Catching up with Casey & friends

Here’s a quick catch-up on the two days of testimony in the Casey Anthony trial since she was found competent to continue on Monday morning:

On Monday, day 29, the jury heard from five law enforcement officers including some corrective testimony about whose cell phone records were reviewed in the course of the investigation and when, followed by testimony about crime scene drawings, more testimony about the use of cadaver dogs in the investigation, and testimony about receiving certain video recorded by private investigators while the search for missing Caylee was ongoing.  Also on Monday, the jury heard from a chemist who testified that certain compounds detected and used by prosecution experts to conclude that a dead body was in Casey’s trunk could have gotten there other ways, like from rotting garbage in the trunk.  Lastly on Monday, the jury heard from two private investigators who participated in the search for Caylee and testified about searching in the vicinity where the remains were later found, in response to a tip from a psychic, but not finding the remains at that time.

On Tuesday, day 30, the jury heard from a civilian member of the search team for Caylee who testified about searching in the vicinity where the remains were later found but not finding remains at that time.  Casey’s father George Anthony returned to the witness stand and denied that he had an affair with a female search volunteer known as “River Cruz” (hmmm), denied telling Ms. “Cruz” that he had pinned Casey up against a wall and demanded to know what happened to Caylee, and denied telling Cruz that Caylee’s death was an accident.  George admitted visiting Cruz at her home but explained that it was because she had told the Anthonys that she was dying of a brain tumor, so he reportedly visited her to convey their support for her and their appreciation for her help in the search.  Casey’s mother Cindy also returned to the witness stand briefly and denied that she sent the private investigators to the vicinity where the remains were eventually found to follow up on the psychic’s tip.  Casey’s brother Lee then returned to the witness stand briefly and contradicted Cindy, testifying about his recollection that Cindy did in fact direct the private investigators to check out the psychic’s tip.  The lead law enforcement investigator on the case corroborated Lee’s account, testifying that Cindy had told him she sent the p.i.’s to look around in the same general area based on a psychic’s tip.  All of this testimony about previous searches of that area is supposed to make the jury doubt that Caylee’s remains were placed where they were found until after Casey was in jail, i.e. that they were placed there by someone other than Casey, someone like…Roy Kronk.  The utility worker testified on Tuesday about how he had notified law enforcement back in the summer of 2008 of the location of what he thought might be Caylee’s remains and how, when law enforcement didn’t thoroughly follow up, he returned to the scene later in the year, looked more closely on his own, found the skull, and again notified law enforcement.  I remember those days, pictured above, like they were yesterday, being on the air as we first speculated and then confirmed that the remains were Caylee’s.  Kronk admitted moving the remains slightly as he was attempting to confirm what they were, and the defense alleges that even if that’s all Kronk did, it could’ve moved the duct tape on the skull, etc., such that no valid conclusions can be drawn from it now.  A fellow meter reader and a meter reader supervisor also testified about conversations they had with Kronk regarding his discovery of the remains, but it was a little unclear exactly what light those conversations were supposed to really shed on anything.  All in all, Kronk didn’t come off like the money-driven sociopath Casey’s attorney made him out to be back on day 1 in the defense’s opening statement.  I remember telling my friend and colleague Jayne Weintraub on HLN back in 2008, “It’s not the meter reader!” (that’s her in the middle of the photo to the left, with me and another friend and colleague, Mark Eiglarsh) and now, two-and-a-half years later, I still don’t think that he probably did anything other than his duty as a citizen to report his discovery of the remains.  At the end of the day on Tuesday, the jury was excused so that the defense could “proffer” testimony from a few prospective witnesses — that means have them testify before just the judge so that the judge can decide whether their testimony is relevant, i.e. admissible before the jury.  The judge ruled that the first two proffered witnesses, a couple of jail guards whom the defense wanted to testify about Casey’s supposed good behavior/demeanor in jail, weren’t relevant.  The third proffered witness was a former boyfriend of Casey’s whom the defense wants to testify about Casey telling him long ago that her brother Lee had touched her inappropriately.  The ex-boyfriend’s testimony is a more complicated issue because, while it doesn’t really prove or disprove anything about what happened to Caylee, it might bolster the defense’s opening statement about how Casey’s supposedly an abuse victim.  So, the judge said he’d make a ruling about its relevance and admissibility on Wednesday.  Stay tuned!

And by the way, I’ll be on the road quite a bit over the next several days of testimony, so if you’re looking for a daily recap of Anthony trial action and there’s not one here, remember that central Florida’s News 13 is doing a great job with their play-by-play coverage at http://www.cfnews13.com/ (no, I’m not getting paid to say that, I’ve just found this source particularly helpful when I’ve had to miss live testimony to appear at a courthouse or on TV, examine somebody, give lectures, etc. these past several weeks).  And of course I’ll try to get here, Facebook, Twitter, and on your TV a.s.a.p. if any more “bombshells” drop while I’m on the road!

In other Lawpsyc news, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s jury is in — he was found guilty on Monday of 17 out of 20 corruption charges (he was acquitted of one charge, and the jury was hung — hopelessly deadlocked — on the remaining two).  Blago now faces years, probably around 10 total, in federal prison (a sentencing date has yet to be scheduled).

Meanwhile, Jared Loughner, the supposedly-incompetent individual accused of the January shooting rampage in Arizona that killed several people and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, apparently doesn’t like being medicated.  He’s being held in a mental-health facility where the staff is attempting to restore his competency to stand trial, including administering anti-psychotic medications when Loughner reportedly has become violently agitated.  The law provides that people generally can be medicated against their will in such situations, but Loughner’s counsel nevertheless has sought a court order to stop his forced medication (gee, I wonder why) by claiming that not enough effort is being made to calm Loughner down verbally before medicating him.  Cry me a river.

And American Amanda Knox’s appeal of her 2009 murder conviction and 26-year prison sentence in Italy didn’t seem to get off to a great start for her on Monday.  We didn’t hear any of that “bombshell” testimony from a fellow convict who supposedly knew first-hand and was going to testify that Knox had nothing to do with the murder of her British roommate while the two were studying abroad in Italy in 2007.  Knox’s counsel is still arguing against the validity of certain DNA evidence used in her trial, but it’s unclear how much that evidence really contributed to her conviction (remember, there was a lot of incriminating behavior and lying by Knox in the aftermath of the murder, not unlike what we saw from Casey Anthony in the aftermath of Caylee Anthony’s “disappearance”).

Just in case I don’t get another chance to check in here until after Monday, have a great 4th of July!  In addition to visiting a couple of flood-ravaged areas of the country, I’m going to be making a patriotic stop or two in my travels over the next few days, so if you’re interested in the psychology of different people’s responses to floods, I wrote about that back on July 8, 2008, and/or if you’re interested in the specifics of why I think the U.S.A. is the greatest country in world history, I wrote about that back on July 4, 2009.  I’ll paste both pieces below.  Happy 4th!

A tale of two places (and the psychology of flood “victimhood”) 7/8/08

Caution:  This post is not intended to be insensitive to anyone who’s ever suffered in any way (e.g. economically, physically, emotionally) due to a flood anywhere, anytime.  It’s intended to explore a psychological phenomenon that I believe can cost or save people’s lives.  Notable exceptions to generalities are duly noted in advance.  Nevertheless, if you’re a hypersensitive individual, you may want to skip this post, but if you do, and you live along the Gulf or the Atlantic coast of theUnited States, please just be advised that according to forecasters Monday evening, the first major hurricane of this season may be on its way.

Last week, I got a chance to see some of the flood-ravaged areas along the Mississippi River in easternMissouri.  As I was looking at partially-submerged buildings, light/sign poles, streets, farm fields, etc., I was reminded of all the video clips I’d seen on the various cable news networks leading up to, during, and in the aftermath of this flood, and I couldn’t help comparing them to my memories of video coming out of New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.  In both places (the Midwest and New Orleans), like pretty much all places inhabited by human beings, thankfully, the vast majority of the inhabitants were able-bodied, able-minded, good, and decent people.  In both places, the populations knew for days that devastating floods were likely to come.  But in one place, many of the inhabitants seemed to do little to prepare for the rising waters, while in the other place it seemed like the entire community pretty much banded together, stacked sandbags upon sandbags for days upon days, and where it became apparent that those efforts were futile, helped one another pack up their essentials and whatever else could be safely salvaged.  In one place, some inhabitants who weren’t able-bodied were left to die, unable to flee the rising waters, while in the other place, as far as I know, the able-bodied inhabitants made sure that fellow inhabitants in need of evacuation assistance got it.  In one place, many people ended up on rooftops, waiting for others in helicopters or rescue boats to come and save them from the rising waters after the flood, while in the other place, I recall seeing just a couple such rescues because the vast majority of the inhabitants had gotten themselves to higher ground before the flood waters arrived.  In one place, many people died, while in the other place, I don’t know of anyone who did (some may have, I just don’t know about it).  In one place, some of the remaining inhabitants stole the possessions of those who had fled to higher ground, not just essentials for survival like food items, but luxury items like big-screen t.v.’s, while in the other place, I don’t know of anyone who did (again, some may have, but if they did, I don’t know about it).  In one place, some of the remaining inhabitants were raped and even killed by other remaining inhabitants, while in the other place, I don’t know of anyone who was (and I’m confident that I would’ve heard about that).  In one place, people were angry that their fellow Americans weren’t doing enough for them while they were displaced, while in the other place, I didn’t hear a single person be anything other than appreciative of any help that had been received.  In one place, many of the inhabitants are still displaced, still angry, still bitter, still demanding things of others, while in the other place, all I saw was an eagerness to get back into the flooded area, roll up sleeves, rebuild, and get on with life as soon as possible.

So what was it about the populations of these two places that made such a profound relative difference in how they dealt with similar (although not identical, I know) circumstances?  First, let me say what it’s not.  It’s not race.  Anyone who thinks that’s what I mean, whether they think they agree or disagree, misunderstands me completely.  The differences in the racial demographics of these two places are irrelevant.  I don’t think it’s demographics like education level or religion either.  It’s also not the mere fact that one place is rural, while the other is urban, although the difference in the sense of community that rural and urban environments engender in their inhabitants did, I believe, play a role in developing the psychological trait that I think is a big part of the answer:

Psychologists call it “locus of control,” and every person has one.  The term refers to where you believe the control over what happens to you primarily lies — inside of you, or outside of you.  It’s a continuum that ranges from totally internal, where the belief is that the individual has total control over every aspect of his/her life (health, relationships, career, etc.) to totally external, where the belief is that the individual has no power to affect anything that happens to him or her and must simply take life as it comes (kind of like someone clinging to a life-preserver in the middle of the ocean has no control over how big the waves will be and where they’ll take him or her).  I believe that either extreme can be problematic.  For example, people on the extreme internal end of the continuum can feel guilt about things that are totally beyond their control, while people on the extreme external end never take the initiative to do anything to improve their lives (because they don’t think it will make any difference).  Most people fall somewhere in between, but I believe that a more internal locus of control generally serves people better in life, and I believe that’s the crux of the extreme difference between what happened in these two places.

It seems to me that many people in the flooded areas of the Midwest exhibited, on average (with notable exceptions), a fairly internal locus of control, while people inNew Orleansseem to have exhibited, on average (again with notable exceptions), a fairly external locus of control.  People in the Midwest, therefore, seemed to have a strong dispositional tendency not to see themselves as “victims” of circumstance (i.e. to hate the idea of not being in control) and thus to take personal responsibility for controlling that which they could control (even when things beyond their control were happening), which resulted largely in their not becoming victims of much other than water damage to property (which can cause profound economic suffering as well as some emotional suffering, from the loss of sentimental possessions for example, but it’s not the same as losing loved ones).  Many people in New Orleans, on the other hand, seemed to be less averse to assuming the “victim” role and thus to wait for others to take responsibility for and assert control over their circumstances, which resulted not only in their being victims of profound physical, economic, and emotional suffering due to the flood waters, but also of the crimes perpetrated by the sociopaths who took advantage of the situation.

So, if I’m right that the populations of these two places reacted differently to impending floods in large part because of a disparity in average locus of control, where would such a disparity originate?  This is where I think the rural/urban demographic difference becomes relevant.  It seems to me that farming communities tend to socialize kids to be self-reliant and resilient, and to believe that what they reap in life (literally!) will be no more and no less than what they sow.  At the same time, it seems to me that some of our urban communities, particularly where there’s poverty combined with corruption, as there historically has been in New Orleans, socialize kids to be dependent on others, particularly government (i.e. politicians), and to give up easily, and to believe that what they get out of life will be what they can get from someone else.  I know I’m oversimplifying this, but it’s in the interest of getting to the bottom line, which is:  I’ve never seen any (able-bodied, able-minded) person helped by encouragement to be dependent on others for the basic necessities of life or to see himself or herself as a “victim” or to be comfortable in the “victim” role.  As I see it, that kind of encouragement fosters the development and perpetuation (inter-generationally) of an external locus of control, which in turn discourages people from thinking rationally about what they can do to improve their circumstances and from taking the initiative to do those things.  Particularly in this election year, I think it’s important to consider which type of locus of control we, as a national community, should be trying to foster in the people who grow up and live here in the U.S.A.

The true greatness of the U.S.A. 7/4/09

On this Independence Day, I’d like to get back to basics – as basic as it gets actually:  the reason why we’re here, and how this country serves that purpose better than any other in the history of the world.  Personally, I believe there’s a God, and I believe there’s a plan in which we humans are all participants.  To presume to understand the divine purpose and plan for our existence, the “grand scheme of things,” with human intellect is something akin to an infant on his/her first trip to the beach trying to comprehend the vastness and contents of the ocean, but like that infant, I try to make what sense of it I can.  What makes sense to me is that everything in the universe emanates from a single creative force.  Whatever you call it, it’s what existed before the point at which we think we can or ever will be able to comprehend, in physical and biological terms, what happened thereafter.  Astrophysicists sometimes call it the “singularity” – I call it God, but whatever you call it, in my human understanding of time, it once was alone.  It makes sense to me that a force that was benevolent and alone with the power to create anything and everything would want to create something that could relate to it, understand it on some rudimentary level, and appreciate it.  It makes sense to me that human beings are one and perhaps the only such creation, brought about through a process initiated eons ago in our time, an instant ago relative to eternity, with a “big bang” perhaps, by which a suitable habitat was created, followed by another process, an “evolution” perhaps, through which a suitable “vessel” was created and ultimately imbued with a quality, I believe a divine quality, that set the human apart from the rest of creation – an intellect, the ability to reason, the ability to contemplate and ultimately to relate to, on a rudimentary level, its Creator.  It makes sense to me that our purpose then is to do two things:  to create, and to love, because in doing so, we’re able to get a glimpse, a rudimentary understanding, of what our Creator is, what it’s like to be God.  We’re not forced to do them – if we were, we’d be no different from plants, and our actions would be meaningless – rather, we’re given the choice, the “free will” to do them or not, and it’s in choosing to do them that our actions gain meaning.

To create, I believe, means that we’re supposed to take stock of the skills, abilities, talents, “gifts,” that we’ve been given and to develop those to the fullness of their potentials.  In so doing, I believe that we gain a rudimentary understanding of one aspect of our benevolent Creator (the creative aspect).  I believe it gives us a sense of purpose to drive our lives (whether we can articulate that purpose or not), and simultaneously, supplies humankind with the goods and services that it needs.  You’ll note that none of the above is rooted in any religion – its foundations are purely intellectual – but even if you don’t buy any of it, even if you believe that we exist simply to “be happy,” there’s plenty of psychological research, from Maslow’s concept of “self-actualization” as the pinnacle of his “hierarchy of needs” to Seligman’s findings on “authentic happiness” to corroborate the assertion that human beings are happiest when they feel that they’ve reached the fullness of their potentials by identifying and effectuating their abilities to contribute something unique to the human condition.

To love, I believe, means giving of ourselves to help others to reach the fullness of their potentials.  In so doing, I believe that we gain a rudimentary understanding of a second aspect of our benevolent Creator (the benevolent aspect).  I believe that when we help others to achieve the fullness of their potentials, we simultaneously move closer to achieving the fullness of our own potentials as human beings.  In romantic relationships, it’s the idea, cheesy as Jerry Maguire made it sound, of two people “completing” one another, each becoming something more and making the other something more than they were before.  There’s then perhaps no better opportunity in the human condition to relate to our Creator than when the two become parents – they first create new people and new potentials, and then, by loving those new people, help them move toward the fullness of their potentials.  Marriage and parenting are, of course, just two of many ways in which we’re able to love and aid in the development of others’ potentials – teachers do it, clergy people do it, even (gasp) politicians do it, in their own ways.

On this Independence Day, I submit to you that theUnited States of Americahas afforded its citizens the best environment in the history of humankind in which to create and to love and thereby to achieve the fullness of their human potentials.  For each citizen to do that requires a high degree of personal and economic freedom, and the U.S.A. provides both, through a democratic government with strong protections for individuals, and through capitalism, which promotes competition between individuals and rewards the development of unique potential.  If you think about it, any country in human history that achieved power comparable to that of the U.S.A. in today’s world – a lone “superpower” – used that power to take freedom away from people, to conquer, and thereby to stifle the development of unique human potential.  For most of human history in fact, most human beings have lived in what I call “Braveheart” conditions, wherein whoever was physically stronger (individually or collectively) largely determined how much of their potentials physically-weaker humans could develop.  The U.S.A. has altered the course of human history, in a positive way, far more than would be expected considering the relatively short period of human history during which it has existed (it hasn’t had a perfect record, but at least it has literally torn itself apart and put itself back together again trying to right its own wrongs).  The post-Civil War U.S.A. has used its power to secure more freedom for more people than ever in the history of the world, making it possible for them to pursue and achieve the fullness of their human potentials, to relate to their Creator, to fulfill the purpose of their lives, and thereby to pursue and achieve that elusive state we call “happiness.”  Therefore, on this Independence Day, my hope is that we all realize the fundamental, transcendental greatness of this country and the responsibility to continue to protect and defend the principles that made it great from all enemies foreign and domestic.

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