The Washington Post: With A Correction

post-gunrights

The approach is simple: When gun control fails, it proves we need more gun control

AWR Hawkins writes:

On Friday, The Washington Post ran a column asking readers to “look away from the Confederate flag” and look instead at the gun alleged Charleston attacker Dylann Roof held in his hand….

WaPo published a picture of Roof holding a Confederate flag in his left hand and a Glock in his right….

Hawkins continues,

…Ironically, WaPo admits gun control could not stop attacks like Sandy Hook and they admit, implicitly, that it did not stop Roof. Then they quickly point out that this is no reason for “defeatism” among gun control proponents. Rather, gun control should be pursued anyway:

Mr. Roof is not the real face of gun violence in the United States. Gun violence is an everyday problem that has many faces: Abusive husbands who fly off the handle; kids who accidentally shoot their friends — or themselves — while playing with their parents’ weapons; criminals who find it too easy to get illegal guns.

Public policy can’t prevent every gun death. But it can do a lot more than it is now: make it harder for the mentally ill, family abusers or criminals to obtain and keep firearms; crack down on gun trafficking; require proper gun storage; and reconsider laws that seem to encourage people to use guns in situations they consider threatening. Read the rest of this entry »


How Have We Depicted Madness Throughout History?

Nebuchadnezzar

Even in an age of science, we cannot escape lunacy’s long history of frippery and superstition

 Modern psychiatry seems determined to rob madness of its meanings, insisting that its depredations can be reduced to biology and nothing but biology. One must doubt it. The social and cultural dimensions of mental disorders, so indispensable a part of the story of madness and civilization over the centuries, are unlikely to melt away, or to prove no more than an 61uJxeANx6L._SL250_epiphenomenal feature of so universal a feature of human existence. Madness indeed has its meanings, elusive and evanescent as our attempts to capture them have been.

[Check out ‘s book “Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine at Amazon.com]

Western culture throughout its long and tangled history provides us with a rich array of images, a remarkable set of windows into both popular and latterly professional beliefs about insanity. The sacred books of the Judeo-Christian tradition are shot through with stories of madness caused by possession by devils or divine displeasure. From Saul, the first king of the Israelites (made mad by Yahweh for failing to carry out to the letter the Lord’s command to slay every man, woman, and child of the Amalekite tribe, and all their animals, too), to the man in the country of the Gaderenes “with an unclean spirit” (maddened, naked, and violent, whose demons Christ casts out and causes to enter a herd of swine, who forthwith rush over a cliff into the sea to drown), here are stories recited for centuries by believers, and often transformed into pictorial form. None proved more fascinating than the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty king of Babylon, the man who captured Jerusalem and destroyed its Temple, carrying the Jews off into captivity all apparently without incurring divine wrath. Swollen with pride, however, he impiously boasts of “the might of my power,” and a savage and jealous God has had enough: driven mad, he “did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagle’s feathers, and his nails like bird’s claws.” The description has proved irresistible to many an artist: above, an unknown German artist working in early fifteenth-century Regensburg provides a portrait of the changes madness wrought upon the sane.

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Disease was rife in the ancient, medieval, and early modern world. It was often interpreted through a religious lens, and the spread of Christian belief through pagan Europe was often facilitated by the use of miracles and wonders to demonstrate the power of the Christian God. The ability to cure sick and tortured souls was increasingly brought about by the intercession of saints and martyrs, whose relics were believed to have miraculous power to heal the sick, reanimate the halt and the lame, and restore sight to the blind. The tombs of saints like St. Margaret of Antioch and St. Dymphna of Geel, who had both been beheaded, were popular choices for those seeking relief from mental distress, as was the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket, whose murder in Canterbury Cathedral is here shown in a mid-thirteenth-century codex. The saint’s blood was thought to cure insanity, blindness, leprosy, and deafness, not to mention a host of other ailments.

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Naturalistic accounts of madness, those that saw its roots in the body, had an ancient lineage as well. Though many in classical Greece and Rome still embraced supernatural accounts of mental disturbance and had recourse to the temple medicine of the god Asclepius, with its purification rites, charms, and spells, others were attracted to the humoral model of disease embraced by the followers of Hippocrates and later systematized by the Graseco-Roman physician Galen—a model of illness, both mental and physical, that would survive in Europe into the nineteenth century. Hieronymus Bosch’s satirical painting of The Cure of Folly: The Extraction of the Stone of Folly, which dates from c. 1494, suggests that skepticism about medical claims remained widespread despite physicians’ best efforts. A doctor dressed in a dunce’s cap uses a scalpel to draw forth the supposed cause of madness from the scalp of a patient.

L0077037 Advert for the psychiatric drug Thorazine

Though religious interpretations of mental disturbance persisted in both polite and popular circles well into the eighteenth century (and among hoi polloi even longer than that), medical models of mental disorder gradually became the dominant and then almost the only legitimate interpretation of the sources of mental distress. The eighteenth century saw the rise in England, the first consumer society, of a private trade in lunacy. Mad-doctors, as they were then called (the double entendre would later cause specialists in the management of lunacy to search for a more respectable name), marketed their madhouses as ways to save affluent families from the travails and potential disgrace of keeping a lunatic at home, and over time began to claim the ability to cure as well as immure the insane.

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The technological inventiveness of the Industrial Revolution was soon extended to devices intended to shock and startle the mad back to their senses. Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, suggested a swinging chair, and soon a variety of such devices were marketed, one promising that by “increasing the velocity of the swing, the motion be[ing] suddenly reversed every six or eight minutes … the consequence is, an instant discharge of the stomach, bowels, and bladder, in quick succession.” Others promoted a variety of devices designed to simulate drowning—though sometimes, unfortunately, the drowning proved all too real. And the American mad-doctor, Benjamin Rush, created a special chair, one that “binds and confines every part of the body … Its effects have been truly delightful to me. It acts as a sedative to the tongue and temper as well as to the blood vessels. I have called it a Tranquillizer.”

ranz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl, Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl, while three gentlemen wait in line. Coloured lithograph by E.H., 1825. 1825 By: E. H.Published: 1825

Franz Joseph Gall examining the head of a pretty young girl, while three gentlemen wait in line. Coloured lithograph.  By: E. H.Published: 1825

Aristotle had seen the heart as the seat of the emotions and the intellect. By contrast, the Hippocratics saw the brain as their center. The anatomical investigations of the late seventeenth-century Oxford physician Thomas Willis (the man who coined the term neurologie) had given new impetus to the study of the role of the brain and the nervous system, and by the early nineteenth century, few medical men doubted that the etiology of insanity could be traced to disorders of the nerves and the brain. Among the most talented early nineteenth-century anatomists of these organs were the Austrian physicians Franz Gall and J.G. Spurzheim, who viewed the brain as a congeries of organs, each region corresponding to particular psychological functions. They asserted that the relative size of a particular organ was indicative of the strength of a particular mental function and that its size could be increased or decreased through mental exercise, rather as muscles can be developed or can atrophy. As the cranial bones developed, they allegedly conformed to the underlying comparative development of the brain’s different parts. Thus, a person’s mental capacities could be deduced from the confirmation of the head. Phrenological claims to provide a guide to human capacities and a somatic account of the origins of insanity soon became the butt of ridicule (as can be seen in this caricature, where Gall himself examines the head of an attractive young woman, while three gentlemen wait their turns to have their own characters read). Yet Gall’s underlying doctrine of cerebral localization enjoyed a long half life in neurology.

V0016653 Seven vignettes of people suffering from different types of

The handful of profit-making madhouses that emerged in the eighteenth century were dwarfed by the Great Confinement of the insane that marked the nineteenth. States all across Europe and North America embraced the asylum solution, prompted in part by the assurances of the medical men who soon monopolized the running of these places that they were architectural contrivances uniquely suited to the management and cure of the mentally disturbed. Read the rest of this entry »


Military Funds Brain-Computer Interfaces to Control Feelings

This week the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, awarded two large contracts to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco, to create electrical brain implants capable of treating seven psychiatric conditions, including addiction, depression, and borderline personality disorder.

metropolismaria1The project builds on expanding knowledge about how the brain works; the development of microlectronic systems that can fit in the body; and substantial evidence that thoughts and actions can be altered with well-placed electrical impulses to the brain.

“Imagine if I have an addiction to alcohol and I have a craving,” says Carmena, who is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and involved in the UCSF-led project. “We could detect that feeling and then stimulate inside the brain to stop it from happening.” Read the rest of this entry »


Moshi Moshi! Japanese Police Arrest Woman for Calling them 15,000 Times

cellphoneJapanAP

(AFP) Japanese police said Thursday they have arrested a woman for calling them more than 15,000 times over a six-month period.

Authorities repeatedly visited the 44-year-old and asked her to cease and desist.

When she failed to stop making the calls, which started in May, police slapped handcuffs on her.

“She made as many as 927 emergency calls in one day….disturbing our police duties,” said an official in the city of Sakai, near the western city of Osaka.

Authorities, who have so far ruled out mental illness for the woman’s behaviour, said her calls had “no real meaning”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Can We Talk About Mental Health Now?

aaronxThe one thing that unites most of the horrific mass shooting events of late — Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Virginia Tech and now the Washington Naval Yards – is that they were all perpetrated by people with serious histories of mental illness (and not rightwingers incited by Sarah Palin’s Facebook map or Michelle Bachmann’s rhetoric).

If you believe no one should have a gun, then I guess they all had that in common, too. But that argument is largely settled in this country. Law abiding people get to own guns. They may need to jump through more hoops or less depending on the jurisdiction they live in. But we’re not going to get rid of guns in this country — because the people don’t want to get rid of them and they’ve got the Constitution in their corner. But there is — or at least very plausibly could be — a pretty serious and deep bipartisan consensus that more can and should be done to prevent the seriously mentally ill from owning guns.

It’s in everyone’s interest. As a moral imperative, gun rights activists, including the NRA, don’t want crazy people killing innocent people. On a more cynical level, nothing undermines support for gun rights more than these killing-sprees. As a moral issue, gun control supporters agree. But, on a cynical level, they want to use the issue to prop-up less popular and more contentious regulations. They want their best issue to be part of a “comprehensive” approach.

Maybe it’s time to look at this issue by itself? I have no doubt you could write gun control laws for the mentally ill too broadly. Just as I am confident you can write them too narrowly (we know this is the case because too many deranged men hearing voices have gotten their hands on guns lately). Nothing will ever stop every crazy person from killing people, with or without firearms. But surely there’s a better way to do things than accept these horrors as a new normal?

Jonah Goldberg National Review Online