And Then He Joined the Marines

One youth Aspche counseled, who physically assaulted staff members at a mental health institution, was reacting to his own fears, Apsche theorized. His parents had subjected him to unimaginable abuse. After receiving MDT counseling — which combines behavioral science with concepts of acceptance and mindfulness, derived from Eastern and Western meditative practices — the boy changed, Apsche says, eventually enlisting in the Marines.
Washington Post, 2012-10-21

Jack Apsche has written a book about his new method of treating violent youth. It works really well: this one lad changed, and then enlisted in the Marines. He says he “hopes” to have the book published.

I don’t know if the humour there was unconscious or unintentional, but it is indeed hilarious. Unless you think the Marines might be poorly served by a boy with violent tendencies.

This is possibly even more fitting than you can imagine. Jack Apsche’s book is partly about his association with Gary Heidnik, the famous serial killer (and inspiration for the Buffalo Bill character in “Silence of the Lambs”). Heidnik also joined the army. He was rated, at basic training, as “excellent”. But somehow he lost his way and took to capturing young women and imprisoning them in a pit in the basement of his Philadelphia row-house where he tortured, raped, and abused them. Two of the women died and he was convicted of murder and eventually executed.


Dr. Robert Sadoff and Jeffrey MacDonald

“I see no evidence for psychotic thought progresses either present or underlying, no evidence for hallucinations or delusions. He does not reveal evidence for serious psychoneurotic disorder with poor self control. He does not show evidence for a longstanding characterological disorder or a sociopathic personality disorder with acting out processes. He denies the use of drugs of any type, which could have stimulated an acute toxic psychotic state, resulting in loss of control and explosive violence.” Dr. Robert Sadoff quoted in Errol Morris’s A Wilderness of Errors in regard to Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, who was later convicted of murdering his wife and two young daughters in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, February 17th, 1970.

That statement should be disturbing to all of us.

Firstly, if you believe that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald murdered his wife and two daughters on February 17, 1970, then you have an allegedly reputable psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Sadoff, offering a ridiculously inept misdiagnosis of a violent psychotic killer, a man who stabbed his own daughter with an ice pick and battered his wife’s head with a club of some kind and stabbed her 21 times with the same ice pick and then devised some preposterous story about drug-crazed hippies conducting a Manson-like slaughter in his home to tell the military police investigators.

No symptoms of any “characterological” disorder, according to Dr. Sadoff.

But if you believe MacDonald was railroaded, Dr. Sadoff’s comments are no less disturbing. Are you blown away by his scintillating use of pseudo-scientific jargon? Just what is a “characterological disorder”? Is this something you can measure or calculate based on anything other than a conversation? A conversation which is an exchange of words which is judged by man with credentials and then presented to the public and the courts and the investigators as some kind of scientific conclusion?

Is there a necessity for the phrase “longstanding characterological disorder” or for the phrase “sociopathic personality disorder with acting out processes”? What if Dr. Sadoff just said this:

“Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald seemed like a nice guy. I liked him. He didn’t yell or get angry or threaten me in any way. I thought he was swell.”

Ah, you say. No court would accept that as “expert” testimony. It would have no authority, no cachet. The attorney’s would not nod their heads knowingly or consult their table of characterological disorders to see if all the criteria were met.

Dr. Sadoff would probably admit that he is not God. He does not see into anyone’s mind. He does not have any special gift for un-encrypting the myriad complexities of nuance and suggestion and subtle inference and implication and allusion and random snatches of impulse and vocabularic irregularity (if he can make up words with dubious meanings, so can I). He had a conversation with Jeffrey MacDonald. He knows no more than any smart person could possibly know from a conversation with a suspected killer. He merely knows how to produce psychology theatre and, unfortunately, many people are convinced that there is a secret script that can be decoded by magical people with degrees and certificates.


Idiotic Folk Songs

Donovan Leitch, the Scottish folksinger (best known for “Mellow Yellow”) inexplicably recorded an insipid song, “Remember the Alamo” on “What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid”, around 1966 I think. It was always an oddity, released, as it was, in the late 1960’s, amid a plethora of antiwar songs like “Billy, Don’t be a Hero”. As a single, it failed to chart and was withdrawn amid a dispute between record labels. Donovan became the very emblem of 1960’s Flower Child, visiting the Maharishi Yogi, singing about meadows and hurly-gurlies and Jennifer Juniper, who was actually Patti Boyd’s entrancing younger sister.

“Remember the Alamo” repeats the myth of Travis drawing a line in the sand with his sword, challenging his men to fight an overwhelmingly large fast approaching Mexican force.

A hundred and eighty
were challenged by Travis
to die…

Doesn’t that put it eloquently?

This is an unusually perverse myth designed to ameliorate the perception that Travis forced his men to die in an utterly futile battle in order to gratify his own perverse ambition.

If only… sure, if there was ever a situation in which a soldier really gave up his life so that others could live or be free, sure, that would be a hell of an honorable thing to do.

It has almost never been done.

It is believed to be done every time a soldier points his gun at someone.

Soldiers are there to kill for their country– not to die for their country. There is not a general in the world who has any real use for a soldier who would die for his country. Certainly Exxon and Dupont and General Motors don’t need large numbers of young deluded males to travel to a foreign country and kill themselves. They need large numbers of young deluded males to travel to a foreign country to kill other young deluded males and take their oil.

Even suicide bombers need to do it in a crowd.

Fear not little darling of dying
If this world be
sovereign and free
For we’ll fight to the last
for as long as liberty be

What the hell is the point of “sovereign and free” if you are dead? And is that really what you are fighting for?

James Bowie, incidentally, is described in some accounts as, among other things, a “slave-trader”. This doesn’t get mentioned often, if at all, in other accounts of his life.  It doesn’t get mentioned in the song.


Remember the Idiots at the Alamo

It will be placed in a Mylar sleeve, mounted between sheets of antireflective plexiglass, placed in a crate and transported from Austin to San Antonio by a fine arts shipper with an escort of state troopers. It will be displayed in a custom-built case that will filter most ultraviolet light. Officers known as Alamo Rangers, private security guards and plainclothes off-duty police officers, will patrol or stand guard. The project will cost more than $100,000, the majority of which will be private donations.

NY Times, October 3, 2012

The document in question is a letter from William Travis sent from The Alamo in the days just before Santa Ana arrived with the Mexican army. It is a relic and this hysterical worship of it is ridiculous. Travis writes “Victory or death!” Rick Perry repeated the phrase, with a straight face, when he ran for president last year.

The purpose of the security precautions, with the “Alamo Rangers”, off-duty police, and private security guards is to try to convince you and I that there really is something very, very important about this letter. There really is. It is so sacred, so holy, and so monumental, that nefarious persons all around the world would take it if they could. It must be guarded by very straight-faced armed men. It must be transported in a special vehicle with an escort of state troopers.

The board that overseas the archives commission was not impressed with these precautions and warns that it might not approve the transfer of the document to San Antonio to be displayed, in February, at the Alamo.

Lt. Col. William Barret Travis was an idiot.

Travis sacrificed something of infinite value– his own life– for a brief and bloody flip through a fringe way-station on the path to manifest destiny. The fight was not about freedom: it was about taking land from Mexico on behalf of American speculators and slave-traders. These people were not fighting for freedom of religion or expression or the right to vote or join a union or put up a Christmas tree. They were fighting to perpetuate a land distribution system that allowed a select few to accumulate very, very large swatches of land through trickery and deceit so they could resell it to “pioneers” at inflated prices. The pioneers could then use slave labor (illegal in Mexico) to farm their lands.

They always cry “freedom, freedom” and they always take your gold, your oil, your wheat, your children, your drugs, your land. They cry “freedom, freedom” while protecting your pimps and casinos. They sing glorious praises of freedom, freedom, as they sell you out to Exxon or IBM or Shell.

General Sam Houston didn’t think much of the Alamo in terms of strategic importance– for reasons that became obvious– and chose to abandon it. This was a perfectly rational, sound decision. He wasn’t surrendering to Santa Anna: he was conducting a strategic retreat so he could regroup his army and fight again another day, on better terms, and with less needless sacrifice of lives. Houston was an oddity for military commanders in his day: careful, prudent, cautious. He eventually prevailed, at San Jacinto, but he took some heat in the meantime.

Needless? Texas, you may not know, was a part of Mexico in 1821 (it was originally part of the Spanish colonies). The United States negotiated a border with Mexico which confirmed Texas as Mexican territory. However, American settlers ignored the agreement and violated the treaty by moving into the territory. Santa Ana, in the meantime, had rescinded the Mexican constitution and made himself dictator.

Eventually, the American settlers organized, formed an army, and declared independence. One of the reasons? Mexico had outlawed slavery.

The Battle of the Alamo took place February 23 – March 6, 1836. The decisive battle of the war was fought shortly afterwards in San Jacinto.  The Mexicans were badly routed there and Santa Ana capitulated and signed a new treaty. He had been captured dressed as a common soldier, but was given away by his own men when they acknowledged him as “presidente”, apparently.

In 1845, Texas, having completed the charade of independence,  was granted statehood.

The monument in San Jacinto says this: “Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world…” It would have been fun to sit on the meeting that chose that phrase. I would have liked to hear their ranking of “decisive battles of the world”.  Come on– tells us.  Waterloo?  Stalingrad?  Marathon?  Gaugamela?  Metaurus?

Houston, as I said, didn’t think it was smart to defend the Alamo against a vastly superior force. He sent James Bowie to the fort to remove the artillery and destroy the entire complex. It was Colonel James Neill who decided that the men under his command should honor his own ego with the sacrifice of their lives. Then he left.

Bowie, Travis, and Davy Crockett stayed. Travis and Bowie argued over who was in charge. Neill returned to settle the dispute and then left again. This was a wise decision.

When the Mexican army arrived, Bowie tried to negotiate a surrender. Yes, he did. Travis, mad for self-abasement and morbid glory, disagreed with Bowie and fired a cannon at the Mexican camp, and sent his own hard-liner to meet with the Mexicans.

The Mexicans, in any case, were not in the mood for taking prisoners. Apparently there is a kind of flag you raise if you intend to murder prisoners. They raised this flag.

Most of what you have heard about the Alamo since is blather. The Americans seem to think that out-killing the Mexicans from within a fortified compound was the most incredible awesomest achievement of any army anywhere in the entire history of the entire world. The movies and the bombast are intended to encourage today’s young people to sign up for more bloodletting when required, as when our oil supplies are in question.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

Corporations are People: Yes they are — psychos.

Corporations are people, my friend.  Mitt Romney

As Michael Kinsley observed,” a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth”. And so Mitt Romney inadvertently– and unapologetically– spoke the truth. The truth about what he believes, that is. This election is about dumping the 47% out onto the streets. It’s about getting rid of the old ball and chain. It’s about traveling light, free and easy, without being dragged down by losers and weaklings. And that’s why Ann Romney can’t understand why people don’t think her husband is the nicest guy there is.

Ann Romney thinks people would change their opinion of Mitt Romney if they only knew about the very nice things he has done for families and friends within his social and professional class. And indeed, by most accounts, Romney has been an exceptionally nice guy. But he reminds me of Ronald Reagan, of whom it was said, he would give you the shirt off your back, and then sit down at his desk in the Oval Office and sign a law that took away school lunches for two million poor children.

Nice guy.

What Romney and Ryan probably are not going to tell you is that they don’t even believe in Medicare or Social Security, or Medicaid. When you hear so-called moderate Republicans like David Brooks declare that the U.S.– unlike every other developed country– can’t afford Medicare, can’t afford Medicaid, and can’t afford Social Security, you realize that there may not be any thing as a “moderate” Republican any more.

What Brooks really means, of course, is that the rich don’t want pay taxes for anything other than ensuring our ability to kill other people, presumably to take their oil, if necessary.

If Romney wins, I suspect he will actually turn out to be a bit of a pragmatist. Confronted with a budget crisis in Massachusetts in 2003, due largely to unfunded medical costs for people who did not carry insurance, Romney hired some smart people from MIT and analyzed the problem and came to a rational conclusion. And thus Obamacare was born. If this is a model for what he would do as president it would be interesting. But even more interesting is the fact that the Tea Party wing of the party will be expecting marvelous things from Mr. Romney and he will, I’m sure, consider long and hard the costs of gratifying them balanced against the possibility of a second term.