Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Was James Holmes Playing a Game?

By Meg Curtis, PhD

James Holmes appears to have played “Stop Me If You Can” in Aurora, CO, last Friday night. Why else would he send a package announcing his plans to the university? Is it inappropriate to call his notebook a “game plan”?

Teams protect their strategies, don’t they? So why would he telegraph his intentions unless the packaged notebook served as a challenge? He lived in the world of graduate school, where participants infamously succeed or fail by publication.

He published his savage yet primitive illustrations through the U.S. Mail, if reports from Fox News and others prove accurate. Has a publication date ever been more important than this one? Either it arrived prior to the atrocity or afterwards, providing critical evidence.

Either the package serves as forewarning, or it concretizes deadly intent. A third choice seems missing. If it was sent and arrived before July 20, then it tested his credibility with the receiver, who needed to catch it and pass it to police. Is an incomplete pass Holmes’ doing?

This is the world of gamesmanship where only moves count. No one thinks this way on an earthly playing field where cracked heads count. But Holmes had removed that factor by donning battle dress which protected his head and vital organs.

This mentality is different than coordinating moves among team members, which even quarterbacks must consider, although they may often steal the spotlight. Holmes played as a team of one, counting his apparel as his support group. Who then was his opponent?

Easy choices line up this way: 1, the university with its mail room, 2. the receiver, who yet remains nameless, 3. the police, who could be expected to run interference. The question remains: Did he bet against the odds, when winning can mean losing in a very big way?

As Ashley Lutz reports in Business Insider: “His elementary classmates remember Holmes as a well-behaved kid who excelled at computer programming and sports. He got ‘picked for flag football first, because he was fast,’ one classmate told The Californian. (

Games played against the self appear nonsensical to outsiders. Nevertheless, children specialize in them, hoping adults stop them before they rush into traffic or spill milk. Such children do not understand tears, broken bones or broken hearts. Only adults can mourn.   

Monday, July 23, 2012

Media Macabre

By Meg Curtis, PhD

Tonight, July 23, 2012, CNN pasted a celebration of life front and center on its website. This layout was unusual for two reasons:

      The celebrated are dead.
      Their usual fare is suffering and elsewhere.

Why does it take an American atrocity to bring out a call for a birthday party in this media giant? Is Edgar Allan Poe their director?

All the happy faces on their photographic collage are now in the morgue or already buried. How macabre can you get?

Here is their lead:
Stories of heroism, zest for life and a birthday celebration emerged as family and friends spoke of loved ones killed in the mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater. Anderson Cooper remembers the fallen. 
      Wouldn't it be just charming if the media considered the following possibilities?
      Why not let nuns fly again?
        Have they looked to find reliable coaches?
       Have they found kids who can actually read at grade level?
        Can they discover a politician who is more honest than the media?
            Is their fixation on death indicative of a healthy state of mind in journalism?

We need more than an ombudsman for the American people. We need watchdogs who can verify that Edgar Allan Poe really is in his grave and not running the media macabre show here.

We want safe schools, and we want the latest reports on progress in that direction.
We want safe theaters, where the Joker stays behind the screen and inside his movie.
We want safe communities, where people can gossip without the media claiming they’re racist.
We want sensible campaigns—for about two weeks, AND NO LONGER!
Is that really too much to ask in the greatest country in the world?  

Lunatic of the Week: Media Scheduling

By Meg Curtis, PhD

Just think! We could have learned a foreign language or solved world hunger. Instead, the American media expects us to major in Abnormal Psychology. Why do this? The baby needs changing. The kids need a lullaby. In place of singing “Summertime,” we dance to a tune composed for the Broadway version of Frankenstein.

Ah, now we recognize the storyline which has bedeviled us since Friday night: Young scientist goes mad, and creates his own monster. If he hadn’t spent those long hours in that horrid neuroscience laboratory, he’d be normal like us—right? Dream on, America. It’s not normal to obsess over Abnormal Psychology.

Jack Nicholson, where are you when we need you? You went into that role of the Joker, and you came out again, too. Maybe James Holmes’ problem was he needed a course in method acting, instead of neuroscience. Method actors know you don’t take your role off the screen. Tai kwon do athletes don’t take their expertise out of the dojun, either--unless they're under attack.

Let’s see—who was last week’s Lunatic of the Week? Oh yes, Sandusky, who got prime time for a little Broadway review of his villainous activities this week, competing for the position of the showstopper. Then, Penn State had to haul Joe Paterno’s statue away because he might inspire us to play football, instead of obsessing over Abnormal Psychology.

The media create the impression, it seems, that all of us just might go mad eventually. It’s going around, and, if the NIH could get funding for a vaccination, that might become the show to end all media shows. In the meantime, how about a little Sherlock Holmes? He knows how to wear a cape. He catches the villains. He lets us sleep. Or is sanity the one state of mind Americans really find boring? 

Review: The Street Lawyer, by John Grisham

By Meg Curtis, PhD

“Street Law” sounds scruffy, like “street sense.” Grisham’s version takes desperation—plus guts and brains. Like The Litigators (2011), too, this novel (1998) hurls the reader into a double crack-up. First, a homeless desperado takes hostage a pack of corporate attorneys. Immediately thereafter, one of his hostages becomes a desperado as well.

Cause-and-effect works like chain mail in Grisham’s novel. At arm’s length, the homeless appear destitute and helpless. Up close, their resourcefulness claims their hostage’s allegiance. Become one of them, and respect climbs link-by-link. Stay with them long enough, and knights in armor can’t wait to charge into a legal tournament.

The knighted here begin with Mordecai Green, a huge black lawyer with Frederick Douglass’s gift for rhetoric and compassion. “Free the slaves!” he seems to thunder on every page with his liturgical rant and political cunning. Read this book just for the glory he sheds. Read this book because you’ll never meet his like again—unless Grisham devotes a series to knights errant.

The crack-up king becomes Green’s squire, an apprentice laboring in the poor vineyards of law available to the homeless in America. This is Grisham’s cause here, and he runs with it all the way to a conclusion you won’t see coming, no matter how many books you’ve read by Grisham. But keep reading him because a degree in Grisham is almost equivalent to a Juris Doctorate.

Take the finesse away, Grisham seems to argue in this novel, and what remains outshines mahogany tables, Italian suits, pointed boots, and the most expensive automobiles. Take it away—tow it, if you need to—because the Law supplies its own ideals. Somewhere, Lady Liberty lifts her lamp. If you’re a lawyer, you light it for her. Then see the homeless cry with joy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Life as Casino: Review of John Grisham’s The Litigators

By Meg Curtis

The Litigators smashes every likely preconception of “boutique firms.” The attack comes with the opening line of the novel, and it never quits. Trendy? Nope. High niche? Nope. Ridiculous? Yep—and counting, somebody else’s money, always.

In case there's any doubt what a litigator does, he races into court, and never knows what will happen. He or she opens his mouth to gasp at what his client says next. Then there's the judge who's always out to fool him or her. Who's up for craps?

If an author could assemble a more hare-brained cast than this one, let ‘em try!  Here three legal eagles compete to bring down the very house they call their own. Count them: Drunk 1, Drunk 2, and Harrumph make three.

John Grisham played his comedic talent close to his vest for years. With this novel, he takes the gloves off, and turns on his clever key. Every outrageous character that could wander around a court room finds his way to Finley & Figg & counting.

The plot begins with a breakdown—first, a hotshot lawyer for a corporate firm; then an auto crackup right in front of a gaggle of ambulance chasers. Respect for the attorneys vanishes as they forfeit advertising on TV and plunk it onto bingo cards, where it belongs!

As fate will dictate, the young attorney becomes the catalyst to shoo the older two down the alley of their dreams. Drunk 2 maintains religious faith that tort cases will balance the firm’s finances. Of course, he also dreams that dead guys make the best clients.

Harrumph hides in his office to avoid Drunk 2 while Drunk 1 places his faith in pursuing off-shore makers of lead-painted toys. These guys complete their artistry out of sight, out of mind. If anyone could find them, their business would be hell’s own.

Meanwhile, readers collect a serious lesson on risk-takers of the first order. Overall, the litigators here risk what minds they have left by taking impossible cases. Next, they risk discovery of fraud. Last, they risk their firm every time clients don’t pay up.

Casinos trade on this kind of tomfoolery, but who knew courts may work the same way? Can losers sometimes outwit themselves? Grisham sees inside the human heart where winners fight to get out. That's where sobbing ends and laughter really begins. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Problem Not Football at Penn State

By Meg Curtis, PhD

Penn State cannot lose its football program—even temporarily—and remain the same institution. Maybe that is the hope and prayer of zealous reformers, but reform is one goal, and temporary insanity is a different monstrosity altogether.

Let’s be honest about the scandal: Football did not bring shame to this university. Obsession did; idolatry did—and fear, fear that what’s happened would happen, and it has happened. The glory of JoePa University has bowed in tears.

Has Penn State “suffered enough,” to quote President Ford on Nixon, who also sacrificed all the good he could do to paranoia? Has humiliation run its course, much longer than any football field, for both boys and men?

Ford’s words ring cruelly upon this occasion when justice is hard to determine. As President Ford justified his pardon of Nixon, he addressed these solemn words to his countrymen and women:

Finally, I feel that Richard Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough and will continue to suffer, no matter what I do, no matter what we, as a great and good nation, can do together to make his goal of peace come true.

Is it truly surprising that fear mingles with greatness; that good marries evil, too, in human nature? This nation learned that tragic lesson in the seventies with Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, if not before.  

The fear of university leaders may strike us as odd, given their power and privilege. Nevertheless, JoePa, that English major from Brown, might be the first to remind us:

        For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
           Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. (Sonnet 94, ll. 13-14)

The very next sonnet in Shakespeare’s famous sequence poses this prophetic warning, too, for reformers too quick to cut at football:

        Take heed (dear heart) of this large privilege;
            The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge. (Sonnet 95, ll. 13-14)

Football never cornered a single boy in any shower. Football never promised more than it could deliver: a bruising chance to learn teamwork and a competitive spirit. The irony of JoePa was that he learned Shakespeare, too. That legacy stands. The most rueful element in the whole tragedy is that it might have been composed by the Bard himself.  

For further reading, please see:

Berube, Michael. Paterno Family Professor in Literature and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. “At Penn State, a Bitter Reckoning.” The New York Times. 17 November 2011. < /2011/11/18/opinion/at-penn-state-a-bitter-reckoning.html>.

“Ford Pardons Nixon: Address to the Nation.” The Scandal That Brought Down Richard Nixon. <>.

Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. <>.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The MIL Principle in Fifty Shades

By Meg Curtis, PhD

Fans of E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey may have fun checking out Michael Formica’s column in Psychology Today. He explains bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM) as a psychosocial dynamic. Furthermore, he contrasts relationships where partners conflict over submission/dominance with healthy living.

The more he contrasts healthy partnerships with fights over power, the more I hear the stereotypical mother-in-law (MIL) in the background. “Who’s in charge here?” she always wants to know—and the answer better be the woman behind the scenes.

Lo and behold! E L James creates such a character in Christian Grey’s secret background. She’s the one who initiated him into the pain-pleasure dynamic he seeks to recreate with an inexperienced college graduate, who thrills to proximity to corporate power.

Furthermore, Grey insists on recreating his relationship with his shadowy mom in his personal relationships with women. In other words, I will add he demonstrates an unresolved Oedipus complex, which he foists onto the Young and the Reckless—the Young and Ambitious, too.

So, as far as mutual attraction goes, the two deserve each other. If she were fifteen, though, Grey would become a sexual predator, and no question would arise as to who carries the greater responsibility for warping the “compassion” (par. 11) that Formica recommends into horror fiction.

The central principle in healthy relationships, according to Formica, is balance—the same principle illustrated in classical art. When one partner insists on keeping the other in the air on a teeter-totter, then it shouldn’t take a PhD in Psychology to tell us that something’s whacky.

When one partner—Grey, for instance—comes up with a contract for the other to sign, and the other doesn’t know enough to get a lawyer, the issue becomes exploitation. When the other, furthermore, teases him with her decision to sign or not, she needs her mother, too.

So, who is more immature in this scenario? The man still looking for his mommy or the girl who should still be babysitting with an age appropriate baby? For children of all ages, bullying should also ring some bells when one partner insists on dominating the other, come hell or high water.

Those who disagree with Formica may have plenty of company. For starters, the reviewer in Der Spiegel describes Fifty Shades of Grey as a form of modern liberation, since, Eva Illouz contends, one partner can willingly will her or his will away (par. 15). Political echoes may occur to those familiar with Nazis.

For further reading, please see:

Formica, Michael J. Psychotherapist. “Sadomasochism in Everyday Relationships: Push and    Pull: The Sadomasochistic Relationship Style.” Psychology Today. 13 June 2008. <http://>.

Illouz, Eva. Sociologist. “Explaining ‘Fifty Shades’: How Bondage Solves the Problem of Modern Love.” Spiegel Online International. 13 July 2012. < international/zeitgeist/ eva-illouz-explains-how-fifty-shades-of-grey-solves-problems-of-love-a-843644.html>.

Demonizing the News: A Tale of Murder

by Meg Curtis, PhD

Demonizing the news isn’t hard. In fact, it’s easier than researching an event and presenting facts. The latter takes considerable time, and the digital market rushes onward.

One case in point: This morning, 071412, Fox News offered this report: Dad accused of killing 3 daughters called mom and said, ‘You can come home now because I killed the kids,’ she says.”

Read more:

The date on this report, however, is Published July 12, 2012
Associated Press

So, this tale of murder has been circulating for three days now. What’s it doing on the front page of Fox News? With a bow to the family involved, it’s still critical to acknowledge that this event, horrific as it is, will not start WW III.

Neither does it lead to world peace, comprehending international relations, learning a new language, solving inner-city gang violence, or improving the quality of education.

Instead, it takes an event and turns it into a study in demonology. For what human being could commit such a crime? We don’t receive enough information to link this catastrophe to the families we know or want to know.

We get a dose of horror, and then it’s off to the digital races, producing more stories without supporting details, proper development, or authoritative information.

For those who wonder, the entire story consists of that headline. The remaining words cover what the police can’t explain, what the lawyers can’t explain, and what relatives can’t explain, either. Oh, the plotline is clear: He called to say he’d offed the kids.

Among the missing: the motive, the mother, and why any man with this crime alleged against him would be eligible for bail at all—even $2,000,000 bail. (par. 3)

So, from this story, what are we to conclude about life as we know it? It doesn’t make sense. Demons play hit-and-run with people’s lives, and then judges set bail for them. Finally, readers gulp down this bit of news, apparently, and wonder what’s going on.

But two murders occur here—although with three young victims, this additional crime makes four for those who track mathematics and accuracy, along with responsibility.

Scientists are now pursuing the nature of anti-matter. Global weather has dumped floods on Russia and drought in the United States. A heat wave has shattered temperature records across America. But the people who read this story only learn about demons.

And this is the story which needs to terrify conscientious citizens. Every minute we spend on TomKat and demons creates another big black hole in our minds.  

We can rationalize that consequence any way we like. We can say that readers prefer demons to reality. We can claim that sponsors won’t buy responsible material. The bottom line remains: Black holes exist, and the biggest ones may begin with us. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

All That’s Wrong with American Politics

By Meg Curtis. PhD

The flurry of speculation about the possible Republican VP candidacy of Condoleeza Rice sets off alarms in every direction. One article from the Wall Street Journal shows just how alarmed Americans should be about political consciousness in this country.

First, apparently, it took three writers to compose this piece: Patrick O’Connor and Sarah Murray got the by-line, but Janet Hook also “contributed to this article.” Now, let’s see what three top-o-the-line journalists can come up with regarding the lovely Condi.

This masterpiece—titled “Condi’s Name Is Floated as Potential VP Choice”—offers this startling information:  “Ms. Rice’s assets are obvious. She’s a woman; she’s black…(par. 8). Aren’t we lucky to have a free press to provide this insight which we could never have noticed for ourselves?

Up in heaven, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., must be celebrating the answer to his prayers: Now, we are free, free at last, from politics based on the color of a candidate’s skin, instead of the content of her character. Here comes the American Dream!

With their very next words, these three writers inform us that “she has extensive foreign policy experience; and her inclusion on the ticket would scramble the race in ways few other candidates could” (par. 8). Yes, can’t you hear Dr. King cheering again for meaningless generalities?

In point of fact, Stanford University offers the following information for the literate in the USA:

Condoleezza Rice is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is also a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates LLC. (par. 1)

Stanford’s faculty profile for Dr. Rice leads off with her qualifications in business, specifically “Global Business.” What qualification can either Obama or Biden offer by comparison?

O’Connor, Murray, and Hook also insist that Condoleeza Rice “has never run for elected office.” What do they expect she was doing in preparation for becoming Provost of Standford University from 1993 to 1999—holding tea parties? According to her Stanford University faculty profile again,

Rice served as Stanford University’s Provost from 1993-1999, during which she was the institution's chief budget and academic officer. As Provost, she was responsible for a $1.5 billion annual budget and the academic program involving 1,400 faculty members and 14,000 students. In 1997, she also served on the Federal Advisory Committee on Gender -- Integrated Training in the Military. (par. 3)

If three American writers, combining their research, do this kind of job in presenting Dr. Rice to the public in one of America’s leading publications, what have journalists done to the other candidates—and the voters in this election?  

To Draft or Not to Draft: The Debate Begins AGAIN!

By Meg Curtis, PhD

General Stanley McChrystal re-launched the debate over a US military draft on June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. Josh Rogin lays out the General’s reasoning in “McChrystal: Time to Bring Back the Draft,” in Foreign Policy, on July 3, 2012. 

According to Rogin, McChrystal said: “The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq placed unfair and extreme burdens on the professional military, especially reservists, and their families…” (par. 5).


Thomas E. Ricks takes up the General’s cause at greater length in “Let’s Draft Our Kids” for The New York Times on July 9, 2012. Ricks’ description of McChrystal ‘s recommendation blends the draft, in effect, with Kennedy’s Peace Corps, but enlists the Peace Corps on American soil.

While Ricks presents objections to McChrystal’s recommendation, his support remains clear. Ricks writes:

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid. (par. 4)

Ricks omits one positive result from this plan, however: the creation of an experienced force which does not sneer at the dignity of labor.

In his response to the General’s recommendation, Richard Cohen hits the nail on the head when he objects on the basis of boredom, lack of career advancement and no entertainment value. Writing for The Washington Post on July 11, 2012, however, this writer misses the point of labor in “Should the U.S. Revive the Draft?”

Respectable employment need not inspire lengthy careers; neither does it need to entertain workers. Does not mowing a lawn upgrade property values? Does not caring for the elderly remind youngsters of their future as well? At the other end of life’s spectrum, don’t young workers also need to feel an obligation to care for the youngest of all?

If John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” what better way to demonstrate the primary duty of American citizens than to open this opportunity immediately following high school?

McChrystal’s plan serves to advance educational goals across this land. Young adults don’t need internships which replace the workers they soon will be. They don’t need extra time to hang out and increase the number of gangs. The entire country needs a workforce which competes at every level. 

Football and Fantasies

by Meg Curtis, PhD

Louis Freeh's report on the Penn State scandal should release us, too, from football fantasies. Since Joe Paterno is probably dearer to a good portion of America than George Washington, however, that release probably will not come soon, if ever.

But one point needs to be clear above all others:  Football is NOT synonymous with corruption. It offers only one of many opportunities for the love of money and power to conquer integrity and decency. If PR professionals could convince takers to race for tickets to the library, then libraries would be the next casinos.

One other point in football's favor becomes ultra clear in this context:  This sport is not the only one to produce mental deficiencies. Apparently, wielding corporate power may be just as dangerous to the frontal lobes as catching down-field passes carried by 350 pound beasts.

And boys will not only be boys, as they say, around football fields. Their behavior around seminar tables and corporate watering holes can compete with the youngest, as well as the oldest, of the speedsters though life. If their children are to respect them, though, it's best to see them off to somewhere other than jail. 

Flash a picture of that memorial moment because the kids will live with it forever. When Father's Day weekends occur, Daddy will not be there. When daughters walk down the aisle, Daddy will not be there. And sons will learn to say: "Daddy's busy." That's the way kids live with it when Daddy goes away. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Snakes Named Grey

By Meg Curtis, PhD

Fifty Shades of Grey seems strangely familiar, doesn’t it? Where have we heard of a charismatic flatterer? Are we really to believe that E L James’ ingénue impresses a corporate magnate so drastically that he charges all over the country after her? If this is chick lit, then the chicks who read it must want nothing more than flattery—and money.

What do we know about James’ leading chick? She falls headfirst into the exec’s waiting arms. She vomits uncontrollably. She can’t resist his come-ons. Do readers really believe that a young woman would attract an unbearably powerful man—say, like George Clooney—while behaving this way? If George accepts this stumblebum routine, it hasn’t gotten into the press yet.

So, what are we reading here? A story we’ve read before plus sex, lots of sex. In fact, this addition to the traditional tale of country bumpkin meets city salesman only serves to identify the story’s origin. Look no farther than the Garden variety of Eden to find the girl’s neighborhood. Eve couldn’t resist her visitor, either.

The contract which the city slicker expects her to sign supplies a dead give-away; Who asks for a name on a contract which means she belongs to him? The contract in turn supplies the delay which leads readers on, just like the ingénue, to hope she is not dumb enough to sign—while wondering if she’s read Great Expectations, too.

Indeed, what makes this story more than tiresome? Point of view! We’ve heard the story of Genesis so many times we could probably recite it in our sleep, even if we support abortion, gay marriage, and democrat tax increases. But we never heard the wildest dreams of little Evie while under the snake’s spell. And that’s how somebody gets to the money. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: A Winning Formula?

By Meg Curtis, PhD

E L James conquered the bestseller list with Fifty shades of Grey.  As the Daily Mail informed us on 18 June 2012, " Fifty Shades of Grey outstrips Happy Potter to become fastest selling paperback of all time." How did she do it? Clues trail though the text like coding left by the Stuxnet cyber-attack on Iran.

Well, this book is about domination. What did you expect? It turns the war between the sexes—a traditional theme—into a study in colonialism. Here, characters occupy each other, preoccupy each other, and battle for control over ego, body, soul. Sounds like a political campaign, doesn’t it—or even the wars the US has engaged in for the last eleven years?

As you might expect again, E L James proves no stranger to the media. Wikipedia informs us that she is a former television executive. Look no farther than Two and a Half Men for the secrets to her success. What do the characters of that famous comedy harbor on their minds night and day? Sex, sex, sex. It’s a winning formula. Nobody knows that better than a TV exec.

And, as Charlie Sheen knows very well, too, keep the blondes rolling across the screen, and your audience can’t get enough of you. E L James does Charlie one better, though: She creates a male lead who’s as copper-haired as they come, but calls him GREY!  She could have called him Red, Blue, or Green, but she called him a neutral shade. Why?

Because, if you remember your cinematic history, black and white cinematography, just like black and white photography, still tantalizes us with the most intense scenes ever shot by Hitchcock, especially the shower scene. So, shower scenes you will find here a plenty. Black and white TV still holds the memory card, too, for immediacy and improvisation--and at least half of every black and white scene consists of shades.

And that is exactly what you get in Fifty Shades of Grey:  bodies up, bodies down, as if you were in  Charlie’s bedroom: a charismatic and wounded male pitted against the determination of female innocence;  and plentiful variations on a formula which works every time—unless you call execs disgusting names and go on a tour to prove what a genius you are.