Genesis 2.0

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Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

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I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

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What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

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All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

News Makes You Fat

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In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 


Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.


News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

Narcissism Sucks!

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“It is much easier to make good men wise than to make bad men good.” Henry Fielding said that in 1749. I like Henry Fielding as a writer because not only did he lace his thoughts in humor but he also had curly hair and a law enforcement background. I like people with curly hair and law enforcement backgrounds, I don’t know why.

Forgive me for ranting a little bit but this week has been just a little stressful. I don’t often have to deal with true narcissists in my job but when I do it’s a depressing reminder of my deceased brother who suffered from a mental illness late in life characterized by extreme narcissism. In defense of my brother, he couldn’t help it. He was principally a victim of circumstance, a war, and probably some crappy genetics. If you hang out with me for very long at all you will easily spot some of the crappy genetics I’m referring to (not from you mom).

There should be a test people take before being allowed to procreate. Men should have to account for all of the sperm they produce and pay a tax for any that escape an allowed allocation to partners who are on a list of government approved recipients. If your DNA has a genetic marker that could produce a narcissist then you should be sterilized. That way, the rest of us have some say about the kinds of folks we have to live with, deal with, subsidize or carry the burden for. I’ve met a few folks that have had some hard times but they’re so nice I didn’t mind them having an EBT card. I’ve also known a few folks that have no problem whatsoever carrying their own weight but really should have been aborted.

I’m not making any political statements here but I will say this about gay couples, at least when they decide to have children, they research the heck out of those eggs and make sure their kids are coming from good stock. Everyone make sure and watch the news tonight. When you see the barefoot – snaggletooth – meth mouth – blue gum – redneck talking about the latest UFO sighting at the local dairy dip then political correctness dictates that there’s only one thing you can openly say about the person with any real certainty…this person was definitely not procreated in a test tube. Next time you see a gay couple, hug them for saving the human race.

I digressed didn’t I? Oh well, sorry. Narcissism is a serious thing. I can’t imaging growing up with one as a parent. It’s probably one of the most difficult psychological legacies you can have. These are parents who are incapable of real love, who blame you for everything because they cannot make mistakes, who undermine your initiative because they fear your success, who dismiss your feelings because no one’s feelings matter except their own, who may adore a sibling because he/she is a reminder of himself/herself. These are some serious issues for anyone to overcome and grow up normal.

I’ve read that there can be some genetic markers for this but by and large everything I’ve read about them suggests that they are products of their own creation. It’s not an accidental thing, unless caused by mental illness, but a series of life-long choices that manifest themselves into problems which cannot be solved because by doing so it undermines an entire lifetime of embellishments and denial. They create their own disorder then go around inflicting it on everyone around them.

And somewhere along the line they all wander into my office and find me minding my own business. They ask for advice and information and I gladly give it. Then they pursue an agenda driven by a complete disregard for rules and a spirit of “I’d rather get forgiveness than permission” and ultimately fail. Then, unable to admit personal failure, they blame their problems on me as I was the one “who told them what to do”. Then, they punish everyone in their proximity because they were “against” them all along, not realizing that those same people have now become his/her victims and he/she may be going to need their support later on when he/she sticks his/her middle finger up and makes another go at it. Then they file a lawsuit against me and lose but because they’re a narcissist, cannot accept that they were wrong so they go about recording everyone in an attempt to capture “conspiracies and lies” so that they can one day prove that they were right all along.

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Or maybe it’s another type of narcissist who inherits a business and never has to work for anything but feels jaded because he knows that his intellect is far superior to those around him but life and luck superseded his ability to “prove” his own immense value. So, in evaluating those around him whom have worked hard to better themselves and who may get a little attention because of that hard work, he finds it unfair because he’s the one who really deserves the attention, he’s the real genius. His narcissism just cannot allow others to share the spotlight so he manipulates and undermines everyone around him in order to expose what he perceives to be weaknesses in the armor of his rivals for attention. His goal is not to accomplish anything, but to undermine the success of others. Why should he accomplish anything, everyone already knows that he’s awesome. Can we all make a very strong alcoholic drink and make a toast to this type of narcissist?

Let me get a breath of oxygen because that was a mouthful. Ok, what I’d love to impart in this blog is that no matter how smart or gifted you are, someone in this world thinks you are a complete dumb-ass. Trust me, I’ve met more than a few people who think that about me. I like words but I suck at math. My wife loves math and she sucks with words. God did a great job of equalizing and distributing the powers among us. None of us could live fully independently of others. We all have to accept our own limitations and inadequacies then praise and recognize those around us whom possess the missing puzzle pieces of our own lives. If you do nothing else this Christmas, give the gift of acknowledgment to your spouse or children or parents and friends that they matter and that they make your life a lot better. Then quickly pour some cold water on that ego. Don’t just listen to me, I’m not an expert on anything but I heard from a reliable source that Santa Clause thinks narcissists suck!

Now, What? Our Mentally-Vulnerable & Gun Control

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When I was a young fella growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I vividly remember the Victorian-era mental hospital that operated across the highway from the old Berry Field. Of course many things have changed a lot from the 1960’s through today and most people no longer call the airport in Nashville – “Berry Field”. Now, the airport is most appropriately referred to as the Nashville International Airport and the location across Murfreesboro Pike where the old Asylum we affectionately called “Central State” used to sit is currently the Nashville campus for Dell Computers. If you were a kid living near or around “Central State” back then, your parents probably threatened you just like mine did with a short stay there when we were acting a little too rambunctious.

In my late teen’s, my cousin David White (DNA You Can Count On) worked security there. I don’t guess that I ever fully realized back then that the buildings were so old. I later learned, by means of an after-hours non-sanctioned midnight tour with my older cousin that the buildings were actually built during the mid 1800’s. When I was about 19 or 20, David and I jumped a fence and snuck onto the grounds late at night and we played pranks on the night-shift security guards to scare them. We actually did a pretty good job of it at that. But one of the things that struck me then that I still vividly remember were these old subterranean dungeon-type cells in the basement of one of the main buildings.

When we toured the old basement by flashlight, the hallways were mostly obstructed with modern HVAC ducting, water and sewer pipes and electrical conduit. The remnants of prison-esque cells along both sides of the long concrete corridor – many of which still had iron wall-shackles ominously hanging from cell walls – reminded me that the treatment for our mentally Ill was pretty barbaric in 1852 when Central State first opened. This, of course, fueled my imagination with torturous and sadistic imagery, forced-lobotomies and electric-shock therapy, stuff that would excite the imaginations of any teenager.

I cannot imagine that those features were still being used when that institution closed for good in 1995. Lets say, I’m confident that they were not. But Central State Mental Hospital and many other psychiatric treatment centers like it were systematically closed in the 1980’s and 1990’s due mostly with a paradigm shift in public perception where such facilities were widely viewed as inhumane. But a political backlash between the Carter and Reagan administrations over institutional government waste also found the perfect expensive government program ripe for dismantling. Lastly, medical and psycho-pharmacological drug advances and other alternative psycho-medical treatments all contributed to the logic of shutting these dinosaurs down for good.

When you’re young, it’s difficult to relate to an object, place or story like that. It just seemed interesting or funny or pitiful or whatever. You can comprehend what it is, no problem, it’s just not relative to anything personal. But life eventually happens to every single one of us. Our lives become ever fuller, more complex and entrenched with the lives of hundreds or even thousands of other people. One of these days, no matter where your story begins, you’re going to have gobs and gobs of conversational experience to share when your crazy uncle starts bringing up uncomfortable subjects at the Christmas dinner table. You’ll just have to trust me on that!

At that time, I could have never imagined that a member of my own immediate family, my brother who was 13 months my senior, would end up with a serious psychiatric disorder. Until then, that old building meant nothing. Now, at the precipice of 50, a father, a husband and the brother of a victim of a serious psychological illness that resulted in his suicide, my perspectives on life in general and of course my views on institutional treatment for the mentally-ill have percolated. I am at a place in my life where a person has to challenge him/herself politically as well because there are always going to be valid arguments over certain social welfare programs which challenge even the most conservative minds of our time.

People who’ve never had to rely on welfare, obviously cannot find a profoundly positive reason to have it. The negatives, in their minds, out-weigh the positives. Similarly, those of you who’ve never been challenged to care for a mentally vulnerable family member who you love but whom also challenges your definition of the word “unconditionally”, its impossible to know how valuable an in-patient mental care facility really is. These are people you love but people who scare you as much for what they could do to others but also of themselves and your family. These, in some cases, are loved one’s who are not only broken, but who oftentimes break everyone around them.

What happened to in-patient mental treatment? It’s mostly all disappeared  except for a few temporary hospital wards and the VA Hospitals. The institutions which had been once hailed as a safe refuge for society’s most vulnerable men and women had, in reality, earned a reputation as becoming dehumanizing and prison-like. Before the 1980’s and 1990’s, pharmacology for mental illness was pretty much non-existent. We and the rest of the civilized world had been institutionalizing our mentally hopeless for many centuries as we knew well that regardless of the love we have for these people, they can and do cause great harm to others if we don’t take some sort of preemptive measures to control their accesses and ability to act on their impulses.

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Before asylums, the burden of keeping vulnerable individuals rested entirely on family. ‘Mad’ people, as they were often referred, who could not be kept at home wandered free, begging for food and shelter often finding neither. Families cannot be counted on to care for them because they often put so much stress on their family that it forced them to free themselves of the responsibility or suffer harm themselves. One must often choose between their spouse and children or a family member who, by no choice of his/her own, introduces instability, irrationality and fear into an otherwise happy home.

All that said, the de-institutionalization of our seriously mentally-ill has gone terribly wrong. There has been a steady decades-long push to move mentally-ill patients out of mental hospitals and into community-based care facilities or no structured facility at all. This push coincides with a steady increase in the percentage of mentally-ill prison inmates nationwide. Likewise, the rise of homelessness in America began to skyrocket in the 1980’s, ironically the same time mental hospitals nationwide began to close.

As psychiatric hospitals continue to close and our government leaders keep choosing to inadequately finance exploitative entrepreneurs in community-care and residential programs where no medical psychiatry exists, where are our mentally-ill going to be getting their much needed treatments? Just recently, the Obama administration’s Eric Holder began cracking down on states who still have psychiatric treatment centers. This continued attempt to move vulnerable people to community care programs where they have little or no access to any form of treatment other than massive cocktails of pills prescribed by general physicians who have no training whatsoever in mental illnesses is a prime example that our government still isn’t getting it.

Prisons & Jails are the new de facto asylums’ in the United States. Is it really fair to jail our mentally-ill instead of just caring for them so they’re not in a position to commit crime in the first place? What’s worse, real prison with real bad people or a prison-esque asylum? 65% of the populations of local, state and federal prisons are people with serious mental health issues. In 1970, it was reported that 5% of inmates were seriously mentally-ill. Studies from the 1920’s reported that only 2% of inmates were seriously mentally-ill. In Philadelphia, for example, mental-illness related incidents increased 227.6% from 1975 to 1979, whereas felonies increased only 5.6%. The mentally-ill are 3 times more likely to be arrested than the average citizen.

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My own brother followed these same statistical patterns. He would drift away from medication because the medication brought about undesired side effects, then he would fall into a state of manic mental decline and depression. Just like the movie Groundhog Day, he would again and again do something incredibly scary to some innocent person with whom he would fixate his attentions, which would bring in the police and justice system. Then, we as a family, would attempt to speak with his VA case worker and/or physicians which resulted in complete incompetence, apathy, denial or forced acknowledgment of the HIPAA privacy law which was/is an excuse not to do anything at all.

After inaction on the part of non-existent medical healthcare and his VA social workers, he would be re-arrested for whatever scary thing he was doing to undeserving people, then we would work with the District Attorney’s office to seek a more appropriate legal remedy which might or might not result in court-ordered treatment at the VA Hospital psyche-ward for a few months where he would be forcibly required to medicate. After a few weeks of treatment, he would slowly regain whatever equilibrium available to him through the use of undesirable psyche medications, then summarily released back to his own care which would begin the cycle over and over again. When that system failed, he’d spend months in the county jail with predatory room mates and guards that treated him horribly, instead of humanely.

The only thing that would change was that each time he entered and exited the system, he would become increasingly more difficult to deal with. My brother would further and further push the boundaries of his fixations when he was off his meds, and his jail sentences would become ever longer because his record of arrest was becoming ever more impressive. His experiences in jail and in forced-treatment were also systematically crossing the fragile thresholds of inhumanity as his own bizarre behaviors, not understood by simple jail guards, invited such a response, not just from workers in the system but also by other inmates and VA patients.

Jail/Prison staff and police officers are not properly trained in crisis intervention for the mentally-ill. It is no more fair to incarcerate mental-ill persons alongside committed criminals as it is to ask untrained and unprepared jailers to appropriately care for them in a place which is not designed to render such care. Likewise, we as taxpayers are having to foot the bill for their expensive incarceration and hold our noses while our mentally-ill loved ones are being treated like criminals when many of them do get their prescribed medicines while incarcerated and are completely lucid and fully functional once they’ve been inside for a week. But, we’re afraid to let them come home. You end up feeling incredibly guilty because you don’t want them in a jail but you don’t want them staring into your refrigerator with glassy eyes either.

mentalillness

Our current approach is way more archaic in some ways than the asylums of our past. Instead of questionable accommodations and horrible surgical procedures, we just lock them in jail with hardened criminals, expose them to prison rape, inmate assault and bullying on a daily basis along with an environment which exacerbates paranoia and distrust – the very thing that most of them live in fear of and try to avoid. In mental illnesses, it is difficult to draw a line between what is treatable and what is without hope. Confinement may be necessary for some to protect the patient and society from bizarre, irrational behavior but that incarceration should not be a prison cell with a rapist for a bunk mate and predators around every corner.

Hospitals won’t keep them due to demands of patient advocacy groups. They sometimes assault other patients and staff, which unfairly exposes them to libelous actions. However, such patients should be treated the same as anyone else with any illness. Physicians have the same obligations of care to the mentally-ill as they do to anyone who is ill in any other way. The complicated part rests in the physician’s responsibility to the patient versus his/her responsibility to society. But, that’s only because they have no options available to them otherwise. Our government has closed them all down.

Regardless of the position of a hospital or a particular physician, society’s principle loyalty and duty should be held in the best interests of any vulnerable American (i.e., infant, child, elderly, or physically or mentally handicapped). As a country, we can’t continue to ignore the needs of our country’s most vulnerable while subsidizing the lifestyles of citizens who can take care of themselves but refuse to do so. We must draw a line in the sand somewhere. If money is the issue, we must do what is necessary to care for our vulnerable first, then take what is left to divide among the bottom feeders. If that statement offends you, read a different blog.

The formal mental health care institution was among the earliest fruits of the American social welfare programs of the nineteenth century. Contemporary medicine and ideologies have allowed us to outsmart ourselves and take the self-aggrandizing bait believing that we can create pills that will eradicate mental illness. But instead of solving the problem we’ve just created a new demographic of society called “public mass murderers”. These are kids and adults who’s insurance companies require them to forgo any real psychiatric treatment for mental illness, get psyche pills from a general practitioner and pain meds from a licensed drug dealer (pain clinic), neither of which know a single thing about mental illness, then after living a miserable existence for weeks, months or years, decide to take a gun to school, a movie theater or mall and put as many people out of their perceived misery as they can before taking their own lives or being gunned down by cops.

I’m not suggesting the return of lobotomies or electric shock therapy, I’m suggesting the return of common smarts and a sense of loyalty to our most vulnerable population. We can’t afford not to care for them because they are killing us and themselves while we are loving them to death. Prisons are far more expensive to build than humane hospitals yet 65% of the incarcerated are now considered seriously mentally ill. How many new jails and prisons could communities forgo the construction of if we just did one smart thing and built a place to properly care for our sick with real psychiatrists and psychologists? We don’t have a gun problem, we have a crisis-level of incompetence and lack of common sense in our capitols who’d rather blame the other team than do the hard work to solve real problems.

I find it so ironic today that as a young guy, I tried so hard to get into one of these places when decades later my brother worked so hard to stay out of one. But, he’s gone now, another victim of a failed political policy and a broken bureaucracy. Yes, he was broken too, but that should have just amplified our responsibility to help him, not become an excuse to ignore him. Now, what?

Update – February 2018

The recent school shooting in Broward County Florida reminded me of this blog I wrote a few years ago. Once again, politicians are using victims as pawn in a political argument and once again, people are focused on the tool of a mad man instead of the mad man himself. Our police tell us, “See Something, Say Something”. But, didn’t people say something and didn’t they say it pretty often?

The problem was not the gun, the problem was not apathy on the part of the public. Nope, people did get involved and they reported him time after time. The problem was that the police had no options available to them. The man was obviously mentally disturbed but he’d committed no crime that allowed them to remove him from the public. If the police had been able to arrest him for something long-term, would that have helped? No, because that’s not what this man needed and the police are not the people who we need to solve these kinds of problems. We need mental institutions that are geared for long-term in-patient mental medical treatment and care.

If you see something then say something, what next? Well, uh, nothing is next unless what you saw was a serious crime. If what you saw was a warning sign of something terrible about to happen, what in the hell can the police do about a warning sign? Nothing people! Not one damn thing. So stop with the “See Something, Say Something” mantra. It’s not ever going to work.

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This man should have been picked up and transported to a mental care facility and hospitalized, diagnosed properly, treated for his illness and cared for indefinitely until such time as he was safe to live among the rest of us. His physician should have been able to enter his name onto a HIPPA compliant Mental-Illness registry that is integrated into the NCIC Database that is searched when a person makes a gun purchase. And when he attempted to buy that weapon, that HIPPA compliant registry would have triggered an automated response that wouldn’t tell the gun store clerk what he was diagnosed with, but would deny the gun store the ability to sell that weapon to him – just like it would if he’d been a felon.

But that automated registry doesn’t currently exist and that treatment hospital doesn’t exist. Nothing exists but jails and prisons and police but jails and prisons and police can’t do anything until after the murders occur. So, “see something, do nothing” is perhaps a more appropriate jingle don’t you think? What’s horrible too is that disturbed young man will live out his life in a prison that will never treat him for his mental illness. Instead, he will live a hellish life of chaos and fear in a place he really doesn’t deserve to live in and children are dead that should be going to school and dating and taking their driving tests and fulfilling and enriching the lives of their parents and siblings and communities. None of this should have happened and it all could have been prevented.

President Obama, in his first term, had control of both houses of congress and the white house…if he had thought gun control would have solved this problem, he could have certainly tried it. But instead, he put all his political capital in passing a health care bill that still ignored the mentally-ill. He totally ignored gun control and was the only president in recent history who had the power to modify the way we buy guns.

I personally don’t think gun control is the answer because it can’t address the way criminals buy guns and statistics prove that the number of guns in the hands of a country’s citizens has zero correlation to the amount of violent crimes committed. So gun control is really an ignorant argument that is entirely predicated on political activism and not the greater good.

What we need to focus on are two things: What we’re doing with our most vulnerable populations; and, how to keep that population from legally purchasing firearms. We desperately need places that know how to care mentally vulnerable people – long term, and we need a national registry of those people that is integrated in our NCIC database that alerts gun sellers that the buyer is either ineligible for his/her criminal past or because their name is on a mental health registry. The sellers have no idea why a person is denied now, except that it must be criminal, so what would be the difference if we added another layer?

We need to do whatever we can to keep our mentally-ill out of jails and prisons, and instead inside places that know how to properly care for them, and we need to keep them from buying guns without restricting lawful purchases of guns by law-abiding citizens. That’s it. There’s nothing political about it. It’s the right thing to do for the greater good of everyone.