Thursday, December 31, 2009

Did pseudo-science kill Jett Travolta?

I didn't really care about the death of Jett Travolta in the Bahamas on January 2, 2009. But today, reading Google News, I hit the wrong button and thus by accident came across this anti-Scientology blog which rails against the quackish medical care John Travolta and Kelly Preston afforded their autistic son. The implication of the blog piece is that pseudo-science indirectly led to their son's death.
Jett suffered from epileptic seizures. According to Travolta and wife Kelly Preston, Jett was taken off his anti-seizure medication, claiming it wasn’t working for him and that it was harmful to his liver. Ironically, Jett’s parents put him on the Purification Rundown, which has proven harmful to the liver.

Scientology believes that this treatment can cure many problems. Even though there has never been any medical or scientific proof that Scientology’s Purification Rundown has any benefits what so ever. In fact it has been called pseudo science and quackery.

The blogger makes a big deal out of the fact that the Travoltas did not have medical professionals caring for their ill child. They had untrained male nannies, one of whom (pictured above) was rumored to be a paramour of John Travolta:
Disturbingly, this (purification) treatment is administered by untrained staff with no medical backgrounds.

John and Kelly flew to the Bahamas for a 60 person New Year’s Eve party they had planned. ... They traveled with two male nannies who did not have medical backgrounds or proper training for a special needs child. ... The night of Jett’s death, he was left unattended for over 10 hours. He had a seizure, fell and hit his head and died. ...

Why did Travolta and Preston have two male Scientologist nannies who were void of medical or special needs training? One of the nannies was Jeff Kathrein, who was photographed previously kissing Travolta. ... Where were the two nannies when they were supposed to be watching Jett the night he fell?

Why didn’t Preston and Travolta have round-the-clock care by highly TRAINED medical professionals for their son? Money certainly wasn’t an issue.

Normally, I have a neutral view of idiotic cults like the Church of Scientology. If someone is so stupid to join such a group, it's his decision, his money, his mistake. In a free country, everyone has the right to be an idiot.

However, parents should not have the right to deny their children appropriate medical care. It's one thing if an adult (who is not mentally incompetent) with say, cancer, believes in some cockamamie alternative medicine in place of lifesaving chemotherapy. It is quite another when the adult forces his stupidity on his child.

That is the point at which I don't think parents should have freedom of religion for their children. If Scientologists are harming their sick children, the state needs to step in.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

If life were good, most people wouldn't want to be a part of the jihad.

On Christmas Eve, the murder of a Jew in the West Bank by three Arab terrorists garnered almost no press. This Reuters' story was the only one I saw covering it:
Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, said their operatives had killed an Israeli settler in the West Bank.

The Israeli military said Meir Avshalom Hai, a 40-year-old father of seven, died when his car came under fire in the occupied West Bank on Thursday night, either from a passing car or a roadside ambush, near the city of Nablus.

Imagine how much attention our media would pay to the unprovoked murder of a father of seven by three armed terrorists if the victim had been an American in say, Vermont. But a Jew killed in Nablus by vicious Arabs goes without mention. The lack of concern is almost a sanction for this sort of cowardice.

I knew instinctively that this killing at this time was particularly bad news, because the so-called president of the Palestinians, the ever timid Mahmoud Abbas, pretends he is impotent. He acts as if his power is in his name alone. He should, of course, respond to a murder like this by striking at the terrorist groups, one of which is tied to his political party.

But what he should do and what he would do are two different things. One of his lackeys probably told Abbas he would be murdered by those terrorists if he went after them. So to preserve his own life, he acted as if nothing happened.
Colonel Avi Gil, an Israeli commander in the area said the military has been removing checkpoints from West Bank roads to ease travel restrictions on Palestinians but it would consider placing new ones if it would prevent future attacks.

I imagine one reason the terrorists carried out this murder was because life was getting better -- without the road blocks -- for ordinary Arabs. The blood-thirsty fanatics want life to be Hell for their fellows. If life were good, the people wouldn't want to be a part of their jihad. They would want to make peace.

Seeing that Abbas would not move, I expected Israel to bring justice to the killers of one of its innocent citizens. Today they did. This story is getting one hundred times as much attention as the murder of Mr. Hai:
Israeli troops blasted their way into the homes of three wanted Palestinians on Saturday, killing each in a hail of bullets and straining an uneasy security arrangement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Notice the slant in that opening sentence? It was, according to this AP story, Israel's response to the murder of its citizen which has strained relations with Abbas. It was not Abbas's non-response to the terrorist act under his nose causing that strain.
The violent Nablus raids, after months of relative quiet, embarrassed Western-backed Abbas, whose security forces have been coordinating some of their moves with their Israeli counterparts and share a common foe, Hamas.

Again, no mention that it was Abbas's decision to sit on his hands which compelled Israel to respond in his place.
The target of Saturday's predawn raids were three longtime members of Fatah's violent offshoot, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. The army said the three — Anan Subeh, 36; Ghassan Abu Sharah, 40; and Raed Suragji, 40 — were involved in Thursday's deadly roadside shooting of an Israeli settler, and that Israeli forces entered Nablus to try to arrest them.

No one seems to doubt Israel got the right guys.

The AP story sympathetically portrays the widow of one of the terrorists:
She said her husband opened the bedroom door. "Suddenly, shots were fired at us," she said. "He fell down. I started shouting. I held his head in my lap and sat on the ground."

Yet the AP did not even bother to report on the murder of Mr. Hai, who was an innocent man, unlike this woman's dead husband. Further, the AP did not interview Mr. Hai's wife or his children or his neighbors.

One of the dead terrorists was working directly under President Abbas, after Israel granted him amnesty for his past crimes:
Subeh had recently been accepted in Israel's amnesty program for Fatah gunmen, according to Nablus' deputy governor, Anan Attireh. Subeh's family said he had also joined the Preventive Security Service, a branch of the Palestinian security forces.

The other two dead murderers had a history of attacking Jews:
Suragji was released from an Israeli prison in January, after a seven-year term for involvement in shooting attacks. Abu Sharah was also held by Israel in the past, the military said.

Israel is condemned the world over for having its roadblocks in the West Bank. Yet if they had those roadblocks in place, it's possible the murder of Mr. Hai could have been avoided. And now pressure will build in Israel to reconstitute them, harming the quality of life of all West Bankers:
In Israel, right-wing critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his policy of easing travel restrictions in the West Bank was to blame for the shooting attack. Lerner said Israel did not plan to set up new roadblocks.

I hope Israel does not succumb to its right-wing, here. I applaud them for responding to the terrorist attacks. However, it is not in Israel's interest to make life Hell for innocent Palestinians, and that is what the roadblocks help do.


EDIT: Haaretz is reporting today (Sunday) another attack against a Jew in the West Bank:
A young Israeli woman was moderately wounded on Sunday when Palestinian militants hurled a firebomb at the bus in which she was riding south of the West Bank city of Hebron. This was the second attack in less than a week against Israelis traveling on West Bank roads. The 18-year-old woman suffered second degree burns after the flaming bottle made contact with her bus on the main road leading to the isolated settlement of Nagahot, near South Mount Hebron.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Does it make sense to pay as much attention to a 90-year-old lady from Iowa as to a 23-year-old man from a Muslim country?

The L.A. Times is reporting a Muslim man tried to blow up a Northwest Airliner with Delta Airlines markings, today, on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit:
In what was described as an act of terrorism, a Nigerian passenger attempted to ignite an incendiary device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Friday as the plane began its approach for landing, federal officials said. Other passengers overpowered the man and the plane landed safely.

The suspect, identified as Abdul Mutallab, 23, suffered severe burns as a result of the attempt, authorities said, and two of the other 277 passengers reported minor injuries.

The suspect smuggled a powder aboard the plane in a container taped to his leg, the official said. Covering himself with a blanket to hide his actions, he used a syringe to inject a liquid into the powder, and a fire resulted from the combustible mix, according to the official, who did not identify the materials.

Those aboard described some panic after noises like firecrackers, then quick, heroic actions.

Peter Smith, another passenger, told WJBK Fox 2 in Detroit that one man saw the flames and leaped across the aisle to help extinguish them. "He jumped over all the other people and he took care of it, so the fire went out," Smith said.

Nigerians have not figured in many cases involving Al Qaeda, but the rise of violent Islamic extremism in that country -- as well as in sub- Saharan Africa overall -- concerns Western anti-terrorism officials.

A good question is why, when security personnel are screening every single passenger who boards an airplane, they don't just let through without a second thought the old WASP-looking grandmas and other people who have never posed any type of security risk, but then focus far more attention on people, especially males from age 20 to 55, who come from Islamic countries or have Islamic names, or people who are otherwise acting suspicious or nervous?

Before I would suggest profiling anyone on the basis of his religion or national origin, etc., I first ask myself the question, "So how fair do you think that idea would be if it applied to you?" In other words, what if they let everyone through without a second thought, but hassled bald Jews over 6-feet tall for a half an hour every time you wanted to board a plane?

Of course, I would hate that. But if every single recent incident of attacks against civilian airlines were made by bald Jews over 6-feet tall, I would understand why they were suspicious of me. And I would agree that paying special attention to people with those characteristics was the right thing to do.

Because in fact all the terrorists we are worried about on airliners are males from age 20 to 55 who come from Islamic countries or have Islamic names, we should be profiling them and letting just about everyone else get on an airplane with no more than passing through a metal detector.

Most of what passes for "security checks" -- like forcing my 87-year-old mother to take off her shoes and not carry on a bottle of water -- is a huge waste of time and makes flying an unnecessary pain in the ass.

Why Wikipedia will wipe out The World Book

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yitzhak Ahronovitch, Exodus Skipper in Defiant ’47 Voyage of Jewish Refugees, Dies at 86

The New York Times is reporting that "Yitzhak Ahronovitch, the captain of the refugee ship Exodus, whose violent interception by the British Navy as it tried to take thousands of Jewish refugees to Palestine in 1947 helped rally support for the creation of the state of Israel the next year, died Wednesday in northern Israel. He was 86."

The story of the Exodus was huge first because of the worldwide reaction to the idea of returning Jews to Germany. It was very bad press for England, particularly when three Jews were killed in the incident. Perhaps no other single event -- I would not call the Holocaust a single event -- generated more sympathy for the plight of the Jews in the post-War period; and thus this "police action" by the British helped in a big way to move the United Nations to approve the Jewish State in Palestine.

It also caused a reaction among Jews, motivating those who had been quiet in their support for Israel to start taking action. After Hitler, Jews no longer wanted to live in a world in which other nations controlled their fate. This turning-back incident made Jews all too aware that they were still at the mercy of other powers:
The refugees had no legal authority to enter Palestine, and the British were determined to block the ship. In the battle that ensued, three Jews aboard the Exodus were killed. The ship’s passengers — more than 4,500 men, women and children — were ultimately deported to Germany.

Captain Ahronovitch was 23 when he took the helm of the Exodus. On July 11, 1947, he picked up the refugees at Sète, in southern France. On July 18, as the ship neared the coast of Palestine, the British Navy intercepted it. Captain Ahronovitch tried to break through, but two British destroyers rammed the ship.

Several hours of fighting followed, with the ship’s passengers spraying fuel oil and throwing smoke bombs, life rafts and whatever else came to hand, down on the British sailors trying to board, The Times reported at the time. Soon the British opened fire. Two immigrants and a crewman on the Exodus were killed; scores more were wounded, many seriously. The ship was towed to Haifa, and from there its passengers were deported, first to France and eventually to Germany, where they were placed in camps near Lübeck.

What is more in question in my mind is the notion that the British were wrong in their actions. Obviously, as a Jew and as a Zionist, I have great sympathy for the refugees. But the Brits were trying to uphold the rule of law in a land they ruled. And the Exodus was trying to break that law. In that sense, I see this much like I view it when our Coast Guard stops refugees from Haiti trying to enter U.S. waters. The Coast Guard is not unambiguously evil. They are just trying to enforce the law. Unlike refugee ships during the War which were transporting Jews out of Nazi-controlled lands where, if they returned, the refugees would be murdered, the Exodus was transporting immigrants who were in no danger in Europe at that point.

On a side note ... One book I have long meant to read but never have is Leon Uris's fictional account of this story:
The story of the ship’s thwarted journey formed the loose basis for Leon Uris’s novel “Exodus,” published in 1958. In 1960, the novel was made into a film starring Paul Newman as a character based on Yossi Harel, the overall commander of the Exodus operation. Neither book nor movie, apparently, included a character based on Captain Ahronovitch.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Everything does not happen for a reason: Some things are completely random and senseless

A popular saying which really annoys me is, "Everything happens for a reason." People believe it (I guess) because they believe in a god who is omnipotent, controlling everything that happens to them. When their innocent four-year-old child dies in a car accident, for example, they will assuage themselves with the notion that it was god's will: "Everything happens for a reason." But that is just stupid.

Yes, the person in the next lane over had an allergic reaction and began sneezing and drove his car into oncoming traffic and caused the car accident which stole the child's life. The accident can be explained. But is that a reason? Is that god's will?

Believers assuage themselves further with the hope that there is a magical afterlife. But I doubt most people, regardless of their vows of faith, believe in that. If they did, why would they want to live? Why would they be sad if their child died? Is he not going to a better place? A person who believes in this heaven must look forward to dying. It's "a better place."

The New York Times reported a story recently about Andrzej Leonik (pictured above), a Polish immigrant who now has a lame leg, no job and no money because of a truly senseless act, one that even the religious would have trouble believing is god's will:
Mr. Leonik, 49, came home from his job as a carpenter in August 2006 and put on a red tank top and took his dog, Sonia, for a walk on 56th Drive in Maspeth, Queens.

A green Cadillac crept toward him and then stopped. Its driver was aiming a 9-millimeter pistol at him. Mr. Leonik slipped behind a utility pole, but the shooter hit his right leg, shattering the femur.

“I heard the shot but couldn’t believe I was hit until I saw the bone sticking out,” he recalled recently. “I thought, ‘Why would someone do this to me?’ ”

He would find out later, while recovering at Elmhurst Hospital Center. The man in the green Cadillac, the police told him, was Matthew Colletta, an unemployed bricklayer with a long history of mental illness and erratic behavior.

The "reason" Mr. Leonik was shot had nothing to do with god's will. It rather had everything to do with the fact that we in the United States don't care about helping and treating people with severe mental illness. The shooter, Mr. Colletta, never should have been allowed to be in charge of his own life. He was dangerous and should have been in a mental hospital, under the care of psychiatrists. If his symptoms responded to medication, he could have then been let out under supervised care. But never should someone who is that ill be left completely alone.
The police said Mr. Leonik was the first of about a dozen people whom Mr. Colletta, then 34, fired upon that evening. He spent the next six hours roaming Queens, randomly shooting people wearing red or riding in red cars, prosecutors said. The spree left one person dead and five wounded.

Prosecutors said Mr. Colletta believed he was being threatened by the Bloods gang, which is identified with the color red. None of the shooting victims were Bloods, certainly not Mr. Leonik. This was a man who stood with the Solidarity trade union while living in Poland in the 1980s and immigrated to New York with his wife and two teenage daughters in 2002, hoping to prosper.

It's scary that Mr. Leonik could survive a totalitarian government in Poland, but he is victimized by our insane system of not forcing the severely mentally ill into treatment.
Instead, he is turning 50 with a bad leg, no job and no money, his American dream dashed.

Hs daughters are helping to support him, now that he can no longer work as a carpenter renovating Manhattan apartments. His wife developed a heart problem and moved back to Poland for health care.

That we also don't have a sensible system of universal coverage, so his wife had to leave him, makes our laws doubly stupid.
Mr. Leonik’s leg has 15 long screws stabilizing it, and scars from knee to hip. He cannot climb stairs or lift heavy objects and at times, his leg is swollen and useless. A coming operation, his fourth, may help, he is told. He grits through the pain, refusing, he said, to waste money on painkillers.

More torturous is the notion that his fortunes nose-dived because of the color shirt he put on one quiet summer evening to walk the dog, he said.

Think how many people's lives are destroyed by the insanity of our civil libertarian policies when it comes to dealing with the severely mentally ill?
“For a long time, I could not sleep because of the pain,” he said. “I’d think, ‘Why me? Why did this happen? How am I going to make it? I’ve become a burden to my family.’ ”

His small savings ran out quickly. Since he lacked proper immigration documentation, he had trouble receiving benefits.

“I was making good money and the whole world was open,” he said, with the help of an interpreter. “I was going to send my daughters to college and buy a house, but things turned out otherwise.”

That perfectly speaks to the notion that "everything happens for a reason." Does anyone believe it was god's will that Mr. Leonik and his family should be destroyed by this crazy act of a madman who did not have control of his faculties? A man who was only driving around like that because we refuse to lock up the severely mentally ill?
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, lent Mr. Leonik a hand by providing $919 to help with his phone and electric bills. And they provided an immigration counselor, Malgorzata Ulbrych-Luczynski, who has helped him apply for a visa that is available to certain crime victims.

Preventing incidents like this would be a far wiser use of our public dollars. If we had forced the shooter into treatment for his illness, one man would be alive and the lives of dozens of others would be normal. Mr. Leonik would not need charity.
Mr. Leonik recalled that when he fell from the gunshot, Sonia leapt onto his chest. The shooter sped off, but his face was seared into Mr. Leonik’s memory, and he later testified before a grand jury and identified Mr. Colletta from an array of photographs, helping prosecutors indict him on second-degree murder and other charges.

What kind of system is it where we even prosecute the mentally ill? The person deserving prosecution is the one who emptied out the mental hospitals which used to treat people like Colletta.
Mr. Colletta has pleaded not guilty, and his trial is likely to start early next year. There were long delays because he changed lawyers repeatedly, prosecutors said recently.

If Colletta ever gets out of prison, he will again likely become a danger to everyone, once he stops taking anti-psychotic medications. Hopefully our laws change between now and then. Mr. Colletta does not belong in a jail cell. He belongs in a mental hospital.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The new fire contract: It fails to deal with our long-run problems

Mentally ill need our help

At least they are reading my column...

I opened up Wednesday's Davis Enterprise to discover the entire letters to the editor section covered in letters dedicated to me. They were about my recent column on the mentally ill; and they were all very similar to each other and to a series of anti-Rifkin letters which The Enterprise published following my first column regarding how we treat the severely mentally ill.

The first epistle was posited by three authors, Guille Libresco, Marilyn Moyle and Leslie Carroll. I don't know any of the trio, but did some searching to see where they come from. Guille Libresco is a local "psychotherapist" who is associated with a leftist-peace group. Marilyn Moyle and Leslie Carroll are associated with the Yolo County chapter of NAMI. The local website says, "NAMI strives to reduce stigma and ignorance of psychiatric disorders and to help eliminate discrimination and restrictions accessing essential treatments and life supports such as employment, housing, and health insurance."

The letter they wrote says I am dangerous and that I am trying to further discrimination against the mentally ill.

Here is how they begin:
Rich Rifkin's recent Enterprise column needs clarification. We agree that the mentally ill need our help, but Rifkin's attitude is potentially more dangerous to society than the individuals and tragedies he mentions in the article.

Rifkin implies that most mentally ill people are not capable of 'running their own lives.' We know this is not true.

This is an unfair characterization of my column, which focused on people who are insane and therefore not capable of running their own lives. I never discussed anyone who has mild depression or any other minor disorders. I wrote, "Until those of us who are sane take full responsibility for people who are insane and accept the fact that they cannot run their own lives, we will have more and more tragedies like the one at Bellissimo Pizza."
Many people are able to learn how to manage their chronic illness, just as diabetics or other people with chronic illnesses can.

Nothing I suggest would harm the interests of those who can manage their problems. However, many cannot manage; or think they can manage and it turns out they were wrong.

The analogy with diabetes is completely off for someone who is suffering from severe schizophrenia. A diabetic can manage his disease because his mind is not his problem. The severe schizophrenic cannot always be expected to make rational decisions about his own care, because his disease, his chemical imbalance is in his brain. I wonder if these writers have ever had experience with a family member who suffers from a severe mental disorder like schizophrenia? Apparently not. Anyone who has -- such as me -- knows how completely wrong these writers are. Tragically wrong.
For those who are more seriously disabled, we need to provide support that from the beginning gives individuals hope for a meaningful life.

Providing support and guidance is what I would like to see for those who need it. But it goes beyond that. When someone has a debilitating mental illness, he CANNOT be relied on to make proper decisions about his psychiatric health. To say so, as these three do, is crazy. A person who has such a problem normally can be helped by psychotropic medications. But if the patient "chooses" to go off his meds, his mental health will decline and his life and the lives of his family will deteriorate severely. That is why the family needs to have the authority, backed up by the law, to make sure their family member is treated, no matter what the patient "wants."
The mentally ill are human beings with the same rights and privileges as the rest of us.

Of course they are human beings and deserve our compassion. The reason I care so much about this issue is because I am very sympathetic to people who have been victimized by these terrible disorders. I abhor our society for its neglect of the mentally ill who are locked in prison cells and living on the streets.

Someone with severe mental illness SHOULD NOT have the same rights and privileges to run his own life. It's funny that these folks think I am dangerous. Their attitude is really, terribly dangerous -- both for the severely mentally ill and for those around them.
There will always be extreme cases that require more intervention, and we need to find new and better ways to solve these old problems.

The better way to solve these problems is for those of us who are sane to take charge of their lives. Every patient who is diagnosed by a medical doctor as having a severe psychiatric disease needs to have a guardian -- normally a family member -- who can serve in loco parentis. The guardian needs the legal authority to make his ward take his medications, if meds are believed to be salutary by psychiatrists. And if medications don't work, place them in a locked mental hospital until their symptoms are manageable.
Simply locking people up will not solve the problem and is neither curative nor humane.

I have never called for locking people up willy-nilly. The only people who need to be treated in a locked hospital are those who are suffering terrible symptoms, those whose cases are not being managed. In most cases, the hospitalizations would be short. But they would not be released on their own. They need to be managed if they have a severe disease.

The second letter to the editor was by Roger M. Pehlke. He is apparently on the Board of Directors at Yolo-NAMI. Mr. Pehlke writes:
Rich Rifkin's Dec. 9 article, 'The mentally ill need our help,' was ironically titled given that what he wrote is so hurtful.

His column was not original. He said the same things in a May 2, 2007, Enterprise article, 'Common sense for the mentally ill.' At that time, he lamented the 'deinstitutionalization of the 1960s, when we emptied out and ultimately closed most of our insane asylums.' He argued that a mentally ill person 'shouldn't be treated like a regular adult.'

It is nice to see he keeps copies of my old columns. He continues:
Now, in last week's column, he's at it again, blaming 'successful lawsuits decades ago by the ACLU that 'freed' the mentally ill from psychiatric hospitals.' He cites a recent violent stabbing in San Francisco and says, 'I've scoured news accounts of this tragedy, looking for reports of 'mental illness' and have not found any. However, the second I read about this attack I was sure what was going on.'

That is accurate.
Rifkin's confidence in identifying mentally ill is misplaced. He goes on to suggest 'prophylactic action' be taken with the mentally ill and, while it is unclear what he means by this, the implications are disturbing. This is an unfortunate and ignorant refrain.

I am interested to know what Mr. Pehlke thinks is disturbing, unfortunate and ignorant.
I wrote a letter to the editor in 2007 about Rifkin's first article. My response here is not original either because I feel the same.

It is clear Mr. Pehlke feels the same.
I said, 'You choose demeaning phrases and inappropriately use words interchangeably: Mad, insane, psychotic, lunatic and mentally ill.

Because of the outcry by people like Pehlke the last time I discussed this issue, I purposefully used no politically incorrect terms in this column. Thus, for him to dredge up words he thinks are hurtful from a 2007 column to attack a 2009 column is a diversion.
You imply all those with mental illness are 'madmen' who are therefore violent, dangerous and ought to be locked up.

I didn't use the term "all" or imply that "all those with mental illness" are dangerous or violent or ought to be locked up. Rather, I have discussed people who have severe diseases -- specifically people who are violent -- and cannot manage their own lives. It is shocking that Mr. Pehlke is so irresponsible with his characterization of my views.
In short, writing like yours fuels the stigma surrounding mental illness that mental health professionals have been trying to curtail for decades.

Pehlke does NOT speak for all mental health professionals. I don't know of any polls of psychiatrists, but I suspect the vast majority share my views about changing our policies with regard to people with severe mental illness. (I get the sense that Mr. Pehlke speaks instead for most far less educated, far more politicized "psychotherapists" who look at the world through a dimmer lens than medical doctors do.) I am fairly certain most psychiatrists believe our civil libertarian approach is Crazy.

The Treatment Advocacy Center's co-founder contacted me, for example, and said as much. I highly recommend that Mr. Pehlke read one of the TAC books: The Insanity Offense (2008) by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.; or Madness in the Streets: How Psychiatry and the Law Abandoned the Mentally Ill (1990) by Rael Jean Isaac and Virginia C. Armat.
I suggested Rifkin was essentially 'advocating taking away the rights of the mentally ill that you and I enjoy.' I pointed out that prejudice like this has no place in our local newspaper. I repeat.

Pehlke is right. I do advocate taking away the civil liberties of individuals who have severe mental illness. The reason I believe that is the right course is because I know from the experience of a family member that someone who has severe psychosis cannot make rational decisions for himself. People in that state often "choose" to go off of their medications; and the results are very often tragic.
Indeed, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

I agree. Often people with severe psychosis end up homeless and derelict. If we helped them out and forced them into a treatment program and saw it as a societal responsibility and not the individual's responsibility to care for these victims, we would not have a large population of homeless mentally ill victims. What Mr. Pehlke advocates, a civil libertarian approach to these unfortunate souls, is the reason they are victims.
To persist in stigmatizing this group of people by highlighting the worst stories and stereotyping them as Rifkin does is madness.

The folks I am talking about have lost touch with reality. They have severe diseases and they need treatment. To call that "stigmatizing" is stupid.

The final letter was by Derrick Wydick. He attacked me in a 2007 letter on this topic, as well. Wydick is a local "psychotherapist". He writes:
For the second time, Rich Rifkin has produced a column that paints people with mental illness as some kind of ticking time bomb.

Untrue. I painted a picture of some people with untreated, perhaps even undiagnosed severe mental disorders as "a ticking time bomb." I made no reference to people with minor problems. The fact that Wydick and the other "psychotherapists" infer that I am talking about people with social anxiety, for example, shows me that they have closed minds, that they are blinded by a strange hypersensitivity.
His idea that the mentally ill need 'prophylactic action' suggests a broad and uniform solution reminiscent of the 'lock 'em up' approach that our society used in the past.

I do want our society to go back to an approach used in the past. Advances in pharmaceuticals have made it so we don't need to lock up most people suffering from very severe mental health issues for very long. The drugs are for many people salutary. On occasion, when someone is very sick and is not taking drugs or the drugs are not working for him, lock-up and forced treatment -- the old approach -- is the best approach.
The truth is that the issues of mental health are extremely complex. Even to use the label 'the mentally ill' ignores the fact that an amazingly large percentage of our population deals with varying degrees of illness at various times, with various treatments and interventions.

I have never written about people with minor issues. I have only discussed people who are severely psychotic. The kind of people who cannot manage their own lives.
This is not a one-solution-fixes-all disease.

Agreed. My solution is not for all and it is not for the disease. I am not a psychiatrist. My solution is for the law and only for those who are diagnosed by psychiatrists as having a severe form of mental illness.
Rifkin's article offers no reasonable solutions ...

That's not true. I offer the solution to the legal problem as I see it. Wydick, oddly given his accusation, offers no solution. What would he do for someone living on the streets who is hearing voices but does not "want" to take psychotropic meds?
... but paints a dramatic image of the crazed, dangerous stranger waiting to kill us.

Yes, that crazed, dangerous stranger has a serious disease and is not responsible for his behavior. Yet, if we continue with a civil libertarian approach, that person harms himself or others. Most of the time, if someone else is harmed, it is a member of his own family.
This is an irresponsible use of his platform. Professionals who work with people who are mentally ill will be the first to say that the system needs fixing - but without promoting a fear of mentally ill people. Cut it out, please.

This is an irresponsible letter, Mr. Wydick, which tries to portray me as a man of prejudice who hates the mentally ill and wants others to hate them as well. The truth is I want the severely mentally ill helped. And your civil libertarian approach is harming them. That far left ideology needs to be cut out.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yeah, I see the resemblence

An unusual case of murder-suicide

Murder-suicide is strangely an all-too common crime. I don't know if the numbers have changed in recent years, but an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 1992 that they account for "approximately 1,000 to 1,500 deaths yearly in the United States. The annual incidence of these events is relatively constant across industrialized nations and has not significantly changed over several decades."

In the book, "A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812," Martha Ballard tells the story of a farm family in Maine where the father murdered all of his children, then killed his wife and then committed suicide. Before I read that, it hadn't occurred to me that such incidents took place back in the 18th Century. But, alas, they did. And in all likelihood, they go back thousands of years.

Most of the time the murderer is the father of the family. He does not always kill his children in these cases. I've read of many where the man, who normally has some history of domestic violence, loses his wife's love and in a rage kills her and then kills himself. My guess as to the reason why it is almost always the man of the family is testosterone. Men have a lot more of it in their systems. And it makes men prone to violence.

However, today, there is a breaking news story out of San Clemente in Orange County about a family killed murder-suicide in which the murderer is likely the mother of the family. She seems to have killed her children and an older woman, who I would guess is her mother and the grandmother to the kids.
A 38-year-old mother and her two daughters, ages 2 1/2 and 4, were among four family members found dead in a home in a gated San Clemente neighborhood, authorities said this morning.

Another relative, a woman in her 60s, also was found dead in the home on Calle Sonador, said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Authorities are now calling the case a murder-suicide. The bodies found in the hallway were so close together they were touching, authorities said. But they still cannot say how the family died and who the killer was.

“There's no question the two children were killed first, and one of the adult females is the killer, which is unusual by itself,” Amormino said. Investigators are awaiting the results of an autopsy, which is expected to identify the victims and causes of death.

"We know where the father was, and the father was nowhere near the crime scene." Amormino said.

What has always baffled me is why someone who is suicidal thinks it makes sense to kill others along with himself? If he is going to be dead, why should he care if others go on living? Or is it the case with murder-suicide that murder is ultimately his great impulse and that he only kills himself because once he has committed murder he lacks the guts to allow law enforcement to punish him for his crimes?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes, the burglar who was struck with a cricket bat so hard that it broke into three pieces deserved it, but ...

There was a story out of Britain, today, in which two brothers were sentenced to prison for severely beating a burglar who had "tied up and threatened to kill (one of the brothers) and his family." Here is the story from The Guardian:
A businessman who fought off knife-wielding burglars who were threatening to kill his family was jailed for 30 months in a case that has reignited the debate on how far householders can go to protect themselves and their property.

Munir Hussain, 53, discovered three masked men in his house when his family returned from their local mosque during Ramadan in September last year.

The burglars tied up and threatened to kill Hussain and his family but a teenage son managed to escape and alert Hussain's brother, Tokeer.

At this point in the story, I couldn't understand why the brothers were charged with any crime. In the U.S. -- and I would have presumed in Britain, too -- a person has a complete right to defend himself and his property from a criminal trespasser. The fact that these burlgars were armed with knives and holding his family hostage made them no innocent trespassers. If the brothers had shot the intruders dead in Mr. Hussain's house, he would have been a hero. But there is more to this story:
The intruders fled when help arrived at the house in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, but the brothers chased and caught one, Walid Salem, a criminal with more than 50 previous convictions. He was then subjected to what Judge John Reddihough described as a "dreadful, violent attack" by the Hussain brothers.

A few quick observations. First, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire is 36 miles northwest of central London on the way to Oxford, which is another 27 miles north and west.

View Larger Map

Second, the burglar who was caught, Walid Salem, had "more than 50 previous convictions." Anyone with that long of a record should never be released back onto the streets. He can never be a fruitful member of society. If he's not mentally incompetent, such a person deserves to be hung after, I don't know, 15 or 20 convictions. In California, we have 3 Strikes and You're Out. If Britain had that, Salem would never have been free. However, I don't like 3 Strikes for cost purposes. It's too expensive to lock up petty criminals for decades. If they don't get the message after the first 14 convictions, just kill them and get on with it.

Third, and this is the key point of the story, Mr. Salem fled. He was caught by the brothers away from Mr. Hussain's property. At that point, the brothers had a legal obligation to call the police. But instead, they exacted a very severe (yet understandable) revenge on him. And that is why they wound up in trouble:
Salem was left with a permanent brain injury after he was struck with a cricket bat so hard that it broke into three pieces. The revenge attack was self-defence that went too far, Reading crown court was told.

It truly is no shame that Salem's head was cracked open. He deserved it. However, in a civilized society, the law has to handle such matters. Therefore, the decision to punish the brothers for punishing Salem is just in my mind.
"This case is a tragedy for you and your families," the judge told Munir Hussain. "Sadly, I have no doubt that my public duty requires me to impose immediate prison sentences of some length upon you. This is in order to reflect the serious consequences of your violent acts and intent and to make it absolutely clear that, whatever the circumstances, persons cannot take the law into their own hands, or carry out revenge attacks upon a person who has offended them."

While I agree with this judge, it seems to me if any previous judge went easy on Salem for his 50-plus convictions, the soft judge deserves to lose his job, as well.
Munir Hussain was given a 30-month sentence while his brother was jailed for 39 months after the judge decided he had not been subject to as much provocation as his brother.

I think in the U.S. it might be hard to find a jury which would have convicted the Hussain brothers in a case like this. I also think many American judges would have given a shorter sentence.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Where's the dilemma?

Newsweek ran a short article today about our efforts to use airstrikes to kill top Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan called, "The Drone Dilemma." I don't see where the dilemma is.
A clandestine CIA search-and-destroy program, which launches missile strikes from remotely piloted drone aircraft, has killed more than a dozen senior leaders of Al Qaeda during the last two years. Among the dead: Abu Khabab al-Masri, reputed to be Al Qaeda's top expert on weapons of mass destruction, and Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban and reputed mastermind of the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

Sounds like a desirable outcome to me.
U.S. government spokesmen won't even confirm the program's existence, but a U.S. national-security official—who, like others cited in this article, declined to be named talking about sensitive information—says the program has been so successful that some counterterrorism officials want to expand it. They say the drones have been effective not just in killing terrorists but also in keeping them on the run and disrupting their ability to plan new attacks.

Sounds like I'm not alone in thinking the outcome is desirable.
Obama is concerned that firing missiles into urban areas like Quetta, where intelligence reports suggest that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other high-level militants have sometimes taken shelter, would greatly increase the risk of civilian casualties.

Killing innocent civilians is one of the risks of war. Killing a lot of innocents is not a good outcome. It generates opposition and can motivate an enemy. However, this seems more like a risk-reward question than "a choice between equally undesirable alternatives." The definition of a dilemma is one in which you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Also, it's likely that a lot of the civilians surrounding Al Qaeda's warlords are not actually so innocent. They are the people who have been sheltering, feeding and transporting our targets.

As long as we are going to fight Al Qaeda in that theater -- I have serious questions as to whether the fight itself makes any sense -- we have to go after their leaders. If attacking them with bombs launched by drones works, then do it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Set to be executed: Mental patient didn't meet the criteria for commitment, despite efforts of family

Even in the earliest days of our country's history, our common law made exceptions for the insane. They were not to be punished for their crimes, let alone put to death; a criminal who was mentally ill was instead locked in a psychiatric hospital, such as they existed in those times.

But since the war against forced hospitalization began 40 or so years ago, we have given up on helping the mentally ill before they harm themselves or others. So now we are left imprisoning or executing people who commit crimes no one, not even the offender, understands.

On Friday, Matthew Eric Wrinkles, a man who was in need of psychiatric care and was denied that care by the government because his family was told they did not have the authority to hold him against his will, will be executed in Indiana. Here is the story from Fox News:
Wrinkles, 49, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection before dawn Friday at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. He has exhausted his appeals in state and federal courts and last month declined to request clemency from Gov. Mitch Daniels. His attorneys say they don't intend to file any legal action that would contradict his wishes. ...

Debra Jean Wrinkles ... died July 21, 1994, along with her brother, Mark "Tony" Fulkerson, and his wife, Natalie. ... Their murders occurred just days after Wrinkles' mother had tried to have him committed because of his erratic behavior.

Court records show Wrinkles had been briefly hospitalized about two weeks before the killings but was released after a psychiatrist determined he was not "gravely disabled." Doctors told his mother he didn't meet the criteria for a second commitment.

Debra Wrinkles and her children were staying at the Fulkersons' home when Wrinkles climbed over a fence about 2 a.m. and cut the phone lines. Court documents show he was wearing camouflage clothes and face paint and armed with a gun and a knife when he kicked open the door of the home where his estranged wife was staying.

Wrinkles shot Mark Fulkerson in front of Fulkerson's 3-year-old son, then shot Debra Wrinkles as their daughter pleaded for her mother's life. He shot Natalie Fulkerson in the face.

If Indiana law in 1994 had been sensible, Matthew Eric Wrinkles, who obviously was out of his mind, would have been hospitalized against his will. But the law itself was crazy. He was let go. He committed this horrible act. And now he will die for it, as well.

That crime took place 14 years ago. Yet nothing in the law to protect the mentally ill has changed. When will we wake up and change our laws?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where is the outrage?

You will notice that there were no protests in the Muslim world over this incident, reported in the Los Angeles Times:
In a daring midday raid that showed insurgents' ability to strike the Pakistani military virtually at will, militants Friday stormed a Rawalpindi mosque filled with military officers and their children, killing at least 37 people with a deadly combination of gunfire, grenades and suicide bomb blasts.

The attack, which also injured at least 86 people, was the latest in a series of devastating terrorist strikes meant as retaliation for the Pakistani military's assault on Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan and other tribal areas along the nation's border with Afghanistan.

The dead included 27 civilians, 17 of them children, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

This was an intentional attack against Muslims praying in a mosque, against children, against civilization. Yet not a peep out of those who blame America and Israel for all the evils in the world.

Just imagine what the reaction would be if the U.S. or Israel had intentionally targeted these victims. Literally thousands of martyrs would have been inspired to kill Jews or Americans. Perhaps hundreds of thousands would have taken to the streets in outrage.

The lack of reaction in this case proves just how phony "Muslim outrage" is. It's all a big lie designed to advance an anti-American, anti-Semitic agenda.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Of course, doctor, please do prescribe that $30,000 a month drug for me. I want it. I need it. I must have it.

Imagine you have no medical insurance, that you pay cash every time you see a doctor. Imagine you cut yourself and need the wound cleaned and stitched up. Imagine that in your phone directory there were 10 nearby choices of providers who could perform the service immediately, each with an advertisement listing the price for "cleaning and stitching a wound." Imagine then that you instantly could review what patients of these doctors and nurses said about the quality of the service each provided. And based on your sense of the quality and the price charged, you could make a decision as to which provider to see.

If you had all that information, that many choices and you were the one paying for the service, you would be able to make a rational decision. That is essentially the efficient-market model of medicine. It is capitalism.

Capitalism works because buyers and sellers over time make efficient decisions. If the prices charged are too high, profits will be lost as customers take their business elsewhere. If the service is poor or slow, customers don't come back. If sellers don't innovate, they will lose out to competitors who do. Buyers are always looking for high quality products and services, delivered in a timely fashion and at a better price. As sellers provide what buyers want, capitalism generates efficiencies, better products, better services and better prices. And efficiencies add up to wealth.

But, of course, the medical market is not efficient in a number of respects. It does not drive down prices. It does not speed up delivery of services. It does not reward providers who compete on price or other perks patients might like. If a doctor charges too much, has a poor bedside manner, is rude to his patients or has four year old magazines in his waiting room, he won't lose any business, as long as his patients' insurers direct them to him.

Because of the profit motive, providers do have an incentive to innovate. That has created many great diagnostic tools -- everything from X-rays to sonograms to C-T scans and MRIs -- and many salutary pharmaceuticals.

However, those upsides of our system are not entirely efficient.

Because of the incentives to suppliers and demanders, we tend to get too much internally generated demand, all of which is met with willing (and wasteful) supply. Doctors, drug manufacturers and providers of various diagnostic technologies have incentives to make patients believe that their products or services will help. Patients -- who naturally want the very highest quality of medical products and services -- don't pay for what they are getting and normally don't have sufficient information to know if what they are receiving is a good idea. So they often demand more than they need. In other words, patients with insurance get a lot of medical coverage and it costs someone else a lot of money.

Externally, there is another factor which plays into the equation: our malpractice insurance system. It encourages insurers to pay for and medical providers to give more service and order more tests than they might think is necessary. If the provider does not and anything goes wrong -- say a doctor failed to order a second or third series of MRIs -- the doctor will face a malpractice lawsuit and may lose a lot of money if the plaintiff gets the right jury, regardless of the merits of the case. But the doctor who orders endless, needless tests covers his ass and won't lose a lawsuit. His malpractice rates won't go up.

Insurance companies, which pick up the tab for these endless, needless tests have a strong incentive to pay for more tests, because they too can be sued if they denied a patient the test and a jury decided that was the wrong decision.

This all brings me to a fascinating story in today's New York Times about a cancer drug which costs $30,000 a month:
The price of the new drug, called Folotyn, is at least triple that of other drugs that critics have said are too expensive for the benefits they offer to patients. The colon cancer drug Erbitux, for instance, costs $10,000 a month and the drug Avastin about $8,800 when used to treat lung cancer. The price of Folotyn “seems way higher than I heard of before,” Robert L. Erwin, president of the Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation, a patient advocacy group. “I can’t imagine there not being a backlash against the pricing.”

The most interesting part of the story is that Folotyn has not been shown to increase life expectancy among cancer patients:
Critics, including many oncologists, say that patients and the health system cannot afford to pay huge prices for drugs that, on average, provide only a few extra months of life at best. And Folotyn has not even been shown to prolong lives — only to shrink tumors.

As always happens in our system, the seller tries to maximize his profits in the price:
Allos (Therapeutics, the manufacturer) defends the price, saying it made a significant investment to develop the first approved drug for this type of cancer. ... “We believe we are fairly priced,” he added, “and we’re benchmarked” against other drugs. In a conference call with analysts last month, Mr. Caruso said Allos had “not had pushback of any type at this point” from insurers.

As always happens in our system, insurers pay the freight and raise their rates to employers, who buy medical coverage for their employees.
It's ridiculous to blame the pharmaceutical companies for trying to make profits. But for those huge profits, they would not invest so much money in R&D.
Some drugs for rare cancers are close to Folotyn’s price. Genzyme’s Clolar for pediatric leukemia costs about $34,000 a week, though the company says that only two weeks of treatment are typically needed. Genzyme’s drug Campath, for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, costs about $5,000 a week for several weeks. GlaxoSmithKline is charging up to $98,000 for a six-month treatment course of Arzerra, a drug approved in late October for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which strikes about 15,000 Americans a year. About $60,000 of the cost would be incurred in the first eight weeks, when the drug is given more frequently. ... In a note to clients in October, Joshua Schimmer, an analyst at Leerink Swann, estimated that a typical treatment (with Folotyn) would last 3.5 months and cost $126,000, or about $36,000 a month.

The question here is one of efficiency. Because the consumers of the drugs are not paying the cost and don't really know if the most expensive drug is the best one for them, it is unlikely that there would be any profits in discovering and manufacturing these drugs in a rational market. But, as explained above, our medical market is not rational and it generates far too much demand for goods and services which have less value than they cost. A $30,000 a month drug which may not increase a patient's life is a good example of that.

To put in context just how much money Folotyn will cost us -- and I say us, because although the profits go to a private party, the costs are borne by our entire system -- consider the response of one insurance company:
Dr. Lee N. Newcomer, senior vice president for oncology at the big insurer UnitedHealthcare, called the price "unconscionable."

He said that Folotyn alone would cost as much as UnitedHealthcare now typically spends in total to treat a lymphoma patient from diagnosis until death. That median expenditure now, he said, is $87,000 for a little over a year of treatments. But Dr. Newcomer said insurers would be obligated to pay for Folotyn because there were no alternatives.

That's not exactly why the insurer will be "obligated." The insurer will be obligated because of the costs of lawsuits, in case they denied coverage for Folotyn.

And again, it is not yet known how good this drug really is:
Folotyn has not yet shown an effect on longevity. In the clinical trial that led to approval of the drug, 27 percent of the 109 patients experienced a reduction in tumor size. The reductions lasted a median of 9.4 months. But considering all the patients in the trial, only 12 percent had a reduction in tumor size that lasted for more than 14 weeks. The trial did not compare Folotyn to another drug or a placebo.

“This drug is not a home run,” Dr. Brad S. Kahl, a lymphoma specialist at the University of Wisconsin, said during a meeting of an advisory committee to the F.D.A. on Sept. 2. “It’s not even a double. It’s a single.”

It may be a single, but we are paying for it as if it is one hundred consecutive grand slams. In other words, the market for drugs is inefficient because the end consumers are not paying for what they are getting and often don't know what it is they are taking; the doctor ordering the drug has no incentive to offer a cheaper alternative and could be sued if he did so; the insurance company is forced by law to pay whatever the manufacturer wants; employer rates go up and up; and the government subsidizes through tax breaks those increases in costs.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do Tiger's troubles widen his distance from whites?

I spotted another seemingly ordinary AP story which I think reads very strange, if not racist, if you switch black with white and vice versa. Here it is in photo negative:
Amid all the headlines generated by Tiger Woods' troubles — the puzzling car accident, the suggestions of marital turmoil and multiple mistresses — little attention has been given to the race of the women linked with the world's greatest golfer. Except in the white community.

When three black women were said to be romantically involved with Woods in addition to his dark, African wife, blogs, airwaves and (white) barbershops started humming, and Woods' already tenuous standing among many whites took a beating.

On the nationally syndicated David Duke radio show, Woods was the butt of jokes all week.

"Thankfully, Tiger, you didn't marry a white woman. Because if a white sister caught you running around with a bunch of black hoochie-mamas," one parody suggests in song, she would have castrated him.

"The Grinch's Theme Song" didn't stop there: "The question everyone in America wants to ask you is, how many black women does one white brother waaant?"

As one blogger, Robert Paul Reyes, wrote: "If Tiger Woods had cheated on his black wife with white women, the golfing great's accident would have been barely a blip in the blogosphere."

The darts reflect whites' resistance to interracial romance. They also are a reflection of discomfort with a man who has smashed barriers in one of America's blackest sports and assumed the mantle of the world's most famous athlete, once worn by David Beckham and Larry Bird.

But Woods has declined to identify himself as white, and famously chose the term "Cablinasian" (Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian) to describe the racial mixture he inherited from his European-American father and Thai mother.

This vexed some whites, but it hasn't stopped them from claiming Woods as one of their own. Or from disapproving of his marriage to Shamiqua Jackson, despite whites' historical fight against black racist opponents of mixed marriage.

On the one hand, Lilly White doesn't care that Tiger Woods' wife and alleged mistresses are black because Woods is "quote-unquote not really white."

"But at the same time we still see him as a white man with a black woman, and it makes a difference," said Ms. White, a 26-year-old European-American from Elko, Nevada. "There's just this preservation thing we have among one another. We like to see each other with each other."

White women have long felt slighted by the tendency of famous white men to pair with black women, and many have a list of current transgressors at the ready.

"We've discussed this for years among white women," said Denene Millner, author of several books on white relationships. "Why is it when they get to this level ... they tend to go directly for the nearest Negro?"

This tendency may be more prominent due to a relative lack of interracial marriages among average whites. Although a recent Pew poll showed that 94 percent of whites say it's all right for whites and blacks to date, a study published this year in Sociological Quarterly showed that whites are less likely to actually date outside their race than are other groups.

"There is a call for loyalty that is stronger in some ways than in other racial communities," said the author of the study, George Yancey, a sociology professor at the University of North Texas and author of the book "Just Don't Marry One."

The color of one's companion has long been a major measure of "whiteness" — which is a big reason why the biracial Barack Obama was able to fend off early questions about his white authenticity.

"Had Barack had a black wife, I would have thought twice about voting for him," Lilly White said.

So do Woods' women say something about the intensely private golfer's views on race?

"I would like to say no, but I think it garners a bit of a yes," Lilly White said.

Carmen Van Kerckhove, founder of the race-meets-pop-culture blog Racialicious, said there have been frequent discussions on her site about the fine line between preference and fetish.

"Is there any difference between a black guy with a thing for Negros, and a non-black guy with a thing for blondes?" asked Van Kerckhove, who has a Chinese mother, a Belgian father and a husband born in America to parents from Benin.

She claims that Asians don't fully embrace Woods, either.

"There are two layers of suspicion toward him," Van Kerckhove said. "One toward the apparent pattern in the race of his partners, and the second in the way he sees himself. ... People have been giving him the side-eye for a while."

There's nothing wrong with wanting a mate who shares your culture, as long as it's for the right reasons, the comedienne Sheryl Underwood said after unleashing a withering Woods monologue on David Duke's radio show.

"Would we question when a Jewish person wants to marry other Jewish people?" she said in an interview. "It's not racist. It's not bigotry. It's white pride."

"The issue comes in when you choose something black because you think it's better," Underwood said. "And then you never date a white woman or a woman of color or you never sample the greatness of the international buffet of human beings. If you never do that, we got a problem."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Did whites across the country watch to see whether Atlanta would remain a beacon of white leadership?

I spotted a rather ordinary AP story today regarding the ongoing power of the "black political machine" in Atlanta, where it seems the black candidate, backed mostly by black voters, narrowly beat the white candidate, who was mostly backed by white voters.

What interested me in reading this was to know how it would read if everywhere white was replaced with black and vice versa. Here is the photo negative of that story:
When the final votes are counted, it's likely the white political machine that integrated Atlanta's City Hall - and kept it that way for four decades - will have pulled through one more time to deliver a fifth consecutive white mayor.


Unofficial results in this week's mayoral runoff show voters elected former state Sen. Kasim Reed over black councilwoman Mary Norwood by a mere 715 votes, with a recount inevitable.

No matter what those final numbers say, the fissures in the machine were exposed, its future viability cast in doubt.

Atlanta's white population has shrunk and its black population grown since its current mayor, Shirley Franklin, was elected in 2001. Its voting rolls are filled with newcomers unfamiliar with Atlanta's habit of assigning its business interests to blacks and its political interests to whites. The reality is sinking in that white political power here is not as strong or united as it once was, and is destined to weaken as more blacks seek office and more whites shed their civil rights-era sentimentality.

"The racial issue has always been there," said former state Rep. Bob Holmes, who has studied Atlanta politics for more than a decade. "It was higher and closer to the surface in large part because this was the first election in 20 years where there was a significant black candidate. But there appeared to really be unity in the white community."

Atlanta's allure as the white mecca focused national attention on the race, as whites across the country watched to see whether the city would remain a beacon of white leadership. To wit, Reed raised a million dollars during the runoff campaign - a quarter of it from out of state.

Both white and black voters demonstrated a willingness to stick to their own. Of the city's 537,958 residents, about 237,000 are registered voters. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, Atlanta's white population is 56 percent, compared to 38 percent black.

The city's population has swelled by more than 76,000 since 2000, when the white population was 61 percent and blacks made up 33 percent of the city's residents.

More than 84,000 ballots were cast in the runoff, about 5,700 more than in the general election, and the outcome itself hung on the votes from Atlanta's most staunchly segregated enclaves. The Associated Press has not called the race because Georgia law automatically grants a recount request when the margin is less than 1 percent, and Norwood plans to make that request.

The highest turnout was in Buckhead - the city's blackest, most affluent area and Norwood's home turf - where more than 53 percent of registered voters cast ballots. On the city's heavily white southside, Reed's base of support, better than 41 percent of registered voters showed up there.

Reed, who ran both of the current mayor's campaigns, was seen in some corners as the heir to Maynard Jackson. Jackson was elected the city's first white mayor in 1973, when whites wrested control of City Hall from blacks after years of being shut out of city politics. Since then, whites have fiercely defended Jackson's legacy, which has been as much about access as appearances.

During the election, Reed was embraced by Jackson's family, as well as former mayor and civil rights icon Andrew Young and Franklin - affirmations that may have struck a nostalgic chord with some white voters.

"There are folks who are here who struggled to see the election of white mayors and a majority white city council and school board and a municipal work force," Emory University political science professor Michael Owens said. "That still has a lot of meaning for people, the image of people like them being in control of political resources."

A major challenge to the machine is the thought, rapidly taking hold, that white leadership has not always meant white progress in Atlanta - the city still has a poverty rate of 22 percent, far more than the national average of 13 percent.

While race did factor into the campaign, the average Atlantan focused on balancing the city budget and getting the city through the down economy, said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of politically influential Ebenezer Baptist Church. But in addition to addressing crime, the city's finances and its future as the South's economic engine, Reed will need to work to unify a city that was divided during the campaign.

"Those issues ultimately trump the enduring issue of race," Warnock said.

For its part, the Reed campaign didn't rely on the white vote alone. The runoff campaign also focused heavily on black intown voters, who supported Reed and his rival during the general election, city council President Lisa Borders - who endorsed him in the runoff.

"We had to get more black support than she did white support," said campaign manager Tharon Johnson of the contest against Norwood. "You could look at the numbers from November 3 and see we did well there."

The Reed campaign did offer a model for helping the machine survive. While he recruited the hip-hop stars like Ludacris and Keri Hilson and used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to rally support and raise money, he also relied upon old school tactics that have worked in Atlanta for years - especially mobilizing the city's civil rights community and white clergy.

"They are still a very potent force," said Harvey Newman, chair of the department of public management and policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Georgia State University. "And white congregations have been good, strong voters."
But white church attendance is not what it used to be. And Norwood's grassroots appeal also spoke directly to many in those pews.

"She spoke to an element that felt left out, overlooked," said the Rev. Timothy McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church. "That's who we represent. Ministers were challenged to go back to their pulpits and start energizing the base."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mayor's 'gay sin' remarks ignite protest

I don't understand why anyone would care if another person's religious convictions made him think that you will not go to "heaven". Most Christians believe that polytheistic Hindus won't go to heaven. Hindus likely could not care less what Christians believe about their destiny. Muslims believe Jews won't go to heaven. I could not care less what Muslims believe about a mythical place that they don't think my "soul" will make it to. Even if you don't understand that religious beliefs are a lot of hooey, what someone else who you don't know thinks about you based on his religious beliefs should be totally meaningless to you.

Yet in Vallejo, a bunch of gays are up in arms because the mayor of that city is a born-again Christian; and like most born-again Christians, he does not believe gays have a place in his construct of heaven:
Dozens of people crowded the steps of Vallejo City Hall on Tuesday to protest a recent quoted remark by Mayor Osby Davis that gay people would not go to heaven.

The protesters waved rainbow flags, held signs demanding the separation of church and state and some called for Davis' resignation.

Apparently, the anti-mayor protest spawned a pro-mayor demonstration:
From inside City Hall came the sounds of more than 100 people clapping and cheering, praising God.

"Lord, we're not against anybody. We're for our children," prayed New Hope Church Community Senior Pastor Terrence Nichols. "No matter what outside forces may stir up the pot, it is the inside residents who will work together to bring solutions to Vallejo.

When the cat's away the mice will play...

I feel very sorry for anyone whose private business gets dragged through the mud in public. That is essentially what is happening here with Tiger Woods, his wife and his mistresses. He felt compelled to issue this apology for cheating on his wife:
"I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.

Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect.

But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.

Whatever regrets I have about letting my family down have been shared with and felt by us alone. I have given this a lot of reflection and thought and I believe that there is a point at which I must stick to that principle even though it's difficult.

I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology."

The lesson in this story is to be faithful to your wife (or committed girlfriend). However, if you have a great number of opportunities to be unfaithful, if you have literally dozens of beautiful, sexy young women throwing themselves at you, wanting to sleep with you, when you are away from home, out of reach of your wife, staying in your same hotel, the natural human, male, heterosexual impulse is to stray. A man will tell himself, "I don't have any emotional feelings toward this hussy. It's just sex. I love my wife. I am loyal to her emotionally. She'll never know about this. So if I have a little hoochie on the side, it won't hurt her feelings." Yet if she ever finds out -- and chances are she will or she will notice something has changed -- your plan goes down the drain. You have cheated; and you have hurt your wife; and you have imperiled your marriage.

So the key to avoiding this disaster is scrupulously avoiding the temptation by not putting yourself in places where you have opportunities to meet beautiful, available females. At home, don't hire beautiful babysitters or housekeepers. Find the most homely, fat, old hags to work around your house. On the road, if there are attractive women hanging out in the hotel bar or nightclub, don't go into those places. Especially don't go in to those places by yourself. Before you sit down in a restaurant, come up with a strategy to not carry on a conversation of any sort with your attractive waitress. Even go so far as to feign a hoarse voice or a headache. If that won't work, order room service.

Also, as every man knows, there is an obvious way to relieve sexual desire without a partner. If that means buying a porno or renting an X-rated film, do so. Get your frustration out. Exhaust your tension. If once is not enough, do it two or three times until you feel satisfied. No one's feelings are hurt by autoerotic pleasures.

Most men, married or single, will never have many women propositioning them. When you just don't have the opportunity to cheat on your spouse, it is a lot easier to be faithful. That's why it is so tough (and of course so excellent) to be a Tiger Woods or any top movie star type guy. He's young, handsome, fit and extremely rich. He has everything every young, hot woman wants. He's continually traveling, away from home, staying in exotic locales. He's going to be propositioned endlessly. On a biological level, men never evolved with the tools to turn down these propositions from gorgeous young women. And because of that, an evolved man needs to strategize in advance to avoid the temptation they represent. He needs to go out into the world having relieved his genital needs. He needs to stay away from all sexy women he is not married to. And he needs to remind himself constantly that his wife will ultimately know everything he is doing and that he should behave as if she is in the room with him at all times. If he still cannot control himself, then he should not be married.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Multiple cop-killer is killed by cop

The nightmare in Tacoma is now over. Here is the New York Times story:
SEATTLE — A man suspected of fatally shooting four uniformed police officers was shot and killed early Tuesday by a Seattle police officer who chanced upon him during a routine patrol.

The death of the suspect, Maurice Clemmons, 37, capped a huge manhunt that had fanned out through Seattle over the last two days involving scores of police officers. Officials said Mr. Clemmons had been carrying a gun that had belonged to one of the four officers, who were killed at a coffee shop near Tacoma on Sunday morning.

In an interview, the city’s interim police chief, John Diaz, said the officer was patrolling a working-class neighborhood in south Seattle when he came across an empty car on the street, its hood up and its engine idling. The officer called in a report on the vehicle, which turned out to be stolen, and was sitting in his patrol cruiser, writing up paperwork, when he saw Mr. Clemmons approaching from behind.

The officer, a seven-year veteran, recognized Mr. Clemmons “immediately,” Mr. Diaz said, and noticed that the suspect was trying to pull something from one of his pockets. He ordered Mr. Clemmons to put his hands up, the chief said, but Mr. Clemmons refused and began to move away from the officer. The officer fired at least twice, Mr. Diaz said. Mr. Clemmons was pronounced dead at the scene.

The fact that Maurice Clemmons was killed by a police officer -- it's yet to be determined if that act was legally justified -- is without question a blessing. Had he been caught alive, millions of dollars would have been spent convicting him of assassinating those four police officers in Tacoma and millions more would have been spent sending him to the gallows.

The state of Washington has the death penalty and surely Mr. Clemmons would have qualified for it. But in a case where there is no question of guilt, I have no qualms about him not getting a fair trial in court. (If the cop who shot him is found to have acted improperly, he ought to face the legal consequence for that.)

It's interesting to note that while Clemmons will never serve jail time for assassinating those four cops, his friends and members of his family, who aided him in eluding police, probably will:
Although Mr. Clemmons is the only suspect in the shooting, authorities said on Tuesday that they had arrested four other people in the case: one who is suspected of acting as Mr. Clemmons’s getaway driver and three who they said had helped him elude the dragnet of officers, squad cars and helicopters.

Another person who may pay for this crime is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who placed second for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and is expected to run for president in 2012. Here is what says about Huckabee's role:
Clemmons was given a 95-year prison sentence in Arkansas in 1989 for a host of charges, including robberies, burglaries, thefts and bringing a gun to school. His sentence was commuted in 2000 by then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said Troyer. Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate in 2008, is considering a run for president in 2012.

“Should [Clemmons] be found responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state,” Huckabee’s office said in a statement Sunday night.

Huckabee cited Clemmons’ young age — 17 at the time of his sentencing — when he announced his decision to commute the sentence, according to newspaper articles. “It was not something I was pleased with at the time,” said Larry Jegley, who prosecuted Clemmons for aggravated robbery and other charges in Pulaski County, Arkansas. “I would be most distressed if this is the same guy.”

The political problem for Huckabee is similar to that faced by former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. In 1986, Gov. Dukakis granted a weekend furlough to Willie Horton, who was serving a life sentence for a 1974 murder, in which Horton had robbed a gas station, stabbed the attendant 17 times and dumped his body in a trash bin. According to Wikipedia, out on furlough, "Horton twice raped a local woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fiancé. He then stole the car belonging to the man he had assaulted."

When Dukakis ran for president in 1988, Al Gore in the primaries and more infamously George H.W. Bush in the general election used the Horton case against Dukakis, alleging that Dukakis was insufficiently tough on crime and had shown bad judgment in granting a furlough to a brutal murderer like Horton.

Much the same criticism will likely be lobbed at Mike Huckabee. As governor, the former Baptist minister bragged that, because of his religious conviction, had released more prisoners than any other governor in the history of his state.

Clemmons never should have been let out of prison in Arkansas. In Washington, prior to him murdering the four cops, he allegedly raped a child. Exactly why a convicted felon like Clemmons, who was a suspect in a serious sexual assault case, was allowed to roam free is a mystery to me.

According to an AP story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, there is also a doubt as to whether Clemmons was sane at the time he raped the child. "A court-ordered psychological evaluation of Maurice Clemmons in October found that he was a risk to public safety." However, they chose not to commit him at that time. The judge who made that decision deserves to be punished, as well. He let him out on $150,000 in bail just days before Clemmons murdered the four police officers.