Sunday, March 1, 2015

MCMXIV -- Philip Larkin

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
And the countryside not caring
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheats' restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word—the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

America (West Side Story) -- Stephen Sondheim

"Smoke on your pipe, and put that in!"

Puerto Rico,
My heart’s devotion--
Let it sink back in the ocean.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing,
And the money owing.
And the sunlight streaming,
And the natives steaming.
I like the island Manhattan,
Smoke on your pipe and put that in.

GIRLS (chorus)
I like to be in America,
Okay by me in America,
Everything free in America -

For a small fee in America.

Buying on credit is so nice.

One look at us and they charge twice.

I’ll have my own washing machine.

What will you have, though, to keep clean?

Skyscrapers bloom in America.

Cadillacs zoom in America.

Industry boom in America.

Twelve in a room in America.

Lots of new housing with more space.

Lots of doors slamming in our face.

I’ll get a terrace apartment.

Better get rid of your accent.

Life can be bright in America.

If you can fight in America.

Life is all right in America.

If you’re all white in America.

(an interlude of WHISTLING and DANCING)

Here you are free and you have pride.

Long as you stay on your own side.

Free to be anything you choose.

Free to wait tables and shine shoes.

Everywhere grime in America,
Organized crime in America,
Terrible time in America.

You forget I’m in America.

(An interlude of MORE DANCING)

I think I go back to San Juan

I know a boat you can get on.

Everyone there will give big cheer.

Everyone there will have moved here.

Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
© 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Who's afraid of using "secret surveys" to predict future criminal behavior?

"So, how'd I do on your test?"

"States are trying to reduce prison populations with secretive, new psychological assessments to predict which inmates will commit future crimes and who might be safe to release, despite serious problems and high-profile failures, an Associated Press investigation found.
These programs are part of a national, data-driven movement to drive down prison populations, reduce recidivism and save billions. They include questionnaires often with more than 100 questions about an offender's education, family, income, job status, history of moving, parents' arrest history — or whether he or she has a phone. A score is affixed to each answer and the result helps shape how the offender will be supervised in the system — or released from custody.
Used for crimes ranging from petty thievery to serial murders, these questionnaires come with their own set of risks, according to the AP's examination.
Many rely on criminals to tell the truth, and jurisdictions don't always check to make sure the answers are accurate. They are used inconsistently across the country, sometimes within the same jurisdiction. The same defendant might be scored differently in the same crime.
Supporters cite some research, such as a 1987 Rand Corp. study that said the surveys accurately can predict the likelihood of repeat offenses as much as 70 percent of the time if they are used correctly. But even the Rand study, one of the seminal pieces of research on the subject, was skeptical of the surveys' overall effectiveness. It's nearly impossible to measure the surveys' impact on recidivism because they are only part of broader efforts.
Some surveys have the potential to punish people for being poor or uneducated by attaching a lower risk to those who have steady work and high levels of education. [But being poor or uneducated are significant predictors of recidivism!] The surveys are clouded in secrecy. Some states never release the evaluations, shielding government officials from being held accountable for decisions that affect public safety.
"It is a vast improvement over the decision-making process of 20, 30 years ago when parole boards and the courts didn't have any statistical information to base their decisions on," said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is working with the Justice Department to shape reforms nationally.
"Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant's history of criminal conduct," Attorney General Eric Holder told the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in August. "They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place."
Cost savings, however, make these tools appealing to states.
North Carolina, for instance, could save $560 million by 2017, a Justice Department report concluded. Between 2011 and 2014, the North Carolina prison population decreased by more than 3,000 people, according to the state. These reforms, including the use of risk assessments, has saved the state nearly $84 million, and it plans to route $32 million of those savings for community treatment programs."

 Personality predicts behavior. That's science. Our measures of, say, psychopathy, are not perfect, and neither is our detection of criminal behavior, so, sure, there are going to be errors. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE ERRORS. That's why the only way to ensure that no innocent people are in prison is to not sentence anyone to prison. The use of predictive tools to guide parole decisions actually reduces the error rate: low risk people are more likely to be released, and high risk people are more likely to be retained. With regard to psychopathic personality, a psychopath is at least twice as likely to recidivate (i.e., commit the same crime again) as a non-psychopath. So if you're looking to reduce your prison population, who should you release? Let me give you hint: Hang on to the psychopath. Can psychopathy be measured reliably and accurately? Well, just about as well as an MRI can detect a tumor growing in your brain. Which is to say -- YES.

That the Attorney General of the United States seems to be opposed to the use of scientifically validated instruments to predict future behavior is sad, but unsurprising. You don't have to know anything about science or statistics to be a lawyer, or a politician. In fact, it seems that the less they know about those subjects, the more successful they are.

See also: Parole Boards Use Software to Predict Recidivism


Thursday, February 26, 2015

How's that NGRI defense working for ya?

Mentally ill U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Eddie Routh

Eddie Routh's problem (aside from killing two people, of course -- including famed SEAL sniper Chris Kyle) was that he admitted to two things in his 90 minute videotaped confession:

1) he was "sorry" for what he did [i.e., he knew it was wrong]

2) he smoked a "wet joint" prior to the murders [i.e., a PCP-laced marijuana cigarette]

In Texas, if you are voluntarily intoxicated OR if you knew what you did was wrong, there simply is no NGRI -- that defense never had a chance.

By the way, Marcus Luttrell (the "Lone Survivor") is a great big a-hole, per his post-sentencing Facebook posting:
“To Eddie Ray Routh, you thought you had PTSD before .?? Wait till the boys in TDC [Texas Department of Corrections] Find out you killed a TX hero,” he wrote.
I'm not sure that anyone should be celebrating that we are sending yet another mentally ill human being into the hell that is the American penal system. He won't get the treatment he needs in prison; he won't be able to follow the rules; and, he'll end up doing time in a Segregated Housing Unit (solitary), which will make his mental condition even worse. Hooray! Cruel and Unusual Punishment is alive and well in the United States of America! Never mind the 8th Amendment.
The Washington Post has a good piece on the case.

"As noted in this Dallas Morning News piece, Routh had been in and out of Green Oaks Psychiatric Hospital in Dallas at least twice in the five months before Kyle and Littlefield were killed. The facility treats adults with conditions including suicidal thoughts, depression, psychotic thinking and bipolar disorder.
Routh had previously threatened to kill himself and his family, the Dallas Morning News reported. The Daily Mail of Britain, citing an interview with Routh’s father, also reported that the Marine veteran spent three weeks in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Dallas after having an episode near a lake."

The prosecution's expert witness [a clinical/forensic psychologist] said Routh has paranoid personality disorder and substance-induced psychosis (not schizophrenia). The defense's expert [a psychiatrist] said that he had paranoid schizophrenia. Even if the jury believed that Routh was schizophrenic, it wouldn't have mattered, because of 1) and 2) as stated above. Just because you are schizophrenic, it doesn't mean you get the NGRI acquittal.

As a side note, another defense expert who evaluated Routh, Dr. Charles Overstreet, had his testimony barred because he is neither a licensed physician nor a licensed clinical psychologist. He has a Ph.D. in something psychology-related but he is only a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, so the prosecution objected and the judge concurred.

In the battle of experts, a clinical psychologist triumphed over a psychiatrist in this case. J
It shows that juries don't care about your degree. They are looking at your suit. And that distinguished silver hair at your temples.

In any event, it was the videotaped confession that nailed Eddie Routh. And Texas's draconian NGRI statute.

 Will people be cheering when Eddie Routh kills himself in prison?


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

Flannery O'Connor, Jane Austen, and Edith Wharton -- there's a lot to be said for "chick lit."

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nietzsche on trauma


"Terrible experiences make one wonder whether who experiences them is not something terrible."

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Maxim 89 [R.J. Hollingdale, trans.]

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Agony and the Ecstasy at Wesleyan

Twelve people at Wesleyan University overdosed on "Molly" (a rebranding of Ecstasy, i.e., a street hodgepodge of amphetamines and psychedelics). The vice-president for student affairs sent out this email message:
“First, and most importantly, please check in with your friends immediately to make sure that they are okay. Do this right now!”
Then the college president, sent this email a day later, as reported by the New York Times:
"But an email on Monday from Michael S. Roth, the college president, dispatched with the gentle dissuasive voice that some administrators prefer when speaking about drugs, instead resorting to a collar-grabbing warning.
Please, please stay away from illegal substances the use of which can put you in extreme danger,” he said. “One mistake can change your life forever.”
“If you are aware of people distributing these substances, please let someone know before more people are hurt,” Mr. Roth added."
To me, that still sounds pretty gentle and dissuasive. Not terribly collar-grabbing.

How about something like this?
"Wesleyan University is committed to producing graduates of character and good citizens of our Republic. Students are reminded that the possession, consumption, manufacture, or distribution of substances such as "Molly" are all felony criminal offenses. Therefore, the 10 students recently hospitalized have all been expelled and may never again pursue studies at our college. We wish them well in their recovery but are no longer interested in pursuing an association with them."
The first duty of a citizen is to obey the laws. The "look the other way" attitude of college administrators toward under-aged drinking and illicit drug use is a national disgrace. Let college presidents lobby for lowering the drinking age to 18 and legalizing drugs. Or, let them enforce real penalties for offenders on their campuses. Whichever. Please, please, let the hypocrisy end.