An encyclopedia of terms related to the
Family Court in Clark County and to divorce,
juvenile justice, foster care and child abuse in general.
This glossary roams far and wide across all things "family",
including love, sex, parenting, domestic violence, law,
psychology, and the meaning of life.
Don't get lost!
All opinions expressed
are those of your Webmaster and happen to be correct.
For Glenn Campbell's more recent philosophy writings, see his
This was our original place for philosophical discussions on
Family Court and life in general.
All entries were written in late 2005 or early 2006.
There are many interesting
articles here, but this section is no longer being updated.
As of July 2006,
most new philosophical discussions are now going into
(New organization commentaries
are going into the Entity File.)
Terms in green were invented
by us (at least when used in this context).
Terms in black were in use prior to our arrival.
All of these entries are subject to revision,
and we encourage your specific feedback on
how they can be improved.
Index to Entries on this Page (listed by the field they best apply to)...
Foster Care ♠
the 311 Boyz — a gang
of racist white kids from wealthy Las Vegas neighborhoods who were
accused of several violent attacks in 2003, some
of which they videotaped.
The most notorious of their crimes was smashing another
youth's face with a rock.
A possible example of the Summerlin
Syndrome and the deleterous effects of being
spoiled rotten. Articles:
Sun overview |
Although the criminal case has been resolved,
civil lawsuits between the families continue.
The physiological bond between closely affiliated humans.
Also sometimes referred to as "imprinting."
Attachment describes the unspoken bond between child and
parent, between romantic partners and between close siblings.
To a lessor
extent, it is also the affiliation we feel for
friends, coworkers and the recurring
characters we like on TV.
Attachment may sound like a good thing, and it is, but it also has its dark side. Perhaps the most painful of human experiences is when a strong attachment is abruptly broken. Attachment, in its darker domain, also helps explain the greatest mystery of Family Court, namely: Why is divorce such a nasty business?
baby lust —
A fevered obsession occasionally experienced by human females.
The victim is possessed by the overwhelming urge
to bear or otherwise obtain an infant by any means possible.
In extreme cases where gratification is frustrated, the
female may lay in wait for a passing pregnant female,
knock her over the head with a baseball bat, then try to cut
her open to obtain the fetus therein. (See our
blog entry for further
The etiology of the disease can be both hormonal and
The hormones say, "I want a baby!" The philosophical urges
say, "I NEED a baby!" expressing the desperate hope that said
infant will give one's life meaning. (Not true, but it
certainly makes life busy for the next 20 years.)
See also the magic baby pill.
the Batcave —
The offices of Clark County Legal Services, as defined in
Send in the Clowns.
Big Brother — The
non-specific omnicient entity who watches over the
Family Court and all its operations via TV
cameras, microphones, recorded emails and human
agents. Whenever something happens, Big Brother is
there for us, guaranteeing that it is all caught
on tape and can never be denied. Many of the high
and mighty have been brought down by Big Brother,
and no one who works here dares ignore him.
Big Brother is a benevolent force who is here
for the protection of all and who is never
malicious or intrusive. No one would question the
need for Big Brother, because a reliable record is
always important in any government operation.
Sometimes you even forget that he's there, until
somebody slips up, and then Big Brother is all
Big Brother knows almost everything that happens
in any courtroom through the many cameras and
microphones there. He can also read any email message
to or from clark.co.nv.us, even the ones that
you thought you deleted. He can't read your
thoughts, but if you ever put those thoughts into
words, there is a good chance Big Brother will
Big Brother is not merely electronic. He has
agents everywhere, listening and watching and
always ready to report you if it serves
their interests. If you say or do
something wrong, Big Brother will know, so
everyone in the courthouse is very careful. If
Big Brother says you should stamp a document in
such-and-such a way, that's what you do, even if
you don't understand why, because if you don't do
it right Big Brother will eventually catch up
with you, and things will not go well.
Big Brother is not a person. He has no center and
no leader. No one, from the highest judge to the
lowest clerk, is hidden from his eye or immune to
his penalties. Even the guys who run the video
recorders have Big Brother looking over their
shoulder, waiting for them to make a mistake.
Big Brother is everywhere, and he is more than
just surveillance. He also embodies the law, the
organizational system, the media,
the whims of public opinion and
other higher forces that are difficult to define. Big
Brother is a living organism who is bigger than
any of us. It is like we are all bees living in a
hive, each of us doing our own little job, but the
hive itself also has a life and direction of its
own that no one member can accurately see or
predict. Even I can't see all of Big Brother,
although I have tried, so I have to trust him.
I love Big Brother. Sometimes I am
called to serve him, and it
fills me with pride whenever I do. My brothers and
sisters shouldn't have done what they did, or said
what they said, or I wouldn't have had to report
them. It makes me sad when they have to go away,
because I love them so much, but I love Big Brother
bite control —
A term used in dog training to refer to a dog's ability to limit the force of
its bite when playing. Dogs without bite control will bite too hard and
injure their playmates. In law and Family Services, bite control refers to a
person's ability to use appropriate but not excessive force to achieve a desired
end. For example, police officers without bite control will ticket you
for the most trivial infraction. A prosecutor without bite control will "throw the book" at
a defendent and demand maximum punishment with no regard to what is
practical, compassionate and effective.
Journalists without bite control will print any fact
available to them, without regard to the effects of this
Bite control means occasionally not doing your job
in order to serve some higher purpose.
A dysfunctional family involved in the child
protective system that absorbs infinite government
resources with little positive effect.
These are the cases that make caseworkers and
judges cry, "Aggggh!" and pull out their hair.
"I just don't know what to do," says one Family
Court judge, head in his hands,
commenting on the family standing
before him. The family is surrounded (at least
virtually) by a small army of caseworkers,
counselors, court-appointed lawyers,
juvenile probation officers,
psychiatrics, visiting nurses, special ed
teachers, parenting instructors and clergy.
large, indeterminate number of children in the
family, only a few are present in the courtroom.
Three have extensive arrest records; one
is a runaway; one is currently in juvenile
detention; and two are currently in therapeutic
foster care. Dad has just got out of jail—again—and
Mom has been working
two jobs to try to support this mess, leaving the
children largely unsupervised. There has been a
lot of activity since the last court
hearing—catastrophes of all kinds—but little
progress toward completion of the case
"Someone left the barn door open," says the
Black hole parents might dabble in drugs and petty
crime, but they never do anything bad enough to
fulfill the high standards of Termination of Parental Rights. They
are usually well-meaning sorts who try their best
but simply don't have the intellectual capacity or
mental stability to manage their children.
Their family life is one stupid crisis after
another, which eventually brings them to the
attention of the county. Intensive services are
brought to bear: in-home intervention, parenting
classes, counseling, social support services of
every kind. And it has no appreciable
"We's try'n, judge," say the parents in court,
"but them kids is always misbehav'n!"
Some of the younger kids
have been taken into foster care, where they
thrive. The others run wild and become
involved in the Juvenile Delinquency system. Every
day there's a new disaster, and the common refrain
of service providers is, "You put out one fire
here and another one starts over there."
The parents respond to the chaos in their home in
the logical, Constitutionally-protected way: They
have more babies.
"That old 'uns will take care of the young 'uns,"
Observing cases like this from the back of the
courtroom, I too go, "Aggggh!"
Seeing the helplessness of the system in the face
of such idiocy turns me not just into an
interventionist liberal, but a fricking
Nazi interventionist liberal.
I don't just support abortion and tubal ligation
anymore. I will perform these procedures
I am tempted to give these people some money and
say, "Please buy some drugs." If these
parents were incurable addicts, then the system
could do something, but often they're not. They're
just dim bulbs, perhaps marginally mentally ill
but not technically a "danger to self or others."
The state has few effective tools for dealing with
The more support the family receives, the more it
adjusts to this support and goes right back to
the way it was. (See the
Pigeon Paradox.) Ultimately, the
government has to neglect these black hole
families, at least to some extent, because no one
client can be allowed to absorb all of the state's
When you neglect the family, bad things are going
to happen. Kids die, and the press demands: "Why
didn't the system do anything?" The answer often
is that the system tried, but the needs of the
family were too great for any mortal agency.
The borders between individual people, similar to the frontiers between countries.
France and Germany have a border between them and so do Judy and Sam.
Understanding how people perceive and defend their boundaries is a key
to understanding the dynamics of both functional and dysfunctional families.
Right now there is a pretty clear
boundary between me and you. I am writing this webpage and you are reading
it. It would be pretty upsetting to me if you started modifying my
webpage, and it would be equally upsetting to you if I came into
your home, turned on your computer and started reading it
to you. Although there
is room for negotiation between us, we pretty much agree on where I
end and you begin.
In dysfunctional families, there may not be this understanding.
When you live with someone, it can be hard to figure out the
boundary between you and them. Strong, self-confident people can work it out
and come to a stable agreement. Weak, insecure people can't decide on
their borders and get into perpetual
conflict because of it. "I love you"
can be the start of a volatile relationship where I let you in,
then push you away, then draw you close again.
I can't decide how close you should come, because I don't know
who I am.
In functional families, members give each other their "space"
while setting firm guidelines for behavior.
They tell their 16-year-old daughter, "No, your 23-year-old
boyfriend can not come live with us, and I want you home by
10 o'clock, young lady." Dysfunctional families are unable to
draw these lines. They either let their daughter run wild
or they lock her in her room. Most often it is both: Complete
neglect of the child interspersed with absurd and ineffective punishment.
If you step on my toe, I am going to say "ouch!" and pull away.
If you cut me off in traffic, I am going to honk my horn.
If you try to move into my home without my consent, I am
going to politely ask you to leave and call the police if you
don't. I call this pushback. I know
where my boundaries are, and if you cross them, I am going to
react with appropriate force to push you back.
The dysfunctionals can't do that. They either vastly overreact
to a space intrusion
or they don't react at all. In many families, a 23-year-old
moving into the house with your 16-year-old daughter is not
that unusual. The parents don't say yes and they don't say no,
until the dad gets drunk one night and kicks both the boyfriend
and the daughter out.
That's the stuff that dysfunctional families
are made of.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) —
incurable mental illness where a person is unable to
regulate their own emotions due to a fundamental deficit of
BPD could be the world's most destructive, pervasive and misunderstood mental disorder. It is probably responsible for more cases in Family Court than any other.
In fact, the underlying mechanisms may help explain nearly every every
case in Family Court, since most juvenile crimes,
abuse/neglect cases and contested divorces boil down to a lack of
emotional control in at least one of the parties.
Caliente Youth Camp —
A minimum security juvenile detention facility run by the state.
| photo tour
| architect's photos of high school.
Formerly served only girls, but now serves both boys and girls
(a dangerous combination, as it results in a lot of
posturing by both sides).
itself is a remote railroad town about 150 road miles from Las Vegas.
Las Vegans call it "cali-entay." Locals pronounce it "cali-enny." )
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) —
A program, sponsored by the District Court, which
assigns volunteers to look after the best interests of
children in foster care and abuse/neglect cases.
Similar to other programs around the country. From their
CASAs are trained volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children in the Clark County Family Court. The CASA volunteer, serving as a court appointed advocate for the child, will prevent the child from getting lost in the system by being sensitive to the child's needs and presenting these needs to the Court....
CASA volunteer advocates are sworn court officers trained to work one-on-one with these children and are best equipped to advocate for what the child needs, and to serve as trusted mentors and friends. CASA volunteers help make sure that the educational, medical and practical needs of these children are identified and met....
The CASA volunteer's commitment is intense, and his or her impact on the child's life is significant. CASA is the only agency operating in Las Vegas providing court appointed volunteer advocacy exclusively to this group of young people.
case law —
Refinements in the interpretation of law as
established by rulings in courts of appeal.
Case law is what happens after a statute has been passed.
No matter how carefully worded the written law may be, there
are going to be ambiguities in it. There are going
to be a lot of special circumstances and implications
that the Legislature never
considered when making the law. There will also
be conflicts between laws, where one law
tells you to do one thing and another tells you something
else. Case law—or the actual application of the
law upon appeal—helps resolve these ambiguities and
Let's say that, in response to complaints, some governing body
passes a law: "Skateboarding in the park is prohibited."
Seems pretty straightforward, right?
Wrong! Some people are going to get really pissed about this
law, like skateboarding interest groups and skateboard
manufacturers, and eventually some rebellious
young skateboard dude says,
"Hell no! This is my park, I'm
gonna skateboard all I want!" He is arrested, and then
something magical happens.
The legal process by which juveniles who
commit serious crimes are transferred to
adult court. In Nevada, any child 14 years of
age or older who commits a felony is eligible
for certification (62B.390).
A murder charge automatically results in
certification (at any age), as do certain sexual assaults
and crimes involving a firearm if the child
is 16 or older and has a prior felony history
Other felonies occupy a big gray area that
depends on the nature and seriousness of the
crime, the defendant's history, his mental
health, drug abuse, whether he can be helped
by the juvenile system and whether "public
safety" is at risk.
For the kid, certification is almost always a
bad thing. It means that he is going to be tried
as an adult and will be thrown into an adult
prison if convicted. Adult court is about
punishment and societal retribution, with
little attention given to rehabilitation.
Often it means a harsher sentence, up to
life in prison. Other times, certification could result in
a lighter sentence with no attempts at
treatment, which puts the kid back on the
street with none of his issues addressed.
Generosity or helpfulness to those
who we regard as less fortunate than
ourselves. Acts of charity, in theory, are done with
little or no expectation of direct reward, although
we do hope that our efforts will have some substantial
effect. Contributing in some way to the needs of
children in the juvenile justice and foster care
systems is usually considered a worthy charity;
the only question is how to do it so that conditions
for all children are actually improved in the long run.
It is the contention of some philosophers, such
as Ayn Rand, that no true charity exists.
Everyone has an "agenda" and is looking for some
form of personal self-agrandizement by giving to others.
This theory neglects the true soul-searching of someone
who believes he is helping others. Bill Gates
or Andre Agassi may have mixed motives in helping
disadvantaged children, but their methods are still
fairly sophisticated and are concerned with results.
Cynical charity is when a mafioso gives money
to a local orphanage to buy respectability.
Non-cynical charity is when you obey some higher theory—arrived at
in good faith—of what will really help the
children in the long run.
It is semi-cynical when the Catholic Church builds
orphanages in Third World countries while at the
same time working against any form of effective
birth control, thus guaranteeing more homeless
children. No matter how noble one action may
be, it is cancelled out by the other. It is also
semi-cynical whenever you focus only on the
short-term effects of what you do, like "Can you
feed this starving child?", without also considering the
long-term effects on all children.
Non-cynical charity is when you see the whole
picture, recognizing that there are limits on
what you can do and that the relief of immediate
suffering is not the most important goal.
Non-cynical charity involves a lot of sophisticated
and long-term tactical thinking, not just feeling
good at the moment.
Once your own survival and comfort are assured, it
is reasonable to want to help others. If you
expect admission to Heaven for it, that's fine.
Just remember that God is probably a results-oriented
manager. It is not sufficient just to do good works;
you should also make sure that the end results are
good, over the course of all the foreseeable future.
Children's Attorney Project (CAP) —
A program that provides free attorneys to represent the wishes
of a child in foster care or abuse/neglect proceedings.
Here is their minimally descriptive
(archive copy 1/6/05).
The program is discussed in our
"Send in the Clowns" article.
These attorneys are provided under contract
(with the county?) by
Legal Services, a non-profit law firm that
provides various legal services to the indigent.
The Executive Director, Barbara
Buckley is also a state legislator,
so the group is actively involved in the development
of new child welfare legislation. The
CAP program is supposed
to represent what children themselves
say they want,
rather than what others think they need.
It is supposed to "empower" kids by giving them a
say in processes effecting them.
While it may sound noble to give a child his own attorney,
the CAP program is murky
in both law and practice.
The problem boils down to "needs" vs. "wishes".
The rest of the legal system is concerned with the
best interests of the child, which may be entirely
different from his expressed wishes.
Which one is the CAP attorney supposed to represent?
Nathan Burton, in the fifth day of his starvation stunt for Child Haven, is suspended with seven showgirls in a clear box
Child Haven —
Clark County's emergency shelter for abused and neglected children,
located adjacent to the Family Court complex.
When children are taken into protective custody, they are usually
brought here first. Child Haven consists of 7 home-like "cottages"
O'Bannon) plus an administration building and
a school (run by the Clark County School District).
Official Info |
Children's Service Guild —
Apparently, a quasi-independent board that receives and distributes
private donations made to Child Haven and other parts of Family Services.
Mailing address is the same as DFS.
I assume that it is something like the "Friends of the
Library," performing certain funding tasks that the government itself
The protective envelope that we all tend to spin around
ourselves to protect us from the pain and tragedy of the
We don't have to feel bad for others if we no longer
see their discomfort, and this is what the cocoon is
designed to do.
A cocoon is the product of restricted vision
and distracted attention. To avoid the distress of dealing
with poverty, we stop driving through that part of
town. We occupy ourselves with meaningless activities,
like interior decorating or watching TV, so we don't have time
to think bad thoughts.
We start worrying about fashion and status and the vintage
of the wine we are drinking.
We stop feeling the feelings of the people we meet and
see them only by their service role: maid, cashier, car repair guy.
We don't feel uncomfortable about anything we do to them,
because as far as we can see everything in the world is fine.
Every once in a while, there is a tear in the fabric of our
cocoon, which seems to us like a bolt of lightning out of the
blue. Whenever we get cancer or lose a loved one or our house
burns to the ground, we say, "How can such a tragedy happen?"
Get real! Tragedy is happening all the time, all around us, but
our cocoon has prevented us from seeing it.
If we didn't have so many layers around us, maybe we wouldn't be so
In general, cocoons tend to be thicker the more things you own.
Thus the silk of 89134 tends to be more
impenetrable than 89101. The more you have, the more you need
to protect, and the more restricted your vision of the world
must become to preserve your sense of security and inner peace.
The most pampered worms are especially vulnerable when tragedy finally
breaks through, because they are the least prepared for it.
If you own nothing of luxury and are already doing what you can to help
others, then the cocoon is less necessary.
If you choose to, you can see all the suffering around you,
understand your own limitations and
accept it all without blindness or despair.
The Columbine Effect —
The national hysteria generated by the 1999
massacre of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine
High School in Littleton, Colorado, which
subsequently gave school systems around the
country permission to dump their routine
discipline problems on the Juvenile Justice
More than any other event, Columbine gave us the
policy of "zero tolerance." To prevent another
massacre, the theory went, we would not accept any
kind of criminal activity in our schools. No
drugs would be tolerated under any circumstance.
Every incident of violence or vandalism would be
prosecuted. No threat of any kind, be it written
or verbal, would be dismissed as insignificant.
It sounded so noble. No one wants crime in
school, and Columbine gave us the motivation to
The end result, however, can be seen every day in
Juvenile Court: a steady stream of trivial cases
referred by the school system. Things that used be
handled effectively in the principal's office are
now dumped on the court, at a much greater cost to
both the kids and the taxpayer.
A typical case is the "hot potato." Some kid
brings something to school that he shouldn't have:
maybe a stink bomb ("an incendiary device") or a
pill from his mom's medicine cabinet ("a Class 2
controlled substance"). In class, the kid says to
Steve, the guy next to him, "pass this to Joe."
Steve tries to, but Joe won't accept it. The
teacher catches Steve with the "hot potato" and he
gets arrested. "Zero tolerance" requires that
both he and the entire chain of custody be
prosecuted. No exceptions.
Steve, in some cases, doesn't even know
what he's passing to Joe, but that's no defense
under the law.
The Juvenile Justice system is overburdened enough
with cases of real danger and violence; now it has
to deal with these baloney ones as well. Since the
violations are technically illegal, the court is
not allowed to brush them off. Certain procedures
have to be followed: a public defender and a
probation officer have to be assigned; drug
assessments must be made; reports must be written;
consequences ceremoniously handed out; stern
In most cases, this is a single isolated incident by
a kid who has never been involved in the justice
system before. There may be nothing served by his
being here, and in fact the system may end up
doing far more emotional violence to him then he
ever did in the school.
Post-Columbine, if any kid writes "Die, Teacher,
Die!" in his notebook, it's a terrorist threat. If
he draws a hang-man on his desk, it's a terrorist
threat and destruction of school property.
In one case I saw in court recently, a kid
was charged with writing graffiti in a school restroom with a
washable marker! (It seems to me that the
sensible punishment is to make him wash it off and
spend a couple days of detention.) The kids plead
guilty, because that's the easiest thing to do.
their probation and community service, then leave
the system with some understandable bitterness. Or
maybe they just say, "Fuck it! If they think I'm bad,
then I'll be bad."
One wonders how many additional crimes were
encouraged by zero tolerance rather than
stopped by it. It's like our belligerent "War on
Terror," efficiently creating new terrorist groups
School administrators have no great incentive to
change the policy. The public loves it, and
it gives them an opportunity to dump their
discipline problems elsewhere. "Problem kids" get
so harshly treated, both inside and outside the
school system, that they are tacitly
encouraged to drop out, so they're no longer a
problem to anyone and don't draw down the
test scores. (Incidently, Las Vegas'
chronically under-funded schools—but big on
discipline—have one of the highest dropout
rates in the country.)
The Juvenile Court can't fight back. If crimes
are referred to them, they have to handle them.
They can't say "Back Off!" to the school
It's all a perfect tragedy — caused by the
hysteria that came before the hysteria of 9-11.
What hysteria will tomorrow bring, and how will
the innocent suffer? Stay tuned.
Coroner's Tour —
An attempt to "scare kids straight" by exposing
young offenders to the horrors of the county
morgue. Participants view a series of graphic
photos of grisly death—car accidents, gun wounds,
drug overdoses, etc. Then they are taken into the
back and shown real dead bodies.
We haven't taken the tour, and it
isn't open to the public, only to juvenile
miscreants who have sent there by the court.
We suspect that the reaction of most of them
is the same as ours would be when we were between
the ages of 14 and 18.
word for "desire" but with negative connotations.
Covet is a useful word when describing the reasons that people
have babies or want to become adoptive parents. Do you
"want" a baby, or do you "covet" a baby? The latter
has a connotation of "I need this for me," much as one
would feel when purchasing a consumer item. When you
"covet" something, your goal is not to serve that object
but to have that object serve you. Baby
lust is a form of covetousness, as is
the magic baby pill.
There is a lot of covetousness in this world
(It powers our economy!) and
plenty of it in the foster care system.
If a retired couple decides to use their freedom
to care for foster children rather than sitting on the
beach in Miami, this is not covetousness. They are seeking
to serve the children and don't need the children to serve
It is a little different when a younger couple who
are unable to have children themselves come into the
foster care system wanting a baby of less than
eighteen months, of a certain race, physically healthy, who is
likely to become
free for adoption. "Covet" just might apply there.
The decision to become a parent, in any form, can
get really murky in this regard. What are your real
motivations? Do you see a child who needs you
and who you have the resources to help? Or is there
some kind of desperation inside that you are trying to fill up?
Hey, the county isn't going to ask, so it's just
between you and me. Why do you really want to do this?
Are you trying to create a little "Mini Me" — a
clone in your own image to whom you can give all
your precious traits and who of course will worship you?
That's kind of an ego thing, don't you think?
It never really works out that way. Clones
have a way of rebelling and turning
into something quite different from the plan.
I'm not saying your motivations are impure.
This is humanity: It's all impure. All I am saying is
think about it. Get your head on straight.
Take a look at your partner and think about how
you will get along without a child, and if you find
you don't need one, then maybe you should get one.
crazy — The
non-politically-correct term that we should never use to
describe the mentally ill. Instead, they are "clients with
mental health issues." As a practical
matter, calling them crazy only makes them more so, as in:
"Crazy? You want to see crazy? WELL I'LL GIVE YOU
A vague and unsubstantiated sensation that
a person or relationship isn't healthy, even if you
don't know why. A creep is someone who
sets off your creep-o-meter because of something
they say or do that seems inappropriate to
the circumstances. It usually has something
to do with violating
and not being honest about ones motivations.
is a person or relationship you don't understand
but that isn't necessarily bad (it could go either
way when you have more information).
Creepiness is a vibe, not substantive evidence,
and it is not admissible in court for very good
reasons (namely, the difficult of distinguishing
it from spookiness). Nonetheless, we have to acknowledge that
valid information can be received on nonverbal channels, and we should not simply
discard it because it isn't empirical.
Courts can't rule on creepiness and other weird
vibes, but you can. At the least, these vibes
should prompt you to seek more information.
A condition of continuous operational overload in
which only the most important problems are
addressed. During crisis mode, you are focussed
on putting out fires, slaying dragons and rescuing
maidens in distress and don't have time for such
trivial things as cleaning house and doing the
laundry. As a result, the house goes to hell and
the laundry piles up and never gets done.
Caseworkers from the Department of Family Services often
operate in crisis mode. Every day there is a new
crisis pushing aside lesser concerns, which might
never get addressed. This is also the problem of
superheroes everywhere: When you are always trying
to save the world, when do you do your laundry?
crocodile tears —
The loud public complaints of birth
parents whenever anything unfortunate happens to their son
or daughter while in foster care or juvenile detention. If
the child stubs his toe, the parents wail about the cruelty
of the state even if what they did to the child was far
worse. Heaven forbid a child should die while in custody.
That's when deadbeat dads and absentee moms emerge from the
woodwork to weep to the press and initiate potentially
lucrative lawsuits. If they gave as much
attention to the child when he was still alive, then the kid
might never have been in custody.
caseworker (DFS) inherited from the old state system (DCFS),
especially an inept or indifferent one.
domestic violence —
an overt expression of physical aggression between people who live together,
have lived together in the past or who are related to each other.
(The term is generally not used for violence directed at
children, which is child abuse.)
Domestic violence is defined by the intent of the action and not
its force. If you throw a slice of bread at your spouse, it is
domestic violence if the action is an expression of hostility,
while accidentally dropping the bread in their direction is
not a crime.
In fact, the same applies to all food items and kitchenware:
toast, sandwiches, muffins, pies, spoons, plates, coffee mugs....
For some reason,
coffee mugs are a really popular item for domestic violence, perhaps
because they are easy to grab and throw. It is still domestic
violence even if the victim ducks and the object misses and
shatters on the wall behind. Slapping, hitting, punching, shoving,
biting (a surprisingly popular method), and any other form of bodily assault
also fall into the legal category of domestic violence.
And let's get enlightened here: It's not just men beating
on women. The gentle sex does a fair amount of it as well;
they just tend to not cause as much physical damage
and are less likely to be reported.
Intent can be difficult to define, since the perpetrator almost always
believes that their actions are wholly justified by the behavior of
the victim. If I throw a coffee mug at you, it is because of your
insensitive words, your disrespectful attitude
or your failure to do what I tell you to.
You forced me to do it, and my violence is no worse than yours.
The law takes a slightly different view. Contrary to the belief
of many, hurtful words do not constitute domestic violence.
This is America: Within the privacy of your own home, you can
verbally demean or psychologically abuse your own family members
in any manner you choose. Only when the encounter turns physical
is the law authorized to intervene.
Domestic violence tends to be prevalent among the emotionally
volatile, especially victims of Borderline
Personality Disorder and related personality traits.
It is a expression of paranoia
and projection, which is the externalization of
one's inner frustrations. I lash out at you because I feel bad
about myself, and I assume that you are responsible.
Even one misspoken word can seem like terrible violence to me,
so I feel justified in doing violence to you.
The response of the legal system is limited. It can either issue
a Temporary Protective Order to keep the
parties apart, or it can prosecute the offender. Neither of
these solutions are practical unless the victim is willing to
terminate the relationship. Most are not. There can be practical reasons
(such as economic dependence and shared children) but also
some emotional ones. Victims often see their attackers as vulnerable
human beings who "can't help themselves" and who just need more love.
The fact that the attacker usually blames the victim for the attack
further complicates things. There is never a graceful exit from
an abusive relationship. These parties can't shake hands and walk away.
It takes inner strength and external resources that many victims don't have.
The dark underside of love,
where a person feels that
their own identity is being lost in someone else.
Falling in love may seem magical at first, until you
realize that you're falling in love, and it
isn't clear where the falling will stop. Sometimes
it feels like you're drowning in love, gasping
for air, trying to break free.
The scary thing about love, and about any kind of dependence
or devotion, is that you might lose yourself in the "Other."
This is especially a problem with people who have
a weak sense of their own identity. I want to fall in
love because I am hoping that this person will save me,
but as soon as I do I may feel overpowered...
Identity is just about the
most important thing to every human.
Everyone wants to
feel that they are significant, valuable and unique.
Intimacy can threaten this. If you don't have a strong
base of identity to start, then you are going to absorb
the beliefs, preferences and worldview of the
Other. Pretty soon you're wondering, "But who am I?"
Once you realize just how far you have fallen, panic
can set in. Love turns to a kind of terror, and some very
violent reactions can result. Fights ensue, usually
over trivial issues. Everything about the Other begins
to irritate you, and you start making plans to break
This sensation is by no means limited to romantic love.
Child development can be seen as a struggle against
engulfment. A child loves his parents but...
he also finds their love oppressive. If the parent is
a control freak with a weak identity of his own,
than the reaction of the child is all
the stronger: "Leave me alone! I just want to be me!"
All of this stuff is going on below the surface at
Family Court. It often helps explain why love goes bad
and ends in divorce. It also provides insight into why children
act out and find themselves in Juvenile Court, often
for destructive actions that make no rational sense.
The problem, in essence, is too much love. Oppressive love. Love
that doesn't allow me to be me.
This doesn't necessarily imply that the Other itself is inherently
that victim is not strong enough to oppose it.
Even normal, healthy love can be engulfing sometimes.
The fear of engulfment is an invisible force in
all relationships. In some cases, it
puts the brakes on love and stops it from happening.
You may think
that everyone needs a sensitive, attentive partner
who is responsive to their needs and is always there
for them. Every Cinderella wants to marry a prince, right?
In fantasy, perhaps, but not in practice. The "perfect" partner
can be extremely threatening
to someone who, deep down, believes they aren't worthy
of it. What these people may actually need is a dolt or
bimbo just like them, someone who isn't particularly sensitive or
attentive but who doesn't threaten their own identity.
These, in fact, are often the marriages made in Heaven.
Relationships where the two parties are similar to each
other in ego strength are the ones that might actually last.
Relative equality limits the risk of engulfment.
For everyone, there is a romantic partner who is
just right. Not too hot,
not to cold, just the right degree of lukewarm.
A theory of philosophy which contends that "what you
see is what you get." Life has no meaning or purpose
existence itself. If we are going to bother to live
at all (which is a personal choice), then we are going to
face certain practical problems—how to eat,
how to avoid pain,
how to relate to
our fellow travelers, etc. To know how to live, you need only
respond to those problems in as honorable and consistent
a manner as possible.
If you are going to bother to care about anyone (which, again,
is a personal choice), then you need to come up with some
system for doing it.
If we decide to improve society, then how do we
go about it?
Who should we help and why?
What really matters to the well-being of others?
You could pray to God for assistance, but that's not the
existential way. The solutions, like the problems, are
right in front of you.
We call an experience existential if it exposes
and makes vulnerable the fragile underpinnings of our
existence. It is existential when death or disaster sneak
up on you in an unexpected way or when you suddenly
discover, in a moment of insight, that the whole
elaborate structure of your life
is based on a lie.
It is existential when you are standing on
the edge of the roof of a tall building looking
down on the street below wondering if you should
It is existential when you are dreaming that
you have already jumped and are falling,
falling when — BAM! — you wake up
in a sweat.
It is existential when you are on the Titanic
just after it strikes the iceberg. You know full
well that the
ship is sinking, and there is nothing you
can do about it.
It is existential when you are tried before a
jury of your peers, found guilty and sentenced to
life in prison for a crime you didn't commit.
It is existential when you are tried before a
jury of your peers, found guilty and sentenced to
life in prison for a crime you did commit.
It is even more existential when you are
sentenced to life in prison, but with a possibility
of parole after 40 years.
It is existential when you are a good Mormon who
completes his overseas mission, marries a nice Mormon
girl, raises a family, tithes his 10%,
becomes a respected Bishop in his church,
and who then realizes, in an
existential moment, that maybe Joseph Smith didn't
receive the Book of Mormon directly from God written
on golden tablets in Reformed Egyptian.
Maybe he just made it up.
It is existential when you raise a daughter from
birth for 5-1/2 years; you are her only "Daddy," and
you and she are very close, and then one day a
caseworker comes and takes her away and you never
see her again.
An internal deception that makes people do
destructive things. Evil is choosing to accept a false view
of reality because it
serves ones private emotional needs. Destructive
actions—from rudeness to genocide—then
flow from this internal delusion.
Quite simply, evil is lying to
If you look up at the blue sky and tell yourself
it is green because it is convenient to do so,
that is evil.
It may seem absurd to think of evil as something
so simple, but the jump from self-deception to
genocide is not that great. Once you accept any
hypocrisy in your internal world and start
generating more lies to defend it, there is no
telling what terrible act it may lead you to.
activity or process that does not appear in the
public news media, at least until long after it has
happened. (See also extrajudicial.) The "News" as we
know it records only a tiny sliver of human
experience—basically the few sensational events which
can be used to sell advertizing. The rest goes unnoticed and
unrecorded except by the participants. Most of the
activities of the courts and the Family Services system are
extrajournalistic, not so much because of formal barriers
but for lack of commercial interest.
Due to the advent of the internet,
fewer and fewer human activities are
extrajournalistic—for better or worse. Anyone who has a
family picnic or pierces their nipples can put their photos
on the web. Eventually, anyone who is frustrated with a
Family Court case will be there, too.
activity or process that takes place outside of the formal
court system. Love, for example, is an extrajudicial process
until it comes time for the divorce.
failure to maintain placement
Caseworker-speak for a runaway youth—a common
problem of foster care, Child Haven and
juvenile delinquency camps.
"Ran away" is too casual for official reports,
so instead we say, "The subject child failed to
maintain the placement."
Also sometimes known as "AWOL"
(from military jargon: Absent Without Leave).
embarrassing situation: The government is
supposed to be responsible for the kid but
doesn't know where he is. If this condition
persists for an extended period, then wardship is
terminated by the court. The kid is still
missing, but the government isn't responsible any
Clark County Family Services estimates that on any
given day more than 75 children are missing from
their foster homes. Some run away for a few hours
or days and then return, while others are never
heard from again.
That is probably a low estimate. There are only 75
missing because if a child has vanished for long
enough, state responsibility will be terminated
and they will fall off the rolls.
Kids don't just run away from bad placements
where the staff or foster parents don't care; they
run away from good ones, too. Conscientious foster
parents can't understand it. "I'm doing
everything I can for the kid," they say. "His
situation is far better now than it was before,
so why doesn't he want to be here?"
Maybe he does want to be here, and that's the
Fast Track —
A program that places infants
in abuse/neglect cases
immediately into homes that are ready to adopt them if the parents' rights are terminated.
field of responsibility —
The parts of the world that
you feel personally responsible for. For example, you feel
highly responsible for the welfare of your spouse, your
children and other members of your own family. You feel far less responsible
for someone else's spouse, children or family in,
say, Finland or Mesquite. Thus, we could say that the
field is strong for your own family and weak
for someone else's far away.
Your field of responsibility is actually a
continuum of responsibility, dictated to a large
extent by practical concerns such as the availability of
information and your ability to help. You probably
would care about a family in Finland or Mesquite
if you knew them, had visited them or had read an article
about them, but when you don't even know they exist, it
is hard to care. You don't feel bad when they feel bad, because
you don't know about it.
If something unpleasant happens to a sentient being on a
distant planet in a galaxy far, far away, you do not have to
be concerned, because not only do you not know about it, you
have absolutely no means of helping them even if you did.
Thus, you can still sleep soundly at night despite the
infinite suffering all over the universe.
Here on Earth, your field of responsibility is not so clear.
In some way or another, you have the ability to help any
human on the planet, especially with modern communication
and transportation, so in a sense you are responsible for
everyone and everything on Earth, just not in the same
proportion. Your field of
responsibility can be thought of as a magnetic field that is
very strong at the center but that becomes weaker the
further away you go. For most of us, the field is very weak
in Finland. (I don't mean to offend the
Finnish here, but it's true.) The field is very
strong in our own household and community, because we are
more emotionally involved, have better information and have
greater ability to help effectively.
When we see images on TV from a famine in Africa, it brings
it a lot closer to us and makes it stronger in our field. We
may want to send money to the address on our screen, because
now we feel greater responsibility and an ability to help.
The field of responsibility is funny that way: You can
feel responsible for things you see that are far away
and not feel responsible for things you don't see, even if
they are hidden in your own home.
What if you saw EVERYTHING that went on in the world? What
would your field of responsibility be then? Would you go
mad from all the suffering you saw around you? No, you
would come to accept it. You would still be limited by your
resources and your practical ability to help. You would
still have to use a system of triage to tell you what to do.
would help your own family first, because you have greater
control over the outcome of your actions and a greater sense
that their problems are yours. You would help the starving
millions in Africa only if you felt that your own family
problems were under control and you thought you could help a
lot of suffering people with relatively few resources. As you
searched the globe for a charitable cause, you would want to
choose the destination where you would get the greatest
long-term benefit from the limited resources you have.
The endless quest to define your field of responsibility is
called scope management. Whenever
you have an ability to help someone in need, you have to ask
yourself, "Is this my responsibility?" There are rarely any
simple answers, but you have to come up with one. You have
to weigh your ability to help, your ability to monitor the
results, your emotional investment in the outcome and the
drain on your resources that could be used to help others.
Your field of responsibility is constantly being redefined,
but firm preferences have to exist and you have to obey
them; otherwise, you will spread your resources too thin,
and your well-intentioned
efforts may effect nothing in the end.
the ability to adapt to unexpected changes in yourself and your
environment, both now and in the future.
For example, if you wake up in the morning and can decide, on the
spur of the moment, that you want to go strolling
in the park, you have more freedom than someone
who wakes up to the alarm clock and has to be
somewhere at a certain time or bad things will
Everyone claims to love freedom and will fight for
it in theory, but most people don't really
want it in their own lives and will make it go
away as soon as they have it. They don't want the
ability to change their mind.
freeing the Iraqis —
A bold and naive attempt
by an idealistic outsider to repair the problems of a
dysfunctional family without fully understanding it.
Heterosexual marriage, too!
gay marriage —
It's a burning question throughout the country:
Should gay couples who live together and truly
care about each other be allowed to get legally
married? This issue directly affects the Family
Court, since gay marriages would inevitably lead
to gay divorces, some of which could be just as
nasty as the heterosexual kind. If nothing else,
it will increase our caseload.
As an activist in the Family Court, I feel it is
important to take a firm stand: I am opposed to
Throughout the country, outraged voters are
working at a grassroots level to ban the marriage
of homosexuals through ballot referenda and
agressive lobbying of their lawmakers. I believe
these initiatives don't go far enough.
The architypal juvenile crime. It makes no
sense in terms of objective gain, but it tells
us a lot about why most crimes are committed and
what adolescents are really seeking from the world.
The graffiti artist wants to make his mark
on the world, just like Donald Trump wants
to build big hotels with the name "TRUMP" at
the top. Both are trying to say: "You see,
I am somebody."
Every child (Trump included) has a desperate desire to
assert his identity in the world. Some kids
like to excel at gymnastics or math league or
video games. Those whose lives are particularly
frustrating may not have such socially accepted
outlets, so they must make their mark on the
world in subversive ways. Overall, Graffiti is one of the
least destructive ways that a child can
act out against the world, and it must almost
be considered a rite of passage in difficult
The graffiti artist has been told all his life
that he is worthless. The world, to him, is
a monolithic block that does not respond to him
and does not care if he exists. He can either
accept this message, or he can fight back.
With a can
of spray paint, he gains control and becomes
a influential force in the universe. He can't
move a building, but he can customize it and
make it "his".
The graffiti artist is motivated by the same
inner drive as any other artist. He just
happens to have chosen a canvas that is
at odds with the wishes of society. He would not
be doing this if he had other satisfying
ways to assert his identity.
Kids in gymnastics or math league don't do
graffiti, but current public opinion would prefer to
punish offenders rather than diverting them.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (the Donald
Trump of local politics)
in November 2005
that graffiti offenders should have their
thumbs cut off on television. This is one
solution, although I believe it is the
index finger, not the thumb, that is most
essential to the spray painting.
Goodman does not talk much about expanding
programs for disadvantaged youth, which might
decrease the motivation for graffiti, but
that's not his job. (We all know, of course,
that Oscar's first priority is to make an
impression, as though Las Vegas was this
big canvas that he can write "OSCAR" on.)
green dotted —
The condition of
having received a green dot (·)
on our People Page.
The Haven —
Caseworker nickname for Child Haven.
Hitler, Adolf — The
commonly accepted symbol and poster child for evil. Leader of Germany from 1933 to
1945. Responsible for a World War and the death of millions
in Europe. Hitler wasn't necessarily a bad
guy; he just made some bad philosophical choices. One
wishes that someone could have intervened in this boy's life
at an early age, thus greatly reducing his eventual costs to
The condition of
having received an upside-down question mark (¿)
on our People Page. (Looks like
the identity engine —
A hypothetical "central processing unit" within each individual
which generates most of their behavior.
The identity engine is attempting to seek one thing above
all else: the preservation of ones own sense of
self-esteem and uniqueness.
The engine can be thought of as a black box.
Sensations, memories and impulses go in, and
behavior comes out. Inputs to the box can range
from hunger and lust to a mugger with a gun demanding
The behavior that comes out can be explicit words or actions,
or it can be an inner fantasy or obsession that no one
else ever knows about.
The traditional view of human behavior is that people
are responding to inner "drives" like seeking food, mating
and something called a "survival instinct". While
these drives certainly exist, the trouble with
this theory is that people
rarely act upon them
in a straightforward manner. In fact they often do things
that directly contradict those drives.
If a survival instinct were the highest human
motivator, why would people do apparently
dangerous things like climbing cliffs and jumping
out of airplanes?
The answer lies in the black box, which receives
the drives as input but doesn't necessarily act upon
them. The identity engine twists things around in a
characteristically human way. What it wants most
of all is to preserve its own positive self-image.
“I love you” —
A commonly uttered loyalty oath
betweens family members and romantic partners. To some, the
incantation is seen to have magic powers. Repeating
the oath frequently is supposed to repair the problems of a relationship,
not saying it often enough allegedly causes relationships to fail.
the phrase has no universally accepted
meaning (unlike "two quarts
of SAE 10W40 motor oil"). It can mean dramatically different
things to different parties and can be totally misconstrued
between speaker and listener. Understanding the intended
meaning is key to understanding the health of the
relationship, expecially in romantic entanglements.
"I love you" has as many shadings are there are speakers,
but the intentions fall into several general categories....
I Love You, Type I. To some speakers, "I love you,"
means, "I need you." This is the kind of love expressed by
young children and by adults who are still children
emotionally. To them, "I love you," means "I have no idea
who you are, but I am totally dependent on you, and I hope
you will give me what I need." This is fine for children,
but when spoken by adults, it's a bit
creepy. In adulthood, this is a
desperate and cloying love, as if there is a big gaping hole
in the speaker's soul that the listener is expected to fill
up. Inevitably, the listener can't fill it up, and when the
speaker recognizes this, "I love you," can rapidly turn to
"I hate you," followed by a messy divorce.
I Love You, Type IA. "I love you" can also mean "I
worship you." The listener is perceived as a god or
goddess, often for no other reason than the color of their
eyes or the shape of their bodies. "I love you," in this
case means, "I am hopelessly idealizing you based on my
own fantasy of what I
need." Since the key issue is the speaker's need, this is a
variation of Type I and not a separate category of its own.
Rich, handsome guys and good-looking chicks get a lot of
Type IA compliments. Type IA impulses can lead to "love at
first sight" and a pathological disregard for any evidence
that might contradict the idealized image. When you start
writing poetry about the color of your lover's eyes, this
ought to be a warning sign. Get a prenup!
I Love You, Type IB. "I love you" can mean "I find
you sexually attractive." In other words, "Your physical
appearance, behavior, voice and/or odor have activated my
hormonal system and brainstem in favor of reproductive
activities." Postcoitally, it can also mean, "Wow, thanks!"
as if it were the other party and not ones own brain that
induced this drug-like high. The "I love you's" tend to flow
freely in the passion (i.e. temporary insanity) of such
circumstances. The only question is how they will flow when
the insanity abates.
I Love You, Type II. "I love you," can mean, "I need
to be needed by you." This is the way people talk to
babies and pets. ("I love you, poochie poo! Aren't you a
sweetie? Yes, you are!") It is not an entirely dysfunctional
love. The speaker is seeking some personal satisfaction from
attending to others, which is admirable. Babies need to be taken
care of, and loving a pet is better than loving no one at
all. It is not exactly a reciprocal relationship, however,
and when you have one adult talking this way to another, again it can be
creepy. Type II speakers are "helpers" and
sometimes "enablers." Get them together with a Type I
speaker, and the latter is like a black hole sucking energy
off a companion star. Sometimes the system explodes, and
other times it reaches a stable stasis of "I need you/I need
to be needed by you" that lasts "'til death do you part."
I Love You, Type III. A more mature form of "I love
you," is "I care about you." It is the kind of love
expressed by parents for their older children. It means that
some part of my ego is tied up in your well-being. I want
you to be safe, happy and successful, and I will fight for you if
necessary, but I am also eager for you to move out of the
house. I care about you, but I don't need you, and I don't
need to be needed by you.
I Love You, Type IV. This is an
extremely rare form of "I love you"
which is hardly ever spoken, even though the love itself is common.
Most often, this "I love you" is verbalized as a mock insult, such
as "You're a moron!" or "I'm going to kill you!" This is the
love that exists between close siblings, who rarely
express their feelings directly, in part because it really isn't
necessary. You know that this person is there for you,
and that he will also push back if you ask too much from him.
"I love you," is assumed and natural and is rarely a matter of
I Love You, Type V. A messy combination of all of the
previous types, as commonly found in the real world.
[Am I missing any other types?]
infinite need —
The essential problem of all
charitable efforts. In virtually any social crisis, from
troubled families to Third World hunger, the needs are
essentially infinite, while the resources available to
address them are always inadequate to the task. The only
workable approach to infinite need is a combination of triage and
joint custody —
The practice in divorce proceedings of awarding custody of a
child to both parents, usually so the child spends half the
time with Mom and half the time with Dad, with both parents
sharing equally in decisions about the child.
It sounds like a good idea—in a perfect world.
Why should one parent get preference over another?
The problem, unfortunately, is that divorce isn't
pretty, and joint custody has a way of stretching out
that unprettiness for decades, with the child
stuck in the middle the whole time. What happens
if the parents are supposed to share decisions but
can't agree on anything? It's back to
court you go!
This reporter's opinion
is that joint custody is a good idea if the parties
can work it out on their own. It is a bad idea
if it has to be imposed by a court. I think that
some judges use joint custody as an "easy out" to
avoid making any real decisions about who is the
In some cases, it is the equivalent of Solomon's
solution of slicing the kid down the middle,
so that he's always conflicted and there's
a new battle to fight every day.
has written an
article expressing similar misgivings
citation). In early
he and other Family Court judges successfully
lobbied to defeat a bill that would have made
joint custody the preferred solution in Nevada
The guy in the big chair and the black robe
who makes decisions and tells
you what the law means.
A judge is empowered and constrained by law,
which is a bunch of instructions written down in books.
A judge is not allowed to do anything—like send a
kid to Juvvie or grant
visitation rights to grandparents—unless the
law explicitly says he can.
The law, in turn, is created by the Legislature,
which is composed of ordinary citizens who
occasionally have their heads up their asses.
There are good judges and bad judges, but all
judges get blamed for things that aren't their fault.
When a judge has to rule on an assinine provision
of the law, he can bitch and moan all he wants,
but it's still the law, and he has to obey it.
A judge also has to make people unhappy. In
fact, approximately half of the people who come
before a judge will go away begrudged.
They may think he is out to get
them and is part of a nefarious black-robed
conspiracy to control the world—which isn't entirely
true. (I know for a fact that he doesn't always
wear the robe.)
In Nevada, most judges are directly elected by the
people, which is just about the stupidest idea short
of the popular election of presidents. Being
a good judge is a highly technical and subtle
skill, akin to brain surgery. Imagine if we chose
our brain surgeons by popular election. Would you feel
your head cut open by someone whose skills were verified only by the whims
of thousands of your dimwitted friends and neighbors who
don't have a clue about the candidates and
know nothing about brain surgery?
That's called "democracy." Pretty scary, eh?
Of course, if you don't like a judge's ruling, you can
In Nevada, decisions of Family Court are
appealed directly to the state Supreme Court. This
is a more refined and ethereal environment
than the rabble of District Court.
Unfortunately, the justices here are also chosen by
It isn't clear that there is a better way. The
alternative is the political appointment of judges,
which has its own set of problems.
The idea of
elected judges may be more palatable if you think of
it as a random lottery. Anyone with a strong-sounding
name (Hardcastle, Steel, etc.) can become a
judge, but he or she does have to be a lawyer and (with
a new law in
2005) must have a certain number of years in
It also helps to be female,
a genetic condition that has held great sway with the voters
in recent years.
(After all, this is Family Court, and
who knows more about families, an unrecognized male name or
an unrecognized female name?)
Every once in a while,
due to the random linguistic fickleness of the voters,
get elected and good ones get thrown out, but at
least the system stays dynamic and power doesn't
become too entrenched.
judicial discretion —
A term that ought to strike terror into the heart
of any divorce litigant. Judicial discretion is the power of a
judge to decide a certain issue based on his own
philosophy and best judgment. For example,
judges in all
states have broad discretion in deciding the
custody of children following divorce, based on what
they think is best for a child. What this means in
practice is that different judges can issue vastly
different rulings on virtually identical cases,
and there is usually nothing the parties can do
about it once the decision is made.
All states require that divorce judges consider
"the best interests of the child" when choosing
which parent he should live with, but it is up to
the judge to decide what that phrase means. Different
judges have different philosophies and, frankly,
different biases and competence levels, which
means that custody is essentially a personal
choice by the judge. Because you and your ex-love
couldn't decide the question yourselves, you have
invited this stranger into your home to do it for
If this doesn't terrify you, it should.
There is no alternative to judicial discretion in
this situation. Somebody has to make a decision,
and every case is so complicated that no written
law can reasonably help. There may be laws that
try to force litigants to negotiate with each
other or that require a judge to obtain certain
information before acting, but no law or simple
rule can decide who is the better parent.
Furthermore, you can't allow most custody
decisions to be reconsidered on appeal, because if
this were possible then every custody
decision would be appealed.
You have to live with the judge's decision even if
he or she is a jerk, shows obvious preferences, is
inexperienced or doesn't have adequate
understanding of your case. The judge has to
maintain the appearance of impartiality and
cannot, for example, accept bribes to go a certain
way, but this is still a very human,
Divorce attorneys know this. They know that Judge
"X" shows a strong preference for awarding joint custody, while
Judge "Y" tends to prefer the female half. The
assignment of cases to judges is done on an
essentially random basis, based on openings on the
docket, so you never know who you will get. It's
a roll of the dice, but in the great Nevada
tradition, if you don't like the outcome you can
choose to roll again. (Double or nothing?) The
mechanism is called a peremptory challenge*.
Each litigant has one opportunity to fire their
judge, without cause or explanation, before the
proceedings begin. This service costs $300 and is
a big money maker for the state.
It is all a big chess game, and it's the kind of
stuff that you would be clueless about if you
tried to represent yourself or if you chose an
attorney who isn't familiar with Family Court. If
you don't control the peremptory challenge, then
you may become a victim of it. Certain judges are
challenged frequently, so they will have more
docket openings, so you have a greater probability
of being assigned to one of these judges yourself.
What right does a judge have to be biased in favor
of one custody solution over another? Every right
in the world. A judge in Nevada derives their
power from you, the voter. You elected them
knowing full well what they stood for.
Oh, you're telling me you didn't know? Are
you saying that you voted for President, then you
got down to the bottom of the ballot to Family Court
Judge, and went, "Aggggh! Who are these people?" Not
realizing that thousands of lives were at stake,
did you blindly check off some name because it
Now, are you telling me that you had to get a
divorce, and things didn't turn out as you hoped
I guess you got what you deserved then, didn't you?
The "settling of accounts" for past misdeeds.
Justice and our justice system are based on
the premise that a grievance of the past can be
undone by an opposite action in the present—which
is largely an illusion.
Justice is roughly "an eye for an eye," although
we aren't supposed to say that. Murderers get life
in prison. Thieves lose their freedom. Injured
people get compensated for what they lost (plus
all their "pain and suffering," of course).
Justice is usually crude and tends toward brutish
overkill. It may deter some future crimes and
address our emotional need for retribution, but it
rarely does much to repair underlying problems.
You should not expect much justice from Family
Court, which is more concerned with repair and
rehabilitation. Family Court tries to give
distressed people a way to move on with their
lives, a goal that is often incompatible with
Juvenile Customer Service Representative (JVCSR)
My term for a
Juvenile Public Defender,
court-appointed attorney assigned to most
defendants in Juvenile Court. Their job is to
explain the court process to their client, ask
them the facts of the case and how they want to plead,
then walk them through the hearings, trial and
sentencing (and the yelling-at by the judge).
In short, their goal is to interact
with the customers and make their
court experience more comfortable.
Here in Juvenile Delinquency, customer
service is our Number One priority
(although customer satisfaction may still
In Family Court (and maybe the whole justice
system), there may be no other workers
who are as passionate and uncynical as the
JVCSR's. Unlike adult criminal court, which is bent on
retribution, there is a true
sense in Juvenile Court that the system is going to try
to reform the defendant and address his problems
and not merely punish him. The JVCSR's are at
the forefront of that process. Regardless of the
child's guilt, they fight for a plan that they
hope will best serve their client in the long
Their idealism is untarnished by actually having
to deal with the kid outside of court.
Their interaction with him is usually limited to
the waiting room before and after a hearing. They
only fight, in a somewhat abstract way, for his
innocence and his future plan if convicted. (The
dirty work of enforcing the plan is left to
Juvenile Probation Officers and corrections
personnel, who may actually get to know the kid
and his problems.)
Part of the job of the JVCSR is to deal with the
parents of the defendant, who are usually far more
difficult than the kid himself. The parents are
often outraged that their precious
progeny was arrested and may propose all sorts of
bizarre legal theories to get their child off the
hook. After listening to the parents, you often
understand why the kid is acting out.
The experienced JVCSR will resist the temptation
to tell the parents where to go, but will
focus instead on the kid and what he wants. When that
interaction has been successfully completed, then it's
the parents' turn again. They go "Yap, yap,
yap!".... until the JVCSR politely excuses
themselves and says they have to go back into the
courtroom for another case.
(Often there is nothing
in the courtroom that concerns them,
but it is a convenient sanctuary.)
lawyer, how to choose a
Finding a good lawyer is a vexing problem for
anyone who is new to the legal system. If you need
one, then you are probably in distress, and it is
hard to think clearly in times like this. You know
that there are good lawyers and bad ones, those
who charge modest fees and those who charge too
much, those who advertize on TV and those who live in
little cubbyhole offices on 7th Street. What
clue do you have about finding the right
one for you?
It's the same problem faced by thousands of
visitors to Las Vegas every day: You want a
"Good Time" and maybe you think you need a prostitute
to accomplish this, but how do you find a good
one? You could look in the phonebook under
"Entertainers - Adult"
or pick up an escort brochure on the Strip,
but how do you know that what you get
will match the picture? Furthermore, the ads never
tell you how much it will
cost to do everything you want.
lawyers, the problem with —
Contrary to popular opinion, not all lawyers are sleazeballs.
I mean, the whole concept of "balls" is too simplistic.
Some of them are more like squares or triangles. The point is,
every lawyer is different, and it isn't fair to lump them all
into a single category.
The only thing all lawyers have in common is they went to law
school and passed the state bar exam. This assures that they
have certain basic technical skills, like writing briefs and
following a chain of legal logic. It does not guarantee
that they have the skills and empathy to deal with troubled people,
which is perhaps half the job of lawyering, especially here
in the Family Services Center.
It is rare to find a lawyer
with any training in psychology, which ought to be a critical
field when dealing with children and families. The "people skills" of lawyers
run the same gamut that they do in the general population.
Some lawyers "get it," and some don't and never will.
We have a special term which is reserved
for this profession: shyster.
This is someone
who may be clever at the law but who lacks any moral scruples.
This is a serious occupational hazard among lawyers.
The law is society's codification of morality—generally a very
primitive one. ("If you hurt someone, we will hurt you.")
Some lawyers think they can get into Heaven simply by
obeying the law. If there is a blindness in a statute,
then it is the legislature's fault, not theirs, and they feel
obligated to exploit it.
The people who pass through law school have gained certain
technical skills which are similar to mathematics. Not all
mathematicians are skilled at life, however: Some of them
are geeks; some are autistic, and some couldn't survive
for 10 minutes outside the halls of M.I.T. Lawyerdom has
its own brand of autistics, perhaps brilliant at law but
clueless to the morality that is supposed to underlie it.
In Family Court, these lawyers can cause enormous damage,
because they fail to see the human needs that are right in
front of them. A few minutes of sensitivity where the lawyer
asks, "What is really going on here?" can avoid years of
litigation, but of course litigation is much more profitable.
An outbreak of love in
Northern Nevada Dec. 4, 2005
An emotional attachment between human beings.
Love is real, but the term itself is amorphous and difficult
to define. I am not yet ready to define it here. However,
I can offer these observations, which may relate to the
Family Services Center...
Contrary to popular belief (and popular music), love is not all you
need. Love alone can not solve the problems of the world
or the problems of relationships. You also have to use your
brain. Without a firm intellectual basis,
"I love you so much" can
turn in an instant into, "I hate you so bad."
Romantic love involves a fair amount of delusion. (Really?)
You want so much for this person to give your life meaning
that you will overlook even the most glaring negative evidence.
You will seize upon any detail as positive evidence of your magical affiliation.
("You like blue? So do I. This is so amazing!") Most romantic
delusions eventually collapse, and when they do, we may find ourselves
in divorce court.
The unreality of the initial delusion is directly related
to the eventual nastiness of the divorce.
You can't talk seriously about love — any kind of love —
without talking about its evil twin, which travels with love wherever it
goes. Whenever you love someone, you are also secretly afraid of being absorbed
by them and losing your own identity.
For those whose identities are weak,
the fear of
can provoke some very un-love-like reactions,
like arguments and domestic violence.
"You only hurt the ones you love," because they are the ones to
whom you are most vulnerable.
A child loves his parents but also has a need to rebel against them,
especially when they intrude into his own identity.
You find a lot of this played out in Juvenile Delinquency court.
In a hearing, you see both the child and his parents, and over the
course of the proceedings, you may come to realize that this isn't
about grafitti or breaking some windows; it's about the love between
parent and child and how it isn't working.
QUERY: I hope a reader can answer this... In the
movie Prizzi's Honor, Jack Nicholson's character
falls in love with Kathleen Turner but later has to kill
her. Somewhere in the movie, he talks about love being
something that happens to the "sense of smell." What is
the magic baby pill
— A common delusion of couples
— acknowledged or unacknowledged —
which contends that
problems of their relationship can be repaired by having a
baby. It happens when a man and a woman sit across from each
other at the breakfast table and find they have nothing in
"What do we do now?" says one to the other.
"I don't know. What do you want to do?"
"I don't know."
"I know, we'll have a baby!"
"Yeah, that must be it! We'll have a baby!"
Then they have a baby; their family is complete, and they
all live happily ever after.
Guess what?... NOT!
the Matrix —
The virtual world of superficial pursuits and
meaningless possessions that we use as a
smokescreen to obscure the true nature of the
world. (See also cocoon.) We think the Matrix is real, but it
isn't. It is a delusion generated in our minds
which prevents us from experiencing life
In the movie The
Matrix, we learn that life as we know it is a
virtual reality projection. Our real bodies are
stored in vats in a giant warehouse somewhere,
while everything we think is real is generated by
a computer program and fed directly into our
nervous system. A few people have learned to break
out of the Matrix and see life as it really is,
which is a lot darker and more desperate than the
Matrix leads us to believe.
I am not saying that the objects and
activities around us aren't real, only that the
meaning we assign to them isn't. For the
most part, we don't need these things. They just
get in the way of living.
We all need to eat, sleep and have meaningful
relationships with others. We don't need most of
the other stuff we surround ourselves with:
objects, hobbies, rituals, entertainment. Certain
modern conveniences, like supermarkets, indoor
plumbing and central heating, make our lives
easier. Most other things just make life more
complicated and separate us from what is really
Nevada Youth Training Facility —
A medium(?)-security youth detention
facility located in Elko in Northern Nevada.
Official website |
Norman Rockwell —
An idealized view of American family life
(popular among conservative Republicans) that cannot
possibly exist in the real world.
In every family,
there's a stay-at-home mom and a hard-working
dad and a doting grandmother
who you go over the river and through the woods
to see. They all live in a small, proud American
community with solid Rupublican values, where
there is no teen pregnancy, drug abuse or significant
crime that Sheriff Andy can't handle. Abortion isn't
even an issue in Norman Rockwell. Here, every child is
loved and cared for, and guess what the whole thing
is supported by? That's right, Free Enterprise!
Most real families are more like
The Osbournes, but without the money or the
one shrewd parent to hold it all together.
The tendency of us all to be drawn to objects and
actions that we are initially repulsed by or would
have no interest in were they not forbidden.
Contrast with rational self-interest.
As you are reading this, I request that you please
not touch your nose. You have no reason at all to
touch it, so please don't.
But now that I have mentioned it, doesn't it itch
just a little?
Try as you may, now that I
have requested that you not touch your nose,
you're going to do it. It's just a matter of
That's the problem with the forbidden, and it is
something that all adolescents struggle with.
Saying they shouldn't do something is almost an
invitation to do it. It
has something to do with why they engage in the most outrageous
acts and fashions, like stealing the family car,
going "Goth" or hanging out with exactly the boys
Mom and Dad don't approve of.
The forbidden has an enormous appeal, because it seems
like an easy way to achieve identity. Whatever your parents stood
for, you can support the opposite. You don't
realize at the time that by rebelling against your
environment, you are still letting it control you.
If they say "Republican" and you say "Democrat,"
this isn't the same as deciding the issue for
Paradox is an important element in human behavior,
and it helps explains why laws and rules often
don't work. By forbidding something, you are in a
way encouraging it. One wonders, for example, how
many sexual perversions and acts of vandalism are
generated precisely because of their illicit
nature. If the activity is legalized or
normalized, much of its attraction goes away.
Perversions and delinquencies can actually be
molded and defined by the laws and strictures
intended to control them.
There can be a lot of reasons for paradoxical
attraction. Forbidding something can simply place
it in consciousness where it didn't exist
previously. Engaging in the forbidden also gives
people an outlet for frustrations that they
wouldn't be able to express otherwise. It helps
them define themselves by rebelling against
something. It makes them feel unique and powerful.
Many an arachnid or reptile specialist can trace
his roots to a deathly fear of spiders or snakes
in childhood. Many a swastika has been painted
on a synagogue simply because it is considered
such a heinous act—with anti-semitism almost
being an afterthought.
Sometimes it is a Jewish activist who is
caught painting the swastika, because real
neonazis aren't giving him enough to fight
There is a lot of bizarre hidden paradox
in people and a lot of strange secret things going
on in brains and bedrooms everywhere. A nasty high-profile
divorce proceeding (which we haven't seen lately
in Las Vegas) would be an excellent opportunity to review
(Not that I have any interest in that.)
— The primary mechanism of human evil. Paranoia is the delusional
perception of exaggerated threat or attention.
It causes cocaine users to see
spiders crawling under their skin and encourages certain
conspiracy researchers to wear tinfoil beanies to protect
them from CIA mind rays. Most paranoia, however, is more
mundane and subtle and not so easily disproved. Most
conspiracy theories don't involve spiders or mind rays but
are expressed as personal convictions that at least sound
plausible. You may find a wee bit of
it lurking around the Family Services Center.
Paranoia makes good people do bad things. It can be
responsible for anything from everyday rudeness to attempted
extermination of the Jews. If you believe that someone is
"out to get you," then any response to that threat seems
reasonable and justified. Paranoid people are capable of
any evil act because they perceive a corresponding threat of
similar magnitude. In their eyes, they are merely trying to
As unpleasant as it may seem, paranoia serves a purpose in
the victim. At least temporarily, it protects them them
from inner self-doubt and damage to their ego. Failing a
test at school may hurt your self-esteem, but you wouldn't
have to feel so bad if the teacher deliberately made
you fail, perhaps by colluding with others to stack the
cards against you. Paranoid beliefs provide convenient
escape from any unpleasant news that you would rather not
receive about yourself. Unfortunately, the beliefs then need
to be supported and explained, and this can lead to an
ever-widening perceived conspiracy—involving, in this
case, not just teachers, but principals, school boards and
the Council on Foreign Relations
Paranoia helps us explain most of the seemingly inexplicable
and irrational human behavior that we see almost every day,
especially in the court system. Whenever someone engages in
an obviously self-destructive act, behind it is usually the
perception of an exagerated threat or grandiose entitlement.
"I beat him up because he called me gay," says the barroom
brawler heading off to jail, as if the insult was a form of
violence itself, equalling the response.
Paranoids do have enemies, but mostly they are created by
their own preemptive attacks. If you
believe that someone hates you, then you will respond
to them in kind, and this in turn creates the very real
hatred that you feared. Paranoia is self-reinforcing, and
once it reaches critical mass, it often can't be stopped.
Paranoia can wreck families, sabotage careers, and wipe out
the trust of others, all of which must then be knitted into
the Great Conspiracy to free the paranoid from blame. The
end result is an impoverished and restricted life, if not in
jail then in a prison of ones own creation.
parental preference (or parental presumption) —
The legal principle that a child's parents are the best people
to raise him. In Nevada law, the parental preference is said to
be very strong.
In other words, if you contributed the sperm or womb for the
child, then the law assumes that you are the most qualified to raise him. To put it another way: If you make 'em, you own 'em, and
the State can't take 'em away without substantial grounds — any more
than they can seize your property or deprive you of liberty.
It's a loony theory, because the ability to have sex
is no indication of parenting ability, but it's the only doctrine
possible in the real world. Otherwise, you would get into the
nightmare of the government deciding the suitability of
every parent. (Deciding custody during divorce is messy enough.
There would be chaos in the legal system if you said
that anyone could lay claim to a kid.)
The parental preference is stupid, destructive and unjust,
but we have to live with it.
"Psycho Bitch From Hell." A label often applied
to the female half of a divorce or custody dispute
by the opposing party. The label may or may
not be justified, depending on the female,
but the fact that the term is applied at all
suggests a certain active aggressiveness.
habitual method of interacting with the world. Each of us
has our own unique "operating style" which begins to show
itself in infancy and becomes pretty much fixed by the
mid-20s. Our personality encapsulates our ingrained
assumptions about the world, based mostly on our subjective
experience as children. [More to come]
the Pigeon Paradox —
A dilemma that illustrates some of the key problems
In a city park, there may be a lot of hungry pigeons,
some of whom are going to die of starvation.
You may decide to help these pigeons by feeding them.
crowd around you and give you the immediate emotional
satisfaction of "helping".
Unfortunately, by feeding them indiscriminantly
you may actually be creating
more pigeon suffering in the long run.
Feeding the pigeons can have several negative effects:
More pigeons survive and have more offspring.
The population eventually increases to outstrip whatever
food you can supply. In the end, you still have the same
proportion of starving pigeons, but the total number of them
is greater than before you fed them.
Because you are providing them with an easy food
source, the pigeons are discouraged from pursuing more more difficult
solutions that may be more sustainable in the long run.
The pigeons start depending on you.
If you ever stop feeding them they will be a lot more
vulnerable than they were before, and many more of them
Because they don't understand where the food is
coming from, the pigeons will start seeing you as a god, and they may
expect a lot more of you than you can reasonably provide.
When you feed the pigeons, they are going to
create a scene and crap
all over the place.
This is not to say that we shouldn't care about the
pigeons or that we shouldn't feed them under extraordinary
circumstances, like a natural disaster. It is just that
feeding them, per se, is not the solution to their problems.
It would be the same if we decided to solve the problems
of human poverty by giving all the poor people in the
country $1000 each:
It would buy a lot of big screen TVs but
probably wouldn't improve much in the end.
The problems of both pigeons and people are not usually
solved by a mere redistribution of resources. First of
all, most such problems are not solveable at all, at
least within your own limited capacity. For most of
us, pigeon starvation and worldwide poverty are beyond our
ability to repair. However, once we find a
domain of charity in which we feel comfortable,
then the system of helping is at least as
important as the raw resources.
Children are different from pigeons. Caring
for a child does not result in a permanent
dependency, since you know they are going to grow up
eventually, but it can create multi-year one.
When you step into a child's life it can sometimes
be hard to step out, unless you establish clear
boundaries to protect
both you and the child.
you help anyone, you have to be aware of the
dynamic you are creating.
Alleviated pain right now is not the most important
thing. What really counts is helping that
person create a stable and sustainable future that will continue to function
even after you step out of the picture.
rational self-interest —
A theory of human motivation which says that people will
do what is in their own best long-term interests. This theory forms
the basis for our legal system, which explains in part why
the system works so poorly. People frequently do not
act in their own best interests, even when the potential
punishments are huge.
if there has been an epidemic of convenience store robberies
in the city, the legislature might respond by increasing the
prison term for such robberies from 5 years to 20 years. The
theory of rational self-interest predicts that this will
decrease the number of robberies as potential criminals weigh
the greater cost of punishment against the possible rewards
($50 from the till).
But what difference does it make in the actual crime statistics?
Probably none. Anyone who would rob a convenience store
probably isn't thinking straight anyway, and whether the punishment
is six months or sixty years makes no difference to their actions.
Whatever may motivate them, it is not rational self-interest.
A speculative and unproven theory that the world outside ourselves
actually exists, as opposed to being generated in our minds or
by some advanced computer program. In our modern culture of virtual reality video
games and continuous audio-visual entertainment, reality is
an increasingly tenuous concept. I boldly contend, however, that
reality is in fact real and can provide you with some of the
most rewarding interactive experiences available.
The main problem with reality is that it hurts.
If you make a mistake and get zapped
for it, you know you've been hit. Sometimes,
you get zapped even without making a mistake.
Sometimes, reality gives you a continuous zapping
for no other reason than it is reality and can
do whatever the hell it wants.
The main advantage of reality is that it is persistent.
If you are playing a video game and lose your memory
card, you're screwed: You lose all of your experience
and have to start over. Reality, on the other
hand, has perfect memory and a never forgets anything you say or
do. And I mean never forgets, for better or worse.
Once you decide to play reality, there are a lot
of rules you have to learn. If you hit your real head on a real brick
wall, it's going to hurt. I don't mean just losing points;
it's going to hurt. Lots of things hurt, and if you
get playing for a while, you learn how to avoid those things
by planning for them in advance. You do this by learning more rules, based on some
fairly esoteric philosophical concepts. You might choose to "fasten
your seat belt" while riding in a "car,"
only because you might
be hurt if you don't. To get really good at reality, you have to
keep developing new theories about it and about what causes pain.
You continously compare your theories
to what actually happens and adjust your play accordingly.
Reality is complicated. It is easy to get attached to the characters
you encounter, and pretty soon you start feeling the pain
of those characters even if it isn't really yours. This is
a big problem with reality: There is too much pain in it,
way more than you can feel or deal with. This is one reason why
people playing reality often turn to virtual reality for escape.
Virtual reality is about seeking your own gratification and doesn't
involve any significant pain.
Real reality, on the other hand,
is all about pain and how to deal with it honorably.
If you accept the reality of reality, then you have to accept that
the suffering of others is also real. If someone else is hurting,
this is not something you can brush off as imaginary or
insignificant. It is as real and important as your
own suffering—and you know what that is like. You don't want to hurt
other people; you lose points for that. You want to
navigate the game so you actually decrease the pain of
the world, which is no easy task.
Most people who play reality do a half-ass job of it.
They play what I call "selective reality." They accept some of
reality but fill in the rest with wishful thinking. Their
theories tend to run wild, based on what they want reality
to be. They think their theories are so perfect that they don't need
to compare them to what
actually happens and what actually works. As a result, they
make many mistakes and unnecessarily hurt themselves and
Reality is big. Really big. I mean like 10 gazillion
gigabytes. You can't expect to hold it all
in your little brain. No matter how smart you are,
unexpected things are going to happen, and you can
either fight them because they don't fit your theory
or accept them and go with the flow.
Reality can be a bitch sometimes, but once you get to know it
and understand its ways, it's the richest game in town.
reality, metaphysical aspects of —
Whenever people start facing reality straight on, they say,
"God, this is terrible!" There is all this suffering in the world and no real
solutions. The "God" in this case is metaphorical, because it
isn't clear there is one. Reality is just this big mess of
things happening without much rhyme or reason to it.
It is useful, however, to think that reality has a plan, even if it
doesn't, and that there is a God looking after you, even if there
isn't. To do your best in the game of reality,
God and his Plan should form an integral part of your life.
This is true even if you don't believe in God and would never set foot
in a church.
Here's what we know about God, if He exists: He's big — as big as all
reality. (10 gazillion gigabytes.) He sees everything, way more than
you can see, and He's always testing you, pushing you, trying to turn
you into the best player you can be.
You've got this wee little brain and can't possibly see as much
as He does. Thus, you've got to put some faith in the process.
God's Plan is bigger than you can conceive right now, but when
things happen to you and you look back on them later, you'll
realize, yup, that was the Plan.
Right now, you're kind of in the dark. You don't know the
whole Plan. You have to keep looking for clues. God is always
leaving them, because He's the kind of Guy who wants you
to get ahead in the game but who isn't going to make
it easy for you.
The clues are happening all the time. Maybe you get cancer or
your dog dies or the mail is late on Wednesday. Everything is
a clue, and you've got to be thinking about the deeper meaning
of it. Why is the mail late? What is God trying to teach
It is easy to think you've got the Plan all worked out. Wrong!
Whenever you look back on those times when you thought you had
it all worked out, you realize that you were deluded.
You didn't have it all worked out. Sometimes it is best
to go through the game in a daze, never being quite sure if
you are doing the right thing, because the fact is,
that's the way things are. It's just you and your dim little
brain trying to figure out God's fantastic reality.
Have some humility, man!
A bunch of biological silliness concerning
reproduction that humans nonetheless seem
to take very, very seriously.
Sex, at its base, is a method of assuring
species diversity by merging the genetic
material of two differing body types:
the female, who bears the offspring, and the male,
who is often regarded as unnecessary and in some
species is actually eaten immediately after mating.
In its human expressions, sex can get way complicated.
It can involve a lot of posturing on both sides,
much Machiavellian politics,
many hurt feelings and some occasional grisly deaths.
It is also a major economic force in selling
stuff to people, mostly adornments and consumer
products that they never really needed.
Sexual attraction depends on a few shallow attributes.
Take a Mr. Potato Head, stick a couple of plastic boobs
on him, and suddenly all the other Potato Heads are
gathering around vying for a piece of the action.
("Hey, baby, wanna make french fries?") Now, take
the same Potato Head, lose the boobs, buff
him up a bit, put him in a little toy Porsche, make
him sound witty and urbane, and now all the Barbies are homing
in on the guy, twitching their little tushes.
Insanity. Pure insanity.
The underlying mechanisms are no mystery. Both
parties are driven to produce superior
offspring. Bountiful breasts, prominently displayed,
tell us that she's
got the fat reserves to produce, while Potato Head's
sports car conveys the impression that he's got the
social status to provide. It's all about advertizing—just
like Las Vegas, where people put up big neon signs
even when there isn't much behind them.
The politics can get complicated. He wants to
spread his love all around and dreams of hanging
out with Heff in a whole mansion full of Barbies.
She's a bit more cagey. Being that she has to make
a huge investment in each reproduction, she wants
a Potato Head who's going to stick around and help.
Both of them crave far more sex than is necessary,
in part because it draws them together during
the long process of child rearing. Think of it
as a mutual exchange of drugs.
Then there's the bonding process.
what a mess! They fall in love—or at least
their bodies do. Whether their brains can follow
is another matter. A Potato Head with a Porsche is
still a Potato Head, while Barbie's head (if you
take it off and look inside) is full of air.
Somehow, they find things in common. That's
the magic of love!
Whenever you talk to people about sex, you
got to be careful. You should resist
the temptation to laugh uproariously, because,
as I say, people can take sex very, very seriously.
We ought to respect the local culture here.
Sex gives people an excuse for intimacy, which
is better than none at all. It gives them a
chance to let down their guard and worry about
someone else for a change.
Trouble is, when people let down their defenses,
all sorts of icky things can come to the surface.
Turns out what you find inside isn't always the
same as the sign out front. Pretty soon the boobs
fall off, the Porsche gets sold, the sex becomes
routine, and all you got left
is a couple of Potato Heads staring at each other.
Now what do you do?
Sexual attraction alone won't sustain a relationship
for long, only through the honeymoon. After that,
things can get dicey. Yup, there can be quite a
bit of messiness down the road, and that's why
we have... Family Court!
scope management —
The art and science of defining
your field of responsibility and
adapting your actions to it. Scope management is an ongoing
philosophical endeavor where you try to decide what your
overall policy should be, in contrast with triage, where you are trying to
decide what to do in your current situation.
On the battlefield, triage is deciding which wounded
soldiers to save and which to let die. Scope management is
when you try to decide whether you should be involved in
this war at all.
A typical scope management question might be: "Should I be
helping starving children in Ethiopia, or should I join the
PTA?" Your answer is a personal one and depends on your
resources, your strengths, your vulnerabilities, your access
to information, your current situation and your personality.
One thing is certain: You can't be responsible for healing
every ill in the world. You have to choose your battles
wisely. Scope management is the process of defining what
kind of battles you will fight and what kind you will
sperm donor —
The male entity who contributed the genetic material for
a child but who has taken no significant responsibility for
spoiled rotten —
A pernicious and devastating form
of child abuse that happens to be legal in all 50 states.
Instead of beating or starving the child, the parents give
in to his every whim. They treat him as a little prince or
princess who is coddled and lavished with gifts without
doing anything to deserve it. The child internalizes this
attitude and comes to expect it from the rest of the world.
With high correlation, this results in an adult illness
known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where a
person expects to be treated as royalty regardless of what
"Spoiling a kid rotten" is seen as a god-given parental
right and almost never by itself results in abuse charges.
However, it does supply a significant portion of the
clientele for the juvenile delinquency system. It may help
explain the Summerlin Syndrome
of badly behaving young people.
A person or relationship that you don't currently
understand. Something about the
spook suggests that
there is more going on below the surface than
can be readily explained. In contrast with
creepy, which has strong
negative connotations, spooky isn't necessarily
bad. Spooky is interesting, especially if you love
ESP is spooky. UFO reports are spooky until we explain them.
(Area 51 used
to be spooky, but I hope we took care of that.)
are a couple of characters hanging out at Family Court
who I consider spooky, but that's just me. I am sure
they don't think this; they're
just being themselves.
spooky is a statement of your own knowledge and doesn't
necessarily reflect on the subject themselves. Complex
people and subtle relationships tend to seem spooky to
us simply because we don't understand them right now.
It is possible that in the future, we will have enough
information to de-spook them, at which time the underlying
motivations will become obvious to us.
People with low intellectual self-confidence tend to
be freaked out by spookiness. They automatically
assume it is creepiness. They want everything
to be neatly explained and hermetically packaged, and
any ambiguity must be a sign of evil.
The spook becomes a sort of
Rorschach Test: People react to them according to the
ghosts in their own head. Thus, spooks throughout history
have been subject to persecution for their ambiguity,
which is sometimes equated with witchcraft,
subversiveness or Communism.
Get used to it. Spooks and spookiness make life worth
living. You don't want to live in a plastic package,
do you? If things get complicated and ambiguous,
so be it.
staff — /'staf/ v.
a case or issue with ones colleagues at a meeting, where a
communal decision is then reached.
Used expecially at DFS
when deciding how to handle difficult cases.
"Staffing a problem" by
discussing it at a meeting is
a method of distributing responsibility for a decision
among multiple parties. Example: "We
had to kill him, but we staffed it first."
stepping up to the plate —
A metaphor commonly used by judges
when instructing a parent or juvenile defendent to take
responsibility for their own problems, or when
commending them after they do. For example: "We are giving
you all the support we can, but if you want to get your kids
back, you have to step up to the plate and do what you need
to." The metaphor comes from baseball and refers to a batter
who is ready to make an honest attempt to hit the ball.
Whether or not he actually hits it is not as
important as the effort. ("Plate," in
this case, does not refer to a plate of food, where someone
is going to "step up to the plate" to be fed. That would be
entirely the wrong metaphor.) Someone who steps up
to the plate and keeps swinging until he hits the ball is a
The pejorative "S-word" that we should never use when referring
to any client of Family Services. Instead, the client "has
issues." It is also a word that we should
never use to
describe the gamblers who support this town.
They are "guests".
Stupid is a lot more complicated and interesting that
it seems. It isn't just a matter of intellectual
capacity. Even highly intelligent people can be
stupid sometimes, and there ain't none
of us who hasn't fallen prey to it on occasion.
Stupid is a matter of deluding
yourself and igoring your own rules and then
suffering the inevitable consequences.
Stupid isn't something trivial or something
to be ignored. Stupid is all around us,
and we need to understand it. Stupid is deep.
It is a window into all of human behavior. If you
understand stupid and why it happens, than you
understand nearly everything about the bizarre
universe of human actions.
Let's start with a definition...
stupid — adjective or noun.
Taking actions that are contrary to ones
own best interests, the imprudence of which
is clearly visible to others.
Stupid is not just an innocent oversight, like
locking yourself out of your house or forgetting
your anniversary. Stupid has
much higher standards than that. True stupidity
requires an element of internal delusion and fantasy
which smacks up hard against the brick wall of external
The criminal justice system is rich with examples of
The guy who grows pot in his front yard,
thinking it won't be noticed among the other plants, is
fairly stupid. So is the inmate who walks
away from a minimum security work camp with
only two weeks left in his sentence.
Then there is the lady who
swindles an elderly relative out of thousands
of dollars to support a drug habit, then kills
the relative to try to cover her tracks.
Evil, perhaps, but stupid provides more insight.
In fact, it is hard
to find any criminal case that doesn't involve
stupidity in one form or another.
If any criminal had held a staff meeting before
the crime and talked the matter over with some
impartial advisors, the advisors would have told
him: "Don't do it! That would be stupid!" Unfortunately, most
criminals don't have advisors, or wouldn't listen
to them if they did, so they have to rely on
their own best judgment.
The important thing to know about stupidity is this:
No matter how foolish the act may seem to us,
to the subject himself it seems perfectly
reasonable at the time. The victim doesn't
know he is being stupid, at least until later.
Whatever he does makes perfect sense to him.
It just happens to not coincide with reality.
Stupid isn't just a random act of idiocy. From our
standpoint on the outside, it looks almost
deliberately self-destructive—as though there
was a little high-strung mustachioed guy inside the victim's
trying to sabotage them at every turn.
[More to Come]
The Summerlin Syndrome —
The involvement in the
juvenile delinquency system of children living in Summerlin,
Green Valley and other well-heeled districts of the city.
Whatever the cause may be of their misbehavior, it is not
poverty. Being spoiled rotten
may play a role. Example: the 311 Boyz.
Summit View Youth Correctional Center —
A maximum-security youth detention facility in North Las Vegas.
Used for more dangerous and violent offenders and obviously not as
pleasant as Spring Mountain or Caliente
(although the name is equally scenic).
“'til death do you part”
— An idealistic-sounding phrase that can have
a more and more ominous tone as time goes on.
Yes, it really may be "'til death do you part,"
even after divorce,
especially if you have children together.
Divorce can be the beginning of a different kind
of marriage, one based not on trust but on boundaries.
Monday through Friday, it's Mom's house.
Saturdays and Sundays, it's Dad's house. Major holidays
alternate between Mom's and Dad's, even and odd
years. Two weeks exclusively for each
parent in the summer. Sounds simple, right?
The marriage is in the details. Let's say Mom is
late delivering the kids to Dad's house on Friday
evening. Does this mean Dad has the right to
deduct the corresponding time on Sunday? Can he
take additional time as a penalty,
delivering the kids at 10 pm from now on instead of 7?
Maybe Mom wants to take the kids for just one Saturday
for a special event, but he won't negotiate.
He expects Mom to stick with the letter of the divorce
agreement but won't abide by it himself.
Do we need to go back to court to resolve these problems, at the
cost of another grand or two?
Inevitably, you gotta deal. You gotta kiss ass.
When there is something you need from him, you
gotta use psychology, just like when you were
married. Make him think it's his idea. Give him
the illusion that he's in control. That's all he
The kids are all that matters here. You'll suck it
up for their sake. No point in them
seeing war all the time.
You got boundaries:
things you won't let him get
away with. But there are other things you will
let him get away with, just for the sake of peace.
You're not going to fight over 15 minutes late,
but you will fight over 3 hours late with no phone
Most of all, you have to know your opponent. Get
inside his head. Understand his puny little
world. Try to think of what a Hell it must be to
be trapped in there. Appreciate the sadness of it
all. Try to love him again.
It's not easy loving a monster, but sometimes
that's what you gotta do.
Trial by Peers —
An "alternative" juvenile justice system in which
teenage students accused of misdemeanor
crimes at school are tried before a jury of their peers in a
real courtroom. The courtroom is presided over by
a real judge or Hearing Master, with students
acting as attorneys.
article (1/30/06) |
a trooper —
A parent who has
made mistakes and temporarily loses custody of their kids
but who steps up to the plate
and makes a valiant and well-focussed effort to get them
back, often in spite of daunting difficulties. A trooper
doesn't require much of the government's resources, because
he or she does everything they need to, and they usually get
their kids back quickly. Troopers make many sacrifices to
support their kids (a fact that the kids won't appreciate
until many years later), and if they make mistakes
occasionally, they usually don't repeat them.
TPO — A
Temporary Protective Order. This is court order
instructing one party to stay away from another for a limited
period of time, due to allegations of domestic violence.
The issuing of a TPO is a civil matter,
based chiefly on the discretion of
the judge, but if it is violated, it becomes a criminal
offense. TPOs can be issued in Family Court only
when the parties have had a
prior personal relationship. When they are married, then the
TPO court may make temporary arrangements for spousal
support, division of property and child custody until a
divorce is filed. Thus, the TPO system is sometimes
called, "the poor man's divorce court."
The assignment of limited resources to an
overwhelming need so as to maximize their positive end
To medics on the battlefield, triage means sorting the
wounded and assigning medical services to them so as to
maximize the total number of survivors. If there are 100
wounded soldiers and the resources to treat only half of them,
then medics must choose those few who are most likely to
benefit from treatment. The lightly wounded will probably be
ignored, because they will survive without treatment, while
the most severely injured might also be passed over, since
they are likely to die anyway and the resources needed to
treat them are so great. Inevitably, triage means leaving
some soldiers to die even when you could have saved them.
When dealing with any other social problem, triage is pretty
much the same. Due to infinite
need, you are never going to have the resources to
solve all of the problems in front of you. Instead, you have
to allocate your resources to the places where they are
likely to have the greatest long-term positive effect,
even if it means deliberately not helping someone
who could be helped.
War of the Roses —
A 1989 movie starring Michael Douglass and Kathleen Turner
in which a divorce goes terribly, terribly wrong,
escalating into a war that kills them both.
A black comedy (Ha. Ha.).
Often used as a metaphor for the Divorce from Hell.
Ought to be required viewing for
anyone considering divorce—or marriage!
The bittersweet moment when a child who has spent
most of his life in foster care becomes officially
emancipated from the system and is now an "adult".
This usually happens sometime between the ages of
17 and 20, at the discretion of the judge (usually
and usually at the request of the ward
Imagine if this were you. You have lived in maybe
30 foster homes, none of whom wanted to adopt you.
You turn 18, and now its time to "age out" of the
system. You come before a judge who talks to you briefly about
where you're going to live and what you're going
to do for a living. Then he says, "Wardship
terminated," and you walk out of the courtroom.
I have seen it happen, and it took place so
quickly that I didn't realize what it meant until it
Try to remember your own childhood. When you
turned 18, did your parents say, "childhood
terminated" and put you out on the street?
Sure, you thought you were pretty mature and
self-sufficient at 18, but were you really? When
did you actually become independent of your family
of origin? Wasn't it more like 23... or 36... or
Were you really ready to become independent at 18?
Was childhood really over?
"Wardship terminated" is a very deep subject that
I want to know more about. It says so much, but
I'm not sure what.
"Wardship terminated," and you
walk out the door.
What is it like to grow up in a dozen or more
families, some of which may have been pleasant but
none of whom wanted you enough to keep you? What
is it like to not have anyone to go back to when you
screw up later?
"Wardship terminated" is a very sad day and a very
happy day. It seems to me there ought to be a
little ceremony for it, some ice cream and cake or
something. But what if you don't have anybody to
celebrate it with?
Maybe you can just have ice cream and cake in your
room, then watch some TV and go to bed.
WARNING: May be hazardous to your health.
Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? —
A popular song by Paula Cole which is emblematic
of the female position in many divorce cases...
Where is my John Wayne?
Where is my prairie son?
Where is my happy ending?
Where have all the cowboys gone?
The song is a tragic commentary on a bad marriage to a
no-good man, ending, we assume, in divorce. The
problem, however, may not lie in the man but in the
woman, who seems to have an inner conflict about
what a cowboy is and what can be expected of him.
Where have all the cowboys gone? Obviously, she
married one and got exactly what she paid for.
Listen, if you are looking for a stable, reliable man who
is going to support you while you raise kids,
do you really want a cowboy? "Cowboy," as
the term is generally understood (disregarding the
gay references of a recent movie), is the sort of
shoot-from-the-hip, bull-ridin', hard-fightin',
mean-drinkin' daredevil who you would want to have
on your side in a gun battle but who isn't exactly
Be straight with me, cowgirl: The main thing that
drew you to a cowboy was the excitement factor,
right? Excitement and long-term fidelity don't exactly mix.
If you choose to read all sorts of imaginary qualities into
him—reliability, honor, monogamy,
etc.—based on scanty evidence,
then it's not really the cowboy's fault
if he reverts to his true nature as soon as you
walk down the aisle.
A cowboy belongs on the range, M'am, and ought to
be left there.
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