Saturday, August 31, 2019

Joe Biden's Brain, Object of Wonder and Concern

So far, it all checks out

I heard an interesting exchange on a radio call-in program this week. It was between a news guy who wondered how concerned we should be by Joe Biden's history of brain surgeries, and a millennial caller who had never heard about those long-ago events and, consequently, didn't believe that Joe had ever had a medical emergency inside his skull.

She has no knowledge of that, you see, so it must not have happened. She has her truth - her truth, her whole truth, and nothing but her truth - and no patience at all for facts that deny her truth.

That whole generational thing aside, how many American voters know that once upon a time, way back in another century, in the days before the internet itself existed and we had nothing to do for info and entertainment except read books by the light of the evening campfire, Joe Biden nearly died when a vein burst in his brain?

Well, it did. And that's just the kind of thing that usually leads to cognitive impairments later, hence the reason for concern when Joe campaigns for the Presidential nomination today.

This week, Joe's brain surgeon vouched for his mental health, although in terms that could be seen as damning with faint praise, depending upon your opinion of Joe's pre-surgery brain. Read it here: Surgeon who operated on Biden: He's better now than before brain surgery.
Joe Biden almost died after suffering an aneurysm while serving in the Senate, but the surgeon who operated on his brain says that the incident shouldn't hold him back in his pursuit of the presidency.

-- Snip --

At the time of Biden’s brush with death in 1988, his wife, Jill Biden, feared that he would never be the same. In a forthcoming autobiography, “Where the Light Enters," Jill recounts Joe's doctor telling the family that there was a significant chance he’d have permanent neurological damage, particularly after he suffered a second aneurysm, a condition in which an artery becomes weak and bulges out.

"Our doctor told us there was a 50-50 chance Joe wouldn't survive surgery," she wrote. "He also said that it was even more likely that Joe would have permanent brain damage if he survived. And if any part of his brain would be adversely affected, it would be the area that governed speech."

Initially, Joe Biden suffered an aneurysm that burst and required him to undergo emergency surgery. He was so close to death that a priest was preparing to administer the Catholic sacrament of last rites. A few months later, surgeons clipped a second aneurysm before it burst, after discovering it during a routine screening.

-- Snip --

Not everyone is as fortunate after an aneurysm as Biden was: 30,000 people have aneurysms that rupture every year, and about 40 percent of those cases are fatal. Of those who survive, 66 percent have a neurological deficit.

Should voters be concerned about a candidate in his 70s who once needed to have part of his skull removed for his own good? Are those vocal Bidenisms on the campaign trail medical symptoms or just Joe's usual charming gaffs?

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"‘Soccer mom’ caught on video breaking into Botox clinic with chainsaw" - Crime on Line

The clinic owner, Alonzo Perez, spoke to KTRK about the Botox heist, which reportedly came the night after another break-in. “Looks like the average soccer mom in a Mercedes trying to break into your business,” he said.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Politics Explained in One Chart

I can find no flaw in this analysis.

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

"Louisiana woman reportedly told police meth found in her vagina was not hers" - WTKR Louisiana

A female correctional officer later searched Rolland and found – hidden in her vagina – $6,233 in cash and about one gram of meth. According to Fox News, Rolland denied the meth was hers.

Monday, August 5, 2019

"My Whole Life I Have Been Preparing for a Future that Currently Doesn't Exist"

If you want a glimpse into the motivations of the typical mass shooter, see this Op-Ed in the LA Times: we have studied every mass shooting since 1966. Here’s what we’ve learned about the shooters.
For two years, we’ve been studying the life histories of mass shooters in the United States for a project funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. We’ve built a database dating back to 1966 of every mass shooter who shot and killed four or more people in a public place, and every shooting incident at schools, workplaces, and places of worship since 1999. We’ve interviewed incarcerated perpetrators and their families, shooting survivors and first responders. We’ve read media and social media, manifestos, suicide notes, trial transcripts and medical records.

Our goal has been to find new, data-driven pathways for preventing such shootings. Although we haven’t found that mass shooters are all alike, our data do reveal four commonalities among the perpetrators of nearly all the mass shootings we studied.

First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. The nature of their exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and/or severe bullying. The trauma was often a precursor to mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, thought disorders or suicidality.

Second, practically every mass shooter we studied had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting. They often had become angry and despondent because of a specific grievance. For workplace shooters, a change in job status was frequently the trigger. For shooters in other contexts, relationship rejection or loss often played a role. Such crises were, in many cases, communicated to others through a marked change in behavior, an expression of suicidal thoughts or plans, or specific threats of violence.

Third, most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters and sought validation for their motives. People in crisis have always existed. But in the age of 24-hour rolling news and social media, there are scripts to follow that promise notoriety in death. Societal fear and fascination with mass shootings partly drives the motivation to commit them. Hence, as we have seen in the last week, mass shootings tend to come in clusters. They are socially contagious. Perpetrators study other perpetrators and model their acts after previous shootings. Many are radicalized online in their search for validation from others that their will to murder is justified.

Fourth, the shooters all had the means to carry out their plans. Once someone decides life is no longer worth living and that murdering others would be a proper revenge, only means and opportunity stand in the way of another mass shooting. Is an appropriate shooting site accessible? Can the would-be shooter obtain firearms? In 80% of school shootings, perpetrators got their weapons from family members, according to our data. Workplace shooters tended to use handguns they legally owned. Other public shooters were more likely to acquire them illegally.

The authors are overly optimistic, I think, about the prevention strategies they propose. Once a 21-year old man has reached the conclusion that he has no future, and that he is willing to die in a pointless display of revenge against society at large, he'll find the opportunity and instrumentality to carry out his decision.

If you're surprised at such hopelessness, just look at the skyrocketing 'deaths of despair' in America today. There's a large economic piece to that, in that the globalized information economy has no use for what used to be called the working class. Like an aboriginal people found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country, their social betters expect them to isolate themselves in their rustbelt towns until they die or get a U-Haul. And there's a spiritual piece, too, in that the mostly nihilistic culture in which those 21 year olds were raised gives them no good reason not to do what they want.

Geezers my age can remember the last part of the 'peace and prosperity' era that began with Eisenhower. The '60s and '70s were actually awful in many ways, but you still had the first-hand knowledge that society had been better once, so it could get better again.

But if you're a 21 year old today with little or no society that isn't hostile to you, well, what exactly is the point of trying to avoid despair?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect

File it away under Good Advice We Probably Won't Take, but a serious case has been make that media saturation of mass shootings is a large factor in the recent increase in the frequency of those incidents, and we could reduce their frequency by reducing the media coverage.

Three years ago a paper was presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention that proposed denying mass shooters the notoriety they seek. Since, the authors said, people who commit mass shootings in America tend to share the traits of rampant depression, social isolation, and pathological narcissism, they may commit their atrocities largely for the purpose of gaining media coverage. Denying that coverage would be like denying oxygen to a fire.

Here's the paper: Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect.

Quoting from a press release by the author:
“Mass shootings are on the rise and so is media coverage of them,” said Jennifer B. Johnston, PhD, of Western New Mexico University. “At this point, can we determine which came first? Is the relationship merely unidirectional: More shootings lead to more coverage? Or is it possible that more coverage leads to more shootings?

Johnston and her coauthor, Andrew Joy, BS, also of Western New Mexico University, reviewed data on mass shootings amassed by media outlets, the FBI and advocacy organizations, as well as scholarly articles, to conclude that “media contagion” is largely responsible for the increase in these often deadly outbursts. They defined mass shootings as either attempts to kill multiple people who are not relatives or those resulting in injuries or fatalities in public places.

The prevalence of these crimes has risen in relation to the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims, Johnston said.

-- Snip --

“Unfortunately, we find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame,” she said. This quest for fame among mass shooters skyrocketed since the mid-1990s “in correspondence to the emergence of widespread 24-hour news coverage on cable news programs, and the rise of the internet during the same period.”

She cited several media contagion models, most notably one proposed by Towers et al. (2015), which found the rate of mass shootings has escalated to an average of one every 12.5 days, and one school shooting on average every 31.6 days, compared to a pre-2000 level of about three events per year. “A possibility is that news of shooting is spread through social media in addition to mass media,” she said.

If the mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share, reproduce or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years,” she said. “Even conservatively, if the calculations of contagion modelers are correct, we should see at least a one-third reduction in shootings if the contagion is removed.”

She said this approach could be adopted in much the same way as the media stopped reporting celebrity suicides in the mid-1990s after it was corroborated that suicide was contagious. Johnston noted that there was “a clear decline” in suicide by 1997, a couple of years after the Centers for Disease Control convened a working group of suicidologists, researchers and the media, and then made recommendations to the media.
Now, asking the news media to exercise self-restraint is probably futile, and social media by its nature is ungovernable, so I don't suppose there is much chance that we will really deny mass shooters publicity. Although, I have to admit the news media did pretty much memory-hole the attempted mass murder of Congressional Republicans two years ago by a crazed Bernie Bro. But more often, political agendas are served by rampant feeding on the red meat of mass shootings.

Incidentally, no shooting is necessary in order to commit mass murder or political terrorism. One of the very largest mass murders ever occurred three years ago using, not firearms, but a truck driven into a crowed, killing 86 persons.