Archive: June 2010

Joy Behar debut 6/22/10

If you missed my debut on The Joy Behar Show on HLN on Tuesday night, we discussed the latest on Joran van der Sloot, and here’s a quick rundown:

Remember that confession that he made to the murder of Stephany Flores?  That was after he said he didn’t do it, then said he did but it was an accident, then said he did but she provoked it, and before he apparently said he did it but was mentally ill at the time.  Well, he’s back to saying he didn’t do it and the confession was coerced by the Peruvian cops.  Yeah, ok.

A Peruvian psychiatrist has examined van der Sloot and concluded that he’s basically a psychopath, not psychotic, knew what he was doing at the time of the murder, had the capacity to know the society down there (and everywhere) considered it wrong, and went right ahead and did it anyway because he felt entitled to it.  The psychiatrist’s report also says van der Sloot has no respect for women.  All of that sounds right to me.  It’s exactly the attitude and behavior we’ve seen from van der Sloot for five years now.  He was doing a lot of things that required lucidity leading up to the murder, and he fled thereafter, demonstrating consciousness of guilt, so his mother’s claim that the murder was the product of mental illness is laughable.  Psychopathy, keep in mind, is less a mental disorder and more of a descriptive label for people who are so malignantly narcissistic that they can rationalize taking anything from anyone regardless of who else gets hurt.  It doesn’t prevent people from knowing what they’re doing or that it’s wrong.  As such, it’s not among the mental diseases/defects that can form the basis of an insanity defense in Peru, just as it isn’t in the U.S.

The coroner’s report on Stephany Flores shows that she suffered an incredible amount of gratuitous violence, suggesting that the killer was enraged.  A psychopath, keep in mind, feels entitled to take what he wants from whomever he wants, so if she denied or defied him in any way, it’d be consistent with his personality for him to become enraged (which doesn’t excuse or even mitigate anything he did thereafter in my opinion).

Lastly, van der Sloot reportedly is getting love letters in prison from needy, lonely, attention-starved women around the world.  As nutty as that sounds, it’s not unprecedented.  Some of America’s most notorious murderers, including John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, both Menendez brothers, both “Hillside Stranglers,” and the “Night Stalker,” formed committed relationships and/or got married while in prison.

Insanity, front and center 6/20/10

First off, happy Father’s Day to all the dads!  Insanity’s front and center in the news this Father’s Day.  Here’s a rundown:

This father won’t be getting any Father’s Day gifts, but don’t feel sorry.  Thomas Mortimer of the Boston area allegedly got into an argument with his wife and then stabbed and bludgeoned her, their two children, and his mother-in-law to death, then went on the run, leaving a note that said, “I did these horrible things.  What I’ve done was extremely selfish and cowardly.  I murdered my family.”  Well, now he’s in custody and pleading…”NOT guilty.”  His attorney reportedly has requested a mental health evaluation of Mr. Mortimer, and you know what’ll come next — that’s right, an insanity defense.  I wish the prosecution would call me as an expert because I’ll bet that the real truth is exactly what he (allegedly) wrote in that letter (i.e. he knew what he was doing and knew it was wrong, which would mean he’s guilty as charged, whether he wants to plead it or not).

And get this story out of Florida:  The characters are a 15-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl with whom the boy apparently was having sex regularly, and a 15-year-old girl who was a friend of the younger girl, found out about the sex, and told the boy that it was wrong and illegal.  So here’s what happened next:  Apparently, in expressing her concern for the younger girl and disapproval of the boy’s behavior, the older girl made a comment about the boy’s brother who committed suicide some time ago, something to the effect of, “if you’re going to act this way, you should just go visit your brother” (not an exact quote).  The infuriated boy then got a pair of steel-toed boots, got the younger girl to identify the older girl for him in a public location, knocked the older girl to the ground, and kicked her in the head until she was permanently brain-damaged and on the verge of death.  Well, he’s now in custody, charged as an adult, and once again, guess what’s coming next?  That’s right, an insanity defense — the victim’s apparent comment about the defendant’s brother will supposedly have been so infuriating that he didn’t know what he was doing or that it was wrong.  I wish the prosecution would call me in on this one, too — I could fly straight from Boston to Florida — because I’m not buying it for one second.  I don’t care what was said about this little creep’s deceased brother; I don’t think it excuses his subsequent, premeditated, cold, calculated, depraved behavior in the SLIGHTEST.  Incidentally, the younger girl’s in trouble, too, because she apparently identified the victim for the boy, making her an accessory to the attack.  Good, she should be charged.  Unless she knew that the boy was going to try to kill the older girl, I don’t think she probably needs to be taken out of society for life like he does, but it certainly sounds like she could at least use the involvement of a juvenile judge in her life until she’s an adult.  But there’s more — how’s this for fatherly behavior on Father’s Day?  The boy’s stepfather reportedly went to the jail to visit the boy, and they reportedly talked about how the victim had giggled when the boy threatened to kill her for what she said regarding his brother.  So guess what the stepfather said?  “She’s not giggling now, is she?”  And when I say, “reportedly,” I mean in the transcript of the jail’s recording of the conversation.  As you can see, there probably wasn’t much parental concern about this boy’s propensity for violence, at least not on the stepfather’s part.  (I’ll address that further in a minute, so please read on…)

Lastly tonight, Joran van der Sloot, INSANE?  That’s right, his mother’s reportedly saying that he was mentally-ill in the days leading up to the murder of Stephany Flores and that she was trying to have him admitted/committed to a mental hospital when he instead traveled to Peru.  So, we may actually get an insanity argument out of van der Sloot, a couple of years down the road when he’s finally tried.  Now, I don’t even have to tell you whether I buy this one or not, do I?  (While I’d be happy to fly down to Peru after Florida and testify against it, I don’t think there’s much chance of the Peruvian court buying it either!)  But coming from the van der Sloot’s, is anyone surprised?  Me neither.  As we saw in Aruba, parenting probably played a significant role in how Joran turned out to be the way that he is.  This excuses nothing either, by the way, not in Florida, not in Aruba, not in Peru, nowhere.  Once someone’s brain becomes capable of functioning at least at the marginal-adult-level (in the Florida case, I’d say that a 15-year-old’s brain can generally be expected to function not as well as a highly-functional adult brain but at least as well as a marginally-functional adult brain), that person must be expected to use that brain to differentiate right from wrong, especially when it’s something as fundamental as figuring out that it’s not ok to kill someone simply because he or she has upset or defied you in some way.  Sure, it’s going to be easier for people who had good upbringings than it is for people who had bad upbringings, but society’s never going to equalize that out.  So, when it comes to fundamentally-intolerable behaviors like murder, it’s both reasonable and necessary that we expect everyone, regardless of upbringing, to refrain from those behaviors or be removed from society.  To do anything else would be chaos because people could choose to be destructive and escape responsibility over and over by blaming it on their pasts, their brothers’ suicides, their poor potty-training, … .

So in closing, once again, happy Father’s Day to all the dads who work hard on a daily basis to instill values and decency in their kids!

The self-preservation instincts of a psychopath in action 6/13/10

While essentially everything that everyone does, at some level, is perceived to be in furtherance of his/her physical and/or metaphysical/spiritual survival, you may recall me saying in the context of the Casey Anthony case that sociopaths and psychopaths have particularly strong physical-self-preservation instincts (not really surprising given the self-centered nature of their behaviors when victimizing others).  I think we’re seeing such instincts — Joran van der Sloot’s this time — in action in Peru this weekend.  He’s reportedly trying to bargain with Peruvian and Aruban authorities, offering to tell them the “real” location of Natalee Holloway’s body if they transfer him to an Aruban prison.  See?  He’s still trying to exert control over other people even from prison.  I’d like to see the Peruvians turn the tables on him, throw him into the general prison population in Peru, and tell him that they might put him back in segregated custody, where he is now, after he gives up the location of Holloway’s body, but that he’d better hurry because he’ll stay in the general population at least until the Aruban’s actually recover the remains.  Yes, that would risk him going to the grave without ever revealing the true location of the body, so as emotionally-tied to that information as Holloway’s parents understandably may be, they’d need to be prepared never to get it.  I think they would get it though, if van der Sloot’s safety, maybe even his life, finally, depended completely upon the mercy of someone else, his Peruvian jailers in this case.  Now I’m not condoning prison conditions in which inmates are subjected to physical punishments beyond their sentences at the hands of their fellow inmates — I’ve even proposed electronic devices to prevent any and all physical contact among inmates and between inmates and staff in U.S. prisons — but I also don’t think van der Sloot can expect better treatment from the Peruvians than they extend to their own citizens.  If they do extend that to him, in the form of segregated custody, for his own safety and/or to help the Arubans and the Holloway family, he should consider himself lucky.  By the way, it looks like he’ll now face robbery charges in Peru in addition to murder charges because he reportedly took Stephany Flores’ money when he went on the run to Chile, and the combined charges apparently could extend the maximum prison sentence that he faces, from 35 years maybe even all the way up to life.

Recapping a week full of van der Sloot news 6/11/10

It was such a busy work week that I didn’t get a chance to post this when it first was announced, so it may be old news to many of you by now, but van der Sloot reportedly confessed to the Peruvian cops, telling them that he killed Stephany Flores in a fit of rage over her use of his laptop computer without his permission.  Oh, I see, so it was her fault, right.  No surprise coming from this creep.  He’s still apparently going to have a trial in order to determine whether the full 35-year maximum sentence in Peru is justified.  If he convinces a Peruvian court that the murder was committed in a fit of rage rather than pre-meditated, the maximum sentence may be reduced.  Confessions reduce people’s sentences in Peru as well, and good behavior in prison apparently can shorten a person’s prison term even further.  There’s speculation that he could end up spending anywhere from as few as eight years to as many as 35 years in prison, assuming of course that he leaves prison alive.  There’s also been some criticism of the FBI and Aruban law enforcement for not arresting van der Sloot before he went to Peru when he stopped in Aruba to meet with a “representative of Natalee Holloway’s family” (actually an undercover FBI agent).  Van der Sloot was attempting to extort $250,000 from the family in exchange for information about the American girl’s disappearance back in 2005, and on that occasion, he showed the agent where the body was supposedly buried (by his now-deceased father) in exchange for $10,000 in cash and a $15,000 wire transfer to an account in the Netherlands.  It has since been proven that he lied — surprise, surprise — at least about the location of the body if not about the father’s involvement as well.  I don’t really think it’s fair to blame the FBI or even the chronically-bungling Aruban authorities for failing to prevent the Flores murder in Peru.  It’s easy to do that now, but only with 20/20 hindsight.  At the time, they were hoping that they might actually be able to get some peace for the Holloway family in the form of accurate information about what happened to Natalee before they arrested van der Sloot.  According to leaks out of Peru, van der Sloot told Peruvian cops during his interrogation that he knows the truth about what happened to Holloway but will only tell Aruban authorities.  Great, yet another van der Sloot story to look forward to.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, I think authorities in Thailand might want to look for connections between van der Sloot and any young women who were murdered or went missing in the time he spent there between the Holloway disappearance and the Flores murder.  This guy seems so psychopathic to me that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are more than just two victims.

Speaking of foreign serial killers, there’s one in Kenya who reportedly has confessed that he actually killed 19 people and planned to keep killing people until he had killed 100.  He reportedly told Kenyan police that he was recruited into a cult in which he was led to believe that if he killed 100 people and…stop here if you’ve got a weak stomach…drank their blood, he’d become wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.  Now at first, this guy might sound crazy, but it sounds like he knew exactly what he was doing when he was murdering people and that he had a selfish, material reason for doing it, money.  Imagine that — a person willing to take the lives of 100 people in exchange for money.  If he’s crazy, the craziness is just the delusion that the killings and blood-drinking would somehow make him rich.  The willingness to kill people for money, though, just makes him a psychopath, not really much different from a mafia hit-man.  That’s something different from mental illness.  That’s a conscious selfishness and disregard for the rights and welfare others for which each of us has to come up with our own explanations.  Psychology can label it, “psychopathy,” but it can’t fully explain it, so at some point, it becomes more of a philosophical than a psychological question.  I know some people hate this word because it sounds so unscientific, but this is where I think the word “evil” comes into play.

In other news this week, a seven-year-old boy went missing in Oregon…from his school.  That’s right, he was at school, then he wasn’t.  My first thought was that a family member must’ve been involved, like a non-custodial parent maybe, but so far, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that, and the boy remains missing.  Another young person, a 16-year-old girl, went missing at sea while attempting to become the youngest female to sail around the world alone.  She’s been located and is expected to be rescued shortly, but I’m wondering what the hell’s wrong with her parents for letting her attempt this in the first place.  As you know, I criticize pharmaceutical companies a lot for minimizing the potential dangers of various psych meds, especially to kids, but I also give credit where credit is due, and this week, several major pharmaceutical companies did a very good thing in agreeing to share proprietary research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, which hopefully will hasten the development of effective treatments.

And lastly tonight, a new study found that young men may actually take it harder than young women when, as Neil Diamond would say, their love’s on the rocks.  Men were also found to be more likely to turn to substances, on the rocks or otherwise, when problems with their significant others arose, while women were more-easily able, at least temporarily, to replace the emotional support of their significant others with emotional support from friends and family

Diagnosing Darth Vader, really? 6/7/10

Over the weekend, I saw a preview of what very well may be the stupidest psychological article I’ve ever seen.  It’s by a French psychiatrist who diagnoses Darth Vader — that’s right, the fictional villain from the Star Wars movie series — with Borderline Personality Disorder, what I sometimes call “Bipolar Light,” a pattern of emotional instability that often involves fluctuation between emotional extremes, especially extreme love and extreme hatred of the self and others.  First of all, the very premise is absurd, but beyond that, the reasons given by the author for why the label supposedly fits indicate an understanding of personality diagnosis that’s about at the level of an undergraduate student who just took his first course in abnormal psychology.  Without getting drawn into a debate about whether a particular psychological diagnosis fits a fictional character, let me just say that the Star Wars series itself is more credible than this guy.  I hope this kind of “research” coming out of France means real French people are so mentally-healthy that psychiatrists there just have a lot of time on their hands.  If not, it doesn’t paint a very confidence-inspiring picture of the state of French psychiatry.  Figuratively speaking, one might even say that the Emperor has no cloak.

Porn star goes over the edge, literally 6/6/10

The porn star who reportedly slashed one co-worker to death and wounded two others with a samurai-style sword at a California studio last week is dead.  He went on the run, the cops cornered him on the edge of a cliff, and after a multi-hour standoff, he jumped rather than be taken into custody.  Hmmm, now if the Peruvian cops happened to let van der Sloot get loose on the edge of a cliff…

By the way, speaking of murderers, remember the British guy, the mass shooter who wounded dozens, killed 12, and finished by killing himself last week?  I said he’d have an alarming history despite friends’ statements to the media that he was such a “quiet” and “friendly” guy.  Yeah, turns out he’d been telling people for years that he was going to kill everyone who’d ever crossed him.  They didn’t believe him.  (S.i.t.y.s.)

1 in custody & 1 on the run 6/5/10

Joran van der Sloot, the Dutch prime suspect in both the disappearance of American Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005 and the murder of a Peruvian girl in Peru just days ago was captured in Chile and is now in custody in Peru!  Sounds like he will not face the death penalty in Peru and that the maximum penalty, if convicted, will be 35 years in prison (which could end up being a death sentence).  But guess what else he allegedly tried to do recently?  Offer to tell the Holloway family what happened to Natalee in exchange for $250,000!  So, he’ll also face extortion charges in the U.S. if/when he ever leaves Peru.

Now, here’s another suspected murderer who’s not yet in custody, but probably soon will be — “porn star” Steven Hill.  He allegedly killed one person and wounded two others at a California studio this week with his big…get your mind out of the gutter…sword, samurai-style.  It’s not yet completely clear why he started (allegedly) swinging the sword around the studio, but he apparently had been in some kind of disagreement with studio management at the time.  He remains on the run at this hour, so watch out for him — he’ll be the guy with the big sword.

See, I told you so! 6/2/10

So, a young woman goes missing in Peru.  She’s last seen entering the hotel room of a young male tourist.  This is an area I’ve been to, by the way, and I felt quite safe there overall.  A few days later, she turns up murdered, stabbed repeatedly.  Where?  In the young male tourist’s hotel room.  And the young male tourist?  He’s nowhere to be found, but it’s believed that he has left Peru and entered Chile, headed to Argentina.  Who is he?  Guess.  Just guess.  Surprise, surprise, it’s Joran van der Sloot, the prime suspect in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba back in 2005.  If you’re a regular reader or viewer, you know that I’ve said this, but if not, based on my analysis of his reported behaviors and statements, I’ve said many times that this guy was going to keep hurting people until he’s literally caged.  You heard it here first!

I’ve also said that the glorification of young celebrities’ pregnancies was going to have a ripple effect among teenage girls in this country, making the prospect of trying to raise a baby as a single teen mother seem easier and more glamorous than it’s likely to ever really be for the average teen who doesn’t have the celebrities’ resources.  Well, guess what?  A new study suggests that may be right on.  Teens in this country appear to be getting less afraid of getting pregnant or of getting someone pregnant.  Great, just what we need, teens being less averse to risking pregnancies that they’re not equipped to handle and/or being overconfident about the effectiveness of their birth-control methods.

Another thing I’ve said repeatedly is that bullying is getting out of hand in this country and that parents, school officials, and law enforcement aren’t doing enough about it.  Well, in the wake of several bullying-induced suicides, you might think heightened awareness would cause a drop in reported incidents, but guess what?  There’s a new “game” called “sack tapping” wherein boys actually punch other boys’ genitals (personally, I cannot imagine ever participating in any game involving another dude’s genital area, but I digress), which has sent numerous boys to emergency rooms and even required the surgical removal of ruptured testicles.  This is no “game,” and anyone doing the punching belongs in a holding cell, not a school!  It’s very simple, America:  every kid should be able to go to school every day with zero fear of being touched unsafely/inappropriately there by anyone, adult or peer, and if kids are having to be afraid at a school, anywhere in the country, then there are adults in the vicinity who need to be sued, period.

Now, here’s a setup for a possible future “See, I told you so” post:  There’s been a mass shooting in the U.K. — a 50-something male taxi driver went on a rampage with a shotgun, killing 12 and wounding 25 others before committing suicide.  This is breaking news, and people who knew him are still describing the shooter at this point as having been “quiet and friendly.”  But, keep in mind what I always say in these cases.  Shooting up the town/school/office/etc. is never the first crazy thing a person does.  There will be a history with this guy, probably one that should’ve prompted his removal from the streets before he had a chance to cause this tragedy.  I could be wrong, but if I am, it’ll be the first mass-shooter I’ve ever seen whose dangerousness wasn’t both indicated and underestimated.

Catching up after Memorial Day weekend 6/1/10

Back in town after Memorial Day weekend, here’s a catch-up rundown:

Celebritrash updates:  Charlie Sheen, a seasoned practitioner of the “substance abuse excuse,” is likely to spend 30 days in jail in Colorado in a plea deal to resolve charges that he assaulted his wife and threatened to kill her with a knife in Aspen on Christmas.  Meanwhile, taking a page from Sheen’s play book, former Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson told Oprah Winfrey that she was drunk when she recently was caught on video attempting to sell access to her former husband, the prince.

A Georgia kindergarten teacher acquitted of child molestation charges is suing the parents of the children who accused her (whom she alleges coached their children out of personal animosity toward her) as well as some of the professionals who questioned the children about the allegations (whom she alleges incompetently facilitated confabulation — fabrication of memories where no actual memories exist — by the children).  While I’ve said many times that we don’t do nearly enough in this country to punish people who make or encourage false allegations, I don’t have high hopes for this poor woman’s lawsuit.  I think it’ll be tough to prove that the parents coached the kids.  The best bet is the malpractice angle because there’s a lot of good research on how not to suggest ideas to children when interviewing them about abuse allegations, so failure to employ research-supported techniques would be negligent, and the damage done to the woman’s life, reputation, finances, etc., is huge.

There’s a video sweeping across America via YouTube of a child hearing for the first time after receiving a cochlear implant (an electronic device that enables some deaf people to hear).  The video has drawn attention to a controversial practice whereby some parents of children who are eligible for the implants nevertheless decline them, fearing that hearing will take them out of social groups in which they’ve participated with other deaf children.  To me, it’s completely misguided to deny a child the opportunity to experience and utilize one of the five senses for fear that the child might no longer “fit in” with kids who don’t get to experience and utilize that sense.  Plus, I don’t understand how hearing has to mark the end of friendship with people who can’t hear.  I don’t believe it does.

Study this:  A new study has found yet another potential negative side effect of antidepressant medications.  According to the new study, elderly people who took antidepressants appear to have a higher-than-average incidence of cataracts.  Fortunately, another new study has replicated previous findings that, in many cases, antidepressant drugs don’t do any better than talk therapy in treating depression and that talk therapy can be highly effective without any of the drugs’ side effects.  Unfortunately but not surprisingly, however, the same study found that our “quick-fix,” “sweep-problems-under-the-rug,” “pill-popping” culture still seems to prefer antidepressants to psychotherapy.

B.P., bungling profoundly 6/1/10

B.P. is “bungling profoundly” in the media once again.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve written and talked about how badly B.P. has handled the Gulf oil spill from a p.r./crisis-communication perspective.  Well, B.P.’s CEO proved me right yet again over the weekend when he actually said, on international television, “No one wants this to be over more than I do.  I want my life back.”  Look at the self-focus in that statement!  It’s not hard to understand how someone who thinks that way could make it to a top leadership position in a corporation the size of B.P. — people who make it into positions of power typically have at least a little bit of narcissism in their personalities — but it is hard to understand how someone stupid enough to actually say it could make it to a top leadership position in a corporation the size of B.P.!  No one, and I mean not one person, is likely to have much sympathy for this guy.  The focus needs to be on the people and natural resources harmed by the spill, period.  If it were, then despite this disaster, believe it or not, I still don’t think most Americans would be for stopping drilling in the Gulf, especially if it meant gas prices back around $4+ per gallon.  The psychological stakes here are very high then.  People’s emotions are already highly inflamed by the sheer magnitude of this disaster.  Inflaming them further by appearing self-focused instead of focused on the big picture only increases the likelihood that people will have knee-jerk “no-more-drilling” reactions.

Wimpy nation 6/1/10

I hate to refer to the U.S.A. as “Wimpy,” especially after we just celebrated Memorial Day, and I’m really not doing that — not in the physical/military-strength sense anyway.  When I say, sadly, that we’ve become a “Wimpy” nation, I’m referring to “Wimpy,” as in the character from the old Popeye cartoons.  Remember?  Wimpy used to go up to people and say, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”  That’s what we’ve been doing as a nation for decades now, only the other “people” are other countries, some of whom don’t like us very much, and the “hamburgers” are money, in the form of bond purchases to finance our perpetual budget deficits.  In fact, we owe other “people” for so many “hamburgers” now that we’d have to not “eat” at all (still produce everything we’d normally produce but consume nothing) for an entire year just to pay off the “hamburgers” that we’ve consumed in years past.  Just like Wimpy’s ability to get hamburgers out of people was dependent on their confidence that he’d pay them back come Tuesday, our ability to sell bonds to other countries is dependent on their confidence that we’ll pay them back when the bonds come due.  That confidence is wavering.  One of these days, we’re not going to be able to convince anyone to give us a hamburger today and get paid on Tuesday, and when that happens, we’re going to be hungry, figuratively and maybe even literally.  There’s only one way to avoid it.  We have to go on a national governmental diet and actually consume not what we can pay for today, but even less than that for a while, which means we have to decide as a nation what we really need our government to be doing for us, recognizing that there will be things that many of us would like it to do that will have to be foregone.  It’s just that simple and just that hard, but it’s going to happen, either on our terms or someone else’s.  I’d like to see it happen on our terms, but I think a majority of us will have to feel, or at least fear, the hunger first.  See what I mean?  Sadly, we’ve become a Wimpy nation.


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