Thursday, September 27, 2018

PTSD, trauma, and memory distortion

Several years ago I started attending Veterans Affairs seminars and workshops relating to pastoral care of veterans, especially combat veterans. The emphasis has been on reservists who come home from deployments to their hometowns, not to a military base with a built-in professional support structure as regular service members do.
On of the things we learned is that PTSD is a real psychological and emotional condition, but that a veteran's recollections of the trauma(s) initiating it are not fully reliable. So when a veteran says "this happened" he is certainly relating what he truly remembers, but what he truly remembers is often a odds with, even contradictory, to:
  • His/her prior statements of the trauma, and
  • The accounts given by other veterans also present
The veteran is not lying. One of the unfortunate effects of PTSD is "memory distortion." It is well  established in medical and mental health science that the memory of PTSD sufferers is flawed, often  seriously so, and that this distortion of memories of the traumatic events worsens over time. 

Here is an excerpt from, "Trauma, PTSD, and Memory Distortion," in Psychology Today from May 23, 2016 (italics added):
In fact, converging evidence demonstrates that experiences of trauma, whether a single event (e.g., a sexual assault) or a sustained stressful experience that might involve multiple trauma types (e.g., experiences at war) are also vulnerable to memory distortion. In fact, traumatic memory distortion appears to follow a particular pattern: people tend to remember experiencing even more trauma than they actually did. This usually translates into greater severity of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms over time, as the remembered trauma "grows."
During my military career, I escaped violent death a number of times. I recall finding a written account of one such event that I wrote very soon afterward, and that I later forgot about. Many years later I came across the account and was quite taken aback that it differed from my years-later memory significantly. 

But that is wholly unsurprising. The article relates that when Desert Storm veterans, asked to relate "certain events ... (e.g., experiencing sniper fire, sitting with a dying colleague)" over two years after their return home, 
 ... 88% of veterans changed their response to at least one event and 61% changed more than one. Importantly, the majority of those changes were from “no, that did not happen to me” to “yes, that happened to me.” Not surprisingly, this ‘over-remembering’ was associated with an increase in PTSD symptoms.
I have been diagnosed with PTSD but I do not re-see traumatic events over and over. My particular "trigger" is not seeing traumatic sights. but reading or being told about them. But memory distortion is real even among those not suffering from PTSD. 
Critically, post-event processing—such as actively imagining new details or experiencing unwanted intrusive thoughts—can increase the familiarity of new details enough that people may mistakenly claim those new details as genuine memory traces. This is memory distortion.
In 2014, James Hopper, Ph.D., Instructor in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who trains investigators, prosecutors, judges and military commanders on the neurobiology of sexual assault, and David Lisak, Ph.D. a forensic consultant, wrote, "Why Rape and Trauma Survivors Have Fragmented and Incomplete Memories," in Time Magazine after the proven-false charges of rape and other sexual offenses at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia. Their concluding paragraphs:
... Victims may remember in exquisite detail what was happening just before and after they realized they were being attacked, including context and the sequence of events. However, they are likely to have very fragmented and incomplete memories for much of what happens after that.

These advances in our understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain have enormous implications for the criminal justice system. It is not reasonable to expect a trauma survivor – whether a rape victim, a police officer or a soldier – to recall traumatic events the way they would recall their wedding day. They will remember some aspects of the experience in exquisitely painful detail. Indeed, they may spend decades trying to forget them. They will remember other aspects not at all, or only in jumbled and confused fragments. Such is the nature of terrifying experiences, and it is a nature that we cannot ignore.
The Psychologist, the journal of British Psychological Society, published in June 2006, "Recovered and false memories," which is lengthy and not easily excerpted, but basically, the authors conclude that false memories are genuine and that memories of trauma are usually fragmentary and subject to being affected by external stimuli over time after the traumatic event. 

Then we have, "Memory Distortion for Traumatic Events: The Role of Mental Imagery," by the National Institutes of Health, which begins, 
Trauma memories – like all memories – are malleable and prone to distortion. Indeed, there is growing evidence – from both field and lab-based studies – to suggest that the memory distortion follows a particular pattern. People tend to remember more trauma than they experienced, and those who do, tend to exhibit more of the “re-experiencing” symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Here are some key points I have learned in ministry with veterans, especially when I served a church near Fort Campbell, Ky., during some of the intense years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:
  1. Persons who relate  recollections of personal trauma are not lying to you. Which is to say, they are not telling you things they know to be false. They are not attempting to deceive you. 
  2. However, that does not mean that their recollections are corresponding closely or even very well to what actually occurred (which unless it happened to have had contemporaneous documentation, such as at-the-time video or other accounts, may never be known). 
  3. Even so, as a confidant or a minister, your job is not to uncover "the truth" about the event, which may be decades in the past, anyway. It is to help the person through this difficult time or to cope with reactions, memories and relived emotions that may include helplessness, a grievous sense of loss, and usually incomprehension why the event and its aftermath remains so powerful.
  4. Therefore, listen compassionately, support the person with prayers and other assistance as may be needed, but do not try to become a PTSD or trauma counselor unless you are actually trained and certified in that. The VA has truly excellent PTSD therapies it has initiated in the recent past and I personally encourage veterans to talk with the VA about them. For non-veterans, such therapy may be more difficult to find. The nearest VA hospital may be able to advise you where to find counselors.
If someone you know suffers trauma (say, an severe auto accident) then it may be helpful to share ABC Science's article with them, "Reliving trauma could ward off PTSD."
Reliving a traumatic event may prevent the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Australian researchers. ...

They were divided into three groups. One received five weekly 90-minute sessions of prolonged exposure therapy, another getting the same amount of a different therapy called cognitive restructuring, and a third getting neither therapy.

In prolonged exposure therapy, a therapist helps a person vividly relive the trauma in a controlled environment, imaging it in detail and facing objects involved in the event. The idea is to expose people to the very thing that causes them distress to help them learn to better cope with it.

In cognitive restructuring, a therapist helps a person to try to alter negative thinking patterns related to a trauma.
Shortly after the therapy, 33% of the prolonged exposure group developed PTSD, compared to 63% of the cognitive restructuring therapy group and 77% of the untreated patients. The untreated patients were offered therapy at that point.
Again, these are therapies for trained counselors to conduct. But the point is that PTSD or other emotional/psychological disorders from trauma is not an inevitable outcome. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

About FBI Investigations

Updated Sept. 30.

This is a non-partisan essay about the status of the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh (BK henceforth), focusing narrowly upon the renewed FBI investigation.

I am writing this because I have some familiarity with such investigations. I was investigated a number of times during my military career regarding security clearances (the checks for top secret were extremely thorough) and regarding my clearances for nuclear-weapons operations. The FBI did not do them because DOD had the assets to do them itself. But the procedures are are same.

Logo of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, somewhat stylized
I checked this essay in draft with special agents of US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), where I served as my final assignment in the Army. I was not an investigator, however, which is why I ran this through federal law-enforcement agents who actually performed such investigations.

These investigations are usually known as "vetting" or "background" investigations. For most non-DOD civil service, they are carried out by the Office of Personnel Management and frequently then by contracted private companies. However, the FBI conducts them for White House appointees and usually for certain Senate or House staff members.

Key point: Key fact: Background investigations are NOT criminal investigations. The FBI receives and reports information relative to the subject's fitness for office or clearance or whatever reason it was requested. That is all it does.

Hence, the FBI collects information and provides a report with statements and summaries and provides it to the requester, in Kavanaugh's case, the White House. An retired special agent who conducted such investigations told me,
An FBI BI [background investigation] is conducted by fully qualified [active] and retired criminal investigators who have many years experience conducting investigations. It is the investigator's job to identify disqualifying information and immediately report that information to BICS, the FBI unit responsible for BIs. They then make the determination on what action takes place next. 
This agent went on to explain that the vast majority of BI investigations are conducted by retired special agents, although, "BIs of people holding or nominated for certain very high positions are conducted by active FBI agents." Also, the BI is not a rubber-stamp operation; it is substantive and inquiring. Having endured them myself, I can attest they are not casual or "by the numbers" at all. However, the final decision of qualification or disqualification does not rest with the FBI. It is the responsibility of the requesting agency.

In this case, Senator Diane Feinstein sent a copy of Christine Ford's letter to the FBI. The FBI took the proper step of turning it over to the White House for their consideration regarding Kavanaugh's nomination. Job done, as far as the FBI is concerned.

That is why this renewed FBI "investigation" is (at best) misguided. There is no investigation left for the FBI to do, and people who think there is do not understand how such investigations are conducted and what happens at the end.

In background investigations, all the FBI does is take statements. It does not grill witnesses, it does not pick statements apart and try to find "the truth" or "what really happened." The FBI, one of the world's premier detective agencies, actually does not do any detective work in background investigations. It simply takes statements and passes them on to the requesting agency for their review and assessment. As Joe Biden said in 1991, the FBI does not draw conclusions in these investigations. The FBI report at the end of this week will not say, "Ford is lying" or "Kavanaugh is lying." Neither will it say, "Kavanaugh did what Ford alleges" nor "Kavanaugh did not do what Ford alleges."

What it will say is that these persons say this, these persons say that, and these persons say the other thing. The FBI will not determine who is telling the truth or not. What it will do is present the White House yet again with a sheaf of papers of statements and walk away. Only is there is a truly serious allegation related to the FBI does it get further review inside the FBI, as one the special agents explained to me. But the "serious allegation" is already out there, so what's left?

I will leave the last word on the investigation to retired Special Agent Johnny T., who told me,
I did FBI Backgrounds for FBI for 16-17 yrs and you're absolutely correct.... FBI would have nothing to investigate plus no Federal Crime....
Again: This is not a criminal investigation. Ford has never made any criminal complaint to any law enforcement agency. If she really does want an investigation, all she has to do is contact the police department of the Maryland municipality concerned and swear the complaint.

As a matter of criminal law, the FBI has no jurisdiction anyway because the allegations do not fall under federal purview. If there is a statutory violation, it is of the laws of law of Maryland. The FBI investigates only offenses against federal laws and does not itself decide whether to prosecute. That is the decision of the US Attorney's office. As one agent told me, with no statutory federal violation at hand, the chance of a US attorney directing a FBI criminal investigation is extremely remote for this (or any other incident). No one from the Maryland attorney general's office has even identified what Maryland law(s) might have been violated, but then, they wouldn't do so because Ford has not made a criminal complaint to them.

Bottom line: There is literally nothing else for the FBI to do here. This week-long renewed "investigation" is starting now because the US Senate is so dysfunctional that it hopes the FBI will pull it out of a hole that it dug itself.

Here is then-Senator Joe Biden in 1991, referring to calls for an FBI investigation of claims made by Anita Hill against SCOTUS nominee Clarence Thomas.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Nazism's Marxist Roots

Over at the UM Clergy Facebook page there has been an ongoing thread about the virtues or lack thereof of socialism, especially so-called "democratic" socialism. So here is a basic, beginning read for people interested in contemporary American politics, since many surveys show that young Americans are substantially positive toward implementing socialism in the US. 

First, there is no real usefulness in speaking of our political divisions as between the Left and the Right. They are convenient labels but not very informative. In particular, to say that socialists are on the Left while neo-Nazis are on the Right is grievously misinformed. Marx and his theoretical successors were the political ancestors of socialism and communism, as all acknowledge - but Marxist theory was the ancestor also of both Fascism and Nazism. And the founders of those two parties said so.

When the media and others characterize the conflicts between Antifa (supposedly on the Left) and the "alt-Right" as clashes between groups at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they do us no service. They are both authoritarian-supremacist groups with deep Marxist roots, and each wants to rule over the other. (What did you think they would do, hold hands and sing kum-bah-ya?)

We are calling one side the "alt-right" for no other reason than it's easier to keep score, I guess, like we call one team a home team and the other visitors, but they're both baseball teams. What we really have is two Marxist-born groups having at each other because neither will countenance a competitor.

Yes, some demonstrators here or there carried Nazi flags, just as some of the counter-demos carried hammer-and-sickle Soviet flags. In fact, those flags are almost interchangeable. Everyone knows and acknowledges that Soviet Communism was based on Marxism, hence Marxism and its spawn today are "Left," but everyone also apparently thinks that Fascism and Nazism apparently just sprang up out of thin air with no relation to political theories and contexts that came before, and that Fascism and Nazism were and are "Right."

Untrue. Both Fascism and Nazism were founded on Marxist theory and belonged firmly on the Left side of the spectrum, according to their founders. In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler gave a series of interviews to a trusted party member named Hermann Rauschning, in which Hitler explained Nazi theory, founding and outlook. By the end of the decade, Rauschning had left the party and fled to the United States. There he published a book entitled The Voice of Destruction, also known as Hitler Speaks, summarizing his interviews (New York, NY, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940).

Below is a set of quotes in which Hitler himself explains Nazism's Marxist roots. Note that Hitler even invited German Communists to join the Nazi party, saying he would welcome them.

"I have learned a great deal from Marxism as I do not hesitate to admit… The whole of National Socialism is based on it… National Socialism is what Marxism might have been if it could have broken its absurd and artificial ties with a democratic order."

"It is not Germany that will turn Bolshevist but Bolshevism that will become a sort of National Socialism. Besides, there is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it…. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will."
Hitler was clear in his conversations that Nazism was Left-Socialist and that even Communists were urged to join with him:
"But we National Socialists wish precisely to attract all socialists, even the Communists; we wish to win them over from their international camp to the national one."
Otto Wagener, in Hitler—Memoirs of a Confidant, editor, Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., Yale University Press (1985) p. 26

"After all, that’s exactly why we call ourselves National Socialists! We want to start by implementing socialism in our nation among our Volk! It is not until the individual nations are socialist that they can address themselves to international socialism."
Otto Wagener in Hitler—Memoirs of a Confidant, editor, Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., Yale University Press (1985) p. 288
As for Fascism, it was the name of the political party founded by Benito Mussolini in Italy. Mussolini, the century's preeminent fascist, invented the word to describe his national political system. As a young man, Mussolini was politically groomed and nurtured by Marxists. He became an active member the Communist International. He corresponded with Vladimir Lenin almost until Lenin died. Mussolini broke from the Comintern for two main reasons. First, he saw little chance of it succeeding in bringing forth international communist revolutions. Second, he rejected the "international" part because he realized that what that really meant was "Russian controlled." Benito was an ardent Italian nationalist and opposed subordinating Italian socialism to Russian oversight.

In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:

The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State....

..The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .
That is practically the template of today's extremes of both "Left" and "Right."
The symbol of the Italian fascisti party, using a bundle of reeds and an ax
copied from an ancient symbol of the Roman imperium.
Jeff Goldstein on FB:
I told you all before and I’ll repeat it now: the alt right is not conservative, and it is every bit as driven by identity politics and blood essentialism as the prog left.

Antifa, BLM, CAIR, the New Black Panthers, La Raza, the Pussy Hatters, the KKK — these are all identity movements and all formed and animated by the kind of identity politics championed by the left, and legitimated by the likes of Edward Said and other academic cultural Marxists who recognized the way to power was to divide, and then control, particular identity groups, whose narratives they seek to create and police.

The alt-right is only “right wing” in the continental sense. The American conservative is classically liberal, while the American progressive is Fabian socialist.

Don’t listen to labels; follow the assumptions made by each movement — the alt right, the prog left — and you’ll soon recognize that they are the same. This is tribalism, no more and no less. What we are witnessing is an attempt to corrupt the ideals of a propositional nation based on individualism and individual universal rights (and that’s how our Constitutional republic is designed to operate) — a lesson Google’s pillorying of a software engineer as “anti-diversity” should have made clear.

You should reject this archaic collectivism from whatever group espouses it, because in the end it is simply anti-individualism dressed in mob attire to bolster cowardice and bigotry in numbers.
As a clarification, I am not saying that Nazism was founded on nothing but Marxism. Of course there were other influences, and Nazism's antisemitism did not spring directly from Marxism. However, Marxism did and still does carry with it its own strain of Jew-hatred. Much modern Jew-hatred has sprung from the Left, not the least of which has been the Nazis. Dennis Prager's book about antisemitism, Why The Jews?, has an entire chapter on leftist Jew-hatred. Marx himself was no friend to the Jews and he was the venue by which a lot of old tropes about Jews and money got turned into bankers and capitalists manipulating the world.

Even so, antisemitism was endemic across most of western Europe and went all the way back to the Black Plague years, centuries before, when the Jews got blamed for the plague.

And it's been pretty well covered how German Teutonic mythicism shaped a lot of Hitler's ideology on the supremacy of Aryan blood and German destiny. But as for the political workings of Nazi government and economic structuring, there was not a lot of daylight between what the Soviet communists did and what Hitler did. Unlike the Soviets, Hitler did not outright seize and nationalize industries and businesses, but he did wholly dictate terms of business to them, what they could manufacture, how much they could charge, who would get first claim on output, whom they could hire. German industry remained private in name only. And if they were smart, business owners joined the Nazi party, just as Soviets knew that to become plant managers and plan supervisors proven reliability as a party member was a basic requirement.

Here is an excellent question:

See also, "Why Nazism Was Socialism and Why Socialism Is Totalitarian," at the Mises Institute site, and Encyclopedia Britannica's explanation of the theoretical foundations of National Socialism, which included but was not limited to ordinary political socialism.

There is a lot more about what the top Nazis said about their Marxist foundation.

From Dissecting Leftism, a blog by  John J. Ray, Ph.D., who describes himself as a "former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society" and "former anarcho-capitalist."
The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

Just the name of Hitler's political party should be sufficient to reject the claim that Hitler was "Right wing" but Leftists sometimes retort that the name "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" is not informative, in that it is the name of a dismal Stalinist tyranny. But "People's Republic" is a normal name for a Communist country whereas I know of no conservative political party that calls itself a "Socialist Worker's Party". Such parties are in fact usually of the extreme Left (Trotskyite etc.) ...

Who said this in 1968? "I am not, and never have been, a man of the right. My position was on the Left and is now in the centre of politics". It was Sir Oswald Mosley, founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists.

The term "Fascism" is mostly used by the Left as a brainless term of abuse. But when they do make a serious attempt to define it, they produce very complex and elaborate definitions -- e.g. here and here. In fact, Fascism is simply extreme socialism plus nationalism. But great gyrations are needed to avoid mentioning the first part of that recipe, of course.
At RealClearPolitics: "Leftists Become Incandescent When Reminded of the Socialist Roots in Nazism."

So why did Hitler and Stalin war upon each other? It was not over ideology per se. It was basically much as if James and Jesse had fought each other over who would run the James gang: no matter who won, it would have been still the same outlaw gang as before. There was a deep racist and Aryan supremacist strain to Germany's contempt for most of the peoples east of them, too. But in manner of actual governance, Germany was very socialist. 

And remember, from a guy who ought to know:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A 9/11 Memorial

I made this in 2011 for the 10th anniversary.

Best viewed full screen.

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...