Monthly Archives: August 2018

More on Depression and Suicide

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Let me take my most recent blog a little farther.

For mental health workers: Stop asking the suicide question. It is a question that produces about 50% false positive, 49% genuine negative, and 1% false negative answers. It misleads and distracts. And, clearly, even with thousands of mental health professionals asking that question over and over again, the actual completed suicide rate is increasing (it does not work), while the statement “I want to die” has become legitimized as a replacement for, “I am not happy with my life at this moment.”

The question also distracts and misleads. The answer to this simple question becomes the criteria for holding or not holding, for acting or not acting, for caring or not caring. It also, in hospitals and emergency rooms, becomes a cover-my-ass question before discharging from care.

Rather, spend the time to be with. To look, listen, and attend. Depression is visible. It is not a hidden illness. It is visible. If you don’t believe me watch Anthony Bourdain’s last television special.

Agitated Depression, a combination of despair and high anxiety, is very visible and a high risk for suicide. The pain of agitated depression is hard to sit with, be next to. The diminution of conscious awareness is apparent. Being there and listening one can experience the loss of attachment to others and to a future and to the pain of being in that person’s skin.

Flat, blunted depression is airless. The eyes have no life, the voice no lilt; the entire arousal system is diminished. It is difficult to sit long with this person without feeling his or her lonely shrinking consciousness.

Offer help and treatment in a safe environment. And by treatment I mean medical psychiatric treatment, not a CBT course starting next month. Hospitalization is needed if the risk is severe, and definitely when the person is in a state of agitated depression, or if he or she not once in the course of an hour spoke of anything beyond tomorrow, and no one’s name caused a glimmer of light to appear in his eyes.

Offer treatment, help, hope and hospitalization. Severely depressed people accept help when it is offered.

Do not “contract for safety”. It is, again, a bizarre “cover-my-ass” approach that is obviously paradoxical. It means, at face value, that the counselor believes the risk of suicide is high and at the same time that eliciting a promise to not kill oneself (at least before the next appointment) is a sufficient response to that risk.

We treat heart failure to prevent death.

We should treat depression to prevent suicide.

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Suicide and Depression

By Dr David Laing Dawson

This week, after the suicides of three Ontario Provincial Police officers a heartfelt plea went out from the president of the Union. He implored officers who were suffering to seek help, to talk with someone.

A similar heartfelt message was re posted by my daughter after she learned an old friend had committed suicide.

Broadly, over the last many years, we have seen many “Let’s talk about it” public campaigns.

But over those same years the numbers of completed suicides have gradually increased while the numbers of people taken to the emergency departments for assessment of “suicide ideation” have dramatically increased.

What are we missing?

I think it is this: Most suicides are the product of severe depression. Not all, but most. And often complicated by loss, drugs, alcohol, pain, anxiety, poverty, PTSD, bullying. But still, usually, a state of depression.

And depression, medical depression, is not simply a mood disorder. It is a cognitive disorder as well. Let me explain.

Normally, when we are healthy, our consciousness includes much more than ourselves. Besides being aware of ourselves and our inner state we are aware of (conscious of) our surroundings, the task at hand, our loved ones, our extended family, our colleagues, our friends, our fellow travelers, the citizens of our community, of our country, and, sometimes, far beyond that. All of these things and people float in and out of our consciousness through the waking hours, and may visit us as an eternal puzzle in our dreams.

I assume that awareness, the breadth of that awareness, varies from person to person. For most of us it does not that often go beyond friends, workmates and family, fellow travelers, until we watch the news. Still, it always stretches beyond ourselves.

Not in a severe depression. In a medical depression, the illness depression, our consciousness shrivels. That floating awareness of all around us closes in. We, when suffering from a depression, lose our awareness of others. They simply fall away from our consciousness.

Hence asking a severely depressed person to reach out to others is akin to asking a paralyzed man to walk to the nearest emergency.

The public anti suicide programs and initiatives may even be making the problem worse. They reduce this mental health problem to a dichotomy: thinking about suicide or not thinking about suicide, held in hospital or not held in hospital.

Certainly the statistics tell us the current public initiatives are not working. Not working.

A far better approach would be to talk about depression. Recognizing it in ourselves and others, and helping those others seek treatment. We do have effective treatment for depression.

Madness Can Be Contagious

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Some years ago, working within psychiatric clinics and mental hospitals, I used to advise staff, students, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, that the most important thing they should strive for at all times, was “to remain sane.” At all times, remain sane. Your job, as a mental health professional, is first and foremost, to remain sane.

Sane meant, of course, keeping calm, ethical, sensible, compassionate, and not reacting or over-reacting to the insanity that surrounded them. That insanity coming from both the patients and the human systems we all worked within.
Sane also meant not assuming responsibility for that which was not yours to assume, and not trying to change the unchangeable. It was also wise to bring perspectives of time and relative importance to all events.

Of course none of us were always able to achieve this.

But I am thinking of this as Maxime Bernier angrily leaves the Conservative party to start one of his own, presumably along even more conservative lines, and Doug Ford sets up a hotline for parents to rat on teachers if they step past 1950 in their sex ed teachings. And from James Cagney mouthing the words, “You dirty rat.” to the 15 year old boys I see who don’t “rat” on their friends, to Donald Trump calling John Dean a “rat” and then offering that maybe “flipping” should almost be illegal.

It is hard to remain sane.

It is hard to remain sane living next door to the USA as they fall into a deeply conflicted madness. But that is our Canadian task. Remain sane.

Americans are currently struggling over dichotomous extremes, polarizing issues that should have been settled long ago, now requiring mere tweaking with each new generation.

In Canada, all our systems can be improved, carefully, gradually. None of them need be abandoned, or drastically and dramatically changed. Our problems are not either/or. We do not need to choose capitalism or socialism, abortion or no abortion, accepting refugees or not accepting refugees, being multicultural or not multicultural, of having social programs, guaranteed income, health care for all, or not having these things.

We just need to tweak them and improve them from time to time, occasionally shifting the balance of private enterprise and government, reacting sanely and generously to crises, tweaking our laws and services to deal with the new realities, all the while pursuing the goal of a healthy, equitable, and happy society.

I am not downplaying the problems we face around housing, adequate income for all, employment and health care, not to mention saving the planet, but we must not fall into the contagion of vitriol south of our border.


On Youtube: A new play by Dawson premiered at the Artword Artbar, Hamilton.

 

Laying Bare the Sacrifices, Pain, and Even Joy of Caring for a Mentally Ill Relative

By Marvin Ross

Surveys of and anecdotes by caregivers tell of the extreme lengths that we all go to in order to ensure that our family members with serious mental illnesses are safe, cared for and are able to enjoy as good a quality of life as they possibly can. But Shatterdays Bipolar Lives by Frank and Melanie Shanty is the only book that I’ve ever found that lays bare the sacrifice that families endure beginning from the onset of the illness to, in this case, a premature death.

Susan Caltrider first became ill at age 14 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent lengthy periods of time in various institutions. By 1976, doctors suspected that she had been incorrectly diagnosed, changed the diagnosis to bipolar type I with psychotic symptoms and started her on lithium which had just recently become available.

Susan’s mother then spent the rest of her life caring for and overseeing her daughter’s care and progress through numerous hospitalizations, encounters with the police and ensuring that she attained whatever benefits she was entitled to from the state. None of this was easy for her with four other children, a husband, a rocky marriage and a career. One aunt is quoted in the book saying that “when you have a special-needs child, they become your life”. Melanie added that “without a doubt, this statement accurately describes my mother’s relationship with Susan”.

When Susan’s mother passed away from cancer in 1998, Melanie, a year younger than Susan, took over her care. Melanie had promised her mother that she would assume the responsibility that her mother had shouldered since the early 1970s. “At that moment, I didn’t realize the weight of that promise or the emotional toll it would eventually take on me”.

Susan’s social worker of many years is quoted saying that “Melanie’s love for her sister was the game-changer. If you took Melanie out of the equation, Susan would have ended up on the street, a victim of violence or confined for a large part of her life. Melanie enabled Susan to have a life….”

That commitment to her sister came at a price that all caregivers of adults with serious mental illnesses can relate to.

“Although I felt a responsibility to Susan, she was a burden. The painful truth is that with the passage of time, I became resentful. I often wondered if I would be able to maintain my commitment to her. Although I had empathy for my sister, I found it harder to juggle career, family and serve as Susan’s care provider. I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained”

“Counseling enriched my life beyond what I could have accomplished on my own. I am not who I was twenty years ago. But success wasn’t easy. Frequent bouts of anxiety, anger and depression kept me in therapy during the thirteen years I was Susan’s primary caregiver.”

I won’t go into the crises and challenges that occurred regularly as you can learn about those by reading the book but Susan did fare reasonably well and was married to a man with schizophrenia for many years until he passed away. Sadly,Susan’s life ended too early in 2011 as the result of a fire in her apartment building.

In Melanie’s ending words, Susan’s “story resonates with ‘ordinary people’ caught in the throes of mental illness and provides a beacon of hope for caregivers. Susan’s life was a testament to the power of love and commitment”.

One aspect of the book that struck me was the care that Susan received from the medical system beginning in the 1970s and on. When needed, she was admitted to hospitals or care facilities and her stays were lengthy by today’s standards. But then, towards the end of her life, Melanie took her to Johns Hopkins ER in a highly agitated manic state. Hopkins had access to her charts but all the doctor was concerned about was if she was going to harm herself or others. When Susan said no to both, she was not admitted and sent on her way.

Melanie commented that the doctor ignored her obviously elevated mood and “now believed that the mental-health barometer had changed from treatment to to crisis management – crisis defined as the desire to harm yourself or others”. She is right and it is now worse. Many families can attest to the difficulty of getting their obviously ill relative admitted and, if they do, the stay is not long enough to properly stabilize the person.

Because Melanie had her own business, she was able to employ Susan part-time for a period. Susan had previously worked for her mother two days a week and enjoyed that. The job with Melanie provided social interaction and the psychological benefit of feeling productive. Sadly, this is not something that most people with serious mental illnesses can acquire. Many are capable of part time work but there are very few opportunities. Instead, they sit around all day smoking and drinking coffee which does nothing to help improve their mental state.

Shatterdays Bipolar Lives by Dr Frank Shanty and Melanie Shanty is available at Amazon and other book sellers in print and e-book versions. I highly recommend it particularly as a book you can give relatives to help them understand your ill family member and how your life is impacted trying to help them.

Pennsylvania and the Catholic Church

By Dr David Laing Dawson

A cult is a cult is a cult is a cult.

The Cathedral at Chartres, I suppose because of its magnificence as well as its age and physical location, allows one, as I did, to stand in it and outside it and imagine the 14th century: the fields stretching off in the distance, the peasants on foot and oxen cart slowly approaching this edifice, dressed in rough cloth tunics and hand sewn goat skin boots, bringing what offerings they could. This cathedral was built to impress, and impressive it is. And that I suppose is its purpose. It is, in modern vernacular, awesome, and in the centuries before this, designed to instill awe.

Standing there it is easy to imagine those illiterate peasants approaching the castle of knowledge and salvation. They did not yet understand why there was night and day or why water ran downhill or some fell ill with fever and others didn’t. And the church, for the next few centuries, would try to keep it that way.

And at Chartres, more than other cathedrals and churches, it is easy to see and experience the power of the building, and to understand its purpose by imagining the first hundred years of its existence.

Power and control. And, more quietly of course, sex.

What a con. What a magnificent con.

I’m not really knocking it, for we humans seemed to need an organizing system and some guiding principals sent to us from on high. Even now, in parts of the world where we have socially evolved to the point where we can, through very human processes, set those rules and expectations ourselves, many of us still yearn for the help of God. And, God knows, the Catholic Church, for much of its existence, has been no worse than Islam, Scientology, Mormonism, the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, or the Branch Davidians.

But I would like to point out that it is we humans who have, within our own secular governing bodies, in many parts of the world, arrived at the conviction that a.) women are full citizens with equal rights, b.) men do not have the right to non-consensual sex with women, and c.) we adults really shouldn’t be sexually abusing children and teenagers. Note that it is not Joseph Smith, the Pope, the Imams of Saudi Arabia, or Jim Jones who arrived at those conclusions.

Cults. It is what they are all about of course. They strip women of power. They permit non-consensual sex or, at the very least, coercive sex with females. And they justify the sexual abuse of children, pre or post pubertal children, male and female. And they all prey on the innocence and naivety of our less educated, less wary and less suspicious citizens. They are all, all, all about power, control, and sex.

Someone pointed out that if it had come to light that over 300 Jiffy Lube employees had been discovered to have sexually abused over 1000 children it would be the end of Jiffy Lube, but the Catholic Church will continue, as will Islam, and it seems there are always a few charismatic psychopaths (male) hanging around ready to start new cults.

Though it has been heartening to see, over the past 50 years, that increasingly large percentages of the citizens of most advanced nations, when polled, say they are either not religious, or do not belong to any particular religious group or cult.

Musings on Sir John A. and the Removal of His Statue

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Herein lies the problem I think: No man or woman has ever led a life that later generations, looking back through the prism of history and an evolving set of values, could ever be deemed perfect, or even exemplary.

We know we shouldn’t whitewash history. It is important for us to know thoroughly and honestly the actions and the consequences of actions of our ancestors. (But even here I must pause and think for a moment of the origin and subtle but unintended meaning of the idiom “whitewash”.)

But in judging them, our ancestors (if we must judge them), it is a tad unfair to apply contemporary philosophies, knowledge and values.

The residential schools were a mistake. But at the time Sir John A. was promoting this “solution” to an incredible problem, the notion of sending young kids off to a boarding school was not outrageous. In fact, the wealthy did it all the time. If you told them about the problem of pedophiles being attracted to collections of vulnerable children (whether that be the poor neighbourhood soccer team, an English boarding school, or a residential school) they would have stared in disbelief, and if you posited that there just might be many homosexual pedophiles in any boys-only-club (such as the RC clergy) they would have sent you home to do penance. If you talked to them about the consequences of breaking early attachments, of displacement from language and culture, they would have stared at you with the same bewilderment should you be talking about the double helix or quantum mechanics. In MacDonald’s time children were perceived as small persons requiring moulding and shaping by discipline and rote learning.

Perhaps the solution is to have no statues of individual men or women in our public spaces. Perhaps we should erect monuments to our achievements, not to the poor human being behind the achievement. For in reality, each human achievement comes in its time, and ultimately could be tagged to any number of people.

(Woodward and Shaw created and patented an electric light bulb in Canada. Edison bought that patent 4 years later. An industrial road in Hamilton has been renamed the Nikola Tesla Boulevard. And if none of these individual humans had been born, the credit for the light bulb and our electricity grid might have fallen to others a few years later.)

But it appears to be in our nature to need Gods and heroes, and to then bask in their reflected glory. Can we do without them or are these individual names and statues irreplaceable markers within our historical sense of self? Are they, these individuals, necessary glue for our social cohesion?

We could try doing without these markers. We could ensure our history books tell the full story, warts and all, but only commemorate in bronze and stone our achievements and our follies.

Buck a Beer and Dented Tuna Tins

By Marvin Ross

The Buck a Beer campaign (opposed by many craft brewers) was first developed about 2002 by Lakeport Brewery in Hamilton Ontario as an attempt to gain market share. It worked and they went from a 1% market share to the top 10 in a very short period of time. But, Ontario raised the minimum price and Lakeport was bought out in 2007. The CEO of Lakeport, Teresa Cascioli, went on to become a major philanthropist in Hamilton donating over $4 million to various institutions in the city.

How it came into the mind of Doug Ford as something anyone wants is bizarre. Unlike the woman who used her wealth generated by the buck a beer, he is willing to spend tax dollars on this scheme while not only cutting the basic income pilot program but by cutting the increase in social assistance planned for September from 3% to 1.5% . He has also put on hold all other improvement to social assistance to come into effect on that date.

Doug, unfortunately, is a carryover from the last Conservative government Ontario had starting back in 1995 led by Mike Harris. Harris slashed welfare rates by 21.6% and despite modest increases during the Liberal regime, rates have not recovered from that slashing. It is important to remember that most of the people impacted by those cuts are disabled and cannot work or can only work part time.

Treating the disabled this way is cruel and smacks of Marie Antoinette. In fact, when the social services minister under Harris, David Tsubouchi, was challenged in the legislature, his suggestion was that the poor and disabled could buy dented tins of tuna at less than the usual price if they bargained with shop keepers. He then put out a proposed welfare diet that includes pasta without sauce, bread without butter, and the elusive 69-cent tuna can.

He even went further by telling single mothers on welfare that they had ample time to find jobs because they had a three-month warning. He also suggested welfare parents could just ask neighbours to look after their children, and accidentally ordered 115,000 disabled people and senior citizens to be cut off from their welfare benefits.

A report done in 2015 on the 20th anniversary of those cuts found that the consumer price index had gone up by 45% but the cost of the welfare diet had increased by 107%. The welfare rate has only gone up by 37% to 2015. Pathetic.

In an op ed in the Hamilton Spectator, Michael Taub a former speech writer for Stephen Harper, argued that the Progressive Conservative Party is not progressive and should not have progressive in its name. He argues that rather than being progressive they practice:

“compassionate conservatism. For instance, working with religious organizations and private charities to help out the poor and needy. Finding ways to use the free market as a means of getting people back to work and wealthier, such as reducing taxes and state involvement. Supporting public programs like health care and education, but ensuring the private sector has a greater role and/or influence in these sectors.”

He supports Ford’s cutting of the Basic Income Project and of social assistance rates. His argument:

Rather than a never-ending cycle of government handouts, the PCs will use other means, such as tax cuts (including the 10 cent reduction on gas prices) to accomplish the same goal. This will hopefully produce far better results and savings for Ontario families.

Right, let us reduce gasoline by 10 cents a litre to help people who cannot afford to buy a car and who have to use the food bank to eat in their substandard rental units.

The utter folly of this is that if people cannot afford to eat nutritious food which is more expensive, it will impact their health. They will end up getting costly medical treatment for the ill health caused by their poor diets. That will cost more than the money saved on social assistance cuts. And don’t think that the Liberals are any better. Despite being in office for 15 years, they failed to bring the social assistance rates back to where they were when they were slashed in 1995. Social activists found a loophole in the act that allowed for the poor to get an extra allowance if they needed more expensive food for health reasons. Doctors and nurses began signing the forms for their patients so they could eat better but the government put an end to that practice.

Going off on a tangent, I must point out that I knew David Tsubouchi and he was our lawyer until he went into cabinet. To this day, I do not understand how he could do what he did as he was a very nice, compassionate person. He was a poet and, because he was bored with the law, he acted in his spare time and played a Japanese salesman in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and other shows.

But then, politicians do stupid things that run against their principles to be in power. A recent Toronto Star column asked where the grown ups are in Ford’s cabinet as they are all silent. I think the explanation for this was spelled out by the late journalist Heather Robertson. I’m just reading her book, More Than A Rose (1991) on the wives of Canadian Prime Ministers. She makes the point that politicians can make peace with anyone if it leads to power.

Power corrupts but the whiff of power corrupts just as easily.

Buck a Beer Trumps Compassion for the Poor and Disabled

By Dr David Laing Dawson

“Buck-a-beer” as proposed by Ontario’s new Premier, Doug Ford (and brother of the infamous Rob) is simply a very silly adolescent political promise. With all that is going on in this world our premier comes up with “buck-a-beer”. I am embarrassed.

But now his government is discontinuing the basic income pilot project.

I have always been astonished by the gap between what we know of human behaviour and how our governments function. Especially, for example, how so many leaders think “punishment” in the form of sanctions will change the behaviour of dictators.

But back to the issue of basic income for all.

There are far too many variables to know how each and every recipient of a basic income will behave. For some, will a basic income simply make their lives better? Will their health improve? Will they develop more or less incentive to work? Will the cost to taxpayers be, ultimately, less or more? Will the increase in basic income be offset by a decrease in health care, social service and correctional system costs?

For those who could in theory work or be retrained for work would it be an incentive or a disincentive? And ultimately, for our economy, would that matter?

Surely in our society in 2018 it is simply cruel to force people to live on $700 a month. So the humanitarian argument is easily won. It is the other arguments that go on and on. Incentive, disincentive? Can we afford such a program? Will the taxpayers tolerate such a program costing them money? Can we prove to the taxpayers that it will cost them little?

I know the fear our inner Ayn Rand holds is that some of the recipients will take advantage of “the system”. They will pocket the money, buy booze and drugs with it, and continue in their sloth-like ways.

But we are, I like to think, a rich, modern, caring and scientific community. So, let us study the problem. Let us choose 4000 people to receive basic income and compare this to a matched sample of 4000 people who receive the usual services. Let’s give this a few years and then let’s study the results down to the penny. At all levels. Health care costs, trips to emergency, social service costs, police costs, alcohol and drug addiction, part-time and full time employment, effect on next generation, income tax paid, volunteer hours…

A difficult component to track I am sure (but maybe economists can) would be the effect on the broader economy. Every extra dollar a basic income recipient receives will be spent (note: in Canada, and not on a luxury yacht made in New England). The money will go round and round, and at each stop it will increase the income of others and shed a small percentage to taxes.

And I gather that is what we were doing, though I have little idea about the details of this pilot project and the extent of the evaluation. To stop it now is Trumpian, allowing ego, prejudice, ideology, and politics to Trump truth and compassion.

More to come

The Tiff with Saudi Arabia

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Usually in our relations with nation states that have poor human rights records, Canada officially protests in polite fashion, the offending state responds in some grumbling way, and life goes on. Strategic, political alliances, and economic forces trump the rights of minority religions, journalists, little girls and women. Fair enough. Canada is not in a position to do much more than raise the issue anyway, and continuing to be engaged may be the most productive thing we can do in most cases.

Those fifteen thousand Saudi students in Canada just might take some civilized values back to the Middle East. Or not.

But we now have an opportunity to go beyond that. The over-the-top school-yard reaction by the Saudis, complete with a jpeg showing an airliner heading for the CN Tower, cancelling the scholarships of those 15,000 students, cancelling all future business deals, and sending our ambassador home, actually allows us now to be a little more direct and specific, without worrying about geopolitics and economics.

Saudi Arabia is a slave state. The girls and women of Saudi Arabia have only marginally more rights and dignity than a “house nigga” in 1840’s Georgia. In fact, researching this it seems the only real difference may be the amount of leisure time and purchasing power afforded the Saudi women by the  oil wealth of many households.

So, Chrystia and Justin. Opportunity knocks. Make it clear what you think of the enslavement of women, the absence of free speech, the control of the press, and their medieval system of justice.

As far as I can see, we need no longer be constrained by the strategic alliance between the USA and Saudi Arabia. In fact, it is Donald Trump who has emboldened the dictators and potentates of this world. He will no doubt say something like, “There are good people on both sides”, or even favor the Saudis over Canada in this dispute.

While we watch the craziness south of our border unfold, we must remain independent and give clear voice to our liberal democratic principals.

 

Guns, Guns, Guns

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Some years ago I was awakened after midnight by the screech of tires and the unmistakable sound of a car smashing into a lamppost two stories beneath our bedroom window. I crawled out of bed and looked out the window down to the sidewalk. A car was curled against a lamppost, its doors open, steam rising from its hood, and two men were fighting on the sidewalk.

My first thought was that they probably deserve one another, whatever the story behind this event, and that I should go back to bed. But then it was clear that one man was down and the other was kicking him mercilessly.

I asked my wife to call 911, pulled on a pair of pants, grabbed the only weapon in the apartment and headed for the front door. That weapon was a hockey stick.

The building is on a hill with the front door opening on ground level one story above and around the corner from the men.

I rounded the corner and approached the men who were downhill and fifty feet away. They saw me coming, stopped fighting, and got to their feet.

(This allowed me to tell the story later as one of the thugs saying to the other, “Good God, it’s an old Canadian Geezer with a hockey stick. Run for it.”)

But their easy surrender may have been induced by the Police car they could see coming over the hill behind me.

I’m sure when I grabbed the hockey stick I thought of it as a symbol of authority and not a weapon I would actually use. Something to hold in my hands. There was no gun in our house and there never will be.

But I am writing this because the presence of a gun might have turned this farce into a tragedy.

And the absence of guns might have turned two local tragedies into farces, into stories of human folly and stupidity rather than tragedy. One event occurred recently with a boy from the Six Nations Reserve being killed by a shotgun blast while he attempted to steal an old truck. The other was a few years back and involved another boy from the same reserve being killed by a bullet from a handgun. In that story the boy (probably a little inebriated) was banging on the door of an isolated farm house seeking help for his car that wouldn’t start after he and his companion had pulled into the driveway to urinate in the bushes.

Much has been written about these events, the court cases that ensued, the verdict of innocence in the latest, the verdict of guilty in the earlier case, but later overturned. And of course much has been written about the possible racism that played a part in the tragic events in the first place, and then in the court cases that followed.

Perhaps racism played a role in these tragedies. But perhaps not. In both cases it is dark; the owners of the houses are awakened in the middle of the night. They find themselves confronting, in the recent case, a shadowy figure trying to steal his truck, in the older case, a (possibly inebriated) young man pounding on his door after midnight.

Had these home owners been armed with nothing but a hockey stick the story would have been a farce, worth telling to grandchildren around the fire pit; and perhaps the boy killed more recently would have decided there are better careers than grand theft auto, and the boy in the older case was already attending college, but, as young men are apt to do, had consumed some alcohol while parked with a friend at the Starlight Theater in an unreliable automobile.

The difference here, between farce and tragedy, was, as is so often the case, gun ownership.

All other factors, as usual, are questionable, of some interest, consuming of legal time, journalism. But without the presence of guns these two incidents could have ended as my story did.

It is the gun that turns folly and farce into tragedy.