  Basically, the key players other than the missing girl now sit in jail on drug charges — shocking, I know — and there are already jail-house videotapes of Misty Croslin (Haleigh’s father’s ex-wife and the last person known to have seen Haleigh alive) that are eerily similar to the tapes that we saw of Casey Anthony in jail last year.  I get a strong feeling that Croslin knows a lot more than she’s told investigators about what happened on the night when Haleigh disappeared — perhaps not that she participated directly in the little girl’s disappearance, but at least that some kind of negligence on her part (e.g. doing drugs and passing out in the presence of people around whom a little girl would likely be unsafe) set the stage for an abduction.  Perhaps now that investigators have drug charges as leverage, they’ll finally get the information out of her that will enable them to solve the case.

Lastly last night, we discussed the University of Alabama professor who allegedly gunned down three colleagues and wounded three others last week.  I explained that she’s reminiscent of Lisa Nowak (the astronaut who drove across the country to assault a woman who was having an affair with the same man with whom Nowak, a married mom, was having an affair — no, not Tiger Woods) in that they illustrate how high intelligence can, and often does, coexist with profound personality pathology (there’s a reason why we have the “nutty professor” archetype).  I was asked whether I thought that her reported participation in the fantasy game “Dungeons and Dragons” had anything to do with her violent history, and I said that her actual violent history said a lot more than her participation in a make-believe game.  She appears to me likely to have exhibited a longstanding, narcissistic sense of entitlement to lash out physically at people whom she has perceived to have slighted or insulted her.  I think that she very likely faked-out the justice system at least once before (she shot her brother to death 24 years ago and acted so psychotically grief-stricken afterward that it was ruled an accident without much investigation, AND, in college, she reportedly was a suspect but never was charged when a pipe bomb was sent to a professor, AND, more recently, she assaulted a woman in a fast-food restaurant in order to obtain the last available child booster seat but got virtually no punishment — counseling for an “anger management” problem) and is likely going to try to do so again by presenting a bogus insanity defense.  Don’t bet on the fake-out working this time!

Issues tonight 2/17/10

I’ll be back on Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell for the full hour tonight at 7pm eastern, 6pm central, on HLN. Topics so far include developments in the Haleigh Cummings case (child missing in FL for months now) and the recent shootings at the U. of Alabama.

(Also, remember last week when I wrote about the rush of neurotransmitters and hormones that gets kicked off by kissing?  Well one of them is oxytocin, which makes us crave connection with another person.  Right after I posted that, new research came out suggesting that increasing oxytocin levels in Autistic children — it can be done using a nasal spray — actually seems to increase their receptivity to social cues and interactions.)

The gang who couldn’t shoot straight, the professor who could, & an unlikely marriage counselor 2/15/10

Remember last fall when I told you about the gang rape of a teenage girl outside of a school dance in Richmond, CA?  Well, if that weren’t enough proof that the relatively small city of Richmond is facing some big problems, get this.  Three men wearing hooded sweatshirts walked into a Richmond church on Sunday and went from one row of seats to the next until one of them finally zeroed in on two teenagers and shot them.  The victims sustained non-fatal injuries, thankfully, but the suspects fled and remain unidentified and at large at this hour.  Sounds like a targeted, gang-related attempted murder carried out by the “gang who couldn’t shoot straight” (luckily for the victims).

Remember the Alabama professor who allegedly killed three colleagues and wounded three others last week?  More information (including police reports) has been released about the previous shooting in which she was involved, resulting in the death of her brother some 24 years ago, which had been ruled accidental.  Given that three shots apparently were fired in the course of that incident, it’s not at all clear to me at this point that it really was an accident!  I’m not sure that it wasn’t an accident either, but I think there’s a chance that the ball may have been dropped big-time back then, allowing this woman to remain free to kill again last week.  Either way, she’s facing the death penalty this time around.

Remember Alec Baldwin’s widely-publicized voicemail to his teenage daughter in which he called her a “rude, thoughtless little pig”?  I talked about that back a year or two ago when it happened, and I wrote about it again last week, when there was a second widely-publicized incident involving Baldwin, his daughter, and a telephone (and for which he again blamed his ex-wife).  In last week’s incident, Baldwin reportedly told her that he was going to get off the phone, take some pills, and “end this,” prompting the girl to call 911, fearing that her father was suicidal.  OK, so get this.  There’s a new show called The Marriage Ref in which celebrities are going to mediate marital disputes between non-celebrity couples.  Guess who’s going to be one of the celebrity mediators?  No, not Dr. Laura, not Dr. Phil, not even that handsome and brilliant young psychologist/lawyer/mediator from Kansas who’s on all the news programs (What’s his name again? — Just kidding!).  No, Alec Baldwin.  Yes, I’m serious.  Obviously, it must just be a comedy show, but seriously, Alec Baldwin?  Giving relationship advice?  Sure it’s a joke, but I’m not sure that joke’s even funny.  I mean, who’s next?  Charlie Sheen?  David Hasselhoff?  Chris Brown maybe?

More disaster psychology 2/14/10

An article in the New York Times at the end of last week focused not on the psychological trauma experienced by victims of last month’s devastating earthquake in Haiti but on the psychological trauma experienced by the health care professionals who went to Haiti to provide emergency treatment.  Specifically, the Times article focused on how American doctors are being “haunted” by their experiences in Haiti — i.e. experiencing residual psychological effects — even after returning to the United States.  I wrote about this shortly after the earthquake happened in a piece outlining the psychological impact of such disasters on victims, responders, and witnesses, and as I said back then, reactions such as those chronicled in the Times article are common among disaster response workers.  They typically see terrible suffering, are able to relieve some but not all of it, and are forced by the exigency of the circumstances to prioritize the needs of victims over their own needs, including their psychological needs.  It’s not surprising, then, that once they are removed from the emergent situation, they begin to process what they’ve seen and experienced and felt, and that often involves experiencing and re-experiencing unpleasant memories and emotions, which can preoccupy their thoughts, interrupt their sleep, and cause mood disturbances like depression and anxiety.  It also often involves self-doubt, questioning whether they did enough of the right things, and while the guilt that they feel is quite often unjustified, it can be difficult for someone in a highly emotional state to reflect and think clearly and logically enough about all of the relevant factors to reach that conclusion quickly and comfortably.  We saw such reactions among responders to “ground zero” on 9/11, and we’re seeing them again among responders to the Haitian earthquake.  As I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the quake, what begins as an “acute stress reaction,” if allowed to go unresolved long enough, can turn into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  So for all of the foregoing reasons, it’s important that disaster responders have someone with whom they can, if they feel the need, debrief and discuss — and in the process, organize, think through, and gain realistic perspective on — their memories, feelings, and thoughts about what they saw, did, and didn’t do on the scene of a disaster.  Some responders don’t feel that need, and some can do those things just fine with colleagues, friends, and family, but some don’t have that kind of social support system, and some who do have it nonetheless need professional assistance resolving persistent traumatic memories, feelings, and thoughts.  It’s tough to know exactly which responders will fall into which category until some time has passed, so it makes sense, as the U.S. military has found, to have a professionally-facilitated “triage” protocol in place whereby mental health professionals are available to see how functional people seem and provide some reassuring/validating psycho-education about the normalcy of some negative post-traumatic emotions, the benefits of social support, etc., and what to do if one’s experience seems abnormally debilitating, abnormally protracted, etc.  For some, that might be the only professional involvement they have, while others might need/want ongoing professional involvement for a while, and if anyone who initially thought he/she was in the first category comes to realize he/she is actually in the second category, they at least have someone they can contact either for direct assistance or a referral.

(Before I go, on a happier note, I’d like to wish everyone reading today a happy Valentine’s Day!)

It was a professor! 2/13/10

So get this!  The alleged shooter in the University of Alabama campus shooting that left three dead and three wounded (see my previous post) is a female professor!  The victims?  Also professors.  The motive?  Apparently the shooter was disgruntled because she hadn’t been tenured and opened fire on her colleagues at some kind of faculty meeting.  She’s now facing murder charges.  I’ll bet we get an insanity defense out of her because she’s reported to have uttered something like, “They can’t be dead, they must be alive,” while being arrested, but I’ll also bet it’s b-o-g-u-s!  The same woman apparently shot and killed her brother 24 years ago, but before I say she’s another suspect who should’ve been taken out of circulation long before this week’s shooting, I have to note that all indications up to now have been that the shooting of the brother was accidental.  But this shooting in the faculty meeting got me thinking about something that I really haven’t talked about much since I discussed it with O’Reilly on the air after a campus shooting a couple of years ago.  At most colleges, including the one where I teach part-time (one huge lecture course two evenings a week), even professors who are licensed, federally or by their states, as I am, to carry concealed handguns are prohibited from carrying them on campus.  So, I don’t carry a gun when I’m on campus because I respect the rules.  But here’s the rub — the shooter at the University of Alabama didn’t respect the rules.  Shocking, I know, but that’s pretty much how premeditated murderers usually roll.  She didn’t mind killingpeople with a gun, so clearly, she didn’t mind walking with a gun, right past a “No guns on campus” sign, on the way to the faculty meeting yesterday, right?  Now, if I had been in that faculty meeting, I would’ve been unarmed and ducking for cover just like her victims were, and she probably would’ve been able to kill and wound just as many people as she (allegedly) did, perhaps including me.  But if, on the other hand, faculty members who hold federal or state-issued licenses to carry concealed handguns were permitted to carry them on campus, and if I had been in that faculty meeting under those circumstances, then unless she took me out first, from behind, there’s quite a reasonable chance that fewer people would’ve been killed or wounded (I’m not a bad shot).

Another atypical school shooting & abusive over-indulgence 2/12/10

A couple of new stories to share with you already this weekend:

First, there’s been a shooting on the campus of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, in which a female shooter killed three people and wounded at least one more before being taken into custody.  Details are still developing, so not much is known at this hour about the shooter’s motive and mental status.  Generally speaking then, it’s rare for a female to be the perpetrator of an incident like this, but it’s not unprecedented.  Back in February, 2008 (2/11/10 if you want to visit the archive) I wrote about a campus shooting perpetrated by a female at a Louisiana college, and I followed that post up in March (3/3/08) and April (4/20/08) of that year.  Then in November, 2008 (11/13/08), I wrote about a 15-year-old girl who shot a female classmate in Florida.  Check out those previous posts for some thoughts on whether/why we may be seeing a trend involving increasing violent behavior among women.

Second, a new study has concluded that people develop their basic “tastes” for certain types of foods as well as their basic eating habits, very early in life.  According to the study, the unhealthy eating patterns that lead to life-long struggles with obesity often begin early in childhood with parental over-indulgence.  I know, this probably isn’t a big surprise to you either, but I think it confirms what I’ve been saying for years — obesity puts your child at risk for a lifetime of physical and psychological problems, so I believe it’s abusive for a parent to be so over-indulgent as to enable a child to become obese.  I remember a mother who had one obese child, another child who was thin, and a husband who was thin once asked me, “Well what am I supposed to do [to help the overweight child slim down], change the whole family’s diet?”  And I said…”Yes, ma’am, you got it.”

Wrapping up the week 2/12/10

Two new stories to wrap up the week:

First, remember Jaycee Dugard, the California woman who was kidnapped as a child and finally freed last year after being held for decades and having two children fathered by her male captor?  I talked about her a lot last fall (on O’ReillyCBS Early ShowAnderson CooperCampbell Brown, and others).  Well, during her captivity, she kept a diary, and portions of that diary have been released to the media.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of someone in the midst of a truly horrific ordeal over a period of years, and it’ll be studied by psychologists for years to come.  I discussed it with Harry Smith on this morning’s CBS Early Show and pointed out that it supports what I said on that show back in the fall — that the “Stockholm Syndrome” diagnosis everyone else on t.v. was making back then was premature.  It’s looks to me, from the publicized diary entries, that she never developed the level of affinity for the kidnappers (a husband and wife) that’s characteristic of “Stockholm Syndrome.”  She consistently expresses a desire to escape from early in the ordeal all the way up toward the end of it.  She also consistently expresses a realization that what the kidnappers did to her was wrong.  There are some passages that appear somewhat “Stockholm-like” because she expresses a desire not to harm the kidnappers, primarily the male kidnapper, in the process of escaping.  To me, those passages sound less like real affinity for the kidnapper and more like sympathy, not with his motives/actions but for what a disturbed individual he was/is.  There’s one passage, written when she was just 13, in which she notes that she appreciated the kidnappers buying her a kitten.  I think that that particular passage actually says more about the manipulative psychopathy of the kidnappers than it says about the victim.  It shows how, in a calculated way, the kidnappers used something that almost any 13-year-old girl would find comforting and enjoyable — a kitten — to confuse her emotions while simultaneously raping her on a regular basis.  Overall, the diary indicates to me that my original hypothesis was correct, that the phenomenon of “learned helplessness” explains her mental state throughout the ordeal better than “Stockholm Syndrome” does.  In “learned helplessness,” the victim never really develops solidarity with the kidnapper(s), never really wants to be in the situation, but resignshim/herself at some point to the hopelessness of ever getting out of it, and at that point, starts trying to psychologically “make the best of it.”  The fact that she apparently felt sorry for the male kidnapper on some level yet apparently maintained moral clarity about the wrongfulness of the kidnappers’ actions indicates to me that, despite the ordeal, she developed some important underpinnings of a healthy, functional personality — empathy and conscience particularly — and that gives me increased hope that she’ll be able to salvage some semblance of a “normal,” happy, fulfilling adult life.  Hope so.

The topic of this second story might seem familiar as well — actor Alec Baldwin, on the phone with his teenage daughter one minute, big problems the next.  Remember back a year or two ago when a voicemail from Baldwin to the daughter was made publicized in which he called her a “thoughtless little pig” for not calling him on time.  OK, obviously, Baldwin’s not father-of-the-year (and clearly, the girl’s mother, actress Kim Basinger, isn’t “mother-of-the-year” either because she apparently released the voicemail to the press — yeah, that was really helpful to your daughter, “mom”!).  But you’d think after one incident like that, an intelligent person would watch his behavior on the telephone with the child, right?  Well, an intelligent person would — and then there’s Alec Baldwin.  This time, he reportedly got upset with the daughter on the phone and told her that he was just going to go take some pills and “end this,” at which point he reportedly hung up.  So, the daughter reportedly tried to call him back, and he reportedly didn’t answer, so the daughter called 911 and told police that she was worried that her father might be committing suicide.  The police then rushed to Baldwin’s home and apparently were concerned enough about what they saw there to take Baldwin to a hospital for a suicide risk assessment.  Whoever assessed him must’ve determined that he wasn’t a danger to himself because he was allowed to leave less than an hour later.  He claims that his statement about taking pills and “ending this” wasn’t a suicide threat and that he was simply stating his intention to end the call, take a couple of sleeping pills, which I guess is routine for him, and go to bed — for the night, not forever.  He also reportedly believes that Basinger encouraged the daughter to call the police even though she knew that there was probably no real reason for concern, just to embarrass him.  Given the history, I guess anything’s possible with these two.  I’m glad nobody involved is dead this morning, but I still feel extremely sorry for this daughter who sounds like she’s got a complete idiot for a father (and probably also a mother who’s not much, if any, brighter).

CNN.com piece on doctors gone bad 2/11/10

I was quoted in this CNN.com piece on doctors gone bad.  If you’re interested, here’s a link to it:  “Is your doctor a criminal?”

Updates on Americans detained in Haiti 2/11/10

Remember those ten Americans detained in Haiti on charges of attempting to take a bus load of Haitian children out of that country without permission in the aftermath of the recent earthquake there (see “Adoption or Abduction?” posted last week)?  Well, word now is that the charges are expected to be dropped and the Americans released as early as today.

Not your typical school shooting 2/11/10

There’s been another school shooting, this one in Tennessee, but it’s not your typical school shooting — this time it was an elementary schoolteacher who pulled the trigger (allegedly), shooting the principal and assistant principal shortly after the students were dismissed for the day.  The principal’s in critical condition at this hour, the assistant principal’s in stable condition, and the suspect’s in custody, arrested not far from the school shortly after the shooting.  So, remember what I’ve said in case after case like this — that there’s always a history?  Well, guess what?  The suspect’s brother says that the suspect has been mentally-ill and dangerous for years.  And guess what else?  The suspect has a history of threatening violence against people, including an incident in which he was found with a gun near the offices of a previous employer after reportedly making threatening statements.  Sounds to me like yet another preventable tragedy.

Kissing, attraction, infatuation, love, & cocaine roses 2/10/10

With Valentine’s Day almost upon us, here are some related Lawpsyc observations:

Anyone know what philematology is?  It’s the study of kissing.  I know, there’s really a word for that, right?  Well, I guess it makes sense when you consider that kissing behavior is found in 90% of human cultures.  The latest research in the field has found that it’s a more complex process than meets they eye (or the lips).  Kissing triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in the brain that are involved in such processes as sexual arousal, interpersonal bonding, and stress reduction.  So I guess being a good kisser is more important than we ever knew (but if you’ll be kissing someone this Valentine’s Day, no pressure!)

Speaking of attraction, singer John Mayer has been roundly criticized for saying in an interview with Playboy magazine that he’s not attracted to black women.  He apparently also said the “n” word in a different part of the same interview and has been roundly criticized for that as well.  Excoriating him for the racial slur makes sense to me, but it doesn’t make sense to me to fault him for the attraction thing.  I mean, there are biological and psychological components of attraction that don’t all involve conscious choice, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not being attracted to certain physical or psychological features of other people.  In theory, everyone has an “attraction template,” a “type,” and for some people it’s more specific than others.  Obviously, the more specific it is, fewer people will fit it, so that’s the downside for someone who doesn’t find himself attracted to, say, an entire race of women.  But it’s not like he’s discriminating on the basis of race against applicants for employment.  He just likes what he likes, and when it comes to deciding whom he wants to date, I don’t think he should be made to feel bad about it.  I’m sure there are plenty of women out there who don’t dig white guys like Mayer and me, not because they’re racist women, just because they don’t find us sexy, and that doesn’t bother me in the least.

Now, if what you find sexy is an incarcerated murderer, I think that’s cause for some concern.  It’s always fascinating to me how many Valentine’s Day cards are sent to prisons by women who are infatuated, even thinking they’re “in love,” with some of the most notorious killers in recent memory.  If you’re interested in that phenomenon, check out my post “Death Row Valentines” dated 2/14/08, also in the archive.

On a serious note, last year, I was asked what I think love is, and if you’re interested in my answer to that question, you can find it in the archive in my post “The True Greatness of the U.S.A.,” dated 7/4/09 (don’t let the title fool you!).

Finally tonight, Dutch customs authorities have seized a total of about four kilograms of cocaine hidden in a shipment of 20,000 red roses arriving from Colombia.  Looks like a lot of Dutch ladies won’t be getting their roses this Valentine’s Day.  Hope your Valentine’s Day turns out better than theirs!

Study this (but not too long — don’t get bored) 2/10/10

Two new interesting studies to tell you about:

The first suggests that if a child has a big-time sweet tooth — likes intensely-sweet foods and beverages — that child has a higher chance of becoming an alcoholic later in life.  Huh?  The theory is that the same parts of the child’s brain that crave more stimulation than the norm when it comes to tasting sweets also are involved in craving more stimulation than the norm when it comes to feeling the effects of alcohol consumption later in life.  The study also found a similar correlation between the extreme-sweet-tooth phenomenon and depression.  The theory (or one theory) there is that kids who experience depressive symptoms may find that sugar helps elevate their mood during childhood (I recently wrote about a study that found an antidepressant effect from dark chocolate), and later in life, that alcohol functions similarly for them.  Of course if kids get into the habit of turning to sugar to feel better emotionally and grow into the habit of turning to alcohol for the same effect, either substance can end up creating serious problems of its own, so neither one’s a healthy habit to form.

The second study suggests that you really can be “bored to death.”  Huh?  It found a correlation between chronic boredom and increased risk of fatal cardiovascular events.  My theory on this one is that, rather than boredom causing cardiovascular problems, both effects — boredom and poor cardiovascular health — are probably caused by not being active enough.

First look at DSM-V (be excited!) 2/10/10

Proposed changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), the current “bible” of psychology and psychiatry, have been publicized to allow for input from the professional community and from the public at large before the next edition, DSM-V, is finalized and published.  There’s a committee of mental-health professionals assembled by the American Psychiatric Association that revises the manual from edition to edition and decides which proposed changes ultimately will be incorporated into it.  I know, it’s not the most exciting thing you’ve ever read about here — it’s not the most exciting thing I’ve ever written about here either, but it does have implications worth noting.  Clinicians, government agencies, and courts look to the DSM when they determine who’s “disordered” and who’s not, who’s “disabled” and who’s not, an in some cases, who’s “guilty” and who’s not.  It’s a flawed text for sure, and if you want some specific examples, check out my post entitled “Psychobabble” in the archive, dated 11/6/07.  Most of the proposed changes, however, are unlikely to make it any less flawed and are probably of little interest to anyone outside of the mental-health professions (and even to some of us in those professions!), including the typical dose of politically-correct semantic stuff, like using the word “addiction” in places where the current edition reads “substance abuse.”  But there’s one proposed change that I think could be a rare move in the right direction for America’s kids — a new diagnostic category in which to put children who have mood-regulation problems and are currently being labeled, treated, and medicated (with potentially harmful antipsychotic drugs) as “bipolar.”  If you want to know why I think that the current trend — diagnosing more and more kids with bipolar disorders — is hurting America’s kids, check out my WorldNetDaily column “A Perfect Storm”.  The new diagnostic category, “temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria” (I know, let’s simplify that name, right?  But, more importantly, it) is expected to be based more on behavioral criteria (rather than thought criteria), which hopefully means that kids who end up with the diagnosis are more likely to be treated with behavior-modification therapy than with the thought-modifying antipsychotic drugs often prescribed to treat bipolar disorders.  Unfortunately, however, the folks who want to diagnose more and more kids with more and more things earlier and earlier in their lives (interesting how those folks always seem to be backed by pharmaceutical companies) are still well-represented in the ongoing dialogue on revising the DSM.  They’re pushing for a new class of diagnostic categories they call “risk syndromes,” which essentially means that they want to give prospective diagnoses to kids who look like they might have a few symptoms of a disorder but don’t meet the full criteria for a definitive diagnosis yet.  Why?  So they can start “treating” (i.e. medicating) them earlier.  Research has consistently shown, however, that upwards of 70% of the kids who’d get one of these “risk syndrome” diagnoses would not go on to develop whatever disorders they were labeled as being “at risk” of.  So, if the DSM‘s editors want to maintain that their adopted revisions are research-supported, then these proposed “risk syndromes” shouldn’t make the cut.  The new edition of the manual will be out in 2013.  Be excited!

You heard it here first! 2/9/10

The death of former Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan’s father has been ruled a homicide.  Surprise, surprise.  You heard it here first!  Her brother’s story sounded bogus as it could be from word one (if you missed this, I wrote about it last week).

(Oh, and Michael Jackson’s doctor entered a plea of not-guilty.)

Sheen charged 2/8/10

Wow, Monday was a big day for high-profile charges.  First Michael Jackson’s doctor was charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the singer’s death (see my previous post), and now actor Charlie Sheen has been charged with menacing, assault, and criminal mischief, charges that could land him in the slammer for up to three years (but that’s unlikely), in connection with an alleged Christmas-Day attack on his wife (who reportedly was there in the courtroom as he was charged and hugged him afterward, hmmm).

New kid-focused research to kick off the week 2/8/10

Guess what?  A new study found that a healthy household lifestyle, including things like eating as a family (instead of whenever they want), getting enough exercise (instead of sitting in front of the t.v. all day), and getting enough sleep (so they have energy to be active the next day) can actually help kids to not become obese!  Shocking!

Another new study found that victims of bullying suffer long-term psychological and physical consequences.  Now as you know if you’re a regular reader, I’m big on holding adults in schools responsible whenever a child is physically bullied, and I just wrote a lengthy piece last week about the dangers of non-physical bullying (cyber-bullying in that particular case).  So, I’m completely on board with the finding of psychological implications (e.g. shyness, anger, depression, anxiety, etc.).  The physical implications I’m not so sure about.  We’re not talking about head injuries that can cause lifelong problems, although those certainly have happened as results of bullying.  This study found that people who were bullied, for example, are more susceptible to the common cold as adults.  Huh?  The theory goes that heightened stress weakens the immune system, and if the heightened stress persists long enough in childhood, the immune system can be weakened permanently.  OK, maybe, but could it also be that kids who are sickly to begin with tend to get bullied more than stronger kids, and there’s really no relationship between their sickliness as adults and the bullying that they endured (not that it makes bullying any less despicable if it’s the latter)?

This last one is one that I didn’t even really want to include because it’s about Autism, and I’m just honestly tired of hearing about Autism these days, but it is psych-related research, so here goes.  As you know if you read regularly, I think Autism is a real condition, and a serious condition, and a condition for which I have sympathy for sufferers and their parents, but I also think it’s become over-diagnosed and over-blown and over-hyped to the point of almost-ADHD-level absurdity.  For example, I don’t believe for one second that one in every 150 American kids has Autism.  I think that that widely-publicized figure is a product of agenda/activist-driven research coupled with a substantial loosening of diagnostic guidelines to encompass many previously undiagnosable children.  So this new study is in a journal that I think may be subject to some of those same influences, but the basic finding is that the older the mother, the greater that likelihood that she’ll give birth to a baby with Autism.  I’ll need to see lots and lots of confirmatory research before I worry much about this one.

Jackson’s doctor finally charged and what it means for “Hollywood health care” 2/8/10

Michael Jackson’s personal physician has been charged, finally, with involuntary manslaughter in connection with his administration of the surgical-strength sedative Propofol to help the singer sleep.  If convicted, the doctor could spend up to four years in a California prison.  That’s fine, but this case is also the ultimate example of what I’ve been calling “Hollywood health care” for years now.  Doctors who want to be in the “inner circles” of celebrities like Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Chris Benoit, Heath Ledger…basically give the celebrities whatever they want in the way of prescription drugs.  Nevertheless, the doctors are bound by the law and professional ethics to “do no harm,” which means they need to “just say no” to a celebrity or to any patient who wants a treatment that is contraindicated under the circumstances, even if that patient claims to understand the risks and pleads for the treatment anyway, as I’ll bet Jackson did.  I’ve spent some of my legal time representing health care professionals who’ve been accused of various kinds of wrongdoing.  I’ve also spent time as a psychologist assessing the fitness to practice of doctors who’ve gotten themselves in trouble and even some time treating doctors whose psychological issues have contributed to their legal/licensure troubles (you can learn more about that work atwww.acumenassessments.com).  Sometimes the self-confidence and intelligence that enables people to become doctors escalates into narcissism and a dangerous ability to rationalize just about anything (not unlike what we sometimes see in scandalous politicians).

I hope that the example being made here has a chilling effect on the “Hollywood health care” phenomenon, particularly because I see it spilling over into non-Hollywood health care — “consumer-driven” treatment in which some doctors are willing to essentially “prescribe to order” because they know that patients will go elsewhere and get what they want.  ADHD medications are a prime example — a mother gets a note from her third-grader’s teacher saying that the kid has been rambunctious at school and asking the mother to do something about it, so the mother shows up in a pediatrician’s office asking for ADHD medication, and the pediatrician, unsure whether it’s a true case of ADHD and unqualified by training to make that diagnosis in the first place, acquiesces to the mother’s desire to “give Ritalin a try,” never mind the potential long-term negative psychological effects on a child when that child is told that something’s wrong with his/her brain and that he/she needs medicine to fix it, effects like reduced self-esteem, reduced motivation, failure to learn to calm him/herself down and focus his/her attention volitionally rather than medicinally, etc., not to mention potential long-term negative physical side effects of which we’re not even fully aware yet.

More psychopaths online — women beware, please! 2/6/10

A few years ago, there was an email circulating about how to tell whether someone thinks like a psychopath.  It was about a man who went to a relative’s funeral and met a woman there whom he really wanted to see again.  The woman left the service before he could get her contact information.  So, the question was, how might he get another opportunity to see the woman?  The “psychopathic” answer was “murder another relative” (assuming that the woman, if she were a family friend, would be likely to attend that funeral as well).

I might be a little off on the details of that, but you get the idea, and you’re probably (hopefully!) thinking, “Wow, I never would’ve thought of that.”  Well, allow me to illustrate for you the kind of person who would think of it, using an unbelievable but real new case out of Wyoming.  Here’s what allegedly happened:

Suspect #1 is a U.S. Marine with a record of disciplinary infractions in the Corps. (that’s pronounced “core” in case you’re a politician who’s used to reading everything phonetically off of a teleprompter — ahem).  Suspect #1 and his girlfriend, who lives in Wyoming, break up, don’t know how/why, doesn’t matter.  Suspect #1 is stationed at a California Marine base.  Suspect #1 goes on Craigslist (yes, Craigslist again — apparently last year’s “Craigslist Killer” case wasn’t enough to shame the Craigslist folks into knocking off these kinds of ads), pretending to be his ex-girlfriend, and essentially says she’s looking for man who’ll be rough with her sexually.  Suspect #2, a man who lives near Suspect #1’s ex-girlfriend in Wyoming, responds to the ad, and the two suspects start corresponding.  Suspect #1, pretending again to be his ex-girlfriend, tells Suspect #2 where she lives and that she has a “rape fantasy” in which someone comes to her door, forces his way in, and forces himself on her.  So, Suspect #2 shows up at the ex-girlfriend’s door, forces his way in, and rapes her.  Both suspects are in custody.

If the alleged facts are all correct, it makes no difference whether Suspect #2 thought that he was doing what the victim had wanted.  If a woman shows in any way that she wants a man to stop, he needs to stop immediately, period.  Even if she had been the one with whom he had been corresponding online (which of course she wasn’t), she could’ve changed her mind.

If the facts alleged are true, Suspect #2 is a rapist, and Suspect #1 is equally (or even more) guilty as both a conspirator and an accomplice to rape but is also a textbook psychopath.  See how much conscious thought he had to put into hurting this woman?  See how closely that thought had to parallel the kind of thinking illustrated in the email with which I opened this post?  That’s a mind working plenty well enough to know exactly what it’s doing and that it’s wrong (even if the person has no conscience or a warped conscience, to know that it’s wrong legally is what’s important, see my post “Tragic deja vu” from 2/3/10), yet choosing to act anyway, simply for some warped gratification in seeing another human being hurt.  Sure, there may be a mental illness involved in the gratification part of it, but that’s not really all that important — it’s the choice part that’s important.  Just because a person gets gratification from the idea of another person being hurt doesn’t mean he has to do anything about it.  And when he chooses to go ahead and act on it, that’s not mental illness, that’s something else.  I don’t know what you call it, but I call it “evil.”

I don’t want either of these guys to be set free to terrorize a woman ever again, but let me warn everyone reading this particularly against the danger posed by Suspect #1.  Suspect #2 may be a psychopath as well, or he may just be incredibly stupid, or (probably) somewhere in between, and in any case, he’s dangerous.  But Suspect #1 sounds like one of the most dangerous kinds of people we have in the human race, a true psychopath, a kind of person that some don’t even want to believe exists.  They exist.  I’ve been face-to-face with them, and I think as this case unfolds, it will be proven that we’re seeing one here.

There apparently was nothing that this victim could’ve done to prevent what happened to her.  She did nothing to put herself in harm’s way, and she reportedly even got Craigslist to take down the fake ad when she learned that it was there, but by then, the suspects’ plan was already in motion.  Still, I want to close by taking this opportunity to point out, once again, to every woman reading this, that guys just like these suspects are out there online looking to meet you.  I don’t know how many times I’ve see women post their addresses on Facebook.  Get those addresses off of there immediately, please!  And be incredibly cautious in deciding what other information about yourselves to share!

Depression, pregnancy, and teen behavior 2/5/10

A new study found that mothers who suffer from depression during pregnancy are significantly more likely than other mothers to give birth to babies who will grow up to have major behavior problems as teenagers.  A causal relationship isn’t clear though.  Maybe there’s something about being depressed during pregnancy that causes a woman’s unborn baby’s brain to develop differently from the brains of other babies, and/or maybe it’s just that other factors (like a bad living environment) cause both the mother to be depressed and the child to be upset/angry/destructive, and/or maybe the mother who’s depressed during pregnancy remains depressed after delivery and then parents differently because of that.  Wonder if the mothers of the cyber-bullies in my last post were depressed during pregnancy?

(Update:  We’re hearing now that Michael Jackson’s doctor finally will be charged on Monday in connection with his administration of the surgical-strength sedative Propofol to help the singer sleep.)

Another tragic deja vu 2/5/10

Just a couple of days ago, on 2/3/10, I told you about a tragic deja vu involving a mother who apparently murdered her two young children.  Sadly, here’s another tragic deja vu:  There’s apparently been another teen suicide prompted by cyber-bullying (shades of the “Monstrous MySpace Mom” case, in which a mother was involved in taunting her daughter’s classmate online, including saying that the world would be better off without the classmate, and the classmate ultimately killed herself).  This time, a Massachusetts 15-year-old killed herself after apparent relentless taunting by other girls at school and online.

The two primary (alleged) perpetrators of the harassment have been suspended, but that’s probably about the extent of the official punishment that they’ll receive (hopefully their parents will impose additional punishment, and hopefully the girls will experience some serious guilt over it).  Criminal law really doesn’t have a good way to protect people from this kind of harassment without infringing on the harassers’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech.  Civil law allows people to recover monetary damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” but when the defendants are minors, they generally don’t have enough money to make a lawsuit worthwhile, unless their parents can be held liable as well, which would be a stretch in a case like this unless they knew or should’ve known the risk that their daughters were causing to the victim’s well-being.

Nevertheless, the parents of the perpetrators should be very, very concerned.  Their daughters are alive, yes, but they very well may bepsychopaths — people who get pleasure out of hurting others.  As I’ve said many times, if your kid is a bully, your kid has a screw loose, and that loose screw is going to cause major problems for your kid and probably for others unless and until you get it tightened up, if that’s even possible.

Might the school be sued here?  Possibly.  As I’ve said many times, all school kids in America should be able to go to school each and every day with zero fear that anyone there is going to harm them physically, and if anyone does, the adults on the scene should be held accountable.  It’s a lot tougher, though, to find school personnel negligent for failing to protect students from emotional harm.  Unless an employee of the school knew or should’ve known what was happening to the victim, particularly at school, and how much damage could result from it, and took no or inadequate action, the school’s probably not liable.

Cyber-bullying is a form of student misconduct that private schools have greater ability to punish than public schools do.  That’s because it often occurs outside of school, and private schools can punish students for any behavior deemed “immoral,” “inappropriate,” etc., anytime, anywhere, while public schools can punish students pretty much just for rule violations and crimes committed on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities.  For example, if a public school student cusses at a teacher in a grocery store, there’s generally not much that the school can do about it, but a private school would be free to discipline a student for the same behavior.

Not to shift blame to anyone other than the perpetrators of the harassment, but this case underscores how important it is for parents to know what their kids are doing online.  The bullies’ parents probably should’ve known what their kids were doing online and should’ve prohibited that kind of misuse of their Internet access, even if they didn’t know who the victim was or how emotionally-vulnerable she was (many teens, unfortunately, get bullied, but very few react to it in this way, so there clearly was some heightened emotional vulnerability with this victim  — don’t know whether her parents/teachers picked up on that or what, if anything, was done about it).  Likewise, had the parents of the victim known what was happening to her online, they might’ve been able to intervene to protect their daughter (even though she apparently hadn’t done anything wrong, they might at least have been able to prevent/lessen further exposure to the harassment by restricting her online access).

And there’s a broader implication as well — other students surely knew what was going on, but as far as I know, no one reported it (I could be wrong).  The quintessential illustration of the “bystander effect” was the stabbing murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964, which was witnessed by dozens of people, none of whom did anything to help her — some bystanders said they feared getting hurt themselves, while others just “didn’t want to get involved.”  While bystanders’ ambivalence is sometimes rooted in fear (of the perpetrator(s) turning on them), it can also be rooted in the phenomenon of “deindividuation” or “diffusion of responsibility” wherein no individual feels a personal moral responsibility to act, so everyone waits for someone else to act.   Parents and schools have got to teach school-aged children how to act when they witness bullying (not to encourage it, not to condone it, to report it, etc.).  Now I don’t want any student bystanders in this Massachusetts school to be overcome with guilt for having not acted — I’m sure they didn’t foresee the suicide.  But, if one student who knew what was being done to the victim had told an adult — an employee of the school, the bullies’ parents, the victim’s parents (and it’s possible that someone did) — or if enough other students had even just scorned/shamed the perpetrators (that’s probably happening now, but now’s too late for this victim), this tragedy might’ve been prevented.

Charges, coroners’ findings, an exciting new study, & a new senator’s health-care impact 2/4/10

Charges filed:

1)  I wrote about them yesterday, ten Americans claiming to just be “missionaries” but suspected of child trafficking, caught attempting to transport roughly 30 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic in the chaotic aftermath of the recent earthquake in Haiti.  Well, Haitian authorities have now charged all ten with conspiracy and child abduction.

2)      “Motivational speaker” James Arthur Ray has been charged with manslaughter after three participants in a “therapeutic” “sweat-lodge” (think of a sauna x 10) retreat conducted by Ray died last year.  The victims reportedly were overcome by extreme heat, and Ray reportedly did nothing to help them get out of the “sweat lodge.”

(Still no word on charges being filed against Michael Jackson’s doctor.  We keep hearing “any minute now,” but we’ve been hearing that for weeks.)

Coroner’s findings:

They were two young women living the high life in Hollywood, both dying recently in the prime of their lives.  Was foul-play involved?  Not according to coroners’ findings just released in both cases:

1)  Actress Brittany Murphy died from cardiac arrest brought on by a combination of pneumonia and intoxication.

2)  Heiress Casey Johnson died from complications of her diabetes.

Study this:

Some patients thought to have been completely unconscious for years apparently have not been.  Imagine that, being aware of what was going on around you but unable to let anyone know for years.  One has to wonder what mental state a person would be in after years of that.  At least now these rare patients may have hope of communicating with the outside world again even if they never regain control of their bodies.  In scanning the brain waves of patients believed to be completely comatose, looking for any signs activity, it was discovered that a few of them could actually alter their brain waves in response to questions (e.g. think about one thing as a “yes” response and about something else as a “no” response, such that the scanner could detect the difference).

And finally:

With the swearing-in of new Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown this afternoon, the drastic changes to the American health care system proposed in the past year are highly unlikely to become law, and as you know if you read regularly, I think that’s a good thing.  The system’s not perfect, but more government involvement in it, I believe, would’ve made it worse, not better.  It sounds good to “guarantee” certain things, like food, shelter, and health care, to everyone, but whenever governments try to do that, they run up against the reality of human nature.  There’s always going to be a small minority of people in a society who simply can’t pull their own weight (i.e. can’t provide for their own basic needs).  So, in order to run the society efficiently and effectively, you need everyone who can pull his/her own weight to do so.  Then, you need some, hopefully many, people to pull more than their own weight, because that’s where you get excess, wealth, that can be used to help the truly helpless.  But how do you motivate every capable person to pull at least his/her own weight and hopefully more?  You may not like this answer, but fear is one of the primary and strongest motivators of human behavior.  Most people work and educate themselves and acquire skills and work some more in large part — subconsciously perhaps, but nevertheless in large part — because they fear what would happen to them (and to those who depend on them, e.g. their children), if they didn’t.  That fear is actually a good thing.  When you guarantee everyone that their basic needs will be met, you take away the fear, and you end up with capable people not pulling their weight, by choice rather than inability, and you start to get a burden of “need” that’s heavier and heavier and eventually difficult for the remaining, productive members of your society to bear.  Of course I want everyone to be healthy and to have access to care when they need it.  But I don’t want to promise it to them from birth.  I want them to wonder where it would come from if they don’t procure it for themselves.  And if they haven’t procured it for themselves and need it, I want them to have to explain to somebody why they need it and to appeal to that person or agency for help rather than being able to count on simply filling out a government form and having the help handed to them unconditionally.  In a sense, when you say to some people, “Have no fear,” you’re unintentionally, subconsciously, but effectively saying “have no motivation.”  Not having guarantees, allowing there to be some fear, incentivizes those who are able to pull their own weight (and more) to do so, and when they do, the group that truly can’t is small enough that voluntary assistance is more than adequate to meet their needs, especially in a society as generous as ours.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things that the government can do to help make health care more affordable and accessible to people without mandating or guaranteeing or directly providing coverage/care — things like allowing people to purchase health insurance from companies across the country instead of just the ones operating in their home states — and if you’re interested in those, I wrote about them numerous times during 2008 in the run-up to the presidential election.

Depression and the Internet 2/3/10

A new study found a correlation between excessive use of the Internet and depression.  It’s unclear, though, whether there’s a causal relationship, and if so, what it would be.  Maybe spending many hours a day surfing the web is depressing, or maybe people who are already depressed then tend to sit at home and surf the web instead of interacting with people face-to-face.  (In any case, it’s tough to imagine time spent on my web site being anything other than healthy and beneficial for everyone!

Serotonin and SIDS 2/3/10

A new study has linked the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin to sudden infant death syndrome (S.I.D.S.), a condition in which babies have died otherwise-inexplicably, usually during the night when their parents had thought that they were sleeping.  Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that’s increased by most modern antidepressants, but it also plays a role in the maintenance of regular breathing while sleeping, and the theory is that a serotonin deficiency in some babies might lead to respiratory arrest during sleep.  I’m highly interested in seeing the follow-up research on this because the next question should be why some babies have this apparent serotonin deficiency.  I’d like to see data on how many mothers of serotonin-deficient babies took antidepressants during pregnancy.  If there’s a correlation, it could be that serotonin-deficient mothers (who take antidepressants for that reason) simply pass on their serotonin deficiencies genetically to their babies.  I wonder, though, whether it could also be that artificially-high serotonin levels in pregnant or breastfeeding women, created by antidepressants, could somehow cause fewer or weaker “serotonergic” (serotonin-producing) cells to be produced in the developing brains of their babies.

Adoption or abduction 2/3/10

This has been in the news for a couple of days but I haven’t addressed it because I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly is going on.  It’s still not clear, but the case basically involves ten Americans detained in Haiti for trying to take about 30 Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic on a bus without proper permission from Haitian authorities.  The Americans reportedly claim that they’re religious missionaries who went to Haiti to rescue children orphaned by the recent earthquake and to eventually arrange adoptions for them in the U.S. and that they didn’t get the proper paperwork because the Haitian legal system isn’t functioning right now.  But there’s a problem.  Many if not all of the children’s parents appear to be alive.  The Americans claim that the parents were unable to care for the children in the aftermath of the quake and willingly gave them up, and by some accounts, some of the parents have confirmed that to be the case.  The Haitian government, however, is concerned that the Americans may be using “missionary” work as a front for child trafficking, essentially abducting children and selling them, oftentimes into sexual slavery, which has been a serious problem in Haiti for years.  A Haitian judge who’s been appointed to investigate the case has reportedly questioned all of the detained Americans and will issue findings within 10 days as to whether they should be charged with crimes in Haiti and/or the U.S.  The children remain in Haiti at this point, although it’s not clear whether they’ve been returned to their decimated villages, so we can only hope that their essential needs are being met while the facts of the case get clarified.

Tragic deja vu 2/3/10

It was like a scene from a bad but familiar horror movie.  Cops reportedly were called to a San Antonio, TX home by a woman who claimed that someone had been killed there.  When the cops arrived, a mother of two young children met them on the front lawn, held out her bloodied arms, and told them to go ahead and cuff her because she had killed her babies.  She wasn’t lying.  Both children were found dead, lying on a bed next to one another, inside the house.  Shades of Andrea Yates, right?  We’ll see.  When a woman doesn’t seem to possess the maternal instinct to nurture and protect her children that we see in virtually all mammals, something’s clearly wrong, but what exactly?  That’s not so clear.  If you believe Yates, she thought she was doing the best thing for her kids by sending them to Heaven to be with God.  On the other hand, both women immediately called police after killing their kids, which clearly demonstrates “consciousness of guilt” — an appreciation of the fact that, regardless of their own personal beliefs, their actions were wrong by society’s standards (i.e. against the law).  Yates’ first jury found that she did know that her actions were wrong (by society’s standards) and convicted her, but then she was granted a new trial (due to errors in the first one), and the second jury found that she didn’t know that her actions were wrong and acquitted her by reason of insanity.  I’m still inclined to believe that the first jury got it right.  It’s kind of like the Roeder case that I covered last week (the guy who shot the abortion doctor here in Kansas) — if a person with extreme ideological beliefs or a mentally-ill person with delusional beliefs nevertheless knows what the law is and consciously chooses to break it in furtherance of his/her ideology or delusions, then that person needs to be held accountable under the law just like anyone else who consciously chooses to break it, period.  Everyone whose mind is functioning well enough to know what the law is can and should be expected to obey it whether he or she agrees with it or not.  Otherwise, anyone could do anything as long as he or she “believed” it was the right thing to do, and there’d be no way to have a civilized society like that — we’d have chaos.  I imagine that we’ll soon hear this San Antonio woman’s explanation for what she did, and when we do, it may be tempting, even somewhat comforting, to conclude that she must just have been totally insane and that there was no element of choice involved, but just keep the whole “consciousness of guilt” thing in mind.

Study, study, study 2/2/10

Three new studies to tell you about:

1)  For years now, people who aren’t really concerned about sexual activity among very young people (kids in their early teens) have been citing “research” (conducted by like-minded scholars) to suggest that it’s pointless to tell kids to delay becoming sexually active (i.e. to put off putting out).  Well, a new large-scale study by the National Institutes of Health, not a conservative organization by any means, confirms what I’ve said all along.  Kids do listen to adults whom they respect.  They may not show it, but they do.  And when adults whom they respect tell young teens that it’s smart, and why it’s smart, to delay becoming sexually active, this new study found that they’re more likely to actually delay sexual activity than are kids whose sexual education from adults is all about how to do it “safely.”

2)  Another new study found that antidepressants may help stroke victims, even those who aren’t depressed, who have problems with cognitive functions like memory.  This is somewhat surprising to me because one theory about how antidepressants work has to do with a chemical “short-circuiting” of short-term memory, which in theory makes it difficult for depressed people to ruminate (think over and over and over) on negative themes.  So, I’ll have to see more data on this effect specifically, but in general, the progress that’s being made these days to prevent and treat brain damage from strokes is exciting and encouraging.

3)  Finally tonight, the prominent medical journal Lancet is retracting an article published 12 years ago in which immunizations administered in early childhood were linked to the development of Autism.  Retracting a 12-year-old publication in a field in which the science is expected to evolve over time is sending a statement, I believe, and the statement is:  as far as the publishers of Lancet are concerned, the question of a vaccine-Autism causal connection has been settled — there’s no link — and they want people who still insist that a link exists to stop citing their journal.  (On a somewhat-but-not-entirely-related note, while I’m here, I don’t really agree with former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin equating White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word “retarded” with use of the “n” word.  I can understand why Mrs. Palin, who has a son with Down’s Syndrome, would have heightened sensitivity to any perceived slight on people with intellectual disabilities, but “retardation” and “retarded” remain words used even clinically to describe particular categories of intellectual deficits, so I see her indignation as perhaps exceeding what’s warranted because it was Emanuel who used the term.)

Lawpsyc low-down on terror trials in NYC 2/2/10

People have been asking me to weigh in on the question of whether to try the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and other terror suspects in civilian court in New York City, as the Administration favors, or in military tribunals someplace like the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I’ve been somewhat reluctant to weigh in on this because it seems to have become more of a political question than anything else, but I do think there’s a psychology angle, so here goes:

Some (including those in the Obama Administration) say that trying these guys in civilian courts sends a positive message to the world about the American system of justice, how civilized and fair we are, etc.  I’m all for that when we’re talking about violations of the law by and between members of our own nation, but I don’t think it’s Constitutionally-required or even psychologically-advisable when we’re dealing with outsiders who’ve essentially invaded our territory to try to kill us.

If in fact the Administration’s intended message is what the world would get out of holding these trials in NYC, I don’t think it’s necessarily the right message to be sending in terms of its psychological effect on the next wave/generation of potential terrorists.  If you look back in history at times when nations (including “states” like the U.S.A. and also relatively “boundaryless” groups, like the Huns initially were and kind of like jihadists are now) have been at war with one another, you won’t find many instances in which one side stopped fighting because the other side showed how fairly and civilly its enemies would be treated.  You’ll find many instances, on the other hand, in which one side stopped fighting because the other side showed unwavering resolve to use overwhelming force to simply eliminate its enemies one by one until they were either all gone or laid down their weapons.  Think about it, is someone more likely to think twice about leaving home and heading off to a terrorist training camp if the worst that’s likely to happen is long-term detention in a climate-controlled U.S. federal prison with three square meals per day, time to pray, cable t.v., and exercise equipment (possibly followed by lethal injection decades down the road) or if the worst that’s likely to happen is death, quickly, either while attempting an attack or very shortly and summarily thereafter?  (I know, some of these guys may not fear death, but I think a good number of them actually do.)

In addition, I think that the psychological effects on New Yorkers, including anxiety about whether the trials would be targets for additional attacks, would be more negative than positive.  So, in answer to numerous questions, I’m against the Administration’s plan to try terror suspects in civilian courts in NYC.  There, I said it.

I’m not buying it! 2/1/10

78-year-old actor Rip Torn (if you don’t know who he is, he hasn’t been in much recently) was found inside a closed Connecticut bank at night over the weekend and was arrested for illegal gun possession, trespassing, and burglary.  His lawyer says it was all a misunderstanding due to Torn’s alcoholism — according to the lawyer, Torn thought he was in his own home and wasn’t trying to steal anything.  Yeah, right.  He reportedly was intoxicated when he was arrested, but I’m not buying that he thought he had broken into his own house.  Sounds to me like he was just intoxicated enough to think it was a good idea to try to burglarize the bank.  Unfortunately for Torn, voluntary intoxication cannot be the basis of an insanity defense (i.e. you’re not allowed to argue that you didn’t know what you were doing or that it was wrong because you decided to intoxicate yourself before doing whatever it was, and therefore, you shouldn’t be punished).  Dementia, even dementia secondary to chronic alcohol abuse, might be a better defense argument, if of course there’s any evidence of that.  Nevertheless, after spending the weekend in jail and posting bail on Monday, Torn reportedly is off to…”rehab.”  I know, how courageous.  Let’s all just forget about his criminal behavior and get behind his “recovery” now, right?

Remember Nancy Kerrigan, the 1994 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating who was assaulted and injured prior to the competition by a supporter of rival skater Tonya Harding?  Well, her 70-year-old father died over the weekend, and her 45-year-old brother has been arrested in connection with his death.  The brother reportedly told cops that he got frustrated with his father because the father wouldn’t let him into his home to use the telephone.  He reportedly went on to say that they had a physical altercation in which he put his hands around his father’s neck, and the father then fell to the ground, but the brother thought he was “faking” an injury of some kind and left.  The father was found unresponsive and was later pronounced dead at a Boston-area hospital.  I’m not buying the son’s story for a minute, and I predict that autopsy results on the father will tell the tale.  Meanwhile, the brother’s reportedly off to…no, not “rehab”…close…a “psychological evaluation.”

Also tonight, study this:  A new study found that taking omega-3 fish oil capsules may be a buffer against the development/progression of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia in certain “high-risk” young people (13-25-year-olds who’ve experienced some mild symptoms of psychosis) by supporting healthy fatty-acid metabolism in their brains.  I might buy this if I see some confirmatory studies (this study was relatively small), and I hope I do because it might represent a safe way to help counter the push to put more and more young people on potentially-dangerous antipsychotic drugs.  I’ve written a lot about that, as you may know (if not, see my WorldNetDaily column “A Perfect Storm” from a year ago), and as always, if you know of a young person who took prescription psych meds and was harmed by them, tell the person or his/her family to send me his/her/their story.

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