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Book Review: Suicidal Mass Murderers – A Criminological Study of Why They Kill May 6, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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I receive random books in the mail from time to time to review for publications, and I was quite excited when I saw my latest: Suicidal Mass Murderers — A Criminological Study of Why They Kill, authored by John A Liebert, MD (a renowned American psychiatric expert on serial killers) and William J Birnes, JD (a bestselling true crime writer).

The book cover featured a haunting photo of Cho Seung-Hui, the Korean-American student who killed thirty-two people at Virginia Tech before turning the gun on himself.  I’m no psycho (at least that’s what I tell myself), but I was intrigued.  We see these heinous crimes in the news and on TV and we simply assume that these people are deranged, crazy individuals who have lost it — we don’t really see them as real human beings.

In this book, Liebert and Birnes paint Cho as a victim.  They argue that the reason these suicidal mass murdering rampages occur is because of the broken mental health care system in the US, and particularly in the state of Virginia.  And given the numbers and the case studies illustrated by them, it’s hard to disagree.

Cho Seung-Hui’s story was a fascinating one and a perfect example.  This was a guy that was a walking red flag from the time he was just a kid, and somehow the system just allowed him to get worse and worse until his schizphrenia turned him into a walking time bomb.  Things got so bad that teachers refused to teach if he remained in class, other classmates were terrified of him and some even joked that he might start shooting people one day.

And despite a plethora of opportunities to either give him treatment or take him off the streets, the bureaucratic spider web health system (that is more concerned about the liability of doctors and psychiatrists than the well being and safety of the patients and those they may harm) pretty much shot him through the cracks like so many other seriously mentally ill patients.  That, coupled with privacy laws and the fear of infringing patients’ constitutional rights, essentially allowed the Virginia Tech tragedy to happen.

It’s easy to say, like the Virginia Tech review committee found, that the sole blame should be placed on the perpetrator (indeed, that was what I used to think), but we’re talking about people that desperately need emergency care, people that are dangerously delusional and suffer from anosognosia, a condition where they do not realise or are in denial of their mental illness.  And even if these people do seek help, more often than not the help won’t be available because they only choose to treat you if you can afford it, and most of these people can’t!

More funding and more trained staff will definitely help, as will Obama’s health care reforms, but it’s a difficult situation and there are no real easy solutions.  Liebert and Birnes do suggest their own system of emergency psychiatric diagnosis and care, but you still need the money and manpower to be able to pull it off.

Admittedly though, it took me longer than expected to get through this 317-page book (extraordinarily small and dense font).  I was somewhat disappointed because I was expecting a true crime book that crafts a story with a compelling narrative, but this was genuinely a criminological ‘study’, complete with a long debate about the health system and discussions of key legal precedents.  The majority of the book is written in a very academic format, which can get a bit dry at times and a little repetitive.

Furthermore, the primary focus of the book is on Cho Seung-Hui rather than suicidal mass murderers in general.  There were mentions of others but they were usually just in passing or short illustrations.

The best parts of the book were at the beginning — where they repainted in detail how the Virginia Tech massacre occured (I understand this was one of the worst lone gunman massacres in history, second only to Tasmania’s Martin Bryant) and how Cho’s mind spiralled so wildly out of control — and the end — where they discussed the warning signs and provided appendices containing Cho’s disturbing medical records and writings and the terrifying blog of this other freaky shooter, George Sodini.

Unfortunately, the middle chunk of the book was too tedious for me.  I’d recommend it to people who are interested in the Virginia Tech massacre or suicidal mass murderers in general from an academic perspective, but if you want a more compelling read that tells a story, I’m sure there are better alternatives out there.

2.5 out of 5

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Fight Prediction: Pacquiao vs Mosley (7 May 2011) May 6, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Sport.
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We’re only a couple of days out from the much (not) anticipated welterweight fight between pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao and ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley on the 7th of June. Given that most boxing purists wanted to see Pacquiao take on Juan Manuel Marquez (as Floyd Mayweather Jr is, um, unavailable), the buzz for this fight has been surprisingly muted. Nevertheless, I’m going to do the usual and throw in my 2 cents on how I predict the fight will turn out.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a 32 year-old, in the prime of his life boxer that hasn’t lost since 2005 and has been demolishing everyone in his path like Team 6 on Osama’s compound, will walk through an almost 40, seemingly over the hill legend who has a one sided loss and an unwatchable draw in his last two fights. That’s basically what the Pacquiao-Mosley fight looks like — at least on paper.

But I’m slightly more intrigued by this fight than most others. I usually have my doubts before every Pacquiao fight, but this one more so than the others. It’s almost an irrational al doubt, considering Pacquiao is on top of his game and Mosley is clearly on the decline, but you can never count out a future Hall of Fame legend.

That said, Pacquiao appears to have an overwhelming edge in this match up when you break it down.

First of all, Pacquiao is 32, and has shown no signs of slowing down in his last few fights, knocking out David Diaz, Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto before coasting to easy unanimous victories against Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Some say he would have knocked out Clottey had defensive fighter threw some punches instead of covering up all night, and Magarito if Manny didn’t take his foot off the pedal out of apparent sympathy for his opponent.

Mosley, on the other hand, has not done much after his unexpected brutal beat down of Margarito back in January 2009 (which some consider overrated since Margarito didn’t have loaded gloves and probably had other things on his mind after being caught out in the dressing room). Then, apart from a big second round, Mosley was thoroughly dismantled by Floyd Mayweather Jr (and it’s sad to think that fight might be Mayweather’s last fight EVER), before stinking out the joint in a pathetic draw against Sergio Mora. So in terms of current form, Pacquiao looks to have a major advantage. It’s not even close.

Secondly, Pacquiao has a tremendous advantage in speed, like he does against most opponents. Offensively, he is in and out, lightning quick, throws dazzling multiple-punch combinations and power shots from unorthodox angles, and gets the hell out of there before his opponent even knows what hit him. Pacquiao’s opponents can’t see his punches, which is what makes him so lethal. Speed kills, and Pacquiao has possibly the fastest hands and feet in the business.

Turning 40 in September, Mosley has clearly slowed down a lot. Back in his prime, he was considered a speedy fighter in his own right, but even at his fastest he isn’t as quick as Pacquiao is now. Now, Mosley still has some speed, but the question is whether he is still able to pull the trigger when he needs to. It’s one thing to be able to see the openings, but it’s another to have the reflexes to do something about it in time. Nothing from his recent performances suggest Mosley has that ability anymore.

Thirdly, and probably the key factor here, is that Pacquiao appears to have unlimited stamina, whereas Mosley has a tendency to run out of gas and fade in the second half of his fights. This means that Mosley’s chances of winning a decision are minimal. The longer this fight goes on, the more it will favour Pacquiao and the more hopeless it will get for Mosley.

Fourthly, Pacquiao is reportedly 100% focused for this fight. Despite all the distractions in his life, the politics, the acting, the singing and the philanthropy, Pacquiao has, according to his trainer Freddie Roach, had one of his best training camps ever. I thought Mosley might have had an opportunity if Pacquiao had a bad camp or if he was overlooking or underestimating Mosley, but it looks like Pacquiao will be ready. Pacquiao has had interrupted and disjointed camps before and still came out firing, so having had a great camp spells trouble for Mosley.

Fifth, the perennial trainer of the year, Freddie Roach. The two are like brothers (or father and son) and trust each other with their lives. That kind of bond is what makes Pacquiao so hard to beat. Roach always devises a perfect game plan for each Pacquiao opponent, and Pacquiao always follows it to perfection (except that one time when he wanted to test Cotto’s power). Now, Mosley’s trainer Nazim Richardson is definitely no slouch, but most would agree that Pacquiao has the edge when it comes to their respective corners.

When you put all these factors together, it’s hard to see Mosley giving Pacquiao any real trouble, but Mosley may have a couple of advantages. Mosley has never been knocked out before, and he recovers quickly from damage. The guy is rock solid and is not afraid to take punishment. It is very possible that Mosley has the better chin and ability to absorb punches.

However, I don’t think Pacquiao is necessarily much further behind in the endurance department. He may have been vulnerable at the lower weight classes, but at welterweight he has shown that he can take a punch or two. Guys like Margarito and Cotto are powerful punchers and Pacquiao took their best shots (sometimes intentionally).

Another area where Mosley might have the edge is punching power. In his prime, Mosley was a knockout artist, and even now still possesses a nasty right hook that can crack jaws. We saw against Margarito and in that second round against Mayweather that Mosley still has the power to hurt and KO opponents if he lands the big punch, the chopping overhand right.

Pacquiao showed against Hatton and Cotto that he too has knockout power in both hands, especially the left, but his power is generated from his blinding speed rather than brute force. Interestingly, I recall David Diaz (who was knocked out by Pacquiao) saying that he wasn’t troubled by Pacquiao’s power but by his speed. Similarly, Margarito said to his corner during the fight that Pacquiao can’t hurt him, thug his bloodied and battered face suggested otherwise. So I don’t think Mosley has a clear advantage here, but I will day one thing: I do believe Mosley has a bigger chance of hurting or knocking out Pacquiao with one big punch than the other way around.

What about defense? Fundamentally speaking, Mosley has the better defense. Pacquiao is a willing punch trader because he can usually and twice as many punches in the same span of time, and that leaves him open to be tagged, even if it might be a lucky punch. But we have also seen Pacquiao’s defense improve significantly over the last few years. His footwork is what saves him most of the time, turning his opponents before they can set up their punches. The good thing for Pacquiao is that Mosley is not much of a combination puncher, as least no where near what he used to be. And because of their respective offensive capabilities, I have a feeling that it will be easier for Pacquiao to find the gaps in Mosley’s defense than it will be for Mosley to find gaps in Pacquiao’s defense.

Accordingly, the only indisputable advantage Mosley has over Pacquiao is size. Mosley is a legit 5’9″ with a true welterweight body and reach, while Pacquiao is 5’6.5″ and with an evidently smaller frame. So it is possible that size could be a factor but let’s face it, Pacquiao always fights bigger guys these days, and none of them have had success.

So where does that leave us? How will the fight pan out on Saturday night?

Prediction

I think Pacquiao will be the first to stop Mosley, most likely in the later rounds. Most people think Pacquiao will probably coast to an easy points decision but I just can’t see Mosley survive for that long before the fight is stopped, either by the referee or his corner or the doctor. Mosley is not a guy that backs down easily, so I can see him continue to take punishment until someone stops the fight on his behalf. His face could be a puffy, bloody mess before the night is over. The only way he survives is if Pacquiao goes easy on him once the fight is well in hand.

Does Mosley have a chance? Yes, this is boxing, there’s always a chance. And I would even go as far to say that Mosley has a better chance than Clottey or Margarito. It’s that looping overhand right that gives Mosley a glimmer of hope, a puncher’s chance. I’ve seen that hook penetrate defenses. I’ve seen it do major damage. I know it can hurt Pacquiao. The question is whether Mosley will have the opportunity to land it.

Both guys like to give fans a show (if we discount Mosley’s horrendous Mora fight, though the majority of the blame should go to Mora), so as long as Pacquiao keeps coming forward, Mosley will have a shot, but given Mosley’s tendency to run out of steam, each passing round will diminish the odds. Therefore, Mosley’s best chance is an early round KO, and/or a miracle. Once he tires after the fifth or six round, it could become a slaughter.

Anyway, as they always say, styles make fights, so I am confident we’ll see a great show no matter what happens.

Movie Review: Just Go With It (2011) May 6, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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It seems like it was so long ago that I was an Adam Sandler fan.  I loved his crazy, stupid movies.  No matter what anyone says about them, they were (for the most part) hilarious and unique in that Sandler-esque kind of way.

These days, frankly, Sandler’s movies suck.  They’ve become predictable, formulaic, and not very funny.  I feel like he is undergoing some kind of mid-life crisis, for some reason always trying to make his films have a proper storyline and some kind of message about life.  That’s not his forte.

And so it was with reservations that I went to see Just Go With It, a ‘romantic comedy’ about a plastic surgeon who pretends he is married to lure chicks, kind of like that episode of Seinfeld where George gave it a go.  And just like George in that episode, the scheme backfires when he meets the woman of his dreams (Andy Roddick’s SI model wife Brooklyn Decker), and must now continue to pretend he is temporarily ‘married’ by getting his assistant (Jennifer Aniston) to act as his wife.

You don’t need me to tell you where this movie heads and how it ends up.

As I mentioned above, Sandler doesn’t make good movies anymore (his best efforts these days are, I would say, ‘average’ at best).  Jennifer Aniston almost never makes watchable movies.  Throw the two together and it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Fortunately for them, there were a few good moments in Just Go With It, but none of them involved Sandler or Aniston.  The real stars of the film were Bailee Madison (who plays Aniston’s quirky daughter) and Nick Swardson (who is more hit and miss but has some good moments as Sandler’s cousin).  And Brooklyn Decker was surprisingly adequate as the fake love interest, demonstrating not only that she can act but also that she possesses decent comedic timing.  There’s also a supporting role with Nicole Kidman that I didn’t know about, but she wasn’t as funny as she could or should have been.

But ultimately, Just Go With It is probably exactly what you’d expect it to be — two big stars, an initially interesting premise, a predictable plot and a few good jokes, but far too many bad ones.  Potentially worthy as a DVD rental on a rainy night if you are in the right mood, but otherwise don’t waste your money.

2.25 stars out of 5

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