Sunday, April 26, 2015

At Melville's Tomb -- Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy.  Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Born in the U.S.A. -- Bruce Springsteen (acoustic, from Tracks)

Yes, I think that most politicians are too dumb to understand the lyrics to this song.

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up

 Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

 Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man

 Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says "son if it was up to me"
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said "son don't you understand now"

 Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there he's all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now

 Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go

 Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I'm a long gone daddy in the U.S.A.

 Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I'm a cool rocking daddy in the U.S.A. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Madness in Civilization -- Andrew Scull

This shining review of Andrew Scull's Madness in Civilization is particularly noteworthy, given that the reviewer, Daniel Pick, is a psychoanalyst, and Scull is habitually dismissive of psychoanalysis. Veterans of my Abnormal Psychology course should pat themselves on the backs for already knowing about Henry Cotton, Walter Freeman, and Julius Wagner-Jauregg (malarial treatments).

"If there is a subtext to Scull's mostly cool and appraising survey, it is indeed the propensity of the doctors to go mad for their theories and to regard abandonment of doubt as tantamount to professional strength. The notorious surgeon Henry Cotton, who was allowed during the interwar years to bring havoc to the lives of his patients in New Jersey, was already the protagonist in one of Scull's earlier books, Madhouse (meaning not so much a residence for the mad, but a site of mad operations). Cotton's reign at the Trenton State Hospital is also briefly recapped here. His crazed surgical practices were based upon his settled view that the patients were almost invariably suffering from sepsis; their condition often required, in his eyes, the excision of parts or the whole of their internal organs. He caused much misery (and many deaths) with his unfettered assaults upon stomachs, spleens, cervixes and colons. Despite the serious misgivings of colleagues, nobody seemed able to stop him or blow the whistle. Such institutional failings and cover-ups, a collective incapacity to curb the lunacy of the individual or coterie, as we know all too well from more recent scandals, provide the most shocking story of all.
From Cotton we move on to the vicissitudes of insulin treatment, the sagas of those experiments to deliberately infect physically healthy patients with the blood of malaria sufferers, and so to the postwar brain operators such as Walter Freeman, who so refined the treatment that he boasted of how he could deal with a dozen or more people in sequence in a single afternoon. Scull's description of Freeman's fast-track 'transorbital lobotomy' is not for the faint-hearted. Few would defend this now, but ECT remains in existence, refined from the earlier experimental phases and a subject of division and debate in the psychiatric profession.
Scull is a good storyteller and not shy of expressing his own opinions. He offers up the best and worst of what has been thought and imagined, and what has been done, in the name of mental healing. Given the forest of monographs, theses and grand theories that faces any new entrant to what we might call 'history of madness studies', it would be hard to imagine a more useful single-volume synthesis. Well researched, strong on details and alert to the big picture, this book certainly deserves to find a wide readership. It sits well with other moving testimonies to the dilemmas of the doctors and the possibly counterproductive effects of certain weapons in their arsenal. It complements the accounts of success and failure by various surgeons themselves, in dealing with physical rather than mental illness. In fact the recent bestselling works Do No Harm and Being Mortal might well be read alongside Madness in Civilization; all three would be on my recommended reading list for aspiring medical students and therapists alike."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Hessians weren't drunk at the Battle of Trenton

War on the Rocks
"In the winter of 1776, as Washington and his staff began to plan their next move, they realized a rare opportunity had presented itself. German Christmas celebrations traditionally include copious amounts of beer, and to the 1500-man garrison at Trenton, New Jersey the Christmas of 1776 was likely no exception. Since any mid-sized colonial town had plenty of beer available, Washington’s staff hypothesized that on Christmas night the garrison would be unready for combat, thanks to the ready availability of American beer, and the German propensity for drinking it. An unnamed officer on Washington’s staff is reported to have said,
They make a great deal of Christmas in Germany, and no doubt the Hessians will drink a great deal of beer and have a dance to-night. They will be sleepy to-morrow morning.
Confident they could overwhelm the thoroughly buzzed Hessians, Washington and his staff planned one of the most daring operations of the entire Revolutionary War. The Continental Army would stage on the Pennsylvania bank of the Delaware River on Christmas Day. Once night fell, the army would ferry across the river, march nine miles to Trenton, and ultimately conduct a pre-dawn assault on the town.
The operation was beleaguered from the outset. The crossing proved difficult, and the operation ran almost three hours behind schedule. The weather was also uncooperative. ...[Nevertheless, when the] Hessians attempted to form in battle order, but were quickly cut down by American cannon, which had a clear field of fire from the high ground. ... Before long, the Hessians were in a fighting retreat, under harassing fire from the Americans. The Hessian commander was mortally wounded, rendering the Hessians leaderless. Cornered in an orchard outside of town, the Germans surrendered to the ragtag Americans.
In the final accounting, The Americans suffered no KIA and only a handful of wounded. The Germans suffered around 100 killed and 200 wounded. Nearly 1000 Hessians were captured. The biggest surprise, however, came as the Continentals took stock of their captives.
Every one of them was completely sober.
The ragtag Americans had beaten the Hessians, some of the finest soldiers in the world, using surprise, mobility, and firepower at the decisive point. The rumored German propensity for beer never played a role in the fighting at all.
It’s a commonly accepted trope that alcohol increases one’s confidence. Usually, it’s the drinker’s confidence that is unduly increased, but in the Battle of Trenton, the opposite proved true. Washington’s confidence in the appeal of American beer gave him the impetus to launch his assault on Trenton. The battle had powerful repercussions for the momentum of the war, and restored the confidence of the Continental army.
If you’re looking to commemorate the Battle of Trenton, look no further than the Stone Fence, a staple of any tavern in colonial America, and rumored to have been a favorite of Ethan Allen:
2oz Dark Rum [I would use Goslings, if I were you, ed.]
Hard Cider
Directions: Pour the rum into a pint glass, add 1 or 2 ice cubes, and fill with hard cider. Garnish with lemon twist, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Keep guns out of the hands of angry men!

Behavioral Science and the Law

Below is the abstract of a really important article, regarding gun control and mental illness. The authors found that almost 9% of firearms owners self-report impulsive angry dyscontrol (e.g., "I lose my temper and get into physical fights"; "Sometimes I get so angry I break or smash things"; "I have tantrums or angry outbursts"). Further, they found that less than 10% of these angry/high-risk for lethal violence gun owners had ever been psychiatrically hospitalized.

So, if you were trying to reduce gun violence by restricting gun ownership by prior psychiatric hospitalization, you would be missing a whole bunch of people. That's because the kinds of people who get psychiatrically hospitalized usually have serious mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But only about 4% of serious violence is caused by people with serious mental illnesses. The rest is caused by angry guys with guns.

So the authors suggest a quite reasonable policy of restricting firearm possession based on criminal history: misdemeanor violence (e.g., assault and battery); DUIs; drug-related crimes; and, temporary domestic violence restraining orders. They recommend laws that allow the "preemptive removal of firearms from high-risk individuals," such as already exist in Connecticut, California, and Indiana. In Virginia, as in most other states, felons are already banned from owning firearms. I would rather see the criminals above lose their gun rights than to keep hearing about ineffective gun control policies that do little except stigmatize people with mental illnesses.

Guns, Impulsive Angry Behavior, and Mental Disorders: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R)
  1. Jeffrey W. Swanson Ph.D.3,*,
  2. Nancy A. Sampson B.A.1,
  3. Maria V. Petukhova Ph.D.1,
  4. Alan M. Zaslavsky Ph.D.1,
  5. Paul S. Appelbaum M.D.2,
  6. Marvin S. Swartz M.D.3 and
  7. Ronald C. Kessler Ph.D.1
Article first published online: 8 APR 2015

DOI: 10.1002/bsl.2172

Abstract: Analyses from the National Comorbidity Study Replication provide the first nationally representative estimates of the co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics. The study found that a large number of individuals in the United States self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%). These data document associations of numerous common mental disorders and combinations of angry behavior with gun access. Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why did the Boston Marathon bombers do it?

Boston Globe
"Western commentators sometimes blame harsh economic conditions, dysfunctional family circumstances, confused identity, the generic alienation of young males, a failure to integrate into the larger society, and so on. None of this is convincing, as the Tsarnaev case shows.
Born in the former Soviet Union to a Chechen father who had sought asylum in the United States in 2002, both Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan had received the gifts of free education, free housing, and free medical care from various US governmental agencies.
Their paths to becoming US citizens could scarcely have been smoother. So why did the brothers feel compelled to build two explosive devices and detonate them in a crowd of spectators?
Growing up, the Tsarnaevs were typical examples of what I call “Mecca Muslims,” meaning that they were not raised to be zealots. The parents — at least in their early years in the United States — do not seem to have been very devout. The brothers rarely observed Islamic strictures: one had dreams of becoming a boxing champion and spent most of his days training while the other had a busy social life, dated girls, and smoked pot.
Yet when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a bloodstained note in the final hours before his capture, the first words he used were: “I believe there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.” That is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, and it is the most important of the five pillars of Islam. Today it is also the banner of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram.
What he wrote next made it clear that he was no naive dupe but a fully-fledged “Medina Muslim” — that is to say, a committed believer in the literal application of the teachings and practice of the Prophet Mohammed after his move to Medina and adoption of jihad — holy war — as a method.
“I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus [the highest level of Paradise] (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive ... I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) [a martyr] inshallah to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!” He also offered this explicit account of his and his brother’s motivations: “the ummah is beginning to rise/ [unintelligible] has awoken the mujahideen, know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that[?]”
When people commit violence in the name of religion, we must consider the possibility that they mean what they say."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Benedict de Spinoza, on the philosopher's mission

To love that which is eternal, infinite, and good.

"After experience had taught me that all things which frequently take place in ordinary life are vain and futile, and when I saw that all the things I feared, and which feared me, had nothing good or bad in them save in so far as the mind was affected by them; I determined at last to inquire whether there was anything which might be truly good, and able to communicate its goodness, and by which the mind might be affected to the exclusion of all other things; I determined, I say, to inquire whether I might discover and attain the faculty of enjoying throughout eternity continual supreme happiness.... I could see the many advantages acquired from honor and riches, and that I should be debarred from acquiring these things if I wished seriously to investigate a new matter.... But the more one possesses of either of them, the more the pleasure is increased, and the more one is in consequence encouraged to increase them; whereas if at any time our hope is frustrated, there arises in us the deepest pain. Fame has also this great drawback, that if we pursue it we must direct our lives in such a way as to please the fancy of men, avoiding what they dislike and seeking what pleases them.... But the love towards a thing eternal and infinite alone feeds the mind with a pleasure secure from all pain.... The greatest good is the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature.... The more the mind knows, the better it understands its forces and the order of nature; the more it understands its forces or strength, the better it will be able to direct itself and lay down the rules for itself; the more it understands the order of nature, the more easily it will be able to liberate itself from useless things; this is the whole method."

—Benedict de Spinoza, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect