Archive for the ‘Suicide’ Category

This morning I was chatting with a Facebook Friend about finding a suitable blog platform. She’s a professional writer, so she’s a little pickier than me. She’s looking not just for an audience but for the right audience. Professional writers need the exposure that could lead to a paid gig. And, of course, all professional writers write to be read widely. Otherwise, why write.

I’m not a writer myself. I write basically for my family and friends. A blog is a good way to reach them beyond the bounds of E-mails and letters. Oh, sure, it’s nice when others write nice comments about the things I write, and I have met some fine people through my blog. Can’t deny that, and I hope to meet more good folks with interesting things to say.

My own approach to blogging is simple. I am not at all good at writing about myself. My inner feelings are boring even to me, and I am sort of bored right now. That’s why I tend or have tended to write about external events. And since my interests are quite broad, I am inclined to write according to no particular pattern. Today, I might write about a political event, tomorrow a blurb about an article I ran across in GQ magazine. Whatever strikes my interest at the moment will likely be the topic for the day.

I also like to add a humorous touch to most of the topics I am interested in. That doesn’t mean everything is funny. Some topics are absolutely without humor, child abuse, domestic violence, murder, and suicide, for example, are devoid of laughter.

That’s why the current run of murders in this country is disturbing. Thirteen soldiers murdered at Fort Hood, Texas, one murdered and mayby 15-plus wounded in Orlando, Florida; these are just two of the most egregious examples of recent violence in America today.

Of course, the perpetrators of these crimes will always have an excuse. The guy in Orlando was fired from his job two years ago and he was mad at the company. Oddly, the individuals he murdered are not, “the company.” But somehow in the mind of this deranged individual, the employees who worked for “the company” became “the company.” So, he decided to murder as many human beings as he could.

He may or may not have known or cared that he was shooting individuals rather than “the company.” Is this insanity, or is it a failure of the ability of some people to understand distinctions?  One individual is dead but “the company” lives on. Similarly, thirteen dead but the United States Army survives.

In addition to the damages done to the survivors of these monstrous acts, the perpetrators have harmed the United States in more ways than one. Globally, they’ve added to the perception that this is the most violent country in the world. Say what you wish, but the perceptions of other nations are important within the global system when it comes to the achievement of the vital national interests of the U.S.

Domestically, the current rash of violence has exacerbated the feelings of fear and parnoia among ordinary Americans.  Who among us might be the next mass murder? That guy down the street who looks odd with his little round glasses and close-set eyes? Or a respected Army psychologist?

The most disgusting cipher in the equation is society’s failure to deal with the violence that seems to be a part of our cultural DNA. Why are we as a country so reluctant to tackle the issue? Is it because we feel helpless? Maybe we think its someone else’s job. Or have our leaders failed us? We have a justice system that excuses criminal behavior and a penal system that has become a breeding ground for violence and gang activity.

Whatever the answer may be, it’s a puzzle. As far as solutions go, my own personal impression is that the violence has largely missed the elites of our society. As long as people below the elite level murder each other, as long as the elites do not find themselves the targets of random and mass violence they will continue to largely ignore the issue, appearing on television and uttering meaningless words after a mass shooting or an especially egregious murder.

Somehow, in America, we tend to look at the moment and at the situation. Broader ramifications seem beyond our comprehension.


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Let me see if I have this right. North Korea fires another missile that fizzled and all of a sudden the United Nations Security Council calls an emergency meeting to meet the “threat.”

Help me count the number of times the following script has played out. I’ve lost track, but never mind. It’s so predictable. Kim Jong Il blusters. No one pays any attention. He blusters a little more. Same response. Finally, he fires off another dud, and the world goes berserk.

Or does it? Is it just media hype? Is the big ole United States and all of the industrial states of the world, most of whom have the nuclear capacity to destroy the world a thousand times, really frightened of an obsolete and irrelevant dictator? I doubt it. And if I am right, what is our purpose in reacting to an irrelevancy?

I think it’s expected of us. We’ve been reacting similarly toward North Korea since the end of the Korean War. We’re in a rut. We don’t know what else to do. We have to chase the remnants of communism to the gates of hell and destroy them all.

Never mind that North Korea is not now and never has been a communist state. It’s merely a petty dictatorship much as Cuba is. Neither has achieved the vaunted Marxist ideal utopian condition, pure (or even partial) communism, in which the state withers away and dies and everyone lives happily ever after.

If anyone believes humans will live peacefully together as equals without governments (or God, in Heaven) to scare the pants off of them when they dissent, see me. I have a vault in an Army fort in Kentucky that I’ll sell for a dollar, cash. Some sucker named Knox sold it to my granddad when Nixon was elected President and it’s been in my family since then.

For those who doubt my insight into North Korea, consider: Kim Jong Il has long been a lover of American movies, and according to those who know, he has a supply of roughly 20,000 of the latest tapes  and DVDs. Periodically, he dispatches a few trusted aides to Tokyo where they stock up on new releases and replenishes his store of Scotch whiskey.

Would Kim actually chance the destruction of his coveted semi-Western life style by firing a working missile armed with a real live atomic warhead at the U.S. or one of its allies? He may be insane, but no one has certified him as suicidal. There should be no doubt that the result of such an action would be catastrophic for North Korea. The country would cease to exist.

Knowing what we now know, how should the U.S. handle Kim’s threats and fizzled missiles? Enter into intensive diplomatic negotiations with the Government of Japan to place an embargo on Kim’s supply of movies and Scotch? As an alternative proposal, should the U.S. offer him a beach villa in Hawaii with a lifetime supply of porn and booze if he will abdicate.

On the other hand, and realistically speaking, we could continue with our predictable responses. After all, Kim’s actions serve a domestic U.S. political purpose by firing up the kill-’em-all crowd. Newt Gingrich, who said he would have intercepted Kim’s missile, is the perfect politician to lead his third party (if he ever forms one) into the second half of the 19th Century, while Democrats run around in circles, bemoaning Kim’s aggressive acts at the top of their chirps.

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Today is the first day of another year in our system of calculating the passage of time from the death of Jesus Christ until, well, now. By that reckoning, humans have been actively engaged in counting days, weeks, months, and years for 2008 years. And at the stroke of midnight last night, they began counting again. Humans are, if nothing else, prone to redundancies.

When I say “from the death of Jesus Christ,” I guess that’s what A.D. signifies. I don’t really know for sure since I wasn’t born then and, like all humans, I rely on the selective memories of those who preceded me. I often wonder if the memories of the ancients were as sharp as ours today.

One thing we have today that they lacked in the Stone Age is statistics. Modern humans like to count and index everything under the sun. But more, modern humans like to manipulate their statistics from here to breakfast and back, they like to interpret statistics, they like to explain statistics to other people just in case someone is too dumb to figure things out for themselves.

To what end? Hasn’t mankind progressed through the manipulation of statistics to a higher stage? Apparently not. Statistics paint rosy pictures at the expense of reality. And modern humans love to avoid, ignore, or deny reality. Stats make it possible for leaders, elected officials, apparatchiks, and academics to ramble on forever, making seven hour MySpace presentations and figuring out ways to squeeze another Missouri Mill out of the sale of a tomato.

Sure, some statistics can unearth the other side of life. But you have to dig for them. You have to really dig to find out the number of humans killed in wars in the “modern” era (over a billion at last count since the year of our Lord 1700), or for the number of murders per year in America (20,000 give or take a few), or the extent of suicides (another 29 to 30,000), the ungodly numbers of child abuse cases annually in America (3,000,000 plus and growing), and God know how many deaths in alcohol related driving accidents.

We might surmise that the collection of information such as this is a positive thing leading to solutions. But, no, these data are merely used to justify additional manpower and budget monies. The numbers never recede because our attention is focused on numbers rather than on solutions.

I am not saying that everyone on Earth is determined to ignore reality. Many care about the lives of children, about lives wasted in a state of inebriation, about the survivors of murder and suicide, about many things. But the number of these people is few compared to many among us who simply do not care, who blame misery on the victims and hail the rich and powerful for “making it” in our hardball world, which roughly translates into “screw those suckers.”

Of course, many care but are helpless to effect real change. Only the movers and shakers have the power to change attitudes. Sadly, for 2008 years, they have spent their time collecting and using statistics to justify the “every human for him/herself” approach to the process of governing, which we have raised to its highest art form in America.

Will things change with the flip of a calendar page? Maybe. Who knows? Maybe not. Who knows? Every year, I begin the New Year with a strong belief that we can change attitudes. We can save the world one attitude at a time.

Our first step ought to be the abolition of our slavery to numbers. Let’s see people as people instead of as case numbers, as social security digits, and as an increasingly long series of telephone numbers in various combinations.

People are, after all, people, real people. People are not a number in an obscure collection of data maintained by the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Commerce and filed in a National Archive and Records Service repository in San Bruno or in one of several other repositories nationwide.

Let’s call Joe Joe instead of Joe4769.

“Hello, my name is Robert.”

“Enter your number now, please.”

Happy New Year!!!!!

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…and it’s time for a Jiffy Brain Lube…

I’m okay on the physical side. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d probably come in with an 8. I’m 167 fully clothed, don’t drink or smoke, and I watch my calories.

On the downside, every calorie in my mouth is a fat calorie times 2 because I sit around all day thinking up justifications for sitting around. My killer abs are losing definition and that is depressing, man.

The old golf game is showing signs of wear as well. I’m on the brink of miscounting my strokes but I’ll hold off and see what happens. As long as the suckers I play with are worse than me, happy talk reigns.

Upstairs, I’m not so certain. I’d probably come in at a 5 on the old 10 point scale. My brain has definitely shriveled, with the invertible results, forgetfulness, lying to cover the forgetfulness, and excuses for calling my wife Hillary.

But these are minor inconveniences. Many people suffer from deep-seated mental health problems, depression, manic-depressive episodes, panic attacks, anxieties, and stress. Many are on medications which alleviate the symptoms but leave them lethargic.

Mental health professionals know that depression and many other ailments are easily treatable, and the best approach is often a combination of medication, therapy, and a strong circle of family and friends. In fact, some professionals believe that the single most effective treatment component is the latter.

That’s why Mental Health America (MHA), previously the National Mental Health Association, is emphasizing a program it calls Get Connected. The three elements of the program are:

  • Get Connected to Family and Friends
  • Get Connected to Your Community, and
  • Get Connected to Professional Help

Humans are imperfect at best, but my experience tells me all of us know our internal mechanisms, mental and physical. We feel that pain in the back, that little muscle twinge. We also feel that fleeting moment of sadness and we know well the prolonged effects of our sadness.

On the other hand, we are quite imperfect when it comes to admitting our feelings even when we know admission is critical to recovery.

Sometimes a simple phone call or a mouse click can get the process started. Here are a few sources of help, for yourself, a friend, or a family member. Just do it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Mental Health Information Hotline

San Francisco Mental Health Services

Bay Area Mental Health Advocates



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The word is out that 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war began. In case you’re interested, that’s equivalent to 133 and a third super-sized airliners each with a capacity of 300 passengers crashing.

Here is a little historical context:

  • Civil War. Roughly 618,000 dead Americans
  • World War I. Close to 117,000 casualties
  • World War II. Another 417,000
  • Korea. A paltry 36,000 dead
  • Vietnam. Roughly 58,000 combat deaths

Fade to modern era

  • Murders. 20-30,000 a year in America
  • Suicides. About 20-25,000 a year
  • Drunken Driving Deaths. 10-20,000 a year
  • Child Abuse Cases. 3,000,000 a year

You know, when you think about it, 4,000 isn’t that bad after all. Think of the odds. You’re safer in a mall in Iraq than you are driving to and from a mall in San Jose.

In fact, Iraq seems like the safest place in the universe. Heck, Hillary sauntered across the tarmac at a Baghdad airport as casually as she would saunter through the Oval Office.

What the hell is everyone bitching about the war for? Let’s all leave on a jet plane for Baghdad.

Hell, let’s send a Real World crew to a villa on the Tigris River.

Or better, film a new reality TV series–Seven Amazing Drunken Blubbering 50-year Old Bobby Soxers with Cellulite Asses Vie for a Sheik’s Love Under Desert Stars. The Bachelor on an Arabian steed.

Or how about Spring Break on the Euphrates? I mean, our kids would be safer there than on South Padre Island.

When you stop to think about it, 4,000 dead Americans doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

I wonder if the survivors of those dead Americans feel as blasé as Dick Cheney?

Cindy Sheehan might have a few words about blasé.

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You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.

We’ve been lurking in the blogosphere for several months now and we’ve seen a lot of good stuff. Much of it is comparatively obscure but still leaps and bounds ahead of some very popular blogs in quality. Check the Blogroll to the right to get a sense my favorites.

We’ve run across several sites that offer advice for aspiring blogsters. Some advise a coherent theme, such as humor, politics, cooking. Others suggest an eclectic approach. Our own preference is a combination of the two. We like a lot of different stuff and try to use a couple of threads to connect them.

One is humor. We find the seriousness of pompous asses to be so funny, we have to pop a couple of aspirin before watching a politician on television, especially the Texas Twerp. Humor and headaches often accompany one another.

Some topics defy humor, among them several of our “causes” if you wish to call them that. These are topics for serious contemplation.

  • Domestic violence. Whenever a 190 pound male beats the crap out of a 120 pound woman, it isn’t funny.
  • Child abuse. We cannot imagine humor in an innocent defenseless child who has been beaten to a pulp, limbs broken, cigarette burns everywhere, a child so traumatized it can only tremble endlessly. Or a child abandoned by its mother as she decides on another night of partying.
  • Suicide. How can anyone laugh at or trivialize the premature and unnecessary end of a human life?
  • Murder. 20,000 dead innocents a year in this country is an abominable number.

There are more but these will suffice to illustrate our leanings.

Another thread is cynicism. This is probably a natural outcome of working several years in and around politically charged environments. Politics by its nature is the practice of deceit and deception. These characteristics are aptly illustrated in two old adages by Rodney Dangerfield or SF’s own Mort Sahl or “anonymous.”

  • Sincerity is the key to success in politics. Once you learn to fake it, you’ve got it made.
  • How can you tell when a politician is lying? His/her lips are moving.

Or these, which happen to be original constructs of our own demented minds.

  • Super Pol. Faster than a speeding ballot. More powerful than a loco voter. Able to leap tall issues in a single bound.
  • We live in a democracy. We get to choose the gang we want to rob us.

We have many more original signs of terminal cynicism but they are for another day.

Anyway, blogging in our own case has been therapeutic (listen up Rube) because…well…it just is. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun sometimes. Met some interesting people in the blog-o-sphere; most are decent human beings.

Final thought. Ignore all advice. Write what you want. If no one responds, so what? You can always glow with satisfaction at the masterpiece you’ve created. It’s kind of like producing a porno flick.

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…it brings on many changes…

Those are some humorous lyrics from an old song.

Trouble is, the pain of suicide lives a lifetime in the hearts and minds of the survivors and of the descendents of the survivors. Suicide isn’t humorous for the survivors.

Each year when National Suicide Prevention Week rolls around, we notice an increase in the number of news reports reminding us of upcoming seminars, conferences, meetings, and calls for papers about suicide. A great deal of the information that a casual observer will note is in the form of statistics.

In relation to the Bay Area, we learn from one source that San Francisco has the highest rate of youth suicide in the nation. When “rate” is translated into real numbers, we learn that in 2003, 392 individuals in the “Youth” category committed suicide in the state of California, with 47 in the Bay Area and eight of those in San Francisco.

The problem with statistics is that they are comprised of numbers. They do not measure psychic pain. Does anyone attempting to recover from the suicide of a loved one (or from any tragedy) care to know that their loved one was one of x-suicides last year? I think not.

Despite my dislike of statistics, here’s my illogical way of making a point.

• 30,000=the average number of suicides per year in America
• 5=a five year span of time.
• 150,000=the number of suicides in a five year span of time
• 6=the estimated number of survivors per suicide
• 900,000=the number of survivors of the suicide of a loved one in a five-year span

If we look at a ten year span, the numbers are double—300,000 deaths by suicide; 1,800,000 survivors. Such figures tend to boggle the mind, but each number represents a real human being, a suffering human being. For survivors, these numbers mean many people like them move through their daily lives in pain. Survivors tend to understand the stories of other survivors and the struggles they face attempting to recover.

But why are such numbers relatively meaningless to the general public? A definitive answer is elusive, but one possibility is that suicides (and murders, which also run around 30,000 a year) occur in ones and twos spread over a large geographic area. If the suicides occurred at one time in one place, then we would be fixated on them for ages. Think about the mass-suicides seemingly motivated by Jim Jones. Diaspora and distance disperse misery.

The basic issue is and always has been, not statistics in and of themselves, but proven, effective means of identifying individuals prone to suicide and preventing them from taking that final step.

For survivors and for those who may suspect that a loved one is contemplating suicide, one site may be worth checking out. Yes, it has the obligatory set of statistics. But the American Association of Suicidology also includes some practical information such as noticeable warning signs of suicide and ways to be helpful to someone threatening suicide. With these signs in mind, an observant person may be able to help avert the suicide of a loved one, friend, or acquaintance.

Remember this truism. No one wants to die. They just don’t want to continue living as they are.

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