Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category
Since the Federal government has already decided that marijuana has no medical benefit (and is highly addictive to boot), the FDA is unwilling to allow studies that might contradict the Federal position. (Marijuana is a Schedule I drug: those are drugs that have no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.) April Short describes a 14-year effort to get approval for a study of marijuana’s effects on PTSD:
As a psychiatrist and physician focused on internal medicine, Sue Sisley of Arizona treats first responders and military veterans on a regular basis. Many of them suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After years observing and speaking with patients she learned that many were using an alternative medicine—cannabis—to successfully manage their symptoms.
“We ran these patients through the gauntlet of every FDA-approved medicine, and either nothing worked or it had really onerous side effects,” said Sisley. “So all these patients were gradually, on their own, starting to use cannabis as an alternative way to treat their symptoms, and talking to me about it.”
While Sisley describes herself as a lifelong Republican who has never tried an illicit drug and doesn’t drink, she became curious to know why and how cannabis was helping so many of her patients.
“This is a dire need, understanding PTSD, not just for combat vets but for all our citizens who are plagued by this,” she said, noting that 22 veterans kill themselves per day in the U.S. according to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Any physician who’s also a human being can’t rest when we know that there’s something out there, in this case a plant, that has the potential to reduce human suffering.”
She began to look into studying the plant, but came up against the same wall that has blockaded any attempts at clinical research on cannabis outside of limited research by the U.S. government for the last 40 years. Due to the demonization of cannabis by drug war propaganda, the plant falls under Schedule I classification. This is the most restrictive possible scheduling, and means that officially, pot is considered dangerous and devoid of any potential medical use.
“I started asking more and more questions about why we couldn’t research this drug properly and why these studies were being suppressed,” she said. “[Cannabis] has proven itself over and over again in literally thousands, millions of patients across the country, and when you know that, you can’t rest and just allow this plant to be forced out. I think we have a duty as physicians to demand that this plant be rigorously studied.”
Her curiosity and determination led her to meet Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). The California-based nonprofit organization has been trying for 14 years to complete federally sanctioned clinical research studies on cannabis. So far, however, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—which has a DEA-protected monopoly on the only legal supply of cannabis for use in FDA-regulated research—has refused to sell them cannabis.
Doblin and Sisley worked to develop protocols for a study that would look at cannabis’ effects on treatment-resistant combat veterans with PTSD, with Sisley as principal investigator. After years of back and forth, the study’s protocols were approved by the Food and Drug Administration three years ago. They were also approved by the University of Arizona Institutional Review Board (IRB), and the University of Arizona has agreed to play host.
There’s just one problem: they still need NIDA approval in order to purchase federally sanctioned weed, and NIDA won’t sell until a third review process is completed by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), as required by a 1999 guideline.
This additional review is not required for research on any other Schedule I drug, but was tacked onto the regular approval requirements and is governed by the U.S. Health and Human services department, under NIDA.
After the original study protocol was rejected by PHS in September 2011, MAPS resubmitted a revised protocol on Oct. 24, 2013. Ever since, the line has gone dead. Unlike FDA protocols which require a response within 30 days, there is no timeline requiring PHS to respond. The PHS guidance has effectively blockaded the study of cannabis by failing to respond.
Sisley called the PHS review process redundant, and said the only real reason for it to exist is to keep the war on drugs alive.
“If their motive is to suppress any research that might prove the benefits of marijuana, then it’s understandable they don’t want that data out there because that conflicts with their mission,” she said.
Brad Burge, communications director for MAPS, points out that President Obama has the authority to terminate the extra requirement at any time. The Secretary of Health and Human Services could also legally revoke the guidance as it was issued within HHS.
“We’re hoping with this pressure, with enough public attention, HHS will make a statement or Obama—especially given his recent statements on medical marijuana—will decide to eliminate the hold, and to eliminate the process,” he said.
Thousands of veterans nationwide swear by marijuana’s effectiveness in reducing their PTSD symptoms and advocate for better access to cannabis as an alternative to the pharmaceuticals they’re regularly prescribed. Perry Parks, a Vietnam combat veteran and decorated retired military officer called the limits on access to medical marijuana a “healthcare tragedy few people recognize.” Oaksterdam University has a new scholarship program to help train more veterans to grow their own plants and work in the cannabis industry.
Despite the vocal and increasingly recognized call for veterans’ access to cannabis, the study in question would be the world’s first-ever controlled clinical study on using the herb to treat PTSD in human patients. Burge notes that prior animal studies, among them a study using lab rats published in the scientific journal Nature, have shown that cannabis helps calm an overactive fear system. . .
Lois Beckett has a good article in Pacific Standard:
Chicago’s Cook County Hospital has one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation, treating about 2,000 patients a year for gunshots, stabbings, and other violent injuries.
So when researchers started screening patients there for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011, they assumed they would find cases.
They just didn’t know how many: Fully 43 percent of the patients they examined—and more than half of gunshot-wound victims—had signs of PTSD.
“We knew these people were going to have PTSD symptoms,” said Kimberly Joseph, a trauma surgeon at the hospital. “We didn’t know it was going to be as extensive.”
What the work showed, Joseph said, is, “This is a much more urgent problem than you think.”
Joseph proposed spending about $200,000 a year to add staffers to screen all at-risk patients for PTSD and connect them with treatment. The taxpayer-subsidized hospital has an annual budget of roughly $450 million. But Joseph said hospital administrators turned her down and suggested she look for outside funding.
“Right now, we don’t have institutional support,” said Joseph, who is now applying for outside grants.
A hospital spokeswoman would not comment on why the hospital decided not to pay for regular screening. The hospital is part of a pilot program with other area hospitals to help “pediatrics patients identified with PTSD,” said the spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias. “The Cook County Health and Hospitals System is committed to treating all patients with high quality care.”
Right now, social workers try to identify patients with the most severe PTSD symptoms, said Carol Reese, the trauma center’s violence prevention coordinator and an Episcopal priest.
“I’m not going to tell you we have everything we need in place right now, because we don’t,” Reese said. “We have a chaplain and a social worker and a couple of social work interns trying to see 5,000 people. We’re not staffed to do it.”
A growing body of research shows that Americans with traumatic injuries develop PTSD at rates comparable to veterans of war. Just like veterans, civilians can suffer flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia, and social withdrawal. While the United States has been slow to provide adequate treatment to troops affected by post-traumatic stress, the military has made substantial progress in recent years. It now regularly screens for PTSD, works to fight the stigma associated with mental health treatment, and educates military families about potential symptoms.
Few similar efforts exist for civilian trauma victims. Americans wounded in their own neighborhoods are not getting treatment for PTSD. They’re not even getting diagnosed.
Studies show that, overall, about eight percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. But the rates appear to be much higher in communities—such as poor, largely African-American pockets of Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia—where high rates of violent crime have persisted despite a national decline.
Researchers in Atlanta interviewed more than 8,000 inner-city residents and found that about two-thirds said they had been violently attacked and that half knew someone who had been murdered. At least one in three of those interviewed experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives—and that’s a “conservative estimate,” said Dr. Kerry Ressler, the lead investigator on the project.
“The rates of PTSD we see are as high or higher than Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam veterans,” Ressler said. “We have a whole population who is traumatized.” . . .
If the US is going to continue to make guns freely available to everyone, then it has a responsibility to ameliorate the resulting human damage.
I watch a lot of movies, and I note that in some bad movies the characters appear to be angry a lot, with nothing motivating their anger. (One title that in my mind is tagged with this characteristic is Showgirls, but I cannot now recall the specific instances—and I don’t want to watch it again.) My take on that is that the apparent anger is just a quick way to get emotion into a scene, even when the anger is unmotivated.
So I was interested in the study discussed in this article in Pacific Standard by Jesse Singal:
If there’s one thing American media does well, it’s outrage. Take a quick glance at your favorite news source, whether The O’Reilly Factor orPardon the Interruption, and you’ll see it: wide-eyed, incredulous, puffed-up outrage that anyone could be so stupid!
Despite our nation’s saturation with outrage, argue two Tufts researchers, we know very little about how the genre works. So Jeffrey M. Berry, a political scientist, and Sarah Sobieraj, a sociologist, assembled a research team and dove into the spittle-flecked world of outrage media. They listened to and read countless transcripts, coding it for content; interviewed fans of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other superstars; and examined the regulatory and business shifts in American mass media that led to our current screamfest.
In a recent interview, Sobieraj spoke with Pacific Standard about the formula of outrage media, why the right wing dominates it, and the weirdly intimate relationship between talk radio hosts and their listeners. The below transcript is edited for length and clarity.
So what exactly is outrage media, and how do you differentiate it from a regular lack of civility?
When we think about outrage, we think of political speech that is intended to provoke an emotional response. So fear, anger, or moral indignation—that sort of thing. Most of the existing literature on incivility talks about interruptions or sighing or things like that, and what we notice is that outrage is such a muscular negativity that it’s not captured by those kinds of studies or questions. It’s just a whole different ballpark. The research on incivility tended to look at things like political advertisements, for example, and we were thinking about this whole other area, this genre where there is a mainstay of emotionally laden speech and behavior that is really designed to rile up the audience.
Emotion has a place in political speech. It’s actually quite important if you think about something like the civil rights movement or 9/11. People’s stories and the social problems they animate are often very important. But what’s different here are the calculated techniques that they use in an effort to evoke those emotions.
And it sounds like “calculated” is the right word, because you guys write that outrage media is pretty formulaic.
It is. It’s very predictable. In fact, sometimes when I’m having a better day or in a better mood or feeling more tolerant, I can find it in myself to find it amusing, the way that the techniques are so similar on the left and the right.
You know you could hear, for example, a host talk about the fringe far-left and if you’re on another network you can hear them talk about the fringe far-right, and so sometimes the language is literally the same. And not just the language, but the techniques, the things like misrepresentative exaggeration and belittling and conspiracy theories.
Are there any other big markers? Misrepresentative exaggeration, belittling….
Insulting language is another really important one. Calling people idiotic or pompous. Name-calling is definitely one too. I’ve heard, for example, bloggers refer to Obama’s supporters as “Obamatards,” things like that.
As for exaggeration, there is lot in political life, but this is a different level of a very dramatic negative exaggeration. For example, saying that something is intended to bring down capitalism. That would be a good example—very few things are actually designed to bring down capitalism. So I would say that misrepresentative exaggeration, mockery, definitely the ideologically extremizing language like “radical right-wing nut,” “socialist,” “fascist.” Those types of things are probably the most common.
I think a lot of people are skeptical of the claim that it’s as bad on the left as it is on the right, and you did a good job of pulling quotes from folks like Mike Malloy that really are angry and negative and out there. But you did find, overall, that there’s something about this sort of media that appeals more to folks on the right, and there’s a huge gap in the amount of outrage media between the two sides.
Yeah, so there are actually two different questions embedded in there. One is whether it’s the same or different in terms of the intensity and the volume and that sort of thing. Some people have suggested that when we point out that it happens on the left it’s a false equivalency. And that’s actually not what we’re doing at all.
What we notice is that the techniques are very similar on the left and the right. So something like belittling or exaggeration—you’re going to find that with Ed Schultz or Lawrence O’Donnell just like you’ll find it with Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. But the volume is very different, in terms of the sheer number of platforms on the right. Talk radio is over 90 percent conservative so there’s just more of it.
Now the other question that you’re asking is whether outrage is more attractive to those on the right, and I think it is for a number of reasons. It’s actually kind of complicated—there are a lot of things going on. One is that the left is less distrustful or more accepting, depending on how you want to say it, of conventional news. So the right has historically been less comfortable with the major networks or The New York Times, for example, and the left is more comfortable in those spaces.
Another thing that comes into play is that there is some research that suggests that conservatives have a personality type—this is, of course, not all of them—and that there’s a greater propensity for comfort with black-and-white argumentation, which is very common in the outrage genre. There are good guys and there are bad guys. You are with us or you are against us. So there is that type of appeal.
But also, and I think probably most interestingly, since the rise of multiculturalism, with words like “tolerance,” “inclusion,” and “diversity” being viewed as good and important, for those who are conservative, to share your political views on things like same-sex marriage or immigration—those views can be viewed as intolerant and you can feel as though you are being judged and stigmatized. So we think that these shows, or what we hear when we talk to fans, are that these shows and blogs really become a safe space where their views are validated and they’re not criticized.
That struck me actually, because I really did like the interviews you had with fans of Beck and Limbaugh and some other conservative hosts, and there was this genuine fear that I found surprisingly easy to empathize with. They said they feel like they can’t talk about these issues or they’re going to be tarred as racist. . .
And yet this crime against humanity is common in our penal system. And it causes physical change, reports Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress:
Solitary confinement has been called a “living death,” cruel and unusual, and torture. Studies of the prison practice of placing inmates in a solitary, often concrete windowless cell for 23 hours a day with almost no human contact, have found that the psychological impact is dramatic after just a few days.
A University of Michigan neuroscientist suggested Friday that the physical impact on the brain could be just as significant if not moreso, and could “dramatically change the brain” in just a matter of days. Speaking on a panel about solitary confinement, neuroscientist Huda Akil said inaccess to inmates has prevented much formal study on brain changes while held in confinement. But she said a number of other studies have documented how each of the factors involved in solitary confinement change the physical shape of the brain. The lack of physical interaction with the natural world, the lack of social interaction, and the lack of touch and visual stimulation alone are each “by itself is sufficient to dramatically change the brain,” Akil said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.
She said particular parts of the brain that are subject to extreme stress can “actually shrink,”including the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, spatial orientation, and memory.
Robert King, a member of the “Angola 3″ who was held in solitary confinement for years before his conviction was overturned in a racially charged murder case based on flimsy evidence, said his eyesight and physical orientation are permanently impaired. “My geography is way off,” he said. “I get lost sometimes in my own neighborhood. I believe that this is a result of my solitary confinement.” Two of King’s fellow defendants remained in solitary, one until just days before his death in October.
Other psychological impacts documented by psychology professor Craig Haney include“extreme paranoia, self-mutilation, hypersensitivity to sound, light and touch, and severe cognition dysfunction among prisoners.”
One recent psychological study concluded, “The restriction of environmental stimulation and social isolation associated with confinement in solitary are strikingly toxic to mental functioning.” And prisoners, many of whom are later released, have described developing rage and violent tendencies while confined.
“To me, the separation of the mental and physical is highly artificial, because there are definitely physical consequences of these experiences,” said Akil.
The prolonged, isolated confinement of inmates has been held unconstitutional as applied to the mentally ill, and at least two courts have now held that indefinite, unreviewed confinement is also unconstitutional. But the practice remains common, and has not been invalidated outright. At least 80,000 U.S. prisoners are held in solitary confinement by some estimates, and it is frequently used not to segregate dangerous prisoners, but as a means of social control, or mental health treatment. In California, more than 500 inmates have reportedly been kept in confinement for 10 to 28 years.
This sort of facility seems like an excellent idea, and apparently it results in improved happiness and health for its residents. I bet it’s a more pleasant place to work than the usual assisted-living home. With Baby Boomers aging, this would be a good thing to initiate as publicly-owned (taxpayer-supported) facilities. This is exactly the sort of thing you do NOT want to run on a profit motive, which inevitably leads to cuts in quality of service and higher prices over time due to the inexorable drive to grow profits.
I think it would be more efficient and save money overall if the mentally ill could go or be taken to a local mental health clinic and get expert treatment by a staff trained in and knowledgeable about mental health illnesses and treatments, thus taking a burdensome and inappropriate responsibility from the police and ERs.
But I don’t think that will happen because, much as with the poor, the controlling powers (Congressional majorities, business interests) simply do not care about people in that category, and so no government money is released to provide the resources. Instead, the problem is to a great degree simply ignored. Somehow we avert our gaze.
But services for this group very much are aligned with promoting the general welfare.
Lauren Kirchner writes in Pacific Standard:
The last time Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds made national headlines, the occasion was a shocking family tragedy. In November, Deeds’ son Gus, who had been on and off medication for bipolar disorder and crippling paranoia, repeatedly stabbed Deeds, before ending his own life. Now, a recovered but visibly scarred Deeds is back in the news, publicly urging his colleagues in Richmond to help him reform the state’s mental health laws.
On the night before his son attacked him, Deeds told Scott Pelley in a 60 Minutes interview, the family had taken Gus to an emergency room and tried to place him in a psychiatric facility, because they worried that he might hurt himself or someone else. Under Virginia state law, Gus could only be hospitalized against his will for six hours, or until an available bed in a psychiatric facility could be located. But no bed was free, and so Gus went home. Deeds is now working to get Virginia to extend the length of those emergency stays, and to build a state-wide computer database that would make finding open psychiatric beds easier.
Deeds’ story was just one part of the 60 Minutes segment, called “Nowhere to Go: Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis.” Scott Pelley interviewed a number of parents who have had to repeatedly bring their children and teens to the hospital for short-term stays and unsatisfying, piecemeal mental healthcare, for things like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression disorder. Long-term psychiatric care is just so much harder to come by. Pelley explains that their experiences today illustrate the result of a half-century-long systemic deinstitutionalization of mental health care in America:
In the decades after the 1960s most large mental institutions were closed. It was thought that patients would get better treatment back in their communities. But adequate local facilities were never built. The number of beds available to psychiatric patients in America dropped from more than half a million to fewer than 100,000. That leaves many kids in crisis today with one option: the emergency room.
But what if those people suffering from mental illness aren’t minors, and they don’t have parents or support systems to bring them in to emergency rooms? If those people are adults, and they’re out in the world, disturbing people with antisocial behavior, then chances are that at some point, they’re going to have a brush with the law.
In a recent NPR report from the nation’s largest jail, Cook County in Illinois, Laura Sullivan described the spare, padded cells that many of the inmates are housed in. At least a third of the 10,000 inmates in Cook County are mentally ill, and the jail’s staff sounded absolutely overwhelmed.
Staff members called the situation they’re facing “staggering” and the policies that caused it “ridiculously stupid.” Sullivan reported that in the past three years, budget shortfalls caused Chicago to cut funding to six of the area’s 12 mental health clinics, and three nearby state hospitals. Those clinics and hospitals had provided mentally ill patients in the community with counseling and medication; without them, many of those patients tend to end up in jail.
Cook County is doing what it can to process the flow, and provide medicine and help to the people who need it—and this help, in turn, attracts more people who need it. Sullivan interviewed one inmate/patient who told her that after his local mental health clinic closed, he started relying on the jail to get regular access to the medication he has been taking for decades to manage his illness. In fact, he regularly commits small crimes just to get sent to jail, where he’ll then stay, until he goes before a judge to receive his sentence. This situation is not only incredibly ineffective in serving the community’s needs, it’s also incredibly expensive, as Sullivan describes: . . .
When crime rates began to drop across the U.S. during the 1990s, city officials and criminologists were thrilled—but baffled. Violent acts, most often committed by young adults, had reached an all-time high at the start of the decade, and there was no sign of a turnaround.
By the close of the ’90s, though, the homicide rate had declined more than 40% throughout the country. Economists and criminologists have since proposed reasons for the unexpected plummet. Some have pointed to an increase in police officers. Others have suggested a rise in the number of offenders put behind bars. Economist and “Freakonomics” coauthor Steven D. Levitt famously hypothesized that the legalization of abortion in 1973 even played a role. Once the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, he argued, fewer unwanted babies grew into disturbed, crime-prone adults two decades later.
But recently, experts have been kicking around another possible player in the crime drop of the ’90s: lead. Cars burning leaded gasoline spewed the heavy metal into the air until 1973, when the Environmental Protection Agencymandated the fuel’s gradual phaseout. Lead-based paint was banned from newly built homes in 1978. Because of these actions, children born in the mid- to late-1970s grew up with less lead in their bodies than children born earlier. As a result, economists argue, kids born in the ’70s reached adulthood in the ’90s with healthier brains and less of a penchant for violence.
Today, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention considers 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in a child’s blood to be abnormal. Studies have shown that people who grew up with blood-lead levels at or above this threshold are more likely to have impaired cognition than those who grew up with less lead in their blood. In 1976, the average U.S. resident had a blood-lead level of 16 µg/dL, according to the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey. By 1991, when there was less lead in the air and in housing, the average had dropped to 3 µg/dL.
As the lead-crime hypothesis gains traction in economics circles, critics are invoking the “correlation does not equal causation” mantra. But scientists argue that there is evidence that lead exposure increases aggression in lab animals. And even though lead, one of the oldest known poisons, affects the brain in a dizzying number of ways, researchers are beginning to tease out some of the mechanisms by which it might trigger violence in humans.
During the 1960s, doctors couldn’t label a child as lead poisoned unless he or she had a blood-lead level of at least 60 µg/dL—CDC’s defined limit at the time. But researchers like University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist Herbert L. Needleman questioned the cut-off value. Surely if 60 µg/dL was toxic, 50 µg/dL couldn’t be completely harmless.
Needleman and others began observing “silent lead poisoning” in children with blood-lead levels below the established limit. Rather than overt physical symptoms like hallucinations and kidney damage, these kids had low IQ scores, attention problems, and antisocial tendencies. As more and more reports of these deficits filtered in, CDC lowered the blood-lead level it deemed acceptable for kids further and further: In 1970, the amount was 40 µg/dL, and by 1991, it was 10 µg/dL.
Some physicians noticed that children exposed to blood-lead levels below 50 µg/dL could also be aggressive or violent. In 1996, Needleman and his group followed up on these anecdotal observations by examining a few hundred 12-year-old boys in the Pittsburgh area. The researchers measured the amount of lead in the boys’ bones with X-ray fluorescence to get an idea of how much of the heavy metal their participants were exposed to during childhood. The boys rated worst by their parents and teachers in terms of aggressive and antisocial behaviors had been exposed to the highest levels of lead (J. Am. Med. Assoc. 1996, DOI:10.1001/jama.1996.03530290033034). . . .
Continue reading. Later in the article:
. . . Research has shown that lead exposure does indeed make lab animals—rodents, monkeys, even cats—more prone to aggression. But establishing biological plausibility for the lead-crime argument hasn’t been as clear-cut for molecular-level studies of the brain. Lead wreaks a lot of havoc on the central nervous system. So pinpointing one—or even a few—molecular switches by which the heavy metal turns on aggression has been challenging.
What scientists do know is that element 82 does most of its damage to the brain by mimicking calcium. Inside the brain, calcium runs the show: It triggers nerve firing by helping to release neurotransmitters, and it activates proteins important for brain development, memory formation, and learning. By pushing calcium out of these roles, lead can muck up brain cell communication and growth.
On the cell communication side of things, lead appears to interfere with a bunch of the neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter receptors in our brains. One of the systems that keeps popping up in exposure experiments is the dopamine system. It controls reward and impulse behavior, a big factor in aggression. Another is the glutamate system, responsible in part for learning and memory.
On the brain development side of things, lead interferes with, among other things, the process of synaptic pruning. Nerve cells grow and connect, sometimes forming 40,000 new junctions per second, until a baby reaches about two years of age. After that, the brain begins to prune back the myriad connections, called synapses, to make them more efficient. Lead disrupts this cleanup effort, leaving behind excess, poorly functioning nerve cells.
“If you have a brain that’s miswired, especially in areas involved in what psychologists call the executive functions—judgment, impulse control, anticipation of consequences—of course you might display aggressive behavior,” says Kim N. Dietrich, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine….“Overall, the evidence is sufficient that early exposure to lead triggers a higher risk for engaging in aggressive behavior,” says U of Cincinnati’s Dietrich. “The question now is, what is the lowest level of exposure where we might see this behavior?” . . .
Craig Whitlock points out in the Washington Post another area in which the military is falling woefully short, and an area at the heart of their competency: command leadership. (In addition, of course, there is the rape culture aspect of the military, along with the enormous number of Air Force members who routinely cheat on their readiness tests: these are the troops responsible for our nuclear weapons, not a group one wants to see compromised.) Whitlock’s report:
There are miserable bosses, and then there are toxic military commanders.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt was unquestionably among the latter in the view of some staff members under his thumb. A profane screamer, he ran through six executive officers and aide-de-camps in a year. He retired this month after an Air Force inquiry concluded that he was “cruel and oppressive” and mistreated subordinates.
More than a dozen people who worked with Brig. Gen. Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, a retired commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, reported him as a verbally abusive taskmaster. One was so desperate to escape from division headquarters in San Francisco that he asked for a transfer to Iraq. An Army investigation cited the general for “exhibiting paranoia” and making officers cry.
Troops who served under Army Brig. Gen. Eugene Mascolo of the Connecticut National Guard, described him as “dictatorial,” “unglued” and a master of “profanity-fused outbursts.” An Army investigation found widespread evidence of “verbal mistreatment.” He received a written reprimand but remains in the National Guard.
U.S. military commanders are not trained to be soft or touchy-feely. But over the past two years, the Pentagon has been forced to conduct a striking number of inspector-general investigations of generals and admirals accused of emotionally brutal behavior, according to military documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The affliction of abusive leadership has even infected some civilian leaders at the Pentagon, raising questions about the Defense Department’s ability to detect and root out flaws in its command culture.
Inspector-general files show, for example, that Army officers described the working atmosphere under Joyce E. Morrow, a powerful civilian official at Army headquarters, as “toxic,” corrosive” and “like you were in a prisoner of war camp.” Officers complained of menial servitude and said they were forced to fetch Morrow’s iced tea, which she would refuse to drink if it was not served in a cup with a lid and a straw, but no ice.
Most military commanders are upstanding and well-respected by their troops. Many are hailed as heroes, particularly after more than a dozen years of war. But in recent months, the armed forces have been shaken by an embarrassing number of generals and admirals who have gotten into trouble for gambling, drinking and sleeping around, among other ethical lapses.
Some current and former officers say those cases are symptomatic of a more damaging problem: a system that promotes and tolerates too many lousy leaders.
“This is a larger issue of not only officer misconduct involving ethical issues, but let’s call these guys for what they are: toxic leaders,” said Christopher Walach, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and battalion commander who served two combat tours in Iraq.
Walach said he left the Army in 2008 largely because of what he described as a destructive command climate. “It destroys the message that draws many into the ranks of the military in the first place,” he said.
Leaders at the Pentagon said they haven’t looked into whether the number of toxic or unethical leaders has increased. . .
Continue reading. Leaders at the Pentagon seem inclined to preserve their ignorance.
A sidebar to the piece:
Find out what witnesses had to say about leadership from the reports on Schmidt, Donahue, Mascolo and Morrow. Go read.
An interesting read, which introduced to me the idea of IED—not “improvised explosive device” but an analogous psychological condition, “intermittent explosive disorder,” in which innocuous stimuli evoke disproportionate responses. Lauren Kirchner writes in Pacific Standard:
A recent car fatality in upstate New York, involving a single car that flipped over twice on a highway median, was a mystery to first responders until witness reports came in. Other drivers that had been on the road at the time described two cars that had been engaging in “a deadly road-rage game of cat and mouse,” as cops told a local NBC reporter. One car was aggressively pursuing the other; when one car flipped and crashed, witnesses said, the other one “just kept going.” Police said that the 27-year-old woman’s death was “being treated as a case of road rage.”
Congested roads, busy schedules, and idiots on the road are a fact of life. But road rage can escalate, to fatal extremes, very quickly. Urban planners and neuroscientists alike have studied the external and internal factors that contribute to aggressive, reckless, and vengeful driving. They’ve shown just how complicated and contagious it is, and how there’s no easy answer to such a persistent problem.
Emil Coccaro, a professor and psychiatrist at the University of Chicago, has studied Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) for many years. People with this disorder repeatedly respond with violent or verbally aggressive outbursts, disproportionate to any given situation. (Not all road-ragers have IED, but road rage can be a symptom of it.) He says that the psychological root of this behavior is often something called Hostile Attribution Bias—the belief that every accidental injury or threat is purposeful, and personal. People with IED over-personalize every interaction, and then over-react with immediate aggression.
It’s a dangerous combination when this happens to someone behind the wheel of a car on the road. And it’s also risky to drive carelessly in such a way that could provoke drivers like that in unpredictable ways. Coccaro explains the unique psychological effect of being in the driver’s seat of a car, which can be akin to a state of denial, combined with a heightened sense of power.
“You’re in a car, and it’s kind of a weapon, and you’re in a protected environment, and you think no one’s going to be able to get to you,” Coccaro says. So, if you get cut off by another driver, you might feel that you can give them the finger without any direct consequence. But the problem is, you don’t have any idea how the other person will respond to that provocation. “I say that to people all the time, ‘Don’t assume that the other person is you,’” he says. “You don’t know how nuts they are. You don’t know that they don’t have a gun in their glove compartment.”
Guns in the glove compartment and altercations on the road can obviously be a deadly combination. Last week, . . .
Continue reading. One interesting point later in the article contradicted the assumption that “an armed society is a polite society”: it turns out that being armed makes people act more aggressively (cf. George Zimmerman):
. . . [R]esearch has shown that the presence of a gun in a car might have a catalyzing effect on car-to-car pissing contests, even if the guns don’t ever come out of the glove compartments. A group of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found just that, in their study, “Is an Armed Society a Polite Society? Guns and Road Rage,” published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention.
David Hemenway, Mary Vriniotis, and Matthew Miller found in their national survey that people who drive with guns in their cars are more likely to “make obscene gestures at other motorists” and “follow aggressively behind” other cars. (The survey asked people a wide range of questions about their lives and worldviews; results found that road rage was most prevalent in “males, young adults, binge drinkers, those who do not believe most people can be trusted, [and] those ever arrested for a non-traffic violation” as well as those driving with guns.)
So, are people who are naturally aggressive—on the road and in life—more likely to own and carry guns? Or, as this study suggests with its title, does the presence of a gun nearby in the car make people drive more aggressively? . . .
Lying turns out to use a lot of energy—and that’s while you’re still getting away with the lie. Even more energy is burned once the lie is exposed, as so many have found. (No James Clapper jokes, please.) Paul Bisceglio writes in Pacific Standard:
Lying is bad. That’s a lesson many were taught growing up: It’s mean. It breeds distrust. It makes the world an unknowable mess.
Everyone does it nonetheless, of course. But even when people lie with the best intentions, isn’t there something about it that still feels a little wrong?
According to two recent studies, in fact, yes—but not for any moral reasons. A team of researchers from universities in China and Canada monitored the brain activity of people lying and telling the truth, and found that telling the truth is just a lot easier on the brain.
The researchers, led by Xiao Pan Ding at Zhejiang Normal University in China, asked participants to play deception-based games while hooked up to devices that measured the neurological effects of two different kinds of lying. One study looked at “first-order deception,” in which a person being lied to doesn’t expect to be lied to, and the other study looked at “second-order deception,” in which a person being lied to is well-aware of the liar’s intent to deceive—as in poker, for example.
The brain-reading devices, which are part of a new neuroimaging method called near-infrared spectroscopy, revealed that in both cases participants got more satisfaction out of gaining advantages in the games by telling the truth as opposed to gaining advantages by lying.
Telling the truth, in other words, felt better, even when it was used as part of a grander strategy to mislead.
For anyone who has played a few good rounds of Mafia, these findings may not be too surprising. Lying, after all, is hard. The flip side of the researchers’ results showed . . .
The experiment was conducted not by CBT practitioners but by psychoanalytic therapists. Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman write in the Guardian:
“Everybody has won and all must have prizes,” declared the dodo in Alice in Wonderland when asked to judge the winner of a race around a lake. As judgements go, it is admirably even-handed and optimistic. But in the world of mental health the dodo’s decision has come to symbolise a bitter dispute that strikes at the very heart of psychotherapy.
The “Dodo Bird Verdict”, first suggested in the 1930s by the American psychologist Saul Rosenzweig, proposes that the many and various forms of psychological therapy are all equally effective. It makes no difference whether, for example, a person is being treated with techniques drawn from psychoanalysis, neurolinguistic programming, or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). What really helps a patient to recover are straightforward factors such as the opportunity to discuss their worries with a skilled and sympathetic therapist or the degree to which they are prepared to engage with the treatment.
Understandably, the Dodo Bird Verdict has ruffled many feathers within the profession, and provoked a slew of studies aiming to corroborate or disprove the idea. Are some types of psychotherapy really more effective than others for particular conditions? There is plentiful data to suggest that the answer to that question – contrary to Rosenzweig’s theory – is “yes”. But that data tends to come from research conducted by proponents of the ostensibly superior therapy, leaving sceptics to conclude that their conclusions are not impartial.
This makes the results of a study of treatments for the eating disorderbulimia nervosa, published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry, all the more convincing. Bulimia is characterised by binge eating, followed by attempts to compensate by making oneself vomit, taking laxatives or diuretics (water tablets), fasting, and/or exercising frantically. Underlying this behaviour is an intense concern – an obsession, even – with body shape and weight.
Bulimia is relatively common. One large US study, for instance, found that almost 1% of adolescents aged 13-18 had experienced the condition at some point in their life. Many of these teenagers reported that their illness made it very difficult for them to have a normal life, and it damaged their relationships with family and friends. The study also found that adolescents with bulimia were more likely to consider, or even attempt, suicide.
Given bulimia’s prevalence and potentially disastrous consequences, it is clearly important that we understand what treatments work best, which is why researchers at the University of Copenhagen recently compared the efficacy of two popular psychotherapies: CBT and psychoanalysis. The results were remarkable.
In the study, 70 patients with bulimia nervosa were randomly assigned either to two years of weekly psychoanalytic therapy or 20 sessions of CBT spread over five months. At the core of the psychoanalytic approach is the idea that bulimic behaviour represents an attempt to control problematic feelings and desires. The therapist helps the client to talk about these buried feelings and to understand how they are related to the bulimia. And when the individual has learned to accept and manage their deepest desires, the theory goes, the distress disappears and with it the symptoms of bulimia.
CBT, on the other hand, is targeted at the symptoms themselves: the aim is to stop the binge eating as quickly as possible. For CBT practitioners, bulimia is driven by the belief that one’s self worth is determined by one’s eating habits, shape and weight. Therapists show the individual how to identify and challenge such beliefs, explain the cycle of binge eating, and promote regular eating patterns and a more flexible and realistic set of dietary guidelines. They work with the patient to devise plans to deal with times when binge eating becomes more likely, and to minimise the likelihood of a relapse.
Even though the participants in the Danish trial received vastly unequal amounts of treatment over an extended timespan – with those given psychoanalysis seeing their therapist far more than those allocated CBT – it . . .
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously put “Freedom from Fear” high on the list of the freedoms the US valued, but things have changed. Peter Ludlow writes in the NY Times:
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, writing as World War II was drawing to a close in Europe, observed that “neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.” Russell’s point was that irrational fear can propel us into counterproductive activities, ranging from unjust wars and the inhumane treatment of others to more mundane cases like our failure to seize opportunities to improve our everyday lives.
It is hard to dispute Russell’s claim. We all know that fear can impair our judgment. We have passed up opportunities in our personal lives and we have also seen groups and nations do great harm and unravel because of their irrational fears. The 20th century was littered with wars and ethnic cleansings that were propelled in large measure by fear of a neighboring state or political or ethnic group. Given this obvious truth, one might suppose that modern democratic states, with the lessons of history at hand, would seek to minimize fear — or at least minimize its effect on deliberative decision-making in both foreign and domestic policy.
But today the opposite is frequently true. Even democracies founded in the principles of liberty and the common good often take the path of more authoritarian states. They don’t work to minimize fear, but use it to exert control over the populace and serve the government’s principle aim: consolidating power.
Philosophers have long noted the utility of fear to the state. Machiavelli notoriously argued that a good leader should induce fear in the populace in order to control the rabble.
Hobbes in “The Leviathan” argued that fear effectively motivates the creation of a social contract in which citizens cede their freedoms to the sovereign. The people understandably want to be safe from harm. The ruler imposes security and order in exchange for the surrender of certain public freedoms. As Hobbes saw it, there was no other way: Humans, left without a strong sovereign leader controlling their actions, would degenerate into mob rule. It is the fear of this state of nature — not of the sovereign per se, but of a world without the order the sovereign can impose — that leads us to form the social contract and surrender at least part of our freedom.
Most philosophers have since rejected this Hobbesian picture of human nature and the need for a sovereign. We have learned that democratic states can flourish without an absolute ruler. The United States of America was the original proof of concept of this idea: Free, self-governing people can flourish without a sovereign acting above the law. Even though the United States has revoked freedoms during wartime (and for some groups in peacetime), for most of its history the people have not been under the yoke of an all-powerful sovereign.
However, since 9/11 leaders of both political parties in the United States have sought to consolidate power by leaning not just on the danger of a terrorist attack, but on the fact that the possible perpetrators are frightening individuals who are not like us. As President George W. Bush put it before a joint session of Congress in 2001: “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Last year President Obama brought the enemy closer to home, arguing in a speech at the National Defense University that “we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States” — radicalized individuals who were “deranged or alienated individuals — often U.S. citizens or legal residents.”
The Bush fear-peddling is usually considered the more extreme, but is it? The Obama formulation puts the “radicalized individuals” in our midst. They could be American citizens or legal residents. And the subtext is that if we want to catch them we need to start looking within. The other is among us. The pretext for the surveillance state is thus established.
And let there be no mistake about the consolidation of power in the form of the new surveillance state. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden have shown an unprecedented program of surveillance both worldwide and on the American population. Even Erik Prince, the founder of the private military contractor Blackwater Worldwide thinks the security state has gone too far:
America is way too quick to trade freedom for the illusion of security. Whether it’s allowing the N.S.A. to go way too far in what it intercepts of our personal data, to our government monitoring of everything domestically and spending way more than we should. I don’t know if I want to live in a country where lone wolf and random terror attacks are impossible ‘cause that country would look more like North Korea than America.
The widespread outrage over the new surveillance state has been great enough that President Obama announced on Friday that he would scale back some of its programs, but he remained strident in his overall support for aggressive surveillance.
The interesting thing about the security measures that are taken today is that they provide, as Prince puts it, the “illusion of security”; another way to put it is that they provide “security theater.” Or perhaps it is actually a theater of fear.
During the George W. Bush administration we were treated to
the color-coded terror threat meter. It was presented as a way to keep us secure, but constantly wavering between orange and red, it was arguably a device to remind us to be fearful. Similarly for the elaborate Transportation Security Administration screenings at airports. Security experts are clear that these procedures are not making us safe, and that they are simply theater. The only question is whether the theater is supposed to make us feel safer or whether it is actually intended to remind us that we are somehow in danger. The security expert Bruce Schneier suggests it is the latter:
By sowing mistrust, by stripping us of our privacy — and in many cases our dignity — by taking away our rights, by subjecting us to arbitrary and irrational rules, and by constantly reminding us that this is the only thing between us and death by the hands of terrorists, the T.S.A. and its ilk are sowing fear. And by doing so, they are playing directly into the terrorists’ hands.
The goal of terrorism is not to crash planes, or even to kill people; the goal of terrorism is to cause terror. … But terrorists can only do so much. They cannot take away our freedoms. They cannot reduce our liberties. They cannot, by themselves, cause that much terror. It’s our reaction to terrorism that determines whether or not their actions are ultimately successful. That we allow governments to do these things to us — to effectively do the terrorists’ job for them — is the greatest harm of all.
As the Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen notes in his book “A Philosophy of Fear,” . . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s all good.
UPDATED: Very nice counterpoint that seems spot-on.
Sam Polk has a very interesting column today in the NY Times:
IN my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.
Eight years earlier, I’d walked onto the trading floor at Credit Suisse First Boston to begin my summer internship. I already knew I wanted to be rich, but when I started out I had a different idea about what wealth meant. I’d come to Wall Street after reading in the book “Liar’s Poker” how Michael Lewis earned a $225,000 bonus after just two years of work on a trading floor. That seemed like a fortune. Every January and February, I think about that time, because these are the months when bonuses are decided and distributed, when fortunes are made.
I’d learned about the importance of being rich from my dad. He was a modern-day Willy Loman, a salesman with huge dreams that never seemed to materialize. “Imagine what life will be like,” he’d say, “when I make a million dollars.” While he dreamed of selling a screenplay, in reality he sold kitchen cabinets. and not that well. We sometimes lived paycheck to paycheck off my mom’s nurse-practitioner salary.
Dad believed money would solve all his problems. At 22, so did I. When I walked onto that trading floor for the first time and saw the glowing flat-screen TVs, high-tech computer monitors and phone turrets with enough dials, knobs and buttons to make it seem like the cockpit of a fighter plane, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It looked as if the traders were playing a video game inside a spaceship; if you won this video game, you became what I most wanted to be — rich.
IT was a miracle I’d made it to Wall Street at all. While I was competitive and ambitious — a wrestler at Columbia University — I was also a daily drinker and pot smoker and a regular user of cocaine, Ritalin and ecstasy. I had a propensity for self-destruction that had resulted in my getting suspended from Columbia for burglary, arrested twice and fired from an Internet company for fistfighting. I learned about rage from my dad, too. I can still see his red, contorted face as he charged toward me. I’d lied my way into the C.S.F.B. internship by omitting my transgressions from my résumé and was determined not to blow what seemed a final chance. The only thing as important to me as that internship was my girlfriend, a starter on the Columbia volleyball team. But even though I was in love with her, when I got drunk I’d sometimes end up with other women.
Three weeks into my internship she wisely dumped me. I don’t like who you’ve become, she said. I couldn’t blame her, but I was so devastated that I couldn’t get out of bed. In desperation, I called a counselor whom I had reluctantly seen a few times before and asked for help.
She helped me see that I was using alcohol and drugs to blunt the powerlessness I felt as a kid and suggested I give them up. That began some of the hardest months of my life. Without the alcohol and drugs in my system, I felt like my chest had been cracked open, exposing my heart to air. The counselor said that my abuse of drugs and alcohol was a symptom of an underlying problem — a “spiritual malady,” she called it. C.S.F.B. didn’t offer me a full-time job, and I returned, distraught, to Columbia for senior year.
After graduation, I got a job at Bank of America, by the grace of a managing director willing to take a chance on a kid who had called him every day for three weeks. With a year of sobriety under my belt, . . .
New prison admissions:
That’s a strong trend. The chart is from this post by Kevin Drum, well worth the click.
Another piece that both gun advocates and gun-control advocates will find of interest, this time by Lauren Kirchner in the Pacific Standard:
The question about how to, or whether to, regulate the access of people with mental illness to guns has always been a heated debate—and several high-profile events over the past year have added a considerable amount of fuel to the fire. A New York Timespiece on Sunday by Michael Luo and Mike McIntire revealed just how confusing and contradictory state laws governing gun-confiscation by law enforcement are.
Federal law typically prohibits people from owning guns when they are involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution or deemed unfit for gun-possession by a judge. But when local law enforcement has a risky run-in with a mentally unstable person, laws and guidelines as to whether they can take his or her guns away, and for how long, vary widely. The Times examined court and police records of over 1,000 mental-health-related gun seizure cases, finding many loopholes and inconsistencies along the way.
“Perhaps most striking, in many of the cases examined across the country,” the authors write, “the authorities said they had no choice under the law but to return the guns after an initial seizure for safekeeping.” Common sense and self-protection dictate that cops disarm a person when he or she seems to pose a danger, but then there is often little that they can do when that person wants to get the weapons back later. Some states require a waiting period, some don’t; some states put the person’s name on a state or federal registry to try to prevent them from buying additional guns; some don’t.
But of course, seizure laws aren’t merely a logistical challenge; they are both politically and ethically charged. As Luo and McIntire write:
At the same time, mental health professionals worry that new seizure laws might stigmatize many people who have no greater propensity for violence than the broader population. They also fear that the laws will discourage people who need help from seeking treatment, while doing little to deter gun violence.
A recent issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, published this fall, made those very arguments. The study, entitled “Guns, Schools, and Mental Illness: Potential Concerns for Physicians and Mental Health Professionals,” examines all of the difficulties inherent in “preventing” gun violence from a legislative or health-provider perspective. The study shows that, not only is mental-illness-related violence incredibly hard to predict or prevent, but it can also be hard to agree on even how to talk about it. For instance, authors remind readers to be careful about what short-hand terms they use when discussing mental health issues and the law. The authors dispel one persistent myth here, and in so doing emphasize how hard establishing a so-called mental illness “registry” would be: . . .
Some very good points. Quite a few unsolved problems remain unsolved because they are extremely difficult to solve. The idea that “mentally ill people should not own guns” ignores the fact that an episode of some sort of mental illness (e.g., clinical depression) can strike almost anyone, and it would be impossible to place people on a list when they become mentally ill and remove them when they recover.
Kevin Drum, who has written a fair amount on environmental lead as being a leading cause of the rise in crime in the US in the 60s, 70s, and 80s until leaded gasoline and paint were phased out and the rate began a sharp decline in the 90s and 00s, has a post of useful links:
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been writing updates of various kinds to my article about the link between gasoline lead and violent crime. A reader suggested that I should collect everything in one place for ease of reference, and I thought that sounded like a good idea. So here it is.
Criminal Element. This is the original piece spelling out the detailed evidence that the rise and fall of gasoline lead in the post-World War II era was responsible for the rise of violent crime starting in the 60s and its subsequent decline starting in the 90s.
The story in a nutshell. Provides a brief version of the lead-crime story as an introduction to the full article.
It’s not just lead. Emphasizes that lead is a major part of the crime story, but not the only part. Also: audio of my appearance on the Leonard Lopate show explaining the lead-crime connection.
The prison population is dropping. Declining exposure to lead starting in the mid-70s reduced the rate of violent crime 20 years later. Twenty years after that, as members of Generation Lead are being released from prison and aren’t being replaced, the prison population has started to drop too.
Lead and murder. We have fairly good data on murder rates going back for a century, and it turns out the United States has had two epidemics of murder, the first in the 20s and 30s and the second in the 70s and 80s. When you account for both lead paint and gasoline lead, it turns out that lead can explain them both.
Crime in Chicago. Violent crime is up in certain parts of Chicago. Is lead responsible?
A response to Deborah Blum. A small correction, and another post emphasizing that although lead is an important part of the crime story, it’s not the whole story.
International crime trends. Violent crime began to drop in the United States in the early 90s, about 20 years after we began reducing the lead content of gasoline. But how about other countries? Where can we expect to see crime drops in the future?
The Melissa Harris-Perry show. Video of me talking about lead and crime with Melissa Harris-Perry. Howard Mielke, a longtime lead researcher from Tulane University, is also on the show.
How did lead get into our gasoline in the first place? The whole fascinating story is right here, along with lessons for the future.
George Monbiot and Scott Firestone. Monbiot endorses the lead-crime theory and Firestone criticizes it. I respond, along with a brief summary of the multiple threads of research that support the lead-crime hypothesis. Followup here.
Baselines vs. crime waves. Lots of things contribute to baseline levels of crime. But lead is uniquely able to explain why there was such a huge rise of crime above the baseline during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, followed by an equally huge reduction back to the baseline in the 90s and aughts.
Big cities vs. small cities. Surprisingly, it turns out that once you reduce exposure to gasoline lead, big cities aren’t really all that much more dangerous than small ones after all.
A response to Jim Manzi. This is a wonky post responding to Manzi’s generic critique of econometric analysis of complex social issues.
Crime and race. In the postwar era, black children were exposed to much more lead than white children. This explains some of the racial differences in both crime rates and incarceration rates.
I somehow do not feel safer knowing this. Combine mental illness, firearm possession, and open-carry and I suspect you’re looking at the sort of thing that makes many say, “Who could have known?” Michael Luo and Mike McIntire write in the NY Times:
Last April, workers at Middlesex Hospital in Connecticut called the police to report that a psychiatric patient named Mark Russo had threatened to shoot his mother if officers tried to take the 18 rifles and shotguns he kept at her house. Mr. Russo, who was off his medication for paranoid schizophrenia, also talked about the recent elementary school massacre in Newtown and told a nurse that he “could take a chair and kill you or bash your head in between the eyes,” court records show.
The police seized the firearms, as well as seven high-capacity magazines, but Mr. Russo, 55, was eventually allowed to return to the trailer in Middletown where he lives alone. In an interview there recently, he denied that he had schizophrenia but said he was taking his medication now — though only “the smallest dose,” because he is forced to. His hospitalization, he explained, stemmed from a misunderstanding: Seeking a message from God on whether to dissociate himself from his family, he had stabbed a basketball and waited for it to reinflate itself. When it did, he told relatives they would not be seeing him again, prompting them to call the police.
As for his guns, Mr. Russo is scheduled to get them back in the spring, as mandated by Connecticut law.
“I don’t think they ever should have been taken out of my house,” he said. “I plan to get all my guns and ammo and knives back in April.”
Connecticut’s law giving the police broad leeway to seize and hold guns for up to a year is actually relatively strict. Most states simply adhere to the federal standard, banning gun possession only after someone is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility or designated as mentally ill or incompetent after a court proceeding or other formal legal process. Relatively few with mental health issues, even serious ones, reach this point.
As a result, the police often find themselves grappling with legal ambiguities when they encounter mentally unstable people with guns, unsure how far they can go in searching for and seizing firearms and then, in particular, how they should respond when the owners want them back.
“There is a big gap in the law,” said Jeffrey Furbee, the chief legal adviser to the Police Department in Columbus, Ohio. “There is no common-sense middle ground to protect the public.”
A vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent. But recent mass shootings — outside a Tucson supermarket in 2011, at a movie theater last year in Aurora, Colo., and at the Washington Navy Yard in September — have raised public awareness of the gray areas in the law. In each case, the gunman had been recognized as mentally disturbed but had never been barred from having firearms.
After the Newtown killings a year ago, state legislatures across the country debated measures that would have more strictly limited the gun rights of those with mental illness. But most of the bills failed amid resistance from both the gun lobby and mental health advocates concerned about unfairly stigmatizing people. In Washington, discussion of new mental health restrictions was conspicuously absent from the federal gun control debate.
What remains is the uncertain legal territory at the intersection of guns and mental illness. Examining it is difficult, because of privacy laws governing mental health and the limited availability of information on firearm ownership. But The New York Times obtained court and police records from more than 1,000 cases around the country in which guns were seized in mental-health-related episodes.
A systematic review of these cases — from cities and counties in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee — underscores how easy it is for people with serious mental health problems to have guns.
Over the past year in Connecticut, where The Times obtained some of the most extensive records of seizure cases, there were more than 180 instances of gun confiscations from people who appeared to pose a risk of “imminent personal injury to self or others.” Close to 40 percent of these cases involved serious mental illness.
Perhaps most striking, in many of the cases examined across the country, the authorities said they had no choice under the law but to return the guns after an initial seizure for safekeeping.
For example, in Hillsborough County, Fla., 31 of 34 people who sought to reclaim seized firearms last year were able to do so after a brief court hearing, according to a count by The Times.
Among them was . . .
Continue reading. Quite a few photos in the article.
This is a serious problem. I do not see the NRA contributing to finding a solution.
Fascinating article in Salon by Bill Smoot:
The opening of “The Odyssey” describes Odysseus as polytropos, a man “much turned” and “much turning.” He makes much happen, and much happens to him. When I selected “The Odyssey” as the first text for my English 101 course at San Quentin Prison, I worried about the choice. It’s a difficult work for readers of limited literary background, and I wondered how a population of mostly black and brown men doing long prison terms would relate to the story of an ancient Greek king. As it turned out, I had them atpolytropos.
The theme of the course was life as a story, and at the first class, I asked them to tell a story from their own lives. A few declined; most spoke. One recalled his boyhood in Cambodia, the day he saw a river filled with floating corpses, victims of the Khmer Rouge. One had been unable to say goodbye to his terminally ill mother because he was in prison. A black man from Arkansas had seen his cousin murdered by white supremacists. One shot a man in a drug dispute. Another had grown up as a neighborhood protector and admired the way Odysseus “took care of business,” saving his crew from the Cyclopes and killing the suitors. Another man had gone berserk when the love of his life sent her brother to tell him their wedding was off. My students werepolytropos aplenty.
When we first see Odysseus, he is gazing across the sea, weeping for home. When I read this passage aloud, a hush fell over my students. From various places on the grounds at San Quentin, inmates can see the expanse of San Francisco Bay. They, too, have looked across the water, thinking of home. One student, a man in his 20s, objected to Odysseus’ tears; he thought they showed weakness. The others, mostly older, challenged him. No, they said. It takes strength to show your feelings. It is heroic to cry.
Their points of resonance with Odysseus were many. When Odysseus learns that in order to return home, he must first journey to the underworld, they nodded. They are held in their own Hades, and they hang on by believing that if they survive the hell of prison, they will return home.
Plotting against the suitors occupying his palace, Odysseus lies awake in doubt, reminding himself, “Bear up, old heart.” Inmates, too, worry about what’s going on at home, and one admitted, “I lie awake like that, too. I give myself pep talks.”
They recognized the undisciplined ego from which Odysseus proclaims his identity to the Cyclopes, thus inviting the wrath of Poseidon. For their own hubris, they have paid dearly. At other times, Odysseus survives through self-control, and the lesson is not lost on them. When Odysseus wins help from the young princess Nausikaa through humility and finesse, they see that softness can be a source of power.
Homer never tires of reminding us that when Agamemnon returned home, his wife had betrayed him and conspired in his murder, the better for the reader to appreciate the loyalty of Penelope. Penelope’s fidelity was not lost on my students. “She’s a down broad,” one said admiringly. I needed a translation. “You know,” he said. “She stands by him, even when he ain’t there.” The others nodded.
Early in book one, Zeus complains that men blame the gods for their afflictions. Though these inmates have plenty of material to mine for excuses — guns and drugs, gangs, abusive parents, violent neighborhoods, poverty and failing schools — I never once heard an excuse. They claim the bad choices and terrible actions as their own. They are men in repentance.
Following “The Odyssey,” we read “The Catcher in the Rye.” At first the students were puzzled by the transition from a hero like Odysseus to an antihero like Holden. A couple of them never got past their disgust with a rich kid wasting opportunities that few have. But most of my students, after a few discussions, began to see that Holden’s alienation is revelatory. Phonies do abound, life is a game if you’re one of the hot shots, and few of us escape the way society corrupts the innocence we had as children. One night when we were discussing Holden, a middle-aged black man in for murder shook his head and said with quiet amazement, “I’m like this dude.” One inmate, when he finished “Catcher,” started reading it again. By the next class meeting, he had read it four times. At semester’s end, when I asked which works would stick with them over the years to come, many said “Catcher,” even some of those who had not liked it. Maybe more than one realized they are like that dude.
A few weeks later, one of the men came into class beaming. One afternoon he had been taken to a local hospital for a medical procedure, and he and the nurse had engaged in an animated conversation about Holden. “She remembered the part about the ducks on the pond,” he smiled. “We talked about that.”
The same forces that divide us into haves and have-nots with regard to material wealth also divide us with regard to educational wealth. Only a few of my students had heard of “The Odyssey”; fewer had heard of “Catcher.” None had read them in school. But now, though they live in prison, two men sharing a cell 10 feet long and 4 and a half feet wide, they had journeyed to ancient Ithaka and to Holden’s Pencey Prep. Now they knew those works and they could discuss them. They had formed their own opinions. Now they had a seat at the cultural table.
As the semester progressed, we read Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, a variety of poets, essayists and story writers. In these works of literature, my students saw a wider world than the one enclosed in those 50-foot walls, and they also saw themselves: their virtues and their vices, their pain and sorrow, their aspirations.
So having read the stories of others, it came time to write a story from their own lives, and some returned to the stories they had told on that first night of class.
One recalled a particular day when he was a young boy in a refugee camp in Thailand, standing in a very long line to get his bowl filled with rice. When finally his bowl was filled, he hurried back to his hut, and in his haste he tripped and fell, spilling every bit of rice in the mud. What is true of every good story was true of his: It was particular; it was a story only he could tell. And it was universal, for who among us has not waited so very long for something deeply needed only to have it spill before our eyes? Indeed, in his story I saw my own: a wife who walked away from our marriage in search of something else, taking with her my last chance to become a father. It was part of the reason I had come to teach at San Quentin, to ease my own grief by helping others.
Another personal essay, written by one of the better writers in the class, recalled an incident on the yard. This inmate had gotten into a fight, not his first, been pepper-sprayed and handcuffed by the guards and left on the ground for several hours to shiver in the cold fog before being hauled off to “the hole,” solitary confinement. Lying on the asphalt, he had an epiphany. He had spent his life going nowhere good, nothing had changed, and nothing was going to change — unless he did. From that moment, he stayed out of prison trouble, learned to meditate, began enrolling in programs and courses. The object of his epiphany was that sliver of freedom that even the incarcerated have — we are always free to make something out of what has been made of us.
Before the semester began, I had tried to prepare myself for encountering some intense attitude. What did this rich white guy think he had to teach convicted felons? My fears were unfounded. Over the course of the semester, the men were earnest, hardworking, open and appreciative. They know the country is fed up with crime, and that as incarcerated men they are hated by most of society. To those who come in from the outside to help, they feel a deep appreciation. They practice gratitude.
At the end of the course, one of the students wrote on his course evaluation, . . .
A very interesting article by April Short at AlterNet:
Perry Parks, a Vietnam combat veteran and highly decorated retired military officer of 28 years, says killing is an unnatural act.
If you take the average person off the street, he said, he will not be able to point a gun at somebody and pull the trigger.
“They have to be trained to kill, so most people will pull the gun up at the last minute and miss,” Parks said, noting that the U.S. military got hip to this trend following WWI, when which soldiers subconsciously missed the mark about 75 percent of the time.
Combat training has since been altered to better teach people to kill. Instead of fixed bullseye targets, soldiers now practice shooting at popup human silhouettes. But whether or not a person has been trained to kill, the brutality of war can leave a dark and sometimes permanent mark on their psyche.
Parks, like 30 percent of all Vietnam War vets and at least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, left the army with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was featured in the 2009 Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Good Soldier, which follows five combat vets, each from a different American war, as they sign up, go to battle, then eventually become disillusioned with war and rethink what it means to be a “good soldier.” In the film, Parks explains how the act of killing later torments so many combat veterans, himself included.
Like many, Parks has tried a literal handful of authorized pills to treat his insomnia and other symptoms, but he’s found what helps him most is just to smoke some weed.Now, Parks is leading the national fight to allow veterans to access cannabis. He is the former president of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients Network, which focuses on medical marijuana policy reform in the state, and continues to work with the organization as a legislative liaison. His primary job is to reach out to state officials and raise money for the organization.
While 20 states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, only a few of those states grant medical marijuana access to people with PTSD—and Parks lives in North Carolina where the use of the herb for any purpose is restricted and severely enforced.
Take Josh Cook , a veteran from North Carolina who was injured in Iraq and medically discharged when he began to experience seizures. After trying a series of legal seizure medications, Cook found that cannabis alone helped; in fact, it stopped his seizures altogether for eight months. But in January the local police showed up at Cook’s door and asked to search his house. He agreed, and the cops found an electric coffee bean grinder Cook had been using to grind his marijuana. Cook was arrested and charged with two counts of marijuana possession.
Nevertheless, Parks is public about the fact that he uses an “illegal substance,” and he has never been arrested—yet. He chalks his good fortune, in part, to the fact that he’s extremely outspoken about his pot use. He’s brought medical information about cannabis to meetings with the local DA and mayor, his preacher, and even the local sheriff to try to educate them about the proven medical benefits of cannabis use .
“And, of course, I’ve taken full advantage of the military background,” he said, noting that people tend to be much less inclined to arrest a white, retired military officer in uniform than they are a black man or a teenager, for example.
“For years I didn’t wear my uniform, but got to thinking about how the joint chiefs of staff, when they go in and ask for millions of dollars for the military, they don’t go in in civilian clothes,” he said. “They wear their uniforms with all them brightly colored ribbons up front.”
Most who leave the military do not wear their uniforms to make a point, but Parks said he wears his “like an upside-down flag” to signal distress in the name of vets who are denied access to a safe medicine that could help them. . .
Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and it’s interesting.
Certainly there’s been a lot of Reefer-Madness propaganda coming out about the deleterious effects of marijuana on teens, but what is the evidence? Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, writes in High Times:
Is teen pot use really associated with long-lasting, adverse effects on memory and an increased risk of schizophrenia? The conventional media says so. But a closer examination of the scientific literature reveals that it is the mainstream media, not cannabis consumers, who are suffering from memory loss.
Marijuana Use and Cognition
Claims that marijuana consumption causes permanent damage to the brain and cognitive skills are hardly new. In fact, such claims have remained pervasive since the very inception of cannabis prohibition. Yet there exists little scientific data to support these persistent allegations
For example, a comprehensive review published in 2003 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society assessed effects of cannabis on neurocognitive performance in nearly a dozen published studies, involving over 1,000 test subjects. Authors reported: “In conclusion, our meta-analysis of studies that have attempted to address the question of longer term neurocognitive disturbance in moderate and heavy cannabis users has failed to demonstrate a substantial, systematic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance. It was surprising to find such few and small effects given that most of the potential biases inherent in our analyses actually increased the likelihood of finding a cannabis effect.”
A 2012 meta-analysis of 33 separate studies by researchers at the University of Central Florida Department of Psychology similarly reported that moderate to heavy marijuana consumers failed to experience “enduring negative effects” associated with cognition. Writing in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, investigators reported that cannabis chronic consumption may be associated with “small” effects on neurocognitive abilities for limited periods of time lasting beyond the immediate hours of intoxication, but they found “no evidence of lasting effects on cognitive performance due to cannabis use” in subjects whose abstention period was at least 25 days. Authors concluded: “As hypothesized, the meta-analysis conducted on studies evaluating users after at least 25 days of abstention found no residual effects on cognitive performance… These results fail to support the idea that heavy cannabis use may result in long-term, persistent effects on neuropsychological functioning.”
Marijuana Use and Schizophrenia
The mainstream media has long been fixated on the allegation that smoking pot will make you crazy. (For perspective, read my 2011 HIGH TIMES feature, “Don’t Blame the Reefer,”) So it was hardly unusual to see mainstream news outlets this week run with headlines implying that marijuana use may increase one’s risk of schizophrenia. Yet, scientific research establishing such a link remains tenuous. In fact, in the days prior to this week’s media frenzy, researchers at Harvard Universityreleased a study soundly rebutting this allegation.
Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Schizophrenia Research, investigators compared the family histories of 108 schizophrenia patients and 171 individuals without schizophrenia to assess whether youth cannabis consumption was an independent factor in developing the disorder. Researchers reported that . . .