Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Understanding Regis Philbin, but still not liking sea cucumbers

One of the joys of writing a column is getting letters from my readers. After I explained what a boring sport soccer is, I got this entertaining missive from a reader named Mayra. Here is my reply:

Hi Mayra,

Nice to hear from you.

You begin:
“okay you are out of your mind!!! your article really offended me! i cant believe someone would let you actually write this article about soccer!!”

They only let me out of the psychiatric ward to write my column occasionally.

“many people love soccer!! if basketball, baseball and football are so much better, how come they dont have a world cup??!”

I’ll be sure to explain to the Yankees that there really is no such thing as the World Series.

You continue:
“… you know why?? because only americans think that these sports are cool. i think football, baseball, and basketball are really boring!!”

Everyone has his or her own tastes and or opinions. That’s why Regis Philbin has a career on TV.

“your so called "tips" are useless. making the goals bigger will be way too easy to score goals from even half of the field!!”

I’ve never thought scoring was such a terrible thing. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong.

“soccer is more intense because its non-stop except for half time.”

Of course, it’s also non-start.

“in soccer you have to be really good to score a goal. and in basketball pretty much anyone could score, not much skill in that.”

I’ll tell Kobe Bryant that the next time I run into him.

“also in soccer when you score one goal it counts as one point no matter where the person scores it from. and in basketball one score could be like 2 or 3 points which is pretty lame to me. why cant it just be one point?!”

You make a very good point. Shakespeare wrote tragedies about lesser crises than the three-point field goal.

“also in football one touchdown would be 6 points, why so much for one touchdown?!”

Maybe because it’s six times as exciting as a soccer goal?

“the u.s. game vs. nigeria was really suspense, even though it was only one goal it was worth it.”

I won’t let the Algerians know you called them Nigerians. Wars have begun over lesser slights.

“what really sucks is that the u.s. soccer team doesn't get enough support from people like you.”

If they would let me off the psych ward more often, I might be a greater athletic supporter.

“people should support the team because they are playing internationally and it takes hard work competing against other countries.”

Fortunately, we have a very good military. So if they beat us on the field, we can send in the Marines.

“who ever wins the world cup, they are the best in the world not just in the nation.”

That is hard to argue with.

“soccer is a fun and an exciting sport, you should try it first before criticizing.”

I tried sea cucumber once at a Chinese restaurant. I didn’t care for it, either.

“support the u.s. this saturday against ghana.”

And miss the Davis Farmer’s Market?

All the best,

Your good friend,


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Not seeing the forest for the trees

The missing piece of the puzzle of why Amy Bishop shot six of her colleagues at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, killing three, is mental illness. The idea that she was a perfectly normal person who just snapped due to stress brought on by the loss of her job is absurd.

However, exactly what disease she has is unknown. Her husband has said she never had seen a psychiatrist or had any psychiatric disorder. Yet every story which has come out about her past, including the fact that she killed her brother, possibly sent a bomb to one of her other colleagues and harassed her neighbors suggest she was a very disturbed person for a long time.

This ABC News story is the best I have seen at getting to the question of her likely mental illness:
Accused Alabama shooter Amy Bishop screamed and cursed at children, instigating confrontations with their parents, according to former neighbors who painted a frightening portrait of an woman accused of a killing rampage.

Former Massachusetts neighbors described the brilliant scientist as a woman who 15 years ago had "face-to-face, nose-to-nose confrontations" over evening basketball games, skateboarders and even whether an ice cream truck would be allowed on the child-friendly street.

"She picked fights with them," said one neighbor, who did not want to be identified because Bishop's children return summers to visit their grandparents -- Judy and Samuel Bishop -- who still live on Fille Street in quiet Ipswich, Mass.

"The ice cream truck was banished from the street because [Bishop] told them her children were lactose intolerant," said the neighbor. "She even had one of the children's teachers fired."

Last week Bishop was arrested for killing three professors and injuring three others -- all colleagues at University of Alabama in Huntsville -- during a faculty meeting. She is currently on suicide watch.

Soon more disturbing news emerged from Bishop's background. Investigators unearthed several disturbing pieces to the puzzle of the suspect, an accomplished cellular biologist and mother of four children aged 8 to 18.

In 1986, she shot her then 18-year-old brother Seth Bishop with a shotgun at their home in Braintree, Mass., but was never charged in the shooting.

And in 1993, she and her husband were questioned by police after a pipe bomb was mailed to one of Bishop's colleagues, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Paul Rosenberg.

I'm quite certain that Bishop's husband is completely innocent in her crimes. However, I sense that he cannot see the forest for the trees. For whatever reason, her very peculiar behavior and paranoid personality strikes him as perfectly normal. Yet everyone else saw Amy Bishop as off her rocker.
James Anderson has said that he and his wife were cleared in the mail bomb investigation and were never suspects.

Anderson told ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston Monday that he had no idea why his wife would shoot their co-workers.

"Nobody understands what happened. Nobody knew," he said.

Anderson told The Associated Press that he and Bishop went to a shooting range just weeks before the killing, but said the family did not own a gun.

This is the first story on this case I have seen which gets the views of trained psychiatrists:
Though many at the university had heard grumblings that she had been denied tenure, police, psychological experts and even her own family say her motivation is an enigma.

"For a faculty member to murder colleagues after denial of tenure would probably require 'standard' experiences of disappointment, a sense of betrayal, and desperation and the additional burden of mental illness, either a severe depression or some form of psychosis," said Dr. Stephen Shuchter, professor of clinical psychiatry emeritus at The University of California, San Diego.

"We are likely to learn about these only if the perpetrator chooses to defend herself by presenting the mitigating circumstances of an insanity defense," he told

Bishop's strange personality was not unknown to some of her colleagues and neighbors:
Sylvia Fluckiger, a lab technician who worked with Bishop then, described her as "an oddball" and "socially a little awkward," according to the Boston Globe.

Among former neighbors, Bishop was cantankerous and not well liked.

Ipswich police logged two calls for neighborhood disputes from Bishop, and in 2002, she reported receiving harassing calls, according to local reports.

Once, neighbors organized a block party and didn't tell Bishop because of conflicts she had with people.

"We never had any issue with them directly," said the grandmother who knew the family. "But it was very uncomfortable with the other neighbors. Amy was not friendly. The high school kids at the time were very in to sports and they'd come out and play from 8:30 to 10 at night. The noise was bothersome to her."

If Bishop has a serious mental illness, it was not diagnosed:
... many psychiatric disorders can go undiagnosed for years, especially for those who lead insular lives.

"People in science and computers are solitary people," said Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chairman for the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein college of Medicine.

"They work in solitude and they don't need to interact in complex social situations and can be paranoid for a long time without someone realizing."

Schizophrenia can be marked by social isolation, odd behavior, "strange disordered" thinking and speaking, poor hygiene and lack of friends, according to Galynker.

Often people don't notice signs until more serious symptoms emerge.

"Brilliant scientists are supposed to be crazy," he told

My sense is that those who knew her and didn't think she was mentally ill likely assumed her eccentricities were normal behavior for a scientist.
Anti-social personality disorders can also result behavior that is "incompatible with laws," like stealing or shooting, he said. And in narcissism, a person can display disregard for the feelings of others or seek self-aggrandizement and, like Bernie Madoff, can be "very charming."

Psychotics like Seung-Hui Cho, the student who who killed 31 at Virginia Tech in 2007, are particularly dangerous.

Killers like Cho view others as inconsequential and often humiliation can set off a psychotic depression that could make a person violent or suicidal, said Galynker.

Those with personality disorders, such as Eric Harris, who went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in 1999, are particularly dangerous.

"They don't have a conscience," said Frank Ochberg, a Michigan psychiatrist and founder of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

"There is the fear of getting caught, and then you get away with it and you harbor a sense that all these other people are crazy," said Ochberg. "There's a sense of entitlement."

Any of those psychiatric disorders could justify an insanity defense -- lacking the capacity to know right from wrong , according to both psychiatrists.

Ochberg, who is an expert in psychopathic predators and mass shootings, said female shooters are rare, but he admits, "mothers have done tragic things. They have killed their kids."

"In general being a woman and a mother makes you more in tune with your feelings, more nurturing and sympathetic," said Ochberg. "I believe men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but some women are from Mars."

Monday, February 1, 2010

NAMI's political philosophy has resulted in a great increase in the stigma attached to mental illness

One of the laudable goals of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is to reduce the stigma associated with mental disease. The idea is to make Americans aware of the fact that psychiatric problems are not the patient's fault. They are not the product of bad parenting or moral weakness. They are biological illnesses, like cancer or the flu. They are not contagious and they can be treated effectively with a combination of pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy.

The hope is that by reducing stigma patients with mental issues will then seek out treatment, get well and be fully accepted as regular contributing members of society.

Ironically, however, NAMI's political philosophy has resulted in a great increase in the stigma attached to mental illness.


NAMI opposes involuntary treatment for the seriously mentally ill. NAMI's ideology is that the mentally ill are the same as everyone else and as such, they should not be forced into treatment. If we have to force some patients to take anti-psychotic medications, that would suggest that those folks really are not the same as you and me.

But allowing all patients to decide for themselves if they want to take anti-psychotic drugs means that many won't -- particularly those who, due to their disease, cannot understand that they are really sick -- and therefore we will necessarily have thousands of very sick mental patients all over the country not receiving treatment. Those untreated patients will act in a bizarre fashion and sometimes commit horrific crimes. And nothing does more to increase the stigma of mental illness than when a person with serious psychiatric problems becomes a danger to society.

More people today associate mental illness with violent crimes than they ever did in the past. And the greatest source of stigmatization of mental illness is its association with violence, according to the Surgeon General.

If you were trying to create a stigmatizing scenario about someone with serious mental illness on the loose, you could do a lot worse than portray Kain Figuereo. Everything about him right now screams "be afraid; he is dangerous."

Mr. Figuereo is a large man with paranoid schizophrenia. He is not being treated for his illness. He is confused and extremely paranoid. He has a background in the military, which probably means he knows how to use weapons. And authorities don't know where he is.

If Kain Figuereo commits a violent crime, stigma for the mentally ill will increase.

Here is the latest news from the Standard Speaker in Hazleton, Pennsylvania:
State police at Hazleton are looking for a missing man with a history of mental illness.

Police said Kain Figuereo, 50, was last seen at Ramada Inn, state Route 309, Hazle Township, on Jan. 15.

He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and hasn't been taking his medication, which may make him confused and extremely paranoid. He is an Army veteran and has been committed several times in the past for mental evaluations.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

"He repeatedly struck the rabbi on the head with an aluminum baseball bat as the victim was walking to synagogue to pray"

Because there is so much anti-Semitism in our world, it's normal to think that must be the cause when a rabbi is savagely attacked out of the blue. To all Jews, myself included, the notion is quite frightening that someone would hate us so much that he would take a baseball bat and bash a rabbi over the head repeatedly for no reason at all.

Unless, of course, there was a reason: serious, untreated mental illness. It's hard to assign blame in that case to Jew-hatred. When someone is delusional and psychotic, he is a danger to everyone, Jew and gentile.

That is just what happened in Toms River, New Jersey. Here is the story from the Washington Post:
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- A man who savagely beat a New Jersey rabbi with a baseball bat during an unprovoked attack has been sentenced to eight years in state prison.

Lee Tucker must serve 85 percent of the term imposed Friday before becoming eligible for parole. He also must pay $9,500 in restitution to the rabbi, who has suffered seizures since the October 2007 attack in Lakewood.

Tucker, who has a history of mental illness, pleaded guilty in December to aggravated assault. He repeatedly struck the rabbi on the head with an aluminum baseball bat as the victim was walking to synagogue to pray.

The rabbi suffered skull, nose and eye socket fractures as well as a brain hemorrhage.

What was not said on the local TV news was more important that what was

When I turned on the local news last night at 10 pm, I saw a reporter holding a microphone, stationed outside an upper-middle class home in Carmichael. On the screen was the word "live." I could see in the penumbra camera crews and reporters from other stations. Every news producer in Sacramento had decided an armed gunman in a stand-off with police was really big news.

However, the stand-off itself was long over. The reporters were on that street (LIVE!) to explain what had culminated five hours earlier. This is the AP summary of what happened:
A nearly six-hour standoff between an armed man and Sacramento County sheriff's deputies has ended safely.

Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran says the 52-year-old man pointed a gun at his mother after an argument with his parents at the suburban Sacramento home the three share. The man surrendered after deputies fired rounds of tear gas into the home in Carmichael, east of Sacramento.

A 52-year-old man living with his parents and pointing a gun at his mother?

What I knew immediately was that the "gunman" was seriously mentally ill and in all likelihood not being medicated. Yet the reporter on Channel 13 never mentioned that.

I suppose a responsible reporter is not supposed to speculate about an alleged criminal's psychiatric condition. But honestly, what else would explain such a crazy action?

The Associated Press story confirmed what I knew:
Curran says the man has a history of mental illness. Curran says it isn't immediately clear if the man will face criminal charges or will be referred for mental health treatment after Saturday's standoff.

Since TV reporters don't ever explain the reason we regularly have stories like this one is because we don't force people with serious mental illnesses to take their medications, the general public is left in the dark.

Many seem to think it's just a sign of the deteriorating morality in our society or the ubiquity of firearms. Most people naturally place blame on the man with the serious mental illness. Perhaps they think it's the fault of his parents for not raising him properly.

But he, of course, is not in control of his faculties and in all likelihood does not even understand that he is mentally ill. His parents don't have the legal right to force him to get treatment. They simply love their son and are suffering for it.

The blame lies with the rest of us who don't call for our laws to be changed so that men like the guy in Carmichael get treatment, voluntarily or otherwise. If he had been on anti-psychotic meds, the TV reporters and the SWAT team would have been off of that street.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

John Edwards: made in the USA, but not really "Made in the USA"

A new tell-all book about former Sen. John Edwards, who was once thought to be a strong contender for the presidency in 2008 and was Sen. John Kerry's running mate in 2004, is now available in bookstores. This book, called The Politician, is making headlines and affecting lives.

Although Edwards's bright-light dimmed 18 months ago -- he was a less effective candidate in the 2008 primaries than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton -- and was put out when it was reported last year that Edwards was a serial philanderer and had fathered a child out of wedlock with one of his aides, this book is making news because it seems to have caused Mr. Edwards to finally concede what everyone else knew: that his mistress's child was also his. And that concession seems to have prompted his cancer-stricken wife, who naively believed her husband up to that point, to divorce him.

What is notable about the book's author, Andrew Young -- not the same Andrew Young who was the Mayor of Atlanta and who served in the Carter Administration -- is how intimately he was involved in the affair itself. He helped Edwards pull it off. He helped with keeping things quiet and making sure payments were made. And when the Senator's paramour, Rielle Hunter, became pregnant, he took on the role of pretending that he was actually the baby's daddy.

I have no idea if all of Mr. Young's charges are true. (Young accuses Mrs. Edwards of politicizing her cancer diagnosis.) Both John and Elizabeth Edwards's representatives have said they are not. I don't care enough one way or the other. I won't read the book. However, the decline and fall of John Edwards does intrigue me.

In January 2006, John Edwards came to Davis as part of his pre-campaign campaign for the 2008 nomination. This is part of what I wrote about his appearance, which I attended at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis:
Though he has a very thin resume in elected office – his only experience in government was the single term he served in the U.S. Senate – John Edwards has all the markings of a person who could get elected president.

He speaks well. He’s good looking. He’s bright. He’s charming. He’s not a blowhard or a bore.

The Senator-cum-trial lawyer connects on an emotional level. He knows how to say what his audience wants to hear. And, even when talking about difficult problems, he comes across as a positive and uplifting character. If Edwards ever made it to the White House, his style would be more Ronald Reagan, less Jimmy Carter.

At that time and for the next two years, I did not think Edwards was going to win the Democratic nomination. I thought Hillary Clinton, with her more impressive resume and her greater degree of celebrity, would win. (Obviously, I did not give enough weight to Barack Obama's immense talent as a candidate.) But I saw Edwards as a top player, as someone who would for a long time be in the game. He had too much charm to just fade away.

Yet now that he has crashed and burned, we won't likely hear too much more from him.

Here are some excerpts from the new Young book from a CNN report:
... when Edwards impregnated Hunter, Young said he agreed to the senator's request to lie and say he was the father even though Young, himself, was married with three children.

Young said Hunter was also initially against the idea but warmed up to it after being told her financial needs would be met. His wife, Cheri, eventually agreed to the plan, setting in motion a chaotic time for the family as they uprooted their lives in North Carolina and criss-crossed the country with Hunter and their children in an effort to evade the media.

Young portrays John Edwards as a vain man whose only care in the world was himself:
Young said it wasn't until John Edwards privately expressed indifference about the birth of his daughter, Frances Quinn Hunter, in February 2008, that he realized the former senator cared only about himself.

"After watching and hearing John Edwards practice a thousand little deceptions and tell a thousand different lies, ostensibly in the service of some greater good, I finally recognized that he didn't care about anyone other than himself," Young writes.

"A precious living, breathing human being -- his daughter -- had come into the world, and he wasn't inclined to even call the woman who had given birth to her. Instead, I had to prompt him to do the right thing, to do the most basic, human thing."

Young also portrays Edwards's populism as phony:
Despite Edwards' carefully crafted image as a champion for everyday people, he was "irritated by ordinary events. He especially hated making appearances at state fairs, where 'fat rednecks try to shove food down my face. I know I'm the people's senator, but do I have to hang out with them?'"

Young further portrays Edwards's sympathy for union workers in the U.S. as contrived:
Edwards understood his audience and before appearing at a Service Employees International Union health care event in Las Vegas, Nevada, he instructed Young to take his Italian suit coat to a tailor to remove the label indicating it was Italian-made. In its place, Edwards had the tailor sew in a "Made in the USA" label that had been on Young's jacket.

Edwards made most of his fortune as a trial lawyer. He convinced gullible jurors to award his clients millions of dollars in medical "malpractice" cases, even when the doctors being sued followed the best available scientific evidence to guide their decisions. The fact that a lawyer of that caliber is in reality a fraud is not surprising. But the fact that this particular fraud has been exposed as such is something I never expected.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Psychosis: She used her stove to light a blanket on fire in an attempt to kill her boy

Whenever you hear a story of a mother killing her children, know that the reason is almost certainly the woman's untreated mental illness. No rational-thinking mom would ever try to harm her kids. It's not a byproduct of punishment or selfishness. It's a byproduct of severe psychosis.

There was a story today out of Las Vegas, in which a mother tried to kill her son. Fortunately, a heroic neighbor intervened and saved the boy's life:
A southwest valley condo resident is being called a hero for saving the life of a six -year-old boy whose mother was trying to kill him.

A fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon at the West Tropicana Condominiums near Trop and Decatur. A neighbor, Brian Morace and his wife (pictured above) saw the fire and Morace went in despite the objections of the boy's mother. Once inside the smoke-filled condo, he rescued the boy, but suffered smoke inhalation.

The 36-year-old mother suffered second and third-degree burns. Police say the woman used her stove to light a blanket on fire in an attempt to kill the boy. The woman, who also has a history of mental illness is expected to face charges of arson and attempted murder.

I'm not sure if parenticide is always due to untreated mental illness. But I would suspect it mostly is. The Examiner today reports one such case out of San Diego:
Heather D'Aoust was 14 when she attacked her adoptive mother with a claw hammer in their Scripps Ranch home May 25, 2008.

During the attack, she struck her mother Rebecca D'Aoust, a school teacher and counselor, at least 25 times. The victim died the next day of head injuries sustained during the assault.

D'Aoust, who has a history of mental illness, professes to not knowing why she did it and said as much during Wednesday's sentencing for the crime in San Diego County Superior Court.

Now 16, she was sentenced to 16 years-to-life in state prison for second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She pleaded guilty in December 2009

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called it a "tragic case for everyone involved."

When her adoptive father came to his wife's aid, she attacked him too.

Though the defendant professed not knowing why she killed to her sentencing judge, Superior Court Judge Michael Wellington, she told a San Diego County Probation Officer that she had planned to kill the whole family that morning, including her sister and the sister’s boyfriend.

“Hopefully, Heather will get the mental health treatment she needs while serving her sentence,” Dumanis said.

If Heather had been treated from the get-go, her mother would be alive today and Heather would not be in prison.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Without mental hospitals and without treatment, tragic outcomes are the only possibility, especially for someone born a sociopath

When we had public mental hospitals, people who were born with defective brains which made them insane from early in life were placed in them. In those hospitals, they got treatment. Possibly, such a person could be healed, to the extent he could live in society on medications. If restoration of health was not possible, they and society could be kept safe. However, without mental hospitals and without treatment, tragic outcomes are the only possibility, especially for someone who seems to have been born a sociopath.

As the Bradenton Herald reports, Clifford Davis was born mentally damaged. And his life was tragic thereafter. As a consequence of not being hospitalized, he murdered his mother and his grandfather and then raped his mother's corpse:
BRADENTON — From as young as a 2-year-old, Clifford Davis showed signs of a troubled boy out of touch with reality, several relatives testified Monday.

Members of the Davis family came from Texas to testify on behalf of the man accused of killing his mother, Stephanie Davis, and grandfather, Joel Hill, more than four years ago.

Davis’ attorneys are looking to spare their client the death penalty by convincing a jury that Davis was insane at the time of the killings, seeking a not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity.

“I remember when he was 2, we were on a family trip and he didn’t like what we were doing and he suddenly turned around and spit in my face,” said half-brother James Davis. “It was always like that with him. One minute he was fine, then the next minute he would not even speak to me.”

Other family members testified to a similar pattern of erratic behavior throughout Davis’ life, a pained existence of depression and isolation. Family members have testified that Davis also descended into an obsession with violent video games, at times playing for 18 hours a day.

Families of mentally ill children need to be educated as well. They should have had him medicated early on, so he never got this bad.
“Clifford just never really connected with people on an emotional level. There was always a disconnect there. It was just always hard to reach Clifford,” his aunt Carol Anderson testified.

Davis’ attorney, Assistant State Attorney Carolyn Schlemmer, also presented medical professionals who said her client’s behavior was not just strange, but symptomatic of debilitating mental illness.

California psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Wu testified that Davis, 23, suffers from brain abnormalities on a brain scan conducted in 2006 that may have resulted from a psychotic disorder.

In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Davis is also accused of sexually assaulting his mother’s dead body and of robbery. He has admitted in court — outside the presence of the jury — that on Dec. 4, 2005, he killed his mother and grandfather in the Wares Creek apartment he shared with his mother.

Now Mr. Davis's fate is in the hands of his judge and jury:
Smith would decide Davis’ fate should a jury find him not guilty by reason of insanity, which could include a lifetime commitment to a mental hospital.

Obviously this guy should have been committed to a mental hospital for life long before he committed these horrific senseless crimes.

Kenneth McDougall had schizophrenia and had been committed earlier: "He was a 'gentle man' but had stopped taking medication"

When most people hear about a murder committed by someone who is seriously mentally ill, they presume the killer was a sociopath who had no regard for innocent life. But generally, that is not the case.

If a schizophrenic goes off his meds, he becomes a completely different person and has no sense of what he is doing, thinking and irrationally perceiving. He may believe he is acting in self-defense when he kills innocents. Or he may think God has commanded him to attack others in order to save society.

On meds, he would understand, at least, that those are crazy ideas. But off meds, it's a kill or be killed world in his diseased mind.

Kenneth McDougall was off his meds. Justina McDougall died for that. The Winnepeg (Canada) Free Press reports:
A Portage la Prairie man accused of killing his wife has a history of mental illness.

Kenneth Edward McDougall, 54, was charged with first-degree murder after his wife collapsed in their home last Wednesday. Medical officials tried CPR to rouse the woman, but to no avail.

Justina Shteen Unrau McDougall, 47, died in hospital three days later.

Medical officials were doing an autopsy Monday to determine her cause of death.

"My sister was a very loving person who had hundreds of friends," said Helen Unrau, Justina McDougall's sister.

"She will be dearly missed."

Helen Unrau said Kenneth McDougall had schizophrenia and had been committed to a care institution after an earlier incident involving his wife.

Unless a patient can be forced to keep taking antipsychotics, it makes no sense to release him. Yet McDougall was released and not forced to take his meds.
Unrau said the earlier event made her fear something might again happen to her sister.

Her brother-in-law was a "gentle man" but had stopped taking medication, which she thinks was a mistake.

"She was also the victim at that time but she took him back. He was supposed to be cured," she said. "He used to be a very loving husband and father."

"Three of the four people who had walked in front of moving trains last year were also students at Gunn High School"

Suicide is almost always the byproduct of untreated mental illness. I doubt Brian Taylor was ever a danger to anyone but himself. However, had he been forced to take medication, he would be alive today:
Brian Bennion Taylor, a 19-year-old graduate of Palo Alto’s Gunn High School, was struck and killed by a southbound train at Meadow Drive at 11:45 p.m. Friday night, in an apparent suicide.

San Mateo County transit police are investigating the death as a suicide, though no official cause of death has been released as of press time. Taylor’s mother said her son, who graduated in 2008 and attended Brigham Young University, had a history of mental illness, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Taylor was killed near the crossing at East Meadow Drive, the fifth death at the same intersection since last May. Three of the four people who had walked in front of moving trains last year were also students at Gunn High School.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

10 years in prison for attacking his mother with a hammer

Last Wednesday on this blog I wrote: "In the vast majority of cases where an untreated mental patient commits a violent crime ... the victim is a family member."

Today I noticed a story out of Wisconsin where a son tried to kill his mother. The son, of course, has untreated mental illness:
FOREST CITY — A Lake Mills man was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison Friday after being convicted of attacking his mother with a hammer.

A Winnebago County Court judge also ordered that Timothy P. Winter, 37, serve a mandatory minimum of at least five years for attacking Cynthia Winter, 63, in April 2009.

Winter’s attorney, Susan Flander, asked the judge to consider that her client has mental health issues. She said Winter is on medication to control his condition and has demonstrated his competency.

Philip Garland, Winnebago assistant county attorney, agreed that Winter “has had mental health issues,” and his criminal record does not include felony assault, but he said the attack on Winter’s mother was brutal.

Judge Colleen Weiland said she considered Winter’s mental health, but his prior criminal history including combative behavior justified the five-year minimum.

Notice that he is on medication now that he is in the criminal justice system. If we had a sane system for dealing with the seriously mentally ill, this crime never would have taken place. Timothy Winter would have been on medication before any crazy ideas like attacking his mother with a hammer took over him.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Laughing out loud ... at Chilly.

In his column today forecasting the conference championships and possible Super Bowl match-ups, Bill Simmons had a very funny joke at the expense of Brad "Chilly" Childress, the head coach of the Minnesotra Vikings:
Potentially horrifying media day subplot that hasn't been mentioned yet: Someone making a "Have you ever walked into a kitchen holding a 12-pack and been ambushed by Chris Hansen?"-type joke to Brad Childress, followed by Childress vaulting his podium and pummeling him.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Johnson used scissors to stab and slash her daughter 100 times in the laundry room of an apartment complex."

In the vast majority of cases where an untreated mental patient commits a violent crime -- I hesitate to even use the word crime because someone out of his mind is incapable of making a rational decision to do wrong -- the victim is a family member. Here are three such cases from the news today.

The Houston Chronicle reports:
A man with a history of mental illness has been charged with murder in the stabbing death of his younger brother, Harris County Sheriff's officials said.

Joshua Lelay, 24, died after he was found about 3:45 a.m. Tuesday by deputies responding to a possible stabbing ...

Investigators learned that Daniel Lelay stabbed his brother after hearing voices, officials said.

Channel 7 News (NBC) in Boston reports:
GARDNER, Mass. -- 39-year old Susan Johnson is charged with repeatedly stabbing her two-year old daughter in Gardner last year. Lawyers for Johnson have indicated that she has a history of mental illness.

Prosecutors said Johnson used scissors to stab and slash her daughter 100 times in the laundry room of an apartment complex back in April. She also allegedly tried to strangle the girl with an electrical cord.

The AP in Binghamton, NY reports:
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (AP) - Tricia McGarity pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in October for beating to death her 3-year-old son Milken. An autopsy showed the boy died from several blows to the head.

A prosecutor and defense lawyer both said she has a history of mental illness.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Despite psychosis, schizoaffective disorder and other mental issues, a court-ordered evaluation found her competent for trial"

I don't know what's crazier: the fact that we closed our mental hospitals and have hundreds of thousands of severely mentally ill people living unsupervised without adequate psychiatric treatment and without psychotropic medicines; or the fact that when one of these untreated mental patients commits a violent crime we hold them criminally responsible for "acting crazy."

In San Antonio, Texas, Denise Crouch, who suffers from psychosis and schizoaffective disorder, should have been hospitalized. Instead, she was set "free", she killed one of her neighbors and now, according to this account in the Express-News, she is going to be tried as if she actually could make a rational decision to stab someone:
HONDO — A woman with a history of mental illness faces trial starting Tuesday on a murder charge in connection with the stabbing death of a fellow resident of the Devine Trailer Park.

Denise Crouch, 39, admitted retrieving a knife from her home and killing James “Red” Long after exchanging words with him April 27, 2008, according to court records.

Long, 40, also identified Crouch as his attacker in a 911 call he made before dying in an ambulance on the way to a hospital, authorities said.

Crouch was arrested at her trailer shortly after the attack and has been held since then under $250,000 bail at the Medina County Jail.

Despite past hospitalizations for psychosis, schizoaffective disorder and other mental issues that first affected Crouch as a teen, a court-ordered evaluation found her competent for trial.

“She's been evaluated and come back sane,” said Assistant District Attorney Mike Cohen, who expects the jury trial to last about six days.

Crouch's attorney Russell Delk, who put the court on notice that he'll raise an insanity defense, could not be reached for comment.

A motion he filed seeking the competency exam said Crouch had had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations since 1991 at facilities in San Antonio, Devine, Kerrville, Louisiana and California.

Crouch's mental illness history includes “auditory hallucinations commanding her to hurt herself and others, persecutory and grandiose delusional thinking, paranoid delusions and disorganized thinking,” it said.

Canada is no better than we are when it comes to trying untreated mentally ill "criminals" for their irrational acts. Trevor James La Pierre is going on trial next week for murdering his 74-year-old neighbor who was delivering Christmas cards.

Here is The Record's story of the crime from 2007:
Paul La Pierre was rushing his mentally unstable son to a psychiatric ward Tuesday afternoon when police stopped their cab and arrested Trevor La Pierre.

He has been charged with first-degree murder in last Saturday's slaying of Hunter Brown.

"I knew he was off the wall,'' a shaken Paul La Pierre said outside court yesterday before his 22-old-son made his first appearance.

"I realized the severity of the situation. He'd been using insane language and acting like he was a victim of everything.''

Brown, a 74-year-old grandfather, was attacked with an edged weapon as he delivered Christmas cards to neighbours on his suburban street.

During his brief appearance in Kitchener's Ontario Court, Trevor James La Pierre looked distraught, teary-eyed and dishevelled.

His long black hair was wild and matted. He wore a loose, sleeveless white T-shirt, issued by police as protective clothing.

Brown's death stunned family and neighbours who couldn't understand why anyone would launch an unprovoked attack on a man known for selflessly helping others.

Paul La Pierre said his son has been struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness.

In the past year and half, he's been hospitalized four times, he said. Three of those times were at the Grand River Hospital psychiatric ward. He was released just five or six weeks ago.

"We fought,'' his father said. "He was always released.

"We said, 'Look, we don't think he's ready.' But he was self-admitted. They couldn't hold him. This is totally unnecessary. It could have been prevented.''

On Tuesday morning, he had made his son visit his psychiatrist.

"They released him with a different prescription."

He was so worried about his son's recent erratic behaviour, he called a cab to take him to the hospital later that day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"He missed taking his meds several consecutive days this week."

Forced medication. If we just made that one simple reform, most of the problems of the severely mentally ill would be solved.

A patient who is taking his anti-psychotic medications (most of the time) does not have to be in a mental hospital. He can be a productive citizen and live integrated in his community. However, every patient with severe psychoses must have someone looking after him, such as a member of his family or a public guardian, to ensure the patient is taking his medications.

If the patient refuses to take his meds or "decides" to go off them for awhile, the guardian must be able to call authorities and have the patient involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he will be medicated and where (hopefully) his mental health will stabilize. His release then will be on condition that he continues to take his prescriptions. If he stops, his guardian must then call authorities again and the process starts anew.

This mechanism would stop complete breakdowns in mental health and prevent the spiral into madness, homelessness, self-destruction, victimhood and violent criminality.

A good question is why so many mental patients refuse to take their medications, if they do so much good?

The answer, strangely, is that many people with severe mental illnesses have a secondary brain dysfunction called anosognosia*, which makes them unaware that they are sick. This explanation comes from the Treatment Advocacy Center:
Impaired awareness of illness (anosognosia) is a major problem because it is the single largest reason why individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not take their medications. It is caused by damage to specific parts of the brain, especially the right hemisphere. It affects approximately 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia and 40 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder. When taking medications, awareness of illness improves in some patients.

Impaired awareness of illness is a strange thing. It is difficult to understand how a person who is sick would not know it. Impaired awareness of illness is very difficult for other people to comprehend. To other people, a person’s psychiatric symptoms seem so obvious that it’s hard to believe the person is not aware he/she is ill.

Yesterday in Woodburn, Oregon -- a town near Interstate 5 about halfway between Salem and Portland -- a mentally ill man who stopped taking his medications (and was not forced to resume taking them), presumably because he also has anosognosia and is unaware that he is sick, drew the attention of a host of personnel from the local police and sheriff's department, including a SWAT team, when he went "crazy." Ultimately, all of the violence he committed was directed against himself:
A SWAT team with snipers was called to a Woodburn residence Friday morning after a man with a history of mental illness was reported as “out-of-control” and throwing things.

Woodburn Police Department (WPD), Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), Woodburn Ambulance Service, and Woodburn Fire District responded around 8:30 a.m. to the residence of Jeremy Baesman, 32, who had barricaded himself inside his home.

According to WPD Capt. Doug Garrett, Baesman then began turning his attacks inward.

“He had knocked out at least three of his teeth with a hammer on his own,” Garrett said.

“He had also … it looked like he had some self-inflicted lacerations on his legs from either a knife of some sharp instrument.”

Garrett said Baesman was “obviously extremely injured,” with dried blood on his face and both hands swollen. The police captain said he thought he’d broken his hands, likely from punching walls or other hard surfaces.

He had a previous arrest record involving an assault-related incident in Woodburn. In that incident, he was hit with a taser multiple times.

Garrett said family members were aware the man was on medications for a mental health illness, and thought he had missed several consecutive days this week.

*Anosognosia is pronounced: ə-nōˌsŏg-nōˈzē-ə or uh-NO sog-NO-zee-uh.

Friday, January 15, 2010

To get a baby for herself, Andrea Curry-Demus murdered the child's mother and cut her fetus from its womb

I wonder if some particularly brutal crimes, committed by people who should have been in mental hospitals, result in friends and family members suffering post-traumatic stress? If so, untreated psychoses could be called (colloquially) infectious diseases.

If any act would bring about PTSD, this senseless killing in Pittsburgh, committed by a woman who had untreated mental illness, would. Here is the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review's telling of the trial:
A psychiatrist testified for more than three hours Thursday that Andrea Curry-Demus had a history of mental illness and was delusional when she cut a baby from the womb of a McKeesport teenager.

"As a result of her underlying psychosis, she's unable to appreciate between right and wrong," said Dr. Barbara E. Ziv during the Wilkinsburg woman's homicide trial. "I think it's likely she was psychotic. It's the sum total of 20 years of psychotic behavior and the bizarre act of the crime itself."

Ziv's testimony is the centerpiece of the defense for Curry-Demus, 40, who is on trial for the July 2008 death of Kia Johnson, 18. Defense attorney Christopher Patarini is seeking a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Ziv testified at length about Curry-Demus' history of mental illness. She said that past doctors diagnosed Curry-Demus with psychosis and having delusions of pregnancies and children. Ziv diagnosed her with delusional disorder.

"Her beliefs are non-consistent with reality," Ziv said.

Curry-Demus is accused of drugging Johnson, binding her wrists and ankles with duct tape and cutting the baby out of her womb.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"They all begged the authorities to lock her up."

The U.S. is not alone in its wrong-headed, civil libertarian approach to the severely mentally ill. The Daily Mirror of London today reports a tragic story about a woman in England who stabbed her child to death:
A mentally-ill mum killed her five-year-old girl by knifing her 52 times after a series of warnings that she was a danger were ignored. Aisling Murray, a paranoid schizophrenic, stabbed screaming Chloe during a twisted ritual after transforming her daughter's bedroom into an altar.

A report published yesterday revealed Chloe's teachers, dad David Fahey and Murray's mum had all begged the authorities to lock her up.

Murray, a 23-year-old mum-of-two with a history of mental illness, had been discharged from hospital just a few weeks before the killing and was ruled not to be a risk. The night before Chloe's death, Murray was arrested for attacking David at their house in Stretford, Greater Manchester.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Patty Mojziszek: My husband didn't take his medications for his mental illness.

One of the arguments against keeping open public mental hospitals is they are expensive to operate. That is true. But in many regards closing them is more expensive.

In Illinois, if Dan Mojziszek had been forced into treatment for his serious mental illness, he would be alive today and Franklin Park (IL) would not be facing a $10 million wrongful death suit. This is the Daily Herald's account:
Police opened fire on 52-year-old Dan Mojziszek late Monday following a three-mile, low-speed chase that began in Franklin Park and ended in Northlake.

Patty Mojziszek's attorney, Frank Avila, says the family plans to file a $10 million wrongful death suit.

Avila said diabetic episodes can trigger mental illness. Mojziszek was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had undergone several stints at the Elgin Mental Health Center.

Patty Mojziszek divorced her husband in 2000 because of his mental illness and trouble with the law. She said the bipolar disorder wasn't diagnosed until after their marriage.

"His issues with the mental illness were consuming all of the money, and his court issues were growing," she said. "I thought I would end up with nothing."

Dan Mojziszek's mental illness would manifest itself in delusions and paranoia, his ex-wife said. He would make outrageous claims about the FBI and aliens.

"I would sometimes just find him sitting there alone talking about these things to himself," she said.

Patty Mojziszek said her husband "didn't take care of himself" when it came to taking medications for his mental illness and diabetes. Police interaction became routine and she found she could only relax when her ex-husband as serving time in prison.

The Topeka-Capitol Journal today is reporting on expensive upgrades in security systems at all public facilities in Kansas and Colorado in the wake of dangers posed by men with serious, but untreated mental illness.

Had Derek Potts and Aaron Snyder been under the supervision of state hospitals, Snyder would would be alive and mentally sound, Potts would not be in prison, a security guard would be alive and these expensive and inconvenient changes in security would not need to be made.
In 2007, a gunman who claimed to be an emperor, Aaron Snyder, was shot and killed by state troopers outside the office of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. A dozen tourists and state workers bore witness to the traumatic episode.

The sound of gunfire broke afternoon calm in 2004 at the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield. An unarmed guard was slain by Derek Potts, a college dropout with a history of mental illness.

These horror stories played a role in an evaluation in Kansas leading to a decision to upgrade security protocol at the Statehouse.

In Alabama, as in most states, the patients who in past generations would have been cared for involuntarily in public mental hospitals are living untreated on the streets. The Montgomery Advertiser reports on efforts of homeless shelters to try to comfort some of the severely mentally ill. The problem, of course, is the shelters are not equipped to help these untreated patients:
Somewhere between a fourth and a fifth of America's homeless are estimated to suffer from severe mental problems.

And because of these mental problems they have difficulty getting help. There are not enough mental health resources to provide them all beds, but their conditions often make it difficult for shelters to take them in.

It's not a common practice for the shelter to take in people with mental illnesses. Not with the erratic behavior they can bring with them.

"It's not so much not taking the mentally ill in, but you have these other guys ... you've got to take care of them," Tom Whitfield, the mission's director, said of the other shelter residents.

Although the National Institute of Mental Health said that only about 6 percent of America's overall population was classified as severely mentally ill in 2009, between 20 and 25 percent of America's homeless suffers from some form of severe mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Cynthia Bisbee said shelters aren't well equipped or trained to handle the special needs of people with mental illnesses.

"There are shelters here -- Salvation Army and the Friendship Mission that do fantastic work in providing shelter for the homeless -- but they are not equipped to deal with the seriously mentally ill."

"There's severe depression, schizophrenia. They burn their bridges with their families. If we bring (them) in here, it disrupts the whole system."

The mix of homelessness and mental illness affects a person's physical health -- the homeless neglect to care for themselves with adequate hygiene practices.

Serious mental illnesses disrupt people's ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self-care and household management, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Mental illnesses may also prevent people from forming and maintaining stable relationships or cause people to misinterpret others' guidance and react irrationally.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When will America wake up?

The Contra Costa Times is reporting today that a man (with untreated mental illness) in Pittsburg (CA) was firing his gun out of his home for no reason:
PITTSBURG — A standoff that prompted police to cordon off several city blocks in the Central Addition neighborhood for nearly six hours Monday has ended with the arrest of an Pittsburg man.

Police surrounded 793 E. 11th St. at 11:20 a.m. while they negotiated with 55-year-old Gregory Alexander, who allegedly fired a handgun outside his home, Lt. Brian Addington said. It remained unclear why he fired two rounds, but police said Alexander has a history of mental illness and threatening neighbors.

The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown, Penn. today tells the story of a woman, who apparently had a serious mental illness, being stabbed to death by her sister:
A woman told police from her Johnstown hospital bed that a verbal dispute with her sister had escalated and her sister had ended up stabbing her.

Following the stabbing, Pamela L. Tunstall, 45, of Central City, was found bleeding along Route 30. She died by the roadside as medical technicians struggled to save her.

Pamela Tunstall died of multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest, Coroner Wallace Miller said. Richards indicated that Pamela Tunstall’s background might include a history of mental illness.

From 1919 to 1933, the years of Prohibition, when the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages were banned by our Constitution, there must have been some rational Americans, ordinary people who had no money at stake in booze, who thought to themselves, "What the hell is my country doing? This ban is insane. It brings all these evils of crime and violence and it harms civic society. We were so much better off dealing with alcohol as a regulated commodity before the 18th Amendment was approved. Can't we just go back to the status quo ante?"

I've had that thought many times with regard to our nonsensical War on Drugs.

And lately, it has occurred to me how much better off our country was when we had public mental hospitals and involuntary treatment for the severely mentally ill; when we had the sense to know that people with brain disorders cannot make good decisions about their own health and the decency to force treatment upon them.

The entire result of "freedom" for people with schizophrenia and other serious mental maladies has been a disaster: homelessness, senseless crimes, family strife, suicides, murders, rapes and needless endangerment. Our criminal justice system, our prisons, jails and police departments are being overrun by this madness.

When will America wake up to realize how much better off we used to be?

When was the last time Haiti ever had any good news?

No country circumvents all natural disasters. Every one will at some point suffer from a terrible flood or an earthquake or a hurricane or a tornado or a drought or pestilence or a volcanic eruption or a landslide or a tsunami or a heat wave or a deep freeze. However, the bad news in most countries is balanced out by good news, recovery, rebuilding and a better infrastructure able to face what nature brings.

That said, I cannot remember ever hearing good news out of Haiti. Along with Bangladesh, the news is always failure heaped upon tragedy heaped upon misery. Haiti is direly poor, badly governed, overwrought with crime, filthy, massively overcrowded, terribly educated, corrupt and unlucky.

Today, a devastating earthquake rocked that godforsaken country:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- A strong earthquake hit the impoverished country of Haiti on Tuesday afternoon, where a hospital collapsed and people were screaming for help. Other buildings also were damaged.

The earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 and was centered about 14 miles (22 kilometers) west from the capital of Port-au-Prince, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

An Associated Press videographer saw the wrecked hospital in nearby Petionville, and a U.S. government official reported seeing houses that had tumbled into a ravine.

No further details on any casualties or other damage were immediately available.

My guess, alas, is that thousands of Haitians will die from this event and tens of thousands will be left homeless. That is just the way it goes in that unfortunate land.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Passing the buck: How the Davis City Council failed to address our long-term budget mess

Correspondence from City Councilman Stephen Souza: What claim was false?

Unsolicited, I got an email today from Davis City Councilman Stephen Souza. I like Stephen personally and am always happy to hear from him. However, I was intrigued by the title of his email. On the subject line it read, "False claim."

Here is how Stephen begins:
Hi Mr. Rifkin ...

It's interesting to me that in an email sent to me alone (with no apparent cc's) Stephen addresses me as "Mr. Rifkin."

I've had many conversations with Stephen and found him friendly, relaxed and informal. I've been to his home to play poker and drink beer and sip tequila. I've had a number of off-the-cuff conversations with him regarding any manner of personal subjects. On all of those occasions, each time we have spoken and in all emails he has sent to me in the past, he always called me, "Rich," not "Mr. Rifkin." I can understand formality in a formal setting, such as a meeting of the Davis City Council. But in a one-to-one email, it is jarring that all informality has been dropped.

Now to his points:
I for the last 21+ years of service to the City of Davis have always had the interests of all Davisites above myself and contributors to my four campaigns for Davis City Council.

That may be true. However, when an elected official takes money -- in his case, thousands of dollars -- from members of a special interest group (the Davis firefighters' union) and agrees to a contract with that group which was not good for the citizens of Davis in my estimation and not good in the estimation of both of the members of the Davis City Council who were not supported in the last four years by Local 3494, his actions have the appearance of being unethical and improper and not in the best "interests of all Davisites."

Stephen continues:
In those campaigns I have been the largest contributor, $15,000 in 2004 and $6,000 in 2008. The next largest group is retired individuals, next working, next business/developer interest, and in the last two campaigns last firefighters.

Those are four distinct types of contributors:

1. The candidate himself. His giving $21,000 to his campaigns suggests he really wanted the job. That's fine. I have no problem with him giving to his own campaign if he can afford it. (Stephen, who owns and operates a swimming pool cleaning company, mentioned to me in a conversation a few months ago that he also sacrificed more, because his position on the council forced him to give up lucrative contracts with some large apartment complexes, as well.)

Not specific to Stephen, but I do wonder about some candidates who "loan" large amounts of their money to their campaigns. The potential problem with that arrangement is who gives the money to the elected official after the campaign is over. That is, the loans get paid back by someone. If people who do business with the city are repaying those loans -- that is, giving money in post-election fundraisers -- how are voters supposed to know that when they vote?

2. Retired & working Davisites who presumably don't benefit directly by his votes. There is no ethical question about these gifts. As it happens, I gave Stephen $35 for his last campaign and fit into this category.

3. Business and developer interests. This can be a problem area. One of the things which makes Stephen a highly qualified candidate for elective office in Davis is that he has a successful business which he started and operates himself. He is not just a success, but he knows how to work hard and knows what it takes to succeed in business in Davis. As such, it's natural that other members of the Chamber of Commerce would like to see such a person in office. However, if business people giving him money are also doing business with the City and Stephen is in a position to make decisions which directly affect their fortunes, that has the appearance of a conflict of interest and should not be allowed in Davis.

4. The firefighters. This is by far the worst type of campaign cash to accept and then turn around and vote on their contract. It appears corrupt, especially since the only members of the City Council who favored their last contract took money from Local 3494 and none who did not get firefighter cash in the last four years approve that contract.

The appropriate tact for a candidate for the Davis City Council is to not accept contributions from groups like the firefighters or developers. However, in the case where a member of the council has accepted funds from individuals who stand to benefit from a vote of the council, that member of the council has a moral obligation to recuse himself from such a vote. When Stephen Souza, Don Saylor and Ruth Asmundson did not recuse themselves from the vote on the firefighter contract, they failed the moral test.

Stephen goes on:
This round of contract negotiations, my second, I asked for and the Council passed a set of Guiding Principles and Objectives for Negotiations Related to Employee Compensation. They are guiding me in seeking reductions in employee total compensation.

The guiding principles were not all I would have wanted. For example, they required no changes regarding union bank hours, excessive vacations and holidays and so on. However, they had some good in them and they let the public know in advance what the majority of the City Council was hoping to get out of its secret negotiations with the labor groups. As such, I applaud the notion of guiding principals.

The problem, alas, was that the most important principle -- to fix the unfunded retiree medical liability -- was untouched by the changes in the new contract. As such, the council had its guiding principles and failed to be guided by them in this most crucial respect.
My service is to you and all Davisites. I do it in ALL Davisites favor, not in favor one person or group. Stephen

Words only go so far. When you accept money from firefighters and vote on their behalf, you have created the appearance of a conflict of interest. To me, that is unacceptable, but correctable. What Stephen Souza and his colleagues on the council ought to do is take up this question in their ethics' guidelines. They ought to make a recusal in such conflicted instances mandatory.

I have never claimed Stephen or anyone on the City Council is corrupt. I claim instead that they have allowed by their actions an appearance of corruption. And that claim, Stephen, is undeniably true.

The story is not what we consider a crime: The story is what we don't consider criminal

The New York Times is reporting that a former member of the Yonkers (NY) City Council was indicted last week on corruption charges for selling her votes on two development projects which she had previously opposed.
WHITE PLAINS — A former Yonkers city councilwoman was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of accepting nearly $167,000 in cash and gifts in exchange for dropping her opposition to two contentious developments, including a $630 million project that is the city’s largest private undertaking.

The former councilwoman, Sandy Annabi, 39, a Democrat whose term ended in December, was one of three people charged in the indictment. The other two, Zehy Jereis, 38, the former leader of the Westchester County Republican Party, and a lawyer, Anthony Mangone, 36, are accused of bilking two developers of tens of thousands of dollars and funneling the money and other favors to Ms. Annabi in return for her support.

I have no qualms about prosecuting Ms. Annabi. Her alleged offense is serious and deserves to be treated as such.

However, contrast how our laws treat what she allegedly did with how the law views an elected official who takes thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from special interest groups. The recipients of campaign money commonly reward their donors by giving them favorable treatment in contracts or zoning changes or they direct purchases of goods and services to their companies.

The City of Davis has enriched the 46 members of its firefighters' union, Local 3494, with huge salaries, exorbitant vacation and holiday schedules, thousands of hours of pay for conducting union activities, massive built-in overtime, a rich schedule of benefits, luxurious pensions and free medical, dental and vision care for life upon a very early retirement. Is it merely a coincidence that the three members of our City Council who Local 3494 funded for office voted for their contracts, while the two who did not take that money voted against the interests of the firefighters, saying the contract was not in the best interests of the citizens?

It seems to me that any elected official who accepts money from a person or group which does business with the government or person or group which benefits directly by the decisions made by that elected official should not have the right to vote on any issues affecting his donors. To me, that has the appearance of corruption and should be illegal. Yet it is not outlawed and we don't even have ethics codes to forbid it.

At the local level the payoffs to these campaign donors tend to be modest. But at the federal level, the defense contractors, farmers, lawyers and other large financiers of congressional campaigns stand to make billions of dollars in profits based on the decisions made by the Congress. Everyone on the outside believes our system is corrupt.

It's business as usual. And business as usual is outrageous.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Who was supposed to be offended?

The big non-story story in politics today regards Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. This is the AP rendition published in the Los Angeles Times:

Washington - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apologized Saturday for saying in 2008 that Barack Obama should seek -- and could win -- the White House because Obama was a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Let me try to break down what exactly was supposed to be offensive about that remark and who was supposed to be offended:

1. Barack Obama should seek -- and could win -- the White House ... That is obviously a huge compliment. No one in his right-mind finds that offensive;

2. Obama (is) a "light-skinned" African American ... That is an accurate description of the president's complexion. The comment implies that a dark-skinned black would face more prejudice from fellow Americans. That is probably true. Even if it's factually wrong, it is not offensive to think dark-skinned black-Americans face more prejudice than the light-skinned encounter;

3. Obama (speaks English) "with no Negro dialect." ... Again, that is true. Obviously, the term "Negro" is old-fashioned. But it is not patently offensive. Given that Harry Reid is 70 years old and that was surely the term most blacks called themselves during Reid's formative years, he can be excused for using a dated word like "Negro";

4. Obama (speaks English) "with no Negro dialect." ... Is it offensive to notice that there is such a thing as a black-American dialect and imply that a candidate who speaks in that dialect would have more trouble than one who speaks standard American English winning over mainstream America in a national election? No. Everyone knows that Ebonics exists and that manner of speaking is not mainstream and would hamstring any black candidate trying to win over many white-American voters; and

5. Obama (speaks English) "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." ... The inference I take from that is that Reid thinks Obama has put on a "black voice" at times. I have never heard Obama do that. However, it's not impossible to believe. I have known a number of black-Americans who consider themselves "bilingual," able to speak in a black dialect when the setting and company calls for that and at other times speak standard English. Unless Obama has never done that, the comment strikes me as one of fact, rather than one intended to offend.

Taken as a whole, Reid did nothing wrong. More importantly, Reid is a friend and ally of Obama's and there is no reason to think he had any ill intentions.
Obama quickly accepted the apology, saying, "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

Politically, President Obama's response is probably correct. However, I would prefer he said, "Harry Reid is not a racist; he didn't intend to offend anyone; he didn't offend me; and he has no reason to apologize for his comments."
"I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans," he said, "for my improper comments."

Politicians are the ultimate grovellers, so there is no reason to be surprised that Sen. Reid would grovel in this way. I wish, however, that some well known African-Americans will publicly say, "No sensible black-Americans find anything Harry Reid said about Barack Obama offensive."
Reid's office said he had also phoned to apologize to civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights chief Wade Henderson; as well as veteran political operative Donna Brazile. Reid also spoke with Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), both African Americans.

"The Senator doth apologize too much, methinks."

EDIT: This morning (Sunday) on NBC's "Meet the Press," Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele weighed in on the "Negro dialect" question, calling on Harry Reid to resign. Here is the NY Times account:
Steele, the Republican Party chairman, called Sunday for Harry Reid to step down as U.S. Senate majority leader in the wake of revelations of Mr. Reid’s remarks in 2008 about Barack Obama’s skin color and dialect.

Mr. Steele, who is black, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that an apology was not enough and “there has to be a consequence” for “anachronistic language that harkens backs to the 1950’s and 1960’s.”

“There’s a big double standard here,” Mr. Steele said. “When Democrats get caught saying racist things, you know an apology is enough.”

Never mind, Mr. Steele, that Sen. Reid did not say anything racist. Anachronistic, yes. Racist, no.
Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, was among the black leaders who received a call from Mr. Reid. Mr. Clyburn said that Mr. Reid should be judged on the merits of his record to respond to diversity and to advance the president’s agenda.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

"I am an innocent man and not a pervert like these hateful persons suggest."

This murder in Billings, Montana, reported today by the Billings Gazette, is a good example of why some people who have some very serious mental disorders must stay in locked mental hospitals:
A Billings man who has been in and out of Warm Springs State Hospital was arrested without incident Tuesday on suspicion of stabbing his childhood friend to death.

Donald Eli Kruger, 35, is being held in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility on suspicion of deliberate homicide in connection with the death of Jeremiah Fritz.

If the law did not require him to be let "free" from the hospital, the person who made the decision that he was not a danger should be fired. If the law required Kruger no longer live in a locked mental hospital, that law needs to be changed immediately.
Court filings indicate a request for a mental health evaluation for Kruger was filed in that case as recently as Nov. 6.

Kruger, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, was committed to Montana State Hospital after being found mentally unfit to stand trial at least twice in the last five years.

In the latest instance, the city of Billings paid for a commitment in 2008 after Kruger was charged with assaulting two women who were walking together on the South Side. According to court records, Kruger is accused of grabbing the women’s breasts when he passed them on the street, and slamming one into a fence and punching the other repeatedly when they objected.

He was also found incompetent to stand trial in 2005 on a felony charge for indecent exposure. In that case, Kruger was accused of masturbating in front of a woman at the Montana State University Billings library.

Since the early 1990s, Kruger has been charged with more than 20 misdemeanor offenses and three felony offenses. In a number of cases, Kruger sent rambling letters to the court professing his innocence and begging for help.

One undated letter came in an envelope with a penciled drawing of a sharp-toothed skull with bulging eyes.

The letter pleads for help from Judge Pedro Hernandez and reads in part:

“(I was) tricked into entering pleas that give away rights that this court keeps taking advantage of I am an innocent man and not a pervert like these hateful persons suggest in information I was not aware was filed against me until it was to late now that I want to fight for my right for trial and showed good cause the two judges are conspiring with this cop and punishing me with crimes I can’t fight because there just ment to slander me further misleading conjectural ennuendoes with no prima facie until the cop gets involved and misrepresents information or leads witnesses in their statements . . . “

"He had been in and out of mental institutions."

Because he is an Arab and presumably a Muslim and he screamed out "kill all the Jews" on an airplane flying to Detroit, just weeks after the underwear bomber dominated the headlines on a flight to Detroit, the normal immediate reaction to Mansor Mohammed Asad is to think he is an Islamic fanatic who might be a terrorist threat.

However, there is an important part of the story -- really, the whole story -- missing from that equation. Here is the Miami Herald's account:
An Ohio man who became loud and disruptive aboard a Wednesday night flight from Miami to Detroit -- at one point telling those around him he ``wanted to kill all the Jews'' -- was removed from the airplane before takeoff and arrested.

The man was identified as Mansor Mohammad Asad, 43, who authorities say posed no potential security threat.

Miami-Dade police say he caused enough of a ``disturbance'' that the pilot had to return to the jet-bridge. When Asad was taken off the plane to be interviewed by police, he threatened officers, made racial comments and charged an officer, authorities said. He was Tasered twice.

The reaction of authorities seems to me appropriate and justified.

The ADL, however, was hyperbolic and too quick in its response:
The Anti-Defamation League, in a statement Thursday, said it was ``deeply disturbed by the alleged anti-Semitic rant by Mansor Mohammad Asad.''

``Such comments point out the fact that anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews is still very much a part of society,'' Andrew Rosenkranz, the Florida regional director, said in a statement.

While I am glad the ADL speaks out against anti-Semites, I think they would have done better to have waited a couple of days to find out exactly what was going on in Mr. Asad's mind before they reached their conclusions about him.

Here is what the ADL did not know: Asad is seriously mentally ill and in all likelihood is not being treated properly for his disease. Chances are, Asad belongs in a mental hospital under the care of psychiatrists.
Asad's son, Mickey Asad, who was not traveling with his father, told The Miami Herald that his father has bipolar disorder. He told the Associated Press the elder Asad had been in and out of mental institutions when he was younger.

``It's not what it's made out to be,'' Mickey Asad told The Herald. ``I don't know, someone had to have pushed his buttons. I don't know, I couldn't explain honestly. Of course he's not a terrorist.''

We want to make this into a story about terrorism because in so many ways it fits all the preconceived notions about what the terrorists think. Islamic fanatics, after all, do want to kill all the Jews. It's possible that Mr. Asad is both a mentally ill man and an Islamist. However, if his goal was to harm other passengers on that flight or to kill Jews, he would not have stood up and made that scene. He did that because he has a very serious disease which caused him to do what he did and say what he said.