Thursday, February 22, 2018

Cruising the Web

Amy Barnhorst, the vice chairwoman of community psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, writes in the New York Times about the limitations of the mental health system is not our answer in stopping mass shooters. She tells of a young man who was brought into the crisis unit where she had to decide whether to have him involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital. His parents had reported him to the police after reading his postings talking about death and promising a "Day of Retribution" at his community college and his postings admiring the Columbine shooters. She then faced a quandary because the young man was polite and denied that he had any murderous or suicidal thoughts. There was no obvious sign of mental illness. So what could she do? She goes through her options and the limitations. If she did hold him for observation, he would be out within a week when he had a hearing and the judge realized the same thing that she had - that this young man was not mentally ill. The system is set up for people with real psychiatric problems. As she puts it, the system isn't set up for people suffering "insecurity, resentment, entitlement and hatred."
The one concrete benefit of officially committing him would be that he could be prohibited from buying a gun from any federally licensed retailer. Of course, this would do nothing about any guns and ammunition he may already have amassed. Nor would it deter him from getting guns from private-party sales, which are exempt from background checks in many states.

I ended up admitting this patient, and he was released by the hearing officer two days later. He never took any medication, never reached the threshold for a federal firearm prohibition and left the hospital in the same state he arrived in. Like so many of his peers, he will not seek out therapy for the longstanding personality traits that seem to predispose him to violence and rage, and there is no way to impose treatment upon him.

The reason the mental health system fails to prevent mass shootings is that mental illness is rarely the cause of such violence. Even if all potential mass shooters did get psychiatric care, there is no reliable cure for angry young men who harbor violent fantasies. And the laws intended to stop the mentally ill from buying guns are too narrow and easily sidestepped; people like Nikolas Cruz and my patient are unlikely to qualify.
Of course, just as the Bill of Rights protects an individual from the involuntary imposition of mental health treatment, it also protects the rights of individuals to keep and bear arms.

Perhaps one answer are the Gun-violence restraining orders that David French has been advocating that would allow family members and others to go through a process to temporarily deny a troubled individual the right to buy a gun.

Meanwhile, Michael Graham writes at CBS News to put forth a common-sense response to the vitriol aimed at the NRA these days. He claims to be writing as a "regular, gun-owning-but-it's-no big-deal, supports-the-Second-Amendment-but-isn't-an-NRA-member guy." I'm not a gun-owning gal but, as a long-time observer of the political scene, what he says makes does indeed resonate.
Is it any wonder that the NRA supports pro-Second-Amendment politicians, any more than it's problematic that Planned Parenthood donates to pro-choice candidates? Of course they do. In fact, Planned Parenthood gave $4 million directly to candidates in the 2016 election, compared with just over $1 million in direct donations by the NRA

Admittedly, more significant was the money the two groups spent promoting their cause and attacking their opponents, $15 million by Planned Parenthood and $54 million by the NRA.

Both of those figures, however, pale in comparison to the $90 million California billionaire Tom Steyer spent on the 2016 presidential race by himself--his part of more than $2 billion in total spending on the Hillary vs. Trump battle. The NRA's contribution to Trump's election, $30 million—is about 1.5 percent of that total.

And once again—remember where most of that money comes from. Not from the profits of Dr. Evil's "Virtuecon," but from members and donations. Citizens who pay dues and write checks for a cause they believe in.

If gun-control activists truly believe that the NRA is just buying off our democracy with its donations, there's an easy solution: Buy them yourselves. Take Tom Steyer's $100 million and offer it to enough members of Congress to pass a gun ban. Tell them you'll double their last contribution from the NRA. Viola—problem solved!

Ah, but it isn't, is it? Because the "bribery" argument was always bogus, and the #KillTheNRA crowd knows it.

The NRA didn't create America's support for the right to gun ownership and self-defense. It reflects it. Arguing that the NRA "is running our government" is essentially arguing that the voters are running the country. Americans consistently say they oppose a ban on gun ownership, and by a wide (70-28 percent) margin. Even in the wake of the Parkland High shooting, only about half of Americans support a return of the so-called "assault weapons" ban.

This is hardly shocking given that about 40 percent of Americans—not American gunmakers or NRA stooges, but American citizens—live in gun-owning households.

What the NRA's opponents hate isn't the organization. It's the millions of American voters who support it.

Brian Riedl makes a good point about the media's coverage of all this.

And more good reactions to the media's take on all this.

Ari Schulman, the executive editor of the New Atlantis, has a particularly thoughtful thread on Twitter on how we react to mass shootings. It's well worth reading the whole thing.

At the end of the thread he links to a column in the WSJ from 2013 in which he examines the similarities and motives of the shooters in mass shootings. One commonality that researchers have found is the desire of these shooters to commit both murder and suicide. They plan their murders meticulously - they have a plan for how to kill the most people as possible. They are not necessarily mentally ill, but do have personality disorders and just want to kill a whole lot of people as revenge against a world they've come to hate.
Instead, writes Eric W. Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies, in his 2009 book "Serial Murderers and Their Victims," massacre killers commit a single and final act in which violence becomes a "medium" to make a " 'final statement' in or about life." Fantasy, public expression and messaging are central to what motivates and defines massacre killings.

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control.

We call mass shootings senseless not only because of the gross disregard for life but because they defy the ordinary motives for violence—robbery, envy, personal grievance—reasons we can condemn but at least wrap our minds around. But mass killings seem like a plague dispatched from some inhuman realm. They don't just ignore our most basic ideas of justice but assault them directly.

The perverse truth is that this senselessness is just the point of mass shootings: It is the means by which the perpetrator seeks to make us feel his hatred. Like terrorists, mass shooters can be seen, in a limited sense, as rational actors, who know that if they follow the right steps they will produce the desired effect in the public consciousness.

Part of this calculus of evil is competition. Dr. Mullen spoke to a perpetrator who "gleefully admitted that he was 'going for the record.' " Investigators found that the Newtown shooter kept a "score sheet" of previous mass shootings. He may have deliberately calculated how to maximize the grotesqueness of his act.

Many other perpetrators pay obsessive attention to previous massacres. There is evidence for a direct line of influence running through some of the most notorious shooters—from Columbine in 1999 to Virginia Tech in 2007 to Newtown in 2012—including their explicit references to previous massacres and calls to inspire future anti-heroes.
One action that wouldn't be difficult or controversial is to change how the media cover such shootings. He cites a study of suicide epidemics.
There is a precedent for this approach in dealing with another form of violence: suicides. A 2003 study led by Columbia University psychiatrist Madelyn Gould found "ample evidence" of a suicide contagion effect, fed by reports in the media. A 2011 study in the journal BMC Public Health found, unsurprisingly, that this effect is especially strong for novel forms of suicide that receive outsize attention in the press.

Some researchers have even put the theory to the test. In 1984, a rash of suicides broke out on the subway system in Vienna. As the death toll climbed, a group of researchers at the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention theorized that sensational reporting was inadvertently glorifying the suicides. Three years into the epidemic, the researchers persuaded local media to change their coverage by minimizing details and photos, avoiding romantic language and simplistic explanations of motives, moving the stories from the front page and keeping the word "suicide" out of the headlines. Subway suicides promptly dropped by 75%.
If only we could do the same for these mass shootings.
Never publish a shooter's propaganda. Aside from the act itself, there is no greater aim for the mass killer than to see his own grievances broadcast far and wide. Many shooters directly cite the words of prior killers as inspiration. In 2007, the forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner told "Good Morning America" that the Virginia Tech shooter's self-photos and videotaped ramblings were a "PR tape" that was a "social catastrophe" for NBC News to have aired.

Hide their names and faces. With the possible exception of an at-large shooter, concealing their identities will remove much of the motivation for infamy.

Don't report on biography or speculate on motive. While most shooters have had difficult life events, they were rarely severe, and perpetrators are adept at grossly magnifying injustices they have suffered. Even talking about motive may encourage the perception that these acts can be justified.

Police and the media also can contain the contagion of mass shootings by withholding or embargoing details:

Minimize specifics and gory details. Shooters are motivated by infamy for their actions as much as by infamy for themselves. Details of the event also help other troubled minds turn abstract frustrations into concrete fantasies. There should be no play-by-play and no descriptions of the shooter's clothes, words, mannerisms or weaponry.

No photos or videos of the event. Images, like the security camera photos of the armed Columbine shooters, can become iconic and even go viral. Just this year, the FBI foolishly released images of the Navy Yard shooter in action.

Finally, journalists and public figures must remove the dark aura of mystery shrouding mass killings and create a new script about them.

Talk about the victims but minimize images of grieving families.
Reports should shift attention away from the shooters without magnifying the horrified reactions that perpetrators hope to achieve.

Decrease the saturation. Return the smaller shootings to the realm of local coverage and decrease the amount of reporting on the rest. Unsettling as it sounds, treating these acts as more ordinary crimes could actually make them less ordinary.
Sadly, in these days of 24-hour news channels and social media, it is probably impossible to get the media to change their coverage. And it would take just one network or outlet to decide to publish all of this to break any agreement that journalists made. But I would like to see the media challenged as they're in the midst of their saturation coverage of Parkland to address what their own role is in planting the seeds for a copycat murderer someday down the road.

And there is some precedent for the media to decline to publicize some information.
Even in the U.S., with our fierce commitment to a free and open press, there are precedents for voluntary media restrictions. Courts and journalists usually recognize an overriding public interest in protecting the privacy of sexual assault victims and minors involved in crimes, and sometimes even the reputations of the accused. Safety, too, can trump the public right to know. Few media outlets would publish the instructions for making a bomb. Promulgating the template for rampage shootings is in similar need of restriction.

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Jonah Goldberg is skeptical
that Donald Trump could hide some big plot of colluding with Russia. The guy just can't keep his mouth shut. He can't keep off of Twitter even when he's demonstrably harming himself with his incessant tweets. So Goldberg's judgment of Trump's character helps him to reject the idea that there was some big collusion plot with the Russians to steal the election.
It is President Trump’s character that leads me to think he didn’t do it, at least not in a way the impeachment-hungry mob hopes he did.

Oh, I think he’s morally capable of having done it. As a candidate he publicly called on the Russians to (further) hack Hillary Clinton’s server and release the missing emails. He is the one member of his administration incapable of condemning Russian president Vladimir Putin or his regime. Indeed, his instincts are to hail Putin’s “leadership.”

Nor do I think Trump surrounded himself during the campaign with people who would have talked him out of collusion (save for then-senator Jeff Sessions). Saying that his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is not overly scrupulous would be a mind-bending understatement. And Trump’s son Don Jr. has already admitted a) that he met with a Russian emissary and b) that he didn’t care where anti-Clinton dirt came from.

But while they may have been willing to coordinate with the Kremlin, I’m not at all certain they would have been able to pull it off — and keep it a secret. Everything we know about the Trump campaign is that it was a shambolic moveable feast of warring egos, relentless leaks, and summary firings. But we’re supposed to believe that everyone maintained total secrecy about Russian collusion?

More implausible, we’re supposed to believe that Trump has never let it slip, in private or public? The man admitted he fired FBI director James Comey to thwart the Russia investigation. Indeed, his blunders are what invited the investigation in the first place.
So that's some defense of Trump - he's too much of a blowhard to pull off some big conspiracy and keep it secret.

Seth Siegel, the author of Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World writes today in he WSJ reports on how South Africa is suffering a terrible drought, but they're refusing help from the one country in the world that had figured out how to get water for its people because that country is Israel.
Even before Israel declared statehood in 1948, its leaders focused on water security as closely as they did military preparedness. Mostly desert, Israel would need adequate water to thrive. In the decades since, the country has developed an apolitical, technocratic form of water governance.

Conservation is taught from kindergarten. Market pricing of water encourages everyone to waste nothing. Sensitive prices have driven innovation. Israelis helped create desalination, drip irrigation and the specialized reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture. Although Israel is in the fifth year of a drought, today its citizens can reliably count on abundant water.

Cape Town is another story. Its reservoirs began receding more than two years ago. This problem turned into a crisis because of subsidy-distorted water pricing, inefficient irrigation, and a lack of desalination facilities and a long-term plan. In 2016 officials from Israel’s Foreign Ministry recognized the problem and alerted national, provincial and local governments in South Africa. Israel has trained water technicians in more than 100 countries, and it offered to bring in desalination experts to help South Africa.

South African officials ignored or rebuffed the no-strings Israeli proposal. It would be admirable if South Africa’s rejection came from a can-do attitude, in a statement of national self-sufficiency. But it appears to have been for ideological reasons that South African officials wanted no help from Jerusalem.

The leadership of South Africa’s dominant political party, the African National Congress, aligns itself with the Palestinian cause. Although the two countries have diplomatic ties, South Africa under the ANC has refused to develop warm relations with Israel.
So, since the Palestinians aren't known for their ability to get water from a desert, South Africa has turned to Iran which is really stupid since Iran doesn't know how to get water for its own people.
Unlike Israel, Iran is not known for its water-management expertise. Anger over water shortages was a feature of the recent Iranian protests. Even before the South African visit, a former Iranian agriculture minister predicted that as many as 50 million Iranians—around two-thirds of the population—would need to be uprooted because of growing water scarcity.

As in South Africa, Iran’s water shortages can’t be blamed only on the weather. Water infrastructure projects in Iran are controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which diverts water to favored ethnic and political groups. In Tehran largely untreated sewage is discharged into nearby waterways, a waste of water that creates health hazards. Years of regime-encouraged overpumping of groundwater has left agricultural districts without water for crops.

Two months after the South African water minister’s Iran trip, Israel brought a team of water professionals to Cape Town. Neither the mayor, also strongly hostile to Israel, nor any senior municipal official would see them.
The jokes on South Africa because even the Palestinians aren't dumb enough to refuse help from Israel when it comes to water.
If the South Africans are snubbing the Israelis out of solidarity with the Palestinians, they might want to consider this: The Palestinian Authority has worked with Israel on a range of water projects since 1995. Israel offers training for Palestinians in wastewater management, infrastructure and security. Israel also provides the Palestinian Authority with more than half the water for domestic consumption by Palestinians in the West Bank. And it pipes more than 2.5 billion gallons of water into Hamas-controlled Gaza each year.

Why does South Africa feel compelled to be so anti-Israel? The question has no rational answer.

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The Washington Post reports
that many countries that signed on to the goals that they agreed to in the 2015 Paris Accords. Just imagine - reality doesn't match up to idealism.
Even as renewable energy grows cheaper and automakers churn out battery-powered and more efficient cars, many nations around the world are nonetheless struggling to hit the relatively modest goals set in Paris.

The reasons vary. Brazil has struggled to rein in deforestation, which fuels greenhouse gas emissions. In Turkey, Indonesia and other countries with growing economies, new coal plants are being planned to meet the demand for electricity. In the United States, the federal government has scaled back its support for clean energy and ramped up support for fossil fuels.
So developing countries are putting growing their economies over the climate accords. And with no penalty for not making their goals, all the accord promises is to assert more "political and moral persuasion."

And Germany, which is proudly a leader in trying to cut emissions and use renewable energy is, well, not leading.
But Germany is struggling to meet its goals. The county’s emissions actually rose slightly in 2015 and 2016 because of continued coal burning and emissions growth in the transportation sector. That failing trajectory won’t change without “massive and rapid efforts,” according to the German Environment Agency.
For all the contempt directed toward Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris accord, the EU is not much better.
The European Union faces a similar quandary. Third after China and the United States in total world emissions, the bloc has pledged a 40 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2030. Time remains for the E.U. to meet that promise, but according to the European Environment Agency, it is on track to fall well short of its goal.
But don't worry, they plan to make more goals and all come together in a group hug.
This year, countries will officially begin to grapple with how off target they are through the “Talanoa dialogue,” which refers to a process used in Fiji and other Pacific islands for finding consensus and building trust without laying blame. Culminating at the December U.N. meeting in Poland, the dialogue will nudge world leaders to assess where they stand on the need to cut emissions and how far they have to go.

By 2020, countries are expected to actually ramp up the promises they made in Paris.
Yeah, sounds like a plan.

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So does this Sports Illustrated story about the culture of sexual harassment and domestic violence in the Dallas Mavericks organization mean the end of Mark Cuban's supposed political hopes or does the election of Donald Trump mean that, as a country, we're immune to politicians who don't have a pristine record on confronting sexual misconduct in the workplace? Seriously, how did the man so proud of being the most hands-on owner in the NBA, close his eyes to what was going on in his own organization?