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A Brit’s perspective on mass shootings, Part II

By: Bat Country Word Monday March 4, 2013 2:45 am

Part Two of Three – Losing it

Originally published in the Bat Country Word. Read part I here.

Jared Lee Loughner with the American flag superimposed on his face

Would-be assassin Jared Lee Loughner

Violent fantasy about homicide is not an uncommon experience, often triggered by the end of an intimate relationship or sometimes job loss. It is about control and the protection of what we perceive to be our personal boundaries or self interest. Fantasy is a defence mechanism. Children will often act impulsively and violently towards others in late infancy or early childhood until they integrate information from the world around them including the likely feelings of other people as they develop in maturity. While there might be a primary urge to lash out when we feel threatened, normally a secondary restrictive process around social convention or consideration of consequences prevents the primary process from being acted out in later years. You could call it growing up or getting a grip.

One definition of psychosis in an adult would be the abject failure of the secondary inhibiting processes – losing your grip if you like and leading to extreme states of mind. Losing it is what will be referred to in this article as a “breakdown”. Breakdowns can be isolated events as in the psychotic break, or repeated occurrences leading to diagnoses such as schizophrenia. To understand the phenomenon of mass social assassinations, we need to have some appreciation of the factors that can lead to the suspension of those protective developmental processes that are usually acquired through socialization as a child.

What exactly was going on in terms of neurotransmitter chemistry at the time when Holmes, Lanza, Breivik and the others opened fire will never be known, let alone what on Earth they were thinking or experiencing. So the proposition that mental health care through the right prescribed medicines might have prevented these killings is speculative at best, even if biological psychiatry has a firm foundation. None of those three had previous criminal records. It is even arguable that some prescribed drugs could promote this sort of incident through “side effects”. The SSRI antidepressants are known to promote anxiety sometimes and therefore suicidal or rarely homicidal ideation, especially in the early stages of prescribing. It is also most unlikely that patients would get involved with antipsychotic medication without previous mental health crises. While heavy sedation might repress impulses and postpone an event, in the longer term such medication also impedes the cognitive rationalization of inner turmoil through therapy. Jared Loughner who killed 19 people in a shopping centre in 2011 had been detained and medicated in a secure psychiatric facility previously. He was still free and able to buy his weapon. Perhaps when Obama talks about better mental health care or gun controls he means better reporting and sharing of information more than treatment?

Generally speaking better access to mental health care will mean better access to medicines rather than therapy anyway. Drugs are cheaper for a start and good therapists are hard to train and quantify. While the drugs might be supportive in many cases, to describe these medicines as a cure rather than a treatment is a logical leap too far. They treat the symptoms rather than the cause. There is a good body of evidence that suggests neurotransmitter changes do indeed influence thinking and behavior, but many of the causes for those fluctuations in dopamine, noradrenalin and serotonin remain biologically uncertain. Stress is however a widely acknowledged factor.

There are also alternative and robust models of how and why some people suffer breakdowns that are psychologically based rather than biological, one of which, discussed here, is Gregory Bateson’s Double Bind Theory. The Double Bind Theory is as follows. The individual is subject to diverse and compelling commands, and failure to comply with either will each result in some kind of punishment or negative consequence. The commands are so contrary that rationalization is not readily possible and expression of the internal conflict experienced by the person is prohibited by their family or social context, for whatever reasons. After a period of time, something has to give to release that emotional stress if the construct remains in place around him.

Another way of conceptualizing the idea of internal angst is through the idea of cognitive dissonance. That is the perceived difference between what we think should be happening (our beliefs) and what is actually occurring –or to put it another way the reality gap between what we consciously want and what we manage to or think we can achieve. That incongruence manifests as anxiety and relief of that inner tension eventually becomes the most important drive in the person, often through dysfunctional behavior, often through hostile behavior, but usually directed towards the self rather than others. Commonly labeled the “flight or fight” response, anxiety is biologically hardwired and triggered by perception. Clearly it is the “fight” side of the arousal dilemma that is of interest here where action is taken to control the environment in order to lessen the threat of division to our internal sense of self and its overall well being. While anxiety as a physical state can be treated with drugs, prescribed or otherwise, clearly chemicals do not directly address underlying psychology or perception.

So if we apply double bind theory to a critical examination of the Western societies these men have been born into, what do we find? We see the POTUS as an individual who can sanction illegal killings through a drone war. We see NATO inventing bogus wars with many thousands of casualties to feather the nests of multinational corporations. We see state appointed assassins licensed to determine who deserves to die today, die another day or survive, and the interests of a few outweighing the rights of whole populations. The power and control are nearly Godlike, flying the Predator drone from a remote metal box. Even mistakes are tolerated and are dubbed collateral. At home social legislation becomes increasingly controlling as governments head towards fascism and the loss of individual freedoms. Governments implement austerity measures, repress civil disobedience, and lie to or deceive us. Other impositions of authority in a myriad of different forms also threaten us, including extended detentions without trial and controls over the internet.


A Brit’s perspective on mass shootings, Part 1

By: Bat Country Word Friday March 1, 2013 1:00 pm

Originally published in the Bat Country Word. Look for Part Two on Monday.

Part One of Three – Introduction, a Few Truths, and Mental Health

Aurora suspect James Holmes

Accused Aurora, CO shooter James Holmes. Could improved mental health screening really prevent future shootings?

This series sets out to examine some of the psychosocial factors that conspire to create public massacres like those at Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado. It’s about how the hot base metals of a society blend in the alchemist’s crucible to produce a cold mass-murderer. Also addressed will be some social changes that are hoped will promote safer societies, such as access to mental health care and gun controls. Both are likely worthy aims and of benefit to society, but will they make a difference to the mass killings?

A few other good ideas are thrown in for good measure, naive and romantic though they may be (see part 3). Also noted is that public massacres occur outside of America too. In the UK there was the Dunblane School incident in 1996 where 15 children died and two adults, counting his own suicide. Hungerford in 1987 and more recently the shootings in Cumbria in 2010 are other UK cases. All examples here are drawn from Europe and America. The article refers exclusively to the West and NATO, its dirty activities and the noxious consequences.

Much media speculation has arisen about the mental health of the predominantly white young men who become these mass murderers, perhaps because they are predominantly white and not Afro-Caribbean or from the Middle East. (Were they anything but Caucasian they’d more likely be “gangsters” or “Islamic terrorists”.) They must have all been mentally ill to target groups of vulnerable people in schools, colleges or cinemas and open fire, right?

Adam Lanza was reported by his brother to be on the autistic spectrum and by other family and friends to have a diagnosis of Asperser’s Syndrome. Mental health advocates rightly were quick to point out that autism is a psychological developmental issue, not a mental illness, and as a condition not commonly associated with homicidal behaviour. James Holmes’ mental health has also been debated, but he has yet to be confirmed as having any diagnosable mental illness at the time of the Aurora shootings. In Norway 2011 Anders Breivik killed 77 people and injured at least 319 people in two separate incidents on July 22nd. Initially diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he was later reassessed and found to be sane. Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer had complaints made about him and his proximity to young boys, but had no criminal convictions or psychiatric history. Derrick Bird, the Cumbrian gunman who killed 12 and then himself was reported in the local paper to have approached mental health services but was turned away. He was not diagnosed and the weapons in these UK incidents were legally owned. Seung-Hui Cho who killed at 32 Virginia Tech in 2007 did have identified and treated mental health problems. We could continue to profile offenders. The reader can do the same. Some of them had no mental health history, and about 50% did. Even those that did were not prevented from later going on to commit acts of mass murder. None of them were identified by previous homicides. The overwhelming majority of the weapons used were legally obtained.

In the USA wider screening of school children for potential mental health difficulties is being suggested. Unfortunately however the professionals are not able to predict future dangerousness with any great accuracy. Even if they were, there is then a reporting and confidentiality issue. As it stands, unless someone has already hurt someone it is unlikely that they will be detained or medicated for fear of what they might do to another person. That is the realistic scope of any mental health service run with a reasonable ethical or humanitarian code. Sometimes in fear and ignorance society expects or wants more control to be exerted but that is neither pragmatic nor morally correct. So the notion that mental health services can identify future offenders and through treatment or control significantly reduce public massacres might make good politics but it is just not realistic – (Watch this great debate).

The Importance of the CryptoParty

By: Bat Country Word Monday February 18, 2013 12:05 pm

Originally published in The Bat Country Word

CryptoParty is a decentralized, global initiative to introduce basic cryptography tools – such as the Tor anonymity network, public key encryption (PGP/GPG), and OTR (Off The Record messaging) – to the general public.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why does the general public need encryption?” The “why” of it all could yield a series of articles stretching from now until my digits have become worn to bloody nubs. Since that is not our intention here we will focus on just a few examples. See if you can identify why you’ll want to guarantee your online privacy even if, as the old privacy-invasion myth goes, “you’re not doing anything wrong, so you don’t have anything to hide.”

Data Retention

Put quite simply, data retention is the storage of digital communications for later analysis. Data Retention in itself is nothing new and many ISPs have engaged in the practice for some time now. However, what has become alarming recently is the prevalence of government policies (usually administered by spy agencies like the NSA and FBI) that compel service providers to turn over your data, and the ease in which they are able to do it. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to defending digital rights, “Law enforcement agencies throughout the world are pushing for invasive laws that force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecom providers to continuously collect and store records documenting the online activities of millions of ordinary users… Government mandated data retention impacts millions of ordinary users compromising online anonymity which is crucial for whistle-blowers, investigators, journalists, and those engaging in political speech. National data retention laws are invasive, costly, and damage the right to privacy and free expression. They compel ISPs and telcos to create large databases of information about who communicates with whom via Internet or phone, the duration of the exchange, and the users’ location. These regimes require that your IP address be collected and retained for every step you make online. Privacy risks increase as these databases become vulnerable to theft and accidental disclosure.”

Utah Data Center

We would not waste your time with some half-baked conspiracy nonsense. We are focusing on examples of well documented data retention that affects everyone. Certainly the most glaring example for the U.S. would be the Utah Data Center. The NSA facility features servers with storage capabilities that can be measured in yottabytes of data. The yottabyte is equal to one quadrillion gigabytes.

According to an April 2012 Wired article, “[F]or the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.”

Deep Packet Inspection

A Portrait of John Kiriakou

By: Bat Country Word Wednesday January 30, 2013 1:35 pm

Originally posted at the Bat Country Word

I was driving East towards Maryland on the 76 Turnpike and I couldn’t get last night’s Frontline show from PBS out of my head. It had enraged me and mixed my emotions about this trip to Washington DC even more. Lanny Breuer was stuck in my goddamn head. Breuer was Chief of the Criminal Division at Justice and charged with the task of investigating Wall Street fraud after the Mortgage crisis and subsequent bailouts and bringing criminals to justice.

Of course Breuer could find no “criminals”. According to Breuer, greed is not a crime, fraud is not a crime. Another factor in Breuer’s thinking was that, in his words “The jobs of tens of thousands of employees can literally be at stake”. And as Senator Ted Kaufman rightly pointed out “That is not the job of a prosecutor, to worry about the health of the banks, in my opinion. Job of the prosecutors is to prosecute criminal behavior. It’s not to lie awake at night and kind of decide the future of the banks.”

The reason this upset me so greatly as I headed towards our nation’s capital, just three days after Barack Obama’s recent coronation was I was not going for a protest, or to see a museum, I was going to support and visit my cousin, John Kiriakou who was about to be sentenced to jail for 30 months by the same government who could find no crimes among the Wall Street Banks.

If you are not familiar with John’s story we have covered it extensively from the beginning.  In short, he is the only person involved with the illegal CIA torture program following 9/11 who will be headed to jail. And the reason is he is heading for federal prison is because he’s the only one who blew the whistle on torture –he’s the reason we now know about waterboarding at all. The government of course alleges that John “outed” an agent who was undercover which threatened that agent and this country’s security. Of course it does not dispute that the agent took part in illegal torture, so even if their allegation was true it would be the equivalent of giving up the name of a Nazi war criminal after Word War II. Nor is there any dispute that Richard Armitage outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in the infamous Scooter Libby case or, more recently that former CIA director David Patraeus leaked intelligence to a journalist with whom he was sexually involved –both of these men are walking free. Apparently leaks in the name of political revenge or fucking won’t be charged. John Kiriakou made the mistake of trying to tell the truth.

And to add to this shit heap, it’s now known that a top Obama official leaked intelligence to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty, infamous now for its inaccurate and fictitious account of torture leading to the capture to Osama Bin Laden. A subject John Kiriakou knows is patently false because he was fucking there in Afghanistan rooting out Al Qaeda operatives. But it’s a marvelous propaganda film for the CIA, the military and Obama and that’s what’s important.

And as the LA Times pointed out “…compare Kiriakou’s actions against those of Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former head of the CIA’s clandestine operations. In 2005, Rodriguez destroyed 92 videotapes of detainee interrogations because, he wrote in an e-mail, letting the public see them would be “devastating” to the agency. Both the destruction of the tapes and the scenes they documented were probably felonies. Yet the Justice Department’s two-year investigation into the case ended with a whimper, and no charges, last summer. Rodriguez, now retired, was last seen opining on the torture scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” for the Washington Post.”