Recognizing Cries For Help In Your Friends’ Facebook Posts

For all the drama and groan-inducing crap we see on Facebook every day, there is a very redeeming quality in the social networking site.

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It’s a good early-warning system for identifying friends in need. I’m not revealing anything you don’t know, but a New York Times article my wife sent me really drives the point home.

Written by Times reporter Jan Hoffman, the article points out, among other things:

For adolescents, Facebook and other social media have created an irresistible forum for online sharing and oversharing, so much so that endless mood-of-the-moment updates have inspired a snickering retort on T-shirts and posters: “Face your problems, don’t Facebook them.”

But specialists in adolescent medicine and mental health experts say that dark postings should not be hastily dismissed because they can serve as signs of depression and an early warning system for timely intervention. 

As obvious as this seems, it can be hard to swallow all the same, since we all love to get annoyed with people who over emote online. I’ve certainly written my share of posts making fun of the whole thing (see “I am the Facebook Superstar. Hear me whine“). I don’t regret it, because I think there is some fun to be had in how people carry on.

But reading that article has me wondering about a couple friends from childhood who took their lives: Sean Marley, who I’ve written of a lot, and Zane Mead. Had Facebook existed then, what might have been? Would these old friends have posted  hints into what they were feeling? Would it have made a difference in they did?

Maybe. Maybe not.

I have seen cases where someone posted about being depressed and angry, and other friends filled the space below the post with comments of support and love. I think that would have helped Zane. Sean was a much more complicated person, so it’s harder to imagine.

All of this wondering is a pointless exercise on my part. Facebook wasn’t around in 1988 and 1996, so we’ll never know. All we can and should be doing is honoring their memories.

But for today, Facebook gives us an opportunity to help someone else who is in a mentally dangerous place. I’ve heard a lot from authority figures in my community about how Facebook is bad for kids, kind of like candy and drugs. But they miss the point. Like it or not, this is where our kids are going to be hanging out from now on. This is for them what hanging out in the park or under the bridge was for our generation.

The difference is that if we’re connected to them, we can see what they are saying and doing. That’s not always a good thing if you value your privacy. But if someone is in deep pain, we might be able to notice sooner and maybe make the difference.

That article is a good reminder to keep a close eye on what our friends and family say, and to not take every annoying comment lightly.

The Changing, Frightening Face Of Plagiarism

Plagiarism used to be such a simple thing: If you stole someone else’s work and passed it off as your own, you were a liar and a thief. But in the cyber world, it has become something much grayer, though no less sinister.

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In the security community I write about for a living, sites such as have vast sections devoted to those who plagiarize. To be called out for such an act is to be given the kiss of death. Once you’re exposed as a plagiarist, your career is pretty much over, though plenty of busted people have gone on to fool others in their new careers as “consultants.”

I was talking about all this with a friend, Dave Marcus, yesterday. Plagiarism is seen as a growing pandemic in the 21st Century, the result of everyone’s ability to post someone else’s content in their blogs without giving proper credit. In most cases, the plagiarist gets away with it because in the tidal wave of content in the digital age, it’s damn near impossible to keep track of what everyone is doing. I have a lot of respect for sites like for at least trying to keep watch.

But here’s the thing that scares me: These days, you can be a serial plagiarist and not even realize you’re doing it. It’s so easy to find information on sites like Wikipedia and copy and paste. Some call it research. But when you use it without sourcing it, it’s plagiarism.

I’ve been in journalism for 18-plus years and I’ve always lived in fear that at some point I might falter and forget to adequately source someone. Staying clean from that was already difficult enough before the Internet became the fast and easily-switched-on fire hose it is today.

In my day job, I write about a lot of research reports. The name of the game is to take the complex detail and break it down into language most of us can understand. In this blog, I draw from a lot of studies about mental health, addiction, etc.

I do a ton of cutting and pasting. In my security blog, I’ll use chunks straight from the horse’s mouth, first identifying who it’s from and then italicizing the borrowed passages. It’s my way of keeping it honest. I do the same thing here.

Other times I’ll copy and paste and then convert something into my own words. In those cases, I tell you where it’s coming from. But it’s also easy to see how simple the careless omissions of credit can be.

In the push to get a piece of writing finished, oversights will happen — no matter how hard the scribe tries to avoid it.

The result of all this is that plagiarism is becoming something that’s no longer black vs. white, good vs. evil. It’s becoming something more like sleepwalking. You get up in the middle of the night and walk around the house. Someone else in the house might see you and make note of it. But the next morning you wake up with no memory of it. As far as you’re concerned, you spent the entire night in bed.

It’s more forgivable when you don’t know you walked into a priceless vase in the middle of the night and sent it crashing down the stairs in a million pieces. But it’s still a sorry state of affairs.

The point of all this is that I never want to steal someone else’s work. But I’m awake to how easy it is to slip up.

If I ever do, I won’t feel evil. But I will feel terrible, all the same.

I can promise you that I’ll always do everything I can do get it right.

Sober In San Francisco: Easier Than It Used To Be

The first day in San Francisco for RSA and BSidesSF is done, and I’m happy to report being a lot more comfortable in my sobriety than I’ve been at past conference gatherings.

Mood music:

Right after I got sober at the end of 2009, these networking events were difficult for me. A couple drinks used to loosen my nerves and bring me out of my shell, and it took a long time to learn how to do that without alcohol.

Tonight’s big gathering was at a place called The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar, in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel. I got there early and left early, staying long enough to say hello to as many friends as I could find. I felt at ease and comfortable — significant progress for me.

I might have stayed longer, but a friend needed help getting back to his hotel, so I flagged down a cab and got him back to his room. I was glad I had the mental clarity to do that for him.

Folks in the security community are generally aware of my sobriety at this point, so I didn’t have to worry about friends offering me drinks like last year and the year before. When your skin doesn’t fit right, acts of kindness and friendship — offering a drink, for example — strike you as menacing. Newly sober people are the most uptight individuals on the planet.

I’m thankful to be getting past that stage. Now I can focus on improving other things about myself. But first thing’s first — there’s a conference to cover.

Good night.

I Regret Wearing That Charles Manson T-Shirt

In the early 1990s, Patti Tate, sister of Sharon Tate, was on a public tirade against Guns N Roses frontman Axl Rose for going onstage every night wearing a Charles Manson T-Shirt. Around the same time, I had my own Manson shirt, worn regularly to freak people out.

Mood music:

Here’s Axl in his shirt:

Here’s me in my shirt:

The picture was taken 20 years ago — 1992 — when I was in a band with the two guys to my right. At the time I was all about shocking people. Shocking people has always been a good way to change the subject — especially when the subject is why you’re suck a fuck up. Of course, wearing the shirt proved I was just that.

I’m not trying to beat myself over this. That’s who I was back then. Plain and simple. We’re all in constant evolution and we go through our good and bad phases.

But my stupidity of the time is hitting me clearer than ever because I just finished reading  “Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice,” written by Tate family friend Alisa Statman and Brie Tate, niece of Sharon Tate.

Patti Tate picked up the crusade against the Manson killers and work as a victim’s advocate when her mom, Doris, passed away in 1992. In the book, she recalls seeing Axl in a video on MTV, sporting the infamous T-shirt. Here was a guy reaching millions of kids every day, essentially telling them that Manson was cool, a guy to look up to. I don’t think Axl really believed that. I think he was just going for the shock like me. I also think he covered the Manson song “Look At Your Game” because he simply liked the song and separated it from Manson’s crimes.

But like me, he was barking up the wrong tree.

In the final analysis, I don’t think it’s really possible to separate Manson the murder mastermind from Manson the musician. The music and the murders were geared toward the same cause — starting Helter Skelter, a race war Manson believed was imminent. Manson believed the black man would win the war and be unable to hold the reigns of power afterwards. Then, he and his family would come out of hiding in the desert and take control.

A ridiculous notion to be sure. But that’s what he believed, and at least nine people were brutally murdered over it, including Patti’s sister.

I regret wearing that T-shirt. I’m glad I lost it along the way.

Packing For #RSAC and #BSidesSF: An OCD Case Study

I just got done packing for five days in San Francisco, where I’ll be writing about goings on at RSA Conference 2012 and Security B-Sides. I bring it up because an OCD case packing a suitcase is a sight to behold.

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Before I had the OCD under control, packing was an all-day affair. I’d line up all my pants, shirts, socks, suit coats and accessories in order of the days I planned to wear them. I would undergo a similar ritual when gathering toothpaste, the razor, pills, etc. I would always pack extra for fear that I’d be without socks on the second-to-last day of the trip.

I still keep track of what I stuff into the suitcase to ensure I have enough for each day of the trip. But I only look over my cargo twice. It takes less time to do it that way than when I used to look things over five to 10 times.

Packing the laptop bag has gotten easier. I used to cram five notebooks and a handful of pens in there. Now it’s one pen and no notebooks. In my anxiety-free state, I’ve gotten very good at storing notes in my head. I also pull it off by not letting it sit in my head for too long. I usually write up the talks and demos within 10 minutes of seeing them. Some talks, I write the story while I’m sitting there watching.

I also don’t stuff my pockets with cigars and cigarettes anymore. That allows for more room.

Some things will never change, though. I’ll always get to the airport three hours before the flight because I always worry about unexpected problems and want time to fix what needs fixing. People think that’s crazy and it probably is. But I get a lot of writing done in those three hours, so there.

Last year I walked around in my big, heavy boots. This year I’m being smart about it and going with the black leather moccasins that slip on and off effortlessly.

I’ll have a supply of Starbucks Via packets in case I can’t find my preferred coffee in the airport.

I’ll have my Kindle, which is lighter than the books I tend to pack. I’m leaving the extra rings and bracelets behind. I figure the less I take with me, the less there is to worry about.

Which brings me to the pills. Last year I forgot to grab my Prozac bottle on the way out of the hotel and only realized my mistake after getting through the airport TSA line. Now I just pack the exact number of pills I need for the trip. The rest of the bottle stays home.

Now I have the rest of the day to enjoy time with my sons and, later, Erin.

Repetitive OCD behavior is a time thief. You lose so much because of it.

I’m not totally free of it, but I’m fighting back.

Anti-Authoritarianism As A Mental Illness

A friend sent me an interesting article by psychologist Bruce E. Levine that poses the question: Would we drug up Albert Einstein today for displaying traits outside the norms of an obedient society?

Mood music:

Let’s see what Levine says, then I’ll weigh in…

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by 1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians; and 2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.  

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.  

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.  

Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance with authorities, even those authorities one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one. 

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.  

A 2009 Psychiatric Times article titled “ADHD & ODD: Confronting the Challenges of Disruptive Behavior” reports that “disruptive disorders,” which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and opposition defiant disorder (ODD), are the most common mental health problem of children and teenagers. ADHD is defined by poor attention and distractibility, poor self-control and impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ODD is defined as a “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior without the more serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder”; and ODD symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” 

Psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading authorities on ADHD, says that those afflicted with ADHD have deficits in what he calls “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of established authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. ODD young people, according to mainstream mental health authorities, also have these so-called deficits in rule-governed behavior, and so it is extremely common for young people to have a “dual diagnosis” of AHDH and ODD. 

Do we really want to diagnose and medicate everyone with “deficits in rule-governed behavior”? 

Albert Einstein, as a youth, would have likely received an ADHD diagnosis, and maybe an ODD one as well. Albert didn’t pay attention to his teachers, failed his college entrance examinations twice, and had difficulty holding jobs. However, Einstein biographer Ronald Clark (Einstein: The Life and Times) asserts that Albert’s problems did not stem from attention deficits but rather from his hatred of authoritarian, Prussian discipline in his schools. Einstein said, “The teachers in the elementary school appeared to me like sergeants and in the Gymnasium the teachers were like lieutenants.” At age 13, Einstein read Kant’s difficult Critique of Pure Reason—because he was interested in it. Clark also tells us Einstein refused to prepare himself for his college admissions as a rebellion against his father’s “unbearable” path of a “practical profession.” After he did enter college, one professor told Einstein, “You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything.” The very characteristics of Einstein that upset authorities so much were exactly the ones that allowed him to excel.

My thoughts:

Einstein probably would have been deemed an ADHD-OCD case and given medication. I’m not convinced that the medication would have obliterated his intellect  or altered his work. But who knows.

I only know that as someone with OCD and ADHD, I take medication that allows me to move along without getting brain locked. It doesn’t make me smarter or dumber. It doesn’t numb me to discomforting situations. I still feel and think everything. The worry and anxiety simply doesn’t incapacitate me like it used to.

Are psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals too quick to prescribe medication for the sake of making sufferers more obedient and less troublesome in their surroundings? Probably. I think that’s especially problematic with children.

It’s hard to paint every situation with the same brush, though. There are bad therapists and excellent therapists.

Some get just the right treatment. Others get disastrous treatment.

I’m just glad Einstein got to live his life on his terms.

The Most Important Book Ever Written About Sharon Tate And The Manson Murders

I’m reading a book called “Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice,” written by Tate family friend Alisa Statman and Brie Tate, niece of Sharon Tate. It may well be the most important book written on the Manson case.

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The simple reason is that it captures a family’s grief and struggle to move on — something all our families have dealt with in various forms.

Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family's Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for JusticeI’ve written a lot here about my interest in the Manson case. This past November, I drove to the Tate and LaBianca murder sites during a trip to L.A. The story tapped into my fearful side at a young age, when Channel 56 played the two-part “Helter Skelter” movie every year. But until I downloaded this book onto my Kindle, I never truly appreciated what the Tate family has been through all these years.

I knew Sharon’s mother, Doris Tate, was a tireless victim’s rights advocate up to her death in 1992 and that her daughter Patti (Brie Tate’s mother) carried the torch until her death from cancer in 2000.

The Tate family has spent the last 42-plus years living with its tragic ties to criminal history. The book is a collection of narratives written by Doris, Patti, and P.J. Tate (Sharon’s father).

P.J. writes about having to go to the Cielo Drive house shortly after the murders to clean up all the blood and collect his daughter’s things. Patti writes about her struggle to hide from the prying world and live in quiet, only to have her family history come back to haunt her every time.

You see how Doris emerged after a decade of mourning to become a tireless fighter for victim’s rights, prison reforms and keeping her daughter’s killers in prison. You see P.J. and Patti getting upset with Doris again and again for keeping the family in the spotlight through her work. The wreckage of their lives includes all the usual tormentors: addiction, gut-shredding guilt, fear and anxiety. You see them learning to live again and finding purpose.

It’s the ultimate story of battling adversity.

I wish this book had come out before my L.A. trip, because I would have looked at those murder sites with a different set of eyes.

The Manson case has been a source of obsession for many, many people over the years. There’s the natural curiosity about what drives human beings to kill. There’s the horror and blood aspect that sucks people in. But what often gets lost is what kind of people the victims were, and what happens to those they unwillingly leave behind.

This book is all about the latter. That’s why I think it’s so important.

I think Brie Tate did her family proud with this work. I look forward to seeing what she does in the future.

The gates to the property where Sharon Tate and four others were murdered. I took the picture during a recent trip to L.A.

Things Kids Say, February Vacation Edition

The children and their friends have been giving me an earful this week. Silly little buggers always forget that I take notes.

Mood music:

“I demand my rights as an American!” Duncan, after being told he can’t watch TV before school (in this case, the Friday before vacation)

“Good luck. You’re gonna need it.” Sean, wishing one of Erin’s friends well in an important business venture

“Who do you think I am, Rosa Parks?” Sean’s classmate Nick, after I evicted him from my favorite living room chair

“All kids are stupid. Parents know this, but tell us we’re intelligent to make us forget we’re stupid.” Nick, a few minutes later, after I commented him on his whit and intellect

“Wow. It’s just like watching a 3-D movie.” Duncan, walking around the house wearing the 3-D glasses he got when we went to see “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”

Duncan in 3-D

What Sean said: “Duncan nearly killed me just now.”

What really happened: Duncan kicked Sean in the ankle — and missed.

What Duncan said: “Sean just tried to break my arm!”

What really happened: Sean poked him in the arm.

“Everybody knows that.” Duncan’s classmate Gabby, after Sean tried to embarrass Duncan by telling her that Duncan wants to marry her when they grow up.

“Get out of the way, Lando! For crying out loud!” Sean, temper flaring, during a particularly difficult Wii game of “Star Wars: The Complete Saga.”

“But it doesn’t feel hot.” Duncan, after putting his hand on a hot pink electric mixer we saw in a store.

“Duncan, I took care of it for you.” Madison, the 3-year-old niece, after punching Uncle Bill in the arm for threatening to come get her. Duncan, Madison’s body guard, usually does the punching.

“Duncan, come take care of this.” Madison, a few hours later, after Uncle Bill playfully threatened to catch her again.

Gave Up Giving Up For Lent

Here we are starting another season of Lent, where Catholics the world over give up something they like for 40 days in an effort to honor the sacrifice Jesus made for everyone. Sean has given up the computer. Erin is TV-free. Duncan put aside the chocolate.

Mood music:

What have I given up? Nothing.

It’s not for lack of faith or gratitude. It’s not even the move of a curmudgeon who doesn’t like to follow the rules. It’s just that I’ve given up everything already.

I no longer smoke.

I no longer drink.

I don’t eat flour or sugar, which means I don’t eat candy.

As for giving up coffee, my family won’t let me. They fear the monster I would become (not that I’d ever give up coffee anyway).

Instead, I’m going to try and build something: My communication skills.

You might be thinking that’s ridiculous. I communicate in this blog all the time, after all. I’ve told you about every skeleton in my closet.

The thing is, for all my ability with the written word, I suck at face-to-face communication, especially when my mind is in a depressed fog. The folks who suffer the most for this are those closest to me.

I’ve tried hard to demolish the wall I hide behind when my mind isn’t right. But whenever I think I’ve made progress, shit happens and I find it’s taller and thicker than ever.

Far as I can tell, I do make progress, but then I take my eye off the wrecking ball and the wall rebuilds itself when I’m busy internalizing everything.

For all the sharing I do in this blog, sometimes it’s still ridiculously hard to open up to those closest to me.  One reason is that I’m still a selfish bastard sometimes. I get so wrapped up in my work and feelings that it becomes almost impossible to see someone else’s side of things.

I also don’t like to be in a situation where there’s yelling. There was plenty of that growing up, and I tend to avoid arguments with loved ones at all costs. Putting up a wall can be a bitch for any relationship, because sooner or later bad feelings will race at that wall like a drunk behind the wheel of a Porsche and slam right into it. Some bricks in the wall crack and come loose, but by then it can be too late. Relationships are totaled.

I’m starting to believe this is a chronic condition hardened by my early history. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit here and accept it.

Working on that communication is like building a better wrecking ball to smash the wall with. It’s a goal worthy of Lent, methinks.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

A Rebellious Catholic’s Analysis Of Rick Santorum

That Rick Santorum really sets people off. He doesn’t like gays serving in the military, or women for that matter. He thinks Satan is taking over America through rock music. People either love him or want to see him vaporized.

Mood music:

Is he really THE presidential candidate for true Catholics, as some of my church friends suggest? Is he really the evil, hateful soul some of my non-Catholic friends make him out to be?

The following is my take on the former Pennsylvania senator, who is giving Mitt Romney hell in the fight for the Republican nomination for president. It’s how I, as a devout Catholic, see him.

Let me be honest up front: I never liked Rick Santorum when he was a senator. I always found his passion for mixing church with state maddening. I even hated that smirk of his.

As I’ve gotten older and found my faith, I still don’t like him much. But I don’t hate him like I used to. He’s fighting for his beliefs, which is the right of every American. I still think some of his rhetoric is zany, but he’s as free to engage in stupid talk as everyone else.

In my opinion, he would be a disaster as president. But that’s just me.

As a guy who goes to church every Sunday, takes his faith seriously and spends a lot of time with people in his church community, I see Santorum as a reflection of the people I mix with every day.

I have some close friends that are far more socially conservative than I could ever be. Mine is a much more rebellious brand of Catholicism. I refuse to view homosexuality as a disease or a lifestyle choice for two reasons: I don’t think people choose to be gay, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them for being gay. I reject the idea that your vote for president should be solely based on whether the candidate supports Roe V. Wade. If you have to label me pro-life or pro-choice, I’d have to say I’m pro-life. Abortion as birth control is evil to me. But I also think the labels are stupid. Pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion as a lot of my friends make it out to be. And hating abortion certainly doesn’t make you pro-life.

But I’m not voting for someone on that issue alone. You can share my views on abortion but be incompetent in every other way. I’m voting for president, not bishop.

Like I said, I’m a rebellious Catholic. All that matters to me is that I have Jesus in my life. The rest is politics perpetuated by human beings.

Santorum is like a lot of my church buddies. Gay people make him squirm. He also gets self righteous and points his nose down at people who are not 100 percent like-minded. But I don’t think he’s evil.

A lot of the friends I disagree with on these issues would give you the shirt off their backs. We look after each other’s children and have complete trust in one another. We even like a lot of the same music. Some of the most religiously devout people I know are Metallica fans.

We don’t really discuss politics. We talk about our jobs, our families, Boy Scout activities and cigars (though I don’t smoke them anymore). We have deep discussions about addiction and mental illness, because we all have it in our families. On the rare occasion politics enters the conversation, we bust each other’s balls, laugh and move on.

I suspect Rick Santorum is pretty much the same way when he’s not in front of the cameras. He’s probably a decent human being who would help his neighbor in a time of need.

But if any of my friends ran for office, I wouldn’t vote for them.

It’s nothing personal. I just find some of their ideas zany, and they feel the same about me.

Santorum doesn’t strike me as evil. He does, however, strike me as the wrong guy to put in the White House.

Rick Santorum (Credit: Reuters/Brian Losness)