Monday, September 30, 2013

You've seen the movie, now read the book.

1. No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

The Coen Brothers were so faithful to this book, and McCarthy's writing is so spare, that it might seem redundant to read the book. But if you were as struck by the movie as I was, you should read the book. It might also turn you on to other books by McCarthy.

  • “The point is there ain't no point.” 
  • “Ever step you take is forever. You cant make it go away. None of it. You understand what I'm sayin?” 
  • “I think by the time you're grown you're as happy as you're goin to be. You'll have good times and bad times, but in the end you'll be about as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I've knowed people that just never did get the hang of it.” 
  • “People complain about the bad things that happen to em that they don't deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things.” 
  • "It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.” 
  • “I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn't. I don't blame him. If I was him I'd have the same opinion about me that he does.”
  •  “You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it's made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who's layin there?” 
  • “Things happen to you they happen. They dont ask first. They dont require your permission.” 

2. True Grit, Charles Portis

Extremely funny, in a way that neither movie version (John Wayne/Jeff Bridges) was. Better than either film, which were both great. The recent remake was also a Coen Brothers production.

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.” 
“Who is the best marshal they have?'
The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, 'I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.'
I said, 'Where can I find this Rooster?” 

3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

The movie with Johnny Depp was fine, I suppose. But it was an ungodly mess compared to the book, which I probably read a dozen times during high school. Maybe if they assigned books like this, more kids would develop the reading habit.

 We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"
Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Work Is -- Philip Levine


We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.    


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday movie quote: "Who's being naive, Kay?"

Michael Corleone:I'm working for my father now Kay. He's been sick, very sick.
Kay Adams:But you're not like him Michael. I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father. That's what you told me.
Michael Corleone: My father is no different than any other powerful man, any man who is responsible for other people, like a senator or a president.
Kay Adams:You know how naive you sound?
Michael Corleone:Why?
Kay Adams: Senators and presidents don't have men killed.
Michael Corleone: Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?
I'm pretty sure that this scene was shot in Ross, California.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Where the Jobs Are—and How to Get One

Wall Street Journal

From an interview with Bob Funk, "the president and founder of Express Employment Services, the fifth-largest employment agency in America, with annual sales of $2.5 billion and more than 600 franchises across the country. This year he will place nearly half a million workers in jobs."

To land and keep a job isn't hard, he says, but you have to meet three conditions: "First you need integrity; second, a strong work ethic; and, third, you have to be able to pass a drug test." If an applicant can meet those minimal qualifications, he says, "I guarantee I can find employers tomorrow who will hire you."
The primary jobs problem today, Mr. Funk says, is that too many workers are functionally unemployable because of attitude, behavior or lack of the most basic work skills. One discouraging statistic is that only about one of six workers who comes to Express seeking employment makes the cut. He recites a company statistic that about one in four applicants can't even pass a drug test.
"In my 40-some years in this business, the biggest change I've witnessed is the erosion of the American work ethic. It just isn't there today like it used to be," Mr. Funk says. Asked to define "work ethic," he replies that it's fairly simple but vital on-the-job behavior, such as showing up on time, being conscientious and productive in every task, showing a willingness to get your hands dirty and at times working extra hours. These attributes are essential, he says, because if low-level employees show a willingness to work hard, "most employers will gladly train them with the skills to fill higher-paying jobs."
He fears that too many of the young millennials who come knocking on his door view a paycheck as a kind of entitlement, not something to be earned. He is also concerned that the trendy concept of "life-balancing" is putting work second behind leisure

At any given time, Mr. Funk says, Express has as many as 20,000 jobs the company can't fill because workers don't have the skills required. His advice to young people who are looking for a solid career is to get training in accounting (thanks to Dodd-Frank's huge expansion of paperwork), information technology, manufacturing-robotics programming, welding and engineering. He's mystified why Express has so much trouble filling thousands of information-technology jobs when so many young, working-age adults are computer literate.
He blames public schools and universities for the skills mismatch. Young people looking for a financially secure future might want to heed one of his favorite pieces of cautionary advice: "If you've got a college degree in psych, poly-sci or sociology, sorry, I can't help you find a job." He urges greater emphasis on vocational and practical skills training in schools, universities and junior colleges. 

I will say this, with some confidence -- If you are interested in welding, engineering, robotics programming, or accounting, the chances that you will make a good psychologist are slim-to-none. Does the world need more welders or more psychologists? Plainly, the former. Are colleges "overproducing" majors in psychology, political science, and sociology? Arguably, in that most of those graduates go on to work in careers not related to their undergraduate field of study. But college education is much more than vocational training, a point which Mr. Funk seems not to recognize.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Alison Gopnik -- Genes and Intelligence


Wall Street Journal
We all notice that some people are smarter than others. You might naturally wonder how much these differences in intelligence depend on genes or upbringing. But that question, it turns out, is impossible to answer.
That's because changes in our environment can actually transform the relationship among our traits, our upbringing and our genes.
Okay, Genetic X Environmental interactions (genotype x environment = phenotype). But the amount of variance in a population that can be attributed to either genes or environment is not an "impossible" question. What she is avoiding saying right off the bat is that most of the variation in intelligence observed in people from middle-class (or better) backgrounds is attributable to genetic variation.

From Steve Hsu's blog
The textbook illustration of this is a dreadful disease called PKU. Some babies have a genetic mutation that makes them unable to process an amino acid in their food, and it leads to severe mental retardation. For centuries, PKU was incurable. Genetics determined whether someone suffered from the syndrome, which gave them a low IQ.
Then scientists discovered how PKU works. Now, we can immediately put babies with the mutation on a special diet. Whether a baby with PKU has a low IQ is now determined by the food they eat—by their environment.
We humans can figure out how our environment works and act to change it, as we did with PKU. So if you're trying to measure the relative influence of human nature and nurture, you have to consider not just the current environment but also all the possible environments that we can create.
Gotta love the PKU example. A great way to illustrate G x E interaction. However, it is one of the rarest causes of low intelligence (although, barring the dietary intervention, it will lead to mental retardation). Don't make the mistake of thinking that if you observe someone with low intelligence, they are a victim of PKU. The rate of babies born with PKU is about 1 in every 15,000 live births.

This doesn't just apply to obscure diseases. In the latest issue of Psychological Science, Timothy C. Bates of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues report a study of the relationship among genes, SES (socio-economic status, or how rich and educated you are) and IQ. They used statistics to analyze the differences between identical twins, who share all DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only some.
When psychologists first started studying twins, they found identical twins much more likely to have similar IQs than fraternal ones. They concluded that IQ was highly "heritable"—that is, due to genetic differences. But those were all high SES twins. Erik Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and his colleagues discovered that the picture was very different for poor, low-SES twins. For these children, there was very little difference between identical and fraternal twins: IQ was hardly heritable at all. Differences in the environment, like whether you lucked out with a good teacher, seemed to be much more important.

Identical twins are clones -- creepy, huh? 
In the new study, the Bates team found this was even true when those children grew up. IQ was much less heritable for people who had grown up poor. This might seem paradoxical: After all, your DNA stays the same no matter how you are raised. The explanation is that IQ is influenced by education. Historically, absolute IQ scores have risen substantially as we've changed our environment so that more people go to school longer.
I probably would have summarized this research differently. Among twins from decent backgrounds, there is a high heritability for intelligence. Among very poor twins, there is little to no heritability. The awfulness of their environment wipes out whatever chance there was for higher intelligence. This is not the same as saying that better schools yield higher IQ. It does suggest that the genes associated with higher intelligence cannot flourish in poor environments. We are talking about IQ being suppressed by an impoverished environment. [Another news report here, quoting Eric Turkheimer from UVa., but getting itself confused with "nature v. nuture".]

Richer children have similarly good educational opportunities, so genetic differences among them become more apparent. And since richer children have more educational choice, they (or their parents) can choose environments that accentuate and amplify their particular skills. A child who has genetic abilities that make her just slightly better at math may be more likely to take a math class, so she becomes even better at math.
But for poor children, haphazard differences in educational opportunity swamp genetic differences. Ending up in a terrible school or one a bit better can make a big difference. And poor children have fewer opportunities to tailor their education to their particular strengths.
How your genes shape your intelligence depends on whether you live in a world with no schooling at all, a world where you need good luck to get a good education or a world with rich educational possibilities. If we could change the world for the PKU babies, we can change it for the next generation of poor children, too.
Here's the kicker. What happens when we give everyone the same environment? Everyone gets a two-family home in which at least one parent is employed and both are non-drug using, non-criminal high school graduates. Everyone goes to schools of the same quality. We will still see variations in intelligence (that is, some people will still be smarter than others). But then 100% of the variation in intelligence will be attributable to genetic variations in the population. Control for environment and the only explanation left for observed differences is genetic.


A version of this article appeared September 21, 2013, on page C2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Good Genes Only Get You So Far With Intelligence. It was released online with a different, more accurate headline: Poverty Can Trump a Winning Hand of Genes.



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mania Case Study

"I want to be a psychiatrist, because I can read minds real good."

Note the racing thoughts and derailment after she is asked about her goals. Remember that she is not high on amphetamines. She is manic, which involves not just euphoria but psychosis -- in her case delusions. It is always striking to me how many inpatients say that they want to be (or already are) psychiatrists or psychologists.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Larry Summers and "the unfortunate truth"

I was a bit disappointed when Larry Summers withdrew his name from consideration to be the next head of the Federal Reserve. I was hoping that his nomination hearings would re-air the controversy over his statements he made while he was President of Harvard regarding why there aren't more women working in the upper levels of science and math.

Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce
Lawrence H. Summers
Cambridge, Mass.
January 14, 2005

"The second thing that I think one has to recognize is present is...why is the representation [of women] even lower and more problematic in science and engineering than it is in other fields....It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined. If one supposes, as I think is reasonable, that if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class. Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out. I did a very crude calculation, which I'm sure was wrong and certainly was unsubtle, twenty different ways. I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper-looked at the book, rather-looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those-they're all over the map, depends on which test, whether it's math, or science, and so forth-but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation-and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways-you get five to one, at the high end. Now, it's pointed out by one of the papers at this conference that these tests are not a very good measure and are not highly predictive with respect to people's ability to do that. And that's absolutely right. But I don't think that resolves the issue at all. Because if my reading of the data is right-it's something people can argue about-that there are some systematic differences in variability in different populations, then whatever the set of attributes are that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley, those are probably different in their standard deviations as well. So my sense is that the unfortunate truth-I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem."

"He said WHAT?"
Larry Summers lost his job over those remarks. Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard, offered a strong defense of Summers, in an article in the New Republic.
Summers's critics have repeatedly mangled his suggestion that innate differences might be one cause of gender disparities (a suggestion that he drew partly from a literature review in my book, The Blank Slate) into the claim that they must be the only cause. And they have converted his suggestion that the statistical distributions of men's and women's abilities are not identical to the claim that all men are talented and all women are not--as if someone heard that women typically live longer than men and concluded that every woman lives longer than every man. Just as depressing is an apparent unfamiliarity with the rationale behind political equality, as when Hopkins sarcastically remarked that, if Summers were right, Harvard should amend its admissions policy, presumably to accept fewer women. This is a classic confusion between the factual claim that men and women are not indistinguishable and the moral claim that we ought to judge people by their individual merits rather than the statistics of their group.
The psychologist Philip Tetlock has argued that the mentality of taboo--the belief that certain ideas are so dangerous that it is sinful even to think them--is not a quirk of Polynesian culture or religious superstition but is ingrained into our moral sense. In 2000, he reported asking university students their opinions of unpopular but defensible proposals, such as allowing people to buy and sell organs or auctioning adoption licenses to the highest-bidding parents. He found that most of his respondents did not even try to refute the proposals but expressed shock and outrage at having been asked to entertain them. They refused to consider positive arguments for the proposals and sought to cleanse themselves by volunteering for campaigns to oppose them.
Amanda Schaffer offers another view on the topic that is worth considering.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Watch -- Frances Cornford

The Watch
By Frances Cornford (1886–1960)
I WAKENED on my hot, hard bed;
Upon the pillow lay my head;
Beneath the pillow I could hear
My little watch was ticking clear.
I thought the throbbing of it went       
Like my continual discontent,
I thought it said in every tick:
I am so sick, so sick, so sick;
O death, come quick, come quick, come quick,
Come quick, come quick, come quick, come quick.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bach -- Cello Suite No. 1, Prelude (Rostropovich)

It should sound familiar -- used in movies all the time, e.g., this scene from Master and Commander (2003):

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday movie quote: "Good answer. I like the way you think."

From "Back to School" (1986)

Caution: Contains profanity and ethnic slurs.

Prof. Turgeson: Welcome to Contemporary American history. I'm Professor Turgeson. I know a lot of people think history is just facts, just information about the past, but not me. I hold history very sacred. Sacred. The way a farmer looks at the Earth and holds it sacred. The way a Christian takes the Bible and he holds it sacred. The way a lot of people hold their marriage sacred. That's how I feel about it.

So why don't we dive right in by interpreting  one of the easiest events in the last twenty years of American history. Now, can someone tell me why, in 1975 we pulled  our troops out of Vietnam?

Eager Student: The failure of Vietnamization to win popular support caused an ongoing erosion of confidence in the various American-backed but illegal Saigon regimes.

Prof. Turgeson: Is she right? 'Cause I know that's the popular version of what went on there. I know a lot of people like to believe that. I wish I could, but I was there. I wasn't here in a classroom hoping I was right, thinking about it. I was up to my knees  in rice paddies with guns that didn't work,  going up against Charlie slugging it out with him, while pussies like you  were back here partyin', puttin' headbands on doin' drugs, listening to their goddamn Beatle albums!

Thornton Melon: Hey, Professor, take it easy, will ya? These kids were in grade school at the time. And me I'm not a fighter, I'm a lover.

Prof. Turgeson: Well, I didn't know you wanted to get involved  with the discussion, Mr. Helper. But since you want to help, maybe you can help me, OK? You remember that thing we had about thirty years ago called the Korean conflict?

Thornton Melon:Yeah.

Prof. Turgeson: Where we failed to achieve victory. How come we didn't cross the38th parallel and push those rice-eaters back to the Great Wall of China and take it apart brick by brick and nuke them back into the fuckin' stone age forever? How come? Tell me? Why? Say it! Say it!

Thornton Melon: All right, I'll say it. 'Cause Truman was too much of a pussy wimp to let MacArthur go in and blow the shit out those commie bastards!

Prof. Turgeson: Good answer. Good answer. I like the way you think. I'm gonna be watching you.

Thornton Melon: Good teacher. He really seems to care. About what, I have no idea.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Consequences of Deinstitutionalization -- The Incarcerated Mentally Ill

The largest mental health facility in the United States is part of the L.A. County jail.
If you routinely hear voices, hallucinate, sink into suicidal depression or suffer inescapable torment, Los Angeles has a place for you.
The county jail.
On Monday, the jail held 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness and accused of a crime. Most have not been to trial, many have waited months for their day in court, and the majority have cycled through at least once before. There's no longer enough room to house them all in segregated areas, so 1,000 mentally ill men and 300 women are housed with the general population.
Sheriff Lee Baca has said for decades that he runs the nation's largest mental hospital, but we've heard it so often that the shock has worn off.

National Review Online

In California, the mentally ill are almost four times as likely to be incarcerated as hospitalized. In Texas, it is eight times. The courts have found California’s system to be cruel and unusual punishment, noting that the lack of treatment has caused people with mental illness to be held in telephone-booth-sized cages while wallowing in their feces. Mentally ill defendants in Texas line death row for horrific acts that most likely would never have been committed had they been provided the right care.
Law-enforcement officials, who bear the brunt of the failure to provide sufficient hospital beds, have become the major proponents of preserving them. The sheriff in Ventura County, Calif., is trying to raise funds to build his own psychiatric hospital. Michael Biasotti, immediate past president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, has written movingly about the issue
Police and sheriffs are being overwhelmed dealing with the unintended consequences of a policy change that in effect removed the daily care of our nation’s severely mentally ill population from the medical community and placed it with the criminal justice system. This policy change has caused a spike in the frequency of arrests of severely mentally ill persons, prison and jail population and the homeless population. . . . The deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill population has become a major consumer of law enforcement resources nationwide.
There are three times as many Americans incarcerated for mental illness as hospitalized. And it’s expensive. Every jail admission requires a crime, a cop, a district attorney, a defense attorney, a cell, a guard, and a probation or parole officer. Of course, some, like Aaron Alexis, only get a bullet.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Seven Myths of Mass Murder -- Reid Meloy

J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., testifying at the trial of Aaron Schaffhausen, April 2013

In the wake of the Navy Yard murders, an empirical perspective from Reid Meloy, a remarkable forensic psychologist, seems in order. If you really want to learn about the subject, read Meloy et al. (2004), available here. Dr. Meloy's dual assessment of Tim McVeigh and Mohammed Atta is indispensible for anyone interested in forensic psychology.

For the past 15 years my colleagues and I have conducted research on mass murder, the intentional killing of three or more individuals, excluding the perpetrator, during one event. Recent cases of mass murder have pointed to misconceptions about this rare and frightening act, and I would like to shed some light on what I consider the seven myths of mass murder.
Myth 1: They “snap.”Immediately following a mass murder, there is a steady stream of newspaper headlines and what I call “entertainment profilers” on television who proclaim that the individual “snapped.” There is no psychological term called snapping, but many assume that mass murder is done impulsively, with great emotion, and without planning or preparation. Almost all mass murders don’t fit this profile. Research consistently shows that mass murderers research, plan, and prepare for their act of violence for days, weeks, and even months. The fantasy may have incubated in their minds for years, even though the time, place, and target had yet to be determined. The act usually occurs after a major loss in love or work, and this may “start the clock” wherein final detailed preparation begins. I have forensically evaluated a number of mass murderers in prison or forensic hospitals, and with few exceptions, there was no evidence of a high state of emotional arousal when the killings occurred. Witnesses who have survived mass murders invariably describe the shooter as cool, calm, and deliberate — a lack of emotion that is a corollary of planned violence.
Myth 2: They can easily be divided into “psychopaths, psychotics, and depressives” David Cullen, the journalist and author of Columbine, an excellent book on the high school mass murder in Colorado in 1999, has asserted this formulation. Unfortunately, his diagnostic classification of mass murderers is much too simplistic. Most are complex in their motivations and psychopathology. They often have both mental and personality disorders. Mental disorders range from chronic psychotic disturbances, such as paranoid schizophrenia diagnosed in the Jared Loughner case, to major depression, bipolar, and other disorders. This may sound like splitting hairs, but when it comes to risk mitigation, fully understanding the range and complexity of these individuals’ disturbances is critical. Personality disorders also abound in this group and are often a mixture of antisocial, paranoid, narcissistic, and schizoid traits — or in layperson’s terms, someone who habitually engages in criminal behavior, is suspicious of others’ actions, is self-centered and grandiose with little empathy, and is chronically indifferent toward others and detached from his emotional life. What Cullen has done is a disservice to the millions of individuals who are clinically depressed or have a psychotic disorder and pose no more risk of violence to others than your neighbor. Loughner has given paranoid schizophrenia a bad name — many other factors contributed to his attempted assassination and mass murder.

Myth 3: Incidents of mass murder are increasing When a mass murder occurs, it receives instant and pervasive news coverage. Unfortunately, we are prone to overestimate the frequency of an event by its prominence in our minds, and mass murder is no exception. This is a very rare phenomenon and is neither increasing nor decreasing in the US. Since 1976 there have been about 20 mass murders a year. 2003 was the most violent year for mass murder, with 30 incidents and 135 victims. Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Edmund Oklahoma, and San Ysidro still resonate in the public consciousness, however, reminding us that these events do happen. A positive counterpoint is that rates of all violent crime have significantly decreased over this same time period, from 48 victims per 1000 persons in 1976 to 15 victims in 2010. The most lethal school mass murder in US history was in Bath, Michigan, in 1927, a bombing that resulted in 45 deaths, mostly children in the second to sixth grades.
Myth 4: Banning assault weapons will lower the frequency of mass murder. The most popular weapon chosen by mass murderers in the US is a 9 mm pistol, often a Glock. Usually they bring two or three firearms to the scene, and assault weapons such as the AR 15 or AK 47 are generally not utilized. Therefore it should come as no surprise that between 1994 and 2004, when the federal assault weapons ban was in effect, there was no decrease in the average number of mass murders per year in the US. However, guns do kill people. As a gun owner myself, and a believer in the Second Amendment, I find it appalling that virtually anyone can purchase a firearm with little effort, money, or time in the US. I believe that firearms ownership is a right that should have requirements: demonstrable competency in its use and mental stability.  

Myth 5: Psychotic individuals cannot plan in a precise and methodical manner. The majority of adult mass murderers are psychotic, meaning they have broken with consensual reality and perceive the world in an idiosyncratic and often paranoid way. Yet they may research the internet for weapons, practice video games to sharpen their marksmanship, purchase weapons and ammunition, conduct surveillance of the target, and carry out their mass murder, all from within a delusion. A delusion is a fixed and false belief and may provide a rock-solid motivation for mass murderers. Paradoxically, delusions may help them commit irrevocably to paths of homicidal destruction. Our research has also found that mass murderers who are psychotic have higher casualty rates than those who are not. Typically they select victims who are complete strangers, who in their minds make up a “pseudocommunity” of persecutors bent on their destruction.
Myth 6: It must be the drugs they are abusing It is true that most quotidian violence involves drug use, particularly alcohol. In cases of spousal homicide, the victim, perpetrator, or both are often intoxicated at the time. In mass murder, however, drug use is minimal, whether alcohol or other illicit substances. We think this is because the mass murderer does not want drugs to cloud his consciousness at the time. They could interfere with his planning, preparation, and most importantly, his tactical goal, which is often to maximize his casualty rate. We even found two cases where the mass murderer utilized therapeutic amounts of sedating drugs to help him remain calm during the shooting.

Myth 7: Mass murder can be predicted and prevented. Unfortunately this will never happen given the simple fact that we cannot predict such an extremely rare event. If we attempt to do so, we will grossly over-predict its occurrence and perhaps infringe upon individual rights and freedoms. However, we can mitigate the risk of such events by paying attention to behaviors of concern. This stopped Richard Reid from bringing down an airplane over the Atlantic in December 2001, when a passenger noticed he was trying to light his sneaker with a match. It contributed to the prevention of another ideologically driven mass murder in Times Square on 1 May 2010 when two street vendors noticed a suspicious van parked on a busy corner and alerted the police; two days later Faisal Shahzad was arrested as he sat on a plane at Kennedy bound for Dubai. Such situational awareness is critical to interdict someone in the final stages of an attack. 
But there is another warning behavior that is quite frequent: mass murderers will leak their intent to others — a phrase expressed to another, or posted on the internet, that raises concern. It may be overt: “I’m going to kill my supervisor and his cohorts tomorrow;” or it may be covert: “don’t come to work tomorrow, but watch the news.” The logical reaction should be to alert someone in a position of authority; however, most people don’t. It surfaces after the event, with the rationale, “I just didn’t think he was serious.” Trust your emotional reactions of anxiety, wariness, or fear, and let law enforcement investigate.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting into a gunfight over Kant

Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) -- An argument in southern Russia over philosopher Immanuel Kant, the author of "Critique of Pure Reason," devolved into pure mayhem when one debater shot the other.
A police spokeswoman in Rostov-on Don, Viktoria Safarova, said two men in their 20s were discussing Kant as they stood in line to buy beer at a small store on Sunday. The discussion deteriorated into a fistfight and one participant pulled out a small nonlethal pistol and fired repeatedly.
The victim was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Neither person was identified.
It was not clear which of Kant's ideas may have triggered the violence.

I love the snarky last sentence, AP. Perhaps the bigger mystery is what is a "nonlethal pistol" and why would one carry such a thing when going out to buy beer?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Biological Treatments

Some points of interest related to the Biological Treatments portion of my Abnormal Psychology course:
1. Here is the link to my piece on Electroconvulsive Therapy from Feb. 2013. Be sure to watch Mary, before and after.

2. And here is a blogpost about lobotomy from May 2013. It contains a link to a full length documentary on Walter Freeman. Here is a short version (trailer) of The Lobotomist documentary:

3. Here's an excerpt from a book review from the journal of the Minnesota Medical Association that discusses both Henry Cotton (focal infection theory) and Walter Freeman:

To the Trenton State Hospital in 1907 came psychiatrist Henry Cotton, who had been trained by Adolf Meyer, M.D., the godfather of American psychiatry at the time. Meyer had fostered a culture of actively treating the mentally ill at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts. Dubbing Freud as a “fraud” and comparing psychoanalysis to Christian Science, Cotton found the state hospital in “deplorable condition,” with guards wielding unchecked violence and brutality on patients. Cotton dispensed with most restraints and taught attending physicians that they should not just write off patients as “crazy.”
Cotton assumed his post at Trenton just as medicine was emerging from a flurry of discoveries in infectious disease with the identification of organisms causing typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, and diphtheria. Suddenly, it seemed as though all human disease was caused by infection and “the practical payoffs of the bacteriological revolution seemed limitless.” Quickly, the bacterial paradigm spread to all areas of medicine. At Chicago’s Rush Medical College, Frank Billings, M.D., trumpeted the “etiological relationship of focal infection to systematic diseases” and created the Memorial Institute for Infectious Disease and the Sprague Memorial Institute at St. Luke’s Free Hospital. Edward Rosenow, M.D., brought the theory of focal infection and systemic illness to Mayo Clinic, and a new concept of “surgical bacteriology” suggested that “chronic intestinal stasis … flooding the circulation with filthy material” caused autointoxication. Cure required surgically removing the infection.
Cotton applied the theory of focal infection to the illnesses of his Trenton patients, stating that psychosis was a “symptom … of long continued chronic sepsis,” and started attempting to surgically rid them of infection. He found rampant dental infection and removed so many teeth that Trenton was dubbed the “Mecca of exodontias.” Tonsils were excised, gallbladders removed, and parts of or entire colons resected. The proof of infection in the offending organs was slim even by early 20th century standards. The toll of lives lost was staggering with mortality rates for colectomy approaching 50 percent. And the documentation of resolved psychiatric illness was paltry.
4. Here is an excerpt from the Nobel Prize website, which defends the award given to Egas Moniz, developer of the prefrontal lobotomoy:

A survey of all patients who underwent leukotomy in England and Wales from 1942 to 1954 (Tooth et al 1961) documented 10,365 single leukotomy operations. An additional 762 patients underwent more than one operation. A follow-up study covering 9,284 of the above mentioned patients showed that 41% had recovered or were greatly improved while 28% were minimally improved, 25% showed no change, 2% had become worse and 4% had died. Not surprisingly, patients with an affective disorder showed the best prognosis with 63% recovered compared to 30% among schizophrenic patients.
In the United States approximately 10,000 operations had been performed by August 1949. After 1954 the number of operations steadily decreased. As there were no alternative therapies for severe mental disorders, psychoses in the 1930s, it is not surprising that lobotomy was quickly accepted as a therapy for chronic schizophrenic psychoses, even if it seems a bit strange that lobotomy initially was tried with affective disorders. Lobotomy is an ethically dubious treatment if carried out against the patient´s wishes, but this is always a difficult question in severely psychotic patients who totally lack insight about their illness - what is it exactly that such a patient wants? Historically, it is easy to understand that psychosurgery was considered as a therapeutic advance. Today, it is easy to hold a negative opinion about the use of lobotomy and consider it very strange that Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize. However, I agree with Swayze (1995) who has written: "If we learn nothing else from that era, it should be recognized that more rigorous, prospective long-term studies of psychiatric outcome are essential to assess the long-term outcomes of our treatment methods."

File:Pyrotherapy 1934 image.jpg

5. 1934 photograph shows Julius Wagner-Jauregg present at the transfusion of blood from a malaria patient to a patient who suffers from neurosyphilis, in order to trigger fever that will kill the spirochaetes. This approach, for which Wagner-Jauregg won the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology, is a type of Pyrotherapy.

6. Here is the Wikipedia page of James W. Watts, who assisted Walter Freeman and who graduated from VMI sometimes in the early 1920s.

Walter Freeman is pointing to the X-ray; James Watts is next to him.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Howlin' Wolf -- Wang Dang Doodle

Best party invite list ever:

Tell automatic Slim, tell razor totin' Jim
Tell butcher knife totin' Annie, tell fast talking Fanny
A we gonna pitch a ball, a down to that Union Hall
We gonna romp and tromp till midnight
We gonna fuss and fight till daylight
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long
All night long, all night long, all night long
Tell kudu-crawlin' Red, tell abyssinian' Ned
Tell ol' pistol Pete, everybody gonna meet
Tonight we need no rest, we really gonna throw a mess
We gonna to break out all of the windows
We gonna kick down all the doors
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle, all night long
All night long, all night long, all night long, all night long, all night long
Tell Fats and washboard Sam, that everybody gonna to jam
Tell Shaky and boxcar Joe, we got sawdust on the floor
Tell Peg and Caroline Dye, we gonna have a time
When the fish scent fill the air, there'll be snuff juice everywhere
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle, all night long
All night long, all night long, all night long
All night long, all night long, all night long
I always thought that it was "fish heads" that filled the air; you be the judge.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Freudian Dream Interpretation

Here's a link to the best online introduction to Freudian dream analysis that I have seen. If you really want to get into it, a beautiful new version of Freud's Intrepretation of Dreams is available. From the site:

"I had a dream in which I was at a party with my sister and a friend. My sister had sex with a guy right next to me while I was passed out asleep because I was drunk. I slept for a few hours and then woke up and went back to the party. There was a guy there who had two visor hats over his face and everybody was afraid of him. We then started driving and racing. Everybody pulled over for him to pass them, except for me. He was really mad that I wouldn’t pull over and was getting violent. He tried to crash into me, but I pulled ahead and got away. Then there was an accident behind me with two other cars."
Personal interpretation: 
Perhaps I am feeling resentment for a family member or friend and view them as having more than me, as I am currently not in a relationship and not having sexual relations. Maybe the scary man represents men in general and me being intimidated by them and not being able to trust in order to date. If I did date someone at this time, it might be a mistake, causing an "accident."
Freud might say:
The dreamer is asserting strength and independence against problems known (sister issues, which may be in a completely different form than in the dream) and unknown (the visored male driver). The latent associations for the visor and threatening drivers should be explored. This may be the desire of the female to have control over the masculine influence in her life, or a generally threatening influence.

I would add: Let's not forget that Freud thought that all dreams were disguised wish fulfillments. What are this dreamer's latent wishes, as symbolically revealed in the dream? Voyeurism, perhaps, in her sister having sex right next to her. But if the sister is actually a displaced version of herself, then the wish could be to take the passive role in sex, to not have to initiate sex but to simply receive it, while completing giving in to her desires ("passing out").

The two-visored man is interesting, but I agree that it is up to the dreamer to figure out who or what he represents. If she means a man with a motorcycle helmet with two visors, then I would suggest that wearing a motorcycle helmet would add a bulbous quality that might make him look like a walking penis, and hence a pretty obvious phallic symbol.

Racing dangerously suggests the unconscious desire to give in to one's instincts. "To crash into me" seems like a pretty clear sexual penetration symbol in this female dreamer. Perhaps the wish is to lead a man on to the point of his losing complete control of himself, to cause a man to become so sexually desirous of her that he destroys himself (and whomever else he was near). Freud would call that sexual sadism.

Freud never said that you would like what you find out about yourself in your dreams. There's a reason that the material is disguised and distorted, and a reason why you have dreams about these dark impulses rather than act them out during the day.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yelling at kids as bad as hitting?

Wall Street Journal

Parents who yell at their adolescent children for misbehaving can cause some of the same problems as hitting them would, including increased risk of depression and aggressive behavior, according to a new study.
The study followed 976 two-parent families, with children assessed at ages 13 and 14. Researchers asked kids various survey questions to appraise their behavior problems, depression symptoms and the warmth of the relationship with their parents. Parents completed surveys to gauge their use of harsh verbal discipline.
When their children were 13, about 45% of participating mothers and 42% of fathers said they had used harsh verbal discipline with their child during the past year. Those kids whose parents used higher levels of harsh verbal discipline when their children were 13 experienced larger increases in behavior problems the next year, including fighting with peers, trouble in school and lying to parents, as well as symptoms of depression.
The increases were similar if parents used harsh verbal discipline or physical approaches such as pushing or spanking. The degree of warmth of the parent-child relationship outside of any altercations didn't alter the negative effects of the harsh verbal discipline. Kids' behavior problems also led parents to increase their use of harsh verbal discipline tactics, fueling an escalating cycle, the study found.

Unfortunately, because the researchers didn't have the chutzpah to randomly assign parents to "yelling" versus "non-yelling" conditions, this study doesn't tell us squat. There is no reason to believe that not yelling at those punks would have prevented their behavioral problems. That initial round of yelling at age 13 could have been provoked by the kids' emerging antisocial behaviors. And of course we are utterly neglecting the genetic influences -- kids who cause trouble at school are more likely to be the offspring of parents who also have difficulty controlling themselves. I'm not saying that yelling at kids is a good thing; in fact, it is probably a waste of time. But articles like this hopelessly confuse correlation and causation.

Here's a neat little article (also correlational) on the incidence of childhood abuse among serial killers.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What's wrong with John Kerry's face?

Washington Post

“It’s looks to me that he has limited movement on the left side of his face,” said cosmetic dermatologist Tina Alster.
“He doesn’t have any movement in his face at all,” said plastic surgeon Barry Cohen.
Kerry, 69, is no stranger to speculation about his classic patrician face. In the 1970’s, he had an operation to correct a “malocclusion” — a problem with his bite that caused clicking in his jaw (and yes, made him more handsome). His smooth, unwrinkled appearance during the 2004 presidential race caused enough of a stir that his campaign was forced to deny Botox rumors directly. And in January of 2012, Kerry showed up at the White House celebration for the Boston Bruins sporting two black eyes. Plastic surgery? Nah, he said — just the result of a nasty spill while playing hockey with family and friends over the New Year’s break.

Not sure if Botox is a great idea for a U.S. Secretary of State:

In the first randomized, controlled study on the effect of botulinum toxin—known commercially as Botox—on depression, researchers investigated whether it might aid patients with major depressive disorder who had not responded to antidepressant medications. Participants in the treatment group were given a single dose (consisting of five injections) of botulinum toxin in the area of the face between and just above the eyebrows, whereas the control group was given placebo injections. Depressive symptoms in the treatment group decreased 47 percent after six weeks, an improvement that remained through the 16-week study period. The placebo group had a 9 percent reduction in symptoms. The findings appeared in May in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Study author M. Axel Wollmer, a psychiatrist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, believes the treatment “interrupts feedback from the facial musculature to the brain, which may be involved in the development and maintenance of negative emotions.” Past studies have shown that Botox impairs people's ability to identify others' feelings, and the new finding adds more evidence: the muscles of the face are instrumental for identifying and experiencing emotions, not just communicating them.

Scientific American

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

RFK, Jr., sex, suicide, and Borderline Personality Disorder

New York Post

"Robert F. Kennedy Jr. grappled with what he called his biggest defect — “my lust demons” — while keeping a scorecard of more than two dozen conquests, according to his secret diary.
The thick, red journal was found in their home by his wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy, who, distraught over their impending divorce and Kennedy’s serial philandering, committed suicide last year.
The couple had known each other since Richardson was 14 and a boarding-school roommate of Kennedy’s younger sister, Kerry. They married in 1994, weeks after Kennedy divorced his first wife, Emily Black, with whom he had two children.
Richardson was pregnant with their first child, Conor, when they married. They moved into the 1920 clapboard house in Westchester County."

Gotta love the Kennedy brand of Catholicism: divorce, premarital sex, and extramartial affairs.

Apparently, RFK, Jr.'s deceased wife Mary Richardson Kennedy, had the same diagnosis as Marilyn Monroe, who had affairs with both his father and his uncle:

The Daily Beast
Indeed, according to documents seen exclusively by The Daily Beast that delineated Richardson’s mental-health issues from early adolescence through her first year of marriage, Richardson, throughout her life, was waging a cyclical battle with her own mental health—ongoing feelings of depression, self-loathing, and low self-esteem. In fact, the surprise is not that she died so young, but that she willed herself to stay alive so long. Early on, unable to handle or explain her feelings, she simply quit talking for 10 days. At 22, her anorexia, diagnosed as a teenager, landed her in Boston’s McLean Hospital for three months. “During the bad episodes,” recalls a close friend, “Mary always talked about suicide.”
At 25, an initial suicide attempt, a plastic bag over her head, was thwarted when she panicked as she began running out of air; a year later, in August 1986, there was another failed attempt when Richardson vomited up the 200 barbiturates that she had swallowed. Afterward, she continued binging and purging, accompanied by regular use of alcohol and drugs, prescription and otherwise, for three years, until 1989 when, through AA, she managed to stop everything until 2005.

Richardson—and many who knew her—never bought her 2009 diagnosis of borderline personality disorder by specialist in the field Dr. John Gunderson. But Kennedy felt Richardson exhibited classic signs of the personality disorder that produces intense and unstable interpersonal relationships; anorexia; chronic feelings of emptiness; fear of abandonment; idealization and devaluation of herself and others; intense, inappropriate anger, most often aimed at Kennedy, he has claimed; a labile personality, capable of instantaneously “switching” from rage to euphoria and recurrent suicidal gestures or threats. (Ten percent of borderlines kill themselves.)

“In two seconds flat,” says Hoving, “Mary could flip from anger and rage into white-picket-fence mode, put on her Martha Stewart face and convince anybody, including her own family, that she was in control of her faculties, environment, and personal matters. It was always jarring.”