Archive for the ‘Murder’ Category

by Greg Myre

plane1
Mourners carry coffins through the streets of Tehran, Iran, on July 7, 1988, during a mass funeral for victims of a downed Iran Air flight. The U.S. Navy shot down the civilian plane in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 onboard, after mistaking it for an Iranian warplane.

Ukrainian officials say pro-Russian separatists may have shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard.

It’s rare, but not unprecedented, for civilian airliners to be shot down. In fact, it’s happened before in Ukraine, just 13 years ago.

Back in 2001, the Ukrainian military accidentally shot down a Russian civilian plane while conducting an exercise on the Crimean Peninsula — the very territory that Russia seized earlier this year, prompting the current crisis in Ukraine.

Here’s a list of the deadliest such episodes:

Israel Shoots Down An Errant Libyan Plane: The Libyan Airlines Boeing 727 left the capital, Tripoli, on Feb. 21, 1973, heading east for Cairo when it suffered the double whammy of bad weather and equipment failure. It flew past Cairo and entered the Sinai Peninsula, which was controlled by Israel at the time. Two Israeli warplanes intercepted the Libyan aircraft, and when it refused to land, the Israelis shot it down, killing all but five of the 113 onboard.

plane 2
Men sift through the wreckage of an Air Rhodesia plane shot down by guerrilla fighters in September 1978 in northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The rebels shot down another Air Rhodesia flight five months later.

Rhodesian Rebels Bring Down Two Planes: During the 1970s civil war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), guerrillas shot down two Air Rhodesia commercial flights in the space of five months. In the first attack, on Sept. 3, 1978, rebels of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army shot down a plane going from Kariba to the capital, Salisbury (now Harare). Of the 56 people onboard, 18 survived the crash, but rebels killed 10 of them at the crash site. Then, on Feb. 12, 1979, the same rebel group used another missile to bring down a second Air Rhodesia plane traveling the same route. All 59 people onboard were killed.

Soviets Take Out A Korean Plane Carrying A U.S. Congressman: In a 1983 episode that dramatically raised Cold War tensions, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 strayed off course, apparently because of pilot error, on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to the Korean capital, Seoul. After the Boeing 747 entered prohibited Soviet airspace, a Soviet fighter jet blew it out of the sky near the island of Sakhalin, to the east of the Soviet mainland, killing all 269 onboard, including U.S. Rep. Lawrence McDonald of Georgia.


A Korean Airlines official, Suk Jin-ku, examines a piece of aircraft debris in Japan on Sept. 12, 1983. Eleven days earlier, a Soviet warplane shot down a Korean Air Lines plane that had strayed into Soviet airspace. All 269 people onboard were killed, including U.S. Rep. Lawrence McDonald.

U.S. Navy Shoots Down An Iranian Plane Over The Persian Gulf: In a tense time in a volatile region, the USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser, was in the Persian Gulf in 1988 to help keep the key oil shipping lane open and to monitor the war between Iran and Iraq. According to the U.S. government, a helicopter from the Vincennes came under warning fire from Iranian speedboats. Such small-scale incidents took place with some regularity at the time.

The Vincennes then entered Iranian territorial waters and spotted an aircraft that it thought was an Iranian F-14 fighter plane. However, it was actually a civilian Iran Air Airbus A300, flying over Iran’s territorial waters on its regular route from Tehran to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The Vincennes fired a surface-to-air missile that destroyed the plane, killing all 290 onboard. Under a 1996 agreement at the International Court of Justice, the U.S. agreed to pay Iran $61.8 million.

Ukrainian Military Accidentally Shoots Down A Russian Civilian Plane: The Ukrainian military was carrying out exercises on the Crimean Peninsula on Oct. 4, 2001, when it launched a surface-to-air missile that struck a Siberia Airlines plane as it was traveling from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, Russia. All 78 people onboard were killed when the plane disintegrated over the Black Sea.

The episode came less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, and there was immediate speculation that it was a terrorist attack. As suspicion turned to the Ukrainian military, the government initially denied responsibility, but eventually it acknowledged that it was to blame for the accidental hit.

And that brings us to more recent events. Russia seized and annexed Crimea earlier this year, fueling the current crisis, which has included the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The pro-Russian separatists in that region have brought down several Ukrainian military aircraft in recent months.

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/07/17/332318322/a-brief-history-of-civilian-planes-that-have-been-shot-down

Advertisements

In the inner city, a health problem is making it harder for young people to learn. inner-city kids suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Youth living in inner cities show a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder than soldiers,” according to Howard Spivak M.D., director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention.

Spivak presented research at a congressional briefing in April 2012 showing that children are essentially living in combat zones. Unlike soldiers, children in the inner city never leave the combat zone and often experience trauma repeatedly.

One local expert says national data suggests one in three urban youth have mild to severe PTSD. “You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar. Because frankly it does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home,” said Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D. of San Francisco State University.

In 2013, there were 47 recorded lockdowns in Oakland public schools – again, almost all in East and West Oakland.

Students at Fremont High showed where one classmate was shot.

“If someone got shot that they knew or that they cared about… they’re going to be numb,” one student said. “If someone else in their family got shot and killed they will be sad, they will be isolated because I have been through that.”

Gun violence is only one of the traumas or stressors in concentrated areas of deep poverty.

“Its kids are unsafe, they’re not well fed,” Duncan-Andrade said. “And when you start stacking those kids of stressors on top of each other, that’s when you get these kinds of negative health outcomes that seriously disrupt school performance.”

Duncan-Andrade said doctors at Harvard’s School of Public Health have come up with a new diagnosis of complex PTSD, describing people who are repeatedly re-exposed to trauma, which Duncan-Andrade said, would include many inner-city youth.

In Oakland, about two-thirds of the murders last year were actually clustered in East Oakland, where 59 people were killed.

Teachers and administrators who graduated from Fremont High School in East Oakland and have gone back to work there spoke with KPIX 5.

“These cards that (students) are suddenly wearing around their neck that say ‘Rest in peace.’ You have some kids that are walking around with six of them. Laminated cards that are tributes to their slain friends,” said teacher Jasmene Miranda.

Jaliza Collins, also a teacher at Fremont, said, “It’s depression, it’s stress, it’s withdrawal, it’s denial. It’s so many things that is encompassed and embodied in them. And when somebody pushes that one button where it can be like, ‘please go have a seat,’ and that can be the one thing that just sets them off.”

Even the slang nickname for the condition, “Hood Disease,” itself causes pain, and ignites debate among community leaders, as they say the term pejoratively refers to impoverished areas, and distances the research and medical community from the issue.

“People from afar call it ‘Hood Disease,’ – it’s what academics call it,” said Olis Simmons, CEO of Youth UpRising working in what she describes as the epicenter of the issue: East Oakland.

She said the term minimizes the pain that her community faces, and fails to capture the impact this has on the larger community.

“In the real world where this affects real lives, people are suffering from a chronic level of trauma that doesn’t have a chance to heal because they’re effectively living in a war zone within your town,” said Simmons.

“Terms like ‘hood disease’ mean it’s someone else’s problem, but it’s not. That’s a lie. It’s a collective problem, and the question is what are we prepared to do about it?”

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/05/16/hood-disease-inner-city-oakland-youth-suffering-from-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-crime-violence-shooting-homicide-murder/

F R W van de Goot, R L ten Berge, R Vos
The Journal of Clinical Pathology

In 1599, a Spanish governor in early colonial Ecuador suffered this fate. Native Indians of the Jivaro tribe, unscrupulously taxed in their gold trade, attacked the settlement of Logrono and executed the gold hungry governor by pouring molten gold down his throat. Pouring hot liquids or metals, such as lead or gold, into the mouth of a victim was a practice used on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, by the Romans and the Spanish Inquisition among others.

Several sources mention the bursting of internal organs. The question remains whether this is actually the case and, also, what the cause of death would be. To investigate this, we obtained a bovine larynx from a local slaughter house (no animal was harmed or killed specifically for this purpose). After fixing the larynx in a horizontal position to a piece of wood and closing the distal end using tissue paper, 750 g of pure lead (around 450°C) was heated until melting and then poured into the larynx. Immediately, large amounts of steam appeared at both ends of the specimen, and the clot of tissue paper was expelled with force by the steam. Within 10 seconds, the lead had congealed again, completely filling the larynx.

After cooling, cross sections of the larynx were made, and formalin fixed, paraffin wax embedded slides of the laryngeal wall were observed under the light microscope. The laryngeal mucosa was found to be totally absent, and coagulation necrosis of the underlying chondroid and striated muscle was seen at a maximum depth of 1 cm.

Based on these findings, we suggest that the development of steam with increasing pressure might result in both heat induced and mechanical damage to distal organs, possibly leading to over inflation and rupture of these organs. Direct thermal injury to the lungs may lead to instantaneous death, as a result of acute pulmonary dysfunction and shock. Even if this is not the case, the development of a “cast” (once the metal congeals again) would completely block the airways, thus suffocating the victim.

In conclusion, we have shown that in the execution method of pouring hot liquefied metals into the throat of a victim, death is probably mediated by the development of steam and consequent thermal injury to the airways.

http://jcp.bmj.com/content/56/2/157.full

MASS killers like Elliot Rodger teach society all the wrong lessons about the connection between violence, mental illness and guns — and what we should do about it. One of the biggest misconceptions, pushed by our commentators and politicians, is that we can prevent these tragedies if we improve our mental health care system. It is a comforting notion, but nothing could be further from the truth.

And although the intense media attention might suggest otherwise, mass killings — when four or more people are killed at once — are very rare events. In 2012, they accounted for only about 0.15 percent of all homicides in the United States. Because of their horrific nature, however, they receive lurid media attention that distorts the public’s perception about the real risk posed by the mentally ill.

Anyone who watched Elliot Rodger’s chilling YouTube video, detailing his plan for murderous vengeance before he killed six people last week near Santa Barbara, Calif., would understandably conflate madness with violence. While it is true that most mass killers have a psychiatric illness, the vast majority of violent people are not mentally ill and most mentally ill people are not violent. Indeed, only about 4 percent of overall violence in the United States can be attributed to those with mental illness. Most homicides in the United States are committed by people without mental illness who use guns.

Mass killers are almost always young men who tend to be angry loners. They are often psychotic, seething with resentment and planning revenge for perceived slights and injuries. As a group, they tend to avoid contact with the mental health care system, so it’s tough to identify and help them. Even when they have received psychiatric evaluation and treatment, as in the case of Mr. Rodger and Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and seven adults, including his mother, in Connecticut in 2012, we have to acknowledge that our current ability to predict who is likely to be violent is no better than chance.

Large epidemiologic studies show that psychiatric illness is a risk factor for violent behavior, but the risk is small and linked only to a few serious mental disorders. People with schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder were two to three times as likely as those without these disorders to be violent. The actual lifetime prevalence of violence among people with serious mental illness is about 16 percent compared with 7 percent among people who are not mentally ill.

What most people don’t know is that drug and alcohol abuse are far more powerful risk factors for violence than other psychiatric illnesses. Individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol but have no other psychiatric disorder are almost seven times more likely than those without substance abuse to act violently.

As a psychiatrist, I welcome calls from our politicians to improve our mental health care system. But even the best mental health care is unlikely to prevent these tragedies.

If we can’t reliably identify people who are at risk of committing violent acts, then how can we possibly prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are likely to kill? Mr. Rodger had no problem legally buying guns because he had neither been institutionalized nor involuntarily hospitalized, both of which are generally factors that would have prevented him from purchasing firearms.

Would lowering the threshold for involuntary psychiatric treatment, as some argue, be effective in preventing mass killings or homicide in general?

It’s doubtful.

The current guideline for psychiatric treatment over the objection of the patient is, in most states, imminent risk of harm to self or others. Short of issuing a direct threat of violence or appearing grossly disturbed, you will not receive involuntary treatment. When Mr. Rodger was interviewed by the police after his mother expressed alarm about videos he had posted, several weeks ago, he appeared calm and in control and was thus not apprehended. In other words, a normal-appearing killer who is quietly planning a massacre can easily evade detection.

In the wake of these horrific killings, it would be understandable if the public wanted to make it easier to force treatment on patients before a threat is issued. But that might simply discourage other mentally ill people from being candid and drive some of the sickest patients away from the mental health care system.

We have always had — and always will have — Adam Lanzas and Elliot Rodgers. The sobering fact is that there is little we can do to predict or change human behavior, particularly violence; it is a lot easier to control its expression, and to limit deadly means of self-expression. In every state, we should prevent individuals with a known history of serious psychiatric illness or substance abuse, both of which predict increased risk of violence, from owning or purchasing guns.

But until we make changes like that, the tragedy of mass killings will remain a part of American life.

Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/opinion/why-cant-doctors-identify-killers.html?_r=0

There are a few things we take for granted in social interactions with people. We presume that we see the world in roughly the same way, that we all know certain basic facts, that words mean the same things to you as they do to me. And we assume that we have pretty similar ideas of right and wrong.

But for a small – but not that small – subset of the population, things are very different. These people lack remorse and empathy and feel emotion only shallowly. In extreme cases, they might not care whether you live or die. These people are called psychopaths. Some of them are violent criminals, murderers. But by no means all.

Professor Robert Hare is a criminal psychologist, and the creator of the PCL-R, a psychological assessment used to determine whether someone is a psychopath. For decades, he has studied people with psychopathy, and worked with them, in prisons and elsewhere. “It stuns me, as much as it did when I started 40 years ago, that it is possible to have people who are so emotionally disconnected that they can function as if other people are objects to be manipulated and destroyed without any concern,” he says.

Our understanding of the brain is still in its infancy, and it’s not so many decades since psychological disorders were seen as character failings. Slowly we are learning to think of mental illnesses as illnesses, like kidney disease or liver failure, and developmental disorders, such as autism, in a similar way. Psychopathy challenges this view. “A high-scoring psychopath views the world in a very different way,” says Hare. “It’s like colour-blind people trying to understand the colour red, but in this case ‘red’ is other people’s emotions.”

At heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list in full is: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (ie broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy. Hare says: “A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once said: ‘Bob, when I meet someone who scores 35 or 36, I know these people really are different.’ The ones we consider to be alien are the ones at the upper end.”

But is psychopathy a disorder – or a different way of being? Anyone reading the list above will spot a few criteria familiar from people they know. On average, someone with no criminal convictions scores 5. “It’s dimensional,” says Hare. “There are people who are part-way up the scale, high enough to warrant an assessment for psychopathy, but not high enough up to cause problems. Often they’re our friends, they’re fun to be around. They might take advantage of us now and then, but usually it’s subtle and they’re able to talk their way around it.” Like autism, a condition which we think of as a spectrum, “psycho­pathy”, the diagnosis, bleeds into normalcy.

We think of psychopaths as killers, criminals, outside society. People such as Joanna Dennehy, a 31-year-old British woman who killed three men in 2013 and who the year before had been diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder, or Ted Bundy, the American serial killer who is believed to have murdered at least 30 people and who said of himself: “I’m the most cold-blooded son of a bitch you’ll ever meet. I just liked to kill.” But many psychopathic traits aren’t necessarily disadvantages – and might, in certain circumstances, be an advantage. For their co-authored book, “Snakes in suits: When Psychopaths go to work”, Hare and another researcher, Paul Babiak, looked at 203 corporate professionals and found about four per cent scored sufficiently highly on the PCL-R to be evaluated for psychopathy. Hare says that this wasn’t a proper random sample (claims that “10 per cent of financial executives” are psychopaths are certainly false) but it’s easy to see how a lack of moral scruples and indifference to other people’s suffering could be beneficial if you want to get ahead in business.

“There are two kinds of empathy,” says James Fallon, a neuroscientist at the University of California and author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. “Cognitive empathy is the ability to know what other people are feeling, and emotional empathy is the kind where you feel what they’re feeling.” Autistic people can be very empathetic – they feel other people’s pain – but are less able to recognise the cues we read easily, the smiles and frowns that tell us what someone is thinking. Psychopaths are often the opposite: they know what you’re feeling, but don’t feel it themselves. “This all gives certain psychopaths a great advantage, because they can understand what you’re thinking, it’s just that they don’t care, so they can use you against yourself.” (Chillingly, psychopaths are particularly adept at detecting vulnerability. A 2008 study that asked participants to remember virtual characters found that those who scored highly for psychopathy had a near perfect recognition for sad, unsuccessful females, but impaired memory for other characters.)

Fallon himself is a case in point. In 2005, he was looking at brain scans of psychopathic murderers, while on another study, of Alzheimer’s, he was using scans of his own family’s brains as controls. In the latter pile, he found something strange. “You can’t tell just from a brain scan whether someone’s a psychopath,” he says, “but you can make a good guess at the personality traits they’ll have.” He describes a great loop that starts in the front of the brain including the parahippocampal gyrus and the amygdala and other regions tied to emotion and impulse control and empathy. Under certain circumstances they would light up dramatically on a normal person’s MRI scan, but would be darker on a psychopath’s.

“I saw one that was extremely abnormal, and I thought this is someone who’s way off. It looked like the murderers I’d been looking at,” he says. He broke the anonymisation code in case it had been put into the wrong pile. When he did, he discovered it was his own brain. “I kind of blew it off,” he says. “But later, some psychiatrist friends of mine went through my behaviours, and they said, actually, you’re probably a borderline psychopath.”

Speaking to him is a strange experience; he barely draws breath in an hour, in which I ask perhaps three questions. He explains how he has frequently put his family in danger, exposing his brother to the deadly Marburg virus and taking his son trout-fishing in the African countryside knowing there were lions around. And in his youth, “if I was confronted by authority – if I stole a car, made pipe bombs, started fires – when we got caught by the police I showed no emotion, no anxiety”. Yet he is highly successful, driven to win. He tells me things most people would be uncomfortable saying: that his wife says she’s married to a “fun-loving, happy-go-lucky nice guy” on the one hand, and a “very dark character who she does not like” on the other. He’s pleasant, and funny, if self-absorbed, but I can’t help but think about the criteria in Hare’s PCL-R: superficial charm, lack of emotional depth, grandiose sense of self-worth. “I look like hell now, Tom,” he says – he’s 66 – “but growing up I was good-looking, six foot, 180lb, athletic, smart, funny, popular.” (Hare warns against non-professionals trying to diagnose people using his test, by the way.)

“Psychopaths do think they’re more rational than other people, that this isn’t a deficit,” says Hare. “I met one offender who was certainly a psychopath who said ‘My problem is that according to psychiatrists I think more with my head than my heart. What am I supposed to do about that? Am I supposed to get all teary-eyed?’ ” Another, asked if he had any regrets about stabbing a robbery victim, replied: “Get real! He spends a few months in hospital and I rot here. If I wanted to kill him I would have slit his throat. That’s the kind of guy I am; I gave him a break.”

And yet, as Hare points out, when you’re talking about people who aren’t criminals, who might be successful in life, it’s difficult to categorise it as a disorder. “It’d be pretty hard for me to go into high-level political or economic or academic context and pick out all the most successful people and say, ‘Look, I think you’ve got some brain deficit.’ One of my inmates said that his problem was that he’s a cat in a world of mice. If you compare the brainwave activity of a cat and a mouse, you’d find they were quite different.”

It would, says Hare, probably have been an evolutionarily successful strategy for many of our ancestors, and can be successful today; adept at manipulating people, a psychopath can enter a community, “like a church or a cultural organisation, saying, ‘I believe the same things you do’, but of course what we have is really a cat pretending to be a mouse, and suddenly all the money’s gone”. At this point he floats the name Bernie Madoff.

This brings up the issue of treatment. “Psychopathy is probably the most pleasant-feeling of all the mental disorders,” says the journalist Jon Ronson, whose book, The Psychopath Test, explored the concept of psychopathy and the mental health industry in general. “All of the things that keep you good, morally good, are painful things: guilt, remorse, empathy.” Fallon agrees: “Psychopaths can work very quickly, and can have an apparent IQ higher than it really is, because they’re not inhibited by moral concerns.”

So psychopaths often welcome their condition, and “treating” them becomes complicated. “How many psychopaths go to a psychiatrist for mental distress, unless they’re in prison? It doesn’t happen,” says Hare. The ones in prison, of course, are often required to go to “talk therapy, empathy training, or talk to the family of the victims” – but since psychopaths don’t have any empathy, it doesn’t work. “What you want to do is say, ‘Look, it’s in your own self-interest to change your behaviour, otherwise you’ll stay in prison for quite a while.’ ”

It seems Hare’s message has got through to the UK Department of Justice: in its guidelines for working with personality-disordered inmates, it advises that while “highly psychopathic individuals” are likely to be “highly treatment resistant”, the “interventions most likely to be effective are those which focus on ‘self-interest’ – what the offender wants out of life – and work with them to develop the skills to get those things in a pro-social rather than anti-social way.”

If someone’s brain lacks the moral niceties the rest of us take for granted, they obviously can’t do anything about that, any more than a colour-blind person can start seeing colour. So where does this leave the concept of moral responsibility? “The legal system traditionally asserts that all people standing in front of the judge’s bench are equal. That’s demonstrably false,” says the neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. He suggests that instead of thinking in terms of blameworthiness, the law should deal with the likelihood that someone will reoffend, and issue sentences accordingly, with rehabilitation for those likely to benefit and long sentences for those likely to be long-term dangers. The PCL-R is already used as part of algorithms which categorise people in terms of their recidivism risk. “Life insurance companies do exactly this sort of thing, in actuarial tables, where they ask: ‘What age do we think he’s going to die?’ No one’s pretending they know exactly when we’re going to die. But they can make rough guesses which make for an enormously more efficient system.”

What this doesn’t mean, he says, is a situation like the sci-fi film Minority Report, in which people who are likely to commit crimes are locked up before they actually do. “Here’s why,” he says. “It’s because many people in the population have high levels of psychopathy – about 1 per cent. But not all of them become criminals. In fact many of them, because of their glibness and charm and willingness to ride roughshod over the people in their way, become quite successful. They become CEOs, professional athletes, soldiers. These people are revered for their courage and their straight talk and their willingness to crush obstacles in their way. Merely having psychopathy doesn’t tell us that a person will go off and commit a crime.” It is central to the justice system, both in Britain and America, that you can’t pre-emptively punish someone. And that won’t ever change, says Eagleman, not just for moral, philosophical reasons, but for practical ones. The Minority Report scenario is a fantasy, because “it’s impossible to predict what somebody will do, even given their personality type and everything, because life is complicated and crime is conceptual. Once someone has committed a crime, once someone has stepped over a societal boundary, then there’s a lot more statistical power about what they’re likely to do in future. But until that’s happened, you can’t ever know.”

Speaking to all these experts, I notice they all talk about psychopaths as “them”, almost as a different species, although they make conscious efforts not to. There’s something uniquely troubling about a person who lacks emotion and empathy; it’s the stuff of changeling stories, the Midwich Cuckoos, Hannibal Lecter. “You know kids who use a magnifying glass to burn ants, thinking, this is interesting,” says Hare. “Translate that to an adult psychopath who treats a person that way. It is chilling.” At one stage Ronson suggests I speak to another well-known self-described psychopath, a woman, but I can’t bring myself to. I find the idea unsettling, as if he’d suggested I commune with the dead.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10737827/Psychopaths-how-can-you-spot-one.html

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Alaric-Hunt_2787491b

When the judges of a contest for first-time crime novelists awarded their prize to Cuts Through Bone, they hailed the book for its authenticity.

No one from the Private Eye Writers of America panel, however, deduced that there might be a good reason for its author’s believable voice —he was himself a convicted killer serving a sentence for murder.

“He’s not available. He’s in an institution,” Jade Reed, his cousin, told an interested publisher that called to follow up on his win.

“Will he be out soon?” came the reply. After a pause, Ms Reed said: “Well, he’s there indefinitely.” Alaric Hunt, 44, has lived more than half his life in prison after being convicted of killing Joyce Austin, a 23-year-old graduate student, in Clemson, South Carolina, 1988. He is now in a maximum-security facility 180 miles from the crime scene in Bishopville.

Ms Austin died of smoke inhalation from a fire started by Hunt’s brother, Jason, with a can of petrol and a match to distract emergency services while the two of them robbed a nearby jewellery shop.

The brothers were arrested six weeks later.

They were sentenced to life with no parole for at least 30 years.

Hunt, who works in the prison library, discovered authors such as Ernest Hemingway while locked up. He came upon the idea of writing his own novel after seeing an advertisement for the prize three years ago.

He wrote Cuts Through Bone in nine months in sessions between his prison duties. The story centres on the murder of a woman whose boyfriend, a military veteran, is wrongfully accused of the crime.

Clayton Guthrie, a middle-aged detective, teams up with Rachel Vasquez, the inquisitive teenage daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, to get to the bottom of the case.

The book is set in New York, where Hunt has never been. He said he had pieced together knowledge of the city from watching episodes of Law and Order, a popular American detective drama series set there.

Unlike some other American states, South Carolina has no law barring prisoners to profit from such work. Still, Hunt’s publishers, Minotaur, are keen to stress that his book is not based on his own offence. “He’s not writing a memoir of the crimes and trying to make money off that,” a spokesman told the newspaper.

However, Frances Austin, the mother of the Hunt brothers’ victim, told the New York Times that she was astonished to learn he had written the book. “He caused my daughter’s death, and now he’s writing a book about it,” she said. “I can’t believe this.” The booked received mixed reviews. “Sometimes, a crime novel grabs you on the first page with its plot. Sometimes, it’s the writing. Rarely is it the author’s background. But Alaric Hunt hits the trifecta in his debut,” wrote the critic for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia.

However, Publishers Weekly said: “Overblown prose (’dawn broke, like an egg yolk bleeding yellow into a dark pan’) doesn’t help an unremarkable plot.” Hunt told The New York Times:“What haunts me is not seeing beyond what I wanted and casually risking others,” Hunt told the newspaper. “That’s the act that defines me — something I didn’t do, but failed to do: consider. I killed Joyce Austin, and I killed my brother and myself. There’s a hole there that can’t ever fill up.”

He hopes to earn parole when he is eligible, in five years. “I’m afraid to choke on wistfulness,” he said. “That has been the fate of many a prisoner. I pass them each day, still shuffling and muttering with their hands full of hope.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10564467/Winner-of-crime-novel-prize-turns-out-to-be-killer.html

grandtheftauto5-630

It was one of the most brutal video games imaginable—players used cars to murder people in broad daylight. Parents were outraged, and behavioral experts warned of real-world carnage. “In this game a player takes the first step to creating violence,” a psychologist from the National Safety Council told the New York Times. “And I shudder to think what will come next if this is encouraged. It’ll be pretty gory.”

To earn points, Death Race encouraged players to mow down pedestrians. Given that it was 1976, those pedestrians were little pixel-gremlins in a 2-D black-and-white universe that bore almost no recognizable likeness to real people.

Indeed, the debate about whether violent video games lead to violent acts by those who play them goes way back. The public reaction to Death Race can be seen as an early predecessor to the controversial Grand Theft Auto three decades later and the many other graphically violent and hyper-real games of today, including the slew of new titles debuting at the E3 gaming summit this week in Los Angeles.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and numerous other recent mass shootings, familiar condemnations of and questions about these games have reemerged. Here are some answers.

Who’s claiming video games cause violence in the real world?
Though conservatives tend to raise it more frequently, this bogeyman plays across the political spectrum, with regular calls for more research, more regulations, and more censorship. The tragedy in Newtown set off a fresh wave:

Donald Trump tweeted: “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it’s creating monsters!” Ralph Nader likened violent video games to “electronic child molesters.” (His outlandish rhetoric was meant to suggest that parents need to be involved in the media their kids consume.) MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asserted that the government has a right to regulate video games, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary.

Unsurprisingly, the most over-the-top talk came from the National Rifle Association:

“Guns don’t kill people. Video games, the media, and Obama’s budget kill people,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference one week after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He continued without irony: “There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse.”

Has the rhetoric led to any government action?
Yes. Amid a flurry of broader legislative activity on gun violence since Newtown there have been proposals specifically focused on video games. Among them:

State Rep. Diane Franklin, a Republican in Missouri, sponsored a state bill that would impose a 1 percent tax on violent games, the revenues of which would go toward “the treatment of mental-health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.” (The bill has since been withdrawn.) Vice President Joe Biden has also promoted this idea.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) proposed a federal bill that would give the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s ratings system the weight of the law, making it illegal to sell Mature-rated games to minors, something Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has also proposed for his home state.

A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed studying the impact of violent video games on children.

So who actually plays these games and how popular are they?
While many of the top selling games in history have been various Mario and Pokemon titles, games from the the first-person-shooter genre, which appeal in particular to teen boys and young men, are also huge sellers.

The new king of the hill is Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which surpassed Wii Play as the No. 1 grossing game in 2012. Call of Duty is now one of the most successful franchises in video game history, topping charts year over year and boasting around 40 million active monthly users playing one of the franchise’s games over the internet. (Which doesn’t even include people playing the game offline.) There is already much anticipation for the release later this year of Call of Duty: Ghosts.

The Battlefield games from Electronic Arts also sell millions of units with each release. Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite, released in March, has sold nearly 4 million units and is one of the most violent games to date.

What research has been done on the link between video games and violence, and what does it really tell us?
Studies on how violent video games affect behavior date to the mid 1980s, with conflicting results. Since then there have been at least two dozen studies conducted on the subject.

“Video Games, Television, and Aggression in Teenagers,” published by the University of Georgia in 1984, found that playing arcade games was linked to increases in physical aggression. But a study published a year later by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “Personality, Psychopathology, and Developmental Issues in Male Adolescent Video Game Use,” found that arcade games have a “calming effect” and that boys use them to blow off steam. Both studies relied on surveys and interviews asking boys and young men about their media consumption.

Studies grew more sophisticated over the years, but their findings continued to point in different directions. A 2011 study found that people who had played competitive games, regardless of whether they were violent or not, exhibited increased aggression. In 2012, a different study found that cooperative playing in the graphically violent Halo II made the test subjects more cooperative even outside of video game playing.

Metastudies—comparing the results and the methodologies of prior research on the subject—have also been problematic. One published in 2010 by the American Psychological Association, analyzing data from multiple studies and more than 130,000 subjects, concluded that “violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviors and decrease empathic feelings and pro-social behaviors.” But results from another metastudy showed that most studies of violent video games over the years suffered from publication biases that tilted the results toward foregone correlative conclusions.

Why is it so hard to get good research on this subject?
“I think that the discussion of media forms—particularly games—as some kind of serious social problem is often an attempt to kind of corral and solve what is a much broader social issue,” says Carly Kocurek, a professor of Digital Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Games aren’t developed in a vacuum, and they reflect the cultural milieu that produces them. So of course we have violent games.”

There is also the fundamental problem of measuring violent outcomes ethically and effectively.

“I think anybody who tells you that there’s any kind of consistency to the aggression research is lying to you,” Christopher J. Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University, told Kotaku. “There’s no consistency in the aggression literature, and my impression is that at this point it is not strong enough to draw any kind of causal, or even really correlational links between video game violence and aggression, no matter how weakly we may define aggression.”

Moreover, determining why somebody carries out a violent act like a school shooting can be very complex; underlying mental-health issues are almost always present. More than half of mass shooters over the last 30 years had mental-health problems.

But America’s consumption of violent video games must help explain our inordinate rate of gun violence, right?
Actually, no. A look at global video game spending per capita in relation to gun death statistics reveals that gun deaths in the United States far outpace those in other countries—including countries with higher per capita video game spending.

A 10-country comparison from the Washington Post shows the United States as the clear outlier in this regard. Countries with the highest per capita spending on video games, such as the Netherlands and South Korea, are among the safest countries in the world when it comes to guns. In other words, America plays about the same number of violent video games per capita as the rest of the industrialized world, despite that we far outpace every other nation in terms of gun deaths.

Or, consider it this way: With violent video game sales almost always at the top of the charts, why do so few gamers turn into homicidal shooters? In fact, the number of violent youth offenders in the United States fell by more than half between 1994 and 2010—while video game sales more than doubled since 1996. A working paper from economists on violence and video game sales published in 2011 found that higher rates of violent video game sales in fact correlated with a decrease in crimes, especially violent crimes.

I’m still not convinced. A bunch of mass shooters were gamers, right?
Some mass shooters over the last couple of decades have had a history with violent video games. The Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, was reportedly “obsessed” with video games. Norway shooter Anders Behring Breivik was said to have played World of Warcraft for 16 hours a day until he gave up the game in favor of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which he claimed he used to train with a rifle. Aurora theater shooter James Holmes was reportedly a fan of violent video games and movies such as The Dark Knight. (Holmes reportedly went so far as to mimic the Joker by dying his hair prior to carrying out his attack.)

Jerald Block, a researcher and psychiatrist in Portland, Oregon, stirred controversy when he concluded that Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out their rampage after their parents took away their video games. According to the Denver Post, Block said that the two had relied on the virtual world of computer games to express their rage, and that cutting them off in 1998 had sent them into crisis.

But that’s clearly an oversimplification. The age and gender of many mass shooters, including Columbine’s, places them right in the target demographic for first-person-shooter (and most other) video games. And people between ages 18 and 25 also tend to report the highest rates of mental-health issues. Harris and Klebold’s complex mental-health problems have been well documented.

To hold up a few sensational examples as causal evidence between violent games and violent acts ignores the millions of other young men and women who play violent video games and never go on a shooting spree in real life. Furthermore, it’s very difficult to determine empirically whether violent kids are simply drawn to violent forms of entertainment, or if the entertainment somehow makes them violent. Without solid scientific data to go on, it’s easier to draw conclusions that confirm our own biases.
How is the industry reacting to the latest outcry over violent games?
Moral panic over the effects of violent video games on young people has had an impact on the industry over the years, says Kocurek, noting that “public and government pressure has driven the industry’s efforts to self regulate.”

In fact, it is among the best when it comes to abiding by its own voluntary ratings system, with self-regulated retail sales of Mature-rated games to minors lower than in any other entertainment field.

But is that enough? Even conservative judges think there should be stronger laws regulating these games, right?
There have been two major Supreme Court cases involving video games and attempts by the state to regulate access to video games. Aladdin’s Castle, Inc. v. City of Mesquite in 1983 and Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association in 2011.

“Both cases addressed attempts to regulate youth access to games, and in both cases, the court held that youth access can’t be curtailed,” Kocurek says.

In Brown v. EMA, the Supreme Court found that the research simply wasn’t compelling enough to spark government action, and that video games, like books and film, were protected by the First Amendment.

“Parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote when the Supreme Court deemed California’s video game censorship bill unconstitutional in Brown v. EMA. “Filling the remaining modest gap in concerned-parents’ control can hardly be a compelling state interest.”

So how can we explain the violent acts of some kids who play these games?
For her part, Kocurek wonders if the focus on video games is mostly a distraction from more important issues. “When we talk about violent games,” she says, “we are too often talking about something else and looking for a scapegoat.”

In other words, violent video games are an easy thing to blame for a more complex problem. Public policy debates, she says, need to focus on serious research into the myriad factors that may contribute to gun violence. This may include video games—but a serious debate needs to look at the dearth of mental-health care in America, our abundance of easily accessible weapons, our highly flawed background-check system, and other factors.

There is at least one practical approach to violent video games, however, that most people would agree on: Parents should think deliberately about purchasing these games for their kids. Better still, they should be involved in the games their kids play as much as possible so that they can know firsthand whether the actions and images they’re allowing their children to consume are appropriate or not.

Thanks to SRW for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/06/video-games-violence-guns-explainer