The Active Shooter Controversy

Just two days ago I became aware of the controversy over a new version of the very popular video game “Active Shooter.” The game’s designers have included a module/section/world–whatever that permits the player to select a school shooter experience. As predictable, instant outrage has erupted everywhere in the media. My reaction was typical I suppose, thinking things like this is not appropriate, this is the height of bad taste, how could anyone be so heartless/clueless etc. My second line of reactions centered on anyone who has suffered trauma from school shootings lost someone to such incidents etc.

Then I realized that my son and I have this game and have played for a few years. He is my last “yearling” as I sometimes call him, near graduation, avid video game player since his youngest days with a Nintendo DS etc. I also realized that this kind of game and this game itself is one of the few I can master. I can shoot bad guys and terrorists through the rifle’s sights. I can hold my own in car racing games, Donkey Kong, and older generation games. All these have the forgiving characteristic that the controls are very simple; anything more complicated and I cannot keep up or play at all. After a few years of trying and occasional exasperated tutoring from my son, it has been clear to him for a long time, I have maxed out my hand-eye, and hand finger coordination and dexterity and I will never ever get beyond a certain level. So when he buys a new game, he will say, “Dad this is too hard for you (too, like all the others).” When we peruse the new games highlighted in his various game magazines, he will point to some fluff or “baby” game and tease me that this is one I can handle.

So this is my confession, the one person shooter, sniper type games are ones I can handle in my gaming dotage, and this game I enjoy and like. Gets out my aggression harmlessly etc. I also take goofy solace in thinking that if all kids are as skilled as my son and ALL his friends are on this type game, the Taliban do not stand a chance if they invade here. First, their gun-owning fathers will wipe them out and the sons will take care of the second wave as all dads would look on with pride. I am safe here and video games probably help to make it so…

But this issue of treating school shootings so cavalierly has ‘crossed the line’ for almost all of us. It was inevitable this would happen in our take any opportunity to make money society I suppose. I do not think that somehow trivializing school shooting into a widely loved video game will subtly train teens to not do such horrific acts. So no, I do not see some noble methodology of prevention at work here.

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Stem Cell Treatment Scams

Disclaimer (of sorts): I am a myeloma patient of now nearly 7 years’ standing and a stem cell transplant recipient. The reader may keep this in mind as I delve into a fascinating (for me at least) topic of one of the latest of the never-ending line of medical scams.

When I was younger as a kid, long before I became much of scientific rationalist, I would wonder how anyone could believe that this or that home remedy would cure the “heartbreak of psoriasis,” as the television commercials would trumpet. It was only three or so generations ago that we still had “Carter’s Little Liver Pills,” “Lydia Pinkham Pills,” Black’s Draught,” and a fair number of other nostrums of no scientific worth left over from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. My wife’s own great-grandfather used to peddle in the southern Appalachians of NC and VA a home remedy elixir good for almost anything that was, in reality, a flavored elixir of alcohol and laudanum (opium!).

I could go on and on.  And I will just a little more…One of my other favorites that did command some subscription among the rich and glitterati of the 1960’s and 1970’s, was the craze of Gerovital. This intrigued me because of a few goofy associative factors. First, it was made and dispensed in Rumania. I thought that contributed to its weird and exotic, and perhaps even dangerous factor, as one had to travel to clinics in a “Commie” country to obtain it. Second, it sounded like the all American and incredibly well known American iron elixir, “Geritol.” That was advertised constantly, and I thought it always hilarious that it was for “tired blood,” Back to Gerovital of Rumania. This held credence inexplicably for years. It was reputed to slow aging and movie stars, always a gullible and dumb crowd, flocked to clinics run by flacks in white coats with exotic Eastern European accents, always charging Big Bucks that only people “with more money than sense” as folk wisdom so aptly describes such doofuses, could afford. ‘If it costs a lot, it must be worth something.’ Just like penny stocks my father would always say.

Quack cures among the movie stars used to have a plethora of takers. The most famous and perhaps saddest one in my slightly lengthy memory was that of Steve McQueen. He developed abdominal cancer, either pancreatic or gastric, I am not sure which at the time of this writing. He headed down to Tijuan Mexico to the then famous clinic that utilized the then famous “natural” cure of “Laetril.” For those readers who are not familiar with this, Laetrile was some sort of extract of apricot pits of all things. It was reputed for a brief time in the 1960’s as a treatment for cancer and a number of persons went south of the border in a desperate search for medical aid when somewhat primitive chemotherapy for cancers failed. And of course Steve McQueen died within months of his treatment.

Contemporary medical scams are more flashy, have more trappings of science, but still do as scams have always done. Such fleecing operations typically cloak themselves in the scientific metaphors and well-known names of the times. The purveyors and installations are always called pretentious names such as “Institutes.” Beautiful people are the spokespersons or operator/heads of such. [Doesn’t sound different than most usual advertising does it…] The claims are just south of outrightly outrageous. Benefits point toward “breakthroughs,” and the near “miraculous,” that are “duplicated nowhere else,” [such as in replicative studies…]. Often seminars are offered in large metropolitan areas. Discounts of fees are offered in breathless haste to be redeemed. Testimonials are from nobodies. All of it sounds like sales outfits for beach condominium scams that by now most of us are wise to. Continue reading

The AntiPsychiatry Movement

I wish to comment of the “AntiPsychiatry Movment” as this month there has occurred a little known but imporant anniversary this very month of May at the time of this writing, May of 2018. First I will set the stage a bit laboriously by outlining the several main fields of focus for this movement. At least one of these “anti-psychiatry” movements was well placed, needed, healthily revolutionary and far sighted, Some of the others have been dismal flops, misguided lunatic efforts in the service of lunatic philosophies, and/or instrumental in generating monstrous new social problems.

There have been three forms of the “anti-Psychiatry” movement over the last half century or more.

In the USA the movement has focused on treatments that were, and/or seen as abusive, cruel or inhumane. These villified treatments concerned mostly the first few decades of the use of ECT, or electoconvulsive treatment, and psychiatric medications. In the last few decades ECT was refined to a point that its visually frightening quality of causing gross, big time seizures of muscles with all the scary “herking and jerking,” as I always term it in lectures, so that medications suppressed and eliminated those aspects that gave it a “bad” reputation. ECT was the only effective treatment for psychotic or serious mental illness for more than two decades until the advent of psychiatric medications commenced in the 1950’s and 1960’s Ritalin has long been the focus of certain advocacy groups as the second prong on the American anti-psychiatry groups as far as treatments.

The second main front on the anti-psychiatry movement has been the focus on the social phenomenon of institutionalization, or the inappropriate use of the state hospitals, large asylums, to house the chronically mentally ill for incredibly long periods of time, or lifelong, turning psychiatric hospitals into convenient warehouses for the mentally ill, keeping them out of the sight and awareness and social responsibiity of the rest of American society and of other western societies as well. Psychiatric hospitals became de facto prisons since hundreds of thusands of persons were confiend to hospitals lifelong for not only grossly obvious psychotically bizarre behaviors but also petty offenses such as being poor, chronically inebrited etc. These latter “status offenses” as they were called in more modern times when applied to juvenile offenders were more common the 1800’s than is commonly known.

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Is It Beyond Our Power to Prevent School Shootings?

Just yesterday at the time of this writing, the article, “The Futility of Trying to Prevent More School Shootings in America,” by Barbara Bradley Haggerty was published in the national magazine The Atlantic. The article makes for somber reading. It starts off with the stage setting sentence: “As long as there is easy access to guns, there’s no way parents, teachers, and other specialists can thwart every violent teenager.”

So much for instant solutions, easy reassurance that we all wish we could hear, hang on to and quell our personal and national unease over this issue that is turning into the fearful acknowledgment something is really profoundly wrong in our land of gun culture.

Any of us who are old enough to have been of a sentient and aware age before 1999 and the Columbine massacre in Colorado, know that “it wasn’t always like this” at all. How did we get here? How could this kind of deadly, terrible social contagion have taken over the lives of students in schools?

My last child, a graduating high school son, told me yesterday that it was just this past week that he realized “this was not normal.” He meant in his 17 years he had come as a teenager to think and take for granted that school shootings have always been with us. As much as he and I have conversed about this in the last two years or so, I had not realized this was his basic abiding view of the phenomenon. I was quietly floored.

My writing style in my blogs’ post is to try to have an outside reference for the reader. Sometimes this reflects the stimulus for that post. But always it offers the reader a more authoritative source than my humble opinions, thoughts or analyses. The article referenced above is so comprehensive, informative and well done, that I cannot offer much to add to it.

I will add the comment that this article is what has long been needed in the public discussion, often bordering on political hysteria that has dominated the discourse on school shootings, gun rights, the gun culture, the Second Amendment debates, all of which I have viewed as not only not productive but masking the complexity of social cancer that faces us now. Like the problem of cancer, there will no one cure, no one cause, no simple approach, no quick resolution. Many more will die from this social cancer before this phenomenon begins to lessen. And like cancer, there will be myriads of contributory causes from all conceivable quarters ranging from commerce (the sale of guns), strongly held personal beliefs (I have to defend mine from ever-present lurking threats that have a minuscule chance of accosting me), social customs and legends (the American Cowboy, soldier etc. with their lever action carbine, AR-15) and on and on.

Years ago, problems had simple unitary causes. A car’s carburation was simple and easily fixed by any shade tree home mechanic. Then electronic fuel injection arrived and everything became complex with so many possible sites of error that simplicity was lost forever.

The intelligentsia has long accepted the principle of the complexity of causes. The more educated one was, the easier it was to cognitively juggle and work with staggering multiplicities of causes and effects. A straight line from cause to effect with all its reassuring predictability became a thing of history. The “elites,” the pointy-headed intellectuals” of Spiro Agnew’s hate filled nomenclature could see the realities of social conditions, historical tides over decades or centuries resulting in vast populaces incorporating deleterious social impediments. The social conservatives persisted in seeing simply effects as personal faults and shortcomings. The poor were lazy, stupid and their station was their curse and their own fault.

We see the mythology of simple, fault driven causation still driving the discussion regarding the riddle of school shootings. Causes that are casually, angrily and dogmatically thrown around again include: violent video games, Ritalin, abortion, not attending church and being “unchurched,” radical politics, abortion, the rise of women’s rights, the erosion of the family farm, not enough guns, too many guns, abolition of prayer in schools, too much free speech, television cartoons, declining reverence for authority, left wing politics, right wing politics, the constant 24 hour news bombardment, social media of all forms, the ubiquity of cell phones, decline of reading, too much sex in public media, AIDS, creeping socialism, erosion of parental authority, kids having too much money and on and on.

The concept of the easily identified villain has taken yet another large hit in the world of analysis of the school shooter. Most of the shooters are not psychotic, though a few indeed have been and make up a category of these individuals. They are not terrorists. They do not look so weird that they can be easily identified ahead of the commission of their deadly rampages. Mostly they are teens with the usual wrenching travails of that awful developmental period of life known as adolescence.

Some plan their deeds far ahead of time. They keep their intentions secret from even their families. They spiral into attitudes that are so far removed from social reality that they become trapped by them. Others act very impulsively. Some are triggered by the buffetings of being a teenager such as being jilter, being bullied, failing at academics. Some are socially lonely and more or less isolated. Other shooters are socially gregarious and have full relationships at school and in the community.

Nothing serves to facilitate reliable “early identification.” No single behavioral, social, emotional, psychiatric, or academic trait serves as a reliable marker or diagnostic indicator.

One productive avenue of intervention has been highlighted again, and that is the school-based mental health clinic. One excellent such example was just recently publicized, and ironically, it is in Texas. The article, “After Santa Fe shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott sees a West Texas mental health program as a statewide model,” by Marissa Evans,publishedd May 19, 201,8 in the Texas Tribune describes a well done example of what is needed.

This is not a novel concept. I had a community child psychiatry training experience some 45 years ago (!) in a school mental health clinic as a child psychiatric fellow. I went once a week for a half day. I interviewed middle school students and performed evaluations, I consulted with the school-based mental staff of psychiatric social workers, certified counselors and a Ph.D. school psychologist. We worked as a team. Referrals were made if treatment called for more intensive work than the school-based personnel could deliver. We consulted with parents at every step of the process.

But with the rising tide of cutting services and taxes and revenues, the suspicion of “social services,” that overtook this country largely beginning in the 1980’s, these services were lost nationwide. And where I trained and participated in this enlightened state of service delivery, the climate was extremely receptive and supportive of such services. But school-based clinics came to be seen as an invasion of families’ rights, purveyors of birth control and the sexual revolution.  The paranoia about vaccines also became intertwined with the abolition of school-based mental health services.

So this is my analysis of the school shooting mess. We removed an incredibly valuable resource that could have helped on a preventive and healthy interventional basis with this current social infection in the site of generation and operation of this infection, the schools.

This is the one area in which resources can be mobilized in a concerted effort nationally. This perhaps more than any other current measure, can be expected to help. All the hysterical debate then could start to subside as the incidence of these events would hopefully come down with time. Troubled youth could be helped, their peers would be more socially prepared to identify them, much as impaired professionals started to be identified when their peers realized that keeping quiet was harmful.

In closing, if one wishes to focus reparative efforts in a quarter that likely could help more than any of the current nonsensical discourse from all sides, the need for school-based clinics with adequate staffing, appears to this humble blowhard to be our current best bet for productive change.