I’ve been traveling for the past ten days, but I’m back in town and back in the loop. I wasn’t totally out of the loop, following top stories from the ship that I was on, and as seems to be the case whenever I take a major trip, major news happened. I had to pass on chances to talk about them on TV from the tropics, so now that I’m back, here’s a rundown of recent Lawpsyc topics:
The top story that broke while I was away was the mass shooting of a U.S. Congresswoman and several other people in Arizona. This story is tragic and of interest on many levels. First, amid the tragedy of the deaths of several others, there’s the amazing hope for the Congresswoman’s recovery, aided by the “miracle” of modern neuro-surgical medicine. You may have studied the case of Phineas Gage (a railway worker who survived the piercing of his brain with an iron rod in an explosive accident) in a high school or college psychology course. If so, you learned what psychology and medicine have known for over a century now — that due to the brain’s “plasticity” (ability of undamaged areas to compensate or “fill in” for the functioning of damaged areas), it’s possible for a person to survive and recover substantially normal functioning even after major brain trauma, however, residual effects can be obvious (e.g. difficulty walking, speaking, etc.) and/or subtle (e.g. personality change, as observed in the famous Gage case). Only time will tell the extent of the Congresswoman’s recovery and the nature of residual effects, so for now, we have to just hope the best for her, for the other victims who suffered but survived injuries, and for the family members of those who were murdered. Now, as to the murderer, it’s already clear that there were warning signs that he was a nut, so we have to keep in mind what confuses even some judges (I know, I’ve testified in front of one of them in court) — being a nut doesn’t mean a person didn’t know what he/she was doing or that it was wrong. For example, every pedophile is a nut; it’s nutty to want to have sex with a kid, period. But that does nothing to mitigate the guilt of a pedophile who goes ahead and has sex with a kid. In other words, the nuttiness occurs in the person’s mind. It might explain why the person wants to do things like having sex with a kid or shooting up a grocery store or a school, but it doesn’t explain why the person goes ahead and does it. The latter virtually always involves conscious choices. As we saw in the Omaha school shooting that occurred just before I left on my vacation (sociopathic little punk, indignant about being suspended for tearing up the school’s football field with his car, came back to school and shot the principal and vice-principal), a person can want to do such a thing, know full well that it’s illegal, even “evil,” and choose to go right ahead and do it anyway. That shooter said so in writing. I know people would like for psychology and psychiatry to be able to explain all of these things and promise to fix them all someday, but that’s not the reality of human nature. There is “evil,” and there are “evil” people — I’m not talking religiously here; I’m talking just about the conscious choice to hurt innocent others purely for one’s own gratification (pleasure, amusement, self-soothing, etc.) — in this world. Even President Obama explicitly acknowledged that in his reaction to the Arizona rampage (which was a little ironic recalling how people criticized Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush when they used that same word, accusing them of somehow conflating their religious beliefs with public-policy issues). The Omaha shooter committed suicide (as a health care professional, I don’t encourage suicide, but when people have already resolved to kill a bunch of innocent people and then kill themselves, I do wish they’d start with themselves), so we may not learn much more about what was going on in his mind, but the Arizona shooter was taken into custody alive, so at least we might be able to get some information from him that will help us prevent a similar massacre yet to happen.
Probably the second biggest Lawpsyc story that broke as I was leaving town was the story of three small package bombs received in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. One was addressed to Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano. Two mail handlers suffered minor injuries in Maryland, and no one was injured in D.C. Due to the Arizona massacre, this story hasn’t developed as much in the past week as it might have otherwise (i.e. suspects, foreign terrorists or “home-grown” nuts like the Arizona shooter, etc.), so there will certainly be more to come, which I’ll follow for you now that I’m back. So far, due to the addressees (Napolitano, the governor of Maryland, and Maryland’s transportation director), messages in the Maryland packages (about the government creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling people to report suspicious packages), and reported similarities between the three packages, I’d say it looks less like foreign terrorism and more like a single disgruntled American.
In other Lawpsyc news, a former Pentagon official was found dead just before I went on vacation. It appears that he was suffering from dementia in the final days of his life, recorded on surveillance video apparently disoriented and wandering aimlessly, and reported to have spoken to people incoherently. Police have said, however, that it appears he didn’t cause his own death, i.e. that he was murdered. I’m not so sure. While there could have been a motive for murdering a man in his apparent condition, he didn’t seem to have anything of much value nor the ability to put up much of a fight with a robber, so a motive isn’t readily apparent. Authorities aren’t releasing details or theories, so until they do, I’ll continue to suspect that perhaps no one else was involved, i.e. he crawled into a dumpster for shelter, died of exposure to freezing temperatures, and ended up in the landfill where his body was found in a sad sequence of dementia-induced events.
In one of those seemingly never-ending cases, a judge overturned the criminal convictions on all but one of the charges against Anna Nicole Smith’s lawyer/boyfriend and her former psychiatrist. The judge decided that there wasn’t enough evidence for the jury to have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the two knowingly fueled Smith’s drug addiction. The only conviction that the judge left intact was the psychiatrist’s use of a false name on a prescription, ostensibly to protect Smith’s privacy, which is a misdemeanor and is likely to result in very slight punishment, at least from the court. The legal and medical licensing boards can and should still take much closer looks at these two. I do a lot of assessments of licensed professionals accused of misconduct, and there’s a lot of unprofessional behavior that can and should result in the loss of professional privileges even if it’s not considered criminal.
Remember the girl who was rescued alive after she and her mother and brother and mother’s friend were kidnapped in Ohio last year, and the mother, brother, and friend were later found dead, stuffed into a hollow tree? I was part of the coverage of her rescue and the search for the other three victims. Well, the defendant in that case pleaded guilty just before I went on vacation and should spend the rest of his life in prison.
And remember the last Nancy Grace show that I did before my vacation, the one when we talked about the missing Texas teenager whose mother was on with us? Well, since then, both the mother and her live-in boyfriend, apparently the last to see the missing girl alive, reportedly both failed polygraphs. For those who wonder about polygraphs, they’re actually quite accurate. The reason they’re not admissible in criminal court is that there has to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that’s a very high standard to meet, just as you’d want it to be if you were ever wrongfully accused of a crime. The girl’s still missing, and the mother’s boyfriend, though apparently not the mother (she may have failed the polygraph on a question like, “Does your boyfriend ever get violent?”), is suspected of knowing what happened to her.
A couple of studies of the obvious came out while I was away. The first found that when women cry, it’s a sexual turnoff for guys. No way! You mean a guy thinks less about having sex when a woman is sobbing? Shocking! The second study found that antipsychotic medications are being far overused in the U.S.A., often being prescribed for relatively minor conditions (these drugs are powerful, with serious side effects, for serious mental diseases) and for conditions with which they’re not proven likely to even help. Worst of all, as I’ve written recently and repeatedly, and as the New York Times exposed in blockbuster fashion last year, they’re being prescribed, alarmingly and increasingly, to kids. The latter demands a legal crusade that I’m happy to participate in if you know of a case in which a child has been harmed.
Rounding out this catch-up rundown, the day before I left, a syndicated column by George Will was published that I wish I had written (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/05/AR2011010503855.html). It’s about how people’s unwillingness to exercise self-discipline and to delay gratification causes problems at the personal, professional, and national levels, (and it ties in nicely with my WorldNetDaily columns on entitlement attitudes: http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=92966 and http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=92966).